Moving from NH to Wisconsin means there’s lots of new territory to explore. Being a nature nut, one of the first areas to get my attention was Door County, but I didn’t get there until this year. Ok so it wasn’t that long a wait, but I knew I’d need an overnight trip at least and I was right. Next year it will probably be a couple of nights. There’s a lot of conservation land even on this relatively small peninsula on Lake Michigan.
First I started with The Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor. It is very easy to get to and although parking is tight, I got lucky both times I visited. The organization was founded to protect 30 fragile ridges that formed on the lake over 1000s of years and created subtle, yet distinct, micro-environments. That effort expanded and now the group protects 1600 acres in and around Bailey’s Harbor. Mainly I went for the wildflowers!
Wisconsin is host to many native orchids including coral root which is a saprophytic flower and you know how much I love that! Alas they weren’t blooming quite yet when I visited because the spring was so cold and rainy everything was late.
Even though the bigger and showier flowers are what get most of the attention here (like lady slippers), I found plenty of shy retiring types that were just as lovely, including twin flower which I’ve wanted to photograph for years, but never found any.
It was raining very slightly when I shot the twin flower. I’d hidden out in my car while a small thunderstorm cell came though then went right back out. It was fresh and lovely and there were even fewer people around than before the rain.
Being a photographer of very small things, I often have to wait quietly while the wind dies down or the light shifts and while often not exciting, things can surprise you. While I was hunkered down waiting out the breeze I heard a persistent scuffling just in front of me. I didn’t move, but kept trying to see what was making the sound. Lo and behold, a porcupette climbed down one tree, moved to another and made its way up. I didn’t see mom, but she was around as a later conversation with a fellow visitor would bear out. She was on the same path and saw them both. Very cool. I also spotted this lovely water snake when many people just rushed past or gave me a strange look wondering why I was taking a picture of ‘nothing’.
My second day in Door County brought me to another of the Ridges properties, Logan Creek. I didn’t shoot much, but enjoyed my time there and on my way back to the car ran into another photographer who suggested I visit Toft Point for my final stop as it has tons of wildflower, is right on Lake Michigan and was easy to get to. Good suggestion and I got a few more shots I like despite the harsh light in some of them.
Toft Point is a State Natural Area and covers a bit over 700 acres which is amazing in this part of the lake where you just know if it hadn’t been set aside, would be covered in houses. It was given to Kersten Toft in lieu of money for work done at a local limestone quarry. The family loved it so much they didn’t clear it of trees or exploit its natural resources or beauty. Yes they did live there, but lightly. While many outbuildings survive and have been restored, the original Toft house is only a bit of foundation. The meadows are beautiful and there’s even an old kiln made of stone. Many of the cabins look habitable and I don’t know if they’re rented out, but I think they were previously used by students conducting various studies and projects.
It is a haven for flowers. You do have to go off trail to find them, but they are there.
So there you have it – my first, but not last, trip to Door County.
I have long had a love of vernal pools. Almost every time I see or hear one near a trail I go to take a look. They come in many shapes and sizes, and not all will last through the season, but all are important to wildlife during breeding season. Especially invertebrates and amphibians. How wonderful is the sound of a poolful of spring peepers? It’s one of the best parts of spring.
What is a vernal pool? It is a temporary body of water often created by melt and rain water in spring. Sometimes they are called ephemeral ponds. Naturally occurring depressions collect this water but, the important part is that they don’t last. Eventually they dry up.
Some pools are large and run together eventually forming small streams at times. Some are tiny and fleeting –
But they are notoriously hard to photograph. I mean, basically they’re just big puddles with leaves at the bottom and plants hemming them in on all sides. They form in dense woods which can be rather flat which doesn’t get you much perspective. For that first shot I stood on a little hillock to get a tiny bit of elevation which works ok I think. The second was shot from my driveway which is a foot or so above the tiny pool, beside which grow ferns including my beloved maidenhair.
Ferns will be a big part of the landscape so I’ve given some thought to them in terms of the kinds of images I want to make. Reflections. Moss. Logs. Grass. All can be part of what makes a vernal pool vital. Discovering more about them is sure to bring me some surprises.
All of these photos were taken across the street from my house in a bunch of vacant land so it will be easy for me to visit often and document changes. That is the main reason I want to try my hand at this; ease of access. I dread bug season, but I will brave it for the sake of giving it a go. As a matter of fact, as I write this I already have a second visit done and I think I’ve found a couple of pools that will last long enough to show their cycles. I hope I can show how special and interesting these little habitats are. It certainly feels challenging and hopefully my creative spark ignites and I can break out of my rut a little bit.
Another subject I love in winter are brooks, streams and rivers. Or more properly for Wisconsin, a creek. Ripley Creek in particular. It’s a lovely, but overgrown waterway that feeds into the Wisconsin river just south of my house. The trailhead is 8 minutes away so it’s becoming a go-to spot in much the same way as Tucker and Purgatory brooks used to be for me in NH.
My usual approach to this kind of shot is to use a slow shutter speed and smooth the water, but this time I decided that the smooth element was already there – the snow – and so I left off the filter(s) and used a faster shutter speed. This gave me a rougher, more jagged texture in the water and that contrasts nicely with the snowy blanket on the shore.
The camera was on the tripod for both those shots, but sometimes I just couldn’t get it into the right position and I had to hand hold. Luckily I could brace myself pretty well and there was enough light that I didn’t have to go to a very high ISO.
I had to go for it though because of the shapes the ice forms behind the boulders. Isn’t it great? You can see that the water slows down behind the rocks and so that’s where the ice forms first. I was jammed into the branches of a hemlock sapling for this one, trying to back up enough to get the near ice formation and the right bank into the shot without getting the branches in the way. Not a bad effort and one of my favorites for the series.
Another big choice for winter water scenes is monochrome or color. Going black and white works especially well because there is true white and true black in just about every shot (even if you do have to tweak in post). It’s dramatic and shows off the textures and contours of the landscape, which you can see here supports a lot of plant growth and is sometimes steep and rocky. The color of the water though, is part of what fascinates me about doing stream work. The tannins.
Just look at that richness down there. It is most definitely not pollution. Tannins are chemical substances that come from phenolic acids (also called tannic acid) that are produced by plants. These acids are found in all parts of plants including leaves, bark and stems. As water moves through the soil the acids leach out and collect in surface waterways. They bind with starches, minerals, cellulose and proteins and are NOT water soluble and don’t decompose easily. This means those molecules are carried along in water, staining it like tea (tannins are exactly what makes tea that color). So when I like the composition and the contrast, I keep my shots in color.
But when I want to focus attention on structure and line, I leach out those tannins.
This last one was a little challenging in terms of getting those big logs in the foreground. My tripod was on its tiptoes (should have had the center column with me, but I didn’t) and I was on a bridge (luckily a high one), but it was close.
While out photographing ferns in their fiddlehead stage, I noticed that some trillium were up along the trail as well. No flowers yet, but I figured they were the usual purple or painted varieties that I’ve photographed before. Returning a week later I was a bit surprised to find they still weren’t blooming. Being the smarty pants I am, I went in for a closer look and wow, another elusive wildflower is elusive no more.
Nodding trillium gets its handle from its Latin name – Trillium Cernuum, the root cernuus means drooping or nodding. That’s the biggest challenge to photograph these beauties – getting low enough. The plants aren’t nearly as large as purple trillium so getting under them without digging a hole is hard. Lucky for me some of the flowers were growing on a slope leading down to a brook and I could get the camera well below them.
I first found them in the afternoon and while the light was ok, the breeze was a major pain. So I went back the following morning around 7. The sun had just crested the trees and the air was quite still as it usually is that early. I really should get into the woods early more often. It’s quieter than during the busy part of the day (apart from the heavy construction I could hear across the river in Merrimack) and the light is magical.
I keep meaning to put some friction tape on my beanbag and boy I really needed it for this session. The slope I was on was pretty steep and I had a hell of a time getting the camera still. It kept sliding and slipping off the plastic bag. With the aid of sticks (a great tool and always to hand in the woods) I managed to get the camera where I needed it, which was basically on the ground with only the lens propped up at an acute angle on the beanbag. My flippy-swively screen is my best friend in situations like this. A fixed screen would have been flat to the pine needles.
For most of the photos I used my trusty vintage Olympus 90mm macro, but when I found this tall plant with really great leaves I put the wide-zoom back on. I just love the perspective and the sheltering quality those leaves have. Plus there’s some sensitive fern in the lower left. Bonus!
Up from under isn’t the only angle though –
So that’s it, one of my last posts from NH. We close on our new house on June 1. Movers leave the current house on June 9. The funny thing is, my yard in Wisconsin is blanketed in white trillium so next year I’ll have another species for the trillium files!