Half-light & Snow

Buttertown Trail & Homestead - North Vermilion Settlement, Fort Vermilion, Alberta
Buttertown Trail & Homestead – North Vermilion Settlement, Fort Vermilion, Alberta

Returning to High Level from La Crete I chose to investigate briefly the photographic opportunities available at Buttertown, a community just across the river from Fort Vermilion, Alberta. I followed the track through Buttertown finally stopping near this homestead home that may be a century old; it resides only a stone’s throw away from the St. Louis Roman Catholic mission. The moment was quiet, one in which I could hear the wind in the forest, the scrunch of my boots on snow and the occasional drone of vehicles passing miles away. Snow was being loosened from clouds on an overcast, yet moonlit night. What is more, the photograph is shot following sunset and the time is only 6:00 p.m..

Within this image, the track, house, snow and trees recall winter nights walking along less defined paths in what continues to be Alberta’s frontier, its north-central region in and surrounding Wood Buffalo National Park. In those walks, moonlit snow would glow along trails and paths. Most nights would see me cross the kilometre span of Ice Bridge covering the Peace River between December and March. In severely cold temperature, I have walked and encountered northern lights brightening my path with the intensity of vehicle headlights. I have come upon wild horses on trails, not daring to move, shivering, their coats glazed with frost. Two hours hiking would have me out and about looking at the world and move me through ten to twelve kilometres. It was good to move, think and explore.

The tones within the image recall scenes from short stories and novels in which an evening moonlit walk takes a character beyond the safety of home in her or his travel to a neighbor’s home or to town on evening business. Jane Eyre meets the man she’ll later marry, Mr. Rochester by first startling his horse and causing him to fall and sprain his ankle; unwittingly, this is her first encounter with her employer who’s brought her to Thornfield Hall as governess to his child born out of wedlock. Dickens’ story, ‘The Signal Man,’ occurs primarily at night in a cleft of land surrounding a railway switch in conditions similar to those found in this image, conditions ripe for mishap. Many, but not all ‘Ghost Stories’ of M.R. James occur at night in light that obscures perceptions. And, it is perception within half-light scenes that becomes the stage for most occurrences or happenings within Henry James’ novel, ‘Turn of the Screw,’ an excellent ghost story that has the reader consider whether or not the governess actually senses the preternatural existence of others; the alternative is that half-light is playing tricks on her perceptions and that’s she subject to the workings of an overactive, imaginative mind.

In looking into Buttertown, it is actually a name for the North Vermilion settlement associated with Fort Vermilion. The nickname Buttertown came about in the early nineteen hundreds after an incident when some rancid butter had been sold (Place Names of Alberta, Volume IV, Northern Alberta – Merrily K. Aubrey).

Listening to – ‘On Photography’ by Susan Sontag, a selection of essays written about all facets and dynamics of photography, a good listen. Music-wise – I’ve been listening to Dave Matthew & Tim Reynolds concert, ‘Live in Lost Vegas’ – ‘Lying in the Hands of God,’ ‘Some Devil’ and ‘Alligator Pie.’

Quotes to Consider – (1) “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed.” (2) “[Photographs] … still want, first of all, to show something ‘out there.’” (3) “[The camera] makes real what one is experiencing … a way of certifying experience … converting experience into an image, a souvenir.” – Susan Sontag, from ‘On Photography’.

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