One of the greatest movie-going experiences of my life was in 1977 when my twelve-year-old eyes widened with excitement and intrigue during a theater viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The idea of aliens captured my imagination, and Richard Dreyfuss’ masterful performance of a man completely obsessed drew me into the story. But it was the iconic shape of the fascinating basalt columns that haunted Dreyfuss’ character (and his mashed potatoes) that most stuck with me as a boy, and continued to intrigue long into adulthood.
In 2008 I was able to make my first pilgrimage to this amazing piece of geography – Devils Tower National Monument in northeast Wyoming. But that visit was a way-too-brief couple of hours. And so finally, after nearly 37 years from the day this piece of rock became lodged in my conscience, I was blessed with an opportunity to spend several days at the monument this June and to make a few images that I felt did some justice to its magnificence.
Driving that first afternoon through delightful wooded hills toward Devils Tower it was sunny with lovely puffy clouds, but by the time I arrived it had turned overcast with a storm brewing. It wasn’t looking good for the late evening light I had planned to get striking the tower, but with the smallest hope I drove away from the congregation of tourists and onto the scenic dirt road where the best view positioned to catch the western sunset was found. Just as I feared there was no light show due to the heavy cloud cover, and I watched as the approaching lightning increased and the storm began to threaten with crackles of thunder. I packed the gear back into the truck and took an affectionate look at this magnificent butte. Though no quality image had been made on this night, I was deeply grateful to our Heavenly Father to be standing there.
As I was getting ready to head to camp for a typical late dinner of sardines and rye crackers, there began the most subtle glow of pink in the clouds around the Tower, the very last bit of warm post-sunset light fighting to get underneath the storm covering. In a panic I grabbed the camera and tripod and furiously set up for the shot right where I stood, and was able to make two exposures before the lights went completely out on the color. The pink glow was subtle on the digital file in camera, but I was hopeful that the incredible raw capture ability of my Pentax 40-megapixel medium format camera combined with the extraordinary tool of Adobe Lightroom software would combine to make the processed image sing with all the glory I surely felt as I witnessed it. And after working on the image, I believe it is indeed singing. What a grace from the Lord that night!
With day turning into new day I found it impossible to leave Devils Tower. No, this could not be a brief fly-by visit. The wooded campground with breathtaking Tower view, the delicious early summer air and perfect warmth, the intrigue of hiking around the base of the tower, and the peaceful location for writing my very first blog post that began AllCreationSings.net, all conspired to stretch my stay here to five nights. And during this time I too became a man obsessed with this iconic shape, or at least obsessed with witnessing another moment of glory and hopefully capturing it well. Each evening here for five days in a row I would head to the scenic dirt road and set up and wait, soaking up the atmosphere of a very special location while yearning for great sunset light.
On my last day, a couple hours before it was time to go wait for sunset, the park rangers drove through the campground warning everyone of a severe thunderstorm headed our way. As the dark clouds moved in the winds became tremendous and water began pouring down in sheets. I was no longer feeling safe in my small pop-up truck camper and I drove through the downpour a short distance to the KOA and was drenched just from walking to their door. As I waited out this crazy storm inside the KOA office with many others our cell phones suddenly went off in unison with an emergency tornado warning! I’m thankful to say the tornado did not materialize in our location, and the high winds and torrential rains eventually subsided. So with the storm moving on I was able to go back to the scenic spot for my final attempt at capturing the majesty of Devils Tower, and that evening was blessed with ethereal warm light glowing behind and to the sides of the tower which made for a pleasing panoramic composition.
An additional blessing on this trip was a chance meeting in the field with fellow landscape photographer Bret Edge who truly is one of the nicest and most gracious photographers I’ve ever talked with, along with being a great shooter and writer. I consider Bret a new friend and am looking forward to visiting his gallery this fall in the awesome town of Moab, Utah. You can view Bret’s blog at http://blog.bretedge.com. Scroll down a bit and check out his 2015 Utah calendar – if you love the Southwest like I do it’s a must purchase.
As I’ve pondered this fantastic place of Devils Tower, and considered further the film that inspired me and how impactful Dreyfuss’ performance was, I realize there has been much of my life marked by my own frenzied obsession. Obsession with self, obsession with performance, obsession with being accepted. A desperate obsession.
But something is changing in me. Or more aptly, Someone is changing me. No, I definitely have not arrived, and never will in this brief life on earth, and I most certainly have many days of struggle against an inward wandering. But I can’t help smiling and welling up with joyful tears as I see the journey God has me on, of a life increasingly marked by an overriding passion for His glory, His excellence, His beauty, His power. To delight in all that He is and in all of His works, is becoming my true joy. He is graciously making me into a new man obsessed.