N.B.: this post is actually about photography. I deliberated before posting it as I didn’t want to turn the narrative into a rant, but after giving it some thought, I think it is important to mention that photography takes patience and motivation — which sometimes still aren’t enough to yield the desired result. The natural world is incredible whether I have a photograph to prove it or not; the world of my mind sometimes favors the nostalgia that proof offers. The post below is the original post.
Talk about tongue-in-cheek. The last time I wrote about this topic, I explained that it takes a certain odd individual to prefer sunrise to sunset:
Sunrises, on the other hand, demand effort — to stay awake, to get up, to suffer through the rest of the day and week. And even then, it’s a crapshoot as to whether the sky will alight with the right clouds to reveal a colorful sunrise.
They’re harder to predict (no clues when the sky is dark), involve extra effort rather than just schedule rearranging, and conditions (e.g. temperature) can be less favorable. This, then, is why when I drove an hour to go see today’s sunrise, I took only one picture. Even the exposure settings attest to how dark it was: ISO1600, 1/40 s, f/8. Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than a missed photographic opportunity — difficulty of capture be damned — is a lost memory card, and given that the latter didn’t happen this weekend and my penchant for early sun movements, one might wonder just how this one didn’t come to be.
For the weekend, several friends and I rented a cabin in Hendersonville, NC, about an hour away from the Pisgah Inn. The weather forecast called for a 40% – 50% chance of rain all weekend, but Friday evening stayed dry and mostly clear. Before going to bed, I set a 40 minute exposure on the deck railing of the cabin and was rather surprised that the result turned out decently, minus the clouds obscuring the horizon. While my gut told me that the sunrise would be decent, my optimism was tempered by the forecasted threat of rain.
When I awoke at 5:30 AM and looked out, clouds were still blocking the horizon, and I decided not to repeat countless other sunrises I had seen: ones where the clouds simply obscure the sun until it rises past them to a blue but otherwise colorless sky. I ignored my gut’s advice from the night before — thinking that sleep was worth a mediocre sunrise — and went back to bed. I awoke two hours later to the sun poking above the mountains and the sky flooded in color. It was warm, beautiful light that I have not seen in Charleston or in the mountains of North Carolina, Seattle, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, or France. I was dumbfounded to the point that I didn’t even consider getting my camera out; I just stood and gawked.
Later that day, with clouds moving in and the threat of rain visibly potentially credible, we headed to DuPont State Forest for hiking to and around waterfalls. This being one of the first fall foliage weekends, both High and Triple Falls were packed, but there were still some nice contrasts between them. High Falls, even without the aid of alpine snowmelt, kept a spectacular flow, even spitting water up over a rock that had not yet yielded to the constant grind of the current.
Another rock nearby featured a leaf that somewhat resisted getting pulled off the rock face and into the stream.
About a mile away, Triple Falls was also overrun by visitors. Rocks around waterfalls are deceptively slippery; climbing Triple Falls isn’t the best idea, but so far the state forest system hasn’t blocked off access to the falls. It gave me a chance (along with everyone else in the area) to go explore closer.
Well after the spouts of the falls had succumbed to the gentle river pulling the flow further downstream, the smoothness of the current was completely distinct from the rushing spout at High Falls.
Not long after taking that photo, it began to rain. Hard. This confirmed to me that Sunday’s weather would be even less conducive to a sunrise than Saturday’s was, but I was determined not to make the same mistake two mornings in a row.
When I awoke to the same alarm on Sunday morning, I ignored the steady drizzle and fog enveloping Hendersonville and drove off to the Blue Ridge Parkway, hoping desperately that I would luck out with the statistically insignificant chance that I’d end up driving out above the clouds and seeing a sea of fog below. It never happened. Three miles south of the Pisgah Inn, I pulled over in completely darkness and light rain, took a nap, woke up for “sunrise,” took that one lonely picture, and headed back to Hendersonville.
Along the way, there was a clearing that gave some views to the valley below and above it the wisps of cloud that had consumed the area in the last ten hours.
I’ve surely missed spectacular sunrises or sunsets in Charleston, whether due simply to not having seen one to know of its existence or for seeing one but not being available to shoot it. I’ve never skipped out on heading to a sunrise, however, only to have it taunt me as I woke up and end up being the most powerful sunrise I’ve seen. (To add insult to injury, at dinner, a couple that had seen the sunrise showed me their photos from the Pisgah Inn — it was every bit as intensely colorful as I had seen from Hendersonville.)
Sunrises might be difficult and sleep-deprivers, but as this one will sting for some time,
- the next time I’m listening to my gut and
- I still prefer them to sunsets — now more than ever because of the challenges they pose!