I spent the afternoon at the Fish Lake State Wildlife Area, a typical afternoon on the trails and in the woods except for the odd object I discovered on the forest floor, no more than a few inches high but looking very malevolent.
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 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.
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]
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.
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.”
I reached the source of the St. Croix River in northwest Wisconsin. Last year I tried twice to reach the source. The first time I got to the start of the Brule Portage section of the North Country trail after I was already tired out so I didn’t hike very far. The second time I could find no way to get to the source. There was a clearly marked side trail to the head of the Bois Brule River but nothing to the St. Croix. After the second try, I decided that I would come back for another attempt when the snow had melted but there was not yet any foliage in the woods. I also studied Google Maps and my Delorme Wisconsin Atlas and Gazetteer (page 25 I think.) I decided that if I parked on the side of Rifle Range Road, a dirt road northeast of Solon Springs, I would be only a few hundred yards from the source of the St. Croix.
I drove, I parked, and I walked in on a trail which shortly ended at the North Country Trail from where I could easily see a small pond. I knew I was in the right spot because I had seen the pond on Google Maps. I had been in the same spot last year but had no idea that the pond and St. Croix Creek were only a couple hundred feet away. The mid-summer foliage completely hid the pond.
I walked to the pond and could see that a small stream choked by fallen logs entered the head of the pond. The stream was the headwaters of the St. Croix. I confess that I didn’t get to the literal source. Walking was like bushwhacking through a jungle. I didn’t have the energy to go the extra 100, at most, yards that would have put me at the source (water bubbling out of a spring perhaps.) I can claim that I saw and photographed the headwaters, if not the actual source, of the St. Croix so I consider the expedition a success.
I recently wrote about Jay Maisel’s book Light,Gesture, & Color in which he writes
All year long I walk around shooting as minimally as I can. One camera, a zoom lens, and that’s it.
I’m now reading On Being a Photographer. David Hurn advises photographers to
. . . take on a project that is containable, and can be completed in a reasonable period of time. . . . just wandering around looking for pictures, hoping that something will pop up and announce itself, does not work.
I think both approaches can work and have worked for me. It’s true that having some sort of focus, whether it’s a project or a weekly challenge published on the internet, will improve one’s photography. I have fun just rambling about with camera ready. Sometimes things do pop up. I went on a road trip yesterday to work on my project to photograph the St. Croix River from source to mouth. I also kept my eyes open for pop-up opportunities. Of the three best photos from yesterday, one was of the St. Croix, the other two were things I spotted while driving on back roads in Wisconsin. Here are the three:
Black and white landscapes from the past week.