A California Hillside

In early November Marilyn and I went to Sonoma on a wine country vacation with friends. I was still on East Coast time and woke up at 5:30 every morning. Instead of tossing and turning and trying to go back to sleep, I got dressed, grabbed my camera and went to a nearby woodland in the northern California foothills. I spent three early mornings walking and wandering through this oak covered hillside as the sun rose and its light filtered through the oak trees.

I know - who goes on a wine tasting vacation and rises before sunrise to go hiking each morning? It wasn’t my original plan but I am very happy I did!  I have always loved the twisted and gnarled branches of California oaks and how they rise out of the dry golden grass of the hills.  Add in the beautiful sunrise light and each morning was magical. 

One of the things I enjoy about photography is when I explore a small area and truly see it. I definitely love going to big exotic places like our national parks. But I get just as much enjoyment - and maybe more - by spending time and truly exploring and photographing smaller areas. This small preserved woodland was just 1.5 miles long and less than a mile wide. But the combination of light from the rising sun, color from the grasses and leaves, and lines from the trunks of the oaks was truly captivating. 

A short photo story of six images is shown here, on A California Hillside.  Click on the link and experience those three sunrise mornings among the oaks like I did.  Enjoy!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

And don't look now, but the days are getting longer!  It's December 21st - the shortest day of the year.  Starting tomorrow we have extra daylight every day to be outside enjoying nature.  Soon it will be Spring!  79 days until Daylight Saving Time!  ;)

Brian ReitenauerComment
Five Years!

Five years ago on December 4th, I wrote my first blog post on this (no longer) new photo website. I used to display my photos on Pbase and I would send out an occasional e-mail about three times a year when I published a new gallery of images from a far away location. With the blog, I wanted to do something that would allow me to share photos more often - and push me to photograph more often. In true “type-A” fashion, I only missed one month in the last five years - and that was almost on purpose to ease the pressure.

In the last five years I have continued my trips to National Parks. But I have done more photography on an ongoing basis close to home. And that is the most rewarding photography to me. I love the traveling and seeing new places - that won’t stop. But I really enjoy finding the extraordinary in ordinary places.

And so what better way to celebrate five years of “seeing” than a new image from Ricketts Glen - one of my absolute favorite places. It’s close to home. It’s somewhat ordinary - it’s not National Park status. And yet it’s also extraordinary, every time I spend a day there wandering through the glen. I have been to Ricketts Glen two to three times a year every year for a long time. And yet, every time I go, I see something new.

Join me for the next five years as I try to see and share the extraordinary in the ordinary world around us.

Brian ReitenauerComment
A Walk In The Wetlands

I’ve always been fascinated by the wetlands - the area where land is slowly and gradually giving way to the sea. It’s not like the great cliffs in Acadia or on the west coast in Big Sur - those are much more dramatic. In fact, it is said there is no greater meeting of land and sea than Big Sur. But I would argue there is equal beauty in this more gradual transition - where the land gently gives way, over great distances, to the sea. You get an incredible mixture of field, marsh, and water. Add in the dramatic sky of a beautiful sunrise and it is irresistible.

This is what greeted me on my first trip to the Forysthe NWR along the southern NJ coast. I left home at 4am to travel there for sunrise. I was concerned that the clouds from the previous night’s clearing storm would obscure the sunrise too much - I should not have worried - it was perfect. The rapidly changing clouds created endless light patterns on the landscape and it was all I could do to keep up.

This area is also very well known for two other things - migrating waterfowl and biting green flies! I could not go more than ten seconds without swatting one of those darn things off me - the biting flies, not the waterfowl!

This area is also part of the PineLands National Preserve that I have been exploring as well. Here is a link to a short photo story with nine images of The Wetlands. Enjoy this Walk in the Wetlands with me. and see what greeted me that wonderful morning.

Brian Reitenauer Comment
Ancient Symbols

The sunset this day was magnificent - there was just the right mix of sun and clouds to make the sky look incredible - far better than the last couple afternoons when a stubborn layer of flat clouds blocked out all interesting light. The sun was bathing everything in the warm golden light of early autumn.

Yet, I couldn’t help staring down - down at the water. More specifically the reflections of broken trees and clouds in the water. They appeared to me as ancient symbols or writings - but only when viewed from the perfect angle. At first glance - it’s just a big lake with a lot of tree stumps sticking out of the water. But after a while, in a couple places, the message seemed to snap into place. The clouds and trees and shadows arranged themselves into something that looked like a set of symbols from a time long ago.

This is another image from my explorations of The Pinelands in NJ. You may be seeing a lot of photographs from this place in the coming months - I really enjoy the marsh, wetlands, trees and water that make up this National Reserve. I have a couple more I really want to share, but I need to pace myself! I don’t want to get placed on your spam lists!

Brian ReitenauerComment
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