The Best Picture I Never Took

Years ago I had the pleasure of working for a good sized oil company putting computers into convenience stores. The job took me all over Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania. On a particular week in the early spring I was enjoying a small hotel in Cumberland Kentucky right across from my previous day’s destination and marveling over this new cable station I had never watched, something called the Sci-fi channel. As luck would have it I had to be cross state to the east in early morning so I got up at a ridiculously early time (unless you are a dairy farmer) and loaded up my van.

Now this day was a bit cold by most peoples standards, and freezing by anyone in Florida’s standards, so I turned up the heat a few notches and pulled on to 119 heading towards Pikeville. This particular spring morning I was wandering along in the mostly dark road with a few twinges of what would eventually become a day, and the fog just closed in on me like a damp hand grasping at all that I was and would be. As I drove I could not help but think about old cartoons where the characters took out a knife and cut a hole in the fog and took a bite, because I would have sworn I could have done just that. The fog , as thick as it was, seemed to grow thicker as I slowly made my way up what I could only guess was a hill, or maybe a mountain, or a peak, or even worse, a cliff! The road before me was always about 8 feet long with a line in the middle and I kept the van almost at idle to prevent the more than dangerous drops at points in some of the places I had been. The tough part was I had never gone this way before, so I really had no idea what was before me, something we all should do from time to time as safety is way to overrated.

It was not long before I started doing the fun twists and turns of finding my way up a mountain, or in this case, a foothill, or just a hill if you lived in the area. It was always amazing to me how people who lived here adapted to the hills like they were nothing, and I am sure they would have thought I was a complete non driver for making my way up the hill so slowly. For me this was treacherous and pulse pounding, for them, it was Tuesday. The fog closed in even tighter, but it was different now, instead of the dark cotton attached stickily to the front of my window, it was now blinding red cotton.  I was a bit unsure of what to expect next when I broke through the fog like a submarine being chased out of the water and was suddenly bathed in blindingly amazing sunrise perfection.

The sun had just begun peering over the horizon, but it was peering over a mass of fluffy white as far as the eye could see. Astounded, I pulled to the side of the road and got out of the van to look witness this amazing spectacle and watched as a soft wind blew the low hanging clouds to make waves of white cotton, lapping a few peaks that pieced the fluffy veil.

Being a photographer on the side, this was the best picture a person could ask for so I rushed to the back of the van and grabbed my camera bag, pulling out my Chinon CE-4 35mm camera, I twisted the film advance, only to be answered with a sharp stop signaling I had shot the last picture yesterday.

Quickly I rewound the film and opened the camera, putting the exposed canister in my bag, then grabbed another container, opened it, no lead, it was shot. So I grabbed another, it too was shot. 3 more containers and 3 more shot roles.

I stopped, put the camera down and walked to the front on the van. Leaning back against the hood I watched the sunrise and reveled in the moment I could have missed looking for film. The colors ran from crimson to gold as the sun hit the clouds and played with light. Once the sun had risen the clouds rapidly began to part and other cars finally broke through and shared a few moments with me. a short time later I got on the road again, heading down 119 with a new respect for the Kentucky hills, knowing I had missed the picture, but maybe it was better to remember it this way, after all, no picture could have ever done this sunrise in Kentucky any justice.