I chased a storm the other day but never caught it. I started the chase a half-hour too late. By the time I reached my destination, the storm was well off to the northeast.
So I turned back for home without having taken a single photo. Luck, however, was with me. Just as the sun was setting, I came upon a tractor that had been left out in the field. I had just enough time for one photo.
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.
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 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: