It’s been like April around these parts, but it’s January, the coldest part of the year. Last Friday the temperature was thirty degrees above normal. It was sunny; there was no wind. I had to get out and enjoy the weather in spite of being a bit ill. I spent most of that day out in my car or walking along the side of the Chippewa River south of Durand, Wisconsin. I’ll mention one rural, back road I was on just because I like the sound of the names: I drove Swede Rambler Road, which crosses Little Plum Creek, to its end at a farm gate. Along the way, I checked out a parking lot at the head of a trail into The Tiffany Bottoms State Natural Area which contains the largest floodplain forest in the United States.
I ended the day in Pepin, Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Pepin. The sunset, two ice fishermen, and I all arrived at the perfect time for a photograph.
It’s gray and gloomy outside. Bummer. The prediction was for sunny skies.
A lousy day for photography. Why bother to go out?
And it’s cold!
I’m tired, run down. I’d just as soon lie on the couch all day.
The morning blues.
Afternoon thoughts, yesterday:
It feels so good to be outside in the fresh, clean air.
It doesn’t seem as cold as I thought it would be.
I’m finding good shots in spite of the flat, gray sky
I can forget about the fatigue when I’m out exploring and shooting
A great day to be alive
I ended up shooting interesting signs or incongruous signs or signs that said something about the nature of the area I was exploring. My day’s work was part of my long-running project to photograph the cuesta in Wisconsin west of the Chippewa and Red Cedar rivers.
I felt like a real, true artic explorer. At one point I reached the top of an unplowed twisting road [photo below] and decided that going down the other side would be putting my life at risk even though I was driving an SUV. This was in civilized, pastoral Wisconsin. Unexpected.
November is almost over. The autumn color is gone; the trees are bare; there’s no snow. The forest floor is damp and littered with fallen leaves. There is a bit of color – the emerald green of moss. A single leaf still in its autumn color. Small plants on the forest floor that never seem to suffer from the snow and cold – they’re always green. A few bare trees with silver branches that stand out against a somber hillside.
I spent a few hours Sunday afternoon driving and walking Wisconsin Rustic Road 51 in Pierce County. This is the most rustic of the rustic roads I’ve driven. It was not much more than two wheel tracks, in many spots suitable for only a single vehicle. It starts at the top of a small ravine. The road and ravine plunge downhill with a cliff rising up on one side of the road and the ravine on the other side of the road. There was little water in the ravine, only a few small pools. In the spring after snowmelt or perhaps after heavy rain, there would probably be water rushing down the ravine and over least one waterfall. Eventually, the ravine levels out into a narrow, flat-bottomed valley run through by Pine Creek, a small, meandering stream. In four places the creek crosses the road in gravel washes – no bridges or culverts.
I spent a couple hours photographing the road and didn’t encounter a vehicle or a person. The weather was not good. I had to use an umbrella to keep the rain off my camera lenses. Not the best light or weather for photography. I did get a few decent shots, not just on Rustic Road 51, but on other back roads in southern Pierce County. I think I did OK considering the conditions. And – I had fun.
The fall color season is past its prime in our neck of the woods. Colors are waning and strong winds over the last few days blew down lots of leaves. Many days of peak color were gray, damp, and gloomy. At one time, I feared that the season would pass with no sunny weather, but it’s ending with a few good days.
. . . actually, Lake Superior; the western shore of the Chequamegon Peninsula in Bayfield County, Wisconsin between Port Wing and Cornucopia. This stretch of shoreline has crescent-shaped, sandy beaches separated by rocky headlands and occasional sloughs where streams enter Lake Superior.
It’s one of my favorite places. I hope these photos give an idea of why I like the area so much. Yesterday, the water was tan and cloudy. I think it was because of suspended sand blown to this side of the lake by northwesterly winds.
* The first line of The Song Of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Last week I photographed the Lake Wissota Dam on the Chippewa River as part of my project to photograph the river from source to end. All the dam’s spillways were closed. It rained heavily on Tuesday so I thought perhaps the spillways would be open to handle the runoff. I went back yesterday and found only one spillway open, the one farthest away. Here are shots before and after the rain.
Other shots from yesterday, including another river, the Red Cedar, and a creek, Popple Creek, a tributary of the Red Cedar.
I used to post slideshows of my best photos each month until February of this year. I then stopped due to illness; bronchitis, insomnia, and, lately, pollution from Canadian wildfires. The air quality has now improved as have both my insomnia and bronchitis. I’ve been able to get out again with my camera and post a Best Of August slideshow.
Sorry, this isn’t about the Disney movie, it’s about my day out in the cold working on my project to photograph the Chippewa River from source to end. It was cold: 2° F with a wind chill of -10°. I was not uncomfortable because I dressed for the weather. (I recently purchased what I suspect was the last pair of XXL long johns in Stillwater. I admit my outfit was not very fashionable, but it worked.) The only problem was my hands. I had to take off my choppers to take photos. In areas exposed to the wind, I could only manage two or three shots until my hands became too numb to operate the camera.
When I stood still, all I could hear was the wind hissing through the dry grass and the river ice occasionally booming and popping. When I walked, I heard the fresh snow squeaking beneath my boots and the old, frozen boards of the bridge deck creaking and snapping under my weight. I didn’t see another soul all afternoon.
A few years ago I took a photo of two, left-hand-turn signs in a field of fresh snow against a cloudless blue sky. It’s one of my favorite photos. In the intervening years, left-hand-turn signs have continued to grab my attention until now I have a small gallery of such photos.
The day before yesterday I finished “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, the scary thriller by Ruth Ware*. Yesterday I unexpectedly found myself in a dark wood.
My hike took longer than expected, and I forgot that daylight savings time ended recently. It gets dark very early these days.
So I’m trudging through a dark wood. There is absolutely no wind, and no creatures are stirring, not even a mouse. They have all gone south or into hibernation for the winter or have bedded down for the evening. I can hear a jet far up in the sky but nothing else. It’s actually a beautiful evening. More than once I stop to enjoy the quiet and the beauty of the color left behind by the setting sun, color that shows brightly in the crisp, clear evening air.
I was in the Dunnville Bottoms in the floodplain of the Chippewa River in Western Wisconsin. Here are some scenes from the dark, dark woods in the bottoms, mostly oak forests with many old, gnarly, spooky oaks.
I thought the book was neither scary nor thrilling, just an average, somewhat entertaining who-done-it.
I spent the afternoon at the Fish Lake State Wildlife Area, a typical afternoon on the trails and in the woods except for the odd object I discovered on the forest floor, no more than a few inches high but looking very malevolent.
I’ve been exploring the Chippewa River this spring and late winter in the stretch of river between Eau Claire and the Mississippi River near Pepin, Wisconsin. Much of the terrain along this part of the river is barrens such as the Dunnville Barrens and bottoms such as the Dunnville Bottoms. And yes, a bottoms can be a barrens.
Bottoms, as in bottomlands, are “low-lying land along a watercourse” [Merriam-Webster.com]. Barrens are “level or slightly rolling land, usually with a sandy soil and few trees, and relatively infertile.” [dictionary.com.] So bottomland can be barren but not necessarily, and barrens can be on bottomland, but not necessarily.
This is part of the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area within the Dunnville Bottoms.
This is a fun area to explore. It encompasses the Dunnville Barrens State Natural Area, Dunnville Bottoms, the Dunnville State Wildlife Area, and the Dunnville State Rec Area and Sandbar (great for swimming). The Red Cedar State Trail runs along its southern edge, crosses the river on an old railroad bridge, and ends at its intersection with the Chippewa River State Trail. The Chippewa River State Trail runs along the river between Eau Claire and Durand.
I mapped my hike before setting out today. According to Google Maps, it would be 2000 feet from the parking lot to the river, 2000 back. However, the universal law of geography kicked in not long after I started the hike. I learned this rule in college on the first day of Geography 101. The rule is that in nature, the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line. There are always intervening ravines, impenetrable thickets, fierce and angry thorns, deep woods, wet ground, mean bulls (happened to me once, I swear). Columbus ran into a continent. Don’t forget the next-ridge corollary to the universal law. When you finally reach the ridge you’ve been straining for, there is always one more ridge to go.
The universal law kicked in today. I knew I would be hiking over level ground and open fields with a band of trees along the river. Should have been easy, even for me in my febrile old age.
Later: I am now seated at the bar of a Mexican restaurant, an oasis for an exhausted, muscle-sore hiker trying to recover from what ended up a challenge. Even so, I’m glad I went and finished the hike. I captured some decent photos for my project on the Chippewa River. Here is another universal law I learned in college but not in the classroom: a cold beer (in this case Dos Equis Lager) never tastes so good as when one is tired and dry. It tastes great and you can tell yourself that you’ve earned your beer, and the next one, and . . .
Here are some other photos from the hike in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area southwest of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Leaf Of Common Mullein Backlit By the Sun
Sundown On the River Bottoms (2)
Chippewa River Below Caryville Bridge, facing west
Chippewa River Below Caryville Bridge, facing south
Trees yawning over a dry channel in the Chippewa River Floodplain
A Natural Levee On the East Bank Of the Chippewa River Looking North
I went out in my car around 4:00 PM. I wanted to try to walk to the Arcola Railroad bridge from the Wisconsin side to photograph it. No luck; there were no-parking signs along the road and the railroad right-of-way was posted with no-trespassing signs. I could see the bridge through the bare trees. It looked very high and impressive. The branches were too thick for photography so I never got a photo of the bridge.
I turned to Plan B. I didn’t actually have a Plan B, so I extemporized. The Parnell Prairie Preserve is just a few miles from where I was. I’ve driven past the preserve many times and drove into the parking lot once but never stopped. It didn’t look very impressive from the road. So I went to the Preserve and discovered a sweet spot. Nice trails. Very pleasant.
There was an old, decaying very large tree trunk sawed into pieces near the road. It looked like it had been there, decaying and moldering into the earth, for a long time. All the things that grow on or around a decomposing tree stump provide lots of subjects for photography: vines, lichen, moss, fungi, leaves, stems, thorns. Much texture and color. The color isn’t as showy as in wildflower season but it’s there if you look closely. Tiny, bright red things on stalks held over green moss. I don’t know what they were, but the red objects shone out in spite of their tininess. Purple and red vines. Old, decaying wood of a deep orange.
Most of the preserve is a rolling meadow. Last year’s meadow grasses are still standing and are a fine golden, yellow-orange color.
The red stems of sumac with buds just waiting for some sun and warm weather. A cluster of berries ranging in color from bright red to golden brown. The silhouettes of bare trees and pine trees on a hilltop.
For most of the last four months, I’ve been inactive with some sort of undiagnosed illness. My doctor can find no cause – all my tests come back normal. The conclusion: it’s all in my head, although it sure feels like it’s in my body. Anyway, I have posted very few blogs during this time period and have not taken many photographs. I have done some, so I’ve decided to post my best shots from the last few months.
I think I’m going mad, Ted [obscure line from the Britcom Father Ted]
I wanted to shoot some photos on Wednesday, but it had been raining all day and was not likely to stop. What the heck, I decided to go anyway.
I wore waterproof hiking shoes to keep my feet dry and an umbrella plus a lens cap or handkerchief to keep my lenses dry. All those things worked well. What I didn’t plan for was slipping in the mud, falling on my back, and ending up with wet and muddy clothes. Oh well, I did get some decent photos.
The Fish Lake State Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin near Grantsburg is part of a collection of areas managed as The Glacial Lake Grantsburg Properties. They are Fish Lake Wildlife Area, Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, and Amsterdam Sloughs Wildlife Area.
The Fish Lake area is mostly “huge sedge marshes” interspersed with areas of low hills with oak forests. The first time I visited Fish Lake, I was not very impressed – it seemed too flat. The more I visited and explored, the more I came to appreciate the area. There are lots of nooks and crannies, paths and dirt roads to explore. I was there yesterday, a beautiful warm Sunday. I didn’t encounter another soul. That’s heaven for an introvert that loves exploring solo.
I reached the source of the St. Croix River in northwest Wisconsin. Last year I tried twice to reach the source. The first time I got to the start of the Brule Portage section of the North Country trail after I was already tired out so I didn’t hike very far. The second time I could find no way to get to the source. There was a clearly marked side trail to the head of the Bois Brule River but nothing to the St. Croix. After the second try, I decided that I would come back for another attempt when the snow had melted but there was not yet any foliage in the woods. I also studied Google Maps and my Delorme Wisconsin Atlas and Gazetteer (page 25 I think.) I decided that if I parked on the side of Rifle Range Road, a dirt road northeast of Solon Springs, I would be only a few hundred yards from the source of the St. Croix.
I drove, I parked, and I walked in on a trail which shortly ended at the North Country Trail from where I could easily see a small pond. I knew I was in the right spot because I had seen the pond on Google Maps. I had been in the same spot last year but had no idea that the pond and St. Croix Creek were only a couple hundred feet away. The mid-summer foliage completely hid the pond.
I walked to the pond and could see that a small stream choked by fallen logs entered the head of the pond. The stream was the headwaters of the St. Croix. I confess that I didn’t get to the literal source. Walking was like bushwhacking through a jungle. I didn’t have the energy to go the extra 100, at most, yards that would have put me at the source (water bubbling out of a spring perhaps.) I can claim that I saw and photographed the headwaters, if not the actual source, of the St. Croix so I consider the expedition a success.
Pond On St. Croix Creek
Near St. Croix Creek; Like a Jungle
St. Croix Creek, Headwaters Of the St. Croix River
I recently wrote about Jay Maisel’s book Light,Gesture, & Color in which he writes
All year long I walk around shooting as minimally as I can. One camera, a zoom lens, and that’s it.
I’m now reading On Being a Photographer. David Hurn advises photographers to
. . . take on a project that is containable, and can be completed in a reasonable period of time. . . . just wandering around looking for pictures, hoping that something will pop up and announce itself, does not work.
I think both approaches can work and have worked for me. It’s true that having some sort of focus, whether it’s a project or a weekly challenge published on the internet, will improve one’s photography. I have fun just rambling about with camera ready. Sometimes things do pop up. I went on a road trip yesterday to work on my project to photograph the St. Croix River from source to mouth. I also kept my eyes open for pop-up opportunities. Of the three best photos from yesterday, one was of the St. Croix, the other two were things I spotted while driving on back roads in Wisconsin. Here are the three: