Sometimes the most interesting or evocative photographic opportunities require us to be intimately familiar with a place and its changes. This was just such a time, as I found an ancient bristlecone pine uprooted and discarded among the debris from a recent avalanche.
I drive a lot of back roads. A lot. It drives my wife—and on trips, my students—nuts at times. But this habit grew from my understanding that back roads offer prime chances at images few people ever see, a chance to unite a rural sensibility with a visual aesthetic that has both meaning and appeal.
I leave for the Southwest in three days, and will pass through some placed I’ve known nearly all my life. Chaffee County is one, and this image is one that evokes deep nostalgia in me for the rush of a creek I long to hear.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Jay Em, Wyoming, and will continue to. My next project depends on it, in fact.
Named Jay Em for the first two initials of the founder of the ranch that became the town, James Moore, Lake Harris launched the community in the early 20th century (see Ghost Towns.net for a bit more on the town’s history, and the nomination form for its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places). It was the last watering hole until travelers reached Lusk, 35 miles to the north through the vast, treeless High Plains of eastern Wyoming, but soon the growth of the automobile as the transportation method of choice was the proverbial “bullet in the temple” of the town–no need for watering holes. There are perhaps ten families still living in town, but it’s a long way to go for groceries, let alone anything else of necessity (even distant Lusk now struggles to survive). Oh, and the wind–the fierce Wyoming wind–ravages the town on a constant basis. It’s an assault of both population loss and the elements themselves.
But it’s beautiful, as is its surrounding landscape, and that is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to the town and its plight. There will be more to come from Jay Em in my portfolio. Be sure of it.
I was winded, feeling the altitude–uncharacteristically–of the strenuous hike, but it could also have been the surroundings that were stealing my breath. Dead trees littered the ground amidst others still standing as upright mausoleums, their white and cement-hard skeletons tactile adventures as my fingers gently moved across their bases. But as I looked to the east in a boulder-strewn slope, a handful of trees unlike any other on this earth, a species most anyone will be unlikely ever to see in person, held stubbornly against time and weather as they have for a millennia.
Elated, I scrambled up the rockfall for several hundred feet to the top of the slope, and the aura of this tree–this tree!–that was a sapling long before the First Crusade, perhaps even as the Roman Empire stood united, enveloped me and overwhelmed my senses, for I knew I was in the presence of an ancient.
I have always found nature’s curves fascinating, especially since humankind seems to prefer straight lines while Mother Earth avoids them.
I enjoy photographer Chuck Kimmerle’s idea of how photographs are made: They are long, deep conversations between the photographer and the landscape.
I spent several early mornings in this isolated spot, only the growing light, still waters and wakening birds as companions. The shot moved me beyond words as I created it, reminding me of the deep and complex philosophical poetry the natural world creates in the lifesong it sings.
It’s been nearly a year since I published a new image from one of my favorite lost towns of the West, Jay Em. I try to make it back at least once or twice each year, because I always find new images waiting for me in the recesses of its silent buildings. I’m going back again in July of this year, but in late May I made my first visit of 2013, and made a new set of images to tide me over for a few months. This is my favorite.