Friday, August 12, 2011

Photo of the day: Pasque Flowers at Crystal Lake

These days, my job at Mount Rainier National Park is mostly administrative. I manage the park's volunteer and outreach program, and my duties usually tie me to a desk and a computer, answering correspondence, solving problems, building partnerships, and keeping a close eye on the budget. Every once in a while, though, I find an excuse to get out of the office and into the wilderness that inspired me to pursue this line of work to begin with. This time it was to visit a group of Boy Scouts hard at work on volunteer trail maintenance on the Crystal Mountain trail in the northeast corner of the park. Upper and Lower Crystal Lakes were just a short side trip beyond their work site, and I'd never been there before, so I took the opportunity to make a quick visit. On the way back out I stopped to photograph these beautiful pasque flowers in bloom by the side of the trail.

Now, pasque flowers are one of the first to bloom in the high country after the snow melts, so it's an extraordinary year in which they're blooming on August 4th. They also are notoriously brief, lasting less than a week from arrival to disappearance. Most people are more familiar with their distinctive seed heads resembling a "mouse on a stick," or "the Lorax" out of the Dr. Seuss book. (I heard a park visitor once compare it to "Tina Turner's hairdoo.") But the flowers, if you can catch them, are exquisite, with their pearly white petals and bright yellow stamens framed by the delicate green frills of their leaves, all covered in a delicate fuzz.

To capture this photo, I stood in such a way that my shadow fell behind the flowers, but not onto their petals, which required me to twist my body awkwardly--I would have been quite an odd sight to an observer! I also underexposed by about a full stop, to prevent completely burning out the white in the petals and to further boost the contrast between the flowers and the background. I took a bunch of shots, knowing that I wouldn't be able to return and try again. Some weren't focused well, some had the wrong depth of field, some didn't have the right combination of shadow and light. This one had it all!

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