I drive out to the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge in the dark and start walking in temps that are somewhere south of zero.
I follow a path I know from prior mornings in the marsh. The snow lights the way even in the dark and I use no light. The air is crisp and biting. I know the location I am looking for and walk through the snow. Even in the dark I can tell no one has been this way in a while.
The marsh is frozen and I have it all to myself, even the geese have flown away.
I find the edge of the water. The brush marks the waterline but the water is frozen and snow blankets the marsh. The sky is dark gray, clouds are heavy with more snow.
I set up the tripod to frame the brush as the only thing not white in the foreground. I have to stamp down the snow to set the backpack down. I hang the small bag from the tripod. Then I slowly start to set up the big camera. I work slow and deliberate. I want to be careful about things like dropping anything in the snow or even breathing on the glass.
The clouds stay thick, there will be no golden dawn today. I work the brush snow and distant bluffs into the frame. On a sunny morning the sun would rise right in front of me, but not today. The sky will be gray.
I make an image and wait. Then I notice snow starting to collect on the camera. It is a small fine snow. I make sure to keep the lens clear. I make another image. The gray of dawn is upon me.
The cold gray frozen dawn.