Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wondering Why I like the Night...Part One

I sometimes wonder why I like the night. No, actually the very early morning. I know that when I mention to friends that I take my Labrador for a walk most nights after 1:00 a.m. I get curious looks from people, even those who know me well.

As a photographer, it is light that concerns me most. Light consumes most of my working hours; I study it, watch for it's changes, anticipate it, modify it when I can, and let it be when it's just the way I want it. Light is one of the the foundations of photography; without light, photography would not exist.

Maybe after being "held" by light most of my day, interacting with it and it's relationship to my subject, often minute to minute, night becomes another solace; an escape or abandon of some sort. But even on the darkest, moonless night, walking without a flashlight, light finds it way in. Subtle, but it is there nonetheless. The shape of the treeline, a faint recognition of a skunk crossing the road ahead, a soft light in the kitchen of a nearby farmhouse, and the shine of the fur on my dog's back as she treads on fearlessly into the dark. Her feet are sure, making mine more confident.

But there are also feelings associated with night; some from very long ago. There's a memory of a family trip to Nevada, a yearly adventure to my aunt and uncle's home in Elko. As customary, my dad loved to make an early start; typically between 4 and 5 a.m. We were all pretty well packed the night before. My suitcase (sometimes only a paper grocery bag or two) contained all the essentials of a nine-year-old: a handful of plastic Army men, a flashlight and spare batteries, an AM transistor radio with a broken antenna, at least one walkie-talkie (not sure where it's mate was), a gun or two (preferably a cap-gun or B-B gun in case of wild animals) and if Mom had her way; some clothes. Dad usually had the Chevy station wagon started when I stumbled out the front door of the house, into the cool quiet air of morning. I could hear it's low purr as I crossed the dark patio. Being the next-to-youngest of six kids, I would invariably climb in the back door, over the back seat, and into the "wayback". My little sister between my parents on the front bench seat, she'd be still asleep with her head on Mom's lap. If everyone was going, the back seat would be full, leaving me and Alan to fight for space among the blankets and luggage in the cargo area. Seat belts weren't necessary. (we probably only had 4 anyway)

I can remember clearly the sounds and smells of that old '56 Chevy. The creaking of the back seat and the soft music and voices on the car radio and I too was back to sleep. But this particular morning, about two hours down the road, I recall hearing the muffled voices of my parents talking softly. I could hear a light hissing of water and the smell of something fresh that made me lift my head up to peer out the back windows. We were passing through the middle of Sacramento. Not sure why we were off the highway; maybe my dad was looking for a Chevron filling station open early. We were very near the capitol, I could see it glowing in the early morning light through the windshield, it was surrounded by perfect lawns. It seemed like there were a thousand warm streetlights, and everywhere there were sprinklers darting left and right and around in circles, each one catching the light as it passed through it's path and refracting it in new directions. The streets were wet and there was no one around. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I can ever remember; it felt like the Emerald City in L.Frank Baum's Wizard of Oz.

It was only a matter of minutes and we had passed through this wonderland, but it is still vivid in my memory. We would drive on into the brightness of the day. We had mountains to climb and beyond that the warm, heavy air of desert Nevada. But as clear as a photograph I still possess that shimmering Sacramento morning.

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