Be Careful What You Wish For

by F.M. Kearney | March 10, 2016

Copyright F.M. KearneyLiving in New York City (or any other large metropolitan area) and choosing to pursue a career in nature photography can sometimes be an uphill battle. Local parks and botanical gardens are fine for floral portraits and intimate landscapes, but if you ever desire to capture anything resembling true wilderness, a venture beyond the confines of city limits is definitely required.

I’ve always longed to shoot images of unspoiled, snow-covered landscapes. One winter, many years ago, I decided to take a trip to Upstate New York after a heavy snowfall. Like most city dwellers, I don’t own a car, so I took a bus early one morning to Harriman State Park. Located just 30 miles north of the city and encompassing over 46,000 acres, it’s the second largest park in the state. I had been to this park many times before in the past, but I always went to the Bear Mountain area on the east side of the park. The bus drops you off next to Bear Mountain Inn—a quite populated area. But, I didn’t want to travel this far away from the crowds in the city, only to be dropped in the middle of more crowds in the country. To get truly unspoiled conditions, I decided to take the bus that went to the more desolate west side of the park. I was dropped off on the side of a rural, two-way road with no signs, no benches… nothing—literally in the middle of nowhere. When I asked the driver where the bus stop was for the return trip, he simply pointed to the other side of the two-way, two-lane road—also lacking any signs or benches. That should have been my first clue that this wasn’t going to be a good day.

Harriman State Park - Copyright F.M. Kearney

A small snow plow was clearing a short path at the entrance to the park. I walked behind it to the end of the path and took my first step into unplowed snow. It was almost knee-deep.

Oh, oh!

Up until then, I had only photographed snow scenes in meticulously maintained botanical gardens—where a plowed path was never too far away. Here, walking was like reaching for the third rung of a ladder with each step. Added to my burden was the extra weight of a heavy camera bag and tripod. Unable to turn back now, I slowly plodded my way deeper into the forest. It didn’t take long for me to realize another cold hard fact about wintertime in the wilderness… there are no trails to follow. The pristine snow that I had so longingly craved had erased all traces of any well-wore paths. Luckily, I had purchased a detailed map of the park and learned how to read the small trail markers painted on certain trees along the route.

I finally reached a clearing just as the sun was rising above the tree line. Since the sun had already officially risen quite some time ago, I was grateful for the fact that I wasn’t walking in complete darkness. After securely planting my tripod into the deep snow, I selected a fisheye lens to accentuate the vastness of the area. Magnificent shadows were cast on the unspoiled snow as the sun rose above the ridge. I also took care not to step into an area that I might want to include in the shot. How ironic would it have been to come this far for pristine conditions only to spoil it with my own footprints?

Tree marker - Copyright F.M. Kearney

On my way back out at the end of the day, I was even more careful reading the trail markers on the opposite side of the trees. One misstep and I might be spending a little more quality time communing with nature than I ever intended. As I neared the exit of the park I began to hear the first sounds of civilization I had heard all day… traffic. Relieved that I had successfully navigated the trails, I headed to the “bus stop” that was pointed out to me earlier. I planted myself in a snow bank on the shoulder of the southbound side of the road and anxiously awaited my warm ride home. Shortly after its scheduled arrival time, I saw the top of a bus as it began to emerge over a hill just down the road. I quickly started gathering my stuff, but when I looked back, I noticed that it was the right bus but it was in the wrong lane. It was in the left-hand lane with traffic on its right and making no attempts to slow down or merge over. I watched in dismay as it zoomed by and gradually disappear out of sight. As the minutes ticked by and with no other buses in sight, I began to wonder if that really was the right bus.

I called the bus company from a pay phone across the road. (Yes, this was in the days before everyone had a cell phone surgically attached to their hand.) The bus company confirmed that the bus I saw was indeed the right bus and it should have stopped. There was only one other bus going back to the city that day and it was scheduled to arrive in about an hour—just before nightfall.

I replanted myself in the snow bank across the road. As I waited, insult was added to injury and it, of course, started to snow! All I could do was stand there and get coated in an increasingly thick layer of flakes—looking more and more like The Abominable Cameraman.

Minutes after the scheduled arrival time of the last bus, I spotted it coming up over the hill. Thankfully, it was in the right lane and it stopped at the right spot.

Now, most people probably would have learned their lesson after that. The following spring I went out to the same location, and the same thing happened on the way back home! I’m not 100% positive, but I think it was even the same driver! Fortunately, the weather was much nicer so the extra wait wasn’t that bad. Nevertheless, all of my future visits to this park have been to the Bear Mountain side. Sometimes, complete solitude isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

This article was originally published in NANPA (December 2015). Used with permission.

About the Author

F.M. Kearney is a award-winning fine art nature photographer specializing in unique floral and landscape images. His work has been exhibited in galleries, and featured in numerous magazines, calendars and gift cards. He is a frequent contributor to NANPA's newsmagazine, Currents, and the weekly photography blogger for Contemporary Art Gallery Online.

Kearney began his career as a photojournalist for local New York City newspapers. Using the subway as his primary means of transportation to and from his assignments, he became quite familiar with the system. It eventually became the inspiration for his newly-released horror novel, They Only Come Out at Night. A slight departure from photography, it's a supernatural thriller set in the New York City subway.

To see more of Kearney's photography and to learn more about his book, please visit www.starlitecollection.com.

2 thoughts on “Be Careful What You Wish For

  1. Thanks for the article. I can relate.
    Several years ago I departed from the Lands End Trail in San Francisco and took a steep path (with heavy camera bag and tripod) that descended to a small isolated cove at the ocean’s edge for pictures of waves hitting rocks and such. While I was preoccupied, the tide came in and blocked my exit. I attempted another approach and soon found myself half way up unable to move in any direction. The loud ocean blocked my calls for help. There was no boat to signal for assistance. Panic ensued.
    A non human intervention saved my day. Lessons learned.

    • Wow, now that sounds like a real adventure! I was once almost trapped by the tide while shooting the George Washington Bridge in NY, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as your incident.

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