This week, I said goodbye to Buttercup Meadow. Most of the time, the name sounds prettier than the actual meadow is, but for a few weeks a year, it is a truly glorious place. Or at least it was.
The land — all land — is changing constantly. It’s something I’m well aware of and actually celebrate as a nature photographer. I strive to create images that capture one unique moment of time, whether that’s because of weather, changing seasons or longer term geologic effects.
A few years ago, Outdoor Photography magazine used one of my images of Mount St. Helens to illustrate this. On May 17, 1980, the Cascade volcano had a perfect cone. One day later, a third of the mountain was missing. Change happens.
Buttercup Meadow is now also an example of dramatic change. As I drove by it this week, backhoes and dump trucks were on it, reshaping it, covering it.
On some level, I’m not surprised. While I’ve called it a meadow, more people see it as an empty field between a chain drug store and a stormwater retention pond.
I’m a little sad, but I also understand. Over just the next decade, the world’s population is forecast to grow by 1 billion people, the fastest growth rate we have ever seen. It took about 200,000 years for the Earth’s human population to even reach 1 billion. In barely 100 years, we’ve grown by 6 billion more.
These new people need housing. They need places to buy groceries. They need drugstores. I get that an isolated meadow in the middle of a rapidly-growing area is a luxury we can no longer afford.
I don’t want this to be a sob story, however. Instead, as I saw the crews at work, I was reminded of that Outdoor Photographer article that I mentioned earlier. The point that author made was that things are always changing and we need to learn to appreciate today. What’s here today may not be here tomorrow.
I had driven by the meadow numerous times before I stopped to make the image at the top of this post. And this image is from the only time that I’ve ever photographed it.
While the buttercup flowers are a nuisance in one’s lawn, I think they are absolutely gorgeous when they form a golden carpet that stretches across the land. But the first few years I lived nearby, I drove by during the bloom, even though I knew this would be a great place to photograph. Maybe the weather wasn’t right. Maybe I was rushed for time. Maybe I just didn’t feel inspired that day.
On the day I made this image, though, I do remember being inspired. I was on my way to the grocery store and I saw clouds forming over the meadow. It looked like there was a break on the western horizon and I was hopeful the towering clouds would turn vivid red at sunset. The bright yellow flowers were at their peak. Add in the greens and the blues, with such intense, contrasting colors, I knew there was a stunning image to be made there.
I did my shopping, went home, grabbed my camera and returned to make this image. It was even better than what I imagined.
As I watched the crew digging up the meadow a few months before it would have bloomed again, I considered myself lucky — lucky that I eventually stopped making excuses and photographed it while I still had a chance.
The meadow may be gone now, but I will always have this image. And I hope it will always be a reminder to me that if I’m inspired by a scene, but am wondering if I have time to stop, the answer should always be, “yes.”
(Learn more about Kevin Ebi's newest book, Living Wilderness, the first comprehensive portfolio of his fine-art images and download a free preview. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)