Monday, April 28, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The frogs are not ready yet. Their dwarfed legs have no feel of the land, but much is stirring at the bottom of the bog. I shot photos here most of last week. New leaves and insects unfolded simultaneously, and lurking down under are broad, dim lily leaves silent, waiting until the water thickens.
Soon the green mantle will form on these slow pools, the blazing grasses will turn glaucous, and low brush will block the long, deep views. It's only now, at this season, that one can look into its depths and get a mental foothold on its various corners.
I was about to add that it is only now that it is so photogenic; that it won't be so again for another year. However, I remembered images - (1), (2) - made here last fall. It's hard to know how the wheels will spin.
Wiser to keep all beauty options open, and maybe it's not about bog beauty. Some correspondents reacted to yesterday's TODAY'S, by suggesting it was not about a swamp at all. One close friend sent these delightful words:
"It looks like you went to heaven and sent back a picture. The white things sticking up are the other souls."
The thought is welcome but, I think, not for me to say. I just keep watching the bog.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
This sun-cooked stew is first to green
Fortunate road, a causeway really,
across Great Hollow Swamp
that lets me invade these otherwise remote nurseries.
The dark eye of a black grackle
Before the brake is even set.
Will he sit along the branch and watch
After I've opened the door and unpacked my camera?
Along the power line swallows,
silently watch to the culvert.
There, wheeling overhead,
the swallow squadrons buzz me - champions to chicks unhatched.
Across the road where the culvert spills,
to my ear, a friendly greeting.
I wish I knew the names of all who live here.
Behind him a long channel
ripples - deep
through skeletal thicket of ash-colored maple.
Floating low above the emerald carpet,
another heron glides to a more private bog.
At midday the redwings watch and cluck
But now at sunset from every dry branch,
atop every rotted stump
They arch their awful warpaint and trumpet to the glory of the setting sun.
Friday, April 25, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I need to remember to walk quietly. I crossed the crest of the hay field, and sparrows foraging in the grass made their guilty escape. "Slow down, walk lightly," I told myself. "Meeker Swamp is a quiet spot; it's best to go as a swamp thing. Places removed from our daily rush can be skittish."
Then, rounding the bend of the trail with the swamp now in view the bony, hunched thing inflated like a child's kite, and in two long flaps was over into another part of the swamp, safe from my view. I'm not certain why I want to catch the great blue heron in flight or if the kind of shot I want is possible. Can a still image catch the slow beat of those majestic wings gathering air or the slow stride of the long neck gliding across the water?
Such shots take planning. My lens is habitually set for things that stand still. Everything must change when stalking the great blue. I zoomed my lens to 400mm scanned the trees across the swamp for compositions, and a tree limb turned its head. At first I couldn't believe it. There was my hunch-shouldered friend stationed a very safe distance across the pool like a wizened prophet.
There was no lake, but I wasn't about to be too picky. For twenty minutes he did little more than turn his head or shift his weight. I moved less. Twenty-five minutes later the blackbirds arrived, it seemed like dozens of them, to perch on nearby tree limbs and taunt me. One can only withstand their yattering provocations so long. It was in that moment that I turned to see how close the blackbird at my back had ventured. When I turned back the prophet had gone.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
HENRY DAVID THOREAU: "In wildness is the preservation of the world."
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Every serious swamp is a no man's land. One city-bound correspondent replied to yesterday's TODAY'S with amazement at the abundance of life to be found in a swamp. Those of us drawn to the strange beauty of swamplands usually can do little more than creep around its edges. Occasionally we may find a swamp with a waterway that we can paddle, but we're still just edgefarers by a land of thick vegetation and mucky bottoms. The waters are usually too shallow and choked with vegetation for paddling and just downright unfriendly. Such are the swamps of home.
Although a no-man's land, the swamp is not a wasteland. We walk through pleasant forests and marvel at nature's abundance, but in truth it is the swamps that support the diversity on which we thrive. That's what brings me to these lively edges; when healthy, they buzz and sing and refresh more than spirit. What lives and breeds in the swamp supports life well beyond the swamp. When the swamp dies, lives change in places far distant.
Some argue the swamps around here were once rich farmland. A farmer who once worked the land that is now Meeker Swamp told me about pulling trout from Bee Brook where the swanp now lies. It was farmers who kept the streams clear in order to harvest crops in the rich soils of these bottom lands. In a spot near Meeker Swamp there were once not only fields and livestock but also a brick work. There are probably many chimneys still in use made of clay from near this swamp. The old road to the brick works led through the center of the current swamp. As farming has vanished the beavers, always eager for new territory, have returned. The brick works is long gone and only one field near the swamp is still used to harvest hay.
And so it was that I watched as the beavers of Meeker Swamp ferried tree limbs from the upstream portion of the swamp downstream through a maze of narrow passageways to reinforce the long dam they had built. In winter when the swamp was frozen I walked the line of the dam and marveled at its incredible length. It was built by just one family of beavers, their lodge in the middle about fifteen feet from where I stood. Behind the dam they had created, insects breed and feed a rich fishery which the beavers happily share with birds and other creatures too numerous to list. In another era we could afford to lose wetlands to farming. Today the nibble of subdivisions leaves little place for abundant nature. We are only just now beginning to appreciate the ways our own survival may rest on the health of the swamps of home.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: From the viewing platform at Meeker Swamp it is quickly clear that the soup is astir. How different it looks in this shot taken Saturday from this late autumn photo published previously!
I watched the swamp for over two hours, and it wasn't just birds and buds that made the difference. Several times as I stood and waited one of the beavers cut a wake from the far northern section of the swamp, past the beaver lodge about 15 feet from the platform and off to the most southerly section of the swamp. I'm not sure what he was up to, but he was as regular as a ferry. Meanwhile a goose sat patiently on her nest without moving even as the beaver passed just a few feet from her. A pair of mallards also passed, and a great blue heron watched and waited atop a distant stump. Sunset from the Meeker Swamp viewing platform is one of the great sights of the region. I'll be heading back regularly.
This shot lies midway between the texture shot posted yesterday and the grand landscapes I also like to compose. It isn't often in this kind of situation that I can find the right elements to impose a bit of depth on an otherwise flat scene.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
CLAUDE MONET: “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. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: On Saturday, when I took this picture, spring became general. Until then there were only shoots from the soil and occasional spots along the hillsides where an occasional tree blushed, but Saturday on every hill I saw the faint unfurling of the painterly season climbing up to the ridge line. No leaf had fully opened, but each tree that had begun to wake dabbed color across the gray skeletal hillsides of winter. It was as if the spirit of Monet had just passed by. The frustrated painter in me is always drawn to such painterly display. No other season can match it.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
As crouching spiders watched and waited
bees, and butterflies, dragon flies and hummingbird moths
grew cold and dry as dust.
The webs were empty.
Then they were gone.
There is no North Meadow. Perhaps there never was one.
I believe in wandering. This will be the last North Meadow photo that I will post on TODAY'S for awhile, anyhow. Is it effervescence or rigor mortis? I'm feeling out of touch with frost. The last few days have been warm and sunny, and I've repeatedly caught myself trying to photograph the first blushes of spring.
This journey through past work provides a needed point of reference to my current shooting - helps me see the path I've followed from there to here, though I continue without a plan, simply wandering to see what catches my eye. And what catches my eye changes my eye and sometimes changes my direction. I believe in wandering. Today also the song birds were back.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
My final shoot at North Meadow before it was
mowed down, was early morning, October 31, 2005.
Shards of glass distilled from dew
touching spiky seedheads to whiteness,
and the ground crunched as I walked.
The air was crystal crisp; it froze my breath
so that I had to keep wiping the camera back to see
the images as I shot, and fingers stinging, numb. It was
my first lesson in the ways of cold-weather shooting.
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE:
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw ; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Monday, April 14, 2008
The Spider's Web
The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.
And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.
Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
-- E. B. White
Saturday, April 12, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The more I visited North Meadow, the more I saw and wanted to photograph. Along the path near North Meadow were grasses. With the setting sun behind them, the spiked seedheads became tiny lanterns. In some areas they glowed yellow. Nearby a patch might glow orange (as above) or pink or even purplish. In one spot the seedheads of different colors had integrated the same patch. I angled my shots toward the sun to maximize the iridescence even though all the rules of photography tell you not to shoot into the sun. When my first shots were spoiled by lens flare I went back and chose angles more carefully and waved my hat to shield the lens as best I could.
Along the perimeter where the path wrapped around the meadow the abundance of shapes and colors blossomed into a floral cornucopia, and I repeatedly tried to compose its textures and colors into images. Further off whole patches of similar plants made broad splashes of color as if luminous paint had been spilled there. But it was the dead corn stalks in the midst of all this that kept drawing me back.
They were expressionistic slashes that contrasted with this tapestry of nature's plenty. I thought of Edvard Munch scraping the paint from the portrait of his sick sister, his first important work, that he struggled with for over a year until the rude scrapings of his palette knife scarred it to the brutal roughness that conveyed his raw pain. The feeling I was after in the meadow was of death and life always coexisting, though I would not want to lean too heavily on that as interpretation.
In any case, I was only recently out of the woods and not used to shooting meadows. I tried shooting the corn stalks where they stood in serried rows like headstones in a cemetery. I shot them when dragon flies rested like tiny pennants at the top of each stalk. I shot at dawn when everything became eerie and at dusk when brilliant warm light cast outlining shadows and bathed everything in warm luxuriance. I tried juxtaposing the blackened, dead corn stalks against the green background of the new season's crop. I shot from high up and from low down.
Eventually, the shots I liked best flattened the meadow into something like a color field painting. Then in late fall they harvested the new corn. I was there when they plowed North Meadow under. The new plan called for growing grasses for hay, and they'd decided the soggy bottom of North Meadow was suitable for that purpose; it was integrated back into the agricultural field. When the new season arrived I found myself addicted to shooting meadow textures, but the corn stalks of North Meadow had vanished forever.
Friday, April 11, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: If there is a god it is to be found in planetary consciousness, the earth as a giant organism always reaching out, always experimenting to propagate that consciousness more efficiently over an ever-wider territory.
As soon as I retired I expanded my walking regimen, but it was only gradually that photography began to compete. My weekly goal was to walk 20 to 25 miles while the weather was decent; I had to keep moving. A mile from my house I could drop into forest trails and walk all day before remembering that every plot of forest is today encircled by roads and civilization. However, to take pictures I needed to stop and contemplate, and I began to realize that the best pictures were to be found in the open of meadows, pastures, and wetlands where the pulse of life beats even more ferociously.
By the time I discovered North Meadow I had changed my 4 megapixel, pocket, point & shoot 4300 for a digital, D70 SLR, and I was now lugging a backpack of gear, a tripod, and two lenses on every hike, and my hikes were frequently truncated into shoots. The week before I discovered North Meadow I had been shoulder deep in a meadow of milkweed. I was humming along with the bees and photographing butterflies with my long lens. I felt energized by the intensity of that life buzzing all around me and followed the feeding of the butterflies under the hot sun until I had filled my memory cards and grown quite thirsty.
Then I found North Meadow where those dead, dry, blackened corn stalks from the previous season served as the scaffolding for a new summer of reaching and blossoming. They were quite striking, death markers standing in rows and slowly being overtaken by new life. In the absence of a new cultivated crop, a riot of flowering vegetation was thriving. Buds of all shapes and colors opened into flowers, eyes that looked upward and followed the progress of the sun through the day. Vines climbed the brittle corn stalks, then surmounted the top and cast out new shoots reaching for any support to get yet higher and claim a greater advantage in their quest for the sun's energy. And dragon flies, bees, butterflies, moths, humming birds, sparrows all fed on those high-energy nectars and then flew off to sow their own seeds and sometimes also seeds they had digested.
There, in the middle of the meadow I was surrounded by vegetable consciousness. My own consciousness is merely extension of that consciousness, made possible by and nourished on the fruits and seeds of the meadow and the things that feed on the meadow. It is all the result of evolutionary consciousness rising up out of the earth, seeking better ways to scatter the seeds of life beyond the oceans and across the land. The consciousness that flows through me has reached out and evolved over millions of years and is reaching still. There in North Meadow where one season was so visibly rising on the bones of another I found a vivid image of my deepest beliefs about life. It was a discovery and a visual delight that led me back day after day to the end of the season. It was the first of many such sites I would consciously visit, study, and photograph repeatedly.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Monday, April 7, 2008
EDGAR DEGAS: "It is essential to do the same subject over again, ten times, a hundred times. Nothing in art must seem accidental, not even movement."
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: There are few artists in whose compositions I take more interest than Edgar Degas. It is not that Degas drew inspiration from photographic composition, but that his compositions are so smart - inevitable and telling. I recently came upon his admonition to, "...do the same subject." It is a practice I've followed since the summer of 2005. What else did Degas say on this subject, and what were his reasons for advocating such doggedness?
North Meadow was one of two sites I consciously reworked in the summer of 2005. Before that summer I'd never watched so closely as a single site changed under different lighting and over different seasons. I didn't set out to study and compare in that manner, but the practice made me aware that there are not dozens but hundreds of significant variations (at least!) in the way light interacts with the landscape. Anyone who sets out to photograph, "the grand landscape," must, before all else, watch the light and respond to its many moods. The photographer selects his shots from what the light has made possible.
Some of the "North Meadow," photographs were exhibited in the first exhibition of The Camera's Eye.
More Degas quotes
Saturday, April 5, 2008
There is no North Meadow. Perhaps there never was one.
It was a corn field that ripened and never got cut.
The soil was poor, the ears poorly formed or not at all.
When the crop was cleared to the south and the east,
the rows of corn in North Meadow were left standing.
That was in 2004.
I came on that phantom corn field in 2005.
From the defeat of agriculture came a riot of nature.
The grasses and wildflowers that grew in North Meadow that summer
were unlike those in any neighboring field or pasture.
Spiders built giant webs between the blackened corn stalks
just where the flowers were brightest and sweetest,
and vines twirled round in their climb to the sun.
As crouching spiders watched and waited
bees, and butterflies, dragon flies and hummingbird moths,
plundered sweet blossoms
for succulent nectars.
Centipedes became millipedes and millipedes metamorphosed to trillipedes.
And swallows and catbirds fed and got fat like crows.
There is no North Meadow. Perhaps there never was one.
Friday, April 4, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY - Uses for dawn:
At dawn after new snow the world is on vacation and the roads and driveways have not yet been unpacked.
At sunrise near the water there are sometimes two suns.
The mists of dawn make air visible.
Sometimes it rises, and sometimes it falls, and sometimes it hovers and sometimes it sweeps.
It pulls the eye down the longest valleys or divides the hills into receding tiers.
There are at sunrise, so I'm told, little cat feet and rosy fingers.
And in spring mighty feathered choirs proclaim the aurora,
And marching turkeys halt and fan their desires.
And listless butterflies still pillowed on moist blossoms are too sleepy to fly from my lens.
Nearby spiders' webs are lit like roadside billboards. It is a test, only a test. Once the sun comes up they're dangerously invisible.
And I've seen on frosty mornings, especially in fall, diamonds tossed across the meadow and thistle and alfafa bejeweled,
Tomorrow the moon rises at 5:55 AM and the sun rises 35 minutes later. Is there a use for that?
Except for autumn frost and winter snow, until the temperature flirts with 40° F. there's little at sunrise to tempt me from bed.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I confess it; I do not catch sunrise often. The last time I was out early was the last big snow event - early March. Yesterday's note initially had a sentence to explain that the photo was taken last spring and that I was posting it in anticipation and impatience for the meadows' return.
It takes a special reason to coax me from bed early. Spiders will do it. So will snow or any atmospherics such as the special fogs of September and October. So will the prospect of weeds studded with the ice crystals of an early frost. As soon as a bit of the foliage is back I will be watching for the right weather condition to head for Little Pond where the spring trumpeting of the red-wing blackbirds emerges from the early morning pond mist and rattles my bones. There's nothing quite like it. For now I'm sleeping in.
As to the old cairn, I've asked around, and nobody seems to know when it was built or why just there. It's not the highest point. The farm at my back dates to pre Revolutionary times. Perhaps the cairn marks the site of a bloody battle or at a later date where a favorite bull breathed his last. It's easy to think of such land as primeval and forget that much history has passed over it.
The vineyard in the foreground is new. In these fields dairy farming has given way to vino.
The cairn was also noted in a previous posting.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: I believe in walking. Whatever it is that inspires the birds to sing their most remarkable arias in the cool morning air, fills me with similar buoyancy at dawn. I guess some reading this will have a very different opinion of the AM. Except in winter, the damp, cool air just at sunrise and immediately after is sweeter to me than coffee. It's hard at 6 AM (or earlier) to drag myself from a warm bed and bed-mate, but once I am out and marching across a hillside, the birth trauma is well on the way to being forgotten.
"Buoyancy," is exactly the word, even the grass stems stand up taller then --and "exuberance," a force rising out of the earth and animating all things, and it lifts me too. I don't pray and I don't believe in any goodness that makes things right, whatever right might mean. All that matters is here right now, but walking in the early morning I know I am in touch with the prime mover. One can feel it draw all things toward the sun. I'm sure others find it at other times of day or night and in many places. As a child of New York City, I can feel it in the city as well, though it is not as strong; so I think the sensation is more than the joy emanating from the choir of meadow birds. To those who may argue it is purely neural - perhaps everything is neural - I feel, therefore I am. The fact remains that it is a force that counters cynicism, battles pain, and seeks life.
If one is at all reflective, one draws on it to move and direct all important endeavors and wonders how to make it accessible to all, an equal access resource?