Spring Dogwoods

There was a five day stretch in early May when it seemed like all the dogwood trees in the world bloomed at once.  We went from a winter that just wouldn't quit to flowers and leaves bursting from the branches.  

I've always liked the early part of spring when you see the fresh varied green of young leaves on the trees, but you can also still see the branches.  This fleeting view only lasts for about two weeks.  In the summer, the canopy of mature leaves covers the entire tree in solid green and hides it's inner branches.  But for a couple weeks in spring, you get fresh shades of green connected by a network of twisting branches.  Add some rain and those branches get darker and share equal billing with the green of spring.

I visited this same small woodland two years ago and posted a dogwood photo in the May 2016 blog.  As I was driving to the location in the morning, I wondered why... since I had already seen everything and photographed everything there.  Towards the end of my morning, I remembered the tree I photographed two years ago and saw that it was completely different - some branches died off and others were blooming.  And because dogwoods are such fragile trees, the swirling shapes made by the white flowers seen from a distance were different than they were two years ago - because of the natural growth and death cycle of the trees.  It was a reminder that everything changes - the trees, the weather, the light, and the person observing or photographing.

I was glad I spent a couple hours that cloudy morning looking again at things I had seen before.  Try it - you might be surprised too!

The Spring Sycamore

"We want to know all about their leaves and colors and growth. But we also want to know who they are when stripped of the surface show.  You can see the underlying essence only when you strip away the busyness, and then some surprising connections appear."

-- Ann Lamott, Bird By Bird, 1994



Early spring days are bright.  The sun is high in the sky with strong, direct light and there are no leaves yet on the trees to cast any shadows.  And so everything just looks bright and crisp and clear.  

This sycamore is on my regular cycling loop and I see it 4-5 times a week, every week, throughout the year.  I see it on sunny days like this, and I see it on cloudy days.  I see it in the summer covered in leaves, and I see it in the winter against the flat grey sky.  But I think it's at its grandest in the early spring with the strong sun lighting the stark white branches against the clear blue sky.  To me, the unique character of the tree comes from the twisted branches, mostly white, but with some grey/green mottling from the peeling layers of bark.  

A couple weeks ago, on a bike ride on a sunny day, I made a mental note to photograph this tree - in the morning, on a cloudless blue sky day, in the early Spring.  I have hundreds of mental "photographs" of this tree in my mind - each slightly different from the hundred times I ride by in a year.  I knew the spring conditions would show the sycamore the way I see it in my mind.  It would "strip away the busyness" and show "the underlying essence" of the tree.  

And the best news of all... there is no snow in this photograph!!

Enjoy Spring - it is finally here!

Winter Morning Light

Continuing from last month's blog post is another image about snow.  Because, what else have we had in late February and March but snow and more snow!  While I was wandering around that snowy winter morning, I was very aware of how the colors changed as the sun rose, and then climbed higher in the sky.  When I completed the work on a small set of images from that morning, it told a story of the changing colors of a snowy winter morning.

Snowy winter mornings are all about shades of white, blue and gold.  Aside from the pre-sunrise image showing the pink sky, all of the images are combinations of white, blue and gold.  The early photos are all blue.  And as the sun breaks the horizon, the first golden color enters the pictures, and it becomes a tug-of-war between the reflected blue light of the sky and the direct golden light of sunrise.  As time passes and the sun rises higher, more and more golden light enters the frame and eventually takes over.  The blue light of dawn on a snowy winter morning is brief, but memorable.  Click on this link to see a short photo story of seven images that show this changing Winter Morning Light.

As I was working on photos taken over the course of this winter, it also became clear to me that there are many "moods" to winter.  Is it the dark, brown tones of late December on a cloudy day? Is it the bright white, blue, and gold of a snowy winter morning?  Or is it the vibrant orange-brown of last year's hickory and oak leaves that refused to fall - clinging to random trees, defying understanding.  It's all of those, but that is a subject for future photo story - hopefully a long time from now!

Next month - a beautiful GREEN photo of SPRING!  (I hope!)

 

Winter Sunrise

The two mornings this weekend could not have been more different.  I woke early on one morning to take some photographs of a stand of trees with sunlit brown leaves that have their own magic color in winter.  It was cold but sunny, you could hear the bird sounds that seem to increase every day at this time of year, and I saw the first robin of the season - spring must be here soon.  And though I knew the forecast was for a little snow later in the evening, it just didn't seem like it would happen.

It happened.  And so I got up an hour before sunrise and left the house to go wander again in some fields and woodlands.  On my drive, I just couldn't believe how everything was lined in white.  Surely I must have seen this before in the fifty-plus winters I have lived through - but it felt like I was seeing it for the first time.  The light was a beautiful blue-white and everything was lined in white - no hint of wind had yet knocked any of the snow off the branches.

I was in the parking lot getting my camera out when I turned around and saw this scene.  Shapely trees, branches lined in white, and a beautiful soft blue and rose coloring in the sky.  If you look close, you can see the blue "earth shadow" midway in the frame, below the rose colored band in the sky.  I enjoyed the next three hours wandering through the fields, watching everything change before my eyes.  The sun came up, lighting everything in a golden light for thirty minutes.  The same bird sounds I heard yesterday were there today - but seemingly a little out of place.  And I would start to hear, then see, the wind gusts - first coming as a light roar and then resulting in a blowing cloud of snow.

Hopefully this is the last of the snow this winter.  I much prefer the warmer weather - but with mornings like this, I don't mind a little bit of winter!

Favorites of 2017

I can't believe another year has gone by.  This marks the start of the fifth year of my website and my monthly blog posts - having missed only one month!  The monthly schedule has forced me to spend more time photographing - especially close to home.  And while I love going on the hiking and photography trips, it is the "close to home" images that are more rewarding to me - seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.  Like the image above - taken on a wet summer day at Ricketts Glen.  If you look closely you see a combination of the reflecting colors on the surface mixed with the colors of the rock and algae underneath.  And then sprinkle in a few dabs of blue from the sky and it all comes together in a kaleidoscope of color that makes the photo interesting - at least to me.

As most of you will be aware, water - and the reflecting colors in the water - are a favorite subject of mine.  I am working on a project that I will soon publish to the site called "WaterColors".  And as the image above shows, it doesn't just have to be the yellows and reds of autumn - the deep greens of summer can be just as exciting.

As I did last year, I decided to take a look back at my favorite photos from 2017.  Of course the Zion National Park trip is represented but so is my own backyard - really the backyard of my sister-in-law and brother-in-law.  Click on the link (Favorites of 2017) to see the ones I like best - a mix of images published before as well as several not yet published to this site.  I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed making them!

The First Snowfall

It came on a Saturday morning.  It was a little late and it started slowly.  But it didn't disappoint - it was one of those special snows that falls so gently - straight down because of the complete absence of any breeze or wind.  And even someone who loves the summer and warm weather as much as I do can get excited about the first snowfall of the season.

I headed out to a local wooded area and just started walking in the snow with my camera.  As I walked and watched closely, I became aware of the change that happens as more and more snow accumulates on the trees.  I especially enjoyed the very light, subtle dusting of white on branches that only happens in the first hour of a snowfall.  And as the snow continued to pick up, I would occasionally stop and be still, so I could listen to the sound snow makes when it falls.

I wandered in the fields and into the woods.  And when I turned around and looked back out at the field, I got that feeling of looking into a snow globe.  It wasn't snowing on me because of the canopy of trees.  But ten yards in front of me the snow was streaming down onto the open white field - as if someone had given this small part of the world a shake.

I wandered around for hours - enjoying the sights and sounds of the first snowfall of the season.

See a short photo story here, about The First Snowfall.

Zion Gallery Finished

Ok - this is the last post on Zion National Park.  The full gallery of final images is finished and it can be seen on the On Location - Zion page or on the Zion Folio page.

I have to say, Zion National Park in autumn is something special.  From a distance, Zion is all sandstone, slickrock and cliffs.  It is the desert and canyon country that you expect.  But when you look closely you see the cliffs and canyons are dotted with small clumps of trees.  And in autumn those trees, like their counterparts in the east, turn blazing shades of red, orange, and yellow.  And then the distance deceives you - what appears to be a small clump of trees becomes a full forest when you walk among them - right in the canyon, high up on a cliff wall.  The variety of Zion was completely unexpected.

And then there is the light.  The golden morning light of sunrise throws shadows across the undulating rock landscape.  And as the sun rises, the light changes.  Extra special is the reflected light of one cliff wall against another - it literally causes the rock to glow.  

Light, colored sandstone canyons, vibrant autumn leaves - they all come together in this special place that I will visit again for sure.

Zion Postscript

It didn't feel complete - we hiked four full days in Zion and I only posted three times.  I feel like you all didn't get your money's worth. ;)  So I thought I would post a final small set of images before I process the full gallery.

Everyone expects the canyon views - and they are there for sure.  But what was most surprising were the other scenes we witnessed.  Closer, more intimate views of the beautiful landscape in and around Zion.  The elevation changes create different ecosystems - desert plants and scrub brush in the low elevations, and mature hardwood trees in the higher elevations.  The canyon walls reflect sunlight onto each other and create wonderful glowing light against autumn leaves.

There was more variety in Zion than I remember and more than I anticipated for this trip.  This short post shows a little of that and hopefully when I finish the full gallery, it will convey the variety we experienced.

That's it for now - see you next month!

Autumn in Zion

I wanted to do something different than the expected canyon and cliff scenes - even though we saw more of those today.  But this really is Zion - it's Zion in Autumn.  Nestled among many of the cliffs are washes where the water runs off from spring rains and summer storms.  All along these washes, plant life flourishes. The plant life includes hardwood trees like oaks and maples - they're a bit smaller than back East but they are unmistakable.  And in October we know what happens to hardwood trees - they turn bright colors.  And they do that here right in the canyon too!

We walked through one section that was so large it felt like we were back home.  The unmistakable scent of autumn leaves in a forest was present - steps away from orange and yellow cliff faces 3000 feet tall.

We hiked the West Rim Trail today - 11 hours of hiking and more than 3000 feet of elevation gain. We were very tired by the time we got back, but it was one of the best I have ever done.

We wrap up tomorrow so this will be the last blog post.  Thanks for reading!

Zion Canyon

Once again we started the day early - in the darkness before sunrise.  But today we hiked the East  Mesa and East Rim trail which means we were at the top of the canyon.  We didn't know this meant it was 7,000 feet high and we certainly didn't know this meant that it was 24 degrees out when we started the hike!  Eventually the sun came out and warmed us up and rewarded us with some great views of Zion Canyon from the East Rim.

The temperature would eventually hit 83 - a full 59 degrees warmer then when we started.  There were many photos to choose from, but it was hard to pass up this one from the East Rim looking down Zion Canyon.  Hard to believe that what appears to be a small river carved this out of the cliffs!

Zion Sunrise

Some of you know that I am on my next photo and hiking adventure - this time in Zion National Park in Utah.  We started off our first day in total darkness - leaving the hotel room 2 hours before sunrise, driving up a dirt road so steep the SUV lost traction twice, and practically running up a 2.8 mile hike in the dark wearing headlamps, to get the view above.  It was worth it!  This is a view of Zion Canyon from Eagle Crags Trail

I have been to Zion once before - about 10 years ago and I remember how impressive it was.  But to see it in this light as the sun rose was incredible.  It is truly amazing.

As we hiked back down from the top of the Eagle Crags trail, we were surprised how far the hike was.  In the dark, driven by the need to get to the top for the sunrise light, we must have had super-human strength! ;)   And then we were also surprised about the drive back down that steep rock-strewn road.  At times, we were going 3 miles an hour over the rocks and down the steep dirt road with a cliff to one side.  I think it's good it was dark when we drove up that road!

September Morning

This post is about color and light.  It's isn't really about the chokecherry bush in our back yard. This post is about a time of the year told through the perspective of color and light. 

The color for the last couple months has been nothing but green. It's like someone spray painted green across the entire landscape. The grass was the greenest it has ever been. The corn stayed dark green all summer long. The leaves on the trees, the weeds along the road, the hay fields - green, green, and more green!

But just like that, the greenest summer I can remember is fading away. The first hints were the soybean fields turning yellow. Then the ash trees, which are always the first to go, turned yellow. And now there are dry brown oak leaves on the ground getting mulched as we cut the grass which grows slower each week. And in the distance, where only a short time ago there was nothing but green, hints of yellow and light brown are telling us Summer is being replaced by Autumn. 

But is there any more impressive color than the impossibly blue sky under a clear September morning sun?  The angle of light and the sky on a clear September day look different than at any other time of the year.  And the bright yellow-green leaves and the intense red berries on the Chokecherry bush against that clear blue sky accomplished the impossible - it caused me to get up out of my Saturday morning chair on the patio. 

I often talk about seeing the extraordinary in the commonplace as more rewarding photography than that of exotic locations. It can't get any less exotic than this - I was sitting on our patio early on a Saturday morning, looked to my left and saw the green and red against that great blue sky. And if I had my camera on the chair with me I would not have even had to stand up!

Enjoy Autumn!

A Wet Summer

I know what you are thinking - not another waterfall picture from Ricketts Glen. How many waterfall pictures does this guy need?  But this isn't a picture of a waterfall at Ricketts Glen. This is a picture of what Ricketts Glen FELT LIKE on a July day during the wettest summer in many years. 

By late July in a normal summer, the water flow in Kitchen's Creek is slow and quiet as it stumbles down the many falls in Ricketts Glen.  On a typical lazy late summer day at the Glen, you can walk slowly and almost hear the thoughts in your head. One year a friend and I walked down the middle of the creek for much of our hike - sometimes walking in the shallow slow-moving water and sometimes hopping from stone to stone.

But not this July.  We've had a lot of rain and the creek was roaring - drowning out almost all other sound - especially at the base of each waterfall. The trail was so wet it was hard to tell where the trail stopped and the creek started. There were small waterfalls coming down the sides of the hill where none ever existed before.  These were new waterfalls given brief life as the rainwater came down the hills flowing out of the saturated ground.  Rocks that are normally exposed were completely submerged. And where thin ribbons of water usually fall in slow motion over rock ledges, sheets of crashing water took their place. It was loud. It was new. It was exciting. 

I come to Ricketts Glen often.  And when the alarm goes off at 6am on a summer day it is tempting to stay in bed thinking you have seen it all before. How different could it be?  But as the photographs in this Folio show, Ricketts Glen has many moods.  And on this July day in the wettest of summers, it was exhilarating!  Yes, it's a picture of a waterfall. But hopefully it is also a visual way of communicating what it felt like to be at Ricketts Glen that late July day in a very wet summer. 

See the Ricketts Glen Folio here. 

Witness Tree

They call them Witness Trees - they are trees that were present at the Battle of Gettysburg.  They are the last living survivors of those brutal three days in July of 1863.  While the people have long since gone, about 150 trees that were alive during the battle, remain alive and in place today.  If you stand and run your hands over the rough bark, it's quite possible soldiers from the battle 150 years ago did the same thing.  If the trees could talk, what would they tell us about what happened here?  Is it possible they remember what happened here?  

The tree above is a stately old oak located above Devil's Den - scene of some of the worst fighting in the battle.  Today, it watches the sun rise above Little Round Top and warm the rocks of Devil's Den, before setting over the distant ridge of South Mountain.  Today, it's like any other tree in any other field.  But it is definitely not like any other tree.  

I've had this idea for awhile - I thought of creating beautiful landscape images in fields that have seen battle - beauty where there was horror.  I thought I would start with the Civil War battlefields and start with Gettysburg since it is only about two hours from where I live.  It may become a long term project - or it may fade away.  But I think this is a good start.

Summer Fog

It's a Saturday morning in early summer. It's humid, very cloudy, and we've had several downpours by 9:30am.  A check of the forecast shows the rain is over but it will stay very cloudy, damp and humid all day. Do you stay inside or go outside?  Outside of course - there is no such thing as an "inside day" on a weekend in June!  Seriously, get a rain jacket on and go outside and do something different!

One of my favorite places to go on a cloudy, misty day in the summer is the forest. It just looks and feels totally different than on a sunny day.  On this misty summer Saturday, I decided to hike and photograph at Hawk Mountain. 

I spent four hours wandering the ridge top trails.  I hiked in similar foggy damp conditions one winter day and wrote about it here.  And while there were some similarities, the differences couldn't have been more dramatic. 

Everything was a dark saturated green. The fog was bright and changing, moving among the trees, ferns, and rocks. The mountain laurel were near the end of their blooming, but still a dramatic white and pink among the dark green leaves and pale mist. The tree trunks were varying shades of black and gray depending on distance. The occasional breeze brought the sound (and wetness) of rainwater falling from leaves overhead. It looked prehistoric. I imagined this is what the land looked like hundreds of thousands of years ago. I even think the one tree trunk rising in the right half background of the photo above could easily be the long neck of a Brontosaurus as it looked up from munching some grass!

There were only a few people on the trail with me that day.  Many more should have put on their rain jacket and hiking shoes and gone out there. They would have been well rewarded. 

Other Hawk Mountain images are on the Hawk Mountain Gallery page.  At the bottom is a grouping of the best four photos from this foggy Saturday morning.  

Transitions

The forecast called for rain and cold - not surprising for a Spring filled with rollercoaster weather patterns - 80's one day and 50's the next.  We had planned the spring weekend in Ocean City for a couple months but with this weather forecast I gently suggested we not go.  Marilyn's answer was pragmatic and strong - we spent the money on the hotel and we're going!  So of course we went.  And of course Marilyn was right and the weather forecasters were wrong.  The rain blew out early Friday evening and left incredible skies and decent weather for much of the weekend.

On a single weekend I was treated to rapidly changing skies and light that only happens during transitions.  We were in the transition between the storm system and calm weather - with the struggle going back and forth multiple times over the two days.  On the marsh it would be sunny while over the ocean the storm clouds were racing up the coast.  I was on the beach just after sunrise photographing under a cloudless sky and a few hours later freezing in the wind and drizzle.  

It got me thinking about transitions.  The best light and photographs are during transitions... the early morning transition when night becomes day or the golden hour transition when day becomes night, the transition where land abruptly meets water, the transition between winter and spring when the leaves are just barely covering trees, the rolling foothills where the flat land transitions into mighty mountains.  Transitions create adventure and interest.  Maybe not just for photography but for life too.  We should seek the transitions!  

In retrospect, it was a perfect weekend - just like I knew it would be!

Seeing Trees

Trees are so plentiful that it's easy to miss them. The forest and the trees virtually disappear into the background - like a stage set that serves no purpose. But this is only because we take them for granted - trees are everywhere, they become commonplace, they'll always be here.

But what if you take the time to look closely and really see trees. See them in different seasons, different light, different weather conditions, different stages of their lives. In the summer the leaves hide the true nature of the tree.  In the winter, the lines and patterns made by leafless branches with directional sunlight is like a charcoal sketch made by nature itself.

Of course to really see trees, we need do the hardest things of all - we need to slow down, walk, stare, stop and think. And if we do, the trees will come to the foreground and we will see them.

 

FOLIO PROJECT

For anyone who has followed my photography, you'll know that trees are a recurring subject for me.  So I created a small black & white folio project called "Seeing Trees".  

Click on the link...  Folio - Seeing Trees to view them.  Enjoy!

The Sycamore on Mill Road

Less than a second... that's the amount of time the shutter was open to record the light and make this photograph.  But in many ways, this photo has been a couple years in the making.  This grand sycamore tree is on my normal bike training loop.  I have ridden past it hundreds of times.  In the spring, summer, and fall it is like a thousand other trees I pass.  But in winter, something different happens.  Without the leaves, the white bark catches the low angle morning sun and the twisted branches pop out against the dark background.  I notice it every time I ride by and I think about the best time to photograph it.

I'd like to say this was all planned.  But as is often the case, there was some luck involved.  When I set out to photograph the tree this past weekend, there was still snow on the ground from winter's revenge - a mid March snowstorm after a warm February!  The sunlight reflecting off the snow also lit up the branches from underneath - giving them an extra pop of light.  To me, it looks like the tree is glowing as it enjoys a solo performance in the sun.

Hopefully next month's post will feature a beautiful warm spring image!  In the meantime, pay attention when you are outside - this is the time of year when things change almost daily!