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.
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:
I spent some time at Rose Floral in Stillwater today. Rose Floral has a huge greenhouse filled with plants and flowers. A greenhouse is an excellent place for photography. Good, even, natural light and lots of wonderful subjects. Here are some of my photos from today.
I hiked yesterday on the Riverside Trail in William O’Brien State Park. I live only 20 miles from the park but haven’t been there in years, decades even.
It was well below zero with an even lower wind chill. (I guess wind chills are always “even lower”.) I saw no one on the trails. I saw two gray squirrels, one mouse or vole, and few crows. That is all. I felt very good about braving the bitter cold and remaining reasonably comfortable – I was dressed for the weather complete with long underwear and a balaclava. In one spot on the ice of a side channel of the river out of the wind and in full sun, I was actually quite snug. My camera worked well in spite of the cold. The only effect was that my lens’s zoom mechanism was stiff.