Now that stick season is well under way, I find myself looking back on the most beautiful part of autumn, or falltime as they say around here. It’s weird, but the rest of the world uses wintertime, springtime and summertime so why not falltime?
The foliage is rich and colorful, but not as diverse as it was in New Hampshire; mostly it’s the reds – they seem to be missing here in northern Wisconsin. Or I’m looking in the wrong places. Maybe on the immediate shoreline of ponds and lakes is where I need to focus. Even though I didn’t find what I’m used to seeing, there’s an abundance of beauty to be found.
None of these are what I’d consider as “classic” fall images, but I think they convey a feeling of place and of season. This time of year can be very overwhelming to me. The drive to get the “perfect shot”. The sense that every minute I’m not shooting is wasted. Frustration over not finding the ideal location in the ideal conditions. It eats away at me and sometimes I even feel guilty if I’m not out there trying. Silly, but there it is.
Even though these shots don’t feature the intense colors of foliage, they still show how the season shapes plants and prepares them for the future. Flowers bloom and seed. Ferns lose their lush spring growth. Streams dry to a trickle, soon to freeze over and reminding frogs, fish and turtles that their time is short before the long sleep.
Still, the season pushes me to see in ways I sometimes don’t during other seasons (especially spring when the biting insects torment me to near blindness).
I overcome by slowing down. Stopping even. Partly to enjoy the perfection of the season, but also to notice the things that make it special. Like those feathers up there. I stopped to slow my heartbeat after a grouse and I scared each other to death and I noticed something light-colored off trail to my left. It turned out to be the remains of someone’s lunch. A poor, hapless songbird found itself on the wrong end of the food chain and the sunlight was lighting up what was surely its last moment of beauty on this earth. And I was there to see it. To mourn and to appreciate was it was, what it gave up and what it left behind.
While that did give me a twinge of sadness, the last gasp of abundance is everywhere, helping plants and animals prepare for the privations of winter (the songbird, too, is part of this timeless cycle). Honey mushrooms seem to blanket every stump and log in the forest and boy do they ever make for good photos (and meals, I startled a deer feasting on some during this outing).
Wisconsin is challenging me to adapt as a photographer and so long as I keep my eyes and mind open, there will always be fall color to be found. Even red.
In NH part of the Appalachian Trail snakes through the state and Vermont has the Long Trail, but here in Wisconsin there is the Ice Age trail. It isn’t contiguous, but runs for 1200 miles and is a nationally recognized natural resource. It’s taken decades of persistent land conservation, but today there are dozens of trailheads in dozens of counties. I probably won’t hike all of it or even most of it, but I have gone out to explore some already.
Each trail is divided into named segments and they’re all mapped, signed and blazed fairly well. The section in this post is not far from my house, just a mile or so down river below the Grandfather Dam which makes power using penstocks. These things –
Crazy, what? Water from behind the dam is forced into these wooden tubes and regulated by the tanks you see in the background. Turbines get turned and the power plant, just out of shot to the left, sends power into the grid. It’s loud and wet and a bit nerve-wracking to be near them, but it’s the best and quickest way to get to the trail head, so that’s where I started. And no, that’s not one of the disasters. The penstocks are still holding! And the dam didn’t let water go either so I wasn’t caught in a flood (they do sound a siren warning though).
Being so close to the Wisconsin River, it basically follows the shoreline and what used to be the shoreline, but is now forest –
It’s a little hard to make out, but the darker area of the boulder there is concave; worn smooth by dozens and dozens of years of water surging and swirling. All of the rocks in the river are like this and are really interesting to see up close, which luckily you can do most times of the year.
Before I get to that here’s a little warning. Stay alert out there. Sometimes I’m guilty of being a bit too focused on my photography; the surroundings, composing, the light, the wonder of nature. All of it can be really absorbing. Not to mention I listen to audio books quite a bit when I’m out there. I can still hear sounds in my environment, but it’s one more thing my mind has to process other than what’s right around me.
So I’m standing there with the tripod, waiting for the sun to get blocked by a cloud a bit. I’m backing up, reframing, recomposing. Backing up again. I’ve got the remote shutter cable, a polarizer and other stuff. And what’s that? What’s with all these bees? No. Wait. Not bees. Hornets. Big ones. Whizzing around. They’re kind of all over the place. Uh oh.
Yeah. That’s a bald-faced hornets nest bigger than my head. And it was about 20 feet behind me about 15 feet off the ground. No wonder there was practically a cloud of them. Dopey me just backing right into their territory. Yup, yup, yo.
I got right the hell out of there. Wide berth. Easy gait. Nothing too fast or jarring. Didn’t want to freak them out and send them after me. At home I looked at a close up of that shot and you can see a bunch of hornets right in the mouth of the nest. The thing is full of them. A pinata of venomous fun.
Ok, so note to self. Be careful. Be aware. Sigh. Good intentions. I really need to listen to my own advice.
So before I get to that, a word on sunlight and managing it in photos. Who wants to go out on cloudy days all the time, or confine your photos to just the golden hours at opposite ends of the day? Oh sure, they’re great, but learning to cope with direct sun can be really helpful during, you know, the rest of the day. And sometimes it can even help.
For me, the forest shot above wouldn’t work nearly as well if there wasn’t sunlight in it. It brings out the texture of that boulder so that you can see the carved nature of it. It shows depth as well, emphasizing the layers of the trees. I did soften the image in post though, bringing the highlights down and easing off on the contrast. Other techniques I use with dappled sunlight is to lower the luminance of certain colors if they seem to ‘hot’. Yellow and red often go off the charts with digital photography, so managing the color sliders can help tone those down.
It can help with direct sun as well. A beautiful day like this one is tough to shoot in. The shadows are harsh and the glare intense. Start with a polarizer. It can do a couple of things; reduce the glare on shiny surfaces like leaves and rocks, and also bring up reflections. The thing is that to do one it has to do the other less well. That’s where you luminance slider can help. This is not saturation!! That’s a different value.
For this image I really wanted to concentrate the polarizer’s effect on the reflection. That’s something you just can’t reproduce in post-production, at least not without a lot of work. It’s much easier to do it in the field. Then with software reduce the lightness of the colors that aren’t as affected by the polarizer. For this image it was the trees and the rocks. Using this technique leaves your overall whites and highlights where they are which is important for clouds!
Little scenes can benefit from a polarizer as well. The moss here was reflecting a good deal of light and so I reduced it with a polarizer and the green is lush and deep. You may have to use exposure compensation to get the exposure back where you want it, but once you get used to working with it, it’s second nature.
Another tool I’ve been using lately is a physical thing and not a processing technique. Recently I bought a collapsible diffuser (finally!) to make my own shade. I’ve been meaning to for ages, but just never have. Now I have a 12-inch model that folds down to about 4 inches and is very useful for diffusing light on or around my subject as well as creating reflected light. This coupled with some of the Lightroom techniques above have improved the overall look of my images. I used a combination of all of the methods I’ve mentioned for the following shots –
All the field and processing techniques don’t mean a thing if you can’t get the shot in the first place. Whether it be you that’s all busted or your camera. Or in my case both.
While making my way across a small feeder stream, the big, flat rock I stepped on tilted. Sharply. Throwing me straight down onto my butt and tripod with camera attached. Into the drink it went and damn if my ankle didn’t hurt, too. My first thought, of course, was for the gear. A quick look and I saw that the front of the lens was fine. Wet, but undamaged. The lens cap did its job and I fished it out of the water and gave it a shake.
A whole bunch of things saved my bacon with this little tumble. First is my lifelong habit of replacing the lens cap between takes. It might seem silly or a pain, but it literally saved my lens and/or filter this time. And given that it’s a really nice B&W filter, I’d have been bummed to have to replace it. Better than the $1200 lens, but still. Spendy. So I tells ya – put that lenscap on, you never know.
The other thing is that I fell uphill. The stream was flowing down a slope and so in crossing I fell upstream instead of downstream which was lucky. And that my lens and camera are weather-sealed. A quick dunk in very shallow water is something it’s designed to take. And it did. Yay for magnesium camera bodies, too!! A quick wipe down to remove some debris and water droplets and it was good to go.
The last thing I was immediately grateful for was that I didn’t have the Olympus 90mm macro on the camera. That might not have worked out so well. Yeah, it’s a tank and I always put the cap back on it, too, but it isn’t weather proof and it’s old. Almost irreplaceable. Sure they come up on eBay now and again, but not often. So glad it was in my bag. No one wants to see a grown woman cry.
The tripod did well, too. It’s scratched up on one leg, but I think of it as a battle scar not a blemish.
So that’s my tale of near woe. Almost stung to death by hornets, but escaped at the last minute only to fall on my butt and put my oh-so-precious gear in harms way. But wait! Good habits pay off and there’s no damage, except to my pride.
One of my favorite ways to find new conservation land/nature trails is to open up the Gazetteer and see what’s nearby. By coincidence I ended up going to the Prairie Dells scenic area in Merrill which is a place my husband visited, and sent me an iPhone picture from, when he was here scouting the territory after his first job interview. It’s not far from our new house and so off I went.
The area is named for the Prairie River which is a tributary of the Wisconsin River and feeds directly into it further downstream in Merrill. It runs about 40 miles from its source and is one of the few rivers in Wisconsin that is no longer dammed. This nature preserve is the result of the removal of a large dam that was on this site. When it came down in the early 1990s the enormous granite ledges were exposed and that’s where the dell part of its name derives.
While it might be a relatively uncommon landscape here in Wisconsin, walking around the exposed outcrops and granite ledges was a lot like New Hampshire. Pretty much all the hiking you do there involves granite boulders and most of the streams and rivers have been carving gorges for themselves for centuries. Still it was beautiful and I found plenty to photograph.
The trails wind through mixed forest that was starting to fade from its springtime lushness. Where we are in northern WI is just above the 45th parallel which marks the halfway point between the north pole and the equator (although not technically due to the Earth’s little bulge). It means the summer heat is cut a little bit on both ends of the calendar by a week or two as compared to southern NH. It was breezy and the dappled sunlight made things pop on the ground and in the canopy.
Whether because of this slightly shorter growing season or just out of sheer joy of wilderness, northern WI seems to be the mushroom and wildflower capital of the universe. I found so many of both this year that I could hardly make any miles for getting down and photographing another small wonder.
Some were new species for me and some were old favorites.
This particular preserve is right off highway 17 and so traffic noise is still audible even deep into the trail system, but overall it is quieter than most anywhere in NH. The biggest difference is that there is no noise from planes, something relatively common in southern NH where the largest airport is. Since I was at Prairie Dells I’ve visited other, more remote trails and there the silence really reigns.
Eventually the trail sort of petered out and so I headed back, visiting the three viewing platforms closer to the trailhead and parking area. I even climbed down into the gorge a bit to see how close I could get to the river itself. Not very as it turned out, but there were still treasures to be found.
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.
February, being cold, blizzardy, snowy and miserable I didn’t get out much. March is different. I’ve been out a couple of times and look what I saw –
Sunlight in the snowy forest can take on so many aspects. Shadows on smooth snow is one of the best though. This one is from the Pulpit Rock conservation area in Bedford. It’s an easy place to fall in love with and I go there several times a year. This time I noticed a new trail that I’ll have to explore come spring.
The brook at Pulpit Rock was mostly covered in snow and ice. You’d never know there are a few nice waterfalls along its course so muffled was the water channel. At Tucker Brook nature preserve in Milford, there was a bit of open water now and again. Few and far between though.
This scene is just downstream from some mill ruins I’ve never seen before. They’re far above the famous falls, but I’ve hiked up there and don’t remember seeing them. Knowing my near obsession with colonial hydro-mills, I know I’d have shot them if I’d seen them. Oh come on spring!
Another reason to long for spring. Well, summer really is the mountain laurel. The Tucker Brook preserve is jam packed with them and I think I’ll try to get to them while they’re flowering. They’re such a New England staple. Here they are sleeping the winter away. I’m really trying to capture sunlight in snowy forests and I think I’m making progress. I love this look up the slope with the shadows and snakey shapes of the laurel trunks.
I did more than shoot landscapes, but I’ll save those for another post. There’s lots of detail out there in the woods if you just look for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.
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 –
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
You never know what you will notice when you take the time to be still.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, when you’re in a redwood forest, you spend a lot of time doing this –
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.
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.
In addition to being fun to explore and great subjects to shoot, they made handy camera supports as well.
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.
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 –
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 –
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 –
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 –
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 –
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.