Reflections of Bird Lakes: A Photographic Essay on Flight, Quiet, and Change
8 October 2016
Finding silence and stillness at the edge of autumn
We arrive just after sunset - when the last red light of day leaves the highest rampart of Devore Mountain and the basin of Bird Lakes is enveloped in silence and cool shadow. This late arrival is partly a consequence of time spent absorbing the golden light of subalpine larch forests on our approach as the sun mimicked the color of the trees. How could we pull ourselves away? Gleaming yellow needles illuminated in late afternoon light as the sun descends behind the snowy Cascade Crest of mountains; this slows our pace and steals our gaze.
I find that my attention is taken by that which is least obtrusive - the pervasive silence that encroaches upon my senses whenever I stop. I stop to sit on a large boulder and focus my attention on absorbing this moment and clearing my head of all else. I notice the vibrancy of the blue sky and the sounds that are enhanced by the otherwise total quiet - a raven flies overhead breaking the still air with its call, I can even hear its beating wings. I hear the sound of my companions stepping on rock with the acuteness of a sharp whistle. These sounds are ordinary, low-key, and soft yet in this moment they are my complete experience. I outstretch my hands - palms facing up in a gesture of connection. This is what I seek.
Morning in the basin of the lakes - we slept beneath the face of Devore and now we rise to greet it as does the first light of day. Cold at first, I quickly forget my comfort in the face of such sublime beauty. Everywhere I turn there is something exceptional. The tiny teal pools walled by moraine piles dotted with hardy larch trees growing amid the rock and loose soil, the cliffs that grab the light, the golden trees that I am experiencing for the first time - some twisted, gnarled and time-worn, others delicate and fresh. I feel I am almost distracted by the beauty around me. Distracted, that is, from the activity of photography and engaged instead with the experience of place. A fine distraction to be had and one that feels totally natural.
I feel pulled toward the sun so I walk to the lip of the basin for a view to the east where the sun streams in. I step and hear the crunch of larch twigs and cones and notice the tiniest of birds flitting in the branches. Illuminated gold everywhere I turn, the larch seem to create their own light - an outward glow from within, Bird Creek cascades down the valley with the sound of water over rocks, the spires of Tupshin Peak rise in the distance. I feel light as air - as if I could fly with the same grace as the birds who swirl above me.
This place - it seems to be the epitome of all that I have sought in the North Cascades; space to breathe and contemplate this living landscape in which I've made my home for five months. Is it over already? The yellow-gold needles tell of autumn's presence and winter's soon arrival but the sun feels warm and full of the promise of summer. This is the way in which I would imagine it if I could - one season embracing the next with change born on a wind of hope. My imagination, however, did not conceive such a scene or the impact it would have. For this I am grateful, as always, for the way in which the natural world surprises me with its subtlety.