The long day’s hike, perhaps ten miles, left me feeling tired, irritable, and spent. Dan and I had come down a huge valley, climbed a steep ascent to a lush meadow, traversed through what appeared to be a little hiked area, and descended into a wide, long canyon that turned to a narrow vale. I was as ready to be done with the day’s hike as Dan had been the previous day’s.
But a jewel appeared in front of us as the emerald lake came into view—as bright as any lake I had ever seen. It called to us to jump in, but we wanted to reach the hotel at the end of the lake before stopping. The hotel looked as if it could be on a postcard, as it occupied the end of the glacier-swept valley.
The hotel, picturesque from the outside, was more like The Shining on the inside. As usual Dan went to sleep early, and was asleep when I got up for my early morning exploring. This was the beginning of the greatest photographic day of my life.
The morning was quiet, calm and overcast. I didn’t like that it was overcast because I longed for the bright colors of the emerald lake. I explored around the lake and a boat dock caught my attention immediately. Several rowboats lingered to the side of the aged wooden pier in the reflective, glassy water.
It dawned on me that the overcast caused a different shade of blue in the shallows and allowed for perfect reflection of the peaks. Sometimes what could be seen as a disappointment can turn out to be a treasure. We need to keep our eyes and hearts open to the possibilities.
After breakfast I explored again hoping for a little break in the clouds. The boat dock had opened for business and people were getting into boats. I walked to the end and noticed one shiny, lacquered vessel tethered, waiting for its passengers. The sun slipped out for a few moments, and I got low to the dock. With the craft at a perfect angle into the brilliant emerald water, I captured what I felt was my magnum opus.
“Barca Rossa” as I call it, still speaks to me of the individual journey we all must make into the wild unknown. The boat is our protection; the oars chart our direction, the water the ether of the world. You could sit and watch the boats come and go, noticing how various people enjoy the ride—but that misses out on the adventure.
The adventure is in entering the craft, venturing out, learning how to maneuver, and exploring the limits. The adventure is in pushing away from the dock. Who knows how long it will take for you to learn to guide the boat with confidence? Who knows whether you will go to the left or the right, or what part of the lake you will explore? Often times you don’t even know that, it just comes to you.
Who knows what you will see? But certainly the view is so much more breathtaking from the middle of the lake than from the safety of the shore? Only by shoving off and taking that risk will you find those surprises.
If you never take that risk, you can still see some of the beauty, but you will never experience the fullest sense of the grandeur. The journey is out in the deep water, away from the protective shore. You must choose the risk. If you do, something beautiful, evocative, and incomparable is forever imprinted on your heart.
As I thought about it, if we hadn’t hiked all that distance the day before, through the pain and ache, I wouldn’t have been there for that perfect moment. Often times, the greatest jewels are found at the end of the hardest sections of the journey. Keep pressing through. There is always beauty that comes out of the ashes.
I wrote this piece in 2005 when I first gave thought to writing out the stories about my images. It needed a little fine tuning but I was happy with the content I wrote 11 years ago.
The images are from Lago di Braies in Northern Italy. I’d love to go back, but not sure I’d stay at The Shining hotel or not.