Monday, September 29, 2014

Fields of Gold

A New Autumn                                                                 28 September 2014

Sandhill Cranes, Crex Meadows, Wisconsin

Even in July, the leaves of the elm and the oak lose their luster and mature into a deep and older green. Fall has been hinting, reminding us of life's ephemeral nature.  Goldenrod grow tall along the forest edges.  The prickly ash fruits wither.  Now, as so much of summer has lived its life, that quiet lull that follows the late spring's mad rush, autumn greets us with sudden and almost merciless pace. Life is a fast track, and every day must be savored for its meaning. In a few short days, the leaves give up the green, roll to yellow or brilliant orange, and begin the slow drift downward to the forest floor.

Paper Birch and a veil of bluestem

Wetland plants shimmer from pale green to yellow and golden brown, glowing as fields of gold. Senescence is not just death. It is preparation for new life, dormancy that delivers resilience, promise of future, strength and resolve, wise living, and investment in continuity.  Death of parts gives life to the whole, the roots living on.  In all that it does, the autumn senescence also builds the great stage on which great migrations play their scripted dramas.

Quaking Aspen grove

Migrating birds echo a strength of preparation.  Small songbirds, the North American sparrows and wood warblers, fill the cool, clear night skies with delicate contact calls, sweet voices from invisible lives just above, hidden in the blackness and endless stars.  To the unaware, they are not there.  To the aware, the gentle sounds ring with brilliance, color, and memory.  They are out there, even if we can't see them, even if we can't be with them.  They are just out of reach, just beyond what we can know. They are there.

With such a vigorous and heroic story unfolding in the night sky, I imagine the morning light will bring hundreds or thousands of feathered travelers, all of them letting down to the safety of the trees below.  Now, in broad daylight, I find the hen of the woods, the Grifola fungi, delicious and meaty, to be growing near the base of a favorite oak.  Sugar maples glow on the hillsides, prickly ash turn brilliant yellow in places, and basswood quickly turn over from green to yellow to brown.  The quaking aspen dance between lime green and golden yellow.  Everywhere I look I see the signs.  Life is traveling by so quickly. Autumn has arrived, and it has done so quite suddenly.  The cranes will be gathering.  It is time to visit old friends.

All images were made with a Canon 7D, just purchased as used in excellent condition and with the best of all custom settings! Thanks Bruce and Tamy Leventhal ( The lens was my usual Canon 300mm f4L IS lens mounted to a Gitzo Reporter tripod with Gitzo ball head.

Trumpeter Swans, early morning light.  Can you find all five swans?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Tribute in Water

Watershed Repose                  16 August 2014

It has been said and said often in this day and age that the quality of water is indicative of the quality of the human relationship with the surrounding land.  This is an undeniable truth.  A watershed collects the local (and not so local) history of the land, both ancient history and recent history.  From glacial silt to nutrient run-off, the water speaks to the character of the land. 

I believe the quality of a human life is relative to the person’s relationship with water.  My father has taught me this all my life.  He has shown me the song of the canoe paddle, the little whirl pools that roll to each side of the blade of the paddle, and he has taught me everything about where to find good water in the wild.  As a kid, and even now as an adult, there are some places where water for drinking is collected from the surface of a lake, a few dozen paddle strokes from shore, skimmed from above a tall, cold column of clear water.   The aim is not just to drink the water.  It is also to keep it clean enough for the next drink or the next drinker.  Conscientious behavior on shore is a discipline that ensures water for the future. Perhaps there is more poetry in this than can be written.   When we sit on shore, we can only imagine what the water looks like below the canoe, out there where it is clean and deep. But our lives on shore pay tribute and respect to every dip of the pan into the top of that distant water.  We know it is out there, just a few paddle strokes away. We are mindful of it, even when we don’t see it.     When we forget to dream about that distant water, the water suffers in our forgetfulness.  To forget that distant water is to impair our well-being.  As we sit on shore, tending to those things done on land, we must remember how cool and clean the water can be.   Perhaps cold, clean water is dependent upon hope. As water would understand it, the quality of a human life is relative to the person’s hope.

Water moves over the landscape like the passage of a person’s life.  It picks up and collects and tumbles random material about, shifting and resorting the meaning of the land.  It rolls into plunge pools, pulling life-giving oxygen down into unseen spaces, nourishing the unexpected.  It pulls at the soil as it rolls on through, changing the course of the lives it passes.  It provides a steady current that brushes and touches all who thrive in the water.   Water speaks to us as it moves, laughing, reassuring us that we are here, that we love, that we live.  We can follow the course of the water, watch it bounce and roll along, dance and splash.  Eventually, we are asked to see it off to sea.  Water is a journey, sometimes placid, sometimes turbulent, sometimes deep and mysterious.  The sun leaps and plays on shallow water, inviting and clean, wild and joyful.   When the sun dives to the west in my favorite northern haunts, the wind grows still.  Expanses of clean water flatten out and become placid perfection, a flat, smooth mirror that gathers in the eternal night sky and wraps it all around my floating canoe.  I sit for a moment, surrounded by eternity, stars above and below, suspended over cold and clean, seeing out into forever. I am embraced by the quality of hope.

All images were made with a refurbished Canon 7D, an EF 28-135mm lens, and a Gitzo basalt “Reporter” tripod.