These three photos show the extent of my photography in recent days: freeze-framing highway scenery from a moving car.
We’re driving through Oregon, in one of those storms where the windshield wipers simply melt into cascading rain. Selfishly speaking, I’m grateful it’s not my turn to drive when the weather is that much bigger than technology. I once drove through a fog bank so thick, coming out of Tehachapi, that I nearly pulled to the shoulder and wept. It was that wool-thick Tule fog for which California and the Central Valley are known … the “dense immobile fog that reduces visibility to a mere foot,” as described in this article. I had zero visibility and no pace cars on a dark, winding, unfamiliar road. The only thing that kept me from indulging the emotion was that there was no shoulder, or at least not one that I could see.
So, relieved I’m not driving in this case, I do the next helpful thing which is to brace my Panasonic point-and-shoot on the dash and snap a few shots. Here’s the intensity of the storm, photographed with wipers on:
Here’s a stretch of I-5, just a few minutes later as we move into a clearing:
And here is a heavenly, crepuscular surprise, beaming across the fields just west of the highway:
The Atmospheric Optics website describes crepuscular rays like this:
The rays appear to diverge because of perspective effects, like the parallel furrows of freshly ploughed fields or a road wide at your feet yet apparently narrowing with distance. Airborne dust, inorganic salts, organic aerosols, small water droplets and the air molecules themselves scatter the sunlight and make the rays visible.
Just a couple of months ago, my dear friend Claudia gave me a book called The Cloud Collectors Handbook. I bore my friends with how much I love the visual and light variations of clouds and weather, coming from the sometimes monotonous skies of California. In the description of crepuscular rays, this book mentions a coexisting phenomenon:
Whenever you notice crepuscular rays from a low Sun, look to the opposite horizon for the far less obvious “anti-crepuscular rays.” Appearing to emanate from a point directly opposite the Sun, these are the shadows cast by clouds behind you, like the shadow of someone shuffling behind you in a dusty cinema. Perspective makes them appear to converge in the distance. Few people ever notice anti-crepuscular rays — except vampire cloudspotters, eager for the arrival of night.
The book is right. I didn’t notice them. I will next time.
One phenomenon I wish I could have photographed along this stretch of highway was the numerous Red-tailed Hawks, many juveniles, planted in the highway median. I just couldn’t grab focus on any of them as we sped by. I’m accustomed to seeing all sorts of raptors perched on high visibility points along roadways. Highway areas are home to rodents like voles, in a landscape where a lot of natural grassland habitat is lost. The hawks often wait for rodents to venture too near the dividing line between grass and pavement.
One of my favorite parts of driving Highway 101 south from San Francisco to Big Sur and beyond, is the preponderance of raptors you see along this route. This was the first time, however, that I’d seen hawk after hawk after hawk, perched waist deep in median grass. I’d never seen so many in such close succession … like avian versions of the moai of Easter Island.