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Blogroll, topics, links and other organizational stuff is at the bottom. I like the wide space this allows for the photographs which are the whole point of this blog. Also, I've been slowly adding to the Best Work and Favorites page at the top. Check it out if you haven't been here in a while. Last update was October 25, 2012.

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Beyond Human Scale

One of the big reasons I wanted to go to Northern California is to experience the redwoods. Sure, I’d been in forests in Big Sur. Alfred Molera and Garapatta State Parks, but those groves, while precious, are small and made up of all new growth. I wanted the big forests and if I got lucky, a few older growth groves. Trunks so big you could live inside one. Canopies that soar and soar out of sight and out of human scope. And fog. I envisioned fog. Boy, did I get my wish. If only I had gotten a few more days.

All the foggy shots were taken in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove which was dedicated by the First Lady in 1968 making it one of the first preserved redwood forests in all of California. People were slow to protect these amazing trees, but now there are large, interconnected tracts that you can get lost in.

In the beginning

Cast your mind back

Even though this was the most crowded forest we visited, the fog just made it so special that I could ignore the traffic. Coastal fog is essential to redwoods’ survival. Not only does it help create a more temperate environment with stable temperatures, but in summer when there is reduced rainfall, the fog helps bring water to the canopy and protects against moisture loss in the massive surface area these trees have. As the fog condenses on the vegetation, it drips and flows into the bark, moss, lichens and eventually the forest floor itself.

If you could take a moment

Just come this way

Even when the fog lifted, there was beauty so rich and otherworldly that I stopped about every 20 feet for another shot. This one has the camera off the tripod and me leaning on one of these massive beauties for support.

On the heels of a dream

Of course, when you’re in a redwood forest, you spend a lot of time doing this -

The Heights

That was the Stout Grove which is in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Forest. There is the most amazing road snaking its way to this grove. We came in on the long side so got to wind through and around the tremendous trees. The light was very different and I did my best to emphasize how gorgeous it is in the canopy.

Presence

One thing you may notice is the difference in the undergrowth from the Lady Bird Johnson Grove and here in Stout Grove. It’s much shorter and less dense. The sword ferns in most of the forests really dominate the lower landscape as well as rhododendrons. In Stout grove it’s less of a factor and instead it seemed there were more downed trees than anywhere else. I was fascinated with how they decay and lose their bark and their round shapes, becoming square and lying there like enormous Lincoln Logs.

Fallen brothers

Is everlasting

In addition to being fun to explore and great subjects to shoot, they made handy camera supports as well.

The work of a moment

Oh for a time machine so I could go back and be present during the storm that brought these elders crashing down. The noise. The power. The earth-shattering impact. Oh that would be something to behold.

So if I haven’t convinced you that you should go witness these incredible trees firsthand, I don’t know what will. They are majestic beyond all human expression. So massive that you feel a similar humility as you do when next to whales. There isn’t that same sense of communication that I felt with whales, but there is an antiquity and a timelessness that only an ancient ecosystem can make you feel. These trees were alive long before my birth and they will remain alive long after my death. Their timescale as well as they physicality is outside of humanity in almost every way, except in the connection we have to the earth and the cycles of the sun.

Go Cave!

Yeah. It’s been a dog’s age. I know. I’m a bad blogger. If you can guess the band that I snagged the post title from, you get…uh pictures of caves.

Anyway, here’s more from the Oregon/California trip. After Crater Lake, we decided to head to Lava Beds National Monument. For some reason we had it in our heads that it would be a lot like Lassen, but we were in for a surprise.

Caves.

Lots and lots of caves. Very little supervision. Only one cave in the whole gigantic park has lights in it. And unless you catch a tour with a guide and that person’s pet cave project, there are none. You are on your own.

Awesome. We dig that and apart from the tour we went on, we only saw people one time when exploring the caves. It was so amazing. The intense darkness and silence were something I would love to experience again. A lot of people said they were afraid in the caves, but I never once felt anything like that. Just awe and humility.

Anyway…here’s Mushpot cave, the one with lights. It’s right by the visitor’s center and is a good starting point.

I was really glad I had my travel tripod with me. I was gonna need it! Basically all the easily accessible caves are on a loop and so you drive and park to each of them. Another good thing is my ultra-prepared husband and the fact that he had a couple of good flashlights with him. This next cave had a couple of natural skylights that allowed for some illumination, but the rest of it is in total darkness so photography would have been impossible without the flashlights.

Sunshine Cave

The caves are made by tubes of lava as they exploded from the nearby volcano which is called the Medicine Lake Volcano. It is still active and last erupted approximately 950 years ago. As the lava flows across the desert floor, it cools and becomes hollow inside as the flow ends and the outside layers cool. The tubes eventually are covered entirely in lava and presto! Caves. Awesome, windy, bumpy, mysterious caves.

This one is called Golden Dome and the second shot will show you why more than this one. It is incredibly hard to show depth in these shots. The tunnels wind around and out of sight and vary a lot in height. We decided we were good with crouching and duck-walking, but without kneepads it’s a bad idea to crawl so we didn’t. This one is only about 5 feet high and the floor is really difficult to manage because it’s so uneven and strewn with loose rocks and rubble.

Golden dome 1

At a few points between these two shots, we’d stop and turn out all the lights and just sit. Unless you’ve experienced being underground like this I can’t even describe it to you. There isn’t silence like this anywhere on earth. No sounds at all. At all. No wind. No birds. No planes overhead. No cars in the distance. Just your own breathing and the pulse in your neck. And dark. There is no dark like under the earth dark. Pitch dark. Absolute dark. Words cannot describe it. You lose all sense of surroundings and have to rely on gravity alone to guide you. Not that I moved around much, it was too treacherous, but damn it was an amazing thing to sit in perfect dark and silence.

Golden dome 2

That’s the reason for the name. The rock becomes a rich, deep yellow color with splashes of green and even blue. Another big challenge for me was composition and focus. We had to keep shining the flashlights at the walls while I set up and framed. I locked the focus on the mid-distance and then we went dark for a couple of seconds and when the shutter opened we painted the walls, floor and ceiling with the flashlight beams. He would take a certain section of the cave and I another. After a few tries, I got the exposure down and just used manual settings for every shot. Color temperature varied hugely between the two flashlights and it was really hard to capture the true color of the rock. I did my best. Not all the shots translate though. It’s hard to have depth in these and so I have dozens of them that I can appreciate because I was there, but that if I was a stranger looking at them I’d wonder what the heck I was seeing.

During the time we explored Golden Dome we got a tiny bit turned around and had a moment of slight panic. A lot of the tunnel looks the same and there were loops and switchbacks and dead ends. And did I mention there are no lights, maps or blazes? Yeah. Once you’re down there, you’re down there. I can’t even imagine losing or breaking the flashlights. Or having dead batteries. The panic would be intense. Only later did we learn the way to tell if you’re heading in or out of a lava tube cave. It’s all about the smiley faces.

This next one is called Skull cave because of ancient bear skulls that were found at the bottom of it. Also at the bottom (there were I think four total staircases like these) is ice. Ice! It’s so deep that it never melts although now it is barricaded off because the constant traffic and soil tracked in by boots was causing it to melt. Other caves had already lost their ice, so this is the very last cave at Lava Beds that has intact ice. Very cool. Literally.

Skull cave

It was extremely hard to light and you can see the temperature difference between the two lights really easily in this shot. The ceiling is 80 feet high, making it the largest cave in the system. At least so far. Every year spelunkers find more caves. Despite it being in the middle of nowhere California, I’d go back. And bring kneepads.

Our next caving adventure was in Oregon and fell along more conventional lines. These caves are large, tall and open and are more what you think of when you think of caves. They have stalagmites and stalactites and are entirely formed of limestone. Check this out -

Oregon caves

Apparently way back before it was a state park, it was privately owned and they used to have weddings on this spot. Kind of cool, but damn way to inconvenience your guests. Unfortunately you could neither explore on your own nor bring a tripod into these caves and so I had to crank the ISO and shoot basically wide open. Luckily my new lenses have a maximum aperture of 2.8 so it was manageable. Handheld underground, baby. Far out.

For this next shot, I put the camera on a rock wall and shot. This space used to be a speak easy during prohibition. Hundreds of bathtub gin drinkers would gather down there and line the staircases. Amazing.

One bourbon, one shot and one beer

Just behind me and to the left is a huge chimney formation -

Alien ship

Don’t they look like the formations on the mother ship in Aliens? OMG. They were jaw-dropping in their weirdness and intricacy. I’m guilty of holding up the tour group because I kept turning around and around in the space getting dizzy with the idea of the time involved in making these formations. So much time that you can’t fit it into human scale. A problem I would continue to have on this vacation only above ground.

So that’s our cave experience. We had no idea we’d spend so much time underground on this vacation, but we’d do it all over again. It’s so outside of the way we live our lives these days. And there isn’t much in the way of caving here in New England, so it’s especially weird for me. I loved it.

There’s an update. I hope not to be such a lazy jerk in future. Sorry for the lapse.

 

 

 

Crater Lake National Park

In September, my husband and I headed to southern Oregon on vacation. We’d never been there before and our modus operandi is to find an area that interests us and find out what we can see and do in that area. Southern Oregon has a lot to do and see and I think we tried to cram too much in. We ended up doing A LOT of driving – over 1200 miles! Phew. Our first destination was Crater Lake. It’s tourist central, yeah, but worth seeing and even though the light wasn’t especially good, I shot anyway. Dealing with harsh light on vacation is something I’m used to and on this trip I was especially glad for my new Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 lens. Instead of big vistas full of flat colors, harsh shadows and blown highlights, I decided to slice the landscape into smaller shots. The  light still is what it is, but I tried to use it to bring up textures and geometry. Not sure if it’s a success or not, but here goes.

On the way from our hotel, we followed route 62 which runs close to the Rogue river and through a douglas fir forest. After a couple hours in the car, I was ready for a break so we stopped at this little park featuring some really great gorge formations on the Rogue River. The sun being high, it wasn’t suitable light for my normal river work, so I put the longer lens on and hunted for something interesting in the shade. To my delight I found these maiden hair ferns. I love maiden hair fern and had never seen it before outside of cultivation. I like the geometry in this shot and I think the square crop gives it some emphasis.

Maiden hair fern on the Rogue River gorge

Finally we got to the park proper. The sun was still at an angle, but was heading for straight overhead soon. Glad I was able to catch these trees backlit with just a touch of mist. They’re on the rim of the crater left behind by an ancient volcano that holds the lake water. 

Douglas firs backlit by morning sun

Since my husband was sick, we didn’t do a lot of hiking. We followed the rim road and stopped fairly frequently to take in the views. Occasionally we got away from the parking areas where everyone else gathered to take pictures. Granted, there aren’t a lot of ways to shoot Crater Lake and this next shot is practically identical to the first picture ever taken of this majestic lake.

The Wizard Walks By

The island is called Wizard Island so what else can a Black Sabbath fan do? The crater that forms the lake was once a volcano. Oregon is home to a lot of ancient volcanic activity along the Cascade mountain range. Before it erupted, Mount Mazama was probably 12,000 feet high, the remaining caldera not so much, it collapsed and the  lake is 1943 feet deep. The most powerful eruption was probably 7200 years ago. The rising magma and exploding gases caused the mountain to collapse, creating the crater that holds centuries of rainwater. Surprisingly, Mt. Mazama is not an extinct volcano and much like Mt. St. Helens, it could erupt again someday.

Sonic Boom

I couldn’t resist playing with the intense blue color of the water.

Another slice -

Jagged slant

Of course as soon as I noticed Pumice Desert on the map, I knew we’d go check it out. Not much to explore, but I waited out the traffic for this shot. Thanks to Mt. Theilsen for adding terrific drama to my shot. And pointy-ness.

Pumice Desert

I really debated going to this little waterfall because of the light, but it was only a 2-mile hike on nice flat paths and when I got there I figured ‘what the heck’. I couldn’t get a really long exposure even though I used a neutral density filter and low ISO. Knowing to crank down the lens aperture results in image softness, I kept it within the sweet spot. It came out ok after a bit of Lightroom adjustment.

Plaikni Falls

I also had a mini-panic that I’d left a lens cap here. Jogged back and checked. No lens cap. It was back in the car in a jacket pocket. Doh!

Anyway, our last stop at Crater Lake was Pinnacle Valley. It was really interesting and inspiring to see this formation. I love looking at examples of geologic time and how vast that is and how almost incomprehensible it is to us since we don’t live that long. These spires are called fossil fumaroles where volcanic gasses rose through a layer of ash, hardening the ash into rock. Weather, water and wind sweeps away the loose ash leaving these chimneys behind. I love how their shapes mimic the trees (mostly douglas fir). Again, the light was pretty harsh, but honestly, I’m not sure if any light would show these well. I tried to get some good shadows, texture and separation, but again, I don’t know if they convey the specialness of this location.

Pinnacle Valley

Fossil fumaroles

Some of these pointy bits are 100 feet high and Sand Creek, the waterway to cut the valley, hundreds further down. Sometimes getting too close to the edge was scary. Very steep. I loved looking out into the tops of the trees though. Monster douglas firs. Of course, as soon as we got into the redwoods, they didn’t seem so monstrous anymore, but damn, they were plenty big.

Anyway, that’s it for Crater Lake. I enjoyed my time there, but it wasn’t my favorite place we visited. More on that coming up as I process shots from more parks later in our week.

Looking out my front door

Lately I haven’t had the time to shoot a lot. And sometimes when I have, it’s just been too damn hot, humid or rainy. The desire is there, but the circumstances just won’t work for me. That’s why I love it when something great presents itself right outside my door. This time I mean that literally. For the first time since I’ve lived in this house, I found some indian pipe in my yard. Woo hoo! These beauties are 3 steps from my front door. So great. Well kinda. They’re under a little pine tree and the branches were murder to shoot around. I did though.

At first blush

Dark passenger

The whispers of the factions

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the colors in these is totally natural. I didn’t add anything. I’ve never seen such intense purple in these flowers before. Pink, yes, purple, no. So I was double excited about finding these. They’re not the best indian pipe shots in my portfolio, but there were a lot of limiting factors, mostly the background which only really worked in a limited arc. Otherwise very distracting undergrowth or my house, which doesn’t make a great background.

So anyway…that’s what I’ve got for now. Sorry so sparse. This full time employment thing is really cutting into my photography time. I do have some more paddling shots, but they’re not so terrific. Eh, maybe I’ll put them up. Who knows. Anyway, if you feel like looking at more indian pipe shots, click on the category indian pipe down there and you’ll find all the posts!

 

 

 

 

Contoocook River

Several weeks ago, I bought myself a kayak. I’ve wanted one for years, but never bought one. Sure, I’d paddled a couple of times with other people’s boats, but never owned one. Now I do it’s allowing me a new way to engage with nature and my photography. Here it is – a Wilderness Systems Pungo 120 (12 foot, recreation boat) -

What goes better with a Subaru than a kayak?

At first I didn’t really dare to bring my camera with me, but I have worked up some skill and some confidence, so I’ve begun to bring it with me when I’m out. Of course the first time I brought it, I forgot to put the memory card back in. Doh! In a way it was funny. Still had my iPhone with me though, so all wasn’t lost. Here’s the Powwow river -

Clouds over the Powwow river

So on my next outing, I remembered the memory card! Again, I chose a slow-moving river, this time the Contoocook which is a really pretty river and because it’s dammed quite a bit, a lot of it is great for quiet-water paddling. For most of the day, I kept the GH3 in a drybag, but then toward the end of my session, I kept it on my lap. It got splashed, but since it’s weatherproof, it doesn’t matter. I may not keep it there going forward, but for a quiet river it was fine. When I really had to paddle hard into the wind and chop, I put it back in the drybag. This first one is from a side channel I explored for a bit. It got narrow at one point, but I paddled through and look at what I found -

Backwater

Isn’t it amazing? Without a kayak, I’d have never seen it. I sat for a while, just floating and soaking up the atmosphere. It was a bit like a fairy story – an enchanted pool or magic glade. Dragonflies and damselflies kept me company. On my way back out to the main channel, I turned back to catch these ferns in the sunlight. I wish there’d been a bit of cloud cover to soften the harsh sunlight, but I still like the way they’re lit up. And the reflection.

Soaking it in

Paddling upstream didn’t yield any keepers, but drifting down current did. I would drift for a bit and try for compositions  on the bank. The light and the ferns kept me shooting. And the reflections are just a bonus.

Promenade

Bright sun isn’t the best light for photography, but I think it can be managed if you’ve got strong, colorful subject and balance to your composition. I drifted into some pickerelweed and kind of sat for bit, hunting a good shot. I’m pretty happy with this since it illustrates the perfection of the day -

Azure Interlude

This section of the Contoocook is dammed to make the Powder Mill pond and part of the joy of paddling here is going under this gorgeous covered bridge. I couldn’t resist shooting it (with a couple paddlers underneath) even though it’s a New England cliche, could you have kept the camera down?

Hancock-Greenfield covered bridge

So that’s my first full day on the water with the camera. I’m not 100% into a groove or routine, so I forgot my polarizer and binoculars, but overall I think I’m getting into the swing of it. I’ve started a new category here on the blog for future kayak posts. More water adventures to come!

Fay Falls

On the same day I visited Pulpit falls (from my last post) I went to Fay Falls in Walpole. It’s a haul for me to trek all the way over there, so a two-for-one was definitely the plan. It meant I couldn’t really explore much beyond the falls, but at least I know where they are and won’t spend too much time looking for them and bushwhacking. There is a trail leading near to Fay falls, but it doesn’t go all the way. Basically you find the brook and listen, then follow the sound of the water.

The gorge for Fay falls is really steep and long and so I had to switchback my way down into it. When I got to the bottom I was a ways downstream from the falls themselves, but the rock formations and the water’s tortured path were pretty interesting. I wish I could have spent more time down there, but it was slow going, I hadn’t actually seen the falls yet and I was pretty sure it would rain any second.

I zigged when I should have zagged

So here they are -

Fay Falls

Aren’t they grand? I was shooting from on top of a couple of huge boulders right at the pool there. Unfortunately there is also the wreckage of a dead tree down there, making for a really disordered foreground and a big obstacle to shoot around. I made the best of it though.

Strangely, the water here is not tannic like most other brooks in southern NH. I know what causes water to be tannic (organic compounds in leaves and other detritus leech out of the water and stain it, just like the tannins in tea do), but I don’t know why one brook is tannic and another, maybe within a mile, isn’t. Since it’s a relative rarity in this area, I think I’ll be back to it and explore down the gorge a bit.

Anyway, just after I shot this, the rain started in earnest so I hiked up and out of the gorge back to the car. Good timing overall and I have a couple new places to explore further. Not too shabby.

 

Pulpit Falls (finally!)

A while back, I can’t say exactly when, I read about Pulpit Falls in Winchester NH. Being a lover of waterfalls I thought it would be cool to add them to my growing portfolio of images. Problem was that not many people had ever seen them or knew where they were. A few pictures came up on Google, but not that many. One that was at first incorrectly labeled as Pulpit, came up also, with an explanation from the photographer that he’d hiked either the wrong way on the right brook, or hiked along the wrong brook. Those cascades are nice though and it wasn’t a bust. I wanted to see if I could find the right ones though and with a bit of research I found a bunch of information to support a hypothetical location. Given where the brook runs and the proximity of power lines, I couldn’t get too lost even if there was no trail, which was true and not true. The trail part, not the lost part.

Anyway, so I picked a day where the chance of rain was 30% and headed out. I find the pullout spot on the side of the road and switch from driving shoes to hiking boots. While getting my camera pack out of the back of the car, another car pulls up behind me. A small family gets out. Really? Of all days? The one time I come here hoping to find a semi-lost waterfall I have to have an audience? With a kid? OMG. Laughing, I set out on the trail which might or might not lead me to Pulpit Falls.

I decided to leave the trail at the first water crossing I encountered. Partially to get away from the people and partially to look for brook/forest landscapes. Those are the best. Soon I reached the powerlines. Usually powerline clear-cuts are full of blueberry bushes, but these are full of mountain laurel. And poison ivy. I had to pick my way through to the brook again, which went down into a steepish gully that I had to go around. When I got to it again, I saw that another brook joined it. Given the GPS coordinates and the map in my head, I knew I should follow the new brook upstream. With a bit of ledge scrambling, I came to this lovely spot -

Undiscovered greatness

Promising huh? I was psyched. To get this shot I put the camera on a downed tree, as far over as I could and still reach it to compose and find my focus points. And people think I’m weird to demand a flip and swivel LCD on the back. LOL.

Onward and upstream I bushwacked. Mostly it was easy. Then the land on either side of the water’s edge started to rise dramatically. Another New England gorge was ahead. I could either walk in the water or scramble. I scrambled. And surprised myself at how I judged (correctly the first time – miracle!) the best way to get into the gorge itself. First up, along some ledge, then down, clinging to some saplings for support along the way. Then under some downed trees, a couple of times taking off my backpack and pushing it under ahead of me so it wouldn’t get snagged. All the while the sound of the water getting louder and louder until eventually I had to turn off my iPod (listening to audio books is something I do all the time and I was re-listening to The Count of Monte Cristo for this trip…maybe I should start including my listening material in my blog posts. Could be fun. Anyway…). When I came out from under my final log, I was presented with this -

Pulpit Falls

Woah!

Some waterfall guide sources said it was a seasonal fall and not too impressive, but I was impressed. It doesn’t show here because it was really messy with deadfall, but the gorge is very wide and deep. Probably 3-4 stories from the bottom of the streambed to the top and almost straight up. Not quite and there are plenty of trees and bushes growing everywhere they could find purchase. I put the camera is where the gorge narrows considerably and there’s a handy boulder. Too bad there’s a newly fallen hemlock right next to it or there could have been more dramatic views. The tree is blocking them now. Maybe if I’d gone in last year I could have gotten those images. Self recriminations didn’t last long though. I was too excited to explore a new place.

The condition of the moss and the presence of beer cans told me I wasn’t the first to be here, but I knew it wasn’t a popular spot either and I hoped the family wouldn’t appear at the top of the falls to ruin my shots. Under and over another couple of dead trees and I got myself about 1/2 way up the cascade onto a wedge of granite -

Geologic geometry

The roar was intense as was the breeze coming off the force of the water. And I stayed blessedly alone. Well except for a green frog which I nearly squished. I think this is the strongest image of the falls, but I also like this one with the ferns waving in the water-powered breeze -

Happy Little Ferns (thanks to Bob Ross)

After marveling and trying a bunch more shots that didn’t really work, I headed up higher and got right up on the edge of the rock for this one. I love the layered slabs of granite and the curved shape the water made -

Structural Fluidics

I wished I could have gotten out further but levitation isn’t one of my skills so I had to be content with this. All the while I shot and marveled, little birds flew into the bowl of the falls and took sips on the wing. It was very peaceful despite the roar of the water. With the ground now reasonably level, I headed upstream a bit. I wished I could go further, but I had a date with another elusive waterfall and if I wanted to get both in before the rain, I had to move. I plan to go back though. It’s a beautiful brook and one worth more exploration, that’s for sure.

Burnished

Test of a teaser

Yesterday, I went to find an elusive waterfall. I’d heard of it somehow over the last couple years and found a few old photographs on the web (none newer than the 1990s), but it seemed not too many people either heard of it or much less had seen it. Armed with purported GPS coordinates and sort of reasonable directions, I set out. Here’s part of what I saw -

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thewiresmith/9068882157/

Sorry you have to go to flickr to see it. I can’t embed any video here without handing over money. So silly. Might be time to look for an alternative blog host if I decide to do more video. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m putting together a post about the falls and that will have the usual photos. Having video in the camera is so new that I often forget about it. Doh!

 

 

Make with the cute

By now, you’ve probably figured out I’m not a wildlife photographer, but will take the opportunity when it presents itself. I got a few of those lately so I wanted to put together a critter collection post. Spring certainly is springing and everyone seems to be out and about, even this guy -

I haven’t come across one so early in the season before. Because it was chilly (50s) it was way less wiggly than newts usually are.

Along another trail I nearly trod on this beauty sunning itself. I can’t believe it stayed and let me photograph it with my 12-35mm which is pretty short in terms of focal length. Basically I’m right up in the snake’s face. After indulging me a few seconds, it slithered away.

There’s a small pond at the Garden in the Woods and the bullfrogs are basically in charge -

Chairman of the Board

I have a big picture window in the front of my house and big glass door in the back. Unfortunately these confuse our feathered friends and they sometimes crash into them. So far no bird has killed itself, but a few have been stunned enough to be vulnerable for a few minutes. I always go outside to check on them whenever I hear one hit. This gorgeous little yellow-bellied flycatcher is the latest casualty. I only went to get the camera after I saw enough improvement to know it would be ok. Again it’s shot with my short little zoom and so I had to get right up on him. A few minutes after this he was on his way, flying through the trees and away.

Ready for takeoff

Last but not least is another fleet-flyer, a newly-emerged dragonfly. This one was still sheltering in some grass while its exoskeleton and wings firmed up enough for it to head for the skies. I deliberately angled and cropped to get a more unusual view of this favorite subject. The sheer perfection of its wings is amazing. Wonders of nature for sure.

Unblemished

So that’s my wildlife experience so far this year. I’m sure there will be more, but this seems like a good start!

 

The Garden in the Woods

If you live in New England or are here on vacation and you love wildflowers and wild plants in general, you owe yourself a trip to The Garden in the Woods, a preserve run by the New England Wildflower Society. It is magical, awe-inspiring and an unbelievably precious resource. My mom and I visited the other day and were bowled over with the lush planting, the overwhelming variety and beauty of wild plants in their natural environments. There was so much to see and experience it almost made me cry. The dedication of the staff to the preservation and proliferation of wild plants is amazing. I can only imagine the endowment this jewel must have. Worth every penny.

For a couple of years now I’ve been meaning to get there, but kept forgetting. So last year I put it in my calendar to remind me at the beginning of May. A quick drive to Framingham, MA and we arrived. I didn’t know what the weather would be like when I made my date with mom, but as it turns out, it was perfect. Overcast, but not rainy and not too hot. I knew my Oly 90mm would get a workout and boy did it ever. There are so many displays and trails that we couldn’t get to them all and suddenly it was 5:00. I like the ‘subtle’ closing indicator to visitors. Sprinklers went off like crazy! I guess that was our cue.

The first amazing flower to catch our attention was the yellow lady slipper. Neither of us had ever seen these flowers before, either cultivated or in the wild. They are unbelievably rare. We oohed and aahed and tried really hard not to climb into the garden itself. Such willpower and restraint has never been witnessed before.

Mirror, Mirror

The next rarity to enthrall me was maidenhair fern. I’ve been looking for it for years in the forest, but have never seen it. The way it grows and the pale, delicate nature of the fronds is a wonder. It’s at once fragile, yet sheltering. Of course a fern freak like me would be all over it.

Maidenhair fern

Mom was so patient when I’d get sucked up into photographing a plant. The trilliums were all over in terms of blooming – some were past, some were fresh and some were imminent. This nodding beauty was tough to get to, but eventually after some persistence, I got a shot I like. It was a natural for a monochrome conversion, too. I didn’t notice the wee  jumping spider when I shot, but was bummed I didn’t get it in focus in any of the shots. Such a cutie.

Nodding trillium

From time to time, when I remembered and when the light wasn’t the best it could be, I used a little on-board flash to fill in and I was really pleased with the results. The OM 90mm  has some decent reach and I didn’t have to be right up on most specimens to get them in frame. This made the backgrounds really soft, with some lovely bokeh.

Greek valerian

Just along from the bed these were in, we found some more yellow lady slipper except they were mini! Seriously, this next blossom is an inch long, while the ones in the shot above are easily twice that. They were adorable. Luckily we arrived when the blooms were at their most dewy freshness.

Right profile

As we progressed through the day, the sun started to come out and it got tougher to photograph certain flowers. I like the job the fill flash did with these shooting stars though.

Make a wish

I was a bit dizzy and could hardly pay attention to the big picture, but here’s one of my favorite paths leading to the rare plant display -

My favorite path

And speaking of rare plants…here’s American Hart’s-tongue fern which only grows in rare limestone outcrops in the Northeast, but hasn’t been recorded as occurring in New England (at least according to my field guide which was updated by the New England Wildflower Society in 2005). What a treat to see it. My fern guide also says that ‘hart’ was another name for stag and the name refers to the shape resembling a deer tongue. Oh what strange stuff you learn in botanical field guides. I love the curly bits of the still unfurling leaves -

American hart’s-tongue fern

I had the camera on a rock to get this image and while I was shooting, another visitor who I will call Tripod Man came over to talk to me. Again. His opening salvo upon seeing my camera sitting on a bag of barley on the ground was “That’s one way to do it.” With kind of a disparaging tone. Ugh. Great. This time he wasn’t going to be satisfied with idle chit-chat about gear (The last time he asked me what lens I was using and I think he was taken aback by my reply. It was the old 90mm as usual, but I think it surprised him.) Anyway, this time he decided to lecture me about the things I should have like a quick-release plate for a tripod and a little light-blocking funnel thingie so I could see my LCD screen in any light. Ugh. Dude. I know you’re old enough to be my grandfather, but spare me your photography wisdom and go lecture someone else.

Anyway, we were soon rid of him and got to a lovely meadow display that made me sad we don’t have many meadows left. Paved over by sub-divisions and shopping malls. Too bad, too. There could be more of these -

Wild hyacinth

While mom was taking a break on a bench in this display, we saw these gorgeous pink flowers, but didn’t know what they were since they weren’t labeled the usual way.

Pink ladies’ bonnets

Jokingly I dubbed them Pink ladies’ bonnets and mom thought that was pretty good. Then I said they looked like giant pea flowers. We started looking around for more of them, but didn’t see more than a few plants. Then mom said they sort of looked like a locust flower and light dawned. Of course. Giant peas! They’re honey locust! We spied a much larger version nearby and yep, that was the ‘mother’ plant. Honey locust trees grow to be enormous and produce banana-sized bean pod things that fall to earth at the end of the summer. Being that the trees are so huge (at least the ones I’ve seen) I never could see the flowers before. Luckily there were tiny saplings at The Garden in the Woods and with the OM 90mm and a little fill flash, their beauty is revealed -

Honey locust

Once again I notice little green markings on the interior of the flowers – I think they must be guides for pollinators so they get right in there. So cool.

Well that’s all that I have from my time at the Garden in the Woods. I want to go back though as the season progresses. And next year since I missed the bluebells! Better put more reminders in my calendar and hope for overcast skies!

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