I will be celebrating the 24-month anniversary of my 39th birthday in the coming days. Reflecting on this past year reminded me of last year’s big birthday bash when our families and friends threw a surprise party for Mike Putnam (who also turned 40) and me. Looking back now, there were numerous hints that should have clued me in to the fact that everyone around me was planning a party, but like a pawn in a game, I just went blindly through the day enjoying what I thought was a routine day in the life of a lucky man.
For example, I remember waking up that morning and having Julie (my wife) encourage me to go take some photographs. Now bless her heart, my wife has always been very supportive of my photography hobby/habit, but on this particular day, she actually seemed to be pushing me out of the door. That should have been my first clue that something strange was happening, but to be honest, it never even dawned on me. Instead, I hurriedly packed up my camera gear and headed out of the house before she could change her mind. I didn’t even know where I was going when I left the house. I just knew that Julie was giving me a hall pass, and that I wasn’t about to pass that up. Within a few minutes of pulling out of the driveway, I decided that I would drive south to see if there was any fall color around Salt Creek Falls, which at almost 300-feet tall, is the second tallest waterfall in Oregon.
When I first arrived at Salt Creek Falls, the sun was shining through the trees and directly into my eyes. Shooting waterfalls on sunny days is not exactly ideal photography conditions, and having the sun pointed directly into the lens of the camera is about as bad as it gets, so rather than setting up the camera, I decided to scout around the area for awhile in hopes that some clouds would eventually roll in. I fought my way through a thicket of dense trees and found a good location along the slope at the bottom of Salt Creek Falls, but every time that the sun would move behind a cloud, a small breeze would blow up from the base of the waterfall and shake all of the leaves in my foreground (which makes them appear blurry in timed-release waterfall photographs). I played this little game with the sun and wind for more than hour before finally deciding that this just wasn’t my day, and that it would probably be better for me to start heading back home so that I could help my wife with our kids. I hiked out of the woods and started driving over Willamette Pass when I realized that I had lost my sunglasses somewhere along the way. Then, as I was mentally re-tracing my steps, I remembered that I had actually lost my sunglasses the week before at the coast, which meant that today, I had actually managed to lose my WIFE’S sunglasses!
I called Julie and explained that I was going to be running later than expected because I needed to backtrack to find her sunglasses. Julie seemed almost relieved to hear the news, and she encouraged me to take as much time as I needed. That should have been my second clue that something strange was happening, but I didn’t get it because at the time, I was just feeling kind of bad for losing her sunglasses, and my mind was frantically trying to piece together all of the places that I had gone that day. I turned the Jeep around and started driving back toward the trailhead. I wasn’t exactly sure where Julie’s sunglasses might be, but I figured they were probably laying somewhere on that steep slippery slope near the base of the waterfall. I fought my way through the trees again, and as I popped out onto the slope, I noticed that the lighting conditions had improved considerably since I was there earlier in the day. A thick fog bank had moved into the valley, which created nice soft light on the foreground and waterfall. I quickly set up my tripod and composed a few shots. Then I looked down at my feet, and saw that I was standing about 4 feet away from a nice shiny black pair of Oakley’s. Sweet! I re-packed the camera and stuffed the sunglasses inside my backpack and then hiked back up to the parking lot at the top of Salt Creek Falls.
When I got home, Julie told me that Jake Bell (one my best friends) had called to see if I wanted to go have a few beers at Deschutes Brewery and then go back to his house to watch a football game. Apparently, two other good friends (Mike Putnam, My partner in Pacific Crest Stock and Max Reitz) had already agreed to go and Julie had told them that it was OK for me to go along too. I told Julie that it was nice for her to let me go, but that I didn’t really feel the need to go, especially since she already let me have the whole day off for picture-taking. I told her that I would be more than happy to watch the kids for awhile if she wanted to take a break, but she insisted that it was alright with her—and since I’ve never been one to turn down a little beer and football, off I went . . . completely clueless again.
At the pub that night, I learned that Max (who lives in Hood River) and Mike had spent all day hiking around Three Fingered Jack. We had a couple of beers and shared some photography stories, and all the while, Jake kept looking at his watch. Jake seemed nervous as a cat, and he kept prodding us along so that we could get up to his house before the game started. At one point, Mike left the table and Max asked Jake what time we all needed to be up at his house. I had just lifted my pint glass to take another drink, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see Jake immediately making some sort of awkward hand gestures to Max. Again, that probably should have been a clue . . . . but it wasn’t, at least at the time.
When Mike got back, Jake and Max immediately herded us out of the door and up to Jake’s house. Jake pulled into his driveway, and then he got out of the truck and started acting like he was getting something out of the back, knowing full well that Mike and I wouldn’t wait or offer to help him, but that instead we would head directly for his front door (and his fridge) and make ourselves at home. When Mike and I opened Jake’s door, we were immediately greeted with a big “Surprise!” . . . and then whole day began to a make a little more sense.
Posted by Troy McMullin