The Pinelands

I discovered the NJ Pinelands earlier this year. Ok, they were discovered hundreds of years ago and long before my time. But I found out about them and started exploring them earlier this year. I was immediately hooked - what a stunning area of wilderness right within the most populated area of our country. The Pinelands have been set aside as a National Preserve and they are worth protecting. It is a combination of pines, hardwood trees, sand, marsh, rivers, and wetlands that are incredible to see. If you want to escape the stress of everyday life, spend a day wandering around the trails of the Pinelands.

I have been there hiking and photographing many times this year. Marilyn and I spent an afternoon driving through the sand roads in our new Jeep Trailhawk and we had a great lunch by the Batsto River. Rich and I did a 6 hour kayak down the Batsto River. I plan to go back many more times.

It was a cloudy day last Friday (what else is new given the incredibly wet summer we have had), and I was hiking one of the trails along the Batsto Lake. When it’s cloudy, it can be a bit spooky there - gnarled twisted trees covered in lichen, mist floating in and around the trees, and very quiet. I saw this tree and bright green leaves growing out of an old decayed stump, surrounded by the clouds on the still lake. I knew it would be the best image of the day.

Stay tuned, I’m sure you will see many more images in the future from this new place I “discovered”!

Brian ReitenauerComment
A Preview of The Wetlands

My wife and daughters have gone to the Jersey Shore every year for many many years. And occasionally they allow me to come along. I’ve always loved that last stretch on the Garden State Parkway before you exit for Ocean City - it’s usually late afternoon or early evening and the golden light on the marsh grass tells us the beach is near!

I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to decide to do some photo exploring at the Jersey Shore. I do have a nice collection of images from the Ocean City area, but I consider that a work in progress.

Earlier this summer, I woke up at 4am and left my house with enough time to get to the shore by sunrise. I aimed for the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. It had rained the night before and the clouds were still around at sunrise. As usual, I was whining to myself the whole drive down about how the overcast skies were going to spoil the sunrise. Well - they didn't - the sky was magnificent and I was greeted by flowers blooming in the marsh, birds wading in the water, and endlessly changing cloud patterns and light. The image above is a hint at the small portfolio I hope to share with you soon.

Brian ReitenauerComment
Back to the Glen

By now I think you all know that Ricketts Glen is one of my favorite places.  In mid-summer I made my second visit of the year.  And while I'd like to say there was some special "calling" that brought me back, it wouldn't be true.  I bought some new camera gear and thought what better place to try it out than Ricketts Glen.

What I learned is that you can take just as many bad pictures with new camera gear as you can with old gear.  I was so excited with the new camera that I practically ran through the park - snapping away at anything that was vaguely interesting - not really thinking at all.  It's exactly the opposite of what I should do - I have worked hard at slowing down when I go out to photograph.  It seems like I forgot all those lessons.

After returning to the car and getting ready to leave, I didn't feel good about the visit.  I knew it wasn't a great one.  I decided to stop by one waterfall located at the very bottom of the park - away from where most people visit.  I slowed down, sat awhile, and just settled down.  That's when I noticed the color - the red of the rocky stream bottom, the green of the reflected leaves, the white of the moving water, and the blue reflection of the sky in the distance.  The hour I spent in this one small part of the park made up for the many hours hours rambling about earlier in the day.

Brian ReitenauerComment
The Meadow

The Meadow at Longwood Gardens is a special place for my sister.  So I thought I would tag along for a visit one recent afternoon.  I've been to Longwood Gardens before and really like the place.  But I wouldn't do "meaningful photography" there - after all, it's a "flower zoo".  Ahh, but the meadow is different.  It's a wild place in it's natural state - full of colorful grasses, wildflowers, and insects.  There are so many shapes and colors - and it all changes as the light changes.  You see the soft blue-greens that come from cloud cover and shade become transformed into the yellow-greens from the shining sun.  I can imagine this place changes every day too, as the seasons progress.  I can't wait to visit again as autumn approaches. 

The image above and the two below are just a part of the variety I saw in a single weekend.  I have a short photo story of The Meadow on my website that you can see by clicking on the link. 

Enjoy this short walk through The Meadow!

 

A Summer Walk

It was a very hot weekend in early July - almost too hot even for me to be outside.  So I thought it would be great to spend an afternoon walking in the shade of the forests of the Pocono Mountains.  Our daughter Gina is home for the summer and decided to come along for the hike.

It was an adventure just getting there.  We got on the highway and immediately came to a crawl.  It took an hour to go one mile!  We should have turned around.  But we kept going and eventually got to the Poconos - heading towards the waterfalls of Childs Park.  But the sign said Childs Park - closed.  That didn't make sense - it's summer - it was obviously a mistake, so we kept going.  We passed two more signs saying Childs Park was closed - they really need to update those signs and give current information.  Otherwise people could waste time driving.  We finally got to Child's Park - and you guessed it - it was closed due to damage from the Nor'easters in March. We should have turned around.

We certainly didn't drive this far just to turn around.  So we backtracked a little and pulled into the Pocono Environment Education Center (PEEC) and decided to hike one of the trails there.  After whining a little about not being able to see the waterfalls at Childs Park, I decided to enjoy the walk we were on.

We came across a calm scene where the slow moving stream tumbled over moss covered rocks down a small gorge.  Really, it's only about ten feet high - not a dramatic gorge but somehow beautiful in it's simplicity.  The light was filtering through the trees landing on some of the moss and turned it into a place where I could have sat quietly for a couple hours.

It ended up not being the hike I planned - it ended up being better!

Time Traveling

A few weeks ago we traveled back in time.  We traveled back hundreds of years - and spent a week in storybook villages in the French countryside, that we had no idea existed in real life.  It was a feast for our eyes, with color in every direction, straight out of a fairy tale.  Yet it existed in real life, in 2018.

Our daughter spent six weeks studying abroad in Strasbourg France which is in the Alsace region. This small area of land between the Vosge Mountains and the Rhine River on the border between France and Germany has been fought over for hundreds of years. It has alternated many times between French and German control and it shows in the culture, the food, and the architecture. We visited our daughter for a week and enjoyed the area far more than we ever would have expected. 

The image above was taken from our home base of Strasbourg. This is a view of the rooftops as we climbed the tower of the 800 year old Cathedral of Notre Dame of Strasbourg. It really did look like that. All the little openings in the rooftops are from the days of making and drying leather. We spent time in villages that were the real-life inspiration for Beauty and the Beast, we drove through rolling vineyards, we explored a castle high atop a mountain ridge, and we ate more bread and cheese than you could imagine. 

If anyone is planning a vacation to Europe and you want to see something other than the big cities like Paris and Rome and London, add Strasbourg and the Alsace region to the list and give yourself plenty of time. You will love it!

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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!)

 

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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.

Brian ReitenauerComment
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.

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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. 

Brian ReitenauerComment
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.