Nothing in nature is permanent and I know that. Still, when I arrived at Skyline Arch on Tuesday to introduce some guided clients to my favorite spooky old tree in the entire Moab area, my heart sank. Lying on the ground next to the trail was The Tree. It wasn’t standing defiantly against the ages, its weathered limbs guarding access to Skyline Arch. No, it was on its side, clearly dragged off the trail with broken branches scattered about the red dirt like bleached, gray bones. No dignity, no respect at all.
I don’t know what I expected to happen to The Tree when its roots no longer dug deep enough into the earth to anchor it securely against the elements. Frankly, I don’t think I ever imagined I would live to see it fall. Over the years, The Tree and I developed a relationship. I’d show up once in a while with the goal of creating an incredible image and The Tree would laugh at me, sending me away dejected each time. The photo above is my best attempt at a portrait of this beautiful but curmudgeonly old companion. Not bad, but certainly not the exquisite piece of art I’d envisioned.
Last fall I took my wife and son to visit The Tree. We brought a picnic dinner, which we ate right underneath its curious watch. I brought my camera and tripod, hoping The Tree would be so kind as to give me a break. I enjoyed the process of setting up a composition with the help of my son, who insisted on pressing the shutter button for me. I moved left, right, back and forward. I zoomed in, I zoomed out. I got down low and up high. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing. The Tree wasn’t having any of my and my son’s monkey business.
Not long ago I decided to photograph The Tree at night. I would arrive before sunset, set up the shot, and wait for darkness to come. Then, I would use a flash to illuminate the tree during a long exposure that would reveal a million stars sparkling in the night sky. Surely, that would be the image I’d desired for so long. As is all too often the case, life got in the way and I never made it out to Skyline Arch. I’ll never know whether I’d have been successful. Most likely, I’d have walked away crestfallen with the The Tree snickering behind my back as I retreated to the comfort of my truck.
I’ll miss The Tree. I won’t know what might have been. But therein lies a lesson that goes much deeper than simply making a photograph: nothing lasts forever and it’s up to us to make sure we don’t put off doing something today we may not be able to do tomorrow. I think this fall my family and I will pack up a picnic dinner and head out to Skyline Arch, where we’ll sit with the remains of The Tree and reminisce about the most beautiful old tree in all of Moab.
RIP – The Tree: ???? to 2011
Read more about Bret and get info on his workshops here.