PHOTOGRAPHS & PARAGRAPHS
∼ July 27, 2017 ∼ “Late Sun Seen Through Leaves”
I have written in the past about the Golden Hour, that period of time leading to sunset when soft sunlight illuminates the sky, seemingly painting the atmosphere with a warm tone. (Please see my 7/10 and 7/13 entries for commentary and other examples.) As the sun lowers toward the horizon, the angle of its rays creates greater indirection of light, which lessens the harsh glare seen at midday that normally bleaches elements in the landscape and results in reduced saturation. In addition, the slanting orientation of the sunshine during sundown alters the visible mix of tints offered to the human eye. Moreover, the longer shadows presented among the low lines of daylight emphasize depth and texture inherent in objects within an image. In a previous post I have also noted the necessity of filtering the bright highlights to avoid overexposure when photographing directly into the sun, either by waiting for a cloud (please view my 7/23 entry) to intervene or, as in this scene, by focusing through leaves of an overhanging tree to partially dilute the sun’s great strength.
∼ July 26, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Kemil Beach at Sunset”
One of the beaches I frequently visit, Kemil Beach, is a part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore situated between the Indiana Dunes State Park to the west and Beverly Shores to the east. When driving to this location, I enjoy traveling U.S. Route 12, the old Dunes Highway, which has an extensive and interesting history. This road once served as the main artery through the area, always busy with traffic in the mid-twentieth century, but nowadays exists as a pleasant less-crowded drive through mostly wooded landscape on either side. When arriving at the short branch of a northern turn-off at Kemil Road, I find an even more soothing section fully canopied by thick foliage of trees bending overhead. Nevertheless, in that little distance one moves from woods to marsh to dune hills to beachfront. The brief walk from the small Dune Ridge Trail parking lot located out of sight from the coast leads to a sandy path winding down the foredunes toward the shore, and on summer evenings a brilliant sunset usually looms ahead as its colors flare above the skyline of Chicago.
∼ July 25, 2017 ∼ “Florida Tropical House at Indiana Dunes”
The 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair held in Chicago included a fascinating feature—Homes of Tomorrow—showcasing a group of a dozen structures displaying futuristic architecture and interior design. At the conclusion of the fair, five of the houses were purchased by Robert Bartlett, a real estate speculator who owned property along the Indiana Dunes in Beverly Shores that he wished to develop as a resort area. The buildings were transported from Chicago to the northern Indiana coastline by barge and positioned on Lake Front Drive, which parallels the shoreline and overlooks the beach. This section has been designated for preservation by the National Register of Historic Places since 1986 and is known today as the Century of Progress Architectural District. Perhaps the most distinctive and most photographed of the homes, the Florida Tropical House is covered by light stucco painted in a shocking pink, and it seems to complement sunset colors seen above the Chicago skyline across Lake Michigan.
∼ July 24, 2017 ∼ “Monday Morning at the Shore”
As I noted in a previous message posted a couple of days ago, I had a pair of pleasant conversations about the Indiana Dunes Friday evening with visitors from out of state staying the weekend. (Please see my 7/22 entry.) Knowing the forecast called for temperatures in the 90s and realizing that dunes locations would be crowded any hot Saturday or Sunday in mid-July, one couple inquired as to which less busy beaches they ought to try. Responding, I explained the best ways to avoid traffic and full parking lots, and I also gave directions to some of the least populated or more isolated sites along the shore. However, my best piece of advice would have included the recommendation that, if possible, they extend their stay through Monday, when the weather was predicted to be fairly moderate with clear skies, and those sandy stretches along Lake Michigan also would be fairly clear of most swimmers and sunbathers.
∼ July 23, 2017 ∼ “Setting Sun Behind Lone Cloud”
The lake waves have calmed after a day of rainstorms, and the cloud cover has mostly cleared. People walk the beaches of the Indiana Dunes again this evening seeking another impressive summer sunset, but I know for more effective photography I will need a cloud to soften the bright light on display just before sundown. Shooting into an unshielded sun without a filter can create a blown out sky that loses any definition in a captured image. Therefore, I sit among a cluster of stones and wait for a lone cloud to place itself into position so that light moves through it or is deflected by it—may even be blocked in spots by it. In addition, because the brightness of the direct sunlight is diminished, an overall sense of warmth is allowed to color the rest of the sky and reflect on the still water below. On some occasions patience pays, and on this night I am rewarded for my persistence.
∼ July 22, 2017 ∼ “Late Light Between Storms”
Strong storms rolled over Lake Michigan during the day and into the night, triggering damaging winds and downpours throughout bordering states of Illinois and Indiana. The coastline along the dunes served as a prime location for observing the swift movement of clouds and bursts of lightning brightening the horizon. Knowing inclement weather often provides opportunity for dramatic photographs, I headed toward the shore and reached the beach with a hope of capturing an interesting image. However, when I arrived the entire sky appeared overcast, and a thick layer of gray covered the lake. The sand had darkened, wet from rainfall of a previous passing shower. Nevertheless, while I waited and spoke in separate conversations with two couples, friendly folks visiting from Ohio and North Carolina who had inquired about places to visit in the Indiana Dunes, I noticed an opening suddenly showing in the distant sky, allowing a slant of sunlight to briefly leak through the cloud cover just before sunset.
∼ July 21, 2017 ∼ “Dune Tress on Ridge Above Lake Michigan”
When the hottest days of summer arrive in July and August, following trails along the Indiana Dunes requires planning in order to avoid more humid routes. Rather than traveling across swamps or marshes, I seek wooded and shaded paths through the interdunal forest toward the shore, where the lake often offers cooling onshore air currents. I also like to hike narrow trails among higher ridges of the dunes, most of which extend parallel to the beach and run just inside the first line of trees. Though not official trails nowadays, these paths were once a main way residents of structures that had been built on the coast would pass from one place to another. In fact, in the first half of the twentieth century before the many buildings were razed within the property of the Indiana Dunes State Park, the route was popularly known as The Cabin Trail, and it connected some of the better-known locations, such as the Governor’s cottage, artist Frank V. Dudley’s cabin, and the Prairie Club. Moreover, many spots on the walk present excellent vantage points overlooking Lake Michigan, providing me with wonderful vistas for photography. (Please view my entries of 5/20 and 5/30 for more about The Cabin Trail.)
∼ July 20, 2017 ∼ “Summer Stillness at the Shore”
The stillness on a warm mid-summer evening, when the weather’s heat and calm winds have held the region in their spell for a few days, seems so serene. Even the warmth seen in the sky’s colors at sundown and reflected across the untroubled surface of Lake Michigan suggests an atmosphere that always appears comforting to me. As I sit on a small boulder beneath a tree beside the beach and watch the flare of late-day light in the distance, I appreciate the way those heavens above the horizon reclaim my attention each evening. Everything suddenly seems as untroubled as the waveless water extending toward that scenic backdrop now spreading before me. The lack of sound resulting from an absence of steady surf beating against the beach only enhances the quiet tranquility of this setting. Thoreau once wrote in his Journals about such a state of mind: “To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind….” [Henry David Thoreau: Journals, June 22, 1851]
∼ July 19, 2017 ∼ “Western End of Central Beach: 200th Post”
In a previous commentary I reported the reopening of Central Beach, which had been closed as too dangerous for the public after the loss of beachfront due to erosion from strong storm surges as well as high lake levels that washed away the sandy waterfront and flooded the access road, causing damage that made the route impassable. (Please see my 7/9 entry for more information.) When I visited this somewhat isolated location, I walked the length of the beach until I reached the western end just as a rainstorm started moving offshore and cloud cover began to break apart over the lake. [This post represents the 200th journal note in my Indiana Dunes project, and my writings for this project have now accumulated more than 50,000 words. I again invite readers to browse through all the past entries. Moreover, I appreciate all who have viewed and responded to my photographs, and I welcome reactions to my daily commentary as well.]
∼ July 18, 2017 ∼ “July Sunset”
Some of my favorite evenings in summer are spent sitting on isolated rock outcroppings at the Indiana Dunes to watch the sun set over Lake Michigan. With comfortable temperatures and only an easy breeze drifting onshore, I like to find a collection of boulders containing a couple of stones with flat tops ideal for resting and settling my tripod, the wide-angle lens aimed at changing skies above the lake horizon. Few situations seem as relaxing, and the scenery always appears to be impressive. Indeed, every sundown has its own characteristics, and the color pallet differs—sometimes only slightly and on other occasions more dramatically—with every visit; however, one never feels less than rewarded for waiting and observing the atmospheric show on display at the end of daylight. When witnessing the setting upon such opportunities, I recall how Thoreau once wrote that he appreciated discovering solitude at sunset for viewing his surroundings “to behold and commune with something greater than man.” [Henry David Thoreau: Journals, August 14, 1854]
∼ July 17, 2017 ∼ “Sun Setting over Chicago”
Those viewing the sun setting from the Indiana Dunes during the middle of July each year are able to witness its descent beyond the Chicago skyline across Lake Michigan. Indeed, this period of the summer might be the most popular for observing sundown from the beaches along northern Indiana. In addition, one can expect many photographers taking advantage of the circumstances. On some occasions I have captured a close-up image of the sunlight silhouetting the taller buildings of the city. (Please see my entry of 6/27 for an example.) However, I must acknowledge I usually prefer a wide-angle perspective that places the lowering sun in context with details of the surroundings: the colorful sky, a thin layer of clouds, the cityscape, the lake waves, and the surf washing on an illuminated shoreline. The scene in the accompanying picture even includes a ring-billed gull standing on the wet sand.
∼ July 16, 2017 ∼ “Lake View from Dune Hill”
I have noted in a previous post that the Indiana Dunes holds a special place of affection in my memory since my wife and I visited this location on our first date more than three decades ago. (Please see my entry of 4/14 for more information.) In fact, whenever I hike the ridge line of trees bordering the shore, I remember moving through the same path with Pam on that April day we first viewed Lake Michigan through the woods, a sheen of spring sunshine glistening on the blue water and brightening the horizon. Consequently, as we celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary today, I fondly offer an image from somewhere near the spot we stood and held one another while watching the wonderful view in front of us with little knowledge of the long trail in time and through life we would follow from that marvelous moment forward to the present.
∼ July 15, 2017 ∼ “Lake Michigan Beyond Big Blowout”
Due to the popularity during July of beaches along the Indiana Dunes, especially Waverly Beach, as well as more traveled trails located adjacent to the state park’s Nature Center, I like to hike farther east on the longest route, Trail Ten. This walk eventually passes the Big Blowout, which I have discussed in a past post as being so far from the center of the park that the setting often remains empty of other visitors, and I feel isolated the whole time I visit. (Please see my entry of 6/28.) While moving through the tremendous gap opened over time by onshore winds and drifting dunes, I arrive at an inland ridge with a glimpse of Lake Michigan in the distance. I pause to observe an impressive landscape, both transitional and tranquil, marked now only by a sole track of footprints serving as a temporary record of my presence.
∼ July 14, 2017 ∼ “Brief Break Between Storms”
This first stretch of summer has been marked by a series of severe thunderstorms moving through the region. Sparked by July heat and humidity, these disturbances sometimes develop suddenly and depart just as quickly, frequently leaving evidence of damage in various forms, such as scattered instances of flash flooding or branches and power lines downed by destructive wind gusts. I sometimes find myself caught in the changing weather while hiking along trails in the Indiana Dunes. (Please see my entry of 6/29 for an example.) Indeed, when I revisited Central Beach at the beginning of this week I again had to seek shelter at a wooded point along the shore. While waiting for a squall line to pass, I watched clusters of cloud formations sweep across the lake. However, almost as interesting, a brief break of clearing skies and return of calm waters displayed once more the fickle conditions of this season.
∼ July 13, 2017 ∼ “Darkness Falling”
In a recent commentary I mentioned the preference voiced by many landscape photographers for capturing images in the golden hours surrounding sunrise or sunset. I noted in that post how some shoot exclusively during those prime times for sensational scenery. (Please see my 7/10 entry.) I must confide I find the summer months ideal for such pictures along the Indiana Dunes. Since the beach crowds have left by the later hours and the temperatures usually cool by evening, I enjoy walking along the water and waiting for sundown. However, like all landscape photography, much relies on luck, especially when the weather does not cooperate, which happens frequently. The skies might suddenly become totally overcast or the cloud cover could completely disappear before the sun reaches the horizon, leaving a bland blue field filling my viewfinder. Nevertheless, as I told my wife after a visit to Lake Michigan this week, I can’t think of any other activities in which a disappointing outing still results in the pleasure of standing along the shore in comfortable conditions to observe a sunset, particularly since each one can be captivating in its own way—such as this silhouette shot—even if it might not be as dramatic as I’d desired.
∼ July 12, 2017 ∼ “Celebrating the Bicentennial of Thoreau’s Birth”
Henry David Thoreau was born on this date two-hundred years ago (July 12, 1817). As I have noted in past posts, including the opening commentary on January 1: “I regularly return to the collected works of Thoreau and read with great interest his observations on nature or speculations about the human spirit.” In addition, I have mentioned in the “Introduction” to my Indiana Dunes project, this journal I have been keeping owes much to the influence of Thoreau’s decades of regular writings. (Please also see representative entries—from more than two dozen about Thoreau—on 7/4, 2/20, and 1/27.) To celebrate this anniversary of Thoreau’s birth and the July full moon known as a“Thunder Moon,” I include an image of Lake Michigan in moonlight, and I remind readers of a lesser-known essay by Thoreau written in 1883, “Night and Moonlight,” where the author offers an observation: “Many may walk by day; few walk by night. It is a very different season. Take a July night, for instance. About ten o’clock,—when man is asleep, day fairly forgotten,—the beauty of moonlight is seen….”
∼ July 11, 2017 ∼ “Wooded Trail to Beach”
A widening gap of strengthening sunlight shines between green leaves of beach trees, brightening the horizon. Last night’s spells of rain remained well past daybreak but finally gave way to clearing skies, although a few small swells of clouds still billow like pale puffs of smoke overhead. I walk a wooded trail yet wet and pocked with the dark spots of shallow puddles. However, by the time I arrive at the lake, nearly noon, most of the foliage along the shore seems to have been dried by midday heat. The pedometer I wear to measure my steps and pace my progress shows almost five miles traveled today through forest or across dune hills. As the winds shift direction, a refreshing onshore breeze lifts a current of cool air from above the water and drifts inland a bit, jostling leaves that create puzzle-piece patterns of shadows on this sandy path leading to the beach. I will wait here a while and watch for shorebirds as they approach the coast, though now floating like tiny white kites in the distance.
∼ July 10, 2017 ∼ “Late Sun Above Lake Michigan”
A number of the finest landscape photographers follow a simple rule when scheduling time to capture images. Due to an emphasis on the importance of light in its many variations, they restrict their activities to scenes seen during the golden hours just before or after sunrise and sunset. I have heard some even state that they put their cameras aside the rest of the day. After all, George Eastman famously declared the preeminent power of light in his advice for photographers: “Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” Although my Indiana Dunes project uses photography primarily as a documentary tool and frequently requires that I hike trails in the less exciting sunlight at midday, I can understand a sentiment by fellow photographers and viewers that expresses preference for specific conditions with sensational light exhibiting spectacular color, and I readily admit enjoying these dramatic images as much as most observers.
∼ July 9, 2017 ∼ “Return to Central Beach”
A fine haze remains over the lake and a faint drizzle continues as I hike this thin stretch of beach. Once wide and welcoming, Central Beach has been greatly diminished by erosion from Lake Michigan’s wind-driven waves during the last few years. In fact, when northern gusts approach the coast, the entire ribbon of sand still clinging to the shore becomes submerged under water. Central Beach was first closed as too dangerous for the public in early July of 2015 after the loss of beachfront due to erosion from strong storm surges and high lake levels that washed away the sandy waterfront. In addition, more recent flooding of the access road, which extends through marsh and wetlands of the Indiana Dunes, caused damage that made the route impassable. However, despite the limitations caused by current conditions, the area was repaired enough to be reopened this month, and I decided I had to return to an isolated location that had been a favorite site of mine.
∼ July 8, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Bridge on Cloudy July Day”
I’ve noted in past posts how cloudy days are ideal for photographing woodlands or wetlands, places where branches and tall weeds would create a network of shadows distracting from the overall image under sunny circumstances. In addition, without the bleaching brought by bright daylight, the green leaves seem more vivid on overcast afternoons, especially when yet wet with rain or dew. Consequently, as a couple of quick thunderstorms swept across Lake Michigan and moved onshore at the Indiana Dunes, I decided to walk a trail through a marsh forest at the state park. By July this setting’s trees and shrubbery appear rich with tints of green, and everywhere the landscape offers a sense of texture one almost wants to touch. Moreover, the remaining moisture from those drifting squalls of rainfall shifting inland deepens the saturation of summer colors and even brings out the tactile characteristic defining the wooden surface of planks or handrails on a walkway bridge.
∼ July 7, 2017 ∼ “Lake Wave Before Sunset”
Having been born and raised near the Atlantic Ocean, I frequently found myself feeling a fondness for the shorefront. As a boy, I often walked those wharves where fishing boats were berthed, and I enjoyed standing knee-deep in saltwater washing onto the sands of Long Island while surf-casting for fresh catch at end of day with my father. Though I no longer engage in angling, my interest in the coastline setting continues as I hike miles of scenic beach along Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes. In the past, I sometimes wrote in my poems about how I particularly appreciated in my early years when sunset would rub its colors across a choppy sea or would tint slim clouds riding the horizon, a golden glare of sunshine barely showing beneath them. Viewing lake waves late on windy days in northern Indiana, I’m reminded of those treasured moments frozen in my memory from so long ago.
∼ July 6, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Beach from Mt. Tom”
After ascending the highest peak along the Indiana Dunes in sweltering summer heat, I decide to descend from Mt. Tom on a trail winding toward the shore, where a weak breeze off the water offers cooler temperatures. Though the loose sand on dune slopes slides beneath me with each footstep, the walk seems easy in contrast to those steep paths I’ve climbed for the past hour. At last, the blue lake appears endless as it extends into the distance toward the horizon and blends with the blue skies on this cloudless afternoon. I follow the line of white sand with my camera in hand, and although the scene before me seems so simple, I find this setting compelling and comforting. Even the small trees and the green leaves of marram grass seen on either side of the opening ahead present a proper sense of natural framing for the composition in those images I will have captured by the time I reach the beach.
∼ July 5, 2017 ∼ “Calm After Storms”
The long four-day holiday weekend has ended, and most of those among the large crowds of beachgoers have gone home. Due to an extended spell of vacation days, warm weather, and low gas prices, the ingredients were in place for roads congested with travelers to Lake Michigan. But today the full parking lots at various locations along the Indiana Dunes have emptied, and much of the beachfront seems to have returned to its usual state of tranquility. In fact, though a few lines of strong storms shifted through the region with intervals of heavy rainfall a couple of evenings during this lengthy weekend, the current conditions appear calm. The nearly still water looks soothing, and small waves rippling the surf seem merely to stir lightly those shells or pebbles scattered on the wet sand. I believe the time might be right for resting among the breakfront boulders to observe sunlight brightening the southern sides on a cluster of remaining clouds as they drift above Lake Michigan.
∼ July 4, 2017 ∼ “Cabin in the Woods”
I have photographed in different seasons a cabin at the historic Bailly Homestead, established in the nineteenth-century. (Please see my entries of 2/4 and 6/5 for more details.) However, today I offer an image of the structure to coincide with the date Henry David Thoreau reported beginning his stay in a cabin at Walden Pond during 1845. “When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night. The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door and windowcasings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning, when its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon some sweet gum would exude from them. To my imagination it retained throughout the day more or less of this auroral character, reminding me of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited a year before. This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music.”
∼ July 3, 2017 ∼ “Offshore Storm at Indiana Dunes”
I frequently write in these notes about the impressive image of storm clouds gathering and approaching the coast of northern Indiana. I’ve commented about how such a situation may be among my favorite experiences when hiking ridges in the dune hills. (Please see my entry of 6/29 as an example.) However, perhaps the appearance of a darkening squall line over Lake Michigan seems even more dramatic in summer when viewed by sunbathers and swimmers clustered along the Indiana Dunes beaches, particularly during a holiday weekend. The great heat of an afternoon in June, July, or August builds and the cloud cover becomes more ominous, thickening on the distant horizon with a row of rainfall evident as the stippling water below grows closer. Observed in contrast with the calm and bright conditions along the shore, one senses that the scenery seems to exhibit an intensive element of nature, especially when sunshine reflects off the upper levels of a scudding cloud bank.
∼ July 2, 2017 ∼ “Coffee Creek in Early Summer”
I usually travel alone on photo trips, whether along various wooded trails, on the beach beside Lake Michigan, through dune hills, down a river path, or in a swamp setting. However, on Friday morning my son asked me if he could go for a hike; so my wife and I decided we should drive to the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, which covers more than 150 acres, for a short and leisurely walk. Alex, Pam, and I followed one of its easy routes on boardwalks built through wetlands and then winding along the creek, stopping at a few locations where I could capture an image. The three of us have visited this site a number of times in the past, and I am impressed by the numerous migratory birds attracted to the area. We also frequently see deer nearby. In addition, at this time of year the undergrowth is thick and lush, decorated with a wide variety of colorful wildflowers. I have written about Coffee Creek in past posts with photographs. (Please see my entries on 6/1 and 6/8.) However, since I was enjoying sharing the views with Alex and Pam, this was a different experience and I found myself taking fewer pictures. After all, they were observing the authentic scenery of nature and did not need my representation. Instead, in a twist of circumstances I was appreciating their impressions of the environment.
∼ July 1, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River at Start of Summer”
When the river flow slows in summer and becomes more saturated by the erosion from its banks, sediment runoff mixed with algae acts like ink pigmenting the water to cause a coffee-colored appearance. Its rich brown complements the thick trunks or big bottom branches of bordering trees, their bark darkened by dampness and shade. A canopy of overhanging foliage now extends from each side, meeting over the middle of the river almost like an arched entryway. These rich green leaves exist in an ever-changing variety of hues dependent upon the presence and positioning of sunlight shifting during the day. Thinner upper limbs sometimes sag under the seasonal weight of so many leaves, and the lazy current below frequently finds itself redirected by fallen trees or broken branches littering the river. At times, the blue sky of a summer afternoon, marbled by a pattern of streaks or swirls from passing clouds, seems perfect to complete this image, especially when everything appears dully reflected, as if in a sepia tone, on the surface of the river.
∼ June 30, 2017 ∼ “After a Day of Heavy Rain”
On a day after heavy rain only a few puffs of departing clouds remain in view above the lake. The warmer weather offered by early summer has returned, heating the beachfront and drying the patch of wooded landscape nearby. Yesterday these trees were bent back by seemingly ceaseless onshore gusts, but today they stand at attention in still air, as the hues of calm water—now almost creaseless—deepen under widening blue skies. I carry my camera as I climb over a narrow bank of breakwater, a barrier positioned to prevent erosion from wind-driven waves during winter storms. In my memory I review how those same stones were slippery, slick with ice and misshaped by drifts of blowing snow, during a January visit. (Please see my 1/22 entry.) I notice edges on some of the small gray boulders whiten a bit, brightening in a cast of strong sunlight, adding accent to a shoreline angling into the distance and disappearing toward a sandy point yet out of sight.
∼ June 29, 2017 ∼ “Lake Squall Seen Through Dune Trees”
Walking a path through the thin line of trees along a dune ridge, I pause to look toward the west where storm clouds gather over Lake Michigan. The still air of a hot summer afternoon suddenly becomes a strengthening onshore breeze beginning to bring refreshingly cooler temperatures. Though only a mile from the nearest shelter, I know I don’t have much time before rain arrives, and I find a familiar location where I sometimes stop to sit and rest, a fallen tree in a thickly wooded recess on a hill above the beach. My camera gear and I will remain mostly dry in this spot, and there is an opening between branches perfect for framing an image. Frequently, weather along the coast changes quickly, and I have often watched the process of squalls sweeping across the lake, darkening the horizon and approaching toward the shore with a long row of dimpled water indicating the progress of rainfall. These systems usually produce showers that move through swiftly then sunshine returns, and I count such moments as among my favorite times, especially when the shifting conditions create contrast leading to interesting photos.
∼ June 28, 2017 ∼ “Big Blowout”
Traveling Trail Ten to the far eastern end of the Indiana Dunes State Park, I hiked inland from the lake at a location known as the Big Blowout. In a past post I spoke about my visit to the Beach House Blowout. (Please see my entry of 4/24.) I explained the origins of blowouts, which appear all along the coast of the Indiana Dunes: “Established by long-term exposure to northern winds arriving from the lake, big blowouts like this one break through the dune hills and can expand into the first interdunal valley. Moving mounds of sand are swept over wooded areas by the onshore gusts, eventually destroying existing trees and creating forest graveyards, while also leveling the terrain, supplying accommodating conditions where grass, small plants, and young pine trees begin to grow.” The Big Blowout lives up to its name, and its vast area felt overwhelming. In fact, because it is so distant from the center of the park, the setting was empty of other visitors, and I was isolated the whole time I remained within this remote landscape, which has become separated from the shore by deep grass-covered foredunes and a series of rolling dune hills.
∼ June 27, 2017 ∼ “Chicago Skyline Silhouetted at Sunset”
The weather has turned unusually cool for late June these last couple of days as a cold front brought by northern winds continues to drift over the region. In fact, overnight temperatures have flirted with record low measurements. At first, a narrow wedge of showers and substantial cloudiness accompanied the chilly system, but all afternoon some openings appeared, allowing patches of sunshine. When I arrived at the shore, the skies still were mostly overcast, but just before sundown almost all the clouds suddenly departed, washed away by quickening upper air currents. I had hoped a rich mixture of cloud cover might be brightened from behind with angled sunshine to create a dramatic scene. Instead, I found myself looking toward Chicago from the Indiana Dunes as the clearing Lake Michigan horizon offered this crisp view of a silhouetted skyline backlit by a colorful background illuminated with an orange afterglow of sunset.
∼ June 26, 2017 ∼ “Discovering Crinoids”
I traveled Trail Ten from inland black oak woods through foredunes covered with marram grass and toward the Lake Michigan shore, where I discovered an isolated coastline distant from points of public access. (Please see my previous 6/25 post.) I walked the water’s edge, and the beach seemed decorated with a constellation of colorful pebbles or shells left on the wet sand. As I approached a stretch of surf extending along the location of the Big Blowout, I came across a couple picking through those tiny objects freshly deposited by an incoming current. Speaking with a wonderfully informative woman (Marcia or Marsha: I apologize for not asking about the spelling), she revealed they were searching for crinoids, and when I appeared puzzled, she kindly explained. Apparently, crinoids are fossils found among the shells (and usually confused with them by most visitors). Left by creatures similar to sea urchins or sea cucumbers, the pieces found along the Indiana Dunes are tiny and frequently disk-shaped parts—many five-sided and resembling a star—of the spinal stack. These items are ideal for use like beads in jewelry, especially a necklace or bracelet since the hollow center of the crinoid disk serves perfectly for stringing a chain.
∼ June 25, 2017 ∼ “Trail Ten Toward Shore”
Trail Ten, the longest route (listed at 5.5 miles) through the Indiana Dunes State Park, offers travelers an opportunity to view various types of terrain characteristic of the region. Hiking the length of this path, one will observe sections of marshland, woodland, dune hills, foredunes, beach, and blowouts. Most folks begin their trip on an inland loop near the Wilson Shelter and not far from the Nature Center, which serves as an appropriate starting point for a number of official trails. Another option permits visitors to initiate their walk at the pavilion of the public beach and follow the coastline straight east. However, due to its length, many do not journey the full extent to the eastern end of the park, and they miss some of the most interesting landscape as the inland trail skirts the southern edges of a series of blowouts and exits a dune forest consisting mostly of black oaks through grassy foredunes toward a welcoming remote stretch of shore far from the more populous parts of the park.
∼ June 24, 2017 ∼ “Great Marsh in June”
At the start of summer, I like to return to the Great Marsh area in the Indiana Dunes to witness the seasonal transformation of the landscape. At this time of year, perhaps no other location in the region displays such a contrast in appearance when compared with winter. (Please see my previous entries of 2/23, 2/21, and 1/8.) The Great Marsh exhibits characteristics most closely resembling the widespread wetlands as they existed prior to human intrusion through the digging of drainage ditches permitted by the Swamp Land Act of 1850. Indeed, in the past twenty years a restoration project has been underway to allow waters to resume natural patterns of flow and to remove any non-native plants. Consequently, a variety of local wildlife and migrating birds once again populates the area. In addition, as happens every June, the clear surface water seen in colder months has begun to cover with green. Therefore, when I walk a trail through the marsh, I believe I am seeing the setting almost as it might have originally appeared.
∼ June 23, 2017 ∼ “Dune Succession Trail”
Though the Dune Succession Trail is a short route of just under one mile, it rises to an elevation of more than eighty feet before steeply descending toward Lake Michigan at West Beach. The path is a popular way for visitors to obtain scenic views of the coastline, while the surroundings display transitions in terrain as one walks its length. In this setting one may observe a brief history of the landscape’s natural development over time. Traveling from inland toward the shore, the hills are covered with oak, cottonwood, and pine, and the hike includes movement through prairie grass onto sand dunes to a stretch of beach along the lake. Much of the walk has been made easier by a stairway that is said to have 250 steps, though I haven’t yet verified that total with my own count. An understanding about evolution of the land along the Indiana Dunes region in its different states (wetlands, grassland, forest, sand dunes, etc.) was proposed in the early twentieth century by biologist Henry Cowles, best known as a pioneer of ecology and for nearby Cowles Bog, which I have mentioned in previous posts. (Please see my 4/11, 4/12, and 4/15 entries.)
∼ June 22, 2017 ∼ “A Fine Day at Lake Michigan”
I frequently mention my debt to Frank V. Dudley—famous for his paintings of the Indiana Dunes—for inspiration and guidance whenever I photograph the landscape near Lake Michigan and capture scenes that are similar to those seen on Dudley’s canvases. (Please see my previous entries on 6/18, 1/20, 1/19, and 1/5.) Therefore, I am pleased to note Dudley also had extensive knowledge and professional experience with photography. As early as the first decade of the twentieth century, the Dudley family owned a photography shop in Chicago. Indeed, during his career as an artist, Dudley acknowledged sometimes aligning his perspectives through a small rectangular metal frame, as one prepares a photograph in a viewfinder, and in later years he even took Kodachrome shots of locations around the lake, employing his camera as a tool to remember specifics when creating a new artwork. Though the dunes have changed continually and dramatically in some places since Dudley’s time, I hope my photos reflect a bit of the spirit he displayed in his paintings of those splendid scenes found every day among the Indiana Dunes overlooking the lake waters, including one titled A Fine Day that displays an image similar to the one in my photograph that borrows for its title as well.
∼ June 21, 2017 ∼ “Summer Solstice Sunset View from Mt. Baldy Toward Chicago”
Tuesday evening represented the summer solstice, that date when the position of the sun reaches its northernmost point. As a way to celebrate this occasion, I joined some other hikers on a climb to the top of Mt. Baldy, which offers a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and the skyline of Chicago across the way from the Indiana Dunes. As I noted in a previous post, Mt. Baldy has been closed to the public for nearly four years due to the danger presented by life-threatening sinkholes in this large wandering dune. (Please see my 6/12 and 6/13 entries.) Therefore, this hike could be held only with the guidance of an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore ranger, and our leader, Kelly, provided an entertaining and informative narrative. (Indeed, I have always found all the staff members at the state and national parks to be friendly and helpful.) At this time of the year, the sunset as seen from the Indiana coastline dips below the horizon near Chicago. By late June and early July, the sun will begin to drift back south and actually will appear to drop right behind the tops of Chicago’s tallest buildings. Although all afternoon the skies were completely gray and rain fell for hours, the gloomy overcast departed before sunset. In fact, I was hoping a percentage of cloud cover would remain, and I was a bit disappointed that the clear skies would result in a less dramatic image. Nevertheless, no sunset fails to satisfy.
∼ June 20, 2017 ∼ “Clearing Skies After Rain”
In a past post I mentioned a characteristic commonly attributed to landscape photography by viewers of such images with nature’s features but rarely ever the presence of a person. I countered the observation that people are almost always absent from my pictures by quoting Ansel Adams: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” (Please see my entry of 1/29.) However, I do acknowledge my intent in most photos does involve isolating the environment from any apparent human intrusion or cultural influence. In addition, most of the posts I share in this journal narrate hikes I take by myself. Nevertheless, as I travel throughout the Indiana Dunes, I frequently meet amiable and interesting individuals along the trails, especially in summer when walking routes beside the beachfront. I realize I might never engage in discussion had I not been taking landscape photos. Indeed, my camera serves as a common source for the start of conversations, especially when it is attached to a tripod slung over my shoulder. Those people I meet often begin by inquiring whether I have gotten any good pictures or by commenting that the weather seems ideal for photography. Many times, perhaps because my gear indicates I might be trusted taking a photo, when there are couples or families I am also asked to snap a picture of them with their iPhone. Yesterday, as I was capturing images of clearing skies over Lake Michigan following a brief rain, a couple nearby requested I take their photo. During our conversation, I discovered they were on vacation from their home in Cedar City, Utah—where I have travelled in the past—and they had just arrived from attending the U.S. Open golf championship over the weekend. Since I had lived in Salt Lake City for five years and taught classes at the University of Utah, it was great to discuss with Mike and Rhonda their two sons who had graduated from Utah and to compare our fondness for a professional golf tournament in Park City that we had attended. Once again, I was reminded though no person may appear within the frame of my landscape photos, I am pleased my photography allows for the opportunity to meet a variety of friendly folks.
∼ June 19, 2017 ∼ “Lake Between Trees”
My shadow shifts before me with each step I take toward Lake Michigan. By the time I reach the beach, I see bright sunshine sifting between trees bordering the shore. The sand has also been flecked with yellow that appears almost golden. Each week as the weather has warmed, these scenes become even more appealing. Although the water remains quite cool, its hues of blue and green seem as welcoming as those seascapes painted by William Merritt Chase that I like so much. On this nearly windless day, scraps of clouds hang in the sky like limp articles of laundry draped on an old clothes line. While I frame my composition, a woman walking by me inquires what I am photographing, perhaps puzzled by the emptiness of the setting—nobody posing for a portrait, no boats in the image, and no recognizable landmark to preserve. I simply explain my attempt to capture the light of late spring on the lake, the way nature creates its own artwork.
∼ June 18, 2017 ∼ “A Sacred Space”
I follow a narrow path through sand dunes spotted with green by the sporadic growth of marram grass. As I always do when passing this way, I stay a moment to rest in the gray stain of shade beneath an isolated tree among the foredunes. Although the landscape before me may appear less interesting than other images I might capture today, this place has become my favorite location in the Indiana Dunes. I consider this a sacred space. Through research I’ve discovered here is where Frank V. Dudley, “the painter of the Dunes,” once built a cabin and worked in his studio facing Lake Michigan with the distant skyline of his Chicago home on the opposite side. As I note in my Introduction: “When considering the magnificence of the Indiana Dunes, Frank V. Dudley set the precedent as an artist most closely associated with personalizing and promoting the landscape in his paintings. Dudley devoted his talent throughout decades of work in the twentieth century almost solely to educate and enlighten others about the significance of this engaging and enriching territory along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Dudley asserted: ‘I think one of the greatest of God’s gifts to humanity is the beauty and the joy of nature. Yet the great majority of us go through life unmindful of it….’ Dudley’s paintings invited everyone to examine the elegance of the Indiana Dunes landscape. In addition, his endeavors helped establish the area as an inspiration for artists and aided in the social or political movements that eventually led to protection and preservation of this special landscape for the benefit of all.” Dudley and wife Maida would have seen this view each morning from the porch of their cottage or from the six big windows in the front room, which would have been positioned between the trees in my image.
∼ June 17, 2017 ∼ “Heat Spell in Mid-June”
Barely a breath of breeze in the air, a calm surf creates quiet along the shore while crumpled clouds bunch under a nearly-summer sun like white bolts of linen folded unevenly. This still water is bordered by a golden swath of sand occasionally broken only by the dull color of driftwood limbs and their black shadows. I see farther up the beach that the pale hull of an upturned sailboat awaits its turn in the lake. Each day this week has been hot, as the steady weather has begun to shed that spring uncertainty when every cold front brought angled rainfall blown by a wheeze of northern winds. As soon as I hike through the foredunes and wander toward a small hill, I can feel an increase of afternoon heat. However, when I reach the cool shade of ridge trees on a hidden trail just within the woods but overseeing the coast, I pause to look back at my long track of footsteps, perhaps the way one might find comfort by rereading lines from a passage of verse in a favorite poem.
∼ June 16, 2017 ∼ “Trail Two Walkway Reconstruction”
Yesterday’s newspaper reported a development at the Indiana Dunes State Park I had heard was in the works. The Indiana State Budget Committee has approved $400,000 for reconstruction of a thirty-year-old boardwalk spanning a half mile of marsh along Trail Two. In commentary accompanying this photo I posted following a January hike, I noted my discovery of the route’s condition: “the state of the wooden walkway has been greatly deteriorated or badly damaged in spots, and currently the path is deemed in a shape too dangerous for passing, so it has been officially closed to pedestrians by park personnel. Alternating periods of freeze and thaw have destroyed portions of the boardwalk. Gaps of differing widths exist in some places where boards have been displaced, and in the rest of its length, sections are uneven, rippling or dipping into a water level raised by snow melt and recent rainfall. In addition, a number of locations are blocked by fallen branches or splintered remnants of toppled tree trunks, seasonal ruin in a transitioning swamp forest.” (Please see my 1/25 entry.) I am pleased to see this crucial trail will be rebuilt.
∼ June 15, 2017 ∼ “Clouds and Coastal Stones”
After hiking a few miles of beach along the Lake Michigan shore, the narrow band of sand ran out, replaced by small boulders positioned to preserve the coast from erosion by wind-driven waves. However, on this hot and humid afternoon in June the surf seemed to have eased following blustery overnight thunderstorms. I had traveled far beyond the crowds of sunbathers and swimmers at the popular public beachfront, and I found myself stepping over the uneven barrier of stones under leaf-light of trees with limbs reaching toward an edge of shallow green water that had become nearly still. A cluster of clouds collected above the western horizon, side-lit by tilting southern sunshine, and started to drift inland, perhaps a presage of more storms forecast for later in the day. A couple of gulls turned circles in the distance as if waiting patiently for a change to arrive or like aircraft ordered to maintain a holding pattern.
∼ June 14, 2017 ∼ “The Third Coast”
Once again a ribbon of beach sand whitens as if bleached during the heat of early afternoon. Green slivers of marram grass quiver slightly in the bright sunshine, as though a river of narrow leaves lightly flows in a soft onshore breeze. Only one week before the solstice, this shoreline already exhibits rich imagery more reminiscent of mid-summer. The clear blue of open skies, now cloudless following last night’s strong storm, appears to be mirrored by the deeper hue of far-off lake water. Resting on a ridge among the higher dunes after a long late-morning hike, I gaze at this lakeside landscape, known by some as the nation’s third coast, as the scenery extends into the distance and disappears behind a bend where a shoulder of woods borders the shore. Even this hillside filled with thickening trees at the end of spring seems to point like a leading line directing my sight toward the shore, that element of the setting with which I never grow tired no matter the season.
∼ June 13, 2017 ∼ “Tree Swallowed by Wandering Dune”
In yesterday’s entry I mentioned my trip to Mt. Baldy in the Indiana Dunes for a guided climb to the top. Though the location has been closed to visitors for the past four years due to hazardous conditions involving possible sinkholes, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore staff members occasionally offer supervised hikes. (Please see the 6/12 post.) Part of my fascination with the notable nature of Mt. Baldy concerns its character as a wandering dune, one that constantly drifts toward the south directed by Lake Michigan’s air currents, especially during swift winds in winter storms. As the dune moves, an accumulation of sand swallows trees in its path. In one image I captured on the southern side, a tree has begun to be buried, much of its lower trunk already concealed, while it is flanked on either side by a pair of other trees—one already dead and displaying bare branches but another lower on the slope not yet influenced by the shifting sand. More of the massive mound of sand about to migrate farther onto the trees can be seen looming above.
∼ June 12, 2017 ∼ “View from Mt. Baldy”
Four years ago a six-year-old boy nearly died when he fell into an 11-foot sinkhole while climbing Mt. Baldy, one of the fascinating features in the Indiana Dunes landscape. Fortunately, his disappearance into the dune was witnessed by others who were able to notify authorities. After three hours of meticulous digging in hazardously collapsing sand, the boy was rescued. Examination of the area revealed numerous locations where similar perilous anomalies were discovered. In the intervening years, studies by scientists suggest the presence of this dangerous condition can be traced to the fact that Mt. Baldy is more than 125-feet high and famous as a wandering dune that shifts inland at a steady rate, pushed by northern winds and eroded by winter storms with accompanying melting of snow and ice. When the accumulating sand envelops trees in a dense black oak forest bordering the shore and at the edges of Mt. Baldy, those trees are buried, die, decay, and decompose, leaving an empty silo-shaped chamber within the dune. Consequently, this popular site has been closed to visitors since 2013. However, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore occasionally offers hikes to the top under the supervision of a park staff member. With the guidance of an informed and personable ranger named Penny, I hiked through the woods and revisited the top of Mt. Baldy to enjoy the view offered from its height.
∼ June 11, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest in June”
Sunshine unbuttons the cloak of morning haze, as a bright noon daylight seeps through the overcast to uncover the colorful green landscape of this swamp forest in spring. The low croak of a frog echoes among these trees, accompanied by the steady yet rapid beat of a woodpecker hidden in distant limbs still creaking slightly in an easy breeze. Bugs buzz all around, but thanks to protective spray, thus far they stay away from me. Nobody else ever appears to visit this place, and even I rarely do. In fact, the last time I passed this scene, I photographed snow and ice enclosing everything in a cold and desaturated setting. (Please see my 1/30 entry.) However, now the image I view in front of me resembles one of the rich impressionist paintings of leaves by Claude Monet, but today created by nature’s shadows, reflections, and a bit of wind seemingly presenting a beauty unseen by others, offered merely for my observation.
∼ June 10, 2017 ∼ “Tree Above the Beach”
After days of blustery currents and high waves during the last week, I walked the shore this morning to check for locations showing signs of erosion. Some sections of sand were washed away by the surf as much as fifteen feet, all the way to the foredunes. I hiked a route more than two miles to the east beside the water’s edge and along a couple of dune ridges. Each time I travel this trail I pass places I regard as familiar or favorite spots, including a particularly distinctive tree perched precariously on the side of a dune mound. I have photographed this site on numerous occasions, preserving the scenery in different seasons. (Please check entries on 5/25, 4/28, 3/27, and 3/22 for four more examples.) However, its situation has deteriorated and the tree displays indications of attrition—the roots have become almost totally exposed and the limbs, which now seem weighed down by late-spring leaves, lean over a steep slope worn by windy weather. Every visit to this setting I wonder how much more of the northern winds this landmark will be able to withstand, and I am compelled to capture another image while I can.
∼ June 9, 2017 ∼ “Dunes in June”
Strolling a sloping trail along a dune ridge above Lake Michigan on an afternoon in late spring, I’ve climbed high enough to see a sun-bleached beach fringed with a calm surf. The blue water beyond expands under white wisps of clouds appearing as if designed by light brush strokes on a canvas. The deep green leaves of trees shaped by sun and wind present colorful contrast as well as a sense of texture to the setting. So do those narrow blades of grass defying expectations and growing out of the sand. Every day I explore another path among the Indiana Dunes, I find new views with scenery that seems to offer delight and provides a never-ending source of inspiration. Indeed, on hikes like this I am reminded of a statement by Henry David Thoreau in his excellent essay accumulated through years as a lecture but first published in Atlantic Monthly during another June (1862)—one month after the author’s death—and titled “Walking”: “My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon.”
∼ June 8, 2017 ∼ “Creek in Early June”
I hike through cool shade under trees along Coffee Creek, a chorus of birdsong all around me but hidden in a visual riddle of limbs and foliage. Some trees seem to slouch beneath the weight of late-spring leaves, summer merely two weeks away. However, a long bare branch bends and reaches toward the opposite bank, where a dead tree dips into the creek. Shadows of trunks stain the surface of the water. Despite an intermittent breeze that sometimes waggles the treetops and creates waves in the tall grass, I am able to freeze this scene with a faster shutter speed on my camera. A chipmunk scuttles beside one of my tripod’s legs and rattles among a rustling underbrush of little thickets. I’ve walked this way in winter when the landscape appeared desaturated by a covering of snow and a glassy sheen of ice on the creek. But this afternoon the setting seems vividly green with seasonal growth, another subtle reminder by nature about the gradual passage of time.
∼ June 7, 2017 ∼ “Notes from a Walk Along the Windy Shore”
A sudsy look of surf washes upon the shore, where a young child sits in the wet sand sorting shells with her left hand. The other holds a little red shovel. Slanted sunlight reflects off the girl’s already tanning shoulders as a tall and wiry woman stands by her side, watching. I stroll past and view a temporarily empty lifeguard tower now leaning forward with sand eroded underneath. It tilts toward the water and into a swift onshore wind. Its yellow paint of stenciled letters spelling words of warning has been faded by months of winter weather. An almost cloudless field of cerulean in this late afternoon looms above the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan. I know it is not long before this sky will turn to bruise blue in the diminishing illumination at twilight, then eventually give itself over to the evening dark. By the time I’ve walked more than a mile, I again notice the horizon, opening ahead, straight and unbroken, as if part of an artwork designed in a studio and set by a chalk line. I look out at the breezy lake scenery, and I take one more photograph before going home.
∼ June 6, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River in Early June”
Due to a few clusters of sunny and warm days following recent rainstorms, some of the less traveled trails have already begun to become overgrown. Now, I frequently tramp down fresh undergrowth when I walk these paths, as I did today in the thick woods bordering the Little Calumet River. Sometimes the dense and lengthening blades of grass conceal a stone or exposed roots of an old oak; consequently, I often find myself lowering my gaze to survey the way ahead and to scout the ground before me in an effort to avoid a stumble or a stubbed toe. Similarly, the river appears to contain numerous obstacles blocking anyone from maneuvering a canoe, kayak, or rowboat along its course. In a number of locations, the fallen trees, broken branches, and uprooted trunks re-direct the slow-flowing current and act as barricades completely interfering with any opportunity to cruise through their clutter. However, this accumulation of timber tipped into the river does offer interesting foreground features for photographs.
∼ June 5, 2017 ∼ “Two-Story Cabin at Bailly Homestead”
In my previous entry I mentioned hiking the Little Calumet River Trail to the site of the Bailly Homestead, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. While at the location, I photographed once again some of the structures on the property, including the unique two-story cabin north of the main house. In a past post (see entry of 2/4) I offered an image of another smaller storage cabin captured during winter snow. I have also discussed a bit of the narrative for this location and the original settler—Joseph Bailly, a fur trader who arrived in the region during the early nineteenth century—in a commentary published at the end of February (see entry of 2/26). My interest in these cabins and Joseph Bailly relates to the historical significance of this individual as the first white settler in the area, but also connects to one of my main inspirations for this journal (as noted in the “Introduction” section), Henry David Thoreau, whose life span overlapped Bailly and who is famous worldwide for his cabin at Walden Pond.
∼ June 4, 2017 ∼ “Bailly Trail”
Earlier during my walk brilliant sunlight flickered between silhouetted leaves of trees overhanging the Calumet River Trail. After passing a single willow, I arrived at a grove of oaks bordering the river, its current slowed by a clutter of fallen limbs tipped into the water by winter’s winds. Now the afternoon sky has clouded a little, and the green of the landscape seems deeper, no longer bleached by bright sunshine. I climb a slight rise where the first white settler, a fur trader named Joseph Bailly, built his home above the flood plain in the opening half of the nineteenth century. I often visit this peaceful setting. I appreciate the silence I find in this place on a late spring day. For some reason, even the ever-present sound of distant birdsong seems muted today. The route diverts to a narrower pathway, the Bailly Trail, at this point almost a tunnel with braided branches bending overhead. When I enter I feel a bit like the character in Field of Dreams slipping into rows of tall corn stalks, disappearing from view, crossing to another realm. I imagine myself perhaps transported to the past, and I wonder how differently, if at all, this scenery looked nearly two hundred years ago.
∼ June 3, 2017 ∼ “View Through Trees on Hot Spring Afternoon”
Though the forecast called for a possibility of rain showers, the sky is now almost cloudless, a blank blue covering Lake Michigan broken only by slim wisps of white over the horizon. The sandy shore glistens under blistering sunshine bringing the first real heat of spring. Walking a trail along the sun-brushed edge of ridge woods, I distance myself a mile from the public beach with its weekend sunbathers, children wading in the little waves, adventurous swimmers heading toward the buoys, and teenaged lovers huddled beneath colorful umbrellas. Many schools have started their summer break. I decide I will hike the interior, get away a while from the glare of this bright daylight to move among the dark bark and cooler air of a dune forest. I will continue and follow a stark path farther inland toward the narrow crossing of an isolated marsh—hot and humid, but in this case a temporary and welcomed emptiness far from the busyness of visitors on vacation. However, I pause first for an extended view between the trees and to capture with my camera the soothing scenery spreading into the distance in front of me.
∼ June 2, 2017 ∼ “Indiana Dunes State Park: Trail Eight”
Trail Eight threads through the dunes, at times rising to each of the three highest peaks in the state park. I shuffle my feet along its path of soft sand as I travel along an inland forest toward the shore. Somewhere overhead small birds chirp, lost among the full branches like stars unseen during daylight. A couple of crows flutter high above then turn by my right side and land under the upper limbs of a nearby oak. Although elevated quite a bit from the beach, this stretch represents one of the few flat sections of the trail’s winding route as it moves among thickly wooded terrain. Earlier, I passed batches of blue lupine ruffling in the timid wind and illuminated on a sunny slope alongside the pathway. As the sun dragged its brightness between clouds and across the landscape, shadows of trembling leaves scattered back and forth with each gentle breeze, adding difficulty for any photograph. However, as a storm front approaches, an afternoon overcast has stolen the sunshine; yet, I don’t mind because the green of the foliage appears richer as a result.
∼ June 1, 2017 ∼ “Creek at Start of June”
As if in an attempt to join those others clustered on the southern side, a lone tree leans over this creek becoming the color of weak coffee. Meteorological summer starts June 1, and this scene already seems to identify with the new season. Just hours after an early morning rain storm, and with departing clouds now crowding only the eastern horizon, a steady but slow-flowing current moves through its winding route. This lazy pace will ease even more in the warmer weeks ahead, and the gap between banks will narrow by August’s dry days. So much wet weather this spring has deepened the green leaves of those overhanging limbs, and the long blades of grass along the trail twist into thick clumps catching the feet of my camera tripod as I step forward to capture an image. Moreover, the slanting sunlight creates varying degrees of green in the trees and presents rich reflections on the surface of the water. When I arrived I met a man from Chicago hiking by himself on a weekend trip. As many often do, he stopped to speak, asking what I was photographing. I gave my usual answer, “landscape and light”; however, I also thought about another response I might have given, “a picture painted by the sun,” author Ambrose Bierce’s fine definition of a photograph.
∼ May 31, 2017 ∼ “View from Mt. Tom”
Hiking the Three-Dune Challenge in the Indiana Dunes once again, I arrived at Mt. Tom just in time to see a quickly moving bank of clouds appearing with a spring storm front from the west. I have written about this popular challenge in previous posts. (See entries of May 3, May 24, and May 29). The various climbs up the trio of peaks involved in the task can be steep at times, and parts of Trail Eight, which links the three hilltops, contain sandy slopes on which one’s footing may be labored. In fact, I often find my boots sliding backward with each step, especially since I am carrying camera gear with a tripod. The highest hill in the dunes by a slight margin [Mt. Jackson (176 ft.), Mt. Holden (184 ft.), and Mt. Tom (192 ft.)], Mt. Tom is the most visited of the group, and it might be regarded as the least challenging because of accessibility by stairs on two sides. The accompanying image displays an approach from the west. In my May 24 entry I included a photograph presenting a section of the southern stairs rising toward the summit.
∼ May 30, 2017 ∼ “View from Cabin Trail: Journal Entry Number 150”
Today’s post represents entry number one-hundred and fifty since I began this project at the start of the year. However, with the Memorial Day weekend ending and warmer weather settling into place, I feel as if I am witnessing a new beginning for the Indiana Dunes landscape. The views I see lately when hiking trails through the dunes or along the shore, where sighting of a bare tree is now rare and stands out, hardly resemble those stark or wintry images, sometimes in snowy scenery, I captured throughout the past five months. Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous commentary shared just before the holiday weekend, I appreciate “the freshness and transitional character” of spring evolving toward summer, which is “especially evident in regions like northern Indiana, where each year one is blessed to witness the full scope of four seasons.” Also, I use this opportunity to invite everyone once again to scroll through past journal posts and browse among the accumulation of observations (nearly 35,000 words) already published alongside my photographs. Perhaps since the time when many are seeking subjects for summer reading has arrived, these brief daily notes of only one paragraph can provide a quick read each day.
∼ May 29, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Lake Michigan from Mt. Holden”
In my previous posts about the Three-Dune Challenge at the Indiana Dunes, I mentioned the trio of peaks one must climb to accomplish the feat. (View my May 3 and May 24 commentaries.) All three are connected by Trail Eight, and the height for each approaches 200 feet. As part of my hikes under bright sunny skies on this Memorial Day weekend, I followed the familiar route once again before descending to the beach. Standing atop Mt. Holden and peering down the thin, sandy trail that leads to Lake Michigan, I could see the shoreline, but the horizon appeared a bit out of focus in my viewfinder. However, no matter what adjustments I made, that edge of the lake would not clarify. Nevertheless, I snapped the image and began my trek toward the water. After all, I consider many of my photos as documentary rather than art. Halfway down the steep slope I realized why my picture seemed to be out of focus: a thick fog was drifting inland and beginning to rise up the dunes. I had been above the fog at the height of Mt. Holden. In fact, by the time I reached the beach, the lake was completely blanketed and had disappeared from sight. Displaying the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of this region, the fog settled over the coast for nearly an hour, then the sunshine finally burned it away, and a beautiful holiday weekend resumed.
∼ May 28, 2017 ∼ “Late-Day Sun at End of May”
Many photographers emphatically mention light—its quality and quantity—as the most important element in capturing compelling images. George Eastman was quoted as suggesting one dictum to follow: “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” In northwest Indiana each season offers its own degrees and angles of illumination. As temperatures heat in spring and summer, so does the warmth of luminosity in landscape scenery. (Additionally, autumn colors may warm with the changing of leaves.) Consequently, I regard Memorial Day weekend as the start of a separate section on the calendar when I pay more attention to sunrises or sunsets. Indeed, by July I will look forward to the sun setting across Lake Michigan and directly over the skyline of Chicago as viewed from the shoreline of the Indiana Dunes. However, I am also impressed in spring when the slant of the southern sun above tops of trees surrounding small lakes or local ponds seems to contribute to the creation of vivid and brilliant pictures.
∼ May 27, 2017 ∼ “Small Sailing Craft in Spring”
Although the weather has been wet and windy this week, and there have been warnings of rip currents along the Lake Michigan shoreline, a spring sun seems to be resuming its intensity above the coastal landscape, raising temperatures into the mid-seventies. As the Memorial Day weekend initiates another season of sunshine and leisure at the Indiana Dunes, everything appears prepared for the many visitors who will stream to its beaches. Official reports indicate the water level has lessened a few feet from last year, and my informal hikes along the lake suggest the amount of sand erosion looks to be lower as well. Most bits of debris deposited by winter’s surf have been cleared, and only an occasional log or stick of driftwood decorates the shore like an ornamental addition. The marram grass has greened again and contrasts nicely with the tan sand of foredunes smoothed by onshore breezes. Little waves breaking on the beach will soon be filled with children wading in the shallow water, and the distant blue will be dotted once more with small sailing craft crossing in a soft current of wind.
∼ May 26, 2017 ∼ “Trail Three Trees in Spring”
At the end of May, I notice a more forceful sunshine illuminating the landscape and adding warmth to everything. Among my favorite features when hiking routes along the Indiana Dunes, I enjoy any moment I arrive at a rise sloping toward a hilltop offering expectations for an interesting view on the other side. I noted in a previous post: “I appreciate that every bend in the trail presents promise of something new, and when I ascend heights over a sharp ridge where the next stretch of scenery remains out of sight, my anticipation grows even greater.” (See my April 23 entry for more.) As an author and a professor of literature, the metaphorical significance of such a setting does not escape me. Especially with the Memorial Day weekend upon us, many people see their attitudes shift from feeling the freshness and transitional character of spring to settling in for the lush scenery and abundance of fun in summer. Naturally, this emphasis on the emotional impact of seasonal differences can be especially evident in regions like northern Indiana, where each year one is blessed to witness the full scope of four seasons.
∼ May 25, 2017 ∼ “Indiana Dunes in Late May”
I photographed this same scene four weeks ago during the calm under a cloudless sky after a streak of strong storms, but at that time the appearance of spring signs still seemed somewhat distant. (See my April 28 entry.) I mentioned walking “a favorite path down a slope toward the extended ribbon of shore line. The wind had stilled, and the lake lay untroubled.” Today, low waves slowly scroll toward the shore, the beach and foredunes yet empty of many visitors. I watch one gull dip into the lazy surf while a few others stroll nearby on the sand. Once again, the strengthening sun appears pinned in place above the southern side of the lake, peeking between a spaced stream of white clouds splintering and floating leisurely overhead. The dune ridge trees have filled with foliage; their green leaves add accent to this landscape. With the approaching holiday weekend, the summer vacation season unofficially will begin, and such empty stretches of this popular lakefront soon will be rare.
∼ May 24, 2017 ∼ “Trail Four Stairs to Mt. Tom”
On a blustery day when a shroud of clouds covered Lake Michigan, I chose to travel three routes just inland from the windblown beach, particularly since I prefer photographing interior woods during overcast conditions, as I have noted in the past (see my May 18 post). Trails Four, Seven, and Eight wind behind some of the highest ridges at the Indiana Dunes State Park, and they connect travelers to the three peaks I’ve previously mentioned in an entry on the Three-Dune Challenge (view my May 3 commentary). Since much of their paths extends on the lee side of these hills, hikers are protected from gusts, and the terrain in this natural haven is milder now (though refreshingly cooler in mid-summer), more hospitable to various plant life, especially seasonal wildflowers. In addition, sections of the trails follow a bluff running above a recessed forest, positioning visitors eye-level to uppermost branches filling in spring with multiple flocks of colorful birds chirping in those limbs. As Trail Four tracks west from an intersection with Trail Seven, it rises toward steep stairs that lead toward the tallest spot at the park, Mt. Tom. Additionally, it allows hikers to climb where one suddenly feels fully surrounded by the lush greenery of treetops on display near the end of May.
∼ May 23, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River in Late May”
The narrow trail is slick and slippery with thick mud from last night’s thunderstorm, making for loose footing. Three times my feet nearly slide out from under me on this first walk of the season with lighter hiking shoes instead of my heavier boots. Against my better judgment, I pause to use the camera tripod as a walking stick for better balance, while I watch a fat frog easily hop past me. It flops onto a tree stump then plops into the dark water and disappears from sight. In spring, the Little Calumet River is littered with evidence of winter’s damage. Large limbs of downed trees split the river. Clumps of broken branches, some wedged at the edge of a bend, collect and redirect the current. Here and there, overhanging branches droop under the sudden weight of fresh foliage, dip into the river and stir their green leaves in the brown surface of slow-flowing water. Fallen trunks extend from both banks, half on land and half submerged, and a few twisted balls of upturned roots appear almost as objects of abstract art at the water’s border.
∼ May 22, 2017 ∼ “Ravine Creek”
When the water recedes just days after heavy rains, I follow a ravine creek through woods near Lake Michigan. The canopy of leaves is thickening on surrounding trees already, lessening illumination from sunlight slanting through the timber and striking the bottom of the gulch. The fresh growth of foliage dispenses a slightly green cast over everything. Except for an occasional thunderstorm, this seasonal stream will dry completely throughout much of summer, and the creek will become a viable trail for hikers. A couple of bugs buzz by my head as I step in a muddy mix of sand, soil, and pebbles along the diminished stream of water, but this early in spring the insects do not present much of a problem. My walk slowed by the gritty slop adhering to my feet, I find the shallow slope of a bank and climb to a higher path, narrow and winding between the trees. As I duck under obstacles of lower branches and cross fallen limbs, I remember when I was here on a harsh winter afternoon, and the bare trees offered little interference, though snow and ice presented slippery footing. Nevertheless, even as the going gets more difficult, today these lush leaves seem more inviting.
∼ May 21, 2017 ∼ “Pond in May”
After the last rains of another spring storm, westerly winds sweep clouds along wavering treetops like the crawl of nature’s language across a scenic screen. Green foliage, the favorite freight of May, begins to fill limbs already alive with increasing birdsong. I wait a while on a trail passing toward the north to listen for the lyrical calls as I think about how each day adds distance from winter’s silence. A few trees remain leafless, standing somewhat steady in the wind and conspicuous in their emptiness, as though posing for one final photograph. The sky’s reflection deepens on the dark surface of this pond, and its edges have blackened with mud. A collection of autumn’s leaves yet shows underneath the shallow water as if to signal a resistance against transformation. I note the weather has warmed to seventy-three degrees—exactly the region’s average high temperature for today now on display in late May. I return here in each season to witness the transition of this landscape, part of my project to chronicle the way change occurs bit by bit in this place.
∼ May 20, 2017 ∼ “Lake Reflections in May”
In his influential book of photographs, Intimate Landscapes, Eliot Porter includes a preface explaining the images he presents. Porter comments in this 1979 publication: “Though it is generally accepted that abstract art refers to those works inspired by the imagination of the artist rather than by objective reality, in photography, in which images are produced by the lens, this distinction is difficult to sustain. In the broadest sense of the term, an optical image is an abstraction from the natural world—a selected fragment of what stands before the camera.” Consequently, when photographers offer a detailed examination at a section of the scenery, they are creating a vision dependent upon shape, color, light, and pattern much like an abstract artist. With this in mind, I sometimes turn away from the grand panoramic setting before me and focus on a more concentrated or intimate portion of nature. For another recent example of an “intimate landscape,” I recommend revisiting my “Marsh Green” journal entry of May 12.
∼ May 19, 2017 ∼ “Dune Woods Awakening in May”
Fringes of color start to cover the landscape, awakening the woods to spring with early evidence of a seasonal transition. Most of the trees have begun to blossom, though a few downed by high winds in a storm during a dismal winter day remain bare and broken. This trail slopes as it extends and flares out to the south, eventually moving through a grove of old oaks toward a narrow creek surrounded by clusters of budding wildflowers trying to brighten the scenery. Today’s hazy light eliminates those knots of shadow that might otherwise gather beneath the trees, dark pockets seemingly staining the ground or perhaps pooling like a spilled bottle of black ink expanding under the fresh foliage. Instead, greening grass now frames a sandy lane. Henry David Thoreau wrote of such grass in his “Spring” section of Walden: “The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire…not yellow but green is the color of its flame.” I will follow this path as it twists into the distance.
∼ May 18, 2017 ∼ “Wide Trail Through Woods”
The green of spring leaves deepens on a day without bright sunlight slashing between the trees. Under thin cloud cover, the rough bark of trunks and overhanging branches darkens enough to let the texture show in a photograph with slowed shutter speed. The flat path seems easy to travel. In fact, this wide section might have been used at one time by horse-drawn carts carrying crops for a nineteenth-century farmhouse adjacent to these woods. But the way ahead beyond a bend lies unknown, perhaps like an unread page presenting surprise near the end of a novel. Birds hiding behind the fresh foliage on shadowless limbs offer sweet songs somewhere overhead. I imagine their feathers ruffled by a light breeze, fragile wings fluttering slightly, moving unseen among the new season’s growth. Their soundtrack accompanies me as I hike toward a swamp forest not too far ahead, where the sunshine cannot reach even under clear skies, and on this overcast afternoon, I know in its dim interior I will need to open the camera aperture as much as I can.
∼ May 17, 2017 ∼ “Trail Three in May”
Trail Three in the Indiana Dunes State Park starts at one of the tall dunes above Lake Michigan and moves inland through thickening woods as the path transitions from sandy hills to a forest ridge. One section of the trail branches toward the west and loops back around in the direction of the lake while edging the park boundary. Although closest to the most popular beach in the Indiana Dunes, this route seems to receive fewer visitors than others. In fact, on this day I followed the full circle of its course without encountering any fellow travelers. Light green leaves beginning to fill the trees presented contrast and definition for a bright blue field of sky, forming an inviting picture with a mixture of features. The elevated path allowed a bit of cooling from a sweeping breeze that also seemed to lift a couple of hawks gliding through the air, the pair continually crisscrossing high overhead.
∼ May 16, 2017 ∼ “Shoreline in Mid-May”
By the end of this month, Waverly Beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park will be crowded with hundreds or thousands of swimmers and sunbathers. However, now I am still able to capture an image of the shoreline with this public beach seemingly empty and serene. The dune trees overlooking Lake Michigan and those tufts of marram grass clustered throughout the sand have begun to green. Increasingly, spring’s warmer air currents, though weakened by the dune hills just inland from the coast, have displaced the stronger northern cold fronts. Due to an absence of lake winds, the water appears smooth and soothing. The clean line of the horizon finds itself propping up a sky slightly clouded but with a rich blue showing through. I will walk toward the foredunes farther east, where a few trails head into the forests and rise high until reaching the tallest peaks—Mt. Jackson, Mt. Holden, and Mt. Tom—which also will soon be busy with visitors attempting the “Three-Dune Challenge” (see my May 3 entry) and seeking to view the shoreline from a more prominent perspective.
∼ May 15, 2017 ∼ “Winding Trail Through Woods”
Following a winding trail through woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I was amazed to witness the quick transition that has happened since my last visit. Just three weeks ago these trees were bare and the seasonal creek at the bottom of the ravine seemed almost overflowing, filled with water from heavy April thunderstorms. The landscape presented itself as dark and foreboding. Since then, the rains have provided enough moisture to nourish lush green leaves, and this swift transformation has produced an environment rich with new growth. Indeed, images of the scenery appear to nicely define the rejuvenation and optimism associated with spring, and the setting seems suddenly welcoming. As Thoreau wrote in the “Spring” section of Walden: “The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last.”
∼ May 14, 2017 ∼ “Beaver Evidence”
Whenever I hike through the wetlands of the Indiana Dunes, I seek out signs of life left by those inhabitants I rarely encounter, animals almost always out of sight, some nocturnal, who manage to influence or alter the landscape, sometimes leaving their distinctive marks upon its elements. Occasionally, I will come upon a woodpecker tapping his code into the trunk of a tree, and even more frequently I will witness the holes drilled through bark and clustered close together. However, the beaver seems always to elude my viewing. I have yet to arrive at a pond, stream, or marsh while one is at work chewing into a tree trunk; nevertheless, I often come across evidence of extensive damage remaining from activities by these animals. Indeed, trees completely felled by a beaver gnawing at the wood are common to encounter.
∼ May 13, 2017 ∼ “Three’s Company”
As I regularly hike routes through woods a bit inland from Lake Michigan, a number of locations have become familiar and offer distinctive characteristics. One trail I walk often in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore passes an isolated pond in which I frequently see geese and turtles sharing space on the branch of a fallen tree that emerges just above the surface of the water. At times, I have viewed as many as three geese and four turtles basking side-by-side in warming sunlight. Because the spot is situated at the northern edge of the pond, on clear days in May when the sun still rests low in the southern sky, this limb receives complete sunshine while other areas are obstructed by skirts of shade extending from surrounding trees. Therefore, whenever I reach this position along my way, I also pause to watch the gathering.
∼ May 12, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Green”
Last weekend as I was participating in a birding festival at the Indiana Dunes, I reaffirmed some of my respect for those I know as wildlife photographers, especially the ones who focus solely upon bird portraits. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I admire the abilities and patience displayed by skilled bird photographers. As an individual who exhibits impatience at times—whether standing in line at a department store or waiting in my car for a slow freight train passing at a railroad crossing—I find myself tested whenever I seek to capture images of birds while hiking. Much of the effort involves halting to listen for birdcalls or watching overhead with anticipation and a stiffening neck. Hearing chirps and birdsong among the trees can be encouraging but also frustrating, particularly when the foliage has filled enough to provide perfect camouflage. Indeed, I frequently think that the little creatures are taunting me. Nevertheless, if I discover a lull, I sometimes turn my long lens to snap an intimate painterly picture of the surrounding landscape, such as the first layer of green beginning to cover the brown marsh water in early May, and occasionally the results are rewarding.
∼ May 11, 2017 ∼ “Trail Two Toward Footbridge”
Trail Two at the Indiana Dunes State Park can be an easy hike of three miles along level ground after the once-swollen creek has receded in the weeks following April’s rainstorms. During summer the route becomes more overgrown and might be somewhat uncomfortable as it is inundated with insects, and in many winters the path is often blocked in spots by deep snow. In this second week of May, however, the passage is at its best, beginning to display brightly colored wildflowers and surrounded by trees greening in spring sunshine. The creek water yet remains clear, allowing its glowing golden bed of sand to show. When walking west and one arrives at a bend toward the north, a basic wooden footbridge greets the hiker. The scenery seems understated, but the simplicity appeals to one’s eye as aesthetically pleasing—even the graying weathered tree that has fallen across the creek, almost as if an imitation by nature of the bridge extending a bit farther ahead.
∼ May 10, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River Trail”
I travel this trail often, in all months, always pausing at a bend in the river. During the early days of May as the weather warms and the trees—elm, oak, and hickory—become green, the landscape seems to change in ways that alter one’s attitude. Leaves tremble in a light breeze, shimmer in slanting spring sunshine. Patches of violet wildflowers line a riverside path like dabs of brush strokes on a canvas. Shadows of overhead limbs dapple a wooden footbridge and darken parts of slow-flowing water seemingly going nowhere. A gentle gossip of swamp sparrows murmurs somewhere in the air above. All afternoon, skies fill with brilliant blue in the distance. With the saturation of details seen in this season deepening, the whole setting appears unrecognizable from only three weeks ago. The subdued scenery suddenly vibrant and flushed with color, as though refreshed through the quick flick of a switch, I also feel revitalized.
∼ May 9, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Cowles Bog Beach”
In the middle of last month, I wrote a few posts about the chemical wastewater spill into a waterway feeding Lake Michigan. Those journal notes can be read in entries dated April 13, April 15, and April 17. I spoke in those reports about how the “uneasy relationship between preservation of nature and spread of industrialization stands as a unique characteristic in the history of the Indiana Dunes.” I also observed that one of the locations I had visited just before the accident was among those closed to the public until testing of the waters could be completed. Fortunately, subsequent samplings revealed the toxins had not infiltrated the lake to a significant level deemed dangerous, and the restricted sections of the coast were re-opened within a week, including an isolated beach reached by hiking the lengthy Cowles Bog Trail and inaccessible by automobile. This portion of the shore contains wide foredunes and often appears untainted by human presence. I am pleased to see this feature of the lakefront available again before the warmer weather of spring and summer settles over the region.
∼ May 8, 2017 ∼ “Ring-Billed Gulls Along the Shore”
The most prevalent bird viewed when walking the Indiana Dunes, the Ring-Billed Gull, constantly contributes to the scenery along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. A National Audubon Society pocket guide I frequently carry with me to identify other less-common species describes the animal as about twenty inches in length when reaching adulthood: “The adult has a white head and underparts with a gray back and black-tipped gray wings. The legs are yellowish, and the yellow bill has a black ring near its tip.” As I hike the beach foredunes, even in winter, these birds frequently seem to follow at the water’s edge—sometimes soaring in the steady flow of air current coming off the lake and at other times floating in the low waves of the surf as they approach the shore. Today, on this early May afternoon, I watch as a few arch through the light blue of a spring sky overhead, arrowing toward a distant dune mound, feathers bleached even whiter when brightened by strong sunshine.
∼ May 7, 2017 ∼ “The Voice of Nature”
I am on a mailing list to receive location notifications from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources when the first bird of each migrating species is sighted returning to the Indiana Dunes region. In the past few days, probably partially due to the many participants in the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, this has been an active source, citing reports of various findings, including a Golden-Winged Warbler, a Worm-Eating Warbler, a Little Blue Heron, a Least Bittern, a Nighthawk, a Willet, a Trumpeter Swan, an American Avocet, a Laughing Gull, a Clay-Colored Sparrow, a Snowy Egret, and others. In this first week of May, the skies are busy again with avian visitors and the greening trees are filled once more with their music. As Henry David Thoreau stated in his journal note of March 18, 1858: “Each new year is a surprise to us. We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird, and when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream, reminding us of a previous state of existence. How happens it that the associations it awakens are always pleasing, never saddening, reminiscences of our sanest hours. The voice of nature is always encouraging.”
∼ May 6, 2017 ∼ “Owl in Side Light”
As the popular Indiana Dunes Birding Festival continues this weekend, I find myself fascinated by an animal normally associated with night rather than daytime—the owl, a nocturnal creature usually accustomed to the dark and difficult to capture in a photograph. Nevertheless, this bird presents dramatic features—prominent eyes, hooked beak, and flat face—enhancing each image in which it appears, and these characteristics especially are appealing to photographers. Because of the accommodating environment, throughout the Indiana Dunes owls are fairly abundant in certain seasons. In fact, the Nature Center in the state park often offers a public program, begun in 2009, during which members of a particular species of owls are banded by a ranger and released. Those of us signed onto the mailing list receive urgent e-mails at various times of night in autumn months informing that a smaller, migratory Saw-whet Owl has been caught to be registered, banded, and released back to its habitat within an hour. The program monitors migration patterns and owl populations. Anyone who receives the e-mail and can quickly drive to the location is welcomed to witness the process.
∼ May 5, 2017 ∼ “Birding Festival”
During this first weekend in May many will travel to the Indiana Dunes for an annual birding festival that celebrates the region as a prime location for viewing various types of birds, native or migratory. Indeed, more than 350 species of birds can be found along the southern coast of Lake Michigan within the course of a year. Although the start of spring has been cool and rainy, more migrants are arriving all the time. Due to the different habitats available in the Indiana Dunes—marshland, swamp forests, woodland, dune hills, bogs, fens, prairie, rivers, sandy beach, and lake shore—a multitude of local settings serve perfectly for hosting the variety of winged visitors. In my experiences, I have found taking pictures of any wildlife can be difficult, but capturing images of birds may be among the most frustrating of all forms of photography I have tried. I hold much admiration for those I know who excel at the task, an endeavor requiring great patience and exemplary ability. Rarely do I attempt this genre. Nevertheless, although as a landscape photographer I usually carry a wide-angle lens on my camera, I occasionally find myself drawing out the longer lens for an avian close-up.
∼ May 4, 2017 ∼ “Trail in Early May”
Lured to the shore by bright daylight after a morning with slackening winds and cloud cover, I hike a sandy trail that whitens under the sunshine, loops through dunes, and disappears into the quiet and darker woods. Much of the way in this inland forest now appears brown, muddied following flooding from a week of rainy days. One portion of the path traces along edges of a swollen creek and seems isolated from those busy beaches just beyond a high hill. Some summer bugs already have begun their return and hover over my head as I bend beneath ribs of branches still bare in the beginning of May. Screeching birds in upper limbs of a nearby tree splinter the silence as I pass by them. By the time I complete this route, I will have arrived once more at the shore. I will return home later in the day, when sunlight sloughs away and a twilight sky extends across the length of Lake Michigan.
∼ May 3, 2017 ∼ “Three-Dune Challenge”
A favorite feature for touring trails in the Indiana Dunes during recent years, the Three-Dune Challenge involves climbing the tallest hills in the state park: Mt. Jackson (176 ft.), Mt. Holden (184 ft.), and Mt. Tom (192 ft.). Some more athletic participants even run the route. Indeed, the event has its own web page. The distance to travel does not seem difficult, since it extends only about one-and-a-half miles in total length. However, the heights and terrain can be more of a test for many visitors. The trio of peaks are stitched to one another by sandy paths twisting through a dune forest. Sometimes the trails rise at sharp angles steep enough to keep one’s feet sliding backwards with every step. This course appears to become most popular in spring when weather warms but has not yet become as overbearing as summer heat. The task is a bit more demanding in winter when heavy snow and slick ice cover the landscape. Throughout my many travels through the dunes in all seasons, I have accomplished the challenge in a single trip a few times, and I have reached the peak of each hill separately on numerous occasions. However, unlike others who relish the reward at the top of each hill, the trails themselves supply my most enjoyable element. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “…find the journey’s end in every step of the road….”
∼ May 2, 2017 ∼ “Upturned Tree Blocking Ridge Trail”
For months, much of the winter wind tugged at this vast expanse of sand, shaping and re-shaping the foredunes bordering Lake Michigan. Squinting into springtime sunshine, I now see some of the subtle changes made to the the landscape. In a few places the lake has claimed more of the shore, and the width of the beach has narrowed, whole sections have been eroded by air currents and the steady beat of the surf. In other locations, shallow dune slopes have encroached upon the fragile forest edging this coast and rooted in loose soil. More dramatic signs of transition are apparent. Branches broken by gusts litter ridge trails, and upturned trunks sometimes create obstacles for passing, especially when I’m carrying a tripod and camera gear. However, when following such a slim path high in the hills, I have no choice but to climb over the obstruction.
∼ May 1, 2017 ∼ “Tree Cemetery”
April has faded away and May has finally arrived. After days of rain, a bunch of local waterways have overrun with floodwaters. I hike through dunes drying under a midday sun. Following a skinny path winding among rough ridges above a gentle ripple of waves, I find another small tree cemetery spread on a slope tilting toward the lake. Due to northern winds and the continual movement of the dunes, blowouts often occur on the Indiana shore, intersecting wooded hills lining the coast. Sand surrounds the vulnerable trees and their roots. Consequently, these trees slowly die and decay, usually leaving weathered stumps of trunks jutting just above the surface, rising like graveyard markers. The three largest blowouts are Big Blowout, Furnessville Blowout, and Beach House Blowout (which I discussed in the April 24 entry to this journal and can be seen in a larger photograph at the April photographs page).
∼ April 30, 2017 ∼ “Late April Above Lake Michigan”
All morning a warm front seemed to be embracing Lake Michigan. The sharp scent of still water drifted onshore. Wrinkles of sand at the edge of the surf-stained shore were sprinkled with small shells and pebbles, many black and rounded like rosary beads. Nearing noon, the flare of light from a rising sun, now positioned high above the horizon, appears as if pinned in place. At the end of April these dune ridge trees have begun to display their first buds. I walk a trail leading from the beach to Mt. Tom often, and I frequently pause at this ledge to view the water below. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Governor of Indiana maintained a summer home only about two-hundred feet east of here, a space that has become overgrown with trees. Like numerous other structures within the Indiana Dunes State Park property, that building was demolished more than fifty years ago to reclaim the natural landscape. All that remains today, hidden amid the woods, is a short stack of bricks that once supported steps to a porch overlooking the lake. However, whenever I snap a photograph in this setting, I always imagine the scenery as seen from that cottage’s front door so long ago.
∼ April 29, 2017 ∼ “A Sacred Place”
The week’s heavy storms have filled local wetlands once again with fresh rainfall, and this scenery always seems to draw my attention even more, particularly the painterly effect of bare trees reflected in the smooth coffee-colored water. My wife—as do others—wonders why I like hiking through swamps, bogs, and marshes so much. I’ve offered personal responses to this question somewhat in various previous entries, and expressed my reverence for those locations, but today I want to reference a couple of Henry David Thoreau’s thoughts about such environments, which he considered richer and more interesting than those domestic landscapes commonly regarded by society as beautiful settings: “I derive more of my subsistence from the swamps which surround my native town than from the cultivated gardens in the village.” Elsewhere, he remarks: “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, and, to the citizen, most dismal swamp. I enter a swamp as a sacred place—sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow of Nature.”
∼ April 28, 2017 ∼ “Prairie Club Path”
Following a spell of strong storms, the white flags of yesterday’s clouds surrendered their presence. A strengthening spring sun hung among upper limbs along a dune ridge. The sand—tan and golden—extended east on a sun-streaked beach. A few gulls spun in wide circles above the water, floating in an easy breeze over a steady yet slowed rhythm of waves. I photographed scenes on a narrow trail winding along the edge of a dune hill near where the Prairie Club beach house once stood almost a century ago, a location so significant to me. Later in the day, a young couple from Nevada asked if I could take a picture with their iPhone of them standing in front of Lake Michigan at that spot. I composed a photo in the frame of the screen that seemed to place them between a field of deep blue sky and freshly green leaves of grass sprouting on a foredune. We spoke about the twisted limbs of trees seen along the trail, some even with trunks broken by winter’s winds. They asked about the rusted water tower they’d passed, and I explained its history as well as the activities of Prairie Club members who preserved this land. When they left, I walked a favorite path down a slope toward the extended ribbon of shore line. The wind had stilled, and the lake lay untroubled.
∼ April 27, 2017 ∼ “Morning Light”
Sometimes when the day awakens with a lengthening line of light along the lake at sunrise, and warm colors cover the shore, each detail beside the beach seems painted into place. Dunes, smoothed by onshore winds throughout the night, appear shaped with brush strokes. Tall leaves of yellow grass bend whenever shifted by soft breezes drifting inland. Daylight’s tints dip into the collar of trees fitted onto ridges of sand hills. Pale hulls of old sailboats brighten once more, now slick with a sheen of sunshine. Even sticks of driftwood resting at the edge of the surf exhibit a greater degree of texture under suddenly rich hues of blue sky. Ring-billed gulls flutter their wings as they play in the breaking waves, while one splinters from the group and rises like a white kite in the air current. A faint series of footsteps stretches across the wet sand like a signature written at the bottom of a finished artwork.
∼ April 26, 2017 ∼ “Trail Nine in Late April”
Returning from the Beach House Blowout, Trail Nine curls away from Lake Michigan through a trough between dune hills where the woods are still leafless in late April. Soon this forest will fill with foliage, and its character will change completely. The route moves from sandy beach scenery to the wetlands setting of a large marsh at the center of the Indiana Dunes. State Park maps mark the trail as just short of four miles long, presenting a passage that “provides the best representative view of the dunes.” About halfway along the path, I pass a grove of trees with twisting trunks that appear almost artistic in design and aesthetically pleasing. Their extended network of branches stretches overhead as I walk by, and I stop to watch two hawks glide above, the pair veering to perch in the empty treetop of a black oak. These graceful birds take turns floating fairly low and slow in whatever air current they find, at times rising into the bright daylight, their angled bodies becoming silhouetted by the sun. On this warm spring morning, with its relative calm following swift nighttime winds, a new but weaker weather system has begun to take a temporary hold on the region.
∼ April 25, 2017 ∼ “Pine Tree Trail”
Although most of the trees remain leafless along this portion of the trail, the marsh displays an early accumulation of lily pads, some already the size of dinner plates, many heart-shaped. Illuminated by late-morning light, their green leaves appear bright in contrast with the mirror of black water, almost the color of coal, where they float. In spring the surface of this flooded pool rises to the level of the wooden walkway I cross, and a few of the loose planks feel wobbly beneath my boots. In the distance, bare branches reach toward weak clouds slowly shifting toward the east. The top of the tallest tree still sways gently in an onshore breeze moving over the nearby dunes, yet the weather has warmed as the end of April approaches. I carry my load of camera gear over a shoulder as I travel Trail Eight. Researching old maps from a century ago and just before these routes received numbers, I discover this path was once named Pine Tree Trail—after this brief traverse of swamp water, it soon leads through a long stretch of thick interdunal woods, including lots of pines when one nears the beach. Maybe I’m old fashioned or merely because I am a writer fond of language, but I prefer descriptive names to ordinal numbers.
∼ April 24, 2017 ∼ “Beach House Blowout”
Among the most notable landscape features at the Indiana Dunes State Park, blowouts provide hikers extraordinary views of the dunes and Lake Michigan. A number of these openings in the dunes occur along the coast, including the Beach House Blowout reached by following Trail Nine up a steep sandy slope on the lee side of the dunes and across a ridge that rims a large bowl of land formed by windblown erosion. Established by long-term exposure to northern winds arriving from the lake, big blowouts like this one break through the dune hills and can expand into the first interdunal valley. Moving mounds of sand are swept over wooded areas by the onshore gusts, eventually destroying existing trees and creating forest graveyards, while also leveling the terrain, supplying accommodating conditions where grass, small plants, and young pine trees begin to grow. The famous Dunes Pageant, which took place a century ago in June of 1917 and may be credited with initially promoting the Indiana Dunes to a wider audience, was staged in a dune blowout that exhibited the semicircular shape of a natural amphitheater.
∼ April 23, 2017 ∼ “Path to Beach House Blowout Peak”
Whenever I hike routes through the dunes, I appreciate that every bend in the trail presents promise of something new, and when I ascend heights over a sharp ridge where the next stretch of scenery remains out of sight, my anticipation grows even greater. As the path rises toward a blue sky broken by white clouds, I look forward to the great lake vista on the other side. I proceed toward the peak up a steep incline, my feet sliding in the soft sand with each step. Traveling Trail Nine as it approaches the Beach House Blowout offers one of the Indiana Dunes’ most dramatic transitions. The passage elevates from a wooded valley between rolling hills until it follows a winding climb to a rim around an extensive hollow carved out of the dunes over time. This landscape in April still continues to display images of empty trees lining the way with expressively bare branches, leading to a peak that I know holds a panoramic view of an impressive setting well worth the effort.
∼ April 22, 2017 ∼ “Windswept Dune”
With each wave the surf breaks into whitewater on a stretch of beach speckled by pebbles and shells. Grains of windblown sand glisten in sunlight on this skin of shoreline smoothed by last night’s storm front. The cloudless sky and reflective lake offer complementary hues of blue. The quick winds whine onshore as they sweep through dune trees—some still bare and others beginning to show foliage. Their branches dance in the air and their shadows scrape the tan sand under strengthening sunshine. Even though temperatures have warmed a bit, I pass no one on this short walk along the coast, and this setting seems to remain free of footprints. The long blades of grass—damp and limp much of winter, sometimes weighted by ice or snow—now extend toward the bright sky and merely bend a little in these northern gusts. The scene seems as if it would be appropriate for appearance as impressionist art, perhaps in one of Monet’s beach paintings.
∼ April 21, 2017 ∼ “Pentimento”
Today, nature’s artistic hand tints Lake Michigan turquoise, and the sky seems painted a deeper shade of pastel blue. A few thin clouds appear to be spaces where pale spots of bare canvas peek through the brushstrokes, or they resemble faded remnants of an earlier image—an example of pentimento, traces from a previous painting bleeding through the layers. The tan beach sand begins to warm in late-morning sunlight. An old man wades into thigh-high water and stands with his stubble face squinting into bright sunshine, waiting for waves to fold over him as his dog, a small border collie, eagerly leaps into each whitening swell of surf. I watch a while and then walk away from the lake into the foredunes to view the bowl of a crater caused by slow erosion from winter’s winds. Tufts of grass decorate the landscape, and dark bits of driftwood still litter the shoreline. I carry my camera tripod much the same way I did when young and resting over my shoulder a rented rod and reel for fishing along the Atlantic coast with my father, a memory from my past that, like a pentimento, also seeps into the present.
∼ April 20, 2017 ∼ “Spring Flooding in Swamp Forest”
I am amazed by the vacancy witnessed in these swamp woods flooded by seasonal storms. A raft of silence seems to float over swollen waters held still on this windless afternoon. A sense of lethargy inhabits the landscape, though its spirit appears complacent as spring nibbles at winter’s leftovers. I observe an absence of movement in this almost abstract image offering solace with a soothing scene oddly calm yet cluttered. I packed an extra lens jammed into my camera bag to capture this setting with a more compact depth of field. Although most of the year a splinter of waterway winds through this trough between little hills, a sliver of river flowing slowly in its low gradient, when the waters spread during spring rain, thin pillars of trees extend from the expanded floodwaters and are mirrored in the mud-stained surface. Bare branches hacked by wintry winds now lie broken and soaked in shallow pools amid the forest, wetness darkening the bark beneath screeching geese flying overhead. I admire the beauty of nature’s artistry now found in such an unexpected location.
∼ April 19, 2017 ∼ “April Walk Along the Shore”
On a day after hard rain, sunlight flickers off the ripples of lake waves as cloud wisps linger on the horizon, though much of the sky has become a brilliant blue. A ring-billed gull bobs on the water like a tiny white buoy, while two others circle overhead. In the distance a dark barge drifts toward the west and a vague skyline of Chicago. Small black shells freckle the edge of the beach, and the few lean trees on a dune hill still exhibit their emptiness. All morning a warm front has been moving over the region, bringing milder weather more normal for spring. Last night’s mighty gusts have died a bit, eased into an onshore breeze waving blades of marram grass now almost golden in noonday sunshine. The slow erosion brought all winter by northern winds has reshaped this lakeside landscape. I follow a sandy path through the smoothed foredunes, leaving a trail of boot prints that mark my way.
∼ April 18, 2017 ∼ “Signs of Spring”
Hints of spring settle into the landscape—green weeds emerging from marsh water, the first flowers slowly opening beneath trees just beginning to bud, migrating birds speckling a blue sky, and sunlight sparkling on the smooth surface of an interdunal pond. Thoreau wrote of this season in his wonderful “Spring” chapter of Walden: “…it was pleasant to compare the first tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the winter—life-everlasting, goldenrods, pinweeds, and graceful wild grasses, more obvious and interesting frequently than in summer even, as if their beauty was not ripe till then; even cotton-grass, cat-tails, mulleins, johnswort, hard-hack, meadow-sweet, and other strong-stemmed plants, those unexhausted granaries which entertain the earliest birds—decent weeds, at least, which widowed Nature wears.” Even as the signals of spring’s arrival abound, anticipation allows me to look forward to its full unveiling in the manner a magician might remove a scarf and display a surprise revelation to an amazed audience.
∼ April 17, 2017 ∼ “Death and Life of the Great Lakes”
In his recently released book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dan Egan describes the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as “a 15-mile ribbon of glorious Lake Michigan swimming beach that draws two million visitors annually.” However, walking along the curving shoreline one is always aware of its vulnerability to potential invasive contamination of toxins from production centers for steel or other industries. Indeed, Egan laments the proximity of possible pollution sources in “Gary, Indiana’s industrially ravaged lakefront.” Nevertheless, part of my affection for this landscape arises from concern for its continuation as an attractive environment, as well as an admiration for nature’s ability to survive and thrive despite the onslaught of damaging developments during the past century or more, some that seemingly could have been lethal to its physical state. As portions of the shore were placed off limits this week due to a chemical leak from the nearby U.S. Steel mill into a waterway that leads to the lake, I was reminded of the tenuous relationship between nature and industry in this region. Fortunately, preliminary tests indicate this spill may not have penetrated the waters of Lake Michigan to any significant level, and everyone is patiently awaiting further results. Citizen watchdog group Save the Dunes reports various agencies are conducting oversight of the situation: the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and others. With spring weather warming and summer swimming season not far away—and though other threats to the lake water exist, as Egan displays in his book—such positive initial signs are reasons to be cautiously hopeful in this instance for the environment’s continuing survival.
∼ April 16, 2017 ∼ “Dune Trees at Easter Weekend”
The origins of Easter are related to religion, to nature, and to derivations in language. The obvious theological connection can be summarized as a remembrance of Christ’s resurrection days following His crucifixion. An empty wooden cross between two others has often served as symbol of His death, and bright sunshine frequently appears to represent the light of God emerging from the tomb. However, Easter also has origins in natural mythology. The name perhaps derives linguistically from an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre (as well as the Germanic Ostara or Austro), who could be viewed as the deity of sunrise and an embodiment of the beginning of the season at the Vernal Equinox. Illumination from the appearance of God or from the rising sun also suggests another connotation of “illumination”—enlightenment of the spirit and the mind, a sense of higher understanding suddenly attained. Culturally, Easter is depicted as a time of rebirth and renewal, much like that of the landscape around us, where flowers are starting to bloom, grass has become green again, and the trees begin filling with foliage. This season is sometimes offered as an ideal period for hope and optimism, for fresh relationships and initiations of love, for redemption from past lapses and for faith in the future, for feeling joy and rejoicing in the very emotions Easter evokes. On this day, I pause to celebrate with praise!
∼ April 15, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog Beach Before Chemical Spill”
The beach seen in my accompanying photograph taken at the beginning of this week has now been shut down due to conditions that include the possible presence of cancer-causing toxins. As I reported in a previous post, earlier this week a potentially disastrous leak of carcinogenic chemical wastewater contaminated waters feeding Lake Michigan and led to closures along parts of the Indiana Dunes coastline. Coincidentally, I had visited the section of the shoreline impacted by the spill from a U.S. Steel production facility only one day before the event happened. I had hiked the nearly six-mile round trip on the Cowles Bog Trail through parts of a marsh designated a National Natural Landmark in 1965 and over steep dune hills to reach an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore beach at the end of the path. This stretch of sand is singular in that it is somewhat isolated, inaccessible by automobile. One must walk a distance through a succession of stages in nature’s growth to arrive at the location. Therefore, the expansive foredunes are clean and the surf breaks upon a shoreline untainted by many beachgoers. Nevertheless, one remains aware of industrialization nearby because clouds from a smokestack are always visible above the dune ridge tree line, even on this naturally overcast day. Indeed, the proximity of the steel mill serves as symbol for the sometimes unsettling potential for danger to the environment looming over this natural landscape that continues to be resilient despite its tenuous existence.
∼ April 14, 2017 ∼ “Good Friday”
I frequently express affection for the Indiana Dunes. Certainly, many of my journal entries have exhibited an attraction to the magnificence of the landscape. However, I must confide a great personal and emotional attachment to this location, since Pam and I spent our first date with a walk along dunes overlooking Lake Michigan on Good Friday years ago. Hiking high above the beach on a clear and warm afternoon, we could look across the water into the distance to see an outline of the Chicago skyline. Actually, that earliest trip to the shore by Pam and me took place on April 20; however, I have always remembered the day simply as being Good Friday, and over time I have emphasized that “good” is an understatement. Easter weekend happened quite late on the calendar that year, and the weather was fairly mild throughout the spring. Unlike this season, flowers already were blooming and trees along the ridges displayed almost full foliage. Nevertheless, the lakefront is inviting any day, but especially when flooded with bright sunlight. A number of sandy trails stretch across the dunes, routes sometimes camouflaged within the woods and underbrush. I am so pleased Pam and I followed one of those paths, stood together to enjoy the scenery, and shared our first kiss those many years ago.
∼ April 13, 2017 ∼ “Chemical Spill in Lake Michigan”
An uneasy relationship between preservation of nature and spread of industrialization stands as a unique characteristic in the history of the Indiana Dunes. By the time the movement to “Save the Dunes” gained momentum in the early twentieth century, sections of Indiana’s shoreline along Lake Michigan had already been damaged irreparably by corporate alterations to the landscape, particularly by factories and plants in the northwest corner of the coast. Dunes were demolished, land was leveled, sand was shipped away, rivers were redirected, and smokestacks’ plumes polluted the sky. Indeed, such extensive commercial contamination of the region served as impetus for ecological concerns and inspired the urgency for conservation. Eventually, due to the dedication of local groups and prominent individuals who passionately believed in protecting the beauty of the environment, compromise and cooperation led to the existence of the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore side-by-side with large businesses and active steel mills. Unfortunately, that coexistence sometimes still results in friction, confrontation, or accidental contamination. Tuesday morning carcinogenic chemical wastewater spilled from U.S Steel into the Burns Waterway—one of the ditches built to redirect the Little Calumet River into Lake Michigan—tainted the waters pictured in my accompanying photograph and caused closure of nearby beaches. Unfortunately, this area of Lake Michigan also serves as a source of drinking water for bordering counties.
∼ April 12, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog in Early April”
I shift the weight of my tripod from one shoulder to another as I hike through interdunal wetlands on a warm morning in early April. Once again, a spring setting is reinventing itself, displaying signs of seasonal change. A red-winged blackbird perches in a dead tree, balancing itself in the strong southern wind on a slim limb now weathered as white as ash, and it offers a high-pitched whistle, perhaps warning of my intrusion. I pause a moment on this path to snap a photo of the four-foot long northern water snake slowly sliding past me, its dark skin decorated with yellow bands and blotches. Somewhere unseen a woodpecker taps his coded message against hardwood, and it echoes throughout this swampy landscape. The low croak of a frog drifts loudly through the bog, and I imagine it sounds like a foreign language I’ve not yet learned, something exotic and unintelligible to my ears. The first bright green leaves of plants, bur-reed, and sedge rise above an inky water surface amid reflections of empty trees like reminders of the colorful season about to unveil itself. Today’s hazy overcast sky acts like a photography studio softbox used to diffuse light, lessening the harsh effect of dark shadows developed under direct sunshine, and I capture images of these initial hints at spring.
∼ April 11, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog Walkway”
After days of early spring rain, every trail in the Indiana Dunes appears to contain the smell of wet grass or decaying leaves yet remaining on the ground from autumn. Even when the wind strengthens, sweeping between the silhouetted stripes of empty trees, a stale scent spreads then lingers. However, in wetlands paths such conditions seem suitable and contribute to a sense of atmosphere, as when I walked the Cowles Bog Trail one morning this week. In the beginning of April this route still carries the scars of winter: the faded coloring of shrubbery, wind-snapped limbs littering the landscape, the dismal disarray of dead weeds, and the clusters of old cattails folded over onto themselves. However, the verdure of new shoots has started to break through the surface of black water, adding an initial splash of color to the scenery and defining the direction of the wooden walkway as it winds into the distance. Nubs of green buds have also begun to decorate some branches overhanging the pathway, and a growing chorus of birdsong has returned to the region.
∼ April 10, 2017 ∼ “Beach Trees in April: Post Number 100”
[This post represents the 100th journal note in my Indiana Dunes project, and my writings for this project have now accumulated about 25,000 words. I again invite readers to browse through all the past entries. Moreover, I appreciate all who have viewed and responded to my photographs, and I welcome reactions to my daily commentary as well.] On this warm morning in the beginning of spring, I follow a beach trail along a breakwater and through the smoothed surface of rippling dunes, a path shaped and re-shaped by wind-shifted sands all winter. Today, the lake waves break along the beach, whitening in bright sunlight. An intensifying air current ruffles clusters of long leaves, marram grass sprouting from the foredunes. Leafless trees reach toward the water and lean into the incoming wind. Four gulls—momentarily motionless and in the distance looking like pale stones—settle on wet pebbles at the edge of the shore beneath a blue sky becoming marbled with thin clouds.
∼ April 9, 2017 ∼ “Flooded River”
“It is my intention to present—through the medium of photography—intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to the spectators.”—Ansel Adams Following several days of rain this normally narrow, slow-flowing river—shallow and brown with mud much of the summer—now swells well beyond the banks, its width extending into adjacent woods and choking sections of a trail that winds alongside. When the water is at this depth, shadows of trees are more easily seen reflected on the smooth surface, patterns of their thin limbs looking like a page with faded ink prints. After the recent wet weather spell finally broke and blue skies again provided backdrop for this scenery, I quickly visited to witness the changed character of this location. Certain sites like this spot inspire my imagination and, perhaps, evoke emotions in others. I find myself returning to them the way one might call on an old friend for comfort in a time of uncertainty. Therefore, though I am often conscious of the difficulty establishing intimacy in landscape photography, creating a sense of identification with the setting while avoiding sentimentality, I believe as Ansel Adams did that some images I appreciate may also stir significant responses in viewers.
∼ April 8, 2017 ∼ “Dune Path Through Marram Grass in Early April”
Sunlight whitens sand along the coast as if in defiance after last night’s strong storms that swept through the Indiana Dunes. Rain-swollen streams flood much of the forest just inland, where branches broken by blustery weather lie submerged under a widening swath of water. Except for a few wispy streaks over the horizon, skies clear across the southern edge of Lake Michigan as I head toward the shoreline and walk a narrow path alone among marram grass in the foredunes, still pocked in places with small pools deposited by the surge of wind-driven waves. The thin limbs of empty trees yet seem unsteady in a remaining onshore breeze, a murmur of surf interrupts the silence, and the beach seems speckled with bits of driftwood. The silhouette of one tiny tree twists in the distance, its image similar to a slim dancer solitary on a stage. Lingering hints of winter appear to be drifting away, and the forecast calls for significantly warmer conditions this week as spring begins to inscribe its signature on the landscape.
∼ April 7, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest After April Rainfall”
Clots of rain clouds appeared to be locked in place over northern Indiana for days in this beginning of April. Gusts of more than forty miles per hour whipped through the dunes most of Thursday morning. Already, flooded waterways flowed farther over their banks, and the depth of water filling the swamp forest grew to new levels, while also diluting some of its dark brown hue and creating a coffee-and-cream color due to the clarity of fresh rainfall. By the time the stalled weather front edged east and storm activity slackened, the stiff winds at last stilled themselves, and each of the trees seemed anchored in a reflective pool splitting images into two, doubling the details of the scenery displayed by spindly trunks and bare branches. Suddenly, the setting existed as another example of natural artwork, perhaps resembling a pen-and-ink printing on a layer of watercolor wash exhibited in an elegant gallery, the drawn lines of the thin limbs in the design highlighted by return of a brightening blue sky.
∼ April 6, 2017 ∼ “Changing Conditions”
Though only the beginning of April, already a lone sailboat slides across the surface of Lake Michigan, and I watch as a flock of gulls skids overhead in a continuing wind current. So far, spring has staggered through its first weeks, but today with arrival of slightly warmer weather the season seeks to steady itself and secure a firm foothold. Bright sunlight whitens this dry skirt of shoreline while the wet sand at the surf’s edge takes on the rust color of rustic clay brickwork. I pause to peer through my viewfinder at a few dune trees brushed by the onshore breeze. The sky had been completely clear earlier this afternoon, but altocumulus clouds now signal another change in conditions may be on the way. As I snap the shutter to capture this image, behind me some serious cyclists pedal past, moving fast on a paved pathway a bit inland from the beach, each leaning forward over the handlebars and steering toward a steep stretch of dune hillside rising just ahead.
∼ April 5, 2017 ∼ “Pond at Opening of April”
Due to today’s strange change in weather, last night’s overcast of low clouds slowly moving east has mostly faded away. The underbrush softly rustles when I step through to view a glazed pond sometimes wearing its glare like the blinding glint of sunshine on a picture window. With a startled sense of surprise, three geese rise from behind a line of trees to further disturb the silence, flailing at the air with their wings. A lone hawk floats high overhead, quietly lifting and tilting in little shifts of wind, its silhouette almost black and crossing a background of blue. A beaver has gnawed through a tree now felled and lying in the center of the water. I think a day like this deserves its own note of appreciation: how a gauze of late morning haze dissipated above the lake, an onshore breeze sweeping along the beach smoothed the dunes, golden flecks of loose sand blew through the few trees along a ridge, and how now I notice the rigid trunks of trees rise with a seeming show of indifference, bending and extending above a pond surface mirroring their presence.
∼ April 4, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest in Early Spring”
Just inland from Lake Michigan, surrounded by acres of wetlands, I hike between leafless trees of a swamp forest. A red-winged blackbird flies low overhead then moves beyond creaking treetops to my right. The stiffening wind whirs through the empty limbs, ruffles a sparse stubble of marsh weeds, and ripples bleached reed stalks appearing almost a ghostly shade of gray, their tone faded, weakened by months of wintry weather. A morning chill still lingers as onshore gusts gnaw at the sun’s futile attempt to warm these interdunal woods by peeking through slightly porous cloud cover loitering over the whole region, the thick sky tinted with a color similar to chimney smoke. The slow bellow of a bullfrog somewhere in the distance also breaks the silence. Despite the date on my calendar, the shift of seasons remains in transition. Though the great weight of winter has lifted from this landscape, much of the scenery yet exhibits its impression, an influence that will last well into spring, when those first plumes of green growth finally begin to bloom with brilliant flowers yawning open their petals under a shower of bright sunlight.
∼ April 3, 2017 ∼ “Beach After Rain, Beginning of April”
I heard the throbbing of wind-driven waves reaching a cluster of boulders as breakwater along a brilliantly illuminated beach. All but the dark shadows of driftwood suddenly seemed charged with afternoon sunshine from a sky becoming almost cloudless. The soaking rain that had lingered overnight and into late morning had at last dissipated, and its storm front moved toward the east, as the sand beneath my feet seemed to be warming a bit. A couple of nearby gulls seeking scraps of food in sand at the edge of the lake appeared to quicken their pace as I approached. In the distance a tall man ran along the shoreline, his hands holding tightly to a string ascending toward a brightly colored kite—yellow, green, and red—dragging high above and behind him. Two small children chased after the man and followed his lead, each elated and pointing overhead at the sailing kite with its rectangular frame now lifting or dipping over shallow water by the coast, floating in the slightly rising tide of an onshore breeze where only one month ago at the start of March a wide barrier collar of white shelf ice separated land from lake.
∼ April 2, 2017 ∼ “Spring Flooding”
After a week of heavy rains, many of the local waterways have been stretched beyond their flood levels. This river—shallow and muddy brown in summer, frozen during much of winter—frequently swells hundreds of yards beyond the tree line that grows from slopes usually defining its banks. The first white settler who built a trading post at this site along the river’s edge nearly two centuries ago found his structure swamped by the same seasonal spread of rainwater overflowing into this flood plain. In April, under spells of heavy rain, the surge sometimes encompasses much of the bordering groves and fields. During those years when a thick snow pack persists until March, the extent of the river’s expansion increases as well, most underbrush and the base of each tree in adjoining woods drowned after downpours from a series of storms. Even the lower branches of trees located in forests far from the normally narrow course of the river often bend and dip into new accumulations of water. Widening pools of runoff might rise higher with every cloudburst, as well as washing away portions of a parallel trail that I often walk on a direction through the dune woods. Various sections of the route submerged, I am frequently required to find a way ahead by climbing heights or opening my own path in the undergrowth.
∼ April 1, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Walkway at Start of April”
Long dawn shadows veiled much in the heart of this marsh. Later, morning’s thin haze lingered. But the sun soon rubbed against treetops and reclaimed the terrain. As I passed across a wooden footpath only inches above the stagnant wetland, the worn planks appeared weathered a little more by another winter. The trail stretched toward a distant bend like a leading line directing a viewer’s vision farther into the swamp forest, and along sections of the route, the boards seemed almost to float on the surface of the mire. I could smell the sour scent of a damp landscape, the sharp odor of stale water and dark soil covered with decaying leaves. When I paused to snap a photograph, extending my tripod legs with the creak of metal clasps and a distinct clicking sound, I heard the screeching of geese and a brief flailing of wings nearby, then a return to silence. A slight chill still signaled the delay of warmer spring weather. By afternoon, a clear blue sky would cover everything, and I knew I’d find my way between the trees to a shelter at a watershed beside a shallow creek only a few miles ahead.
∼ March 31, 2017 ∼ “Trail Beside Creek at End of March”
Winter’s silence has slowly given way to the chirping of birds perched among branches still bare in this early spring air. Beneath my feet, a snaking creek-side path speckled with dried leaves—remaining from autumn and now blackened, crackling under every step—seems to reach deep into the distance, the way becoming vague in quickly diminishing daylight. The winding waterway lies still on this windless afternoon, supplying reflected images with a slightly amber tint sketched onto its smooth surface, details as visually inventive as those liberally depicted in an impressionist painting. This easy section of the trail, a short stretch to the lakeshore, offers flat passage for comfortable walking with the shallow slopes of little hills rising on either side. Members of Native American tribes, mostly Potawatomi, once traveled the same place, moving through these woods on trips from their inland villages to Lake Michigan or when transporting furs to the first white settler’s trading post situated just a couple of miles to the west. I consider elements of this history each time I visit the forest trail.
∼ March 30, 2017 ∼ “Inspiration”
“Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.”—Frank Lloyd Wright This morning’s sunrise arrived with a flourish, unfolded a sky saturated by golden light like the bold color of Chardonnay wine, and the bluish-green lake water that had been black, overcast with a starless canopy, awakened from its stark spell of nighttime darkness. By the time I hike this beachfront stretch of trail, I find myself moving around some of those sand mounds deposited throughout the foredunes—shapes made during winters by displaced landscape, gifts lifted into place by an unseen hand. I see a sharp horizon line splits the image in front of me, and the shore’s edge is outlined by a repeated pattern, the surf’s spasms of breaking waves. Fluffy clusters of wind-driven clouds define the sky. Once again, this setting serves as inspiration. I work my way east along the coast, where the scenery is framed by a few leafless trees, the shadows of their slim limbs reaching onto the tan sand of a surf-stained beach, and a rocky breakwater of broken stones that appear like rough accents decorating the shorefront. Almost breathless from walking so far, I am reminded that breathless can also refer to emotional excitement, just as inspiration also means the act of drawing breath, the very essence of life.
∼ March 29, 2017 ∼ “View from Mt. Holden in March”
Following a tiring climb up the steep slope of a sand dune, I position my tripod on a ridge cliff overlooking Lake Michigan. Cloud cover has cleared—lifted and drifted away since an early morning drizzle dimpled the beach, dampened the sandy paths, and deposited dew on the patches of marram grass. From this vantage-point the landscape along the lake appears to extend deep into the distance before disappearing beside blue sky and blue water. The spindly limbs of leafless trees still seem to be reaching insistently, as if calling for attention, the way they have persisted all winter. I always frame an image in my camera viewfinder as an attempt to absorb the moment, capture it for a print, and at the same time imprint it in my memory to internalize the energy. I want to preserve this valued scenery I see as sacred in whatever way I am able. One might find nothing subtle about my appreciation for nature, the elation felt in retaining a snapshot of the engaging setting I witness, but much of what I do tries to prove Ansel Adams’ observation about photography: “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
∼ March 28, 2017 ∼ “Evolution of Early Spring”
All morning bright sunlight presided over the shoreline, perhaps a signal preceding the inevitability of warmer weather. Year after year, the slow evolution of early spring seems to offer so much hope, gradually gnawing away at remnants of winter imagery. Even though cold onshore breezes will continue to shoulder the coast into April or May, the tight knot of winter loosens each week. Already, returning birds are repopulating treetops in the swamp forest and wading across marsh water. A few more small boats now float along the shore on bright afternoons, hulls swaying in the steady pulse of rippling lake waves. The sandy beach begins to hold daytime heat a little longer. Sunset displays its radiant tints a bit later every day, the tilted rays of light bathing dune hills with rich shades of color shaping the shoreline, embracing the landscape until the cloak of night closes over everything.
∼ March 27, 2017 ∼ “Late Light in Late March”
The southern angle of the sun yet sends slanting light at the end of March, casting trees along the dune ridge into silhouette. By sunset they sometimes even seem almost ghostly as the rough bark of trunks and their spindly limbs blacken. The lakeside slopes face north and darken early. Winding deep through the dunes along an old trail late in the day, I feel as if night is arriving already, except for a few final flecks of sunshine still visible among treetops. So, I follow a blowout opening toward the beach, where a half-dozen teenagers have huddled around a tiny campfire for warmth, burning dried sticks of leathery driftwood in a gap between grassy mounds on the foredunes, though I think it is illegal here. The small flames appear like fiery blossoms in full bloom, and a narrow plume of smoke rises into the sky. Enticed by the fire, I slow my stride a bit and then stop to watch, notice a couple of red and gold embers flipped into the air and flickering like exotic butterflies lit by brilliant moonlight.
∼ March 26, 2017 ∼ “Ring-Billed Gulls”
Some ring-billed gulls browse along the beach while a couple test themselves by wading in strengthening swells of waves or others float overhead in a stiffening onshore breeze. (Today’s bright sunshine hints at spring weather, but a chill still accompanies this northern wind.) In the foredunes a few more forage for food, pecking at whatever they can find, occasionally crying out with a loud and shrill call. Among sand mounds and tufts of marram grass, a small boy offers bits of bread for two of the birds to nibble, tossing morsels of crust to the gulls, causing chaos as their black-and-yellow bills quickly pick at each piece. A woman watches nearby and points toward four more, frequently flapping their black-tipped wings, not much farther away. The child hurls a last slice, the loaf’s heel, toward them. In a frenzy, they clumsily hurry to reach it, challenge one another. Mother and son walk away, turning their attention to collecting colorful shells at the edge of the water. Suddenly, sunlight starts to fade as a lone large cloud passes above the coast, dragging its vague gray shade over everything like a dark theater curtain drawn at the close of an act.
∼ March 25, 2017 ∼ “Mixed Up Month of March”
Standing between two trees at the tail end to one of my favorite trails, a sandy path that courses through dune woods and forested hills to exit at a ledge on a bluff high above the beach, I view the bluish-green water beyond. Whenever I arrive at this rise beside the lake, a ridge overlooking the shoreline like a natural balcony, I always pause to examine the expanse suddenly on display before me. Overnight clouds have been displaced by a new blue sky spread overhead like a painted canopy, and I listen to the steady rhythm of the surf as it traces slim white lines of waves in the brightening sunlight. Northwest Indiana received a tease of warmer weather as a temporary wedge of southern air current edged over the state and moved into Lake Michigan, chafing away at the lingering layer of winter chill with temperatures in the mid-seventies. Yet, the forecast calls for a storm front that will bring heavy rain as the mixed up month of March remains erratic. However, in this instance, I witness change as I notice the shoreline starting to rearrange itself, and one season seems finally to be fading away while another begins to stake its claim.
∼ March 24, 2017 ∼ “Promontory in Early Spring”
Once again the landscape is shaped by the changing light of early spring. The screech of ring-billed gulls along the beach greets me. I pass through dunes still sculpted and smoothed by the rush of last season’s gusts. Leafless trees whipped by winds all winter stand as survivors. I watch as today’s waves break against a promontory of jagged rocks, a splash of whitewater rising in the sunshine and leaping over the stones as though holy water, evoking the sacred spray in a Sunday mass. I find my memory searching some church service images from childhood—remembering the blessing bestowed at benediction, the sprinkle of the aspergillum wielded as if it were a magic wand or musical baton, and my fingers dipping into the font upon exit before touching one fingertip to my forehead in beginning the sign of the cross. I also recall a sentence from Eudora Welty’s excellent essay, “Place in Fiction”: “From the dawn of man’s imagination, place has enshrined the spirit; as soon as man stopped wandering and stood still and looked about him, he found a god in that place….”
∼ March 23, 2017 ∼ “Three Weeks into March”
By the time of the high sun near noon, morning’s long shadows have been folded and put away. I hike beneath arching branches of leafless trees, the thinner limbs extending and intersecting like lacework. After last evening’s overcast skies and cold winds coming quickly from the north, a soft southern breeze now cradles the coast and begins to bring warmer weather. Each feature of the entire landscape is tipped with sunshine, though pockets of cooler air linger deep in the ravine or among darker parts of the swamp forest, where sunlight diminishes and the scene almost seems candlelit in those lower levels of dimmer dune woods. Three skeins of geese cross the nearly cloudless sky like wedges sketched onto a blue background, their honking calls audible as they pass not too far away. They appear headed toward a large marsh beyond a nearby dune and just short of the lakeshore. I cannot imagine a more ordinary image for three weeks into March, but nothing could be more comforting.
∼ March 22, 2017 ∼ “Spring Proposal”
The start of spring is often associated with other beginnings throughout nature and parallels transitions witnessed in the lives of humans. Indeed, literature frequently employs this season as metaphor for spiritual awakening or emotional warmth, especially when reflecting the emergence of new growth in personal relationships. I particularly regard this time of year as important in my life since my wife and I had our first date in spring, involving a visit to Lake Michigan to walk along the Indiana Dunes. As I hiked down from Mt. Holden toward the beach this week, I was reminded of the initiation of my own relationship with Pam when I observed a young couple huddled at the base of the trail while one wrote words in the sand with a broken twig, unaware of my presence a significant distance up the slope. Far from the pair and protecting their privacy, I did not photograph them; however, I could view through my long lens that the man had scrawled “MARRY ME?” The young woman, obviously delighted, responded positively as they kissed and hugged before continuing on their way toward the lake. I did not realize until I returned home and examined my photos that I had accidentally caught the last part of the word “marry” from the proposal etched into the dune in the lower left corner of an image I had composed a bit later when looking from the Mt. Holden trail toward the skyline of Chicago barely discernible on the horizon.
∼ March 21, 2017 ∼ “Beginning of Spring”
Drawn by the beauty and tranquility of a dune ridge, luminous at noon, I climb a rising path after moving through a stubble of undergrowth and foredunes feathered with patches of marram grass. Bright sunlight shapes the landscape in this start of spring. The slightly swaying limbs of leafless trees seem to breathe with life, bronchial branches inhaling and exhaling in a subtle breeze. This northern air current still exhibits remnants of winter, cooled a bit with its crossing of chilly lake water, and those upper slopes of sand dunes have been smoothed by the gentle hand of last night’s onshore wind; yet, today everything has changed. Each shift to a new season begins with evidence of transition from another but quickly establishes its own identity. As Thoreau observed during a journal note written on March 26 of 1846: “The change from foul weather to fair, from dark, sluggish hours to serene, elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. The change from foulness to serenity is instantaneous. Suddenly an influx of light, though it was late, filled my room. I looked out and saw that the pond was already calm and full of hope as on a summer evening, though the ice was dissolved but yesterday…. It was no longer the end of a season, but the beginning.”
∼ March 20, 2017 ∼ “Last Day of Winter”
Since yesterday was the last day of winter, I decided to hike the old Cabin Trail at Indiana Dunes. This path is unmarked and not included on state park maps because it exists as a remnant from a different era. During the first half of the twentieth century, when as many as 150 structures—cabins, shacks, and cottages—dotted the beachfront, this route riding a ridge through the dunes helped connect the residents. In fact, a section I traveled starts where the Indiana Governor’s summer house once stood and extends eastward to the site that had held painter Frank V. Dudley’s studio home. When all the private properties were consolidated into parkland, each of the buildings was demolished and materials hauled off. Knowing that the trail snakes around mounds high above the beach, I believed it would serve as an apt metaphor for the transition from winter to spring. Indeed, during my visit I could see the side facing Lake Michigan sloped to the sand and surf, bathed in bright sunshine (though temperatures lingered in the mid-forties), while toward the inland direction a deep ravine, wooded and shaded by its inclines, still displayed pockets of snow not yet melted and remaining among darkest forest recesses.
∼ March 19, 2017 ∼ “Uphill Trail”
After three days with swift westerly winds, today the landscape appears listless, and this slim trail that reaches to the beach seems framed by a sequence of leafless trees, each bathed in bright sunshine. I’ve decided to climb through the dunes on a path that loops around shifting mounds of sand toward the shore but will be too overgrown in places for passage during summer months. Midday diminishes shadows, and a runoff of sunlight flows almost like liquid soaking the whole scene. Carrying my camera and tripod over my shoulder, I tire as I ascend and approach the coast. By late afternoon, I rest on a ridge, listening to a lone motorboat grind north beyond a narrow sandbar not far offshore, as if attempting to escape this landscape, making a break with the bow now aimed at Lake Michigan’s straight horizon line, light blue above and dark blue below. I watch as the boat’s white wake threads its way through a few buoys, the craft’s swell of water creating little waves that fan from the aft and fade away.
∼ March 18, 2017 ∼ “Dune Ridge Trail”
The sun seems pinned into position today just above this small hill beside Lake Michigan with only a few thin clouds drifting toward the north to limit its bright cascade of daylight. The dunes, replenished by resettled shoreline shifting inland during last night’s swift winds, appear untroubled now, as if the result of sand slowly sifted through the narrow passage of an hour glass. I often like to climb this sloping path to the top, approaching that place in the landscape where a view of the whole coast will open like an unfolded poster photo promoting a scenic travel destination. Although only a short trail about one quarter mile long, its visitors walk through a wooded valley to approach the incline I find rising in front of me. There, a compact group of empty trees stands alone on the ridge above stubbly tufts of marram grass in March light overlooking the vast expanse of lake on the other side.
∼ March 17, 2017 ∼ “Competing Seasons”
I delay my hike a moment to take in the radiance of a late winter day, the way a slant of sunlight plays on the luminous landscape. Even when yesterday’s snowflakes fell, I sensed the end of a season lurks less than seven days away. The strengthening sunshine of spring seems to be beginning its tenure already, even the northern storms weaken and depart quickly, as last night’s dusting of snow shows. Soon, an uncertainty will settle into the scenery, evidence of two seasons competing with one another will be witnessed. As a photographer, I frequently measure the weather with my observations of light. Though I usually prefer partial overcast to inject texture into an image, in this instance I do not mind the absence of clouds. The crisp air adds clarity to my photograph of this place offering a graceful presence. The branches of a bare tree appear embraced by the blue sky behind it, and the curve of a slender creek, yet glossy with ice, brightens like white frosted glass to offer its elegance. In the weeks ahead this setting will reorganize itself, altering the vista into a distinct image of spring.
∼ March 16, 2017 ∼ “A Moment in the Middle of March”
I pause on this gray day, the entire sky consumed by cloud cover. Black branches sag under the white weight of new snow, and the rest of the scenery also seems somewhat colorless. Despite the recent spell of milder temperatures, this season lingers—as though a trickle of water still drips into the well of winter, once thought almost dry—with spring only one week away. Middle of March, yet last night’s frost has left a thin skin of translucent ice on the stream’s surface. Images like this intensify my affection for nature. With an absence of wind, stillness fills the forest. Unlike what I will find next month, there are no other visitors on the trail today. A pervasive silence saturates this setting sheltered from the commotions of society. I hear no chirping from birds perched along the path, and I witness not a bit of motion from the passing of deer nearby. In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s bestselling book, he writes of another March: “The woods were silent because spring had not yet come…. We trudged through a cold, silent world of bare trees, beneath pewter skies….” I move on, knowing the next time I return so will spring, and the whole landscape will have changed.
∼ March 15, 2017 ∼ “River After Late Winter Snow”
After almost a month of false warmth and only one week until spring, I was pleased to see winter had nudged itself over northern Indiana once again in mid-March with a day of lake-effect snow, its long string of clouds blown onshore by stiff winds. The thawed Little Calumet River continued to slowly flow, looking like a light green ribbon unrolled between its white banks and the low hills sloping above either side. New blue patches filtered through a mostly overcast sky, showing against the pale clouds like an undercoat of paint emerging into view, and the scenery suddenly brightened, each shaft of sunlight entering as if from a skylight. I followed a narrow trail beside the water, where tips of treetops yet reflected, and a couple of geese nearby trundled hesitantly toward me under overhanging limbs still sleeved with snow, then they quickly turned and walked away. This stretch of the river always seems secluded, especially in winter when it bends and loops through a section of the dune woods ahead. At a time like this, I am delighted by my surroundings, and I’m reminded why I wanted the season to remain a little longer.
∼ March 14, 2017 ∼ “A Perfect Winter Day”
By the time I arrive at these dune woods, a loose robe of snowfall has spread out and covered everything, smoothing all the irregular angles of the topography, as if an element featured in a Romantic allegory about nature’s innate ability to quickly transform the world around us. A lingering layer of dead leaves yet leftover from autumn and caught among the stubble of undergrowth—visible most of this almost snowless season—has disappeared along the trail. The storm’s insistent winds have stilled, and last night’s low temperatures already have eased a bit; the front’s frigid air has retreated toward the north. Brightening sunlight peeks through the trees to illuminate the landscape, exhibiting elongated shadows of thin trunks on the tide of white surrounding them. In a journal note written during the winter of 1854 (February 12), Henry David Thoreau described “a perfect winter day”: “you must have a clear, sparkling air with a sheen from the snow, sufficient cold, little or no wind; and the warmth must come directly from the sun. It must not be a thawing warmth. The tension of nature must not be relaxed.”
∼ March 13, 2017 ∼ “Northern Winds”
Strong northern gusts battered an abandoned beach with breaking waves—even the usually ever-present gulls were gone—and continuous gales dragged wind-chill temperatures into the teens Friday afternoon. Though still technically winter, after weeks of warmer weather this unexpectedly abrupt return to a cold sweep of Canadian air spilling onshore seemed especially traitorous. Wisps of quick clouds shifted south, but the bright sunlight already appeared to exhibit an increasing intensity. Additionally, an elevated angle of sunshine suggested spring, only a dozen days away, would soon be here. Yet, my face felt frozen—at times also wet with spray from treacherous rogue waves or blasted by sand in the blustery wind. Repeatedly, my gloved hands fumbled to wipe dry the wide-angle lens with a fiber cloth or to adjust the camera’s shutter settings, as I hoped to photograph this energetic scene normally so calm and serene. Finally, my persistence paid off, and I captured an image that to me made it all worthwhile.
∼ March 12, 2017 ∼ “Stark Forest”
A gentle breeze whispers through the trees like a murmured prayer offering words of assurance softly spoken to ease the suffering of mourners during a church service. Though my mind creates this fictional grief, I’m more moved due to the true emotions evoked by my surroundings as I walk through woods once charred dark by fire from a lightning strike. Most of the stark forest along this trail had been destroyed decades ago in a single night, stumps of trunks or broken branches burnt black and left a while to stand as if memorial monuments. Nearly half a century later, although almost all have been removed over the years, some of those remnants continue to present evidence of loss. I pause for a moment among the darkening terrain—still sparse despite recent rebirth of new growth—when the scene is stilled, held in a brief lull of wind just before dusk. It is calm and quiet here now, perhaps similar to the hush following a confidential conversation, like a lingering silence at the close of an intimate disclosure.
∼ March 11, 2017 ∼ “Driftwood Shadow”
Whenever I look at a landscape setting, I am struck by shifting shades of color and elements of luminosity provided by natural light—perhaps the manner in which sloping mounds of sand dunes absorb or reflect winter sunshine, maybe the way the whitewater of waves glistens in bright daylight. I like the elongated lines of shadow and the differing degrees of darkness that sometimes inhabit them. I admire the brilliance of marram grass gently dancing in a brisk onshore breeze under sunlight, as well as the textured brown bark peeling from bone-tinted driftwood. I appreciate the gradual changes in hue influenced by illumination, witnessed in the blues and greens of a clear sky over lake water. Claude Monet once wrote: “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life—the light and the air which vary continually.” Paul Cezanne added an observation: “Shadow is a color as light is, but less brilliant; light and shadow are only the relation of two tones.”
∼ March 10, 2017 ∼ “Midday in Early March”
Traveling through a thinning section of woods, I met my first person only moments ago, a birder passing in the opposite direction, and we spoke briefly. However, once again I sense someone else nearby. I guess perhaps a couple at the campgrounds not far past the next bend in this path, as a faint scent of wood smoke drifts between leafless trees accompanied by a distant sound of loud laughter. Despite heavy rainfall earlier, only a slow-flowing stream that last week seemed to be drying up parallels parts of the trail. Normally this is a snow-fed creek throughout winter; but in this year’s snowless season it appears so shallow with a surface so clear, those pale stones on the bottom now show. Morning’s strong storm has moved to the east; a sparse layer of stray clouds has frayed and dissipated as well. In some places along the way, freshly snapped limbs litter the route. Midday sunshine glazes the lake’s swollen waves yet breaking on the beach just beyond a dune hill, and bright daylight tries to reclaim the entire landscape, while the taller skeletal treetops overhead can’t even offer a bit of shade but still sway, seeming to strain in remaining winds, almost as if nodding in assent to this change in conditions.
∼ March 9, 2017 ∼ “Westerly Winds”
As a photographer seeking to capture a setting with precision, I frequently must weigh the presence of wind in any decision I make. Movement creates an indistinct image, especially in landscape photography that normally uses a smaller aperture (at least f8) and requires more time to allow greater light onto the camera’s sensor. In winter weather, often with weaker light or completely overcast skies, this situation is particularly evident. However, I do have a bit more leeway in freezing a scene without blur because the empty trees are not impacted as much as those full of foliage in other seasons. Strong and steady gales (such as those experienced in the region during the past few days, when westerly gusts grew to more than 50 miles per hour) also negatively influence opportunities to obtain sharp focus due to shaking of the camera, even when secured on a reliable tripod. Nevertheless, noticing the windy conditions this week, I chose to visit Lake Michigan, where motion in the form of waves generated by air currents is always welcomed, since it contributes a sense of energy to a normally placid view.
∼ March 8, 2017 ∼ “Snow Squall”
In late February I followed a flat trail through the dune forest and found a location of large leafless trees with dark bark. The bare black branches came alive with movement due to a brisk breeze sweeping inland from Lake Michigan, bringing a squall line onshore. When pale clouds filled the sky and the first flakes fell, drifting down and gently beginning to accumulate, briefly disguising the woods around me, I felt as though a glass snow globe had been flipped over. Shortly after the storm front eased toward the east, a light covering of white settled over everything, blurring sharp lines of the landscape and brightening the scenery in the little remaining daylight. Hiking toward home through slushy footing along the wet path, and with my heavy breathing still visible in the chilled air, I noticed the vivid image of a red-winged blackbird perched in a distant beech tree, too far away to capture with my wide-angle lens, the red edges of its feathers offering the only brushstrokes of color anywhere within sight.
∼ March 7, 2017 ∼ “The Nature Fix”
A book published last month, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams, explores the physical and psychological advantages to engaging with nature. A quote from the text suggests contemporary society and the technological environment of everyday living provide further evidence humans must interact with the natural world on a more regular basis. Williams observes: “We don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature, it turns out, is good for civilization.” Describing the focus of her examination, she adds: “This book explores the science behind what poets and philosophers have known for eons: place matters.” Reading this work, I found myself identifying with some of the emotional and intellectual responses to nature shared by subjects in the chapters, and I associated the author’s conclusions with my opinions on the significance of nature witnessed in the repeated reports about trips to the Indiana Dunes related in this journal.
∼ March 6, 2017 ∼ “Importance of Description”
Ring-billed gulls float in southern winds along the lakeshore and rise high in the sky above breaking waves. A few birds land on a narrow sandbar almost golden in midmorning sunshine after an earlier mist has dissipated. Following weeks of unseasonably warm weather, mild temperatures persist. Observing from a trail through the foredunes among marram grass at the start of March, I mark in my memory the dark outline of a cargo ship silhouetted on the horizon, heading west toward Chicago. When I swivel my camera on its tripod head a little, hoping to capture a panoramic view of the scenery, I notice brittle sticks of driftwood lying in the sunshine, the deep brown bark of these broken branches now lightened a bit by the drier air. Reading these words that I’ve written thus far, I realize once more the importance I place on description, how much such details matter to me, as if every bit of information in this setting acts as a mnemonic element, a way to recall forever even the most modestly felt tone of a fleeting moment and any emotion evoked at the time.
∼ March 5, 2017 ∼ “Sun After Storm”
Following a winding route from inland wetlands to the shore of Lake Michigan, my boots sometimes stick in the path’s sludge. By summer much of this thick mud will turn to trail dust. I know overnight snow flurries and frigid winds swept the region, but morning hints of change, as the sky is tinted by an artistic sunrise with warm colors woven overhead. Isolated blotches of ground fog have been washed away by sunshine reclaiming the landscape. I see three deer move through these watery woods, weaving between empty trees and dipping their heads under bottom branches. They slosh the cold marsh water, a thin layer of surface ice cracking like glass or clattering like shards of shattered plates. By the time I make my way to the peak of a dune hill on my hike toward the shore, I observe a scattering of cumulus clouds covering the lake like lengths of knotted white linen cloths, and I can hear the steady pulse of waves breaking on the sandy beach, where lines of whitewater extend like strands of pale twines strung along the coastline.
∼ March 4, 2017 ∼ “River Bend”
Sometimes it is not enough to know intimately the local characteristics of the landscape—maybe the manner in which gnarled oak, hickory, elm, and ash grow alongside the river or the way the water mirrors their limbs on a calm winter morning when summer’s green leaves are gone and the ice-smooth surface appears as clear as my camera’s glass. In this cold season when even a sighting of the sun offers little warmth, one must remember as always an observation by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Nature that “the whole of nature is a metaphor for the human mind.” Therefore, with each description I present, I am aware of the transition from denotation to connotation, the connection between content and context, and the relationship object has to objective. As a writer and a reader, I’ve witnessed the symbolism natural features frequently assume in literature, and I consciously include consideration of these interpretations in composition of my photographic images as well. In this way, a picture of a river bend can also suggest meanings of transition and change in direction, especially since such a waterway often symbolizes the course of life. Consequently, I always perceive illustration, verbal and visual, as an act also implying intellectual or emotional narrative.
∼ March 3, 2017 ∼ “Trail Beneath Bent Tree”
On this day after late-night rain, I follow a trail scrawled between leafless trees like an illegible signature. The storm front has shifted to the northeast, yet a sporadic presence of strong winds persists, hinting at further turbulence. These muddy woods I hike through provide a buffer from such gusts. Sandy sections of the path still remain dimpled in spots by last night’s raindrops. Already the weather is changing again, as sunlight weakens once more, filtered at times by increasingly overcast skies threatening with spring-like thunderstorms forecast for this evening. Indeed, the adjusting angle of sunshine and warmer temperatures witnessed lately offer indications of an imminent spring, though this mostly snowless season has not yet allowed a weariness with winter. As I approach a bend near the end of my walk, I notice a tree trunk leaning across the trail, its longest limb listing all the way over the passage ahead of me. When I step past, I feel enveloped by this tilt in an element of the landscape, which in summer will fill further with foliage and resemble a natural tunnel, a symbol of transition.
∼ March 2, 2017 ∼ “Changing Weather”
I am walking through the dunes on a weekday afternoon, and the weather changes again. A chaotic cluster of southbound clouds assembles in the distance, each like a weightless white island drifting in winter’s dress blue. Pools of shadow expand across the landscape, and patches of the lake water take on a gray shade. I climb a hillside of sand shaped all season by northern winds, the gold skirt of beach below me, and the shoreline blossoming with bright waves of whitewater. A breeze sighs through empty trees and brushes the long hairs of marram grass along this ridge. The steady surf beneath me sounds a regular rhythm, reliably keeping its beat. A couple of old motorboats loll offshore—engines extinguished, fishing lines seem to be leaning over their sides—both bobbing silently beyond a suddenly submerged sandbar. Soon, they will be returning to port for the evening, but I will wait until well after sunset, hoping to photograph the transition.
∼ March 1, 2017 ∼ “Winding Wooded Trail”
The crowns of these empty trees sway in strengthening wind gusts, trying my patience as I wait for a lull to snap a photograph and avoid blurring. Sunshine filters through the bare limbs, and their narrow shadows seem to be black brushstrokes dabbed back and forth on the path before me. In some darker parts along the trail, the shade appears more like charred marks branded into the landscape. For a while, I focus on a sole tree—shorter and with burnt-orange leaves still displayed so late in winter—looking out of place among the others. I love the way this route weaves through a crease in the scenery, each section stitched together between steep slopes with a wooden footbridge, though it’s hardly needed since the seasonal stream below has almost gone dry due to lack of snowmelt in this mostly snowless winter. I will follow the curves in this course, descending into the ravine, where I will find less influence of the wind on the images I attempt to capture with my camera.
∼ February 28, 2017 ∼ “Eternal Language of Landscape”
…wander like a breeze / By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags / Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds, / Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores / And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear / The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible / Of that eternal language…. from “Frost at Midnight” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge I listen to the wistful cadence of a soft shifting wind drifting off the lake. Sunlight slips lower, dipping toward the horizon, moving in and out of clouds dragging their shadows across sand dunes smoothed by winter’s hand, a persistent onshore current brought from the north. Tree trunks beside the beach seem to slouch, their black branches nearly bare, only a few final leaves lingering—brown, crisp, and paper thin—yet decorate the stiff limbs. I hike the old Cabin Trail (though there have been no cabins here for a half century) along an eroding slope linking a couple of the highest hills where the breeze murmurs through a cluster of ridge trees as the overcast increases. In every entry to this journal the subject of my writing stays unvaried, though each day a bit of change appears in the scenery through natural alteration, and I offer the same eternal language of the landscape.
∼ February 27, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek at End of February”
The trampled dead leaves of autumn still litter this trail through a dune forest in the end of February. I worry a sense of depth may be lost in my image, flattened by the bright midday light, any details in the photograph bleached by sunshine. At least, that is what I’m thinking as I reach the spot I’d been seeking. A split wind picks its way between the stiff trees, as if sifted in its passing, and I hear the gargle of a clear creek nearby, where a few frogs jump from the bank, one by one, as I hike past them, scuffing my feet on an uneven path. Brush-like tufts at the tops of weeds nod in the slow current, and a yellow sand bed—almost golden—can be seen beneath the shallow water. Spreading overhead, the crosshatched chaos of bare branches, some blackened in silhouette, attests this region remains lodged in winter despite the noticeable ghostly absence of snow and the skein of geese gabbling above. A faint scent of smoke drifts in the breeze, seeps into these deep woods from a campsite in the direction I am heading, not far beyond the next bend.
∼ February 26, 2017 ∼ “River at Bailly Homestead”
The first white settler in Northwest Indiana, fur trader Joseph Bailly, arrived in 1822 and established a trading post beside the Little Calumet River. This location offered excellent opportunity to transport goods along the river and main east-west Indian trails that crossed nearby, as well as providing proximity to Lake Michigan, just a short distance north and convenient for shipping goods to a commercial hub in Mackinac. This riverside site proved ideal for delivery of animal pelts by canoe, and the local Potawatomi tribe served as favorite trading partners, supplying pelts from various game, including beaver, rabbit, and deer. Bailly’s wife Marie was of Potawatomi heritage in Ottawa on her mother’s side, which must have assisted Bailly in relations with his neighbors. Bailly apparently situated an original structure alongside the river’s northern bank (seen in the accompanying photograph). However, this waterway often overflows with snowmelt in spring, and the width of the river expands quite a bit into the flood plain, as I have documented in past photographs. Consequently, Bailly subsequently constructed his main homestead on a bluff overlooking the river and above any possible floodwaters. That Bailly compound included a main living residence and five other log cabins for storage and warehousing of materials.
∼ February 25, 2017 ∼ “Winter Morning in Swamp Forest”
At first, the scenery seemed designed for a dream, smeared with mist before late morning sunlight began to seep through this swamp forest within reach of the river trail. The entire setting shared the silence of a shut room in an abandoned building. I imagined the kind of narrative that could occur in such a scene, the ominous figures a novelist might invent to fit this image. But I was the only one anywhere around, once again alone in nature, watching the gradual awakening of this vague landscape as the last cloud of fog lifted, rose like smoke floating over tamped down ashes in a dampened campfire, and dissipated, unveiling a procession of trees, thin trunks leaning one way or another with bent limbs, their brown bark absorbing the sudden gift of golden sunshine. As clarity revealed details, whorls in the ridges of weathered wood now painted with welcoming hues, I appreciated once more the odd beauty of such a place. However, despite an appearance of warmth, the cold that had collected all night still buried the saturated soil and root balls under frozen water.
∼ February 24, 2017 ∼ “Creek in Late February”
A hawk perches in nature’s attic on an upper limb of the empty tree about fifty feet in front of me. He seems to be observing my movement. Carrying my camera and tripod, I slowly trudge, moving clumsily along a trail, shuffling or stumbling over curling dried leaves and sections of deadwood near the end of February, the crisp chill of winter returned after a brief spell of warm weather. Yesterday, a cold front cleared away the gray skies, and ice again begins to contribute a fine sheen to the water’s surface. Although this season has been mostly snowless, my hope remains for at least one more northern storm that will thoroughly whiten the landscape. For now, the few thin reeds rising along the creek tremble in a gentle wind, and slim black branches bending over the water wobble or flick a bit against a cloudless background of blue decorated with the early afternoon appearance of a waning crescent moon. I pause to watch a small brown and yellow snake, no longer than a woman’s necklace, wriggle across my path; like me, he seems to be in no hurry, taking his time as he heads toward the edge of the creek where a patch of sun shows through an opening in the woods and shines like a tiny spotlight.
∼ February 23, 2017 ∼ “Wooden Walkway over Marsh Water”
Unusually mild temperatures lasted throughout the weekend, and I followed a route into the Great Marsh, at times tested by the wet conditions, my boots splashing along a path washed out by the flow of snowmelt in places. Elsewhere, the course of my travel offered obstacles to my passing, a narrow trail plastered with damp debris or blackened scraps of cracked branches. A soothing silence was broken only by the croaking of bullfrogs or the sharp honking I heard as a V of geese passed low overhead. Though I carried my camera and tripod balanced on my shoulder like a rifle, I only hunted photos, hoping to capture images of the wetlands on this odd day of warm weather in winter. A couple of garter snakes seemed curious to see me, one even slithering beside my foot as I snapped the shutter with a remote release. By the time I traversed a wooden walkway over the water and finished my hike, I observed a late-day sun hovering just above the horizon with its angled midwinter light tilting in the distance, seemingly caught in a crisscross of bare limbs. Tall leaves of marsh reeds ruffled and twisted like lengths of brown ribbon as afternoon winds that had been timid now picked up, quickly building across the nearby lake. Gusts from the north soon stiffened, signaling an approaching storm front cluttered with clouds appearing like dark smudges over the water.
∼ February 22, 2017 ∼ “River on Sunny February Day”
Hiking a narrow trail beneath bare trees beside the sunlit Little Calumet River on another windless day of record-breaking warmth in February, I admire a design of reflections in the stilled current. Settings such as this one remind me why I enjoy landscape photography. The curving bank serves as a leading line drawing the attention of viewers’ eyes through the scenery. I know I often like to stand alone below the overhanging branches at this elbow of the river where it bends toward the north, as I watch the deliberate movement of clouds—sliding high above and floating slowly below on the mirror-like surface of the water. Plus, the blue of the sky and the doubling of limbs appear enriched when seen in a clear river steadily carrying snowmelt downstream. I have frequently captured images of this location in different seasons, and each offers its own reason for appreciation; however, observing the mixture of stark winter woods lingering in this mild premature spring weather seems especially stunning to me.
∼ February 21, 2017 ∼ “Entering Great Marsh Trail”
Once again skies remain clear, and the sun hangs overhead like a bright light bulb. The softest southern winds—hardly detectable, perhaps like a slow sigh—slightly stir the air and warm this winter day. The smooth untroubled lake surface glistens like window glass wiped clean with a chamois cloth as I pass the shoreline on my way to the Great Marsh just a bit inland. I feel the faint heat of sunshine on my face. All accumulations of snow and ice have faded away. Wisps of weeds rise from the shallow water near the trail where I walk, and a few geese slosh in the distance. Though the afternoon temperature reaches a record high in the sixties, unexpected for February, I find myself alone and about to begin down this path deep into the wetlands, winding among tall reeds and thin trees, their shadows of bare limbs occasionally crossing in front of me like stark black lines reminding that this is a false spring and winter still persists. A couple of narrow clouds appear amid a blue field above stiff stick figures of branches extending toward the sky. A soothing silence has settled in this setting, even bird calls are now few and far between, as I start through a landscape sometimes difficult to travel in other seasons.
∼ February 20, 2017 ∼ “February Snow Melt”
“How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health!” Henry David Thoreau, Journals: May 6, 1851 Last week after overcast skies in mid-morning created a nearly shadowless landscape, a pond swollen by snow melt showed itself beside the trail in an opening between trees, sections of the water still frozen and snow-covered. Less than a mile into my hike, I shifted the cold metal tripod I carry over my shoulder, extended its legs and set my camera at eye height for a photograph. Even in winter, part of the pond is screened by tall weeds and remnants of undergrowth. The scene seems to evoke in me thoughts about the transition of seasons. Although stilled moments—the progress from past to present to future stalled and preserved as memory in a photo—I like to imagine all of my static images of landscape suggest a narrative continuing in the ongoing measurement of time and reflect an element in the ever-unwinding of life. Each of my pictures merely provides an opportunity for quiet contemplation amid a frequently chaotic world. For me, a photo serves a similar function as a poem, which Robert Frost nicely defined in his essay, “The Figure a Poem Makes,” to be “a momentary stay against confusion.”
∼ February 19, 2017 ∼ “Journal Entry Number Fifty”
This post represents the 50th journal note in my Indiana Dunes project, and I again invite readers to browse through all the entries. Halfway through February’s four weeks, mild winter weather continues to cover much of the Midwest. As I walk farther along the wetland trail than I might if blocked by this season’s normal snowfall, the damp scent of a thawed swamp forest wakens my senses. I pause to listen to stillness broken only by a high-pitched squawk of a bird heard somewhere in the distance then quickly answered by another. Green and yellow tones of marsh water blend like wet paints mixed with swirling brushstrokes alternating on a canvas, clockwise then counterclockwise. Shadows of bare limbs backlit by late-day sunlight sprawl across the water’s surface as if offering nature’s scrawled signature, language of the landscape gracefully written for all to read. I like swatches of sunshine glistening beneath the empty hardwood trees, each gap between upper branches opening like a skylight. Also, I acknowledge that I delight in describing somewhat poetically the scenery in front of me. Though I am composing prose instead of poetry in this journal, old habits die slowly.
∼ February 18, 2017 ∼ “Snow-Melt Stream Through Dune Forest”
A slowly moving warm front has at last passed over Indiana and stalled to the north. All the white patches of snow have disappeared along inland routes, and the winter landscape stands bare. Daylight already lasts longer, and the sun seems more persistent, steadily melting the final remnants of frost, even removing ice from the darkest parts of the marsh. Thoreau wrote about such weather in his journals (Jan. 24, 1858): “I do not quite like this warm weather and bare ground at this season. What is a winter without snow and ice at this latitude? The bare earth is unsightly.” As I trudge through muddy paths and step across flooded sections of the trail, I recall those almanac entries that insist frigid temperatures should return before the end of the month; however, local forecasts predict nothing but mild conditions for the next ten days. Therefore, I photograph the emptiness—deadwood and bare branches, dried spikes of weeds in the underbrush—and I note the sudden narrow streams of snow-melt after thawing and recent spells of rainfall, each little tributary appearing like a slim seam stitched into the seemingly fraying fabric of this forest.
∼ February 17, 2017 ∼ “Cold Front”
A cluster of dreary clouds crosses Lake Michigan in winter as late sunlight retreats and whitewater waves break against a barren beach, where ring-billed gulls still fidget at the water’s edge and strut on the wind-smoothed sand. A current of colder air arrives about an hour before nightfall and washes ashore, perhaps with a promise of overnight snow, as gusts already ruffle tall leaves of marram grass in the foredunes. Earlier in the afternoon I walked westward along the water in angled sunshine, my shadow following behind me, with the sweep of the surf scrubbing the narrow shoreline and swallowing my footprints. I carried my camera, hoping to capture an opening in the dunes, maybe a new blowout caused by relentless gales of storms rolling over the coast from the north, or a recent example of erosion. Instead, I climbed a dune mound beyond a collection of cottonwood trees to view the lake from above, setting my tripod on a sand cliff at the start of Trail 8, which rises toward Mt. Tom, the highest of the dune hills.
∼ February 16, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek in Winter”
When another mid-winter thaw began last week, I walked along Trail 2 in Sunday sunshine, following the length of Dunes Creek toward the east from Lake Michigan through swamp woods to an inland marsh at the heart of Indiana Dunes State Park. A few cumulus clouds drifted overhead, directed by a slight southern breeze, but much of the time the skies remained fair, a field of rich blue not seen during the previous stretch of overcast days and stormy weather. Patches of old snow yet lining the banks like white bandages had mostly melted, filling the creek with cold and clear water, and the path beneath my feet seemed so soft, as each boot step left a deep imprint in the sandy terrain. By noon, the bright sunlight strengthened even more, shining through the empty air between bare branches, illuminating the lustrous yellow sand bed below a transparent ribbon of water, as the creek almost glowed with a luminous gold.
∼ February 15, 2017 ∼ “Trail Beneath Leaning Tree”
Last week as I was looking for a location to photograph, I followed a path I’d not travelled in the past. Intermittent sunshine through cloud openings after a light overnight snowfall warmed my morning walk. Windless weather also created comfortable conditions for this side trip into the dune woods; still, enough of a chill existed to prevent what little snow had accumulated from melting. When I climbed up one slope and over a narrow ridge along a small hill, the trail continued under a fallen trunk leaning almost parallel to the earth beneath it and serving as an apt contrast to the upright trees all around, their branches bare and interestingly expressive. Moving underneath this odd configuration, noticing its drooping thin upper limbs dragging the ground, I tried to imagine when the tree had been bent into this position and envision the gusts that must have caused such an event. Arched overhead as I stepped through to the other side, it offered the appearance of an entranceway, perhaps a passage into another area of the landscape, somewhere I might find appropriate scenery for the photo I was seeking.
∼ February 14, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest in February Thaw”
All clouds quit the skies on Sunday afternoon, blown away by quickening winds warming the region. On very breezy days filled with the glare of bright sunlight, I like to travel trails deep into the swamp forest where empty trees anchored in waterlogged land are backlit by a blue sky. Despite gusts along the shore, a sense of stillness remains in these woods, their details made more visible by the illumination of unimpeded sunshine through the bare branches. Though only February, the wetlands have thawed, waters of marshes and creeks spreading wide to flood sections of this pathway I take, its soil already transformed into a thick layer of mud. Almost all the snow and ice has melted. Only the deepest recesses of shadows yet display white patches, and the nearly clear water offers fairly accurate reflections of the daylight or the silhouetted trees. Somehow, such scenes seem attractive to me, and I feel calm when walking in this setting. I know I am not alone; some others appreciate similar images in the landscape: “I’ve always loved, as Auden called them, the chinks in the forest / (He had the deer peer through them) / Those little slashes and blades of sunlight cutting streaks / Between the trees…,” Charles Wright states in his lovely book-length poem, Littlefoot.
∼ February 13, 2017 ∼ “Trail Two Through Trees”
A lessening breeze struggles through thin trees and shuffles dead leaves still littering my path, as well as some sparse undergrowth along the trail ahead. Gnarled limbs twist artfully overhead, and creases mark the darker bark of trunks. Moving through these empty trees among the wetlands during a mid-February thaw, I detect the slightly sour scent of swamp water in winter; yet, I sense a state of well-being and a strengthening of my spirit. I know by the time I reach the beach, where the widening blue sky yet reflects in lazy lake water and a number of ring-billed gulls still soar or circle above the shore, an afternoon sun will gracefully begin its downward drift toward the horizon. But for now, nearly noon under a high sky, this silent stretch of the state park provides isolation with a peaceful setting for walking while wondering about the relationship between nature and self, perhaps what Thoreau meant when he wrote about the importance of all seasons in his journal (August 23, 1853). Addressing the reader, he advised: “live in each season as it passes” and “resign yourself to the influences of each” because “‘nature’ is but another name for health, and the seasons are but different states of health.”
∼ February 12, 2017 ∼ “Broken Wooden Footpath on Bright Winter Day”
For photography I often would prefer to capture the way morning unfolds at daybreak, offering a new blue horizon, or how evening begins to slip away, colorfully painted skies shifting into nighttime darkness at sunset. However, if I hike along a long trail for any length of time I must accept available light, even as a harsh midday sun hovers directly overhead or when slate gray cloud cover shades the entire landscape, perhaps hiding details in distant hillside shadows and beneath nearby swamp forest trees. For a few hours during a recent Saturday afternoon, I traveled a trail through the center of the Indiana Dunes State Park, including a crease of ground skirting marshland and a broken wooden footpath heaped with winter’s debris that crosses shallow water. Though a couple of small cumulus clouds could be seen on the horizon between bare trees, the day’s bright sky remained mostly clear above, a glare of sunshine illuminating everything with an exposure that displayed an array of washed out colors or exaggerated contrasts in my viewfinder, forcing me to make a compensation in my camera settings that would preserve specific features in the imagery and attempt to present the scene as I experienced it.
∼ February 11, 2017 ∼ “Nineteenth-Century Farm After Snowfall”
In an entry the other day (2/9/17 “Beach Trees in Winter”), I discussed returning to certain Indiana Dunes locations repeatedly for photographs displaying scenes in different seasons. I have followed a trail that at one point winds past a nineteenth-century farmhouse numerous times in various seasons, and I enjoy viewing the changes in the scenery arising with each shift of weather conditions. Though the farmhouse seems partially hidden by lush foliage and surrounded by deep-green grass in summer, its autumn appearance becomes subsumed in a landscape that has been transformed into something much more colorful and artistic. Even in late fall—as the last leaves linger in surrounding trees and the tawny lawn leading to the front door remains visible, though displaying its evidence of a faded hue—the farmhouse exists almost as a mere complement to that natural setting. However, during the snowy months of winter, when the tree limbs are bare and the reddish bricks of the building attract more attention in contrast with the whiteness above or below, the farmhouse provides a central focus for any photograph, representing a hub of warmth amid the frigid temperatures outside. Additionally, although most of a farm’s activity occurs in other times and it is not designed for much winter work, when its sheds or equipment lie unused under a layer of snow as if dormant, those elements encircling the farmhouse—such as the old cart—often contribute to the subtle beauty of its environs. They supply interesting examples of everyday objects suddenly demanding greater attention, especially when the edges of their lines or the rough textures are emphasized and brought forward in juxtaposition with a smooth pale surface of snowfall.
∼ February 10, 2017 ∼ “Ice Shelf and Island Iceberg”
Along the beach on a bright afternoon, an ice shelf whitens in winter light and an island iceberg appears at the edge of the lake. Marram grass waves in weakening wind to stir my memory of summer’s warmer weather. A band of damp sand separates the two as if it were a metaphor for the barrier between seasons. Though the air remains frigid, the sunshine is forgiving, and I shrug off the cold. I find myself hiking through the foredunes, then hugging the shoreline as I walk to the west toward a lowering sun, taking my time to consider composition for a photo. Once more, image inspires description and my eye guides what I write. However, I know sometimes language leads landscape, and the composition seen in my camera frame evolves from the gathering of words already forming a literary composition in my mind, sentences beginning to be written and growing into journal notes that owe their existence to an influence from the vigorous visual vocabulary of imagery.
∼ February 9, 2017 ∼ “Beach Trees in Winter”
In an interesting article on photography by Teju Cole that appeared in the January 31 issue of The New York Times Magazine, he investigates a theme concerning recurring images of a particular object or scene over differing time periods. Cole comments: “The meaning of a photograph changes when it is set next to another to which it is related…. What is different is not the subject but the time it was photographed. Looking at such a series confirms that when you make one photograph and, some time later, make another of the same thing, what is inside the frame changes. With the passage of time, you no longer have ‘the same thing.’” I have frequently suggested an inspiration for my many photos capturing multiple images of locations at the Indiana Dunes connects to a fascination with the variety of moods, tones, growth, or decay displayed when the same setting is seen in different seasons and following changes created by weather conditions or human interaction. This grouping of beach trees near the state park pavilion has been a favorite site for me to focus upon numerous times. The stark character of these empty trees during snow in winter differs greatly from the rich green they exhibit when full in summer months, especially during days when a vibrant sunset aligns just above the horizon of Lake Michigan right behind them.
∼ February 8, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Water Beside Trail Bridge During Winter Thaw”
What little sunlit snow remains near Lake Michigan seems to sparkle now that the rough weather has abruptly ended. On days like this I like to think each wave that sweeps upon the beach leaves a lasting imprint, though I know the sand always reclaims its shape and obliterates the forceful water’s stain. Like the final few clouds—little white formations that have detached themselves from last night’s squalls and still persist weakly overhead—some early visitors walk along the shore, linger in this sudden sunshine and appreciate a soft southern breeze. A couple of them gather small samples of interesting driftwood debris at the edge of the lake, and another guides his young child to toss pebbles into the surf. But I choose to move inland on a trail toward the inner wetlands, where the landscape has been sheltered from northern winds by dune hills, the setting has already warmed, and the marsh has thawed thoroughly. When I pause on a wooden walkway over the water, I notice patches of weeds and willow thickets that have been evident everywhere, even if thinned a bit in winter. However, I focus my attention and my camera on the calm sky reflected in the swamp’s still surface, nearly clear in this season.
∼ February 7, 2017 ∼ “First Sunday in February”
After an overnight warm front scraped away the morning haze, the lakeside landscape brightened. The ground around this natural lowland and drainage ditches filled gradually with intricate tracings of maple or oak shadows darkening and sharpening. By noontime, the woods yellowed with sunshine, and I had hiked a few miles through an east-west route, moving from marsh into hardwood forest. But now the afternoon sun has hauled itself across the sky and settled in the southwest behind thin empty trees rising in front of me, their bare branches shifting slightly in a light breeze. The path ahead remains pasted with damp leaves and partially blocked at times by dark blistered bark of dead limbs. A half-frozen creek winds alongside this narrow trail, still two months before spring flooding, where I pause a while to watch a raccoon steadily make his way past me, though he’s hesitant and wary of my presence. Soon this day will fade away with a sunset, displaying tints similar to the discolored skin of a bruise, quickly closing like a loose slip-knot suddenly pulled tight by an unseen hand until it disappears.
∼ February 6, 2017 ∼ “Lake Shore After Light Snow”
The brisk wind continues, though no more snow, only vague gray clouds (almost colorless at times) come closer; then, as if weighted by their freight, they hover over the slowly rolling waves. I notice silhouettes of stiff limbs trembling a bit in empty trees seemingly standing sentinel on this coast. A few ring-billed gulls fly by, rising high above the dune hills, sliding through the scene like white arrowheads with the pale trail of their flight interrupting the dull overcast. They descend in the distance, almost out of sight, to a thin strip of tan sand and dark brown driftwood showing along the shore, tonal notes of the bird calls clearly drowned out by the breaking surf. Clusters of large snow-covered stones line the lakefront—each grouping gathered in a planned arrangement—forming irregularly banked barriers beside the beach as a breakwater. The sky lightens a little on the western horizon and reveals the faint outline of a factory smokestack at a far-off harbor. I register this moment in my memory, merely knowing I will want to recall a variety of details beyond what can be perceived in any photograph.
∼ February 5, 2017 ∼ “Pausing on a Sun-Warmed Path”
Though the weak snowstorm has passed to the east and now seems no more than an afterthought, cold northern drafts last another day along the lake. Inland, hiking a sandy trail through sun-warmed woods—sheltered between dune hills and beside a marsh with ice sprawling across its surface—I search for something of substance to photograph. Seeking subject matter, I often find myself focusing on the figures of empty trees—perhaps the twisted trunks of birch standing beside me or an array of oaks with bent branches arching overhead and nearly netting the few remnants of clouds drifting toward the horizon. Even the deadwood, bark darkened by rot, sometimes supplies a central interest for an image. Indeed, I have already spoken about my fascination with such scenes (1/17/2017 “Winter Trees”). While walking, I frequently pause to think of daily readings—usually from nature writers and poets I admire—that I had absorbed the night before or during previous evenings. I examined an essay yesterday written by Mary Oliver (“Owls”) in which she speaks eloquently of a similar setting: “And I search in the deeper woods, past fire roads and the bike trail, among the black oaks and the taller pines, in the silent blue afternoons, when the sand is still frozen and the snow falls slowly and aimlessly, and the whole world smells like water in an iron cup.” Wakened from my memory by the distant call of a lone bird somewhere among the upper limbs I had been scanning, a pleasant sound rarely heard breaking the silence in this wintry scenery, I continue on my way.
∼ February 4, 2017 ∼ “Cabin at Bailly Homestead”
I have photographed the storage log cabin at the Bailly Homestead a number of times after hiking a trail through the neighboring forest in various seasons, but I prefer its appearance in winter during snow. The coloring of the logs appears complementary to the trunks and branches of empty trees in the surrounding woods. The snow and suggested cold create an atmosphere in which the wood of the small cabin presents a warmer and more appealing hue than when conflicting with the green grass of other times in the year or competing with the full foliage often overhanging and filling in its background. Indeed, the spirit of this backdrop with intricate crisscross of branches lends a mood that seems somewhat similar to an abstract expressionist tone. The random pattern established by that stark design of scattered leafless limbs contrasts nicely with the minimalist and orderly parallel lines of the cabin’s logs. In addition, the limited range of colors throughout much of the scenery in the image allows the deep red squares of the window frame to stand out for greater attention. Furthermore, other geometrical shapes—the rectangular door, the circular ends of the logs in the corners of the walls, and the triangular resemblance in the angles of the pitched roof—are emphasized in this restrained setting, as is the plain symmetry contributed by inherent elements of the cabin.
∼ February 3, 2017 ∼ “Landscape and History”
Even in this winter morning as I walk into the woods with the trees empty of leaves, an evident lessening of light and a thin lingering mist among upper limbs diminish visibility. Nevertheless, bare branches appear backlit by a bit of indirect illumination from an opening over frozen swamp water in the distance, their distinct shadows sharpening and lengthening across the slick surface beneath them. Sheltered from lake winds—stilled in this location half-hidden by dune hills—and aware of an obvious absence of chirping birds, I develop an acute sense of silence. With every step I take, I wonder about those who once may have traveled this same trail centuries ago. I like to imagine as far in the past as the first fur trader who settled nearby on a rise beside the Little Calumet River in the early 1800s or before that when local Pottawatomi and Miami tribes would move through parcels of hardwood, along sandy paths, or across marshland on routes around lower Lake Michigan. Alone in nature, I contemplate the narratives of those whose lives could have included visiting this location and whose voices at one time might have floated through this swamp forest. I think about how landscape links us to history.
∼ February 2, 2017 ∼ “Landscape, Language, and Imagination”
I want to describe the day. As the storm proceeded east, a chaos of dark clouds cleared the coastline and only some pale stragglers remained over the lake. The cold northern wind continued to create a current that would shape small waves and force them to break upon the shore, each approaching the beach like a thin white scroll unrolling in the bright sunlight, as if awaiting words it would wear. Whenever this usually calm surf seems rough, in my imagination I remember my childhood along the Atlantic, my father walking beside me at the edge of the water—slick pebbles and seashells still glistening in sunshine—with fishing gear in his hands the way I now carry my camera on a tripod. In moments like this, the past and present blend, and any vivid image I capture in my viewfinder somehow can recall a memory complete with notes I jot in my journal that often form a brief description, sometimes even including an implied narrative, thus “Photographs & Paragraphs.” In Richard Hugo’s well-known essay on writing poetry, “Triggering Town,” he suggests a process that parallels my use of landscape photos to inspire language and reminiscence: “triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words…. Your words used your way will generate your meanings. Your obsessions lead you to your vocabulary. Your way of writing locates, even creates, your inner life. The relation of you to your language gains power.” Perhaps this relationship between landscape, language, and imagination helps to explain my fondness for the Indiana Dunes and one reason for my repeated visits.
∼ February 1, 2017 ∼ “Vignette: Dunes Creek”
A vignette in literature might be defined as a brief description with implied storyline. In photography, a vignette is an image that dwindles and disappears into its edges. Today, I’d like to write a vignette recovered from memory about a dawn when lake waves were ridden by winter winds, cold currents and light snow blowing all morning over beach sand. Soon, the inland woods filled with little drifts, and the shallow water of a creek winding between a couple of dune hills looked like ribbon let loose from its spool. After clouds thinned and sunlight illuminated a landscape unbothered by even a breeze, a sudden stillness existed, and those leaves lingering from fall on nearby limbs failed to flutter much. I recall the clicking of ice slipping from upper branches of bare trees now vulnerable to strengthening sunshine. Later that afternoon, while I walked a trail through this thawing scene, I was sure I smelled a faint scent of fragrant wood-smoke and thought I saw a slender plume of gray rising above a small ridge from a campsite somewhere not far ahead, yet hidden by a line of pines. By the time I reached a compact clearing where I figured the fire had been burning, only a collection of charred twigs and a clutter of blackening embers—some still warm to the touch—remained in a hollow pit. A single set of footprints tracked toward the north in the direction of the shore, but I did not follow. Instead, I returned to the creek, beginning to swell with snow melt, to photograph the scene I wanted to keep as a remembrance that perhaps someday might inspire a bit of writing.
∼ January 31, 2017 ∼ “Trail After Lake-Effect Snow”
On Sunday morning light lake-effect snow speckled the sky and settled on some of the bare branches overhead. By the time I hiked a few short routes through the woods, glimpses of still-dim sunshine briefly appeared, filtered by a shallow tide of gray clouds streaming onshore. Large snowflakes floated and flitted in a weak breeze like those tiny white plastic particles shaken in a glass snow globe. The accumulation covered thin bristles of plants in the undergrowth, and it powdered brown shrubs all along the way. Some pines huddled near the horizon appeared to add a swatch of green to the scenery. I followed an east-west trail between tall trees with long limbs arching far above me, and I paused just long enough to photograph the narrowing path stretching ahead, displaying the distant place in front of me where the course curves almost at a right angle, turning toward the north. During a brief show of direct sunlight before the afternoon clouds darkened again, I hoped to capture the relaxed atmosphere of my surroundings and the manner in which winter’s whiteness leads the eye, emphasizing a subtle elegance evident in the natural design rising all around.
∼ January 30, 2017 ∼ “Luminous Landscape”
When I arrive, I notice pale clouds roaming over a dark forest of empty trees, limbs still limp with late-morning frost, as though tired of waiting for daylight. At last, splotches of sunshine seep through fog permeating the woods, and each tree appears to settle into place. Their thin figures fill the frame in my viewfinder, lengthening gracefully above a glaze of frozen swamp water. I listen to the silence and think of Thoreau’s observation in The Maine Woods that “the general stillness is more impressive than any sound.” Even an absolute absence of wind emphasizes the solemn tone in this favorite place I regard almost as a sacred setting, somewhere I revisit often. This serene atmosphere with a sideways illumination infiltrating the scene reminds me of those landscapes painted by Luminists that I love so much, works in which the depth of perspective is created by shaping a place with its available light. The nineteenth-century artists offered images inviting meditation on the spiritual element inherent in our environment, as well as examining the ever-present subconscious influence of nature.
∼ January 29, 2017 ∼ “The Photographer and the Viewer”
A common comment I receive upon viewers perceiving the images in my photography has to do with the notable absence of people. My landscape photos almost always occur when I am alone in nature, preferably capturing an instant at a particular location that nobody else would have witnessed. In a sense, I like to think I am preserving a moment that otherwise would be lost for all time, sharing an experience and exhibiting a setting no one else had an opportunity to absorb but in a way anyone can appreciate. In fact, however, I might suggest a contrary opinion that each of the pictures I take contains a human presence. I believe in the well-known point of view offered by Ansel Adams: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” As is the case for other artists in all forms of art, even if subconsciously, I include an element of myself in each of my works, whether they be poems, prose pieces, or photographs. Selections I make in composition and camera settings determine the character of the scenery one eventually sees, and these choices are influenced by my individual aesthetic approach, as well as the attitude I bring to the task. Likewise, responses to my photography are shaped by the personal background—intellectual, emotional, spiritual—belonging to the viewers.
∼ January 28, 2017 ∼ “Waterway After Snow Melt”
Following days of dark cloud cover and southern thawing winds whipping toward Lake Michigan, morning unveiled a sky of bright sunshine and a river swelled by snow melt. Though still only January—a time when winter yet lurks, preparing its return—a brief spell of mild temperatures invites me to hike a trail sometimes difficult to travel in this season. When slippery with a layer of ice underneath fresh overnight snowfall, the path conceals dangerous holes where a false footstep easily could lead to a broken ankle or fractured leg. This enthralling route through the dunes winds beside a waterway, which now flows slowly beneath the busyness of bare branches bending overhead and mirrored in the surface of the water like fine calligraphy lines or brushed lashes of shadow. Notwithstanding a pale blue sky and brilliant sunlight that fail to offer the kind of illumination with tints or variations in hues I’d prefer for a deeper tone in my photograph, hints of the distinctively quiet character in this landscape seem evident. Presenting a setting of stillness suitable for staring into nature during a moment of reflection, I think of Thoreau’s well-known words from Walden: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
∼ January 27, 2017 ∼ “Repainting the Landscape”
“Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces….” —Henry David Thoreau, Journals: Nov. 8 1858 The kind of light witnessed in midday during cold winter weather obviously differs from the golden hues of summer sunsets, but I usually find its luminosity correct, compelling, and complementary to seasonal situations. Cloudy skies and snow-covered terrain seem to need the cooler tones or muted colors that come with conditions at this time of year. When I walk the beach following a slight overnight snowfall, the whitecaps of frothy waves brought by northern winds appear to parallel purity of the recent accumulation along the coast, and I appreciate the clean expanse of scenery encountered. At other times, intriguing patterns develop on the dunes due to a mix of drifting sand and snow blown about by the onshore breezes. Even on those completely overcast days when the landscape shows signs of desaturation, or during dense morning fog drifting above an inland marsh, I discover an apparently endless array of ways to take photos that hold my interest. I like to think such a variety of circumstances in the climate throughout the year at the Indiana Dunes—this repeated “repainting of the landscape” displayed in images I capture—adds a sense of freshness to every hike I make.
∼ January 26, 2017 ∼ “Lifting Fog at Dune Marsh”
Arriving at the Indiana Dunes State Park, I notice sunshine, still low and slanting from above a southern horizon, slips between stiff limbs of winter trees. I feel a bit of wind blowing slowly at the back of my neck like exhaled air released after a held breath as I move through the wetlands. At last, the wash of noon light and a slight breeze from the north seem to lift what little is left of an early-morning fog over this strange landscape of dune marsh. The nearly surreal scene I see on the rear screen of my camera almost catches me off guard. All along the trail, these dreamlike views have become so commonplace I catch myself taking them for granted, and I just about forget to snap a photograph. But then as if merely a gesture of habit or an expression of some need to keep this occasion somewhere other than my untrustworthy memory, I stop to capture the moment. Later, looking at that past of brightening scenery suddenly appearing backlit on my computer screen, as if a gift unwrapped, I again sense the cool current coming onshore from Lake Michigan, and I recall the renewal of blue filling a field of sky above the setting. I witness once more the seemingly tense—or perhaps elated in celebration—spirit evident in the twisted reach of each bare branch elevated toward the heavens. Glimpsing back into the distant gathering of empty trees, and attracted to this swamp forest rising elegantly from the collected water, I am able to appreciate nature’s subtle presence preserved in a continuing present, frozen in time by an image, and I derive an unexpected aesthetic pleasure from this simple picture.
∼ January 25, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Trail Bridge in Winter”
As I mentioned in my previous post, I find myself fascinated by the way objects may be influenced with changes in the weather, especially during harsh conditions in winter. I also noted that I had traveled along Trail 2 on an extraordinarily warm Saturday in mid-January. The eastern end of this three-mile route, which begins farther west near the entrance to Indiana Dunes State Park, crosses an extensive marsh that stretches through the inner corridor of the dunes. A boardwalk nearly even with the wetland’s surface bridges the marsh for more than a quarter of a mile, normally enabling hikers to cross from south to north toward Trail 10 and dune hills hiding the beach just beyond. However, the state of the wooden walkway has been greatly deteriorated or badly damaged in spots, and currently the path is deemed in a shape too dangerous for passing, so it has been officially closed to pedestrians by park personnel. Alternating periods of freeze and thaw have destroyed portions of the boardwalk. Gaps of differing widths exist in some places where boards have been displaced, and in the rest of its length, sections are uneven, rippling or dipping into a water level raised by snow melt and recent rainfall. In addition, a number of locations are blocked by fallen branches or splintered remnants of toppled tree trunks, seasonal ruin in a transitioning swamp forest.
∼ January 24, 2017 ∼ “Fresh Fallen Tree”
When a brief mild break in the winter weather occurs, I like to hike familiar trails to examine any alterations in the landscape that have happened due to strong winds, icing and thawing damage, or flooding from melting snow. During my long walk on an unusually warm January afternoon this past Saturday, I discovered a variety of scenes offering evidence of harm to the terrain since previous visits. Broken branches and even newly felled tree trunks commonly occur because of northern gusts sweeping onshore during storms arriving from over the open waters of Lake Michigan, particularly in this season when upper limbs might be weighted by sleeves of frost. Thoreau commented in Walden about his closeness to those trees he regularly passed along paths while walking in winter: “I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines…the ice and snow causing their limbs to droop….” As I noted in a recent entry (1/17/2017 “Winter Trees”), I frequently recognize and regard trees seen along routes through the woods “almost as companions.” Consequently, I am sometimes surprised and saddened to witness any destruction to these identifiable elements in the countryside—especially to such substantial and longstanding objects—as much as I realize these situations are typical and in some sense necessary to the routine progression of nature.
∼ January 23, 2017 ∼ “Warm Winter Day”
Taking advantage of unseasonably warm temperatures in the mid-sixties on Saturday, I decided to hike a couple of trails at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Extending on a loop for 5.5 miles, Trail 10 follows an east-west route that moves along the beach and then returns through an inland area of the dunes shielded from breezes by hills to the north and the south. I kept only to the wooded inner portion of the trail, which is populated by a variety of trees, but predominately white pines and black oaks. The passage also parallels a large marsh at the heart of the park. The day’s mild weather had been brought by strong southern currents with occasional gusts, but the protection for this section of Trail 10 meant conditions weren’t chilled by the wind, and I even removed my jacket at times to remain comfortable. Additionally, I walked a while on Trail 2, which extends for 3 miles, mostly through a stretch thick with an assortment of tall trees in the dunes’ interior on the other side of the marsh. Because I frequently stop to consider locations for possible photographs—seeking objects of interest or examining various angles for composition of pictures—as well as actually capturing images, my progress often can be described as slow yet steady. Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous entry (1/15/2017 “Practiced Patience”), my process for photographing landscape has become more deliberate over time. Nevertheless, since both trails are relatively flat and regarded among the easiest for travelers, I managed to cover quite a bit of distance, and though I regretted the absence of snow and cold normally associated with January in this region, I made the most of the opportunity to bring back some splendid shots representing scenery in the terrain during a mid-winter thaw.
∼ January 22, 2017 ∼ “Winter Winds”
As a photographer waking to a windy day, which occurs often in this region of the Midwest, my first instinct is reluctance to pack my camera and gear for gathering images of the landscape. Movement presents problems for capturing tack sharp photos, especially in summer months when swaying branches and windblown leaves are shifted by strong southern gales. This difficult situation exists even more during periods of stormy weather. The scenery around Lake Michigan frequently appears most interesting at the arrival of ominous cloud formations before a squall or upon viewing the first glimpse of sun rays filtering through the overcast following a rainstorm. Whether indirect or bright, the lighting can include dramatic luminosity and contrast, presenting an aura of depth to the setting sometimes not very different from those glorious golden hours of sunrise and sunset. Additionally, quick currents of air sweeping across the water create waves that lend a dynamic sense to the scene. However, since such conditions are almost always accompanied by gusts rushing onshore, a steady and weighted tripod is needed, as well as a microfiber cloth to constantly clean the lens face and free it of sand or grit. Nevertheless, I find myself more eager to snap pictures of the landscape during winter winds when trees empty of leaves lessen concerns about blurring due to blustery circumstances and an active surf defines the shoreline.
∼ January 21, 2017 ∼ “Dune Tree in Winter Light”
The effectiveness of photographs often depends upon the kind of light available, and landscape images rely on natural illumination. Traditionally, the optimum times for outdoor pictures are the golden hours around sunrise and sunset. Because of the sun’s position near the horizon, rays move through more of the earth’s atmosphere, which alters the temperature of the light emitted, usually warming the scenery and intensifying saturation. In addition, lighting can add interest when sunshine becomes filtered by a thin overcast or partial cloud cover. Noon normally has been regarded as the least favorable time of day for photography. Nevertheless, with the weaker distant sun and lower angle of the sunlight in winter, photographing in midday may not display those harsh shadows and bleached colors caused by a strong sun on a cloudless summer afternoon. Therefore, I appreciate that images captured at the Indiana Dunes during winter frequently seem softer and subdued, even when taken in the middle of the day under clear skies. Indeed, as John Burroughs observed in his 1875 work, Winter Sunshine: “Sunlight is good any time, but a bright, evenly tempered day is certainly more engrossing to the attention in winter than in summer….”
∼ January 20, 2017 ∼ “Sand & Steel”
On Sunday I attended the opening of an excellent feature exhibition in the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University titled Sand & Steel: Visions of Our Indiana Shore, which included more than 60 paintings and photographs depicting images of nature or industry among the Indiana Dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The paintings ranged from realistic portrayals of mill workers by Morris Topchevsky to impressionist views of the Indiana Dunes—most notably in nearly two dozen works by Frank V. Dudley—to almost pure abstract perspectives on similar scenes by artists such as David Sander and Konrad Juestel. Likewise, photos on display included contemporary documentary pictures by Gary Cialdella and the more pictorialist nature photos of William D. Richardson from the early twentieth century. As I have noted a number of times, I find inspiration in Dudley’s choice of content in his paintings of the Indiana Dunes, including the style evident in his impressionist images, but I also appreciate the ways nature may be represented even more playfully. In fact, as an entertaining exercise, I sometimes create photographs that seem to blend a pictorialist approach with an impressionist influence, as can be seen in my photo titled “Marsh After Frost.”
∼ January 19, 2017 ∼ “Experience and Expertise”
In my initial proposal defining the ambitions of the project involving this journal, I noted my hope to visit the Indiana Dunes repeatedly and frequently, as I have done in the past, with the intention of knowing the landscape so intimately that elements in the written descriptions would accurately reflect details seen in my photographs. I expressed my goal to view this landscape through words and images in such a way that content in the two media would intersect and complement one another. Convinced only increased familiarity could assist me in achieving results that permitted readers and viewers of my work to witness a blending of the literary with the visual, I committed to sometimes even photographing the same locations—creeks, trees, beaches, bluffs, etc.—over and over again in different seasons and under varied circumstances to more fully display the delight evident in the environment. (For instance, the scene in the accompanying photo is one I have captured on numerous occasions under an array of weather conditions.) I adopted as my model artist Frank V. Dudley, the “Painter of the Dunes.” I wished to emulate to some degree this man who visited, depicted, and then lived in the Indiana Dunes for fifty years, accumulating—through life and art—an experience and an expertise in authentically representing the setting he so deeply appreciated. Additionally, I considered a perception on the importance of local knowledge in nature once offered by Barry Lopez in his 1998 collection of essays, About This Life: “To do this well, to really come to an understanding of a specific American geography, requires not only time but a kind of local expertise, an intimacy with place few of us ever develop. There is no way around the former requirement: if you want to know you must take the time.”
∼ January 18, 2017 ∼ “Berries and Bare Branches”
The milder temperatures in this mid-January week have melted almost all snow and ice, and these foggy days have been mostly gray. Therefore, I have been reluctant to capture wide angle photographs of the landscape that may display expansive panoramas of bland scenery. Current weather conditions tend to lend more atmosphere and texture to images exhibiting a greater sense of intimacy. Indeed, cloud cover normally enhances the ability to examine more obscure details in nature clearly, and an overcast sky usually enriches any vibrant hue found in the forest. Consequently, because harsh sunlight often contributes distracting shadows of branches or it blanches nature’s vivid tints, in such situations I will anticipate spending some time focusing on smaller subjects, especially those showing a lingering splash of color within the context of an austere wintry setting. As I walk the dune woods trails, I observe each of the trees or every tuft of underbrush appears bare and mostly monochromatic except perhaps for a few scattered clusters of bold red berries, still slick and glistening with morning moisture, that stand out in contrast with the clutter of a stark thicket of shrubbery and what looks to be a seemingly spiritless backdrop. I seek to preserve the polarity in this moment.
∼ January 17, 2017 ∼ “Winter Trees”
Reviewing the photographs that I have posted to this journal so far, I notice one element seems to appear repeatedly and garners the central attention. My evident interest in trees becomes visible in image after image, even in instances when I intend to focus elsewhere in a setting. For me, a tree frequently offers itself as the most appealing and aesthetically pleasing object within a scene, often metaphoric of an emotional or spiritual state, no matter which season is being depicted. Budding branches in spring represent beginnings of new life; full green canopies suggest the lush character of summer’s vitality; fall foliage paints nature with its richly vivid colors; and the skeletal structures of gnarled or twisted limbs in winter may be the most expressive and exquisitely artistic. These perceptions present nothing new or surprising to admirers of landscape. However, their existence at all times of the year provides a comfort or reassurance whenever I hike trails in forests with long lateral limbs looming overhead or through swamps when surrounded by branches bending in every direction. When I climb high among dune ridges, I am heartened to find a lone leafy tree on which I can lean. Standing sentinel beside me, it spreads shade and delivers a place to rest a while. Indeed, I might regard these trees almost as companions, and on many trails I measure my progress by presence of a familiar network of branches overarching the path or by recalling the curve of extensive limbs at the edge of a pond, perhaps spanning a narrow stream. Instinctively, I may map my way through the woods on a gray day by following the remembered shadowy figures of trees. I enjoy photographing in each season, displaying the gradual but significant modification that occurs; however, I especially appreciate moments during winter when the dark bark of bare trees stands in contrast as a distinctive silhouette against a cool blue sky, and I think of Thoreau commenting about trees in The Maine Woods, “it is the poet, who loves them as his own shadow in the air.”
∼ January 16, 2017 ∼ “Seasonal Shift”
When winter winds blow over Lake Michigan from the north, relentless waves break beautifully on the southern shore, and the cold flow of a Canadian air current freezes everything along the beach. Some iconic items linger from summertime, such as old sailboats left on stretches of sand—suddenly separated from the lake by a collar of shelf ice and vulnerable to becoming buried in snow—or lifeguard towers empty since the end of summer yet now disguised by a shiny white glaze. These remnants of warmer weather serve as constant reminders of the dramatic contrasts witnessed in the ongoing seasonal shift at the Indiana Dunes. After a strong snowstorm passes, a calm often settles the lake waves, but a bitter chill continues to contribute to an accumulation of shelf ice encrusted along the water’s edge, and small icebergs speckle the surface as far as the horizon. On the sandbars nearer to land, little irregular islands of ice are also visible. Thus far this winter, the lesser amounts of amassed shelf ice reflect a pattern of mostly milder weather following brief spells of frigid temperatures. Nevertheless, in some years (as can be seen in the accompanying photograph) remnants of shelf ice will persist into March before breaking and melting back into the lake.
∼ January 15, 2017 ∼ “Practiced Patience”
A couple of days ago, while walking through the woods on a path beside a partly frozen stream for quite a while at the Indiana Dunes State Park as crisp icy leaves crunched underfoot, I realized I hadn’t yet taken any photographs. My process for exploring trails and seeking locations for images has altered over time, partially due to a practiced patience. When I first photographed the Dunes, I would move quickly and snap numerous pictures, knowing I could sort through the results later. However, I discovered myself enjoying my travels less because I believed I wasn’t completely valuing live the landscape captured in my viewfinder and preserved on my memory card. I decided to go forward slowly instead, stopping to click my shutter only when I had thought through the composition within an imagined frame of sight in front of me. In addition, by developing a habit of carrying my camera on a tripod, my pattern for taking pictures became more deliberate. One might consider the new approach as being similar to old school photography when I would have at most only a few rolls of film to use on any given trip. Consequently, when I return home now the image counter on the camera displays only a fraction of what it once did. Nevertheless, each scene depicted seems more complete, a product of careful contemplation rather than of quick impulse. Indeed, my appreciation of the nature around me has increased as well, since I relish the setting and absorb the atmosphere.
∼ January 14, 2017 ∼ “Scenery to Savor”
When I walk a trail along the beach in the Indiana Dunes during winter, as in the accompanying photograph, I am reminded of the remarkable changing nature of the landscape and its altered atmosphere between seasons, and I recall why I appreciate each time of year for the characteristics it presents. Traveling the same route in summer I will happen upon many sunbathers with whom I will share the sandy stretch. Couples who enjoy strolling the water’s edge, families with children playing joyfully in the surf, or groups of teens tossing a football to one another are common to encounter. This lively community along the shore seems to exist from sunrise to sunset in summer. Similarly, the coastline vista appears vivid with deep green trees lining the dune ridges as marram grass decorates the foredunes and dances in a light breeze. Patches of underbrush become dappled with colorful wildflowers. However, hiking the length of the beach on a frigid afternoon last week to capture images of the ice shelf, I didn’t come across a single person along the way. Snow covering the sand showed no other footprints. Wind-whipped waves and thick clouds driven by a quick air current displayed the only movement within my sight on that gray day. Nevertheless, I always find myself amazed by the subtle appeal in such a setting, as well as the serenity felt in solitude. Selfishly, as though my senses have been awakened by the cold, I tend to view the landscape more intensely, perhaps regarding it as my own to witness and savor, and the resulting photos I take frequently exhibit a satisfying wintry tone, both austere and aesthetically pleasing. Consequently, I believe, as Ralph Waldo Emerson offers in his “Nature” essay: “Not the sun or summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight.”
∼ January 13, 2017 ∼ “Conscious Composition”
As an author, a poet, and someone who teaches literature for a living, perhaps I perceive symbolism as a way of understanding more readily than others, and I draw upon that tactic when photographing landscapes. In an attempt to add depth when describing a scene, the imagery in my writing usually offers itself for interpretation. Dominant details included are determined by their ability to be viewed as contributing to an underlying meaning. Additionally, elements within the work frequently are selected because of the message implied by the common tone or connotations evoked with each word. Likewise, when choosing subjects to capture with my camera, I consciously create a composition in which objects relate to one another in a way that may cause observers to link the separate sections of a scene contained within the viewfinder’s framing. In fact, sometimes as I snap the shutter, I’m already imagining the indirect impact certain aspects of the picture might exert on an audience. In this photo I deliberately positioned the horizon in the center when aiming my lens, even though most times such a balance between sky and surface would be seen as traditionally less interesting. I wanted to suggest the tension inherent in displaying equal portions. Similarly, I divided the perspective into halves with the nourishing life-giving sun appearing on one side while the other consists of empty trees. I also appreciated that the lake presented itself as emblematic of transition in that its thin ice layer was melting under sunshine. Moreover, the reflection of the sunlight glittering across both water and thawing ice served to emphasize its warming influence on the setting. Yet, one’s eye can also travel from the attention-seeking sun in the upper right hand corner to the cold snow still evident in the lower left. However, I preserved a sense of the sun being an intruder in this wintry sight by adding a few bare limbs above and beneath the sun, nearly surrounding it. I wanted to subtly suggest this contrast between sun and snow, warm and cold, would be a continuing battle, a situation that will be repeated, which explains the title I’ve given to the image: “Sun After First Storm.”
∼ January 12, 2017 ∼ “Memory, Knowledge, and Imagination”
During an insightful essay about returning to Indiana after a spell away (“Landscape and Imagination,” published by Scott Russell Sanders in his 1991 book titled Secrets of the Universe: Scenes from the Journey Home), the author comments: “It is increasingly rare for any of us to know with passion and subtlety a particular place….” Because of the current restless mobility of Americans and the tendency of individuals, especially younger ones, to be more engaged with sources of technological entertainment in contemporary culture, Sanders suggests fewer folks remain for extended amounts of time in a set location, and only a limited number repeatedly immerse themselves in nature. Interestingly enough, one must note Sanders could not have conceived the exponentially greater addiction to technology existing in today’s society, now more than a quarter century later. However, he further observes that even when engaged by compelling scenery, “It is never a simple matter actually to see what is before your eyes. You notice what memory and knowledge and imagination have prepared you to see.” Perhaps an appreciation for this medley of characteristics—memory, knowledge, and imagination—applied to understanding and interpretation of experience summarizes well what I hope to find, and what I admire most, in my favorite writers who explore reactions of the human spirit in relationship with the natural world. Similarly, I attempt to bring these ingredients into my own observations and reflections on the Indiana Dunes.
∼ January 11, 2017 ∼ “Trail of History”
Near the entrance to a trail that winds alongside Dunes Creek, seen in this image, stands a sign marking an historic event that took place in 1780. According to the notice posted by Daughters of the American Revolution, a minor battle took place on December 5 of that year between combatants associated with the American forces and a unit under the command of the British. The incident appears to have been the only military conflict in this region during the Revolutionary War. The historical marker indicates that a structure, known as Le Petit Fort, established not far from this position and just hundreds of yards from Lake Michigan, served as center for the hostilities. However, the label of “fort” might be misleading and actually refer merely to a cabin surrounded by a palisade fence enclosing a garden area, perhaps an outpost usually used for accommodating hunters or merchants traveling along the southern tip of Lake Michigan. During the skirmish, the British triumphed, as losses for the Americans included four killed, while two were wounded and seven were captured, held as prisoners. A few others escaped through the woods depicted in the accompanying picture. The British suffered no casualties. On the afternoon I hiked the trail, winds that had blown for a couple of days were suddenly still and an overall silence enveloped everything. Interrupted only occasionally by the soft burble of snowmelt trickling into the creek, the quiet seemed to create a sense of calm and invite contemplation. Although the action that happened here more than two centuries ago might be regarded as minor and insignificant in a comprehensive scheme of things, I thought of additional battle sites from other wars during the long trail of history where casualties occurred on a much larger scale. For instance, I considered the many places opposing armies once met, particularly in the Civil War or World War II, that now have been preserved as memorials, some battlefields existing today as park land boasting serene scenic landscapes belying the horrors once witnessed in those locations.
∼ January 10, 2017 ∼ “Ice Shelf in Early January”
Following a weekend during which temperatures fell to zero or below in some places, I photographed yesterday the forming shoreline ice shelf, as well as icebergs dotting Lake Michigan. Ever since I was young, weather has interested me. I kept a climate tracking chart and examined meteorological maps during high school. My son has displayed a similar interest. He records daily fluctuations of high and low temperatures, as well as precipitation amounts, in a notebook, and he follows reports on television by each of the local meteorologists, whose on-screen personalities he knows well. Mostly, cold weather has always fascinated me. I enjoy hiking in frigid conditions, especially if snow is swirling all around. More than three decades ago, just two weeks after I moved to Indiana in the middle of winter, I had to drive a couple hundred miles across the state on a night the thermometer dipped to -22 degrees (wind chills were -40). An efficient heater kept the interior of my car warm; however, when I stopped at a roadside diner for a bite to eat, I lingered in the parking lot and briefly walked through the small town merely to experience that deep freeze gripping the Midwest. Consequently, I appreciate the arctic-like conditions one often finds during January and February in northwest Indiana. If necessary—with snow pants, heavy boots, an insulated parka, stocking cap, and convertible hunter’s gloves—I can feel comfortable even when the temperature nears zero. Traveling trails in the Indiana Dunes or beaches beside Lake Michigan while carrying my camera and tripod seeking to capture scenic wintry landscape images, I appreciate an absence of others on the paths or stretches of sand I select—the silence only broken by a whistle of wind gust or the crackling of stiffened tree limbs overhead. Stones, bark, and other natural objects can be coated with glistening ice. The surfaces of ponds might appear polished. Each location seems ethereal and inspirational.
∼ January 9, 2017 ∼ “Word and Image”
As evidenced by this journal, I frequently combine a couple of elements when relating my experiences in the Indiana Dunes: writing and photography. Using word and image to present and reflect upon the natural landscape, I recognize similarities between the two media. In fact, walking a winding way through winter woods or over a high ridge, I am reminded of some observations Robert Frost once offered in “The Figure a Poem Makes” about his composition of poetry. While I wonder what natural settings might be found along the path beyond the trail twisting ahead, and I wait to be rewarded by surprise, I recall Frost’s well-known comment: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Frost continues in his essay with additional insight: “I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovery.” I always mention that one of my main pleasures in composition is precisely the process of discovery involved. Just as I enjoy finding fresh places for photographs when hiking new routes, I always like the arrival at unexpected destinations reached through the journey of writing. Frost further suggests in his essay that coming to an end point through an indirect course can prove more interesting: “Step by step the wonder of unexpected supply keeps growing…. The line will have the more charm for not being mechanically straight. We enjoy the straight crookedness of a good walking stick.” Likewise, I prefer passages curving through the forest undergrowth or disappearing over a dune slope, concealing the scenery before me. For me, images like the one in this photo hint at mystery and unpredictability, as well as the promise of more unanticipated, and possibly even delightful, destinations.
∼ January 8, 2017 ∼ “Fallen Tree”
Henry David Thoreau wrote in “The Allegash and East Branch” from The Maine Woods about a time camping with others when he nervously noticed a “branch, rising thirty feet or more, slanted directly over the spot which we had chosen for our bed.” He added: “It is a common accident for men camping in the woods to be killed by a falling tree.” I am not sure about the accuracy of his observation, but I am always fascinated by the limbs of trees looming overhead or those that have toppled to the earth. Indeed, I am often intrigued when I come across a felled tree while hiking. I have taken a number of photos in the past of tree trunks leaning over trails I’ve traveled. Recently, I captured an image of a tree arching over the Great Marsh Trail, appearing almost as if it were an elaborate entranceway inviting hikers to explore the curious and extraordinary landscape beyond it. Though in some way such a scene—a spectacle in which a magnificent object that has stood tall for a long time has been taken down—seems sad, I also admire the beauty of its naturally artistic presence, especially in winter when the exquisite skeletal structure, gnarled and twisted, has been exposed, and its aesthetic elegance yet remains evident for all to see.
∼ January 7, 2017 ∼ “Dynamic Dunes”
Before this journal advances too far, I should explain why I find the Indiana Dunes so appealing and why the setting never seems to become stale, even after repeated visits. The topography of the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan provides both location and inspiration for my photography. Indeed, I am always amazed at the engaging landscape, especially since the scenery constantly alters with the seasonal variations and changing weather conditions. Additionally, the terrain also transforms over time due to onshore winds that shift sands and rearrange the coastline. Though imperceptible, the dunes are always moving, migrating with the assistance of persistent currents. In some years the long and level beach seems to expand to offer a wide buffer before one encounters the first rise of dune mounds. In other years, winter’s storms erode the lakefront so much that little is left of the sandy expanse previously experienced. Strong northern gusts (with the assistance of sharp angling sunlight from the south) also contribute to the natural artistry witnessed in twisted trees limbs along dune slopes or ridges. Eventually, many trees are in danger of becoming buried by dune drifts, as seen in this image. In fact, sections of the Indiana Dunes contain “tree graveyards.” By the end of last winter, the mouth of Dunes Creek, where it empties into Lake Michigan, had completely changed course and been redirected hundreds of yards to the west apparently by months of powerful gales and accumulation of an ice shelf. Consequently, the creek had cut across the state park’s most popular beach for bathers in summer. Part of the park personnel’s tasks in spring involved restoring the normal course of the creek. Nevertheless, this ever-changing and active characteristic provides a dynamic quality in the environment at the Indiana Dunes that season after season keeps surprising and impressing me.
∼ January 6, 2017 ∼ “Deer Crossing”
I like to photograph scenes in swamp forests of the Indiana Dunes during winter on mornings after an overnight frost. The floor of the forest has frozen over, the surface of its shallow water forming a thin skin of white ice. Trunks and bare branches twist toward an ash gray canopy of mostly overcast sky, though enough filtered sunshine sometimes enters between trees to brighten patches among the dark woods and provide light for my photos. Deep in such a setting, where any wind is diminished and a quiet complements the stillness in the air, all seems serene. Preparing to preserve this image by positioning my tripod and modifying settings on my camera a couple of days ago, the calm suddenly became chaotic as I heard a thunderous noise from a disturbance somewhere nearby. Looking up from the viewing screen on the back of my camera, I watched as a massive and muscular deer darted from left to right, running and rumbling through the maze of trees, crossing about forty feet in front of me. Hooves clattered and crashed through the hardened top layer of swamp water, shattering the ice into large shards with each leap forward. Unfortunately, my lens and focus adjustments were unprepared to capture this glorious intrusion. The clamor continued about another fifteen seconds until muffled and hushed as the lone deer disappeared into the distance. Then, as I paused for a moment filled with regret that I had missed the chance at a thrilling picture, a peaceful silence returned.
∼ January 5, 2017 ∼ “Dudley and Photography”
Frank V. Dudley remains well known today as the “Painter of the Dunes,” whose persuasive artworks drew attention to the magnificence of the Indiana Dunes and helped promote the need for preservation of the lake shore in the early twentieth century. I have written in the past about how my photos, like the one seen here, are sometimes impacted by perspectives evident in Dudley’s paintings. His importance as an artist contributing to the cause of protecting the landscape along the southern edge of Lake Michigan had been recognized during his lifetime—even to the point that he was permitted to keep his cottage studio among the dunes, after the State of Indiana assumed ownership, for an annual rental fee of “one large original oil painting”—and his reputation as a crucial figure who championed the Indiana Dunes has grown greater since his death sixty years ago in 1957. However, as a photographer, I’d also like to remind everyone Frank was introduced to the area and encouraged to depict its attributes by his brother, Clarence, who managed the Dudley family’s photography business in Chicago and enthusiastically shared photos of his trips to the Indiana Dunes. Moreover, Frank’s painting process often involved visualizing by framing scenes with photographic equipment or retaining images with camera color slides for later reproduction by brushstroke on his canvas. Therefore, I am pleased to note, in addition to his paintings influencing my photography, to some extent photography influenced Dudley’s choice of subject matter and his working process for paintings.
∼ January 4, 2017 ∼ “Walking in Winter”
In “A Winter Walk”—one of my favorite Thoreau essays, published early (1843) in his career and more than a decade before Walden—the author exalts about “the wonderful purity of nature” witnessed in winter, especially following a fresh snowfall or when the bare trees are frosted white with ice. His words come closest to expressing the spiritual delight I often experience when hiking through woods or marsh, even on a frigid winter day. Thoreau remarks about a respect for the “sturdy innocence” in wintry scenery. In an excerpt that addresses the atmosphere created during this season, he writes: “All things beside seem to be called in for shelter, and what stays out must be a part of the original frame of the universe, and of such valor as God himself. It is invigorating to breathe the cleansed air. Its greater fineness and purity are visible to the eye, and we would fain stay out long and late, that the gales may sigh through us, too, as through the leafless trees, and fit us for the winter—as if we hoped to borrow some pure and steadfast virtue, which will stead us in all seasons.”
∼ January 3, 2017 ∼ “Peaceful View”
The Indiana Dunes State Park invites hikers to a New Year’s Day “First Day Hike” each year, and as I was walking along a winding route through the woods between Dunes Creek and Lake Michigan, I could hear voices from some of the hundreds of participants in the distance. Since the weather was unseasonably mild, many had gathered to start 2017 with a casual stroll through nature. The organized event follows a few of the more popular trails to the tops of three dune peaks—Mt. Holden, Mt. Jackson, and Mt. Tom—each just under 200 feet high, and this occasion offers an excellent opportunity for promoting the park. Avoiding the crowd climbing the “Three-Dune Challenge,” since I already have ascended the peaks a number of times on my own, I stayed on a less-traveled path about a half mile east and leading to one of my favorite locations, an opening at a lower dune ridge that nevertheless overlooks the beach, presenting a perfectly peaceful view of the lake.
∼ January 2, 2017 ∼ “New Year’s Reflections”
“The trees reflected in the river—they are unconscious of a spiritual world so near to them. So are we.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne Even though an imaginary concept, I consider the first image captured in a new year to be illustrative of a state of mind, especially since I view the natural world as representative of intellectual or spiritual concerns. Like the Romantic writers I admire, I find connections between elements defining the outer landscape of our surroundings and those aspects determining the inner landscape of human emotion. Therefore, when I photographed this vista from one of my favorite locations along the Little Calumet River Trail early on New Year’s Day, the characteristics seemed somewhat symbolic and mysterious. Though the morning was unusually mild for the beginning of January, so that all the snow had melted except for a few swatches on one bank, the dominance of leafless trees—on land and reflected in the river—still emphasized an absence associated with winter. In addition, thoughtful reflection suggested the disappearance of the river into a distant horizon signified the unknown future course of the upcoming twelve months.
∼ January 1, 2017 ∼ “Each New Year Is a Surprise”
I begin this journal mindful that 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s birth year. As I mention in my introduction for this web site, the influence of Thoreau’s comprehensive commentary kept in his journals for decades often will be evident in the entries included here. I regularly return to the collected works of Thoreau and read with great interest his observations on nature or speculations about the human spirit. Just yesterday afternoon, as the last sunset of December lit a distant skyline of bare trees, I browsed some of his writings, and I was reminded of a simple yet reassuring remark noted in an 1858 log: “Each new year is a surprise to us.” Consequently, at this start of a new year I initiate a personal chronicle, which will consist of brief informal musings or reflective evaluations on various events and experiences, with little more than an eagerness to discover what surprise lies ahead.