Categories: Landscape Photography, Midwestern Landscapes, Pictures Of Trees
Saturday, November 28.
Winter gave a slight feint earlier this week. It grew cold on thanksgiving and that night a bit of snow fell – enough to linger for a few hours the next morning on rooftops, cars, and piles of leaves. But it was gone soon and here we are, the next day over, and it’s back to 50 degrees.
I was impressed to see dragonflies lingering-on last weekend – will they still be around now? Do the Autumn Meadowhawks stay until it is too cold to hang on any longer, or are their days numbered by some other measure? It seems that if all the other dragonfly species come and go based on the unknown logic that whirls behind the natural world, then someday the autumn meadowhawks will also just disappear for the season, even if it never gets cold at all.
They probably will – though it will get soon cold so who can tell which from what. But after last week’s successful hunt I ventured back out to the Allegan Game Area today, specifically to the Swan Creek Levee, to see if any Meadowhawks remain. It’s almost the end of firearm deer season (it only lasts two weeks) and the woods were already less crowded, though the road back to the levee was dotted with parked vehicles and occasional parties of hunters.
At 1 PM the thermometer in my car registered 49 F. (An hour later it rose to 52, and then dropped for the rest of the day.) The November sun hung low in the sky as we pulled into the parking area. I figure that the levee area is pretty safe during hunting season – the game preserve is to the north, Swan Creek is to the west, and the area due east of the levee is often flooded (it more or less is now.) There were no dragonflies in the parking lot and none in the field next to it. I made my way down to the levee, with the low hanging southern sun glaring in my eyes. A short way past the dam a dragonfly rose up before me. A few minutes later, two more rose up and then flew out over the water…
And that was it. Three individual dragonflies, but still - three.
I wandered to the end of the levee, and walked back with the sun to my back. One skittish Meadowhawk flit form rock to rock, sometimes landing on the gravel trail. The image above is the one shot I managed to get of it before it too flew out over Swan Creek. I’m guessing, that’s it for this year.
A couple of hunters wandered down to the levee while I was shooting, rifles in hand. Lookin at their orange jumpers and jackets, I felt a bit underdressed in my greeen shirt and blue jeans, with only a faded hunter-orange stocking hat on my head. Time to head home.
On the way back I drove by the field I affectionately call the Old Farmstead to see if the logging had begun. As I mentioned in an earlier post, several of the pines had day-glo ribbons tied to them, and logging activity had begun in the field directly to the south.
Sadly, the logging has started in earnest. The small parking area that I would slip into is chewed up into a rutty, muddy mess. I’m not sure why they bothered to mow the field because it looks like the trees are being cut down and then dragged across the fields. The very sandy soil has given up the plants that clung to it, and now a good portion of the field is just a torn up sandy mess. I’ve seen similar tracts in the other fields around Allegan – swaths were there are just ruts, open sandy soil, and few plants growing. I never knew where they came from – but now I do.
Oh well – they seem to only be taking pines at this time. Hopefully the large oaks will be spared. I can’t criticize the cutting of trees in a place where they were grown to be cut, but it’s sad to see a place that I enjoyed visiting being treated so roughly. I should have spent more time at other places, so to have something to fall back on.
Next summer’s reports will be from new locales…
Stylurus over at the Urban Dragon Hunter’s blog logged a new late-date for Michigan Odonates this year - December 1st. You can read his post here - be sure to read the comments since that is where he updates on his sightings.
November mornings are quiet, cool, often foggy. The rising sun slips through the bare tree branches, casting long shadows late into the morning. Here and then a lagging tree, leaves still red or gold, punctuates the brown landscape.
Dried leaves whirl in morning breezes. No songbirds sing from bare November branches, no insects click and whir. If you are lucky you can hear a chickadee, chattering in the jack pines. But usually only the laughter of crows or shrill cries of blue jay greet the ears.
After a cold October, November arrives unseasonably warm and mild. Autumn Meadowhawks have taken advantage of the warm spell, and fill the fields in great numbers. They land on the rocks along the Swan Creek levee to warm themselves in the sun. They fly as joined pairs over the water and weave up and down, depositing eggs for next year’s brood. They land on the dark brown leaves that cover the ground, and eye the skies above for prey.
As the day warms, grasshoppers tumble through the dried grass and the occasional moth flits over the brown vegetation. Garter snakes sun themselves on the rocks as well. The little snakes are no longer black and gold, but rather a dull dark brown with yellow bands and orange flecks on their sides. No doubt the grasshoppers will offer up a welcome late autumn meal to these little serpents, before winter’s long hibernation.
In my heart I wish it was cold and miserable. The warm sunshine and summer-like temperatures are like a Halloween mask. They hide the realities of the autumn woods…
The rolling hills of the old farmstead have begun to recover from last summer’s mowing. Small oak springs have emerged from the ground, leafed out, and already are shedding their new foliage. The little springs transition from the rich tannin infused colors of new growth and take on almost day-glo colors as they prepare to drop their leaves.
Bare trees reflect in the smooth surface of the intermittent pond. A small patch of lily pads have emerged in the area I once called ‘the heart of the marsh’ back when this was a seasonal marsh. It was the one area that never got completely dry, no matter how long and hot the summer. Now as I stand by the edge of the water I hear the growls of logging activities. A section of the forest just to the south of the pond is being clear-cut. Florescent red ribbons have been tied around the larger pines near the water’s edge, and a pair of tire tracks gash through the sandy soil, running the length of the field. We take things for granted when we expect them to last.
Saturday, Otober 10, 2009: I rise early (for me) and am on my way into the game area before 7 am. The morning is frosty and cold – temps about 30 F – but the rain of the last few days has abated and a Libran sun rises in a clear sky.
The first stop of the day – on the plan at least – is the Swan Creek Dam, near the game area. But as I roll down 118th avenue I pass the old Swan Creek Mill Pond – and I do a 180 and head back to the boat launch. The mist on the pond in the early morning light looks just great.
Dropping down into the parking area, I find that it is full of cars. Lots of goose and duck hunters are out this weekend. I grab tripod, camera, general purpose zoom, polarizer, and head down to the water. I am not disappointed as I quickly set up and shoot.
Swan Creek Millpond
I shoot with a camera, and the K7 is nearly silent. Hunters shoot otherwise, and shortly after I started photographing I hear one, then another, then six, and then probably 30 shotguns go off, simultaneously in their stages. It was surprising, even to one who is used to random gunfire.
A lone pied billed grebe plinked around in the water in front of me. Almost silently, it drops into the water and then pops up a few yards away. It paddles around for a while, and then disappears into the water again. Coyote grebe – it slinks between the legs of hunters and laughs as it slides out of sight.
Pied Billed Grebe In The Swan Creek Millpond
Well, 45 minutes at the boat launch, and that was the day. I spent several more hours tooling around the forest. Bird hunters were everywhere. It was too cold for dragonflies and the mist was burning off as I drove away from the Mill Pond.
45 minutes that I’ll remember forever. A gift to be treasured.
Swan Creek Millpond
Back in late March I posted a B&W photo of Crescent Pond – a little flood water overflow pond nestled in the Dowagiac Woods. Back then the trees were bare, but the spring frogs were chirping up a storm. A couple weeks ago I visited the spot again – just for a nice place for a Sunday afternoon walk. THe woods are dark in the summer - dark in the daytime.
Here’s another snap of the pond – this one taken with the Pentax K7, and not the Kodak Retina.
Crescent Pond in Summer
Saturday morning. Though it is only late August, an autumnal chill has settled in on the land. My replacement K7 camera arrived earlier in the week, and I’m eager to get out.
Driving into the Allegan forest I see what looks like a hazy, light fog ahead. The clouds have thickened as I’ve headed west, from my house, into the game area. Driving north on 48th street, I look at the cloud of dust spiraling out behind the car and take that as a reassuring sign that while it may be cool, the rain is gone for now.
The car closes in on the mist and suddenly slams into a wall of water – a fine driving rain that splatters down heavily from the clouds above. Well, so much for signs. A mile down the road the rain passes and soon dust is billowing up behind the car again – and then again another micro downpour drenches the landscape.
I make my way a narrow two track to a small clearing, deep in the young forest. Here the grass has gown long and is dotted with patches of lupine and vetch. I spot one of the small toads I’ve been seeing this year, originally thinking it was a cricket hopping through the grass. But it manages to disappear before I get a shot. Wandering around in the tall grass I still up blue dasher, white faced meadowhawks, and several green darners – but they all settle back into the low grass some distance off, reluctant to fly around an perch in the cool damp day.
And then - another downpour. Here’s a snap of the road into the forest, just as the rain is starting to come down:
And one shot of an eastern tailed blue, the only decent macro shot of the day:
After an hour or so, I decided to call it quits for that day. The rain followed my home, and for the rest of the morning and the afternoon the mini downpours rolled though . Fortunately, Sunday was somewhat a better day for photos – more in my next post.
Flying out of Kalamazoo a few weeks ago, I looked down as the airplane made its way west towards O’Hare. The Allegan Forest stretched out below me, a deep green patch of trees standing defiant among the squares and rectangles and irrigation circles of the neighboring farmland. To my surprise, I was able to spot the field I call the Old Farmstead – an upside down “L” carved out of the forest, with a triangular, pork chop shaped pond at the southern edge. The patches of sandy soil that I know so well stood out – pale, off white blotches against the pale green of the field and the deep green of the forest.
The next weekend I wandered through the field, and looked back at the sky, trying to figure out where I may have been when I looked down onto this very spot. I have no idea. However, despite dry weather these last several weeks, the field was still green. A bit of brown was just beginning to show, but the patches of cactus, wild grapes, knapweed, and wild strawberries were still lush and green.
The weather this year is unusual. It always is. This July just passed has been cool and dry. The air is dazzling clear – like it is in October – and high clouds roil through the skies, always threatening rain but, lately, not making good on that promise.
Dragonflies were abundant. I finally got a chance to give the Pentax K7 a workout and did my best to get some shots of dragonflies with knapweed blooms in the background. I finally took a few hundred shots with this excellent camera – but was disappointed to come home and find a faint light band running vertically through every shot. Apparently, the sensor is defective. Oh well – the defect is invisible in web-sized images, so I will feel free to post the day’s shots. Meanwhile, I am in the process of returning the camera for one that has a sensor that operates correctly.
Meadowhawk Dragonfly with Knapweed in the Background
I should not be kind to Knapweed. It is, after all, an invasive plant. By today’s reckoning it is an undesirable plant. We wish it wasn’t here.
Over the ages, we humans have exercised peculiar logic in how we judge (and condemn) the natural world. In days gone by the calculus that human used to judge the worthiness of the natural world has ranged from the doctrine of signatures, to ideas of economic usefulness, to today’s notions based on whether or not that particular species was part of the ecosystem that was once – but is no longer – in place.
Personally, I’m reluctant to render judgment on a thing that grows up out of the ground, but that’s just me. It seems that those who engage in this calculus of judgment have always considered themselves to be the most knowledgeable of the natural world, the most eager to manage it, the closest and yet most removed from the thing they profess to advocate for. Well – it’s just knapweed, a good place to perch if you are a dragonfly.
This Saturday just past – August 1, 2009 – I returned to the fields. I was sadden to see that the mowing had finally caught up with this location, and the thick knee high vegetation was cropped down to a uniform 3 or 4 inch high fuzz covering the land. Wild grapes, prickly pear cactus, oak saplings, iris leaves all lay chopped together – a grim vegetable hash coating the sandy soil. Most trees less than a few inches in diameter were chopped down in this mowing process, though some individuals were left standing – many badly mauled.
Oh well – I knew this day would come. I first found this spot right after it had been mown. That was four years ago – the land had healed but is now wrenched back to its previous state.
Of course, if this is not done then the land will simply revert to forest. I suppose the mowing is a substitute for the fires that once kept the Pine Barrens from being overgrown. Yeah - it’s a bit of charade. There is no real ecosystem in lower Michigan, or really in most places in the US. The ‘management’ of natural systems is a house of cards balanced on a tight rope. Can we ever manage our way back to the ecosystem that once was in this place – free of invasive species, with rivers flowing the tracks they once travelled?
It seems unlikely. When you can’t go forward and you can’t go back – what is there to do but maintain an artificial normalicy.
I told all this to a red dragon, perched on slim branch near the pond’s edge. He was unimpressed.
Last week I found myself in the flatlands of Indiana. The corn was just getting started. This place was pretty flat - the earth seemed to stretch out forever in all directions. At day’s end the setting sun lingered on the horizon. With no hills or buildings to obscure it; sunset lasted forever, bathing the land in the sweet light that comes at the end of a long summer’s day.
Here’s a snapshot of some trees in a place where the grass was left to grow long.
That little Nikon camera really came through with this shot. I pulled a 12 x 18 inch print of this image on the Epson 3800. The quality is great - good enough to exhibit - and I supect that the image will hold up for a 16 x 22 inch print. I can’t ask for much more form any digital camera at this point, but from a compact point and shoot? That’s great.
I’ve been carrying the Nikon Coopix P6000 with me as I travel around the midwest. Here’s a shot of the wild Rocky River - a remote wilderness nestled in a place called Cleveland… :-)
There are few places more compelling than a green woods on a sunny day. The sunlight dances through the leaves. It is filtered and rarified, and splashes on the ground most wondrously. Some splashes of light are big enough to stand in, others are so small a fly can barely warm itself in the healing rays. But in the woods at Noon all the myriad rays of the sun come together like a symphony, playing visual music on the forest floor.
Noon is a good time of day. Shadows are short, light is long – though the day is half passed it feels early and it seems as if anything can be accomplished before the light fades.
But then, noon is the bane of photographers. The light is too harsh. No good work can be done at noon – go home, work in the darkroom, watch HBO, call your agent – do anything but try to photograph at noon.
Serious photographers creep through the twilight hours when the light is weak – we call it “sweet” - it has character and complexity. Like rodents at silflay we roll in dewy grass – not really wet, but certainly not dry. Somewhere in between in all regards, we find magic in ambivalence and vagary…
Well, I like Noon. Demanding, uncompromising, brutal Noon. Contrast is outrageous – the distinction between dark and light is never clearer than at Noon. Come Noon, the world is a clean and well lit place.
And so, a couple of years ago - which would be 2007 - I devoted a lot of time and effort to shooting in the Allegan Forest is the hard light of midday. I wanted to explore the relationship between light and dark, I wanted see the forest as it stood at Noon.
Since my interest was only in the play of light and shadow, I decided to do this work with black and white film . I didn’t want color to, um… color my perspective. Having several hundred rolls of B&W film moldering in my freezer made that decision easy. And so, full of hope, I wandered in the no-man’s land that has swallowed many a photographer – the world at Noon.
I shot and scanned over 1,000 frames that summer, all in the name of this project. I spent hours down in the basement by the concrete laundry sink, developing rolls of 35mm film. I learned a bit about different films and developers – Efke, Plus-X, Delta 100, Rodinal, HC110, D76, D19, Microdol-X. It took months, well into the dark days of November, before all the rolls were scanned and could be evaluated…
By then, I had lost interest. It really was an idiotic idea and I should have spent my time doing something useful - like shooting dragonflies or bees. Disinterested, I was drawn to distractions and the work from that summer was left behind.
Here in the digital lab I have almost 2.5 terabytes of images sitting in an array of hard drives - photos from the last 5 years or so. I guess that eighty percent of them have never really been looked at. The “Light and Shadow” project, as I call it, is probably the biggest chunk of unfinished work in the tub, and so I think I’ll start to look it over.
Wow – what a long winded intro to this humble photo –
Just a gate, a trail, and a bit of sun splashing on foliage. Sun on leaves to the left curls around, sun to the right glimmers on the path that circumvents a feeble barrier. Three trees plop dead center in the frame with sun lit foliage beaming in the background.
Yah – I couldn’t take a decent photo to save my life.
This was shot on Efke R100, #25 red filter, developed in Rodinal 1:50. The base of that film clears to be as clean as a window pane, and with the Rodinal it produces a tonality that, close up, looks like charcoal sketched on paper.
I never really know when I’ve learned something. I plan to work with these photos to see what lessons might be there. At the end of the day, I don’t think I accomplished anything tangible with this project. None of the photos will be marketable, none will be in calendars or books, none will even spark interest here.
But when I shot those photos I was where I was meant to be. I felt it at the time. I relish it in memory. Who could ask for more from a handful of days?
For me, February is a slow month for photography in Michigan. The snow is waning but wildflowers, insects, and other subjects have yet to emerge. The landscape is bleak and barren – dried grass, fading snow, leafless trees.
I suppose I should do something productive with my time, but earlier this week the urge to get outdoors took hold and I found myself driving on muddy dirt roads, seeking some of my favorite places in the Allegan Forest. If there is beauty in barrenness, then the pine barrens in February is the place to behold it.
Much of the snow has melted. What hasn’t melted has thawed and re-frozen, so it is hard and you can walk on it without sinking in. I visited several places, but spent the most time in a field off 48th street. The snow was peppered with deer, coyote, and snowmobile tracks.
I lugged the Pentax 6x7 outfit down to the seasonal marsh, where in the summer dragonflies abound. The water level was astonishingly high – the thawing ice covering the marsh was at least 20 feet further in than where it was last fall, and then it was several feet further in than prior years. Maybe the seasonal marsh is heading to be permanent – the smooth ice surface, with no reeds or cattails breaking throughlooked more like a pond than a marsh.
Well, it was a good way to spend the day. I tested out the new 45mm lens I bought for the Pentax 6x7, and loved the wide angle perspective. I also shot out some film stock, using my last 120 format rolls of Efke R100 and Ilford fp4. Soon I’ll be tapping into the large stock of Agfa film I laid in before they went out of business – and who knows what will be available to shoot after that.
A few more shots are in the Photoblog (which has usurped the Image Stream.)