I don’t know the names of any of these mushrooms. My friend and bartender Nick assures me that the best book for learning how to identify mushrooms is Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora. I’ve ordered the book, so maybe in the future I’ll be able to add captions to such photos.
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.
This is my least-favorite time of year. Once the calendar tells me it’s spring, I expect blues skies and warm air. I usually get winter storms. I never learn that here in Minnesota we can’t expect winter to leave for good until well into April.
So, to counter any depression-type blues caused by the lingering winter, I’ve posted some photos featuring blue-skies-type blues.
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.
There´s no sun up in the sky
Since my gal and I ain´t together
Keeps raining all of the time
Gloom and misery everywhere
Gloomy weather, gloomy weather*
Expert photographers advise when the weather is gloomy, make gloomy photographs. Here are some from the last few days. (PS., it’s finally sunny today, cold but sunny. There are high thin clouds so the sun is not strong, but a weak sun is better than no sun at all.)
Two Maple Leafs
Cold, November Day
Little Mushrooms On a Log – 2
Little Mushrooms On a Log – 3
* Lyrics from Stormy Weather written in 1933 by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler and since covered many, many times.
It was only October 27th, just a few weeks after the fall equinox, but it started snowing as I sat at my kitchen table eating breakfast. I’m usually in a torpor at that time of the morning, but when, after a half hour, the scene outside my windows looked like the scene in the photo below, I decided I had to get out with my camera. The results are farther down. I only got slightly soaked. It was heavy, wet snow, windy and cold, but I had fun which was my objective.
Thomas Friedman’s recent book, Thank You For Being Late, is in the Globalization/Political Economy genre according the the ISBN code sticker on the back of the book. One usually doesn’t look in such books for suggestions about creativity, but that is what I found in the first chapter, also titled Thank You For Being Late.
Creativity involves having ideas and then doing something with them whether you turn those ideas into – in Friedman’s case, a column in the New York Times, or in my case a photograph. Friedman says
. . . a column idea [or an idea for a photograph] can spring from anywhere: a newspaper headline that strikes you as odd, a simple gesture by a stranger, the moving speech of a leader, the naive question of a child, the cruelty of a school shooter, the wrenching tale of a refugee. Everything and anything is raw fodder for creating heat or light.
How can one nurture the ability to recognize ideas when they appear?
. . . you have to be constantly reporting and learning – more so today that ever. Anyone who falls back on tried-and-true formulae or dogmatisms in a world changing this fast is asking for trouble. Indeed, as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and to synthesize more perspectives.
Friedman paraphrases and then quotes Lin Wells of the National Defense University.
. . . it is fanciful to suppose that you can opine about or explain this world by clinging to the inside or outside of any one rigid explanatory box or any single disciplinary silo. Wells describes three ways of thinking about a problem: “inside the box”, “outside the box,”, and “where there is no box.” The only sustainable approach to thinking today about problems, he argues, “is thinking without a box”.
. . . it means having no limits on your curiosity or the different disciplines you might draw on to appreciate how [the world] works. [A person needs to be] radically inclusive.
As a photographer, thinking without a box means not being constrained by accepted norms of beauty or of what makes a compelling photograph. It means not being constrained by the rules that are trotted out by the experts who then tell us to freely ignore them. It means not being overly influenced by the latest hot stuff on Instagram or what is winning contests on ViewBug. It means shooting from the heart. As Friedman says, “What doesn’t come from the heart will never enter someone else’s heart.
For me it means walking down an alley behind the stores that present their trendy, polished facades to the main street. In the alley is where you find the unexpected and serendipitous examples of unexpected beauty. Below are recent examples of beauty I found in alleys.
I spent the afternoon wandering around The Old Market in Omaha, Nebraska, camera in hand. I ended up the day with some sunset photos on the railroad tracks in Columbus, Nebraska. Here are the best shots of the day.
I went out yesterday to photograph the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. I was distracted by the corn fields growing in the bottomlands of the river. Here are some corn field photos, taken either in the field or on the edge of the field.
Yesterday I was looking for wildflowers. There were none to be found. I guess it’s still too early even though the last few weeks have been warm. The only things I could find that had new growth were big (red maples or willows) or very small. The small things were mosses and lichens which I find very hard to identify. I’m satisfied if I can correctly state that something is, in fact, a moss. The mosses are sending out what I think are called sporophytes. It had snowed the night before, so much of the foliage – dead or alive – was covered in tiny droplets of melt water. One had to get down on one’s knees or belly in order to examine or photograph such tiny things. I was wet by the time I finished. Luckily, the sun came out later in the day, it warmed up, and I escaped death by hypothermia.
I think this may be a small puffball that survived the winter relatively intact although it looks like it “puffed.” It was in pure sand. There were more puffballs in the sand. They grew only as individuals plants spaced a yard or so away from their neighbors. All dead of course.
More stuff found within an inch or two from the ground.
Dead Leaves Of Common Mullein
Dead Leaves Of Common Mullein Surround New Green Moss
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 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.
Teju Cole in the essay Double Negative from his book of essays Known and Strange Things, says that
Photography is a fast art now, except for those who are too old-fashioned to shoot digital. But for most of the art’s history – until about fifteen years ago – most photographers had no choice but to be slow. . . . A certain meticulousness was necessary for photographs, a certain irreducible calmness of temperament.
Creating a good photograph is not fast, especially if the photograph is in the genre called “fine art”. (Who decides whether or not a photograph is fine art?) The only time shortened by digital photography is development time, what I consider feedback time, the time between clicking the shutter and seeing the photograph. Whereas in the film era, I dropped my film off at the camera store and came back a couple days later, I can now see the digital photo within seconds of activating the shutter. A good digital photographer takes no more or no less time before clicking the shutter than a good film photographer. A good digital photographer then often takes considerably more time with some sort of processing software to complete a photograph. A good photographer is just as meticulous – if not more – in the digital world of today – then when shooting film.
Photography has always been a fast art; that is one of the reasons I’m attracted to it. I used to draw. I found drawing too much of a slow art.
I live in a condominium development on the site of a former prison built around 1860. The outermost prison walls still stand, part of which is what looks like a guard post. I’ve included a picture of the guard post as it looks during the day. Spiders, with their impressive spider webs, take over the guard post after dark. It’s probably a great spot for a spider since the lights attract lots of bugs. Here are a couple of photos from the last few days when I’ve walked past the guardhouse on my way home after having a beer or two downtown.
I went to the Chisago Loop of the Riverview Trail yesterday, a trail that goes through the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area. The trail loops around a knob that is an outcrop of Canadian Shield basalt bedrock. The top of the knob is relatively flat. The bedrock crops out in many places and there are loose slabs and boulders some that look like stones from a small Stonehenge. Between the rocks is shallow soil with sparse grass and a lot of mosses and lichens. There are scattered, straggly trees mostly jack pines.
I went to the knob planning to take a photo to satisfy The Daily Post‘s challenge Dinnertime. I finished the photo but wasn’t as careful as I should have been because the gnats were ferocious and drove me out. Look closely at my self-portrait and you can see the gnats hovering around my head. (Hovering? They were attacking.) I even poured out a half-bottle of beer because I was so desperate to get away from them (OK, maybe just anxious.) Once I got the first acceptable photo, I left as fast as possible. That wasn’t very fast because I had to be careful making my way down off the knob and through the treacherous footing in the loose chunks of basalt.
On my walk to the knob, I photographed a rare, prairie-fame flower (Talinum rugospermum). The flower and the dinnertime photo are the only shots I got. By the time I reached my car I felt like I was in a mild version of anaphylactic shock. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the gnats had certainly spoiled my outing. This was the second time I’ve been driven out of the area by insects. The first time it was mosquitoes. Other than the bugs, this is one of my favorite spots. The one time there weren’t bugs, I spent my time reclining on a large rock soaking up the sun like a lizard.
I took a break after drafting the above and read a bit from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Wind. What I read gave me some perspective on being bothered by a few gnats. Beryl Markham writes about her life in east Africa when roads were mostly non-existent. She was one of the first pilots in the region. She writes about elephant hunting:
Scouting [for elephant] by plane eliminates a good deal of the preliminary work, but when as upon occasion I did spot a herd not more than thirty or forty miles from camp, it still meant that those forty miles had to be walked, crawled, or wriggled by the hunters – and that by the time this body and nerve-raking manoeuvre had been achieved, the elephant had pushed on another twenty miles or so into the bush. A man, it ought to be remembered, has to take several steps to each stride of an elephant, and, moreover, the man is somewhat less than resistant to thicket, thorn trees, and heat. Also he is vulnerable as a peeled egg to all things that sting – anopheles mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and tsetse files. The essence of elephant-hunting is discomfort in such lavish proportions that only the wealthy can afford it.
All I was doing was eating a sandwich and drinking a beer on a hill in civilized, western Wisconsin, and I complain. Markham quotes Baron Von Blixen saying “Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”
By the way, I highly recommend the book. A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.
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.