My Craft

A Split Second Too Late

Miles played with the lens ring waiting for a moment of light to stream across his viewfinder. Presently, he was sitting on a precipice overlooking the Yosemite Valley waiting for Horsetail Fall to light up red like fire. And it seemed everyone had the same idea. He pushed out a bit farther in an attempt to feel closer to El Capitain.

The February winter wind blew up the canyon buffeting his face. He decided his checks where as red as the approaching fire fall. His perch on the ledge drew a crowd and now his solace had been interrupted by shouting from the selfie crowd wanting him to turn closer to them. He waved. He kicked his legs. He even made a clown face.

“Jump off,” someone yelled. Why would they do that? It must be a couple football fields to the bottom. Idiots.

He looked to the west. Thin clouds hid the sun. Not good. He needed more light. The snowfall had been intense so far. Was it warm enough for the falls to even run? He looked over at the waterfall. It seemed to be flowing a little bit. It needed more water to make a spectacular photo. He looked back at the sun. A few hours to go. Maybe things would pick up.

The cold wind numbed his nose. He breathed into his hands. The sun hid behind the clouds and it suddenly seemed much colder.

“Oh no,” a girl cried behind him. He turned to see two legs skidding toward the cliff. He snapped a few pictures until it looked a bit dicey.

He climbed up, tossed his camera over his shoulder, and ran to the girl.

She looked like a small tick poking out of the hood of a blue parka. She wore matching gloves. It was the sort of coat a tourist would wear to a ski lodge.

Miles climbed behind and pulled her up.

“There’s no après ski around here.”

She giggled. Am I flirting. He brushed off her coat making sure she was steady.

“That’s a long way down,” she said.

Miles looked over the edge. He hadn’t noticed the rocks at the bottom.

“Yep. It might hurt if you fell.”

Despite the coat, the girl seemed cold. She jumped in place closer to the edge.

“Maybe you stand back.”

“I’m Jenny.” She offered a gloved hand toward his. He pulled her closer. A smile curled up around her eye.

“You’re a photographer?”

“Waiting on the falls to catch on fire.”

“I hear it’s not to miss.”

She waited for him to continue the conversation. He fiddled with his camera.

“Too many tourists?”

“I’m just used to wandering out alone without all the distractions.” Miles caught her narrowing her eyes a bit.

“Oh, I was glad to help you up.”

“I slipped a bit. I’m supposed to be up there with them.” Jenny pointed at a group of girls also dressed in padded coats.

“Are you visiting from the city?”

“Fresno. We wanted to do something in nature.”

“This is about as close as you can get. Muir called this the Range of Light.” The sun was still behind the clouds. Not much light was shining anywhere. Miles wondered if the falls would be lit.

“A long time ago they used to toss fire off the top of the falls. One of the park rangers stopped it,” Miles said. “Too much like Disneyland, I guess.”

“Then one day a guy named Rowell caught the falls just right and it looked like a fire fall.” Jenny drew closer.

“It only happens in February when the water is flowing and the light is just right.” Miles stopped talking. He thought he was coming across as some sort of tour guide.

“We just heard it was not to miss,” Jenny said. “Do you think we’ll see it?”

“If the sun pokes out from behind those clouds. Down there, I was closer.”

Miles pointed at the rock ledge he was sitting on before Jenny slid through the ice. The sun was starting to set. If he hurried, he might frame up an exceptional photo.

“You might take a good picture here.” Miles doubted it. The ledge hid the crowds and was more remote. He also left his tripod down there. He really should get back to his photo.

“Besides, my friends are gone.” Sure enough, her friends had walked farther down the trail and closer to the falls.

“Let me get my tripod and I’ll be right back.”

Miles jumped over a few rocks down to the ledge. He grabbed his tripod, scrambled up over the rocks and tree roots, until he stood next to Jenny again.

She looked out over the valley at the falls. He followed her gaze and saw just a brief flash of red light streaming down the rock face. Then the cloud covered the sun and the fire fall ended.

“It was something to see.” she said.

Miles fiddled with the exposure knob on his camera. He had missed it. He reached for her gloved hand.

“Tell me how you felt when the water fall lit up.” Jenny took his hand and moved away from the wind rushing up the canyon wall as the setting sun turned the meadows in Yosemite a shade of orange.

© 2018, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.

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