Ferns are some of my favorite things in the world. They are one of the major reasons I love the forest so much. Their presence is sometimes lush and is always vivid and varied. They are some of the oldest plant life on our planet and some varieties, like sword fern in the Pacific Northwest and Christmas fern here in the east, lend a primordial feel to the landscape. Their shapes, heights and colors are so diverse because they’ve been around so long, filling different ecological niches through the millennia.
As a photographer I love them because they’re intensely photogenic. Especially when in the fiddlehead stage. Right down the road from me is a small nature preserve that has a dense concentration of ferns. I counted I think 6 varieties along a few yards of trail. I have photographed the same section of trail with the ferns fully leafed-out and standing tall. They’re amazing and literally stopped me in my tracks, but before I show you that, here they are when they’re just starting out, braving the frost and the devouring insects.
Just like in their adult state, the fiddleheads all have distinct features and characteristics. Look closely at this next one, can you spot the texture change at the heart of the spiral? Those are spores, the way ferns and other ancient plants reproduce and spread their genes. Only a few Christmas fern fronds carry the spores per plant (I love turning the fronds over to look for them, like Braille they are raised dots). I was just lucky that this gorgeous little fiddlehead was one of them.
Some ferns come in more than just green, like sensitive fern. Its leaves are green, but the stems are red.
Most people have heard of fiddleheads as something to eat. A seasonal item that shows up in some grocery stores. From my reading those are ostrich ferns and the only ones absolutely safe to eat. A friend of mine told me that par-boiling them before sauteing will leach out the bitterness and make them much more delicious. I keep meaning to mark a big grove of ostrich fern and collect some fiddleheads in the spring, but I always forget. They’re some of the earliest that fully unfurl and they are some of the most beautiful.
Interrupted fern gets its name from the specialized leaves that interrupt the pattern of the entire frond. Instead of tucking spores underneath the tips of some fronds, this species hosts them on all the stems and locates them in the middle instead. I love evolution.
Here’s the trail shot I promised. Cinnamon fern dominates, but now I’ve explored it in the early stages, I know they share with interrupted, evergreen, royal, sensitive, ostrich and wood fern.
For more ferny goodness, visit my gallery.
So this isn’t a wildflower, but I’m going to put it in my Elusive Wildflowers category because it’s got to go somewhere. There is also some irony in this little story, too, and that’s always fun.
As I said in my last post, this will most likely be my final spring in New Hampshire. When we move from Wisconsin in 10-15 years it will be to our retirement home which most likely won’t be anywhere east of the Mississippi. Funny that Wisconsin just squeaks by being east of it as its boundary with Minnesota is the river itself.
Springtime is wonderful for many things, but high on that list is the ferns. I love them in any season, but spring is especially great for photographing them. That fiddlehead stage is hard to beat. The unfurling is graceful and enigmatic. Especially when it’s a fern I’ve been hunting for years. In New England I’ve only ever found it under cultivation and in the wild only on the Pacific coast; northern California and Oregon. It’s maidenhair fern. One of the most ethereal and barely-there ferns I’ve ever encountered.
I went to the Plainfield Wildflower Sanctuary, a property owned by the New England Wildflower Society and while it’s not a traditional nature preserve (no trails) it has an abundance of ferns. Flowers, too, of course, but it was early yet (the hundreds of trout lily had all gone by though). While I was crouched down photographing a purple trillium and waiting for the endless breeze to cheese it for a second, I did a double take. Is that? Could it be?? OMG!!! A solitary maidenhair plant. Jaw dropped. You would have had a good laugh at my expression and how fast I abandoned the pedestrian flower.
Actually I was on my way out of the sanctuary. There wasn’t much blooming apart from some early saxifrage and the purple trillium, so I decided to head back home. That’s when I came upon my Moby Dick of the fern world. Then, like so many other plants in the under-story, once I saw one, others began materializing out of the landscape. Soon I found myself amid a very large swath of the plants. In more directly sunny patches, they were further along in their growth, but none were fully unfurled.
Patience is not my strong suit, but I exercised it to the best of my ability for these images. Even breathing stirs the delicate leaves of maidenhair fern. The spiral structure of the plant itself seems designed primarily to catch the least stirring in the air. It sets them fluttering, muttering in their own mysterious dance. Even low down amidst dozens of plants the ethereal, feathery quality lingers and they seem to slip sideways and disappear from view.
Hopefully they don’t continue to elude me in my new home. Ironic though that I finally find them and have to say goodbye so soon.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I just don’t finish processing stuff before posting. I’m a nut. These are from the Mt. Foss sunset session.
By now you know I have a fern habit and when I saw these I knew I had to try to work with them. I’m not 100% sold on this, but I was trying to work fast with the light that I had. I wanted them back-lit and I like the glowing aspect, but the sun isn’t in a great position. Moving though, gave me a lot of lens flare. It was too distracting, so I went with this offset sun instead. It’s handheld at ISO 500 and since I wanted those rays coming from the sun, it’s stopped down to f13. I wasn’t sure it would be enough, since this is a new lens, but I took a chance and it worked. In order to get those in your shots, that kind of star effect, you need to close the aperture down.
Usually the most color in a sunset happens after the sun sinks down past the horizon. I learned the hard way that sometimes the color takes a while to develop. The old adage “don’t pack until it’s black” is right on. If you have to hike back to your car in the dark, do it. Bring a headlamp or a flashlight and stay until you can’t see. It’s the only way to make sure you get the most out of the sunset. In the field I used an 8-stop graduated neutral density filter. I still use them because I think it helps me control the light better in-camera. In processing this one, I did notch the saturation up a bit (I think 15 on the sliders) and the luminance on the green and yellow channels, too, just to highlight that spectacular new foliage. I think it gives some much-needed depth in the foreground.
Anyway…sorry for the extra post. Sometimes I’m like a runaway train.
So is the title Nancy Drew-ish or Sherlock Holmsian? Either way, it was an incident to be sure. I decided to head up to Loverens Mill Cedar Swamp Preserve on Tuesday. I was after some solitude and afternoon light. Little did I know that they were logging the surrounding forest. But, being the trooper that I am I went past the gouged up road that had to be carved through the woods and eventually got to the trail proper. It wasn’t exactly peaceful though. I couldn’t hear chainsaws so I think that part of the excision was over, but the big transporter rig was moving through and was startlingly close. Basically it’s a huge truck with a claw that picks up the dead trees and hauls them to the pick up area where the road trucks will use similar claws to load them and then take them to a mill somewhere. Funny that the lumber mill the site is named for is no longer in operation; they could have just left them stacked where they were if it was.
Anyway, after a while of trying to get into the groove in the swamp itself, I decided to call it quits. Between the constant auditory barrage of the truck and the fact that the boardwalk was damaged, spongy and underwater partway along, I didn’t have a lot of peace or exploration opportunities. I considered doing the loop that goes down by the river, but was just too disappointed by the disruption of the logging. I couldn’t have had worse timing though and when I got back to the area where the trees were stacked, the guy with the hauler was there unloading. I didn’t want to risk a tree slipping and crushing me, so I stayed safely out of the guy’s work area for a time while he did his thing. Danger is not my middle name. Neither is stupidity.
Clumsy apparently is though because when he moved the truck to another section of the pile, I decided to run for it. If the terrain had been better I think I would have been ok, but it was loose soil topped with huge rocks to form a rudimentary road bed. Unstable as hell. I was halfway down when a rock seemed to buck me off and I went down hard. My elbow caught the brunt of the impact, but I also got nailed with a poiny rock just in front of my left kidney. By this time the guy in the truck saw me and made as if to get out, but I sprang up, grabbed the stuff that I dropped and gave him a wave, feeling utterly humiliated as I limped off back to my car.
A survey of the damage revealed that the iPod and the camera were ok and still functioning. The lens cap popped off the 12-60mm, but no other damage was visible. I fired off a shot or two and sighed with relief. Another big sigh when the iPod still played and that my Bose earbuds were still in one piece. But was I? I bent to unlace my boots and wondered what that red spatter was. Blood apparently. My blood. From my gashed up elbow. Nice. And there were some abrasions and what would turn out to be spectacular bruises, especially the one on my side. The damage seems to be superficial though; no blood in my urine (oh TMI right?) I guess love handles are useful for something.
So after changing into sandals, getting my breath back and making sure my gear and I were ok, I headed out. An hour later I arrived in New Boston and felt pretty good despite some wicked stinging in my elbow. I decided to stop and have a stroll by the Piscataquog. Now, I’m going to go off message here for a bit and relate something that amazed me. Yeah, yeah, pictures are coming, hang on a sec. See, I’ve switched to an ancestral diet as of June 2. Often called paleo, my specific eating outline is primal which includes dairy and wine. Basically I’ve eliminated grain and processed food from my diet. The upshot is that the day of The Incident at the Cedar Swamp I still felt great after a few hours in the woods and the fall. Great enough to continue on to another preserve and walk some more. I know for a FACT that I would have given up and gone home a month ago. I’d done it before. Mostly it’s the intense carb cycle of sugar high and the eventual crash and that now I don’t subject my body to that anymore. Now I have a constant energy stream that keeps my mental, emotional and physical systems running more optimally. I didn’t feel drained, depleted, tired or exhausted in any way. After a handful of pistachios around 3:30, I stayed out for another 2 hours. Unheard of in me pre-primal life.
Ok. Now you get pics. Thanks for reading so far. I’m usually no so wordy, huh?
Here’s one shot I would have missed if I’d called it quits and not walked by the Piscataquog. The light was nice and the wind was calm so it just took some effort managing the background for this one. I wonder how many other things I missed because of my carb-crashes.
Granted it’s not the only type of fern to remain green in winter, but it just looks so pathetic sometimes that it’s irresistible.
I found it while exploring some ruins in the Townes forest in New Boston, NH. We’ve had so little snow that I noticed swathes of evergreen fern all over the foundation. They all drooped over so artfully, like waterfalls, that I began hunting some to photograph. This one had the best light and was nicely isolated by a large indentation in the stone foundation of the barn that used to stand here. The comparative darkness of the rocky cave made for a great backdrop for the fern in the soft morning sun. I especially love how the curled leaves form a repeating pattern and how the exploded spores stand out against them. Ah nature, thou art so cool.
You know, I think I spend more time with my backpack off and it lying on the ground than I do actually wearing it! Being that I spend so much time way down on the ground, photographing tiny things I think I need a different rig. Or one that allows me to work differently. But that’s another post.
Before I get into new stuff, here’s a leftover from May that somehow got stuck. I love it. Of course I do, it’s a fern!
And I’ve been using the square crop more and more lately. So many things just seem to call for it. I’ve never been a strict aspect ratio sort of person, instead I adapt each crop to fit the subject and mood.
I have been out and about, focusing on my major; woodland photography. The bugs have calmed down and are manageable with an appropriate layer of anti-bug goo on. Today I noticed a ton of the tiniest toads I’ve ever seen, but I was too pooped and the light was too dark for me to photograph them. I did wish each one luck on his or her way; they seem so vulnerable at this stage. Another creature that’s out and about are newts. Oh how I love these teeny dudes.
This is their only terrestrial phase; they’re still juveniles and as adults will return to the water and live for up to 15 years. So long for such a small creature.
I’ve also been chasing light and some tiny moss spore things…I don’t know what they’re called…pods? Anyway, I think I’m getting closer to the shot I want.
It’s mushroom season and they’re literally popping up everywhere, in some surprising colors –
Aside from new and interesting mushrooms, I also found this pink lady slipper flower –
I’ve never seen one like this before. I always thought the flower and stem died back completely, but I guess sometimes they don’t. I love finding new stuff in the woods.
And just so you don’t think I’m always looking down, here’s some water hemlock (yeah, the poison stuff a la Socrates).
But sometimes I’m lazy and stay close to the house. I’ve always got company.
Phew. Our most recent heatwave is over and I can probably get back outside. I say probably because it’s horse and deer fly season and those just make me miserable. They’re relentless and will bite you to death if given half a chance.
Lately I’ve been playing a bit more deliberately with bokeh and its effects. Whenever I’m shooting I’m extremely aware of my f-stop and its relative depth of field, but I rarely shoot wide open with any of my lenses. Generally a lens’s sweet spot for sharpest focus is in the middle of its f-stop range. Many lenses are soft at their largest apertures, especially kit zooms and even some primes. Macro lenses are designed to be shot wide open and so usually hang onto their sharpness. My legacy Olympus 90mm macro is probably the finest lens I own so I left it at f2 the other day and here are a few that I like. The bokeh is buttery smooth.
First some moss spore pods poking up over the foliage looking like alien robots hunting for intruders. Each of those little pods are 3-4mm long and I think the first one has its hull off while the second still has it. You can sort of see the internal structure of what’s underneath and it looks very like the one in the first shot. I know zilch about moss though, so it’s just a guess. And I also don’t know why this particular species produces these pod things and flowers, too. Weird.
Ok, that second one might be at f2.8. I can’t really remember, but it looks like it. Later I was sitting by a beaver pond watching the light play in the ferns. What? You thought you could get through a whole post without ferns? Ha! I still had the 90mm on the camera and shot wide open again, focusing on the nearest fronds. I kind of like the effect.
Wow, green overload, what?
I’m working on another project, but haven’t been able to get the shots I envisioned so I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. It’s something I’ve had in mind for a while now involving one of my favorite wildflowers that I’ve never photographed well – indian pipes. Maybe I’ll hit the woods today or tomorrow and if the biting flies leave me alone, I’ll see what I can find.
Been working on my microscapes this year. Experimenting with light mostly. Including dappled sunlight, trying for some drama and separation. That’s what the sunlight does in the woods, it highlights certain things and shadows others. It’s some of what makes the woods magical, at least to me.
Here’s one of a medium-sized painted turtle I found on a trail the other day. Boy was it feisty. Raring to go.
It was cooperative and surprisingly unafraid (compared to the Blanding’s turtle this one was posing!) so I carried it to a disused trail I knew to have a large vernal pool next to it. Before letting it go I had a little portrait session, deliberately putting the turtle in the shade with some sun to highlight the top of the shell and that great curve. It took a few minutes because try as I might, that turtle just wouldn’t take direction. Then it just stopped and gave me the stink eye. Perfect.
This next one is kind of fun. I love ferns as you’ve probably noticed, and these Christmas ferns are no exception. I found them on a trail that I took by mistake. Aren’t happy accidents great? The sun lit them up and I thought of seahorses. Someone else suggested dragons. The sun moved fast though and the shots I took right after this (I mean seconds after) don’t have that great highlight on the new fronds. It really was right place, right time. I copied the leading fern from last year from another shot I took earlier in the month that didn’t work out well. This time I think it does.
Both shots were done with my standard Zuiko Digital 12-60mm lens and both had some work in Lightroom done with the adjustment brush and the graduated filter tools. As I worked the fern image I realized the color version wasn’t cutting it. It had no punch unless I slid the saturation slider to ludicrous. So I switched to monochrome and yeah, baby, that was it. A little work with the color level sliders and I had what I wanted. I think it brings up the texture and shapes more than the color one does and that was what caught me in the first place. That and the ferns themselves all lit up. Ah spring, it is magical.
On the vacation side we’ve got a few more details buttoned down. Driving from Reno to Bishop on Sunday. I’m sure we’ll stop A LOT along the way. Highway 395 through there is supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country. I read that another photographer tried to get to a trailhead outside Bishop the other day and was stopped by a 7-foot wall of snow in the road. It will definitely be an adventure. We’re going to try for Convict lake and canyon at any rate. Then a day at Mono Lake (OMG!!!) and some time a Bodie the preserved mining town. We’ll be a day in South Lake Tahoe and the options there are almost mind-boggling. Whatever we do I’m sure it will be great and I’ll try not to be an obsessive photographer.