SEQUIM — Ross Hamilton, celebrant of the Olympic Peninsula’s wild splendor, now sees only dark shapes and little color.
Glaucoma and a series of eye surgeries have taken away the photographer’s sight, making it impossible for him to add to four decades’ work in the wilderness.
The most recent operation three months ago “pretty well decked me as far as producing more images,” Hamilton, 66, said recently in an interview at the home of his friend and agent, Sandy Frankfurth.
But this man’s passion is anything but dimmed. He shares another year of heart-stopping photographs in “The Olympic Peninsula 2009.”
Hamilton’s hope is that after hanging the calendar in the kitchen or in the office, people will feel the urge to get outside, and not only see the Olympic Peninsula’s big sights, but also to experience this place on a soul level.
That’s what happened to him.
Hamilton grew up in Southern California, but his father, Oliver, had been to the Northwest — and fell under the spell of the Olympic Mountains.
From the time he was a toddler, the younger Hamilton’s mind was filled with images of grand peaks and chapel-quiet woods, courtesy of Dad’s vivid memory.
Arrived in 1969
Hamilton finally moved to Sequim in 1969 at age 27. The places lived up to their reputation, and then some.
He saw the Olympics as “an awfully big story” and learned to offer it to others via pictures.
Hamilton’s father and mother, Mildred, also moved to Sequim to spend their last years beneath their beloved mountains.
And Frankfurth, who for 14 years cooked meals for Sequim’s elderly residents at the Prairie Grange Hall, got to know them and their son, the photographer.
Frankfurth, who called her cooking for seniors a labor of love, used to place inspirational quotations on each tray.
And for Hamilton’s 2009 calendar, she’s selected some apt words to match each season.
In January, Abraham Lincoln tells us: “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”
In March, Ann Bradstreet reminds the weary: “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
Turn to July for the picture of sunbathed Purple Haze Lavender Farm, and you’ll read this from Marcel Proust: “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Never seen until now
Frankfurth pointed out that several Hamilton images are debuting in the 2009 calendar: a never-before released shot of the Sol Duc River in autumn is the October page, and a view of the New Dungeness Lighthouse with snow-blanketed peaks rising behind it is the February photo.
A salmon-pink-shaded Dungeness Bay graces September.
Hamilton’s own words open the calendar.
On the inside front cover, he remembers his arrival here, and the feeling that he’d found the place where he belonged.
Hamilton writes that for 40 years, “I listened to waterfalls, thundering waves, lonely beaches . . . flower¬ing meadows, swirling mists.”
With his calendars, he wants to send people out into the mountains, onto beaches and up forest paths, to hear what he describes as “the music of color, light and space.”
When asked about his personal hopes for 2009, the photographer and inveterate hiker didn’t pause.
“It really would please me greatly if I could get out and enjoy the trails again,” he said. “There is such a quantity of beauty here; I never get enough of it.”
Hamilton has been across the continent — and his travels have highlighted the singularity of the Olympic Peninsula.
He doesn’t know of another place where sky-piercing mountains, rain forest and ocean beaches are together in as close an embrace.
Reverence and delight
His clouded eyes don’t see the foliage or the peaks the way they did.
Yet it’s clear that Hamilton experiences the wilderness with as much reverence and delight as ever.
“The places, the sounds, the smells, the temperatures, they assault all of your senses. That’s why I say a picture can’t tell the whole tale,” he said.
Hamilton’s doctor has told him that as he continues recovering from his most recent surgery, his sight will improve a little.
Whether or not that happens, he looks forward to spring and summer and some small-group hiking in Olympic National Park.
“Being able to share it with friends is every bit as thrilling as being able to photograph it,” he said.
“Part of the joy is to hold it out in front of them and have them look, smell and feel.”
At his age, Hamilton added, he can “legally claim to be an old man.” But because he lives here, with his friends and the mountains near, he expresses only gratitude.
“When you get to be old,” he said, “you still feel young inside.”
“The Olympic Peninsula 2009,” a calendar featuring photographs by Ross Hamilton, is available at bookstores, Olympic National Park visitor centers and many other retail outlets across the North Olympic Peninsula.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]