Today, I rouse myself at the earliest of hours. The clock reads 3:30 a.m. I stumble down the hallway of the Fenway Hills Motel and put on a pot of coffee to help wash away the sleepiness. Even at this early hour, I’ll need to hurry if I’m going beat the sunrise. I’m headed over to photograph a personal icon of the area – the milking barn on County Trunk K. Capturing this image is a celebration of the 20 years that I’ve been coming out here in pursuit of trout. Whenever the pre-dawn finds me heading to the Big Green River, I always turn up this road with this small dairy farm in mind. It’s a comforting place. The farmer, the cows, the dark of night. This drive, this place, my fly fishing, my trout.

I steal down the road in the pitch of night. Eventually I am struck by the stark lights that run the length of the milking shed: a beacon of illumination in a countryside otherwise abandoned of light save for moon and stars. Cows line up in their milking stalls, tails swooshing. The farmer is there somewhere. He’s keeping these early hours on a regular basis no doubt. That’s the extent of my relationship with this place. I usually drive on to my trout waters.

Not this time. This time, I will take pause. I will get a little more familiar with the setting. I will attempt to capture the essence of my memory of the place in a photograph. I arrive at the farm around 4:00 a.m., dimming the lights of the FJ Cruiser and easing onto the shoulder of this small country road. Sunrise today is not until 5:30 a.m.; however the natural light will be constantly in flux between now and then. I have my tripod in tow – a necessity for low light shots like this. The scene is as I expected it would be. I step out into the bracing night air. It’s exhilarating. After all, it’s May in Wisconsin. Combined with the coffee, the chilled night air has me fully roused now. I move quickly. Tripod raised. Camera mounted. Shutter release in place. Lens cover removed. I move the rig up and down the road, studying the scene from a gross perspective. I’ll be ‘shooting’ to the North because that view is how I remember the place.

I knock off a few photos to help meter the scene. This is where time becomes the enemy. Some adjustments are needed and they must be made quickly. There is a floodlight tucked beneath the eaves of the foremost out-building. It flares bright in those first photos. No adjustment seems to be able to eradicate its affect while leaving the remainder of the scene exposed to my liking.  Fortunately, there is a telephone pole about 50-feet in front of this building and I can adjust my position so that it blocks the floodlight from the scene. Now I am down to shutter speeds, f-stops, time-values, and aperture-values. What is it about this place that I am trying to reflect in my photograph? Is it the periwinkle sky giving way to the deep greens in the background? Is it the blackness of the place saving for those lights? Is it the span of the milking shed with the light fading along its length?

My hands move deftly in the dark. Changing settings. Changing focal points. Reviewing results. And then doing it all again. I stop at 5:22 a.m.  There is too much light now and the “moment” has passed. I carefully tear down my setup, savoring the early morning before heading back to family and breakfast. Later, I sift through the images and find the one that captures the place as I remember it most: