Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Zion’s Fremont Cottonwoods

Cottonwood in sunlight, Zion NP

Being a tree in Zion NP is, for the most part, no easier than being a tree in the rest of the southwest.  Here in southern Utah you’ll find the same twisted, gnarled, and undergrown specimens that populate the rest of the area.  Alive, but struggling.

With one major exception.  If you’re lucky enough to be a Fremont Cottonwood living in close proximity to the Virgin River, life ain’t so bad.  First and most important, there’s usually plenty of water around.  The Virgin River rarely runs dry.  There might be too much water from time to time, but almost never too little.  Second, if you’re close to the river, then you’re probably also in the canyon.  While temperatures can reach 100 or more in the summertime, it’s not as bad as being completely out in the open.  The sun doesn’t shine all day in there.  The cliff walls reach 2,000 feet in places, creating a lot of shade a lot of the time.

While the cottonwoods are always beautiful, my favorite time to see them is early spring.  For some reason, these trees seem to glow when the sun hits them.  And when their light green leaves first pop out, the effect seems to intensify.  It’s as if they’re electrified.

If the light is right, you can sometimes capture them lit up like this with the dark red canyon walls – also illuminated – in the background.  All in all, not a bad deal.  You’ve got the happily gurgling river close by, some amazingly illuminated trees, and the ever present red Navajo sandstone hovering over everything.  I could really learn to like this place.


8 Responses to “Zion’s Fremont Cottonwoods”

  1. oneowner

    Of all your Southwest photos, this may be one of my favorites. It seems to be it’s own light source which is probably enhanced by the B&W procession.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Ken. For what it’s worth, I think the B & W process tends to downplay the lighting effect. To me, it actually seems to be brighter in color. The main reason for converting to B & W was because it already had that appearance. The only real color in the image was the yellowish light on the tree. The background (the red sandstone) was just dark gray in appearance. I thought about displaying both versions, but didn’t. Given your comment and then Juha’s, I probably should have.

  2. Juha Haataja

    I noticed you used a lot of color words “light green”, “dark red”, “red Navajo sandstone” – and the photograph is in b&w.

    But I do like the b&w rendering, it really shines.

    • Paul Maxim

      After finishing this post I did my usual proofing before I published it. When I do that, I try to read it as someone else would – someone who is seeing it for the first time. When I did that, my reaction was exactly the same as yours. Why mention all the colors if the image is in B & W? Seems kind of contradictory, doesn’t it. But as I said to Ken, the color I describe in the post wasn’t really available in the picture. Standing there, I could see the red sandstone. The camera’s sensor did not – proving once again that the DR of the human eye (and brain) is significantly greater than that of even good digital SLR’s.

      But thanks for liking it anyway! Sorry for the confusion………..

  3. meanderingpassage

    I’m not sure color wouldn’t have been more a distraction in this photo. This image seems about the lines, details, contrast and that wonderful lighting. It’s one you can look at a long time letting you eyes play over the scene — a very good photo, IMO.

    • Paul Maxim

      Thanks, Earl. I have to say that just looking at these images makes me a little “homesick”. In fact, there’s a certain spot by the river that my wife and I always visit just before we have to pack up and leave. It has its own little beach – including some nice white sand – and the sound of the water is mesmerizing. We don’t do anything; we just sit there and take it in. And think about the next visit.

  4. Juha Haataja

    I also think this is excellent in b&w.

    And indeed the eye-brain system is a curious thing – sometimes the colors one sees are more a construct of the imagination (and memory) than a real thing. The saying “I take photographs to see how a thing looks like in a photograph” does apply…

    Also, I have recently been reading books written by Tony Hillerman (so-called Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels); he describes in his books a landscape somewhat similar to what is depicted here.

    • Paul Maxim

      I’ve heard of Hillerman, Juha, but I’ve never read any of his books. I’ll have to check him out. The unfortunate thing for most of the Navajo people is that they don’t live in areas that look much like this. Their small communities are mostly scattered across barren areas of desert. Some don’t even have power running to their homes. Every time I’ve passed by some of these small enclaves I’ve wondered how they survive the summer heat without AC or even an electric fan. I’ve read that there are still some 10,000 Navajo living without electricity and, in some cases, without indoor plumbing.


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