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 Nature Photography :: Essays :: The Size of the Rat


Early Cloud, Misty Lake

In one of his magazine columns Galen Rowell talks of ‘The Rat’, a term used by English mountain climbers to describe whatever it is inside that drives them to climb mountains. The bigger the rat the bigger the gnawing desire to climb another mountain. I like the analogy and thought I would follow this train of thought for a while.

We all have a rat inside. The only question is, "How big is yours?"

Some people only have an itty bitty field mouse with just enough gnawing ability to get them out of the arm chair during an ad break on the TV, while others have a bloody great bush rat capable of chewing through an aluminium camera case. My personal rodent is of the second variety. It’s constantly gnawing at my guts, saying things like "Get up before the fog lifts" and "You need to see what’s on the other side of that hill". I don’t always take heed mind you, but let me tell you about one time I did.

I was camped near Strzelecki Creek with fellow photographers. The area overlooks The Sentinel and has views clear into Victoria—a beautiful spot. We had been driven to the tents early the previous night by the arrival of low damp cloud. As usual I slept well but I only need a few hours sleep and the early night meant that I was awake by about 2am. It was below freezing outside the tent and not much warmer inside so I had little incentive to leave my sleeping bag. But the rat would give me no peace. He was gnawing away, saying "You know there’s going to be a great sunrise over Blue Lake".

Eventually the discomfort caused by my rodent became larger than that of leaving my sleeping bag. I dressed quickly, grabbed my camera equipment and walked through the chill air of Mt Twynham’s shadow towards the ridge overlooking Blue Lake. Despite the rat I missed the sunrise but was still rewarded with a marvellous vista upon reaching the ridge. Setting up the camera I immediately exposed one sheet of film and was content with the photo.

Standing on top of the ridge I spread my arms and bathed in the sun’s warmth. Looking toward Charlottes Pass I was struck by the beauty of the scene and began daydreaming. I wondered what the people below the clouds were thinking. They were probably deciding not to go up into the mountains because it was overcast. I wondered why I would want to be anywhere else at this time, and I marvelled at the mist writhing on the surface of the lake…Whoa! look at that mist.

The lake has a totally different appearance; much better than the photo I’d just made. Mt Little Twynham had become a large dark mass to the north so I panned the camera to the right, inserted a double-dark and made an exposure using the same settings as the previous photo. The mist was changing too fast to be concerned with the finer aspects of exposure and composition, although I did verify all settings immediately after taking the photo.

Later in the year Early Cloud, Misty Lake won the Kosciuszko Nikon Photographer of the Year competition. Contacts made from winning this competition led to an exhibition and the placing of my photos in the National Park shop. Since then this photo has earned me thousands of dollars in direct and indirect sales. It has been used on my greeting cards and has been made into a poster. Worth getting up early for, don’t you think?

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