This is a series of seven photographs I took over nine days beginning on November 29th and going until December 7th, 2012. Each of the shots were taken looking north towards the San Francisco Peaks at roughly 7:25 AM (give or take a couple minutes) from the sidewalk on my way to work on the NAU campus. The sun had been up for only a couple of minutes and the campus mostly deserted at that time of the morning.
These shots are not especially good photos, taken as they were with an iPhone without a tripod and with little thought toward composition. If you care to google for them you can find much longer series of webcam images looking at the Peaks from more pleasing angles. People with high-end cameras are drawn to the Peaks like moths to a flame, so the web is stuffed with far better photographs; hell, some of those pictures were taken by me and can be found on this very blog.
But making aesthetically pleasing or technically perfect photographs wasn't the point of this little exercise. The point was to watch a place - a single place - over a period of time longer than most people's short term memories and see what was going on. Nine days isn't really long enough to see major changes, yet if you look closely you can see things happening.
For instance, Flagstaff had a series of cold fronts come through at the tail end of November and you can see lenticular clouds formed by strong winds aloft crowning Agassiz and Fremont peaks in the first shot. Inversion layers held fog banks to the base of the mountains in the second and third pictures and note how the sidewalk was damp from heavy dew in the third. That morning I had to turn my defroster on during my commute when the truck abruptly passed from relatively dry air into moist air and the windshield iced up.
High thin clouds chased the coldfronts away and turned the morning to overcast gray in the fourth shot, coloring my mood as gray as the clouds. In the fifth and sixth shots clouds tinted the rising sun shades of rose and orange and those colors can be seen reflected in the mountains and buildings. In the seventh you can see the Peaks, towering some five thousand feet above the surrounding terrain, basking in full sun while Flagstaff just barely emerges from the shadows of night. And careful observation of the light shining on the tall ponderosa trees in the midground of all the shots reveals the Earth tilting this part of the continent slowly away from the sun, the planet spinning inexorably around in its orbit towards the winter solstice in two weeks time.
What isn't visible in these pictures is how the songs of early rising birds waxed and waned with the weather and the slowly decreasing light. You cannot see the conspiracies of backcountry ravens perched along the edge of the tall parking garage just out of frame to the left, their obsidian eyes glinting in the blush of first light as they waited for the sun's rays to warm their black feathers. They were aquaintances of mine come down from the mountain to scrutinize the contents of all the dumpsters and garbage cans on campus. When I stopped each morning to take the photographs they croaked and raauuckk'ed their familiar gutteral greetings. I was glad to see them, for they'd been absent for a time and I'd missed them.
It is important to try to be conscious of these things, to notice these longer, slower changes that are occurring around us all the time. To not do so is to suffer from a form of blindness, a sad kind of disconnect from the world. We go about our daily lives working and playing and rarely looking up from our schedules and responsibilities long enough to see the world. Few of us even know what phase the moon is in without clicking on google. Do you know what phase the moon is in right now? When was the last time you looked up at the moon for more than just a passing glance? Would you even notice if the moon were suddenly inverted upside down, the man in the moon standing on his head? What was the weather like four days ago? And might that weather have had some effect on you that you maybe didn't notice at the time?