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.
And another blue beauty, Forget me nots.
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.
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.
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 –
Definitely this trip had more of the mundane than the exotic. Even though violets are pretty much everywhere, it doesn’t diminish their beauty.
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.
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.
Every once in a while I do go somewhere besides the woods. Because I’m in New England that doesn’t leave a lot of somewhere else. No desert. No badlands. No canyons. No sweeping steppes. We do have coastline though and so I’ll make the trek. This time to Plum Island which is the home of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a much-needed sanctuary for an over-developed coastline. Strangely I have only visited in the fall. It’s a popular place and maybe I just shy away from what must be hordes of people in the summer season. As it is I feel quite surrounded when I’m there, seeing more people in one day than I do in a month of forest hikes.
Because it’s a wildlife refuge, human intrusion is limited. Many areas are only accessible by wooden walkways, both to protect the fragile ecosystem and because some is deep marsh. Walking these paths you can hear birds you cannot see.
It does limit compositional choices quite a bit, but there are some areas where you can go off path, although I don’t do it often and only where there are no signs prohibiting me. This part of the marsh is tidal and a few hours before there was only mud where the water is. I love that ever-changing aspect of tidal estuaries and marshes.
And sometimes, the walkways themselves can provide a subject.
The light wasn’t really favorable for most of the day, but since I decided to stay until sunset, I did a bit of scouting for good locations and playing with what the light did give me. One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in photography is not to fight the light, that is to have certain optimal photos in my head all the while working in opposite conditions. Now either I wait for those optimal conditions or make the light I have work for me. At one point I simply walked on the beach. No camera. I left it in the car, knowing I’d get nothing useful if I brought it. On my way out though I met a guy coming in who had a big Nikon rig with him. I laughed to myself. Maybe he sees something I don’t, but to each her own.
Eventually though, if you wait long enough, the light you want arrives.
So, unfortunately, did 4 people. Yeah, it’s a public place and the viewing towers are a great spot to watch the sun go down, but I didn’t appreciate their presences up there with me. I guess all this solitary time has made me a bit of a hermit.
A couple of years ago, when I first saw photos of Royalston Falls in Royalston, MA, I knew I had to go see them for myself. For the longest time I thought they were on the Tully river, but it turns out that the watercourse is actually Falls Brook. Original, huh? Hey, I didn’t name it. If I did it would probably be something like Amazing Time-traveling Waterway of Antiquity. Catchy, huh? I think I’ve posted shots of the falls before, but what the heck, they’re gorgeous so why not show them again?
A sign says that the drop is fifty feet. It goes straight down into a round gorge. Looking at it, you can imagine the other courses the water took to carve the whole thing. It literally inspires awe. You can’t help but go silent when you first see it. Even though the falls is the star of the show, the supporting cast is exciting, too. That would be Falls Brook itself. Well, maybe not exactly, but the way the water has shaped the rock it flows through is wondrous. It’s almost like you’ve gone to Middle Earth or something. Intriguing shapes and surprising formations are literally around every bend.
Primeval isn’t it? You can’t tell by looking at that one, but right there at the end of the shot…that big rock formation is actually an arch. An arch!! Over a brook in New Hampshire. Well, it might still be Massachusetts, the border is right around here. Just look. It’s fantastic. You should have heard me laughing the whole time I shot. I couldn’t help it. Joy just bubbles up in this place and it needs a place to go.
Isn’t that the coolest thing? I’ve walked a lot of brooks around here, but never saw one of these before. Other than getting into that pool (who knows how deep it really is), I couldn’t find a better way to shoot it, unfortunately. The water doesn’t flow under it strongly anymore, it’s carved a new route just on the other side of the rock. Now it just pools there, making a nice hangout for frogs, one of which was a few feet from me while I shot. Green frogs are so friendly.
The rock formations are incredible and the contortions the water goes through to flow are challenging to photograph. To the eye, many of them are imposing and mysterious, but they don’t necessarily translate to 2D. Some did though. Not only did I have to get the tripod into the water (and my feet), but I also had to move a really big branch out of this shot. Any bigger and I doubt I could have done it, but I did and it really helped focus the composition.
The whole place is tough to photograph, but absolutely engrossing to be in. Thinking about the thousands of years it took for the water to carve the gorges is pretty humbling. Geologic time just laughs at us biologicals. I did a lot of rock scrambling and wish I could have reached this one gargantuan boulder with a fantastic view of another amphitheater of rock. The falls are gone now, but you can imagine what they were like. Earthquakes even more powerful than the one the other day must have really changed things up over the millennia. I climbed on the other side of it on top of an outcrop like the ones below and just sat and listened to the water and thought about how ancient this waterway is. One of these days, when the light is more cooperative, I’ll have to find a way to shoot it. It’s pretty jaw-dropping.
It goes on and on like that. I only hiked a couple hours down there, but I think I’ll go back in winter. Maybe after the first snow if it’s just a light one.
Anyway, when I was done there, I decided to check out another set of falls which are truly gorgeous (and with bonus stone arch bridge), but like the Royalston Falls, they are barricaded and compositional choices are quite limited. I did a little exploring on the other side though and there’s good reason for the barricades and the re-routed trail. The gorge face is crumbling and collapsing. Even where it’s stable, its wicked steep. Impressive though.
Not the most autumnal images ever, but the magic of Falls Brook more than makes up for it.
So short, but so glorious. Autumn in New England is an amazing time. Even though I’ve been a bit creatively stymied I’m out more than ever just to be there. Not only is there terrific color almost everywhere you look, but there’s also the crunch of leaves underfoot and the scent of them in the air. And the lack of biting and/or stinging bugs is a huge bonus.
My first trip out resulted in just about the only red and orange foliage shot of the season. I went to the Beaver Brook Conservation area in Hollis and wandered around two of the major ponds. It was early, but it was gorgeous. The sun never gets all that high and even in early afternoon shadows were coming up on the near side of the pond.
Less than a mile away is another pond and the color was not quite as advanced, but because the pond was so low I could walk right out into the grass and put something in the foreground. Normally this spot is a foot under water. Nice for me, but probably the beavers are annoyed.
It was later in the day and the light is a bit warmer and less harsh so I think the warmth comes through better. Still, it was a great find on a terrific day.
More to come.
I’d been meaning to get back here since the first time I explored this little swatch of conservation land. It contains the middle branch of the Piscataquog river and has some interesting aspects to it like a pond and some defunct bridges. Unfortunately the light wasn’t overly cooperative and when the sun came out I had to pack it in. While it lasted though, I got some decent images and I think they show why this river is so special.
For this first one I had to dodge poison ivy, a pretty regular thing in these parts. The bank is high and steep and I liked the vantage point. At the very back of the shot, the river takes an abrupt turn, just like the one in the very front of the shot. A zig-zag. It’s pretty great. The ferns in the foreground (and some of the rest of the greenery) are royal fern and I just had to use them to frame the shot.
If you stayed at this position, you could have watched me take this next shot. It’s looking back this way from just in front of that bend down there. I loved the juxtaposition of the dead tree and the live, bendy tree and so I got in the river to frame them together. The ferns on the banks are a combination of royal and what looked like cinnamon fern, although I didn’t really look closely for the cinnamon-y spore stalks. Might have been interrupted fern which is of a similar height and leaf structure.
A neat feature of this property is the old mill pond that is now semi-dammed by beavers instead of humans. The trail actually includes the beaver dam and you have to walk along it. The pond helps to create a slightly different habitat for local color.
Not all of the trail around the pond is so accommodating, but there are some helpful walkways and bridges. The light wasn’t good enough to shoot the pond itself, but it was terrific for adding much needed depth to the woodland trail. Just back beyond those dark trees, I scared a deer half to death. Sorry deer!
If this entices you to get out into the woods – go! And if you’re in southern NH, you can get a map of this bit of the world here – Middle Branch map. When you get there, be kind, be responsible, pick up other people’s trash (and don’t leave any yourself) and enjoy reconnecting with nature.
Ah Monty Python, what a bunch of mad freaks you were. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, check this out – Part 2. You really have to like MP to find it funny, but I always think of it when anyone mentions lupines. And the other day when I shot some, I hummed the song. Luckily half the words are humming anyway. ; )
I think some lupines around here are more blue, but the ones in the ‘vacant lot’ that had to be created for the new highway access are very, very purple indeed. I had to do a little white balance correction in post, but I didn’t touch any color or saturation sliders. Shooting flowers after rain while the sky is still overcast really produces images with punch!
I didn’t notice the slug in that one until post and thought it was kind of funny. It’s too bad about the fence in the bg, I opened up as much as I thought I could and still keep most of the closest flowers in focus, but it still bugs me. Being land that will probably get developed into some awful commercial enterprise someday, it’s all fenced off and posted. Oh well, it didn’t stop me getting up close.
Aren’t those fuzzy, little seed-pods the best? I got a couple of funny looks from some strolling ladies, but I’m used to that.
The area was also planted with daisys, what I think is a type of coreopsis, red clover, toadflax and has a pond and culvert full of cattails and frogs. There’s a paved path that basically leads nowhere in one direction and over the new bridge in the other. One of these days I’ll go over the bridge and see what’s there, but the other day it was all about the flowers. I couldn’t get one of those iconic landscapes of sweeping hills and trees, but I like the intimacy and the vibrancy of what I did get. Really though, I’m not really tempted since everyone goes to Sugar Hill for the lupine festival and it gets ugly as people compete to take the same photo over and over). Where’s the fun in that? Give me a vacant lot by the highway any day.
Before I head out today in quest for more wildflowers, I’ll share a couple more favorite spots. First is Senter Falls on Cold Brook. Why the heck they’re called that, I don’t know. I suspect my friend Mike made it up. It’s a relatively popular location for local photographers and I’ve shot it several times. Still, the lure is powerful since it’s such an easy place to get to. Here is a “new” view and a “classic” view for you.
For this one I set the camera on my bag of barley that was on a rock a couple inches above the water while I stood in some myself. Yay for goretex, but I think I need some waders or something this year. Anyway, this is below the main falls and I’ve shot it before with much less water in the brook and more rock exposed. I love how the seasons change the image possibilities which is another reason to keep going there.
This is the main part of the falls and I think there are permanent tripod marks where I shot this. : )
Moving on to another favorite spot, the Atlantic white cedar swamp in Manchester. So easy to get to and such a vital habitat not only for these rare trees, but for certain butterflies that only live where they grow. Even though the ferns aren’t as fully developed as I usually like, I couldn’t resist getting a shot in the afternoon light.
Just look at that skunk cabbage!
The Piscataquog is my favorite river. I know, weird, huh? It’s an important waterway not only for people, but for many animals and plants that thrive in the ancient glacial habitats along its course. It has 3 branches (north, middle and south), runs for 57 miles with little interruption and its name translates from a local Indian dialect as The Great Deer Place or The Place for Many Deer.
Over the last couple hundred years, many local towns have sprung up on its banks using its regular and forceful flow to power mills, one of which is said to have been the very first shoe factory in the United States. Only remnants remain and much of the land around the 3 branches is officially protected. Each branch has unique geological features which I’m exploring as a project of sorts.
This is the only gorge so far as I can tell and unfortunately most of it is covered in no trespassing signs so I didn’t explore where it was prohibited. I hope someday easements can be granted to allow hikers and of course, photographers. : ) It is on the south branch and is on the border of two towns – Lyndeborough and New Boston.
The bridge in this shot used to connect the two ends of High Bridge road, but is now unsafe as the decking has rotted and there are many holes and the iron supports have rusted to lace in some spots. When a horse put its foot through in the mid 1990s, the bridge closed and has remained so. There is a project underway to raise funds for its restoration, but they have a long way to go. Further downstream is another set of gentle falls as well –
Over the coming months I hope to continue to explore different branches of the Piscataquog. I already have a few scouted and am waiting for some ferns to grow in, etc. There are some flood areas called eskers I want to try to locate as well, so hopefully you will like what’s to come as I explore.
Do you remember me stalking a plant that wasn’t blooming and me not knowing what it was? Well today was my lucky day and I finally found it blooming. It’s columbine! Yay!! Another one I’d never shot before. I don’t remember even seeing it outside of books. Sa-weet.
The light was really spectacular, but the terrain was challenging. When I read in my guide book that these flowers thrive on rocky, wooded slopes I knew they weren’t kidding. I was at better than a 30 degree angle shooting these and on a barely covered granite slab; pretty unsteady. But oh, it was lovely.
I’m not 100% happy with the results, but I gained some valuable experience on my first attempt. I need a slightly deeper depth of field than I achieved here, and I’d like to change it up with some landscape oriented shots. Luckily there’s another plant in the vicinity that isn’t blooming yet, but will most likely do so next week. I also spotted tons of another wildflower I’ve never shot before, so it will be a double bonus. I think I’ll have to get there a little earlier than I did today though, so I can play longer. Oh and you can probably guess which lens I used. : )
There’s a little spot of geography about 40 minutes west of my house that has created a whole bunch of waterfalls. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve seen them – Tucker Falls, Lower Purgatory Falls, Senter Falls and Garwin Falls most recently. I think I’ve said that Purgatory brook has three sets of falls – upper, middle and lower and that lower was the most accessible and the most popular with photographers, as is Tucker. I think I’ve also said I hadn’t shot the upper falls all that well. Luckily they’re not going anywhere and with the tons of rain and recent snowmelt we’ve had, they’re running full and fast right now. I think I can safely cross this one off my list –
If you’re looking for some info on how these images were created or how to create similar silky-water images, check out my coaching post here – Smoke on the Water.