“Just go to the end of the parking lot, go down the stairs and take a left,” my friend told me. That’s all the information he provided.
As a local photographer, I was looking for an opportunity to take some dramatic photos of the Washington Coast and Pacific ocean. I had asked several of my peers. One friend offered a suggestion that eventually changed my life.
The next Saturday morning, I was off to Kalaloch, a small community about 45 minutes north of Aberdeen on the Pacific coast. I was pulling my 1947 restored tear drop trailer for a weekend get-away with my bag of camera gear and several sets of warm clothes.
Just beyond the famous Kalaloch Inn is the Southern portion of the Kalaloch State Park. There were just a few camps filled. The weather was typical Washington coast. Threatening rain. I pulled into the assigned spot, unhooked my trailer, grabbed my camera and I was off for the beach to capture the late afternoon light.
The stairs to the beach were made of drift wood, with several steep steps followed by slippery rocks. When I made it to the beach, I was not surprised to see the beach relatively empty. Not many people were hearty enough to camp in the March cold weather. I wasn’t sure how far I would have to hike to find the tree. All I knew was that when I saw it, I wouldn’t have any question that I had found what I was looking for. I crossed a few sandy streams—the ones that take one large leap to cross. As I continued exploring the bank, I came to what looked like a stream bed strewn with driftwood. And then, turning my head, there it was. The Tree of Life, the Kalaloch Tree —exactly as it was described.
The Tree of Life, a wind-blown Sitka Spruce, is a survivor. It’s simply unbelievable to see a live tree suspended in the air, hanging from just a few roots. The pounding storms on the coast ensured that the tree hasn’t grown any unnecessary foliage. The tree barely seems to survive.Through the years, a creek cascading over the bank had eroded soil in its path. The wind-swept tree became a victim of the continued destruction. Or so it seemed. The water’s ongoing friction created an undercut which eventually expanded to the point that the tree was suspended like a hammock from the opposite ends of bank.
The Tree of Life. It felt spiritual. It’s message of survival was crystal clear. The tree demonstrates that survival in this world can sometimes simply come down to desire and tenaciousness.
I set up my camera on a tripod. I adjusted the camera settings for a maximum depth of field, double checked the focus detail, the F stop and then depressed the shutter button. I took several more photos to ensure I would get the ideal image.
Arriving home, I went to work doing digital postproduction. I chose to produce the print in black and white. The colors were muted in the cloudy light. They didn’t add anything to the image. By removing the color, it allowed the fine details and contrast of the image to shine through.
Months later, my Tree of Life image was selling briskly online to customers as far as Australia. I was receiving plenty of attention and recognition at local photography competitions. But, most importantly, the image has become an inspiration to me. When I face new unsurmountable challenges, I know that with the right attitude I can survive, possibly thrive.
To visit the Tree of Life, head west to Aberdeen from Olympia, then north on the 101 for 45 minutes. Humptulips, located about halfway up the coast, has a small store and gas station worth a visit. Learn more about the Tree of Life here.
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