Shadows of a Forest

Quake lake cormorant

An early, eerie paddle on Quake Lake.

An early-morning arrival is a necessity at Quake Lake. I’m at the whims of the elements: fog and light. Dressed in layers and gloves, I gently place my photo equipment in the kayak, climb in, and push off as sunlight peeks over the hills. My goal is to capture the fog as it lifts from the water and drifts lazily over the trees on the east end of the lake.

In complete silence and solitude, I cut through the glassy water on this crisp October morning. After only a few strokes, however, I pause for a mystical photo opportunity. A backlit cormorant, wings spread wide, stands on a decayed stump among ghostly dead trees. In the distance, Canadian geese languidly float amongst the stark timber in an eerie mist. I’m mesmerized as my pause becomes minutes. My plan of catching first light on the hillsides is put on hold while I linger to photograph this transitory scene.

Quake lake fall fog

The moment soon passes, and I snap out of my reverie and set my equipment back between my legs. Grasping my precariously-balanced paddle, I continue on. As I enter the calm that surrounds me and the dead, statuesque forest, fog reflects in the tranquil water. I have arrived just in time: rays of light expose shimmering orange aspen leaves, lit against the shadowed hillsides. The entire scene, with erect, barren trees in the foreground accompanied by gray shades of fog, is invigorating with its three-dimensional look. The silence is deafening and the scene uncanny.

As I meander quietly between the trees, indistinct figures catch my eye. They are as intent as I am within the foggy atmosphere. Silhouetted in the morning light, I capture fly fishermen cutting through the mist with beautiful, sweeping casts. Again, I pull myself from this photographic daydream and concentrate on the hillsides that are now bathed in light. Only two hours have elapsed since I set onto the water, but the fog is already dissipating. I have no regrets, however, as I am happy to have taken the time to photograph the ethereal scenes as they were presented.

On my return paddle, herons fly by while cormorants leap off high limbs and land with splashes like brilliant, orange pastels. I break out my camera for a few last photos, but the wind is picking up. What had begun as a gentle breeze is now a 10mph headwind. Time to pack it in, I think. Leave the birdlife for another day. My arm muscles ache as I dig with my paddle toward the launch. My enchanting morning has come to an end.