Millbrook: Frost Mist Rising in the Morning Sun

There are moments, as a photographer, that you dream of. That you hope for. That, if you've had them, you'll cherish for the rest of your life. Maybe it was a sunset that set your world on red and orange fire. Or a brilliant sunrise that bolstered your faith, that inspired you to keep on dreaming of a better life and happier days.

On this particular morning, I had a sense that something good was waiting for me out there, somewhere along the water. It was frosty-frigid cold; in fact, cold enough to draw a whimper from the faint of heart. But the sun was rising, and the light was coming, and it was a morning that promised to become a spectacular day. Time to get out there and see the show!

I hadn't stopped at Millbrook Marsh in a while. In fact, I haven't been driving out of the way very much this winter, as any side road can take you on an unexpected and not always enjoyable slippery-slidey adventure. I've been taking the bus a lot. On some of the coldest days, I haven't even gone outside, not even once.

And so it was a delight for me to be in my car on this morning, heading into the rising sun, cruising in search of winter's beauties. And as soon as I neared Millbrook Marsh, I knew I was going to see something unusual and unexpectedly beautiful. All of the plants and bushes and trees around Thompson Run had been covered in heavy frost overnight. And on the instant that the first light hit, the frost dissolved into mist, which rose like smoke - or angels - in the morning sun.

I had the sense, as soon as I saw it, that it was a very limited-engagement sort of phenomenon. And so it was. It had just begun when I arrived, around sunrise; and when I left, about a half-hour later, the mist was dissolving, the weeds and plants and bushes and trees all transforming back to their regular, everyday, normal selves. If you got there a half-hour later, you wouldn't even know what you'd missed.

And so I walked around like one in a dream, taking hundreds of pictures. It was one of the most fantastic, beautiful natural phenomena I have ever seen in my life. It was beyond enchanting. It was magic, the real deal, the kind you could almost reach out and touch. The moments you hope for, dream about, long for, cherish in your heart of hearts. To become one with the mist and the light and the sun.

An unexpected bonus on this day . . . and I can't believe I'm merely telling you this tale rather than showing you the picture of it. Some of you might remember my quests along Spring Creek and Millbrook Marsh, trying to catch a photo of an elusive heron that haunts these waters. (Read about my prior attempts here and here.) Well, guess what. On this day, not only did I SEE the heron up close and personal, but I also got a few decent shots of it.

I hadn't even seen the heron there. I was standing on the bridge over Thompson Run, and I looked to my right to check the tree where the kingfisher sits. But he wasn't there on this day. However, the heron was quietly fishing in the waters of the run, when some mallards spooked it. I had been focusing on some frost flowers along the creek, and the heron rose - fwoop! fwoop! fwoop! - into the air right beside them! Lucky, lucky me! A couple of quick snaps, and then the bird disappeared into the mist.

But - and it nearly breaks my heart to say this - the heron pictures, a quest finally achieved, did not win the Blip on this day. That honor goes to this, my favorite photo from the whole set of more than 300 shots: the frost mist rising in the morning sun.

The song to accompany this shot is Bruce Springsteen's The Rising, the title track from his 2002 album, which was his first studio album with the E Street Band in 18 years. The album is a response to the attacks on United States (especially the World Trade Center towers) on September 11, 2001.

Wikipedia recounts that Bruce's inspiration for the album occurred shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when a stranger in a car stopped next to him, rolled down his window, and said to New Jersey's favorite son: "We need you now." The song tells the story of a firefighter climbing through the flames of one of the Trade Center towers on September 11. It is a song about transcendence over loss, about hope, about the triumph of the human experience over suffering and tragedy. It is a song about rising into the light.

I'm including links to two very different versions. The first is from a live performance with the E Street Band in Barcelona, and it really rocks. Get up and dance if you like. I did. The second is from the Obama inauguration concert. It features just Bruce and his guitar and a 125-member choir of women dressed in red gowns. And they sing it like a hymn: "Come on up for the rising . . . Come on, lay your hands in mine . . . "

And so let us reach out our hearts and hands and join with the mist on this glorious morning. The mist that was more beautiful than anything I could have imagined, anything I could have hoped for. And we shall become one with it. And we shall rise - all rise, like angels - into the light of the morning sun.

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