Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two countries joined by a common smoke

with 17 comments

The morning of August 30, 2017, found us at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada. You can tell by the first photograph, taken on our balcony, that smoke from forest fires was still with us.

After having breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we drove south toward Glacier National Park, Montana. Along the way I stopped here and there when something caught my photographic fancy. One such stop yielded the second picture, with its pleasant combination of western mountain ash, Sorbus scopulina, and quaking aspens, Populus tremuloides. An advantage of photographing close subjects was the absence of haze.

The last picture, taken 12 minutes later, returns to smoke and offers a distant view of Chief Mountain in Montana.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2018 at 4:37 AM

17 Responses

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  1. That last one is so iconic it makes me wonder if earlier image-makers were also working in the smoke. We are certainly seeing the results of 50 years of fire suppression.

    melissabluefineart

    January 26, 2018 at 8:36 AM

  2. Very nice photos! We experienced heavy smoke all of last summer here too, including our own and some in Alberta as well as smoke that drifted in from fires in Idaho and even Washington State. I took few pictures except for some of the local fires themselves. I wish for a much better year upcoming.

    montucky

    January 26, 2018 at 11:23 AM

    • Thanks. I think our lungs must’ve shared some smoke. How close are you to Glacier National Park? You’ll get many more chances, but we were disappointed on our one shot at it to see the mountains only in a haze, far from the clarity they have in the many pictures of them on the internet.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 26, 2018 at 11:35 AM

      • I’m located about 90 air miles southwest of Glacier and without the fires our air is crystal clear here. For a couple months last summer we couldn’t even see the mountains on either side of the Clark Fork River because the north edge of the Sheep Gap fire (comprised of about 70 square miles) was only 2 miles to the south.

        montucky

        January 26, 2018 at 11:46 AM

  3. Sorbus scopulina? That is a new one for me.

    tonytomeo

    January 26, 2018 at 11:38 PM

  4. When I read the linked article about the mountain ash, I was amused to see that it isn’t in the ash family. Beyond that, my impression that its appearance bears some similarities to our sumacs seems to be right, given the shape of the leaves, its growth habits (shrubby and relatively short) and the bright fall berries.

    The line in the description that I most loved was this one: “But once one learns the tree’s appearance and forest habitat, it suddenly becomes more common. Isn’t this so often the case?” It certainly is. As I said in my post about the black vultures, “After learning a new word, I almost always read or hear it in other contexts. The same apparently holds true in nature: the more we see, the more we see.”

    Looking at the smoky photos that bookend the aspen and ash, I couldn’t help revising some lyrics, just a bit:

    They asked me how I knew
    skies above were blue,
    Even though my eyes searched in vain for clues
    to a clearer hue.

    They said you’ll never find
    Comfort for your mind;
    When the forest burns, you must realize
    Smoke gets in your eyes.

    shoreacres

    January 27, 2018 at 8:29 AM

    • I’ve had the experience you mentioned of learning about something and then seeing it more than before, or for the first time. The mountain ash went the other way: I saw the orange fruits in plenty of places without knowing what the plant was. Only after returning home did I send pictures to Glacier National Park personnel, who identified this and other species for me.

      Mountain ash not being an ash is akin to evening-primrose not being a primrose, desert willow not being a willow, Cape honeysuckle not being a honeysuckle, etc. Not all that glitters is gold.

      Jerome Kern was one of the great songwriters of the 20th century. From childhood I remember the Platters’ version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2di83WAOhU&feature=youtu.be]. Later I came to enjoy the version in the 1935 film “Roberta.” I think lyricist Otto Harbach would have approved your “naturized” take-off.

      What you imagined as bookends, I saw as a sandwich—and not because I’m hungry.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2018 at 10:34 AM

  5. Thank you for this beautiful and informative photo documentary, Steve.

    Dina

    February 2, 2020 at 4:16 AM

    • You’re welcome, Dina. At first I was sorry that the smoke obscured landscapes I would otherwise have been happy to photograph. On the other hand, these smoke-shrouded views are different from most of what’s online, and that makes them stand out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2020 at 10:51 AM


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