PHOTOGRAPHS & PARAGRAPHS
∼ June 14, 2018 ∼ “Wooded Trail to Dune Ridge in June”
In an interesting book I have mentioned before in a pair of journal posts (please see my entries of 8/2/17 and 8/20/17), On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor, a variety of characteristics and determined values of hiking trails are defined on its pages. Among Moor’s observations about desirable traits of such trails, he suggests the “most important, it must be deemed worth exploring—which is to say, people must first have learned how to derive worth from it, be it aesthetic or aerobic.” Certainly, my appreciation for various paths winding though the Indiana Dunes includes both aesthetic and aerobic attributes. I enjoy the rich colors of foliage and quality of textures among my surroundings, and I recognize the gain received from exercise, especially when climbing steep and sandy dune routes. Moreover, as I frequently note, during my travels through dune woods I always anticipate the reward of finally arriving at the top of a ridge rising high above Lake Michigan, where I look forward to that first glimpse I will find at the top, a place to view a vista of the whole coastline extending far into the distance, as shown in my previous post.
∼ June 11, 2018 ∼ “Late Spring Lake Water Levels”
Although the water level of Lake Michigan fluctuates throughout the seasons and will vary each year, current measurements indicate the lake’s surface this spring has risen by its highest amount in two decades. News stories report figures kept by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers display May’s numbers are significantly above average. Though not yet reaching any records, wet weather in June could cause the lake level to approach those heights. The elevated level for the Great Lakes may be good for commerce, allowing ships to carry greater cargo loads and to enter harbors more safely; nevertheless, visitors to the Indiana Dunes this summer will see beaches with narrow bands of sand and will notice increased incidents of erosion at the base of those dunes along the edge of the coastline, especially if strong winds from summer storms force powerful waves onshore. Such developments could exacerbate damage already created during this past winter’s storm surges and northern gusts, as I have noted in previous journal posts (please see my 3/15, 4/10, and 4/23 entries). However, experts suggest the raised levels observed each of the past three years are temporary, and the lake could return this winter to a stage with readings lower than average, as was the case just four years ago.
∼ June 5, 2018 ∼ “First Glimpse of Lake Michigan Looking Toward Chicago”
When I guided a group of fellow photographers for a photo walk along Trail 7 at Indiana Dunes State Park on Saturday, National Trails Day, I especially enjoyed my conversations with each of the friendly participants as we traveled though woods and climbed the inland side of the dunes. Although we often slowed our progress to observe a few clusters of flowers or paused to capture with our cameras the texture of bark on a fallen tree trunk, during our discussions I repeatedly expressed my enthusiasm for the scenery we would eventually witness when reaching the top of the final heights to obtain our initial glimpse of Lake Michigan with the faint image of a Chicago skyline possibly in sight, barely visible a distant fifty miles away. Indeed, whenever I hike routes though the dune forests, no matter the season, I anticipate rising over one last ridge for that first view of the lake’s expanse spreading below me and extending toward the horizon. However, especially in late spring, the suddenly bright and colorful vista seems even more magnificent when experienced by emerging from the shadows of fresh foliage finally filling the landscape or sometimes when framed by bare limbs of a still-empty tree.
∼ June 3, 2018 ∼ “Trail 7 Photo Walk”
Saturday afternoon I assisted Marie Laudeman, a naturalist at Indiana Dunes State Park, in guiding a wonderful group of nearly 20 visitors on a photography walk along Trail 7. Marie provided valuable information about plants, trees, birds, butterflies, and points of interest for photos, such as distinctive mushrooms or flowers. 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 each of my fellow photographers as we traveled the short route to Lake Michigan and 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 the ones Dudley chose. An active man, Dudley frequently hiked trails deep within forests just inland from the cottage he and his wife had built beside the beach in 1921. Dudley’s waterfront studio was situated at the base of a sand dune below Mt. Holden. Paths leading to the shore not far from the Dudley structure would include Trails 4, 7, and 8. Not surprisingly, these trails seem to be depicted in a number of his pieces. Indeed, one of the paintings bears a title identifying itself as The Seventh Trail (1953), an image of which we carried with us in order to identify the exact spot where Dudley might have stood while working on his canvas.
∼ May 31, 2018 ∼ “Lakeside Trees in Late Afternoon Light at End of May”
Although capturing a sunset over Lake Michigan had been my prime intention when visiting the Indiana Dunes recently, I temporarily turned my camera toward the opposite direction while I awaited the right time. As I photographed a calm lakeside scene in late afternoon sunshine under a clear sky at the end of May, I was reminded of one cliché in photography that claims light is the most essential element in any image. The great nature photographer Galen Rowell famously declared he never sought an object in the landscape when looking for subject matter. Instead, his first thought was always of light. George Eastman advised: “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” Of course, painters also recognized the importance of luminosity in perceiving the landscape. Claude Monet observed that he enjoyed any opportunity to focus on “the object enveloped in sunlight and atmosphere, with the blue dome of Heaven.” Indeed, he believed “a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life—the light and the air which vary continually.”
∼ May 29, 2018 ∼ “Mirages on Memorial Day”
1.) In my most recent photo essay, I noted how “I sometimes prefer to blur the figurative forms in a scene to allow for the primacy or purity of light and color, perhaps the way a painter might produce an abstract landscape.” I regard these more sensuous images (such as “Spring Shoreline” included here) to be “mirage photographs.” 2.) Though winter temperatures lingered through March and April, with spring weather finally arriving late this year, the last weekend of May suddenly appeared to signal a skip from spring into an early arrival of summer heat. Region highs reached from the mid- to upper-nineties, and these record levels almost seemed to erase my memory’s mirage involving the long hold of cold conditions on the region. 3.) In fact, as I lay on a hammock in my screen porch enjoying the warmth, a cool drink in my hand and a refreshing breeze from a fan flowing over my body, I reread Teaching a Stone to Talk, a collection of essays by Annie Dillard. Appropriately, in a piece titled “Mirages” Dillard writes how each season sometimes seems to be a mirage. For instance, in winter “it is as though summer itself were a mirage, a passive dream of pleasure, itself untrue. For in winter the beaches lie empty; the gulls languish; the air is a reasonable stuff, chilled and lidded by clouds.” Likewise, summer surely “is a mirage. The heat is on, and the light is on, and someone is pouring drinks…. This is the life of senses, the life of pleasures.”
∼ May 27, 2018 ∼ “Religious Twilight’: Mark Rothko and Stanley Kunitz”
When I arrived at Lake Michigan Friday evening, I had hopes for photographing a stunning sunset. All afternoon an interesting blend of fluffy clouds and sunshine promised to offer an ideal situation for a dramatic image. However, as I stood on a beach at the Indiana Dunes with my tripod set along the water’s edge on that windless evening, I watched the skies transform when strips of dark clouds slowly approached above the far shore and a faint haze spread in the distance, extending across an almost still lake. By the time sundown arrived and the blue hour began, the horizon had become nothing more than a painted sky, a gathering of colorful bands with an indistinct and somewhat dull violet cast covering the surface of the lake. The skyline resembled a Mark Rothko multiform painting with blurred blocks of concentrated color floating across a large canvas, which seems ironic since Rothko expressed a strong dislike of nature and being categorized as “an abstract landscapist.” Rothko considered his artwork to be spiritual, more than a juxtaposition of color fields, and he prized his relationship with poet Stanley Kunitz, who helped inspire and encourage the painter, as can be detected in an audio interview with him about Rothko. In his comments, Kunitz explains the desired effect of “a religious twilight” in Rothko’s famously dark Chapel paintings, a term I felt appropriate for the scenery opening in front of me.
∼ May 26, 2018 ∼ “Poetry, Photography, and Romanticism”
This past week I published the newest issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review, a journal I founded and have edited since 1999. Anyone who knows me or has followed my work would be aware that I am both a photographer and a poet. The poems in my books frequently adhere to the three themes Charles Wright has identified as the main concerns in his great poetry: language, landscape, and the idea of God. As Wright recognizes in his summaries about attitudes of contemporary critics, this trio of topics is often regarded as out of fashion and perhaps even seen negatively as sentimental. However, I prefer to view them instead as productively continuing the precepts of Romanticism, especially as practiced by the pair of nineteenth-century poets Wright admires and observes as models, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, whose approaches to poetry he attempts “to marry” in his own work. Likewise, my perspective on landscape photography also aligns closely to Romantic perceptions. My intention when capturing images in nature remains the depiction of an individual, emotionally heightened, and sometimes almost spiritual response to the natural environment accompanied by commentary containing a tone I hope appears similar to that in the prose of another Romantic author, Henry David Thoreau.
∼ May 20, 2018 ∼ “Afternoon Light in Late May”
Now that the academic year has reached its end with finals and graduation this past week, I have begun my annual habit of summer reading, which normally consists of two lists of books—those texts read in the past that I revisit for another examination and new titles I have decided to explore—including poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Consequently, as I started by returning to the poetic works of Charles Wright, I remembered a piece titled “May Journal” (from Xionia, 1990), which seemed a suitably timely poem with which to open my ritual process, especially since milder spring weather finally has appeared after weeks of delay due to unusually cooler conditions. I have been fascinated by the strengthening seasonal sunlight, though I find it even more interesting because the radiance remains angled from the southern sky a bit. The daylight’s increasing brilliance lately has often cast a fantastic hue of warmth onto the landscape, across the surface of Lake Michigan, and along the distant horizon, particularly later in the day or in the evening as sunset nears. In his poem, Wright describes such an influence as “the sunlight / sweeping the high May afternoon with its golden broom.”
∼ April 30, 2018 ∼ “Awaiting April Weather in May”
As this month comes to a close and May arrives, we are still awaiting typical April conditions that haven’t yet appeared. This might qualify as the coldest April in recorded history for the region, or at least the coldest since the 1800s. Monthly meteorological statistics at nearby Chicago indicate the average high temperature for the past four weeks stands at about 47 degrees, while the normal April average high would be 59 degrees. The daily difference of a dozen degrees has significantly influenced the water temperature of Lake Michigan (which I noted in previous journal entries), keeping air temperatures quite cool, and stymied the development of spring conditions in the landscape around the lower lakeshore. Hiking trails or walking paths through the dunes, I cannot recall another year when tree limbs remained bare and wildflowers were rarely seen upon the arrival of May. Indeed, last week a botany photo walk activity in the dune woods that had been scheduled to capture images of blooming flowers or budding branches needed to be redirected to focusing on other aspects of the scenery.
∼ April 23, 2018 ∼ “Earth Day Sunset at Central Beach”
Since Sunday was Earth Day, I decided to celebrate by revisiting Central Beach for an opportunity to photograph the sunset beyond Lake Michigan. In previous posts (please see my 3/15 and 4/10 entries) I have spoken about the extensive erosion that occurred here due to storm surges and strong northern winds during the winter months. In the case of this isolated stretch of coastline in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the beach had been completely washed away and a number of trees from a crumbling dune ridge along the shore had fallen to the surf. Yesterday, I was pleased to see a thin ribbon of sand once again visible beside the calm lake, though it only could be reached by climbing down a steep incline from high above the water’s edge. Indeed, the beach still seems vulnerable to erasure on any day displaying large waves. Though a cold breeze kept temperatures chilly, the sun dipped below the horizon just south of the Chicago skyline and warmed the western skies.
∼ April 21, 2018 ∼ “Path to Beach at Sunset on Chilly Spring Evening”
As we move three weeks into April, a near record chill has continued across the region, and the growth of foliage on trees or flowers along trails usually seen at this point of the season has not yet occurred. Most days this month have witnessed onshore winds cooling the Indiana Dunes shoreline with currents blowing over lake water still much colder than normal for this time of year. Indeed, some reports indicate this April perhaps may be the coldest since the late 1800s. Consequently, the Lake Michigan water temperature has remained quite low. In fact, apparently the shoreline temperature measured at Chicago is fifteen degrees colder than on this date in the past year, and the overall surface of Lake Michigan is more than three-and-a-half degrees less than last year. Water levels have also risen significantly in comparison to 2017. Importantly, when examining previous Aprils exhibiting similarly cold conditions, almost without exception those years also experienced cooler than normal summer seasons, partly because the lake temperatures never fully recovered.
∼ April 12, 2018 ∼ “Chill of Winter Lingers into Spring”
I noticed a report yesterday indicating the first ten days of April this year ranked as the second coldest opening of that month in the region’s recorded history. Certainly, the chill of winter has lingered into early spring, but I usually enjoy traveling trails through the Indiana Dunes in such conditions to seek initial signs of the season. Since the trees remain bare, a walk in the woods sometimes resembles an entrance into an artistic environment. Limbs crisscross and bend in different directions. Arching branches frame the way ahead, and the remnants of last fall’s leaves still litter the ground, now almost golden under strengthening sunshine. Views through the openings between tree trunks allow for occasional glimpses of deer rustling among stark features of a yet empty forest. All animals are difficult to detect once the undergrowth thickens. Moreover, I am able to spot a woodpecker at the source of that sharp tapping heard from some distant location, which will be hidden from sight when foliage fills in late spring or the beginning of summer. Such details remind me of a passage in Walden; or, Life in the Woods where Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I am on the alert for the first signs of spring, to hear the chance note of some arriving bird, or the striped squirrels chirp…or see the woodchuck venture out of his winter quarters.”
∼ April 10, 2018 ∼ “Beach Erosion Revisited”
In a journal entry posted on March 15 I noted the passage of an Indiana law that had just been signed by Governor Holcomb calling for “companies removing sand from the shoreline of Lake Michigan as part of construction or renovation projects to relocate the removed sand directly onto designated beaches along the Indiana Dunes.” Since I had focused on examples of erosion along the Indiana Dunes east of the state park—such as Central Beach in the accompanying picture—through previous commentary and a photo essay, I was pleased to see this act put in place. However, in Sunday’s newspaper an article indicated the effectiveness of the law might be minimal in the immediate future since its enforcement does not begin until July 1, and the language of the rules might only apply to new permits rather than those already existing. In addition, the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, a popular area farther west and evidencing severe erosion, is endangered further since the Army Corps of Engineers conducting dredging offshore doesn’t seem to need a permit. Any study that could compel the Corps to ship sand onshore, as had been determined by similar research involving the Mt. Baldy beachfront, would likely extend three years. Nevertheless, officials are searching for quicker solutions, such as petitioning for inclusion in a special Beneficial Use of Dredge Material Pilot Program or hoping for funding from a possible national infrastructure budget proposed by President Trump. This is an issue worth watching, especially as the summer months arrive and the region becomes busy with visitors.
∼ April 7, 2018 ∼ “Print as Performance”
I do not discuss the practical photographic process very much in this forum, and I very rarely mention gear. I acknowledge normally finding writing and reading about such subjects can be somewhat boring or tedious. However, I must admit I enjoy personally printing digital images since they usually appear more impressive than when viewed on a monitor, particularly when computer screens vary in their color calibration. During my days as a college student, although I maintained a darkroom with equipment for developing black-and-white or color film, I never really liked the conditions—the chemicals, the cost, the fragility, the isolation—about which other photographers seemed so fond. Nevertheless, this weekend I was reminded of my delight in digital printing as I prepared a photograph for display at a charity silent auction in which I have been invited to participate. I decided to prepare the accompanying photo for exhibition at the event in an 18”x24” frame, which is the largest size I am able to print in my home studio without unnecessary complexity. Since I will be signing the work, I wanted to manage every stage in the image production—photographing, processing, and printing. When I provide a larger format, such as a 24”x36” print, to fulfill an order by a client, I reluctantly must outsource the printing to a lab, which does a wonderful job, but I feel frustrated by not having control over every aspect of the picture’s appearance. As Ansel Adams famously commented: “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print is the performance.”
∼ March 31, 2018 ∼ “Good Friday at Sunset”
In the past I have written about the added significance for me of Lake Michigan scenery on Good Friday at the Indiana Dunes. A journal entry last year noted: “Pam and I spent our first date with a walk along dunes overlooking Lake Michigan on Good Friday years ago. Hiking high above the beach on a clear and warm afternoon, we could look across the water into the distance to see an outline of the Chicago skyline. Actually, that earliest trip to the shore by Pam and me took place on April 20; however, I have always remembered the day simply as being Good Friday, and over time I have emphasized that ‘good’ is an understatement.” Then, flowers already were blooming and beach trees displayed almost full foliage. Since Easter weekend arrives in the end of March this year, though the evening was quite pleasant, the weather was not as warm when I captured an image of the Good Friday sunset. Indeed, the sun barely brightened a sliver of the horizon below deep blue skies and a line of clouds covering the Chicago shoreline, but the glimmer of light allowed visibility of the city skyline once again, this time bathed by a beautiful orange glow.
∼ March 22, 2018 ∼ “Homage to My Hiking Boots”
After more than four years of hiking an accumulation totaling about a thousand miles—between trees, down dunes, into swamps, up hills, along ridges, on beaches, through marshes, and across creeks—while wearing my favorite boots, I have finally replaced them with a new pair. Although the sole of one was coming loose and the cloth ankle collars had torn, separating from the leather, I had continued to use these shoes because of the wonderful comfort they offered. When traveling in them, despite their rugged sturdiness and dependable waterproofing, I felt almost as if I were wearing slippers. This week I trekked Trail Nine, one of the longest in the Indiana Dunes State Park (at times steeply rising to the tops of dunes then circling above the Beach House Blowout and Furnessville Blowout) with the new pair, which fortunately felt just as comfortable as the old ones. Indeed, in preparation for transitioning to the new boots for my nature hikes, I had already worn them frequently during everyday walking in most seasons for almost two years. This is a process I am following once again, as I purchased another new pair last week that I will prepare for substitution the next time around.
∼ March 20, 2018 ∼ “Spring Begins at Kemil Beach”
Although a slight northern breeze still sweeps across the cold water and shifts cooler air onshore from Lake Michigan, the official beginning of spring occurs today. As days lengthen, strengthening sunlight illuminates the dunes, tinting the white sand a bit more tan, at times almost golden, and gradually rising temperatures hint at warmer spring weather ahead. A familiar pair of trees flanks the entrance to Kemil Beach. Their branches remain bare, yet the limbs are lightened by bright sunshine. Perhaps as metaphor, this entrance through the dunes—with its trail reaching to the beach below, where the horizon opens above a smooth lake surface that had been covered with thick ice less than a month ago—offers hope for more pleasant days to come in the new season. Once again, I am reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s observations written in March of 1846 on the start of spring: “Suddenly an influx of light, though it was late, filled my room. I looked out and saw that the pond was already calm and full of hope as on a summer evening, though the ice was dissolved but yesterday…. It was no longer the end of a season, but the beginning.”
∼ March 15, 2018 ∼ “New Law to Help Replenish Eroded Indiana Beaches”
A new act passed by the Indiana Senate—one that would compel companies removing sand from the shoreline of Lake Michigan as part of construction or renovation projects to relocate the removed sand directly onto designated beaches along the Indiana Dunes—was signed by Governor Eric Holcomb on Tuesday. A key sentence in Senate Bill 178 states that sand taken “from the bed or from under the bed of Lake Michigan…may only be deposited on the beach of Lake Michigan and may not be removed to any other place or used for any other purpose.” As I recently indicated in my journal entry of March 6 and in a couple of my March photo essays, due to extensive erosion caused by winter storms and strong northern winds, many locations on the coast desperately need to be replenished. Indeed, as my accompanying photograph of the destruction at Central Beach displays, entire sections of Indiana beaches have been severely damaged, and in some cases completely washed away.
∼ March 8, 2018 ∼ “Woods with Late Winter Snow”
Northwest Indiana weather conditions in March can vary as much as or more than at any other time period during the year. This month’s historical meteorological record presents evidence of the largest increase in average daily temperature compared to the other eleven; extremes seen in the past range from a low in the minus double-digits to a high nearing ninety degrees. Consequently, despite sometimes experiencing a brief series of milder days, opportunities for photographing an occasional line of late winter snow slipping across the region can be expected from the end of February through the first few weeks of March. (Since the clocks are adjusted ahead an hour for Daylight Savings Time as well, one must also adapt to this shift for capturing images of sunrise or sunset.) Nevertheless, light snowfall this far into the season can be appreciated by all for the temporary decoration of tree trunks, bare limbs, and shrubbery, particularly since everyone knows melting and a return to more moderate weather will occur quickly.
∼ March 6, 2018 ∼ “Exploring Eroded End of Path at Mt. Baldy Beach”
When I explored the shore line along Lake Michigan this past week in an effort to examine the extent of damage done to the beaches and dunes by winter weather, I decided to hike the short trail to Mt. Baldy Beach. As I noted in a journal entry posted last summer, the coast beside Mt. Baldy recently had reopened after being closed to visitors for a few years. However, access to the lake is still limited to a narrow dune path that emerges from the woods at a height above the waterline. The descent normally proceeds gradually along a lane between posts linked by rope lines. [An image of the intact passage taken last summer accompanies my August 3, 2017 journal commentary.] Due to winter’s winds, snow accumulations, and heavy rains, I discovered much of the sand dune supporting the path has collapsed, creating a sudden drop of about thirty feet. Fortunately, one of the ropes dangling toward the beach provided an opportunity for me to rappel to the shore line to capture a series of images offering evidence of erosion at the water’s edge and then to climb back to the trail afterwards.
∼ March 2, 2018 ∼ “Dunes Creek at Start of March”
The start of March seems to offer indications wintry weather now stands in the past. Although the official beginning of spring remains nearly three weeks away, the sun has already begun to strengthen as the angle of light shifts farther north each day. Dunes Creek yet runs almost full due to last week’s heavy rains that also melted all lingering accumulations of snow. In this slant of sunlight, the tall grasses along banks of the waterway appear nearly golden. Bare branches of trees bend above the trail, and long shadows of limbs reach toward the north. As I walk in this late morning, I am reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s Journal comment from late winter during 1852: “The sky appears broader now than it did. The day has opened its eyelids wider. The lengthening of the days, commenced a good while ago, is a kind of forerunner of spring.” [Journal, February 19, 1852]
∼ February 24, 2018 ∼ “Indiana Supreme Court Ruling on Lakeshore Beaches”
Ten days ago, coincidentally on Valentine’s Day, the Indiana Supreme Court offered a gift to all who appreciate and have affection for the shoulder of land along Indiana’s shoreline by issuing an important ruling influencing public access to beaches beside Lake Michigan. In a 4-0 decision, the justices reaffirmed a longstanding premise that land extending from the highest water mark occurring due to fluctuations in the level of Lake Michigan all the way down to the water and into the lake belonged to the people of Indiana, thus could not be claimed by private ownership. In an extensive 29-page explanation authored by Justice Mark Massa concerning a case about a disputed stretch of Long Beach in LaPorte County, the court apparently confirmed this definition repeatedly declared since Indiana statehood happened in 1816. Though the issue is more complex than news reports suggest and there are justified concerns expressed by the plaintiffs, I was pleased to see such a commonsense description upheld by a unanimous decision of the court. (One member, Justice Geoffrey Slaughter, recused himself from the case because his family owns lakefront property.) However, I also trust visitors rewarded by this ruling will regard and retain the purity of the beaches, and I hope they will respect the rights, as well as the privacy, of those who own land adjacent to the coast.
∼ February 22, 2018 ∼ “Flooding in February”
Following a couple of days with steady and heavy rain, I returned yesterday to the Little Calumet River, where I had walked a trail along its bank on Sunday in calm conditions and warming weather to observe the process of thawing. (Please see my previous journal post.) However, after rainfall within the region amounting to totals between five and seven inches, which added to the accumulation of melting snowfall already on the ground, I found the path I’d hiked had disappeared under a half dozen feet of water. The river had widened well beyond the bordering woods and far in the distance, inundating deep into forested land and flowing over the only road that passes through the location. For a while I was the sole individual exploring the transformed landscape, much of it unrecognizable from its usual appearance. However, as I returned to my car parked near a bridge where the water level met the road, another visitor arrived with his camera and we spoke, both agreeing the river seemed to have risen to the highest we’d ever witnessed.
∼ February 20, 2018 ∼ “Little Calumet River Trail During Tranquil Thaw in February”
The weather in Northwest Indiana transitioned dramatically during the past few days. Cold and snowy conditions overnight Saturday and into Sunday morning gave way to moderating temperatures, and by Monday through Tuesday steady rainfall, at times in the form of heavy downpours with flood warnings, was accompanied by warming southern winds bringing the thermometer toward a record high level. I managed to hike a few locations at both the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park during the thaw and before the stronger thunderstorms moved across our region. I walked the Little Calumet River Trail while the landscape remained fringed with white, and I photographed a few spots along the waterway, including a bend where the already thawed water stayed still enough to reflect those bare branches of bending trees along the banks. During my travel this weekend I only came across one other individual hiking along the Bailly-Chellberg Trail, a birdwatcher carrying his binoculars instead of a camera. Upon greeting one another, both of us noting the calm and quiet of the setting, he smiled and commented: “When I am out here, I don’t have a care in the world.”
∼ February 19, 2018 ∼ “Brauer Museum 3-D Tour with Frank V. Dudley Exhibition”
In a few journal entries published during the fall and summer I mentioned an excellent and extensive art exhibition of Frank V. Dudley Indiana Dunes paintings in the Brauer Museum at Valparaiso University. (To view the commentaries, I suggest visiting the following posts: Nov. 3 2017; Sept. 17, 2017; Sept. 9, 2017; Aug. 25, 2017; and Aug. 23, 2017.) I have frequently expressed my appreciation for the art and activities of Dudley, who along with other environmental activists worked to protect and preserve the natural habitat in Northwest Indiana along Lake Michigan. Indeed, I have credited this “Painter of the Dunes” as a main inspiration for my works, images like the accompanying photo, which often display his influence in composition and tone. I am now delighted to report that the Brauer Museum offers a 3-D tour online for all to visit, and the production occurred while the terrific Dudley exhibition was installed. Therefore, if you didn’t have an opportunity to observe the show, here is your chance to enjoy the artworks at the online link.
∼ February 13, 2018 ∼ “Beach Trees Beside Frozen Lake Michigan”
With a series of snowfalls moving through the region during the past week much of the landscape seemed to appear as if captured in images approximating monochrome when photographed. I frequently remark upon my enjoyment experiencing cloudy and snow-filled wintry scenery. Although I am aware of an absence in vivid colors, especially those evident during glorious sunrises or sunsets in summer months, the simplicity of composition in muted winter images that approach minimalist pictures appeals to my appreciation of aesthetic clarity, particularly when there are clear lines stretching or tangled amid a field of pale space. As I was walking along the shore this weekend, the whole of Lake Michigan frozen and white beside me, I noticed how the beach trees drew more attention than when competing with the rich colors of lake water, blue skies, green leaves, golden sand, and sunset tints. Indeed, the bare limbs, reaching toward a blank atmosphere above and leaning over an almost ghostly coast, become even more artistic and elegantly pleasing to me.
∼ February 11, 2018 ∼ “Forest Footbridge After Snowfall”
Whenever hiking through the Indiana Dunes landscape after a snowfall, I find myself challenged to be the first to arrive upon a trail so that I can photograph the scenery without the disorder or distraction of footprints. Since I must travel a distance and the dunes routes are popular even in winter with hikers or cross-country skiers, rarely do I discover paths untouched by previous visitors. However, following Friday’s heavy snowstorm, which lingered with waves of snowfall overnight, I managed to make my way on Saturday morning to a few locations along the shore of Lake Michigan and into the nearby woods that had not yet been tread upon. Perhaps the cold temperatures and knee-deep accumulation of snow had dissuaded others from trudging through these courses; nevertheless, I was pleased to see the clean surface of snow extending smoothly ahead of me in many places, including this forest footbridge along the Calumet Dunes Trail.
∼ February 9, 2018 ∼ “Snow Day”
Another series of snowstorms has swept across the Midwest this week, and with accumulations from a new wave today expected perhaps to add about a foot of snow, most businesses and schools have declared a “snow day” and closed their doors. In fact, Valparaiso University shut down Thursday night at nine o’clock in anticipation of the weather event, and reopening is now scheduled for late Saturday afternoon, although a couple more storm fronts are predicted possibly to add snowfall Saturday night and during the day on Sunday. A whiteout due to the heavy and steady snowfall contributes to an atmosphere that transforms the landscape into an eerie setting I find attractive, especially when ghostly trees are seen in silhouette against a gauzy backdrop. Indeed, the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan are among my favorite places to visit during wintry conditions, especially when the visibility of the lake water fades into a pale background and the bare limbs of lonely trees extending over ridges above the beach seem so expressive.
∼ January 28, 2018 ∼ “Sandy Shore and Still Waters at Sunset”
The weather this weekend has been mild and calm for January, and the span of hours displaying daylight has begun to lengthen. In fact, as my wife, my son, and I were walking outside yesterday at about 5:15 p.m., we noticed the distant sky still retained some brightness and the horizon line exhibited a thin flare of sunset. The conditions reminded me of some favorite images I have captured along Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes, sunset and shoreline photographs that might be said to consist of three simple characteristics—light, color, and shape—combined to create dramatic scenery. I am often fascinated by the way that light and color interact in a natural setting, especially when looking west from the northern shore of Indiana at a sunset spreading its tints across the grand width of lake. Indeed, the specifics of shapes representing detailed objects one discerns in an image frequently divert attention away from the ethereal mix of illumination and hue in the environment that contains those physical things. Therefore, 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.
∼ January 25, 2018 ∼ “Cowles Bog Trail in Indiana Dunes”
I enjoy sharing my photographs online in various venues of social media—such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and elsewhere. However, I must acknowledge a special sense of appreciation for opportunities to view my images in other more tangible forms. For instance, I regularly process and print photos myself on quality paper for compilation in an ongoing portfolio. Holding the pictures in my hand and examining the details, included in this bigger size and produced with precision in ink that seeps into the texture of the paper, I value the experience. Moreover, when I increase the image for large format prints and framing, whether for display in an exhibition or for private sale, the scenery seems to be enhanced as well. Finally, as an author who has published written works for decades in books and journals, I find myself particularly pleased whenever my photographs are solicited for book covers or are featured within a magazine. Therefore, I was delighted when the editor of Here—an elegant magazine released every two months in the region that is devoted to arts, culture, fashion, style, and travel—requested one of my photographs of the trail at Cowles Bog for a full-page presentation as a visual epilogue at the end of the current (January/February 2018) issue.
∼ January 22, 2018 ∼ “Tree with Some Remaining Leaves in January Fog”
Temperatures rose over the weekend and melted most of the snow that had accumulated due to a few earlier squalls of lake-effect snowfall; consequently, thick fog once again enveloped the region. All day Sunday visibility seemed severely limited, especially when driving back roads through wooded areas. Although the hazy conditions appeared to erase many details normally evident in the landscape, I felt a certain sense of intimacy with my surroundings, as I always do when the whitened atmosphere restricts distractions and allows for focus on individual features one at a time. In such weather I usually discover winter trees, whose thin trunks and bare branches create intricate silhouettes, to be some of the more interesting objects among my surroundings, perhaps pieces of natural art. However, on occasion I will come upon one whose slim limbs have held onto a number of its leaves—easily seen against a pale and opaque backdrop—which to my eyes tend to act as decorative elements and present a touch of expression with their little addition of color to an otherwise monochromatic setting.
∼ January 18, 2018 ∼ “Trail of Footprints on Shelf Ice at Lake Michigan”
Following a week of frigid temperatures and a day of heavy lake-effect snowfall, Wednesday morning’s clear skies and bright sunshine revealed the shoreline of Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes had transformed into unusual scenery reminiscent of an arctic setting. I walked along the beach unable to distinguish where the edge of the coast normally gives way to water. Shelf ice had accumulated into large pale mounds nearly twenty feet high due to solidifying of breaking lake waves, and the whole of Lake Michigan appeared as a craggy white moon-like surface all the way to the horizon. Although the extremely cold air and frozen atmosphere kept most folks away, and prominent warning signs cautioned about a life-threatening situation if one steps onto the shelf ice, a few individuals had carelessly ventured onto a ledge for the full view toward the north, trailing a track of footprints winding from a cluster of coastal stones covered in snow and eventually rising onto a slight gap in the ridge of shelf ice.
∼ January 16, 2018 ∼ “Broken Tree After Snow”
The beginning of the year has been characterized by cold snaps and intermittent snowfall from quickly passing storms or lake effect squalls due to strong onshore winds. Consequently, each time I visit the forests of the Indiana Dunes, I find the landscape changed by the latest spell of weather. Sometimes a coating of ice seems to varnish the bark of trees along trails in the state park, and on other occasions I witness the woods transformed by a decorative fringing of white along tree limbs. In addition, those gales sweeping onshore from the north have damaged or broken numerous branches—thin or smaller ones litter the way while many larger examples remain attached though cracked and angled toward the ground. When I walk these paths in winter, my attention often becomes attracted to constant transitions in the terrain and those natural artworks created by the season’s conditions. Dramatic cloud formations and a low sun positioned just above the tree line in the afternoon sky also can contribute to the overall mood suggested by the setting.
∼ January 12, 2018 ∼ “Tree in Fog After Snow”
The brief warm spell in the Midwest this week seemed to create a couple of days with thick fog from moisture rising above the layer of snow that had accumulated recently. These conditions caused a dramatic atmosphere in which natural objects appeared to loom through the pale haze, isolated against a surrounding bleached backdrop. Consequently, each feature drew greater attention as though cloistered by the gauze covering everything or placed on a natural stage amid the vast landscape and enclosed in the bright circle produced by soft light of a diffused spotlight. While I hiked a few snow-covered paths winding between empty trees, many hidden by haze until I came close to them, I frequently felt that they were presented to me one-by-one as centers of attention the way an individual might walk from one exhibit to another in the stark environment of a museum setting where white walls serve as neutral background in order to avoid distraction when artworks are viewed with full consideration by visitors.
∼ January 9, 2018 ∼ “Closed Road After Overnight Snow”
During the final day of an extremely cold spell of sub-zero temperatures and stormy weather that lasted nearly two weeks and bridged the end of 2017 with the start of 2018, I visited Indiana Dunes State Park once again. Although strong northern winds still swept onshore, blowing snow and sand across the beach, when I moved inland between the dune hills, everything appeared calm. Following an overnight accumulation of a few inches, only a scattering of large flurries continued, floating gently between bare branches in the upper reaches of empty trees. As I hiked trails within the park, I noticed locations where an absence of footprints indicated no one had passed all morning. Walking Trail Two toward the east, I also came upon a dead-end side road usually open, even if less traveled than others; however, on this day the staff had placed a chain across the entranceway to prevent passage by automobiles. Consequently, a clean white stripe extended through the woods and into the distance as far as my eyes could see.
∼ January 6, 2018 ∼ “Shelf Ice at Beverly Shores”
Like much of the country, Indiana has been gripped by an extended spell of extremely cold weather to start the new year. Larry Mowry, meteorologist at the Chicago ABC television station and a graduate of Valparaiso University, reports that this stretch of frigid conditions with twelve consecutive days displaying high temperatures below 20-degrees matches previous records only twice before recorded: those marks were reached in 1895 and 1936. Despite the sub-zero overnight lows and wind chill indicators of -30, I hiked a couple of short trails yesterday at the Indiana Dunes State Park and walked the coast line at Beverly Shores. Though only a few snowflakes fell while on paths through the state park, the shoreline at Beverly Shores was caught in the midst of a strong lake-effect snow band with brisk wind gusts, and I noticed the field of shelf ice had grown tremendously. In fact, the walls of the shelf ice are so tall that one cannot view the lake from the beach. However, even when standing on a high dune in the blasts of onshore winds, one sees that the thick cover of rough white ice extends as far as the eye can see, and the lake has disappeared beneath scenery reminiscent of arctic images.
∼ January 2, 2018 ∼ “Beach Trees and Shelf Ice in Winter Light”
With overnight temperatures sliding down to -13 and wind chills in the -30 to -40 range in areas near Lake Michigan, the weather at the start of 2018 has been sharply different from this time last year. Reviewing a few of my journal posts from the beginning of January in 2017, I notice high temperatures for the first week seemed to hover in the mid-forties. In fact, I wrote about the traditional “first-day hike” last New Year’s Day: “the weather was unseasonably mild, many had gathered to start 2017 with a casual stroll through nature.” Nevertheless, I did manage a few short hikes over the weekend, and I had an opportunity to walk the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park. Strong winds whipped onshore, filtered through bare branches of beach trees, and swept snow from the dunes, leaving much of the sand clear and tan under an angled sun slipping between quickly moving clouds. However, thick and widening shelf ice already had accumulated at the edge of the water, completely blocking any view of the lake from much of the beach and allowing only bursts of spray from breaking waves to rise into sight.
Daily Journal: 2017
∼ December 31, 2017 ∼ “Great Marsh During Fog and Frigid Weather”
This post with a faint picture of the Great Marsh in frigid and foggy December weather represents my 365th entry for 2017. When I began the Indiana Dunes journal at the start of January, inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau and celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth year, I mentioned that I would “initiate a personal chronicle” to offer brief and reflective commentary about my hikes through the Indiana Dunes region. I did not expect to present an entry every day, but I managed to keep that daily documentary schedule. My regular habit of authoring a short prose piece reminded me how much I appreciate the Thoreau example, and I am pleased to have completed my task. As noted in a previous post, I am happy to report I have received an Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites grant for 2018 from the Indiana Arts Commission in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts to further my examination of the region, particularly Indiana Dunes State Park. However, in 2018 my primary focus will be upon my more artistic images, as influenced this time by Frank V. Dudley, the famous “Painter of the Dunes” who was born 150 years ago in 1868. Consequently, although I will continue to post journal entries, they will be less regular than my daily habit during the past twelve months. Instead, I will be adding a series of photo essays to my output in the new year. I appreciate anyone who has followed this journal. As well, I am grateful to those who responded to my photographs and paragraphs in 2017, and I hope you will enjoy my offerings in 2018. Happy New Year!
∼ December 30, 2017 ∼ “Cabin in Snow”
The year seems destined to end with a spell of extremely cold weather. Strong Canadian currents crossing Lake Michigan have created sub-zero temperatures and brought intermittent waves of snowfall. Though I find myself still willing to walk trails throughout the Indiana Dunes, I think about the advantages I have living in this time period. I wear modern insulated clothing that keeps me warm, and I travel in a heated automobile with hot chocolate in a thermos to the locations I explore. When I return home, I am comfortable in a house with forced-air heating, and I shower in hot water. Consequently, whenever I visit the historic sites of nineteenth-century residences at Chellberg Farm or the Bailly Homestead during my hikes, I imagine what life might have been like for their inhabitants during brutal wintry conditions. Even as I stand in a brisk wind and attempt to steady myself or my tripod for capturing an image, I try to envision the people who once lived there and might have stood in the same spot two centuries ago.
∼ December 29, 2017 ∼ “River in Early Winter”
On a partly cloudy day last week as I was walking along a bank of the Little Calumet River, I stopped to watch a deer that I could barely discern through the chaos and confusion of bare branches so typical of a forest in early winter. For a while the animal stood still, seemingly facing my direction, though I really couldn’t quite see which way its eyes were aimed, and I was unable to take its picture from my distance. When I heard the loud staccato tapping of a woodpecker high overhead, I looked for a few minutes at upper reaches of a nearby tree, also too far for my lens to capture, and I watched him go about his work until he flew away. By the time I turned back to the area where the deer had been, it was gone; so, I moved on. I continued down the river, seeking to photograph a section that extended east, passing through a corridor of empty trees before bending north, its calm water reflecting overhanging limbs and the random ragged pattern of clouds slowly shifting above, none of these features in danger of getting away from the focus of my camera.
∼ December 28, 2017 ∼ “Raccoon Tracks on Partly Frozen Creek”
Overnight temperatures dipped below zero, and Wednesday morning’s bitter winds continued to bring sporadic bands of lake-effect snow across parts of northern Indiana. Despite the frigid conditions, I decided to hike a few spots near Lake Michigan to examine the effects of the weather. When I left home, about a dozen miles inland, the skies were clear and sunny. However, by the time I arrived at Kemil Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a thick layer of shelf-ice edged the lake and darkness had descended on the landscape due to a ribbon of clouds moving onshore, bringing more snowfall. I also walked a trail at the Great Marsh, but the scenery was partially hidden by a series of snow bursts. Therefore, I drove farther west to Indiana Dunes State Park, which lay in some breaks of sunlight from openings in the overcast. Nevertheless, temperatures remained in the low single digits, but I actually enjoyed the extreme cold, which felt invigorating. Nobody else seemed to be visiting the park, and the entrance gate house had no attendant. However, while there, I traveled along Dunes Creek, which had become mostly frozen and displayed sets of raccoon tracks across the icy surface. Though I have seen raccoons in this location in the past, on this day the woods seemed empty. I only noticed a pileated woodpecker knocking dully on bark high in the bare branches of trees along the creek.
∼ December 27, 2017 ∼ “Walk Through Wintry Woods”
On New Year’s Day I wrote: “I begin this journal mindful that 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s birth year” and “the influence of Thoreau’s comprehensive commentary kept in his journals for decades often will be evident in the entries included here. I regularly return to the collected works of Thoreau and read with great interest his observations on nature or speculations about the human spirit.” Consequently, as the Midwest seems in the grip of a bitter cold spell with temperatures falling below zero and only a handful of days remaining in the year, I return once more to Thoreau’s thoughts in “A Winter Walk”: “…we tread briskly along the lone country road, crunching the dry and crisped snow under our feet…. The wonderful purity of nature at this season is a most pleasing fact. Every decayed stump and moss-grown stone and rail, and the dead leaves of autumn, are concealed by a clean napkin of snow. In the bare fields and tinkling woods, see what virtue survives. In the coldest and bleakest places, the warmest charities still maintain a foothold. A cold and searching wind drives away all contagion, and nothing can withstand it but what has a virtue in it, and accordingly, whatever we meet with in cold and bleak places, as the tops of mountains, we respect for a sort of sturdy innocence….”
∼ December 26, 2017 ∼ “Solitude and Silence: Swamp Forest After Snow”
In commentary I shared about two weeks ago within my 12/13 post, I noted an interest in hiking along trails that pass through less traveled locations near Lake Michigan at this time of year. Indeed, I appreciate the solitude and silence associated with such paths. I commented: “When wintry weather washes over the Indiana Dunes region, I like to visit the swamp forests, marshlands, and bogs, which transform into remarkably different settings during this season.” I also spoke of a fondness for words included in Henry David Thoreau’s “A Winter Walk,” such as the following: “It is invigorating to breathe the cleansed air. Its greater fineness and purity are visible to the eye, and we would fain stay out long and late, that the gales may sigh through us, too, as through the leafless trees….” In addition, I noted how “in cold winter conditions, especially when a chilly wind is blowing off Lake Michigan, the air feels crisp and clear, and I find myself energized by the atmosphere as I move through this environment.” Walking through the frozen wetlands, silence fills the surroundings and is only broken by the occasional crack of ice beneath bare branches or the overhead creak from upper tree limbs moved by a sudden gust of northern winds.
∼ December 25, 2017 ∼ “Footbridge After Lake-Effect Snowfall”
Light but steady snow fell most of the day on Christmas Eve, some of the greater accumulations occurring near Lake Michigan and along the Indiana Dunes where narrow ribbons of lake-effect snow extended onshore. Though the cold deepened after midnight when temperatures continued to slip into the teens with a growing flow of northern winds, and a couple of squalls reached the beaches in the overnight hours, by morning the skies had mostly cleared, leaving a white landscape appropriate for pleasing images of wintry scenery. Indeed, the transition—from late fall’s stark setting of bare branches overhanging trails lined with dead and brittle leaves to winter’s concealing of everything under a smooth and bright cover of snowfall—closely coincided with this week’s arrival of the winter solstice. Suddenly, even ordinary sights, perhaps like this footbridge spanning a partially frozen creek, seem to adopt a new and more beautiful appearance.
∼ December 24, 2017 ∼ “Trail Eight at Start of Winter”
In a commentary I posted during early March, I noted publication of a book by Florence Williams titled The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. (Please see my 3/7 entry.) At the time, I stated “the text suggests contemporary society and the technological environment of everyday living provide further evidence humans must interact with the natural world on a more regular basis.” Williams concludes that an engagement with nature restores humans’ energy and empathy, bolstering physical and emotional well-being. Additionally, an article published in the current issue of Forbes (“Living Near a Forest Will Make You Happier, Study Finds”) authored by Trevor Nace relates an in-depth investigation printed in Nature Scientific Reports that suggests “humans are better able to cope with chronic stress and are happier when connected with nature. However, this study finds that forests, in particular, are one of the best remedies.” I am not surprised by this information, as I wrote “about my enjoyment traveling trails through the woods” recently in my 12/5 post, declaring such an activity to be “especially relaxing and rewarding.”
∼ December 23, 2017 ∼ “River Bend in December”
I have written a number of times in this journal about the historic Bailly Homestead located along the Little Calumet River at a bend seen in the accompanying photograph, and now situated within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. As I have noted in previous posts (for example, please see my 2/26 entry), Joseph Bailly, the first white settler in the region, built a trading station beside the river at this point, along a popular Indian trail and at an ideal place to trade with local tribes for animal pelts or other goods. This river also connected with other waterways leading toward Lake Michigan, a pivotal spot for commercial trade. Henry David Thoreau once observed in “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”: “Rivers must have been the guides which conducted the footsteps of the first travelers. They are the constant lure, when they flow by our doors, to distant enterprise and adventure, and, by a natural impulse, the dwellers on their banks will at length accompany their currents to the lowlands of the globe, or explore at their invitation the interior of continents.”
∼ December 22, 2017 ∼ “Dune Ridge Trail on Mild December Day”
Winter officially arrived late Thursday morning, though evidence of wintry conditions has been limited thus far this year. In fact, the meteorologist on a local television station reported the region has experienced milder than usual temperatures, which have resulted in the least amount of recorded snowfall ever in the period prior to the start of winter. Indeed, thermometer readings yesterday remained above freezing, even during overnight hours. Consequently, I find myself easily hiking along passageways that normally would have been difficult to travel due to accumulations of snow and ice at this time of the season. Those paths often avoided in harsh weather that I have chosen recently include steep dune ridge trails or routes deep within wooded terrain, where to me the most impressive features remain leaning tree trunks or gnarled bark on bare and twisted branches, all seen against a backdrop of cool blue skies.
∼ December 21, 2017 ∼ “Editorials on Official Federal Status of Indiana Dunes”
Recently, I was referenced in a minor way as part of a debate over officially designating the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the Indiana Dunes National Park. As I noted in a previous post (see my 10/5 entry), the change in status “would recognize the more than 15,000 acres of land in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the first national park in Indiana and the 60th in the United States.” A 12/5 editorial in the Chicago Tribune by John Copeland Nagle, a Notre Dame environmental law professor, declared such a transition “a really bad idea” because the Indiana Dunes is not “incredibly special,” and its inclusion as a national park would diminish the stature associated with lands deemed “national parks.” The following day, Dwight Adams reported in the Indianapolis Star on Nagle’s essay and opposing viewpoints, particularly as represented by Indiana congressional members. Adams’ article appeared online and included a number of posts on twitter about the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, including one by me from 11/27 that featured the fall photograph accompanying this commentary. Now, Save the Dunes has released a response by Patty Wisniewski in which she outlines details that she believes make the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore “a special place,” declaring that it “meets every criteria of the definition of a national park in incredibly special ways that no other national park can.” I invite everyone to read the various opinions.
∼ December 20, 2017 ∼ “Chicago Skyline in Mid-December”
Though a slight haze hovers above Lake Michigan, a slant of sunlight illuminates the skyline of Chicago as seen from the shore of the Indiana Dunes. Much of the time during cold conditions in mid-December low cloud cover keeps the city skyline hidden from view. However, this week’s series of mostly clear and mild afternoons, with temperatures reaching into the fifties, has allowed observation of the city across the forty-mile distance between Northwest Indiana’s beaches and the Chicago skyscrapers. By next month the whole coast could be dotted with small white bergs and shelf ice might begin forming along the shore line, but thus far those elements usually associated with winter’s imagery have not started to take hold, and in today’s absence of wind the lake water remains a rich blue field filled with a sense of texture as it exhibits only little ripples of waves.
∼ December 19, 2017 ∼ “Trail End at Lake Michigan in December”
My son and I chronicle meteorological conditions each day, so I was fascinated to find temperatures fell to a record low of -13 on this date last year, but today the weather will warm into the 50s. All evidence of snow and ice has disappeared. In fact, the clarity of blue skies over Lake Michigan almost reminds one of summer, but the empty limbs of trees through which the setting is seen acknowledge winter’s official appearance this week. When I walk favorite trails through the Indiana Dunes until I reach the beach, I feel much the way Walt Whitman must have as he peered at the ocean and regarded the sea as “a continual miracle.” Each time I arrive at the shore in any of the four seasons, I am amazed at the ever-changing elements in the scenery—the continual rearrangement of waves breaking on sandbars, the transition of tints in the surface color as daylight shifts or cloud cover moves over the water, the rising or lowering level of the lake, the slow erosion then rebuilding of the coastline, and the expressive image of windblown leaves or wavering bare branches seeming to offer a symbolic signal of salute, a gesture of respect at the great lake’s edge.
∼ December 18, 2017 ∼ “Lifting Morning Fog on Ly-co-ki-we Trail”
Weather warmed this weekend as temperatures rose into the forties, and when I walked on Sunday morning along the old Ly-co-ki-we Trail—which has been united with and renamed the Glenwood Dunes Trail System—I noticed most of the snow had melted. In addition, a calm had settled over the region, causing a stillness in the woods, as the air felt humid, though the persistent early fog finally started to lift just before noon. I parked my car at the lot for the Kemil Road trailhead near Route 12, where the way is paved for about one-third of a mile, and then I hiked south along a few marsh forests yet displaying frozen surface water until I came upon a couple of trail signs that still bear the Ly-co-ki-we Trail title. The markers also indicate these sections of the path are open much of the year (mid-March to mid-December) for horseback riding, although the equestrian season ended for the winter on Friday. Indeed, at this point the footing changed to loosely-packed dirt or deep sand, soft and seemingly more suitable for horses.
∼ December 17, 2017 ∼ “Mild December Day at Indiana Dunes”
I am pleased to share that I have been awarded an Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts to further explore the Indiana Dunes in 2018 through prose and photographs. My approach in the new year will differ from the current format, which now contains 350 daily posts and was modeled somewhat after Henry David Thoreau’s journal, since 2017 marked the 200th anniversary of his birth. I described my journal in the initial entry on January 1 as “a personal chronicle, which will consist of brief informal musings or reflective evaluations on various events and experiences….” I will offer more specific details in a couple of weeks about my project for the new year, but I can report the activities tentatively include two month-long exhibitions of my photographs, a pair of lecture/workshop presentations (one in the spring and one in the fall) on form and technique in landscape image composition, and perhaps photo workshop walks through the Indiana Dunes. In addition, I will continue to write commentary and post photographs, though not on a daily basis.
∼ December 16, 2017 ∼ “River in Mid-December”
The bare limbs of trees rise and arch from opposite banks to crisscross above Little Calumet River in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. A quick mid-December storm passed through the region overnight, and its scattered remnants of white clouds struggle today against being overtaken with blue, all illuminated by fresh afternoon sunlight shining from the southern sky. Last night’s brisk onshore winds that brought lake-effect squalls have disappeared, and the downstream current, now nearly still except for tiny ripples lifted by a slight breeze, offers an impressionist reflection of everything. A few fallen trunks and broken branches collect at the edges of the river, and a small snow-covered hill can be seen in the distance, where this river suddenly bends sharply toward the west. A light layer of snow also shows on shallow slopes along the water. The trail ahead winds beside the river. A path yet hidden between trees leads the way where I will walk.
∼ December 15, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog Walkway in December Snow”
In commentary I posted last month (please see my 11/22 entry), I noted the reopening of Cowles Bog Trail after a lengthy period involving renovation and reconstruction of the walkway spanning a section of the wetlands. At the time, I described that “I had an opportunity to photograph the newly restored footpath, which is raised a few feet higher than the old wooden boards that had been placed at the surface and often would be overrun with floodwater…. In addition, the natural planks have been replaced by composite plastic imitation wood slats, and side rails have been installed.” Following my practice of often photographing details in the Indiana Dunes during various seasons, I returned last week after the first snowfall of December to capture an image of the same scenery but in stark wintry weather. Though skies had cleared as an overnight storm moved east, and the cold weather and fresh snow suggested uncomfortable conditions, I enjoyed traveling the path and found the setting somewhat comforting.
∼ December 14, 2017 ∼ “Lake Shore After Overnight Snow in December”
Although I share with most others an appreciation for the Indiana Dunes during summer months when warm weather draws many visitors to cool by the shore and to wade shallow waters, I must confide a particular fondness for observing the same setting in wintry conditions. With thick and heavy cloud cover and a turbulent surf caused by strong northern winds, the Lake Michigan scenery seems to exhibit a dramatic tone. An accent of lake-effect snowfall along the coast only emphasizes the frozen and almost foreboding atmosphere created under such conditions. Indeed, even the dull light on gloomy mornings in this season and an absence of people on the beaches add to an eerie feeling one might more likely associate with a moody movie set. Therefore, on days displaying inclement and disquieting weather, especially from the beginning of December through the end of February, I detect an impressive sense of character in the environment, an essence that I seek to capture with my camera.
∼ December 13, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog Trail Following Early Snowfall”
When wintry weather washes over the Indiana Dunes region, I like to visit the swamp forests, marshlands, and bogs, which transform into remarkably different settings during this season. Trails lined with trees seem to offer direction with their long and white leading lines extending among the suddenly stark landscape. Walking in cold winter conditions, especially when a chilly wind is blowing off Lake Michigan, the air feels crisp and clear, and I find myself energized by the atmosphere as I move through this environment. In “A Winter’s Walk,” one of his more famous essays that first appeared in print in 1843, Henry David Thoreau expressed similar emotions: “It is invigorating to breathe the cleansed air. Its greater fineness and purity are visible to the eye, and we would fain stay out long and late, that the gales may sigh through us, too, as through the leafless trees, and fit us for the winter—as if we hoped so to borrow some pure and steadfast virtue, which will stead us in all seasons.”
∼ December 12, 2017 ∼ “Trees Beside Pond After First Snowfall”
I have acknowledged in previous comments that I am attracted to trees as subject matter in my photography. Hiking through woodlands in any season, I am drawn to the expressive forms of these features, whether the branches display blossoms in spring, are full in summer, show fall foliage, or appear stark as dark silhouettes in winter light. No other element of nature exists as often as a focal point in my images. Even the dramatic and dynamic surf along the Indiana Dunes shoreline fades to second when counting details in my photos. The history of photography contains many famous pictures of trees. In fact, the Victoria and Albert Museum currently hosts an exhibition, Into the Woods: Trees in Photography, including numerous famous photographers, such as Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The museum explains: “Trees have long been a source of inspiration for artists. They can evoke a primal sense of wonder and the strong patterns of their branches, bark and leaves consistently offer visually arresting subjects.”
∼ December 11, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River After First Snowfall”
As I noted in my previous post, the first substantive snowstorm slid across northern Indiana on Saturday morning. Wintry weather lingered much of the day due to lake-effect snowfall caused by strong onshore winds from Lake Michigan. Although the storm left a total accumulation of only a few inches in its wake, as I mentioned in yesterday’s entry, the landscape seems to have shifted into a permanent appearance of winter despite the official end of fall yet ten days away. Therefore, when Sunday morning revealed mostly sunny skies and calm conditions, I decided to hike the Little Calumet River Trail, a location I visit frequently throughout the year and have discovered often offers some of the best images exhibiting seasonal transitions. Temperatures had lifted into the low- to mid-thirties by afternoon, and the ground cover of snow already seemed to be thinning to the point that it remained in my photograph merely as a decorative white accent contributing to the overall attractiveness of the scenery.
∼ December 10, 2017 ∼ “First Snowfall in December”
A fast-moving storm swept through the region Saturday morning, bringing snowfall ranging from two inches to five inches locally, heavier amounts occurring where lake-effect squalls moved onshore. When the first accumulation of snow arrives across Northwest Indiana each year, a seasonal shift immediately seems to take place, and I find my mental attitude quickly alters as well. Though the official beginning of winter remains about a dozen days away, the landscape now features horizons of bare trees against a backdrop of blue and white sky, the colorful fallen leaves of brittle branches suddenly hidden beneath a layer of snow. Each evening’s freezing temperatures appear to be aided by a quicker close of daylight, causing a thin skin of ice on area ponds or small lakes. Consequently, my expectation for photographs transitions to capturing settings displaying the different textures available and various elements exhibiting suggestions of cold conditions in wintry scenery.
∼ December 9, 2017 ∼ “Great Marsh in Late Autumn”
When the weather chills as winter approaches, the Great Marsh Trail transforms into a different landscape from that witnessed much of the year. The lush scenery, thick with growth that conceals segments of the terrain, seems to become somewhat more open for observation. Bare branches and thinning ground cover allow travelers to photograph parts of the parkland usually beyond reach for months—from early summer through the peak of fall season. Even though as I hike the path I discover sections along the way to be slightly flooded, I know the time is now right for exploring this stretch of wetlands. Water rises halfway up my boots when I step through some sections of the trail, but in a few weeks, when wintry storms have left ice and snow, the footing could become more difficult, the frozen ground slippery, and fresh snowfall might disguise the treacherous conditions of hollow gaps, knee-deep craters, or small holes caused by erosion remaining hidden beneath a depth of drifting snow.
∼ December 8, 2017 ∼ “Red-Bellied Woodpecker at End of Autumn”
Walking a winding trail of the Great Marsh in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore late in the day after a windless afternoon during the end of autumn, I hear only the intermittent tapping of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker somewhere ahead and high above. Seeking the origin of the interruption in the silence of this setting, I aim my long lens upward and discover the culprit perched perhaps forty feet over my head. Unlike summer or early fall, when a thick camouflage of leaves conceals all sorts of birds, in this season the source of such sharp acoustics—the sound resembling that of an insistent knocking by an unexpected intruder, but on dark and weather-roughened bark rather than a smoothly-sanded front door—easily can be spotted through a yet congested network of bare branches. In fact, by the beginning of December not many other birds are witnessed lingering in the region’s wetlands or woods. I enjoy the woodpecker’s activity of poking a hole in search of food, its beak building a steady beat like that of a heart when driven into the trunk of a dying tree, and the echoing created as sound waves rebound off surrounding trees, offering one of the few signs of life in this scene.
∼ December 7, 2017 ∼ “Trail Two Trees at Start of December”
Just a couple of weeks ago most trees along a favorite section of Trail Two in Indiana Dunes Sate Park were yet decorated with colorful fall foliage. However, their limbs are now empty of leaves, and the whole landscape has changed significantly. I have mentioned in previous journal entries my appreciation for the natural art and aesthetically pleasing expressive appearance of bare branches, especially when seen with the backdrop of clear blue skies. In his essay titled “Winter Walk,” Henry David Thoreau writes about the emergence of scenery with empty trees and openings in the wooded setting while traveling through the countryside, their “arms to the sky on every side; and where were walls and fences, we see fantastic forms stretching in frolic gambols across the dusky landscape, as if nature had strewn her fresh designs over the fields by night as models for man’s art.”
∼ December 6, 2017 ∼ “Dune Hill Under Angled Autumn Sunlight”
The first four days of December presented warmer than usual weather with clear skies and brisk southern breezes at times sweeping over the higher ground of inland ridges. Walking through the interdunal valleys near Lake Michigan, areas remaining sheltered from most of the stronger winds, I noticed the fields of tall grass on some inclines of dune hills had been fading from orange to yellow in this late stage of autumn, and narrow sandy trails winding behind those mounds offered grand views of the landscape. I paused at one stretch of Dune Ridge Trail of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to photograph a shallow slope rising toward the north, where the coastline lay just beyond. Although upper limbs were thinning in parts, a file of trees yet exhibited evidence of fall colors along the crest. Angled sunshine accented the brighter foreground, as shadows of tree trunks lengthened in the afternoon light.
∼ December 5, 2017 ∼ “Traveling North on Trail Nine”
As I was hiking along Trail Nine in the Indiana Dunes State Park toward Lake Michigan on a mild autumn afternoon this past week and thinking about my enjoyment traveling trails through the woods, I realized I find two activities to be especially relaxing and rewarding: walking and reading. Then I remembered acute observations about the connection between the two offered by author Tom Montgomery Fate in his fine book of essays, Cabin Fever: “Some days reading and walking seem like the same thing, like part of the same journey. Reading, too, is a kind of saunter, the sentences a faint path we track through the writer’s consciousness. Some readers wander off in a direction the writer never imagined, following a faint, muddy paw print, or the warm ashes of a recent fire, toward some new idea or theme. Others get down on their hands and knees and savor the color and scent and flavor of certain words as if they were sacred. But many don’t. Most of us want a clearly marked trail on which we can stop from time to time to briefly smell or touch or taste whatever is new, whatever momentarily startles or excites us.”
∼ December 4, 2017 ∼ “Afternoon Light in Late Autumn”
As I mentioned yesterday, December has started with sunny weather and unusually mild temperatures, permitting comfortable walks in the woods of the Indiana Dunes. Even during the midday hours and into late afternoon, sunlight near the end of autumn offers a distinctive angle of illumination, as the sun moves toward its farthest southern position. Combined with the new openness in wooded areas where leaves have fallen and layer the landscape, allowing direct lines of sunshine through the bare upper limbs of trees, sections of the forest hidden in dark shadows for months now appear available to hikers for easy viewing. Suddenly, details of the ridged and scarred bark on tree trunks and branches become prominent features, almost as if at last given their conspicuous moment in the spotlight. Brightened by the daylight, each tree seems a work of art, gracefully rising toward the sky with a natural elegance.
∼ December 3, 2017 ∼ “Beach Tree on Warm December Day”
The delightfully warm weather in this opening weekend of December, offering temperatures twenty degrees above average, presents a sharp contrast along Lake Michigan of strong sunshine and southern gusts—similar to trends expected in summer—with the wintry appearance of trees displaying an expressive array of bare branches. These empty trees almost seem to be caught suddenly out of season, their limbs exposed too early. Nevertheless, the Indiana Dunes scenery, especially at the edge of the water, becomes even more compelling with light blue skies above and bluish-green lake water below, as though designed to be a backdrop helping to frame the image of a lone beach tree surrounded by wind-dimpled sand. Indeed, the textures—tan sand scalloped by steady breezes, tree bark etched with dark lines, white lake waves, and drooping leaves of yellowed marram grass—add photographic interest to a composition that might otherwise be seen as an ordinary picture.
∼ December 2, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Trail at Start of December”
As the month of December begins, I return to a location along the Great Marsh Trail in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that I visit frequently. A distinctive fallen tree frames the way at this spot along the route. When I wrote about the setting at the start of the year, I mentioned that “I am often intrigued when I come across a felled tree while hiking. I have taken a number of photos in the past of tree trunks leaning over trails I’ve traveled. Recently, I captured an image of a tree arching over the Great Marsh Trail, appearing almost as if it were an elaborate entranceway inviting hikers to explore the curious and extraordinary landscape beyond it.” (Please see my 1/8 entry.) I also noted how I “admire the beauty of its naturally artistic presence, especially in winter when the exquisite skeletal structure, gnarled and twisted, has been exposed, and its aesthetic elegance yet remains evident for all to see.” However, comparing my image of the tree taken about eleven months ago, I now notice half the fallen tree has broken off and been removed by the park service. I photograph scenery over time and in different seasons in order to chronicle such changes in various elements of the landscape.
∼ December 1, 2017 ∼ “Late Afternoon Light at Lake Michigan”
Mild weather due to soft southern air currents sweeping across northern Indiana in the beginning of December would seem to invite visitors to the Lake Michigan shoreline for more enjoyment of the vast view it offers. In fact, as I walk along the coast during late afternoon, the landscape appears especially dramatic due to a low angle of sunlight flowing over ridges of dune hills to exaggerate its features. Brightening white water of surf breaks on the beach, and an extended file of small waves creates a leading line reaching toward the western horizon, an ideal element for my photograph. Though clear skies continued through the morning and only a few clouds have now arrived from the south, highlighted by a diminishing glimpse of sunshine, the blue distance beyond the lake already starts to darken. I stand alone with my camera and appreciate the stunning scenery, surprised to find on this day that the whole location remains empty of others.
∼ November 30, 2017 ∼ “One Red Leaf, the Last of Its Clan”
Yesterday, as I hiked the wooded Dune Ridge Trail that I had travelled just two weeks ago—at that time discovering fall foliage in its peak and preserving a number of vivid images—I found the landscape had changed again. Wind, rain, and colder temperatures have stripped the trees of their leaves, and the setting’s tone has been reduced mostly to shades of brown and yellow. Almost everything exists as an element in a sepia image. However, I observed a single leaf tenuously holding onto a lofty limb on this calm afternoon and retaining its rich red tint, though spotted by tiny dark marks. Since I was carrying my zoom lens to photograph woodpeckers easily visible and still working among the bare branches, I captured an image of this sole survivor, and I thought of lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Christabel”: “There is not wind enough to twirl / The one red leaf, the last of its clan, / That dances as often as dance it can, / Hanging so light, and hanging so high, / On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.”
∼ November 29, 2017 ∼ “Trail Bridge at End of November”
Whenever I walk through northern Indiana woods in the state or national parkland near Lake Michigan and arrive at a footbridge erected across one of the narrow creeks amid deep ravines between dune hills, I find the scenery somewhat emotionally appealing and physically attractive. Perhaps the sudden introduction of order in the midst of chaos—straight lines of those wooden planks or handrails among crisscrossing branches and crooked trunks throughout the backdrop of forest—acts like an instance of assurance that the way will lead to somewhere worthwhile. After all, one can expect a sense of purpose to such a manmade object. Additionally, in autumn the whole setting appears decorated by nearly golden foliage, now mostly blown underfoot by wind gusts or forced from branches by recent rain, but also a portion yet to fall catches the low angle of sunlight and increases interest in the landscape.
∼ November 28, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog Trail in Late November”
Last week I visited Cowles Bog Trail in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to examine the renovation of a walkway crossing wetlands near the start of the path. (Please see my 11/22 entry.) The way had been closed to hikers for a couple of months to allow the construction to occur. As a result, nobody was able to view the normally vivid display of leaves on trees bordering the route during peak fall foliage. Therefore, when I recently walked the length of the reopened trail, the autumn season’s transitions had nearly reached completion. Nevertheless, the scenery still seemed compelling as I travelled through the woods before turning north toward dune hills along the shore line of Lake Michigan. The sunny afternoon followed a few days of rain and strong winds. Consequently, most of the branches angling overhead had been stripped of their leaves, permitting the appearance of interestingly shaped trunks and thin limbs, as though premiering their presence after being hidden all summer from the eyes of passersby.
∼ November 27, 2017 ∼ “Fall Walk in Woods”
Six weeks ago I posted a photograph displaying the cart trail at historic Chellberg Farm in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (Please check my 10/14 entry.) At the time, “I noticed the foliage of trees yet remain full and rich with green. Only a limited number of fallen leaves littered the route. Indeed, the scenery seemed little different from a similar picture I’d taken in spring.” I also lamented the late arrival of autumn colors, “the absence of a shift to fall’s vivid tints, a transition which has been delayed by an unusually warm early autumn….” I frequently return to locations in the Indiana Dunes to view the scenery in different seasons and to capture contrasting images. Consequently, I visited the site once again this past week to snap a photo of the setting from the exact same spot following fall’s transition and just before the loss of all the leaves.
∼ November 26, 2017 ∼ “Big Blowout Ridge in End of November”
In yesterday’s journal entry I mentioned hiking Trails Nine and Ten at the Indiana Dunes State Park on Friday as a way of participating in Opt Outside Friday. The photograph I posted displayed Trail Ten as it moved through a tunnel of arching trees in the interdunal woods. However, I also approached the coastline by climbing the incline of Trail Nine where it rises high above Lake Michigan at the Big Blowout. The daylight appeared bright without a cloud in the sky, and afternoon temperatures were mild for late November, but the warmth resulted from strong southern winds, which turned to gusts rushing over the ridge as I reached the peak of a dune hill around the inland rim of the blowout. Nevertheless, I managed to shoot a few photos of the sandy path descending toward the shore through a slope of green and yellow marram grass, its long leaves bending under pressure from the brisk wind and lit by a wash of afternoon sunlight.
∼ November 25, 2017 ∼ “Trail Ten in November”
While most of the television news reports aired videos of shoppers searching for super sales at malls or large box stores on Black Friday, some folks in the nation chose alternative activities in recognition of Opt Outside Friday, a day on which various state and national parks across the country allow free admission to attract visitors. Although the event encouraging ventures in nature was initiated a few years ago by REI—a company specializing in clothing and gear for camping, hiking, or additional outdoor activities—partially as a promotional marketing campaign, the adventurous spirit has spread, and now many take advantage of time off from work or school on the day after Thanksgiving to explore the outdoors. For my part, I decided to hike along the two longest trails in the Indiana Dunes State Park—numbers Nine and Ten, which together extend for more than nine miles. I found a higher than usual number of others also enjoying the pleasant conditions for late November—sunny skies and temperatures in the sixties—though gusting winds created a bit of difficulty when trying to capture images of the few trees still exhibiting some remaining leaves.
∼ November 24, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek Trail Bridge in Autumn”
As I have noted a number of times in past posts, I enjoy hiking Trail Two at the Indiana Dunes State Park, especially in the peak of fall color and during winter snowfall. Though about three miles long, the route is fairly flat and an easy walk. However, since the path parallels Dunes Creek at times and elsewhere crosses marshland in the center of the park, summer months create overgrown conditions with swarming mosquitoes, making much of the way more difficult to travel. I often choose a footbridge along the trail that spans Dunes Creek as a focal point for my fall photographs. Vibrant foliage on the surrounding trees and shrubbery can provide brilliant imagery, and the winding waterway—murky with a growth of algae in warm weather—clears by late autumn, allowing a bright display of its yellow sand-filled bed and a deep reflection of the blue sky showing through upper limbs on sunny days.
∼ November 23, 2017 ∼ “Trail Stairs in Autumn”
After last week’s early mornings of frost, followed by heavy rains and strong winds, first from the north and then from the south, the leaves of most trees along the shore of Lake Michigan finally have fallen to the ground. Consequently, as I hike through the Indiana Dunes woodland, I notice the whole landscape has changed during the past few days. However, among inland ravines deep within the forest, some locations have withstood the shift in weather enough to hold onto their foliage just a little longer. Walking from lower terrain in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I climbed a set of wooden stairs on the Bailly-Chellberg Trail rising toward a cluster of trees with a few remaining patches of green and yellow leaves backlit by afternoon sunshine slightly warming the air yet chilled by a bit of northern breeze. Once again, the end of November presents enough evidence of daily transition to offer a different perspective each time I turn a curve in the path and pause to take a photograph.
∼ November 22, 2017 ∼ “New Walkway Crossing Cowles Bog”
When I visited the Cowles Bog trail more than a month ago, I was disappointed to find the route closed for renovation of the walkway over a part of the wetlands. I spoke with a member of the construction crew, who explained the process of restoration currently underway and showed me the updated materials that would be used to erect a new bridge. I thanked him for his time and the pleasant conversation, though I was disappointed when he informed me the route would not reopen until mid-November, most likely after the peak of autumnal colors. Although the fall foliage lasted longer this season, I was unable to return until this week, a sunny afternoon just after days of rain and strong winds that had stripped leaves from most of the trees. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to photograph the newly restored footpath, which is raised a few feet higher than the old wooden boards that had been placed at the surface and often would be overrun with floodwater. (To see an image of the old structure, please check my 4/11 post.) In addition, the natural planks have been replaced by composite plastic imitation wood slats, and side rails have been installed.
∼ November 21, 2017 ∼ “Fallen Leaves”
In a short work titled “Fallen Leaves,” included in the “Autumnal Tints” group of essays, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the delight of observing autumn’s leaves lying on the ground after first frost: “The ground is all party-colored with them.” Thoreau enjoyed the brief display of foliage lying beneath trees and along paths as he passed over them. He commented: “I go by trees here and there all bare and smoke-like, having lost their brilliant clothing; but there it lies, nearly as bright as ever, on the ground on one side, and making nearly as regular a figure as lately on the tree, I would rather say that I first observe the trees thus flat on the ground like a permanent colored shadow, and they suggest to look for the boughs that bore them. A queen might be proud to walk where these gallant trees have spread their bright cloaks in the mud.”
∼ November 20, 2017 ∼ “Quiet and Colorful Surroundings”
Near the end of his wonderful bestselling book, A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson nicely describes a forest scene “at the height of foliage season” that he witnessed on his final afternoon in the wilderness, expressing sentiments closely resembling how I often feel during my hikes through dune woodlands and wetlands at this transitional time of year. In those closing pages, Bryson’s elegant language reflects upon “…one of those glorious days when the world is full of autumn muskiness and crisp, tangy perfection and the air so clear that you feel as if you could reach out and ping it with a finger. Even the colors were crisp….” The autumnal landscape scenery exalts his emotions, as he reports: “I hiked with enthusiasm and vigor, buoyed by fresh air and splendor.” He especially appreciates the moment because he realizes: “Autumn is fleeting….” At times, I also find myself pausing among nature’s display, simply standing among quiet and colorful surroundings, breathing the rich fragrance of damp soil amid already fallen leaves, as I attempt to absorb the atmosphere of this season of leaf change that seems much too brief.
∼ November 19, 2017 ∼ “November View from Dune Ridge Trail”
Though a short route of less than a mile, Dune Ridge Trail rises from a small valley inland of the dune mounds along Lake Michigan and rises to a height that offers a variety of sights, including views of the wetlands and woods extending toward the southern horizon. Part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the course begins adjacent to a parking lot that provides spaces for visitors to nearby Kemil Beach, just a half mile to the north. However, except for summer months, this area remains almost empty of cars. Although I regularly hike this trail in each of the seasons, I find the peak of fall transition to be best for photographing the terrain, especially since the autumnal colors highlight various distinctive features displayed in the landscape and add a sense of depth to the wide vista of scenery that can be seen from an opening in the shrubbery at the top of the hill. Especially on an overcast afternoon in November, images of the foliage bordering the path and the thinning tree line of a distant forest seem to exhibit an atmosphere a bit more emphatic and dramatic than at other times of the year.
∼ November 18, 2017 ∼ “Thoreau’s ‘Autumnal Tints’”
In a previous entry I cited Henry David Thoreau’s terrific extended essay titled “Autumnal Tints.” (Please see my 11/6 post.) In its collection of related commentaries, Thoreau celebrates fall foliage: “Most appear to confound changed leaves with withered ones, as if they were to confound ripe apples with rotten ones. I think that the change to some higher color in a leaf is evidence that it has arrived at a late and perfect maturity….” In a couple of the work’s sections the author particularly remarks upon perceptions of the richly colored leaves, especially the red ones, sometimes displayed later in the season: “How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape? Visible for miles, too fair to be believed. If such a phenomenon occurred but once, it would be handed down by tradition to posterity, and get into the mythology at last.”
∼ November 17, 2017 ∼ “Still Woods in Autumn”
During the past few days I have been re-reading Annie Dillard’s book of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. In the title chapter she writes about becoming attentive to sound, or the lack of it, when walking in nature: “Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there.” Reviewing my own commentaries concerning walks through the woods, I notice too little mention of noises or, more importantly, stillness. Of course, there are moments I report coos, caws, or the tapping of woodpeckers; all of which I am consciously aware, particularly in late spring after a long spell when most birds have been elsewhere. Also, I have described on occasion the rustling of underbrush as a deer or other animal rushes past my path, as well as the murmur of water flowing in a nearby stream. In winter, I have even noted the crackling of ice sleeves on limbs of trees. However, what I feel I have failed to accurately portray is the ever-present absence of sound that seems so calm, a silence especially soothing and appreciated amid autumn color, a quiet contrasting with the insistent and persistent din that fills much of everyday society.
∼ November 16, 2017 ∼ “Peak Leaf Season”
The past couple of weeks at last offered colder weather causing a vibrant show of peak seasonal color, conditions arriving later than usual after being delayed by a mild October. As a landscape photographer and writer who enjoys description of nature, I had been anticipating this period of autumnal transformation since late September. Indeed, I must admit my thoughts were focused on capturing images of brilliant fall foliage as early as Labor Day weekend. Consequently, I seemed more eager than ever to hike trails finally exhibiting scenery representative of northern Indiana in transition, and I wanted to preserve pictures suitable for demonstrating this annual spectacle. Therefore, when I walked a path beside a nearby lake under clear skies during a brief break between rainy days, I made certain to take a snapshot of a setting displaying vivid leaves on branches overhanging the water’s edge and illuminated by a spell of bright November sunlight.
∼ November 15, 2017 ∼ “Bailly Trail in Autumn”
Most that is first written on any subject is a mere groping after it, mere rubble-stone and foundation. It is brought together only when many observations of different periods have been brought together that he begins to grasp his subject….—Henry David Thoreau I passed the three-hundred-day mark for composing daily entries in this journal nearly three weeks ago, and the accumulation of my commentary concerning the Indiana Dunes now totals more than 80,000 words. When I started this project on the first of January as a way to grasp my subject of the Indiana Dunes, I began “mindful that 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau’s birth year,” and I acknowledged a debt to the influence of Thoreau on my writing would be evident. As the close of the year approaches with less than fifty days remaining until the end of December, I appreciate even more the tremendous accomplishment represented in Thoreau’s task of beginning a journal at the urging of friend Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 and maintaining his chronicles for almost twenty-five years, a literary achievement eventually surpassing two-million words.
∼ November 14, 2017 ∼ “River in Autumn”
As evidenced numerous times in my daily chronicles, I particularly like to hike a trail that at times winds along the Little Calumet River and presents compelling scenery for photography in all seasons, but especially when the path offers vivid views in autumn. Also, in a note I posted during early October (see my 10/3 journal entry) I mentioned appreciation for completion of a long-term project to clear the Little Calumet River of clutter, or even complete blockage, from tumbled tree trunks or broken limbs after years of work from crews organized by the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association with assistance from other groups. Today, I was additionally pleased to see reports of a new and promising development with endowment of a $275,000 grant to three organizations—Save the Dunes, Shirley Heinze Land Trust, and the Dunes Learning Center—with some provisions for various restoration efforts, trail improvements, and environmental enhancements to continue along sections of the river.
∼ November 13, 2017 ∼ “Start of New Trail”
I often find the initial image I see when starting down a fresh trail shapes my mood for the rest of my trek. Therefore, when I recently viewed an opening between trees with colorful foliage framing the way leading toward an unmarked branch of a passage along Dunes Ridge Trail, I knew the day would offer opportunities for capturing vivid images of autumn. Even the dark bark on thick trunks or long branches looming in the distance, though almost silhouetted against remaining green leaves in upper limbs, presented a sense of mystery with their bent and contorted shapes, which perhaps even created an atmosphere that approached the magical as I moved forward. Most of the fallen leaves decorated the soil underfoot with a scattering of red or auburn as though marking the pathway, inviting me to hike in its direction as I discovered my new route through these woods.
∼ November 12, 2017 ∼ “November Overcast at Northern Indiana Lake”
When hiking I often hear those folks I meet along the way offer friendly encouragement, especially when they see the skies are clear and sunny. “A perfect day for taking photos,” they usually say. However, I frequently prefer cold, calm, and overcast days, which are particularly ideal for fall photography walks. The colors of autumn appear more vivid in such conditions because cloudy skies prevent bleaching of leaves by harsh sunshine and eliminate the dark distractions of shadows crisscrossing the landscape. Indeed, faint sunlight filtered by a layer of clouds illuminates the scenery with a subtle bit of brightness the way a professional photographer’s artificial soft box does in controlled studio settings. Low temperatures reaching below freezing also increase the richness of fall foliage, and the crisp chilliness causes greater amounts of interesting ground cover by a scattering of dropped leaves. Finally, the stillness of a windless afternoon allows for sharper images as motion blur created by moving limbs and fluttering leaves can be avoided.
∼ November 11, 2017 ∼ “Lake in Mid-November”
This week’s shift in weather with temperatures dropping below freezing each night has hastened the transition of fall foliage in the region. Although the local landscape has seemed slow to change thus far in the season, suddenly the trees are undergoing their transformation to a palette of rich colors. In addition, as I walk along wooded trails, a steady spill of leaves can be seen drifting in the wind—floating, fluttering, and slipping to the ground. Yesterday, hiking in this season’s coldest conditions, including a slow but consistent northern flow of air bringing a sub-twenty-degree wind-chill, I rounded a small nearby lake with a normally sleepy shoreline now awakened and exhibiting vivid imagery of autumn.
∼ November 10, 2017 ∼ “Trail Through Dune Woods in Early November”
The Indiana Dunes region has served as inspiration for a number of artists and writers, including Edwin Way Teale, who spent much time at his grandparents’ home in Furnessville while growing up. Teale credited his experiences exploring the northern Indiana forests, wetlands, and dunes along Lake Michigan for initiating his interest in becoming a naturalist who eventually won various prestigious awards for his publications, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for Wandering Through the Winter. Indeed, he recorded his childhood reminiscences in an autobiography released in 1943 titled Dune Boy: The Early Years of a Naturalist. Teale chronicled his adventures in the Indiana Dunes and elsewhere in nature across the nation through both writing and photography, and whenever I walk the Glenwood Dunes Trail with my camera near where Teale once owned his own cottage, I am reminded of his example.
∼ November 9, 2017 ∼ “Fall Foliage Fills Dune Hill”
Every landscape photographer in this region awaits autumn the way most children in the area anticipate Christmas morning. I look forward to the peak of leaf change each year, and I appreciate opportunities to hike wooded trails where evidence of vivid fall foliage fills the forest. Earlier this week as I walked a marked course in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on an overcast afternoon, I discovered an unexpected turn in the route I’d never followed before. Pursuing this path for a few hundred feet, I suddenly came upon a stunning scene in which a dune hill was blanketed with a wide sweep of rich red and orange rising from the valley floor up to its top. When I first observed the setting, I simply stood and admired the beauty of nature. Indeed, although I knew I wanted to capture the image with my camera, I paused for a while in awe and waited to absorb the moment before setting up my tripod.
∼ November 8, 2017 ∼ “Cabin in Autumn”
As I have noted in previous journal posts, I have photographed the storage cabin at historic Bailly Homestead on numerous occasions, attempting to capture its image in different seasons. (Please see entries of 7/4 and 2/4 for a couple of examples.) Consequently, I revisited the location to snap a photo of the structure in November. Contrasted with the surrounding trees displaying an array of autumnal colors, the weathered gray of the logs appears even more forceful, especially when the pattern of parallel lines is viewed against the chaotic backdrop of disarray exhibited by the fall foliage. In fact, the scattering of leaves leading to the front door offers additional texture to the scene. Many limbs display a thinning of coverage, and already some of the higher branches are bare, allowing the light blue sky to show through. Finally, a couple of thick trunks nearby nearly match the shade of brownish-gray seen in the hewn wood witnessed in a few of the logs.
∼ November 7, 2017 ∼ “Central Beach in Beginning of November”
With the autumnal shift in weather the past couple of weeks, I have seen consequences for the Indiana Dunes shore line. The stronger northern winds have increased erosion along many of the beaches bordering Lake Michigan, greatly diminishing the expanse of sand available for walking the coast, and in some cases limiting access for visitors. As I hiked the short way from the parking lot to Central Beach at the end of last week, I discovered the entrance trail leading to the surf’s edge ended abruptly at a steep cliff, creating difficult and dangerous conditions for anyone even attempting to descend to the water line. Due to persistent winds and pounding waves washing onto the dunes from an already high lake level, the normally gradual slope lowering to the shore had been sliced away, leaving a sharp drop from a tenuous ledge. Indeed, peering into the distance, I could see most of the beachfront curving toward the western horizon had been inundated with the rising waters.
∼ November 6, 2017 ∼ “Dune Woods Trail in November”
My favorite hikes through those Indiana Dune woods routes strung along the southern shore of Lake Michigan occur in autumn when an array of fall colors begins to reach its peak. Each twist in the trail offers a new vivid view full of brightly hued delight that I try to save in photographs or render in descriptive language. In his wonderful work titled “Autumnal Tints,” Henry David Thoreau notes how he wishes he could collect all the colorful fall leaves or paint them into a portfolio for review throughout the year, but concludes that as a writer he must resort to presentation with words: “What a memento such a book would be! You would need only to turn over its leaves to take a ramble through the autumn woods whenever you pleased. Or if I could preserve the leaves themselves, unfaded, it would be better still. I have made but little progress toward such a book, but I have endeavored, instead, to describe all these bright tints….”
∼ November 5, 2017 ∼ “Lake Edge in Early November”
In a journal entry written about one week ago I noted that foliage on most trees edging the southern coast of Lake Michigan seemed to be evidencing fall color more quickly than those protected from winds on the inland side of sand dunes or farther away from the shore. In fact, I commented that many of the branches of trees along the beaches already had been stripped of their leaves by onshore winds. Indeed, walking wooded trails in the interdunal valleys this weekend, although there remains some evidence of autumn, one finds much of the forest still predominantly green. Nevertheless, as I moved toward the shore and hiked a few sections along the waterline on Friday, observing the white water of waves whipped up by strong northern gusts, I photographed an image of the turbulent surf with a brightly colored bush in the foreground, yet persisting into November among tufts of yellowing grass.
∼ November 4, 2017 ∼ “Trail in Early November”
Although autumn’s transition of the landscape has been slow to occur this year, the leaves on trees in some sections of the Indiana Dunes appear almost ready to reach peak coloring. Indeed, on Wednesday when I saw Kelly—a friend and ranger at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore who had assisted me with setting up my exhibition of photographs at the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center—I asked if she had noticed any particular locations that had begun showing fall foliage. She recommended Dune Ridge Trail, where she had recently been hiking. While I walked that route through dune woods not too far from Lake Michigan early Friday after a nighttime rain, I could hear swift breezes still blowing among treetops and the pounding of waves on nearby Kemil Beach. However, despite the trail’s name, fortunately much of the path remains in a valley protected from the lake winds by dune hills, and the conditions were perfect for photographing woodland scenery—cloudy, calm, and cool.
∼ November 3, 2017 ∼ “Path Through Dune Woods on Autumn Afternoon”
In yesterday’s journal entry I reported the unanimous passage of a bill in the House of Representatives to designate the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the state’s first national park. I noted that action for this upgrade in status can be traced back as far as 1917, exactly one hundred years ago. On Wednesday evening I attended an informative and interesting presentation at Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art by James B. Dabbert, an expert on artist Frank V. Dudley, “The Painter of the Dunes,” and his influence on the preservation of the Indiana Dunes. In Dabbert’s latest book, The Indiana Dunes Revisited: Frank V. Dudley and the 1917 Dunes Pageant, he declares: “…Dudley began to exhibit Dunes paintings both in Chicago and nationally to promote the Dunes, an agenda championed in National Park Service Director Steven Mather’s Report on the Proposed Sand Dunes National Park, Indiana, published in 1917.”
∼ November 2, 2017 ∼ “Bailly Bridge in Autumn”
This week I once again visited the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore landscape along the Little Calumet River, and I photographed the bridge just below higher ground where the historic Bailly Homestead stands. Yesterday, I was pleased to learn the House of Representatives unanimously approved upgrading the status of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to designation as the country’s newest national park. The official re-classification now only requires Senate ratification. In my October 5 journal entry, I reported: “This move would recognize the more than 15,000 acres of land in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the first national park in Indiana and the 60th in the United States. Moreover, this next step, which could be completed by the close of the year, will mark the end of a journey begun just about 100 years ago when the National Park Service was instituted in 1916 and Stephen Mather, who visited the Indiana Dunes and held hearings on the proposal for ‘Sand Dunes National Park,’ became the first director of the National Park Service in 1917.”
∼ November 1, 2017 ∼ “Glenwood Dunes Trail in Autumn”
In a journal entry submitted a couple of days ago I mentioned my pair of month-long exhibitions of photographs on display at the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center and the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center were to come to a close with the final day of October. However, I am pleased to report that I have been invited to continue my showing of photos at Indiana Dunes State Park for another month. The kind staff have informed me that many visitors have expressed enjoyment with the variety of images available among the dozen pictures included in the exhibit. Since this project is supported by an Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites grant sponsored by the Indiana Arts Commission with an intention of sharing scenes of the Indiana Dunes region seen in the photographs, I am especially delighted to find even more individuals spending time at the state park will be able to appreciate the artwork in person through the end of November.
∼ October 31, 2017 ∼ “Farm Cart Path Bend at End of October”
With the end of October holiday upon us today and the transition of the seasons now in full view, I find the change of leaves currently occurring to be most appropriate, especially since Halloween orange appears as a prominent color emerging among overhanging branches as I travel along various trails. In fact, walking a cart path at a nearby northern Indiana farm that has been converted into grounds for a county park, dark and twisted limbs on many of the trees lining my way—and still fringed with autumnal orange, red, and yellow—seem to be reaching overhead like ghoulish arms. Indeed, during the last weeks of October the routes through Sunset Hills Farm County Park are transformed each evening into haunted passageways upon which children take popular hayrides in the cold night air. During their journeys, huddled together for warmth and for comfort from the scary surroundings, they are surprised by numerous skeletons, monsters, scarecrows, vampires, and other examples of frightening special effects or moody lighting.
∼ October 30, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Bridge in October Light”
As October is about to come to a close, so will my pair of month-long exhibitions showing landscape photographs at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center and the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, both of which end tomorrow. I thank the staffs of the state and national park systems who assisted me in displaying the Indiana Dunes images as part of my project sponsored by an Indiana Arts Commission’s “Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites” grant. I am pleased by reports I have received that the exhibits seem to have been very successful. I have had to replenish the depleted supplies of information cards about my project that were available at each location, and online statistic counters tracking hits at the project web pages indicate dramatic spikes in viewership throughout the past month. In addition, as I noted in my 10/15 journal post, I had an opportunity to offer a presentation of my photography to an encouraging audience in the auditorium at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center. I also enjoyed speaking with attendees following my talk, and I have been delighted to hear further from some folks through subsequent e-mail messages expressing appreciation.
∼ October 29, 2017 ∼ “Lake Waves Seen Beneath Autumn Leaves”
With a steady schedule of autumn weather finally settling over northern Indiana during the past week, many changes in the landscape have begun to become evident. Although most inland woods have seemed slow in their transition to fall foliage due to warmer than usual conditions throughout much of September and October, as well as shelter provided by dune hills rising along the lakefront that protect from those harsh gusts sweeping onshore from Lake Michigan, I notice trees along the edge of the coast appear more advanced in their coloring or even exhibiting loss of leaves. Walking the shoreline to watch white water breaking on the beach from waves created by northern winds following a passing storm, I pause to view a scene of slightly turbulent surf through trees always vulnerable to the elements and whose limbs were full with deep green leaves not long ago.
∼ October 28, 2017 ∼ “Trail Eight in Late October”
Transitions in the landscape witnessed during late October create new images to capture in some of those old locations I’ve previously visited earlier in the year. As I walk Trail Eight in the Indiana Dunes State Park, I notice leaves of trees lining the path at last have begun to exhibit autumn colors. This route moves through inland woods near the central marshland of the park and is partially protected by dune hills from intermittent onshore gusts sweeping over slightly choppy waves of Lake Michigan. Nevertheless, a sporadic breeze filters through the upper limbs of this forest. Though those thinner branches above waver a bit in an inconsistent stir of wind, and at times the arrangement of fall foliage flutters with sudden movement, a quick shutter speed permits me to still the motion for a photograph.
∼ October 27, 2017 ∼ “Leaf Fall After Rain”
Henry David Thoreau: “…it is after moist and rainy weather that we notice how great a fall of leaves there has been in the night….” As I walked a trail though woods along the Indiana Dunes landscape this week on a day after heavy rain, I discovered the way suddenly filled with layers of fallen leaves, and I thought of excerpts from a favorite book by Thoreau, Autumnal Tints, written as a lecture essay during the final year of the author’s life and first published posthumously in the October, 1862, issue of Atlantic Monthly. Consequently, Thoreau’s awareness of his mortality seems to make his perceptions throughout the volume of endings visible in autumn images somewhat more poignant. “October is the month for painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a bright tint just before they fall, so the year near is setting. October is the sunset sky; November the later twilight.”
∼ October 26, 2017 ∼ “Chellberg Farm in Late October”
After three days of almost steady rain, the thick cloud cover finally cleared and a bright sun broke through, shining on a northwest Indiana landscape beginning to exhibit more evidence of fall. As nighttime temperatures dropped close to freezing and a northerly breeze continued to sweep onshore from Lake Michigan, conditions on Wednesday suddenly seemed a little more autumnal. To witness the extent of flooding due to the recent spell of rainfall and to capture changes in foliage during the past week, I decided to hike a short stretch along the Little Calumet River near the old Bailly Homestead and then follow a trail to Chellberg Farm. Although the way was muddy and a layer of wet leaves left the path a bit slippery, I enjoyed the afternoon. Along the way, I only passed a couple of groups of school children guided through the two historic sites, and I paused to photograph a cow lazily grazing in a field with the backdrop of a tree line displaying fall foliage.
∼ October 25, 2017 ∼ “Trail Bridge in Autumn”
I have commented a number of times during recent weeks about the delay in transition to fall foliage by many trees in the region whose leaves have remained green. Curiosity by many concerning the fact that this autumn’s colors have been slow in showing themselves caused the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to share information provided by the United States National Arboretum titled “The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves.” Among its details, the document reports ideal conditions for a vibrant fall landscape: “A growing season with ample moisture that is followed by a rather dry, cool, sunny autumn that is marked by warm days and cool but frostless nights provides the best weather conditions for development of the brightest fall colors. Lack of wind and rain in the autumn prolongs the display; wind or heavy rain may cause the leaves to be lost before they develop their full color potential.”
∼ October 24, 2017 ∼ “Creek Under Autumn Leaves”
Two days of rain and wind have altered the landscape in northern Indiana. Although the extended stretch of warm autumn weather for the last month thus far has slowed the full transition to fall foliage, and many trees remain green, blustery conditions during the past couple of days have suddenly left a covering of fallen leaves on everything. Indeed, the forest floor seems carpeted with vivid coloring. In addition, waves of squalls from the southwest arriving with heavy downpours have swept into the region and across Lake Michigan, filling creeks winding through the dune woods that had been completely dry only a couple of weeks ago. As a photographer who awaits with anticipation this season’s peak, I know the danger of such a quick change can be that those branches overhanging inland trails will empty too swiftly, and the opportunity for brilliant fall photographs will close too soon.
∼ October 23, 2017 ∼ “Dark Forest Trail”
When the weather turned stormy this weekend, southwesterly winds swept lines of rainfall across the region then drifted to the northwest, lowering the long spell of unusually warm temperatures, and by Sunday evening a cold front drove the area’s overnight lows to those more common in autumn. On occasions like this the atmosphere along trails through wooded sections of the Indiana Dunes shifts toward a tone moodier and more mysterious. Although most of the trees yet remain green, some leaves have already dropped and decorate the way ahead. In addition, this upcoming week promises to create a more complete seasonal transition and finally exhibit a peak in fall foliage. Meanwhile, walking paths on the Bailly-Chellberg Trail through sections of dark forest, I appreciate the altered scenery, and I look forward with anticipation to further changes in the landscape.
∼ October 22, 2017 ∼ “Pond in Late October”
Although the weather in northwest Indiana has been warm for autumn and the region has not yet felt a freeze, nighttime temperatures have been cool enough for a few fall changes to occur, especially with the steady lessening of sunlight strength as the season progresses. At sporadic spots along my walks I witness subtle transitions in the landscape. In one instance as I hiked a favorite trail passing a pond this week, I noticed a scattering of leaves on bordering trees, some with branches leaning over the pond’s edge, had started to shift their coloring, and the surface of the water had lost most of its summer murkiness, a mixture of green and yellow. In fact, the translucency of the pond on the side where I was standing to photograph the scenery seemed a foreshadowing for later in the year, when the entire pond becomes almost transparent for a while, offering a distinct clarity until frozen solid and covered by white drifts of snow in midwinter.
∼ October 21, 2017 ∼ “Warm Autumn Weather”
This autumn’s warm weather continues with southern winds bringing temperatures reaching 80 degrees. Conditions suggest a lingering of summer, but the calendar already indicates late October is upon us. Walking under bright sunshine, I appreciate the way the light accentuates trees and shrubs just beginning to display fall foliage. Even the color of the creek water seems enhanced by such strong illumination. As I hike a flat path toward the north, I feel a brisk breeze at my back, and I notice my elongating shadow on the partially sandy trail extending ahead of me. The steady but distant sound of birdsong still accompanies me as I move through this nature preserve, knowing the peak of seasonal transition appears to be only about one week away. Although I anticipate the possible opportunities for vivid photographs, I try to imagine what it would be like if mild days like today could continue further into the future.
∼ October 20, 2017 ∼ “Ravine Trail in Mid-October”
The section of trail in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore that winds along a seasonal creek in a ravine behind Chellberg Farm provides a perfect place for walking at all times of the year. I like the way this route moves through woods usually exhibiting the landscape’s changing character within each season. One part of the way displays a dramatic view where visitors descend to the path’s lower level. (To examine a couple of my previous photographs taken at this site, I recommend checking my 3/1 and 5/15 entries.) However, as I strolled the location this week, I discovered the region’s warm autumn weather has delayed coloring of fall foliage, and leaves on most of the trees remain various shades of green. In fact, my research indicates peak for fall foliage may still be seven days away. Consequently, the picture I captured seems little different from the one seen in my spring post last May, and I will need to return again next week.
∼ October 19, 2017 ∼ “Flood Level”
In my posts the last couple of days I noted the record-breaking rainfall during this past weekend that brought flooding to the region. I examined how the Little Calumet River’s surface had risen significantly, overflowing banks and swallowing the surrounding landscape. Indeed, traveling deep within woods along the river, I explored the expanse of forest suddenly under water, as seen in my 10/17 journal entry. Although the high water level wiped away the trail I usually hike, I managed to find my way to locations exhibiting the extent of spreading floodwaters, and I photographed a few scenes displaying the calm after the storm, including what seemed to me a surprising sense of splendor offered by the transformed setting seen under bright autumn sunshine.
∼ October 18, 2017 ∼ “Creek Bend in Middle of October”
This past weekend’s weather brought a deluge of rain filling local waterways that had been low and flowing slowly due to a month with hardly any precipitation. The creek water deepened and the current quickened by the time I walked a winding trail following its course. Though a few hints of fall color had begun to tint elements of the landscape, much of the scenery seemed more like early spring when winter snowmelt seeps into smaller streams. Indeed, except for the presence of a couple of tall trees with bare branches, I felt like I was hiking in another season, experiencing mild temperatures under bight sunshine. When I turned around a bend toward the north, a soft breeze moving the few clouds above also blew through the trees, cooling the air just a touch and stirring thin reeds rising from the edge of the creek, and those long weeds that had grown all summer alongside the path now bent a bit in the light wind.
∼ October 17, 2017 ∼ “Flooded Forest After October Rain”
According to local weather reports, Saturday’s all-day storm and torrential downpours resulted in the rainiest October day on record. Consequently, waterways throughout the region that had been at low levels after a month of little precipitation suddenly swelled and even overflowed banks. Therefore, I decided on Monday to revisit the Little Calumet River near the historic Bailly Homestead, which I had passed during a hike only a couple of days earlier. When I arrived at the river, I discovered evidence of extensive flooding that had spread far into the forested landscape on either side and completely erased any trace of the trail. In the past I have witnessed such conditions only in springtime during rainstorms on top of snowmelt after a winter with significant accumulations. Indeed, as distant as a quarter mile from the water’s normal course, I photographed the floodwaters, now still in windless conditions and with a surface almost artistically reflecting the woods upon which they were encroaching.
∼ October 16, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River Trail in Early Autumn”
Sections of the Little Calumet River Trail in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at times seem to tunnel through the woods. Especially on overcast afternoons, the route could be viewed as almost a mysterious passage toward the unknown as it surrounds any traveler, suddenly trapped beneath dark overhead limbs filled with foliage. In fact, when I walk this length of the way between the river and a forest ravine farther away, I am always reminded of a few lines from Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” about trying to discern the path ahead: “long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth….” Although autumn has begun, and some of the trees seem to be thinning, today enough of the leaves—many just starting to show fall’s vivid colors—remain to complete a feeling of enclosure.
∼ October 15, 2017 ∼ “Stormy Beach in Autumn”
I was pleased to offer an hour-long presentation of my photographs at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center yesterday, during which I described my ongoing project sponsored by the Indiana Arts Commission. The afternoon’s blustery and rainy weather chased many campers and visitors indoors for shelter, and hot chocolate was provided for everyone, which helped increase the attendance, as the auditorium was pretty full by the time I was kindly introduced by Cookie Ferguson, the interpretive naturalist on duty. I appreciated the attention of those in the audience as I narrated conditions and situations in which the various images were captured, and I had a few pleasant conversations with folks who remained a while after my talk. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the scenery in my pictures, as well as addressing elements concerning the history and geography of the Indiana Dunes, in much the way my prose commentaries accompany the photos in my journal. Again, I am grateful for the invitation to speak.
∼ October 14, 2017 ∼ “Chellberg Farm Cart Trail in Mid-October”
The skies were overcast on Thursday, so I decided to hike wooded trails in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Clouds, calm winds, and comfortable temperatures in the mid-sixties are ideal conditions for photographing woodland landscapes. In fact, the lack of direct sunshine guarantees images without harsh shadows or bleached colors, and the still air allows for slow shutter speeds without blurriness due to movement of leaves. As I walked along a cart path at Chellberg Farm, a remnant from the nineteenth century, I noticed the foliage of trees yet remain full and rich with green. Only a limited number of fallen leaves littered the route. Indeed, the scenery seemed little different from a similar picture I’d taken in spring (see my 5/18 entry). Therefore, my only frustration with the weather came from the absence of a shift to fall’s vivid tints, a transition which has been delayed by an unusually warm early autumn and may be at least another ten days away.
∼ October 13, 2017 ∼ “Geologic Story of the Indiana Dunes”
The Indiana Geological & Water Survey at Indiana University has created a pamphlet titled “The Geologic Story of the Indiana Dunes,” available online in a PDF format. Accompanied by a few graphic illustrations, the guide’s text offers a history of the landscape’s development since the withdrawal of glacial ice from the area. The brief narrative presented to curious readers outlines how various elements of the terrain—such as sand dunes, forests, blowouts, moraines, and interdunal marshlands—were established. As the narrative states: “The expansive beach, rolling dunes, and wide wetland features illustrate the effects of water, wind, and vegetation growth in reshaping the surface of the land since the departure of the glacier from this region about 18,000 years ago.” This interesting source of information can be found at the following: Indiana Dunes State Park Guide.
∼ October 12, 2017 ∼ “Photography at Indiana Dunes State Park”
I am pleased to mention that the Indiana Dunes State Park announced yesterday my upcoming talk about photographing the local landscape and lakeshore, as well as the ongoing exhibition of my photos, currently at the park’s Nature Center Auditorium and scheduled to remain on display through the end of the month. The presentation, showcasing captured images of the Indiana Dunes, will take place on Saturday, October 14, at 2 p.m. Once again, I appreciate the support and friendly assistance offered by the Indiana Dunes State Park staff. As their promotional post on Facebook noted, my year-long project—including the photography display and the special program on Saturday—was made possible through a 2017 Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition, I am grateful for funding provided by a Creative Work and Research Grant received from Valparaiso University.
∼ October 11, 2017 ∼ “Walking Trees”
In past posts I have described Trail Nine at the Indiana Dunes State Park and characterized the path as one of my favorite routes for hiking. In my 9/22 entry I particularly spoke about how an isolated eastern length of the trail “turns and parallels the shoreline on a dune crest high above the coast. Each stretch of the way offers an impressive and extensive view of Lake Michigan, and much of the walk moves 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.” However, since the passage extends across high dune hills vulnerable to lake winds, many trees along the crest present an interesting feature, as the sandy ground around them has mostly eroded and left their roots uncovered, which gives these trees an appearance of walking the ridge trail alongside their visitors.
∼ October 10, 2017 ∼ “Late Light in Early October”
By regularly devoting a defined amount of time to displaying and describing scenery along the Indiana Dunes through prose accompanied by photos in my journal as part of a year-long project, I have discovered an added appreciation and attachment to the landscape. In a chapter titled “Landscape and Imagination” from his 1991 book, Secrets of the Universe: Scenes from the Journey Home, which I also referenced yesterday and in my 1/12 commentary, Scott Russell Sanders writes: “It is a spiritual discipline to root the mind in a particular landscape….” He suggests the explorations by which we seek “to see our home ground afresh may be physical ones…or they may be journeys of the mind, such as those we take through stories and photographs and paintings. By renewing our vision of the land, we rediscover where it is we truly dwell. Whatever the place we inhabit, we must invest ourselves there with our full powers of awareness if we are to live responsibly, alertly, wisely.”
∼ October 9, 2017 ∼ “Approaching the Coast”
Early in the process of my ongoing project to chronicle the Indiana Dunes in prose and photos, I quoted from a fellow Hoosier author, Scott Russell Sanders, on the importance of “memory, knowledge, and imagination” when attempting to fully appreciate the landscape one experiences. In that 1/12 commentary, I wrote about how “I attempt to bring these ingredients into my own observations and reflections on the Indiana Dunes.” Now nearly nine months later, as my journal has reached 75,000 words, I believe the descriptions and opinions I have offered concerning the surroundings through which I have traveled continue to be informed by those three features listed above. As Sanders further states, to write about the local nature one must rely on “lessons in seeing, from people and memories and books.” Reviewing my writings thus far, I can attest to the necessity of blending those forms of understanding to reach a more complete picture of the region I am exploring.
∼ October 8, 2017 ∼ “Dune Crest View Toward Chicago”
I have offered observations in the past about how delightful, even inspiring, the scenery can be when arriving at a dune crest after hiking along a winding trail through inland woods and climbing a steep slope on the lee side of a sand hill. An initial glimpse at the blue waters of Lake Michigan extending toward the horizon establishes a pleasing contrast easy for the eye. Often, a soft onshore breeze suddenly feels refreshing following my long walk toward the shore. On this day I pause on a high ridge just above the beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park, and I find myself facing not only the lake, but also the distant skyline of Chicago on the other side. An outline of the city can be seen framed between rough clusters of shrubbery still green in early autumn and almost inexplicably growing from an arid mound of sand.
∼ October 7, 2017 ∼ “Clearing Skies”
After more than a month of mostly dry conditions, the past couple of days have delivered a fair bit of rainfall. Though the wet weather is welcome, opportunities for hiking and photography are severely limited. However, I must acknowledge the times immediately following rainstorms often provide some of the finest settings for capturing images. The horizon displays a sharp contrast between departing scraps of clouds and the arrival of clear blue skies, even as the sun seeps between the thinning overcast and illuminates the scenery with filtered light. The continuing presence of white water from windswept waves offers a slightly higher surf that narrows the reach of the beach significantly, creating a leading line for the photo. An absence of visitors allows for sand, still damp and exhibiting shades of tan, to remain yet unblemished by footprints. In addition, traces of older waves that rose toward the dunes during the passing storm show themselves in lengthy stretches of scalloped lines etched onto the beach.
∼ October 6, 2017 ∼ “Late Lakeshore Waves”
In yesterday’s entry I mentioned the proposal sent unanimously by a House of Representatives committee for passage in Congress that would designate the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as Indiana Dunes National Park. In my search for the text of the bill (H.R. 1488: “The Indiana Dunes National Park Act”), I discovered language in the findings section that testified to the importance of this region in Northwest Indiana. Some statements included the following. “The southern shore of Lake Michigan includes some of the most geologically and biologically diverse areas in the United States….The unique features that comprise the southern shore of the Lake Michigan, also known as the Indiana Dunes, were formed over the course of 12,000 years by natural forces, including glaciers, wind, and water. Glacial melting and fluctuations in the water level resulted in the formation of as many as 7 shorelines. This process resulted in the biologically diverse beaches, sand dunes, and inter-dune wetlands that can be seen today.…The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the adjacent Indiana Dunes State Park are comprised of over 15,000 acres of dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers, and forests that are currently preserved for public enjoyment…. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the most biologically diverse National Park Service units, containing 2,336 unique species, including 896 animal species and 1,407 plant species…. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is an especially important feeding and resting area for migrating land and water birds, boasting 350 unique species.”
∼ October 5, 2017 ∼ “Significant News for the Indiana Dunes”
Yesterday brought significant news that transformation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to official designation as a national park appears imminent. A House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources unanimously approved the change in a bill that now merely awaits ratification by the entire House and the Senate. This move would recognize the more than 15,000 acres of land in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as the first national park in Indiana and the 60th in the United States. Moreover, this next step, which could be completed by the close of the year, will mark the end of a journey begun just about 100 years ago when the National Park Service was instituted in 1916 and Stephen Mather, who visited the Indiana Dunes and held hearings on the proposal for “Sand Dunes National Park,” became the first director of the National Park Service in 1917 with recommendation for such a status. Unfortunately, that proposal coincided with World War I, and it was set aside at the time; however, the good work and dedication of many individuals over the decades now seem ready to be rewarded.
∼ October 4, 2017 ∼ “Early October at Lake Michigan”
Daytime temperatures have remained in the seventies throughout this first week in northern Indiana, and walking along the Lake Michigan shoreline during morning hours with a slight onshore breeze offers a sense of calm. There have been years in the past when the start of October in the region brought a few days of overnight frost, blustery winds, and snow flurries; however, this season continues mostly mild, and even the cooler night wind has presented us with crisp, clear, and refreshing air. The extended spell of relative warmth we’ve witnessed seems to be delaying transitions to fall colors, keeping leaves various shades of green on lakeside trees. I am reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s reflections on weather of another October long ago: “Each morning now, after rain and wind, is fresher and cooler, and leaves still green reflect a brighter sheen.” [Thoreau, Journal: October 2, 1858]
∼ October 3, 2017 ∼ “River Reflection in Early Autumn”
Although most of the leaves have not begun to transition to fall colors, the cool and crisp weather this early autumn has provided ideal conditions for hiking trails just inland from Lake Michigan. Indeed, the full foliage contributes to reflections on the still surface of ponds or slow-flowing streams and low-level river current along the way, where thus far the water remains only sparsely spotted with fallen leaves. Walking a path beside the Little Calumet River—whose 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, I still listen for birdcalls from nearby trees and watch for deer moving through the woods. I also recall the importance of this narrow waterway, which once served as a commercial connection to Lake Michigan and along which the first trading post was constructed early in the nineteenth century. [For more details, please see my 2/26 entry.]
∼ October 2, 2017 ∼ “Photographs on Display”
In yesterday’s entry I reported my installation of photographs in an exhibition at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center. (A few can be seen in the accompanying picture.) This show with a sampling of images from various locations in the landscape along Lake Michigan represents part of the project I began in January to chronicle the Indiana Dunes through photos and prose. I am honored that this year-long endeavor is sponsored by the Indiana Arts Commission in conjunction with the National Endowment for the Arts and with assistance from a Valparaiso University Creative Work and Research grant. I also have been pleased by the encouragement, support, and cooperation I have received from representatives of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Indiana Dunes State Park. Indeed, the complimentary comments, encouragement, and assistance offered by park rangers have been especially heartening, since I am aware how much these individuals value knowledge and respect for the local landscape, characteristics I attempt to display in my captured images and journal comments.
∼ October 1, 2017 ∼ “Indiana Dunes Photography Exhibit: Oct. 1-31”
Yesterday I closed the month of September by installing an exhibition showing some of my Indiana Dunes photographs in the Exhibit Hall at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center in Porter, Indiana. The facility is shared by Indiana Dunes Tourism and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore of the National Park Service. The selection of my images on view throughout October represent a sampling of scenes captured at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore locations, including Mt. Baldy and various beaches or trails within the parkland. In addition to taking the pictures, I printed them myself; but I am especially thankful to my wife Pam, who did a wonderful job carefully framing the photos for display. In addition, I want to express my appreciation to Kelly Caddell, the friendly park ranger who assisted me in hanging the artwork. If you are in the area, please stop at the Visitor Center, which also houses a number of other features detailing aspects of wildlife, landscape, and Lake Michigan, as well as a library of brochures or area guides, bookstore, and souvenir gift shop.
∼ September 30, 2017 ∼ “View to Chicago at Sunset in End of September”
In his 1836 essay titled “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes the following: “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” Emerson’s influential work helped shape Henry David Thoreau’s perceptions of the landscape and served as a foundation for other American Romantic thinkers. On this weekend at the end of September, Lake Michigan sunsets as seen from beaches of the Indiana Dunes continue to glow beneath islands of drifting clouds, illuminating the distant skyline of Chicago. Though the slightly colder northern winds blowing over the water create a steady rhythm of waves and offer a taste of autumn, the chilly atmosphere seems camouflaged by those bright and warm colors of late sunlight. When I walk along the shore, the pulsing sound of the surf causes a calm tone. Even the brilliant reflection on the wash of water climbing the darker wet sand presents a sense of nature’s elegance, evoking Emerson’s spiritual evaluations of the world around us.
∼ September 29, 2017 ∼ “Dune Hill in End of September”
When the weather begins its changes in late September, bringing quick clouds blown by northwesterly winds, the scenery along Lake Michigan frequently becomes more interesting. Though cool breezes seem to suggest a fall chill will soon arrive, the early autumn sun remains strong enough to moderate temperatures in midday. Even the green leaves of dune trees seem reluctant to make the transition to a new season. Standing on a sandy hill above an empty beach, I watch from a distance as a steady series of windblown waves washes onto the shore, each string of surf slowly approaching like a thin line, perhaps the way a slice of white stretches across a canvas on an aqua background in a minimalist artwork.
∼ September 28, 2017 ∼ “Rip Currents”
The long heatwave we’ve been experiencing came to an end on Wednesday, and I visited the beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Although temperatures were normal for the closing days of September, the contrast with the hot and humid conditions present throughout the past week caused me to feel a bit chilly. In fact, since wind directions had shifted and northern gusts were coming onshore from Lake Michigan, I suddenly needed a light jacket as I walked through the dunes and approached the water’s edge. Hazard warnings due to powerful rip currents—which create dangerous waves of six feet or more that then quickly pull away a strong underflow from shore—had been posted, and the entire beachfront remained empty of any other visitors. However, as is often the case, the scenery seems even more dramatic when the weather turns turbulent.
∼ September 27, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek in Dry Times”
In yesterday’s entry I mentioned how the lack of rainfall this month has slowed the flow of current in Dunes Creek to a standstill. In fact, when I hike inland on a trail along the creek, I approach sections where the water levels have lowered significantly or the course has dried almost completely. Moreover, in this last week’s heat spell, during which daytime highs have reached records seven consecutive days, the landscape along the way yet resembles mid-summer conditions. Much of the foliage remains green, and the still-thick underbrush continues to overgrow the banks of the waterway. Indeed, at times the winding route of the creek appears hidden beneath lush camouflage or seems to disappear altogether, replaced by a mere muddy strip. Though I look forward to the arrival of autumn with its rich palette of fall colors in two or three weeks, I find myself enjoying this unexpected extension of warm weather while it lasts.
∼ September 26, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek in September”
Dunes Creek runs through much of the Indiana Dunes State Park property, draining from the large marsh that fills quite a bit of the interdunal wetlands and winding to the western end of the park. In previous posts I have included images of the creek in various sections of its course—where it turns through a valley just beyond the dunes, where it approaches the campgrounds, where it parallels Trail Two, and where it blends with swamp forests. The final stretch of Dunes Creek that bends toward the shore and empties into Lake Michigan was once unseen to visitors because it was buried for nearly 80 years by a parking lot positioned behind the beachfront pavilion housing showers, comfort stations, and refreshment stands. However, in 2012 this portion was reopened when a restoration project attempted to return the waterway to its original and more scenic state. Even in the dry conditions experienced thus far in September, when the flow of water has slowed almost to a standstill, the setting seems more appealing with the visibility of the creek lined by woodland as it extends to the public beach just beyond.
∼ September 25, 2017 ∼ “Dune Path in Late September”
When I choose a section of the Indiana Dunes to visit, I often do not know which direction I will travel or what new paths I will find along the way. On such occasions I consider Henry David Thoreau’s observations in his essay simply titled “Walking”: “What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we will walk? I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk.” Indeed, I usually find myself hiking sandy trails winding through foredunes or along ridge crests while allowing the beauty or interest in the landscape to influence the directions I will walk. Consequently, I am delighted by the surprisingly simple yet stunning images I witness as I wander among the reeds of marram grass, prickly thistles, sprouting weeds, wildflowers, and beach trees along the shoreline.
∼ September 24, 2017 ∼ “Central Beach in Late September”
A series of days with record high temperatures has delayed significantly the transition to autumn. Although only a week remains in September, the weather continues to resemble mid-July conditions, as the landscape scenery also seems stuck in summer. Bright sunlight bathes Central Beach, and its narrow strip of sand in front of me yet unmarked by footsteps extends into the distance, littered with broken sticks of driftwood and small trees fallen from eroding dunes along the Lake Michigan shore. Despite a gradual accumulation of early afternoon clouds drifting from the south and shifting across the coastline, the region’s lengthening dry spell remains in place. A thin haze stretches over the horizon at the farthest edge of land, then disappears above the water, replaced by wide skies of deepening blue. A movement of air stirred by the steady waves of a cool surf feels refreshing and—like the warmer weather—I will linger a little longer.
∼ September 23, 2017 ∼ “Sandy Trail Through Dune Ridge”
The arrival of autumn coincided with Indiana stuck in the middle of a heat wave. Record-breaking temperatures in the mid-90s reminded everyone summer may be over but the weather remains independent of expectations connected with calendar markings. Consequently, the Indiana Dunes continue to offer images less likely to be associated with the end of September. Indeed, the green leaves and bright sunshine I still find while hiking again across dune ridges above Lake Michigan resemble scenery one might more readily identify with July or August. However, while most folks are enjoying the reprieve from chilly situations, I keep in mind that this extension of a hot season, combined with the previous few weeks without significant rainfall, could create a shorter span of time for fall colors. Dry and warm days in September may mean a sudden loss of leaves once October’s colder conditions take hold, and the window for photographing fall foliage will close more quickly this year.
∼ September 22, 2017 ∼ “View from Eastern Rim of Beach House Blowout”
Traveling east along thick woodland on the level ground of Trail Nine, the route suddenly climbs from the inland forest up the steep dunes behind the Beach House Blowout and winds around its narrow rim toward the shore. At that point the path turns and parallels the shoreline on a dune crest high above the coast. Each stretch of the way offers an impressive and extensive view of Lake Michigan, and much of the walk moves 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 formed by wind erosion shows as it leads toward the vast expanse of water and the distant skyline of Chicago visible on the horizon beyond.
∼ September 21, 2017 ∼ “Pond Near End of September”
Much of the landscape within the Indiana Dunes consists of marshes, bogs, ponds, and swamps, where the overhanging foliage or undergrowth of weeds and stalks of reeds rising from the water maintain a richness in color throughout the summer due to excessive moisture, even during periods without much rain. With this week’s warmer temperatures and a continuing dry spell that has lasted a month, the weather entices one to hike through the cool shade of those woods interspersed among the wetlands. Sometimes when walking these trails near the end of September everything seems even greener and more lush than in mid-summer, particularly because some surfaces are now completely covered with a layer of algae. Although a number of trees already appear to be losing a few leaves, their almost elegantly twisted and thinning limbs begin to lend a sense of aesthetic stylishness to the scenery, an artfulness that will become more prominent with bare branches in winter.
∼ September 20, 2017 ∼ “Blowout View”
On this warm mid-September day, after walking a long narrow stretch of sandy shore line toward the Beach House Blowout, I turn inland and climb a steep dune hill to hike the eastern leg of Trail Nine, which extends to the Furnessville Blowout on high ground overlooking Lake Michigan. This portion of the path runs along a ridge peak just inside the first growth of woods and offers an atmosphere significantly cooler than experienced on the beach below. Beneath the shade of full foliage only showing a bit of transition to fall colors in small patches of leaves, I feel a building onshore breeze blowing from the north with a sudden touch of autumn in its chilliness. Traveling about a half mile along the way, I come upon the bowl of a smaller unnamed blowout that creates a large gap in the tree line, an opening that presents a wide view of the lake in the direction of the Chicago skyline barely visible on the other side.
∼ September 19, 2017 ∼ “East of Beach House Blowout”
In this last week of summer, I hike the length of beach in Indiana Dunes State Park. Clear skies and comfortable temperatures in the low seventies allow easy walking along a surf displaying small but steady waves caused by a gentle northern breeze. When I cross from east to west along the beach fronting the Big Blowout and the Furnessville Blowout, I find the sandy stretch to be the best of all to rest a while. In this location the depth of the sand between the surf and the foredunes extends the greatest, in some places seemingly between 150 and 200 feet deep. In addition, due to the trek necessary to arrive at this isolated beach, the whole location remains untouched. However, as I move farther west and approach the shoreline reaching to the Beach House Blowout, even on this relatively calm day I discover the lake has swept away the beach all the way to ten-foot cliffs rising toward foredunes beyond, and access appears cut off until I measure my steps and time my movement between waves.
∼ September 18, 2017 ∼ “Dune Trail to Lake at End of Summer”
Despite a few chilly nights in the first half of September during which temperatures slipped into the forties, the weather continues to be mostly pleasant, some afternoons actually quite warm, as the close of summer approaches. However, with the official beginning of autumn only a few days away, I realize opportunities to capture images of lush lakeside scenery soon may become limited. Indeed, I eagerly anticipate the approach of abundant colors brought by the generous range offered in a palette of fall foliage, as well as those brilliant tints in illumination due to greatly angled lighting from a more southerly sun. Nevertheless, I still like to photograph rich summer scenery that remains in evidence even into the waning stage of this season, such as a sandy trail through foredunes yet warmed by sunshine and filled with the deep green in leaves of shoreline trees or the various shades displayed in shrubs and grasses lining my pathway. I also appreciate the backdrop of a blue sky speckled with white clouds shifting in an easy breeze above a surface of water exhibiting a different hue of blue.
∼ September 17, 2017 ∼ “Dune Oasis”
In a recent entry I reported attending the opening of a Frank V. Dudley exhibition in the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University. (Please see my 9/9 post.) I have often written about the importance of Dudley, “The Painter of the Dunes,” on my decision to chronicle the Indiana Dunes in photos and prose, and I have attributed his influence on the compositions of scenery displayed within my photographs. Among the characteristics witnessed in Dudley’s artworks, I especially appreciate settings in which he isolates a patch of marram grass, wildflowers, shrubbery, or small trees among the sand dunes with a glimpse of Lake Michigan seen in the background. I frequently marvel at the ability of foliage or flowers to appear and to bloom along the beachfront in the middle of an arid area. In fact, I regard such a location of growth as a dune oasis, a distinctive spot of interest and engagement for the observer.
∼ September 16, 2017 ∼ “Still River in September”
Despite cooler conditions and chilly nights during the first half of September, the final seven days of summer have begun with a return to warm weather offering temperatures rising into the mid-eighties. Soft southern currents have swept over the area, restoring a soothing sense of summer’s serenity. Though only a bit of rain has fallen in recent weeks, the trees and underbrush along the Little Calumet River remain lush, a nice variety of green tints, and their rich images are reflected by the still surface of the water under a sky mostly clear of clouds. Unlike other locations I’ve visited recently during hikes throughout the Indiana Dunes region, this setting shows no early signs of fall foliage; instead, this scenery presents an illusion that the summer season will linger a little longer, especially since most birds have not yet begun their migration, and the treetops on the banks of this waterway are still filled with their calming sounds.
∼ September 15, 2017 ∼ “Traveling Along Trail Two in Late Summer”
As I noted in my previous post a couple of days ago, I hiked Trail Two through Indiana Dunes State Park for the first time in months. In fact, the last time I traveled this route in spring the trail was flooded in some sections that extend along the banks of Dunes Creek, and I had to step through six inches of water to move forward. However, this week I found the creek had gone completely dry in various locations along the way. Indeed, while I have been aware of the disastrous levels of rainfall occurring at other places in the nation, our area has been lacking much moisture during the past month or so. In addition, daytime conditions have been comfortable while nighttime temperatures have fallen to the cool low forties. Consequently, hiking Trail Two has been mosquito free and easy to negotiate, and although I observe a few splashes of fall color beginning in upper branches or crawling up tree trunks, most of the late-summer foliage remains a rich and inviting green.
∼ September 14, 2017 ∼ “Drifting Clouds”
After watching news reports of hurricane activity along the nation’s southern coasts during the past couple of weeks and witnessing the scenes of devastation impacting millions through flooding or damage from storm gusts, it feels somewhat trivial to note that ragged remnants of Hurricane Irma reached the beaches of Lake Michigan Tuesday evening and during the day on Wednesday. Widely spaced splotches of cloud cover followed by intermittent overcast skies and sparsely scattered showers slowly drifting over the northern Indiana shoreline, propelled by just the slightest bit of wind, briefly contributed a few periods of light rain to a landscape that has been mostly dry throughout the last month. One can only wonder at the realization that these minimal weather disturbances and unthreatening conditions were caused by the same meteorological system that not too long ago created such havoc elsewhere.
∼ September 13, 2017 ∼ “Early Signs of Autumn Along Trail Two”
In yesterday’s entry I mentioned visiting the Nature Center at Indiana Dunes State Park for a presentation about the region’s landscape throughout the seasons. Afterwards, I hiked Trail Two, which extends through woodland and marsh in the center of the park. I avoid this less-traveled path much of summer since a large part of the route is overgrown as it winds alongside Dunes Creek and over wetlands, which often attract swarms of mosquitoes in July and August. However, the cooler weather in these first two weeks of September, during which nighttime temperatures regularly dipped into the forties, meant traveling this trail would be more comfortable. The whole way I had no problem with insects. In fact, I also met no other visitors along the trail, and during my slow stroll I found myself observing only two deer, a woodpecker, and a dead snake. Additionally, I noticed a few small patches of colorful leaves in trees already displaying a sampling of fall foliage.
∼ September 12, 2017 ∼ “Untouched Beachfront at Indiana Dunes”
On Sunday afternoon I visited the Indiana Dunes State Park’s Nature Center for a presentation on the region’s appeal throughout the year. The Interpretive Naturalist, Cookie Ferguson, offered a warm and welcoming introduction to the park as she displayed numerous wonderful images of the landscape in each of the four seasons. In addition, she shared informative details and explained historical events that led to the preservation of this portion of the Indiana shoreline. I particularly enjoyed those old photos showing beachfront cabins and shacks that littered the coast before the property was secured as parkland. Some estimates suggest more than 250 structures were removed from the dunes and beaches. Contrasting those pictures against current scenes of clear sandy expanses along Lake Michigan I capture with my camera nowadays causes me to appreciate even more the care and efforts exhibited by those early twentieth-century figures who led the battle for protection of the Indiana Dunes.
∼ September 11, 2017 ∼ “Trail Eight Marsh Bridge in Late Summer”
In Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman speaks of the poetic inspirational influence he receives whenever moving beneath trees and surrounded by foliage: “Why are there trees I never walk under / But large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?” I often feel similar emotions during my travels through the Indiana Dunes. In fact, with about ten days left until the transition to autumn, I hike a familiar route through the interdunal forest as I follow Trail Eight from an inland shelter toward the shore, and I begin by crossing a marsh footbridge I’ve walked many times before, though now becoming overrun with its accumulation of green summer growth. The bright sunlight on this clear September afternoon illuminates the tree’s leaves and seems to bleach the weathered gray of wooden handrails a little bit. However, cool air of a light lake breeze already hints at the shift in seasons soon to be upon us, and I consider returning in a couple of months to photograph fall colors overhanging the path.
∼ September 10, 2017 ∼ “September Weather”
With weather conditions causing havoc in various locations around the nation, the calm and comfortable days we’ve seen during the first two weekends this early September in northern Indiana seem to exhibit so much of a contrast. Indeed, as television news reports offer dramatic hurricane coverage displaying stressful events occurring at coastlines along the Gulf of Mexico, I share the concerns felt for all in the endangered areas, especially my family and friends. Additionally, I appreciate even more my relaxed hikes in the Indiana Dunes as I move across dune hills above the smooth waters of Lake Michigan in these waning days of summer. Afternoon temperatures top off in the low seventies, and a light breeze shifts onshore while only a few scraps of clouds drift overhead as though merely intended to present some variety to the scenery and to add a greater sense of depth to the rich blue skies.
∼ September 9, 2017 ∼ “September Sunlight at Dunes”
Last night I attended the opening of an exhibition featuring Frank V. Dudley paintings in the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University. I mentioned this event in a past journal post (please see my 8/25 entry). I have written frequently about my admiration for Dudley’s art depicting the shoreline along Lake Michigan, as well as his importance in protecting and preserving the Indiana Dunes as natural landscape. I have also reported how his artwork has influenced the way I use light and compose scenes when capturing images of the Indiana Dunes. The extensive catalog in this show presents more than fifty pieces, and I was delighted to find many works I’d not seen before. In addition, as I have noted previously, Dudley’s family was involved in photography and owned a business in Chicago during the beginning of the twentieth century. Frank’s brother Clarence appears to have been the chronicler of family activities and historic moments at the Indiana Dunes, such as the famous 1917 Dunes Pageant—the hundredth anniversary is celebrated by the exhibition, which includes Dudley’s well-known painting titled The Dunes Pageant 6/3 ’17. However, Frank also occasionally used photography as a preliminary step in his process and would frame settings in front of him through a lens holder. Indeed, the exhibit even includes a pair of Dudley’s vintage Kodak folding bellows camera models from the early 1900s and his tripod.
∼ September 8, 2017 ∼ “Dune Tree in Early September”
Anyone who reads my journal entries or views my photographs will notice how often I mention trees and place them prominently in my images. In winter when most limbs are expressively bare or as spring buds begin to exhibit themselves or throughout summer’s full foliage or during fall’s vivid colors, I find these objects to be interesting and reflective of the seasons. In addition, as I walk along the shore of Lake Michigan I like to include the surf, sand, foredunes, and initial hint of woods on dune ridges in my pictures, allowing observers to witness the various transitions in lakeshore scenery. My attention increases when I come across trees in tentative circumstances and endangered by wind erosion or drifting dunes, particularly those nobly struggling to survive despite half-dead branches. Indeed, one seems easily tempted to attribute human characteristics to nature and personify these distinctive trees that evoke emotional responses.
∼ September 7, 2017 ∼ “Lake Waves Toward Sunset in Early September”
Cooler weather moved across northern Indiana, and onshore winds shifted over the coast causing rare lake-effect rains along the shore. As I approached Lake Michigan after the showers had passed farther to the east, I drove through a few places where low-lying sections of roads were about four to six inches under water. The thick overcast of late afternoon had broken, and a partial clearing allowed an evening sun to illuminate the western edge of the lake. In fact, the skyline of Chicago could be viewed in silhouette beneath the remaining clouds, which assumed a shade of blue that contrasted with the hints of bright orange and yellow tints seeping between them. Swift and steady waves washed onto beaches of the Indiana Dunes, and the crisp air suggested an approach of autumn is not far off.
∼ September 6, 2017 ∼ “Driftwood at Mt. Baldy Beach”
Looking back at previous posts, I notice that I have mentioned the presence of driftwood along the Indiana Dunes lakeshore about a dozen times during the past eight months. In each entry I include this element of the scenery, perhaps representing an added attraction, as if a natural decoration had been placed in position to enhance the imagery around it. My gravitation toward the presence of a piece of driftwood along the shore seems rooted in careful observations on the interesting physical features presented—the almost abstract artistic shape, the tactile sense of texture offered by the object, the colors that may range from the tone of bone to the tan of damp sand to the darker shade of wet leather, as well as the rough appearance displayed by peeling bark, bleached wood, or splintered limbs. Furthermore, these broken branches or lengths of tree trunk serve as ideal foreground focal points for my photographs of the lake’s surf.
∼ September 5, 2017 ∼ “Last Turn in Trail Toward Shore”
Traveling a short trail toward the recently reopened shoreline below Mt. Baldy, I hike through the cool route under shade of a black oak forest until the path shifts from soil to sand and begins to rise up a dune hill. Though the last stretch may be steep, I already catch a glimpse of blue through the bright green leaves of trees lit by afternoon light. On this clear and windless day at the start of September, the calm water of Lake Michigan appears like an azure field reflecting the sky on the other side of a ridge, and only one turn of the path lies ahead. This final section of the trail eventually descends toward the beach, the passageway following a roped walk set up by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to protect the precarious slope of the wandering dune and to prevent visitors from climbing the more dangerous areas toward Mt. Baldy that are still off limits to the public. I always enjoy the combination of satisfaction and anticipation I feel whenever I reach this point along the trail.
∼ September 4, 2017 ∼ “Labor Day Leisure”
Although nearly three weeks remain until the close of the season, Labor Day represents the end of summer for many. Some years the holiday weekend displays a climate ideal for outdoor leisure, and the surroundings seem perfect for a final few moments of fun or a last opportunity to rest and relax in natural surroundings. Such were the conditions in northern Indiana the past couple of days as visitors to Lake Michigan enjoyed sunbathing on the beach or rowing the calm waters just off shore when temperatures rose into the eighties under mostly sunny skies and with diminishing breezes. Indeed, as I have discussed in previous posts, late August and early September sometimes offer the best weather in this region, and I look forward to photographing the slow transition toward autumn during the next month and into the beginning of October, which will bring its own attraction in the form of fall colors.
∼ September 3, 2017 ∼ “Mt. Baldy Beach on Labor Day Weekend”
The rugged shoreline along this section of northern Indiana, with tree trunks tumbled from small hills edging the coast, often creates more interesting photographs, especially when the beach seems to be suffering under an onslaught of wind-driven waves. As I noted in previous posts (for examples, see my 6/21 and 8/3 entries), Mt. Baldy Beach was reopened by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in the middle of this summer after being closed nearly four years. Due to dangerous conditions, the large well-known wandering dune, Mt. Baldy, remains off limits to the public except for reserved guided hikes by park rangers. Today, as I walk from east to west along the surf—the sand beneath my feet smooth, damp, and dark, marked by the morning’s higher level—I observe those steep and continually eroding dunes that line the lake, and I find quite a few trees newly in danger of toppling toward the water below.
∼ September 2, 2017 ∼ “Lake Waves Wash Away Central Beach”
In July (see my 7/9 entry) I wrote a post about the reopening of Central Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. As I noted upon my return to the area, this section of the shoreline initially had been closed to the public in July of 2015 as too dangerous due to loss of beachfront from erosion caused by rising lake levels, winter storms, waves, and wind. Although access has been allowed again, I also observed that the thin strip of sand now defining the beach remains precarious and could easily become submerged when northern air currents create a rough surf from wind-driven waves. This first weekend of September has begun with cooler temperatures lowered by strong northeasterly breezes. Therefore, as I revisit Central Beach, I find it has once again been temporarily washed away by waves of Lake Michigan that sweep over the beach and roll all the way to the slopes of sand dunes normally a little bit inland from the water’s edge.
∼ September 1, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek at Start of September”
Dunes Creek wanders through the grounds of Indiana Dunes State Park, at times paralleling Trail Two and also branching toward the marshland at the center of the park. The west end of the creek eventually extends along the short Beach Trail that serves as a shortcut to the shore for visitors at the campground. The winding waterway finally curves around Devil’s Slide and intersects Lake Michigan just beside the Pavilion at popular Waverly Beach. Although a brief path about a half mile long, the Beach Trail snakes beside Dunes Creek as it wends its way between two wooded dune hills. As I mentioned in my 2/1 entry, in winter this inland route offers a clear view of the creek, appearing as if twisted ribbon let loose of its spool, especially when contrasted with snowfall on either bank. (Please see my winter photo of this same scene at the 2/1 entry.) However, as September starts this weekend, the entire area is filled with rich green foliage and lush slopes displaying tall reeds of grass lining the dark water.
∼ August 31, 2017 ∼ “View from Blowout Ridge”
On this final day of August, I realize the lure of Lake Michigan grows greater as summer nears its end. When selecting locations to explore, I find myself more often choosing dune ridge paths with lake views and long walks down the beach rather than following inland trails, like yesterday’s, that wind through woods or skirt the marshland. In recent weeks I have repeatedly visited the various well-known blowouts—Beach House Blowout, Furnessville Blowout, Big Blowout—witnessed at distanced intervals along the shore in the Indiana Dunes State Park. From the marram grass of the foredunes to the skeletal dead trees in the bowls of the blowouts to the imposing slopes toward crests of hills spotted with wildflowers and those steep drops to black oak forests behind them, these lower locations and their surrounding ridges seem to present an interesting and biologically diverse terrain. Moreover, the cooler weather with clear skies and light lake breezes we’ve experienced lately have eased hiking these features.
∼ August 30, 2017 ∼ “Trail Ten Bridge”
Trail Ten extends the greatest distance of any in Indiana Dunes State Park, although much of its length follows flat sandy beach along the shore line. The farthest inland section of this trail might be among the least traveled by visitors as it reaches to the eastern end of the park grounds. Hiking the route from the western direction, I pass through a couple of named areas, “The Pinery” and “Paradise Valley,” each forested on the northern side of the path and bordering marshland on the southern side until the course turns toward Lake Michigan. Much of my walk in this region is shaded by tall trees, but a couple of times I must cross narrow boardwalk bridges that allow passage over wetlands and spongy soil. In late summer these locations have become mostly overgrown with ferns and weeds encroaching upon the wooden planks, and the way appears almost as if it were a long green corridor through which one must maneuver.
∼ August 29, 2017 ∼ “Sandy Trail Above Waverly Beach”
I captured the accompanying scene of a sandy trail above Waverly Beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park yesterday, and I also stopped at the Nature Center, where I met with two interpretive naturalists, Marie and Cookie, who were very friendly and helpful, as I have found to be the case with all staff members at the state and national parks. We discussed my Arts in the Parks and Historic Sites project for the Indiana Arts Commission, plus we finalized plans for my photography exhibition and talk scheduled to occur in October. The art show will consist of a dozen framed photographs that will be placed on display October 1 in the Nature Center auditorium and appear throughout the entire month. My presentation at the Nature Center will occur on October 14 at 2 p.m. I will discuss the Indiana Dunes project, my process of photography, and historic connections to the locations in some of the images. During my talk I look forward to sharing many photographs on a screen to accompany my commentary. If you are in the region, please keep these dates in mind.
∼ August 28, 2017 ∼ “Sunset at End of August”
Sunset time slips beneath 7:30 p.m. during this last week of August, and already the evening air these last few days has begun to suggest autumn’s arrival will not be too far away. Consequently, I have decided that I will appreciate the final month of summer even more. In fact, as I started teaching my fall semester courses this past week by discussing the influence of nineteenth-century Romantic writers on contemporary thought, I reread Henry David Thoreau’s “Life Without Principle.” I was reminded of Thoreau’s emphasis on observing sunrise and sunset as a way to place a proper perspective on ourselves within this world that all too often appears to overwhelm with its news. Thoreau wrote the following: “Really to see the sun rise or go down every day, so to relate ourselves to a universal fact, would preserve us sane forever.”
∼ August 27, 2017 ∼ “Lake View from Trail Nine”
This late August day is comfortable, calm, and quiet as I travel the length of Trail Nine toward the eastern end of Indiana Dunes State Park. Already weary, I come to a remote section of the landscape far from the Nature Center or the public beach and certainly less visited than other routes. By the time I move through shade and pause to rest on a bench in an inland black oak forest, I’ve reached the more challenging stretch of an elevated passage edging a rim overlooking the Furnessville Blowout. I finally find myself approaching the coast and walking a narrow path hidden along a wooded ridge high above the beach. The tree line opens every once in a while and allows for fantastic views of Lake Michigan extending into the distance toward the far off shore of Illinois, where a small faint image of the Chicago skyline can be seen on most days.
∼ August 26, 2017 ∼ “Clear Skies and Seagull”
Temperatures remained in the low seventies and a cool breeze blew inland as I hiked along the shore toward the Furnessville Blowout on Friday. By the time I’d walked a few miles the beach appeared clear as far as I could see to the east or the west. Only a sole seagull accompanied me, sauntering nearby for a fair distance during my stroll. Though the weather felt more like mid-September and any interesting cloud formations had been wiped from the sky by quick air currents, I liked the brilliant tints of blue and green in the water, as well as the slightest hints of magenta and purple in the slick sand dampened by the surf. Lake Michigan often offers appealing variations of color, dependent upon wind or wave movement and the intensity level of sunshine or a sharp angle of light reflecting on the surface. On this afternoon the lack of clouds created a dull sky, but the clarity of the day seemed to increase the scenic beauty of lake hues.
∼ August 25, 2017 ∼ “Frank V. Dudley Exhibition Opening”
In my journal entries this week I again noted my appreciation for the artwork by Frank V. Dudley, who produced his paintings in or around a lakeside cottage named Duneland Studio and whose influence can be seen in many of my own photographs. I also mentioned the new exhibition of Dudley’s work that started this week in the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University as part of a trio of fall exhibitions. An opening reception, free and open to the public, will be held at the Brauer Museum of Art on Friday, September 8, at 7 pm. The Dudley display takes place one hundred years since an historic celebration of the arts at the Indiana Dunes. As I reported in my 4/24 post: “The famous Dunes Pageant, which took place a century ago in June of 1917 and may be credited with initially promoting the Indiana Dunes to a wider audience, was staged in a dune blowout that exhibited the semicircular shape of a natural amphitheater.” The cover of a book accompanying the show offers Dudley’s artistic rendering of the pageant activities and the setting, which also may resemble my photo of the Beach House Blowout in that 4/24 post. Unfortunately, the feature of the landscape depicted by Dudley no longer appears as it once did.
∼ August 24, 2017 ∼ “View from Governor’s Cottage Site”
In yesterday’s entry I indicated a personal attachment to the location where artist Frank V. Dudley maintained a beachfront cottage named Duneland Studio. Certainly, my knowledge of Dudley contributes to my interest in the Indiana Dunes, and his scenes on canvas serve as inspiration for my photography. From the 1920s to the 1960s, the Governor of Indiana also had a summer residence, known as Camp Indiana, just a short distance west of Dudley’s cottage and close to Mt. Tom along the narrow path of the Cabin Trail. As I noted in a previous post about the Governor’s home: “Like numerous other structures within the Indiana Dunes State Park property, that building was demolished more than fifty years ago to reclaim the natural landscape. All that remains today, hidden amid the woods, is a short stack of bricks that once supported steps to a porch overlooking the lake.” Whenever I walk this way, I always capture an image of the setting as seen from the perspective of the Governor’s front door.
∼ August 23, 2017 ∼ “Dune Trail Below Mt. Holden”
The wide and sandy trail from the peak of Mt. Holden down to the beach might be one of the best brief walks in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Though the way may be a bit steep at times, the whole descent offers an impressive view of Lake Michigan. As I have mentioned in my 6/22 entry, this location happens to include a favorite site that I find inspirational, since this trail passes the spot where Frank V. Dudley, “the Painter of the Dunes,” once lived in his lakeside cottage, hosting visitors in attempts to promote and protect the Indian Dunes landscape. In fact, as I stand in the place where Dudley once created his artwork, I am pleased to note that an exhibition of Dudley’s paintings, “The Indiana Dunes Revisited: Frank V. Dudley and the 1917 Dunes Pageant,” is opening at Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum of Art and will be on display through December 10.
∼ August 22, 2017 ∼ “Eclipse Aftermath”
As other photographers aimed their cameras at the heavens and numerous beachgoers searched the sky through special glasses to follow the progress of the moon’s path across the sun during yesterday’s eclipse, I spent the afternoon at various locations by the shore of Lake Michigan examining changes to the scenery brought about by this rare occurrence. Although the total eclipse happened farther south, our area did witness just under 90% coverage, and the slow transition from sunshine to shadow influenced my surroundings. As expected, when the peak time arrived, the air temperature cooled noticeably, shadows disappeared, and a dense gauze of fog that had been growing during the event eventually filled the lake. The atmosphere suddenly resembled any cloudy evening along the waterfront. However, just as steadily, the conditions reversed themselves, gradually returning from a slightly dark setting to somewhat brighter skies marked only by a few wispy clouds and a banner of remnant haze hovering above the horizon.
∼ August 21, 2017 ∼ “The Devil’s Slide”
When visitors pass through the ticket gate at the entrance to the Indiana Dunes State Park and drive into the main parking lot behind the Pavilion located at Waverly Beach, a steep sandy slope rising just to the east seems to attract much attention. This feature, named The Devil’s Slide, rises about 100 feet and appears appealing as a moderate challenge for climbing. In fact, the dune apparently 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. As evidence, a couple of pictures from the late 1950s can be found here. As I mentioned in my 8/11 entry about the Big Blowout: “Many scenes in these vintage images seem much more barren and dominated by sandy slopes, a consistent characteristic I find in my observations. In the period of time since this terrain has been preserved by the state and federal park systems, the shoreline dunes have greened significantly.”
∼ August 20, 2017 ∼ “Hiking Trails Overlooking Lake Michigan”
Environmentalist Edward Abbey once offered guidance to hikers: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” I appreciate walking a winding path with blind bends that hide what lies ahead. I especially enjoy following new trails through wooded routes that seem to envelop their travelers until suddenly opening to unveil an interesting image, such as today’s hike to view Indiana Dunes scenery above Lake Michigan. Robert Moor relates in his recent engaging book, On Trails: An Exploration, that the definition for the word “hike” has evolved over the past couple of centuries, and “the meaning ‘to walk for pleasure in open country’ dates back just two hundred years.” In fact, Moor reports common employment of the gerund “hiking” only came into use during the past century. Previously, “hike” was employed in a more negative fashion: “somewhere between ‘to sneak’ and ‘to schlep.’” This transition in meaning may relate to the transformation in living patterns from mostly a rural setting in the nineteenth century, during which extensive walking was usually occupational rather than leisurely, to a contemporary society mostly centered in urban locations with residents for whom hikes in nature are parts of vacation, exercise, and recreational activities.
∼ August 19, 2017 ∼ “August Afternoon”
In a note I posted a couple of days ago, I spoke about how much I like visiting the Indiana Dunes during the last two weeks of August. As I mentioned then, in this time of year I often find myself isolated when hiking through foredunes filled with green blades of marram grass or as I walk along the thin strip of beach. Despite the continuing warm weather, much of the shore already seems empty of swimmers or sunbathers, especially on weekdays. When I climbed Mt. Tom on an early afternoon this week, I descended a trail down a steep sandy slope that flattens briefly into a ledge overlooking Lake Michigan, an ideal location to rest a while and appreciate the vast view before me. Noticing the clear coastline stretching into the distance as far as I could see while also observing the untroubled waters extending so blue and smooth toward the horizon, I enjoyed the slight cooling of an easy breeze suddenly drifting inland.
∼ August 18, 2017 ∼ “Trail Four Toward Shore”
Walking inland from Lake Michigan, once again I climb Mt. Tom—at nearly 200 feet, the highest peak among the Indiana Dunes—where I pause to rest a while and view the panorama of impressive scenery it offers. Then traveling Trail Four, descending from the summit toward the east, I move through a wooded hollow sheltered by the inland side of the coastal mounds. This is one of my favorite paths in the Indiana Dunes State Park during all seasons, as I noted in my spring post of 5/24 when I mentioned how the course extends on the lee side of the dune hills where hikers are protected from onshore winds or the heat of the sun. The terrain in this natural haven remains especially refreshing and milder in mid-summer. After a short distance in the cool shade of trees, I arrive at an intersection with Trail Seven, where the two routes unite, emerging from overhanging branches and stretching toward the lake. The sandy way winds down a slope toward a shoreline yet spread under bright August sunlight.
∼ August 17, 2017 ∼ “Dune Trail to Beach”
The last half of August always seems to me an ideal time to hike ridge trails in the Indiana Dunes and to wander long stretches of the beach along Lake Michigan. Since public schools in the region have started classes and the number of out-of-state vacationers at the coast has already diminished significantly, I find the natural landscape less crowded and quieter than in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the weather remains warm; sometimes like today the conditions are even hot and the cool blue water welcoming. Therefore, I leisurely travel the length of the old Cabin Trail that extends high above the shore in the state park, moving through shadows of trees protecting from the sun’s heat, and I occasionally descend sandy slopes toward the lake for easier walking and the refreshing touch of a slight onshore breeze.
∼ August 16, 2017 ∼ “Marshland in Midsummer”
As I have noted in past posts, I appreciate the marshland, swamp forests, and bogs throughout the Indiana Dunes. These features of the topography provide compelling scenery, and they remind one about the original state of this area’s natural surroundings. Consequently, I was pleased to learn that during this past week Save the Dunes, an important environmental watchdog group initiated 65 years ago, was awarded a grant to aid in restoring locations of panne habitat at inland parts of the Indiana Dunes. These sites consist of sections with lowland enclosed by higher grounds that trap water and establish seasonal variations in moisture content. Since most are small tracts of terrain, they are more likely to become overgrown by invasive species or to be tainted by human pollution. Efforts to protect and preserve interdunal wetlands add to the ongoing restoration process throughout the northern Indiana coastal landscape—especially by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park—in an attempt to conserve native plant species, some unique to the region. The wetlands also support various types of local wildlife—including snakes, frogs, and turtles—and serve as destinations or stopping points for bird migration.
∼ August 15, 2017 ∼ “Walking West Along Foredune Trail”
Traveling west from Kemil Beach, I follow a narrow path winding through the foredunes. The nearly still waters of Lake Michigan lie to my right like a cool pool of light blue beneath a sky brightened by late morning sunlight. After leaving behind the more populated stretch of shoreline, I find myself isolated once again on this quiet August day, silenced even more by a lack of sound from today’s relaxed surf where a pace of breaking waves usually provides a rhythmic background beat. I capture a few images along the way just to chronicle the calm all around me. Though walking the beach would be a little bit easier, this route toward higher dunes offers more variety for me to observe. In fact, at times like this I am reminded of Thoreau’s treatise titled Walking in which he speaks about “the art of walking” and the ability to obtain new experiences in nature even during a hike through familiar landscape: “An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see.”
∼ August 14, 2017 ∼ “Summer Sunset from Dune Ridge”
Today we celebrate Pam’s birthday, and among the many reasons I have to be thankful for her presence in my life—such as her love and caring for Alex and me—I am grateful she introduced me to the Indiana Dunes when I moved to the region. As I mentioned in my previous 4/14 entry, Pam and I spent our first date with a walk through dune woods along a ridge overlooking Lake Michigan. We had hiked a path above the beach on a clear and warm afternoon during a spring so mild that blooming flowers already were coloring the landscape and green foliage was beginning to fill the trees. On that April day we gazed across the lake to view an outline of the Chicago skyline on the horizon, and on this August day in Pam’s honor I offer an image of a colorful summer sunset seen from nearly the same position where she and I had once walked, a location I visit frequently with feelings of fondness and appreciation.
∼ August 13, 2017 ∼ “New Route”
Whenever I discover a new route through the Indiana Dunes toward inland woods or wetlands, I anticipate the scenery I might see along the way, especially since I have traveled much of the state park’s terrain in the past. Therefore, following a sandy trail uphill today from the shore along a blowout ridge among a scattering of young trees, I look forward to the unknown view awaiting me on top. Though the sky remains spotted with drifting clouds after a night of light showers, this morning’s shifting winds have begun to chase them away. In this isolated section of the landscape beside Lake Michigan, I meet no other visitors as I pass between waving blades of marram grass. In fact, even as late afternoon arrives, by the time I’ve looped around the blowout and returned to the beach, only a half-dozen quickly moving little sand lizards have crossed my path while walking.
∼ August 12, 2017 ∼ “Beach Pebbles and Stones”
In past posts I have mentioned intimate landscape photography, an instance when photographers offer a detailed examination at a selected section of the scenery. Most often these photos establish an image dependent upon shape, color, light, and form much like productions by an artist. (Please view my 5/20 and 5/12 entries for examples.) As I mentioned in my 8/10 commentary, when I was walking the beach near the Big Blowout the other day I noticed the ribbon of shoreline seemed to be filled with distinctive stones and pebbles. Sometimes I come across beachgoers collecting these colorful objects, as well as specimens of beach glass and crinoids, which I spoke about in a previous 6/26 note. Choosing to capture a close-up of those small stones covering the beach, I discovered the resulting image resembled an irregularly patterned abstract artwork.
∼ August 11, 2017 ∼ “Hiking Inland at the Big Blowout”
Since my main interests in the Indiana Dunes include its history and photography, I enjoy examining old photos from the early twentieth century of the landscape’s prominent features and noting various differences with their appearances today. Many scenes in these vintage images seem much more barren and dominated by sandy slopes, a consistent characteristic I find in my observations. In the period of time since this terrain has been preserved by the state and federal park systems, the shoreline dunes have greened significantly. One of the sites where this transition can be viewed, the Big Blowout along Trail 10 and located at the eastern end of the Indiana Dunes State Park, exhibits extraordinary change since pictures of it taken nearly one hundred years ago. (Check out an example here.) In fact, as I hike the Big Blowout deep inland from Lake Michigan I notice almost all of the land overtaken by sand has been covered by marram grass and small trees, particularly since the coastline foredunes have rebuilt themselves to an extent that they now appear to protect the inner expanse from further erosion.
∼ August 10, 2017 ∼ “Beach at Big Blowout”
In my post a couple of days ago I noted how I had hiked trails along the high ridges of blowouts at the east end of the state park. Since the location is situated a distance from public access and parking, I found myself arriving at the Big Blowout by walking a deserted stretch of beach—mostly covered with colorful pebbles rather than sand—that I consider among my favorite spots in the Indiana Dunes. Although I mentioned in yesterday’s entry a common landscape photographer’s desire for dramatic clouds and fog hovering over the lake ideal for capturing dramatic images, whenever I’m at this remote section of the shore I appreciate the isolation and serene scenery, which seems especially suited to the clear skies and comfortable temperatures that have been in evidence this week.
∼ August 9, 2017 ∼ “Hazy Day at Mt. Baldy Beach”
Although most folks look forward to clear skies and bright sunshine when traveling to the shore, I tend to prefer some clouds or maybe haze that creates a seemingly moody atmosphere. Admittedly, seeking compelling scenes to photograph serves a primary purpose for me as I hike along the beachfront rather than the opportunity to swim or sunbathe many others anticipate. Boring uniformly blue skies and harsh daylight present problems in the process of composing persuasive imagery, and these conditions are common concerns for landscape photographers. Consequently, when I walk the slim and sandy stretch of an empty Mt. Baldy Beach on an overcast morning just as sunlight begins to break through the fog and a rising wind starts to dissipate the cloud cover, I appreciate the overall emotional tone suggested by such scenery. The drama of this setting only increases with bare branches of a tree at the edge of a dune reaching out toward the surf and casting thin shadows of its limbs on the sand.
∼ August 8, 2017 ∼ “Spray-and-Pray Day”
Whenever I photograph landscapes, I almost always position my camera on a tripod. This habit assures steadiness for sharpness in focusing, and it allows for slower shutter speeds needed when lighting is dim, such as during sunsets or in woods on overcast afternoons. Although carrying my camera on a tripod resting over my shoulder adds a burden and requires greater exertion, especially as I hike hills or move through swamps, the practice has become comforting for me, particularly because the results are more satisfactory. The process also has forced me to slow down and be patient, more deliberate in choosing compositions for my photos. Consequently, my advice to others often includes use of a tripod. Nevertheless, at least once each season I decide to have some fun by leaving the tripod behind and engaging in a spray-and-pray day, simply snapping lots of pictures quickly as I walk a long route. Yesterday, I hiked an arduous and narrow trail around the high ridges of a couple of blowouts—including the Big Blowout (which I previously described in my 6/28 entry)—quickly capturing images as I went on my way, such as this view of Lake Michigan.
∼ August 7, 2017 ∼ “Awaiting Sunset in August”
Warm colors of sunlight lower over Lake Michigan for another summer sunset, although the sun has drifted farther south each evening and colder nights this weekend, with temperatures slipping into the fifties, felt almost like autumn. In fact, as my wife, my son, and I walked a path at a nature preserve late Saturday afternoon, Alex noted that leaves already were beginning to fall from one of the trees. Tonight, those branches overhanging the beach tremble a bit beneath even the little effort of an onshore breeze, and stones along the coast have quickly cooled to the touch. The repetition and similarity of vivid imagery presented by sundown disguises a slow erosion of this season only six weeks from its end. While I hiked the trail toward a perfect position beside the water for photographing the scenery in front of me, I met a family of four from northern Virginia who were touring the Midwest. The father explained they planned on rushing to get as much into their travels as they could during the final days before school starts, and I understood the hurry.
∼ August 6, 2017 ∼ “Ring-Billed Gull”
As I have noted in previous posts, whenever I hike toward the shore or along the beaches at the Indiana Dunes, ring-billed gulls seem to be constant companions, and I am fond of their presence. Indeed, a quick search of my journal entries thus far this year reveals I have spoken of the birds in nearly twenty commentaries. Unlike summer’s population of migrating birds, even in mid-winter these gulls can be seen gliding through the sky or standing at the edge of the surf. In my February 17 observation I viewed a few that would “fidget at the water’s edge and strut on the wind-smoothed sand.” In my entry of May 8 I reported the adult bird’s appearance—described in the National Audubon Society pocket guide I frequently carry with me to identify other less-common species—as about twenty inches in length: “The adult has a white head and underparts with a gray back and black-tipped gray wings. The legs are yellowish, and the yellow bill has a black ring near its tip.” By the time August arrives, the ring-billed gulls are so accustomed to beaches busy with seasonal visitors and the scraps of food they sometimes leave behind that the birds act less skittish than ever and will just about sidle up to anyone walking their way.
∼ August 5, 2017 ∼ “Beach Entrance at Beverly Shores”
When I was a small boy in New York and my father took me to attend a major league baseball game at Yankee Stadium, I remember that moment after passing through the ticket gate as we climbed stairs toward the section with our seats and peered through an opening in the grandstands for a first peek at the deep green playing field. The scenery was so much more vivid and majestic than I had imagined from having seen games only on a black-and-white television. I immediately knew my experience would be enjoyable. Years later, when my first poetry publication appeared, a friend and well-known critic presented the finest complimentary description I could desire for the back cover when he wrote as commentary: “Reading a poem by Edward Byrne is like emerging at the top of a stadium ramp for the first glimpse of authentically green grass.” Similarly, ever since I was a child growing up near the Atlantic Ocean, I loved visiting the shore. Even today, I always feel excitement when approaching the coast and descending toward the beach to obtain an initial sighting of rich blue water spread under a wide sky.
∼ August 4, 2017 ∼ “View of Mt. Baldy from Lake Michigan”
As I noted in yesterday’s post, I visited the newly accessible Mt. Baldy Beach on Wednesday. I hiked the short trail through a black oak forest and walked the length of the shoreline. On a few occasions I spoke with folks vacationing from out of state, including one family stopping on their drive home to my birth state of New York. None of those with whom I had conversations knew the beach had recently reopened, and I explained the circumstances of its closing, which I also wrote about in my previous entries of 6/12, 6/13, 6/21, and 8/3. While standing on the sand at the edge of the surf, I noticed an impressive view of the large wandering dune. When I climbed to the top a couple of times in June under the guidance of a park ranger, I photographed the scenic panorama perspective directed toward Lake Michigan during daytime and then at sunset. (Please see photos in my entries of 6/12 and 6/21.) However, this time I captured an image of Mt. Baldy looking inland from the lake, and I believe the splendid setting evokes emotions and initiates inspiration, easily explaining why this feature seems to be a traditional attraction for those tourists who travel to the Indiana Dunes.
∼ August 3, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Mt. Baldy Beach”
In June I offered a few posts noting a couple of trips I took to the top of Mt. Baldy at the Indiana Dunes. (Please see my 6/12, 6/13, and 6/21 entries.) As I mentioned then, Mt. Baldy is more than 125-feet high and famous as a wandering dune that shifts inland at a steady rate, pushed by northern winds and eroded by winter storms with accompanying melting of snow and ice. When the accumulating sand envelops trees their trunks are buried, die, decay, and decompose, leaving an empty silo-shaped chamber within the dune that can be dangerous as a sink-hole for hikers. I also reported a case in which a young boy nearly lost his life when he tumbled into one of the depressions. Consequently, this popular site has been closed to visitors since 2013. However, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore occasionally offers opportunities to climb a safe route to the summit under the supervision of a park staff member. Although this large dune remains off limits for public use, the Lake Michigan shorefront at its base has recently reopened and is accessible by walking an easy half-mile trail through black oak forest and along a roped path down to the beach.
∼ August 2, 2017 ∼ “Trail Through Woods”
As I write this entry, the total of words in my more than 200 Indiana Dunes commentaries approaches 55,000, and by necessity some terms have been among the most used, including “trail” and “path.” In fact, a quick search indicates I have mentioned “trail” about 200 times thus far and “path” on almost 100 occasions. As a writer, I sometimes try to distinguish between the two, recognizing different connotations that might be perceived by readers. However, I also confess to alternating the pair, along with other synonyms, in a paragraph just for the sake of variety. Consequently, when I read the following passage in a book on my summer reading list that examines the history and significance of trails, I find the explanation interesting: “The words we English speakers use to describe lines of movement—trails, traces, tracks, ways, roads, paths—have grown entangled over the years. I am as guilty of this conflation as anyone else, in part because the meanings of these words, much like the things they denote, tend to overlap. But to better understand how trails function, it helps to momentarily tease them apart. The connotations of trail and path, for example, differ slightly: a ‘path’ sounds dignified, august, and a bit tame, while ‘trail’ seems unplanned, unkempt, unruly. The Oxford English Dictionary editors define a trail, rather sniffily, as a ‘rude path.’ As they point out, trails only ever pass through wild regions, never cultivated ones….” [On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor]
∼ August 1, 2017 ∼ “Late Light Above Lake Michigan”
As I offer commentary in this first entry of August, I am reminded of a mindset that I have held ever since I was a young boy who viewed the opening of this month as the beginning to the end of summer. As my wife Pam will attest from my numerous comments on the topic, I perceive this season as one that moves too rapidly. I know others might share my opinion, especially those in northern locations where warmer weather slips away too soon or those who measure their years quarterly, such as students or teachers—categorizations to which I have been included almost my entire life. However, I am even more aware of the gradual drift towards autumn each evening I set out to photograph a summer sunset. The shift toward shorter days actually begins with sunset on July 3 (one minute earlier than the previous night) which prompts one of my observations to Pam that July 4 initiates the downward slide. Indeed, the extent of daylight has shortened significantly during the past thirty days and sunset arrives more than twenty minutes earlier than it had at the start of July. Moreover, by the close of August sundown will be a whole hour earlier than had been true at the close of June. Consequently, I sometimes feel an obligation to preserve as many summer sunsets as possible.
∼ July 31, 2017 ∼ “Calm Lake Waters”
During the first half of this last July weekend winds whipped from the north and waves grew throughout the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Indeed, due to the turbulent surf and dangerous rip currents, the waters at public beaches in the Indiana Dunes were closed to swimmers. However, by Sunday calm conditions had reestablished along the coast, and the scenery seemed more serene. Indeed, although the weather may be more dramatic to photograph when gusts stir the setting, I also find myself drawn to images that evoke emotions of relaxation and peacefulness. Consequently, even when a sunset approaches that promises vibrant tints in the western sky, I sometimes arrive early and aim my camera in the opposite direction, where the colors are yet subtler and soothing. With an absence of white water breaking on the sand and little movement among leaves of trees barely wavering in a soft onshore breeze, the entire surroundings seem appealing to me.
∼ July 30, 2017 ∼ “Boat at Edge of Marsh”
Although I do not avoid marshes and swamps of the Indiana Dunes during the heat and humidity of mid-summer, I tend more often to walk along their edges rather than into the thick undergrowth that has overwhelmed the terrain. Indeed, nowhere in the local landscape displays greater saturation in its colors, especially the variations of green tints at this time of year. As I was hiking along the Great Marsh Trail, I encountered workers in row boats continuing to restore the wetlands to its natural state. The marsh once covered much of northern Indiana; however, during the twentieth century the expanse of the marshland diminished greatly due to draining for farms, factories, roads, and private residences. Nevertheless, after establishing the National Lakeshore parkland as preservation property, the government initiated an ambitious restoration project. In an attempt to return the area to its original condition as a sanctuary for migrating geese, ducks, and all sorts of other birds or wildlife—as well as a wetland displaying diverse native plants, grasses, and seasonal flora—sections of the Great Marsh have been revitalized and protected.
∼ July 29, 2017 ∼ “Bridge Amidst Wildflowers”
The colorful wildflowers are in full bloom during mid-summer, and the underbrush has filled out to the point of overflowing. Therefore, when walking paths at this time of year one feels embraced by the lush scenery. Even as I approach a familiar landmark—such as this bridge over Coffee Creek that appears almost hidden from view—the landscape seems to envelop it. Strolling through these surroundings, I am reminded of amateur botanist Henry David Thoreau’s deep interest, detailed categorization, and descriptive chronicling of floral findings. He wrote, “Where the most beautiful wild flowers grow, there man’s spirit is fed and poets grow.” [Henry David Thoreau: Journals, June 22, 1851] As the local botany authority, Thoreau shared his knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject with friends, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Indeed, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, an entire volume published by Yale University Press—with nearly 350 pages and more than 200 illustrations—has been devoted to the topic.
∼ July 28, 2017 ∼ “Creek Deer Crossing in Late July”
With dense cloud cover predicted for most of the day, I decided to hike the length of an inland trail beside a winding creek that I hadn’t traveled since early spring. I tend to spend more time at the beach or along ridges of dune hills in summer months, seemingly neglecting those routes coursing through wooded terrain. However, as I have noted in past posts, I know overcast skies are frequently ideal for photographing forests. (For example, please see my 7/8 entry.) Nevertheless, when I walked toward a bend in the waterway where I have often spotted deer crossing during previous visits, I noticed a few slants of sunlight suddenly slipping through overhead openings in the upper branches of trees. The dark ribbon of water began to brighten a bit, mirroring tree trunks on either bank, and the green of leaves from overhanging limbs reflected on the surface like smudged brush strokes in an impressionist painting. Under the illumination due to this brief and unexpected break in the weather, I observed that a track of deer prints marked the muddy border at the edge of the creek.
∼ July 27, 2017 ∼ “Late Sun Seen Through Leaves”
I have written in the past about the Golden Hour, that period of time leading to sunset when soft sunlight illuminates the sky, seemingly painting the atmosphere with a warm tone. (Please see my 7/10 and 7/13 entries for commentary and other examples.) As the sun lowers toward the horizon, the angle of its rays creates greater indirection of light, which lessens the harsh glare seen at midday that normally bleaches elements in the landscape and results in reduced saturation. In addition, the slanting orientation of the sunshine during sundown alters the visible mix of tints offered to the human eye. Moreover, the longer shadows presented among the low lines of daylight emphasize depth and texture inherent in objects within an image. In a previous post I have also noted the necessity of filtering the bright highlights to avoid overexposure when photographing directly into the sun, either by waiting for a cloud (please view my 7/23 entry) to intervene or, as in this scene, by focusing through leaves of an overhanging tree to partially dilute the sun’s great strength.
∼ July 26, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Kemil Beach at Sunset”
One of the beaches I frequently visit, Kemil Beach, is a part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore situated between the Indiana Dunes State Park to the west and Beverly Shores to the east. When driving to this location, I enjoy traveling U.S. Route 12, the old Dunes Highway, which has an extensive and interesting history. This road once served as the main artery through the area, always busy with traffic in the mid-twentieth century, but nowadays exists as a pleasant less-crowded drive through mostly wooded landscape on either side. When arriving at the short branch of a northern turn-off at Kemil Road, I find an even more soothing section fully canopied by thick foliage of trees bending overhead. Nevertheless, in that little distance one moves from woods to marsh to dune hills to beachfront. The brief walk from the small Dune Ridge Trail parking lot located out of sight from the coast leads to a sandy path winding down the foredunes toward the shore, and on summer evenings a brilliant sunset usually looms ahead as its colors flare above the skyline of Chicago.
∼ July 25, 2017 ∼ “Florida Tropical House at Indiana Dunes”
The 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair held in Chicago included a fascinating feature—Homes of Tomorrow—showcasing a group of a dozen structures displaying futuristic architecture and interior design. At the conclusion of the fair, five of the houses were purchased by Robert Bartlett, a real estate speculator who owned property along the Indiana Dunes in Beverly Shores that he wished to develop as a resort area. The buildings were transported from Chicago to the northern Indiana coastline by barge and positioned on Lake Front Drive, which parallels the shoreline and overlooks the beach. This section has been designated for preservation by the National Register of Historic Places since 1986 and is known today as the Century of Progress Architectural District. Perhaps the most distinctive and most photographed of the homes, the Florida Tropical House is covered by light stucco painted in a shocking pink, and it seems to complement sunset colors seen above the Chicago skyline across Lake Michigan.
∼ July 24, 2017 ∼ “Monday Morning at the Shore”
As I noted in a previous message posted a couple of days ago, I had a pair of pleasant conversations about the Indiana Dunes Friday evening with visitors from out of state staying the weekend. (Please see my 7/22 entry.) Knowing the forecast called for temperatures in the 90s and realizing that dunes locations would be crowded any hot Saturday or Sunday in mid-July, one couple inquired as to which less busy beaches they ought to try. Responding, I explained the best ways to avoid traffic and full parking lots, and I also gave directions to some of the least populated or more isolated sites along the shore. However, my best piece of advice would have included the recommendation that, if possible, they extend their stay through Monday, when the weather was predicted to be fairly moderate with clear skies, and those sandy stretches along Lake Michigan also would be fairly clear of most swimmers and sunbathers.
∼ July 23, 2017 ∼ “Setting Sun Behind Lone Cloud”
The lake waves have calmed after a day of rainstorms, and the cloud cover has mostly cleared. People walk the beaches of the Indiana Dunes again this evening seeking another impressive summer sunset, but I know for more effective photography I will need a cloud to soften the bright light on display just before sundown. Shooting into an unshielded sun without a filter can create a blown out sky that loses any definition in a captured image. Therefore, I sit among a cluster of stones and wait for a lone cloud to place itself into position so that light moves through it or is deflected by it—may even be blocked in spots by it. In addition, because the brightness of the direct sunlight is diminished, an overall sense of warmth is allowed to color the rest of the sky and reflect on the still water below. On some occasions patience pays, and on this night I am rewarded for my persistence.
∼ July 22, 2017 ∼ “Late Light Between Storms”
Strong storms rolled over Lake Michigan during the day and into the night, triggering damaging winds and downpours throughout bordering states of Illinois and Indiana. The coastline along the dunes served as a prime location for observing the swift movement of clouds and bursts of lightning brightening the horizon. Knowing inclement weather often provides opportunity for dramatic photographs, I headed toward the shore and reached the beach with a hope of capturing an interesting image. However, when I arrived the entire sky appeared overcast, and a thick layer of gray covered the lake. The sand had darkened, wet from rainfall of a previous passing shower. Nevertheless, while I waited and spoke in separate conversations with two couples, friendly folks visiting from Ohio and North Carolina who had inquired about places to visit in the Indiana Dunes, I noticed an opening suddenly showing in the distant sky, allowing a slant of sunlight to briefly leak through the cloud cover just before sunset.
∼ July 21, 2017 ∼ “Dune Tress on Ridge Above Lake Michigan”
When the hottest days of summer arrive in July and August, following trails along the Indiana Dunes requires planning in order to avoid more humid routes. Rather than traveling across swamps or marshes, I seek wooded and shaded paths through the interdunal forest toward the shore, where the lake often offers cooling onshore air currents. I also like to hike narrow trails among higher ridges of the dunes, most of which extend parallel to the beach and run just inside the first line of trees. Though not official trails nowadays, these paths were once a main way residents of structures that had been built on the coast would pass from one place to another. In fact, in the first half of the twentieth century before the many buildings were razed within the property of the Indiana Dunes State Park, the route was popularly known as The Cabin Trail, and it connected some of the better-known locations, such as the Governor’s cottage, artist Frank V. Dudley’s cabin, and the Prairie Club. Moreover, many spots on the walk present excellent vantage points overlooking Lake Michigan, providing me with wonderful vistas for photography. (Please view my entries of 5/20 and 5/30 for more about The Cabin Trail.)
∼ July 20, 2017 ∼ “Summer Stillness at the Shore”
The stillness on a warm mid-summer evening, when the weather’s heat and calm winds have held the region in their spell for a few days, seems so serene. Even the warmth seen in the sky’s colors at sundown and reflected across the untroubled surface of Lake Michigan suggests an atmosphere that always appears comforting to me. As I sit on a small boulder beneath a tree beside the beach and watch the flare of late-day light in the distance, I appreciate the way those heavens above the horizon reclaim my attention each evening. Everything suddenly seems as untroubled as the waveless water extending toward that scenic backdrop now spreading before me. The lack of sound resulting from an absence of steady surf beating against the beach only enhances the quiet tranquility of this setting. Thoreau once wrote in his Journals about such a state of mind: “To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind….” [Henry David Thoreau: Journals, June 22, 1851]
∼ July 19, 2017 ∼ “Western End of Central Beach: 200th Post”
In a previous commentary I reported the reopening of Central Beach, which had been closed as too dangerous for the public after the loss of beachfront due to erosion from strong storm surges as well as high lake levels that washed away the sandy waterfront and flooded the access road, causing damage that made the route impassable. (Please see my 7/9 entry for more information.) When I visited this somewhat isolated location, I walked the length of the beach until I reached the western end just as a rainstorm started moving offshore and cloud cover began to break apart over the lake. [This post represents the 200th journal note in my Indiana Dunes project, and my writings for this project have now accumulated more than 50,000 words. I again invite readers to browse through all the past entries. Moreover, I appreciate all who have viewed and responded to my photographs, and I welcome reactions to my daily commentary as well.]
∼ July 18, 2017 ∼ “July Sunset”
Some of my favorite evenings in summer are spent sitting on isolated rock outcroppings at the Indiana Dunes to watch the sun set over Lake Michigan. With comfortable temperatures and only an easy breeze drifting onshore, I like to find a collection of boulders containing a couple of stones with flat tops ideal for resting and settling my tripod, the wide-angle lens aimed at changing skies above the lake horizon. Few situations seem as relaxing, and the scenery always appears to be impressive. Indeed, every sundown has its own characteristics, and the color pallet differs—sometimes only slightly and on other occasions more dramatically—with every visit; however, one never feels less than rewarded for waiting and observing the atmospheric show on display at the end of daylight. When witnessing the setting upon such opportunities, I recall how Thoreau once wrote that he appreciated discovering solitude at sunset for viewing his surroundings “to behold and commune with something greater than man.” [Henry David Thoreau: Journals, August 14, 1854]
∼ July 17, 2017 ∼ “Sun Setting over Chicago”
Those viewing the sun setting from the Indiana Dunes during the middle of July each year are able to witness its descent beyond the Chicago skyline across Lake Michigan. Indeed, this period of the summer might be the most popular for observing sundown from the beaches along northern Indiana. In addition, one can expect many photographers taking advantage of the circumstances. On some occasions I have captured a close-up image of the sunlight silhouetting the taller buildings of the city. (Please see my entry of 6/27 for an example.) However, I must acknowledge I usually prefer a wide-angle perspective that places the lowering sun in context with details of the surroundings: the colorful sky, a thin layer of clouds, the cityscape, the lake waves, and the surf washing on an illuminated shoreline. The scene in the accompanying picture even includes a ring-billed gull standing on the wet sand.
∼ July 16, 2017 ∼ “Lake View from Dune Hill”
I have noted in a previous post that the Indiana Dunes holds a special place of affection in my memory since my wife and I visited this location on our first date more than three decades ago. (Please see my entry of 4/14 for more information.) In fact, whenever I hike the ridge line of trees bordering the shore, I remember moving through the same path with Pam on that April day we first viewed Lake Michigan through the woods, a sheen of spring sunshine glistening on the blue water and brightening the horizon. Consequently, as we celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary today, I fondly offer an image from somewhere near the spot we stood and held one another while watching the wonderful view in front of us with little knowledge of the long trail in time and through life we would follow from that marvelous moment forward to the present.
∼ July 15, 2017 ∼ “Lake Michigan Beyond Big Blowout”
Due to the popularity during July of beaches along the Indiana Dunes, especially Waverly Beach, as well as more traveled trails located adjacent to the state park’s Nature Center, I like to hike farther east on the longest route, Trail Ten. This walk eventually passes the Big Blowout, which I have discussed in a past post as being so far from the center of the park that the setting often remains empty of other visitors, and I feel isolated the whole time I visit. (Please see my entry of 6/28.) While moving through the tremendous gap opened over time by onshore winds and drifting dunes, I arrive at an inland ridge with a glimpse of Lake Michigan in the distance. I pause to observe an impressive landscape, both transitional and tranquil, marked now only by a sole track of footprints serving as a temporary record of my presence.
∼ July 14, 2017 ∼ “Brief Break Between Storms”
This first stretch of summer has been marked by a series of severe thunderstorms moving through the region. Sparked by July heat and humidity, these disturbances sometimes develop suddenly and depart just as quickly, frequently leaving evidence of damage in various forms, such as scattered instances of flash flooding or branches and power lines downed by destructive wind gusts. I sometimes find myself caught in the changing weather while hiking along trails in the Indiana Dunes. (Please see my entry of 6/29 for an example.) Indeed, when I revisited Central Beach at the beginning of this week I again had to seek shelter at a wooded point along the shore. While waiting for a squall line to pass, I watched clusters of cloud formations sweep across the lake. However, almost as interesting, a brief break of clearing skies and return of calm waters displayed once more the fickle conditions of this season.
∼ July 13, 2017 ∼ “Darkness Falling”
In a recent commentary I mentioned the preference voiced by many landscape photographers for capturing images in the golden hours surrounding sunrise or sunset. I noted in that post how some shoot exclusively during those prime times for sensational scenery. (Please see my 7/10 entry.) I must confide I find the summer months ideal for such pictures along the Indiana Dunes. Since the beach crowds have left by the later hours and the temperatures usually cool by evening, I enjoy walking along the water and waiting for sundown. However, like all landscape photography, much relies on luck, especially when the weather does not cooperate, which happens frequently. The skies might suddenly become totally overcast or the cloud cover could completely disappear before the sun reaches the horizon, leaving a bland blue field filling my viewfinder. Nevertheless, as I told my wife after a visit to Lake Michigan this week, I can’t think of any other activities in which a disappointing outing still results in the pleasure of standing along the shore in comfortable conditions to observe a sunset, particularly since each one can be captivating in its own way—such as this silhouette shot—even if it might not be as dramatic as I’d desired.
∼ July 12, 2017 ∼ “Celebrating the Bicentennial of Thoreau’s Birth”
Henry David Thoreau was born on this date two-hundred years ago (July 12, 1817). As I have noted in past posts, including the opening commentary on January 1: “I regularly return to the collected works of Thoreau and read with great interest his observations on nature or speculations about the human spirit.” In addition, I have mentioned in the “Introduction” to my Indiana Dunes project, this journal I have been keeping owes much to the influence of Thoreau’s decades of regular writings. (Please also see representative entries—from more than two dozen about Thoreau—on 7/4, 2/20, and 1/27.) To celebrate this anniversary of Thoreau’s birth and the July full moon known as a“Thunder Moon,” I include an image of Lake Michigan in moonlight, and I remind readers of a lesser-known essay by Thoreau written in 1883, “Night and Moonlight,” where the author offers an observation: “Many may walk by day; few walk by night. It is a very different season. Take a July night, for instance. About ten o’clock,—when man is asleep, day fairly forgotten,—the beauty of moonlight is seen….”
∼ July 11, 2017 ∼ “Wooded Trail to Beach”
A widening gap of strengthening sunlight shines between green leaves of beach trees, brightening the horizon. Last night’s spells of rain remained well past daybreak but finally gave way to clearing skies, although a few small swells of clouds still billow like pale puffs of smoke overhead. I walk a wooded trail yet wet and pocked with the dark spots of shallow puddles. However, by the time I arrive at the lake, nearly noon, most of the foliage along the shore seems to have been dried by midday heat. The pedometer I wear to measure my steps and pace my progress shows almost five miles traveled today through forest or across dune hills. As the winds shift direction, a refreshing onshore breeze lifts a current of cool air from above the water and drifts inland a bit, jostling leaves that create puzzle-piece patterns of shadows on this sandy path leading to the beach. I will wait here a while and watch for shorebirds as they approach the coast, though now floating like tiny white kites in the distance.
∼ July 10, 2017 ∼ “Late Sun Above Lake Michigan”
A number of the finest landscape photographers follow a simple rule when scheduling time to capture images. Due to an emphasis on the importance of light in its many variations, they restrict their activities to scenes seen during the golden hours just before or after sunrise and sunset. I have heard some even state that they put their cameras aside the rest of the day. After all, George Eastman famously declared the preeminent power of light in his advice for photographers: “Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” Although my Indiana Dunes project uses photography primarily as a documentary tool and frequently requires that I hike trails in the less exciting sunlight at midday, I can understand a sentiment by fellow photographers and viewers that expresses preference for specific conditions with sensational light exhibiting spectacular color, and I readily admit enjoying these dramatic images as much as most observers.
∼ July 9, 2017 ∼ “Return to Central Beach”
A fine haze remains over the lake and a faint drizzle continues as I hike this thin stretch of beach. Once wide and welcoming, Central Beach has been greatly diminished by erosion from Lake Michigan’s wind-driven waves during the last few years. In fact, when northern gusts approach the coast, the entire ribbon of sand still clinging to the shore becomes submerged under water. Central Beach was first closed as too dangerous for the public in early July of 2015 after the loss of beachfront due to erosion from strong storm surges and high lake levels that washed away the sandy waterfront. In addition, more recent flooding of the access road, which extends through marsh and wetlands of the Indiana Dunes, caused damage that made the route impassable. However, despite the limitations caused by current conditions, the area was repaired enough to be reopened this month, and I decided I had to return to an isolated location that had been a favorite site of mine.
∼ July 8, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Bridge on Cloudy July Day”
I’ve noted in past posts how cloudy days are ideal for photographing woodlands or wetlands, places where branches and tall weeds would create a network of shadows distracting from the overall image under sunny circumstances. In addition, without the bleaching brought by bright daylight, the green leaves seem more vivid on overcast afternoons, especially when yet wet with rain or dew. Consequently, as a couple of quick thunderstorms swept across Lake Michigan and moved onshore at the Indiana Dunes, I decided to walk a trail through a marsh forest at the state park. By July this setting’s trees and shrubbery appear rich with tints of green, and everywhere the landscape offers a sense of texture one almost wants to touch. Moreover, the remaining moisture from those drifting squalls of rainfall shifting inland deepens the saturation of summer colors and even brings out the tactile characteristic defining the wooden surface of planks or handrails on a walkway bridge.
∼ July 7, 2017 ∼ “Lake Wave Before Sunset”
Having been born and raised near the Atlantic Ocean, I frequently found myself feeling a fondness for the shorefront. As a boy, I often walked those wharves where fishing boats were berthed, and I enjoyed standing knee-deep in saltwater washing onto the sands of Long Island while surf-casting for fresh catch at end of day with my father. Though I no longer engage in angling, my interest in the coastline setting continues as I hike miles of scenic beach along Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes. In the past, I sometimes wrote in my poems about how I particularly appreciated in my early years when sunset would rub its colors across a choppy sea or would tint slim clouds riding the horizon, a golden glare of sunshine barely showing beneath them. Viewing lake waves late on windy days in northern Indiana, I’m reminded of those treasured moments frozen in my memory from so long ago.
∼ July 6, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Beach from Mt. Tom”
After ascending the highest peak along the Indiana Dunes in sweltering summer heat, I decide to descend from Mt. Tom on a trail winding toward the shore, where a weak breeze off the water offers cooler temperatures. Though the loose sand on dune slopes slides beneath me with each footstep, the walk seems easy in contrast to those steep paths I’ve climbed for the past hour. At last, the blue lake appears endless as it extends into the distance toward the horizon and blends with the blue skies on this cloudless afternoon. I follow the line of white sand with my camera in hand, and although the scene before me seems so simple, I find this setting compelling and comforting. Even the small trees and the green leaves of marram grass seen on either side of the opening ahead present a proper sense of natural framing for the composition in those images I will have captured by the time I reach the beach.
∼ July 5, 2017 ∼ “Calm After Storms”
The long four-day holiday weekend has ended, and most of those among the large crowds of beachgoers have gone home. Due to an extended spell of vacation days, warm weather, and low gas prices, the ingredients were in place for roads congested with travelers to Lake Michigan. But today the full parking lots at various locations along the Indiana Dunes have emptied, and much of the beachfront seems to have returned to its usual state of tranquility. In fact, though a few lines of strong storms shifted through the region with intervals of heavy rainfall a couple of evenings during this lengthy weekend, the current conditions appear calm. The nearly still water looks soothing, and small waves rippling the surf seem merely to stir lightly those shells or pebbles scattered on the wet sand. I believe the time might be right for resting among the breakfront boulders to observe sunlight brightening the southern sides on a cluster of remaining clouds as they drift above Lake Michigan.
∼ July 4, 2017 ∼ “Cabin in the Woods”
I have photographed in different seasons a cabin at the historic Bailly Homestead, established in the nineteenth-century. (Please see my entries of 2/4 and 6/5 for more details.) However, today I offer an image of the structure to coincide with the date Henry David Thoreau reported beginning his stay in a cabin at Walden Pond during 1845. “When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which, by accident, was on Independence Day, or the Fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for winter, but was merely a defence against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough, weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night. The upright white hewn studs and freshly planed door and windowcasings gave it a clean and airy look, especially in the morning, when its timbers were saturated with dew, so that I fancied that by noon some sweet gum would exude from them. To my imagination it retained throughout the day more or less of this auroral character, reminding me of a certain house on a mountain which I had visited a year before. This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments. The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music.”
∼ July 3, 2017 ∼ “Offshore Storm at Indiana Dunes”
I frequently write in these notes about the impressive image of storm clouds gathering and approaching the coast of northern Indiana. I’ve commented about how such a situation may be among my favorite experiences when hiking ridges in the dune hills. (Please see my entry of 6/29 as an example.) However, perhaps the appearance of a darkening squall line over Lake Michigan seems even more dramatic in summer when viewed by sunbathers and swimmers clustered along the Indiana Dunes beaches, particularly during a holiday weekend. The great heat of an afternoon in June, July, or August builds and the cloud cover becomes more ominous, thickening on the distant horizon with a row of rainfall evident as the stippling water below grows closer. Observed in contrast with the calm and bright conditions along the shore, one senses that the scenery seems to exhibit an intensive element of nature, especially when sunshine reflects off the upper levels of a scudding cloud bank.
∼ July 2, 2017 ∼ “Coffee Creek in Early Summer”
I usually travel alone on photo trips, whether along various wooded trails, on the beach beside Lake Michigan, through dune hills, down a river path, or in a swamp setting. However, on Friday morning my son asked me if he could go for a hike; so my wife and I decided we should drive to the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, which covers more than 150 acres, for a short and leisurely walk. Alex, Pam, and I followed one of its easy routes on boardwalks built through wetlands and then winding along the creek, stopping at a few locations where I could capture an image. The three of us have visited this site a number of times in the past, and I am impressed by the numerous migratory birds attracted to the area. We also frequently see deer nearby. In addition, at this time of year the undergrowth is thick and lush, decorated with a wide variety of colorful wildflowers. I have written about Coffee Creek in past posts with photographs. (Please see my entries on 6/1 and 6/8.) However, since I was enjoying sharing the views with Alex and Pam, this was a different experience and I found myself taking fewer pictures. After all, they were observing the authentic scenery of nature and did not need my representation. Instead, in a twist of circumstances I was appreciating their impressions of the environment.
∼ July 1, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River at Start of Summer”
When the river flow slows in summer and becomes more saturated by the erosion from its banks, sediment runoff mixed with algae acts like ink pigmenting the water to cause a coffee-colored appearance. Its rich brown complements the thick trunks or big bottom branches of bordering trees, their bark darkened by dampness and shade. A canopy of overhanging foliage now extends from each side, meeting over the middle of the river almost like an arched entryway. These rich green leaves exist in an ever-changing variety of hues dependent upon the presence and positioning of sunlight shifting during the day. Thinner upper limbs sometimes sag under the seasonal weight of so many leaves, and the lazy current below frequently finds itself redirected by fallen trees or broken branches littering the river. At times, the blue sky of a summer afternoon, marbled by a pattern of streaks or swirls from passing clouds, seems perfect to complete this image, especially when everything appears dully reflected, as if in a sepia tone, on the surface of the river.
∼ June 30, 2017 ∼ “After a Day of Heavy Rain”
On a day after heavy rain only a few puffs of departing clouds remain in view above the lake. The warmer weather offered by early summer has returned, heating the beachfront and drying the patch of wooded landscape nearby. Yesterday these trees were bent back by seemingly ceaseless onshore gusts, but today they stand at attention in still air, as the hues of calm water—now almost creaseless—deepen under widening blue skies. I carry my camera as I climb over a narrow bank of breakwater, a barrier positioned to prevent erosion from wind-driven waves during winter storms. In my memory I review how those same stones were slippery, slick with ice and misshaped by drifts of blowing snow, during a January visit. (Please see my 1/22 entry.) I notice edges on some of the small gray boulders whiten a bit, brightening in a cast of strong sunlight, adding accent to a shoreline angling into the distance and disappearing toward a sandy point yet out of sight.
∼ June 29, 2017 ∼ “Lake Squall Seen Through Dune Trees”
Walking a path through the thin line of trees along a dune ridge, I pause to look toward the west where storm clouds gather over Lake Michigan. The still air of a hot summer afternoon suddenly becomes a strengthening onshore breeze beginning to bring refreshingly cooler temperatures. Though only a mile from the nearest shelter, I know I don’t have much time before rain arrives, and I find a familiar location where I sometimes stop to sit and rest, a fallen tree in a thickly wooded recess on a hill above the beach. My camera gear and I will remain mostly dry in this spot, and there is an opening between branches perfect for framing an image. Frequently, weather along the coast changes quickly, and I have often watched the process of squalls sweeping across the lake, darkening the horizon and approaching toward the shore with a long row of dimpled water indicating the progress of rainfall. These systems usually produce showers that move through swiftly then sunshine returns, and I count such moments as among my favorite times, especially when the shifting conditions create contrast leading to interesting photos.
∼ June 28, 2017 ∼ “Big Blowout”
Traveling Trail Ten to the far eastern end of the Indiana Dunes State Park, I hiked inland from the lake at a location known as the Big Blowout. In a past post I spoke about my visit to the Beach House Blowout. (Please see my entry of 4/24.) I explained the origins of blowouts, which appear all along the coast of the Indiana Dunes: “Established by long-term exposure to northern winds arriving from the lake, big blowouts like this one break through the dune hills and can expand into the first interdunal valley. Moving mounds of sand are swept over wooded areas by the onshore gusts, eventually destroying existing trees and creating forest graveyards, while also leveling the terrain, supplying accommodating conditions where grass, small plants, and young pine trees begin to grow.” The Big Blowout lives up to its name, and its vast area felt overwhelming. In fact, because it is so distant from the center of the park, the setting was empty of other visitors, and I was isolated the whole time I remained within this remote landscape, which has become separated from the shore by deep grass-covered foredunes and a series of rolling dune hills.
∼ June 27, 2017 ∼ “Chicago Skyline Silhouetted at Sunset”
The weather has turned unusually cool for late June these last couple of days as a cold front brought by northern winds continues to drift over the region. In fact, overnight temperatures have flirted with record low measurements. At first, a narrow wedge of showers and substantial cloudiness accompanied the chilly system, but all afternoon some openings appeared, allowing patches of sunshine. When I arrived at the shore, the skies still were mostly overcast, but just before sundown almost all the clouds suddenly departed, washed away by quickening upper air currents. I had hoped a rich mixture of cloud cover might be brightened from behind with angled sunshine to create a dramatic scene. Instead, I found myself looking toward Chicago from the Indiana Dunes as the clearing Lake Michigan horizon offered this crisp view of a silhouetted skyline backlit by a colorful background illuminated with an orange afterglow of sunset.
∼ June 26, 2017 ∼ “Discovering Crinoids”
I traveled Trail Ten from inland black oak woods through foredunes covered with marram grass and toward the Lake Michigan shore, where I discovered an isolated coastline distant from points of public access. (Please see my previous 6/25 post.) I walked the water’s edge, and the beach seemed decorated with a constellation of colorful pebbles or shells left on the wet sand. As I approached a stretch of surf extending along the location of the Big Blowout, I came across a couple picking through those tiny objects freshly deposited by an incoming current. Speaking with a wonderfully informative woman (Marcia or Marsha: I apologize for not asking about the spelling), she revealed they were searching for crinoids, and when I appeared puzzled, she kindly explained. Apparently, crinoids are fossils found among the shells (and usually confused with them by most visitors). Left by creatures similar to sea urchins or sea cucumbers, the pieces found along the Indiana Dunes are tiny and frequently disk-shaped parts—many five-sided and resembling a star—of the spinal stack. These items are ideal for use like beads in jewelry, especially a necklace or bracelet since the hollow center of the crinoid disk serves perfectly for stringing a chain.
∼ June 25, 2017 ∼ “Trail Ten Toward Shore”
Trail Ten, the longest route (listed at 5.5 miles) through the Indiana Dunes State Park, offers travelers an opportunity to view various types of terrain characteristic of the region. Hiking the length of this path, one will observe sections of marshland, woodland, dune hills, foredunes, beach, and blowouts. Most folks begin their trip on an inland loop near the Wilson Shelter and not far from the Nature Center, which serves as an appropriate starting point for a number of official trails. Another option permits visitors to initiate their walk at the pavilion of the public beach and follow the coastline straight east. However, due to its length, many do not journey the full extent to the eastern end of the park, and they miss some of the most interesting landscape as the inland trail skirts the southern edges of a series of blowouts and exits a dune forest consisting mostly of black oaks through grassy foredunes toward a welcoming remote stretch of shore far from the more populous parts of the park.
∼ June 24, 2017 ∼ “Great Marsh in June”
At the start of summer, I like to return to the Great Marsh area in the Indiana Dunes to witness the seasonal transformation of the landscape. At this time of year, perhaps no other location in the region displays such a contrast in appearance when compared with winter. (Please see my previous entries of 2/23, 2/21, and 1/8.) The Great Marsh exhibits characteristics most closely resembling the widespread wetlands as they existed prior to human intrusion through the digging of drainage ditches permitted by the Swamp Land Act of 1850. Indeed, in the past twenty years a restoration project has been underway to allow waters to resume natural patterns of flow and to remove any non-native plants. Consequently, a variety of local wildlife and migrating birds once again populates the area. In addition, as happens every June, the clear surface water seen in colder months has begun to cover with green. Therefore, when I walk a trail through the marsh, I believe I am seeing the setting almost as it might have originally appeared.
∼ June 23, 2017 ∼ “Dune Succession Trail”
Though the Dune Succession Trail is a short route of just under one mile, it rises to an elevation of more than eighty feet before steeply descending toward Lake Michigan at West Beach. The path is a popular way for visitors to obtain scenic views of the coastline, while the surroundings display transitions in terrain as one walks its length. In this setting one may observe a brief history of the landscape’s natural development over time. Traveling from inland toward the shore, the hills are covered with oak, cottonwood, and pine, and the hike includes movement through prairie grass onto sand dunes to a stretch of beach along the lake. Much of the walk has been made easier by a stairway that is said to have 250 steps, though I haven’t yet verified that total with my own count. An understanding about evolution of the land along the Indiana Dunes region in its different states (wetlands, grassland, forest, sand dunes, etc.) was proposed in the early twentieth century by biologist Henry Cowles, best known as a pioneer of ecology and for nearby Cowles Bog, which I have mentioned in previous posts. (Please see my 4/11, 4/12, and 4/15 entries.)
∼ June 22, 2017 ∼ “A Fine Day at Lake Michigan”
I frequently mention my debt to Frank V. Dudley—famous for his paintings of the Indiana Dunes—for inspiration and guidance whenever I photograph the landscape near Lake Michigan and capture scenes that are similar to those seen on Dudley’s canvases. (Please see my previous entries on 6/18, 1/20, 1/19, and 1/5.) Therefore, I am pleased to note Dudley also had extensive knowledge and professional experience with photography. As early as the first decade of the twentieth century, the Dudley family owned a photography shop in Chicago. Indeed, during his career as an artist, Dudley acknowledged sometimes aligning his perspectives through a small rectangular metal frame, as one prepares a photograph in a viewfinder, and in later years he even took Kodachrome shots of locations around the lake, employing his camera as a tool to remember specifics when creating a new artwork. Though the dunes have changed continually and dramatically in some places since Dudley’s time, I hope my photos reflect a bit of the spirit he displayed in his paintings of those splendid scenes found every day among the Indiana Dunes overlooking the lake waters, including one titled A Fine Day that displays an image similar to the one in my photograph that borrows for its title as well.
∼ June 21, 2017 ∼ “Summer Solstice Sunset View from Mt. Baldy Toward Chicago”
Tuesday evening represented the summer solstice, that date when the position of the sun reaches its northernmost point. As a way to celebrate this occasion, I joined some other hikers on a climb to the top of Mt. Baldy, which offers a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and the skyline of Chicago across the way from the Indiana Dunes. As I noted in a previous post, Mt. Baldy has been closed to the public for nearly four years due to the danger presented by life-threatening sinkholes in this large wandering dune. (Please see my 6/12 and 6/13 entries.) Therefore, this hike could be held only with the guidance of an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore ranger, and our leader, Kelly, provided an entertaining and informative narrative. (Indeed, I have always found all the staff members at the state and national parks to be friendly and helpful.) At this time of the year, the sunset as seen from the Indiana coastline dips below the horizon near Chicago. By late June and early July, the sun will begin to drift back south and actually will appear to drop right behind the tops of Chicago’s tallest buildings. Although all afternoon the skies were completely gray and rain fell for hours, the gloomy overcast departed before sunset. In fact, I was hoping a percentage of cloud cover would remain, and I was a bit disappointed that the clear skies would result in a less dramatic image. Nevertheless, no sunset fails to satisfy.
∼ June 20, 2017 ∼ “Clearing Skies After Rain”
In a past post I mentioned a characteristic commonly attributed to landscape photography by viewers of such images with nature’s features but rarely ever the presence of a person. I countered the observation that people are almost always absent from my pictures by quoting Ansel Adams: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” (Please see my entry of 1/29.) However, I do acknowledge my intent in most photos does involve isolating the environment from any apparent human intrusion or cultural influence. In addition, most of the posts I share in this journal narrate hikes I take by myself. Nevertheless, as I travel throughout the Indiana Dunes, I frequently meet amiable and interesting individuals along the trails, especially in summer when walking routes beside the beachfront. I realize I might never engage in discussion had I not been taking landscape photos. Indeed, my camera serves as a common source for the start of conversations, especially when it is attached to a tripod slung over my shoulder. Those people I meet often begin by inquiring whether I have gotten any good pictures or by commenting that the weather seems ideal for photography. Many times, perhaps because my gear indicates I might be trusted taking a photo, when there are couples or families I am also asked to snap a picture of them with their iPhone. Yesterday, as I was capturing images of clearing skies over Lake Michigan following a brief rain, a couple nearby requested I take their photo. During our conversation, I discovered they were on vacation from their home in Cedar City, Utah—where I have travelled in the past—and they had just arrived from attending the U.S. Open golf championship over the weekend. Since I had lived in Salt Lake City for five years and taught classes at the University of Utah, it was great to discuss with Mike and Rhonda their two sons who had graduated from Utah and to compare our fondness for a professional golf tournament in Park City that we had attended. Once again, I was reminded though no person may appear within the frame of my landscape photos, I am pleased my photography allows for the opportunity to meet a variety of friendly folks.
∼ June 19, 2017 ∼ “Lake Between Trees”
My shadow shifts before me with each step I take toward Lake Michigan. By the time I reach the beach, I see bright sunshine sifting between trees bordering the shore. The sand has also been flecked with yellow that appears almost golden. Each week as the weather has warmed, these scenes become even more appealing. Although the water remains quite cool, its hues of blue and green seem as welcoming as those seascapes painted by William Merritt Chase that I like so much. On this nearly windless day, scraps of clouds hang in the sky like limp articles of laundry draped on an old clothes line. While I frame my composition, a woman walking by me inquires what I am photographing, perhaps puzzled by the emptiness of the setting—nobody posing for a portrait, no boats in the image, and no recognizable landmark to preserve. I simply explain my attempt to capture the light of late spring on the lake, the way nature creates its own artwork.
∼ June 18, 2017 ∼ “A Sacred Space”
I follow a narrow path through sand dunes spotted with green by the sporadic growth of marram grass. As I always do when passing this way, I stay a moment to rest in the gray stain of shade beneath an isolated tree among the foredunes. Although the landscape before me may appear less interesting than other images I might capture today, this place has become my favorite location in the Indiana Dunes. I consider this a sacred space. Through research I’ve discovered here is where Frank V. Dudley, “the painter of the Dunes,” once built a cabin and worked in his studio facing Lake Michigan with the distant skyline of his Chicago home on the opposite side. As I note in my Introduction: “When considering the magnificence of the Indiana Dunes, Frank V. Dudley set the precedent as an artist most closely associated with personalizing and promoting the landscape in his paintings. Dudley devoted his talent throughout decades of work in the twentieth century almost solely to educate and enlighten others about the significance of this engaging and enriching territory along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Dudley asserted: ‘I think one of the greatest of God’s gifts to humanity is the beauty and the joy of nature. Yet the great majority of us go through life unmindful of it….’ Dudley’s paintings invited everyone to examine the elegance of the Indiana Dunes landscape. In addition, his endeavors helped establish the area as an inspiration for artists and aided in the social or political movements that eventually led to protection and preservation of this special landscape for the benefit of all.” Dudley and wife Maida would have seen this view each morning from the porch of their cottage or from the six big windows in the front room, which would have been positioned between the trees in my image.
∼ June 17, 2017 ∼ “Heat Spell in Mid-June”
Barely a breath of breeze in the air, a calm surf creates quiet along the shore while crumpled clouds bunch under a nearly-summer sun like white bolts of linen folded unevenly. This still water is bordered by a golden swath of sand occasionally broken only by the dull color of driftwood limbs and their black shadows. I see farther up the beach that the pale hull of an upturned sailboat awaits its turn in the lake. Each day this week has been hot, as the steady weather has begun to shed that spring uncertainty when every cold front brought angled rainfall blown by a wheeze of northern winds. As soon as I hike through the foredunes and wander toward a small hill, I can feel an increase of afternoon heat. However, when I reach the cool shade of ridge trees on a hidden trail just within the woods but overseeing the coast, I pause to look back at my long track of footsteps, perhaps the way one might find comfort by rereading lines from a passage of verse in a favorite poem.
∼ June 16, 2017 ∼ “Trail Two Walkway Reconstruction”
Yesterday’s newspaper reported a development at the Indiana Dunes State Park I had heard was in the works. The Indiana State Budget Committee has approved $400,000 for reconstruction of a thirty-year-old boardwalk spanning a half mile of marsh along Trail Two. In commentary accompanying this photo I posted following a January hike, I noted my discovery of the route’s condition: “the state of the wooden walkway has been greatly deteriorated or badly damaged in spots, and currently the path is deemed in a shape too dangerous for passing, so it has been officially closed to pedestrians by park personnel. Alternating periods of freeze and thaw have destroyed portions of the boardwalk. Gaps of differing widths exist in some places where boards have been displaced, and in the rest of its length, sections are uneven, rippling or dipping into a water level raised by snow melt and recent rainfall. In addition, a number of locations are blocked by fallen branches or splintered remnants of toppled tree trunks, seasonal ruin in a transitioning swamp forest.” (Please see my 1/25 entry.) I am pleased to see this crucial trail will be rebuilt.
∼ June 15, 2017 ∼ “Clouds and Coastal Stones”
After hiking a few miles of beach along the Lake Michigan shore, the narrow band of sand ran out, replaced by small boulders positioned to preserve the coast from erosion by wind-driven waves. However, on this hot and humid afternoon in June the surf seemed to have eased following blustery overnight thunderstorms. I had traveled far beyond the crowds of sunbathers and swimmers at the popular public beachfront, and I found myself stepping over the uneven barrier of stones under leaf-light of trees with limbs reaching toward an edge of shallow green water that had become nearly still. A cluster of clouds collected above the western horizon, side-lit by tilting southern sunshine, and started to drift inland, perhaps a presage of more storms forecast for later in the day. A couple of gulls turned circles in the distance as if waiting patiently for a change to arrive or like aircraft ordered to maintain a holding pattern.
∼ June 14, 2017 ∼ “The Third Coast”
Once again a ribbon of beach sand whitens as if bleached during the heat of early afternoon. Green slivers of marram grass quiver slightly in the bright sunshine, as though a river of narrow leaves lightly flows in a soft onshore breeze. Only one week before the solstice, this shoreline already exhibits rich imagery more reminiscent of mid-summer. The clear blue of open skies, now cloudless following last night’s strong storm, appears to be mirrored by the deeper hue of far-off lake water. Resting on a ridge among the higher dunes after a long late-morning hike, I gaze at this lakeside landscape, known by some as the nation’s third coast, as the scenery extends into the distance and disappears behind a bend where a shoulder of woods borders the shore. Even this hillside filled with thickening trees at the end of spring seems to point like a leading line directing my sight toward the shore, that element of the setting with which I never grow tired no matter the season.
∼ June 13, 2017 ∼ “Tree Swallowed by Wandering Dune”
In yesterday’s entry I mentioned my trip to Mt. Baldy in the Indiana Dunes for a guided climb to the top. Though the location has been closed to visitors for the past four years due to hazardous conditions involving possible sinkholes, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore staff members occasionally offer supervised hikes. (Please see the 6/12 post.) Part of my fascination with the notable nature of Mt. Baldy concerns its character as a wandering dune, one that constantly drifts toward the south directed by Lake Michigan’s air currents, especially during swift winds in winter storms. As the dune moves, an accumulation of sand swallows trees in its path. In one image I captured on the southern side, a tree has begun to be buried, much of its lower trunk already concealed, while it is flanked on either side by a pair of other trees—one already dead and displaying bare branches but another lower on the slope not yet influenced by the shifting sand. More of the massive mound of sand about to migrate farther onto the trees can be seen looming above.
∼ June 12, 2017 ∼ “View from Mt. Baldy”
Four years ago a six-year-old boy nearly died when he fell into an 11-foot sinkhole while climbing Mt. Baldy, one of the fascinating features in the Indiana Dunes landscape. Fortunately, his disappearance into the dune was witnessed by others who were able to notify authorities. After three hours of meticulous digging in hazardously collapsing sand, the boy was rescued. Examination of the area revealed numerous locations where similar perilous anomalies were discovered. In the intervening years, studies by scientists suggest the presence of this dangerous condition can be traced to the fact that Mt. Baldy is more than 125-feet high and famous as a wandering dune that shifts inland at a steady rate, pushed by northern winds and eroded by winter storms with accompanying melting of snow and ice. When the accumulating sand envelops trees in a dense black oak forest bordering the shore and at the edges of Mt. Baldy, those trees are buried, die, decay, and decompose, leaving an empty silo-shaped chamber within the dune. Consequently, this popular site has been closed to visitors since 2013. However, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore occasionally offers hikes to the top under the supervision of a park staff member. With the guidance of an informed and personable ranger named Penny, I hiked through the woods and revisited the top of Mt. Baldy to enjoy the view offered from its height.
∼ June 11, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest in June”
Sunshine unbuttons the cloak of morning haze, as a bright noon daylight seeps through the overcast to uncover the colorful green landscape of this swamp forest in spring. The low croak of a frog echoes among these trees, accompanied by the steady yet rapid beat of a woodpecker hidden in distant limbs still creaking slightly in an easy breeze. Bugs buzz all around, but thanks to protective spray, thus far they stay away from me. Nobody else ever appears to visit this place, and even I rarely do. In fact, the last time I passed this scene, I photographed snow and ice enclosing everything in a cold and desaturated setting. (Please see my 1/30 entry.) However, now the image I view in front of me resembles one of the rich impressionist paintings of leaves by Claude Monet, but today created by nature’s shadows, reflections, and a bit of wind seemingly presenting a beauty unseen by others, offered merely for my observation.
∼ June 10, 2017 ∼ “Tree Above the Beach”
After days of blustery currents and high waves during the last week, I walked the shore this morning to check for locations showing signs of erosion. Some sections of sand were washed away by the surf as much as fifteen feet, all the way to the foredunes. I hiked a route more than two miles to the east beside the water’s edge and along a couple of dune ridges. Each time I travel this trail I pass places I regard as familiar or favorite spots, including a particularly distinctive tree perched precariously on the side of a dune mound. I have photographed this site on numerous occasions, preserving the scenery in different seasons. (Please check entries on 5/25, 4/28, 3/27, and 3/22 for four more examples.) However, its situation has deteriorated and the tree displays indications of attrition—the roots have become almost totally exposed and the limbs, which now seem weighed down by late-spring leaves, lean over a steep slope worn by windy weather. Every visit to this setting I wonder how much more of the northern winds this landmark will be able to withstand, and I am compelled to capture another image while I can.
∼ June 9, 2017 ∼ “Dunes in June”
Strolling a sloping trail along a dune ridge above Lake Michigan on an afternoon in late spring, I’ve climbed high enough to see a sun-bleached beach fringed with a calm surf. The blue water beyond expands under white wisps of clouds appearing as if designed by light brush strokes on a canvas. The deep green leaves of trees shaped by sun and wind present colorful contrast as well as a sense of texture to the setting. So do those narrow blades of grass defying expectations and growing out of the sand. Every day I explore another path among the Indiana Dunes, I find new views with scenery that seems to offer delight and provides a never-ending source of inspiration. Indeed, on hikes like this I am reminded of a statement by Henry David Thoreau in his excellent essay accumulated through years as a lecture but first published in Atlantic Monthly during another June (1862)—one month after the author’s death—and titled “Walking”: “My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon.”
∼ June 8, 2017 ∼ “Creek in Early June”
I hike through cool shade under trees along Coffee Creek, a chorus of birdsong all around me but hidden in a visual riddle of limbs and foliage. Some trees seem to slouch beneath the weight of late-spring leaves, summer merely two weeks away. However, a long bare branch bends and reaches toward the opposite bank, where a dead tree dips into the creek. Shadows of trunks stain the surface of the water. Despite an intermittent breeze that sometimes waggles the treetops and creates waves in the tall grass, I am able to freeze this scene with a faster shutter speed on my camera. A chipmunk scuttles beside one of my tripod’s legs and rattles among a rustling underbrush of little thickets. I’ve walked this way in winter when the landscape appeared desaturated by a covering of snow and a glassy sheen of ice on the creek. But this afternoon the setting seems vividly green with seasonal growth, another subtle reminder by nature about the gradual passage of time.
∼ June 7, 2017 ∼ “Notes from a Walk Along the Windy Shore”
A sudsy look of surf washes upon the shore, where a young child sits in the wet sand sorting shells with her left hand. The other holds a little red shovel. Slanted sunlight reflects off the girl’s already tanning shoulders as a tall and wiry woman stands by her side, watching. I stroll past and view a temporarily empty lifeguard tower now leaning forward with sand eroded underneath. It tilts toward the water and into a swift onshore wind. Its yellow paint of stenciled letters spelling words of warning has been faded by months of winter weather. An almost cloudless field of cerulean in this late afternoon looms above the turquoise waters of Lake Michigan. I know it is not long before this sky will turn to bruise blue in the diminishing illumination at twilight, then eventually give itself over to the evening dark. By the time I’ve walked more than a mile, I again notice the horizon, opening ahead, straight and unbroken, as if part of an artwork designed in a studio and set by a chalk line. I look out at the breezy lake scenery, and I take one more photograph before going home.
∼ June 6, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River in Early June”
Due to a few clusters of sunny and warm days following recent rainstorms, some of the less traveled trails have already begun to become overgrown. Now, I frequently tramp down fresh undergrowth when I walk these paths, as I did today in the thick woods bordering the Little Calumet River. Sometimes the dense and lengthening blades of grass conceal a stone or exposed roots of an old oak; consequently, I often find myself lowering my gaze to survey the way ahead and to scout the ground before me in an effort to avoid a stumble or a stubbed toe. Similarly, the river appears to contain numerous obstacles blocking anyone from maneuvering a canoe, kayak, or rowboat along its course. In a number of locations, the fallen trees, broken branches, and uprooted trunks re-direct the slow-flowing current and act as barricades completely interfering with any opportunity to cruise through their clutter. However, this accumulation of timber tipped into the river does offer interesting foreground features for photographs.
∼ June 5, 2017 ∼ “Two-Story Cabin at Bailly Homestead”
In my previous entry I mentioned hiking the Little Calumet River Trail to the site of the Bailly Homestead, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. While at the location, I photographed once again some of the structures on the property, including the unique two-story cabin north of the main house. In a past post (see entry of 2/4) I offered an image of another smaller storage cabin captured during winter snow. I have also discussed a bit of the narrative for this location and the original settler—Joseph Bailly, a fur trader who arrived in the region during the early nineteenth century—in a commentary published at the end of February (see entry of 2/26). My interest in these cabins and Joseph Bailly relates to the historical significance of this individual as the first white settler in the area, but also connects to one of my main inspirations for this journal (as noted in the “Introduction” section), Henry David Thoreau, whose life span overlapped Bailly and who is famous worldwide for his cabin at Walden Pond.
∼ June 4, 2017 ∼ “Bailly Trail”
Earlier during my walk brilliant sunlight flickered between silhouetted leaves of trees overhanging the Calumet River Trail. After passing a single willow, I arrived at a grove of oaks bordering the river, its current slowed by a clutter of fallen limbs tipped into the water by winter’s winds. Now the afternoon sky has clouded a little, and the green of the landscape seems deeper, no longer bleached by bright sunshine. I climb a slight rise where the first white settler, a fur trader named Joseph Bailly, built his home above the flood plain in the opening half of the nineteenth century. I often visit this peaceful setting. I appreciate the silence I find in this place on a late spring day. For some reason, even the ever-present sound of distant birdsong seems muted today. The route diverts to a narrower pathway, the Bailly Trail, at this point almost a tunnel with braided branches bending overhead. When I enter I feel a bit like the character in Field of Dreams slipping into rows of tall corn stalks, disappearing from view, crossing to another realm. I imagine myself perhaps transported to the past, and I wonder how differently, if at all, this scenery looked nearly two hundred years ago.
∼ June 3, 2017 ∼ “View Through Trees on Hot Spring Afternoon”
Though the forecast called for a possibility of rain showers, the sky is now almost cloudless, a blank blue covering Lake Michigan broken only by slim wisps of white over the horizon. The sandy shore glistens under blistering sunshine bringing the first real heat of spring. Walking a trail along the sun-brushed edge of ridge woods, I distance myself a mile from the public beach with its weekend sunbathers, children wading in the little waves, adventurous swimmers heading toward the buoys, and teenaged lovers huddled beneath colorful umbrellas. Many schools have started their summer break. I decide I will hike the interior, get away a while from the glare of this bright daylight to move among the dark bark and cooler air of a dune forest. I will continue and follow a stark path farther inland toward the narrow crossing of an isolated marsh—hot and humid, but in this case a temporary and welcomed emptiness far from the busyness of visitors on vacation. However, I pause first for an extended view between the trees and to capture with my camera the soothing scenery spreading into the distance in front of me.
∼ June 2, 2017 ∼ “Indiana Dunes State Park: Trail Eight”
Trail Eight threads through the dunes, at times rising to each of the three highest peaks in the state park. I shuffle my feet along its path of soft sand as I travel along an inland forest toward the shore. Somewhere overhead small birds chirp, lost among the full branches like stars unseen during daylight. A couple of crows flutter high above then turn by my right side and land under the upper limbs of a nearby oak. Although elevated quite a bit from the beach, this stretch represents one of the few flat sections of the trail’s winding route as it moves among thickly wooded terrain. Earlier, I passed batches of blue lupine ruffling in the timid wind and illuminated on a sunny slope alongside the pathway. As the sun dragged its brightness between clouds and across the landscape, shadows of trembling leaves scattered back and forth with each gentle breeze, adding difficulty for any photograph. However, as a storm front approaches, an afternoon overcast has stolen the sunshine; yet, I don’t mind because the green of the foliage appears richer as a result.
∼ June 1, 2017 ∼ “Creek at Start of June”
As if in an attempt to join those others clustered on the southern side, a lone tree leans over this creek becoming the color of weak coffee. Meteorological summer starts June 1, and this scene already seems to identify with the new season. Just hours after an early morning rain storm, and with departing clouds now crowding only the eastern horizon, a steady but slow-flowing current moves through its winding route. This lazy pace will ease even more in the warmer weeks ahead, and the gap between banks will narrow by August’s dry days. So much wet weather this spring has deepened the green leaves of those overhanging limbs, and the long blades of grass along the trail twist into thick clumps catching the feet of my camera tripod as I step forward to capture an image. Moreover, the slanting sunlight creates varying degrees of green in the trees and presents rich reflections on the surface of the water. When I arrived I met a man from Chicago hiking by himself on a weekend trip. As many often do, he stopped to speak, asking what I was photographing. I gave my usual answer, “landscape and light”; however, I also thought about another response I might have given, “a picture painted by the sun,” author Ambrose Bierce’s fine definition of a photograph.
∼ May 31, 2017 ∼ “View from Mt. Tom”
Hiking the Three-Dune Challenge in the Indiana Dunes once again, I arrived at Mt. Tom just in time to see a quickly moving bank of clouds appearing with a spring storm front from the west. I have written about this popular challenge in previous posts. (See entries of May 3, May 24, and May 29). The various climbs up the trio of peaks involved in the task can be steep at times, and parts of Trail Eight, which links the three hilltops, contain sandy slopes on which one’s footing may be labored. In fact, I often find my boots sliding backward with each step, especially since I am carrying camera gear with a tripod. The highest hill in the dunes by a slight margin [Mt. Jackson (176 ft.), Mt. Holden (184 ft.), and Mt. Tom (192 ft.)], Mt. Tom is the most visited of the group, and it might be regarded as the least challenging because of accessibility by stairs on two sides. The accompanying image displays an approach from the west. In my May 24 entry I included a photograph presenting a section of the southern stairs rising toward the summit.
∼ May 30, 2017 ∼ “View from Cabin Trail: Journal Entry Number 150”
Today’s post represents entry number one-hundred and fifty since I began this project at the start of the year. However, with the Memorial Day weekend ending and warmer weather settling into place, I feel as if I am witnessing a new beginning for the Indiana Dunes landscape. The views I see lately when hiking trails through the dunes or along the shore, where sighting of a bare tree is now rare and stands out, hardly resemble those stark or wintry images, sometimes in snowy scenery, I captured throughout the past five months. Indeed, as I mentioned in a previous commentary shared just before the holiday weekend, I appreciate “the freshness and transitional character” of spring evolving toward summer, which is “especially evident in regions like northern Indiana, where each year one is blessed to witness the full scope of four seasons.” Also, I use this opportunity to invite everyone once again to scroll through past journal posts and browse among the accumulation of observations (nearly 35,000 words) already published alongside my photographs. Perhaps since the time when many are seeking subjects for summer reading has arrived, these brief daily notes of only one paragraph can provide a quick read each day.
∼ May 29, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Lake Michigan from Mt. Holden”
In my previous posts about the Three-Dune Challenge at the Indiana Dunes, I mentioned the trio of peaks one must climb to accomplish the feat. (View my May 3 and May 24 commentaries.) All three are connected by Trail Eight, and the height for each approaches 200 feet. As part of my hikes under bright sunny skies on this Memorial Day weekend, I followed the familiar route once again before descending to the beach. Standing atop Mt. Holden and peering down the thin, sandy trail that leads to Lake Michigan, I could see the shoreline, but the horizon appeared a bit out of focus in my viewfinder. However, no matter what adjustments I made, that edge of the lake would not clarify. Nevertheless, I snapped the image and began my trek toward the water. After all, I consider many of my photos as documentary rather than art. Halfway down the steep slope I realized why my picture seemed to be out of focus: a thick fog was drifting inland and beginning to rise up the dunes. I had been above the fog at the height of Mt. Holden. In fact, by the time I reached the beach, the lake was completely blanketed and had disappeared from sight. Displaying the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of this region, the fog settled over the coast for nearly an hour, then the sunshine finally burned it away, and a beautiful holiday weekend resumed.
∼ May 28, 2017 ∼ “Late-Day Sun at End of May”
Many photographers emphatically mention light—its quality and quantity—as the most important element in capturing compelling images. George Eastman was quoted as suggesting one dictum to follow: “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” In northwest Indiana each season offers its own degrees and angles of illumination. As temperatures heat in spring and summer, so does the warmth of luminosity in landscape scenery. (Additionally, autumn colors may warm with the changing of leaves.) Consequently, I regard Memorial Day weekend as the start of a separate section on the calendar when I pay more attention to sunrises or sunsets. Indeed, by July I will look forward to the sun setting across Lake Michigan and directly over the skyline of Chicago as viewed from the shoreline of the Indiana Dunes. However, I am also impressed in spring when the slant of the southern sun above tops of trees surrounding small lakes or local ponds seems to contribute to the creation of vivid and brilliant pictures.
∼ May 27, 2017 ∼ “Small Sailing Craft in Spring”
Although the weather has been wet and windy this week, and there have been warnings of rip currents along the Lake Michigan shoreline, a spring sun seems to be resuming its intensity above the coastal landscape, raising temperatures into the mid-seventies. As the Memorial Day weekend initiates another season of sunshine and leisure at the Indiana Dunes, everything appears prepared for the many visitors who will stream to its beaches. Official reports indicate the water level has lessened a few feet from last year, and my informal hikes along the lake suggest the amount of sand erosion looks to be lower as well. Most bits of debris deposited by winter’s surf have been cleared, and only an occasional log or stick of driftwood decorates the shore like an ornamental addition. The marram grass has greened again and contrasts nicely with the tan sand of foredunes smoothed by onshore breezes. Little waves breaking on the beach will soon be filled with children wading in the shallow water, and the distant blue will be dotted once more with small sailing craft crossing in a soft current of wind.
∼ May 26, 2017 ∼ “Trail Three Trees in Spring”
At the end of May, I notice a more forceful sunshine illuminating the landscape and adding warmth to everything. Among my favorite features when hiking routes along the Indiana Dunes, I enjoy any moment I arrive at a rise sloping toward a hilltop offering expectations for an interesting view on the other side. I noted in a previous post: “I appreciate that every bend in the trail presents promise of something new, and when I ascend heights over a sharp ridge where the next stretch of scenery remains out of sight, my anticipation grows even greater.” (See my April 23 entry for more.) As an author and a professor of literature, the metaphorical significance of such a setting does not escape me. Especially with the Memorial Day weekend upon us, many people see their attitudes shift from feeling the freshness and transitional character of spring to settling in for the lush scenery and abundance of fun in summer. Naturally, this emphasis on the emotional impact of seasonal differences can be especially evident in regions like northern Indiana, where each year one is blessed to witness the full scope of four seasons.
∼ May 25, 2017 ∼ “Indiana Dunes in Late May”
I photographed this same scene four weeks ago during the calm under a cloudless sky after a streak of strong storms, but at that time the appearance of spring signs still seemed somewhat distant. (See my April 28 entry.) I mentioned walking “a favorite path down a slope toward the extended ribbon of shore line. The wind had stilled, and the lake lay untroubled.” Today, low waves slowly scroll toward the shore, the beach and foredunes yet empty of many visitors. I watch one gull dip into the lazy surf while a few others stroll nearby on the sand. Once again, the strengthening sun appears pinned in place above the southern side of the lake, peeking between a spaced stream of white clouds splintering and floating leisurely overhead. The dune ridge trees have filled with foliage; their green leaves add accent to this landscape. With the approaching holiday weekend, the summer vacation season unofficially will begin, and such empty stretches of this popular lakefront soon will be rare.
∼ May 24, 2017 ∼ “Trail Four Stairs to Mt. Tom”
On a blustery day when a shroud of clouds covered Lake Michigan, I chose to travel three routes just inland from the windblown beach, particularly since I prefer photographing interior woods during overcast conditions, as I have noted in the past (see my May 18 post). Trails Four, Seven, and Eight wind behind some of the highest ridges at the Indiana Dunes State Park, and they connect travelers to the three peaks I’ve previously mentioned in an entry on the Three-Dune Challenge (view my May 3 commentary). Since much of their paths extends on the lee side of these hills, hikers are protected from gusts, and the terrain in this natural haven is milder now (though refreshingly cooler in mid-summer), more hospitable to various plant life, especially seasonal wildflowers. In addition, sections of the trails follow a bluff running above a recessed forest, positioning visitors eye-level to uppermost branches filling in spring with multiple flocks of colorful birds chirping in those limbs. As Trail Four tracks west from an intersection with Trail Seven, it rises toward steep stairs that lead toward the tallest spot at the park, Mt. Tom. Additionally, it allows hikers to climb where one suddenly feels fully surrounded by the lush greenery of treetops on display near the end of May.
∼ May 23, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River in Late May”
The narrow trail is slick and slippery with thick mud from last night’s thunderstorm, making for loose footing. Three times my feet nearly slide out from under me on this first walk of the season with lighter hiking shoes instead of my heavier boots. Against my better judgment, I pause to use the camera tripod as a walking stick for better balance, while I watch a fat frog easily hop past me. It flops onto a tree stump then plops into the dark water and disappears from sight. In spring, the Little Calumet River is littered with evidence of winter’s damage. Large limbs of downed trees split the river. Clumps of broken branches, some wedged at the edge of a bend, collect and redirect the current. Here and there, overhanging branches droop under the sudden weight of fresh foliage, dip into the river and stir their green leaves in the brown surface of slow-flowing water. Fallen trunks extend from both banks, half on land and half submerged, and a few twisted balls of upturned roots appear almost as objects of abstract art at the water’s border.
∼ May 22, 2017 ∼ “Ravine Creek”
When the water recedes just days after heavy rains, I follow a ravine creek through woods near Lake Michigan. The canopy of leaves is thickening on surrounding trees already, lessening illumination from sunlight slanting through the timber and striking the bottom of the gulch. The fresh growth of foliage dispenses a slightly green cast over everything. Except for an occasional thunderstorm, this seasonal stream will dry completely throughout much of summer, and the creek will become a viable trail for hikers. A couple of bugs buzz by my head as I step in a muddy mix of sand, soil, and pebbles along the diminished stream of water, but this early in spring the insects do not present much of a problem. My walk slowed by the gritty slop adhering to my feet, I find the shallow slope of a bank and climb to a higher path, narrow and winding between the trees. As I duck under obstacles of lower branches and cross fallen limbs, I remember when I was here on a harsh winter afternoon, and the bare trees offered little interference, though snow and ice presented slippery footing. Nevertheless, even as the going gets more difficult, today these lush leaves seem more inviting.
∼ May 21, 2017 ∼ “Pond in May”
After the last rains of another spring storm, westerly winds sweep clouds along wavering treetops like the crawl of nature’s language across a scenic screen. Green foliage, the favorite freight of May, begins to fill limbs already alive with increasing birdsong. I wait a while on a trail passing toward the north to listen for the lyrical calls as I think about how each day adds distance from winter’s silence. A few trees remain leafless, standing somewhat steady in the wind and conspicuous in their emptiness, as though posing for one final photograph. The sky’s reflection deepens on the dark surface of this pond, and its edges have blackened with mud. A collection of autumn’s leaves yet shows underneath the shallow water as if to signal a resistance against transformation. I note the weather has warmed to seventy-three degrees—exactly the region’s average high temperature for today now on display in late May. I return here in each season to witness the transition of this landscape, part of my project to chronicle the way change occurs bit by bit in this place.
∼ May 20, 2017 ∼ “Lake Reflections in May”
In his influential book of photographs, Intimate Landscapes, Eliot Porter includes a preface explaining the images he presents. Porter comments in this 1979 publication: “Though it is generally accepted that abstract art refers to those works inspired by the imagination of the artist rather than by objective reality, in photography, in which images are produced by the lens, this distinction is difficult to sustain. In the broadest sense of the term, an optical image is an abstraction from the natural world—a selected fragment of what stands before the camera.” Consequently, when photographers offer a detailed examination at a section of the scenery, they are creating a vision dependent upon shape, color, light, and pattern much like an abstract artist. With this in mind, I sometimes turn away from the grand panoramic setting before me and focus on a more concentrated or intimate portion of nature. For another recent example of an “intimate landscape,” I recommend revisiting my “Marsh Green” journal entry of May 12.
∼ May 19, 2017 ∼ “Dune Woods Awakening in May”
Fringes of color start to cover the landscape, awakening the woods to spring with early evidence of a seasonal transition. Most of the trees have begun to blossom, though a few downed by high winds in a storm during a dismal winter day remain bare and broken. This trail slopes as it extends and flares out to the south, eventually moving through a grove of old oaks toward a narrow creek surrounded by clusters of budding wildflowers trying to brighten the scenery. Today’s hazy light eliminates those knots of shadow that might otherwise gather beneath the trees, dark pockets seemingly staining the ground or perhaps pooling like a spilled bottle of black ink expanding under the fresh foliage. Instead, greening grass now frames a sandy lane. Henry David Thoreau wrote of such grass in his “Spring” section of Walden: “The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire…not yellow but green is the color of its flame.” I will follow this path as it twists into the distance.
∼ May 18, 2017 ∼ “Wide Trail Through Woods”
The green of spring leaves deepens on a day without bright sunlight slashing between the trees. Under thin cloud cover, the rough bark of trunks and overhanging branches darkens enough to let the texture show in a photograph with slowed shutter speed. The flat path seems easy to travel. In fact, this wide section might have been used at one time by horse-drawn carts carrying crops for a nineteenth-century farmhouse adjacent to these woods. But the way ahead beyond a bend lies unknown, perhaps like an unread page presenting surprise near the end of a novel. Birds hiding behind the fresh foliage on shadowless limbs offer sweet songs somewhere overhead. I imagine their feathers ruffled by a light breeze, fragile wings fluttering slightly, moving unseen among the new season’s growth. Their soundtrack accompanies me as I hike toward a swamp forest not too far ahead, where the sunshine cannot reach even under clear skies, and on this overcast afternoon, I know in its dim interior I will need to open the camera aperture as much as I can.
∼ May 17, 2017 ∼ “Trail Three in May”
Trail Three in the Indiana Dunes State Park starts at one of the tall dunes above Lake Michigan and moves inland through thickening woods as the path transitions from sandy hills to a forest ridge. One section of the trail branches toward the west and loops back around in the direction of the lake while edging the park boundary. Although closest to the most popular beach in the Indiana Dunes, this route seems to receive fewer visitors than others. In fact, on this day I followed the full circle of its course without encountering any fellow travelers. Light green leaves beginning to fill the trees presented contrast and definition for a bright blue field of sky, forming an inviting picture with a mixture of features. The elevated path allowed a bit of cooling from a sweeping breeze that also seemed to lift a couple of hawks gliding through the air, the pair continually crisscrossing high overhead.
∼ May 16, 2017 ∼ “Shoreline in Mid-May”
By the end of this month, Waverly Beach at the Indiana Dunes State Park will be crowded with hundreds or thousands of swimmers and sunbathers. However, now I am still able to capture an image of the shoreline with this public beach seemingly empty and serene. The dune trees overlooking Lake Michigan and those tufts of marram grass clustered throughout the sand have begun to green. Increasingly, spring’s warmer air currents, though weakened by the dune hills just inland from the coast, have displaced the stronger northern cold fronts. Due to an absence of lake winds, the water appears smooth and soothing. The clean line of the horizon finds itself propping up a sky slightly clouded but with a rich blue showing through. I will walk toward the foredunes farther east, where a few trails head into the forests and rise high until reaching the tallest peaks—Mt. Jackson, Mt. Holden, and Mt. Tom—which also will soon be busy with visitors attempting the “Three-Dune Challenge” (see my May 3 entry) and seeking to view the shoreline from a more prominent perspective.
∼ May 15, 2017 ∼ “Winding Trail Through Woods”
Following a winding trail through woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I was amazed to witness the quick transition that has happened since my last visit. Just three weeks ago these trees were bare and the seasonal creek at the bottom of the ravine seemed almost overflowing, filled with water from heavy April thunderstorms. The landscape presented itself as dark and foreboding. Since then, the rains have provided enough moisture to nourish lush green leaves, and this swift transformation has produced an environment rich with new growth. Indeed, images of the scenery appear to nicely define the rejuvenation and optimism associated with spring, and the setting seems suddenly welcoming. As Thoreau wrote in the “Spring” section of Walden: “The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last.”
∼ May 14, 2017 ∼ “Beaver Evidence”
Whenever I hike through the wetlands of the Indiana Dunes, I seek out signs of life left by those inhabitants I rarely encounter, animals almost always out of sight, some nocturnal, who manage to influence or alter the landscape, sometimes leaving their distinctive marks upon its elements. Occasionally, I will come upon a woodpecker tapping his code into the trunk of a tree, and even more frequently I will witness the holes drilled through bark and clustered close together. However, the beaver seems always to elude my viewing. I have yet to arrive at a pond, stream, or marsh while one is at work chewing into a tree trunk; nevertheless, I often come across evidence of extensive damage remaining from activities by these animals. Indeed, trees completely felled by a beaver gnawing at the wood are common to encounter.
∼ May 13, 2017 ∼ “Three’s Company”
As I regularly hike routes through woods a bit inland from Lake Michigan, a number of locations have become familiar and offer distinctive characteristics. One trail I walk often in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore passes an isolated pond in which I frequently see geese and turtles sharing space on the branch of a fallen tree that emerges just above the surface of the water. At times, I have viewed as many as three geese and four turtles basking side-by-side in warming sunlight. Because the spot is situated at the northern edge of the pond, on clear days in May when the sun still rests low in the southern sky, this limb receives complete sunshine while other areas are obstructed by skirts of shade extending from surrounding trees. Therefore, whenever I reach this position along my way, I also pause to watch the gathering.
∼ May 12, 2017 ∼ “Marsh Green”
Last weekend as I was participating in a birding festival at the Indiana Dunes, I reaffirmed some of my respect for those I know as wildlife photographers, especially the ones who focus solely upon bird portraits. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I admire the abilities and patience displayed by skilled bird photographers. As an individual who exhibits impatience at times—whether standing in line at a department store or waiting in my car for a slow freight train passing at a railroad crossing—I find myself tested whenever I seek to capture images of birds while hiking. Much of the effort involves halting to listen for birdcalls or watching overhead with anticipation and a stiffening neck. Hearing chirps and birdsong among the trees can be encouraging but also frustrating, particularly when the foliage has filled enough to provide perfect camouflage. Indeed, I frequently think that the little creatures are taunting me. Nevertheless, if I discover a lull, I sometimes turn my long lens to snap an intimate painterly picture of the surrounding landscape, such as the first layer of green beginning to cover the brown marsh water in early May, and occasionally the results are rewarding.
∼ May 11, 2017 ∼ “Trail Two Toward Footbridge”
Trail Two at the Indiana Dunes State Park can be an easy hike of three miles along level ground after the once-swollen creek has receded in the weeks following April’s rainstorms. During summer the route becomes more overgrown and might be somewhat uncomfortable as it is inundated with insects, and in many winters the path is often blocked in spots by deep snow. In this second week of May, however, the passage is at its best, beginning to display brightly colored wildflowers and surrounded by trees greening in spring sunshine. The creek water yet remains clear, allowing its glowing golden bed of sand to show. When walking west and one arrives at a bend toward the north, a basic wooden footbridge greets the hiker. The scenery seems understated, but the simplicity appeals to one’s eye as aesthetically pleasing—even the graying weathered tree that has fallen across the creek, almost as if an imitation by nature of the bridge extending a bit farther ahead.
∼ May 10, 2017 ∼ “Little Calumet River Trail”
I travel this trail often, in all months, always pausing at a bend in the river. During the early days of May as the weather warms and the trees—elm, oak, and hickory—become green, the landscape seems to change in ways that alter one’s attitude. Leaves tremble in a light breeze, shimmer in slanting spring sunshine. Patches of violet wildflowers line a riverside path like dabs of brush strokes on a canvas. Shadows of overhead limbs dapple a wooden footbridge and darken parts of slow-flowing water seemingly going nowhere. A gentle gossip of swamp sparrows murmurs somewhere in the air above. All afternoon, skies fill with brilliant blue in the distance. With the saturation of details seen in this season deepening, the whole setting appears unrecognizable from only three weeks ago. The subdued scenery suddenly vibrant and flushed with color, as though refreshed through the quick flick of a switch, I also feel revitalized.
∼ May 9, 2017 ∼ “Trail to Cowles Bog Beach”
In the middle of last month, I wrote a few posts about the chemical wastewater spill into a waterway feeding Lake Michigan. Those journal notes can be read in entries dated April 13, April 15, and April 17. I spoke in those reports about how the “uneasy relationship between preservation of nature and spread of industrialization stands as a unique characteristic in the history of the Indiana Dunes.” I also observed that one of the locations I had visited just before the accident was among those closed to the public until testing of the waters could be completed. Fortunately, subsequent samplings revealed the toxins had not infiltrated the lake to a significant level deemed dangerous, and the restricted sections of the coast were re-opened within a week, including an isolated beach reached by hiking the lengthy Cowles Bog Trail and inaccessible by automobile. This portion of the shore contains wide foredunes and often appears untainted by human presence. I am pleased to see this feature of the lakefront available again before the warmer weather of spring and summer settles over the region.
∼ May 8, 2017 ∼ “Ring-Billed Gulls Along the Shore”
The most prevalent bird viewed when walking the Indiana Dunes, the Ring-Billed Gull, constantly contributes to the scenery along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. A National Audubon Society pocket guide I frequently carry with me to identify other less-common species describes the animal as about twenty inches in length when reaching adulthood: “The adult has a white head and underparts with a gray back and black-tipped gray wings. The legs are yellowish, and the yellow bill has a black ring near its tip.” As I hike the beach foredunes, even in winter, these birds frequently seem to follow at the water’s edge—sometimes soaring in the steady flow of air current coming off the lake and at other times floating in the low waves of the surf as they approach the shore. Today, on this early May afternoon, I watch as a few arch through the light blue of a spring sky overhead, arrowing toward a distant dune mound, feathers bleached even whiter when brightened by strong sunshine.
∼ May 7, 2017 ∼ “The Voice of Nature”
I am on a mailing list to receive location notifications from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources when the first bird of each migrating species is sighted returning to the Indiana Dunes region. In the past few days, probably partially due to the many participants in the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival, this has been an active source, citing reports of various findings, including a Golden-Winged Warbler, a Worm-Eating Warbler, a Little Blue Heron, a Least Bittern, a Nighthawk, a Willet, a Trumpeter Swan, an American Avocet, a Laughing Gull, a Clay-Colored Sparrow, a Snowy Egret, and others. In this first week of May, the skies are busy again with avian visitors and the greening trees are filled once more with their music. As Henry David Thoreau stated in his journal note of March 18, 1858: “Each new year is a surprise to us. We find that we had virtually forgotten the note of each bird, and when we hear it again, it is remembered like a dream, reminding us of a previous state of existence. How happens it that the associations it awakens are always pleasing, never saddening, reminiscences of our sanest hours. The voice of nature is always encouraging.”
∼ May 6, 2017 ∼ “Owl in Side Light”
As the popular Indiana Dunes Birding Festival continues this weekend, I find myself fascinated by an animal normally associated with night rather than daytime—the owl, a nocturnal creature usually accustomed to the dark and difficult to capture in a photograph. Nevertheless, this bird presents dramatic features—prominent eyes, hooked beak, and flat face—enhancing each image in which it appears, and these characteristics especially are appealing to photographers. Because of the accommodating environment, throughout the Indiana Dunes owls are fairly abundant in certain seasons. In fact, the Nature Center in the state park often offers a public program, begun in 2009, during which members of a particular species of owls are banded by a ranger and released. Those of us signed onto the mailing list receive urgent e-mails at various times of night in autumn months informing that a smaller, migratory Saw-whet Owl has been caught to be registered, banded, and released back to its habitat within an hour. The program monitors migration patterns and owl populations. Anyone who receives the e-mail and can quickly drive to the location is welcomed to witness the process.
∼ May 5, 2017 ∼ “Birding Festival”
During this first weekend in May many will travel to the Indiana Dunes for an annual birding festival that celebrates the region as a prime location for viewing various types of birds, native or migratory. Indeed, more than 350 species of birds can be found along the southern coast of Lake Michigan within the course of a year. Although the start of spring has been cool and rainy, more migrants are arriving all the time. Due to the different habitats available in the Indiana Dunes—marshland, swamp forests, woodland, dune hills, bogs, fens, prairie, rivers, sandy beach, and lake shore—a multitude of local settings serve perfectly for hosting the variety of winged visitors. In my experiences, I have found taking pictures of any wildlife can be difficult, but capturing images of birds may be among the most frustrating of all forms of photography I have tried. I hold much admiration for those I know who excel at the task, an endeavor requiring great patience and exemplary ability. Rarely do I attempt this genre. Nevertheless, although as a landscape photographer I usually carry a wide-angle lens on my camera, I occasionally find myself drawing out the longer lens for an avian close-up.
∼ May 4, 2017 ∼ “Trail in Early May”
Lured to the shore by bright daylight after a morning with slackening winds and cloud cover, I hike a sandy trail that whitens under the sunshine, loops through dunes, and disappears into the quiet and darker woods. Much of the way in this inland forest now appears brown, muddied following flooding from a week of rainy days. One portion of the path traces along edges of a swollen creek and seems isolated from those busy beaches just beyond a high hill. Some summer bugs already have begun their return and hover over my head as I bend beneath ribs of branches still bare in the beginning of May. Screeching birds in upper limbs of a nearby tree splinter the silence as I pass by them. By the time I complete this route, I will have arrived once more at the shore. I will return home later in the day, when sunlight sloughs away and a twilight sky extends across the length of Lake Michigan.
∼ May 3, 2017 ∼ “Three-Dune Challenge”
A favorite feature for touring trails in the Indiana Dunes during recent years, the Three-Dune Challenge involves climbing the tallest hills in the state park: Mt. Jackson (176 ft.), Mt. Holden (184 ft.), and Mt. Tom (192 ft.). Some more athletic participants even run the route. Indeed, the event has its own web page. The distance to travel does not seem difficult, since it extends only about one-and-a-half miles in total length. However, the heights and terrain can be more of a test for many visitors. The trio of peaks are stitched to one another by sandy paths twisting through a dune forest. Sometimes the trails rise at sharp angles steep enough to keep one’s feet sliding backwards with every step. This course appears to become most popular in spring when weather warms but has not yet become as overbearing as summer heat. The task is a bit more demanding in winter when heavy snow and slick ice cover the landscape. Throughout my many travels through the dunes in all seasons, I have accomplished the challenge in a single trip a few times, and I have reached the peak of each hill separately on numerous occasions. However, unlike others who relish the reward at the top of each hill, the trails themselves supply my most enjoyable element. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated: “…find the journey’s end in every step of the road….”
∼ May 2, 2017 ∼ “Upturned Tree Blocking Ridge Trail”
For months, much of the winter wind tugged at this vast expanse of sand, shaping and re-shaping the foredunes bordering Lake Michigan. Squinting into springtime sunshine, I now see some of the subtle changes made to the the landscape. In a few places the lake has claimed more of the shore, and the width of the beach has narrowed, whole sections have been eroded by air currents and the steady beat of the surf. In other locations, shallow dune slopes have encroached upon the fragile forest edging this coast and rooted in loose soil. More dramatic signs of transition are apparent. Branches broken by gusts litter ridge trails, and upturned trunks sometimes create obstacles for passing, especially when I’m carrying a tripod and camera gear. However, when following such a slim path high in the hills, I have no choice but to climb over the obstruction.
∼ May 1, 2017 ∼ “Tree Cemetery”
April has faded away and May has finally arrived. After days of rain, a bunch of local waterways have overrun with floodwaters. I hike through dunes drying under a midday sun. Following a skinny path winding among rough ridges above a gentle ripple of waves, I find another small tree cemetery spread on a slope tilting toward the lake. Due to northern winds and the continual movement of the dunes, blowouts often occur on the Indiana shore, intersecting wooded hills lining the coast. Sand surrounds the vulnerable trees and their roots. Consequently, these trees slowly die and decay, usually leaving weathered stumps of trunks jutting just above the surface, rising like graveyard markers. The three largest blowouts are Big Blowout, Furnessville Blowout, and Beach House Blowout (which I discussed in the April 24 entry to this journal and can be seen in a larger photograph at the April photographs page).
∼ April 30, 2017 ∼ “Late April Above Lake Michigan”
All morning a warm front seemed to be embracing Lake Michigan. The sharp scent of still water drifted onshore. Wrinkles of sand at the edge of the surf-stained shore were sprinkled with small shells and pebbles, many black and rounded like rosary beads. Nearing noon, the flare of light from a rising sun, now positioned high above the horizon, appears as if pinned in place. At the end of April these dune ridge trees have begun to display their first buds. I walk a trail leading from the beach to Mt. Tom often, and I frequently pause at this ledge to view the water below. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Governor of Indiana maintained a summer home only about two-hundred feet east of here, a space that has become overgrown with trees. Like numerous other structures within the Indiana Dunes State Park property, that building was demolished more than fifty years ago to reclaim the natural landscape. All that remains today, hidden amid the woods, is a short stack of bricks that once supported steps to a porch overlooking the lake. However, whenever I snap a photograph in this setting, I always imagine the scenery as seen from that cottage’s front door so long ago.
∼ April 29, 2017 ∼ “A Sacred Place”
The week’s heavy storms have filled local wetlands once again with fresh rainfall, and this scenery always seems to draw my attention even more, particularly the painterly effect of bare trees reflected in the smooth coffee-colored water. My wife—as do others—wonders why I like hiking through swamps, bogs, and marshes so much. I’ve offered personal responses to this question somewhat in various previous entries, and expressed my reverence for those locations, but today I want to reference a couple of Henry David Thoreau’s thoughts about such environments, which he considered richer and more interesting than those domestic landscapes commonly regarded by society as beautiful settings: “I derive more of my subsistence from the swamps which surround my native town than from the cultivated gardens in the village.” Elsewhere, he remarks: “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood, the thickest and most interminable, and, to the citizen, most dismal swamp. I enter a swamp as a sacred place—sanctum sanctorum. There is the strength, the marrow of Nature.”
∼ April 28, 2017 ∼ “Prairie Club Path”
Following a spell of strong storms, the white flags of yesterday’s clouds surrendered their presence. A strengthening spring sun hung among upper limbs along a dune ridge. The sand—tan and golden—extended east on a sun-streaked beach. A few gulls spun in wide circles above the water, floating in an easy breeze over a steady yet slowed rhythm of waves. I photographed scenes on a narrow trail winding along the edge of a dune hill near where the Prairie Club beach house once stood almost a century ago, a location so significant to me. Later in the day, a young couple from Nevada asked if I could take a picture with their iPhone of them standing in front of Lake Michigan at that spot. I composed a photo in the frame of the screen that seemed to place them between a field of deep blue sky and freshly green leaves of grass sprouting on a foredune. We spoke about the twisted limbs of trees seen along the trail, some even with trunks broken by winter’s winds. They asked about the rusted water tower they’d passed, and I explained its history as well as the activities of Prairie Club members who preserved this land. When they left, I walked a favorite path down a slope toward the extended ribbon of shore line. The wind had stilled, and the lake lay untroubled.
∼ April 27, 2017 ∼ “Morning Light”
Sometimes when the day awakens with a lengthening line of light along the lake at sunrise, and warm colors cover the shore, each detail beside the beach seems painted into place. Dunes, smoothed by onshore winds throughout the night, appear shaped with brush strokes. Tall leaves of yellow grass bend whenever shifted by soft breezes drifting inland. Daylight’s tints dip into the collar of trees fitted onto ridges of sand hills. Pale hulls of old sailboats brighten once more, now slick with a sheen of sunshine. Even sticks of driftwood resting at the edge of the surf exhibit a greater degree of texture under suddenly rich hues of blue sky. Ring-billed gulls flutter their wings as they play in the breaking waves, while one splinters from the group and rises like a white kite in the air current. A faint series of footsteps stretches across the wet sand like a signature written at the bottom of a finished artwork.
∼ April 26, 2017 ∼ “Trail Nine in Late April”
Returning from the Beach House Blowout, Trail Nine curls away from Lake Michigan through a trough between dune hills where the woods are still leafless in late April. Soon this forest will fill with foliage, and its character will change completely. The route moves from sandy beach scenery to the wetlands setting of a large marsh at the center of the Indiana Dunes. State Park maps mark the trail as just short of four miles long, presenting a passage that “provides the best representative view of the dunes.” About halfway along the path, I pass a grove of trees with twisting trunks that appear almost artistic in design and aesthetically pleasing. Their extended network of branches stretches overhead as I walk by, and I stop to watch two hawks glide above, the pair veering to perch in the empty treetop of a black oak. These graceful birds take turns floating fairly low and slow in whatever air current they find, at times rising into the bright daylight, their angled bodies becoming silhouetted by the sun. On this warm spring morning, with its relative calm following swift nighttime winds, a new but weaker weather system has begun to take a temporary hold on the region.
∼ April 25, 2017 ∼ “Pine Tree Trail”
Although most of the trees remain leafless along this portion of the trail, the marsh displays an early accumulation of lily pads, some already the size of dinner plates, many heart-shaped. Illuminated by late-morning light, their green leaves appear bright in contrast with the mirror of black water, almost the color of coal, where they float. In spring the surface of this flooded pool rises to the level of the wooden walkway I cross, and a few of the loose planks feel wobbly beneath my boots. In the distance, bare branches reach toward weak clouds slowly shifting toward the east. The top of the tallest tree still sways gently in an onshore breeze moving over the nearby dunes, yet the weather has warmed as the end of April approaches. I carry my load of camera gear over a shoulder as I travel Trail Eight. Researching old maps from a century ago and just before these routes received numbers, I discover this path was once named Pine Tree Trail—after this brief traverse of swamp water, it soon leads through a long stretch of thick interdunal woods, including lots of pines when one nears the beach. Maybe I’m old fashioned or merely because I am a writer fond of language, but I prefer descriptive names to ordinal numbers.
∼ April 24, 2017 ∼ “Beach House Blowout”
Among the most notable landscape features at the Indiana Dunes State Park, blowouts provide hikers extraordinary views of the dunes and Lake Michigan. A number of these openings in the dunes occur along the coast, including the Beach House Blowout reached by following Trail Nine up a steep sandy slope on the lee side of the dunes and across a ridge that rims a large bowl of land formed by windblown erosion. Established by long-term exposure to northern winds arriving from the lake, big blowouts like this one break through the dune hills and can expand into the first interdunal valley. Moving mounds of sand are swept over wooded areas by the onshore gusts, eventually destroying existing trees and creating forest graveyards, while also leveling the terrain, supplying accommodating conditions where grass, small plants, and young pine trees begin to grow. The famous Dunes Pageant, which took place a century ago in June of 1917 and may be credited with initially promoting the Indiana Dunes to a wider audience, was staged in a dune blowout that exhibited the semicircular shape of a natural amphitheater.
∼ April 23, 2017 ∼ “Path to Beach House Blowout Peak”
Whenever I hike routes through the dunes, I appreciate that every bend in the trail presents promise of something new, and when I ascend heights over a sharp ridge where the next stretch of scenery remains out of sight, my anticipation grows even greater. As the path rises toward a blue sky broken by white clouds, I look forward to the great lake vista on the other side. I proceed toward the peak up a steep incline, my feet sliding in the soft sand with each step. Traveling Trail Nine as it approaches the Beach House Blowout offers one of the Indiana Dunes’ most dramatic transitions. The passage elevates from a wooded valley between rolling hills until it follows a winding climb to a rim around an extensive hollow carved out of the dunes over time. This landscape in April still continues to display images of empty trees lining the way with expressively bare branches, leading to a peak that I know holds a panoramic view of an impressive setting well worth the effort.
∼ April 22, 2017 ∼ “Windswept Dune”
With each wave the surf breaks into whitewater on a stretch of beach speckled by pebbles and shells. Grains of windblown sand glisten in sunlight on this skin of shoreline smoothed by last night’s storm front. The cloudless sky and reflective lake offer complementary hues of blue. The quick winds whine onshore as they sweep through dune trees—some still bare and others beginning to show foliage. Their branches dance in the air and their shadows scrape the tan sand under strengthening sunshine. Even though temperatures have warmed a bit, I pass no one on this short walk along the coast, and this setting seems to remain free of footprints. The long blades of grass—damp and limp much of winter, sometimes weighted by ice or snow—now extend toward the bright sky and merely bend a little in these northern gusts. The scene seems as if it would be appropriate for appearance as impressionist art, perhaps in one of Monet’s beach paintings.
∼ April 21, 2017 ∼ “Pentimento”
Today, nature’s artistic hand tints Lake Michigan turquoise, and the sky seems painted a deeper shade of pastel blue. A few thin clouds appear to be spaces where pale spots of bare canvas peek through the brushstrokes, or they resemble faded remnants of an earlier image—an example of pentimento, traces from a previous painting bleeding through the layers. The tan beach sand begins to warm in late-morning sunlight. An old man wades into thigh-high water and stands with his stubble face squinting into bright sunshine, waiting for waves to fold over him as his dog, a small border collie, eagerly leaps into each whitening swell of surf. I watch a while and then walk away from the lake into the foredunes to view the bowl of a crater caused by slow erosion from winter’s winds. Tufts of grass decorate the landscape, and dark bits of driftwood still litter the shoreline. I carry my camera tripod much the same way I did when young and resting over my shoulder a rented rod and reel for fishing along the Atlantic coast with my father, a memory from my past that, like a pentimento, also seeps into the present.
∼ April 20, 2017 ∼ “Spring Flooding in Swamp Forest”
I am amazed by the vacancy witnessed in these swamp woods flooded by seasonal storms. A raft of silence seems to float over swollen waters held still on this windless afternoon. A sense of lethargy inhabits the landscape, though its spirit appears complacent as spring nibbles at winter’s leftovers. I observe an absence of movement in this almost abstract image offering solace with a soothing scene oddly calm yet cluttered. I packed an extra lens jammed into my camera bag to capture this setting with a more compact depth of field. Although most of the year a splinter of waterway winds through this trough between little hills, a sliver of river flowing slowly in its low gradient, when the waters spread during spring rain, thin pillars of trees extend from the expanded floodwaters and are mirrored in the mud-stained surface. Bare branches hacked by wintry winds now lie broken and soaked in shallow pools amid the forest, wetness darkening the bark beneath screeching geese flying overhead. I admire the beauty of nature’s artistry now found in such an unexpected location.
∼ April 19, 2017 ∼ “April Walk Along the Shore”
On a day after hard rain, sunlight flickers off the ripples of lake waves as cloud wisps linger on the horizon, though much of the sky has become a brilliant blue. A ring-billed gull bobs on the water like a tiny white buoy, while two others circle overhead. In the distance a dark barge drifts toward the west and a vague skyline of Chicago. Small black shells freckle the edge of the beach, and the few lean trees on a dune hill still exhibit their emptiness. All morning a warm front has been moving over the region, bringing milder weather more normal for spring. Last night’s mighty gusts have died a bit, eased into an onshore breeze waving blades of marram grass now almost golden in noonday sunshine. The slow erosion brought all winter by northern winds has reshaped this lakeside landscape. I follow a sandy path through the smoothed foredunes, leaving a trail of boot prints that mark my way.
∼ April 18, 2017 ∼ “Signs of Spring”
Hints of spring settle into the landscape—green weeds emerging from marsh water, the first flowers slowly opening beneath trees just beginning to bud, migrating birds speckling a blue sky, and sunlight sparkling on the smooth surface of an interdunal pond. Thoreau wrote of this season in his wonderful “Spring” chapter of Walden: “…it was pleasant to compare the first tender signs of the infant year just peeping forth with the stately beauty of the withered vegetation which had withstood the winter—life-everlasting, goldenrods, pinweeds, and graceful wild grasses, more obvious and interesting frequently than in summer even, as if their beauty was not ripe till then; even cotton-grass, cat-tails, mulleins, johnswort, hard-hack, meadow-sweet, and other strong-stemmed plants, those unexhausted granaries which entertain the earliest birds—decent weeds, at least, which widowed Nature wears.” Even as the signals of spring’s arrival abound, anticipation allows me to look forward to its full unveiling in the manner a magician might remove a scarf and display a surprise revelation to an amazed audience.
∼ April 17, 2017 ∼ “Death and Life of the Great Lakes”
In his recently released book, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Dan Egan describes the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as “a 15-mile ribbon of glorious Lake Michigan swimming beach that draws two million visitors annually.” However, walking along the curving shoreline one is always aware of its vulnerability to potential invasive contamination of toxins from production centers for steel or other industries. Indeed, Egan laments the proximity of possible pollution sources in “Gary, Indiana’s industrially ravaged lakefront.” Nevertheless, part of my affection for this landscape arises from concern for its continuation as an attractive environment, as well as an admiration for nature’s ability to survive and thrive despite the onslaught of damaging developments during the past century or more, some that seemingly could have been lethal to its physical state. As portions of the shore were placed off limits this week due to a chemical leak from the nearby U.S. Steel mill into a waterway that leads to the lake, I was reminded of the tenuous relationship between nature and industry in this region. Fortunately, preliminary tests indicate this spill may not have penetrated the waters of Lake Michigan to any significant level, and everyone is patiently awaiting further results. Citizen watchdog group Save the Dunes reports various agencies are conducting oversight of the situation: the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and others. With spring weather warming and summer swimming season not far away—and though other threats to the lake water exist, as Egan displays in his book—such positive initial signs are reasons to be cautiously hopeful in this instance for the environment’s continuing survival.
∼ April 16, 2017 ∼ “Dune Trees at Easter Weekend”
The origins of Easter are related to religion, to nature, and to derivations in language. The obvious theological connection can be summarized as a remembrance of Christ’s resurrection days following His crucifixion. An empty wooden cross between two others has often served as symbol of His death, and bright sunshine frequently appears to represent the light of God emerging from the tomb. However, Easter also has origins in natural mythology. The name perhaps derives linguistically from an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre (as well as the Germanic Ostara or Austro), who could be viewed as the deity of sunrise and an embodiment of the beginning of the season at the Vernal Equinox. Illumination from the appearance of God or from the rising sun also suggests another connotation of “illumination”—enlightenment of the spirit and the mind, a sense of higher understanding suddenly attained. Culturally, Easter is depicted as a time of rebirth and renewal, much like that of the landscape around us, where flowers are starting to bloom, grass has become green again, and the trees begin filling with foliage. This season is sometimes offered as an ideal period for hope and optimism, for fresh relationships and initiations of love, for redemption from past lapses and for faith in the future, for feeling joy and rejoicing in the very emotions Easter evokes. On this day, I pause to celebrate with praise!
∼ April 15, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog Beach Before Chemical Spill”
The beach seen in my accompanying photograph taken at the beginning of this week has now been shut down due to conditions that include the possible presence of cancer-causing toxins. As I reported in a previous post, earlier this week a potentially disastrous leak of carcinogenic chemical wastewater contaminated waters feeding Lake Michigan and led to closures along parts of the Indiana Dunes coastline. Coincidentally, I had visited the section of the shoreline impacted by the spill from a U.S. Steel production facility only one day before the event happened. I had hiked the nearly six-mile round trip on the Cowles Bog Trail through parts of a marsh designated a National Natural Landmark in 1965 and over steep dune hills to reach an Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore beach at the end of the path. This stretch of sand is singular in that it is somewhat isolated, inaccessible by automobile. One must walk a distance through a succession of stages in nature’s growth to arrive at the location. Therefore, the expansive foredunes are clean and the surf breaks upon a shoreline untainted by many beachgoers. Nevertheless, one remains aware of industrialization nearby because clouds from a smokestack are always visible above the dune ridge tree line, even on this naturally overcast day. Indeed, the proximity of the steel mill serves as symbol for the sometimes unsettling potential for danger to the environment looming over this natural landscape that continues to be resilient despite its tenuous existence.
∼ April 14, 2017 ∼ “Good Friday”
I frequently express affection for the Indiana Dunes. Certainly, many of my journal entries have exhibited an attraction to the magnificence of the landscape. However, I must confide a great personal and emotional attachment to this location, since Pam and I spent our first date with a walk along dunes overlooking Lake Michigan on Good Friday years ago. Hiking high above the beach on a clear and warm afternoon, we could look across the water into the distance to see an outline of the Chicago skyline. Actually, that earliest trip to the shore by Pam and me took place on April 20; however, I have always remembered the day simply as being Good Friday, and over time I have emphasized that “good” is an understatement. Easter weekend happened quite late on the calendar that year, and the weather was fairly mild throughout the spring. Unlike this season, flowers already were blooming and trees along the ridges displayed almost full foliage. Nevertheless, the lakefront is inviting any day, but especially when flooded with bright sunlight. A number of sandy trails stretch across the dunes, routes sometimes camouflaged within the woods and underbrush. I am so pleased Pam and I followed one of those paths, stood together to enjoy the scenery, and shared our first kiss those many years ago.
∼ April 13, 2017 ∼ “Chemical Spill in Lake Michigan”
An uneasy relationship between preservation of nature and spread of industrialization stands as a unique characteristic in the history of the Indiana Dunes. By the time the movement to “Save the Dunes” gained momentum in the early twentieth century, sections of Indiana’s shoreline along Lake Michigan had already been damaged irreparably by corporate alterations to the landscape, particularly by factories and plants in the northwest corner of the coast. Dunes were demolished, land was leveled, sand was shipped away, rivers were redirected, and smokestacks’ plumes polluted the sky. Indeed, such extensive commercial contamination of the region served as impetus for ecological concerns and inspired the urgency for conservation. Eventually, due to the dedication of local groups and prominent individuals who passionately believed in protecting the beauty of the environment, compromise and cooperation led to the existence of the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore side-by-side with large businesses and active steel mills. Unfortunately, that coexistence sometimes still results in friction, confrontation, or accidental contamination. Tuesday morning carcinogenic chemical wastewater spilled from U.S Steel into the Burns Waterway—one of the ditches built to redirect the Little Calumet River into Lake Michigan—tainted the waters pictured in my accompanying photograph and caused closure of nearby beaches. Unfortunately, this area of Lake Michigan also serves as a source of drinking water for bordering counties.
∼ April 12, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog in Early April”
I shift the weight of my tripod from one shoulder to another as I hike through interdunal wetlands on a warm morning in early April. Once again, a spring setting is reinventing itself, displaying signs of seasonal change. A red-winged blackbird perches in a dead tree, balancing itself in the strong southern wind on a slim limb now weathered as white as ash, and it offers a high-pitched whistle, perhaps warning of my intrusion. I pause a moment on this path to snap a photo of the four-foot long northern water snake slowly sliding past me, its dark skin decorated with yellow bands and blotches. Somewhere unseen a woodpecker taps his coded message against hardwood, and it echoes throughout this swampy landscape. The low croak of a frog drifts loudly through the bog, and I imagine it sounds like a foreign language I’ve not yet learned, something exotic and unintelligible to my ears. The first bright green leaves of plants, bur-reed, and sedge rise above an inky water surface amid reflections of empty trees like reminders of the colorful season about to unveil itself. Today’s hazy overcast sky acts like a photography studio softbox used to diffuse light, lessening the harsh effect of dark shadows developed under direct sunshine, and I capture images of these initial hints at spring.
∼ April 11, 2017 ∼ “Cowles Bog Walkway”
After days of early spring rain, every trail in the Indiana Dunes appears to contain the smell of wet grass or decaying leaves yet remaining on the ground from autumn. Even when the wind strengthens, sweeping between the silhouetted stripes of empty trees, a stale scent spreads then lingers. However, in wetlands paths such conditions seem suitable and contribute to a sense of atmosphere, as when I walked the Cowles Bog Trail one morning this week. In the beginning of April this route still carries the scars of winter: the faded coloring of shrubbery, wind-snapped limbs littering the landscape, the dismal disarray of dead weeds, and the clusters of old cattails folded over onto themselves. However, the verdure of new shoots has started to break through the surface of black water, adding an initial splash of color to the scenery and defining the direction of the wooden walkway as it winds into the distance. Nubs of green buds have also begun to decorate some branches overhanging the pathway, and a growing chorus of birdsong has returned to the region.
∼ April 10, 2017 ∼ “Beach Trees in April: Post Number 100”
[This post represents the 100th journal note in my Indiana Dunes project, and my writings for this project have now accumulated about 25,000 words. I again invite readers to browse through all the past entries. Moreover, I appreciate all who have viewed and responded to my photographs, and I welcome reactions to my daily commentary as well.] On this warm morning in the beginning of spring, I follow a beach trail along a breakwater and through the smoothed surface of rippling dunes, a path shaped and re-shaped by wind-shifted sands all winter. Today, the lake waves break along the beach, whitening in bright sunlight. An intensifying air current ruffles clusters of long leaves, marram grass sprouting from the foredunes. Leafless trees reach toward the water and lean into the incoming wind. Four gulls—momentarily motionless and in the distance looking like pale stones—settle on wet pebbles at the edge of the shore beneath a blue sky becoming marbled with thin clouds.
∼ April 9, 2017 ∼ “Flooded River”
“It is my intention to present—through the medium of photography—intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to the spectators.”—Ansel Adams Following several days of rain this normally narrow, slow-flowing river—shallow and brown with mud much of the summer—now swells well beyond the banks, its width extending into adjacent woods and choking sections of a trail that winds alongside. When the water is at this depth, shadows of trees are more easily seen reflected on the smooth surface, patterns of their thin limbs looking like a page with faded ink prints. After the recent wet weather spell finally broke and blue skies again provided backdrop for this scenery, I quickly visited to witness the changed character of this location. Certain sites like this spot inspire my imagination and, perhaps, evoke emotions in others. I find myself returning to them the way one might call on an old friend for comfort in a time of uncertainty. Therefore, though I am often conscious of the difficulty establishing intimacy in landscape photography, creating a sense of identification with the setting while avoiding sentimentality, I believe as Ansel Adams did that some images I appreciate may also stir significant responses in viewers.
∼ April 8, 2017 ∼ “Dune Path Through Marram Grass in Early April”
Sunlight whitens sand along the coast as if in defiance after last night’s strong storms that swept through the Indiana Dunes. Rain-swollen streams flood much of the forest just inland, where branches broken by blustery weather lie submerged under a widening swath of water. Except for a few wispy streaks over the horizon, skies clear across the southern edge of Lake Michigan as I head toward the shoreline and walk a narrow path alone among marram grass in the foredunes, still pocked in places with small pools deposited by the surge of wind-driven waves. The thin limbs of empty trees yet seem unsteady in a remaining onshore breeze, a murmur of surf interrupts the silence, and the beach seems speckled with bits of driftwood. The silhouette of one tiny tree twists in the distance, its image similar to a slim dancer solitary on a stage. Lingering hints of winter appear to be drifting away, and the forecast calls for significantly warmer conditions this week as spring begins to inscribe its signature on the landscape.
∼ April 7, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest After April Rainfall”
Clots of rain clouds appeared to be locked in place over northern Indiana for days in this beginning of April. Gusts of more than forty miles per hour whipped through the dunes most of Thursday morning. Already, flooded waterways flowed farther over their banks, and the depth of water filling the swamp forest grew to new levels, while also diluting some of its dark brown hue and creating a coffee-and-cream color due to the clarity of fresh rainfall. By the time the stalled weather front edged east and storm activity slackened, the stiff winds at last stilled themselves, and each of the trees seemed anchored in a reflective pool splitting images into two, doubling the details of the scenery displayed by spindly trunks and bare branches. Suddenly, the setting existed as another example of natural artwork, perhaps resembling a pen-and-ink printing on a layer of watercolor wash exhibited in an elegant gallery, the drawn lines of the thin limbs in the design highlighted by return of a brightening blue sky.
∼ April 6, 2017 ∼ “Changing Conditions”
Though only the beginning of April, already a lone sailboat slides across the surface of Lake Michigan, and I watch as a flock of gulls skids overhead in a continuing wind current. So far, spring has staggered through its first weeks, but today with arrival of slightly warmer weather the season seeks to steady itself and secure a firm foothold. Bright sunlight whitens this dry skirt of shoreline while the wet sand at the surf’s edge takes on the rust color of rustic clay brickwork. I pause to peer through my viewfinder at a few dune trees brushed by the onshore breeze. The sky had been completely clear earlier this afternoon, but altocumulus clouds now signal another change in conditions may be on the way. As I snap the shutter to capture this image, behind me some serious cyclists pedal past, moving fast on a paved pathway a bit inland from the beach, each leaning forward over the handlebars and steering toward a steep stretch of dune hillside rising just ahead.
∼ April 5, 2017 ∼ “Pond at Opening of April”
Due to today’s strange change in weather, last night’s overcast of low clouds slowly moving east has mostly faded away. The underbrush softly rustles when I step through to view a glazed pond sometimes wearing its glare like the blinding glint of sunshine on a picture window. With a startled sense of surprise, three geese rise from behind a line of trees to further disturb the silence, flailing at the air with their wings. A lone hawk floats high overhead, quietly lifting and tilting in little shifts of wind, its silhouette almost black and crossing a background of blue. A beaver has gnawed through a tree now felled and lying in the center of the water. I think a day like this deserves its own note of appreciation: how a gauze of late morning haze dissipated above the lake, an onshore breeze sweeping along the beach smoothed the dunes, golden flecks of loose sand blew through the few trees along a ridge, and how now I notice the rigid trunks of trees rise with a seeming show of indifference, bending and extending above a pond surface mirroring their presence.
∼ April 4, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest in Early Spring”
Just inland from Lake Michigan, surrounded by acres of wetlands, I hike between leafless trees of a swamp forest. A red-winged blackbird flies low overhead then moves beyond creaking treetops to my right. The stiffening wind whirs through the empty limbs, ruffles a sparse stubble of marsh weeds, and ripples bleached reed stalks appearing almost a ghostly shade of gray, their tone faded, weakened by months of wintry weather. A morning chill still lingers as onshore gusts gnaw at the sun’s futile attempt to warm these interdunal woods by peeking through slightly porous cloud cover loitering over the whole region, the thick sky tinted with a color similar to chimney smoke. The slow bellow of a bullfrog somewhere in the distance also breaks the silence. Despite the date on my calendar, the shift of seasons remains in transition. Though the great weight of winter has lifted from this landscape, much of the scenery yet exhibits its impression, an influence that will last well into spring, when those first plumes of green growth finally begin to bloom with brilliant flowers yawning open their petals under a shower of bright sunlight.
∼ April 3, 2017 ∼ “Beach After Rain, Beginning of April”
I heard the throbbing of wind-driven waves reaching a cluster of boulders as breakwater along a brilliantly illuminated beach. All but the dark shadows of driftwood suddenly seemed charged with afternoon sunshine from a sky becoming almost cloudless. The soaking rain that had lingered overnight and into late morning had at last dissipated, and its storm front moved toward the east, as the sand beneath my feet seemed to be warming a bit. A couple of nearby gulls seeking scraps of food in sand at the edge of the lake appeared to quicken their pace as I approached. In the distance a tall man ran along the shoreline, his hands holding tightly to a string ascending toward a brightly colored kite—yellow, green, and red—dragging high above and behind him. Two small children chased after the man and followed his lead, each elated and pointing overhead at the sailing kite with its rectangular frame now lifting or dipping over shallow water by the coast, floating in the slightly rising tide of an onshore breeze where only one month ago at the start of March a wide barrier collar of white shelf ice separated land from lake.
∼ April 2, 2017 ∼ “Spring Flooding”
After a week of heavy rains, many of the local waterways have been stretched beyond their flood levels. This river—shallow and muddy brown in summer, frozen during much of winter—frequently swells hundreds of yards beyond the tree line that grows from slopes usually defining its banks. The first white settler who built a trading post at this site along the river’s edge nearly two centuries ago found his structure swamped by the same seasonal spread of rainwater overflowing into this flood plain. In April, under spells of heavy rain, the surge sometimes encompasses much of the bordering groves and fields. During those years when a thick snow pack persists until March, the extent of the river’s expansion increases as well, most underbrush and the base of each tree in adjoining woods drowned after downpours from a series of storms. Even the lower branches of trees located in forests far from the normally narrow course of the river often bend and dip into new accumulations of water. Widening pools of runoff might rise higher with every cloudburst, as well as washing away portions of a parallel trail that I often walk on a direction through the dune woods. Various sections of the route submerged, I am frequently required to find a way ahead by climbing heights or opening my own path in the undergrowth.
∼ April 1, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Walkway at Start of April”
Long dawn shadows veiled much in the heart of this marsh. Later, morning’s thin haze lingered. But the sun soon rubbed against treetops and reclaimed the terrain. As I passed across a wooden footpath only inches above the stagnant wetland, the worn planks appeared weathered a little more by another winter. The trail stretched toward a distant bend like a leading line directing a viewer’s vision farther into the swamp forest, and along sections of the route, the boards seemed almost to float on the surface of the mire. I could smell the sour scent of a damp landscape, the sharp odor of stale water and dark soil covered with decaying leaves. When I paused to snap a photograph, extending my tripod legs with the creak of metal clasps and a distinct clicking sound, I heard the screeching of geese and a brief flailing of wings nearby, then a return to silence. A slight chill still signaled the delay of warmer spring weather. By afternoon, a clear blue sky would cover everything, and I knew I’d find my way between the trees to a shelter at a watershed beside a shallow creek only a few miles ahead.
∼ March 31, 2017 ∼ “Trail Beside Creek at End of March”
Winter’s silence has slowly given way to the chirping of birds perched among branches still bare in this early spring air. Beneath my feet, a snaking creek-side path speckled with dried leaves—remaining from autumn and now blackened, crackling under every step—seems to reach deep into the distance, the way becoming vague in quickly diminishing daylight. The winding waterway lies still on this windless afternoon, supplying reflected images with a slightly amber tint sketched onto its smooth surface, details as visually inventive as those liberally depicted in an impressionist painting. This easy section of the trail, a short stretch to the lakeshore, offers flat passage for comfortable walking with the shallow slopes of little hills rising on either side. Members of Native American tribes, mostly Potawatomi, once traveled the same place, moving through these woods on trips from their inland villages to Lake Michigan or when transporting furs to the first white settler’s trading post situated just a couple of miles to the west. I consider elements of this history each time I visit the forest trail.
∼ March 30, 2017 ∼ “Inspiration”
“Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day’s work.”—Frank Lloyd Wright This morning’s sunrise arrived with a flourish, unfolded a sky saturated by golden light like the bold color of Chardonnay wine, and the bluish-green lake water that had been black, overcast with a starless canopy, awakened from its stark spell of nighttime darkness. By the time I hike this beachfront stretch of trail, I find myself moving around some of those sand mounds deposited throughout the foredunes—shapes made during winters by displaced landscape, gifts lifted into place by an unseen hand. I see a sharp horizon line splits the image in front of me, and the shore’s edge is outlined by a repeated pattern, the surf’s spasms of breaking waves. Fluffy clusters of wind-driven clouds define the sky. Once again, this setting serves as inspiration. I work my way east along the coast, where the scenery is framed by a few leafless trees, the shadows of their slim limbs reaching onto the tan sand of a surf-stained beach, and a rocky breakwater of broken stones that appear like rough accents decorating the shorefront. Almost breathless from walking so far, I am reminded that breathless can also refer to emotional excitement, just as inspiration also means the act of drawing breath, the very essence of life.
∼ March 29, 2017 ∼ “View from Mt. Holden in March”
Following a tiring climb up the steep slope of a sand dune, I position my tripod on a ridge cliff overlooking Lake Michigan. Cloud cover has cleared—lifted and drifted away since an early morning drizzle dimpled the beach, dampened the sandy paths, and deposited dew on the patches of marram grass. From this vantage-point the landscape along the lake appears to extend deep into the distance before disappearing beside blue sky and blue water. The spindly limbs of leafless trees still seem to be reaching insistently, as if calling for attention, the way they have persisted all winter. I always frame an image in my camera viewfinder as an attempt to absorb the moment, capture it for a print, and at the same time imprint it in my memory to internalize the energy. I want to preserve this valued scenery I see as sacred in whatever way I am able. One might find nothing subtle about my appreciation for nature, the elation felt in retaining a snapshot of the engaging setting I witness, but much of what I do tries to prove Ansel Adams’ observation about photography: “A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”
∼ March 28, 2017 ∼ “Evolution of Early Spring”
All morning bright sunlight presided over the shoreline, perhaps a signal preceding the inevitability of warmer weather. Year after year, the slow evolution of early spring seems to offer so much hope, gradually gnawing away at remnants of winter imagery. Even though cold onshore breezes will continue to shoulder the coast into April or May, the tight knot of winter loosens each week. Already, returning birds are repopulating treetops in the swamp forest and wading across marsh water. A few more small boats now float along the shore on bright afternoons, hulls swaying in the steady pulse of rippling lake waves. The sandy beach begins to hold daytime heat a little longer. Sunset displays its radiant tints a bit later every day, the tilted rays of light bathing dune hills with rich shades of color shaping the shoreline, embracing the landscape until the cloak of night closes over everything.
∼ March 27, 2017 ∼ “Late Light in Late March”
The southern angle of the sun yet sends slanting light at the end of March, casting trees along the dune ridge into silhouette. By sunset they sometimes even seem almost ghostly as the rough bark of trunks and their spindly limbs blacken. The lakeside slopes face north and darken early. Winding deep through the dunes along an old trail late in the day, I feel as if night is arriving already, except for a few final flecks of sunshine still visible among treetops. So, I follow a blowout opening toward the beach, where a half-dozen teenagers have huddled around a tiny campfire for warmth, burning dried sticks of leathery driftwood in a gap between grassy mounds on the foredunes, though I think it is illegal here. The small flames appear like fiery blossoms in full bloom, and a narrow plume of smoke rises into the sky. Enticed by the fire, I slow my stride a bit and then stop to watch, notice a couple of red and gold embers flipped into the air and flickering like exotic butterflies lit by brilliant moonlight.
∼ March 26, 2017 ∼ “Ring-Billed Gulls”
Some ring-billed gulls browse along the beach while a couple test themselves by wading in strengthening swells of waves or others float overhead in a stiffening onshore breeze. (Today’s bright sunshine hints at spring weather, but a chill still accompanies this northern wind.) In the foredunes a few more forage for food, pecking at whatever they can find, occasionally crying out with a loud and shrill call. Among sand mounds and tufts of marram grass, a small boy offers bits of bread for two of the birds to nibble, tossing morsels of crust to the gulls, causing chaos as their black-and-yellow bills quickly pick at each piece. A woman watches nearby and points toward four more, frequently flapping their black-tipped wings, not much farther away. The child hurls a last slice, the loaf’s heel, toward them. In a frenzy, they clumsily hurry to reach it, challenge one another. Mother and son walk away, turning their attention to collecting colorful shells at the edge of the water. Suddenly, sunlight starts to fade as a lone large cloud passes above the coast, dragging its vague gray shade over everything like a dark theater curtain drawn at the close of an act.
∼ March 25, 2017 ∼ “Mixed Up Month of March”
Standing between two trees at the tail end to one of my favorite trails, a sandy path that courses through dune woods and forested hills to exit at a ledge on a bluff high above the beach, I view the bluish-green water beyond. Whenever I arrive at this rise beside the lake, a ridge overlooking the shoreline like a natural balcony, I always pause to examine the expanse suddenly on display before me. Overnight clouds have been displaced by a new blue sky spread overhead like a painted canopy, and I listen to the steady rhythm of the surf as it traces slim white lines of waves in the brightening sunlight. Northwest Indiana received a tease of warmer weather as a temporary wedge of southern air current edged over the state and moved into Lake Michigan, chafing away at the lingering layer of winter chill with temperatures in the mid-seventies. Yet, the forecast calls for a storm front that will bring heavy rain as the mixed up month of March remains erratic. However, in this instance, I witness change as I notice the shoreline starting to rearrange itself, and one season seems finally to be fading away while another begins to stake its claim.
∼ March 24, 2017 ∼ “Promontory in Early Spring”
Once again the landscape is shaped by the changing light of early spring. The screech of ring-billed gulls along the beach greets me. I pass through dunes still sculpted and smoothed by the rush of last season’s gusts. Leafless trees whipped by winds all winter stand as survivors. I watch as today’s waves break against a promontory of jagged rocks, a splash of whitewater rising in the sunshine and leaping over the stones as though holy water, evoking the sacred spray in a Sunday mass. I find my memory searching some church service images from childhood—remembering the blessing bestowed at benediction, the sprinkle of the aspergillum wielded as if it were a magic wand or musical baton, and my fingers dipping into the font upon exit before touching one fingertip to my forehead in beginning the sign of the cross. I also recall a sentence from Eudora Welty’s excellent essay, “Place in Fiction”: “From the dawn of man’s imagination, place has enshrined the spirit; as soon as man stopped wandering and stood still and looked about him, he found a god in that place….”
∼ March 23, 2017 ∼ “Three Weeks into March”
By the time of the high sun near noon, morning’s long shadows have been folded and put away. I hike beneath arching branches of leafless trees, the thinner limbs extending and intersecting like lacework. After last evening’s overcast skies and cold winds coming quickly from the north, a soft southern breeze now cradles the coast and begins to bring warmer weather. Each feature of the entire landscape is tipped with sunshine, though pockets of cooler air linger deep in the ravine or among darker parts of the swamp forest, where sunlight diminishes and the scene almost seems candlelit in those lower levels of dimmer dune woods. Three skeins of geese cross the nearly cloudless sky like wedges sketched onto a blue background, their honking calls audible as they pass not too far away. They appear headed toward a large marsh beyond a nearby dune and just short of the lakeshore. I cannot imagine a more ordinary image for three weeks into March, but nothing could be more comforting.
∼ March 22, 2017 ∼ “Spring Proposal”
The start of spring is often associated with other beginnings throughout nature and parallels transitions witnessed in the lives of humans. Indeed, literature frequently employs this season as metaphor for spiritual awakening or emotional warmth, especially when reflecting the emergence of new growth in personal relationships. I particularly regard this time of year as important in my life since my wife and I had our first date in spring, involving a visit to Lake Michigan to walk along the Indiana Dunes. As I hiked down from Mt. Holden toward the beach this week, I was reminded of the initiation of my own relationship with Pam when I observed a young couple huddled at the base of the trail while one wrote words in the sand with a broken twig, unaware of my presence a significant distance up the slope. Far from the pair and protecting their privacy, I did not photograph them; however, I could view through my long lens that the man had scrawled “MARRY ME?” The young woman, obviously delighted, responded positively as they kissed and hugged before continuing on their way toward the lake. I did not realize until I returned home and examined my photos that I had accidentally caught the last part of the word “marry” from the proposal etched into the dune in the lower left corner of an image I had composed a bit later when looking from the Mt. Holden trail toward the skyline of Chicago barely discernible on the horizon.
∼ March 21, 2017 ∼ “Beginning of Spring”
Drawn by the beauty and tranquility of a dune ridge, luminous at noon, I climb a rising path after moving through a stubble of undergrowth and foredunes feathered with patches of marram grass. Bright sunlight shapes the landscape in this start of spring. The slightly swaying limbs of leafless trees seem to breathe with life, bronchial branches inhaling and exhaling in a subtle breeze. This northern air current still exhibits remnants of winter, cooled a bit with its crossing of chilly lake water, and those upper slopes of sand dunes have been smoothed by the gentle hand of last night’s onshore wind; yet, today everything has changed. Each shift to a new season begins with evidence of transition from another but quickly establishes its own identity. As Thoreau observed during a journal note written on March 26 of 1846: “The change from foul weather to fair, from dark, sluggish hours to serene, elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. The change from foulness to serenity is instantaneous. Suddenly an influx of light, though it was late, filled my room. I looked out and saw that the pond was already calm and full of hope as on a summer evening, though the ice was dissolved but yesterday…. It was no longer the end of a season, but the beginning.”
∼ March 20, 2017 ∼ “Last Day of Winter”
Since yesterday was the last day of winter, I decided to hike the old Cabin Trail at Indiana Dunes. This path is unmarked and not included on state park maps because it exists as a remnant from a different era. During the first half of the twentieth century, when as many as 150 structures—cabins, shacks, and cottages—dotted the beachfront, this route riding a ridge through the dunes helped connect the residents. In fact, a section I traveled starts where the Indiana Governor’s summer house once stood and extends eastward to the site that had held painter Frank V. Dudley’s studio home. When all the private properties were consolidated into parkland, each of the buildings was demolished and materials hauled off. Knowing that the trail snakes around mounds high above the beach, I believed it would serve as an apt metaphor for the transition from winter to spring. Indeed, during my visit I could see the side facing Lake Michigan sloped to the sand and surf, bathed in bright sunshine (though temperatures lingered in the mid-forties), while toward the inland direction a deep ravine, wooded and shaded by its inclines, still displayed pockets of snow not yet melted and remaining among darkest forest recesses.
∼ March 19, 2017 ∼ “Uphill Trail”
After three days with swift westerly winds, today the landscape appears listless, and this slim trail that reaches to the beach seems framed by a sequence of leafless trees, each bathed in bright sunshine. I’ve decided to climb through the dunes on a path that loops around shifting mounds of sand toward the shore but will be too overgrown in places for passage during summer months. Midday diminishes shadows, and a runoff of sunlight flows almost like liquid soaking the whole scene. Carrying my camera and tripod over my shoulder, I tire as I ascend and approach the coast. By late afternoon, I rest on a ridge, listening to a lone motorboat grind north beyond a narrow sandbar not far offshore, as if attempting to escape this landscape, making a break with the bow now aimed at Lake Michigan’s straight horizon line, light blue above and dark blue below. I watch as the boat’s white wake threads its way through a few buoys, the craft’s swell of water creating little waves that fan from the aft and fade away.
∼ March 18, 2017 ∼ “Dune Ridge Trail”
The sun seems pinned into position today just above this small hill beside Lake Michigan with only a few thin clouds drifting toward the north to limit its bright cascade of daylight. The dunes, replenished by resettled shoreline shifting inland during last night’s swift winds, appear untroubled now, as if the result of sand slowly sifted through the narrow passage of an hour glass. I often like to climb this sloping path to the top, approaching that place in the landscape where a view of the whole coast will open like an unfolded poster photo promoting a scenic travel destination. Although only a short trail about one quarter mile long, its visitors walk through a wooded valley to approach the incline I find rising in front of me. There, a compact group of empty trees stands alone on the ridge above stubbly tufts of marram grass in March light overlooking the vast expanse of lake on the other side.
∼ March 17, 2017 ∼ “Competing Seasons”
I delay my hike a moment to take in the radiance of a late winter day, the way a slant of sunlight plays on the luminous landscape. Even when yesterday’s snowflakes fell, I sensed the end of a season lurks less than seven days away. The strengthening sunshine of spring seems to be beginning its tenure already, even the northern storms weaken and depart quickly, as last night’s dusting of snow shows. Soon, an uncertainty will settle into the scenery, evidence of two seasons competing with one another will be witnessed. As a photographer, I frequently measure the weather with my observations of light. Though I usually prefer partial overcast to inject texture into an image, in this instance I do not mind the absence of clouds. The crisp air adds clarity to my photograph of this place offering a graceful presence. The branches of a bare tree appear embraced by the blue sky behind it, and the curve of a slender creek, yet glossy with ice, brightens like white frosted glass to offer its elegance. In the weeks ahead this setting will reorganize itself, altering the vista into a distinct image of spring.
∼ March 16, 2017 ∼ “A Moment in the Middle of March”
I pause on this gray day, the entire sky consumed by cloud cover. Black branches sag under the white weight of new snow, and the rest of the scenery also seems somewhat colorless. Despite the recent spell of milder temperatures, this season lingers—as though a trickle of water still drips into the well of winter, once thought almost dry—with spring only one week away. Middle of March, yet last night’s frost has left a thin skin of translucent ice on the stream’s surface. Images like this intensify my affection for nature. With an absence of wind, stillness fills the forest. Unlike what I will find next month, there are no other visitors on the trail today. A pervasive silence saturates this setting sheltered from the commotions of society. I hear no chirping from birds perched along the path, and I witness not a bit of motion from the passing of deer nearby. In A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s bestselling book, he writes of another March: “The woods were silent because spring had not yet come…. We trudged through a cold, silent world of bare trees, beneath pewter skies….” I move on, knowing the next time I return so will spring, and the whole landscape will have changed.
∼ March 15, 2017 ∼ “River After Late Winter Snow”
After almost a month of false warmth and only one week until spring, I was pleased to see winter had nudged itself over northern Indiana once again in mid-March with a day of lake-effect snow, its long string of clouds blown onshore by stiff winds. The thawed Little Calumet River continued to slowly flow, looking like a light green ribbon unrolled between its white banks and the low hills sloping above either side. New blue patches filtered through a mostly overcast sky, showing against the pale clouds like an undercoat of paint emerging into view, and the scenery suddenly brightened, each shaft of sunlight entering as if from a skylight. I followed a narrow trail beside the water, where tips of treetops yet reflected, and a couple of geese nearby trundled hesitantly toward me under overhanging limbs still sleeved with snow, then they quickly turned and walked away. This stretch of the river always seems secluded, especially in winter when it bends and loops through a section of the dune woods ahead. At a time like this, I am delighted by my surroundings, and I’m reminded why I wanted the season to remain a little longer.
∼ March 14, 2017 ∼ “A Perfect Winter Day”
By the time I arrive at these dune woods, a loose robe of snowfall has spread out and covered everything, smoothing all the irregular angles of the topography, as if an element featured in a Romantic allegory about nature’s innate ability to quickly transform the world around us. A lingering layer of dead leaves yet leftover from autumn and caught among the stubble of undergrowth—visible most of this almost snowless season—has disappeared along the trail. The storm’s insistent winds have stilled, and last night’s low temperatures already have eased a bit; the front’s frigid air has retreated toward the north. Brightening sunlight peeks through the trees to illuminate the landscape, exhibiting elongated shadows of thin trunks on the tide of white surrounding them. In a journal note written during the winter of 1854 (February 12), Henry David Thoreau described “a perfect winter day”: “you must have a clear, sparkling air with a sheen from the snow, sufficient cold, little or no wind; and the warmth must come directly from the sun. It must not be a thawing warmth. The tension of nature must not be relaxed.”
∼ March 13, 2017 ∼ “Northern Winds”
Strong northern gusts battered an abandoned beach with breaking waves—even the usually ever-present gulls were gone—and continuous gales dragged wind-chill temperatures into the teens Friday afternoon. Though still technically winter, after weeks of warmer weather this unexpectedly abrupt return to a cold sweep of Canadian air spilling onshore seemed especially traitorous. Wisps of quick clouds shifted south, but the bright sunlight already appeared to exhibit an increasing intensity. Additionally, an elevated angle of sunshine suggested spring, only a dozen days away, would soon be here. Yet, my face felt frozen—at times also wet with spray from treacherous rogue waves or blasted by sand in the blustery wind. Repeatedly, my gloved hands fumbled to wipe dry the wide-angle lens with a fiber cloth or to adjust the camera’s shutter settings, as I hoped to photograph this energetic scene normally so calm and serene. Finally, my persistence paid off, and I captured an image that to me made it all worthwhile.
∼ March 12, 2017 ∼ “Stark Forest”
A gentle breeze whispers through the trees like a murmured prayer offering words of assurance softly spoken to ease the suffering of mourners during a church service. Though my mind creates this fictional grief, I’m more moved due to the true emotions evoked by my surroundings as I walk through woods once charred dark by fire from a lightning strike. Most of the stark forest along this trail had been destroyed decades ago in a single night, stumps of trunks or broken branches burnt black and left a while to stand as if memorial monuments. Nearly half a century later, although almost all have been removed over the years, some of those remnants continue to present evidence of loss. I pause for a moment among the darkening terrain—still sparse despite recent rebirth of new growth—when the scene is stilled, held in a brief lull of wind just before dusk. It is calm and quiet here now, perhaps similar to the hush following a confidential conversation, like a lingering silence at the close of an intimate disclosure.
∼ March 11, 2017 ∼ “Driftwood Shadow”
Whenever I look at a landscape setting, I am struck by shifting shades of color and elements of luminosity provided by natural light—perhaps the manner in which sloping mounds of sand dunes absorb or reflect winter sunshine, maybe the way the whitewater of waves glistens in bright daylight. I like the elongated lines of shadow and the differing degrees of darkness that sometimes inhabit them. I admire the brilliance of marram grass gently dancing in a brisk onshore breeze under sunlight, as well as the textured brown bark peeling from bone-tinted driftwood. I appreciate the gradual changes in hue influenced by illumination, witnessed in the blues and greens of a clear sky over lake water. Claude Monet once wrote: “For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life—the light and the air which vary continually.” Paul Cezanne added an observation: “Shadow is a color as light is, but less brilliant; light and shadow are only the relation of two tones.”
∼ March 10, 2017 ∼ “Midday in Early March”
Traveling through a thinning section of woods, I met my first person only moments ago, a birder passing in the opposite direction, and we spoke briefly. However, once again I sense someone else nearby. I guess perhaps a couple at the campgrounds not far past the next bend in this path, as a faint scent of wood smoke drifts between leafless trees accompanied by a distant sound of loud laughter. Despite heavy rainfall earlier, only a slow-flowing stream that last week seemed to be drying up parallels parts of the trail. Normally this is a snow-fed creek throughout winter; but in this year’s snowless season it appears so shallow with a surface so clear, those pale stones on the bottom now show. Morning’s strong storm has moved to the east; a sparse layer of stray clouds has frayed and dissipated as well. In some places along the way, freshly snapped limbs litter the route. Midday sunshine glazes the lake’s swollen waves yet breaking on the beach just beyond a dune hill, and bright daylight tries to reclaim the entire landscape, while the taller skeletal treetops overhead can’t even offer a bit of shade but still sway, seeming to strain in remaining winds, almost as if nodding in assent to this change in conditions.
∼ March 9, 2017 ∼ “Westerly Winds”
As a photographer seeking to capture a setting with precision, I frequently must weigh the presence of wind in any decision I make. Movement creates an indistinct image, especially in landscape photography that normally uses a smaller aperture (at least f8) and requires more time to allow greater light onto the camera’s sensor. In winter weather, often with weaker light or completely overcast skies, this situation is particularly evident. However, I do have a bit more leeway in freezing a scene without blur because the empty trees are not impacted as much as those full of foliage in other seasons. Strong and steady gales (such as those experienced in the region during the past few days, when westerly gusts grew to more than 50 miles per hour) also negatively influence opportunities to obtain sharp focus due to shaking of the camera, even when secured on a reliable tripod. Nevertheless, noticing the windy conditions this week, I chose to visit Lake Michigan, where motion in the form of waves generated by air currents is always welcomed, since it contributes a sense of energy to a normally placid view.
∼ March 8, 2017 ∼ “Snow Squall”
In late February I followed a flat trail through the dune forest and found a location of large leafless trees with dark bark. The bare black branches came alive with movement due to a brisk breeze sweeping inland from Lake Michigan, bringing a squall line onshore. When pale clouds filled the sky and the first flakes fell, drifting down and gently beginning to accumulate, briefly disguising the woods around me, I felt as though a glass snow globe had been flipped over. Shortly after the storm front eased toward the east, a light covering of white settled over everything, blurring sharp lines of the landscape and brightening the scenery in the little remaining daylight. Hiking toward home through slushy footing along the wet path, and with my heavy breathing still visible in the chilled air, I noticed the vivid image of a red-winged blackbird perched in a distant beech tree, too far away to capture with my wide-angle lens, the red edges of its feathers offering the only brushstrokes of color anywhere within sight.
∼ March 7, 2017 ∼ “The Nature Fix”
A book published last month, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams, explores the physical and psychological advantages to engaging with nature. A quote from the text suggests contemporary society and the technological environment of everyday living provide further evidence humans must interact with the natural world on a more regular basis. Williams observes: “We don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature, it turns out, is good for civilization.” Describing the focus of her examination, she adds: “This book explores the science behind what poets and philosophers have known for eons: place matters.” Reading this work, I found myself identifying with some of the emotional and intellectual responses to nature shared by subjects in the chapters, and I associated the author’s conclusions with my opinions on the significance of nature witnessed in the repeated reports about trips to the Indiana Dunes related in this journal.
∼ March 6, 2017 ∼ “Importance of Description”
Ring-billed gulls float in southern winds along the lakeshore and rise high in the sky above breaking waves. A few birds land on a narrow sandbar almost golden in midmorning sunshine after an earlier mist has dissipated. Following weeks of unseasonably warm weather, mild temperatures persist. Observing from a trail through the foredunes among marram grass at the start of March, I mark in my memory the dark outline of a cargo ship silhouetted on the horizon, heading west toward Chicago. When I swivel my camera on its tripod head a little, hoping to capture a panoramic view of the scenery, I notice brittle sticks of driftwood lying in the sunshine, the deep brown bark of these broken branches now lightened a bit by the drier air. Reading these words that I’ve written thus far, I realize once more the importance I place on description, how much such details matter to me, as if every bit of information in this setting acts as a mnemonic element, a way to recall forever even the most modestly felt tone of a fleeting moment and any emotion evoked at the time.
∼ March 5, 2017 ∼ “Sun After Storm”
Following a winding route from inland wetlands to the shore of Lake Michigan, my boots sometimes stick in the path’s sludge. By summer much of this thick mud will turn to trail dust. I know overnight snow flurries and frigid winds swept the region, but morning hints of change, as the sky is tinted by an artistic sunrise with warm colors woven overhead. Isolated blotches of ground fog have been washed away by sunshine reclaiming the landscape. I see three deer move through these watery woods, weaving between empty trees and dipping their heads under bottom branches. They slosh the cold marsh water, a thin layer of surface ice cracking like glass or clattering like shards of shattered plates. By the time I make my way to the peak of a dune hill on my hike toward the shore, I observe a scattering of cumulus clouds covering the lake like lengths of knotted white linen cloths, and I can hear the steady pulse of waves breaking on the sandy beach, where lines of whitewater extend like strands of pale twines strung along the coastline.
∼ March 4, 2017 ∼ “River Bend”
Sometimes it is not enough to know intimately the local characteristics of the landscape—maybe the manner in which gnarled oak, hickory, elm, and ash grow alongside the river or the way the water mirrors their limbs on a calm winter morning when summer’s green leaves are gone and the ice-smooth surface appears as clear as my camera’s glass. In this cold season when even a sighting of the sun offers little warmth, one must remember as always an observation by Ralph Waldo Emerson in Nature that “the whole of nature is a metaphor for the human mind.” Therefore, with each description I present, I am aware of the transition from denotation to connotation, the connection between content and context, and the relationship object has to objective. As a writer and a reader, I’ve witnessed the symbolism natural features frequently assume in literature, and I consciously include consideration of these interpretations in composition of my photographic images as well. In this way, a picture of a river bend can also suggest meanings of transition and change in direction, especially since such a waterway often symbolizes the course of life. Consequently, I always perceive illustration, verbal and visual, as an act also implying intellectual or emotional narrative.
∼ March 3, 2017 ∼ “Trail Beneath Bent Tree”
On this day after late-night rain, I follow a trail scrawled between leafless trees like an illegible signature. The storm front has shifted to the northeast, yet a sporadic presence of strong winds persists, hinting at further turbulence. These muddy woods I hike through provide a buffer from such gusts. Sandy sections of the path still remain dimpled in spots by last night’s raindrops. Already the weather is changing again, as sunlight weakens once more, filtered at times by increasingly overcast skies threatening with spring-like thunderstorms forecast for this evening. Indeed, the adjusting angle of sunshine and warmer temperatures witnessed lately offer indications of an imminent spring, though this mostly snowless season has not yet allowed a weariness with winter. As I approach a bend near the end of my walk, I notice a tree trunk leaning across the trail, its longest limb listing all the way over the passage ahead of me. When I step past, I feel enveloped by this tilt in an element of the landscape, which in summer will fill further with foliage and resemble a natural tunnel, a symbol of transition.
∼ March 2, 2017 ∼ “Changing Weather”
I am walking through the dunes on a weekday afternoon, and the weather changes again. A chaotic cluster of southbound clouds assembles in the distance, each like a weightless white island drifting in winter’s dress blue. Pools of shadow expand across the landscape, and patches of the lake water take on a gray shade. I climb a hillside of sand shaped all season by northern winds, the gold skirt of beach below me, and the shoreline blossoming with bright waves of whitewater. A breeze sighs through empty trees and brushes the long hairs of marram grass along this ridge. The steady surf beneath me sounds a regular rhythm, reliably keeping its beat. A couple of old motorboats loll offshore—engines extinguished, fishing lines seem to be leaning over their sides—both bobbing silently beyond a suddenly submerged sandbar. Soon, they will be returning to port for the evening, but I will wait until well after sunset, hoping to photograph the transition.
∼ March 1, 2017 ∼ “Winding Wooded Trail”
The crowns of these empty trees sway in strengthening wind gusts, trying my patience as I wait for a lull to snap a photograph and avoid blurring. Sunshine filters through the bare limbs, and their narrow shadows seem to be black brushstrokes dabbed back and forth on the path before me. In some darker parts along the trail, the shade appears more like charred marks branded into the landscape. For a while, I focus on a sole tree—shorter and with burnt-orange leaves still displayed so late in winter—looking out of place among the others. I love the way this route weaves through a crease in the scenery, each section stitched together between steep slopes with a wooden footbridge, though it’s hardly needed since the seasonal stream below has almost gone dry due to lack of snowmelt in this mostly snowless winter. I will follow the curves in this course, descending into the ravine, where I will find less influence of the wind on the images I attempt to capture with my camera.
∼ February 28, 2017 ∼ “Eternal Language of Landscape”
…wander like a breeze / By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags / Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds, / Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores / And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear / The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible / Of that eternal language…. from “Frost at Midnight” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge I listen to the wistful cadence of a soft shifting wind drifting off the lake. Sunlight slips lower, dipping toward the horizon, moving in and out of clouds dragging their shadows across sand dunes smoothed by winter’s hand, a persistent onshore current brought from the north. Tree trunks beside the beach seem to slouch, their black branches nearly bare, only a few final leaves lingering—brown, crisp, and paper thin—yet decorate the stiff limbs. I hike the old Cabin Trail (though there have been no cabins here for a half century) along an eroding slope linking a couple of the highest hills where the breeze murmurs through a cluster of ridge trees as the overcast increases. In every entry to this journal the subject of my writing stays unvaried, though each day a bit of change appears in the scenery through natural alteration, and I offer the same eternal language of the landscape.
∼ February 27, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek at End of February”
The trampled dead leaves of autumn still litter this trail through a dune forest in the end of February. I worry a sense of depth may be lost in my image, flattened by the bright midday light, any details in the photograph bleached by sunshine. At least, that is what I’m thinking as I reach the spot I’d been seeking. A split wind picks its way between the stiff trees, as if sifted in its passing, and I hear the gargle of a clear creek nearby, where a few frogs jump from the bank, one by one, as I hike past them, scuffing my feet on an uneven path. Brush-like tufts at the tops of weeds nod in the slow current, and a yellow sand bed—almost golden—can be seen beneath the shallow water. Spreading overhead, the crosshatched chaos of bare branches, some blackened in silhouette, attests this region remains lodged in winter despite the noticeable ghostly absence of snow and the skein of geese gabbling above. A faint scent of smoke drifts in the breeze, seeps into these deep woods from a campsite in the direction I am heading, not far beyond the next bend.
∼ February 26, 2017 ∼ “River at Bailly Homestead”
The first white settler in Northwest Indiana, fur trader Joseph Bailly, arrived in 1822 and established a trading post beside the Little Calumet River. This location offered excellent opportunity to transport goods along the river and main east-west Indian trails that crossed nearby, as well as providing proximity to Lake Michigan, just a short distance north and convenient for shipping goods to a commercial hub in Mackinac. This riverside site proved ideal for delivery of animal pelts by canoe, and the local Potawatomi tribe served as favorite trading partners, supplying pelts from various game, including beaver, rabbit, and deer. Bailly’s wife Marie was of Potawatomi heritage in Ottawa on her mother’s side, which must have assisted Bailly in relations with his neighbors. Bailly apparently situated an original structure alongside the river’s northern bank (seen in the accompanying photograph). However, this waterway often overflows with snowmelt in spring, and the width of the river expands quite a bit into the flood plain, as I have documented in past photographs. Consequently, Bailly subsequently constructed his main homestead on a bluff overlooking the river and above any possible floodwaters. That Bailly compound included a main living residence and five other log cabins for storage and warehousing of materials.
∼ February 25, 2017 ∼ “Winter Morning in Swamp Forest”
At first, the scenery seemed designed for a dream, smeared with mist before late morning sunlight began to seep through this swamp forest within reach of the river trail. The entire setting shared the silence of a shut room in an abandoned building. I imagined the kind of narrative that could occur in such a scene, the ominous figures a novelist might invent to fit this image. But I was the only one anywhere around, once again alone in nature, watching the gradual awakening of this vague landscape as the last cloud of fog lifted, rose like smoke floating over tamped down ashes in a dampened campfire, and dissipated, unveiling a procession of trees, thin trunks leaning one way or another with bent limbs, their brown bark absorbing the sudden gift of golden sunshine. As clarity revealed details, whorls in the ridges of weathered wood now painted with welcoming hues, I appreciated once more the odd beauty of such a place. However, despite an appearance of warmth, the cold that had collected all night still buried the saturated soil and root balls under frozen water.
∼ February 24, 2017 ∼ “Creek in Late February”
A hawk perches in nature’s attic on an upper limb of the empty tree about fifty feet in front of me. He seems to be observing my movement. Carrying my camera and tripod, I slowly trudge, moving clumsily along a trail, shuffling or stumbling over curling dried leaves and sections of deadwood near the end of February, the crisp chill of winter returned after a brief spell of warm weather. Yesterday, a cold front cleared away the gray skies, and ice again begins to contribute a fine sheen to the water’s surface. Although this season has been mostly snowless, my hope remains for at least one more northern storm that will thoroughly whiten the landscape. For now, the few thin reeds rising along the creek tremble in a gentle wind, and slim black branches bending over the water wobble or flick a bit against a cloudless background of blue decorated with the early afternoon appearance of a waning crescent moon. I pause to watch a small brown and yellow snake, no longer than a woman’s necklace, wriggle across my path; like me, he seems to be in no hurry, taking his time as he heads toward the edge of the creek where a patch of sun shows through an opening in the woods and shines like a tiny spotlight.
∼ February 23, 2017 ∼ “Wooden Walkway over Marsh Water”
Unusually mild temperatures lasted throughout the weekend, and I followed a route into the Great Marsh, at times tested by the wet conditions, my boots splashing along a path washed out by the flow of snowmelt in places. Elsewhere, the course of my travel offered obstacles to my passing, a narrow trail plastered with damp debris or blackened scraps of cracked branches. A soothing silence was broken only by the croaking of bullfrogs or the sharp honking I heard as a V of geese passed low overhead. Though I carried my camera and tripod balanced on my shoulder like a rifle, I only hunted photos, hoping to capture images of the wetlands on this odd day of warm weather in winter. A couple of garter snakes seemed curious to see me, one even slithering beside my foot as I snapped the shutter with a remote release. By the time I traversed a wooden walkway over the water and finished my hike, I observed a late-day sun hovering just above the horizon with its angled midwinter light tilting in the distance, seemingly caught in a crisscross of bare limbs. Tall leaves of marsh reeds ruffled and twisted like lengths of brown ribbon as afternoon winds that had been timid now picked up, quickly building across the nearby lake. Gusts from the north soon stiffened, signaling an approaching storm front cluttered with clouds appearing like dark smudges over the water.
∼ February 22, 2017 ∼ “River on Sunny February Day”
Hiking a narrow trail beneath bare trees beside the sunlit Little Calumet River on another windless day of record-breaking warmth in February, I admire a design of reflections in the stilled current. Settings such as this one remind me why I enjoy landscape photography. The curving bank serves as a leading line drawing the attention of viewers’ eyes through the scenery. I know I often like to stand alone below the overhanging branches at this elbow of the river where it bends toward the north, as I watch the deliberate movement of clouds—sliding high above and floating slowly below on the mirror-like surface of the water. Plus, the blue of the sky and the doubling of limbs appear enriched when seen in a clear river steadily carrying snowmelt downstream. I have frequently captured images of this location in different seasons, and each offers its own reason for appreciation; however, observing the mixture of stark winter woods lingering in this mild premature spring weather seems especially stunning to me.
∼ February 21, 2017 ∼ “Entering Great Marsh Trail”
Once again skies remain clear, and the sun hangs overhead like a bright light bulb. The softest southern winds—hardly detectable, perhaps like a slow sigh—slightly stir the air and warm this winter day. The smooth untroubled lake surface glistens like window glass wiped clean with a chamois cloth as I pass the shoreline on my way to the Great Marsh just a bit inland. I feel the faint heat of sunshine on my face. All accumulations of snow and ice have faded away. Wisps of weeds rise from the shallow water near the trail where I walk, and a few geese slosh in the distance. Though the afternoon temperature reaches a record high in the sixties, unexpected for February, I find myself alone and about to begin down this path deep into the wetlands, winding among tall reeds and thin trees, their shadows of bare limbs occasionally crossing in front of me like stark black lines reminding that this is a false spring and winter still persists. A couple of narrow clouds appear amid a blue field above stiff stick figures of branches extending toward the sky. A soothing silence has settled in this setting, even bird calls are now few and far between, as I start through a landscape sometimes difficult to travel in other seasons.
∼ February 20, 2017 ∼ “February Snow Melt”
“How important is a constant intercourse with nature and the contemplation of natural phenomena to the preservation of moral and intellectual health!” Henry David Thoreau, Journals: May 6, 1851 Last week after overcast skies in mid-morning created a nearly shadowless landscape, a pond swollen by snow melt showed itself beside the trail in an opening between trees, sections of the water still frozen and snow-covered. Less than a mile into my hike, I shifted the cold metal tripod I carry over my shoulder, extended its legs and set my camera at eye height for a photograph. Even in winter, part of the pond is screened by tall weeds and remnants of undergrowth. The scene seems to evoke in me thoughts about the transition of seasons. Although stilled moments—the progress from past to present to future stalled and preserved as memory in a photo—I like to imagine all of my static images of landscape suggest a narrative continuing in the ongoing measurement of time and reflect an element in the ever-unwinding of life. Each of my pictures merely provides an opportunity for quiet contemplation amid a frequently chaotic world. For me, a photo serves a similar function as a poem, which Robert Frost nicely defined in his essay, “The Figure a Poem Makes,” to be “a momentary stay against confusion.”
∼ February 19, 2017 ∼ “Journal Entry Number Fifty”
This post represents the 50th journal note in my Indiana Dunes project, and I again invite readers to browse through all the entries. Halfway through February’s four weeks, mild winter weather continues to cover much of the Midwest. As I walk farther along the wetland trail than I might if blocked by this season’s normal snowfall, the damp scent of a thawed swamp forest wakens my senses. I pause to listen to stillness broken only by a high-pitched squawk of a bird heard somewhere in the distance then quickly answered by another. Green and yellow tones of marsh water blend like wet paints mixed with swirling brushstrokes alternating on a canvas, clockwise then counterclockwise. Shadows of bare limbs backlit by late-day sunlight sprawl across the water’s surface as if offering nature’s scrawled signature, language of the landscape gracefully written for all to read. I like swatches of sunshine glistening beneath the empty hardwood trees, each gap between upper branches opening like a skylight. Also, I acknowledge that I delight in describing somewhat poetically the scenery in front of me. Though I am composing prose instead of poetry in this journal, old habits die slowly.
∼ February 18, 2017 ∼ “Snow-Melt Stream Through Dune Forest”
A slowly moving warm front has at last passed over Indiana and stalled to the north. All the white patches of snow have disappeared along inland routes, and the winter landscape stands bare. Daylight already lasts longer, and the sun seems more persistent, steadily melting the final remnants of frost, even removing ice from the darkest parts of the marsh. Thoreau wrote about such weather in his journals (Jan. 24, 1858): “I do not quite like this warm weather and bare ground at this season. What is a winter without snow and ice at this latitude? The bare earth is unsightly.” As I trudge through muddy paths and step across flooded sections of the trail, I recall those almanac entries that insist frigid temperatures should return before the end of the month; however, local forecasts predict nothing but mild conditions for the next ten days. Therefore, I photograph the emptiness—deadwood and bare branches, dried spikes of weeds in the underbrush—and I note the sudden narrow streams of snow-melt after thawing and recent spells of rainfall, each little tributary appearing like a slim seam stitched into the seemingly fraying fabric of this forest.
∼ February 17, 2017 ∼ “Cold Front”
A cluster of dreary clouds crosses Lake Michigan in winter as late sunlight retreats and whitewater waves break against a barren beach, where ring-billed gulls still fidget at the water’s edge and strut on the wind-smoothed sand. A current of colder air arrives about an hour before nightfall and washes ashore, perhaps with a promise of overnight snow, as gusts already ruffle tall leaves of marram grass in the foredunes. Earlier in the afternoon I walked westward along the water in angled sunshine, my shadow following behind me, with the sweep of the surf scrubbing the narrow shoreline and swallowing my footprints. I carried my camera, hoping to capture an opening in the dunes, maybe a new blowout caused by relentless gales of storms rolling over the coast from the north, or a recent example of erosion. Instead, I climbed a dune mound beyond a collection of cottonwood trees to view the lake from above, setting my tripod on a sand cliff at the start of Trail 8, which rises toward Mt. Tom, the highest of the dune hills.
∼ February 16, 2017 ∼ “Dunes Creek in Winter”
When another mid-winter thaw began last week, I walked along Trail 2 in Sunday sunshine, following the length of Dunes Creek toward the east from Lake Michigan through swamp woods to an inland marsh at the heart of Indiana Dunes State Park. A few cumulus clouds drifted overhead, directed by a slight southern breeze, but much of the time the skies remained fair, a field of rich blue not seen during the previous stretch of overcast days and stormy weather. Patches of old snow yet lining the banks like white bandages had mostly melted, filling the creek with cold and clear water, and the path beneath my feet seemed so soft, as each boot step left a deep imprint in the sandy terrain. By noon, the bright sunlight strengthened even more, shining through the empty air between bare branches, illuminating the lustrous yellow sand bed below a transparent ribbon of water, as the creek almost glowed with a luminous gold.
∼ February 15, 2017 ∼ “Trail Beneath Leaning Tree”
Last week as I was looking for a location to photograph, I followed a path I’d not travelled in the past. Intermittent sunshine through cloud openings after a light overnight snowfall warmed my morning walk. Windless weather also created comfortable conditions for this side trip into the dune woods; still, enough of a chill existed to prevent what little snow had accumulated from melting. When I climbed up one slope and over a narrow ridge along a small hill, the trail continued under a fallen trunk leaning almost parallel to the earth beneath it and serving as an apt contrast to the upright trees all around, their branches bare and interestingly expressive. Moving underneath this odd configuration, noticing its drooping thin upper limbs dragging the ground, I tried to imagine when the tree had been bent into this position and envision the gusts that must have caused such an event. Arched overhead as I stepped through to the other side, it offered the appearance of an entranceway, perhaps a passage into another area of the landscape, somewhere I might find appropriate scenery for the photo I was seeking.
∼ February 14, 2017 ∼ “Swamp Forest in February Thaw”
All clouds quit the skies on Sunday afternoon, blown away by quickening winds warming the region. On very breezy days filled with the glare of bright sunlight, I like to travel trails deep into the swamp forest where empty trees anchored in waterlogged land are backlit by a blue sky. Despite gusts along the shore, a sense of stillness remains in these woods, their details made more visible by the illumination of unimpeded sunshine through the bare branches. Though only February, the wetlands have thawed, waters of marshes and creeks spreading wide to flood sections of this pathway I take, its soil already transformed into a thick layer of mud. Almost all the snow and ice has melted. Only the deepest recesses of shadows yet display white patches, and the nearly clear water offers fairly accurate reflections of the daylight or the silhouetted trees. Somehow, such scenes seem attractive to me, and I feel calm when walking in this setting. I know I am not alone; some others appreciate similar images in the landscape: “I’ve always loved, as Auden called them, the chinks in the forest / (He had the deer peer through