It is somewhat ironic that the phenomenon of the best experiences being the first times I spoke of in my last Behind the Moment, is equally true of Lijiang, the town in Yunnan where Juanli and I have lived since 2005. When we moved to the town in the late autumn we were both very much still bird photographers, and landscapes were on the horizon, but I was still learning what the whole discipline was about.
We had no car at that time, and throughout the winter we would get up well before dawn, strap our Gitzo tripods and Wimberley heads to our mountain bikes and shoulder our camera bags, Juanli’s 300/2.8 + 2x, and my 500/4 with a 1.4x. We’d then cycle the 20km to Lashi Hai, a large shallow lake on the other side of a steep ridge that shadows the Lijiang valley on the west flank.
There was no denying it took some serious dedication to put ourselves through this ordeal 3 or 4 times a week, but the rewards were beautiful crisp dawns, with the air filled with the call of Cranes, Bar-headed Geese, Ruddy Shelducks and a plethora of other species.
On this particular morning in early December, we were on our way to the Lake, heads down, legs pumping in the dim pre-dawn hours. Suddenly I look up and see that something really remarkable is beginning to happen over Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the 5500m mountain that dominates the northern view from town. I desperately search for somewhere to pull off the road and set up a tripod. Juanli catches me up and we set up our shortest focal length combination, my Canon 1Ds and her 300/2.8.
It’s a little tight, but as we’re about 8km from the peak, it actually works out ok.
The combination of the wildly flowing lenticular and the very first rays of a winter dawn have combined to create the most unique view of Lijiang I have ever seen. In the 7 years since I have failed to see anything else that even comes close to this scene. Yes, some great light, some great clouds, snow-encrusted limestone peaks by moonlight, but not this.
The view from our house now looks north to this mountain, I see it every day (when not obscured by clouds) – and every morning I get up before dawn in hope. My camera is never far away, and in these 7 years I’ve learned a thing or two about capturing scenes like this…
I live to wait.