Yesterday while I was making a test print of this image in the darkroom the word undulate came to mind. I cannot think of a time I have ever used that word in a sentence and yet here I was staring in a tray of developer watching this image emerge from the blank white paper and thinking that undulate was the perfect word to describe this image.
A row of trees lies along a hidden Tucannon river and are trapped between the man altered landscape of the plowed farm land that undulates in the foreground and a undulating hillside full of windmills in the background. This place made me contemplate how Man shapes the landscape and the Earth shapes the man. One adapts to the other as we circle the sun together.
The Palouse landscape is so steep and wavy that the farmers adapt their machinery to retain balance as they plow and harvest.
The Spokesman Review wrote a story about the special machinery required that validates my description of this landscape. On March 23rd 2020 they published a column that included this: “Raymond A. Hanson made a fortune as the inventor of a system used to harvest wheat on the undulating hills of the Palouse.”
Hanson passed away in 2009 and his namesake company was sold to a Danish Company before that. You can still see the huge manufacturing plant on the North Side of Spokane. It became the Kaiser Magnesium Plant before becoming Highwood Global LP which is also a manufacturer of heavy machinery that alters the landscape towards human endeavors.
I photographed this scene right before Thanksgiving as Sarah and I returned from a weekend of wine tasting with friends in Walla Walla. We had driven past the sign that said there was a heritage marker ten miles up the road from the intersection many times without stopping. On this particular day I had packed a couple of cameras loaded with film and we didn’t have anywhere to be in a hurry on this bright sunny Autumn day so we made the turn and discovered a beautiful valley filled with remote farms and ranches along the river.
Sarah drove so I could peer out at the landscape. I asked her to stop at the first bridge we came to because I wanted to see what the river looked like. As I looked up at the river I spoke aloud the question of “I wonder if there are any fish in this river?” Sarah heard me and immediately pointed at the river behind me and said, “there’s one!”
I turned around and went to the railing of the bridge and sure enough there was a large Chinook Salmon all alone just seeming to swim hard enough to stay in place. It’s dark body blended in with the rocks so it was pointless to try to photograph it. The fish had turned almost black which made it’s tail fin look extremely bright as it swished side to side. It was bigger than any fish I had caught this summer on my fly fishing trips.
I thought it might be sitting there feeding but I didn’t see any action or hatches in the water. Instead I think it was saving up energy for its final push up the river to its spawning bed where it will die and nourish the next generation.We stayed an admired the fish until we both felt we needed to move on.
Nine miles further up the road we arrived at the heritage marker and learned that the Lewis and Clark exhibition had stopped there for lunch in 1806. Historians feel certain about this based upon immutable markings in the landscape that align with their journals. According to the lewis-clark.org website on May 3rd, 1806 “The expedition follows an Indian trail across high plains bisected by the Tucannon River and are met by a familiar Nez Perce chief.” The sign further explained that there were certain marks in the landscape that remain as they were described in the journal.
This was our turn around point because we had already added an hour to the drive home with this short detour. Along the way we stopped a couple of times for me to finish exposing my rolls of film.
This is the first image I printed from these negatives. I wrestled with the print in the darkroom in order to make the final image. The scene is one of extreme contrast so I had to burn in the sky 40 seconds in order to see the clouds. I burned in the foreground 20 seconds to emphasize the depth of the space between where I was standing and the tree line. I used the edge of my hand in karate chop position to dodge the trees six seconds in order to fully preserve the brightness of the yellow leaves that were still left on the branches. A camera can never fully record what the eye sees and the heart experiences so I must grapple with the light and emulsion to coax out an image that expresses what I experienced in that place.
As I sit here writing this and reflecting on my observation of this undulating landscape, I think that perhaps that word first sprung into my subconscious as I observed that salmon swishing its tail fin. Just to confirm the accuracy of my vocabulary I looked up the term undulating fish swimming and came up with a search result of:
Undulatory Swimming. For a wide variety (perhaps a majority) of fishes, the dominant propulsion mechanism involves wagging or “flapping” the aft-most portion of their body, namely, their caudal or “tail” fin.“
I wonder if there is a creation myth for this landscape that describes the Palouse hills as being created by the undulating movement of salmon. If not, I think there should be.
I think the process of creating mythology is one of recognizing the interconnections between separate observations and using imagination to express that connection and achieve some means of attaining a truth that is beyond words.
I am certain Geologist will find my undulating salmon idea silly and have much more factual interpretations of the landscape but I am not a scientist. I am a photographer who seems to philosophize about the world I am observing.
When we were tucked up in this valley I didn’t have cell service so I couldn’t ruin the moment with factual research. Later as we returned to the main highway I was able to confirm that we had indeed seen a Chinook and that there is a fish hatchery further up that road that is attempting to restore steelhead and salmon. It is a worthy cause and a place I look forward to returning to next spring.