A Ghostly Abyss
Lake Tahoe - Smoky Images is a 3 part photo essay on the duality of disaster. As is typically the case when I travel, I had to jettison my expectations within the first few minutes of arriving at a destination. The last time I visited Lake Tahoe was in 1999. I was under 30, recently rejected from a job in Rome I had wanted more than any other job before or since, and had just visited the Napa Valley for the first time. I lost my only black and white roll of film on that visit 15 years ago. I had to make amends for that misfiring roll of film, and shoot the clear, blue skies, and wondrous mountains in full color as well as black and white (the lost roll). As we neared the infamous Donner Pass, we saw the smoke. In just a few more moments, the sky was opaque with grey smoke and the aroma of an acrid campfire. Juliet and I talked about how many of our friends love the smell of burning wood, and that they might be in for some sort of nesting, fireplace vacation if they had been here to experience it. As for me and my wife, we basically loathe the smell of smoke (of any kind). For a brief second we can tolerate it, but our sensitive respiratory and olfactory systems break down quickly from there. In this case, we had a 25,000 acre, and growing, conflagration to manage.
By the time we drove into our hotel property, in the purportedly stunning town of Incline Village, Nevada, visibility was less than 300 feet, and I felt like what Dante described so beautifully in The Divine Comedy,
Midway upon the journey of our life,
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straight foreward pathway had been lost
So much for long exposure photos of the Milky Way. So much for sitting under the cool night air and relaxing in the warm outdoor jacuzzi. We got into our room and headed immediately to the beach. The chestnuts, pine nuts, branches, grass, forest creatures, and this vacation, were all roasting over an open fire. The air stank with misery and menace. The waves were vigorous on the lovely sandy beach. According to the guy managing the boat dock (where one may rent motor boats or schedule private charters on the hotel catamaran) there are gorgeous mountains directly in front of us, and encircling the lake. All we could see was an odd Abyss (see the first image) and a few boats bobbing in the rough surf. It was easy to understand the size and depth of this lake, simply because I had not experienced such waves on a lake since the last time to the Great Lakes. It was now time to figure out our latest recipe for vacation Lemonade. So, we immediately started drinking, and started querying the locals for dinner spots. We would up at a place called BITE and enjoyed some of the best "American Tapas" (as they label them) I have tasted. The fried chicken sliders alone are worthy of the trip.
We left the restaurant and awaited the hotel shuttle to bring our buzzed and oxygen-starved bodies back to the room. We noticed a few stars that were bright enough to shine through the lingering smoke. It appeared the evening breeze had shifted, and the fires, some 50 miles away, were now sending their noxious vapors into other areas. There was a glimmer of hope that tomorrow might be free of fumes. As we drifted to sleep on the shore of Lake Tahoe, I could not help but think once again of Dante when I pondered my hopes for the coming days.
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here"
....to be continued