My vision for my nature photography was set decades before I even owned a camera. And I got a camera years before I became a photographer.
The earliest seeds of the vision were planted on May 18, 1980. I was in kindergarten, growing up on a small farm in Puyallup, Washington, about an hour north of Mount St. Helens. I remember intently watching the surging ash column tower over the hillside as the volcano erupted on that Sunday morning.
As dramatic as that was, the regular trips my family made to Mount St. Helens after it stopped rumbling made an even bigger impression on me. These visits gave me a benchmark to measure changes in nature similar to the way parents chart their children’s growth with pencil marks on the kitchen wall.
In our earliest trips the view was completely gray — the land, the water, the air. Ash coated everything in sight, reducing what had been a vibrant, pristine wilderness to a scene more resembling a black-and-white television show. Even gentle steps sent the ash airborne, obscuring our footprints in a harsh, gritty fog.
But just as the mountain’s perfect cone hadn’t been permanent, neither was the barren, monochrome post-eruption landscape. Over time, the ash was carried away by rain, melting snow, and tourists. It took years, but the rivers once again flowed in color.
The area was declared a national monument and new hiking trails gradually crossed the landscape. One of my favorites is the Hummocks Trail. Just a few miles from the volcano itself, the trail winds past ragged mounds of white, yellow and reddish rocks that once made up the mountain’s peak. With each passing year, the landscape becomes a little less ragged. Erosion will do that.
Twenty years after the massive eruption, almost to the day, the first wildflowers appeared along the trail. Ten years later, trees have grown so tall there is now welcome shade in spots along the trail where there was none before. And today, a chorus of birds sings where once there was only the whirl of the wind. Life finds a way.
Because of the dramatic devastation at Mount St. Helens, it’s relatively easy to notice the changes in nature there. But all of nature is dynamic and change is everywhere. A meadow of wildflowers never looks the same two summers in a row. A waterfall can produce blinding mist one month yet be nearly dry the next. The Grand Canyon is at least one grain deeper than it was when you started reading this essay.
Earth is just as alive as we are.
My work, and this book, are meant to celebrate our Living Wilderness. Please celebrate with me.