Maggie and I went to the Olympics over Christmas break and stayed at Dew Drop Inn in Forks, Washington. We had been talking about going to the Hot National Forest for about two years now. Located in the Olympic National Park, Hoh is a mossy wonderland where green touches everything. All that moss absorbs the sound, making it feel surrealistically still. So much so that it was listed as the quietest place on earth. Naturally, we were quite excited to visit, but unfortunately, Mr. President declared a government shut down, causing all the national parks to close. To make matters worse, intense rainfalls in the weeks leading up to our trip had caused branches to break and block the roads; with no one to clear the debris, the parks were left virtually inaccessible, especially in our little VW bug.
Nonetheless, we ventured onwards. We weren’t going to let our money spent on the motel go to waste! We arrived in Forks at around 03:00 PM. It was already as dark as night. We immediately understood why vampires like living there, and also, why everybody seemed so pale.
We woke up the next morning to a thick mist rolling over lush violet fields. The sun, futile in its effort, was trying really hard to burn through the clouds, but the clouds were too thick and came back within the blink of a shutter. We started making our way to the forest. The deeper we went the cloudier it started to become. Soon, it was pouring. We stopped at a cute little souvenir shop that had the best flannels in the entire world. And that’s not an overstatement.
The store owner told us that the park was closed. We looked outside and the rain was so dense that we couldn’t even see our car. Idiotically, I decided that I wanted to take a picture, and take it with my large format camera. Maggie wasn’t feeling well (and by this time had had enough of my nonsense) so she retreated in the car while I fumbled with my bulky old equipment. First, I took out a small yellow umbrella, and started setting up my tripod; it was perhaps the worst idea I had had until that point because it was impossibly hard opening the legs with one hand. The twist knobs kept clenching the skin on my fingers, causing me to shout curse words.
Once the tripod was grounded, I started to set up my Linhof. With one hand on the umbrella, I carefully used the other to place the camera on the tripod. That wasn’t too bad. I started unfolding the bed and took out the lens. Now, I had to focus.
By this time, the thick clouds had made it impossibly hard to see; even with the aperture opened at its largest, I could barely make out shapes as I peered into the ground glass.
To make matters worse, I surpassed my stupidity and tried to use a magnifying glass to focus on the trees. Problem was, I was using one hand to hold the umbrella and the other to move the lens. I had no more hands left to hold the magnifying glass. I decided to put pressure on the magnifying glass using my cheeks and almost tripped the tripod.
At this point, I was almost in tears and wanted to kick and scream. Why do I shoot film? It’s so dumb. I could have shot this in less than a minute with my digital camera, and it would have been sharper too.
Frustrated, I angrily inserted the film back, closed the aperture, took out the dark slide and pressed the shutter button. But my troubles were not over yet; rain had gotten into the dark slide, so as I was trying to put the slide back in, it kept getting stuck. I just gave up, flipped the film back, dried the holder, and tried taking the picture again.
Despite the problems, a part of me had high hopes that the picture would be a masterpiece. Later, when I developed the negative, this is how it turned out. As you can see, a monkey’s ass would probably make a far more interesting photo. Not only did I screw up taking the picture, I screwed up the developing as well. The developing tank cracked as I was developing the film, leaking stinky E‑6 chemicals everywhere. But looking at my failure, I understand exactly why I still shoot film—the process of failing taught me so much about what to do, what not do, how differences in chemical density impacts a negative and in turn, the relationship of exposure to negative density.
But back to the story. Defeated from my experience, I stormed into the car like a little child and drove back to Dew Drop. As we got to the hotel, I was still curious to see how far I could go into the forest; Maggie, feeling unwell and tired of my stupidity, decided to relax in the hotel room instead. On my way back to Hoh, I saw a beautiful waterfall drenched in autumn colors and decided to take out my large formate camera again. This time though, the thick forest canopy served as my umbrella. It wasn’t letting even a drop through!
Surprisingly, this negative came out looking a lot better, despite the fact that it was developed in the same tank as the previous photo. It was still under-developed; when you see the negative in daylight, it is very hard to make out the details. But still, I was able to recover a lot more information through scanning. 15 minutes from the waterfall, I could tell I finally arrived at Hoh proper. Moss was growing on everything but the road. Rain or shine, debris or no debris I was going to get my pictures. The deeper I got, the darker it became. Moss grew on every surface, lighting the Spruce and Sitkas in electric green. The deeper I went, the quieter it became. Soon, I stop seeing any cars and the road comes to an abrupt halt.
With nowhere to go, I got my camera out and start to take a walk. The thick coat of moss muffled every sound. I couldn’t hear myself walk. Through the velvet green shadows of ancient drooping trees, I notice a stump rising from the ground.
I set up my tripod.
The wind began to howl and the leaves started to tremble. Soon, the rain started to patter down the quivering ferns, and the forest begins to swell like a wave.
Windswept, the forest becomes ghoulishly animated. I start seeing faces in the hanging mosses. I looked around and noticed the dead limbs of trees sprawled across the cracked road. The rain grew louder, but still couldn’t find its way through. I was alone, and the sound of the shutter on my camera was absorbed by the ancient giants that surrounded me.