Thanks for stopping by

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.

Latest

Doing that thing I do

More from the yard. Everything was shot with the legacy OM 90mm f2 macro except for the amanita.

My husband is used to it by now. If I see something, I can’t sit still until I shoot it. Sometimes just a new idea about how to shoot something will obsess me until I do it. Or the light will change and something will lure me off my chair. Our hanging out on the deck time is often punctuated by me coming and going with the camera. Just the other day though, we had a visitor -

Drat, I’ve been spotted!

I decided to leave the manual 90mm macro on just to see if I could work with it and a moving subject. It was challenging, but not impossible. The detail at this ISO (1000) is pretty amazing. Some of the softness is grass extremely close to the lens and out of focus. I just wasn’t able to get a lot of that out of the way for fear of scaring it. Never before have I had such an easy time with a garter snake. It was aware of me, but not frightened. I didn’t shoot it the whole time, but just watched it move and investigate a small section of my yard.

Stealth

On a curve

Some of our visitors join us right on the deck, like this little shieldbug -

Just passing through

Isn’t he great? The colors just knock me out. Check out his little pink legs! You know you’re a photographer when a bug lands on the deck and you run in for the camera. Another shieldbug came by yesterday, but it was too active to shoot – it crawled all over the place then flew off, crashed into the house, bounced off and landed in the lawn. Who knew bugs could be so entertaining? This earlier one posed for me quite happily though. When I was a kid we called them stinkbugs.

Then there was this mayfly that came by in June -

Golden mayfly

I love the detail in this shot. All the different structures and formations. I learned that mayflies do not have mouth parts and thus do not eat. The adults exist only to breed. And to serve as models for fly fishermen. The golden mayfly is the largest of the species and from head to the base of the body (not including that long whippy tail) it’s about 1 and 1/4 inches. It stayed on the screen door for more than 24 hours before I decided to send it on its way. I mean, no other mayflies were hanging out so it needed to find where the party was.

The mushroom population is a little thin this year, but this beauty is gracing us with its presence now. I’m no expert, but I think it might be an amanita farinosa.

For a limited engagement

This next shot is a couple weeks old. It’s a very common weed, but like many plants we call weeds, it can be very beautiful (especially after it rains, which was when I took this image). This one always catches my attention because the yellow is so very pale and soft. Not like garden loosestrife, St. John’s Wort, Butter-n-eggs and some other yellow flowers.

Rough-fruited cinquefoil

But nature isn’t all wonderful all the time. It’s rough out there for some. When I first spied this tiny bird’s egg by my walk, I was delighted. I love finding signs of new life and activity. Then I turned over one section and found the yolk still intact. Instant sadness.

A life unlived

It is all part of a much larger cycle though and within a few hours all traces of the yolk were gone. Ants found it and made short work of it. Some of those ants will feed a bird or two or other creatures that birds eat.

What kind of egg is it? I thought it would be pretty easy to ID, but lots of little birds make tiny speckly eggs. My best guess is titmouse. It’s about the size of my thumbnail – a little larger than a dime.

Yesterday I found something very cool in the yard, but I haven’t photographed it yet, so you’ll have to wait for the surprise.

 

Brennan Falls Reserve

Recently a joint venture between the Piscataquog Land Conservancy and the Francestown Land Trust resulted in the acquisition of 149 acres of land under easement and protection from development. The official name is Diane and John R. Schott Brennan Falls Reserve, but I think folks will refer to it as The Brennan Falls Reserve or Brennan Brook Forest. Either way it’s a lovely addition to the conservation efforts of both groups. I love it when this kind of thing happens and opens new, natural spaces for people to enjoy. I especially love it when there’s a brook or a waterfall involved and Brennan brook has a lovely 20-foot cascade.

Brennan Falls

This is an out-and-back hike ending at the falls. If you were to continue up Bullard Hill Road, you’d eventually get to a long-abandoned village dating to about 1700, now reduced to cellar holes. Farming isn’t easy in New England! Between the time I headed into the preserve and when I headed out, 3 hours later, a kiosk had been erected for maps and other information about the property. Very exciting. Thanks, Ben!

Note: during dry periods, it should be easy to drive in to the kiosk area on Bullard Hill Road where there is parking and turn around space. Otherwise it’s safer to park on Campbell Hill road and walk in (maybe 1/2 a mile). Bullard Hill road is on the left, right where the pavement ends and turns to dirt. There is a sign for Bay State Forestry Service there currently.

The first thing you’ll come upon is a pond that’s created by an old dam, presumably for mill operations. The beavers appreciate it I’m sure.

Brennan Pond

The light is kind of harsh and was difficult to deal with, but because Pat Nelson helped me out so much with finding my way to the new preserve, I wanted to get some photos the PLC can use to highlight this little jewel. I have a feeling this view will be shot over and over as people explore the area.

Just on the other side of the dam, I found this little cascade reflecting the intensely green canopy and so I had to see what I could do with it. I think a faster shutter speed would have better captured the sparkly green-ness of the reflection better. Maybe next time.

Envy

Once again I was dealing with direct sun filtered through canopy. Not the ideal conditions for moving water photography, but I took it as a challenge and tried my best to make the light work for the subject. One way I find effective is to isolate details of larger views or change composition/perspective to eliminate as many distracting highlights as possible – basically to do landscape slices. And if you can’t eliminate a highlight area (where the human eye naturally goes to first), I think the best course of action is to try to make that highlight work for the overall flow of the image. With the two falls shots, I think there’s balance and cohesion to the images. Definitely the improved dynamic range of my GH3 helped manage the difficult light. For the wide shot, I waited until the earth rotated a bit so the hot spots got smaller, but in the first I didn’t. More experimentation is definitely needed.

Not far from that little cascade are the falls themselves. I love how the sound of the crashing water starts as part of the background noise, but then I become consciously aware of it. That’s when a little flicker of excitement flares in my stomach. I get closer and the roar gets louder. Anticipation builds. What will I see? What new and fantastic construction of granite ledge will I find? How will I shoot it? It’s all part of the magic of the woods for me. And who doesn’t love a waterfall?

I spent about an hour with the falls, watching the light change and finding a friend to hang out with.

Brennan Falls

Ladies who Lunch

With the naked eye, I couldn’t figure out why this orb weaver looked so strange. When I got the macro lens on, I saw that she was just finishing a meal. Her jaws were still actively working and she completely ignored me. Only in post did I see that it looks like there’s still an eye staring back at you out of its misery of being eaten alive. Shiver. This wasn’t the only spider making a good living beside the falls, but it was the biggest.

Later I found this little beauty -

Nothing to see here

Although I’ve encountered plenty of wood frogs before, I have no good photos of them because they’re so fast and wily. Luckily I had the 35-100mm lens mounted and when this little one froze I thought how wonderful was the camouflage and managed to get this image before it darted off into the hollow of a tree.

So that’s my 3-hour tour of the new Brennan Falls Reserve aka Brennan Brook Forest. It’s no doubt a vital part of the Piscataquog watershed and very thoughtfully managed.

 

Elusive Wildflowers – Part 10 – Garden Loosestrife

Another one that’s not elusive in the sense that it’s rare, but that I’ve never encountered it before. This post combines my love of wildflowers and my yard macro thing from the last post. I spotted these guys in an overgrown garden that’s being reclaimed by weeds. Sigh. Laziness. That’s why I can’t have anything nice. But hell, I do have wildflowers so I don’t really care. Both images are done with the OM 90mm macro. Like you couldn’t guess.

One Last Kiss

Ghosts of the Future

I didn’t intend to convert to B&W when I shot the second one, but when I got it into Lightroom, the color saturation was so off the charts that I thought it detracted from what I wanted to do with the image; namely to show the structure of the plant. The color shot I deliberately isolated that one blossom and leaf to hide the structure of the plant. If you didn’t know it was loosestrife, or didn’t know how a loosestrife plant was put together, that shot wouldn’t really help you. The second one (shot at f11) does that, but the extreme yellow and green made you forget about how symmetrical and lovely the arrangement of leaves and flowers is, so I deleted it. Then I cranked the green slider a ways to further emphasize the tonal range.

My approach to shooting wildflowers is to try for something that might be different from how other people have taken photos of the same subject. I mean, how many shots of pink lady slippers does the world need? Whenever I shoot them I try for different angles or to find a specimen that has something unique about it. If I don’t have an idea of how others shot the plant, I try for what strikes me about it at the time. As I studied these little wonders, I was struck by the symmetrical arrangement of the flowers on the leaves, and the graceful counterparts they make. So that’s what I tried to highlight. Hope you liked my “fine art” treatment of a backyard weed.

 

There’s this thing I do

that I call ‘Yard Macros’.

It’s when I go into the yard for some camera therapy.

I live in the ‘burbs. On a tiny plot of sand. I suck at gardening. As much as I’d like a nicely landscaped yard, I don’t (once I attempted it, but it didn’t take). I can’t stand yard work or gardening and so we basically have wildly overgrown plants, hardly any of which came from a green house. Most are what you’d call weeds.

Yeah, I said it. Weeds.

And this year is the worst year yet. I haven’t mowed. My husband had surgery to repair a torn pectoral, so neither has he.

Yep. Mid-June and narry a Honda has graced the lawn.

Lawn. That’s nice. Call it that if you want. I prefer pasture. Or meadow.

So back to that thing I do. Sometimes I go into the yard and shoot what is there. Often it’s something pretty small because any kind of landscape will have a neighbor’s house in it. No matter what direction I face there’s a house. So small scale it is, but darn, there’s sometimes wonders down there, out of sight but within view.

Who’s that girl?

American Copper

Peck’s Skipper

There will be joy

Not a drop to drink

Sheep sorrel abstract

Sheep sorrel

Door frog

American Speedwell

Mouse-ear hawkweed

I would have added some mushrooms, but someone eated them.

Kayaking season

Woo hoo!

I can’t believe I waited so long to buy a kayak. Seriously, I love it. On quiet water is such a wonderful place to be. I seek out less frequented ponds, lakes and rivers. Avoiding powerboats as much as possible. I like to slip into side channels or very shallow spots and await what might come. The other day while paddling the Nashua river, I found such a spot. So shallow that it was less than a paddle blade deep. I got hung up on a few branches, but other than that it was fine and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A green heron! My photos are pretty terrible because it was hiding among some tree roots and my lens isn’t long enough to isolate it even though I was only 20 feet away. Still, I’d never seen one before and it was amazing. I just couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Eventually though, it moved on and so did I. Other birds were less shy.

On guard

An hour before I took this picture, I paddled by the inlet and out it came. Charging like mad. Flying just barely above the water, making sure I wouldn’t come closer. I took the hint and paddled away from him and his mate whom he was presumably defending. I didn’t see her. Eventually I had to go by him again to get back to the main channel and there he sat, giving me the stink eye. Drifting with the slight current, I got as close as I dared for a portrait and then meekly paddled away, hoping he wouldn’t charge me again. He didn’t.

Not much else was stirring although there are tons of birds on this stretch of the Nashua. Swans, herons of blue and green, osprey, ducks and red-winged blackbirds. I even noticed a cormorant. I really need a longer lens. But I can always shoot landscapes.

Heading home

Next up is another slow-moving river, the Powwow in Kingston, NH. I’ve paddled it before, but wanted to see if I could get further along than last year when I was stymied by lots of plant growth. There was a lot this year, too, but I still made it all the way to the other lake. Didn’t paddle there though because of wind and powerboats. Drifted back on the current, barely even steering.

Safer waters

Same side pocket, facing the other way -

Alone in a crowded room

And back in the main channel where the very end of a big tree still pokes above the waterline -

Tiny island

Oh and wait. I forgot my very first outing this year, when I tried to find one pond and ended up in another because I just couldn’t figure out where the first one is. I should have parked and walked down a forest road to be sure, but I was impatient and headed to Mountain Brook Reservoir in Jaffrey, NH. It was quite windy so made for some great texture on the water surface.

Mountain Brook Reservoir

What is it with the wind? I paddled into it on the way out and into it again on the way back?!! Grrr. I was tired and sore since it was my first outing, but when I got back to the put in, I met up with some buds and hung out for a while.

Tiny Hunter

Isn’t it cool? Well sure, my technique needs improvement, but newts are too irresistible not to try. They were in the very edges of the pond where it’s warmest and there’s a lot of light. It was fascinating to watch them hunt among the leaves and other detritus. Fierce little guys they are, too. I used my new(ish) 35-100mm f2.8 lens with the polarizer (a nice B&W model, so much better than my old one). Focusing is sometimes iffy, but mostly I need to practice more. It’s close focus distance isn’t what I’d like it to be, but it was the right tool for the job.

So that’s a wrap. My first 3 outings in the boat. There will be more to come, that’s for sure. Click the tag word kayaking below to find last year’s posts.

 

Pulpit Falls and the great light race

In the last couple of posts I talked about learning a hard lesson about light. That is not to fight it, but to work with it to make the best of my time and my photographs. Letting go of that perfect image you have in your head is hard. We go out trying to get “the shot” and when we can’t, how do we react? As photographers, we’re always looking for the best light, but sometimes Mother Nature has other plans. It’s always a gamble whether or not the conditions you want will prevail. So what’s a person to do if the light you want turns into the light you don’t? Well, you can pack up and go home. Yeah, that’s an option if you’re a quitter. If you traveled far to get to your location, making the most of your time is probably the best bet. You can put the camera away and just soak up the atmosphere; enjoying the place for itself, not for how you can shoot it. Another choice is to stay and find something interesting to put your camera in front of. Maybe it’s not “the shot”, but who knows what you’ll find. Something that works with the light Mother Nature has decided to give you. That’s usually the one I go for, hoping to find something interesting and worth shooting.

This was what happened to me the other day when the forecast called for chance of rain and overcast skies. I decided to head to Pulpit Falls again and see if I could get to the other side to get a different set of photographs. It’s about 90 minutes for me to drive there, so it was a gamble and as I drove the skies got bluer and brighter by the mile. Cursing, I kept going, finally arriving with some clouds still lurking and some on the horizon, but it was turning into a nice day. Not the greatest conditions for waterfall photography. I decided to try anyway and see if more clouds moved in later like they had the day before. Instead I got this -

Pulpit Falls - nice but where do you look?

Pulpit Falls – nice but where do you look?

Dappled sunlight in the woods is something I really love and try to work with, but damn this is awful. Where the heck to you put your eyes? There’s no flow, no cohesion. Too much contrast. The light is harsh and it’s just a mess. Plus look what a hard time the white balance is having. The water is blue! It wasn’t mouthwash! I’d have to remove it in post if I were going to use this image. Blue water in these kind of shots is a giant pet peeve for me. I hate it.

So I gave that up. I wandered away from the falls to explore the undergrowth and see what small things I could find. Mushrooms were coming up here and there. Violets, starflower and fringed polygala were blooming. I found a huge dead bug. While I was sitting and looking for microscapes, a newt wandered by. S’up? Then I saw some indian cucumber and spent some time shooting them, ending up with this little beauty -

Unbroken Solitude

It took me a while to find the right angle (luckily it was on a little slope and I could get below it) then wait for the breeze to calm. Finally it did. I hadn’t planned on a monochrome conversion when I shot it, but when I got it into Lightroom it was the obvious choice. That image alone would have been worth the trip (even though there’s indian cucumber 10 minutes from my house, oh the irony). Then I noticed a drop of water on my flip-out LCD screen. Then another. And another. I just about snapped my head off looking up.

Clouds!

Good thing I didn’t go far. I practically RAN back to the falls. Having scoped it out before, I set up and damn did I shoot in a hurry. It was mental. The cloud was small. And moving. Crap, crap, crap!!!

Good thing I get a lot of practice doing this. The light lasted about 8 minutes. Seriously.

Pulpit Falls – aaahhh, now that’s better.

The scramble paid off. At least I think it did. It’s the shot I had in my head and for those 8 minutes, I had my chance.

But darn, one you start working some falls, it’s hard to stop. I got the notion that maybe I could make the dappled sunlight work. But how? I moved closer and like the last time I shot these falls, I found some ferns to put in the foreground.

Dramatis Personae

What do you think? Too much? Does it suffer from the same issues as the first shot, the wider one? I don’t think so. I think it works, but I’m biased. I like the way the light picks out the texture in the walls. My eyes don’t seem to ping all over the shot like they do in the other one. My eyes move through the photo slowly and while there is a lot of tonal range in the blacks and whites, it doesn’t jar my sensibilities. Again, I might be biased, but at least the water isn’t blue.

Oh and before I go further, here’s a fun story about the falls and my trips to photograph them. Jeff Newcomer is a fellow NH-based nature photographer. I follow his blog and his flickr feed and we’ve traded some comments back and forth over the years. One of his posts inspired me to try to find these falls in the first place. Between his goof the first time around, some additional search information, Google maps and just plain luck, I found it last year. I got a gorgeous shot of the water upstream, but didn’t have a really great shot of the falls as a whole. So I went back a few weeks ago.

As I got down to the brook I noticed a person off to my left with a big tripod and a dog. Not such an unusual thing. I’ve run into other photographers in the woods before. Strange to find one here, though, at such an obscure location. No worries. I head over the the top of the falls to scope out the situation. A minute later and there’s a snuffling at my feet. The dog. I don’t mind dogs and she was very well-behaved. Oh and here comes the photographer. We start talking and lo and behold it’s Jeff Newcomer. He’s equally astonished that he met me as well since he used my last Pulpit Falls blog post to orient himself to find it. What a riot!

I  never did shoot the falls that day, but explored upstream a bit with Jeff and Nellie. From atop a big granite ledge I spied even more falls, but we couldn’t get to them. We even drove around looking for another road in since we could see the makings of a campfire and a bridge across the stream further up. Maddening! But it will make for a future adventure for us to do together. Some day when it’s really good and overcast and Mother Nature doesn’t line up one thing only to go ‘surprise!’ and give us sun instead.

Cool story though huh? What were the odds? Oh and if you want to see yours truly, check out Jeff’s post. And this one where we headed to the Fox State Forest, one of my favorite places.

So back to the falls. I got closer still, looking to isolate that first drop. Again, I hadn’t planned on converting to black and white, but when I started processing, it seemed the right choice.

Hand of Time

The dappled sunlight isn’t as obvious with this one, but it’s there and I think it heightens the drama of the shot. Also, a wide tonal range is really critical in black and white. You have to have black and white, not just gray. Would it have worked on an overcast day? Sure, but this has more punch I think. Am I suffering from wishful thinking? I hope not.

I salvaged what I feared might be a wasted trip. By being flexible and open-minded, I made the most of my time and when the right light came along for a few minutes, I was able to take advantage of it. Too many times I’ve been disappointed and frustrated with what I can’t control during a shoot. The light. Sure, I can choose days and times of day when it’s likely to be perfect, but if it’s not, I like to think I have the artistic resilience to make the most of what I have to work with. To see beyond the image in my head to the image in front of me. For me it’s a skill hard won through tough lessons and ruined photos (not to mention vacations!).

So what are your heartbreaking light disasters? Did you pick up and go home, or did you persevere and make something great anyway?

 

The Garden in the Woods II

In what I think it becoming an annual ritual, my mom and I went to The Garden in the Woods again in May. We don’t go exactly on Mothers Day, but near to it and this year we went a couple of weeks earlier than last year and boy was it different. Most of the ferns were still unfurling. Shooting stars, lady slippers and wild hyacinth were not blooming. That’s not to say nothing was, and I’m happy that we caught the bluebells in their pristine glory, something we missed last year.

A girl this beautiful

And another blue beauty, Forget me nots.

Forget me not

I’ve never seen either of these flowers in the wild and that’s one of the main reasons I go to The Garden in the Woods. It’s a beautifully put together display of native plants, both abundant and rare. I had a time getting this grouping just right, but I love it. Each plant is 1-2 feet high and the leaves are a foot across on some plants. The flowers themselves are 2-4 inches and I don’t know if they ever open completely like other trillium. All the ones on display were upright like this; like flames on torches.

Yellow Trillium (Toadshade)

Toadshade

As usual, I shot with the legacy Olympus 90mm macro pretty much all day. One thing I didn’t do, because I forgot, was to use the on-board flash for fill, which I did quite a lot last time with good results. I really have to be better about remembering all the tools I have at my fingertips with this camera. The other day I persisted through something that was annoying me because I didn’t remember that I could change it. Doh!

One lesson I’ve learned the hard way is not to fight the light. Photography is all about light, but sometimes nature doesn’t serve up the perfect conditions. This used to frustrate me to no end and I actually ruined a bunch of vacation pictures trying for the shots I had in my head even though the light didn’t serve them at all. Now I work with the light I have and use it to its best advantage. If that means giving up on the shots in my head so be it. I try to be open to new images, compositions and arrangements with the light I have and for the most part it works. Mostly I try to enjoy what I’m doing regardless of what I had in mind when I went out. By now you know my love of dappled sunlight and I hope I’m getting better at showing just how magical it can be.

Anyway…Not all the flowers are big and showy though. Many are tiny and unobtrusive.

What’s in a name?

I should have taken a shot of the sign for this one since I can’t find it anywhere. It grows on a bush and has many trooping tassels of these flowers. At first we thought they were gone by, but on a closer look we discovered they weren’t. Each one is about 1/4 of an inch across. I bet hardly anyone ever notices them. These, too -

Star Chickweed

Definitely this trip had more of the mundane than the exotic. Even though violets are pretty much everywhere, it doesn’t diminish their beauty.

Yellow violet

Impossible desires

On our way out, we stopped by the planting beds; the place the plants are grown so they can be placed in various displays or sold so people can create their own wild gardens. While there I found this lone yellow bellwort in the sun. Who could resist? Especially since the plants in the displays had all gone by already.

Yellow bellwort

I’d like to take another trip to The Garden in the Woods during high summer…say mid-June. I bet it is so different that it would be like I’d never been there. Ah the panoply of nature. It’s never boring.

Go with the flow

Spring, spring, glorious spring.

Yeah, I’m a bad blogger, I know. Honestly though, I hardly shot a thing all winter. Zero photos from March.

Zero.

So I’m making up for it.

This is Chesterfield Gorge which is way the frig out in western NH…nearly Vermont. I’d been there in the mid-90s, but not since, but I think I got my timing right as Jeff Newcomer told me the gorge had a big clean up recently. Lots of debris was removed from the waterway and I thank those folks profusely!

Nameless One

There are many interesting sections to this gorge and I did my best to find them. For this shot, I had the tripod in the water, weighted by my backpack. I haven’t had the ability to do this with my previous tripods and I think it’s going to prove helpful with the stronger currents to reduce vibration and make for sharper images. Here’s a shot of how it looks – Click here.

Into the Valley

Because you can get to the edge of the precipice in a lot of places, I went for the opposite approach with this shot and the next one. I wish there was a bit more sense of scale, but what can you do? The sun came out now and then and I tried to work with it and I think it adds some depth by lighting up branches. I’m a big fan of that anyway. I know not all photographers are, but I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t fight the light. You have to work with it and figure out how to make it enhance your photos. Make it work for you.

Chesterfield Gorge

I didn’t mind that it rained a bit at times either. It was part of being there. The experience. One thing I try to do is to soak up a location as much as I can. Sometimes I think I rush too much to shoot and I don’t really absorb the location. The way the breeze moves through the rocks or trees. The sound of the water. The shape of the rocks. It’s all part of why I’m there and I need to be mindful of it.

Finding my way

I’m sure the people who walked by me thought I was a little crazy to be just standing in the brook with the tripod, but I needed to see.

Beneath, Between and Behind

Circumstances

You never know what you will notice when you take the time to be still.

 

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.

 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 397 other followers