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By Joseph Dempsey warhorses

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Being in the midst of a well-formed thunderstorm,
to some of us, is analogous to crouching in the orchestra pit during a rousting performance of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," or perhaps the final movement of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." In one, thundering hooves and the hot, snorting breath of warhorses are bearing down on you; in the other, explosions au go-go surround you. Either raises the hair on the back of your neck.

Such was the occasion of this image, shot around 1995. The environment was Lake Pine Bluff, one of the premier places on the planet to observe sunsets. You are close to the water, and to the west, a line of trees camouflages and breaks up any signs of urban life behind it. So, essentially, you have unfettered sky, sun, water, and trees — a great combination for sunset gazing.

In recent years, the lake has been renamed "Lake Saracen" in memory of a Quapaw Indian chief who ingratiated himself on more than one occasion to 19th century residents of the area. A fine public pavilion, "Saracen Landing," has been erected on the site of this fishing pier. Take a look at it here:

Back to the storm. It was sometime in late April or early May as I recall. It was hot. Mother earth was radiating geothermal might upward, like feeding steroids to clouds. With so much energy and moisture in the atmospheric inventory, something's got to give — and sure enough, to the northwest, the storm materialized and took a predictable track toward the lake.

I arrived about midway through the first movement. The wind was building and a slight chop was forming on the lake. Some of the fishermen were packing their gear and heading for less risky environs. Soon all fishermen, save two — you have to look twice for the second one, he's to the far left at the shore end of the pier — and one foolhardy photographer were the remaining witnesses. As the storm got closer, the witness count went down to one.

This is an unusual set of atmospheric conditions. The skies between the sun and the storm were gin-clear, so the sun did a nice job of punching through. Rain is pouring at the right side of the frame. The Johnson grass at the south end of the lake is deflected about 45 degrees and the lake chop is about 10 inches or better. The final movement has started.

A couple of loaded camera bodies gives you the opportunity to fire off a couple of 36-exposure rolls in time to grab the gear and make for the car just seconds before you are soaked to the skin. No problem for skin and jeans. Big problem for cameras.

I made it back to the car with little time to spare. I grinned as I watched the storm peak out while listening to Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band warble, "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know where I'm a gonna go when the volcano blows." Life is good.

N O T E S:  
Nikon N90s / Fujichrome Provia 100 / Nikkor AF 80-100 f2.8 D / Color as shot, cropped and resized for web in Genuine Fractals Print Pro and Photoshop CS3 Extended.

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