Sunday, December 24, 2017
Badlands at Sunrise Date Unknown, July 2006
When I was just seven years old (1977), my family had planned a morning of Badlands sunrise photography. It was my first traveling summer vacation, and I remembered the day vividly. Now, nearly thirty years later, we had formulated a similar plan. A perfect mix of clear and cloud, the morning sky collaborated with natural animal patterns and agreed with my photographic goals in every way. Bull bison already roared in the distance, thrown fully into the season of the breeding rut. As we crested the ridge, a landscape of prairie wildlife greeted us. A fleeing coyote was the first animal to spark optimism. Soon, the forms of bison were apparent among the pinyon pines and twilight shadows.
The glow of a soon-to-be sunrise painted pastel hues into the sky, across the prairie grasses and onto the earthen spires and rolling hills. Eager to immerse ourselves into the rutting herds of bison, we marveled at the wild landscapes and headed southeast for the big prairie dog towns. The bison had been there in the evening, and I was certain they would still be there, partaking in the symbiotic prunings and cyclings of prairie greens that oscillate between bison herds and prairie dog towns.
We arrived in time to see a big old bull rolling in the dust. His cloud grew and billowed across shortgrass prairie flats. Behind the big bull, the rising sun shimmered through the dust, casting shadows into the air. Each bison, silhouetted in the rising sun, became a crisp, surreal double image. All around us, bull bison bellowed and roared.
A Return to an Artistic Expression in the Aravaipa Canyon
Date Unknown, 1999
Rock and water in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, Arizona, USA
The Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness is an ecologically unique and sensitive gem in southern Arizona. To see the Aravaipa Canyon is to experience a collision of ecological boundaries, lush and vibrant life within a harsh and unforgiving desert canyon. It is a spectacular and confusing sort of place. The canyon's rock walls ascend more than a thousand feet, straight up. On one side of the canyon, the walls are immense, creating shadow, micro-climate, and a world with no escape. The river, clean and ankle-deep, rushes hard against the sheer walls in some places and ripples delicately through cobbled riffles in others. Along the softer edges, places without vertical cliffs, the banks grow in lush willow, with green leaves swaying in the wind. Strangely, just beyond the willows, a Sonoran desert ecosystem thrives with barrel cacti, saguaro cacti, and spiny ocotillo. With permit in hand, we set out to backpack and explore this wilderness in late March of 1999.
I remember the advice we were given before we headed into the wilderness. "Look down at your feet from time to time. The water should be clear. If you see silt running around your feet, find a place to climb out of the canyon. Silt is the forecast of a flash flood."
I remember the novelty of walking within what seemed to be a southeastern Minnesota trout stream but seeing, just beyond the delicate veil of willow, the red rock and crumbled canyon geology adorned in cacti. Black Phoebe, Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black Hawk, Canyon Wren, and Vermillion Flycatcher reminded me to glance skyward toward the canyon rim. The sudden and unexpected scurrying of collared peccary, the wild javelina, through the river riffles assured me that we were in a wilderness ruled by mountain lions.
In the Aravaipa, the trail is the river itself. Every step is made in the channel of the creek. The oasis of water and life streaks through the most rugged and unforgiving terrain. In a new way, it is a reminder that water is life.
This image was inspired by my 1996 "Elements" made on Gordon Lake in Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. When I saw this cliff in the Aravaipa Canyon, I knew I had a matched set. I made the photograph with a Canon EOS Elan and 100 to 300mm kit lens. It was made on a Bogen tripod, and, if memory serves me well, I put the image on Fujichrome 100 film.
Gordon Lake Cliffs, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Date Unknown, 1996
Cliffs of Gordon Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe
Area Wilderness, MN, USA
Gordon Lake is a beautiful and wild lake situated between three iconic Boundary Waters lakes, Cherokee Lake, Long Island Lake, and Frost Lake. Gordon is not so much of a destination as it is a passed-through, even overlooked hub of open water between destination portages. Reaching Gordon Lake, a traveler has most likely been traveling all day through wilderness, packing, portaging and paddling, and has just a few more lifts and a few more brisk minutes on the water before settling into a camp spot for the night. If not that scenario, then it is the first challenge of the day, having just slipped from camp in the morning light and completed the first portage of many in a day of rugged wilderness travel. Either way, this lake is just something in the middle, and many people run through it without purpose of seeing or feeling its beauty.
The reality of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is that beauty is found everywhere and in an endless variety of shapes, patterns, movements, and lives. Traveling slowly through this wilderness, approaching the path more in the way of a hunter, opens the senses to the importance in the changing land forms, the different characters of water, and the diverse plant, animal, and fungal communities that change from place to place. Sometimes, like so many others, I set a point on a map, a goal to reach, and I paddle hard with my head down. Sometimes, like so many others, I portage the pack with relentless fury, intent only on the other side of the trail. Mostly, though, I try to drink it all in, aware of my life and all around me, slowly stalking, smiling with the surprises around each new peninsula and rocky point.
This photograph was a small part of the trip, but the serenity of the cliff, the complexity of the lichens, and the symbolic memory of how we took in the landscape of our travels makes it one of my all-time favorite photographs. I like it for its lines, traveling and meandering through the rocks like our own journey through the wilderness. While the rocks are powerful, strong, and weathered, they also support small splashes of color and life.
This image was the result of a slow and steady touring pace. Cindy and I spent around 14 hours per day traveling. Camping was merely sleeping. The joy was in the traveling. We saw a few moose on this trip, including a young bull on Cross Bay Lake, a cow foraging for aquatic vegetation on Pencil Lake, and a couple of other young moose that I barely remember. We dragged our canoe over a beaver dam, down a rocky rapid too shallow to paddle, and we paddled out into giant, clear lakes, one of which had pines that began growing before the United States Constitution was written.
I made this image, handheld, from a canoe using a Canon EOS Elan, 100-300 kit lens, and Kodachrome 200 film. It is the first in a series of images of rock and water that I title "Elements."
Sunday, December 3, 2017
The Fox with the Feather Date: Early May, 1996, Date Unknown
When film was the medium of photographic expression, the world moved more slowly. Images were vastly more expensive to make, and perfection was, more like pottery, nearly impossible to obtain. So, like potters, we pursued the physical proof of our artistic expressions always a half step behind the evolving artistic vision.
To make this image, I spent a couple of hours per day over a few weeks, more than forty hours total, sitting motionless at the edge of a dirt mound. In the middle of the mound, a red fox den grew constantly as energetic pups excavated a dozen new holes. A den that had begun as a simple tube through the Earth had become a fragile hydra, entrance holes merging together and a settling into sagging tree roots. Over the days the pups grew used to me, and my presence transformed from looming threat to beloved uncle. My arrival sometimes emptied the den in a pile of frolicking pups, and one even played tug of war with my shoe lace. Even the mother fox grew used to my presence, and, while she never completely accepted me, she sometimes nursed her pups less than fifty feet away, sure to be as far and opposite of me on the den site as possible.
The death of a pheasant hen was surely a windfall for the mother fox, though she did not consume it at the den. Her reluctance to share the bird with her pups at the den was part of her defiance of me, her commitment to write me off as a pest and a menace. Remains of the bird did find their way to the den site eventually, and for a brief time, the pups played in the feathers. I anticipated this image for a few hours, but, to my surprise, what seemed so obvious would not play out. Finally, for just a few seconds, a pup picked up a feather, pranced around with it, flattened out on the ground to chew on it, and then stood, holding the hen's feather before letting it flutter to the wind.
Film was expensive then, and pressing the shutter release was a calculated decision. Each image was crafted, and poor planning was money down the drain. Of the hundreds of images made at the den site, a few dozen are sharp, good, and worthy. This sole image remains as a defining moment. It has been published in Cabin Life, Cabin Living and the Weatherguide Calendar series.
I made this image with a Canon EOS Elan, Canon 100-300 kit lens and, if memory serves me well, Kodak Ektachrome 100 or 200S.
Opportunity Among the Flooded Flats 18 August 2017
Mixed flock of Sandpipers
All images were made with a Canon 7D Mk1 and a Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L lens. I made the images handheld, but I was often laying prone or kneeling low to the ground.
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Hyder, Alaska and the Golden Eagle Sound Date Unknown, 1993
Just above Hyder Alaska, sub-alpine meadows grow a luxurious bed of endless heathers. Far below, Pacific Coast temperate rainforest trees tower over river valleys, dripping with rain, moss, and old man's beard lichens. This is a high density bear area. Thousand-pound coastal brown bears and smaller, more tenacious black bears abound. Up on the high mountains, there are no tall trees, no places to hang a food pack. Up here, caution in bear country is replaced with a resignation to fate.
Following a peaceful night's camp, we were returning back down to the valley, navigating a series of high alpine pools. I was inspired by their beauty and the spectacular beauty of the Misty Fjords National Monument in the distance. As I set up my camera for the image, I heard a strange sound in the sky above me. It sounded as though, somehow, someone was tearing the sky. Like the ripping sound of fabric, the brisk tearing of paper, the sound of a windbreaker jacket giving way to an unstoppable wind, the calm and windless sky above me was tearing wide open. The sound passed quickly overhead from west to east, painting only a picture of "where" but giving no clues about "what". Suddenly calm again, I was left to wonder. It would be fourteen years until I experienced the sound again and learned the identity of the "sky ripper." The sound had been made by the primary flight feathers of a Golden Eagle at maximum flight speed, a predator on a power dive.
The thing missing in this image is the sound. Imagine it as you look down into the pool, and you will be there with me.
This image was made with a Minolta SRT 101 camera, a Celtic 50mm lens, and Fujichrome 100 film. If none of those things sound familiar, I am not surprised.