If there was any year that needed a start with some time out in nature, some time to think about the year past and look to the year ahead this would be the one. As has been my custom for 10 years, I like to go out on the first day of the year and make an image for myself. Typically this has been a solo journey, so it also allows for some time to be witness to my inner monologue, and reset it for the year to come. Not surprisingly, another storm was moving through, bringing with it torrential rains, but I had just picked up some new rain pants and my canoe was already on the roof, so I decided to head out anyway and see what I could see. I headed to Morris Lake, a small fishing access lake in the Chehalis area that feeds into a paddle worthy creek and eventually into the Harrison River, and not as susceptible to the funneling gusts of wind of the mountain lakes I typically paddle on. After a couple of U-turns, I found the fisheries access - easily missed in the darkness that I arrived in. At one time, you might have been able to drive down to the lake, but it has since been blocked off by large boulders. I went down with just my camera initially to check out the path and see if I should bring the canoe down. The path was essentially a stream, but when I saw the picturesque lake, heard the eagles calling in the trees and the low clouds moving through the trees in the pre-dawn, I knew I would eventually bring the canoe down and give my rain gear a good test.
I was happy to have the weather sealing on the Nikon Z6 and the new Z series 24-200mm all purpose zoom as I didn’t relish trying to change lenses in the downpour.
I smiled to myself as I remembered my wife saying, “Isn’t New Year’s Day when you go out and take a morose picture and think about the year ahead?” I prefer the term “melancholy,” but one could forgive the confusion looking at the muted, drenched tones of the landscape in front of me. Regardless, it appealed to me - I liked the look of the way the moss covered rocks descended to the water as well as the thready line of clouds moving across the forest on the opposite side of the lake. If you look carefully, you can see a spec of white belonging to the head of a bald eagle roosting in the trees.
Bringing the canoe down was no big deal and I was soon on the water. Being there early and in the rain, had the advantage of upping my chances for some solo enjoyment of the nature around me as I floated around the small lake. The current moves quickly where it empties out into Morris creek and it gets quite shallow. (I wonder if it is even passable without getting out in the summer when the water levels are lower.)
I let the current take me and just watched and listened, passing by mini-waterfalls and lush green forest on one side and grassy/marshy fields on the other with a few houses and a hydro right-of-way. I drifted like that for a while before deciding to head back and try and see if I could find a picture by one of the little waterfalls. Given the weather, I had decided to put my camera in a Pelican case, and between that and the tripod, it was a bit of a slip, slidy, slog up to where the water was spilling down the edge of the hill. (It’s a trade-off. Secure, dry storage for the camera if I tip the canoe or hope I don’t tip and keep the camera gear in something I can easily carry. And don’t kid yourself, lots of photographers spend way too much time figuring out what to carry their gear in and how.) I was pretty excited by my composition looking straight up the hill with the water coming down at me, framed by lush, ferns. I worked the composition for a while before looking around for something else and saw a neat scene to my left where a pool of soft light was illuminating a small group of ferns on the side of the hill. I made a few quick frames before packing up and heading back to the canoe. (As I often find, the quick frame at the end was one of my favourites and the waterfall lacks the interest I was hoping for.)
I was surprised how easily I slipped up-current, but was not surprised when I got back to the lake to see that there were now people floating around in belly-boats, fishing. I made my way back to shore, noting that the dramatic landscape I had witnessed in the pre-dawn was now just flat lit and relatively mundane except for some cool wisps of low cloud amongst the trees on the far side. I made a couple more exposures of that before packing everything up and heaving the canoe onto my shoulders for the hike back up the hill to the car.
And so begins 2021 for me - warm and dry while out in the cold and wet (my rain pants worked), floating amongst the trees, ferns and eagles in the relative silence, knowing that I have a warm house and family to go back to, acutely aware that I am fortunate to have work booked for the first couple of weeks, and maybe, just maybe seeing the end of the pandemic by the end of this year. A great way to start the year.
(Below a short video compilation of the trip.)
I have hopes of doing a multi lake canoe trip one day and portaging through the wilderness. The goal on those trips is to do the portages in a “single-carry,” where you put all of your gear on your back and then take the canoe on your shoulders to prevent having to make two trips. Well, this little hike back to my car up this modest hill showed me quite quickly that I’ve got some training to do if that is ever going to happen. My legs were on fire by the time I got to my car and I could barely marshal the energy to heave the canoe onto my roof racks. I mollify myself, by recognizing that the canoe is 70 pounds and I had my Pelican case and full aluminum tripod strapped to my backpack, but still, on a camping trip it would be more gear, not less. (This sounds like the beginning of mental justification for another canoe, maybe kevlar… )