So is this how it ends for me? Really?
I'm lying facedown, butt up, legs splayed across a muddy slope that's covered with thorny blackberry bushes. Dozens of tiny thorns are pressing into my legs, chest, and scalp.
I'm stuck. The slightest movement to extricate myself from the tangles encourages the thorns to dig even deeper into me. And I don't want to slide any farther, face forward, down this slope.
I can feel a small drop of blood roll down my nose to my lips and settle on my chin. I'm completely unable to free my arms to wipe it away.
For a long time, I just lie there, pondering my life in the paparazzi business.
It's 2015. I'm in Snoqualmie to try to take—well, sneak—photos of the Twin Peaks production. This is my first assignment since relocating to Seattle from Hawaii. I've snapped photos of celebrities like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian that have appeared in places like Us Weekly and People. The more exclusive a photo is, the more it sells for. Twin Peaks' popularity could translate into some serious cash for good images, and its filming locations were a poorly kept secret, largely because of the production size (big crew, many actors, dozens of trucks) and the mystic omnipresence of the show in the mountain towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend.
Over the years, I've been harassed regularly by productions to stop taking photos. I've had crew members hold open umbrellas in front of me to block my shots. I've been threatened with arrest. All that's just intimidation, since there is no law preventing anyone from taking photos of a shoot if it takes place on public property.
But I've never been trapped in blackberry bushes before. Hawaii is not like the Pacific Northwest.
The blackberry incident happens a few days in, so let me back up. On my first day, I got a tip Twin Peaks was filming at a Snoqualmie River bridge near the base of Mount Si. When I arrived, I saw half a dozen fans using point-and-shoot or phone cameras. Below, in the ravine, I saw David Lynch and three child actors and an adult actress and what I think was supposed to be a dead body. Lynch appeared stressed. He held his head with both hands. I was forced to shoot through foliage, rendering all my photos blurry, even though I have a professional-grade camera and a 400 mm lens.
When a crew member saw me, he ran over and said: "We would like for you to stop taking photos now. We don't allow that." After I promised not to make any noise or get in the way, he stepped in front of me to block my shots.
"Please don't do that," I said. "This is my legal right, and we all know that."
He pointed to two uniformed police officers and threatened to get them to "hold umbrellas in front of your camera." I pointed out how embarrassing and unprofessional it would be to ask uniformed officers to do that. Later, I contacted the Snoqualmie Police Department and an officer told me his staff would never block anybody on public property from taking pictures.
The crew member decided not to ask the cops for help, but he did get two other staffers to block my shots with umbrellas. By then the daylight was fading anyway, the sun was behind the clouds, and my blurry photos were only getting worse, so I left.
A few days later, the DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, where you can take classes in motorsports, has been transformed into the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department. The side of the mountain along the back of the location is too steep and overgrown with thorny bushes for me to get anywhere near the shoot.
Across the compound of a former lumber mill and a nearby lake, I see actors' trailers. That's where I need to go. Fifteen minutes later, I'm parked on a roadway adjacent to where I think the trailers are, but I can't see them anymore.
I put on my camouflage camera pack, jacket, and cap, and then head through high grass using a compass to stay on course. Half an hour later, I'm out of the brush and next to a very exposed dirt road. No trailers. I keep walking. Twenty minutes later, I turn a corner and there they are, within 100 feet of where I'm standing.
But I'm standing in a wide-open space. Way too exposed. Support staff and some actors I don't recognize are milling around chatting or reading from scripts. I'm six-foot-two—it's hard to make myself small.
I hear a vehicle approaching, but if I run down the road to get back to the tall grass, I know I'll be seen. My only option is to dive into a blackberry thicket. There's a ground-level tunnel in the thicket I crawl into just as a van carrying cast members rushes by.
A moment later, a pickup carrying two large men goes by. When I look back, I can see that the driver and passenger are looking toward the thicket. Toward me. The pickup slows down and the passenger door opens and someone steps out holding a folding chair, setting up just 50 feet from where I am lying.
I can't move because they're onto me, and also because I'm entangled in branches and thorns. My sweat attracts mosquitoes and flies. There are spiderwebs everywhere.
I lie my head on the moist ground, close my eyes, and evaluate my life. I'm an idiot for doing this. What am I doing here?
It's nearly an hour before the pickup truck returns to retrieve the passenger-turned-guard, and then they're gone. By now the road is filled with passenger vans carrying actors. Another van is transporting David Lynch!
I still can't walk out onto the road without being seen. In front of me, I can see filtered daylight at the opposite end of the blackberry tunnel. I'm on my stomach. It's impossible for me to be upright even a little, even in a squatting position, because of the thick vegetation. So I make like G.I. Joe, inching forward on my belly, at a 60-degree angle, head down, using my arms and feet to push me forward.
I have to stop repeatedly to unstick myself from the thorns. At the end of the tunnel, I'm greeted by another steep slope also covered in vegetation.
I try to roll to the side but the slope gives way. I tumble over rotting logs, moss, and dead branches into an even thicker thicket. (Yes, I do protect my camera gear!) I can't believe how thorny this thicket is. I feel like a human pincushion. Thorns are piercing through my pants, shirt, and jacket. There are more tiny drops of blood.
I use a branch to push a part of the thicket aside and inch my way downhill, toward a little lake in the distance. The shoreline of the lake, I discover, is mostly compacted mud filled with reeds, cattails, and fallen logs. I walk through the wetness. A quarter mile away, I spot an old wooden shed atop a short pier. That's my goal. That's the only way out of here I can see.
I walk gingerly over crumbling logs in the muddy flats. I'm shaking and thirsty and I nearly fall several times. But the entire hillside above the lake is covered in brambles, so there's no way I could get through that.
I get to the pier. There are wooden braces connected to the pilings. I shimmy along the braces until I can reach a support beam and pull myself over it, and then I pull myself over the next beam. After two more beams, I swing one leg up onto the walkway and, with 30 pounds of camera gear on my back, pull myself onto the platform.
Somehow I manage to do it without dying.
Walking back to my truck, I call my dermatologist to get an emergency appointment. My face has a dozen tiny scabs from the thorn pricks.
"What happened to your face?!" my dermatologist shrieks when I get to her office. "Gosh, your poor nose."
I give her a brief summary of what I've just been through.
"Wow, what an exciting life you lead," she says, treating a face that will still have three pustules on it a month later. "So is David Lynch a really nice guy?"