Another that is not elusive in the sense that it’s rare, but that I’ve always had lousy timing with it and this year was no exception. I think given more time I’d have found lots of it blooming at once, but as it was I found one single flower among hundreds of plants. It was pretty funny actually and I endured the mosquitoes at Bradford Bog in order to capture its solitary loveliness.
Clintonia is also called bluebead lily (for the longest time I thought it was bluebeard lily and couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it would be called that, then I put on my glasses). Bluebead makes a lot more sense. Lilies produce seed pods after the flowers are pollinated and the ones this flower makes are apparently true blue; a relative rarity in the natural world. Its other name is in honor of DeWitt Clinton who was governor of New York from 1817 to 1822 and again from 1825 to 1828. The Erie canal was built during his terms. I’m not sure what he did to have a flower named for him, but there are worse things.
I wouldn’t have even noticed it had I hadn’t gone off trail to photograph a painted trillium, which despite their ubiquity, I cannot resist. Lucky for me since this single flower was just yards away. Seriously it was the only one. I looked and looked. Nope. Just one early bloomer.
One of these days I hope to photograph a mass of them since that’s how they grow. The trouble is they bloom during the most intense part of mosquito season and the onslaught is really vicious. They have a quiet beauty though. The petals are pale yellow and rise gracefully from a pair, or sometimes a trio, of large, light green leaves which are similar to trout lily and sometimes people mistake them for lady slipper. Trout lily leaves are smaller and mottled with brown or tan, while lady slipper leaves are fuzzy and ribbed.
Despite the horde of bloodsuckers who tormented me all the while I shot, I enjoyed being there and like the results. Mostly it was from the changeable light and the fact that I was in an Atlantic White Cedar swamp, one of my favorite ecosystems and one I will probably not encounter again for a long time.
Since my time here in New Hampshire got short, I have revisited a few favorite places to say goodbye and experience them one last time. I certainly don’t have time for all of them and my photographs and memories will have to serve. One I did return to is Tucker Brook. I went to shoot the big mill far upstream of the falls, but that didn’t really pan out. Luckily there is plenty else to capture.
The trees were almost fully leafed,
the fringed polygala were blooming,
the brook was running,
which of course meant the falls were falling
and it had some friends.
I know there will be plenty of beauty in Wisconsin and I’m sure my camera (and my kayak) will keep me busy, but I am sad to be leaving home and all my old familiars.
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.
This post is going to be dual purpose. To showcase these beautiful flowers and to announce that this will probably be a short wildflower season for me here in NH. And probably the last for the foreseeable future. I’m moving out of New Hampshire. Out of New England too.
That’s where I’m headed. Husband took a great job out there and it happened so fast that it’s been really crazy for me. And on an even more unbelievable note, we found the perfect house.
So with the hook set, let’s talk about bloodroot. It’s another in my Elusive Wildflower series and it has a strange history with me. Well maybe not strange, but difficult. I’ve combed the woods for it in spots where it is said to grow, but like pinesap, it would not show itself to me. Once a photographer I know slightly posted some photos and when asked, refused to tell me the location. A flower. Riiiiiight.
Then another photographer I know slightly did reveal the location where he shot and I got to see these beauties in all their strange glory. But they were closed up. Not fully bloomed. I went back to the place the next day and shot them again. Better luck, but it was only that one time. I’ve never found them again outside of the cultivated beds at The Garden in the Woods.
But it was there that I recognized some leaves I photographed once back in 2012.
And wouldn’t you know it, the plants were in a bit of conservation land about a minute’s drive from my house. Seriously. The trailhead is just a tad over a mile door to door, so to speak. Unbelievable. And I remembered there being masses of these leaves on both sides of the trail. So with that in mind I put a reminder in my calendar for the following year. I knew right where to look.
The first time I headed out, it was a bit early and I didn’t see any sign of bloodroot anywhere. That is until I almost trod on one.
In my limited experience, pink isn’t a usual color for these flowers, but another photographer on the web mentioned he sees them blushing like this fairly often when they first emerge. The color doesn’t stay though and that makes me doubly glad I spied this little beauty. Plus look at the colors in the leaves!
I meant to get down to this location often to record their lifecycle in more depth, but I got sick as a dog and couldn’t (I was when I shot this image, all those to come and I’m still sick as I type this…the cold that won’t die!).
Luckily when I did return, I caught them at their fullest blooming. The petals catch even the slightest breeze and after they’re pollinated, leaving a seed pod, they blow away in drifts of white.
This time I found so many it was hard to walk among them. Hard to find nicely arranged little groups and even harder to find isolated specimens. I had time though. Lots of time and I found some in sun and some in shade. Some with friends and some alone. Enjoy.
The place is blanketed in them and they were wonderful. Ironic huh? That the mother lode turns out to be two minutes from my house. They were hiding in plain sight all along.
But it doesn’t end there. In exploring the wooded lot of the house we’re buying in Wisconsin, what should I discover right next to the driveway? Bloodroot. Welcome home.
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.
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.
I would have added some mushrooms, but someone eated them.
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.
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.
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.
Same side pocket, facing the other way –
And back in the main channel where the very end of a big tree still pokes above the waterline –
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.
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.
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.
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?