MARIN COUNTT -- Mill Valley photographer Gary Yost's poetic video about a day in his life as a Mount Tamalpais fire lookout volunteer has gone viral -- and earned a spot in an international film festival.
More than 300 websites have posted the six-minute salute celebrating the majestic panorama unfolding around the clock at the mountain's fire lookout station atop the East Peak, where Yost volunteers for two-day shifts during the summer season.
Yost -- a computer expert who developed software for Atari in the 1980s, then created a best-selling 3-D animation program he sold to Autodesk in 1999 -- took three cameras and 120 pounds of gear to the station to record an around-the-clock tribute.
A cascade of images captures a profound sense of place graced by breathtaking vistas across the Bay Area at 2,586 feet, and provides a moving portrait of intense beauty bathed in unique lighting, weather and environment. The spiritual nature of the peak, its magnificence and air of magic is apparent as it stands like a solitary sentinel overlooking the region.
"It's amazing up there at night," the 53-year-old Yost said. "It's just you. ... There's a sense of isolation, which is a profound juxtaposition to the 7 million people in the Bay Area you're looking out at."
The beauty of the mountain is so vibrant he finds it hard to rest during his overnight shifts. "The stars up there are magnificent. The fog below is like a carpet of slow-motion
At the same time, the light during the day can cut like a laser, "blasting so bright that you have to avert your eyes."
The top of the mountain resonates with a healing, overpowering, zen-like aura and serves as "my spiritual talisman," he said.
Yost used a time-lapse technique involving motion-control camera dollies, motors and other specialized equipment to reflect the synchronous rhythm of life at the top, with images of changing vistas and activities flashing over time. There's a sweeping view of the region on a crystalline day, faraway vessels on the bay, oceans of fog, a setting sun making way for shining stars, and a sparkling earthly constellation anchored by ribbons of freeway headlights.
Clips show Yost monitoring the watershed with binoculars, cooking a meal and checking in with county fire dispatchers on the station's radio -- a link to the world of fire service life that fills him with awe about "how ready they are to help us at a moment's notice ... it's one of my biggest takeaways from my experience as a lookout."
But there is little dialogue as the video revels in "just that feeling of peace, protection, and magnificence that is our beautiful mountain."
By this weekend, it had been loaded more than 640,000 times, with about 84,000 people watching it through to the end.
Nikon World magazine plans a feature story, and the Madrid Film Festival highlighted it last weekend on a 70-foot screen during a program on time-lapse filmmaking.
"It's a little unexpected, since this was a noncommercial, donated project to Marin County Fire, intended to share my feelings and to help recruit volunteers," he said. "But I also have a great sense of pride that hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world can feel a little bit of that magic that makes our mountain such a unique and sacred place."
Don Keylon, the county fire engineer who manages the lookout program and its volunteers, said that while he knew Yost was putting weeks of editing effort into the project, "I had no idea his video would be this popular."
"Isn't it just amazing?" added Jason Weber, Marin's acting fire chief. "We're going to get a lot of volunteers to serve as lookouts."
Several dozen volunteers rotate through shifts at the station, which was first built by the San Francisco Examiner in 1901 as a post for reporters to spot ships at sea when port arrivals were big news. It was rebuilt as a fire lookout in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Yost became interested in the fire service after taking CERT training in Mill Valley. He took a county training course and became a lookout volunteer two years ago, and as a disciple of the noted agrarian writer Wendell Berry, embarked on the video project to celebrate the mountain. "This quote by him is clearly the inspiration for the video: 'The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope,'" Yost said.
Yost has another project in mind about Tamalpais mountain peaks that Miwoks considered so sacred they didn't venture to the top. This one's about how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, acting on orders from the Air Force during the Korean War, sliced off the top of the West Peak in 1950 to install a radar station.
Yost will use his software, animation and photographic skills to show what the mountain looked like before the bulldozers moved in, and wants those with photographs of the West Peak before 1950 to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We want our 41 feet back," he said of the lost peak.