Formed cold or hot it takes strength of will and a strong arm to produce the durable goods we so easily take for granted. Twisted, bent, forced into shapes designed to make mans lives more productive, safer and easier; steel is then put in place to be largely ignored.
Man holds back the water to harness its energy. The energy gets used to make the steel. Then the steel protects man from the power and danger of the water. The same water which serves man in so many ways and without complaint, takes no quarters with those who are careless or unawares, hence the need for the steel.
Steel and Water
The solid rails mimic the fluid flow of the water, a contrast in materials but a similarity in shapes. Steel that was once fluid in the heat and fire of the furnace, water that will become a solid in winter’s icy grip. Water and steel; opposites that work together behind the scenes in harmony for our benefit. They are silent witness to man’s feeble attempts to control either water or steel or our own environment.
The natural abstraction's sprinkled around us can be simple or complex. I was attracted to the simple but elegant curves of the Burreed leaves as they became trapped in the drifting snows. Is it the undulating snow cover or the under laying ice that traps them. The ice that, even as it holds the Burreed captive, supports me above the cold sticky mud of the river bottom.
Regardless, the Burreed remain motionless, captured for a time, but for only a brief time. In less than a week the ice and snow will be gone and their movement through the cycle of life and death along the rivers edge will continue. They form a simple composition that can easily go unseen on the frozen rivers edge, if you don’t take the time to look.
Unseeing, passing quickly
So much beauty missed”
There are a lot of survivors along the waterways. Some display only the scars of a minor mishap, a little bump in the long road of river life. Some have suffered more than others, less of a bump and more of a “train wreck”, barely clinging to existence.
This tree has its own built in window on the Rock River. As bad as it looks from this side, from the other it is even worse. Luckily for him his roots run deep because the hole through his middle isn’t the only threat he faces. During the spring floods the rising waters eat away at the bank he calls home, giving his roots a tenuous hold at best. Spring after spring the waters carry away the soil that nurtures and supports him.
Sentient being or un-feeling plant, where there is a way life will hang on until the inevitable end.
Early and late, those are the best times along the river.
Those are the quiet hours when the locals make their way through. You either catch them getting up or going to cover for the night.
Some barely register. A deer rarely makes any sound either vocal or in passing. You often wonder how many pass behind you without your knowing. A goose on the other hand, well……. they rarely go anywhere unheralded. Proud of their station they announce their arrival from a distance.
The most aggressive and, save for the bullfrog, loudest seem to be the red wing black birds. Their raucous song can bring you out of a peaceful meditation in a hurry. They aren’t too keen on having you near their nest either. At least that was my take when one repeatedly strafed me while I walked along the recreational trail shooting train car graffiti.
Red wing black birds can be fun to watch along the rivers edge, though. Flitting from lily pad, to reed and on to a swaying cattail they nervously survey their domain. All the while they are announcing their presence with a loud trill that is unmistakable.
Unfortunately the pinhole esthetic travels at a pace a bit to slow to capture much wildlife. That leaves the images to be viewed as through the eyes of the inhabitants. They are in the picture in spirit if not in fact.
You head out early in the morning. If the sun is up already, you are too late. Waiting for the right light is a calculated gamble; sometimes you win, sometimes you loose. Sometimes everything comes together, and when it does, you had better be ready.
Standing at the top of the stairs composing the image in my mind I was barely aware of the family approaching from the parking lot. After all, it was early and I am used to being pretty much alone on my Sunday morning excursions. Evidently they knew the right time to be there also. While they took positions along the rail I set up my camera. In other words….I pointed it.
As they passed I noticed the “Grand Mother” was a bit lame and lagged behind the others a bit. As I pointed the camera they spread out along the rail. Grand Ma took up a position and settled in. Mom and Dad kept a watchful eye on the young ones, refreshing in these days of turn ‘em loose and let ‘em run, and consequently didn’t roam far up and down the rail. I made my 20 second exposure hoping for the best with a less than stationary crowd.
Had I needed to recompose the image on the ground glass instead of just pointing it in the direction as I did, the moment would have been lost. They didn’t stay long enough for the fineries of more than “point and hope”. Setting up for a pinhole image becomes intuitive. You know your format and the mechanic become almost automatic. The quite discipline that is pinhole served me well.
Serendipity…..sometimes it’s really only being there at the right time and ready to take advantage of what you are presented.
The Good Snow
The good snow, the snow that makes the best images, the snow that has the crispest shadows and sweetest texture, is the snow that crunches as you walk across it. It is a snow born of bitter cold and high wind. It’s the snow that’s packed hard and sculpted into myriad shapes and forms.
It doesn’t have a soft, stepping into a huge ball of cotton feel, but a hard, sharp crackle under foot. The snow doesn’t let you down, it supports you as you make your way cross it. With this snow there is no sinking to your hip with your right leg only to have the left leg do the same thing as you get the right half way out. This snows shadows have a razors edge. The sunlight cuts across its undulating and jagged surface making wave patterns in whites and blacks and grays. But not the ugly grays, you know the ones, grays with no texture, no bite. Not the bland grays that can’t compete with their oft praised brothers the whites and blacks. No, these grays are the rich palette of mid tones/ that every printer covets and nurtures in the darkroom.
But the good snow exacts a price. It doesn’t come cheaply. Winter does not have the summer trifecta of heat, humidity and bugs, the bane of summer. Winter has its own brand of punishment. Cold, wind and well, sometimes those two are enough. At least you can dress for the cold and protect from the wind, mostly. Humidity and bugs are relentless. In winter there is no sweat running in your eyes, stinging them and making it hard to “focus” on the job at hand, just the occasional runny nose that needs attention.
Now which of the many pockets did I put the kerchief in? Ah the many pockets of winter, but that is another tale isn’t it?
Early Morning Rivers Edge
……….a “big” fish glides through the Lily pads disturbing the smooth water with its wake. The “little” fish break the surface as he nears them creating a silver wave of fish and water spray to herald his coming. The anglers further up the shore line might want to make their way towards shallower water on this morning.
There are plenty of sounds this morning to keep me company. The rumble of a distant barge as it muscles its way up stream. Bird calls both familiar and strange waft across the back waters, creating a cacophony of songs as they tangle and twist together. A bull frog bellows from deep in the reeds, followed by the sound of the air horn at the Lock and Dam. Echoing the bullfrogs call it signals the release of a group of power boats from the temporary confines of the lock. They race away at full throttle in hopes of arriving at the best spot first to cast for the illusive Large Mouth Bass so prized in the local tournaments.
Suddenly the relative calm is broken by an unfamiliar sound. It is the slapping of Pelican webbed feet slamming against the surface of the river as they pull away from the waters grip. They lift free of the water effortlessly breaking the hold of gravities pull to form an undulating vortex of white and black as they ride the thermals above the river.
Crouched at Rivers Edge
……..in the brown weeds that were last summers greenery I catch a furtive movement out of the corner of my eye. It is a Mallard hen and her young brood making their way along the shore line towards where I am hunkered down. They wind their way through the Lily pads, an ever expanding and contracting line of tiny feather balls behind Mom. An occasional slacker, or gawker, has to swim double time to catch up with the group and the relative safety in numbers that the group, and Mothers watchful eye, affords.
The only other activity on the surface of the water is the constant movement of the duck weed that peppers the top of the water like freckles on a red head in summer. Then, from time to time, the occasional Lily pad that has slipped the muddy grip of the river bottom joins the slow motion parade past my place of concealment.
With my calves cramped and aching from too long a time groveling on the rip-rap along the causeway I wrap up the mornings shooting. A few notes in hand to jog my middle age memory, some images to share and we even kept our feet dry for a change.
Church and Bench
After posting this image, mention was made that possibly the “pole” in the image should be, well, removed. The problem was I couldn’t remember a “pole” being near the Church and really couldn’t remember a tree either.
I was sure I knew the answer but had to double check myself before I responded to the thread with my thoughts.
There in lies the rub with taking pictures and traveling. Sometimes I spend so much time setting up pictures and looking for the next picture I don't take time to really look around at where I am. I don't stop and smell the roses so to speak. Quite a few of the “memories” I have are the images I take. I wonder how much I miss in the process. The memories I have are great and I remember a lot of details at any rate but I wonder if you do your self a disservice in the process.
Well, in order to respond to the questions I needed to go back to see just what the pole really was. The "pole" is in actuality a very tall Elm. It has no braches until it gets about 25 feet above the level of the cross on the church. That level is also about the top of the bluff and I'm sure has something to do with why it canopies so high. But I couldn’t remember if it was pole or a tree. Even though I’ve been there a dozen times, with camera in hand, I hadn’t “looked” hard enough to remember the “pole”.
Now my question......is the "pole" less of a distraction knowing it is a tree? Does it become a natural part of the scene? How do our perceptions and pre-conceived ideas of the natural order change to fit the scenario? Do you look as hard as you think you do?
What do you think? I think I need to spend a bit more time on the bench, just looking.
Lily and Water Drop
Sand, mud, grass, rocks, steep banks and any combination of the former can comprise the accessibility to the shore along the banks of the Mississippi River. Spring Lake, a large wet land reclamation project, just south of Savanna IL has a large Lotus field that reaches onto the shore in low water. A sandy beach plus growth close to shore equals access. It is access that is at a premium and comes with a price. Mississippi River Mud is the price and stinky shoes can be the premium that needs tendered.
Mud and grass are the materials of choice along most of Spring Lake south of Savanna IL. To find a Lily pad close enough to shore that can be approached without sinking ankle deep or more in the mud is a treat. To find one with a little shadow is even better. The grand slam is to add a drop of water floating on its surface, collecting the suns rays, and turning them into the “glow” that is the water drops finest moment.
Now if the wind will cooperate and the ground stays firm, you can walk away happy with a picture that is crystal clear and shoes that don’t squish at every step.
Visual Haiku #2
Nature mirrors itself in interesting and unusual ways. A mountain range grows taller as it recedes in the distance forming myriad peaks that mimic each other in size and shape; a grove of trees that at first glance look like so many clones of the nearest tree. Much of my time is spent looking for these natural, and sometimes man made, juxtapositions.
More often the reflections are on a less obvious and smaller scale. It requires a bit more than a passing glance to interpret these “visual haikus”.
To recognize these little visual treats is more than the process of seeing what is in front of you. It involves interacting with the subject; recognizing the interplay of elements and becoming a part of it. Beyond recognition and interaction is participation. To become part of the drama you must participate. There is no room for spectators.
Once recognized the interaction has begun. Participation happens when I attempt to capture the moment on film. My goal is met when I produce and share the image.
I only hope that I do Mother Nature justice in my efforts.
"Not a reflection
The Other Wetland
This is about the other wetland. Not the idyllic wetland we all envision with sun, cattails, butterflies and reeds but the dark damp under belly of the wetland.
This is about the backwaters and drainage areas, the strange uncles of the marshes and ponds. In these places the drone of tires on the highway are likely to drown out the songs of birds and the smell of damp decay replaces the sweet smell of weeds and flowers. They live next to the open marshes but they are a world away. Here the only “wetland” is damp gooey mud that threatens to pull off a shoe that isn’t tied quite tightly enough.
Instead of reeds and lily pads there are fallen braches and trees. If you are lucky and there is any greenery it will be thick moss and not that slimy stuff that has no name. The sunlight doesn’t wash across the scene but filters through the thick canopy above, dappling the wet surface of the ground in bright patches. Outside those patches the dark of deep timber remains, unaffected by the suns strength. Here the powers of darkness prevail; decay and rot.
Here then is the paradox; the yin of the deep timber slough caught in perpetual gloom and the yang of the open wetlands bathed in sun. Life and death are continually played out and there is beauty in either, if you take the time to look.
Heron tracks pressed into the duckweed encrusted mud mean I’m not the only one interested in what’s along the shore line. Future fossils for distant generations they are not but they do tell a story of the here and now.
My guess is while I’m wandering along looking for a picture or two he’s been after a meal. I know for a fact there is plenty of fodder here for the both of us. As it happens his tracks are the object of my attention. I am sure he is concentrating on catching a few of the hundreds of inch long Leopard Frogs that form a wave in the grass preceding my approach.
Unfortunately Mr. Heron isn’t the only hungry traveler here this evening. By the number of mosquitoes and flies biting me I think the frogs are pretty well fed too. Mosquitoes eat me, frogs eat mosquitoes and herons eat frogs. Nobody gets out of this life alive, so, who eats the heron? I suppose when he dies he goes to the flies and all is right with the universe, the circle is unbroken. If you don’t mind the fact that they are on a mission to survive and I’m just here to have fun that is.
Oh well, I guess I can live with that.
Barges at River Front
An occasional bird and the constant drone of a diesel engine are the only sounds carried on the light breeze this morning. No bass blasting boom boxes or the clatter of motor cycle exhaust from above on River Front Drive. I am out way too early for any of them. It is mid summer and the air is unseasonably cool as the sun breaks the horizon. Much to my pleasure the sun quickly warms my bare arms. It is welcome warmth this time of day, not so in a few hours as the sun rises in the sky and reaches it full “July” intensity.
It is unusual to find two barges “parked” along River Drive. The Mississippi is narrow here and the current heading downstream towards the railroad swing span is treacherous. A tug idling along the shore is just another obstruction to deal with but its mooring is only temporary. They probably docked for the night and now are preparing to get underway, following the barge downstream. The reason for the inactivity of the barge further down stream appears to be a west bound train stopped on the swing span. Evidently there is traffic else where along the line causing this backup that extends from the land on to the water.
After a short while, for me, not necessarily the crew on the barge, I hear the distant sound of a train horn signaling its immanent departure. Soon the train resumes its journey west. I feel the Gods of Commerce smiling on my neck; traffic is back in full swing and all is right in this corner of the world.