Light on the Dark Side: Mending Perspective

An essay on perspective


“It only takes one good morning.” These are the words of my father as we turned to see the storm clouds ignited by the fiery reds and oranges of a High Sierra sunrise. It was one of the greatest sunrises I had ever seen, aesthetically but even more so spiritually. I needed that sunrise, its colors, its complex simplicity. Interesting how complex a sunrise is, different colors of the light spectrum being stripped away due to the angle the light travels through the atmosphere at 186,000 miles per second; yet how simple it feels. Deep thoughts for no coffee and the early hour.


We were driving east out of Bishop, the sky was perfectly clear and cold; no sunrise. I didn’t care, I was in the Sierras. I had forgotten last night’s two hours of sleep, yesterday’s nine hours of driving, the dull hotel breakfast of plain oatmeal and a banana (again), being rejected for a full tuition scholarship; none of it had any standing there. We just drove, pointing out campsites we had stayed at, lakes we had fished, trips we had taken; reminiscence. Besides us, the road was empty, the landscape was ours to enjoy. It was just my Dad and me, finally peace. I let myself get lost in, what was now, an almost foreign landscape. High mountains in all directions, sage brush, Jeffery pines, wandering alpine streams, granite, altitude. My absence too long.


We did not stay out for very long, the objective (if you can really have one on vacation) was to take sunrise pictures and find the boulder fields of the Buttermilks. Both of which were not entirely successful. There was no sunrise and someone stole the street sign for Buttermilk road. We were back at the hotel by eight, by then the small town of Bishop was bustling with tourists and travelers. We didn’t fit in as tourists, we lacked Ray Bans, Abercrombie shorts, and polo shirts. Locals could tell that we were not one of them either; they kept to their business, cynical looks aimed at tourists. The locals, they had their own slice of heaven. I was lucky to come here every so often, them, they stayed year round. We were invading on their prized swatch of land.


My parents had been coming up to Bishop and the Sierras since before I was a thought. Schat’s Bakkery, the Mountain Light Gallery, Wilsons East Side Sports, my Mom’s House Café Mocha from Looney Bean; these were all part of my second home. Mom joined us for an early afternoon stroll of the main street. It was remarkably quiet for how busy it was. We finished our walk at Schat’s Bakkery with Garlic Cheese bread and pumpernickel bread for sandwiches. It’s the greatest sandwich you will ever make yourself: Schat’s bread with Swiss cheese, black pepper turkey breast, and Sierra Nevada Brewery’s stout mustard. Finally, lunch was over; my day, my trip, could truly begin.


I always try to let the trip unfold naturally, let the events change me not I change the events. So far I had not done a great job at this, a horrible job really. Yosemite felt almost like a bust, I was too stubborn to look beyond my frustration. Being in the eastern Sierras put my thoughts into perspective: think about where you are. I am in one of the most beautiful places on earth, driving in a car to a world class boulder field at the base of the Sierra Nevada’s. Most of all I am with family. I get to climb, capture images, and when I get back I get to write about it. How could I even begin to be frustrated? Pretty selfish thought.


Maybe I should have looked at a guide book before driving to a boulder field that I had never been to. These boulders are huge how can you miss them? I spotted a large boulder that looked somewhat like the ones I had seen in Rock and Ice. My Dad and I walked around the base of this pretty much unclimbable boulder before I caved in and did the one thing no traveler wants to do: ask a local for directions. You want to look like you know what you are doing even though you have never set foot in this foreign land. Pride, the downfall of man. The two women were quite nice and incredibly helpful: follow the road to where all the giant boulders are. It truly is that easy.


The air was full of stolen words; sublimity, grandeur, tranquility, peace. As we round the corner I fell, humbled. Cloud formations the great Michelangelo could not conjure in any art, sculpted granite walls more pristine and beautiful than the work of any stone mason, Van Gough could not paint more eccentric colors on the rock. I could not help but lose myself in the vastness of the landscape. It cleared my mind, centered my thoughts, enlightened proper perspective, and inspired.


We parked, grabbed gear and headed off. The boulders were massive, pictures cannot do justice to the gargantuan size of the monoliths the rest in the hillside. Even more impressive than their size is their quality; perfect edges, course texture for bomber smearing, clean stone, and cool temperatures. I had no guide book and no trick list just fingers that were hungry for rock. I did not care how hard I climbed or what I climbed just that I could climb again. Dipping my hand in my chalk bag and pulling over stone that is what really mattered. My mind was finally in the right place, just happy to be where I was at. This is when everything made sense, pieces fell into place; in that moment I grasped perspective.


It was like shining the first light on the dark side of the moon. Something that had been there all along was finally illuminated. That moment was pure beauty. Every moment of that trip, good, bad, confusing, frustrating, peaceful, in perfect syzygy. My thoughts aligned and understanding came forth; perspective was gained.


I placed these feelings aside in my journal and got lost in climbing. How good it felt knowing that I once again was I touch with nature and my thoughts. Again, I just got lost in the climbing. I meandered my way up a few doable problems and humbled myself and the ones that were not. Even falling off I had a grin from ear to ear, the art of climbing is so magnificent. Failure is learning and everything is a process. You are always progressing, always learning, and always enjoying it; very similar to writing, or life for that matter, if you think about it. This process went on for a timeless few hours before we decided to head back to the hotel. I would be back later for sunset; thankfully, a storm was beginning to draw in more clouds and beautiful formations.


My camera had yet to capture any stunning images. The light had been harsh the whole trip, there were few clouds at night, and nothing was yet in bloom. I needed a good sunset. The storm that was coming in earlier had completely engulfed the mountains, blocking almost all the light. My Mom and I drove out Buttermilks Road to see if there was any possibility of a good sunset. The winds were ferocious and rain was pouring down. We left the Buttermilks to drive to the other end of town. The light was magnificent , places to take pictures were not. My Mom reminded me that some images are best left as memories and that is where that sunset lies. We returned to the hotel completely exhausted and ready for sleep. I knew that tomorrow morning would be my last chance to get sunrise pictures.


We got an early morning start driving west out of Bishop back to the Buttermilks. I anticipated a good sunrise, the storm was clearing yet the clouds were still dark and heavy. The drive was endless, time stood still as we flew down dirt roads in search of the perfect spot. We pulled over and grabbed cameras as fast as we could. As I stood with my face glued to the view finder my Dad tells me to turn around. Then I hear it, “it only takes one good morning.”

Photos from this trip are located in the photography tab.


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