I was mesmerized from the moment I first saw it. The image was on the cover of Outdoor Photographer magazine taken by the very great photojournalist-turned-landscape photographer Jack Dykinga: a stunningly lush waterfall with multiple streams cascading down a unique brown rock face, a scene straight out of an exotic tropical paradise. Yet the location was reported to be Idaho! I knew one day I had to find it and attempt my own composition.
Fast forward a decade. The falls that was virtually unknown at the time of Dykinga’s cover photo could now be found with an internet search, and numerous web images revealed that quite a few photographers had brought home their own trophy shots. I had nearly forgotten about my initial infatuation from ten years past until a few weeks ago when I had departed Grand Teton National Park and suddenly realized I was a mere hour away from this place! I figured I had just enough daylight left to get there and make a photograph.
The remainder of my drive that evening took on new purpose. Aided by Google and an iPhone I pulled onto the dirt access road just outside of Swan Valley, Idaho, and slowly drove with eyes peeled for the place where Falls Creek flows into the Snake River. I could not see it from the road but my ears let me know when I had arrived. With anticipation I darted out of the truck and headed toward the top of the falls on a boot path, and soon turned cautious as I came to the edge of the cliff. From this high angle I could not see most of the falls, and looking down I noted the precarious barely-there trail and got a sick feeling in my stomach. I was desperate to get down there with my heavy pack and tripod, but fear was warning me of the high risk involved.
Some minutes later I saw walking down the road a teenager and her little brother who graciously tipped me off to a safer approach to the falls about 50 yards up river. I felt some relief at this point and thanked God for the direction, knowing that if I had attempted the climb straight down the cliff it likely would have ended poorly for me. The alternate trail dove steeply down an embankment and then leveled off into a soggy marsh. The going was straightforward except for the final 10 yards as I crossed a boggy section of water nearly waist high that sucked my boots into the mucky bottom.
My friend Slav had warned me some time ago that a large section of the rock face had fallen off into the falls, marring the picture-perfect overall composition that had made the shot popular among landscape shooters. I saw that huge chunk of fallen earth as I climbed from the bog onto the rocks, but the sight and sound of what remained of the falls was more than enough inspiration to spur me on to look for my own quieter interpretation. I walked along terraces of shallow water and marveled at the sheer beauty, the impossible lushness, the stunning location on the Snake River in a lovely Idaho valley. It wasn’t long before I discovered a serene section of falls off to one side, and I happily made a few compositions in the soft shaded light after sunset. I was all alone for nearly two hours here, and the simplicity of just being in that moment and at that place was really like the tastiest and most effective medicine you can imagine for whatever might ail you.
Days later I considered the finished photos on my computer monitor and knew there was a certain scripture I just had to tie in with the images of this fresh mountain stream cascading down into a breathtaking waterfall. It was a few years ago when I first encountered this passage and I was stunned at what I read back then:
My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)
The pastor/teacher John Piper is helpful in unpacking this verse:
“God pictures himself as a mountain spring of clean, cool, life-giving water. The way to glorify a fountain like this is the enjoy the water, and praise the water, and keep coming back to the water, and point other people to the water, and get strength for love from the water, and never, never, never prefer any drink in the world over this water. … That is how we glorify God, the fountain of living water.
But in Jeremiah’s day people tasted the fountain of God’s grace and did not like it. So they gave their energies to finding better water, more satisfying water. Not only did God call this effort futile (“broken cisterns that can hold no water“), but he called it evil: “My people have committed two evils.” They put God’s perfections to the tongue of their souls and disliked what they tasted; then they turned and craved the suicidal cisterns of the world. That double insult to God is the essence of what evil is.” (from his book When I Don’t Desire God, p. 33-34)
I’ve meditated on this verse for some time, and it still stuns me today to think on it. First, to see a gracious Creator offering to be everything for us creatures, giving himself fully and sacrificially in the person of Christ to be the only life-giving thirst-quenching water that can and will satisfy the deepest longing of our parched souls. To offer humans that kind of satisfaction in him is an expression of amazing love! And then I think of my own wandering heart, how easily in this world I have turned away from the ultimate fountain of delight in God and instead attempted to find hydration in cloudy mud-filled bacteria-infested water.
This to me is the insanity of evil. Being offered the very best in the universe for your ultimate joy and good by the loving God who formed you, but turning away in disinterest or unbelief and instead groveling about in the muck searching for some hint of happiness…