Have you noticed the changes taking place all around you? It happens every year, and about the same time each year. Days get shorter, leaves begin to turn, and our attitudes get a little better. Our entire ecosystem changes, and with it, so do we. Walking around with your camera becomes fun again, if merely because the raging summer heat finally goes away until next year. Color is everywhere in the northern hemisphere, and we suddenly feel the urge to go out, to wander, and to live a little. In contrast to a mere month ago, streets and parks are no longer empty, and lingering has become fun again. Fall, that most wonderful time of the year, is upon us, so it’s time for a dramatic change in attitude to match the incredible scenery around us. Time to live outside, fetch that food truck, have lunch at a park bench, listen to an outdoor concert, dream a little, and proclaim our new, autumn personas. I shall be this or that, it doesn’t matter, for the the new pursuit will drive us. And we better hurry, because the infamous “winter blues” are more than a myth. So, I’ll see you out on the road then. You can’t miss me, for I’ll be the guy with the camera around my neck, and a smile on my face.
Don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, there is no more perfect season than autumn. Sure, it’s wet, days are shorter, and you definitely need to bundle up a bit before going out. But that’s precisely what makes it so perfect. Nature’s colors at their best, sidewalks covered with fallen leaves, and chilly temperatures that elevate every quiet moment to the level of supreme enjoyment. The heat is gone, and so is the colorless haze that unmercifully mutes the summer colors. The sounds of life’s constant drums are reduced a decibel or two, and nature’s lights are dimmed a bit as if to force us to slow down and take in the transformation that is going on all around us. So here’s a salute to the perfect season: bring out the port wine, dust off the scarfs, put logs on the fireplace, and watch the reluctant sun barely raise over the horizon. Walk out, let the morning dew caress your face, count the colors of the leaves, and breathe the clear, chilly air of a perfect autumn day. Worry less, live more, sit on a bench, hold someone’s hand, and stare at the magnificent spectacle that lies before our very eyes. Let go, let in, and just be. Let nature remind you that every year is different, that you are different, and that in spite of the changes (or because of them), life will still be as colorful as the golden trees adorning the autumn countryside.
Anyone suffering from the winter blues? No doubt by now the cold, rain, ice, and snow are wearing out most mortals out there, to include your’s truly. Not that my camera has been sitting idle since the holidays, but rather that frankly, I’m having a bit of a challenge in finding those unique city scenes that make those long hours worth every shivering, tedious moment out there. During these cold January days locals appear to be perfecting the practice of hybernation. Tens of thousands of people are out-and-about in cities like San Francisco, Barcelona, and New York, but in the commuter heaven that is Washington, DC it is empty sidewalks and parks that rule the days.
Hoping to capture a little of that wintry solitude, I decided to take a walk by the shores of the Potomac River with my camera. As expected, the wind-swept shores were devoid of people, and with the exception of your occasional jogger vent on getting rid of some winter spread, I mostly enjoyed the company of geese, lots of geese. This panoramic section of the Potomac by Ohio Dr. SW sits relatively close to the famous Tidal Basin area, but somehow gets very little attention from visitors to DC. This may have to do with the fact that there are no monuments in the area, or many benches to sit at. But what this section of the National Mall lacks in amenities, it more than makes up with the beauty of the lanscape, specially during the winter season. Both Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery are clearly visible from the river shores. Small boats and rowing teams from local universities slowly fight their way upstream on their way to Georgetown, while departing flights from National Airport with smoky, white trails splashed against the dark, blue skies of a winter day. It is all quite impressive, even if in a quiet, unasumming way. And for a city that prides itself on how fast it moves, it is quite refreshing that there are still areas that reward those who slow down to enjoy the sound of waves crashing on a river shore.
I have to confess that I have never been, nor intend to be, a nature photographer. Not that I don’t like nature, but rather that judging by a lot of the work I continue to see out there, I’m simply not that good at it. But during this part of the year I would be remiss if I didn’t capture some of the simple beauty that autumn brings to Virginia every year in October. The intense colors and endless micro-scenes that surround us everywhere we go during this time of the year are simply magnificent. And while the wide-angled, grand scenery by itself is worth a trip to this part of the US in October, for me it is nature’s endless detailed scenery that attracts me the most. What can I say, it is a palette of colors that for a brief moment every year compels us to meditate about life, about beginnings and ends, and about a life ahead. The season softens our edges, and makes us see what’s around us in a whole new light. At some level, it humanizes us, and that is a very good thing.
From what I gather, not too many photographers associate rainy, gloomy days with great photographic opportunities. Frankly, I fully understand this feeling and have found myself in those shoes many times over the years. And yet, rain and everything that comes with it, do present some of the best opportunities to change your creative pace a bit, so to speak. Rain makes you a different kind of photographer, as everything from color patterns, wet leaves on the ground, and drops of water suddenly become the focus of your attention. Don’t know what to call the photographic (or psychological) transformation people go through when it rains, but it is there and it makes you see the world around you from a completely different vantage point. Personally, I find that people as subjects are suddenly not as interesting as droplets of water on a rail, or as the shinny reflection that comes off wet sidewalks and city streets. Maybe it has something to do with the allure of so many romantic movie scenes that take place during rainy days, or the way nature’s colors are accentuated by the rain, or how cloudy days relax us in a way that would be impossible during the sunny days of summer. Whatever the case, as a photographer I have developed a new appreciation for those days when nature takes us in dramatic and unplanned directions. They afford us the opportunity to get off that well-traveled road for a while, and we all could use a little bit of that. So next time it rains, give walking in the rain a try and you’ll see what you’ve been missing.
Have you taken the time to enjoy the colors of the season? I hope you have, as nature provides us with a spectacle that is easy to take for granted when you have lived in the northern hemisphere for far too long. Having grown up in the tropics, I remember that as a child I constantly gazed at magazines full of photographs of colored trees and of leaves that formed golden carpets over the remaining green grass of the fall season. As a young man thousands of miles from this incredible color spectacle, I couldn’t help but daydream about what it would be like to live in a house with one of those big, orange or red trees adorning our front yard. It was a vision and a dream that lasted for several decades until I could feel, and for the first time, the cool breezes of an approaching winter under one of those magnificent trees. Every fall season I can’t help but remember those childhood dreams and that first time I stood face-to-face in front of one of those colored trees. It was magic. And it still is.