The padlock dropped, clanking on its chain against the post. Ingrid had spun the brass dials to a secret code and was pushing the gate open wide. She jumped in as Todd pressed the gas peddle and led a caravan of SUVs up the steep dirt road amongst swirling mists. Up! up! up... into the coastal prairie wonderland that is the Jenner Headlands Preserve.
(click the images for a slideshow)
Perhaps it was a bit risky to run an evening photo tour this time of year at the 5,360 acre property, where the Russian River and Pacific Ocean meet. During August the inland heat draws cool ocean air inland and the possibility of impenetrably thick fog is a daily reality. But the chances were also high that we could use the vertiginous hillside topography to our favor, rising into the magical transitional light just above the clouds as the sun reached the horizon.
Todd Pickering and I were working pro-bono, leading twenty five valued members of the Sonoma Land Trust on an excursion to photograph “On The Land” as part of a membership benefit program organized by Ingrid Spetz. It was in part due to the generous donations of members that allowed the Land Trust to purchase the land in 2009.
The acquisition was a result of a dedicated four-year partnership between the Sonoma Land Trust, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and Five other funding sources (the California Coastal Conservancy, the California Wildlife Conservation Board, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Forest Legacy Program). The Wildlands Conservancy loaned and guaranteed loans totaling $10.6 million to insure this acquisition when funding was threatened. It is the single largest conservation land acquisition in Sonoma County history. In September 2013, Sonoma Land Trust transferred the fee title of the property to The Wildlands Conservancy to manage as a preserve governed by consensus management decisions between TWC and Sonoma Land Trust.
Our tires crawled up the slope out of the fog into a landscape that could be a Salvador Dali painting. The dirt track wound through ancient grasslands, around stone outcrops, and entered a forest of live oak, bay, fir and redwood. We parked in the woodland and walked back down the lane toward the light. Two days earlier we had scouted the location and determined that if the same weather persisted, conditions high up the hill would be ideal. California weather is amazingly reliable, and as luck would have it, the predictions were correct.
The group spread out across the terrain as Todd and I helped people understand their equipment and make decisions about how to portray a sense of this place. Story telling was emphasized, because if you know what you want to communicate, many of the technical photographic decisions needed to achieve that effect are made by default.
Fog licked at our feet and thin clouds stretched like wings across the sky as the sun dipped to the west. I was immersed in the scene and looked across to see people just standing in wonder behind their tripods, gazing at the grandeur of nature. A thousand clicks of the shutter were heard that night, but in the end the best images were those recorded in our memories, of a wonderful evening spent “On The Land.”
For more information about the Sonoma Land Trust and opportunities to visit the Jenner Headlands, Please visit these sites:
Also, be sure to sign up for my mailing list in the side bar and visit my site to learn about upcoming photo workshops: http://jerrydodrill.photoshelter.com/