The Ones That Got Away

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay

The Best Pictures I Never Took

I have gotten some great pictures over the years, but it's a handful that eluded me that I remember most vividly.

July, 1968

We were on our way to Sonora Pass in California for a two-week mapping exercise in the High Sierra. Roads up the west slope of the Sierra spend forever winding through forest before offering any glimpses of the mountains. As we wound along, we caught glimpses of deep magenta clouds illuminated by the setting sun. We finally broke out into a view up a deep valley with a towering thunderhead above it - and it was gray. We had missed the sunset by five minutes.

September, 1971

Most of the time when I was stationed in Turkey we followed fairly regular hours and had weekends off, but one Saturday we had to catch up on some work. I stepped outside for a break to see three enormous columns of migrating storks spiraling upward on thermals. I was in a restricted area and couldn't have brought my camera in under any circumstances, and I never saw the storks again.

October, 1971

I was coming back to my Army post in Turkey after two weeks in Switzerland and Greece, and I was down to a few frames of film. I wasn't overly worried since the airport is west of Istanbul and the approach over the Sea of Marmara offered little scenery. I used up the last shots on a couple of landmarks of interest. Then the plane went into a holding pattern and we did a complete 360, getting a perfect view of Istanbul, the Bosporus, the Princes' Isles - and me with no film.

December, 1972

I was going to graduate school in New York. In those days, Greyhound Bus Lines sold a pass called Ameripass good for unlimited travel. I bought one just before Thanksgiving that would allow me to go to Maine for Thanksgiving plus go back to California for Christmas break (I have been across the United States three times by Greyhound Bus. I don't recommend it for routine travel but everyone should do it at least once. You get to see America warts and all like no other way possible.)

The last Apollo mission was set for launch in early December. It would be a night launch. I could get down to the Cape in 24 hours, see the launch, and get back. But it would be an exhausting ride, I had term papers due, and what if the launch was postponed, as they often were?

So I reluctantly passed on it. The launch went exactly as scheduled. I did see the last Space Shuttle launch in 2011.

March 1975

Now this one is just plain stupid on my part. I was coming back from South America and stopped in New Orleans to visit an Army friend from my days in Turkey. He's a pilot so he picked me up in his plane, then took us up to 5000 feet over New Orleans, giving me a spectacular view, which I didn't bother to record because I was short on film.

As I got more affluent, my skimping on film decreased. I wish I had about ten times as much film during those early years. Thank God for digital cameras.

December, 1981

Driving across Nevada on Interstate 80 en route to visiting my family in California, it was the most perfect day for photography imaginable. It was showering intermittently and we had rainbows almost the entire way with dramatic clouds. The mountains were snow-capped and the low winter sun cast dramatic shadows.

And my film wasn't engaged on the take-up spool. I didn't get a single shot.

May, 1984

An eclipse of the sun was due to sweep across the southeastern U.S. It would be on the borderline between annular and total. I looked on the map and decided the nearest place to my home in Green Bay to see it was Atlanta. But my wife asked if we could somehow combine the trip with a visit to her family in Syracuse, New York. So I scrubbed Atlanta and decided we could view it from Williamsburg, Virginia instead, hitting Syracuse en route.

This trip put a whole new dimension on the meaning of the term "bad trip." It rained almost the whole time. We had to replace lost travelers' checks. We almost lost a wheel on the beltway around Washington, at rush hour no less. I spent an hour sitting in the rain in a parking lot replacing broken lug nuts. Our tent flooded out during the night before the eclipse. The weather that day was so crummy we didn't even bother to drive the short distance to the eclipse track. It was so damp that a lot of my pictures in Williamsburg look as if they were taken through a soft filter (as indeed they were, just not intentionally). Next day was brilliantly clear. We lost a sleeping bag from our roof rack while attempting to dry out our sodden gear. My wife said "I bet you'll be glad to get home." I said "Glad? I'll be surprised!"

Viewing conditions for the eclipse were perfect in Atlanta.

Adventures in Stephen King Land

Chapter I: November, 1969

After living in California for nearly a decade I returned to Maine for the first time since my family moved in 1960. I wanted to get a picture of our old house. When I got the pictures back, the slide was blurred. I can count on one hand the number of pictures I've blurred while standing still.

Chapter II: June, 1970

I got my draft notice in the spring of 1970, and before leaving for home, I went back up to Maine and took another picture of our old house. The processing lab lost a number of slides, including this one. I know they developed the roll because I got other pictures back, but some slides were missing. The processors swore it was impossible.

While I was in the Army I got a letter from my aunt telling me the house had been torn down.

Chapter III: October, 1994

After a meeting in Boston, I drove up to Maine and shot a roll of slides of some of my old haunts (interesting choice of words. It was a beautiful fall day with absolutely perfect shooting conditions. When I got the slides back, the top portion was covered with wavy white streaks. Apparently one of the chemicals in the processing was either not applied, or wasn't completely wiped off. In almost 1000 rolls of film I've shot, this was the only roll ever to come out like that.

Is it a coincidence that Stephen King lives not far away in Bangor? I don't think so.

January, 1989

I was co-leader of a student trip to Italy and Greece. On the ferry from Brindisi to Patras, I was out on deck when I spotted one of our students getting some attentive flirting from a couple of the crew. It would have made a cute, wonderful candid shot, but they spotted me before I could get it.

I ran into this student not long ago at a store counter. She was delighted that I remembered her (I remember almost all the students from the two trips I was fortunate enough to lead) and she had wonderful memories of the trip.

July, 1991

I have seen three total eclipses of the Sun: in 1970, 1973 and 1979. After my wife and I saw the 1979 eclipse, we looked forward to going to Mexico for the July 11, 1991 eclipse. At over 7 minutes long, it would be one of the longest in my lifetime.

Except I got called up for the Persian Gulf War, and got back on June 19. I decided there was no way I would be able to prepare for and pull off a drive from Green Bay to Mexico City with a wife and two young teens between June 19 and July 11. Sometimes you have to make the tough calls.

The climate data before the eclipse called for almost certain clear skies at the tip of Baja California but iffy prospects for Mexico City. Ironically, eclipse day was perfect in Mexico City but the observers in Baja were clouded out. More people were in the Moon's shadow simultaneously than any other time in history. But not me.

January, 1996

My Reserve unit had been in Bosnia just a couple of days, and I was sent off to a supply point on an errand. I was taking my camera everywhere. At an intersection, I stopped while a Russian armored personnel carrier went by, trailing a huge Russian flag. After years of training to fight Russians, here I was watching one of their armored vehicles roll by. I just sat there in open-mouthed amazement, and only after they passed did I remember my camera on the seat beside me.

August, 1997

I took my family out for an evening drive. It had just finished raining and the clouds were breaking up, and a spectacular rainbow appeared. But in addition, broken clouds near the sun cast shadows which converged at the center of the rainbow, making it look like a wheel with spokes. Literally a once in a lifetime picture. I had never seen that before and have not seen it since. Need I add I didn't have a camera with me?

Return to Professor Dutch's Home Page

Created 3 February 1998, Last Update 31 May 2020