Winter 2015. I just finished shooting the photos for a sledding adventure, Cubs in a Tub, in the Sierra Nevada, up the road from Donner Pass. I knew it would be cold. I did not give a lot of thought to the challenges of setting up and taking photos in sub freezing temperatures. It was exhilarating, mostly. I only cried twice.
The first time, I stayed out too long. I was working on a tricky shot—a miniature zip line for the sled, in a tricky lighting situation. (It turns out snow photography often involves tricky lighting situations.) It’s difficult to push the tiny buttons on the back of the camera wearing any kind of glove, so I’d developed a strategy of shooting without a glove until I could no longer bend my fingers, then defrosting my right hand in a coat pocket containing one of those chemical warmer upper packets. This worked great most of the time, but you can’t push your luck. Wait too long, freezing fingers hurt. This was the first time I cried.
The second was the morning I hiked half way up a black diamond ski slope in order to capture a snow-covered peak in the background of a sledding shot. It was windy. I was freezing, despite two pairs of smart wool socks, long underwear, two sweaters, a borrowed high-tech ski jacket, face mask, and fleece-lined hat with ear flaps. I arranged the camera and characters the way I’d practiced the day before, planted plenty of knitting needles in the snow to hold the sled in place (You use Photoshop to edit these out later.) and stretched out to frame the shot.
Just then, a gust of wind blasted the bears. Russ fell over. Gus’ hat flew off. It skipped along the snow for ten feet and disappeared over a cliff.
I crawled over to the edge of the cliff. The hat, a tiny gold triangle with a red pompom, was nestled at the base of a fir tree thirty feet below. Flipping flip, as my daughter would say.
Gus needed his hat. The easiest thing would be to go home, knit another one, and return the next morning when the light was back in the magic zone. I didn’t like this option. I had hiked half way up a mountain with a lot of gear. I had momentum, and a deadline.
I wondered if there might be a non-fatal way to get to the hat. The cliff wasn’t entirely vertical. Let’s just say I could scootch down. What about the tree well ? You aren’t supposed to get close to tree wells, because the snow there is warmer, thus softer, and one can sink. I didn’t want the ski patrol to find me in a week, frozen solid, with only the top of my hat showing above the snow. This was a reasonable fear, wasn’t it, or was I being a very unBraveMouse?
I looked around to see if there was a fearless young ski patroller who might rescue the hat for me. There wasn’t.
A few months earlier, my twenty-seven year old son made a comment that I wrote down and pinned to my bulletin board.:
“I get nervous if I don’t get out of my comfort zone on a regular basis.”
“Words to live by!” I thought.
Now, perched on the edge of an icy cliff, I wasn’t so sure. This is when I cried—but only for several seconds. The light for the photo would be perfect in five minutes. I had to make a decision.
What the heck. I skootched my way down the cliff. I reached across the tree well and snatched the hat. I climbed back up the cliff. I got the shot.
Another day, another BraveMouse adventure.