I walked downtown to see what I could see.
This is what I saw:
Yesterday I was looking for wildflowers. There were none to be found. I guess it’s still too early even though the last few weeks have been warm. The only things I could find that had new growth were big (red maples or willows) or very small. The small things were mosses and lichens which I find very hard to identify. I’m satisfied if I can correctly state that something is, in fact, a moss. The mosses are sending out what I think are called sporophytes. It had snowed the night before, so much of the foliage – dead or alive – was covered in tiny droplets of melt water. One had to get down on one’s knees or belly in order to examine or photograph such tiny things. I was wet by the time I finished. Luckily, the sun came out later in the day, it warmed up, and I escaped death by hypothermia.
I think this may be a small puffball that survived the winter relatively intact although it looks like it “puffed.” It was in pure sand. There were more puffballs in the sand. They grew only as individuals plants spaced a yard or so away from their neighbors. All dead of course.
More stuff found within an inch or two from the ground.
This is how we celebrate Spring Break up north. Looks great, doesn’t it? All that’s needed is an ocean, some beer, some sand, some sun, some music, a woman . . .
I mapped my hike before setting out today. According to Google Maps, it would be 2000 feet from the parking lot to the river, 2000 back. However, the universal law of geography kicked in not long after I started the hike. I learned this rule in college on the first day of Geography 101. The rule is that in nature, the shortest distance between two points is never a straight line. There are always intervening ravines, impenetrable thickets, fierce and angry thorns, deep woods, wet ground, mean bulls (happened to me once, I swear). Columbus ran into a continent. Don’t forget the next-ridge corollary to the universal law. When you finally reach the ridge you’ve been straining for, there is always one more ridge to go.
The universal law kicked in today. I knew I would be hiking over level ground and open fields with a band of trees along the river. Should have been easy, even for me in my febrile old age.
Later: I am now seated at the bar of a Mexican restaurant, an oasis for an exhausted, muscle-sore hiker trying to recover from what ended up a challenge. Even so, I’m glad I went and finished the hike. I captured some decent photos for my project on the Chippewa River. Here is another universal law I learned in college but not in the classroom: a cold beer (in this case Dos Equis Lager) never tastes so good as when one is tired and dry. It tastes great and you can tell yourself that you’ve earned your beer, and the next one, and . . .
Here are some other photos from the hike in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area southwest of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
I copied the following from Brain Pickings, Maria Popova’s fine website:
The current of the river of life moves us. Awareness of life, beauty and happiness is the current of the river.
– Agnes Martin in Agnes Martin: Paintings, Writings, Remembrances as quoted by Maria Popova in the Brain Pickings weekly newsletter, 03/26/17
I had been fiddling with the idea of putting together a talk on creativity. My thoughts weren’t very serious, more like daydreaming or fantasizing – who would want to listen to me talk about creativity?. I’ve been thinking differently since reading the above. I am 68, soon to be 69, years old. I have a lot of experience in and knowledge about creativity that I am beginning to realize might be more than for most people. I’ve studied creativity and am deeply engaged in creative activities. Why not try to share? I and I suspect a lot of others, tend to denigrate my own skills and creativity. I have no credentials in photography other than a ribbon or two from one year at the county fair. No art or photography degrees, no professional experience, no fame, fortune or celebrity. I also come from Scandinavian stock and a Lake Wobegon upbringing, so I’m supposed to practice modesty and be self-effacing.
Enough of that! I think a key to creativity is being able to recognize, accept, and do something with one’s ideas. Don’t forget them or neglect them. Some will be not worth pursuing, but some will be and may turn into something wonderful. Carry a notebook or use a note-taking app on your smart phone. I use a Samsung Galaxy Note that is great for note taking.
Consider a voice recorder. Last week while in the midst of a two-hour drive, I was awash in ideas for blog posts. Perhaps some were good ideas. I had a blog post mapped out in my head, a post that would have had a lot of personal meaning for me. The heart of the post was to have been a song lyric. By the time I got home, I only vaguely remembered the lyrics. I think the song was by Emmylou Harris. I read the lyrics of dozens of her songs and could not find what I remember. I eventually drafted the blog post, but it remains unposted because I CANT FIND THE SONG. Drat! If I had had a voice recorder I could have recorded the relevant information in 30 seconds. I could have pulled over to the side of the road, but I was tired after a long day and didn’t.
The moral of this short story? I lost an idea that could have been polished into something good because I did not record the idea.
I went out in my car around 4:00 PM. I wanted to try to walk to the Arcola Railroad bridge from the Wisconsin side to photograph it. No luck; there were no-parking signs along the road and the railroad right-of-way was posted with no-trespassing signs. I could see the bridge through the bare trees. It looked very high and impressive. The branches were too thick for photography so I never got a photo of the bridge.
I turned to Plan B. I didn’t actually have a Plan B, so I extemporized. The Parnell Prairie Preserve is just a few miles from where I was. I’ve driven past the preserve many times and drove into the parking lot once but never stopped. It didn’t look very impressive from the road. So I went to the Preserve and discovered a sweet spot. Nice trails. Very pleasant.
There was an old, decaying very large tree trunk sawed into pieces near the road. It looked like it had been there, decaying and moldering into the earth, for a long time. All the things that grow on or around a decomposing tree stump provide lots of subjects for photography: vines, lichen, moss, fungi, leaves, stems, thorns. Much texture and color. The color isn’t as showy as in wildflower season but it’s there if you look closely. Tiny, bright red things on stalks held over green moss. I don’t know what they were, but the red objects shone out in spite of their tininess. Purple and red vines. Old, decaying wood of a deep orange.
Most of the preserve is a rolling meadow. Last year’s meadow grasses are still standing and are a fine golden, yellow-orange color.
The red stems of sumac with buds just waiting for some sun and warm weather. A cluster of berries ranging in color from bright red to golden brown. The silhouettes of bare trees and pine trees on a hilltop.
I enjoy photographing botanical subjects that are past their prime. Flowers, leaves, other things that are starting to show their age; wrinkles, discolorations, blemishes; such things can add character to beauty. Perhaps I have this penchant because I am (this is hard to admit) beyond my prime and have wrinkles and age spots aplenty. At this time of the year in my neck of the woods, everything outside is past its prime. Everything is dead.* This morning I bought primroses at the grocery store. Some of the flowers are starting to wilt. I thought the wilt spots add interesting new color and texture to the already beautiful flowers.
* A paraphrase of Charles Dickens from David Copperfield:
I looked at her earnestly.
‘When you came away from home at the end of the vacation,’ said Mrs. Creakle, after a pause, ‘were they all well?’ After another pause, ‘Was your mama well?’
I trembled without distinctly knowing why, and still looked at her earnestly, making no attempt to answer.
‘Because,’ said she, ‘I grieve to tell you that I hear this morning your mama is very ill.’
A mist rose between Mrs. Creakle and me, and her figure seemed to move in it for an instant. Then I felt the burning tears run down my face, and it was steady again.
‘She is very dangerously ill,’ she added.
I knew all now.
‘She is dead.’
I wrote this post a year ago, March 21, 2016. For some reason, I forgot to publish it. Better late than never.
I went to the Wind In the Pines Nature Park yesterday. As has happened before in the park, I was unable to follow the trails. The trail map in the parking lot showed that to follow the route I chose, I should go left at the first fork and left again at the next T-intersection. I didn’t find either of those things before coming to the end of the trail. I tried to follow what seemed an obvious alternative. The alternative was a very faint trail, but judging by the terrain I thought I was at least in the right area. The trail faded in and out but I was always able to find some sort of trail, sometimes very faint. I eventually came to an easy-to-follow trail marked by stone cairns.
Lo and behold, I came out in a different parking lot in a different natural and scientific area that I never knew existed. That explains why so many signs I saw were facing the wrong direction. The area I stumbled upon is the Falls Creek State Natural Area managed by the Minnesota DNR. By the end of my hike, I hadn’t taken very many steps, but I ended the days with around 40 floors of vertical movement according to my Fitbit, most of it in crossing and re-crossing what I think was the same gulch in the forest, one that carried a very nice, small stream.
Most of the better photos I took were of small things. I was often on my hands and knees or sitting to get close to the subject.
Winter’s detritus are the bits of last year’s plant matter left over after the winter cold and snow. Everything is dried and shriveled, but there is still a lot of character and color if one looks closely. I walked through a community garden and filled a basket with detritus. I took the stuff home and put together some compositions.
I’ve been cooped up most of the winter, so I’ve resorted to photographing indoors. I’ve set up a makeshift studio on my kitchen table. My two most important pieces of equipment are a Manfrotto tripod and an Artograph 930 light pad.
I’m posting a few of the flower photos I’ve taken this year for some of which I used the lightpad. In two future blogs, I’ll post photos of vegetables and what I call winter’s detritus.
Here are the flower images:
I bought mums at the grocery store a few days ago. When I was putting them in a vase, all the petals of one flower fell off in a bunch and plopped onto my kitchen counter. I just let them be, something I often do with messes in my kitchen. The next day I noticed that they looked striking sprawled on the counter, so I set up my tripod and snapped a few shots. Here is one.
For most of the last four months, I’ve been inactive with some sort of undiagnosed illness. My doctor can find no cause – all my tests come back normal. The conclusion: it’s all in my head, although it sure feels like it’s in my body. Anyway, I have posted very few blogs during this time period and have not taken many photographs. I have done some, so I’ve decided to post my best shots from the last few months.
I think I’m going mad, Ted [obscure line from the Britcom Father Ted]
Teju Cole in the essay Double Negative from his book of essays Known and Strange Things, says that
Photography is a fast art now, except for those who are too old-fashioned to shoot digital. But for most of the art’s history – until about fifteen years ago – most photographers had no choice but to be slow. . . . A certain meticulousness was necessary for photographs, a certain irreducible calmness of temperament.
Creating a good photograph is not fast, especially if the photograph is in the genre called “fine art”. (Who decides whether or not a photograph is fine art?) The only time shortened by digital photography is development time, what I consider feedback time, the time between clicking the shutter and seeing the photograph. Whereas in the film era, I dropped my film off at the camera store and came back a couple days later, I can now see the digital photo within seconds of activating the shutter. A good digital photographer takes no more or no less time before clicking the shutter than a good film photographer. A good digital photographer then often takes considerably more time with some sort of processing software to complete a photograph. A good photographer is just as meticulous – if not more – in the digital world of today – then when shooting film.
Photography has always been a fast art; that is one of the reasons I’m attracted to it. I used to draw. I found drawing too much of a slow art.
I watched the movie Devil In a Blue Dress in 1995. The movie is based on the book of the same name by Walter Mosley. It is the first book in the Easy Rawlins series of mysteries. The book and movie take place in Los Angeles in post-World War II 1940s. The movie soundtrack is music from the period, and it’s from that soundtrack that I first heard examples of West Coast Blues.
The West Coast Blues is music of the African-American exodus from the Jim-Crow south. As described beautifully in The Warmth Of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, African-Americans from the western part of the former slave states migrated to California. The musicians, particularly those from Texas, played important roles in the West Coast Blues.
West Coast Blues are very different from but much less familiar than the Chicago Blues. I am not a musicologist, so be careful about quoting me as an authority on West Coast Blues. With that caveat, I think West Coast Blues owes more to the jazz and swing dance music of the era than Chicago Blues. Musicians from the Mississippi moved tended to move north towards Kansas City and Chicago. Chicago Blues is more tinged with gospel and the country blues of the Mississippi Delta region south of Memphis.
Here are some songs you might check out.
Good Rockin’ Tonight – Wynonie Harris
Blues After Hours – Peewee Crayton
Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’ – Louis Jordon
Ain’t Nobody’s Business – Jimmy Witherspoon
Old Time Shuffle Blues – Lloyd Glenn
T-Bone Jumps Again – T-Bone Walker, an example of Jump Blues
I live in a condominium development on the site of a former prison built around 1860. The outermost prison walls still stand, part of which is what looks like a guard post. I’ve included a picture of the guard post as it looks during the day. Spiders, with their impressive spider webs, take over the guard post after dark. It’s probably a great spot for a spider since the lights attract lots of bugs. Here are a couple of photos from the last few days when I’ve walked past the guardhouse on my way home after having a beer or two downtown.
The last time I wrote about drinking and listening to music, I was drinking beer, probably a good IPA. Tonight I’m listening to music and drinking herbal tea. It is great herbal tea (Honest Ginger Oasis), but, honestly, it’s not beer. I’m trying to limit myself to drinking beer only one day a week. That’s Mondays when my good friend Nick tends bar in the tavern I used to frequent. Since I can only drink once a week, I no longer can say I frequent the place. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
Anyway, the music is great. It makes up for the absence of beer. William Eliot Whitmore, who I just discovered a few months ago. He’s a guitarist, banjo picker, singer, blues man, and songwriter from Iowa. I’m listening to the album Field Songs from 2011. Field Songs is a spare and simple album with just Whitmore accompanying himself on guitar and banjo. The notes about the album in iTunes calls his voice a thundering instrument. I don’t know about that, but it sure is nice to listen to. I especially like the banjo songs.
I have one of the songs, Can’t Go Back, from his most recent album, Radium Death from 2015. On this album, he plays with a band. This is one of those songs that I’ve listened to over and over until I’ve figuratively wore out the grooves on the record.
Now that it’s June, here’s what we’ll do
We’ll howl at the moon and patch the old canoe
Put it down in the water, let it take us where it may
Head downstream and (just) float away
He has some stuff on YouTube.
The current assignment on Outdoor Photographer is Shades of Green. I remembered that the focus was on the color green, but forgot that it was an outdoor photography assignment. I took my photo indoors using artificial lighting. He is my photo of slices of lime on a bed of spinach on a light pad.
Micheal Kinsley, in Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide, says that
in a boomer culture that celebrates youth, you no longer qualify. Ouch
I’m posting this as a heads-up to all those who no longer qualify as youthful. I don’t include myself because I’m only 68. Surely I’m not old?
Here are another few words from this morning’s reading:
As big soft buffettings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
from Postscript by Seamus Heaney
I wanted to shoot some photos on Wednesday, but it had been raining all day and was not likely to stop. What the heck, I decided to go anyway.
I wore waterproof hiking shoes to keep my feet dry and an umbrella plus a lens cap or handkerchief to keep my lenses dry. All those things worked well. What I didn’t plan for was slipping in the mud, falling on my back, and ending up with wet and muddy clothes. Oh well, I did get some decent photos.
I went for a walk the other day and stumbled (not literally) upon some good graffiti. I laughed out loud.
The chalk artists are a mother and daughter. I think they had a good time with their chalk. They have a Facebook page titled You Matter.
Here are more of their chalkings.
I went to the Chisago Loop of the Riverview Trail yesterday, a trail that goes through the Osceola Bedrock Glades State Natural Area. The trail loops around a knob that is an outcrop of Canadian Shield basalt bedrock. The top of the knob is relatively flat. The bedrock crops out in many places and there are loose slabs and boulders some that look like stones from a small Stonehenge. Between the rocks is shallow soil with sparse grass and a lot of mosses and lichens. There are scattered, straggly trees mostly jack pines.
I went to the knob planning to take a photo to satisfy The Daily Post‘s challenge Dinnertime. I finished the photo but wasn’t as careful as I should have been because the gnats were ferocious and drove me out. Look closely at my self-portrait and you can see the gnats hovering around my head. (Hovering? They were attacking.) I even poured out a half-bottle of beer because I was so desperate to get away from them (OK, maybe just anxious.) Once I got the first acceptable photo, I left as fast as possible. That wasn’t very fast because I had to be careful making my way down off the knob and through the treacherous footing in the loose chunks of basalt.
On my walk to the knob, I photographed a rare, prairie-fame flower (Talinum rugospermum). The flower and the dinnertime photo are the only shots I got. By the time I reached my car I felt like I was in a mild version of anaphylactic shock. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the gnats had certainly spoiled my outing. This was the second time I’ve been driven out of the area by insects. The first time it was mosquitoes. Other than the bugs, this is one of my favorite spots. The one time there weren’t bugs, I spent my time reclining on a large rock soaking up the sun like a lizard.
I took a break after drafting the above and read a bit from Beryl Markham’s memoir West With the Wind. What I read gave me some perspective on being bothered by a few gnats. Beryl Markham writes about her life in east Africa when roads were mostly non-existent. She was one of the first pilots in the region. She writes about elephant hunting:
Scouting [for elephant] by plane eliminates a good deal of the preliminary work, but when as upon occasion I did spot a herd not more than thirty or forty miles from camp, it still meant that those forty miles had to be walked, crawled, or wriggled by the hunters – and that by the time this body and nerve-raking manoeuvre had been achieved, the elephant had pushed on another twenty miles or so into the bush. A man, it ought to be remembered, has to take several steps to each stride of an elephant, and, moreover, the man is somewhat less than resistant to thicket, thorn trees, and heat. Also he is vulnerable as a peeled egg to all things that sting – anopheles mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and tsetse files. The essence of elephant-hunting is discomfort in such lavish proportions that only the wealthy can afford it.
All I was doing was eating a sandwich and drinking a beer on a hill in civilized, western Wisconsin, and I complain. Markham quotes Baron Von Blixen saying “Life is life and fun is fun, but it’s all so quiet when the goldfish die.”
By the way, I highly recommend the book. A good friend and my favorite bartender recommended it.
Bartenders should always be trusted.
Two days ago I spotted my first wildflowers of the season. Bloodroots were blooming in profusion. The day was eighty degrees and sunny, and the bloodroots were wide open (first photo.) The next day was gray, drizzly, and in the sixties. The bloodroots decided to stay in for the day (second photo). I don’t blame them.
The greenery has popped over the weekend because of the warm weather. Here are more shots of new spring growth.
The Fish Lake State Wildlife Area in northwestern Wisconsin near Grantsburg is part of a collection of areas managed as The Glacial Lake Grantsburg Properties. They are Fish Lake Wildlife Area, Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, and Amsterdam Sloughs Wildlife Area.
The Fish Lake area is mostly “huge sedge marshes” interspersed with areas of low hills with oak forests. The first time I visited Fish Lake, I was not very impressed – it seemed too flat. The more I visited and explored, the more I came to appreciate the area. There are lots of nooks and crannies, paths and dirt roads to explore. I was there yesterday, a beautiful warm Sunday. I didn’t encounter another soul. That’s heaven for an introvert that loves exploring solo.
I didn’t take too many photos. I was tired and just walking along a flat dike next to Dueholm Lake took all my available energy. Dueholm Lake is an impoundment. The only natural lake in the area is Fish Lake, thus the name of the area. The impoundments are a result of management that “began in the early 1950s when the first dikes were constructed to re-flood the drained marshes.”