From the Photographer...
We arrived at the Wheeling’s home before sunrise. Strangers, all of us, meeting for the first time at an hour my friends back home swear doesn’t exist.
I always cringe when I tell people how early I need to meet them in order to photograph in the best morning light. Luckily Jenn and Joe Wheeling are farmers at Jenn’s family farm—the James Ranch—near Durango, Colorado and are well-aware that pre-dawn hours do, in fact, exist.
The icy flora crackled beneath our feet as we made our way from the house down to pastureland. The fog was beginning to lift, and the world had a blue cast from the mountains’ shadow—sparing the frost a little longer from the sun’s rays. As we walked, Jenn and Joe gave my colleague and I an overview of the farm’s “beyond organic” philosophy, and their holistic approach to ranch management. Their understanding of the importance of a healthy ecosystem was the reason I was there—specifically, I wanted to photograph their best practices regarding use of the Animas River.
The Animas (and its parent river the San Juan) are part of the Colorado River Basin—a focal area for The Nature Conservancy and one of the eight basins in the Great Rivers Partnership. I had spent the week in New Mexico, covering the recovery, restoration and recreational pursuits on the San Juan River, but I was missing the a big part of the picture: agriculture.
This particular image highlights one of the many efforts that Joe and Jenn Wheeling have taken to take care of their water supply. They’ve built up a fence and natural plants to keep cattle out of the water that flows onto their property from the Animas.
As early as we had arrived, the sun’s light was quickly making its way over the mountains and down into the valley. Knowing I had a fairly short window of time before the beautiful blues turned into harsh whites, I turned my attention to shooting. I used my new Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II to make this image. Since I foolishly left my tripod back at the Wheelings’ house, I had to hand-hold my camera at ISO 200, f/7.1 at 1/125 sec—a much faster shutter speed than I would have liked for the flowing water.
This image is one of many that I like from that cold, frosty mountain morning with the Wheelings. Their beautiful property on the banks of the Animas was made all the more special to me knowing that they are working hard to ensure that their livelihood and their environment remain sustainable.
Erika Nortemann is the Senior Photography Manager at The Nature Conservancy.
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