PHOTOGRAPHS & PARAGRAPHS
[Dates reflect days on which entries are posted.]
∼ July 25, 2022 ∼ “Little Calumet River Trail in Summer”
While hiking, I reach the slowly flowing water of this nearly still tributary, yet fairly full from recent strong rainstorms that have passed through the region and since dissipated. I stop a while to watch a lone hawk quietly glide on by, gracefully riding high streams of unperceived air drafts at that altitude and sliding against the bright light of a clearing sky extended above a ragged green tree line stretched beside the far bank. The patiently advancing river, frequently in literature a metaphor for the passage of time, leads me forward today but seems to curb its current purposely, as if it, too, wishes to linger, relish the present and exist outside the steady progress of chronology toward the future, even as its presence represents the past.
∼ July 18, 2022 ∼ “Summer Banners”
I am pleased that summer season banners appearing at prominent locations throughout Indiana Dunes State Park, including hanging at the main entrance and outside the front door of the Nature Center, have been created from my photographs. They are products of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources with support from Friends of Indiana Dunes. If you are visiting the park, don’t miss them!
∼ May 14, 2022 ∼ “Accessibility for All”
Earlier this week I attended a ceremony at Indiana Dunes State Park celebrating the installment of a specialized beach mat allowing persons with mobility difficulties to cross the sandy landscape and to view Lake Michigan from the edge of the surf, experiencing the lake waves from close range. I was pleased to take photographs of the event for the park, including the ribbon-cutting moment seen in the accompanying image, and I was emotionally moved during the occasion, both by the joy witnessed in those who had previously been prevented from approaching the water and by the generosity of individuals or groups whose contributions made the purchase possible, such as Friends of Indiana Dunes, Make-a-Wish Foundation (Indiana), and the Lake Michigan Coastal Program. In addition, this represents another advancement in the ongoing process of expanding the accessibility of the Indiana Dunes for everyone by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and Indiana Dunes State Park. Indeed, the park also offers two types of all-terrain chairs that make possible traveling some of the trails or touring the beach for more visitors.
∼ April 24, 2022 ∼ “April Abstract at Lake Michigan”
I am currently reading a new book, More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Nature, and Life by photographer and author Guy Tal. He is an excellent photographer and one of the best writers at presenting especially thoughtful personal reflections or critical commentary on photography’s position in relation to other arts and various issues. One of the book’s chapters insightfully examines the concept of abstraction in art, particularly its “contentious” connection to photography, a topic I have covered at times as well. Tal explores how abstract artwork “can be a tantalizing puzzle for the mind, forcing it to contemplate an image, try to decipher it, and decide how to respond to it…. This prompting of a viewer’s mind to study an image more closely is what artists refer to as visual tension.” In the past I have displayed examples of my more abstract landscape photographs produced through manipulating settings when capturing an image, such as softening the focus, intentional camera movement, slight adjustments in exposure compensation, and emphasizing complementary color combinations. As noted previously, I create photo abstracts out of the natural scenery I perceive, images which might allow for a notebook entry likewise expressing a somewhat subjective notion with a little bit of contemplative or speculative meditation. I also try to exhibit the primacy or purity of light and color. I regard these imaginative images as “mirage photographs.”
∼ April 9, 2022 ∼ “A Little Bit But Often”
This week I was watching an episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour show from more than twenty years ago in which he spotlighted the northern Spanish coast city of San Sebastian and sampled the wonderful Basque foods found there. Although I knew of San Sebastian from teaching Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to my students, and I remembered it as one of the author’s favorite locations, this video visit to savory places—local restaurants and tapas bars—seemed even more vivid than I remembered in my readings. During Bourdain’s travels from one spot to another along the old streets, briefly but frequently stopping for culinary offerings of delicious dishes accompanied by teasing sips of fine wines, he repeated a theme of the experience, an attitude that could be summarized in a popular saying by the Basque people in the region: “A little bit but often!” I was reminded that this approach is what attracts me to the form of these short prose pieces I have produced at a steady pace in my journal the past five years. In my writing I sometimes feel as if I am presenting isolated images together with a condensed text intended to create a cumulative effect that might sate an appetite for interesting native scenery.
∼ March 26, 2022 ∼ “Marsh Sounds in Late March”
I am hiking the recently renovated boardwalk over the Great Marsh in Indiana Dunes State Park during late March along three-mile long Trail Two that connects to the longer Trail Ten. Nobody else is here. At first, moving through a forested section, I listen to the distant rhythmic tapping of a lone woodpecker somewhere among the upper limbs of these empty trees but out of sight and the gentle grating of those bare branches scraping against one another in a strengthening wind. However, when I cross the dark marsh water, nearly ink black in this time of year, I suddenly hear the loud trill arising from a chorus of spring peepers creaking all around me, yet still hidden from my view, as if speaking in a secret language to enthusiastically welcome the new season. The only other sounds are the steady cadence of my boot steps and the slight squeak of each tan plank bending, giving way a bit beneath my feet.
∼ March 14, 2022 ∼ “Trees at End of Winter”
Each year, starting in the middle of March I walk familiar trails of the nearby state and national parks to inspect damage done by nature during the harsh weather of recent months. Accompanied by an increase in birdsong among the still-bare upper boughs, I hike these routes to view vulnerable trees I have been monitoring from year to year, some for almost a decade. Many have been kept from my sight for a while, camouflaged by snowfall or made inaccessible because of icy inclines and narrow paths along slim, slippery dune ridges. I always discover previously tilting trunks that have been toppled by winds or their roots exposed by land erosion and numerous weakened branches that have snapped, fallen beneath the weight of snow. Although temperatures have gradually warmed lately and sunlight now extends deeper into the evening, as the official beginning of spring is about seven days away, the surviving trees exhibiting these leafless limbs throughout the region will remain as reminders of winter for at least a few weeks longer but also serve more importantly as sources for admiration much beyond that time.
∼ March 7, 2022 ∼ “Blowout Ridge in Late Winter”
As winter’s accumulation of snow and ice slowly melted away during recent days due to a stretch of warming weather with temperatures eventually rising toward seventy degrees by Saturday, I climbed high ridges surrounding large blowouts at Indiana Dunes created over time by erosion from inland northern winds sweeping across Lake Michigan. Each year upon the initial thawing of the landscape evident in the start of March, I return to these narrow and steeply elevated trails that I have avoided for months as more difficult to scale in slippery wintry situations, especially when carrying camera gear and a tripod. Crossing a slim sandy summit curving around the rim of the Beach House Blowout and overlooking treetops of a forest farther east, I felt a great sense of invigoration and an anticipation of upcoming spring conditions.
∼ March 5, 2022 ∼ “Final Strip of Shelf Ice”
As temperatures rose into the fifties and sixties throughout the region during this first week of March, I watched the final strip of shelf ice hugging the shoreline slowly dissipate, thinning as it was melting away into Lake Michigan. At times, slim streaks of clouds swiftly sweeping low overhead from the southwest, pale against their blue backdrop, resembled these remnants of white clinging to the tan sand of beach at the water’s edge. With winter less than three weeks from being over, the spreading sunshine already held a spring-like warmth within it, and a transition seemed already underway, though I know from experience that another sudden snowfall could easily still occur in the meantime.
∼ February 26, 2022 ∼ “Shelf Ice Beneath Blue Sky”
At the end of February, the winter accumulation of shelf ice along the Indiana Dunes shoreline usually deteriorates quickly under strengthening sunshine until it ultimately disappears. Though fascinating and often beautiful to observe, this annual feature is always hazardous and becomes even more dangerous during times of rapid melting. Seemingly, each year individuals ignoring repeated warnings sadly find themselves in treacherous circumstances, slipping into the frigid lake water. Indeed, just this past week we witnessed another tragic example with a loss of life. As I viewed the accompanying scene in my photograph with its white mass of ice dissipating under a clear blue and sun-brightened sky, I tried to capture the artistic beauty that can appear so seductive. By taking this image of rich tints with motion blur due to intentional camera movement, I hoped to imitate the color field paintings for which abstract expressionist Mark Rothko is well known.
∼ February 19, 2022 ∼ “Snow and Haze on a Late-February Day”
Often in late February, even as the oncoming spring might be in sight, Canadian clippers slip through the region creating a very cold and snowy weather pattern. Sometimes files of squall lines quickly shift over the area, leading to whiteout conditions with sudden bursts of snowfall amid strong wind gusts. On such days when details of the landscape seem half-hidden by pale haze at times approaching an almost ash gray and the background sky behind bare branches looking like loose latticework lightens to white, the scenery begins to resemble a monochrome print, devoid of all color or vibrancy but perhaps made even more dramatic by their absence. Yet, the setting feels appealing for what might be a final winter hike through these transformed woods, since meteorological spring starts March 1, particularly as this forest path nearly fades away up ahead and then disappears into the distance, appearing to hint at an unforeseen transition soon to be experienced.
∼ February 15, 2022 ∼ “Sun and Shadows After Snow”
After last night’s storm, blue skies again appear in the distance as sunshine streams through these empty branches beside the frozen creek and this frigid afternoon begins its creep toward evening. The bright white of the illuminated snow seems to absorb the daylight, offering a false sense of warming. In some places the shapes of little drifts around trunks or fallen deadwood shift with each sudden rush of an increasing wind, and a few upper limbs grate, rasping as they scrape against one another. I hike a trail frosted and crisp with a smooth surface of thin ice atop the snowfall, partly darkened by shadows though not yet blemished by footprints. Remaining warm within my winter wear, I have been walking well more than an hour and passed no one along the way, but I did witness a pair of deer darting sharply among a tangle of trees deep in nearby dune woods, briefly creating a momentary commotion and clamoring amid this serene setting before quickly disappearing beyond the shallow slope of a small hill.
∼ February 12, 2022 ∼ “Wintry River with Toppled Trees”
After the arrival of a snowstorm accompanied by a Canadian cold front during the night, the sun remained hidden behind a milk-white sky most of the day. In the morning, while the northern breezes began to whistle even more between those thin limbs of little trees enduring on banks beside the river, and at times large snowflakes slowly fell in intermittent spells like floating white feathers along the waterway, I traveled a winding trail. Hiking this slim path through dune woods now camouflaged by deep drifts, I listened as occasional gusts sliced the forest’s silence with their whispered whoosh. However, by mid-afternoon conditions calmed quite a bit, winds quieted and the water current, narrowed in places by masses of ice and clogged by a logjam of toppled trunks or broken branches beyond the bend, seemed almost still.
∼ February 7, 2022 ∼ “A Winter Moment”
Pausing along a winding trail on a cold but windless winter day, those slow-moving remnants of storm clouds—afloat overhead, though almost motionless, and appearing at times as clean as white linen—seem trapped among bare branches beyond the bend in this section of the river. A network of twisting trees marks my way ahead, silhouettes of thin limbs in some places crisscrossing, reflected in the calm current below like a dark web. Amid the stillness, I listen to note an absence of birdsong and the loss of rustling leaves recalled from previous seasons, memories carried as consolation. In spring, when new windblown movement of warmer weather returns above me and a chatter begins to fill the treetops again with the sharp pitch of chirping, I will think back to this frigid walk through quiet snow-covered woods bordering the waterway now narrowed by ice. Despite the unremitting filter of forgetfulness, I know I will clearly remember this moment.
∼ February 5, 2022 ∼ “Morning Following Snowstorm”
Throughout the year I always anticipate a couple of days as particularly ideal for photography. I eagerly await the slanting late afternoon light upon arrival of peak leaf color in autumn, and I look forward to the stark unspoiled scenery beneath a lingering gray sky on that morning following the biggest winter snowstorm. Even if I were not interested in capturing images with my camera, these occasions seem inviting for simply taking a hike through nature when the landscape appears the way it does under such unique conditions. Therefore, this week I walked a few paths covered with more than a foot of fresh snow and mostly unmarked yet by others’ footprints, including this trail along the Little Calumet River in the Indiana Dunes National Park.
∼ January 29, 2022 ∼ “Cold Glow”
(“About the light, the way it glows”—Mark Strand, “Two de Chiricos”) When the weather at the end of January and beginning of February becomes frigid enough to register below-zero temperatures, although the sun seems so bright in such a clear sky, I find myself drawn to walks on trails through the Great Marsh at Indiana Dunes National Park. Amid the thin silhouettes created by midwinter’s low lines of sunlight angling from the south between thin limbs of empty trees, the now frozen and snow-covered waters, white and windblown smooth, establish a stark contrast that emphasizes dark extended shadows of bare branches and stunted trunks. I appreciate the clean appearance of this natural landscape’s cold scenery that at times resembles the surfaces of settings seen in those Giorgio de Chirico artworks to which I was first introduced as an undergraduate student in a Mark Strand creative writing class many years ago.
∼ January 23, 2022 ∼ “Dead Swamp Forest Following Snowfall”
The shallow waters of this dead swamp forest in Indiana Dunes National Park have frozen and been covered in white by a light overnight snowfall disturbed only by occasional paw prints of small animals. The morning is now cloudless and without wind as sunlight and stillness fill the landscape. My pedometer indicates I have already hiked at least three miles of wintry trails trying to find scenes that seem to signify the season. During summer this section of the Great Marsh is frequently difficult to visit due to flooding in the area and the nuisance of insects, but today the setting appears to me to be nearly inviting. Though the calm air is cold, the sunshine warming my layers of clothing keeps me comfortable, and these conditions create the placid atmosphere I had been seeking.
∼ January 14, 2022 ∼ “Brightening Skies Above Blue Water”
A cold and inconsistent current of air folds through distant treetops in thin woods on the hills above Lake Michigan, lakeside ridges and foredunes of wilted grass filled with just a dusting of overnight snow, as the landscape has reassembled itself once again. I stand at the edge of a ledge yet slick with ice, leaning into an increasing onshore breeze to photograph the moment, my tripod weighted by a dangling camera bag to stay steadily in place, its three-legged shadow starting to darken in arriving sunlight. When the wind settles a bit, I still the scenery in this wintry image to which I will return in other seasons, brightening skies clearing over the blue water and slim white surf seen behind a cluster of bare trees bunched beside the beach.
∼ January 9, 2022 ∼ “Looking Ahead”
The spring semester begins this week at Valparaiso University; yet, as each year’s curriculum schedule is planned far in advance, I was given an opportunity to design a new class for instruction in spring 2023 with a deadline for the proposal set at last month before Christmas break. I am pleased to report my suggestion of a topic called “American Landscape in Images and Literature” has been approved. This course will examine depictions of the American landscape through views presented in visual imagery and literary works. Beginning with the Romantic paintings of the Hudson Valley School in the nineteenth century and moving through to the billions of photos of natural locations posted nowadays on Instagram or elsewhere, students will compare and contrast the ways the United States has been displayed in different eras and their impact on society. Additionally, written profiles of various regions in the country, from Walden Pond to Tinker Creek, will offer examples of American authors’ perceptions of their surroundings over time and the evolution of environmental philosophies. Course requirements will include personal chronicles of the local landscape through a series of photographs and electronic journals by each member of the class, formal research papers focused on specific environmental issues, and field trips with lab events conducted nearby at a state or national park. I am looking forward to teaching this course.
∼ December 19, 2021 ∼ “Final Day of Autumn”
As we enter the final full day of autumn on Monday and look forward to the arrival of winter, the landscape appears to be lagging quite a bit this year. Local meteorologists have noted the absence of any measurable snow during the entire season, a first for most locations in the region. Consequently, scenery throughout the area, normally covered by at least a light layer of white in mid-December, seems to still resemble the imagery one would find in a John Constable late-autumn landscape painting. Although the trees are leafless and the more vivid foliage has given way to mostly duller red, rust, or orange coloring among the undergrowth while the green grasses have faded to yellow and tan, an expectancy of change yet lingers in the atmosphere like those clouds slowly crossing overhead, leisurely drifting from the north but perhaps indicating an eventual change is on the way.
∼ December 5, 2021 ∼ “Historical Marker”
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.
∼ November 28, 2021 ∼ “Horse Crossing in Autumn Light”
Capturing the final flourish of diminishing fall foliage, I visited a path in Indiana Dunes National Park that additionally serves as a primary trail for horseback riders. The route moves more than three miles through dense dune woods atop land that at one time during glacial ages represented the southern shore of prehistoric Lake Chicago (a precursor to current day Lake Michigan, whose edges retreated about thirteen centuries ago). Along the way the passage also crosses a couple shallow creeks, a few slim ravines, and a brief patch of marshland over which a narrow wooden bridge extends. I never walk this course in summer warmth when the thick forest is all a solid deep green, insects often swarm, and horses frequently pass; however, the colorful leaves of these hardwood trees in autumn and their thin limbs covered in snow or sleeved with ice clicking in shifting winter winds are always inviting.
∼ November 23, 2021 ∼ “A Richer Display”
In my previous post I noted a favorite location where I photographed a path in Indiana Dunes National Park at the peak of autumn leaf color. At the same time, I visited another setting where I had captured colorful fall foliage in past years, and I discovered scenery that seemed to exemplify the beauty of the season. This image of the creek winding along Trail Two at Indiana Dunes State Park appeared particularly appealing, captured on that calm and cloudy afternoon following a couple days of rain, and its characteristics reminded me of elements one might find in an artwork by the great Indiana landscape painter, T.C. Steele, whose biography, The House of the Singing Winds, I had recently reread, and who always prized as subject matter the arrival of a distinct Hoosier autumn with its “richer display of tints in fresh foliage.”
∼ November 21, 2021 ∼ “A Favorite Fall Walk”
On the day the peak of fall foliage finally arrived, I tried to hike familiar trails where I believed the leaves would be the most vivid. Having witnessed enough autumn seasons in this region and walked these paths in previous years, I knew some spots in routes through nearby woods that might prove more promising, including the scene in my accompanying photo. Fortunately, I was not disappointed. Like many of my fellow landscape photographers, I annually anticipate days displaying the change of colors among trees and shrubs with the eagerness I once reserved for Christmas morning when a child, and I am especially excited if the correct conditions—cool, calm, and cloudy—for capturing such images coincide with the exhibition of nature’s transition.
∼ November 16, 2021 ∼ “Still River Scenery”
Much of the first half of November has been blustery, strong winds accompanying passing storms. Regular bands of rainfall have swelled waters in the region streams and narrow creeks a little above normal fall levels. But just as the peak autumn season for vivid foliage arrived accompanied by calm and quiet conditions, I was fortunate to visit a muddy trail winding along a motionless river reflecting those colorful trees exhibited upon its bank like paintings placed on display. Indeed, the silence of my surroundings was only momentarily broken by the subtle crunch of crisp leaves already shuffling underfoot, and each time I paused to photograph the still scenery, I appreciated nature’s artwork even more.
∼ November 14, 2021 ∼ “Footbridge in Fall”
Walking among woods during early November following a night of showers, the lush scenery seemed so inviting. Each trail through the transitioning trees offered an array of colors, some on upper limbs illuminated by a slant of sunlight, that enhanced the landscape. Even those leaves—red, green, yellow, orange—already fallen to the mud-blackened ground contributed to the splendor all around me. As I approached a small footbridge in a forested gulley worn over time by the flowing water of a seasonal creek, now surrounded by vivid fall foliage at this peak moment, I imagined the location could almost serve as a dream-like setting in a fantasy film. Additionally, I believed this short span traversing a lingering stream of rain runoff perhaps represented an apt metaphor for a transient passage from one part of the calendar to another.
∼ November 10, 2021 ∼ “Autumn Morning After Rain”
On damp autumn mornings following precipitation, especially along already soggy trails like that beside Dunes Creek, the array of wet leaves seems to display even more intense colors. The richness caused by moisture creates greater saturation and diminishes reflective sheen from ambient sunlight that otherwise might lessen its vivid nature. This situation eliminates any need for a polarizing filter that cuts glare, and such humid conditions even appear to imitate the common act of dialing down highlights in post-processing a photograph to elevate vibrancy by reducing distracting elements caused by brighter facets shining in the image. Indeed, the best time to capture fall foliage occurs during a dewy morning or on a hazy day close after rainfall under the filtered soft light of thin continuing clouds covering the sky like translucent gauze.
∼ November 8, 2021 ∼ “The Time of Falling Leaves”
When asked about their favorite seasonal scenery, most landscape photographers readily acknowledge a personal preference for fall foliage, particularly in this region of the country. The three or four weeks spanning peak autumn color in nearby woods provide impressive imagery found around every turn along the forested trails. Indeed, the end of October and start of November are marked in my calendar as the best time of year for hiking through the wooded terrain I frequently visit. I might even confide that I have a special fondness for pictures capturing those moments when a sense of transition is evident with many of the trees or shrubs yet exhibiting smatterings of leaves still a rich green amid an array of yellow, orange, red, rust, and tan, some spatters of color also already scattered underfoot. As naturalist John Burroughs once wrote: “The time of the falling leaves has come again. Once more in our morning walk we tread upon carpets of gold and crimson, of brown and bronze, woven by the winds or the rains out of these delicate textures while we slept.”
∼ November 1, 2021 ∼ “Seasonal Transition”
When I visited the Little Calumet River this weekend following a few days of steady rain, I found the water level had risen considerably. Additionally, since the latest storm had gradually drifted toward the east and this location is sheltered from continuing northern winds, though they’d diminished quite a bit, the flow of the current had slowed, exhibiting a mirror-like presence that reflected emerging fall foliage seen on branches of overhanging trees along the banks, a few leaves even as red as remnant embers following a campfire. However, much of the autumn color coming into view appeared slightly delayed this season, and peak leaf peeping still seemed at least one more week away. Nevertheless, as I stood beside my tripod, my boots sinking in thick clumps of mud on a riverside trail, the vivid scenery appearing in my camera’s digital screen already displayed a great deal of seasonal transition.
∼ October 30, 2021 ∼ “Stormy Weather”
After yesterday’s all-day rain saturated the landscape, and this morning’s torrential downpours muddied even more those narrow trails extending toward darkened sand along the shore, I find waves of lake water yet tossed by continuing gusts. Following summer months mostly marked by above normal temperatures and very dry conditions, early autumn has been characterized by wet and blustery weather with a steady series of storm systems moving through the region recently. The latter portion of October has been particularly tempestuous. In fact, rainfall the past three weeks has easily exceeded that received in the previous ten weeks. Also, accompanying winds from the north have repeatedly whipped around the low-pressure centers and created greatly turbulent currents along the Indiana Dunes shoreline, as the high water has washed over local beaches and further contributed to coastal erosion.
∼ October 23, 2021 ∼ “A Touch of Fall Color”
Although it’s only October, the daily midday sunshine seems to have weakened quite a bit—as if filtered, even on cloudless afternoons—and already somewhat resembles the soft white of winter light one might see on a cold and snowy day. Moving through a cool nook of woods amid a dense earthy scent, I notice evidence of nature’s transition signaled by this season’s initial leaves relinquished from creekside trees, a scattered few nearby already appearing colorful and crisp. These fallen leaves, autumn’s adornment, scuttle beneath my feet due to brisk lingering winds following last night’s strong autumn storm that had swept ashore from the north bringing a distinct morning chill. The remaining foliage filling branches bending above, awaiting its eventual surrender to the seasonal change, also flutters fitfully with each erratic breeze brought by an onshore gust.
∼ October 16, 2021 ∼ “Lone Gull After Autumn Storm”
A thick layer of clouds weighted by rain had accumulated overnight with arrival of a cool front and by noon eventually gave way to a slow parting of the overcast, narrow patches of blue poking through here and there. Shells and pebbles sound at times like street gravel underfoot as I hike down a steep dune slope toward the beach, an indented section of shoreline suddenly slimmed by Lake Michigan’s high-water level. I am amazed at the isolation felt along such a slender stretch of sand yet untouched by the footprints of others. Nearby, knee-deep waves wash ashore, forcefully churning the surf and jostling scattered bits of driftwood, while in the distance crests break into whitewater with a fine spray lifting at least ten feet high then swept by gusts under today’s late-afternoon sky. I walk the length of this strand, alone except for that lone gull I watch lingering at the lake’s edge, stepping gingerly, warily aware of my movement, seemingly pleased as well by the changing conditions.
∼ October 11, 2021 ∼ “Early Autumn Evening”
∼ October 3, 2021 ∼ “The Invention of Nature”
I have been reading an engaging biography of Alexander von Humboldt. Andrea Wulf’s magnificent study, The Invention of Nature, chronicles the impressive life of a man who shaped learned views of the environment among all who followed him with perceptions still held by current ecologists. Born into a wealthy Prussian family in 1769, Humboldt was perhaps the premier adventurer, scientist, naturalist, and thinker of his time. As Wulf notes, Humboldt was “described by his contemporaries as the most famous man in the world after Napoleon.” However, I was also struck by numerous splendid black-and-white illustrations contained within the pages of this book, depictions of the various landscapes explored by Humboldt, and I decided to revisit my interest in monochrome photography, which I have mentioned in the past. Consequently, I produced the accompanying image captured along the northern Indiana coast, a picture exhibiting the tone and atmosphere of nature during an oncoming autumn storm that seems to me more suitably presented, maybe even invented, in this format.
∼ September 27, 2021 ∼ “Beach Following Early Autumn Storm”
I descend a shallow slope from a dune ridge to a scene that shows wet sand empty of others’ footprints, a sign I am apparently the first to arrive at this stretch of shoreline following an early autumn storm. Before eventually edging toward the east, a gray sky with remaining sporadic rain showers moved through the area much of the morning. I decided to hike along the coast after the overnight front brought black clouds weighted by heavy rain that eventually gave way to a slow parting of the overcast with a continuing increase in shifting afternoon winds now blowing from the northwest, flowing over the water while the high level of Lake Michigan takes away large portions of the beach in some places. As I step beside the surf and walk toward a tree line at the flooded point ahead, following days of unabated gusts from the north, I watch the lake waves swell well above ten feet at times, somewhat like those remembered ocean crests where I was raised.
∼ September 25, 2021 ∼ “First Day of Fall”
The first day of fall this year also brought a storm front with strong northern winds. As heavy rains drifted east, leaving behind only brief periods of mist or drizzle, I walked the shoreline of Indiana Dunes to observe the whitecaps of turbulent waves breaking on the surface of Lake Michigan. Although temperatures had dropped significantly—plummeting to the fifties from a high of nearly ninety the day before—as if a switch had been flipped clearly delineating the seasonal transition, the blustery weather felt invigorating, each refreshing gust seemingly reinforcing nature’s message of change and foreshadowing upcoming autumnal conditions. While hiking through elevated mounds of blowing sand in foredunes just above a flooded beach, I paused to capture the obligatory photograph of a distant Chicago skyline showing beneath the departing clouds and rising behind the windswept lake.
∼ September 21, 2021 ∼ “Late-September Sunlight”
I pass two boys bathed in late-September sunlight fishing at a bend in the Little Calumet River, each sitting on his own thin flat stone near the edge of the water, both flicking their wrists slightly to give an impression of life to the bait dangling at the end of their lines, while a pair of white floats bob like tiny boats on the glistening surface. They offer subtle waves that I return as I try to keep quiet so as not to disturb their efforts, and I move through an opening between trees toward where the trail closely follows the shallow slope of a small hill to a slim ridge path hidden in the thicker woods ahead. On this morning after a night of light rain, the damp shaded lower branches still heavy with leaves yet sag, though sunshine slips through skylights of narrow gaps among the upper limbs where a few birds continue to trill their tunes.
∼ September 19, 2021 ∼ “Late Summer Afterglow”
September’s late summer days this year have seemed unusually warm with temperatures at times nearing ninety degrees. Each evening’s arrival is just as tranquil, often bringing at best only a lazy lake breeze to the beach, not even enough to shake these slender leaves of marram grass seen rising in silhouette among the foredunes. Tonight, the smooth surface of the water also remains still at sundown. While waiting to photograph the scenery, I watched a widening light along the horizon until the snuff of sunset and a gathering cloud cover swiped bright daylight away for good. The gradual darkness of nightfall, routinely progressing steadily under growing overcast skies from blue to moonless and starless emptiness, now begins to unfold over everything, and only a golden glow with some reddish tints shows through those narrow bands of clouds, natural banners extending above the far shore.
∼ September 14, 2021 ∼ “Great Marsh at End of Summer”
Throughout much of summer the Great Marsh at Indiana Dunes National Park usually seems to be a study in greens. The trees filled with foliage, the long thin reeds of grass, the sedges at the edges of trails, and even the algae covered surface of the water offer various shades of the color. Yet, as the season nears its end persistent small patches of wildflowers and tall weeds already displaying hints of different autumn tints dot the landscape with splotches—yellow, orange, rust—looking like touches of rough brushstrokes, perhaps paint dabbed on an impressionist artwork. The clouds crossing above today also appear to bear an assortment of shapes splashed in place on a light blue background. Additionally, on this day I pause to watch the graceful movements of a great blue heron and a great egret whiter than any of the clouds overhead. However, since I have not brought my long lens to capture a close-up image, viewers will need to see if they can locate those birds in the accompanying wide-angle photograph or use their imaginations.
∼ September 11, 2021 ∼ “A Chance Meeting”
I rarely encounter many people when hiking and photographing locations along the Little Calumet River in the Indiana Dunes National Park, but yesterday I was pleased to meet and speak with Samuel Love, a fellow chronicler of the region’s landscape. I was capturing some images from a favorite spot on the kayak launch near the historic Bailly Homestead when I first noticed Sam arriving with a kayak and planning to record his journey up part of the east branch. We had a fine conversation on the nearby bridge before Sam started his travels upon the river, and I snapped the accompanying photo of him as he rowed toward where I had positioned my tripod on the span. You can follow Sam’s trip by viewing his video, “The Calumet Wilderness,” at the following link: https://youtu.be/DdzYOf0_lu8
∼ September 7, 2021 ∼ “Raised Swim Risk”
Labor Day weekend, which some regard as the unofficial end of summer despite more than two weeks remaining until the autumnal equinox, arrived with comfortably warm temperatures reaching into the upper-seventies and low-eighties in various nearby locations, certainly a suitable situation for final vacation days. In fact, meteorology records indicate this week is the last of the year to have average high temperatures in the region at 80-degrees. Such delightful daily measurements will not return until sometime next June. However, with the persistence of northerly winds, following a low front that had passed through the area late Friday and into Saturday, steadily pushing lake waves toward the shore and creating dangerous currents accompanied by riptide conditions raising risk levels, both the state park and the national park along the Indiana Dunes had to close their beaches for swimming at times. Unfortunately, the forecast predicts a similar situation through much of the upcoming week.
∼ August 27, 2021 ∼ “Golden Hour”
Every evening, as the seasons cycle through the year, each with its distinctive features, I look forward to that golden hour when angled sunshine begins to loosen its grip on the landscape. Sometimes the anticipation merely leads to disappointment. For instance, yesterday’s late daylight slid behind a clutter of black clouds, apparently weighted with rain. The dark cluster lazily crossed the lake, blocking just enough of the view to eliminate any idea of a sundown photograph. Today, however, I wait by my tripod at this same site for the arrival of vivid transitioning to a night sky as the sun sets above a long border of clouds over that western crease of coastline. Its rich orange and red colors slip slowly but steadily into the distance as if the day were simply draining away. Although a bit of northern wind persists, it lifts only little waves turned toward the shadowy shore, which provides a fine line for leading my eye across the image.
∼ August 23, 2021 ∼ “Still Summer Afternoon”
I am surprised by a late haze of daylight as a stray white cloud is nudged momentarily in front of the sun like a translucent window curtain drawn by slight southerly winds in the upper atmosphere. Nearby, without even a ripple the lake stays nearly still below a tint of clear sky looking like a lustrous blue jewel, yet the kind of canopy photographers usually despise for an absence of interest. With its glinting surface, the waveless water appears almost motionless, as smooth as polished glass. The deep green leaves, decorating branches on a line of beach trees that seem to have sidled beside the shore behind me, lie limp from lack of a breeze, as if lazy, maybe too weary from yesterday’s blustery weather to give a quiver, and their cumulative shadows collect in black pools among the surrounding pale tan sand beneath them that today shows signs of being bleached a bit by the bright summer sunshine.
∼ August 17, 2021 ∼ “Summer Sunset Through Beach Trees”
Between silhouetted leaves among black branches of shoreline trees, sunshine blossoms just above the horizon on the other side of Lake Michigan, and its extended influence of illumination glows behind that filter of faint haze brought by migrating smoke from widespread western wildfires. In recent weeks, each evening we’ve seen certain hues in the summer sunset enhanced by a diffusion of light moving through a dense layer of minuscule particles spread against the transitioning sky. The sun itself sometimes appears nearly orange, yet in other instances even hints at red, and all the tints in the distinct pastel sheets of atmosphere shaped around it seem to be set in place as precise swaths applied by a painter’s brush.
∼ July 26, 2021 ∼ “Listening to Didion”
In Joan Didion’s well-known essay titled “Why I Write,” which she acknowledges as inspired by George Orwell, the author states: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” Later in the same piece, Didion connects word and image: “The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind. The picture dictates the arrangement.” When composing prose, I instinctively listen to Didion’s description of her method. Indeed, I have commented in the past that my approach to composition comes from the desire for a process of discovery amid curiosity about an unknown, and choices made in my writings arrive from an attempt to meld language with landscape. Like the boardwalk trail disappearing into a distance still to be explored in my accompanying photo, I try for my constructed sentences to move forward in an orderly way that clarifies through contemplation yet allows for some mystery of destination and an appreciation, even a celebration, of the bordering contrast or delightful disorder inherent in nature.
∼ July 22, 2021 ∼ “Footbridge to Trailhead in Summer”
I cross this short wooden footbridge over marsh water and enter a tunnel opening in the tree line where a trailhead to three routes allows for various ways to walk through the cooler dune woods. Much among the landscape seems asleep on these lazy days of summer. Even those birds occupying higher branches of trailside trees that I have heard so often since the beginning of spring and within recent weeks now appear nearly silent. Only the mosquitoes have awoken; although so far, they have left me alone. During my midday hike in this heat, I meet fewer people along the trails—perhaps a pair of lovers strolling slowly up Trail Eight, a tougher passage steeply climbing three peaks but ending by descending at the beach, and some family campers accompanied by a dog exploring the old growth forest through which Trail Nine folds before arriving at the shore, plus a few lone joggers quickly passing me here and there on the flatter but longer path of Trail Ten.
∼ July 18, 2021 ∼ “Printed Images”
Earlier this week, my wife Pam requested that I print the accompanying Lake Michigan sunset picture for her to frame and display on one of our walls. It may seem odd, but we rarely show my own photos at home, despite the tens of thousands I may have taken over the years. In fact, although I have dozens of photographs framed for formal gallery exhibitions stored away in bins in my study, only one of my images is available for viewing anywhere in the house, a farm landscape captured about eight years ago that Pam had transferred to a canvas backing in our family room. Since I insist on personally printing my own photos, I am always amazed at the ease of the digital process compared to those times during my chemical film developing in a darkroom a few decades ago. However, as I attempted to calibrate and recreate in the printed image the brilliant luminosity of the backlit version appearing on my computer, I was also reminded why even in those old days I often preferred to share my film images as illuminated slides projected on a screen.
∼ July 15, 2021 ∼ “Give It Grace”
In the fading light of this late-day haze, as the faint shadows of trailside trees lengthen and a slight breeze seeps through overhead leaves, some aspects of the scenery seem to soften or slip within themselves. Once, when writing a couple lines about viewing the landscape, a brief meditation on nature, the way he so frequently does in his poems, Charles Wright commented: “To look hard at something, to look through it, is to transform it, / Convert it into something beyond itself, give it grace” (“Looking Around III”). These words also might define my approach to photography when walking in woods, transforming the setting I see through use of a camera, even altering its impression a bit by capturing a craggy trunk with a macro lens. I confine the observer’s eye to a selected slice of time and space received within the frame of a printed image, isolated now as a distinct object existing on its own, perhaps displaying a separate state and thus inheriting an almost abstract artistic sense of grace.
∼ July 13, 2021 ∼ “North Winds in Summer”
A formation of faint clouds moves through the far blue sky above an outline of Chicago still visible on the horizon. The thin line of white extends beyond Lake Michigan, its shape looking a bit like the fading wake of a small motorboat in otherwise calm waters. Close to shore, this morning’s breakers flash their creamy foam amid a building surf, emerging under summer sunshine. The scenery seems familiar, almost as if this were the shoreline where I was raised. Indeed, I am reminded of my childhood days wading among rolling waves in shallow bays along the Atlantic Ocean coast. Behind me, I hear a raspy voice of the cooling northern breeze wheezing between leaves filling branches of beach trees. Four birds circle just above the ridge of a wooded hill shading the foredunes, ring-billed gulls appearing high overhead with silhouetted wings resembling those sheet-metal blades cut like scales on an Andrew Calder mobile sculpture.
∼ July 11, 2021 ∼ “Trail Through Dune Woods in July”
Most landscape photographers find this season’s woodland scenery difficult to capture in an interesting fashion because of the chaos usually inherent in the composition. The busyness of the setting doesn’t allow a viewer’s eyes to focus on any one spot within the frame, and the jumble of limbs filled with so many lush leaves can be jarring upon observation. In winter jagged bare branches with dark bark often provide greater contrast and seem to be more expressive, as do clusters of different colored foliage in autumn; but in late spring or much of summer, settings underneath a canopy of trees in a full forest with green undergrowth frequently result in frustrating images. However, I often try to resolve this issue by including a trail extending through the center of the picture, a leading line that guides one’s eyes from the bottom of the frame toward the top and offers a feeling for the dynamic experience of traveling along a controlled and determined path neatly placed amid a random and confusing clutter of natural surroundings. This route through the woods also could be perceived as exhibiting a classic Romantic juxtaposition that might be witnessed in numerous works of literature or paintings, a feature depicting a symbol of civilization wending its way among elements of wilderness to some mysterious distant place positioned in the midpoint of the photo.
∼ July 9, 2021 ∼ “Extreme Greens”
I recently cited artist David Hockney in one of my entries, and I’d like to again reference his paintings here. In 2020, Hockney premiered his magnificent and mammoth exhibition titled The Arrival of Spring, filling London’s Royal Academy of Arts with large canvases and iPad artworks depicting rural areas in Normandy. Describing this landscape project, Hockney repeatedly commented in interviews about the inspiration of the seasonal shift moving from winter through summer, and how in peak spring he would encounter enticing scenery of “extreme greens,” colors he believes difficult to accurately recreate in paintings or photographs. Similarly, I am always drawn to the lush green foliage of trees, shrubbery, and other undergrowth covering the ground in late spring or early summer—especially following a spell of spring showers or patterns of more powerful rainstorms during late June or at the start of July—as seen in my accompanying photo depicting a part of Trail Seven at Indiana Dunes State Park.
∼ July 6, 2021 ∼ “Night Shift”
On a recent early-summer evening when the weather was unseasonably cool with nighttime temperatures dipping into the mid-fifties, a lake breeze was shaking the thin top branches of beach trees and the sand appeared nearly bronze, the way it frequently does in late light as sunshine drains away over the horizon. I listened to the steady stutter of surf slipping up and down the sloping shoreline. A couple gulls swooped toward the water before rising high above as if weightless, repeating their pattern over and over again. At a distance, in a little hollow among the foredunes someone had started a small fire with sticks of driftwood for warmth, though such an act is prohibited in this part of the national park properties. I awaited the tide of darkness to slide through with a shift to nightfall, also now anticipating arrival of the first stars to mark the far eastern edge of a cloudless sky with their flickering pinpricks, knowing that soon a crescent moon would begin to move overhead as well.
∼ June 29, 2021 ∼ “Beach Beneath Clearing Skies”
When I receive a reminder of an anniversary of some posted photo that appeared in my timeline on Facebook during a previous year, I enjoy reminiscing about the occasion depicted in the picture. Indeed, I frequently appreciate this feature. Therefore, when the accompanying image from eight years ago popped on my screen over the weekend, I recalled the situation captured with my camera. As in this past week, which has been marked by thunderstorms with heavy rain and strong gusts, the weather then had been mostly overcast and stormy. When Pam, Alex, and I arrived at the Indiana Dunes beneath an emerging sun, we observed evidence that the lake had been swept by winds until completely covering the beach sands in recent days. Some of the spots near the base of dune bluffs were still spotted with pools of water, and much of the sandy stretch along the shore yet showed dark marks stained by waves rushing over the sandbars. In the photograph Alex and Pam are seen sitting on a section of the beach that only hours before had been under water, and the remnants of storm clouds can be witnessed as they continue to blow across the lake to be replaced by sunlight. Although I am usually careful to avoid including people in my landscape photos, and both Pam and Alex are normally camera shy, I wanted the contrast presented by individuals in such elements, even if minimal in the scenery, and I must confess this shot has always been a favorite of mine, particularly made memorable because of the presence of Alex and Pam caught unaware amid their surroundings.
∼ June 27, 2021 ∼ “Perceptions of Reality”
Viewing an interview with artist David Hockney recently, I noted his comment that all figure paintings and landscape photographs, perhaps even abstract works, may merely be perceptions of reality. Hockney has been prolific in producing various genres of paintings plus sometimes incorporating photography into his artwork. (Indeed, I believe his iPad landscape pieces are fascinating.) Indiana Dunes State Park posted on Friday the accompanying summer solstice sunset photo I had captured. I am always delighted when my contributions are displayed on that page, mostly to aid in promotion of the area but also because of reactions by the large audience of nearly 70,000 followers. As I reviewed some responses, I was surprised to find differing replies suggested the image must be mislabeled since it is clearly “a sunrise” or that the print was “flipped” backwards because of the position of the sun in relation to the skyline of Chicago. I realized my perception that dictated an ambiguous composition of the scenery likely inadvertently invited such interpretations. Since the photograph was taken at the solstice, a midpoint between seasons, I had purposely positioned the horizon at the center of the frame (normally frowned upon by landscape photographers). Additionally, I had snapped the shutter at a moment in the limbo lighting following full sunshine and before the beginning of blackening skies over Lake Michigan. Moreover, because the sunset appears at its northernmost location at this time of year, and the sun’s path moves over the righthand landscape beside Chicago only about two weeks either side of the solstice, observers understandably could be confused by the uncommon place where it is situated in this image. Finally, I had added a bit of texture in post-processing to blend a feeling of photography and painting. Consequently, I concluded that Hockney’s statement about paintings and photographs as products of artists’ perceptions also applies to the active impressions involved in viewing, perhaps similar to reader-response theory, which I teach in my literature courses.
∼ June 23, 2021 ∼ “Not Dark Yet”
Each evening beside the beach, as I stand by my tripod watching the sun setting in front of me, I try to anticipate the late display nature might deliver. To pass time, I sometimes think of old song lyrics, words to pair with the scenery in front of me, such as “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Croft or a favorite Bob Dylan tune with an apt line, “It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there.” Tonight, daylight finally disappears into a full flush of color, the slipknot of sunset, followed by an orange afterglow above the horizon in a sky emptying of clouds, all now exiled amid a daily rhythm of transition. I fill my backpack preparing for a return walk to my car waiting in the dark parking lot, the quiet setting broken only by a distant hiss of heard but unseen surf softly tossed on the sand and rocks, an easy onshore breeze rustling bristly leaves of grass or isolated trees among the foredunes. I resign myself again to a lack of language, mere words paired with scenery, effective enough to eloquently, or perhaps even adequately, capture the experience. I also hope when I review my photograph at home, its image will suffice as a surrogate, at least a somewhat satisfactory substitute, for the actual event.
∼ June 15, 2021 ∼ “Mid-June Dune Scene”
Beyond a ridge not much more than fifty yards from me, while hiking here I passed a boy sitting on a fallen tree trunk turned driftwood and washed upon the beach, his hands clasped onto one another as if in prayer, fingers overlapping like the folded wings of a nearby ring-billed gull standing farther along the shore on tan sand now wet and darkened by a recent surge of surf. Earlier, in the distance a sleek sailboat was floating over the lake with one white sheet unfurled and billowing. I am photographing a few dunes brightened by streaming sunlight under a cloudless sky, stubs of bushes and blades of marram grass with their leaves displaying the deep greens of late spring, plus small and slim trees bent a bit with thin limbs, perhaps twisted over the past decade by winter winds. When I was as young as that boy, I’d often rest during afternoons in this warm month on a harbor pier withered by weather and weakened by persistent ocean waves, where a fleet of old fishing boats returned each evening, their decks loaded with the day’s catch, dozens of seagulls hovering in the leisurely breeze blowing overhead. Today, as I freeze this moment with my camera, try to still the windblown setting with my shutter, I am also again reminded of movement, about the inevitable passage of time, as well as the final line from my favorite passage of prose at the close of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
∼ June 13, 2021 ∼ “A Note About My Writing Process”
In his New York Times bestselling volume of very brief essays, The Book of Delights, Ross Gay includes a vignette (he calls them “essayettes”) titled “Writing by Hand,” which extols the virtue of composition by pen in a small notebook, the process he followed in creating his journal collection. Gay reports: “first, the pen, the hand behind the pen, is a digressive beast. It craves, in my experience anyway, the wending thought, and crafts/imagines/conjures a syntax to contain it.” Similarly, the more than 600 journal entries I have offered the past five years also have been initiated with my writing by hand in small lined notebooks, the current one provided by my wife as a gift. I have discovered this deliberate manual mechanical process displays an evolution of thought and language through scratched out phrases, arrows connecting sentences or fragments, and editing balloons with inserted words plus alternative synonyms. Each quickly conceived piece requires little more than fifteen or twenty minutes to produce and preserves procedures of inspiration, imagination, or correlation of details, while developing a permanent record of scribbled ramblings, better than the computer screen, which continuously tempts fingers to press the delete key.
∼ June 10, 2021 ∼ “Sunset Near End of Spring”
I set my tripod legs into the sand on a narrow path among clusters of high marram grass in the foredunes on an almost windless evening. Spring is turning into summer, now less than two weeks away. The number of bugs by the beach increases at dusk but thus far are not much of a nuisance. Sunset photos seem to easily please me, perhaps each possessing its own personality, displaying singular shades of color combinations, some more lush than others, as in an artistic arrangement. Tonight, a rogue cloud even seems to halo the setting sun. Often, I find the contrasting fringes of sky around the central glow most dramatic, as when violet and charcoal tinges begin to fill in the overcast spaces, creating a complement to those vivid tints still lingering on the horizon, and the lake water largely fades into darkness as well in a way that eventually completes the circle, like rounded or softened edges making a frame for me with this natural vignette. It suddenly seems so simple: I only have to snap my shutter button to snatch an image worth preserving.
∼ June 8, 2021 ∼ “Walking the Beach in Spring”
Since those frigid northern winds were exiled with the winter weather, each onshore breeze in this season now seems refreshing. Dune woods newly full of foliage ride the ridges of little hills shouldering an eroded coastline. Where I walk through the foredunes on this late spring morning, I watch one gull float beside the beach, twitching its wings and shifting position with each small surge of surf. The early forecast calls for thunderstorms bringing sudden downpours this evening. Yesterday, the still lake water resembled a glass table top reflecting an afternoon’s blue sky ruined only by a few far-off splotches of cumulus clouds, distant specks lying like hung laundry along the horizon. Every day we live with the conditions we’re given. Like life, the landscape appears ever changing, adjusts and alters its profile with any visit. I just try to photograph the scenery and find the right language to describe precisely what I see.
∼ June 6, 2021 ∼ “Abstract Expressions: Surf in Spring”
“Journal and landscape / —discredited form, discredited subject matter— / I tried to resuscitate both, breath and blood, / making them whole again…” (“Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” Charles Wright). Occasionally, I create photo abstracts out of the natural scenery I perceive, images which allow for a notebook entry likewise expressing a somewhat abstract notion with a little bit of contemplative or speculative meditation. As I view the accompanying spring shoreline setting captured with motion blur due to intentional camera movement and texturized in post-process, I am reminded of a concern I frequently entertain. Sometimes I think I have written more than I should or anyone would care to hear. In the end, is everything I produce simply an attempt at superficial description or is evidence presented to readers of any greater significance? I have accumulated almost two-hundred thousand words in my journals inspired by Thoreau; yet, I wonder where is the focused narrative and what is the overarching story. Are words written after an experience merely the vague scent of drifting smoke following the dousing of a breakfast campfire, an aroma that has shifted a few football fields’ distance in a persistent late-morning wind and now lingers along a trail in the nearby woods for visitors to sense, though not knowing the source, not tasting the slightly seared sausage or sipping the hot coffee? Is it enough just to offer these short pieces, prose vignettes that, perhaps like Charles Wright’s poems, record an observation or report an emotion in language momentarily inspired by landscape? I guess I’d like to believe Wright was correct in a statement also from his work cited at the start of this entry: “Landscape’s a lever of transcendence….”
∼ June 3, 2021 ∼ “Late Spring Trail”
The days have lengthened, bright sunlight tightening its grip on the landscape, gnawing away at the nighttime. Last week, a strong southern storm disintegrated as it drifted north, its clouds fragmenting as they approached, its rain dissipating. Due to recent short-term drought conditions, despite yesterday’s brief light rain shower, the creek water level is lower this month, its current running slower and receding in those places already almost dry, revealing a golden bed of sand. Earlier, I heard birds glibly conversing close by my path in the slim upper limbs of trailside trees. Now, in the distance one lone woodpecker keeps its beat. A mess of ephemeral insects thickens the air near me, some seemingly flickering as they flit in and out of narrow rays of late sunshine seeping between deep green leaves at times throwing their web of shadows about the ground around my feet.
∼ May 30, 2021 ∼ “Spring River”
In mid-spring sunshine, lush green leaves appear nearby, filling limbs on these riverside trees. Birds repeatedly sing above as they slip easily from one branch to another. I listen to their rhythmic lilt drifting in this morning’s leisurely breeze. Yesterday’s steady procession of black clouds and bouts of heavy rain have slowly floated away, retreated to the east. Following April’s annual flooding, the worn path of this trail seems to have shifted a bit. Now realigned a little, it twists and turns beside the river, passing closer to the eroded bank than in the past. Dark pools of shadow have returned and again offer cool pockets of air amid the gradually warming weather of late May. Reflections settle on the surface of slow-moving water, as if the reverse images are intentionally meant aesthetically to double the impact of such wonderful scenery.
∼ May 23, 2021 ∼ “After a Passing Storm”
When most of the clouds cleared last night following a quickly passing spring storm, starlight brightened portions of the sky. In the morning, sunshine dried the countryside. Though the strongest gusts disappeared during the day, the lake continued to display a turbulent surface all afternoon as windy conditions washing over the water still stirred nature’s wave machine. I like to see how each season this landscape re-shapes itself. Yesterday, I noticed dramatic coastal erosion at the eastern end of the beach, sections of dune slopes that had been ruined by wintry weather. During my walk today, I could see three trees torn from a ridge had slid to the tan sand on the shore below. The lake level had decreased about ten feet, and this narrow strand now appeared to be feathered white by a scalloped line of surf, its swells pushed onshore before that persistent movement of air from the north.
∼ May 18, 2021 ∼ “Lake View in May”
Like torn sheets of old note paper, scattered remnants of last year’s brown leaves now still blow about the ground, spun slightly by even the lightest breeze around slim trunks of trees beginning to blossom, some already filled with foliage. The afternoon’s strengthening sunshine is sifted by budding branches also shifting a little in the fresh air yet becoming warmed by those southern winds of spring. The setting appears silent except for this season’s revival of sporadic birdsong in limbs high overhead and sometimes also overarching the trail. A few isolated clouds float by like white sandy islands surrounded by a tint of blue sky seemingly the color of seawater. Earlier, walking by bristly underbrush amid thin ridge woods looming above the coast, I peered down, watching beyond the brow of a dune mound toward where small waves folded into themselves and splashed softly upon the shore, drops glistening in the glow of sunlight as if bits emitted by a sparkler lit in celebration, perhaps at last pleased to reach the beach.
∼ May 15, 2021 ∼ “A Gesture of Respect”
This afternoon I feel little wind and observe only a slow movement of thin stratified clouds crossing toward the southwest sky as if escorting a late-day sun. I walk quietly along a dune path through high leaves of marram grass beside the beach, every slender leaf greener than a week before. Lazy waves of lake water arrive, at times like lines resembling those bowed stripes inside the frame of a minimalist painting by Morris Louis. Moments ago, I observed an older man standing with a deaf adolescent by his side. The boy appeared maybe eleven or twelve years old. Both figures stood just beyond the reach of pulsing surf, each shading his eyes from a harsh glare of bright sunlight with one hand. The old man’s other hand was pointing toward the thin strip of Chicago skyline barely visible amid haze on the horizon beyond the blue lake. Then he bent to face the juvenile and communicated a comment by signing with a flutter of fingertips. In reply, the youngster simply nodded and smiled, his eyes still protected from the sun with an open palm touched to his forehead, as if in a fixed salute, offering a gesture of respect.
∼ May 12, 2021 ∼ “Marram Grass in Early May”
Following an afternoon of uninterrupted sunshine, I waited by the shoreline. Just before darkness arrived tonight, a collection of clouds again scraped the far sky above Lake Michigan. A little bit of wind picked up, and a repeated sequence of small waves washed ashore. Last night I watched zigzags of lightning igniting over the horizon; however, rain stayed away. Although most of the coastal trees have yet to fill with leaves, a sure sign of spring’s presence along the beach begins with the greening of marram grass, which during the humid morning was dripping with dew. Those swaying shapes, many that had been nearly gray or beige for the past six months, now offer vivid color, some narrow blades seeming like lines of handwritten script. Farther inland, evidence of May blossoms and blooms have already begun to replace those starker images inflicted by winter. The landscape continually sorts and resettles itself, and I know so much of my perception frequently seems connected to the metaphor of weather. Each day, I read the clever language of nature in its distinct signature.
∼ May 3, 2021 ∼ “A Simple Setting”
A few birds turn circles above beach trees as a last cluster of clouds drifts past in late-day light. Leaves of marram grass bend a bit among the dunes in a leisurely breeze, and the soft sand shifts easily beneath my feet. The lake water seems to transition between green and blue, and it now looks even smoother than earlier in the day when a weak weather front moved through the region. Although this location appears empty now, I have followed the footprints of others, perhaps previous visitors also walking toward the shoreline for brief relief from an active afternoon. When the sun slides lower over the horizon, all the edges of darker shadows will lengthen and sharpen until absorbed by nightfall. The tiny spots of stars will then flicker, and a chaos of bright dots will collect again against the backdrop of a black sky. Thoreau once wrote: “I am struck by the simplicity of light in the atmosphere.” I too prefer the predictability and simplicity inherent in just such a luminous setting.
∼ April 27, 2021 ∼ “Dune Tree Above Beach in Early Spring”
In this season, empty lakeside trees still seem to draw my eyes to the blue and white slotted sky beyond. The same light breeze that creates an easy cloud drift toward the north hardly shifts these thin limbs, while the surf along this subtle curve of shoreline appears nearly calm and smooth beneath dissipating lake haze. In a month or two the beach below this mound will feature crowds gathered in small groups, all feeling the heat brought by radiant sunshine, and I will find myself exploring elsewhere. Today, I make my way down a path through dunes now washed by the weaker sunlight of early spring among marram grass, especially dense in some places. Their blades gently waver, looking untidy, even tousled by a momentary increase in wind, and at times flow over those small broken branches that had fallen during winter-kill just a month or so ago.
∼ April 25, 2021 ∼ “Full Moon in April: A Memory”
Earlier this week a reminder on my timeline at Facebook posted an old photo from a past April. In an article I also wrote a while back, I posed the notion that taking photos contributes to an enhanced sense of memory, and I quoted a study that found memories were improved in those folks focusing on freezing moments with their cameras. Although I hadn’t viewed this image in years and had simply stored it away in my archives hard drive, I immediately remembered the day I captured the scenery seen within the picture’s frame. I recalled not having a tripod with me, and I recollected the trouble maintaining a steady hold on my camera to avoid shaky blurring due to the necessary long shutter opening in such a darkening setting. I felt again the satisfaction of achieving clarity despite this difficulty. I also thought about how still the water seemed in an almost breezeless and unusually warm spring at late evening. I relived the silence around me, even the chirping sound of the season’s returning birds had halted while I stood by the side of this small lake in a county park. I reviewed the cloudless sky and the reflection of moonlight on the surface of the water, as well as the isolated glare of houselights blazing along the shore, knowing I was alone when I witnessed it all, observing an occurrence nobody else will ever share. Examining details in this image returned me to a location and transported my mind to a specific instance in time, as I had once proposed photographs so often do.
∼ April 22, 2021 ∼ “Solitary Tree in Early Spring”
In early spring season the beaches still remain steeped in silence under slanting sunlight, large summer crowds now a couple months away. Bleached by wintry conditions and fading into the tan backdrop of foredunes sand, blades of marram grass yet exhibit their pallor. A single gull above continues to be blown about by colder onshore winds still chilling the coastline. Although later in April, this week’s forecast called for more snowy weather to come through the region. Again, I walk the lakeshore on my own; however, if anyone were here with me, I’d show how a lone tree among the dunes after winter’s end seems to be steadfast, resolute and unwavering. I would explain why I find such a common image of isolation so interesting and admirable, something from which we may learn appreciation for our solitary experiences. As Thoreau wrote about solitude and nature: “I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or a sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a bumblebee. I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house.”
∼ April 20, 2021 ∼ “Spring Sunset at Dunbar Beach”
In previous posts I have frequently spoken about the need to develop patience when engaged in landscape photography, especially when capturing a sunset image. Waiting for the precise moment of ideal light requires a degree of resolve. I might stand beside my tripod for an hour or more—checking and measuring luminosity on the camera’s histogram, hoping for bright and colorful conditions in the distance evident on the digital display—before discovering an acceptable exposure or finally quitting the scene upon deciding the night’s not right. On a recent evening, I arrived at a ridge above Dunbar Beach long ahead of a scheduled sundown. All afternoon an impressive scattering of cumulous clouds had passed overhead, and I was enthusiastic to capture a panorama since weather apps promised a similar situation through to nightfall. However, I found the horizon beyond Lake Michigan fitted with a thick wall of pasty gray, a combination of haze and low overcast across the water. Fifteen minutes ahead of setting, the sun disappeared completely and any expectation of a splendid picture seemed lost. Nevertheless, at the last minute, as if peeking beneath a stage curtain, a red circle showed itself a bit at the western edge of the skyline, and suddenly upper levels of the skies were richly illuminated once more, ignited by an array of oranges or yellows spread against a dark and almost Prussian blue cloud cover, all reflected on the lake’s surface, which appeared smooth in this unusually warm and windless spring setting.
∼ April 18, 2021 ∼ “Sensory Elements and Experiences”
This morning’s cold temperatures and brisk winds seemed borrowed from another season, but now the weak onshore breeze, although still a bit chilly, feels no more than a gentle breath on my neck as I hike beside the lake. I know the words I choose to use in my descriptions sometimes appear to serve only one purpose—prose composed to offer context about a photo for those who wish to picture themselves on the scene. However, every passage also allows me to preserve sensory elements of my memory as an initial step to fully maintain and measure a moment in time, maybe even to gauge its significance. For instance, today’s cool coastal air, despite the afternoon’s brightening sunshine, and the rattle of colorful beach pebbles or hollow shells jostling beneath my feet contribute to the visual image captured by my camera to define or determine the importance of an incident. As Ralph Waldo Emerson explained the process: “The senses collect the surface facts of matter. The intellect acts on these brute reports, and obtains from them results which are the essence or intellectual form of the experiences.”
∼ April 14, 2021 ∼ “Return to Normality”
Last week as I walked the shoreline along Lake Michigan on an unseasonably warm evening for early spring, I noticed groups of visitors gathering to watch a forthcoming sunset. By the time the sky above the horizon had been lit with an array of vivid colors, a small crowd had collected by the water’s edge. I had to set my tripod among dune mounds on a ridge to omit from my camera frame those figures strolling the beach below. That same night I viewed an episode of the Ken Burns documentary about Ernest Hemingway, the author whose works I’d studied for my Ph.D. and who serves as subject for senior seminars I teach. Although the program offered little new information, I found myself fascinated by a number of photographs exhibiting Hemingway and his Parisian circle that I had previously not seen. However, almost as interesting were images of the masses at crowded street cafes in Paris during 1921 and 1922, captured not long after the end of World War I in November of 1918 and the Spanish Flu pandemic that extended from 1918-1920. These scenes reminded me of the possible return to normality, including full beaches on hot summer days, one would like to believe will soon occur again as surely as the next sunset.
∼ April 12, 2021 ∼ “Trail Toward Beach in Mid-April”
During April hikes I notice shortened stubs of shrubbery or stunted tree limbs that have been damaged by wintry weather. These seem to serve as lessons to be learned about ruin or the hope for restoration in spring, elements of nature’s authentic language meant to make a point, perhaps the authoritative field guide more instructive than pages in any book. Along this ridge trail with tan sand underfoot, I hear a murmur of surf in the distance, where I see persistent waves move onshore in rhythm with a continually quickening wind. Splotches of strengthening sunlight fill slopes of dune hills like bright patches of paint placed on a canvas by a Luminist artist. As always, I carry my camera and tripod, awaiting a break from the harsh sunshine evident all morning. The last time I came this way, the landscape had been buried beneath knee-deep snowfall, smooth white drifts glinted under a weaker winter sun during brief openings in cloud cover, and cold northern gusts whipped across a frozen lake.
∼ April 10, 2021 ∼ “Sunset at Start of Spring”
Every evening, as the seasons cycle through the year, each with its distinctive features, I look forward to that golden hour when angled sunshine begins to loosen its grip on the landscape. Sometimes the anticipation is disappointing when late daylight slides again behind a clutter of black clouds, perhaps weighted with rain. The dark cluster lazily crosses the lake, blocking just enough of the view to eliminate any idea of a sundown photograph. On this occasion, however, I waited by my tripod for the arrival of a vivid horizon transitioning to a night sky as the sun set over that western crease of coastline, its rich colors slipping slowly and steadily into the distance as if the day were simply draining away. Although a bit of wind persisted, it lifted only little waves and turned them toward the shoreline edge, providing a fine point of interest for leading the observer’s eye.
∼ April 7, 2021 ∼ “Trail Two Boardwalk Restoration”
I have often heard photographs mentioned as forms of memory, visual reminders of past experiences or recovered moments recognized from a scene lost in time. Even in images of the landscape, I find some truth to these perceptions. Reviewing old photos, I will notice a beach tree that has since been toppled by winds or a storm surge of winter waves. Sometimes I discover other images containing evidence preserved of settings impacted by previous conditions and exhibiting damage or destruction that now have been reconstructed and restored. Recently, the 2020 Indiana State Park’s Property Achievement Award was given to the Indiana Dunes State Park’s staff for restoration of the wooden walkway through wetlands along Trail Two, which included demolition, then installation of 2,561 feet of new boardwalk. Here is my before and after view at a segment of the path that had been posted on the park page. I enter this with appreciation to the park staff, volunteers, Ken and Mary Hill Family, and the Friends of Indiana Dunes, Inc. for their efforts and support of the renovation.
∼ April 5, 2021 ∼ “Trail Two Woods in Early Spring”
As I walk through these dune woods once more, light from a low sun flickers ahead of me between bare limbs still anticipating spring growth. In some places along the way, the ground around me remains chaotic, yet cluttered with a collection of branches broken by winter’s heavy weather. Clear skies, newly blue following two days of rain, returned at dawn for a while, perhaps like an image in a memory, though momentarily lost, suddenly remembered. Sifted scraps of weak morning sunshine seeped through these empty trees for a few hours. However, a mostly cloudy overcast now covers everything again. At times, the click of my camera shutter seems the only sound in this silent setting. Early April and already the narrow creek, twisting not farther than a few yards from my feet and only a month ago swollen by snowmelt, seems partially re-stocked by seasonal showers, its current running steadily behind where I have set my tripod.
∼ April 3, 2021 ∼ “Blowout Dune in Early Spring”
A steady progression of weather systems drifted past northwest Indiana during the last three weeks. Nature’s changes never end. Although spring seems to be attempting to settle in the region like those legions of migrating birds alighting on the limbs of leafless trees, only days ago snowflakes fell, powdering slopes facing north toward the water and slickening steep trails twisting inland. Today, wind speeds are gradually increasing once more across the area, though some gusts are already bending slim branches of treetops. Earlier the lake horizon line had been lost to morning fog, but now only a faint haze remains. Hoping to photograph scenes along the shore before a forecast rainstorm arrives, I hike a path among sand mounds and between clusters of still winter-worn marram grass at a blowout dune above the beach.
∼ April 1, 2021 ∼ “Sunset Through Empty Trees”
The weather warms a bit as southern winds increase and a spring storm spins in this direction from the west. Each week, with the path of a strengthening sun drifting farther north and daylight hours growing longer, the gradual shift to sunset now seems intended to be seen more like the threshold of a door toward a darker interior able to offer relief from the harsh sunshine. Perhaps this vivid sundown merely represents the landscape’s lively way of saying goodbye, one more day acquitted and allowed to go away, the simple replacement of one calendar page with another. Behind a line of yet empty lakeshore trees, a brilliant belt of vibrant color brightens the horizon. Soon, like a black bolt of fabric, nightfall finally will unroll. All of this exists as a sequence of scenery to be repeated every evening throughout the season until thick foliage completely fills these trees.
∼ March 30, 2021 ∼ “Big Blowout at Start of Spring”
When spring begins to bring better weather, I like to hike the Big Blowout, traveling deeper inland from the beach, now out of sight as I position my tripod for the sweep of a panorama photograph. A thin strip of sandy trail winds through this countryside often too difficult to walk in thick winter snow. A blue sliver of lake remains visible beyond a dune ridge. Much of the ground appears yet brown with tangled wisps of marram grass, and a scattered presence of empty trees awaits the eventual influence of color from this new season. However, some evergreens populate a distant slope as though showing off for the benefit of my camera. Early afternoon sunshine partially blocked by intermittent cloud cover, I wait for a moment when the entire landscape is softened by bright light fading to diffused shade, to release my shutter and avoid any harsh contrast caused by sharp dark lines of hard shadows.
∼ March 28, 2021 ∼ “Shoreline Trees in Late March”
Driving earlier toward the site of my hike, I observed flags outside shops and gas stations normally flying outstretched high beside the highway during recent windy days were now lying nearly limp, though an increasing onshore breeze seemed to arrive by the time I reached the beach. When the clouds finally cleared to a thin and patchy overcast, the sky began to renew its rich blue hue. As the weather had warmed during this midmorning in early spring and temperatures approached seventy degrees, I removed the waterproof pullover I had been wearing and started my planned three-mile walk. Making my way on a narrow trail through groupings of thorny thickets gathered together not far from the shore on a dune rise beside the lake, I noticed a file of empty trees extending toward the east as if they were sentinels keeping watch, arranged in a single-line formation for guarding the calm water along the coast seen easing into this scene.
∼ March 25, 2021 ∼ “Lazy Day”
Mid-afternoon, a single small sailboat drifts maybe six hundred feet offshore, a couple ring-billed gulls lifted by a light breeze circle effortlessly above a softly breaking surf, each seemingly flying a slack but repeated pattern. Only an hour and a half into my hike, I stand tired and alone along the beach on a foredune among these trees, yet leafless, that have once again survived winter’s severe weather to extend their lengthy shadows in spring. Today, I know there will be few photos taken. Instead, I will lazily step toward the shore, one footprint following another through the loose sand, carrying my camera without its tripod, for once appreciating the lighter weight, this time more witness of the present scenery than photographer, living in the present rather than preserving the past stilled in a picture to be printed and someday perhaps positioned on a gallery wall. Nevertheless, I will sit beside the water’s edge on a large branch of dried driftwood a while to rest, and later I will write lines in my notebook with a brief description of the images I’ve observed.
∼ March 23, 2021 ∼ “Trail Toward Shore in March”
Last night’s passing showers have left beaded raindrops on top of those fallen rust-colored leaves yet layering the soft wet soil. In this still chilly morning at the beginning of spring some cool pools of water collecting in low places along the dark wooded trail continue to display their thin skin of ice. I listen to an insistent whisper of easy surf heard ahead in the distance. By the time I reach the beach near noon, bright sunshine spreads from an opening of trees in front of me, lighting the shoreline and almost igniting the whitecaps of little breaking waves now in sight. Dune ridge shadows drift with the shifting movement of the southern sun. Breeze-bent blades of marram grass fill the foredunes, each leaf wavering in this gentle wind, although occasionally all are bowled over for a moment by the arrival of a sudden gust, onshore air current in which ring-billed gulls ride alongside the lake edge. At times they glide above where I notice a woman wearing a colorful cardigan stooping to the damp sand repeatedly with her young child, a small girl with an apparently matching sweater, both seemingly pleased to be gathering unusual shells and smooth stones that had been shuffled ashore during the recent storm.
∼ March 21, 2021 ∼ “Dune Hill Trail in Mid-March”
Following a day of drizzle as well as a lingering morning mist, today I hiked a less traveled and unmarked trail through dune hills laced with bright afternoon sunlight peeking between bare branches of tall trees rising on either side. There are favorite places in the landscape during late winter and early spring where I feel most comfortable, isolated spots with minimal accents to their stark scenery that seem to be maybe more interesting to me than when filled with the green of midsummer leaves or even the flourish of orange and rust colors seen in full fall foliage. Although others might not know these simple locations or never think of them as desirable settings for photography, I find myself drawn to long and twisting silhouetted limbs, their thin figures framing the way ahead, an increasing number of migrating birds busily chirping overhead, and that narrowing path disappearing in the distance toward an unknown that lies beyond its next bend.
∼ March 18, 2021 ∼ “Outtakes”
In my previous post I noted that my photographs are often designed to complement narrative phrases conceived as I hike. In this entry, I include a half dozen random observations, brief pieces (maybe a verbal version of film outtakes) from a recent walk that I have not yet collected into a cohesive composition. Perhaps this can offer an idea of how my thought process progresses from scattered fragments before becoming a final draft. 1) “The slender lines in dried trailside leaves left on the brown ground since autumn months appear as thin as the tiniest veins viewed in a human wrist.” 2) “The clear cold water of Dunes Creek flows slowly past me and feels like ice to my touch, enough to numb a finger in minutes.” 3) “Rich with a scent of dampness, black, thick and sticky mud from snowmelt runoff or recent rainfall seeping across my path squishes uncomfortably under my feet with each step forward.” 4) “A deer displaying the season’s coat of darker guard hair, nearly a football field away, gazes at me through a deep screen of trees, its figure faintly visible between bare branches of this dune forest.” 5) “‘Time Has Come Today’: distant clicking by an unseen woodpecker seems to echo in these empty woods like the tempo of those cow bell tick-tocks or rhythmic drum beats in an old Chambers Brothers song remembered from high school.” 6) “A dreary gray start to this day at end of winter finally gives way to bright afternoon sunlight sifted by silhouettes of interwoven upper limbs.”
∼ March 16, 2021 ∼ “Word and Image”
For five years I have kept my Indiana Dunes journal, perhaps seemingly nothing more than afterthoughts collected in paragraphs for a photographic almanac of images. Yet, I’ve never explained the way I arrive at my commentaries. Although most would assume I compose captions after gathering the photos, I can confide that the initial step in my writing method usually coincides with the arrangement of a setting within the rectangle of my camera viewfinder. Often, the framing and focus evident in a picture is actually dictated by what I already know I want to say about the scenery, narrative phrases conceived on location that I’m confident will be contained in any formal description. Consequently, my process from start to finish is an interwoven mixture of elements, part verbal and part visual, as I try to integrate word and image. For instance, as I stood by my tripod last month for the accompanying shot, I had devised a sentence likely to be included in any ensuing entry: “As afternoon skies were cleared by an onshore breeze, some narrow shadows of empty trees appeared, dark lines thrown by angled winter sunlight onto this snow-filled dune hill not far from the park’s iconic pavilion, currently vacated for extensive renovation scheduled to be complete in spring.” This on-site observation at the time shaped the taking of my photo as much as anything.
∼ March 14, 2021 ∼ “Swamp Forest at End of Winter”
I walk past snags and deadfall caused by winter winds on this windless and warming sun-filled morning. As early spring approaches, with seemingly more contributors to the normal chorus of birdsong lately now among the rickrack pattern of bare branches above me, I pause to photograph a portion of swamp forest that has recently thawed after weeks of a February deep freeze. Nearby, on the other side of the trail, nearly a dozen sandhill cranes squawk loudly to express their displeasure at my presence, some slapping sharply and powerfully at the dark surface of water with their large wings, before they decide to fly about fifty yards away and settle beneath empty twisted limbs amid another collection of stark trees, the bottoms of their thin trunks disappearing into a surrounding surface of black liquid, mostly composed of old snowmelt mixed with mud, beginning to ripple in little waves due to this sudden disturbance.
∼ March 10, 2021 ∼ “Path to Beach in Early March”
Driving north along the bypass for a midweek hike at the Indiana Dunes on a warm March afternoon, I observed a suddenly strong sun seemed to dangle high in the distant southern sky appearing in my rearview mirror. Though still offering more illumination than heat, its light brightened each feature of the landscape I passed along my way, particularly silhouetting those thin upper limbs of empty trees lining the highway. However, when I finally reached a narrow beach path through a tangle of yet bare shrubs leading toward the shore, the same location I’d photographed hidden deep beneath two feet of snow just a couple weeks ago, I noticed scattered cloud cover over the mostly still lake water had increased and now overwhelmed what had been a rich blue hue of clear skies. Nevertheless, this low ceiling of cumulus formations contributed a sense of texture to the scenery and added to my interest in capturing the image.
∼ March 9, 2021 ∼ “Dune Path on Mild March Day”
As I drove toward the Lake Michigan coast yesterday, the exterior temperature reading on my car dashboard stalled just short of seventy degrees. Only one week into the month and the weather seemed involved in a dress rehearsal for spring’s imminent arrival. Although swift southern winds briefly warmed the region somewhat, I noticed bright white remnants of snow lingering among wooded north-facing slopes of dune hills that had not yet been exposed to direct sunlight due to the continuing low angle of the sun’s passing. Nevertheless, hiking a shoreline trail winding among foredunes, I observed a pair of multi-colored butterflies already fluttering back and forth between the long-yellowed leaves of marram grass and still leafless clutches of undergrowth beside this path just above the beach. A trio of empty trees, their bare branches reaching expressively toward clusters of clouds overhead, completed the scenery, and I felt the presence of those butterflies floating in unusually mild March air along my way appeared to indicate a clear transition in seasonal conditions had happened on this late winter day.
∼ March 8, 2021 ∼ “My Selection Process”
I was pleased to receive a kind comment from a best friend all the way back in high school days as a response to one of my photos posted last week. In his complimentary note, he asked a general question I’ve received frequently in differing forms from others about my process of selecting locations for daily photography, and I have decided to answer a bit more completely here. I check weather apps regularly to determine not only whether the upcoming day will contain precipitation (rain, sleet, or snow), but also for expected percent of overcast, types of clouds, wind speed and direction, angle of sunshine, sunrise and sunset times, as well as possibilities of haze, fog, or mist. Certain conditions favor hiking wooded trails while others dictate a walk along the lakeshore or wandering into marshland and swamp forests. Additionally, I revisit specific areas repeatedly until I finally find the right lighting and to capture images with dramatic effects, such as spring growth, fall foliage, or wintry scenery. It helps that I live nearby a state park and a national park (totaling nearly 17,000 acres of natural landscape with a variety of terrain), both of which I regard almost as my personal backyard. In the accompanying recently taken photo I chose to hike beside a newly thawed river that had been frozen for a while. On this mild day following a spell of snowfall, I knew the water, outlined in white and with current wavering in a slight breeze, would be clear due to snowmelt and the setting would be protected by a partly cloudy sky from harsh shadows of overhanging branches.
∼ March 7, 2021 ∼ “Discovery and Didion”
I have taught creative writing for forty years, and every semester I begin the initial class session by informing my students about how the attraction of imaginative composition for me involves a process of discovery. Setting pen to paper or placing letters on a digital screen leads me to fresh revelations or adjusted understandings of various matters—even when examining familiar frequently explored subjects—I hadn’t yet realized I possessed. Similarly, when photographing landscape scenery, my greatest pleasure comes from originating a distinctive impression of what appears before me, perhaps like the accompanying recent picture of a coastline after snowfall. My main motivation is similar in both art forms. As I was reading a just published anthology of some previously uncollected Joan Didion essays this week, I observed her explanation for why she wrote: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” The essay reveals that her work focuses on conceived images and that she hoped to uncover what was going on in those pictures envisioned in her mind. Didion even compares the written word with photography: “To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and as inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.”
∼ March 4, 2021 ∼ “Pure Landscape Photography”
In late winter the once-iced creek water becomes unfrozen and still moves slowly through these dune woods. Weak sunlight filtered by thin cloud cover slips between the bare branches of trailside trees. Small knots of snow gather at the base of brown trunks now wet with melt. When I peer at the vertical rectangular image appearing in my viewfinder, the setting seems oddly calm, soothing, transient, and fragile. I no longer feel the chilly breeze yet sweeping easily onshore from Lake Michigan. Each time I freeze an instant with the thousandth-of-a-second quickness from my camera shutter, I experience the nature of “no-Time” about which Robert Penn Warren often spoke in his poetry—the perceived effect of timelessness when a moment seems separated from all others and beyond the control of chronology. Perhaps this represents the essence of pure landscape photography, distinct scenery isolated in time.
∼ March 2, 2021 ∼ “Beach Trees Near End of Winter”
Near the end of each winter I take inventory of beach trees lost because of waves due to storm surges, burdensome weight of snow and ice, or strong northern wind gusts. I hike miles along the Indiana Dunes shore to inspect the condition of those I had known to be endangered, and I am surprised when I find they have withstood another harsh season. I have visited many of these trees repeatedly for photographing over the past decade, and I have grown to regard some as landmarks or admired them for their ability to survive severe weather almost as steadfast sentinels standing watch at the water’s edge. Last week as I walked the coastline again during thawing of the shelf ice, I noticed at least four more of my favorite trees had recently been destroyed by wintry weather, their toppled trunks and broken branches lying twisted in a mixture of sand and snow. However, like the trees seen in my accompanying image, others still managed to remain upright and will continue to grace the lakefront, perhaps with an elegant and enduring presence.
∼ February 25, 2021 ∼ “Rural Road Under Snowfall”
When the snowfall finally ended, a number of rural lanes remained impassable, a few maybe two feet deep with the week’s total accumulation; so, I found a recently plowed parking lot at the state park and carefully hiked this rarely traveled route through dune woods to Trail Two. Although the sky stayed overcast and gray until late day, and a flat light filled the backdrop behind thin limbs bending in bare trees, some stuck with blowing snow adhering to their tilted trunks, the scenery seemed somewhat appealing. As I stood by my tripod to capture this image, the white way ahead looked like an empty page, perhaps that blank flyleaf flipped at the start of a highly anticipated new book. The storm’s strong winds had gradually diminished, and a calm collected across the quiet landscape except when a pair of long-legged cross-country skiers appeared nearby but respectably apart, sliding along a narrow path through an old-growth forest. The young couple called out a brief greeting to me before quickly disappearing, gliding gracefully into the distance, and then the silence returned.
∼ February 23, 2021 ∼ “Dune Hill in Winter”
All week now, snow drifts built along those slopes facing the lake beneath a nearby hill where the wind sweeps ashore from the north after each passing storm. Finding myself hiking knee deep in fresh snowfall, strenuously stepping toward an upper ledge overlooking the lakeshore, I pause a moment to rest. Listening to an absence of sound, the stillness feels soothing at first; however, this quiet is soon broken by the persistent tapping of a woodpecker coming from dune woods just beyond the ridge above me. Its steady ticking seems similar to a metronome’s rhythmic pace, and each strike against the hard bark quickly brings memories of recurring summer scenery. Today, camouflaged by winter white and faint haze, the setting’s features are almost unrecognizable. Nevertheless, warmer days only months away, soon songbirds too will again fill the tops of these trees, also yet empty of leaves, and walking steep sandy trails will be a little bit easier.
∼ February 21, 2021 ∼ “Dune Hill After Winter Storm: A Panorama”
When I arrived at Indiana Dunes State Park, I found myself alone. The strongest portion of a winter storm had faded away, and even the brief spells of flurries witnessed while driving had ended. Skies soon cleared enough to brighten the whitened landscape. I walked toward the shallow slope of a sand dune now covered in a couple feet of unblemished snow, a location where no one else had yet stepped. One portion of the hill before me featured trees whose leaves still lingered some, though long gone to gold in autumn, and they gathered snowfall among branches laboring beneath the sudden weight. In the distance a ridge line of empty trees seemed to cradle a few clouds amid an increasingly rich hue of blue above. Although I rarely capture images in a panorama format, this scene appeared appropriate for such an elongated aspect ratio, presenting an extremely wide perspective that studies suggest is nearer to the usual field of view naturally seen by the human eye.
∼ February 17, 2021 ∼ “Beach Beneath Snowfall”
Early morning began with frigid temperatures, readings dipping below zero, and a bit of light snow continuing to build atop two feet of previous accumulation. But by the time I drove north and reached the lakeshore, the thermometer level had raised a number of notches to eight degrees. Eventually, a solid gray overcast gave way to developing blue skies showing from behind thin lines of wispy clouds above ice-covered Lake Michigan. I trudged along a walkway railing that frequently leads visitors toward the sandy beach at Indiana Dunes State Park for summer sunbathing or swimming; however, today in this wintry weather, the slim wooden handrail simply disappeared into a field of deep snow, at times drifting waist high. It had become impossible for me to distinguish between the normal shoreline and the white expanse of shelf ice buried beneath days of snowfall, now extending as far as the eye can see toward the horizon.
∼ February 16, 2021 ∼ “Devil’s Slide After Snowfall”
I have always enjoyed photographing in snowy conditions, especially when I am able to capture images of settings during fresh snow cover that normally are occupied by multitudes of people. The absence of footprints and clean, smooth contours of wind drifts create a sense of solitude and serenity unusual for a location commonly seen teeming with hikers. The accompanying photo shows Devil’s Slide at Indiana Dunes State Park, a distinctive spot recognized by all who spend time there—frequently the initial hike taken by visitors and the lone official site designated for sledding in winter. Since I had arrived while light snowfall was still filling the landscape and the heavily overcast skies were as white as the steep slope, I was delighted with my opportunity. I snapped pictures in black-and-white format as well as in color, but I share the latter here because I feel the faint touch of tint in the fencing and some of the blades of undergrowth showing through the snow added an attractive accent.
∼ February 14, 2021 ∼ “Sandy Slope Toward Dune Hill in Winter”
I appreciated the positive feedback received for a recently posted black-and-white photograph. As I noted in my commentary accompanying that picture, I find certain scenes in frigid wintry conditions seem more suitable for this basic format. Because these snowy images already contain mostly white scenery offering a fair amount of blank space often broken only by silhouettes of bare branches as contrast, the straightforward approach of a simple black-and-white photo appears an appropriate choice. Consequently, hiking the other day along the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park during a passing snowstorm at times in near whiteout circumstances, I decided this landscape displaying a sandy slope now hidden beneath snowdrifts with its thin line of empty trees stretching along the crest of a dune hill would work well if captured as a monochrome setting.
∼ February 12, 2021 ∼ “Beach Tree Beside Frozen Lake Michigan”
With recent nighttime temperatures falling into negative territory on the thermometer and wind chills some days well into double-digits below zero, an accumulation of snowfall along the coast has blended well with the quickly developing shoreline shelf ice now thickening and stretching as far as the eye can see toward the horizon. Even each bare beach tree extending its thin and twisted limbs suddenly seems like a delicate work of sketched art with the vast expanse of frozen Lake Michigan almost serving as a pale canvas backdrop. Although severely cold and so stark in its wintry appearance, the air increasingly frigid with brisk onshore gusts, the magnificence of the scenery still serves as an invigorating feature to me while I hike a couple miles beside this sweep of vast white covering the lake’s hardened surface.
∼ February 9, 2021 ∼ “Morning Snowfall on Sand Dunes”
In the morning snowflakes slowly floated down outside my window from a low ceiling of thick clouds in windless air like the atmosphere inside a child’s snow globe or pale confetti drifting in an old black-and-white film. Radar screens showed a minor weather disturbance shaped like a tight fist shifting through the area. I decided to hike the hidden sand dunes in increasing shoreline fog, shelf ice on the lake beyond. I wanted to be the first to walk among the fresh powder. This new tier of snowfall appeared to soften the icy crust of those frosted layers left from last week’s storm and several nights of below zero temperatures, perhaps covering everything from the past “in forgetful snow,” as T.S. Eliot once wrote. By noon, though no sunshine arrived and the sky remained a light gray, the short snowstorm had gradually eased, diminishing remnants slipping farther to the east—although another low pressure system was forecast for later in the day. Its presence tapered the way sleep seems to recede easily with each day’s waking, the attractive aftermath of delicate snowy scenery lingering like the pleasure of a remembered dream.
∼ February 7, 2021 ∼ “Fallen Trees in Winter River”
As I hiked a trail beside this river on a winter morning following snowfall, I noticed a section where the slow-flowing current was interrupted by a cluster of recently fallen trees clogging the passage of water. Small patches of blue from clearing skies, in some spots looking like sample swatches of paint applied in thin brushstrokes to a canvas, reflected amid the many thick trunks and big branches, light brown now covered with white. All were collected together near a sharp bend and created a blockage obstructing the winding waterway. Colorful little ripples occasionally speckled the river’s surface, not yet frozen and so gently disturbed by a soft intermittent breeze. When I had arrived, my presence disrupted four mallard ducks that rose sharply from the water, vivid with the distinctive green gloss on their heads, and quickly flew out of sight through woods downstream. Afterward, I stood at my tripod in a strange silence, setting the scene within the frame of my camera viewfinder, suddenly aware of a certain sense of calm, an apparent stillness developing in the nearly motionless air after the strong wailing winds that had characterized the previous night’s passing storm.
∼ February 5, 2021 ∼ “Dunes Creek Bend in Winter”
With the recent arrival of additional snowfall and a late first freeze of waterways in the region, the distinctive bend winding between two wooded dune hills at the west end of Dunes Creek, along the short Beach Trail from the Pavilion parking lot at Indiana Dunes State Park, appeared particularly wintry and especially appealing this past week. Just a few hundred yards from where the east-to-west current’s slow pace finally flows into Lake Michigan, the curved course of the creek, gracefully placed in an inland valley (that until a “daylighting project” in 2006 also had been covered for decades by a parking lot), seems to lend a sense of elegance to its surroundings in each of the seasons—and I have photographed the scenery in all four—but it especially attracts attention to itself when frozen during the winter months.
∼ February 3, 2021 ∼ “Coastal Snow Following Overnight Storm”
A quickly moving snowstorm swept across the area overnight. In the morning light, large flakes still swirled in a twist of winds outside my window. Although seemingly colder than temperatures in recent weeks, the brightening sky displaying patches of blue in breaks between thick clouds brought forth a false sense of warmth and comfort. But by the time I reached the beach, now dressed in its winter white, the last evidence of overcast had disappeared and the unhindered sunlight illuminated an ample showing of snow topped with a shallow layer of shiny ice, almost glowing along the lakeshore. Calm yet chilly conditions created a smooth surface of pretty much motionless lake water tinted by the rich blue hue extending overhead. Even the bare branches of coastal trees—some weighted and bent by this latest snowfall—seemed to lean expressively toward the shoreline, their thin limbs caught firmly in winter’s grip. As I checked the settings visible on the back of my camera, I liked the crisp image of clean scenery arrayed in front of me and now captured within the frame of my digital screen.
∼ February 1, 2021 ∼ “Welcome to February”
The month of February often offers excellent opportunities for winter hiking and photography around the area. Weather conditions continue to allow landscape scenery to be seen through new perspectives as snow cover frequently softens or smooths a number of natural features and increases contrast in details, creating opportunities for great images. Empty tree limbs even allow viewing through woods to locations along trails usually hidden in other seasons by full foliage. Moreover, during February local daylight lengthens more than an hour and ten minutes, changing sunrise from 7:00 a.m. to 6:23 a.m. and sunset from 5:04 p.m. to 5:38 p.m. Plus, average daily temperatures rise: highs climb from 33 degrees to 41 degrees and lows ascend from 18 degrees to 24 degrees. Still, chances of a significant snowfall or two remain likely. In fact, although extended meteorological records show January normally witnesses a couple more days of snow accumulation in the region, February has proven snowier during the past decade.
∼ January 29, 2021 ∼ “End of Trail Seven Following Snowfall”
Thickening clouds rolled over the area overnight and earlier this morning, bringing increasing winds and leaving another thin layer of snowfall. However, skies nearly cleared by noon, and the day’s weather calmed considerably quickly. I walked through dune woods once again, hiking the short one-mile course of Trail Seven up a sandy inland incline of coastal hillside toward its crest, where one eventually emerges from the forest edge onto a narrow ridge overlooking Lake Michigan. Moderately easy compared to the steep ascent of neighboring Trail Eight that traverses the three highest peaks of the state park and requires greater labor, this route opens at its top to a shallow path descending gently through foredunes, where wind-smoothed slopes of drifting snow appear yet undisturbed by footsteps, and it ends at that steady pulse of small waves breaking in the surf now showing not far below.
∼ January 26, 2021 ∼ “Beach Reopening”
Yesterday, Indiana Dunes National Park officially reopened remote Central Avenue Beach, a favorite location for me to photograph, after a long period of closure due to destruction caused by strong gusts and wave erosion to the beach as well as dune slopes. Reports note that 56,000 tons of restoration sand were added to the site by the Army Corps of Engineers. I last visited it following a brief summer storm. Shadows of stray fragments from a few late clouds, remnants amid blue skies, slowly floated across the lake untroubled by much of a lessening breeze, at times temporarily darkening its water’s greenish-yellow hue. In the distance yet not very far from shore, ring-billed gulls still circled, silhouetted in sharp afternoon sunlight. An empty beach extended ahead of me, unmarred by footprints. Its access had been limited by damage to an entryway dune that had once tilted easily toward the shore, slanting at a shallow angle. But cut abruptly by the high waves and winter gale winds, it now existed merely as a sheer cliff of nearly twenty-five feet, down which I carefully climbed, stepping carefully into solid footholds of packed sand or onto small boulders and carrying my camera bag strapped over my shoulder. (The beach apparently remains difficult to access, but an easier path is promised when warmer weather returns.) At the time, I noticed a stillness all around me except for the sound from that steady whisper of soothing surf washing ashore and interrupting the silence in rhythmic intervals almost as regular as a metronome.
∼ January 24, 2021 ∼ “Sacred Space in Winter”
These north facing slopes of foredunes along Lake Michigan will always hold their snow cover a little longer, even when winter weather sometimes lingers into late March, although today faded yellowing patches of marram grass already show through a diminishing layer of white. Walking a fair distance east on a chilly beach, I reach the location where painter Frank Dudley once lived on an isolated sandy ledge below Mt. Holden in a lakeside cabin he’d named Duneland Studio, consisting of four rooms filled with his artworks, a big brown-brick fireplace, six picture windows overlooking the coast and open to strong onshore winds, plus an old grand piano for his wife Maida. In the past I have written fondly of this location as almost a sacred space, my favorite place along the shore, now returned to its natural state as seen in the accompanying image, yet transcendent, containing a somewhat spiritual significance. Here is where Frank and Maida hosted politicians and other prominent citizens in the early 1920s for displaying his scenic paintings, hoping to persuade support for legal status designating this landscape as public parkland, an official designation that finally occurred in 1923 with establishment of Indiana Dunes State Park.
∼ January 22, 2021 ∼ “Trail Two Bridge in Winter”
Although the bulk of an overnight storm front had at last passed toward the north, its distant southern fringes yet extended over our area. When I went walking in the morning, a bit of snow still fell intermittently, sifting between the bare upper branches of trees along Trail Two, filling the landscape with a thin white layer suddenly so bright even in the gray daylight, seemingly cleaning the disheveled scenery left by the autumn season around Dunes Creek. Only the beginning of winter, the slow-flowing stream had not frozen, and remnants of resilient leaves remained in a few of those lower overhanging limbs, some looking almost like the color of rust flakes on a lower body panel of an old automobile. A couple toppled trunks traversed sections of the water, various others lay scattered about the path but mostly hidden now by the fresh snowfall. Apparently, I had been the first to arrive, since the footbridge continued to be free of footprints, and I was hesitant to mar its purity, so I lingered a little, pausing long enough to capture this photograph of the setting.
∼ January 18, 2021 ∼ “Coastal Erosion”
Recent news reports with updates on continuing efforts to reverse losses from local coastal erosion reminded me of this image I’d taken in early September but never shared. Already, the late-summer day displays more evidence of steady decay: a pair of dead trees, soon to topple to the disappearing beach submerged below, still lean precariously from a thin ridge above a slight curve of shoreline. My afternoon walk beside the surf is halted due to the lake’s raised water level and insistent waves lifted by gusts yet stiffened by this back flow of northern wind current following a short storm that passed throughout the overnight hours. In some places, smooth grooves of sand seem planed down the steep slopes of dunes, and in other spots the sharp pitch of this incline appears rougher, a little like a surface littered with pared shavings. In the distance, green tops of trees in thick woods extending to a point just beyond my sight might eventually become endangered as well. As in this scene, almost the entire length of the Indiana Dunes has experienced damage in recent years, destruction from deterioration of the coastline due to natural patterns of periodic shifts in weather conditions, and latest assessments suggest possible gradual progress in recovery efforts likely won’t be apparent until sometime in spring.
∼ January 15, 2021 ∼ “Mild Start to January”
The first two weeks of this month have continually exhibited temperatures above normal. On mild winter mornings when almost all the snowfall along the shore has melted, the natural beauty of specific features beside the beach emerges into view once again, such as the scattering of crisp autumn leaves still strewn about the dunes, some caught among resilient tufts of marram grass, and the calm blue lake water adjacent to a lighter hue of brightening sky on the horizon. As though meant as a metaphor, the tan sand in this scenery smoothed by recent breezes but interrupted by a few strings of footprints disappearing into the distance—perhaps from other solitary strollers like myself—seems soothing. Even the final remnants of snow, tiny pockets caught in shadowy spots, appear like those dabs of flake white paint once touched to an impressionist’s canvas. I feel as if I’d like to stay here all day, await more of the afternoon warming brought by a slow yet steady flow of southern air current that arrived last night, but I know I must be going soon.
∼ January 13, 2021 ∼ “Small Pond on Warm Winter Day”
Thus far, the deep freeze witnessed in past winter seasons has not arrived. This morning the region was filled with mist and the sporadic spit of brief rain showers, but I am awaiting true wintry weather, the frigid cold with heavy snowfall stored in my memory and evident in past photographs. Today I notice the dune woods look almost as they have since the end of autumn, and a lack of snow in the swamp forest during mid-January seems so apparent this year, just as the absence of shelf ice along the shoreline appears odd. Black bare branches yet bend overhead, stark and sharply defined in their darkness. Last week, walking this trail at the bottom of a small gully along weak creek current bordered with little pools of still water like the tiny pond in my image, normally frozen over by now, the sandy path still gave way easily, soft and soggy beneath my feet. I even heard the faint sound of a distant birdsong, as if in spring, from somewhere between those twisting limbs of empty trees rising on either side of me.
∼ January 12, 2021 ∼ “Dunes Pavilion Renovation Update”
The historic pavilion at the public beach in Indiana Dunes State Park has been undergoing renovation the past five years and, following a number of delays, is now scheduled for reopening in May. An amended construction contract, revised and released on December 2, notes a ribbon-cutting ceremony has been set for May 7. The pavilion was originally constructed during 1929 and first opened for use in 1930. I recently examined progress on the structure, observing the exterior alterations appear attractive and are nearly complete, plus the building—which apparently will include a restaurant and ice cream shop—already displays a new entryway façade with a retro style, as seen in my accompanying image. Plans describe that an “open-air first floor will be available for public picnicking, shade from the hot sun of the beach, and interpretive programs and exhibits related to the history of the state park and the dunes region.” Notably, revisions to the pavilion that will be premiered in May do not include possible conceptual additions yet being developed of a glass-walled rooftop bar and an attached banquet center with 14-foot window walls, which have been sources of controversy and contention, especially with environmentalist constituencies who advise such features would be harmful to migrating birds and spoil the art deco design of the original construction. However, experts are being consulted with consideration for classic architecture, weather impact, danger to birds, influence of ambient lighting, etc. An emphasis on alcohol sales among refreshment options also concerns many who wonder about the possible influence on social atmosphere at the adjacent beach, where the Indiana Department of Natural Resources assures alcohol will remain prohibited. The DNR further informs all that a future banquet center “will provide indoor space on the second floor for wedding receptions, meetings, and other events. It will also be used for a variety of public programs throughout the year.”
∼ January 11, 2021 ∼ “Trail Beneath Bent Tree”
When the sun’s path tracks toward the south, drifting during the seasonal meteorological shift in winter, its sharpening angles of light often emphasize aspects of sunshine and shade, creating points of greater contrast in attractive images. Frank V. Dudley, “the Painter of the Dunes” from whom I have learned some tactics about how to capture images, frequently featured this polarity of illumination and darkness in parts of his artwork to increase a distinct awareness of distance for observers. Conversely, on gray days with sky now clouded by thickening overcast, natural daylight flattens and all sense of depth is altered. Indeed, late this morning when I walked the beach, Lake Michigan was still mostly hidden behind a white gauze of haze collecting along the coast, limiting any vision or effective photography. However, moving inland during emerging sunlight that had dissipated a lingering thin mist, I was reminded that long limbs, once burdened by the heavy weight of rain from spring storms and snow in colder months, or branches broken by strong winds, sometimes might bend so low above a narrow trail almost as if to deliberately hinder further movement through the woods, at other times merely casting a lone shadow in front of me.
∼ January 9, 2021 ∼ “Journal Update”
Each January, as the sun sets on one year and another starts, I archive the cumulative record of journal entries in my ongoing Indiana Dunes photography and commentary project, begun in January 2017 as part of proposals for a couple grants. While I was saving the posts from 2020 last week, I noted having written a total of over 160,000 words in more than 650 pieces, each accompanied by a photograph, during the past four years. The initial entry on New Year’s Day 2017 mentioned my indebtedness to Henry David Thoreau, whose body of journal composition contains about 2-million words, as a model for my process. Thoreau advised that one should “write often…rather than long at a time, not trying too many feeble somersaults in the air.” He also believed brief and simple observations or informal contemplations were frequently more effective because otherwise one might be tempted to prioritize style: “It is surprising how much, from the habit of regarding writing as an accomplishment, is wasted in form.” As always, I thank all for reading my words, which I hope have been rewarding, and I invite everyone to review my collection of commentaries.
∼ January 7, 2021 ∼ “Beach Overlook After Overnight Snow”
During warm summer days when a refreshing onshore breeze begins to lift leaves of trees beside the beach or shifts loose sand along winding paths I often follow through the dunes toward the shoreline, I like to hike this upper ridge trail just a bit inland, where a few cooler routes ideal for casual walking rise above the scenery and allow better observation. However, even in this morning’s wintry conditions, when snowfall conceals much of the foredunes’ marram grass—shaded yellow or made gray by the colder weather, some seemingly frigid with a white fringe—and other areas display a scattering of hillside shrubs, their lower branches and twigs becoming hidden in little drifts, I prefer an elevated perspective. By the time I capture this image, I notice a cluster of clouds that had collected at dawn in the distance above the horizon—I thought perhaps indicating another storm front might be approaching—has now mostly faded from view and given way to nearly clear blue skies.
∼ January 5, 2021 ∼ “Steady and Stable”
In a recent post about photographing a scene under overcast skies, I mentioned my use of a tripod, as I have occasionally done in the past. Despite sometimes reading comments where one wonders about its necessity, I have found the practice of including a tripod in my process valuable for physical stability of the camera and for imposing a steadying sense of patience in my routine. Obviously, on bright sunny days in open areas acceptably sharp pictures can be taken handheld, since the intense light allows for a fast shutter speed. However, much of landscape photography occurs during times of decreased illumination—such as at sunset, under cloud cover, or beneath the canopy of foliage in a forest—which compels longer shutter speeds for proper exposure and adds more likelihood of camera shake when held in the hand. Nevertheless, at times my ability with handheld shooting may be tested. For instance, the accompanying image was taken on a whim. I was driving along the lakeshore when I noticed a sudden sunset afterglow appear briefly on the horizon behind a line of trees. Fortunately, I was able to park my car fairly quickly, but I didn’t have the luxury of retrieving my tripod from the trunk and setting it up. I hurried to a proper spot, and I snapped the shot while leaning against a tree as an anchor. Because of the dim conditions, I wasn’t sure how clear the capture until I returned to my car, reviewed the playback on the preview screen, and happily determined it displayed crisp features.
∼ January 3, 2021 ∼ “Resolution: Fine Art Photography”
In photography’s infancy, “pictorialism” photographers tried to rival artists by adopting various techniques associated with painting. Later, the Photographic Fine Art Association, founded in England by Sultan Jouhar in 1961, was established in an effort to extend to photography the respect and elevated regard given to other visual arts, most notably painting. Its definition of “fine art photography” included an emphasis on evoking emotion with pictures designed to express an individual vision of a scene through the use of photographic skills in composing, capturing, and processing the final image. In the past I have noted how Ansel Adams considered photography an art with its photos as “made” images. Adams stated: “The photographer in every step envisions and constructs an image almost in the manner a painter might. Although the photograph sometimes might appear to be a mere documentation of whatever vista an individual has witnessed during a hike, the captured image has its own identity.” Similarly, beside documentation, I regard some of my work to be a form of fine art landscape photography–as seen in the accompanying picture captured in November on Trail Eight at the Indiana Dunes State Park—chronicling particular identifiable spots with a somewhat subjective interpretation that highlights specific aspects of the scenery, sometimes in an almost painterly perspective. With this in mind, as a resolution for the new year I intend to focus closely on creating more fine art photos accompanied by an impressionistic commentary.
[Dates reflect days on which entries are posted.]
∼ December 28, 2020 ∼ “Shoreline Vista in Early Winter”
Though many years may display colder conditions during December days in this northwest corner of the state, and all can change quickly, temperatures thus far at the close of 2020 have generally remained fairly mild and weather has mainly stayed dry enough to prevent any significant snow accumulations or build-up of shelf ice frequently seen along the shore at Indiana Dunes beginning in early winter. Consequently, long walks along this thin strip of sand during sunny midday hours still occasionally offer visitors beautiful views of a mostly untroubled surf. In fact, I captured the accompanying image recently under comfortable circumstances, even despite a slightly increasing onshore breeze as the afternoon proceeded, while casually hiking along the Lake Michigan coast to examine evidence of sand restoration and to inspect a collection of precautionary boulders placed in various locations, clusters positioned as buffers to help in protecting some beach dunes and shoreline trees from when those strong surges with large waves often brought by mid-winter storms make their appearance.
∼ December 26, 2020 ∼ “Remembering Barry Lopez”
I received word from a friend this morning about the death of Barry Lopez on Christmas Day. Perhaps best known for Arctic Dreams, a National Book Award winner, he was an author who began as a landscape photographer and whose works on nature or wildlife have impacted and influenced numerous writers. Indeed, I acknowledge a debt to him whenever I comment on nature, especially winter scenes like the one in my accompanying photo. I have written about him within past journal entries and in a dedicated article titled “Seeing to Learn.” However, nearly 25 years ago, I was privileged to have work included alongside Lopez in The Sacred Place, an anthology of environmental writing. His contribution to the book, “Pearyland,” an essay about death in nature, chronicled a scientist named Edward Bowman, originally from Indiana, who was briefly in northern Greenland to study “what happened when large animals die” and “they’re taken apart by other animals…funneled back into the ecological community”; yet, Bowman eventually spoke about the separation of their “bodies and the souls,” their spirits leaving the land after death. In a paragraph seemingly appropriate today, describing Bowman’s evolving state of mind at the close of his visit, Lopez reports: “During his last days, he said, he tried to sketch the land. I saw the drawings—all pastels, watercolors, with some small, brilliant patches of red, purple, and yellow: flowers, dwarf willow, bearberry. The land was immense. It seemed to run up against the horizon like a wave. And yet it appeared weightless, as if it could have been canted sideways by air soft as birds breathing.”
∼ December 23, 2020 ∼ “Lone Tree with Leaves in Beginning of Winter”
Walking through lakeside woods in the beginning of winter, I notice a lone tree, seemingly defiant, still clinging to most of its leaves—now crisp, and tinted a golden brown since mid-autumn—while the small hill rising up a bank beyond exhibits a section of nearby forest filled with the bare limbs of empty trees. This overcast day displays scattered patches of light fog along edges of the lake, and though calm conditions exist, I sense a forecasted rain seems imminent, soon to move through the area. I know I must start to head home before the storm arrives. Nevertheless, pausing to take a photograph at an odd and awkward angle, I need to slowly and carefully place one of my tripod legs in a shallow depth of motionless water, patiently trying to avoid creating little ripples that might upset the mirror reflection of treetops spread on the surface of the lake in front of me.
∼ December 21, 2020 ∼ “Great Marsh in Beginning of Winter”
Although often frozen over and covered with an accumulation of snowfall at the start of winter, thus far only a thin skin of ice still layers the surface of water at the Great Marsh. On the opening day of the season, the shortest in terms of daylight, thick clouds came early then cleared, allowing some glimpses of sunshine between those lines of overcast, but ominous skies would reappear again, arriving with a storm front later in the afternoon. After briefly visiting Kemil Beach and hiking the eastern end of Indiana Dunes State Park coastline to examine evidence of sand erosion and to watch a pattern of small waves, brought by light western winds, break easily along the Lake Michigan shore, I traveled to these nearby wetlands and walked a short trail through irregular clusters of empty trees unevenly interspersed among a landscape once lush and bright in summer, but now stark and darkening.
∼ December 9, 2020 ∼ “The Democratic Lens”
With the arrival of winter break at the university, I have been rereading Peter Gay’s historical text titled Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, which I initially encountered a decade ago upon its 2010 publication. In his account of Vincent van Gogh, the author indicates the painter’s dislike for photography: “The democratic lens, an invention that van Gogh despised, was to his mind doomed to register mere surfaces.” The obligation of the artist, van Gogh insisted, involved suggestion of something beyond the superficial. Since I have frequently acknowledged Frank V. Dudley, the Painter of the Dunes, as a main influence on my work, I usually attempt to present the landscape with a painter’s intimation of depth, perhaps an implied narrative or an arresting singular view that engages the observer in an aspect of the original experience, elevating the photo above mere equivalency of an image interchangeable with others and produced by “the democratic lens.” For example, I offer my accompanying picture of lakefront erosion that captures a scene representing the essence of an incident—what French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson described as “the decisive moment”—shot before the eventual destruction of a half dozen trees soon to topple into Lake Michigan.
∼ December 1, 2020 ∼ “December Weather”
Although the 2020 November around here had been among the warmest on record, complementing a much milder than normal year at area locations, December in this region has begun with typical wintry weather. Gale force wind gusts, sometimes surpassing 50 miles per hour hurrying from the north, brought large waves—at times exceeding 20 feet—across Lake Michigan toward the shorelines of northern Indiana on Monday. Local meteorologists reported lake-effect snowfall, usually associated with early winter conditions as cold air travels over warmer waters toward the Indiana Dunes, had already covered some coastal counties with a few inches of accumulation and were expected to continue through Tuesday’s beginning of the new month. Indeed, daily temperatures will drop during December from an average high of 41 degrees and low of 27 degrees at the start of the month to the more frigid levels of 32 and 18 by the final day of the year, freezing nearby creeks and streams, as seen in the accompanying calendar image.
∼ November 16, 2020 ∼ “Words on Nature by Walt Whitman”
Early this past weekend I read a brief article (“Walt Whitman on What Makes Life Worth Living” by Maria Popova) about how Whitman speaks to the necessity of nature for physical or emotional human health in Specimen Days, his book of prose pieces. Late in his life, following a stroke that left him with partial paralysis, Whitman testified to the healing impact of nature: “After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on—have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear—what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons—the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.” Consequently, on Sunday as steady winds exceeding 50 mph and reaching near hurricane gusts of 65 mph swiftly swept over the open water of Lake Michigan from the west, I decided to follow Whitman’s advice and explore outside by photographing scenes along the shoreline.
∼ November 8, 2020 ∼ “Image and Text”
As many who view my photos already know, I teach literature and creative writing at Valparaiso University. Frequently, art students enroll in my writing courses as electives to become better at narrative or description, hoping to create accompanying notes to artworks displayed in gallery shows or brochures. Some artists seem reluctant to accept a connection between the visual and the verbal, preferring or sometimes insisting that pictures be seen and evaluated on their own. In the past, I have published an essay (“Captions and Captured Images”) discussing this subject. However, integrating word and image has historically been appreciated as a tactic to communicate. Brooks Jensen—photographer, author, and editor—states in his book, The Creative Life in Photography, that there exists an “inevitable marriage between image and text.” He observes that the blending comes naturally to some, such as novelist and photographer Wright Morris, but Jensen also cites various other classic photographers who sought to collaborate with writers: “Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor, Walker Evans and James Agee, Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell.” I’m aware most folks who encounter my photos on social media focus on the visual; however, I hope my captions provide an added layer of understanding, complementing or augmenting the scene captured within my camera’s frame, even when briefly describing as simple an image as these leaves—crisp and brown, wavy and striated, clinging to a thin limb—that have transitioned into a different kind of attractiveness.
∼ November 4, 2020 ∼ “Autumn Trail”
When northwest winds moved swiftly through these mid-season woods of Indiana Dunes National Park last week, fallen leaves of tall trees along winding trails littered the way ahead, and all seemed even more pleasing to my eye. The series of footbridges crossing a dry creek appeared like magical locations from some unknown place with distinctive scenery, perhaps cinematic settings from the imaginary landscape in a fantasy film. I walked the path during an afternoon lull in wind conditions, appreciating a still and silent atmosphere each time I stopped to position my tripod for photographing the surroundings. This lower level of my route, twisting and turning between slopes of small hills, seemed filled with decorative shapes of festive paper designed by craft scissors and tinted different shades of autumnal colors suitable for a celebration.
∼ November 1, 2020 ∼ “Welcome to November”
This year the time change to Central Standard Time occurs in the morning hours of November 1, a transition that resets the local sunset to 4:43 pm. This switch of the clock creates a greater block of evening darkness, and by the end of November, nightfall will happen at 4:19 pm. Additionally, average daily temperatures during the month will gradually slip from a high of 57 and a low of 39 at the start of November to an average high of 40 and a low of 27 by the first of December. This tumble in degrees will be matched by the dropping leaves, which reached their peak in autumn color during the past week and, assisted by high winds or rainstorms, already have begun to cover the ground around all their tree trunks. Indeed, trails throughout woods in the region also are becoming more decorated with those rich tints of leaf fall.
∼ October 28, 2020 ∼ “Country Lane in Autumn”
When I was walking from my car in a trailhead parking lot and moving toward a forested region in the Indiana Dunes National Park the other afternoon following a morning of rain showers, I appreciated the crisp atmosphere of cooler autumn weather and the suddenly brightening landscape under clear skies. I had been anticipating capturing images of colorful foliage among clusters of tall trees hidden in a ravine along a thickly wooded route. However, just before I arrived at the location where my path would bend into the first gathering of undergrowth and disappear in the darker interior, carrying my camera on a tripod over my shoulder, I turned for a moment to look back at the country lane I had just passed. I was surprised to find an appealing scene I hadn’t previously noticed now revealed from an interesting angle, and I decided to pause for a photograph.
∼ October 24, 2020 ∼ “Chellberg Farm in Fall”
In the past I have mentioned how I often return to specific spots in the Indiana Dunes state or national parks to capture images during different months. Photos of historic Chellberg Farm, site of a nineteenth-century farmhouse located in the Indiana Dunes National Park and a favorite place I have repeatedly photographed, always seem suitable to any season. In a post from 2017 I noted: “in late fall—as the last leaves linger in surrounding trees…the farmhouse exists almost as a mere complement to that natural setting.” When I visited again this week, diffused light filtered through gray overcast skies appeared to soften the atmosphere and tint the landscape in a tone almost reminiscent of old-fashioned photographs. A chill in the air and the transitioning of leaves in trees around the home to autumnal color offered evidence of the seasonal change occurring throughout this region.
∼ October 20, 2020 ∼ “River in October”
During the break in a sustained pattern of rain showers and windy conditions yesterday, I decided to take a short hike, traveling about a mile on a trail along the Little Calumet River in the Indiana Dunes National Park. Following a few days during which overnight temperatures had dipped toward frost level, those colors of foliage on trees lining the river appeared enhanced. Additionally, remaining leaves on branches overhanging the stream of water seemed even more vivid because of lingering moisture from a morning storm, and diffused soft light filtered by slightly overcast skies brought richly vibrant tints in a scenery not bleached by bright sunlight. Even the afternoon breezes that had been blowing onshore from nearby Lake Michigan suddenly diminished, allowing a nearly calm current to flow slowly by my side and reflect a variety of features yet decorating the landscape on both banks.
∼ October 18, 2020 ∼ “Autumnal Art”
As local foliage offers evidence that the peak of leaf season has arrived in this region, I am reminded again of an excerpt from Henry David Thoreau’s posthumous collection of essays, Excursions, a favorite of mine. I especially appreciate “Autumnal Tint,” in which Thoreau contrasts artists’ supply of colors with nature’s great array: “Our paint box is very imperfectly filled. Instead of, or beside, supplying such paint-boxes as we do, we might supply these natural colors to the young. Where else will they study color under greater advantages? What School of Design can vie with this? Think how much the eyes of painters of all kinds, and of manufacturers of cloth and paper, and paper-stainers, and countless others, are to be educated by these autumnal colors. The stationer’s envelopes may be of various tints, yet, not so various those of the leaves of a single tree. If you want a different shade or tint of a particular color, you have only to look farther within or without the tree or the wood. These leaves are not dipped in one dye, as at the dye-house, but they are dyed in light of infinitely various degrees of strength, and left to set and dry there.”
∼ October 1, 2020 ∼ “October Sunset”
Many of the evident changes to the landscape that occur in October are easily visible in the richness and variety of color in its setting and seen among foliage remaining on trees, still twisting in onshore breezes, or observed on those fallen leaves already layering the ground. Indeed, in many ways the environment in northwest Indiana becomes an expansive canvas painted by the transitioning climate, a natural artwork designed by the season’s increasing chilliness, and the scenery achieves an added level of beauty. October’s temperatures dip quickly throughout the month, as average daytime highs slip from nearly 70 to the mid-50s, and normal overnight lows drop into the 30s. Additionally, the length of daily sunlight, now angled from a position farther south, diminishes to just a little more than eleven hours by the close of October, introducing stunningly vivid sunsets over Lake Michigan earlier in the evening.
∼ September 21, 2020 ∼ “Weather and Landscape Photography”
The final days of summer and start of autumn have seen cool and cloudless weather in northwest Indiana. As I have written previously in my journal entries, the influence and interaction of weather systems across the United States regularly impact our local meteorological circumstances. Whenever strong fronts or hurricane-level disturbances appear in the southern states and eastern half of the country, high-pressure zones moving across the Midwest frequently stall; consequently, cloudless skies will often linger for a longer period over Lake Michigan in mid-September. Consequently, many in the region enjoy the clear and comfortable weather at this time each year, but the opportunities for dramatic photographs are diminished. Indeed, as Ansel Adams observed: “Bad weather makes for good photography.” Nevertheless, fragments of these atmospheric low-pressure systems occasionally slip farther north and spread scattered splotches of clouds, such as in my accompanying photo taken when remnants of Hurricane Irma once drifted over the area. Currently, a weakening tropical storm, Beta, is shifting along the Gulf Coast, poised to pass onshore, and the path of its impact bears watching.
∼ September 14, 2020 ∼ “Path to Lake at End of Summer”
Today, on my mother’s birthday, I remember her for the wise advice she often offered me as a boy, including sharing the old adage about making lemonade out of lemons. Checking my calendar this week, I thought fondly of her as I noticed various cancelled activities still listed on pages in late September and into October, including mounting a photography gallery display for a two-month “autumn photos” show and leading a planned fall foliage hike for nature photographers. However, as is the case with most other folks, situations have changed in 2020. In response to conditions occurring due to the coronavirus pandemic, many photography events that I originally had scheduled for this year—exhibitions, lectures, seminars, workshops, photo hikes, photography club talks, etc.—were called off. Fortunately, with the assistance of the Interpretive Naturalist at the Indiana Dunes State Park, where I have always enjoyed engaging with the staff and visitors, I was invited to continue my participation there by posting a photograph and a brief caption of commentary each week at the park’s Facebook page. Since I prefer combining words with images, I welcomed this chance to promote appealing locations in the state park like the path toward Lake Michigan in the accompanying picture, and I have appreciated the experience, especially given the numerous enthusiastic and encouraging responses received from readers of the page, which lists nearly 65,000 followers.
∼ September 8, 2020 ∼ “Knowing One’s Home”
Decades ago when I was earning my Ph.D. at the University of Utah, I was amazed by the rugged Wasatch Range and various sections of the Rocky Mountains elsewhere throughout the region. Indeed, those surroundings served as a prime reason for my selecting to study in Salt Lake City despite attractive offers by other universities. From the snowcapped peaks, frequently lasting deep into spring, to the vast expanses of desert toward the south and west, I greatly admired that grand landscape. Consequently, at times I now wonder about my fondness for the Indiana Dunes and my insistence on repeatedly relating details about this nearby terrain where sandy peaks like the one in the accompanying image don’t even reach 200 feet. The local topography exhibits admittedly limited vistas in contrast with more dramatic sites evident in western states, even though the dunes stretch through a state park and a national park. However, I chose a book by David Gessner, All the Wild That Remains, for my holiday reading over the Labor Day weekend, and I received reassurance for my familiar focus through observations quoted within its pages by a pair of eminent environmental writers, Wallace Stegner and Wendell Berry, each emphasizing the importance of examining and comprehending the place one calls home. Stegner, a fellow Utah alum associated with the West, writes in a 1962 autobiography: “I may not know who I am, but I know where I am from.” Berry, a Kentuckian, responds in a 1963 letter to Stegner: “I would like to do as well, sometime, with the facts of my own little neck of the woods.”
∼ September 1, 2020 ∼ “Sunset at Start of September”
A look back at summer as September starts reveals a season of unusual warmth, perhaps at a record level. According to recent local meteorology reports, the months of June, July, and August have brought many more days with top temperatures reaching into the 90-degree range than normally witnessed. Nevertheless, as we find ourselves three weeks from autumn, conditions throughout the region will transition during the next thirty days, as the warm weather will soon begin to chill significantly. By the close of the month, average high daytime temperatures will decrease from 79 to 69, and the average nighttime low will drop from 60 to 48. Additionally, the path of the sun swill slowly drift farther south, creating more dramatic angles of light at sunset.
∼ August 24, 2020 ∼ “Calm Lake in Late Summer”
Lately, we have been witnessing a few late summer days with much warmer weather and blue skies visited only by light winds bringing wispy clouds, causing mostly calm lake water along the Indiana Dunes. In a recent journal note I wrote about how Ansel Adams regarded products of well-designed landscape photography as artifacts, made objects, art in their own right. I have written on this perspective frequently over the past couple years. Indeed, though I have sometimes described my photographs of nature scenery as documentary art, usually realistically chronicling a precise location during a specific season under defined climate conditions or weather disturbances, in the past I have also shared more abstract and consciously artistic compositions created by manipulation of my camera, maybe through deliberate movement or hand shake during an exposure to blur or accentuate shapes in a scene—perhaps the way an artist might apply brushstrokes to add texture or even drip paint drop-by-drop onto a canvas to exaggerate energy and visual expression—such as in my accompanying image, which depicts an experience of viewing the Lake Michigan shore in its state of stillness seen this week.
∼ August 19, 2020 ∼ “National Photography Day”
Since today has been designated National Photography Day, I share this excerpt from one of my past articles written about the process of photographic art and following a statement by the most renowned American landscape photographer: “Ansel Adams famously remarked: ‘You don’t take a photograph, you make it.’ When selecting a lens or arranging the camera settings, choosing to use a polarizing filter or graduated density filter, electing a time of day, arriving during weather with sunny or cloudy skies, situating the tripod and adjusting its height, committing to cropping, dodging and burning, and finalizing the print size or paper quality, the photographer in every step envisions and constructs an image almost in the manner a painter might. Although the photograph sometimes might appear to be a mere documentation of whatever vista an individual has witnessed during a hike, the captured image has its own identity. The photographer takes possession of this specific interpretation of his or her surroundings.”
∼ August 17, 2020 ∼ “Way Leads on to Way”
I have begun teaching literature and writing classes for the fall semester this week, all online through Zoom meetings. Conducting the initial sessions (including the use of visual presentation with sharing of syllabus files, links to required texts, and chat interaction), I recall the past the way my zoom lens draws distant objects closer. I am reminded of the first classes I taught more than forty years ago, which took place before personal computers or mass access to the Internet and that merely relied upon manual distribution of a mimeographed syllabus. Obviously, much has changed since then, but mostly through degrees of gradual transition over time. My general education class has been tasked with writing a personal narrative essay and my Modern Poetry group is beginning with reading a selection of Robert Frost poems, including “The Road Not Taken.” Consequently, I pulled from my bookshelf a memoir collection by Sydney Lea, A North Country Life, which illustrates the importance of memory in personal journals and cites the Frost work: “‘knowing how way leads on to way.’ I know a lot about that too: once my mind gets started in retrospective mode, this path seems to branch onto that one, that onto another, on and on until only sleep, and at times not even that, stops my rambling.” I believe aspects of these thoughts contribute to my longstanding and continuous fascination with photographs of trails disappearing into the landscape ahead, perhaps “bent in the undergrowth,” a natural image signifying the uncertainty of a future filled with surprises that can only be reached by traveling one trail at a time while possessing faith in the possibility of rewarding discoveries somewhere down the path.
∼ August 11, 2020 ∼ “Beach Clean Up”
Since opportunities for numerous activities have been canceled or severely limited this summer, national parks and state parks, especially those with public beaches or other open waterfront access, have seen increased attendance during July and August. Consequently, much of the landscape has been negatively impacted under the stress of unusually high traffic patterns. As mentioned in past posts, I am a member of Nature First, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization of photographers who advocate for conservancy of the environment we capture in images. As its current newsletter explains: “Nature First promotes the protection and preservation of the world’s natural and wild places through inspiring, educating, and uniting everyone making photographs and videos in nature; empowering them to be ambassadors of the natural world.” Therefore, I’d like to encourage those local folks able to engage in the Indiana Dunes State Park Beach Clean Up scheduled for this Sunday, August 16, beginning 8 a.m. at the park pavilion and moving east along the beach to bring the sand dunes back to their pristine condition. Trash bags and gloves will be provided, while participants are asked to wear masks and social distance.
∼ August 4, 2020 ∼ “Summer Surf at Sunset”
During midday in midsummer the dunes often appear pale, whitened by a bright sunlight shining from directly above through the opening and closing of gaps in high cloud cover occasionally crossing overhead. A sharp bleaching of the landscape by harsh light with an accompanying emergence of distracting shapes of dark shadows creates a great contrast lessening an opportunity for optimum photography. Following a winding walk through the foredunes—in summer conditions often almost chalk colored between tufts of green marram grass swaying in a late afternoon lake breeze—hoping I might find an appropriate location to photograph sundown, I know that before nightfall I will be rewarded by sight of a thin strip of surf and damp reflective sand extending along the beach, which suddenly seems to be painted in place, absorbing the low-angled rays and exhibiting vivid colors brought by a glorious sunset now caught by my camera.
∼ August 1, 2020 ∼ “Sunset Through Beach Trees”
Since August represents the final full month of summer, many visiting Indiana Dunes at this time of year wish to preserve the season’s fleeting sense of comfort and contentment often witnessed in tranquil settings along the shore of Lake Michigan. Even though the daily length of daylight gradually shortens with the earlier arrival of sunset each evening, accumulating to a loss of seventy-five minutes by the onset of September, perhaps this slow erosion of sunshine seems to emphasize even more a need to seek a scene highlighting the season’s beauty once again and capture an image displaying nature in its best dress, maybe saving a memory exhibiting green leaves on slim branches of beach trees framing the distant blue lake water suddenly brightening with red and gold, illuminated in this late hour under another vivid sunset.
∼ July 27, 2020 ∼ “Persistent Presence”
The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod (1928), Henry Beston’s classic memoir chronicling time spent in a small cottage among the dunes of Cape Cod during 1926-1927, devotes a total chapter (of the ten included in the book) to a fascinating meditation about the nature of waves breaking on shore. Living in his little home only thirty feet from the beach and just twenty feet above sea level, a constant companionship of the waves’ steady cadence created an acute consciousness of the surf’s sounds, which changed noticeably in different seasons and under various weather patterns. Beston notes becoming even more aware of the persistent presence of the ocean’s pulse at night while lying in bed amid otherwise quiet conditions with an absence of all those distractions of daytime activities. I also find my favorite time for standing beside Lake Michigan occurs after dark under moonlight, perhaps following photographing sunset and when most visitors have departed, listening to turbulence of the surf brought by prevalent northwest winds, as I am reminded fondly of my own history as a boy growing up beside the Atlantic Ocean.
∼ July 21, 2020 ∼ “Tenuous Coexistence”
The current issue of Outdoor Indiana (July/August 2020) contains an extended feature article written by Scott Roberts about the initial year of the recently designated Indiana Dunes National Park (after officially serving as a national lakeshore since 1966), as well as its ongoing relationship with Indiana Dunes State Park, which was established in 1925 and shares the coastline. Within the magazine’s profile of the region, the piece discusses the longstanding conflict and uneasy state of survival between the natural landscape and industrial development along the waters of Lake Michigan. Roberts explains the situation as it developed during the early twentieth century, especially following important ecological discoveries: “Environmentalists viewed this area as the most undisturbed portion of Indiana’s dunes shoreline, but industrialists saw other uses for its sand.” Although there has been increasing cooperation and compromise between corporate interests and conservation champions throughout later decades, a tenuous coexistence continues today, which I tried to capture in my accompanying image of a park beach as the sun sets behind distant smokestacks and a cargo ship slides across the horizon.
∼ July 14, 2020 ∼ “An Easy Evening Breeze”
As an extended heat wave, more than a week long with temperatures in the nineties, ended this weekend when strong thunderstorms accompanied by cooler conditions finally arrived, many began to breathe a little easier with an evident sense of relief. The whole local landscape seemed to respond as well. Even those trees throughout the region appearing weary with leaves that had started to droop a bit under the strong and unforgiving sunshine, some limbs dropping dried leaves due to the persistent heat I had mentioned already in place during my July 1 entry, were suddenly reinvigorated. Nevertheless, all during the hot spell each sunset that introduced a moderate evening became a welcomed section of the day, especially if paired with the slightest onshore lake breeze. Indeed, lakeside in this month I’m often reminded of the first line of lyrics from “Summer Wind,” my father’s favorite song sung by Frank Sinatra: “The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea….”
∼ July 7, 2020 ∼ “Description Expresses Love”
During the past week I have been reading a biography of John Updike by Adam Begley and, since Updike published about 70 books (including 26 novels), catching up on some of his works I hadn’t read before. When I teach Updike’s better-known fiction in my classes, I often focus on his extraordinary ability with description. Perhaps this skill links a bit with Updike’s hint of interest in photography, as exhibited in a story titled “The Day of the Dying Rabbit,” which emphasizes the main character’s occupation as a professional photographer and how that influences his perceptions of details evident in everyday events. Additionally, Updike is quoted in the biography as believing that “description expresses love.” I tend to agree, since I find my own combination of writing with photos attempts to convey a fondness for nature, specifically the Indiana Dunes, by displaying settings in such a way as to draw readers or viewers into elements of scenery, perhaps the white spray of a lake wave breaking under bright sunlight. I appreciate the often-unnoticed offerings in an image that evoke or suggest the various senses—sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell—allowing one to feel present within the captured moment.
∼ July 1, 2020 ∼ “Late Light in July”
In an 1852 journal entry, Henry David Thoreau wrote the following rhetorical question: “Is not all the summer akin to a paradise?” Certainly, those idyllic surroundings filled with numerous elements of a rich and vivid landscape seen during this season in the local region, especially during July, seem to suggest such a comment is warranted. Indeed, as the calendar page for the new month now opens in the midst of a typical Midwest heat wave hovering over the area and forecast to continue perhaps for the next two weeks, bringing temperatures in the 90s and humidity levels almost as high, the slightly cooler conditions experienced when walking among trees with leaves waving in a lake breeze at the Indiana Dunes—especially in early evening as a sunset illuminates the skies and late light reflects on the surface of the water—offer a scene exhibiting imagery one more likely might expect to find in a tropical paradise.
∼ June 29, 2020 ∼ “Diana of the Dunes”
This weekend, I completed another book on my summer reading list, Diana of the Dunes: The True Story of Alice Gray, a biography by Janet Zenke Edwards nicely chronicling the unique and tragic trajectory of a woman who abandoned her comfortable life in Chicago on October 31, 1915, at the age of 34, perhaps determined to commit suicide due to loss of a love relationship. However, beginning with an observation of her first sunset from the Indiana Dunes shoreline, she found instead a passion for her austere existence in an abandoned shack along Lake Michigan. Any resident in the region may be aware of exaggerated or imaginative legends about this figure, who died in 1925; nevertheless, the accurate account is even more compelling. Alice Gray was a scholarly individual—a Phi Beta Kappa at the top of her class at the University of Chicago, where she also pursued graduate work—whose views on such issues as life, love, literature, landscape, and loss are evident in a few eloquent excerpts preserved from commentaries she apparently produced during her decade at the dunes. I especially appreciate her diary’s succinct descriptions, such as the following: “…the lake is seen in a wide sweep and the horizon is banked with blue clouds, with an intense pink above them….” Unfortunately, a greater accumulation of her fine writings has since disappeared.
∼ June 24, 2020 ∼ “Marsh in Early Summer”
At the start of summer when weather has warmed to the 90s and the air turns humid, each of the nearby beaches along Lake Michigan will frequently fill with visitors by late morning, even in this time of pandemic concerns. Especially recently, since the waterfront in neighboring Chicago and other Illinois spots remained closed to sunbathers or swimmers due to restrictions meant to counter spread of the virus, the Indiana Dunes shoreline has drawn larger gatherings. Consequently, attempting to avoid crowded conditions, I often try to find alternative locations to photograph, places with paths less traveled (to borrow language from Robert Frost) during such heat. This week, after watching an archived video interview with David Foster Wallace explaining “a hunger for silence and quiet” away from the constant clamor in contemporary society, I chose again to hike a loop through the Great Marsh, which I managed to travel in a relaxed pace without encountering anyone else, and I was moved once more by the calm surroundings. Indeed, I was also reminded of a journal entry posted almost exactly a year ago (6-30-19) about a similar walk, when I noted how “the serenity of its distinct stillness—broken only by a far-off bird call or a bull frog’s croak, maybe the flapping of a nearby Great Blue Heron’s large wings—fills my thoughts with contemplation.”
∼ June 22, 2020 ∼ “Summer Solstice Season”
The official transition from spring to summer occurred this weekend with arrival of summer solstice. Although I appreciate all times of the year for photographing the region’s natural scenery, I must acknowledge a particular fondness for comfortable hikes within the lush landscape in northwest Indiana parks during this portion of the calendar, a segment stretching about three weeks before July 4 that I regard almost as if separated into its own season. Overhanging tree limbs are alive with sweet song from unseen birds and the leaves of grass extending like sheets of deep green all around, each blade blowing gently in a light breeze, yet exhibit a rich tint unblemished by the patches of brown an extended summer heat will create. Irregular sprays of spring wildflowers still fill the forest floor bordering trails, though their paths are now mostly thinned by rising overgrowth lining the way, offering a greater sense of seclusion from the outside world. Especially this year, those narrow waterways wending through wooded terrain flow slowly, their lazy current remaining at a high level because of record rainfall witnessed in recent months.
∼ June 17, 2020 ∼ “Solitary Tree”
Due to conditions created by the pandemic virus, everyone has had to adjust everyday living in recent months. Certainly, a serious impact has been felt by multitudes whose health or livelihood has been affected, and I am grateful that my situation has allowed for merely altering behavior a bit and more minor modifications to planning, including cancelling or postponing a series of various public appearances—a photography workshop, a multimedia presentation, a photo exhibit, etc.—scheduled for this time of year. Nevertheless, since my regular routine for capturing images in the landscape usually involves solo hikes to somewhat isolated locations of the state and national parks where I am unlikely to encounter others, and the photographs sometimes display secluded scenes in less visited settings, my focus of attention has not changed. Indeed, many of my works, such as this individual leafless tree standing in lakeshore foredunes, complement current concerns and appropriately offer symbols of solitude or present patches of the natural habitat separated from much human traffic.
∼ June 15, 2020 ∼ “Nature Photography Day”
Today has been designated Nature Photography Day, and I celebrate the occasion by reminding myself about one of the lessons I have learned from nature, patience, which I find helpful in everyday life, but especially in times of personal crisis or when difficult situations seemingly exist in the world all around us. I have been rewarded by participating in this practice of photography, about which I have written before in an article, “Adopting the Pace of Nature,” and from which I excerpt a segment here: “I have found the photographic process, particularly when I’m engaged in landscape photography, additionally exists as one aspect that has contributed to my more patient behavior. I have learned from nature the benefit to a calm acceptance of delay or deliberation. Capturing images in natural settings requires preparation and pausing in place until the correct conditions present themselves. As I stand beside my tripod and watch the movement of clouds and shifting angle of sunlight, or I halt as a pair of passersby amble past my field of vision to clear the otherwise empty beach I am photographing, I am reminded of the advice once offered by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘…adopt the pace of Nature. Her secret is patience.’”
∼ June 9, 2020 ∼ “That Familiar Conviction”
As the weather warms considerably at the end of spring and conditions concerning the viral pandemic seem to have ameliorated a bit, especially in some sections of the country, many appear to be anticipating the upcoming bridge to summer’s heat and lush scenery even more than in past years. Particularly in settings of nature as mid-June approaches, flowers blooming under bright sunlight and unseen birdsong filling full branches offer visitors’ senses healthy signs of a new season’s arrival, perhaps to be accompanied by needed hope and optimism. Indeed, this week I have been reading another volume on my summer book list, a fresh and specifically focused perspective on the biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald—whose works I frequently teach in a senior modern literature seminar course alongside novels by Hemingway and Faulkner—and I was reminded of a passage from one of my favorite texts, The Great Gatsby, whose narrative takes place nearly 100 years ago and spans the summer of 1922: “And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
∼ June 1, 2020 ∼ “June Mood”
As the calendar pages turn to June, which will officially introduce summer, my mood always shifts toward more cheerful thoughts with the warmer weather, which I’m sure is common. No matter the circumstances elsewhere in the world, those local places in nature I visit provide images that revive my spirit. During this month, when daylight hours expand to their greatest extent, everything appears brighter and more colorful. Each brilliant afternoon brought by sunlight now only slightly angled toward the southern sky, often accompanied by a refreshing light breeze along the Lake Michigan shoreline, seems to invite exploration of our flourishing landscape. In a journal entry Henry David Thoreau wrote on June 6, 1857, he noted: “This is June, the month of grass and leaves. The deciduous trees are investing the evergreens and revealing how dark they are. Already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me. I feel a little fluttered in my thoughts, as if I might be too late. Each season is but an infinitesimal point. It no sooner comes than it is gone. It has no duration. It simply gives a tone and hue to my thought.”
∼ May 28, 2020 ∼ “Words About Walking”
This week as I was beginning another book in my already accumulating summer reading list, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter, I realized I often enjoy accounts of journeys by foot, long and short. Many times, I have appreciated the reports of authors hiking established trails or backpacking paths through wilderness, whether domestic routes such as the Appalachian Trail or more exotic locations, including frozen lands in the Arctic Circle. Some of my personal library represents lesser-known volumes by chroniclers of nature, but additionally displays best-selling books by Bill Bryson, Jon Krakauer, Barry Lopez, Cheryl Strayed, and others. I also find interest in narratives about wandering urban areas noted for their influence upon artists and writers, such as streets of various New York City neighborhoods, perhaps Greenwich Village and Soho, or strolling past spots known for historic cafés and art galleries of Paris noted in numerous biographies of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century painters or mentioned in novels by folks like Ernest Hemingway. Of course, much of my introduction to literature about walking arose early in college when I first encountered Henry David Thoreau’s numerous journal entries and essays involving excursions in the countryside, which I frequently quote. Not surprisingly, a quick word search of the entries collected in my Indiana Dunes journal page during the past three and a half years reveals “walking” or “hiking” appears nearly 700 times, usually accompanied by photographs of passages I have traveled, such as Trail Nine at the Indiana Dunes State Park, pictured in the accompanying image.
∼ May 24, 2020 ∼ “The Drama of Sunset”
Despite an uncertainty evidenced every day in news reports during the past few months—while much of the world’s intended entertainment and sporting events or other already arranged gatherings, large and small, have been placed on temporary hold, postponed to a later date, or canceled altogether—daily elements of the environment continue on nature’s normal schedule. Additionally, those folks noticing common meteorological features have acquired an enhanced appreciation for their regular occurrences, such as cloudless afternoons and vivid sunsets. As I mentioned in a previous entry (“Blue Skies” on May 6), “in recent weeks many have commented upon an apparent greater richness when viewing clear distant skies, most likely because of an absence of pollution due to fewer cars on roads and lessening activity in nearby industries.” Furthermore, we are reminded that clean air contributes to brighter and more colorful sunrises and sunsets, unhindered spectacles that can be witnessed by everyone eyeing skies everywhere. Indeed, Henry David Thoreau once noted: “We never tire of the drama of sunset. I go forth each afternoon and look into the west a quarter of an hour before sunset, with fresh curiosity, to see what new picture will be painted there, what new panorama exhibited….”
∼ May 14, 2020 ∼ “Telling a Book by Its Cover”
Initiating my Indiana Dunes project conducted during the past four years, I noted an intention to blend my experiences as an author and a photographer to promote the natural landscape. My history as a writer and editor, as well as a professor of modern and contemporary literature, has included an interest in the aesthetics of cover art for numerous publications. Additionally, my photographs have served as magazine article illustrations and artwork for various book or journal covers. Moreover, when discussing the great novels of the twentieth century in classroom conversations with my students, we sometimes engage in debates about whether or not one can “tell a book by its cover,” and we examine the impact various dust jackets may have contributed to commercial publicity or shaped readers’ expectations. For example, in my Hemingway and Fitzgerald course we consider the iconic first edition cover for The Great Gatsby. Consequently, I am always intrigued by the introduction to a literary work or a periodical one receives from the visual imagery viewed before opening the volume to its first page. Even as an editor of electronic journals for more than twenty years, I have attempted to preserve the traditional format of cover art. Therefore, I was delighted to have my photograph captured at sunset from atop Mt. Baldy in the Indiana Dunes National Park with the Chicago skyline also visible in the distance across Lake Michigan as the cover for the new issue of Valparaiso Fiction Review, especially since the scenery seems so representative of the region from which the journal originates.
∼ May 6, 2020 ∼ “Blue Skies”
In the 1920s Irving Berlin composed a song titled “Blue Skies” for a Rodgers and Hart musical named Betsy when he was urged to contribute to the production at the last minute. The work gained more fame when included in the movie The Jazz Singer, which opened the industry to “talking” films. Later, this song supplied the title for a film headed by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Throughout the decades, this classic tune achieved acclaim with different audiences when covered by a range of various artists, such as Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Willie Nelson, and Rod Stewart, among others. However, for landscape photographers, afternoons with blue-sky conditions are almost always deemed as undesirable and often referenced negatively as a “bluebird” day. A lack of clouds diminishes possibility of any interest, depth, or definition in an image, presenting a bland and blank field instead. Nevertheless, in recent weeks many have commented upon an apparent greater richness when viewing clear distant skies, most likely because of an absence of pollution due to fewer cars on roads and lessening activity in nearby industries. Nowadays, what once seemed unremarkable has become a distinctive sign of the times, and the lyrics of a song nearly a century old obtain fresh relevance, though perhaps offering a needed mood of optimism as well: “Blue skies smiling at me / Nothing but blue skies do I see.”
∼ May 1, 2020 ∼ “The Gladness of May”
The final week of April in northwest Indiana this year supplied substantial overcast, flat and blackening skies bringing large amounts of precipitation and localized flooding. Storms swept across the region in surges, raising water levels, and their winds increased the height of waves at Lake Michigan shorelines, which exacerbated the already existing erosion situation along beaches of the Indiana Dunes. Nevertheless, the great accumulation of rainfall in recent days has assured May likely will be marked soon by ample sunshine bringing rich green foliage and colorful floral displays. Such a transition will be welcomed during this season’s darkened mood thus far due to conditions caused by the coronavirus crisis and its accompanying intimations of mortality, to play on words by William Wordsworth, who advised: “Feel the gladness of the May!” Another author, Henry David Thoreau, also identified spring as a season that serves as “an experience in immortality.” Indeed, evidence of new and beautiful growth always appears to contribute a renewal of optimism needed at the end of winter, and nature’s annual boost to the spirit will be especially appreciated in 2020.
∼ April 25, 2020 ∼ “An Excellent Form of Safe Exercise”
I was pleased to see this week that the Indiana Office on Tourism and Development featured my photo of Trail Nine at Indiana Dunes State Park, taken in June of last year while I helped lead a photo walk, as the visual for their “Visit Indiana” promotion to have state residents resume hiking at local sites as an excellent form of safe exercise. Visitors are reminded “social distancing is important to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.” However, all are advised: “If you need to get out of the house, areas where you can find seclusion are ideal, like Indiana Dunes State Park.” In a journal entry posted at the time I captured the image, I wrote about Trail Nine: “the hike begins beside marshland, moves through dune woods, rises a sand hill to an elevated path curving around the impressive Beach House Blowout, and then extends along a narrow ridge with vistas of Lake Michigan. In a report rating this 3.6-mile loop as the number one trail in Indiana, The Hiking Project observes: ‘This is the definitive trail in the dunes. It combines hiking through mature forests and along the top of a dune ridge overlooking Lake Michigan. The views are incredible.’”
∼ April 22, 2020 ∼ “Preserve and Protect the Purity of Nature”
Many photographers will celebrate Earth Day this year by reminding everyone of a need to preserve and protect the purity of the landscape, especially those locations in our state and national parks that might be more vulnerable due to staffing or supply shortages during current conditions. As I noted last year when announcing my participation with a new coalition of concerned individuals, Nature First: An Alliance for Responsible Nature Photography, all are accountable for safeguarding the natural beauty we encounter and capture in images. The organization requests that photographers practice themselves and advance with others a set of seven guidelines: 1. Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography. 2. Educate yourself about the places you photograph. 3. Reflect on the possible impact of your actions. 4. Use discretion if sharing locations. 5. Know and follow rules and regulations. 6. Always follow “Leave No Trace” principles and strive to leave places better than you found them. 7. Actively promote and educate others about these principles. Landscape photographers have a practical vested interest in maintaining the scenery they need as subject matter. However, as avid devotees to natural settings, we also appreciate the precarious position of nature, particularly for me in higher traffic sites like the Indiana Dunes state and national parks.
∼ April 20, 2020 ∼ “Colors of the Spirit”
Although I prefer to take realistic photographs along the shore on days displaying a chaos of clouds, clear skies sometimes seem most suitable for capturing more abstract images, such as my accompanying photo, Surf in Spring. An absence of overcast allows for a light blue field filling the upper level of the frame and contrasting with the darker hue of lake water beneath, as well as the whiteness in the breaking waves or the tan sand of the beach at the bottom. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am attracted to the simplicity in such a composition, emphasizing an interaction of intensity in illumination with the extent of tone in those tints included. Inspiration arises from an influence of color field paintings by abstract expressionist artists Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler, with my choice of a vertical (or portrait) format—rather than the horizontal orientation I normally prefer for landscapes—appearing nearer to the mode closely associated with Rothko’s canvases exhibiting multiform layers of concentrated color piled upon one another. However, I am aware Rothko rejected any notions regarding his work as a link to a physical landscape, especially since he held a dislike of nature, declaring his representations merely to be spiritual illustrations. Nevertheless, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.” Consequently, with my abstract interpretations, I try to combine nature’s elegance with a sense of the human spirit.
∼ April 15, 2020 ∼ “Mid-April Snow on Pink Magnolia”
Although the winter season in northwest Indiana seemed warmer than usual, including five degrees above normal in March (the fifteenth warmest on record), I have noticed that most spring flowers and ornamental or fruit trees seem slow to bloom this year. Perhaps one reason can be found in a meteorological review measuring overcast skies during the past month, which appears to have been the fourth cloudiest March in history statistics, dating back to the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the beginning of this week witnessed a late start to vivid spring colors, presenting a promise of the much-awaited transition to spring imagery, including the brilliant pink magnolias that are always anticipated for their ability to brighten the atmosphere in mid-April days. However, Wednesday morning offered a surprise covering of adhesive snow that stuck to trees and shrubbery like a delightfully decorative white overlay but which just might stunt the growth of those first buds finally about to blossom.
∼ April 13, 2020 ∼ “An Awareness of Absence”
Yesterday, as everyone experienced Easter Sunday in a uniquely different fashion than in the past, I read an article in the current New Yorker, “Mortality and the Old Masters,” by poet and art critic Peter Schjeldahl, who has written about his own mortality since a recent diagnosis of lung cancer. Among the observations and speculations offered in this piece, the author conjectures the coronavirus pandemic—”unlike the 1917-1918 influenza pandemic, which killed as many as a hundred million people, largely young, and left so little cultural trace”—may create a longer lasting impact on how we perceive the world around us, including visual works of art. Schjeldahl suggests we will even reevaluate those classic artworks known so well by all: “Here’s a prediction of our experience when we are again free to wander museums: Everything in them will be other than what we remember.” With this in mind, I reviewed a number of my photographs from previous seasons, including the accompanying image from late last April, and details such as strings of footprints on an empty beach under a setting sun suddenly appeared to have an added significance, seemingly symbolic of an awareness of absence, calling to mind the disappearance of those who once stepped along the sandy shore. My photograph now exhibited to me a greater sense of isolation or solitude. Photographer James Balog once famously stated a truism, that “photography is a way to shape human perception.” However, the interpretation of content in photographs, as well as other art forms, clearly can just as easily be shaped through human perception influenced by changing contemporary conditions.
∼ April 6, 2020 ∼ “The Calmer Character of Nature”
A remote route winding inland from Trail Ten through the foredunes at the eastern end of Indiana Dunes State Park rises toward thickening woods past a narrow ridge above the Big Blowout, offering a wide view beyond the beach. During early spring, the high sunlight at noon spills between silhouetted thin limbs of trees yet empty and awaiting the season’s promised gift of green leaves. When I travel this direction in April, an easy breeze often slips onshore—lightly lifting, shifting, and smoothing the loose sand. The air is still usually chilled by a colder Lake Michigan, its surface hue now more frequently colored by blue skies. Although the winter months this year passed without so much snow to weigh down and break weaker branches, damaging winds from strong northern storms toppled many trunks precariously balanced on dune hills at the edge of the lake, and all along the park’s shoreline the scenery has been altered dramatically by coastal erosion. Nevertheless, in times of uneasiness, I like to hike this isolated section of the landscape, visit its silent and solitary setting presenting a necessary sense of serenity, as a way to reconnect, especially during moments of human chaos, with the calmer character of nature.
∼ April 3, 2020 ∼ “Last Leaves Left After End of Winter”
During April the spring landscape truly begins to take shape. Before May arrives, colorful beauty will return in the form of this season’s first flowers and in the shape of vivid images exhibiting blossoming fruit trees. Nevertheless, I like to inventory the area at the start of this month, hike trails under mostly bare branches, walk paths through stark stretches of nearly empty shrubbery, or even check for examples on the hedges along fences at the edges of my backyard, as in the accompanying image, all the while perceiving places where scatterings of last year’s leaves remain, not yet fallen and fully intact. Surprised by how many leaves, though brown and crisp, have withstood winter’s harsh weather and continue to cling to thin limbs or decorate underbrush still rising from the dark soil, I find they have transitioned into a different kind of attractiveness, wavy and striated, at times almost appearing artificial in their artistic presence. They also seem to offer a certain type of symbolism, one which I admire as it seems to signal survival, a characteristic much appreciated anytime but maybe more so in this difficult year.
∼ April 1, 2020 ∼ “Mixing Memory and Desire”
A well-known quote about April by T.S. Eliot in the opening of his groundbreaking poem, “The Waste Land,” notes uneasiness with the beginning of spring conditions. The poet writes: “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Memory and desire, stirring / Dull roots with spring rain. / Winter kept us warm, covering / Earth in forgetful snow….” The tone and content of this work perhaps seems even more appropriate this year. As the weather warms and vivid signs of spring start to dot the landscape, usually seen as symbols of hope or optimism for the new season, associated with celebrating a revival of life, these elements contrast with the presence of a disquieting mood reflecting apprehension and an awareness of mortality all around. Though maybe not exactly as Eliot intended, many nowadays are involved with “mixing memory and desire,” recalling the comfortable situation just months ago before the coronavirus pandemic arrived while also anticipating a future free of current worries, wishing for a return to safer and saner days.
∼ March 24, 2020 ∼ “Reversal of Fate and Fortune”
The transition to spring-like weather has hesitated somewhat during the first week of the season. Yesterday morning we even woke to a light dusting of snowfall, although I managed to capture a sunset glow a few days ago. However, world events have shifted suddenly and stunningly during the same time period, and much of the nation has witnessed strict restrictions on travel or participation in everyday activities. Professional landscape photographers who normally rely upon great mobility to achieve dramatic images in international locations, many sold to the tourist industry, have been confined to their home areas and lost incomes because of shutdowns. Ironically, earlier this year various publications reported problems of overcrowding and complications caused by the popularity of tourism, partly due to enticements of compelling photographs posted on social media platforms like Instagram. Nevertheless, perhaps the most iconic picture this past winter—seen in newspapers, magazines, and online sites—displayed a long, stalled line of mountain climbers awaiting their turn to ascend a final ridge to the top of Mt. Everest, as reported in John Hammer’s article for GQ titled “Chaos at the Top of the World.” Bloomberg published a story called “Tourism Is Eating the World,” The Atlantic offered “Too Many People Want to Travel,” and Outside Magazine released a revealing piece declaring “Utah Wanted All the Tourists, Then It Got Them,” chronicling “the global phenomenon of over-tourism that has wreaked havoc from Phuket to Venice to Tulum….” When I stood alone by my tripod on an Indiana Dunes beach to take the accompanying sunset photograph, practicing social distancing, nobody could be seen in any direction, and I was aware that in a span of mere weeks citizens across our planet have observed a complete reversal of fate and fortune.
∼ March 19, 2020 ∼ “Emotional Encouragement”
I always enjoy photographing sunsets, especially along the water’s edge. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that they represent a landscape photographer’s weakness and invite sentimentality, sometimes defined as a blending of tenderness and nostalgia. When asked about their appeal, I have nothing new to offer that hasn’t been expressed by others: the colorfully lush sky reminds me of those luminous and impressionist paintings of nature I admire. In addition, I never tire of capturing images of sundown since no single experience is ever quite the same as the previous occurrence. I’m engaged by the entertaining scenery as the horizon light show evolves over a certain extent of time, the so-called golden hour; therefore, there should be no surprise that I find the event inspiring and comforting. However, when asked for suggestions about taking pictures, I usually advise patience because the richest tints of an afterglow frequently follow the sun’s disappearance by twenty minutes or so. Indeed, one evening during this difficult week of dark news around the world, looking at Lake Michigan between trees still bare in a late-winter chill, I waited a while past my last sight of sunlight and was rewarded by an image spanning the screen in the viewfinder of my camera, a setting so soothing, seemingly full of affirmation and presenting emotional encouragement.
∼ March 15, 2020 ∼ “Almost at the End of Winter”
With spring arriving in a few days, I take my final winter hike at Indiana Dunes State Park. Like some others, including Henry David Thoreau, I have acquired a fondness for walks in this season. Although the vivid colors of spring and summer are absent and the trees lack green leaves or the sweet sounds of glorious birdsong, I find appealing the stark, often lonesome, and quiet character of the landscape, especially the expressiveness evident from bare branches twisting in empty trees above a layer of crisp leaves discarded last autumn but still covering the thawing ground. Something almost spiritual seems present for me whenever experiencing such solitude in nature. As Thoreau once stated in a journal entry during winter in early 1857: “There is nothing so sanative, so poetic, as a walk in the woods and fields even now, when I meet none abroad for pleasure…alone in distant woods or fields, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful.”
∼ March 13, 2020 ∼ “Hiking as a Form of Social Distancing”
Like folks in many other countries throughout the world, Americans’ attention has been arrested by focus on every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on all, so much so that a rare national emergency has been declared. Among the recommendations of advice by medical experts, people learned a new term as they have been advised to practice “social distancing,” which drastically limits the kinds of healthy activities available for individuals. Nevertheless, hiking through nature’s landscape—as I did yesterday when I captured the accompanying photograph—presents an ideal exercise that fits the description. In addition, various studies have verified the positive consequences for body and mind when one is alone in nature. As I noted in a November post titled “Influence of Blue Spaces” (11/26/19), walking “beside bodies of water is restorative physically and spiritually, producing positive results in one’s mood or emotional outlook.” Additionally, in a recent piece by Jill Suttie at Greater Good Magazine, “Five Ways Hiking Is Good for You,” the author outlines “benefits beyond what you receive from typical exercise.” Among the article’s conclusions, she suggests hiking can sharpen one’s thinking process, help increase a sense of calm, enhance personal satisfaction, inspire creativity, and improve one’s attitude through a firm connection with nature.
∼ March 12, 2020 ∼ “Winter Wreckage: Trail Two”
Much attention recently has been devoted to examining damage along the coast of Lake Michigan due to a devastating degree of erosion to beaches and sand dunes in the state or national parks along the Indiana Dunes, as well as private properties in communities bordering the shoreline. Indeed, I have devoted a number of posts to chronicling details offering evidence of destruction, such as downed trees and sheared dune hills, results of those large waves and strong winds brought ashore by winter storms the past few months. Further, various civic groups and government organizations are currently seeking funding to find ways to preserve or restore sections wrecked by wintry weather. However, at the start of each spring I also hike other areas among the landscape looking for indications of deterioration. [For example, please check my entry from three years ago (6/16/17) when I photographed and reported the dismal situation of the wooden walkway spanning a half mile of marsh on Trail Two of Indiana Dunes State Park, which since then has been under reconstruction after the state budgeted $400,000.] Last week I visited a different stretch of the same trail farther east along Dunes Creek, and I found another location now in need of repair, its pathway battered and weathered by this winter’s harsh conditions.
∼ March 9, 2020 ∼ “First Sunset After Time Change”
Following the adjustment ahead of our clocks for Daylight Savings Time, Sunday afternoon’s strong sunshine offered a situation that seemed somewhat like spring. Later, an extra hour of evening light combined with milder temperatures in the low sixties created comfortable conditions conducive to walking along the coast. Therefore, I decided to hike beside Lake Michigan and to photograph sunset from a significantly narrowed Kemil Beach at Indiana Dunes National Park. Although a number of other visitors were drawn to the shore, access from some locations near the water was difficult due to a dramatic reshaping of the dunes by this winter’s drastic extent of wave and wind erosion. In fact, in many places paths toward the surf that had been easy ways for one to step down shallow slopes through marram grass toward the water’s edge now led to minor cliffs, with sudden drops of ten feet or more, where most folks stopped and only a few ventured farther. By the time I slowly descended a steep trail to reach the dark and empty beach where I set up my tripod amid a thin layer of small stones, I discovered much of the once-wide swath of sand that had stretched beside the lakeshore has recently been relocated. Nevertheless, when nature presented its sundown show, I felt the effort worthwhile.
∼ March 7, 2020 ∼ “Damage Assessment”
In the closing weeks of winter as March weather warms and the natural surroundings thaw, I like to hike areas in the Indiana Dunes to examine conditions and assess how much damage has been done to their appearance during these past few months. As I have noted in previous posts, most of the shoreline along Lake Michigan has experienced extensive erosion of sand dunes and noticeable loss of beachfront due to strong northern winds or large waves created by storms against a coast left vulnerable by an absence of shelf ice during this year’s fairly mild winter. Indeed, just yesterday as gale force winds swept waves onshore once again, I learned a section of Lake Front Road that runs by Lakeview in Beverly Shores and from which I captured the accompanying photograph on a calm day last weekend, is now closed to traffic because it is in danger of dropping into the water. All of this has taken place in a peak period of near record high-water levels, which fluctuate in multi-year patterns. For instance, we witnessed a time of low-water levels in Lake Michigan about seven years ago. Like many others, I have been struck by nature’s recent widespread destruction of the lakeshore landscape, including sections of dune hills that appear sheared and the loss of many trees lining ridges above the surf. In fact, I recommend everyone visit the YouTube channel of Timeless Aerial Photography at the following link to view drone footage of disappearing beaches along the Indiana Dunes: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi_Sz7b1dYEYpcm7ZsleMFA/videos
∼ March 3, 2020 ∼ “Seasonal Transition”
Each year at the start of March I photograph the same familiar locations in the Indiana Dunes to compare conditions and display initial signs of the approaching spring. Usually, the amount of snow accumulation in an image indicates how far along the seasonal transition has advanced. Indeed, snow quantity among elements of the landscape has varied dramatically in recent years, with the beginning of March 2019 exhibiting extensive coverage while hardly any existed in 2017 or 2018. The last leg of Dunes Creek winding through the state park just before it empties into Lake Michigan has become a common spot for me to picture the situation of natural surroundings at the opening of this month. As can be observed in the accompanying photo taken March 1, only a bit of snow and ice bordered the waterway, mostly hugging the north bank that remains shaded all day by a wooded dune hill keeping it from direct sunshine still angled from southern skies. If the current long-range forecast from local meteorologists suggesting a prolonged warming trend proves correct, this may be the last evidence of white from wintry weather we will see until sometime next autumn.
∼ March 1, 2020 ∼ “The Start of March”
Perhaps more than any other month, March exhibits the most striking difference in seasonal transition at Indiana Dunes from start to finish. In its beginning, sunset occurs at about 5:40; but by the final days, sundown happens around 7:15. Due to the adoption of Daylight Savings Time in mid-month, sunlight eventually extends more than an hour and a half later into each evening. Further, the position of the sun’s track advances farther north, offering a stronger presence every day and allowing for more interesting photographs when its glow slowly disappears beyond the western edge of Lake Michigan. Meteorological spring begins March 1, the time period traditionally regarded as this area’s “cold season” ends on March 3, and the average low temperature rises above freezing in this month. Of course, three weeks in, one witnesses the official calendar introduction of spring as well, and each morning a noticeable increase of birdsong can be heard everywhere, as if announcing such a significant change has come and celebrating the warming days.
∼ February 24, 2020 ∼ “Snow and Ice Along Lake Coast in Late February”
After last week’s brief spell of cold and snow that finally contributed to development of some level of ice shelf along the Indiana Dunes coast, the weather warmed a bit on Saturday and Sunday. Consequently, with calming winds and temperatures in the mid-fifties by the shore, I walked the lake’s edge under bright sunshine to witness the conditions. As I have noted in previous posts, this winter has seen an absence of usually extensive ice shelf buildup, which normally provides protection from an onslaught of large waves created by storms with stronger northern winds on the area’s beaches and dunes. As a result, much of the lakeshore has been damaged due to sand erosion and numerous fallen trees, including a number of my favorites often featured in past photographs. In fact, on Thursday Indiana’s governor issued an official statement ordering investigations into the deteriorating situation and initiations of actions offering assistance, including petitions to FEMA for funding and possible applications for federal disaster assistance. Nevertheless, on this visit most of the seasonal destruction of nature by the lake seemed camouflaged by an attractive covering.
∼ February 19, 2020 ∼ “Indiana Dunes National Park Marks One Year”
Anyone who has followed my journal in the past few years knows the posts I have shared that chronicle the history of lobbying by nature lovers for a proposed Indiana Dunes National Park (see my 10/5/17 and 10/6/17 entries), my comments in favor of the designation included in an Indianapolis Star article (check the 12/21/17 entry), and my reports on both the law’s enactment—on February 15, 2019—and the subsequent dedication ceremonies for the new status of the park (posted on 2/19/19 and 3/13/19). In a number of other pieces, I have documented the growth of publicity and visitor population during the past year. As I noted in a 3/26/19 post, the initial press coverage alone resulted in the news reaching perhaps 76 million people for as much as $750,000 in free advertising. I mentioned in a six-month report (9/19/19) that the park had already accumulated in 2019 a record number of visitors for any annual count. By December (12/5/19), I observed travel guide publications for 2020 were listing Indiana Dunes National Park as a recommended place for tourists. Therefore, with the first anniversary of the park’s recognition taking place four days ago, I invite everyone to revisit “Congratulations, Indiana Dunes National Park!”—my essay at the “Articles” page on the Indiana Dunes project website—for a more complete overview of the efforts that were exerted by many to bring about this national park now marking its first year of existence.
∼ February 15, 2020 ∼ “Color Field Landscape Photography”
In journal entries during the past few years I have posted a half-dozen abstract depictions of the Indiana Dunes coast and Lake Michigan. (Please see my 4/6/19, 12/27/18, 6/25/18, 5/29/18, 5/27/18, and 1/28/18 commentaries.) Those images emphasize a few elements I also discuss in one of my photo essays, which was published in May 2018, titled “Sunset, Sky, and Shoreline Abstracts.” As I note in the introduction to that piece, “I am often fascinated by the way that light and color interact in a natural setting.” I have acknowledged painters Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler as prime influences for these photographs, and I reported critic Robert Hughes on Frankenthaler’s seascape art, Cape (Provincetown): “the view from the waterfront is translated into a piercing lemon-yellow strip of beach and a green horizon, with diaphanous veils of blue stacked up in the sky.” Like Frankenthaler, all my previous examples have been presented in the horizontal perspective I favor for most of my landscape photography. However, over time I have gathered a number of strictly vertical shots taken in a portrait mode clearly to be considered as separate from my usual content and more like the format preferred by Rothko for his color field works, what I have described as “blurred blocks of concentrated color floating across a canvas.” Consequently, I now have added a page labeled “Abstract Photo Art” to my website menu, where I display a gallery of similar images in different degrees of abstraction I have collected, and I invite everyone to examine it.
∼ February 8, 2020 ∼ “Lake Effect Snowfall in February”
As I have noted a number of times in past journal entries, this winter has been much milder than those of recent years. Indeed, January and February in 2019 earned the label of Polar Vortex for all their deep freeze days with sub-zero temperatures plus an ample accumulation of snow or thick layers of shelf ice along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Consequently, in recent weeks whenever a quickly moving storm has shifted through the region and offered some opportunity for snowfall, many in the area have taken notice. Nevertheless, each prediction by local meteorologists calling for substantial snowstorms totaling six inches or more has inevitably turned into a mere dusting. On Thursday and Friday, a shallow sheet of white renewed interest in imagery normally associated with this time of year. In fact, by noon yesterday I heard from a friend at the Indiana Dunes who reported the state park’s paths—like Trail Nine, a favorite of mine—at last seemed a bit wintry due to a small wave of lake effect snowfall with a low level of visibility, and she urged me to photograph the scenery.
∼ February 3, 2020 ∼ “First Sunday in February”
Despite the unusually mild winter weather thus far, with January’s average temperature more than 6 degrees above normal, this initial Sunday in February presented the first display of luminous sunshine in nearly a week, and all afternoon swiftly moving west-to-east breezes were sweeping waves along the Indiana Dunes coastline. Indeed, although much of the region even witnessed temperatures in the low sixties yesterday, colder conditions persisted by the lake, where the thermometer’s rise stalled in the middle forties. Moreover, with those quick gusts coming off the still-frigid water, the wind-chill factor created some sharp stinging for my face and hands when I walked a path through wavering blades of marram grass toward the shore. Seeking to examine an absence of accumulation in snow or ice one might expect at this time of year, I also checked for damaging consequences to the foredunes from this season’s dramatic beach erosion due to an almost record high surf. Eventually, I hiked about four miles along the state park’s eastern end and appreciated the day’s bright scenery every step of the way.
∼ February 1, 2020 ∼ “Forward in February”
When I created my 2020 calendar pages, I selected images captured during the previous year to depict various Indiana Dunes locations in each season. Examining those photographs chosen for the winter months and considering them in contrast with conditions currently evident around the region, one can easily see detailed differences that display changes in weather patterns. Although ample snowfall and below-zero measurements on thermometers dominated during winter 2019, an absence of significant accumulations or frigid temperatures thus far characterizes this winter. Indeed, the closing days of January 2019 experienced overnight lows of -20 degrees. Instead of that past vista depicting a frozen-over surface of Lake Michigan, the shoreline along northern Indiana today doesn’t even exhibit any development of shelf ice. Nevertheless, as reported in recent journal entries, frequent rainstorms have raised lake water levels, and that lack of coastal protection from high waves usually offered by ice buildup has allowed significant lakefront erosion to occur.
∼ January 28, 2020 ∼ “Walking Winter Woods at Indiana Dunes”
Walking deep through dune woods in winter, as I frequently do, I am sometimes reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s observation that forests or fields during this time of year represent a remarkable display exhibiting “the wonderful purity of nature at this season,” which he considered “a most pleasing fact.” Indeed, Thoreau writes with advice directing that everyone should, “in the bare fields and tinkling woods, see what virtue survives. In the coldest and bleakest places, the warmest charities still maintain a foothold.” Hiking a sandy Trail Nine and moving through fringes of snow in Indiana Dunes State Park this past week, I remembered how dark and intimate the path appears in midsummer months, enclosed by shade from a thick canopy of full foliage on branches bending overhead and occupied by chirping birds. As fond of those conditions as I may be, I must acknowledge that these trees, though now looking weathered and vulnerable, seem more dramatically expressive, perhaps even graceful, when empty of leaves, revealing their gnarled limbs twisting into a gray sky and creaking a bit in a weak breeze, but otherwise silenced by an absence of birdsong.
∼ January 25, 2020 ∼ “Dunes Creek After Light Snowfall”
The opportunity to photograph snow-covered scenery has been severely limited this winter. Compared to past years, my portfolio for the season reveals an absence of such images. Due to much milder conditions than usual, the region has experienced only a few occasions during which accumulations of even a couple inches have occurred. Consequently, following flooding rains earlier in the week, when winds changed direction overnight and a squall line whitened trails among dune woods, I decided to hike Indiana Dunes State Park’s Trail Two, which parallels sections of Dunes Creek. However, I discovered walking to be treacherous since the thin layer of snow hid a sheet of slick ice beneath that had gathered after the flooded waterway overran its edges and became frozen. Nevertheless, a narrow stream of clear current invited my attention as it still flowed slowly and darkly between those pale banks yet clean of tracks by small animals, the entire setting softly lit in an afternoon illumination filtered by continuing cloud cover.
∼ January 21, 2020 ∼ “Respecting Resilience”
During those moments when I miss the luminosity of a summer sky at sunrise or perhaps that tight line of golden light along an autumn horizon just before nightfall, its glow still illuminating the colorful foliage of treetops beside the shore, I’m often reminded of the distinctly artistic elements subtly visible in a wintry image. Although Thoreau regarded January as the only month of “pure winter,” this year’s beginning—exhibiting the absence of any appreciable accumulation of snowfall, nothing other than a few isolated dustings—has established a deceptive setting. Even now, amidst a milder winter without much snow or the usual protective shelf ice edging the waters of Lake Michigan, I find the scenery inspiring, particularly on days when gales of a northern wind sweeping the length of the lake create large waves battering the breakfronts of beaches bordering the Indiana Dunes shore. Indeed, I respect the resilience evident in some of nature’s more vulnerable features weakened by the damaging winds, such as those thin and brittle trunks with slim windblown limbs at times weighted by ice, plus the partially exposed roots that clutch at sand to reach for the shallow layer of soil below. Yet, as I write this, I wonder whether another of my favorites has fallen.
∼ January 17, 2020 ∼ “Swamp Forest Following January Flooding”
Following the flooding from last weekend’s strong storm that brought warmer southern wind currents and three inches of rain to the region, I revisited a favorite section of swamp woods found within Indiana Dunes National Park and situated in close proximity to the Little Calumet River. The swollen tributary had overflowed its banks, spreading waters at least a few feet deep far and wide into features of the surrounding landscape. Unlike during summer conditions when the surface of the swamp water becomes thickly filled with algae causing a greenish-yellow murkiness, in those winter months at times experiencing milder temperatures and without frost or snow filling the area, such as seen this week, the submerged ground between these trees usually appears visible beneath clear water. However, when surging runoff from the river during periods of flooding collects some sludge across muddy patches along the way, the watery forest floor often turns a rich and reflective shade of brown exhibiting an artistic image displaying exquisite elements of nature.
∼ January 14, 2020 ∼ “Lake Waves”
The shoreline of beaches along the Indiana Dunes during January in past years usually would be encased in a thick rim of shelf ice. In fact, sometimes the expanse of Lake Michigan’s surface would be solid white with snow accumulating over a frozen layer. [Check the photos from previous winters on the January link at the main page for examples.] However, due to this winter’s mild temperatures, the region remains free of such wintry images. Consequently, rainstorms followed by strong northern winds—such as this weekend’s blast that brought thunder, three inches of rain on Saturday, and caused waves at times reaching 20-feet high—have continued to sweep damaging swells ashore, further adding to the already dramatic coastal erosion recently witnessed because of the lake’s current record water level. [See my 12/13/19 journal entry for further information.] Even after the storm moved east on Sunday, as I walked paths through sand dunes to observe the extent of destruction created, I watched the persistent turbulence of lake waves where in the past there would have been pale sheets of ice extending into the distance.
∼ January 12, 2020 ∼ “Southern Storm Clouds Start to Arrive”
This second weekend in January started with calm conditions and a warming southern breeze raising temperatures into the upper fifties or lower sixties. Eventually on Friday, mostly bright blue skies broken only by white lines of a wispy overcast would begin to give way to a dull gray—perhaps the shade of dated and tainted whitewash paint or the subtly dismal look of old discarded newspaper that has faded away—as intensifying winds shifted ever more quickly toward the north. Shadows of cloud cover caused dramatic changes on Lake Michigan, its waves deepening to watery crevasses and the surface darkening nearly to the color of slate, looking a lot like dingy dishwater. By late Saturday afternoon, following a day of very heavy rain, the weather front had moved east, whipping strong northern winds carrying snow showers behind it and reportedly creating waves on occasion greater than 20-feet high, which would wash over breakwater boulders along the shore, flooding areas beside the coastline and endangering a number of vulnerable trees bordering the lake, even drawing daring surfers in wetsuits to ride those impressive swells onto the Indiana Dunes beaches while some daylight time remained.
∼ January 10, 2020 ∼ “Marsh Pond on Warmer Winter Day”
On this mild midwinter morning, an unfrozen pool of marsh water still displays the previous season’s frail fallen leaves beneath as though in an attempt to preserve one colorful element of autumn, perhaps also offering further evidence of time’s inevitable transition. Usually, two weeks into the new year, this location may remain inaccessible during an onslaught of another severe northern storm, the ice glaze of solid pond even covered by feet-deep drifts of blowing snow. However, now I find myself hiking beside empty trees among scenery so silent and serene that the noticeable absence of birdsong seems only fitting. Although heavy cloud cover continues overhead, clear air yet prevails along this trail. Later, as a wave of lake haze at last shifts onshore and seeps into these dune woods, I will make my way home.
∼ January 5, 2020 ∼ “Beach Trail Beside Broken Tree”
A couple of passing clouds cross before me, scuff against the bright blue above, and one farther away blurs that sunlight arriving from over the southern horizon. Empty limbs of beach trees in winter seem so much more delicate. Indeed, each tree appears vulnerable, perhaps like those sailboats moored until spring in a nearby harbor, whose thin masts rise starkly toward the sky without the colorful covering of their unfurled canvas sheets spread overhead throughout the summer months. Although already January, except for an occasional brief spell of overnight flurries, this year’s mostly mild weather thus far has kept away the season’s normal scenery of knee-deep snow blowing in northwest winds with layers of shelf ice thickening along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Instead, walking a sandy path toward the water, I hike beside broken branches strewn among the marram grass, usually frozen by now but currently just yellow leaves flowing to the east, bending in an easy breeze, as I appreciate today’s continuing reprieve from a lot colder conditions.
∼ January 3, 2020 ∼ “Warm Start to the New Year”
Visiting Indiana Dunes State Park for the first time in the new year, I stopped at the Nature Center to take down my exhibition of photographs that had been on display in the auditorium throughout November and December. This officially completed actions included in fulfilling my 2019 Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites grant. At the same time, I spoke with the park’s friendly staff members and discussed with the Interpretive Naturalist our plans for scheduling events proposed in my outline of the 2020 grant I recently have been awarded. Afterwards, enjoying bright sunshine and unusually warm weather for January, almost spring-like, I walked among foredunes along Lake Michigan, and I noticed elements of different seasons yet evident in the images I captured with my camera. Marram grasses, though mostly faded to yellow from the deep green during summer, were spotted at their base with rust-colored leaves, wind-blown remnants of autumn. Meanwhile, a few tiny spots of white, residue from the other night’s light snowfall, some pockets looking like pale scraps of linen, showed in those shadows still caused by a sharp angle of southern sunlight.
∼ January 1, 2020 ∼ “Happy New Year: 2020”
This first day of 2020 marks the start of my fourth year engaged in a continuing project chronicling the Indiana Dunes in photography and prose. During the experience, I have been pleased to have the support of grants awarded by the Indiana Arts Commission in conjunction with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additionally, I am grateful for the cooperation and helpful assistance generously offered by staff members of the Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Park. The personnel at both locations have been welcoming, encouraging, and enthusiastic about my work. I also appreciate the numerous individuals I have met while hiking trails, offering photography workshops, exhibiting photos, and presenting lectures on the environmental, political, or artistic history of the Indiana Dunes. Finally, I thank all who have followed and commented about this endeavor on an assortment of social media platforms, and I invite everyone to further engage with the collected materials by checking the various pages available at the official web site: https://edwardbyrneindianadunes.com/
[Dates reflect days on which entries are posted.]
∼ December 27, 2019 ∼ “Hiking Big Blowout During Warm December Day”
With record setting temperatures in the mid-sixties, air drifting inland from over Lake Michigan cooled only a bit. I hiked a few miles and climbed to the top of the Big Blowout during early afternoon, observing broken overcast cradling late afternoon sunlight. This morning, the sun’s glow penetrated the day’s haze like a campsite lantern carried along a trail through dune woods to the waterfront on a foggy morning. At noon, although already almost one week into winter, a lone motorboat with engine switched off bobbed about a hundred yards offshore, the vessel’s yellow bow turned toward the north, while a sharp slant of sunshine still slipped between increasingly interesting patterns of clouds. An inconsistent wind shifted direction from the southwest, eventually blowing toward the east with a drift of intermittent billows slowly moving over the lake. Other visitors were walking along the beach, each seemingly in no hurry, apparently wanting to linger a bit and enjoy this brief reprieve, aware the weather would soon transition again to less pleasant conditions.
∼ December 23, 2019 ∼ “Winter Begins with Warmer Weather”
As I have noticed in a quick examination of old journal entries and collected photographs from past years, local weather at the end of December, the ten days following solstice, tends to vary greatly. Similar to current conditions and reports from the extended forecast, the past couple years have witnessed mild temperatures in the fifties, but a few years ago the area was covered in snow with thermometers dipping to minus double-digit degrees as the 2016 calendar ended. On days following windy weather in early winter, like today, the disturbed surface of the lake settles once again and the littlest ripples become only minor white waves breaking late as they reach those shallow depths beside the beach. Hiking the dunes in this sidelight of a low sun sliding across the southern sky, I see the sheen of sunshine on such still water, and a clarity in the atmosphere allows me to view a beautiful background of blue hues in sky and water. Ahead, I find a few young trees with narrow trunks and slim limbs huddled by one another, appearing almost graceful this afternoon, perhaps even seemingly prepared and ready to be resilient against upcoming wintry gusts.
∼ December 20, 2019 ∼ “Walking the Shore on a Late Afternoon at End of Autumn”
A distant glimmer of sunshine plays hide-and-seek between lowering clouds beginning to spread overhead. I walk along this beach, the gentle turbulence of waves steadily working the rocky breakwater nearby and a clatter of colorful pebbles scattering beneath my feet. Although this afternoon’s air was filled only with variable winds arriving from the southwest, primarily weak and slightly warming breezes following a recent cold spell, the shifting development of mostly overcast skies has introduced a tinge of chillier temperatures, as well as the suggestion of more storms to come. Occasionally, I notice a bit of activity far offshore, first a small black boat but then a large and dark cargo ship crossing Lake Michigan from a harbor to the west of here, moving in a direction away from the coast. I watch as each seemingly isolated vessel slips smoothly through the open water—past that distinctive Chicago skyline still illuminated by lingering daylight, shortened in this late autumn season, and barely visible on the other side of the lake—then it’s silhouette silently slides toward the northeast, where an increasingly leaden horizon looms ahead.
∼ December 13, 2019 ∼ “Erosion Closes Section of Lake View Beach”
Yesterday, Indiana Dunes National Park announced closure of beach access and a section of the adjacent parking lot at popular Lake View until May or later as an effort at “maintenance of public health and safety.” For years, I’ve watched favorite trees along the border of sand dunes beside the beach survive high waters and windswept waves. Each time I captured their presence in a photo, I’ve wondered how much longer they’d be able to last. In spring I’d especially marvel at their resilience, making it through another difficult winter with such harsh weather conditions, even as the coastline around them has further deteriorated so significantly. However, one after another of these trees has fallen in recent weeks as erosion has erased beachfront and undercut dunes. Especially along Lake View, where up to one hundred feet of sandy collar has disappeared in places and a number of trunks have toppled despite boulders brought as a breakwater due to the current record high water levels and strong northern gusts in the Great Lakes, I’ve experienced a version of the medical phenomenon known as “phantom limb syndrome.” With every visit I make, I continue to envision the scenery as I previously had seen it and captured in images over time. In my mind, each tree I’d appreciated so much and that once stood almost defiantly along the water’s edge yet remains, perfectly pictured in my memory.
∼ December 8, 2019 ∼ “Marram Grass in Late Autumn”
Only a few clouds in sight since the passing toward the east of a short-lived morning squall line that had sliced this coast with its thin formation and contributed a quick burst of rain shower, the day now remains fairly clear, a mostly blue sky covering everything from horizon to horizon. The nearly clean sheet of the lake’s surface has been made even bluer by lying beneath cerulean openings. Although I’d prefer a greater overcast giving a hint of depth for my photography, I nevertheless appreciate the way a flush of afternoon sunlight lends a sense of warmth to this shoreline, especially since I know a sharp cold front has been predicted for the week ahead. I watch small and slowly rolling waves approach the shore. An easy breeze that had been active and sweeping the beach all morning suddenly seems to be sleepy. I follow a sandy path twisting between tall leaves of marram grass, brilliantly yellow now and occasionally quivering among the foredunes.
∼ December 5, 2019 ∼ “Indiana Dunes National Park: Publicity, Promotion, and Popularity”
Recent reports in local news outlets have hailed the fact that the naming of Indiana Dunes National Park during its re-designation through an act of Congress signed by President Trump in February has encouraged a greatly increased number of visitors with a still-accumulating total at a record attendance in 2019. Moreover, revelation that Frommer’s, a well-known and well-respected travel adviser, has included Indiana Dunes National Park among its “Best Places to Go in 2020,” the latest in a series of annual listings, should assure even more tourists will arrive in northwest Indiana during the upcoming year. As noted in an article by Visit Indiana, Andy Seifert, author of a piece written for Frommer’s, attractively describes that the new national park “encompasses a pleasant stretch of Lake Michigan beachfront, thick forest, and a bog brimming with unique plants.” Given this positive publicity, as well as the growth of promotion throughout the last ten months and toward 2020, one wonders whether popularity will be further enhanced and what kind of gatherings we will see in this national park’s first full calendar year of existence.
∼ November 30, 2019 ∼ “Fallen Trees in Swamp Forest During Fog”
As much of America engaged in Black Friday activities yesterday, shopping at malls or seeking drastic discounts online, I again participated in Opt-Out Friday along with many others celebrating nature across the nation by hiking paths in state or national parks. In fact, I walked a little less than eight miles, photographing scenes along winding routes in Indiana Dunes National Park. Weather conditions were a bit chilly but not uncomfortably so: temperatures hovered in the upper thirties and an uneven fog wafted between the trees in nearly windless air. While traveling a trail through a swamp forest, I observed damage done recently by fierce windstorms, including one that passed over the region Wednesday night through Thanksgiving afternoon, bringing gales up to 66 miles per hour into our area according to local reports. In a small section of my wetland surroundings, I counted about two dozen of the dead trees, some quite tall, that have been toppled, their reddish root balls and brown boles showing above the waterline. Since their underground support lies submerged beneath feet of water in damp and sandy soil easily loosened, these trees seem more vulnerable to assaults from such strong gusts.
∼ November 26, 2019 ∼ “Influence of Blue Spaces”
In some places along the shore, the fine grains of sand give way to colorful beach pebbles shuffled about the surf with the surge of each wave. I frequently meet very friendly people, often working in couples, seeking these small stones, as well as shells or various relics of the past, such as beach glass or crinoids, fossils of creatures similar to sea urchins found among the other objects. [Please see my post of 6/26/17 relating one such encounter.] Walking leisurely at the edge of the water, carefully picking up interesting bits of debris one at a time to examine their distinctive shape or tint, these beachcombers always seem to me to be excellent examples of patience and peacefulness. Indeed, I’m reminded of “Blue Spaces,” a recent article written by Elle Hunt advising “why time spent near water is the secret of happiness.” Following studies by experts, including a marine scientist and an environmental psychologist, Hunt suggests “the science is consistent” that “being by the water is good for body and mind.” This thoughtful piece explains being beside bodies of water is restorative physically and spiritually, producing positive results in one’s mood or emotional outlook.
∼ November 23, 2019 ∼ “Recalling Thoreau on Fallen Leaves”
“The crisped and yellow leaves around / Are hue and texture of my mood….” Henry David Thoreau wrote those words in his poem titled “The Fall of the Leaf,” and I recall them today. November sunlight now low in the sky and shining between clouds, all along the way on my hike I find a littering of fallen leaves—orange, brown, bronze, copper, yellow, and a few already mostly gray—lying in the trail’s shallow covering of mud. Moving through those woodlands in windless conditions, I pause a while to listen as I hear in the distance the shrill whistle of a late-day train traveling an east-west track parallel to the northern Indiana shoreline. This sharp sound breaks a sustained silence I’ve been experiencing, taints that state of serenity I’d been appreciating so much during my autumn walk among nature’s seasonal decorations. When everything is quiet once again, I cross a footbridge farther into the forest, the branches in its trees lashed and thinned by last week’s storms that repeatedly brought bands of rain and snow over the region, contributing to the colorful scene I see before me.
∼ November 21, 2019 ∼ “Lake View Erosion”
All day yesterday, a threatening sky loomed, although at times sunlight peeked through thick overcast, perhaps like a distant porch light enveloped in mist or a small firepit flame burning amid forest fog. Breaking waves washed onshore and undercut sand dunes. By evening, cold air from a northern front began to clear those low clouds yet covering the coastline, and this morning the horizon brightened, revealing a revision of the lakeside landscape due to recent erosion at a popular viewpoint. With lake levels near record highs and strong autumn storms, much of the beachfront has been diminished. Experts believe Lake Michigan has reached the peak stage in an extended and recurring pattern of fluctuation. Sadly, a few of my favorite trees whose exposed roots had been hanging onto steep sandy slopes—and that I’ve frequently photographed—have been lost. Their weathered trunks and bare branches that had long been leaning along bluffs above the surf have now tumbled over the edge and fallen into the water below. Unfortunately, others remain in imminent danger as well.
∼ November 19, 2019 ∼ “Central Beach After Autumn Storms”
After weeks beneath feet of water swept ashore by autumn storms, this slim stretch of Central Beach has reappeared. Evidence of erosion from a repeated battering by breaking lake waves and powerful gusts in recent days can be seen all along the shore. Sand dunes that used to slope gently toward the beach have been shorn by strong northern winds, eliminating almost all access below, so the way ahead remains empty. Even the normally ever-present smattering of gulls, small groups so often gathered along the edge of the surf, have gone away and not yet returned. Dozens of trees lining bluffs high above this half-mile long narrow strip have fallen from their place. Though today displays cold afternoon scenery with little patches of ice that may yet be witnessed in some shaded spots, bright sunshine now illuminates this coastline setting opening in front of me as I lean from a bluff too steep for a tripod and resort to hand-holding my camera to capture an image.
∼ November 17, 2019 ∼ “Autumn Path”
As the slanting sunshine slides closer to the horizon, at times hides behind clusters of clouds on partially overcast afternoons, or the light lessens when I walk paths beneath overhanging tree limbs during mornings in autumn, these hues of fall foliage seem to deepen. Indeed, most of the lush landscape appears consumed by vibrant colors. Even the remaining greens in some leaves among the underbrush seem much more lustrous, and the way ahead often becomes swept with splashes or dabs from the season’s brushstrokes—red, rust, orange, yellow. This temporary state of nature may be the best reason for a photography hike despite suddenly colder temperatures, an apt excuse to wander a winding trail through rich dune woods yet protected in places from fierce northern winds by those steep slopes of sandy hills on either side. Although the transition of conditions in this setting may occur quickly, the scenery in my captured image will linger longer, well past next September when the process will begin once again.
∼ November 14, 2019 ∼ “Autumn Trail After Rain”
Last week’s heavy rains accompanied by strong gusts caused trailside trees along some routes to lose more of their leaves. When I offer photography presentations at the state or national park, I frequently suggest visiting wooded scenery immediately following a storm, especially in autumn. As Henry David Thoreau states in “Autumnal Tints”: “it is after moist and rainy weather that we notice how great a fall of leaves there has been….” Normally, the inherent tints of fall foliage will seem even richer when saturated by moisture after a rainstorm. Additionally, I advise everyone that when brisk winds occur during this time of year, the forest floor on various paths becomes carpeted with colorful fallen leaves as far as one can see. Arriving early, photographers also might be more likely to capture images with fresh layers of leaf accumulation yet to be trampled by other hikers. Moreover, slanted sunshine peeking between remnants of cloud cover and streaming through overhead branches may allow for interesting illumination sometimes leading to filtered lighting or even an overall golden tone.
∼ November 12, 2019 ∼ “Communing with the Landscape”
Viewing a recent lecture by well-known British photographer David Ward, who specializes in producing intimate landscape images, I was struck by a comment concerning one’s role in depicting nature. Ward suggests those of us who offer our visual perspectives of the environment ought to have a goal of communing with the landscape rather than consuming the landscape. His guidance appears to urge a more contemplative approach to photography in which the pictures are a part of some larger concept, perhaps in a manner that invites observers to delve beyond the surface of that two-dimensional representation within its frame. Origins of the word “commune” come from Middle English derived from Old French (“comun”), a root of the word “common,” and the definition declares a sharing of intimate thoughts or feelings, especially on a spiritual level. Ward follows this advice in his own presentations, contemplating aloud for audiences upon aspects of the objects he captures with his camera. Likewise, I take comfort in the content of my continuing project on the Indiana Dunes, which has always blended personal observations and brief prose meditations with the landscape pictures I have included.
∼ November 9, 2019 ∼ “Autumn’s Artistry”
After last week’s peak of fall foliage, in some places among dune woods the trees now have shrugged off much of their leaves. However, a couple pockets of color remain in the forest along Dunes Creek, where some branches sheltered by nearby hills from nearly wintry winds bend amid other empty limbs above the flow of water below and yet appear to be almost ornamental, as if continuing in stubborn resistance to the recent spell of cold air. Even sporadic patches of grass beside the waterway seem to be holding onto those last hints of green left from summer months. At times I imagine this brilliant chaos, still mostly hidden inside the landscape a distance away from frequently traveled trails, has been offered by a personified nature displaying its creative design for viewing, each tinted leaf like a dab of paint on a canvas, or perhaps presenting a final flourish for me to photograph, today allowing one more way to remember autumn’s artistry.
∼ November 7, 2019 ∼ “Dunes Creek in Early November”
Earlier this week I witnessed the season’s color when it reached its peak. A cool brisk wind that had been active, raising waves and sweeping the shoreline sand all morning, at last seemed to be sleeping. Walking away from the beach and following along Dunes Creek, I could see fall foliage bordering the trail appeared painted in place. As the inescapable shift toward winter continued, and autumn offered its glorious farewell to warmer weather, the chill in the air clearly presented a sense of departure. Nevertheless, these slightly inland trees were yet mostly filled with stubborn leaves, suddenly stilled in a brief lull between breezes, and lines of white clouds scratched lightly against patches of pale blue sky. However, a few bare branches, signs of conditions soon to come, poked over the pathway ahead, and their limbs were now silent with an absence of summer’s birdsong. Tall and slender reeds swayed gently beside the curving waterway, full from an all-night rainfall that had briefly changed to snow before dawn and was now, like a reminder of time itself, flowing slowly before me.
∼ November 4, 2019 ∼ “After an Autumn Sunset”
With the switch of time that resulted in moving clocks back an hour Sunday morning, sunset slipped to almost 4:30. This transition to earlier darkness also reminded me the arc of the sun’s track has drifted far enough south that its path at sundown now aligns closely with the shoreline of northern Indiana. In fact, as I mentioned to a gathering of photographers at my fall photography talk in the Indiana Dunes State Park on Saturday afternoon, although the best-known photos of sunset from the nearby beach occur in summer—particularly in July when I lead a hike to capture images of the sun as it slides behind the skyline of Chicago on the far side of Lake Michigan—fall photographs of sunset allow one to include the coastal features of Indiana within the frame of the viewfinder. Additionally, as the Weather Channel reports, during fall and winter the angled light “must pass through much more of our atmosphere”; consequently, “blue light gets scattered away, making the reds and oranges more pronounced.” Furthermore, “weather patterns allow for dry, clean Canadian air to sweep” above the lake, thus “more colors of the spectrum make it through to our eyes without getting scattered by particles in the air, producing brilliant sunsets and sunrises that can look red, orange, yellow or even pink.”
∼ October 30, 2019 ∼ “Fall Foliage at Bailly Bridge”
As mentioned in previous journal entries, the final week of October and first few days of November usually exhibit peak leaf color in the Indiana Dunes. Since the season for full fall foliage lasts only for this brief period, weather during the ten days or so that offer optimum autumn scenery can be crucial. Unfortunately, much of the time this year has witnessed chilly and windy conditions with days of rain, creating frustration when seeking opportunities for fall photography. However, during one of the breaks in this stormy pattern, I visited a stretch of the Little Calumet River in the national park that flows past the old Bailly Homestead, a historic location I have written about on numerous occasions. (For a sampling, please see some of my posts dated 8/17/19, 6/21/19, 6/5/17, and 2/26/17.) While there, I captured an image of the short bridge that crosses the waterway near where Joseph Bailly first established a fur trading post in 1822. Under the light blue field of a cloudless sky, the yellow leaves of surrounding trees lit by bright sunshine seemed even more luminous.
∼ October 28, 2019 ∼ “Trail Through Dune Hills in Late October”
When I guide landscape photography walks in autumn at Indiana Dunes State Park, I remind participants that elements of weather cannot be controlled, so it is important to adapt to current circumstances, especially in this season. One can learn various techniques and tricks about taking photos, become knowledgeable of composition and camera settings, or learn processing skills. However, each trip into nature requires a certain amount of luck with the conditions. Particularly in fall, various features influence decisions in my selection of subject matter or image presentation. Too much sunshine usually introduces harsh contrasts and distracting shadows. Rain could create early leaf fall, as can wind, which also increases the problem of motion blur in leaves when focusing on trees. Therefore, yesterday I followed a familiar trail protected against the winds and shaded from direct sunlight by dune hills to find a spot of colorful foliage with tints enriched by moisture from the previous day’s deluge of rain.
∼ October 24, 2019 ∼ “Events During Peak Leaf Season”
Next week I will once again be offering a presentation at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center with tips about how to capture better landscape images when visiting the dunes. My talk is scheduled for Saturday, November 2, at 2 p.m. In addition, beginning on Friday, November 1, a two-month exhibition of my photographs will be displayed in the park’s auditorium. Considering these events will occur in the center of autumn, I will be including a number of timely photos with fall foliage. Indeed, that weekend should witness the height of leaf season, which usually peaks in the final few days of October and first week of November. (The current forecast calls for ideal conditions between Oct. 26 and Nov. 2.) Although, as I have mentioned in previous entries, the transition to vivid scenery seems a slight bit slower this year, delayed perhaps because September was significantly warmer than normal. Nevertheless, knowing a couple trails where the transformation of the setting often happens earliest, I did find locations the other day, such as in the accompanying image, that already are starting to show their vibrant colors.
∼ October 21, 2019 ∼ “October Sunset Along Indiana Dunes”
During summer months I sometimes lead a group of fellow photographers for a sunset photo hike at Indiana Dunes State Park. On various evenings in that season the sun lowers directly behind the skyline of Chicago on the opposite side of Lake Michigan. Consequently, the contrast between nature’s magnificently colorful light show and the outline of urban architecture profiled along the far shore often creates excellent photographs. However, each sundown beyond the lake in any season can result in outstanding images. In fact, although the path of the sun has drifted a fair distance to the south by the time autumn arrives and no cityscape appears before its descent, the impression displayed without the intrusion of human structures frequently seems even more dramatic. Indeed, in October the sun’s position sits at an angle to the Indiana coastline that permits capturing an image with features of the Indiana Dunes silhouetted within the frame.
∼ October 17, 2019 ∼ “Endangered Trees”
This past week, weather patterns over the region transitioned, beginning to shift more quickly toward full fall conditions. Overnight temperatures dropped significantly, flirted with the freeze level, and for a few days we witnessed lake waves swelling beneath the influence of northern winds. Again, the vulnerability to sand attrition and coastal erosion along many beaches appears clear following each storm. Those trees with limbs leaning from low bluffs above the shoreline at some locations seemed to be teetering under the pressure of gusts, and now their precarious situation has become more obvious as networks of roots have been exposed. Indeed, despite desperate efforts at fortification with rows of boulders as breakwater, the trunks may soon topple into the surf below. Even on calm afternoons following every tempest, a dramatic tension is evident in the damaged setting, and I believe much of the magnificent scenery will be lost.
∼ October 15, 2019 ∼ “Crossing Paths”
These crossing paths through the foredunes slope gently toward a curve of shoreline where earlier I explored the coast and watched a couple ring-billed gulls stand on a strip of beach narrowed by the lake’s high-water level, each bird poised amid wet sand that has now turned from tan to brown, almost a cocoa color. The pair slowly strayed away from me, ambling toward the west, and they appeared weary, perhaps having been battered a bit by that strong and chilly northwest wind rushing ashore during recent days, although the opening weeks of October had been mostly mild. Today, I decide to walk a different direction. Listening to the soft shuffle of surf, which diminishes as I move inland, I will climb a winding trail between long leaves of marram grass still swaying easily in this afternoon’s remaining breeze. Traveling toward a route that will enter the still-dark interior of dune woods, I look forward to examining what affect the first bit of chilly fall weather has had on the forest foliage.
∼ October 13, 2019 ∼ “Trail Two After a Day of Rain”
Following a day of stormy weather, the morning’s strong northern winds have eased to a light afternoon breeze on this stretch of trail sheltered by shoreline hills. Sunshine slices through new openings between the higher reaches of trees along this route among the dune woods, their upper limbs beginning to thin a little in mid-October. After a recent rainfall that totaled more than nine inches a week ago, Trail Two remains muddy though no longer flooded. The Dunes Creek path beneath my feet lies strewn with a scattering of some colorful leaves and a few signs of raccoon prints outlined in the soft soil. Nevertheless, perhaps due to warm and wet weather much of the summer and early autumn, more of the foliage thus far this fall seems to be green. I don’t often find crows this close to the coastline, but today one quiet figure, apparently undisturbed by my movement, appears to be watching me like a dark angel from its perch on a nearby branch, hanging low and partly hidden within the gray shade of that ragged, though ample, canopy yet looming overhead. I return the bird’s gaze, simply nod as if to acknowledge its presence, and carry on my walk toward the strip of beach bordering Lake Michigan.
∼ October 10, 2019 ∼ “An Observation on Photographic Imagery and Nature Writing”
In a September report broadcast on CNBC about measurable movements in sales of books, a major bookstore representative commented how nature writing seemed to be one of the genres that have gained popularity with readers in recent years. An explanation offered that such works of literature provided settings with simplicity and beauty, scenery viewed as an escape from the chaotic and frequently troubling interaction in the lives of many in contemporary society, whether personally experienced or distantly encountered through news on television and commentary in social media. However, my observation of recent trends—including the documented proliferation of visitors swelling attendance figures at national parks—suggests the growth of online platforms, particularly Instagram, that constantly exhibit and regularly promote habitats of natural magnificence in millions of images always available, encourages curiosity about those locations. Consequently, a desire is engendered to comprehend in depth the environments represented by the seductive two-dimensional photographs of nature’s splendor witnessed daily on digital screens. Indeed, I have concluded similar pleasant elements in the natural surroundings have contributed to inspiring me, motivating my mixture of pictures and prose in this continuing Indiana Dunes project.
∼ October 8, 2019 ∼ “Autumn Sunset Through Dune Ridge Trees”
I follow a narrow path up a sandy hill to the edge of this ledge overlooking Lake Michigan. Last year a shallow slope existed where this cliff now ends abruptly and drops sharply for almost thirty feet. A slope of loose sand once ran at a slight slant toward the shore where sunbathers would stretch their blankets and swimmers would wade among small waves. But today that wide beach lies submerged beneath an unusual high-water mark, and this location seems hidden, isolated above the coastline below. In fact, the lake level is currently 16 inches higher than last October, only 7 inches from the all-time record and nearly 6 feet beyond its low in 2013. Suddenly, an orange haze forms over the skyline. Some rust-colored leaves on dune ridge trees or settled among the marram grass lit by the sunset display evidence that the transformation of early autumn has begun. This evening, only a weak breeze moves through these branches, and the surface of the water below has calmed considerably since a late-morning thunderstorm passed, shifting swiftly toward the east. I aim my lens away from that glare of sun just dipping behind the horizon, changing the appearance of the scenery in front of me, and I capture this quick transition.
∼ October 6, 2019 ∼ “Seeking Initial Signs of Autumn on Early October Photo Hike”
Yesterday afternoon I assisted Dan Barriball, an interpretive naturalist at Indiana Dunes State Park, in guiding a wonderful group of visitors on a photo walk along Trail Seven as part of the weekend’s Outdoor Adventure Festival. Dan provided valuable information about plants, trees, birds, and butterflies. I offered advice on certain elements of photography, such as composition and camera settings. I enjoyed speaking with the group in a preliminary introduction and then engaging in friendly conversations with a number of my fellow photographers as we traveled the short roundtrip route to Lake Michigan then back to the Nature Center, a bit more than a mile each way. I also spoke about Frank V. Dudley’s famously influential paintings created at the Indiana Dunes, and how my pictures sometimes attempt to imitate a few of the artworks by shooting the photos in locations or with perspectives similar to those Dudley chose. Indeed, one of his paintings bears a title identifying itself as The Seventh Trail (1953), an image we carried with us in order to identify the exact spot where Dudley might have stood while working on his canvas. We tried our best to find some initial signs of autumn for interesting examples of an intimate landscape photograph. Since the weather has been warm during late summer and into fall, not many leaves had yet changed color, but a few already displayed evidence of decay.
∼ October 3, 2019 ∼ “A Few Basic Beginner Tips on Landscape Photo Composition”
This Saturday I will be leading a photo hike at 2 pm in the Indiana Dunes State Park as part of the annual Outdoor Adventure Festival. Whenever I meet people during my landscape photography treks in the Indiana Dunes, they frequently wonder what I’m seeking to capture with the camera. Initially, they usually guess I’m looking for birds. But upon my answer that I’m seeking engaging scenery, some ask for a few basic tips on composition. Guiding folks on photo walks, I give the following quick tidbits of broad and general advice for beginners. Quality of light might be my first concern when taking pictures, especially conscious of avoiding harsh shadows or distracting patches of bright sunshine in wooded areas. Additionally, I like to wait for days that display a scattering of clouds billowing overhead to contribute a sense of texture and perhaps supply a natural soft filter for the sunlight when hidden behind them, remembering that a strong sun tends to bleach color. Tall grass and small trees—whether full with foliage in summer or colorful in fall, even with their thin and twisting limbs bared in winter—often provide a fantastic foreground facet for focusing interest. Sometimes, I try to include a narrow trail weaving through thick woods or a winding path among the undulations of sand mounds, each feature offering a perception of distance in the setting. An extended stretch of beach emphasized by a white surf also can exhibit depth, an angling line leading the viewer’s eye into the image. Although I try not to talk too much about photo technique in my writings, I frequently receive e-mails requesting advice, and I thought these simple hints could be helpful to many.
∼ October 1, 2019 ∼ “Warm Weather at Start of October”
By late morning today’s sun had dissipated the faint early fog drifting in from Lake Michigan and dried those beads of dew on slender reeds of marram grass throughout the dunes. A few pillows of billowing clouds over me, that thin file extending above the horizon line now appears more like pale brush strokes lightly smudged across a canvas against a background painted blue. Although the calendar indicates autumn has begun and summer’s hold on the landscape should have loosened, nature’s sleight of hand seems to have deceived us once again. Warm weather nearing ninety degrees lingers at the start of October along the northern Indiana coastline brought by the breath from a southern front moving through. Angled sunshine streams onto the beach, brightening that tan stretch of sand ahead while whitening the surf. I decide I will walk west with the water to my right, watch the remaining leaves on shoreline trees quivering in whatever wind there is. Thinking about how quickly this scenery could soon change, I am reminded of words Henry David Thoreau once wrote in his journal: “The seasons do not revolve for us, we sing their lullaby.” [May 22, 1854]
∼ September 25, 2019 ∼ “Sunset After September Thunderstorm”
Sometimes sunsets occurring beyond Lake Michigan after a quickly passing thunderstorm seem to exhibit even greater vibrancy, and the scenery becomes so much more stunning. The atmosphere appears clearer following such a sudden short-lived rainfall, and the remaining clouds create an increased sense of texture in the horizon sky. Today, a dull gray September afternoon has been replaced by this vivid evening setting with its distant imagery looking like a lit match, and I watch the calm water now settled before me, its surface reflecting that rich redness descending all around. Surprised when I arrived by the absence of others to witness this view, I walked the length of an empty beach to find an apt spot for my tripod, the camera lens now aimed at a slender trail of light extended toward its source. I waited nearly an hour until the persistent overcast broke, mostly rolled slowly away, drifting east as I hoped it would. Still too early for the moon or stars to slip into place and make their appearance, I know I will linger a bit longer.
∼ September 23, 2019 ∼ “End of Summer”
The time has finally arrived for summer to unfasten itself from the landscape. In this morning’s weak breeze, leaves of marram grass filling the dunes seem to be gently waving goodbye to another season. Thin limbs of lakeside trees, still a bit green, lift a little with every puff of onshore breath, and their shadows extending under slanted sunlight slowly slide toward the water. The surf’s backwash following each breaking wave whitens the shoreline. Farther down the coast, most of the beach stretching ahead has been swept from sight by the height of the lake level. Last night’s sky, seeded with stars, seemed to indicate today would be clear as well, but now a cluster of clouds appears, crawling across the wide field of blue sky. Alongside a winding trail where I step through the foredunes, a few groups of wildflowers yet brighten briefly under the glance of sunshine. A pair of ring-billed gulls call above to one another and pass by my path, tipping their wings overhead slightly as they turn into the wind to become figures diminishing in the distance.
∼ September 20, 2019 ∼ “Washed Away Beach”
I have been hiking narrow paths twisting through the foredunes this afternoon with little shelter from brisk onshore air currents. In the aftermath of a strong storm with northern gusts, I observe this sliced edge of fading shoreline, shaped by waves and wind, which continues outside the photograph’s frame. Each time I visit, I see the surf has sucked much more sand from the shore. Following three consecutive seasons with harsh weather patterns, this beach has been robbed of its depth—at least fifty feet in the past—and become impassable where I once walked its breadth with ease. The stretch of broken coast extends ahead of me, and overhead a congregation of clouds is assembling again before another storm forecast to arrive later today. On some evenings when hidden in thick fog or covered with a drifting mist, even before nightfall seals the deal, its length merely disappears from sight, vanishing in the near distance as if never there.
∼ September 19, 2019 ∼ “Indiana Dunes National Park: Six Month Report”
In Tuesday’s newspaper, Chicago Tribune reporter Morgan Greene outlined the impact thus far from the re-designation of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to Indiana Dunes National Park just over six months ago. Greene cites Paul Labovitz, Superintendent of Indiana Dunes National Park, who observes the number of visitors this summer as “spectacular,” having increased substantially since March due to the renaming at the end of February. Indeed, the article declares the National Park Service estimates this year at Indiana Dunes as having seen “the highest visitor counts across decades.” Greene also reports that the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center “has clocked record traffic,” and it has already “broken its all-time annual record.” Conversations I have conducted with staff at the state park suggest an expected carry-over effect since it is surrounded by the national park territory. In fact, as my previous post noted, some traveling to the region in response to news about the national park have spent their time based at the Indiana Dunes State Park campgrounds and taken advantage of the state park’s popular beach or hiked its famous 3-Dune Challenge. A cooperative spirit between the two parks, such as during the Outdoor Adventure Festival upcoming in October, can only assist in further boosting attendance in the future at both locations.
∼ September 17, 2019 ∼ “Sunset Through Shoreline Trees”
After a late-day lull in onshore winds, the surface of the water shimmers, and a stillness fills the evening air. Sunset spreads a palette of colors, dyeing the darkening horizon with its tints, a variety of shades seeping between thinning clouds and expanding across this end of summer sky. Already, a bit of cold accompanies the oncoming night and a few leaves on nearby trees with limbs framing my view have given up their green. Eventually, each season relinquishes its grip on the landscape. On my walk toward the shoreline tonight, I spoke with a man from Oklahoma who was touring the Midwest in a Winnebago with his wife, both retired. Heading east, they planned to travel to New Hampshire by the beginning of October to observe fall foliage in the White Mountains. He told me they’d been camping at the Indiana Dunes State Park and seen every sundown beyond Lake Michigan this past week, plus under clearer skies they stay later, sitting on a blanket stretched over the beach sand, lingering a little longer as they wait for the moon and great array of stars to show themselves.
∼ September 15, 2019 ∼ “Trail to Beach in September”
Hiking a ridge trail high above the beach at least a half mile east of the state park pavilion, the end of summer only seven days away, I notice the sandy course ahead littered with rust colored leaves and pine needles. Although birds hidden in upper limbs still sing brightly and the tapping of a lone woodpecker announces its presence, those long blades of marram grass, some already fading to yellow among the foredunes, sway gently in accord with lake waves during each easy gust from a chilly onshore breeze. Though the calendar pages indicate we’re almost at autumn, there will likely be a while yet until the first hard frost or early snowfall. That luminous sunshine I’d witnessed most of the morning when I walked a winding route along Dunes Creek, splotches of light filtering through the thinning woods, has nearly disappeared this afternoon beneath dull skies from an increasing cloud cover settling overhead, introducing colder weather. I decide to descend a sloping path to the surf, where I will feel more fully the lifting wind bringing this touch of fall in the air.
∼ September 13, 2019 ∼ “Dune Hills Near Trail Nine”
Calm conditions with an absence of lake waves, mid-September days like this signal a stillness between the busyness of summer and those autumn windstorms soon to shake leaves from these shoreline trees. I like the quiet and solitude so far along Trail Nine. Sometimes this silence seems like a gift, the scenery before me a secret shared with some hesitancy, an exclusive display, perhaps like a large painting in progress revealed, uncovered from a drop cloth draped over the canvas at an artist’s studio. At this stage of the season, the richness of those lingering greens yet enduring in the landscape seems to surprise me. In locations where fall colors—orange, red, yellow—have already begun to show among the undergrowth, I feel a sense of regret, an anticipation of loss. Already, this afternoon’s sun moves more quickly toward the horizon, the hours of daylight shortened significantly. Before long, I will position my tripod by the beach for a sunset shot over still waters, and nightfall will nearly be here.
∼ September 11, 2019 ∼ “Marram Grass Among Foredunes”
A mid-September spell of warmer weather with winds shifting to the southwest lifted temperatures into the upper eighties yesterday, and now nearly ninety degrees has been forecast for today and tomorrow. Features of the landscape along Lake Michigan seem almost summery once again, much of the marram grass still green and filling the foredunes, their long thin blades tilting slightly in the lightest breeze. Scatterings of small clouds, perhaps resembling shipped parcels whitened by bright sunshine, slowly float overhead and impose themselves on the scenery. The irregular shapes of shadows on their undersides slide across the coastline; dark and deliberate in their movement, they look like they are alive, even remind me of those crows sometimes seen passing aloft, drifting above taller treetops of the dune woods. Indeed, this week’s conditions have created an unexpected warmth that seems to suggest someone has reshuffled the calendar’s pages.
∼ September 9, 2019 ∼ “Sailing Under a Sunset Sky”
Since August closed and September opened during the Labor Day weekend, this stretch of shoreline already seems to be visited much less than during the past few months. Standing on a low mound among dunes just above the beach and sloping toward the surf, an easy breeze scattering the top layer of loose sand around my feet, I await another sunset in this diminishing season. A colorful glow blurs those distant clouds, slow moving and appearing smeared, almost as smudges or gauzy patches of gray among a late haze on the horizon. The reflective surface of lake water trembles a bit beneath the soft onshore wind. Though not yet autumn, already air along the coast cools quickly each evening. As summer nears its end, I notice a lone boat crossing toward the west, slipping before me in this glint of light and leaving a thin streak in its wake. Its stuttering engine interrupts the enticing spell of silence that had been sustained since I stumbled up the slanting path to arrive in this spot about an hour earlier.
∼ September 7, 2019 ∼ “Sentinel Tree in September”
Standing on a sand dune and leaning lightly on my tripod, I watch as skies over Lake Michigan start to darken again with increasing cloud cover, yet the Chicago skyline is still visible in the distance. Gulls flutter along the shoreline the way they appear to do year-long, but today too far down the beach for me to hear their calls. This morning a small storm moved through northern Indiana, the low tone of muffled thunder rumbling for nearly an hour. Although temperatures still seem ideal in early September, nights contain a distinct chill, and soon these shortening days will also grow colder. Fall officially two weeks away, scattered patches of marram grass among the foredunes have already begun to fade, turning from green to yellow and tan. More coastline trees, like the sentinel in front of me, have started to thin, some even displaying completely empty limbs. The great variation of nature continues to exhibit evidence of change as I observe one season begin its shift into another.
∼ September 3, 2019 ∼ “Lake Viewed Through a Few Dune Trees at Start of September”
As I scuffle down a shallow dune slope toward the water, another flurry of fluttering wings, ring-billed gulls lifting aloft then flying loops, moving low enough to be by my right side, eventually drop to the lake’s surface, drifting not far from its edge. I pause to watch an intermittently turbulent surf whiten like chalk along that swatch of beach below. A staggered pattern of breaking waves, curved lines almost as pale as chalk, now decorate a distant bend in the shoreline, as do the clouds floating overhead. Those ripples close by appear to rasp in a rhythm, sometimes sounding like someone straining with exertion, as they scrape the sand with every rush onshore. Bare branches of coastal trees weakened by repeated bouts with stormy weather seem to creak with each brief gust of wind. Some already slouch, their thin limbs drooping as if from exhaustion. Today, I have a vague notion of what I want to capture with my camera. I stoop by my tripod, bow my head to look through the viewfinder, and press the shutter release button.
∼ August 29, 2019 ∼ “Eastern End of Trail Ten at End of August”
Though still summer, when walking through shade trees along the dune ridge overlooking Lake Michigan I sometimes feel the sudden chill of autumn evident in an onshore breeze. Despite weakening a little lately as it moves farther south, the sun yet brightens streaks of surging surf below me with its angled light. The nights have already cooled quite a bit. Campers in the state park huddle closer to fire pits during a darkness that arrives earlier each evening. North winds bring a collection of fluffy clouds and continue to sweep the shoreline with insistent waves. Much of the beach sand has been washed away during this season’s storms. Recent high levels of the lake’s surface have created extensive erosion damage along stretches of the Indiana Dunes coastline. Today, I have been hiking deep into woods and along blowout rims again on the eastern ends of Trail Nine and Trail Ten, where a narrow tan path at last descends like an unraveled strip of ribbon toward the water’s edge.
∼ August 26, 2019 ∼ “Setting Sun Behind Horizon Clouds”
Each evening as another summer sunset ends, before twilight starts its slide toward the blackness of nightfall, I like to watch the way vivid colors remain a while, lingering overhead perhaps paradoxically like a beautiful bruise from a minor injury that will eventually fade away, as has any pain already. Its display becomes nudged higher by angled light directed above that lake water shortly to be shadowed and disappear from sight. Though not totally overcast, the time is still too soon for stars to show themselves, and I know at first the moonless sky will wear its solid darkness like a buttonless coat. I appreciate a noticeable silence. Even those gulls that had been flying nearby, dipping their wings in cooling air along the beach, have quieted. I stand by my tripod in a flat patch of sand among the dunes, camera lens aimed toward the shore, as I sense the slightest drift in this light wind beginning to sift through a tangle of thin leaves, tall green blades of marram grass now shifting a bit all around me. Again, I’m aware no photo, even with the aid of these words, could fully capture the atmosphere.
∼ August 23, 2019 ∼ “Portage Breakwater: On Dangers to Nature, a Report”
As I have noted in the past, the unique qualities of Indiana Dunes National Park include its proximity to industrial developments, which represent a constant reminder of the encroachment by humans upon the natural landscape and of the ever-present possible threat to the purity of nature. Last week, the constant concerns of many were realized when an excessive release of ammonia and cyanide occurred at the ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor steel plant along a portion of the East Arm of the Little Calumet River that flows into Lake Michigan near the Portage Waterfront, causing fish kill in the thousands. Disturbingly, a report of the spill, which may have occurred on August 16, apparently was delayed at least a few days. On Thursday, after three consecutive days of water testing clean, the National Park Service once again allowed swimming at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Beach. It also reopened all of the Little Calumet River within the national park. This decision was made in consultation with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The National Park Service promises to continue monitoring testing.
∼ August 21, 2019 ∼ “Trail Above Lake Michigan in Late August”
Late August and already the volume of summer visitors to the park has been trimmed a bit. This trail once again appears uncluttered, and its empty stretch slicing through the dunes ahead welcomes me forward. I slowly shuffle down a sandy slope toward the shore. In the distance, a thin scattering of overcast spots the horizon, and some fluffy clouds float overhead. Nearby, a few ring-billed gulls flutter above that stutter of small waves breaking on the beach. Beside the path, those wildflowers I have passed still nod easily with each gentle sweep of an afternoon breeze. The tall slim blades of marram grass shiver all around me, and the leaves of small trees on the ridge rustle in the occasional drift from an increase in northwest wind at their altitude. When I pause for a drink of water, I notice the whole scene seems designed for the kind of setting with a composition I’d hoped to find to take my photograph, waiting as though only hoping for me to do my work and snap the shutter.
∼ August 19, 2019 ∼ “Meeting a New Friend on Trail Ten”
Earlier in the day, at the eastern end of Trail Ten in a section between Paradise Valley and the Pinery, where a narrow boardwalk built by local eagle scouts about five years ago crosses the Great Marsh deep in a forest among tall shade trees, amidst the relentless smell of dampness and decay at this time of year, I met a man from Mississippi named Mason who asked me for directions. The only individual I’d seen on my late-morning walk, Mason, a retired electrician, explained he’d been hiking a couple miles from the state park campsite. He wanted to know the closest and quickest way to Lake Michigan. I offered to guide him to where the route passes through dunes and comes upon the surf not far ahead. When we arrived at an opening in the woods and descended toward the shoreline, an increasing lake breeze was bringing with it a fresh scent. My new friend remarked admiringly in his wonderful accent that he’d been surprised to find in Indiana such tan sand and almost turquoise water, which fondly reminded him of those southern gulf beaches he knows so well.
∼ August 16, 2019 ∼ “Marsh Forest in Mid-August”
I stand beside my tripod to rest a while on the narrow trail and to watch the strong summer sun above briefly disappear under an isolated cluster of cloud cover suddenly arriving on this almost windless day. At first, I don’t notice a small yellow-and-black striped garter snake, just under two feet long, as it slithers past my left boot and slips quickly into the nearby marsh until lost among a forest of dead trees. The base of each trunk lies submerged beneath about fifteen inches of water coated by green seasonal algae. The trees seem arranged alongside one another in a pattern resembling controlled chaos, maybe like an array of symbolic features—perhaps meant to emphasize absence, loss, or longing—I have observed sometimes at abstract installations exhibited in an art gallery. I scan the surface of the water seeking to find a dark line—like those slim shadows of thin limbs—or even a little ripple, any bit of evidence to indicate the snake’s presence yet in such a still setting; however, I only witness this calm and undisturbed scenery in front of me.
∼ August 12, 2019 ∼ “Sunshine Peeking Between Riverside Trees”
After about eight days without rain, those lower boughs of trees yet heavy with summer foliage beside this waterway seem to sag in deep shadows. As I hike by this site, where earlier I had seen a hawk glide gracefully in silhouette against the brightening background, the dry branches sigh high overhead in each increasing breeze. Those few I pass that are already empty of leaves creak a bit as they shift gently with even the slightest drift of southwest wind. Resting a while on this trail amidst a pool of cool shade, I sight the strong afternoon sun now free from this morning’s sporadic patches of fluffy clouds and peeking just above a tree line downstream. Its fine rays of yellow light probe an opening in the canopy, and they illuminate almost to overexposure a little cluster of limbs crossing their path beyond a distant bend in the river. I observe this sudden burst of sunshine as it ignites the far sky, perhaps like that first flame spurting sparks among dark kindling of twigs in a small circular firepit I’d witnessed last night at a nearby campsite.
∼ August 10, 2019 ∼ “Devil’s Slide at Johnson’s Hill”
One of the iconic images in Indiana Dunes State Park, initially recognizable at the mouth of Dunes Creek near the popular public beach and historic pavilion, the Devil’s Slide down Johnson’s Hill often attracts visitors for a first hike. Climbing the steep dune, which reaches an elevation of about 100 feet at its summit, offers a panoramic vista of the shoreline along Lake Michigan, plus on clear days one can observe the distant skyline of Chicago, approximately 35 miles away. As I mentioned in a previous entry two years ago (8/21/17), this location “provides the only place in the park permitted for sledding in winter. However, viewing its current appearance and contrasting that with past photographs, particularly those taken decades ago, one discovers a transformation has occurred. In those old photos the entire hill looks to be bare of trees, grass, and underbrush.” Consequently, I return each summer to snap a photograph evidencing the continued growth of foliage on this terrain.
∼ August 7, 2019 ∼ “View from New Little Calumet River Kayak Launch”
In a past post I wrote about construction of a new kayak launch along the Little Calumet River in Indiana Dunes National Park with assistance from a grant administered by Save the Dunes. (To read that entry and view my photograph of the structure, please visit my 6/21/19 entry.) As I mentioned, the kayak launch is situated near the historic Bailly Homestead, an appropriate location considering Joseph Bailly’s positioning of a trading post at that bend in the river during the 1820s because it “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.” Yesterday, I stood on the newly-opened kayak launch facing east and captured this image of the bridge beside the Bailly Homestead. I also imagined how the scene might have appeared 200 years ago.
∼ August 6, 2019 ∼ “Cowles Bog Walkway Under Summer Sunshine”
Hiking in the heat of early August, I travel an overgrown trail through Cowles Bog, famous as the location for pioneering studies conducted more than one hundred years ago of its unique ecological structure. Lines of vines crisscross a few feet overhead, their deep green leaves lush and still in this windless air. Beyond a bend, I spot that straight walkway extending over a stretch of wetland between spines of tall trees, the water level yet elevated somewhat by a series of rainstorms throughout spring plus much of June and July. In past years before this raised path was built, the way ahead would have been flooded, perhaps impassable during such conditions. (See my previous post of 11/22/17 about construction of the newly restored route.) This year’s pattern of wetter weather has also brought more pesky mosquitos or hovering deer flies; although, some of those unseen birds chirping cheerfully in filled limbs above me seem pleased to be able to feast on the season’s increased supply of insects.
∼ August 4, 2019 ∼ “Walking the Length of Central Beach”
When wet weather dominated spring and the first half of summer, water levels of Lake Michigan reached near-record readings. Strong storms brought northern winds sweeping large waves toward shore, and many coastal locations along Indiana beaches were washed away. In fact, as I have reported in previous posts, Central Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Park seemed among the most vulnerable. (Please see my recent entries of 6/28/19 and 7/23/19.) However, since the past few weeks have seen an extended spell of calmer and drier weather, the surface of the lake seems to have receded a little. Consequently, I now find spots where previously submerged stretches of sand have begun to reappear. Visiting Central Beach the other day, I was able to walk its entire length for the first time this season, although much of the extent remains merely two or three feet wide, and I often had to measure my steps, moving quickly between the scalloped edging of a pulsing surf.
∼ August 2, 2019 ∼ “Photo Exhibition”
Yesterday, before taking down my photography show that had been on display in the Nature Center at Indiana Dunes State Park during the months of June and July, perhaps the busiest stretch of the calendar for visitors, I spent a few minutes walking along the auditorium walls to review those fifteen prints I’d included. The variety of locations represented in the images captured at different times of the year reminded me how the local landscape constantly transforms throughout the seasons and seems continually visually appealing. I also spoke with a couple of the friendly staff members, both interpretive naturalists with whom I have helped lead photo hikes in the past, who informed me how much they appreciated the way my photographs brought indoors an array of impressive scenery from the surrounding settings. I was thankful again for the opportunity to share my perceptions of nature with so many people from near or far, and I already look forward to the next exhibition of my work—mostly autumn and winter images—that will be mounted at the Nature Center for viewing in November and December.
∼ July 30, 2019 ∼ “Sunday’s Sunset at Dunbar Beach”
Walking toward the shoreline in late day at the end of July, I move along a sandy path through tall blades of marram grass and these few small trees scattered among the dunes with their leaves trembling slightly in a light onshore breeze. As I approach the coast, I pass a young couple speaking French and a group of four more visitors, apparently a family—parents with a pair of boys—conversing in German, all awaiting a view of sundown. I wonder if this is just a coincidence or perhaps evidence of a benefit from the recent re-designation of the Indiana Dunes lakeshore to a national park, which likely has brought more interest from international tourists. I am reminded once again how I sometimes take for granted this local gift of nature I frequently treat much like a large backyard and some near here regard as a weekend getaway, while others travel far from distant locations hoping to experience its beauty. This evening, I observe another wonderful sunset beyond Lake Michigan, and I am pleased these sightseers will not be disappointed.
∼ July 28, 2019 ∼ “Sunset Stroll”
Friday evening, I was invited to help lead a “Sunset Stroll” hike at Indiana Dunes State Park. The interpretive naturalist, Ashley, enthusiastically guided a group of fifteen participants on a trail that extends along Dunes Creek toward where it flows into Lake Michigan. As Ashley provided entertaining and informative specifics about various features found along the way—types of trees and their uses, the history of the creek, or even why sunsets vividly display certain colors—I offered a few suggestions for photographing during sundown. The weather was ideal, windless with a temperature about 80 degrees plus little humidity, and all were engaged in friendly conversations. We had hoped to capture an image of the sun poised behind the center of the distant Chicago skyline, outlining some of the city’s famous buildings more than thirty miles away, as occurs at this time each year. However, due to persistent haze and pesky cloud cover obscuring details on the far side of the lake, conditions dictated we would merely witness a more subdued sunset that generally shaded the sky in warm hues, which were also reflected on the still water and brought out by lowering my camera’s exposure compensation. Nevertheless, as I mentioned in my remarks, every image of a sunset delivers some interest; plus, I felt the pleasant company of others on this night enhanced the enjoyment for everyone.
∼ July 26, 2019 ∼ “Walking Toward the Shore on a July Afternoon”
After hiking more than three miles, I have left a shaded trail winding through dune woods to walk toward the water. A few small mounds along the shoreline seem swollen recently with sections of sand skinned by swift northern winds and shifted inland. Tall reeds of marram grass sway lazily beside my path in today’s onshore breeze. Again, this thin reach of the dwindling beach below has been displaced by the rising water level of the lake. A late afternoon sunshine skims its surface and glints on the whitecaps of high waves approaching the coast. I pause to watch a large barge in the distance as its silhouette crosses before the Chicago skyline, which is still visible on the horizon. A couple gulls fly by my location and shriek in the mostly blue expanse overhead while another one thrashes its white wings in the turbulent surf glistening ahead as if offering an invitation for me to continue forward.
∼ July 23, 2019 ∼ “Northern Winds Sweep Waves Across Central Beach”
The region’s recent heat spell that brought the warmest days of this summer, with temperatures reaching into the upper-90s, ended Sunday evening when winds abruptly shifted from steady southern currents to strong northern gusts. In addition, as I noted in a previous post (please see my 6/28/19 entry), the water level at Lake Michigan already has approached a record elevation. As reported by Larry Mowry, meteorologist at Chicago’s ABC television news and an alumnus of Valparaiso University, the height of the lake’s surface is currently tied with the greatest measurement for any July during the documented history begun in 1918, and it now stands only 4 inches from an all-time record, which occurred in October 1986. Therefore, large lake waves washed away various beaches along the Indiana coast again on Monday morning, including the Indiana Dunes National Park’s Central Beach, a location I have referenced in past commentary as among the most vulnerable stretches of shoreline.
∼ July 19, 2019 ∼ “A Quick Look Back”
As I came across an interesting magazine article this week that explored an apparent difficulty in general of continuing the task of writing a journal, with most people abandoning the habit of regular composition pretty soon after beginning the process, I decided to review the accumulation of journal entries in this Indiana Dunes project. I started on January 1, 2017, noting the influence of Henry David Thoreau, since that year marked the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth. The initial account acknowledged those repeated bits of inspiration I found in reading “his observations on nature or speculations about the human spirit.” I also admired his steadfastness, authoring pieces over a span of more than two decades in prose that added to about 2-million words. Consequently, I became curious about my own output thus far over the past two and a half years, and I discovered my contributions currently comprise more than 500 entries—each accompanied by a photograph—containing commentary in excess of 125,000 words. This represents a minimal total compared to Thoreau’s productivity, certainly; but the collection is expansive enough, and with fairly comprehensive content, that I can now confidently invite everyone to take a quick look back and to browse through my writing in past posts.
∼ July 14, 2019 ∼ “Dunes Creek at Midday in July”
In this season’s heat, the gray shade from these trees along the creek beside Trail Two offers a little relief, and an easy breeze off the nearby lake yet blurs their upper leaves. Though I know I should not photograph during bright noon light that tends to lend such harsh sunshine or sharp contrast to images of the landscape, especially in summer months, I want to capture this vein of water—still filled due to so much spring rain—coursing like cursive writing through dune woods, perhaps written in the language of nature. It twists between a deep green camouflage of thick foliage also overgrowing the path ahead. A dappled bed of gold sand still shows, seen beneath splotchy reflections of sky in a slow-flowing but clear current. Today, I decide I will walk this way a while, aware that more strong storms are forecast, maybe before tomorrow morning, and in the upcoming week remnants of Hurricane Barry, now drifting through Louisiana, are expected to arrive.
∼ July 9, 2019 ∼ “Trailhead Beside Wilson Shelter”
Moving through the dune woods just past noon on a windless day in early July, I notice scattered accents of colorful blooms yet decorate the landscape. The forest remains filled with deep green foliage after our rainy spring. Following a slightly curving boardwalk north, beginning over wetlands that will then turn east toward Trail Ten, I listen to wordless whispers of distant birdsong, their soft notes sounding graceful and establishing an almost mystical mood. Some slices of sunshine slide between leaves, illuminating splotches on the worn wood beneath my feet and brightening to yellow a bend in the path extending before me. But most of today’s cloudless and overly brilliant sky still hides behind this thickening canopy arching overhead, filtering a bit the harsh afternoon light. Last night, reading a biography of Claude Monet, I thought of his wish “to paint the way a bird sings,” and though those words seemed mysterious at first, now I think I know what he means.
∼ June 30, 2019 ∼ “Great Marsh at Start of Summer”
Hiking trails through the state and national parks at this time of year, I am not surprised to meet other visitors along the way. When I am seen standing with a camera poised atop my tripod, I frequently receive friendly comments and questions about photography. Folks occasionally ask directions or request recommendations of scenic places, and sometimes I strike up a pleasant extended conversation. Since summer months are commonly favored for vacations, many of the people I meet have traveled from distant locations. I have spoken with tourists from Spain, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Canada, and Norway, just to name some of the countries that come to mind, as well as many of the 50 states. Occasionally, I also speak with fellow Hoosiers from other counties who are visiting the Indiana Dunes for a first time. I enjoy these meetings. However, walking through the Great Marsh, I rarely come upon other hikers, even in summer. The serenity of its distinct stillness—broken only by a far-off bird call or a bull frog’s croak, maybe the flapping of a nearby Great Blue Heron’s large wings—fills my thoughts with contemplation and always reminds me of Henry David Thoreau’s observation in an 1853 journal entry that “the silence is something positive and to be heard.” When in nature, he would “stand still and listen with open ears” to “a fertile and eloquent silence.”
∼ June 28, 2019 ∼ “Early Summer Storm Washes Away Central Beach”
As the record-setting wet weather and strong storms seen throughout spring have continued during this first week of summer, Indiana Dunes National Park has posted warnings online for visitors hoping to walk a number of trails that have been impacted by flooding. For instance, sections of the Glenwood Dunes Trail have been closed, and hikers have been cautioned about traveling in the Great Marsh, along the Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk, the Paul H. Douglas trails, and West Beach’s Long Lake Trail. The Portage Lakefront beach is also closed. However, as I have noted in past journal entries (please see my commentaries on 5/17/19, 8/22/18, 7/23/18, 4/10/18 and 3/15/18), Central Beach usually appears to be the location most noticeably affected by adverse conditions. With Lake Michigan’s current high-water level, gusting winds and large waves create a dramatic situation where the entire length of the beach is washed away, and damaging erosion of the sand dunes causes more trees to tumble down their steep slopes toward the surf.
∼ June 25, 2019 ∼ “Small Stream at Great Marsh”
The first few days of summer have begun just as spring left off, much wetter than normal. With this year’s record levels of precipitation, waterways remain high and, in some cases, flooding has occurred. Even Lake Michigan is approaching a height not seen in recent times. When visiting the Great Marsh, located in Indiana Dunes National Park and less than a mile inland from Lake Michigan, for a hike as the new season started, I noticed an excess of rainfall has elevated the water table and unexpectedly created small temporary streams that suddenly thread through the scenery. As I captured the accompanying image, I remembered once more the original formation of the marsh happened thousands of years ago when strong waves overran the barrier sand bar and swamped the area before a recession of Lake Michigan’s level led to the development of growing dunes along the shore and isolated the inland section of wetland. Indeed, I appreciated once more how the mere year-to-year shifting of conditions allows for a fascinating ever-changing landscape.
∼ June 21, 2019 ∼ “Kayak Launch at Bailly Homestead”
During a journal entry in 2017 (see 10/3/17), I wrote about efforts to clear the narrow Little Calumet River for easier passage by small boats. I noted that the river’s “course has recently been completely cleared of blockage from tumbled tree trunks or broken limbs for the first time in three decades after years of work from crews organized by the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association with assistance from other groups—reopened for navigating with kayaks or canoes.” To better accommodate river travelers, the Indiana Dunes National Park, with help from a grant administered by Save the Dunes, now has nearly completed construction of a kayak launch next to the historic Bailly Homestead, which appears to be an appropriate location. As I noted in another 2017 post (see 2/26/17): “…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.”
∼ June 20, 2019 ∼ “River Flooding After Late Spring Rain”
As I have reported repeatedly during the past few months, this spring has been among the wettest on record in the region. Even as summer officially arrives tomorrow, the recurring rainfall has continued. Consequently, when traveling trails recently I have often found the routes impacted by flooding of marshland, swamp forests, or river waters bordering the way. For instance, in the accompanying image, the Little Calumet River has flowed over its banks, submerged the parallel path, and extended deep into nearby woods. Indeed, this week the Indiana Dunes National Park website advised hikers about rising waters overrunning trails: “WARNING: Please use caution when hiking various trails throughout the park. These trails include the Glenwood Dunes, Great Marsh, Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk, and Paul H Douglas Trails. If you still plan on hiking any other trails, we recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots and to have rubber wading or rain boots for backup. Happy trails!”
∼ June 13, 2019 ∼ “Breezy Afternoon Along East Rim Above Beach House Blowout”
In my previous post I noted the widespread reputation of Trail 9 in the Indiana Dunes State Park, which moves through various types of landscape before rising up a steep sandy slope on the lee side of the dunes. The route includes a ridge path with magnificent views of Lake Michigan. Therefore, I thought I’d share this image photographed from a location where the trail narrows as it curves around the Beach House Blowout. Established by long-term exposure to northern winds arriving from the lake, big blowouts like this one eventually break through the dune hills. As I mentioned once before in my journal, much of the walk on Trail 9 takes place at a great height through an edge of woods lining the ridge, allowing hikers to experience cool lake breezes and offering some welcome shade on warmer days. Looking out from the eastern side, the bowl of open landscape leads toward a vast expanse of water and the distant skyline of Chicago barely visible on the horizon beyond.
∼ June 11, 2019 ∼ “Trees Along Trail Nine”
Arriving at the Nature Center in the Indiana Dunes State Park recently to mount an exhibition of my photographs for display in the auditorium, I met a group of visitors from out of state in the parking lot who asked for my advice about the various trails. During our conversation, I noted distinctions and highlights that could be discovered in a few of my favorite routes. However, my description of Trail 9 must have appeared most appealing, since the hike begins beside marshland, moves through dune woods, rises a sand hill to an elevated path curving around the impressive Beach House Blowout, and then extends along a narrow ridge with vistas of Lake Michigan. In a report rating this 3.6-mile loop as the number one trail in Indiana, The Hiking Project observes: “This is the definitive trail in the dunes. It combines hiking through mature forests and along the top of a dune ridge overlooking Lake Michigan. The views are incredible.” I snapped the accompanying image in the trail’s dune woods while helping lead a photo walk last week.
∼ June 7, 2019 ∼ “Late Morning in June at Indiana Dunes”
Yesterday’s heavy rain has ended, scattered by stars arriving at nightfall and then sent away. This late morning a bright sunshine illuminates the landscape extending beside Lake Michigan. I hike through an inland forest that has been transformed by new growth as spring nudges the calendar some more toward summer. Along a wooded ridge overlooking the lake, small birds are hidden by the thickening screen of leaves. Their sweet songs, subdued by distance and interrupted by an insistent hiss of surf, now sound like an intimate whisper of privileged counsel. I leave a linked pattern of footprints on the smooth slope of a sand dune, which shifts a bit with each sweep of westerly wind. Once again, I’m seeking scenery to photograph, perhaps something as simple as little waves leaving a scalloped pattern of water on the shore or one limb of darkened driftwood washed up the beach by high tide or a wispy cluster of quickly moving clouds, a few fluffy, whitening in the sunlight and hovering above a pale line of others looking like low hills filling the northern horizon.
∼ June 4, 2019 ∼ “Forest Flooding Following Spring Rain”
During the photo hike I helped lead as a National Trails Day event at Indiana Dunes State Park on Saturday, mentioned in my previous post, those of us in the group who frequently travel along Trails 9 and 10 noticed a number of ponds unexpectedly appeared within woods lining the way. As I noted in my previous post, since last month had been the rainiest May in history throughout the region and this spring has been among the wettest ever, much of the local landscape has displayed signs of ground saturation and flooding in recent weeks. Consequently, many trees suddenly found themselves surrounded by water, their thick trunks and lower limbs mirrored amid a still pool visible between porous screens of rich green leaves. As I advised two of the children in our group with suggestions on how to snap pictures of these anomalies from nature’s normal state, I managed to capture a couple of photos as well, including this image, seemingly soothing to me and almost abstract in its impression on observers.
∼ June 1, 2019 ∼ “Start of Trail Eight in Beginning of June”
The American Hiking Society marks National Trails Day on the first Saturday of June by asking everyone to participate in an event recognizing the importance of nature trails. Consequently, national and state parks organize various activities for visitors. I was pleased to be invited to join Marie Laudeman, the knowledgeable Interpretive Naturalist at Indiana Dunes State Park, in leading a small group for a “photo stroll” on sections of Trails 8, 9, and 10. The advertised description of this activity as a “stroll” proved accurate, as those in this friendly gathering of adults and children enjoyed casually walking, talking, and observing items of interest among blossoming flowers or unique trees along the way. Since last month proved to be the wettest May in history throughout this region, I particularly appreciated the resulting lush green leaves all around us. Even vast sections of the forest that previously had been subject to prescribed burns now exhibited new growth, displaying the resilience and restorative ability of nature.
∼ May 31, 2019 ∼ “Celebrating Two Hundred Years Since Walt Whitman’s Birth”
The final day of May always seems special as the birthdate of Walt Whitman, born 200 years ago (May 31, 1819). Words written by this “Father of American Poetry” have exerted great influence since the initial edition of Leaves of Grass was published in 1855. His literary example has helped guide writers toward an American Romantic philosophy that elevates to a spiritual level the natural world, parts of which he perceived in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” as “beautiful ministers” instructing humans. In his poem titled “Miracles,” appearing in the “Autumn Rivulets” section of Leaves of Grass, Whitman praises all aspects of nature. At one point he writes: “To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle, / Every cubic inch of space is a miracle, / Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same….” Living on Long Island near where I was raised, Whitman regarded the sea as “a continual miracle,” and he often found beauty at “the edge of the water,” a thought I considered as I captured this late-day image of Lake Michigan in late May.
∼ May 29, 2019 ∼ “Indiana Dunes National Park Dedication Ceremony”
I have reported in numerous journal entries that a government resolution re-designating the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the nation’s newest national park passed through Congress and was signed by President Trump in the middle of February (please see my previous posts on 3/26/19, 3/13/19, 2/25/19/ and 2/19/19). However, a dedication event celebrating renaming of the parkland was held yesterday along with a ribbon-cutting ceremony retitling the Miller Woods Trail after Paul H. Douglas, an Illinois Senator in the 1950s and 1960s who championed greater recognition for the Indiana Dunes. A number of speakers—including a few officials from the National Park Service and a handful of local, state, or federal elected politicians—recounted nearly a century of efforts by various individuals whose endeavors eventually led to this moment. Like a winding path through dune woods and marram grass onto a sandy beach along Lake Michigan, allowing at last a vivid view toward the bright circle of sun hovering above a vast expanse of water, that journey begun more than a century ago by figures with imagination and foresight has finally reached its brilliant goal.
∼ May 26, 2019 ∼ “Sun Setting Behind Approaching Storm Clouds”
Recent weather reports have indicated that conditions between January and May of 2019 in the region have been among the wettest observed during the first five months of any year. In addition, May has broken the record for frequency of rain, since only seven days in this entire month have not experienced measurable rainfall. Consequently, my excursions hiking and photographing the spring landscape have been hampered or influenced in some ways by intermittent storms. For instance, the other evening I set my tripod beside Lake Michigan intending to capture an image of the sun setting behind the skyline of Chicago, which occurs at this stretch of the season. However, although temperatures hovered delightfully in the mid-70s with hardly a hint of onshore breeze, as the time for sunset arrived, so did a storm front with increasing winds and a low line of dark clouds visible on the opposite side of the lake, obliterating any view of the cityscape. Nevertheless, reminding myself no sunset is disappointing, I opted for this shot.
∼ May 22, 2019 ∼ “River Bend in Mid-May”
I enjoy these bright spring days displaying suddenly stronger sunlight between a scattering of white clouds. Patches of blue skies embrace emerging green leaves filling riverside trees, riffling overhead slightly in just a whisper of wind, that insistent southern breeze bringing warmer weather. I know these river reflections will dull somewhat in summer months when the slow-flowing water darkens with muddy runoff or the greenish pigment of algae. Nowadays, I hike trails yet empty of those many tourists or vacationers who will begin arriving in a week or so, though I already notice an increase of chirping migrating birds perched in low overhanging limbs. In my mind I imagine, much the way I try to describe the transitioning landscape with precise words in my journal, these winged visitors are ardently greeting the new season in their own lyrical language. Along the way I am surprised at times by isolated splashes of yellow or red appearing like clusters of brushstrokes on an impressionist canvas, colorful flowers visible among the underbrush, some early blooms vividly acting as accents emphasizing this quick shift in scenery.
∼ May 17, 2019 ∼ “Storytelling in Word and Image”
In a recent business discussion during which I explained some parameters of the Indiana Dunes project, I described my work as a photographer and a writer to be an ongoing narrative exploring the landscape of the region in a way that reveals its importance through various aspects: environmental, cultural, social, historical, political, or personal. I suggested a strength of my journal entries might lie in the blending of word and image to enable a sense of storytelling. The settings of photographs are positioned in a manner that prioritizes elements within the camera frame while also indicating what might be occurring outside the edges of the image. Likewise, the frozen scene can be viewed within a context of continuing action, perhaps as one witnesses in cinematic storytelling. Ideally, this visual evidence is enhanced by the language accompanying each picture, those composition skills developed during my lifetime as an author or as a professor of literature and creative writing. Combining the two means of storytelling also appears elsewhere, including the use of my photos as cover art for books and magazines. Therefore, I am pleased to offer this preview of the cover for the upcoming Summer issue of Valparaiso Fiction Review, scheduled to be released next week. I also invite all to view a compilation of my previous cover art for VFR at the following YouTube link: https://youtu.be/nEsFfRPlj6w
∼ May 16, 2019 ∼ “Signs of Spring”
The annual Indiana Dunes Birding Festival occurs this weekend, which means I have been receiving numerous notifications from an Indiana Department of Natural Resources e-mail list to which I subscribe about sightings of more than 350 species of birds migrating through the region, certainly signs that spring is finally here. As I have noted in previous years, the alerts include various types of birds: 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, a Red-Throated Loon, a Mourning Warbler, a Lark Sparrow, a Connecticut Warbler, a Black-Throated Blue Warbler, a Western Tanager, an Olive-Sided Flycatcher, and many others. A rich diversity in the local terrain—marshland, swamp forests, woodland, dune hills, bogs, fens, prairie, rivers, sandy beach, and lake shore—provides perfect habitat for hosting winged visitors.
∼ May 14, 2019 ∼ “Spring Green on Trail Nine”
I like hiking wooded trails in the Indiana Dunes when those bare trees observed throughout winter finally begin to add a bit of green in spring but leaf cover is still thin enough that the skeletal structure of dark limbs remains visible. For a brief time, the seasonal transition becomes apparent, and any image viewed in the present seems also to capture glimpses of details suggesting lingering traces of the stark past as well as indications hinting at a future of flourishing color. As I have noted in other journal posts, the weather conditions thus far this year have been colder and rainier than normal, significantly delaying the arrival of full foliage sometimes seen by mid-May. In fact, as I walk Trail Nine in the Indiana Dunes State Park, I discover many of those trees deep within ravines between dune hills continue to be mostly leafless. However, as I pass where more sunlight usually strikes this path and it rises toward a ridge overlooking Lake Michigan, I witness a rich green fringe among limbs arching overhead, as if evidence of a gesture by nature to offer a welcome that brightens my way.
∼ May 9, 2019 ∼ “Fallen Tree Across River”
As I hiked a slim trail along the Little Calumet River, I noticed a number of trees had toppled during winter months and deadfall of numerous fallen limbs littered the landscape. When I reached a bend in the narrow river where it turns from the south toward the west, I came upon a location where the current was impeded by a freshly fallen tree lying across the width of the river. The trunk already had been one of the many leaning toward the waterway on a steep southern bank, and I could see where the roots had loosened apparently due to overly saturated ground caused by repeated heavy rains or recent flooding. Although this mostly sunny day was calm and clear, and the flow of the river had slowed to a point that the surface seemed still, I knew more storms were forecast for later in the afternoon, and I imagined I would witness further damage to weaker trees in the riverside woods the next time I return.
∼ May 7, 2019 ∼ “Receding River”
After last week’s steady stretch of storms offering repeated deluges of rain, much of the region’s landscape seemed saturated. Various tributaries experienced flooding, and the flow over river edges sometimes left inundated adjacent lands under feet of water. However, weather conditions finally dried during the weekend as skies cleared and temperatures moderated. Consequently, flood levels in local streams or rivers at last began receding, and I took advantage of the opportunity on Monday to hike a trail bordering the Little Calumet River that apparently had been submerged just days ago. Though some sections of the narrow path were still spotted by puddles or thick with mud, the depth of the river had lowered significantly and the current was contained within its banks, which were now displaying an array of trees and underbrush suddenly bright with the initial stages of spring growth, those rich greens of new leaves beginning to fringe upper limbs and fill shrubbery.
∼ May 4, 2019 ∼ “Nature First”
Marking the celebration of Earth Day two weeks ago, numerous photographers stated their support for seven principles of ethical behavior released by a coalition of concerned individuals under the title Nature First: An Alliance for Responsible Nature Photography. In the belief that some “nature photographers are increasingly becoming a liability for the beautiful environments they cherish and photograph,” the photographers committed to abide by the guidelines, which include the following: “1. Prioritize the well-being of nature over photography. 2. Educate yourself about the places you photograph. 3. Reflect on the possible impact of your actions. 4. Use discretion if sharing locations. 5. Know and follow rules and regulations. 6. Always follow Leave No Trace principles and strive to leave places better than you found them. 7. Actively promote and educate others about these principles.” This movement is an outgrowth from the rules of behavior recommended by Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which I already explored in my essay, “Landscape Photography: Ethical Engagement in the Environment,” released last June and available on my Articles page.
∼ April 28, 2019 ∼ “Footprints in the Sand”
By late April, each spring sunset beyond Lake Michigan seems to draw more attention, even the less dramatic ones. As the position of the sun steadily slides north toward the skyline of Chicago, its location becomes more prominent and its influence on the coloration of the lake appears greater. In addition, although the daylight weather gradually warms during this section of the calendar, many evenings may remain fairly chilly, if not considered cold, temperatures sometimes dipping into the thirties, possibly with an occasional snowfall. Consequently, when I set my tripod to capture an image of the setting sun, any visitors who walked the beaches all afternoon likely have departed, leaving behind strings of footprints threading through the sand. Normally, I will find myself distracted by such a series of imperfections in the smooth stretch of shoreline and crop my photographs to omit them. However, perhaps their presence more accurately portrays the split personality of the surroundings in this season, active during the day and abandoned by the time twilight arrives.
∼ April 19, 2019 ∼ “Good Friday Memory”
I have noted in posts during previous spring seasons that my affection for the landscape of the northern Indiana shoreline exists beyond the various obvious levels I repeatedly highlight in journal entries, including appreciation for the natural beauty, cultural history, and environmental importance of the area. I also hold a personal and compelling emotional attraction to this region, especially for the sandy narrow paths that stretch through woods along a ridge above Lake Michigan, where Pam and I walked during our first date 35 years ago. As I have mentioned elsewhere, Pam and I spent that visit to the Indiana Dunes hiking high above the beach on April 20, which happened to be Good Friday. During that clear and warm afternoon, we could look into the distance across calm lake water to see a sun-brightened outline of the Chicago skyline. In fact, that spring seemed milder than most, flowers had begun blooming and the trees were filling with rich foliage. With the brilliant new season in evidence displaying such a promising view, that day seemed a perfect metaphor for the start of our relationship.
∼ April 17, 2019 ∼ “Spring Winds at Central Beach”
After spring storms slide by the northern Indiana shores of Lake Michigan, clouds clear quickly but swift onshore winds often continue for a day or two. Stretches of shoreline along the Indiana Dunes are swept away by a high and turbulent surf that undercuts accumulations of coastal sand, slicing wide strips of the strand. Erosion seems even more evident where the beach bends, its curves appearing vulnerable to being shaved by waves approaching from any angle. This afternoon much of Central Beach lies submerged beneath a few feet of water, and the way ahead—east or west—remains impassable. Therefore, I walk the loose sand on a high dune ridge parallel to the lake and take a photo of the seasonal damage, including fallen trees with roots that had been weakened by winter weather, now sliding down carved sand dunes, some limbs gathered as driftwood at the bottom by a rush of incoming current.
∼ April 14, 2019 ∼ “Introducing the Indiana Dunes”
I had the pleasure of offering a presentation about landscape photography on Saturday afternoon in the auditorium of the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center. I had been invited to introduce the natural beauty of the area, including the newly designated Indiana Dunes National Park, and to explain how it inspires the artwork evidenced by the photographs and writings in my ongoing project. As I displayed sequences of my images on a large screen, I discussed basic approaches to taking pictures, including various theories of composition, influences of weather or seasonal conditions on selections of locations for photo hikes, and specific techniques or tips for optimal camera settings. For those in attendance who were from outside the region, I shared favorite views and recommended a number of scenic spots along trails or beaches in both the state and national parks. However, as I concluded the hour-long program I also found myself reminded once again why I enjoy engaging in these activities among the many appealing places in this environment along Lake Michigan.
∼ April 6, 2019 ∼ “April Afternoon Abstract at Indiana Dunes”
When walking a trail through dune woods on a ridge running along the coastline only about one week into April, I already can hear the high-pitched songs of small birds have begun returning to the otherwise empty upper limbs of these tall trees. Today, the lake has been quite calm under a clear sky. Even the long thin leaves of marram grass in the foredunes have stopped their rhythmic swaying. A strengthening spring sunlight shines on the sandy shore and illuminates those still waters beyond in differing tints of green or blue. A couple of narrow sandbars appear nearby, barely peeking from under that shallow depth beside the beach. The bright daylight seems to softly paint everything in pastel shades. Capturing the view in an abstract photograph displaying gradations of color, as I sometimes do, I am reminded of an observation by Paul Cezanne, who noted that “nature is more depth than surface, the colors are the expressions on the surface of this depth.”
∼ March 31, 2019 ∼ “Beach Tree with Broken Branches at End of March”
The start of spring offers warmer weather and an opportunity to view scenes at more remote locations difficult to visit in the midst of winter snow or when trudging through thick summer overgrowth. Indeed, the end of March and first few weeks of April particularly allow for photographing images at various spots normally out of reach or hard to capture during my hikes in other seasons. I especially appreciate taking deceptively simple pictures displaying chaotic networks of extended thin limbs on trees most vulnerable to damage done by gusts along the coast, some survivors with bare branches broken by those strong onshore winds during wintry storms. Stretching sharply against the blank backdrop of an incoming fog or a pale overcast of cloud cover, each seemingly expressive example appears aesthetically pleasing, perhaps like a carved work of art with the deep ridges etched into bark on its trunks also exhibiting a greater sense of texture.
∼ March 26, 2019 ∼ “Anticipating Spring and Summer at Indiana Dunes National Park”
After the federal government re-designated the 15,000 acres of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as Indiana Dunes National Park on February 15, I noted in a journal post (Feb. 25) that the action “fulfilled a dream held by a number of activists and artists who organized at the start of the twentieth century to initiate state and federal conservation measures.” Additionally, as I had predicted in various previous entries, this change in status resulted in greater publicity and promotion of the location. In fact, the local Northwest Indiana Times newspaper quoted Lorelei Weimer, Indiana Dunes Tourism Executive Director, as reporting that initial press coverage resulted in the news reaching “an estimated 72 million to 76 million people, generating an estimated $750,000 in free advertising.” When the weather warms during spring and summer, I expect to witness evidence of increased interest in visiting the nation’s 61st national park, and I will be curious how much this transformation will enhance the area’s already healthy tourism economy.
∼ March 20, 2019 ∼ “Spring Light Arrives at Indiana Dunes”
With the arrival of spring today, I am reminded of my appreciation for specific characteristics of daylight, particularly at this time of year as the lengthening of hours and intensity in brightness of sunshine begin to increase at the Indiana Dunes. I have frequently written about the importance of perceiving different types of light when capturing images with a camera. In fact, I have repeated a well-known quote by George Eastman a few times in past journal posts (please see my entries from May 28, 2017, July 10, 2017, and May 31, 2018): “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.” Perhaps the significance in regarding illumination of the landscape is best recognized and emphasized when the seasons shift and a differing angle of sunlight creates a transformation in the overall tone of a certain location. Although the returning green leaves of trees and the colorful blooms of flowers are weeks away, a noticeable change in daylight has already occurred.
∼ March 18, 2019 ∼ “Sandhill Cranes at Great Marsh in March Snow”
I follow a path through underbrush—dried, brittle, and bristly with late-winter decay. One or two trees exhibit a few lingering leaves withered and yellow, all around now also flecked white with flakes from a light late-season snowfall that appears to muffle even more any sound drifting from the turbulent surf of Lake Michigan somewhere in the distance, perhaps less than a quarter mile away. The dark water of this Great Marsh, frozen so long, has thawed, and it ripples with every shift of wind gust. The day has grown slate gray as the sky’s cloud cover seems roughly brushed by a fresh layer of flat paint, pale and dull. When I step around a bend in the trail, I suddenly hear loud and distinctive bugling from a pair of sandhill cranes blending with their background—one bending to walk away, each nearly four feet tall and merely a few yards in front of me—calling as if to offer a warning, whether to me or to one another appears unclear.
∼ March 16, 2019 ∼ “Remembering W.S. Merwin”
News arrived yesterday about the death of W.S. Merwin at the age of 91 in his home near Haiku-Pauwela, Hawaii, a location he loved. I remember Merwin as someone from whom I have been guided in an affection for language and an appreciation of nature, a couple of characteristics I hope continue to be evidenced in my writing about the Indiana Dunes. Merwin’s works were among my first and most significant influences as an apprentice poet. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with him at various times, including his initial kind and supportive words during a conversation soon after he’d won his first Pulitzer Prize more than forty-five years ago when I was introduced to the author by my teacher, Mark Strand, at the Gotham Book Mart in New York City, a few blocks from where I worked. I regularly visited to browse new titles of small press publications at the legendary store—where I would later attend a reading by Merwin and where a reception would one day be held upon release of my own debut book of poems—and to this day I often associate Merwin, whom I also consider legendary, with my treasured memories of that bookshop. More importantly, however, I am indebted to him for the early encouragement, and I think of his excellent example whenever I use my own carefully chosen words to express admiration for the natural world.
∼ March 15, 2019 ∼ “Shelf Ice Breaking Away”
Beneath the stubborn influence of a strong southern breeze, this week’s temperatures slowly rose into the sixties, and the remaining fringe of shelf ice around the lake finally started to break away from this curving coast. I have repeatedly seen how the lakeshore reshapes itself in each season. I walked the length of the beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park on an early afternoon, listening to collapsing bits of ice as they split from the shoreline to slip into the blue water below. I also witnessed solid bits of old snow buildup as they fell from the edges of sand mounds along the surf, forming a drifting flotilla of small white bergs floating not far offshore, every one bobbing gently in the sway of tiny waves. Bright sunshine hastened the thawing, creating a melting process with strengthening rays angling across the landscape, perhaps indicating an end to winter was at last drawing near as the sun’s intensity already was beginning to resemble spring light.
∼ March 13, 2019 ∼ “Celebration of Re-Designation”
The Indiana House and Senate celebrated today a recent re-designation of the 15,000 acres that comprised Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the country’s newest national park. Through a concurrent resolution (HR 32) the state’s two legislative bodies applauded the action by the federal government. In doing so, the lawmakers recognized completion of a protection and preservation plan for the Indiana landscape along Lake Michigan that started with activities by environmental activists or artists early in the twentieth century but has taken over one hundred years to achieve. (Please see my journal entry of Feb. 25, 2019.) Although the transition in status was made official just less than a month ago (Feb. 15) and visiting the grounds this week I noticed entrance signs have yet to be updated, I constructed this postcard photograph of a view I captured from atop Mt. Baldy, an iconic image of the new national park, as my way to celebrate the occasion.
∼ March 12, 2019 ∼ “Shelf Ice, Selfishness, and Selflessness”
As I mentioned in my previous entry, the past weekend brought dramatic changes in weather patterns and an apparent end to wintry conditions in the Indiana Dunes, so I sought to snap a final few shots of shelf ice on Friday. With thawing and initial signs of the approaching spring one can also anticipate an increase in attendance at the state or national parks. When temperatures dip to zero or below, the terrain is covered in snow and even the surface of Lake Michigan is frozen; therefore, much of the time I find myself alone as I photograph the frigid scenery. Like most landscape photographers, I must acknowledge a certain selfishness, enjoying isolation in nature and an opportunity to capture images without the distractions caused by visitors. Nevertheless, I know my photos and those of others serve to popularize locations we feature in our pictures. Indeed, I actively advocated and promoted the recent designation of Indiana Dunes National Park in order to advance exposure to a wider population. Consequently, I look to the selfless example of early activists and artists who discovered the allure of this region yet shared its celebration, some even sacrificing their own properties to protect and preserve the environment for public use by all.
∼ March 10, 2019 ∼ “Shoreline Shelf Ice”
This weekend began with a distinct shift in winds and warming weather conditions; therefore, I wanted to photograph whatever wintry images lingered along the Indiana Dunes while they still existed. Indeed, the Midwest forecast called for rising temperatures and heavy rain by Saturday. In addition, with the upcoming time change scheduled for Sunday, which would create later sunsets, I certainly felt the winter season slipping away. As I arrived at the lakeshore near noon on Friday, the skies remained totally overcast with a solid ceiling of slate gray. Although Lake Michigan no longer appeared completely frozen over, sheets of white ice floes covered much of the horizon and the shoreline was yet fringed with thick shelf ice. Having checked the precise hourly predictions on my computer app, I set my tripod by the beach and patiently waited for sunlight with a clearing expected about one o’clock, and I listened to a persistent sound of thawing, the consistent cracking and constant popping of melting ice all around me.
∼ March 8, 2019 ∼ “Beach Tree Before Fog Above Lake Michigan”
When I arrived at the waterfront of Beverly Shores along Lake View in the Indiana Dunes National Park, I was surprised to find an approaching line of lake-effect snow with a white-out of wind-blown flakes and the whole coast already mostly enclosed by haze. Despite a steady northwest wind that normally clears the air, visibility had diminished to no more than a couple hundred feet offshore. However, I consider this type of winter setting an ideal scene for specific types of images, especially those favorites of mine that include bare trees beside the beach. With the pale background of clouds from low overcast skies, the gauze of incoming fog, and frost-smoke rising from an expanse of ice-covered water, the bent trunks and twisted limbs extended dramatically in contrast like attractive elements of a metal sculpture surrounded by white walls in an art gallery.
∼ March 6, 2019 ∼ “Beach Trees Beside Frozen Lake Michigan”
With yesterday’s blue sky now shut from sight by a new line of low clouds rolling over a frozen Lake Michigan, a light snow still falls in the distance. I walk alone along a white beach with its tan sandy strip mostly hidden beneath a stretch of shelf ice. Moving within the murmur of an onshore breeze, I admire the twisted forms of empty trees, almost silhouettes with rich brown bark and dark shadowless limbs bent in different directions by years of wind and sun. Some trunks are bunched beside the shoreline like a small herd of animals who huddle their bodies together against intermittent gusts during colder weather. Although already early March, the absence throughout this scenery seems stuck in one of those midwinter months when each overcast and snowy day arrives like a turning of the next pale page in a blank notebook.
∼ March 4, 2019 ∼ “Chicago Skyline Emerges from Cloud Cover Beyond Frozen Lake Michigan”
The start of March 2019 in this section of the Midwest might be the coldest on record. According to regional weather reports, in many places Monday exhibited the coldest high temperature ever for any March day, and wind-chills dipped to twenty below zero or worse. A frigid front caused by northern winds flowing over Lake Michigan had brought a series of lake-effect snow squalls during midday Sunday, and visibility was reduced to nearly nothing while white-out conditions existed. Eventually, the heavy haze and thick cloud cover slowly lifted, revealing a vast expanse of white as the lake water had once again frozen over. I was standing in the midst of strong gusts on the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park when the skyline of Chicago suddenly began to appear in the distance, seemingly connected to this Indiana shoreline thirty-four miles away by the immense layer of ice cover extending between the two stretches of land.
∼ March 3, 2019 ∼ “Winter Lingers a Little Longer”
An old line of contrail widens as it crosses among a few remaining clouds in a clearing noonday sky. A slight westerly wind silently rides the air current winding through those openings in bare upper limbs of trees along the riverbank. Earlier, I watched a hawk circle effortlessly over the frozen water then slash toward the north until out of sight. According to the meteorological calendar, spring started on the first of March. Nevertheless, the long-range weather forecast calls for colder temperatures, perhaps with record lows, and more light accumulations of snowfall day after day into the near future. Despite this morning’s bright sunlight following an overnight squall, a persistent chill still lingers in the region, and in some places a thin layer of white continues to cover the landscape. Astronomical spring officially begins to bring its transition in less than three weeks, but today the end of winter certainly appears to be a bit more distant.
∼ February 28, 2019 ∼ “Photography at the End of February”
I find the end of February and the start of March to be among the most difficult portions of the calendar to capture attractive landscape images in the Indiana Dunes region. By this time of year, notwithstanding a bit of milder temperatures, many days remain somewhat cold. Therefore, even as winter is beginning to give way to spring, the colorful signs of life with budding branches or blooming flowers are still distant. Although most, if not all, accumulations of snowfall and shelf ice have disappeared, the damages to the land done during the past few months by northern storms, wind gusts, and erosion—those effects that had been camouflaged by smooth white snow cover—become evident, and the lingering stark silhouettes of leafless trees with trunks of damp bark contribute to a darker mood throughout the area. Despite the lengthening span of daylight hours, much of the weather continues to display gray overcast skies usually appearing gloomy or offering an ominous tone when viewed in photographs.
∼ February 25, 2019 ∼ “Preserving the Indiana Dunes”
The designation of Indiana Dunes National Park ten days ago fulfilled a dream held by a number of activists and artists who organized at the start of the twentieth century to initiate state and federal conservation measures. These individuals exhibited the foresight needed to protect and preserve a crucial band of land beside Lake Michigan. They recognized the threat of expanding manufacturing sites along the coastline on both the eastern and western ends of the Indiana Dunes that eventually could eliminate this natural environment rich with a diversity of distinctive features. Indeed, smokestacks of factories are still visible from beaches within the sanctuary. Whenever I photograph images of the shore, I almost always arrange my wide-angle compositions in a way that excludes such intrusive elements from inside the photo’s frame to retain a sense of untainted scenery. However, on occasion I will allow the lingering signs of industry to show on the horizon, as in the accompanying picture, like tiny reminders of the encroachment that would have occurred without those efforts begun over 100 years ago.
∼ February 22, 2019∼ “Iceberg at Kemil Beach”
It seems the beam of a balance already has been tilted as winter proceeds toward spring. This morning, with weather conditions and temperatures continuing to fluctuate in the Midwest during the last half of February, sections of the accumulated shelf ice begin to separate from the land and wander offshore like tiny icebergs. As parts of the once-frozen lake thaw, some larger segments of the formations that have detached from the coastline float and bob among other smaller remnants that surround them like a sheet of shaved ice. I photograph one example, about 35 feet wide and 15 feet high, drifting beneath bright sunlight a few hundred feet from Kemil Beach of Indiana Dunes National Park. In the distance a thin white line of horizon displays places where the water yet remains under a receding solid snow cover.
∼ February 19, 2019 ∼ “Marking the Start of Indiana Dunes National Park”
Following reports on Friday that the naming of Indiana Dunes National Park had become official. I decided to visit the lakeshore Monday after morning snow and photographed frozen Central Beach under brightening skies within the newly-designated land. Art critic, painter, and poet John Berger, in response to reading Susan Sontag’s classic yet controversial On Photography, once declared: “What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.” I remain conscious of this well-known quote whenever I press the button on my shutter release to preserve a scene during a specific occurrence. Indeed, the mechanism’s speed determines how much exposure a subject receives and to what degree or how distinctly a moment is stilled forever. However, as Berger correctly concludes, “unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning.” In fact, often images like this need to be seen within the context of circumstances or under influence of the written word to be imprinted in the mind with significance.
∼ February 11, 2019 ∼ “Swamp Forest Notes Following Snowfall”
Yesterday’s crowd of thick clouds slid easily across the sun and all about me became a landscape shaded in vague gray, its features fading away toward shapelessness, but today’s clearing brought new details of imagery to record. Like my literary inspiration, Henry David Thoreau, I try to think of the right words to write tonight, random reflections again collected in this notebook. Bare branches that still had been masked by lingering fall foliage merely a couple months ago have nothing left to quiver in an increasing wind. After brightening afternoon skies, a low but luminous glow sifts through the bare branches to create narrow shadows. Splotches of sunshine surround silhouettes of limbs beneath these leafless trees like the white space around scrawled letters on a lamplit page. Inhaling this chilly air brought from the north, I then watch the steam of my exhaled breath lift and scatter, dissipating like those pale wisps of smoke drifting overhead upon dousing of a summer campfire with a bucket of water.
∼ February 4, 2019 ∼ “Mid-Winter Light Before Thawing”
I’ve arrived in time to photograph this snow-covered scenery before the predicted thawing begins. Afternoon sunlight filters between threads of thin clouds scattered and stretched like white fibers in this winter sky. Yesterday’s continuing chill still lingers a bit, although I know weather reports call for the weeklong cold spell to end by nightfall, when these strong northern winds will settle a while, then switch to a southern current, offering a warmer morning tomorrow. Each dawn during this season seems to release a new view—every day a different configuration of drifting clouds, an unceasing variation in the angled slant of sunlight sketching stray silhouettes of leafless trees, a fresh movement of shifting snow among the sand dunes, and maybe a sudden addition of sodden driftwood peeking through the gleaming slickness of shelf ice along the shore. In moments like this, even the faint shadows of bare branches scrawled across the frozen surface of lake water seem like an artistic design formed by long brushstrokes.
∼ February 2, 2019 ∼ “River Trail Bridge in Winter”
As I hike toward the north, a cold landscape unfolds in front of me, this river path snow-covered and thinning in the distance until the trail appears almost as narrow as its printed line on the park map. All along the way seems edged with pallid elements emphasizing winter’s absence of vivid color—the pasty-gray shadows of empty trees, pale packs of frozen flow, withered undergrowth layered by a shiny glaze of ice, and a tiny footbridge with handrails whitened by last night’s light snowfall. Beneath a sky tinted blue and reflected by a slim ribbon of water, the treetops and most of the upper limbs still sway slightly, tilting a bit in decreasing winds following the exit of yesterday’s storm. I stop just for an instant, listen again for the lost language of summer—perhaps a pleasurable narrative of nature, that soft far-off song with imagined lyrics sifting through these dune woods from a couple of birds hidden in foliage. Instead, today only a lone woodpecker’s intermittent rhythm of staccato tapping provides any sound.
∼ January 31, 2019 ∼ “End of January Cold Spell”
Like all sorts of noise muffled by the snow-covered landscape, the whoosh of wind gusts now seems more like indiscernible words of a sentence spoken too softly or perhaps hissed in a sibilant whisper. Though early winter’s weather had been milder than most, a record cold front with pockets of frigid air has quickly drifted into the region at the end of January. With temperatures falling well into double-digits below zero and wind chills of -50 or lower, the recent accumulation of snowfall has developed a thin coating of ice. Its slick crust crunches and crumbles underfoot and colors my black boots with slim smudges looking like white chalk marks when I make my way along a wooded trail winding north toward the lake edge, where I eventually see a beach tree extends its twisted limbs before the vast expanse of frozen Lake Michigan, and I notice the deceptive impression of warmth brought by bright sunlight descending from a sky suddenly veined with wispy clouds.
∼ January 29, 2019 ∼ “Frozen Lake Michigan”
Following a period of snow squalls, storm clouds clear and northern winds move inland from Lake Michigan. At times the cold becomes uncomfortable for some with crisp temperatures dipping into single-digit figures or below zero. Walking through woods toward the coast, I hear sporadic clicking in the tangled snow-coated limbs and crackling on ice-covered ponds in this deep freeze, splintering a serene silence otherwise broken only by the crunch of my footsteps on the crusted trail. When setting up my tripod in the middle of bright light, I consider the false appearance of warmth such sunshine brings. I photographed this beach scene just last week when waves still crashed onshore (see my 1/24 entry); however, in the past few days Lake Michigan finally has frozen over. Nevertheless, I know the clear air of a winter afternoon with low humidity usually seems to sharpen the focus on images in photographs, perhaps presenting one welcoming gesture from nature and offering a reason to remain in such frigid conditions.
∼ January 27, 2019 ∼ “Ice Forming on Beach Tree”
Each season I see beach trees, large or small, with branches broken under the weight of ice in cold weather, their roots exposed by erosion, or split trunks toppled in brisk winds. Even the strong summer sun sometimes seems to take its toll. Whenever I find one alone, increasingly frail and vulnerable to those elements at the edge of the lake, I make a note to return in the future to follow its fate. Today, brightened only by the indirect white light typically evident in winter when almost everything is covered in snow and dulled by a mostly overcast sky of low clouds hovering above like a pale sheet, I stood and watched the windswept waves swell, erasing whatever buffer of beach sand had remained. The turbulent surf started to surround this tiny resister, survivor thus far of so many recent storm surges, and coated the rocks or driftwood around it with a thickening ice glaze. Already the lower limbs were bent and encased in drooping icicles, oddly attractive—maybe artistic—despite the danger of permanent damage they represented.
∼ January 24, 2019 ∼ “Path to Lake in Winter”
The slow shift of winter weather continues. Last evening’s northern breezes brought a cold front over the coast, and by this morning those stunted tufts of grass seen beneath bared branches of trees seemed to be decorated anew with beads of ice. Earlier, I hiked a winding trail through woods leading to a tall dune. As I arrived at a rise toward a narrow shelf overlooking Lake Michigan, I leaned into the steep slope with each step, and then I descended a sandy path layered with fresh snow. I’d like to think those distant clouds I witness drifting above the horizon beyond today’s turbulent waters and the wind-driven waves regularly breaking into white lines along the shore are more metaphors than just signs of nature’s adjustment to the season. I listen to the steady surge of surf breaking below me as if timed to a metronome. Patiently waiting awhile beside my tripod for the right alignment of sunlight shining through a blue opening in the sky between the tops of two empty trees, I hope my camera can accurately capture such a moment.
∼ January 22, 2019 ∼ “Lake Waves Before Approaching Storm”
As the wind direction shifted during the day and began to blow over Lake Michigan from the north, suddenly bringing a surge of colder air, files of dark clouds started to form offshore. In the distance, a squall line of lake-effect snow approached, already blotting the horizon. Pale ribs of breaking waves still illuminated by fading sunlight extended the length of the shore while a churning surf washed away much of the nearby beach. Standing between a pair of bare trees on a small rise beside the lake, where frozen water and last night’s snowfall cloaked stones or covered sand, I planted my tripod legs through the thin glassy surface of white ice atop a shallow pool created by repeated sprinklings of overflow, and I continually wiped drops of spray from the front of my lens with a microfiber cloth. I watched as light blue skies gradually gave way to a gray overcast, hoping to capture in a photograph nature’s marvelous state of chaos that seemed to be erupting along the whole coastline.
∼ January 20, 2019 ∼ “Creek Under Snow in January”
The morning’s winter province was thickened by clustered little crystals of frost here and there, decorating the dark bark of bare branches or burdening tall stalks bending in the underbrush. Following a swiftly moving early storm cleared by northern currents, only a caravan of slow clouds, seemingly stitched to one another in a long line, now drift across the countryside. I appreciate the way this day’s sifted soft light leans weakly over the landscape from the southern sky and seeps through the dune forest as if filtered by these empty trees. A line of animal tracks dots a shallow accumulation of snowfall along this creek, today mostly hidden beneath a thin skin of ice. Here, where I’ve sometimes seen deer dip their heads to drink, I notice tan tufts of growth—lengthy blades of grass that appear to flow in ripples with every sudden gust of wind—still show through the fresh snow and add a bit of color. Although I am alone with no one else present to witness this simple image or to listen to me, I find relating such details afterward in my notes helps define why I like to walk this course in colder weather.
∼ January 18, 2019 ∼ “Almost a Month into Winter”
This morning’s short snowstorm has passed and a lingering icy mist has at last lifted as a couple of gulls just off shore rise and wheel above, gliding like white kites swiftly dipping into an insistent wind. I watch those birds whirl overhead as if fully enjoying their challenge, making the most of the situation and never settling for less. Almost a month into winter, a gap in dune hills opens to the beach below the trail where I walk. Although only a little bit of chill can be detected in the air current right now, weather reports suggest a stronger storm arriving from the north will soon take away any opportunity for sighting of the moon and stars. Local forecasts also offer advice about sub-freezing temperatures continuing and warn of additional accumulations of heavy snowfall totals by this time tomorrow. I was once wisely told by my father that a frigid cold invigorates the soul, as evident in each visible cloud of breath exhaled; therefore, one must appreciate whatever type of day we’ve been given.
∼ January 16, 2019 ∼ “River Trail After Clearing Skies”
This cold front in the middle of January drags frigid north winds behind it. Long leaves of weeds among the underbrush where I walk have withered in the wintry weather. Nearing a bend, I see scores of fallen limbs that have littered the waterway. Branches of one empty tree with roots that I remember had been loosened during spring flooding are leaning out far over the river trail and appear to point ahead, as if coaxed forward to greet me and to offer guidance. I notice an old nest of twigs and reeds seemingly threaded together, a forgotten remnant of summer, embedded in a dead trunk almost wholly hollow, and I imagine it once sheltered some small and scrawny animal that worked to braid those bits and pieces. Today, the ground beneath my boots appears to be nothing but hardened mud and damp sand covered by a dusting of day-old snow. This morning’s heavy layer of gray skies finally gave way to a wide clearing of light blue tattooed with only a few little wisps of white clouds already disappearing in the distance.
∼ January 14, 2019 ∼ “Dudley Beachfront After Overnight Snow”
This place (please see yesterday’s entry) often feels sacred, especially when illuminated by late daylight in the middle of January, so I return. The lake’s waves seem almost luminous as they ripple and glitter under sunlight, perhaps like a vivid vision seen in someone’s dream. Today, though the air may be cold and light overnight snow covers the coast, the influence of winter’s frigid figure diminishes amid such brilliant sunshine. The easterly breezes blowing this afternoon are rare most of the year. A few clouds—tiny, white, and wispy—slide easily before the distant hinge of the horizon, lazily chasing one another above nature’s straight-line crease. Most folks don’t know the significance of this location. Sometimes, even I must remind myself this is the scenery Frank Dudley once would watch with paintbrush in hand from his wide cabin windows on a sandy bluff among those foredunes just above the beach. Frequently, I like to imagine his little building is still there among the marram grass, a squat and squared structure tucked under the hillside rising behind it.
∼ January 13, 2019 ∼ “Dudley Site in Mild Winter Weather”
I have frequently written about my indebtedness to artist Frank V. Dudley, “The Painter of the Dunes,” for inspiration and influence when I photograph scenes among the Indiana Dunes. My journal notes repeatedly report about Dudley’s history during the first half of the twentieth century as an environmental activist who sought to protect and preserve this landscape along the southern coastline of Lake Michigan. His images of the region served to remind all about the beauty found in the Indiana Dunes and were persuasive in depicting the importance of this habitat. Consequently, I often visit the site along the beach where I’ve discovered Dudley’s famous studio once stood, a cabin that had been situated on a dune mound facing the Chicago skyline across the water and had been removed like all other structures when the land was returned to its natural state. Last week, when the weather warmed considerably for winter, I again hiked to the location, now merely a nondescript bluff with a group of young trees growing among blades of marram grass, but perhaps appearing very much like a setting in a Dudley artwork.
∼ January 8, 2019 ∼ “Traveling Trail Seven Toward the Shore”
Soft topsoil mixed with damp sand crumbles and slides backwards under every boot step, and a couple squirrels scatter through these woods, startled by a shuffling noise as I slowly rise the final incline of Trail Seven toward an overlook of the lake. Along with an unusual lack of cold for this time of year, a golden flow of afternoon sunshine seems to glow on the trunks of trees now almost ghostly with their limbs at last free of all autumn leaves. The light from such a bright sky allows a faster shutter speed, but I will still follow ritual and level my tripod for each shot I take. I know I’m close to the coast—only a few hundred yards away—when I notice a lone gull circling momentarily in the distance, its white wings angled and luminous, before it descends once more toward the beach. Since I’m yet sheltered from even the slightest onshore breeze by this dune hill, I adjust my camera settings and pause for a drink of water, just enough to quench my thirst while I check the pedometer to note the distance I’ve traveled thus far.
∼ January 6, 2019 ∼ “Warmer Weather in Winter”
I choose a new path to follow that eventually bends from Trail Four and reaches toward the shore between bunches of short trees, their branches bare and a couple broken recently by strong storms. Moving down a steep slant above the coast, I slowly lower from a ridge-line slope—its sand still slick and slippery where I step—toward the vast expanse of smoothed beach below. The sky has shifted to all blue. What few clouds there were earlier have faded away or folded over the horizon beyond Lake Michigan, and that little bit of southern wind I’d witnessed this morning has stilled, calming the water current and halting the gentle swaying motion made to blades of marram grass that had been waving among the foredunes. Yesterday’s slight yet chaotically swirling snow is now only a memory with just some small white patches remaining, sheltered from the warming sun by shadows among the landscape. Instead, a sense of relaxation spreads across the area as an end of daylight approaches with the season’s early sunset.
∼ January 4, 2019 ∼ “Trail Two in Winter Fog”
Another early winter day drags its gray sky across this landscape, groups of clouds gathering together in nearly an uninterrupted pattern. The setting seems stark with almost all the trees stripped of their last leaves by weeks of swift winds sweeping onshore from Lake Michigan. Yesterday, I waited out the changing weather as a sprinkling of rain briefly shifted to snow showers and back again, but today only pockets of fog remain among some low-lying places inland, and I will try to find a subject for photographing. The packed damp sand beneath my feet has hardened from a repetition of cold overnight temperatures underneath a layer of yet colorful leaves, and I have followed for a while this path burdened with curves. I persist because I know that often a long walk leads to a quick picture—my shutter closing no slower than one hundredth of a second—and a frozen moment worth preserving as memory to be retrieved each time I view its scenery in a print.
∼ January 2, 2019 ∼ “A Note of Appreciation in the New Year”
I start the third year of “Photographs & Paragraphs,” my chronicle of personal experiences and observations in the Indiana Dunes. During 2018 the accumulation of my prose paragraphs surpassed 100,000 words, and I thank all who have read any excerpts of the entire narrative. Of course, most of the focus in my project, and much of the interest from visitors, concentrates on photographic rendering of the natural beauty that inspires emotional or spiritual responses, and I appreciate the kind comments extended by so many about the pictures I have shared. I am also grateful for ongoing support from the Indiana Arts Commission in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts, which generously offered a grant for continuing my explorations in word and image through 2019. I look forward to the next twelve months. As mentioned in my initial post in the opening of 2017, I am again “reminded of a note by Henry David Thoreau in an 1858 log to his journal: ‘Each new year is a surprise to us.’”
∼ December 27, 2018 ∼ “Late Sunlight at Indiana Dunes”
In various past journal posts I have spoken about my fondness for certain abstract interpretations of nature. To observe previous examples, please visit the 2018 commentaries of 6/25, 5/29, 5/27, and the 1/28 entry, where I explain: “I sometimes prefer a less representational perspective that allows for the primacy or purity of light and color, perhaps the way a painter might produce an abstract landscape.” Additionally, one of the subjects (“Sunset, Shore, and Skyline Abstracts”) included on my Photo Essays page from May 2018 mentions a particular interest in color field paintings by Mark Rothko or Helen Frankenthaler. Rothko regarded his emphasis on juxtapositions of vivid swatches, rather than a specific depiction or defined rendering of nature, as a spiritual exercise. As I note in that case, I sometimes experiment with my photographic technique to create images about “the interaction of light and color” with an “ethereal mix of illumination and hue in the environment” minus the distraction of distinct and clearly identifiable objects.
∼ December 21, 2018 ∼ “Warmer Weather Near Winter Solstice”
Although the weather has warmed into the fifties, I know rain in winter is worse than snow for photos. After the last shower has passed, I see the slow roll of cloud cover continues to cross over a shadowless landscape. The bark of empty trees appears dark with remnants of wetness. A doodle scrawl of underbrush dripping like lines in a Pollock painting moves through dune woods hushed by an absence of birdsong. However, when I get somewhere ahead, beyond the next bend where a murmur of water current deepened by snowmelt suddenly interrupts the silence, I will witness a deer in the dim distance, tilting its body in the little bit of wind and dipping its head among river reflections for a drink, but too far and indistinct from the brown surroundings to permit a pin-sharp picture. Over the years I have learned to accept that often the best images are those unavoidably omitted from my photographs but I hope might be better remembered and captured by the words I write.
∼ December 19, 2018 ∼ “River Bend in December”
I return to this stretch of river trail in each season with a recurring sense of uncertainty. When I walk this way in the middle of spring, a lilting music greets every bright new morning with sounds of birdsong in the branches above. Even on a gray afternoon in late April, the chirping of small birds seems never to cease. However, by the end of November or in early December the surrounding forest falls quite silent except for a sporadic whisper of wind moving through these thinning woods and maybe the patterned tapping of a red-headed woodpecker. My camera shutter opens and closes quicker than the blink of an eye, yet in that time I can capture whatever the sun’s light—whether brilliant in blue sky or dulled by a thumbprint of cloud cover—will allow. Until I arrive home and try to print an image, I am never really sure how closely my photo will resemble the little window of scenery I remember witnessing on the viewfinder in front of me, but I always enjoy just such a state of anticipation and surprise.
∼ December 13, 2018 ∼ “Trail Two Bridge in Mid-December”
Once again alone on my way toward the Trail Two bridge, I hear the persistent patterned tapping of a red-headed woodpecker lingering among the last thin patches of late autumn foliage. Although winter’s bitter cold is almost here, and the forest where I pass is now filled with stubbled underbrush covered by the yellow and rust colors of leaf-fall seemingly frozen in place, I still like to hike this twisting trail between inland dunes, remembering the busyness of birds moving through these woods in April, May, or June. I must confess I miss spring’s insistent birdsong and the flitter of feathers briefly seen before disappearing into a filter of green overgrowth overhead. Nevertheless, when flurries swirl around me during a wintry walk, or accumulation from an overnight snowfall clothes these limbs of leafless trees with white sleeves to be suddenly sun-brightened during clearing after a storm, in my solitude I also admire the silence and serenity of stark scenery brought by the new season.
∼ December 7, 2018 ∼ “Little Calumet River After Morning Snow”
As if observing a ritual, I again follow a route through these woods and beside the river that I travel to take photographs exhibiting change in each season. At times, I see the ripples spread by a small fish still moving in shallow water beside the bank. Some bright sunlight momentarily seeps between a lingering layer of clouds, as white as this morning’s new snow, then quickly disappears again. I also notice the reflections of overhanging trees—all the leaves long gone, though I recall their tints of green in spring or the brilliant fall foliage—and the brown bark of branches that had nearly been hidden during summer appears clearly now. A gray squirrel scampers across a network of fallen limbs before climbing a nearby trunk. I wait awhile before beginning my final walk of the day toward a trail that will end with the steep incline of a dune hill to a skinny ridge edging above the lake, where the chill of a slow but steady north wind already seems almost always to flow as the end of the year approaches.
∼ December 5, 2018 ∼ “Crossing Clouds and Angled Autumn Sunlight”
Lit from the south under an angled sunlight of late autumn, lines of clouds file across the sky over a northern horizon as they usually do, moving west to east, eased along their way by a slight breeze beginning to bring a bit of colder air into the region. I like this almost indirect illumination, often exhibiting a softened glow filtered by thin overcast and lacking that harsh brilliance or bleaching of summer sunshine steeped amid a backdrop of deep blue. The official forecast calls for a dusting of snowfall sometime overnight, though perhaps starting as rain or sleet, with maybe just enough accumulation to whiten stubby tufts of grass or place pale sleeves on the slim upper limbs of coastal trees that have been recently stripped of their leaves and are now etched in black against this changing background displaying a notable absence of birds. Even the apparently ever-present gulls are gone from the beach today, though I see some circling in the distance between me and the far-off Chicago skyline.
∼ December 3, 2018 ∼ “Creek Bridge After Weekend Winds”
Temperatures dipped quickly with those strong storm winds spinning in from the north. Overnight brought a bit of melting snow mixed with drizzle, and this morning, the path ahead yet thick with fallen leaves that crunch under my boots, a broken gray overcast hangs heavy just above the tops of these thinning trees. I cross this seasonal creek—almost dry and most months merely a twisting ditch slit between two dune hills—on a wooden bridge built last spring though now still slick with its layer of autumn color. Peering to where I know the trail narrows and curves around a boulder surrounded by smaller stones, then bends farther on beyond another short span, slipping deep into the darker distance, I remember when flooding filled this ravine after a series of summer thunderstorms. I stop awhile to position my camera tripod for the slower shutter speed needed in this dim light and to capture a particular angle looking back at the setting, a slightly yellow tone of the scenery seen in my viewfinder seemingly imitating some vintage image one might find in an old photo album.
∼ December 1, 2018 ∼ “Late Autumn Light”
Nearing the end of autumn, I decided on a roundtrip hike along a ridge that shoulders the shore. When I walked this way earlier today, the distant vista was screened by a light swirl of snowflakes and seemed like scenery encased in a holiday snow globe or perhaps simply a part of nature’s dress rehearsal for winter. However, the weather warmed a bit by my return later in the day and melted away what little had fallen. Even the sun struggled to briefly free itself of thick cloud cover still floating overhead this afternoon, showing enough just before sunset to shine from the horizon onto the wind-smoothed sand and scooped-out dunes or to brighten whitecaps and the tops of breaking waves in Lake Michigan. Standing silently at attention without a wobble in the wind, about three dozen gulls gathered in a group beside the water’s edge as if to guard the surf along that stretch of empty beach from some invisible intruder. Before leaving for home, I hoped to photograph a moment that might capture the atmosphere, to exhibit each tint shifting in that sudden slant of sunlight.
∼ November 27, 2018 ∼ “Late Autumn at Trail Ten”
Each step forward seems to reveal scenery of a landscape rearranged by the new season—broken branches, toppled trees, lost leaves lining the way, and an absence of shadows amid limbs painted with this lingering palette of yellow, orange, bronze, and gold. Like Thoreau, I am impressed by the “simplicity of light” at this time of year, even on an overcast afternoon when a filter of thin cloud cover softens the sunshine. However, everywhere a distinct smell of autumn woods also fills the air, surrounds me with its faint scent of slow decay. But especially here, where Trail Ten extends alongside high marsh water maintained by recent days of rainfall and snow showers, I can sense this great spectacle of foliage has nearly reached its end. One almost might think that the whole vivid fall setting appears to offer an atmosphere exhibiting attitude, as though displaying such color represents its final act of resistance before reluctantly fading away, relenting to the inevitability of winter’s pale arrival.
∼ November 25, 2018 ∼ “River After Morning Mist”
The low glow of sunshine filtered by this morning’s mist looked a little like the light from last night’s moon viewed through cloud cover. Now, the river runs slow and smooth beneath trees still lit by lingering fall foliage, although the vivid palette evident in upper limbs has faded a bit from the diffusion of fog, and the image in my viewfinder appears somewhat fuzzy. The worn landscape of autumn begins to fizzle out, and already a loss of leaves has started to accelerate, as a number of them can be seen drifting easily downstream. Some broken branches clutter the banks, while others emerge from the depths and are reflected on the water’s surface, a few even redirecting the river current. By late afternoon, the slurred speech of an increasing wind from the west will slip quickly through thinning overhead limbs, dissipating any haze, and the clarity of blue skies will return to the region. For photographers this season is almost sacred and certainly much too short. In fact, I know that soon the brilliance and warmth of color witnessed in this scenery around me will be dulled by efforts from the cold hand of winter.
∼ November 23, 2018 ∼ “Trail Ten in November”
As always, Trail Ten stretches like a main artery from the west toward that thick forest near the distant eastern end of Indiana Dunes State Park. Soon, this landscape will be reshaped. These trees will be stripped of their last leaves by northern winds sweeping over Lake Michigan, and the bare branches, exposed as gnarled and knotty, will reach dramatically into the empty air with an apparent sense of expression, perhaps like arms of interpretive dancers or extensions on an abstract object of art. The ground beneath my boots seems a mixture of moist sand—still a bit damp from when this morning’s sudden squall line of snow showers left a thin white layer, since melted—and wispy tufts of dead grass, now tinted an autumnal brown. Even after the sky becomes clear of cloud cover, late daylight fades to a dull gray quickly, and routes deep in the dune woods darken early. I will return to the trailhead before nightfall and frost arrive, looking forward to printing images I have taken during my time traveling along the trail.
∼ November 19, 2018 ∼ “November Weather”
In his poetry, Charles Wright has written that “November is dark and doom-dangled, fitful bone light / And suppuration, worn wrack, / In the trees, dog rot and dead leaves, watch where you’re going…” (“Disjecta Membra”). Lately, as darkness arrives earlier each day and bare branches begin to overtake the landscape, the more difficult weather of winter seems to lurk not too far off. Last night’s clear but quite cold conditions—though showing a moonless sky highlighted by an array of stars absent frequently during the past weeks’ strong storms—perhaps presented a gesture suggesting late autumn finally may be about to fade away. Today, while wet dead leaves, some still lifting and twisting with every sweep of an increasing breeze, yet spread across wooded trails, I nevertheless appreciate even more this crisp scenery seen in the low-angled sunlight of mid-afternoon that will soon be buried beneath the next season’s repeated snowfalls.
∼ November 17, 2018 ∼ “Lake View with Lone Rowboat in the Distance”
An overcast that continued until noon has at last begun to drift easily toward the east and clear the area. Now, everything appears still on this windless afternoon, except for a lone rower pulling his boat slowly over the water in the distance and seen through my viewfinder only as a tiny featureless figure below a low-hanging limb yet filled with red or rust-colored fall foliage. This small lake in northwest Indiana, collared by a late display of vibrant November trees, seems to shine brightly beneath an increasing sunlight. Rough reflections of soft white clouds—only a bit blurry in their mirror images, though I have assured the photo is in focus—skim the blue surface around bare remnants of a broken branch poking from below and shown to be almost as pale as bone. Today, all is quiet across this hushed landscape. In fact, already the notable absence of birdsong during a middle month of autumn merely emphasizes that silence and stillness I sense around me.
∼ November 14, 2018 ∼ “Chellberg Trail in Autumn”
Another year grows old with less than two months remaining until we open the pages of a new calendar. Most of the thick cloud cover brought overnight by northern winds has now rolled over the coastline and cleared the dune hills. Its mist has moved slowly toward the south. A bright patch of sky shows through an opening overhead, appearing like a glow of illumination seen sliding through some skylight window. In the distance, narrow rays of sunshine spread through thinning limbs, though a pocket of cold air continues to rest in this ravine, left over from the arrival of last night’s weather front. The black bark of tree trunks and the slim reeds of these wilting weeds still rising from shadows along the trail are yet wet with the melt of morning frost. Despite current conditions, the radio forecast to which I listened while driving here suggests that shortly after noon a warming breeze will quickly drift into the area from the west, and soon this day will reinvent itself.
∼ November 11, 2018 ∼ “Photography Program and November Sunset”
I offered a landscape photography program in the auditorium of the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center yesterday. I have spoken there a few times in the past, and I always enjoy meeting all the friendly individuals who attend. My presentation was held with support from the Indiana Arts Commission, which has supplied an Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites grant through partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts that enables me to conduct such events in cooperation with kind staff members of the state park. Topics I addressed included the following: guidelines for composition of images, recommendations for determining best conditions when capturing particular types of scenery (woodland, sunset, fall foliage, snowy locations, etc.), suggestions about picking gear or choosing lenses for certain situations, selecting correct camera settings, conducting software processing, and the importance of finishing with a production of prints. I also provided a narrative about the series of twenty-five photos I showed on a large screen. Additionally, an exhibition with a dozen of my framed photographs (which will be on display through December) was available for viewing along the auditorium walls. I very much appreciated the discussion with the participants, who were attentive, asked a number of great questions, and engaged in relaxed informal follow-up conversation. In fact, the session had been scheduled to last one hour but ran at least an extra half hour, and afterwards I joined a few fellow photographers on the beach to capture a magnificent November sunset.
∼ November 9, 2018 ∼ “Finding Friends”
While hiking through the Indiana Dunes, I often meet a variety of sightseers, vacationers, or tourists along the way—visitors from nearby or elsewhere in the state, as well as other states, or from numerous countries around the world, frequently including fellow photographers with whom I sometimes speak and suggest prime locations for photography. However, I usually travel the trails on solitary trips with only the accompaniment of nature, including various animals I observe, such as deer, beaver, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, and a wide assortment of birds—from larger cranes, egrets, geese, gulls, herons, and hawks to the smaller swallows, starlings, jays, wrens, warblers, and woodpeckers. However, I also have come across a number of dogs at times, usually striding beside their humans who strike up pleasant conversations. Nevertheless, on one occasion a friendly golden retriever appeared alone and walked alongside me in a loping pace as my companion for about an hour and more than a mile, supplying a favorite memory. Additionally, as I was photographing the peak of fall foliage at Trail Eight last week, I encountered another amiable canine wearing a red collar who suddenly stepped into the frame of my viewfinder and stood still as if to pose (see photo), perfectly providing foreground interest to the vibrant scenery in the image. Apparently, it had run about a quarter mile and five minutes ahead of the owners, who soon appeared around a bend in the path, and when they greeted me, I shared on my camera display this picture I had preserved of their dog.
∼ November 8, 2018 ∼ “Leaf Fall at Dunes Creek”
The day’s temperatures hovered comfortably just above fifty degrees. The peak of seasonal transition was still at least a week away. When I spoke earlier with the interpretive naturalist at the state park’s nature center, she advised that trees along waterways or bordering the marsh would likely be the first to show fall foliage. Beside Dunes Creek—running nearly dry this time of year before disappearing into the distant darkness of thicker woods now with upper branches backlit by a hazy wash of sunshine—colorful leaves continually fluttered under these overhanging limbs and drifted in whatever breeze there was. I noticed how all fall down to slowly fill the ground almost like snowflakes in winter. When I stepped across the creek seeking better position to frame a photograph, the soles of my boots and the feet of my tripod would sink a bit in soil still damp and soft. As I tried to avoid movement blur by awaiting a lull in leaf tremor caused by brief gusts, I imagined these words I might use in my journal to describe the moment.
∼ November 6, 2018 ∼ “Trail Eight in Autumn”
Last night’s wind has faded away, and I see through the limbs of these thinning trees, now noticeably silent with the absence of birdsong, how a couple of wispy clouds appear nearly still. Yesterday’s weather is merely a memory. Those large lake waves that had broken into lines of white foam along the beach have disappeared, and only a lazy drift of water continues to lap at the sandy shore. The week of peak fall foliage finally arrived, and each turn of a bend in this trail yet reveals another image resembling a resplendent work of art, filled with texture and flush with color—orange, rust, red, yellow, gold, green, bronze, and brown. The rough bark of trunks sometimes also seems to be silver. Even leaves shed by overnight gusts decorate the way, leading me toward the dune woods and little hills ahead. The setting does not look like the same place it was a month ago, and I know this lavish scenery will not last much longer. But I want to capture as much as I can with my camera; therefore, today I will stay as late as it takes.
∼ November 3, 2018 ∼ “Dune Trail to Beach in Mid-Autumn”
A bit of blue shows through clouds still drifting to the east over Lake Michigan. A scattering of crisp dead leaves spots this crooked trail winding between dunes and descending toward the beach. Most of these trees beside the shore have been swept clean of their leaves during recent storms with gusting winds. Although now November, the sand yet absorbs what little afternoon sunshine seeps between breaks in an overcast sky and whitens just enough to brighten the scenery. Despite some autumn color remaining in coastline shrubbery and underbrush, winter’s fingerprints are already all over this setting, and the daily extent of daylight shortens more each week. Soon, the first northern storm with cold Canadian air will spread its own shallow layer of snowfall around the dark trunks of bare trees and add a pale covering across the whole landscape like textured gesso or a base coat of paint applied lightly on an artist’s canvas awaiting additional attention.
∼ November 1, 2018 ∼ “Dunes Creek in Middle of Autumn”
Dunes Creek slowly flows through one last stretch of lowland, cradled between small hills still hidden by trees filled with fall foliage, only a couple hundred yards before twisting north and being embraced by Lake Michigan. I have traveled just three miles thus far this morning, but by noon I have witnessed a luminous change in the weather. Already, patches of dead grass whiten along the banks in beginning sunshine, while final clouds of a cold front that brought overnight rain yet hang above a distant tree line now displaying its chaos of color in the brightening daylight. I hike a walkway from the west, following the creek’s contour toward the state park’s public campsite. Overhead leaves shudder and treetops nod in an onshore breeze that has begun to sweep clean the skies, as lambent light flickers between thinning and swaying trees, and the landscape again exhibits its autumnal brilliance. I photograph the scenery, knowing that soon their branches will be bare.
∼ October 30, 2018 ∼ “Trailhead in Autumn”
After parking my car in an empty lot beside the trailhead, I check adjustments on my camera gear and start toward a route through colorful dune woods. Beginning my hike in the lingering cool temperatures of mid-morning, the day’s landscape lies ahead like an open book yet unread. I always wear a pedometer hooked onto a belt loop, segments of my progress measured by steps or miles, and I plan to hike about five miles. Today’s smooth spread of bright sky, finally uncluttered after a weekend of thick and almost black cloud cover, nevertheless appears tinted a bit gray by haze, perhaps like a pigment of paint or the way color cast affects a captured image of lake water on a foggy day. Last night’s broken line of heavy rainstorms arriving from the west somehow missed this stretch of terrain; however, a light shower has left the sandy trail damp, and the narrow path underneath a layer of leaves remains slightly muddied. Although I will revisit scenery I have photographed during past trips, I know details in each location will seem different during this time of year, as they nearly always do, with these natural settings once again rearranged by autumn’s seasonal change.
∼ October 28, 2018 ∼ “Trail Bridge in Autumn”
Late morning, I make my way through the dune woods again with an uncertainty of afternoon weather ahead. Some rain showers—perhaps even a few snow flurries—are expected to arrive with a cold front drifting over Lake Michigan by evening, and winds have begun to shift from the north once more. All along the route, a windfall of broken branches litters the ravine. Despite today’s slightly milder temperatures, last night’s freeze created a thin white crust of ice on those puddles of water that lie along the bottom of this narrow valley, but the frost faded away by the time I had hiked my first mile. The landscape wears its new look well, as autumn’s yellow and orange foliage seems to illuminate this trail a little, each cluster of leaves nearly radiating light like the warm glow seen behind lace curtains in a distant window. I pause a moment and adjust my camera settings to capture an image where this path passes beneath arching limbs then crosses a short footbridge suddenly sunlit over a seasonal creek already almost dry.
∼ October 25, 2018 ∼ “A Walk and a Lone Hawk in Early Autumn”
Sometimes the calm, deep, and almost dreamlike gold or yellow colors of foliage spotted on an early autumn day seem like elements in imagery one might experience during a good night’s sleep. Stillness lingers late this morning before more afternoon cloud cover will arrive, slim white lines already gathering over the thinning limbs above me, and the forecast calls for chill from new north winds, which will increase toward evening. I have been hiking only an hour and a half, following narrow trails that twist through woods and bend alongside a waterway. Earlier, three white-tailed deer veered past me—each leaping a large log nearby—and then hurried into the darker shade of a swamp forest where, suddenly out of sight, their crashing and splashing continued to smash the silence that had been all around me. However, when I reached the slowly flowing water of this nearly still river, I stopped a while to watch a lone hawk quietly glide in the sky, gracefully rising and sliding against that patch of blue just visible above a ragged tree line stretched beside the far bank.
∼ October 23, 2018 ∼ “Sun After Autumn Storm”
Following a strong autumn storm with gusty northern winds continuing during the weekend, this sunny afternoon seems serene. When I walked along the shore this morning, I noticed how much erosion the lake’s high waves had created overnight with sections of beachfront severely sliced by the rising surf. But farther inland I’m surprised as I hike a wooded trail protected by dune hills on either side. Despite details in this scenery appearing delicate, the landscape seems to have shrugged away any lasting impact from the recent gales. Even these trees lining the way still remain mostly filled with green leaves. Although the official long-range prediction originally had been for fall foliage to reach its peak this week, the forecast has been amended and extended about ten days. I meet a pair of other photographers on the path also searching ahead for spots of yellow, orange, and red. They, too, had hoped to capture colorful images—or perhaps record storm damage, such as toppled trees or broken branches—but we agree a mild September, added to the warmer and wet summer months, must be the reason for this postponement of seasonal transition a bit longer.
∼ October 19, 2018 ∼ “October Sunlight Through Swamp Forest”
While propping my camera on a tripod to capture the darker image of fall foliage within a still thickly covered section of trail, I hear a sudden rustle of underbrush and clattering of loose stones clamoring nearby. A trio of white-tailed deer, dashing in a line from left to right and darting through this intricate maze of trees, passes quickly in front of me and then hurriedly disappears into the distance, though the loud sound of their crossing continues as they splash along the shallow edge of a swamp forest just a couple hundred yards away. After taking the picture for which I had set up my gear with the slight click of a shutter release, I choose to move in the same direction as those three animals. I follow their jagged path toward the wooded wetlands, where I find a low sun in the southern sky shines through trees and illuminates colorful leaves decorating that region beneath the surface of the water, which has cleared of algae since summer. I snap an unscheduled photograph of this scene that seems a gift brought about by the unexpected guidance of nature.
∼ October 17, 2018 ∼ “River Bend in Mid-October”
Following a few days of rain, I photograph the swollen Little Calumet River, an array of thinning branches now reflected and extending like a network of veins on its glassy surface, which has recently been freed from some of the clutter accumulated all summer, numerous toppled tree trunks or scores of fallen limbs. Although lingering layers of cloud cover continued most of the week, this morning’s sky has cleared and the landscape appears illuminated by bright daylight. The yellowing of early autumn has already begun to occur as an almost golden tint affects leaves along the bank and glazes the slowly flowing water, still somewhat muddy from spots of flooding and runoff. Despite daytime temperatures yet comfortable for mid-October, a series of nights with chilly weather conditions dipping to freezing has withered much of the floral coloring that had gathered for months among the underbrush lining a trail alongside this river.
∼ October 12, 2018 ∼ “Trail from Mt. Tom in October”
Yesterday’s brief dazzle of sunlight has disappeared, and the forecast calls for more thunderstorms tonight. I am hiking through dune slopes today under a gathering gray sky, my feet sliding quite a bit, almost stumbling with every step I take where this sandy trail, wide and off-white, descends from the park’s tallest peak toward an empty beach and lake water now darkening beneath growing cloud cover. Unlike the usual pattern during summer months, on this October afternoon no boats—large or small— slide across the horizon. The surf’s little waves offer their insistent whisper in the distance, as if inviting anyone forward. In moments like this, the elements of nature’s scenery seem to me like discrete characters in a sacred language. Once again, I carry my camera strap slung over a shoulder as I anticipate images I might find ahead, perhaps focal points for those photographs I hope will aid in saving these memories of the day for another time.
∼ October 9, 2018 ∼ “Hiking After Early Autumn Rain”