Cynthia Viola Photography

When Men and Mountains Meet

PersonalCynthia ViolaComment
Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
— Mary Oliver

It is decidedly sad that Mary Oliver passed this last week, but the event did present the inclination for many of her followers and those who had never heard her words before to dive into them. Her intentionality with seeing the world and life around her as well as her acceptance of death have inspired many to do the same. I have found myself returning to her words many times on this cross country excursion. And, as I’ve paid attention, and been quite astonished, it is now my duty to tell about it.

I truly cannot get over the variety of mountains I have come across these past few weeks. Beginning of course in my hometown, with the low rolling and misty blues of the Blue Ridge on the east coast. I have photographed them often, but usually only to adjust my lighting before asking a couple or family to step in front of the lens and allow me to capture the mountains merely as a nice backdrop. When they are allowed to be front and center, the varying shades and subtle shifts of light become far more evident.

Blue Ridge Mountains, Boone NC

Next the arid, multi-colored deserts of Arizona, surrounded by cylindrical spires that look built rather than evolved. I, of course, expected to see and experience the Grand Canyon, and it was, just as magical as everyone says. Vast as far, and farther, than the eye can see, and with edges that make you wish you were a bird so you could simply run and leap off the side!

The Grand Canyon

Perhaps the unexpected nature of stumbling across Sedona on several friends’ suggestions, I think, made it a bit more magical to me, however. The spontaneous schedule shift, extra driving to an unknown location and last second scheduled sunrise yoga session on the side of a cliff is simply something I won’t soon forget. I chose to hike alone first, early in the morning in order to get to the top of the mountain before the sunrise to capture a few shots and simply sit with the cacti as the light slowly and determinedly crept across the hills altering slightly everything it kissed. When I met up with the others for the yoga session, it was only 35 degrees as the wind whipped up the face of the cliff but the air was so crisp and the light so empowering you felt the temperature more as a welcomed tingling in your bones rather than something to shy away from.

Sedona Sunrise Yoga Session

Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains I’m quite accustomed to the deep deciduous and ever-greens of winter, summer and spring followed by the outrageously vibrant oranges, reds and yellows of the fall. Something I’ve never experienced in nature before this trip, however, are the lush blue pastels painting Sierra Nevada alongside these lonely, dry, salty pink hills. An unexpected shift in the weather sent me driving north through the desert before crossing the rockies into San Francisco, and I could not be more grateful for the extended reroute. I spent hours just sitting and staring at these colors. There was something so tranquil about the undisturbed quiet reflection of the mountains. I wanted to stay all day but the pending snow storm was going to trap me if I didn’t move on.

Nevada Mountains

So move I did. By the time I got to the top of the mountain in Lake Tahoe, it was snowing and my little car was starting to give me questioning looks every time I stopped to capture a photo. The Rockies were not unlike the Blue Ridge in the color and selection of trees, they were simply immense. Snowcapped evergreens blanketed the mountains in every direction making me excited to come back in a few short weeks to snowboard at Big Bear.

Rocky Mountains

The cliffs of Big Sur surrounded by its icy turquoise surf was certainly the most unique bunch of mountains I came across. A place I’ve been dreaming about seeing for years, I was a little worried when signs mentioned several closed sections (due to landslides from the storm I’d avoided a couple days prior), but I was able to see everything I’d hoped to and more. The vineyard valleys that followed provided a startling spring green compared to the rest of the trip, but only emphasized the vast beauty across the country.

Big Sur California and Monterey California

Next, the fire scorched trails through Malibu, bursting not with pain, but new life from the ashes. A first glance at such scarring almost makes you want to look away, but further inspection shows the beauty breaking through because of the pain. Most forests do better after a fire, so while it’s hard to look at (and certainly not ideal for areas near homes and businesses), it’s all a part of a healthy process of growth.

Malibu Forest Fires

Finally as I flew into Seattle I was honored with the chance to see a blanketed Mount Rainier both from above and below the mist. It’s extraordinary to experience life from multiple perspectives. From above she looks alone and lonely, from below, however, you see the multitude of trees and the city to keep her company.

Each set of mountains has had it’s own beauty and it’s own story. This world is ever changing and brimming with diversity, much like us. May we be brave enough to keep it that way, both in the forests and our cities.

Mount Rainier

If you’d like to see the entirety of the images from the trip, feel free to leave a comment here or shoot me an email. (cynthia@cynthiaviola.com) I’ll be selling digital downloads and prints if you are so inclined. Thank you for supporting this grand adventure.

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable
— Mary Oliver