No doubt there are sentient beings more miserable than a writer unable to write. I just happen to be a writer, so it’s this cubicle of despair that’s most familiar to me. Writer’s block is usually transient. What I tumbled into three years ago was quite different—a prolonged period of depression and grief that left me at a loss for words. Any story, even a modest act of journalism, requires an energy and a confidence that I didn’t have and didn’t feel inclined to fake.
I still can’t watch the Tom Hanks movie “Castaway” without dissolving into tears at his rain-drenched scene with Helen Hunt. It’s just so heartbreaking. But the film is also about perseverance and flotation. Somewhere in my dark night of the soul my camera became the paddle for my life raft, so to speak.
More practically, my Canon SLR offered a way to catch light and images without having to wrestle with words; to engage in a creative process without bearing the burden of trying to explain anything.
The landscape I retreated into, in search of solace, is what geologist J Harlen Bretz termed the “channeled scablands.” The scablands are primarily in eastern Washington and characterized by broad, deep canyons, basalt palisades, and “pothole” lakes. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, Bretz concluded these features could only have been created by a violent cataclysm.
Bretz was right about that. Yet, because the catastrophe he proposed sounded so much like a Biblical flood, there was organized pushback from the nation’s geologic establishment; so much so that Bretz was essentially ostracized with his “Spokane flood” theory for nearly half a century.
Bretz’s vindication–long after he retired–was the refrain for a 2005 NOVA documentary that focused on his impeccable science, and rightly so. Still, it’s easy to forget that scientists are human beings first and that Bretz, for decades, had to endure a shameful effort to discredit him.
He struggled with the cruelty of this throughout most of his adult life. I’m aware of this part of his story when I visit some of the magnificent places—Devil’s Canyon outside Kahlotus, the Drumheller Channels near Othello, and Potholes Coulee south of Quincy—where he and his students worked tediously in the summer heat taking measurements and recording observations. The narrative convergence of rock, time, catastrophe, and of a mortal scientist holding fast to his evidence, and himself, resonated with me and helped with my own convalescence.
Spokane, where I live, was the staging ground for most of Bretz’s early expeditions. That seems about right given that the massive floods that created the scablands first poured through Spokane at a depth of some 500 feet.
The tangible results, for me, are thousand of photographs of canyonlands, streams, wildflowers and creatures of this realm. With encouragement from many—most especially my youngest sister, Jean, and my dear friend and frequent hiking companion, Larry Shook—I’ve decided to offer some of my favorite images for sale. You can see large thumbnails of the photos below and you can click on each to see a larger image, the story behind the photo, and price information on prints suitable for display. To place an order, please send me an email and allow a couple weeks for delivery.
The images and prices are also provided at the Rhubarb Skies photography store. Sale proceeds will help support the writing, photography and other costs of this free website.
Suffice to say I have a new appreciation for the therapeutic benefits of nature and nature photography. There are still places I want to see, or see better through a lens. It’s a long assignment, and one that would be best to never quite finish.
Note: All photographs are copyrighted and not to be reproduced, sold, or used in publication without consent. Tim Connor (c) 2014–2016. Mary Kay McCollum, 2016.
All photography (c) copyright, Tim Connor, 2014-2016, and Mary Kay McCollum, 2016.