Monday, December 24, 2012

Year in Review-My favorite Photographs

It has become a tradition over the past few years, to take a look back at images I've made during the last 12 months and pull out and revisit some of my favorites.  Sometimes distance in time changes my perspective on a photograph-some I love more, some fall off a bit.  I could be very formal here and pick one per month, but these are my rules and I'll just select my favorites from the past year and be okay with that. 
Sunset on the Reed Farm
I start with a sunset?  Well, yes.  I'm not really a sunset shooter, whatever that is, but I'll get suckered in from time to time if there is something different.  This one was from last winter, barely a crust of snow on the ground and I was out with the lab on a fatbike ride.  The sunset this night was so intense I didn't dare think about sliding the saturation over-if anything, turning it down!  The blue and orange of this evening was almost fake and I had to make a picture of it.
Growlers Snowbike Race-Bearpaw Inn
A long snowy drive took me to White Lake Wisconsin last winter to shoot a snowbike race at the Bear Paw Inn.  Fresh snow and a sunny winter day made this a great day to be in the woods.  The fat bikes had the singletrack ribbon packed and smooth and I even had to do a lap to join in the fun.
Snow Rain and Willow
There were rare occasions when we did have snow last year. On this night it was a sleety snow coming down in sheets making for an interesting image.  I always enjoy something I haven't seen before and was lucky enough to have a camera at the ready.
Centered Polar Plunge Girl
 Polar plunges are target rich photography environments and I always try to attend one when I can-as a photographer!  Plungers hitting the freezing water will almost always yield interesting expressions.
Jeff's Beard
Jeff is a Special Olympian and top plunge fun raiser.  He had a great "entering the water" shot, but I liked this portrait of him better.
Crusty Fatbike Ride
I call this post "my Favorites" of the year, not the "best-of" (as in photographs) because I didn't want to judge on strictly photographic rules.  Shadow pictures can be cliché, but I just plain liked this one-good texture, not a bad subject and a time and place I enjoyed.
Wedges Creek Ride
 Even Ansel Adams applied tricks in the darkroom, so I didn't feel too bad about using a yellowing filter on this shot. I liked the low angle perspective having my small camera balancing on a river rock brought to this scene.
Self Portrait with Coffee
This photograph was taken while sitting in a blind overlooking a marsh on a waterfowl shoot.  Darkness hadn't yet lifted, so in the quiet I waited and enjoyed a cup of coffee.  Quiet and coffee can be so good sometimes.
Hoodie Drake
Of all the waterfowl shots I managed, this may have been my favorite.  Not loud splashy color like Wood Ducks, but more subtle brown and gold.  he was resting or contemplating his next move on another male and female who were out of frame.
Honkers in Spring Buds

Sometimes you get lucky.  I was out on a spring turkey hunt on a nearby farm and a pair of canadian geese got up-my gun was shouldered and I had a long lens handy and kept firing as they circled and flew off.  I was surprised how crisp the birds turned out while panning with them.  A keeper image for me this year.
I had a lot of "Spashy Woodies" pics, but liked this one with the reflection in the water.  Maybe not the best composition, but it's at least something to show for hours in the blind.
Young Buck
Way too bright, but when you shoot into the early morning happens.  This young buck approached up wind of me, couldn't quite figure out what I was and circled a few times offering this pose in the clover field.  Spring is here.
Maybe the most exciting experience I had last summer was tagging along on a wolf monitoring project.  I'd tracked a bunch during the winter and followed several while biking, but this was a chance to be hands on and personal.  Great care is taken in handling the animal and tons of data is recorded before attaching a collar and sending him on his way.  6 months later, he's still out there sending signals.
Summer-Sturtz Prairie
I love seeing the prairie change throughout the year-always beautiful in so many ways.  The flowers blooming isn't a bad time to wander around with a camera.  Toss in a sunrise and some ground fog and one might just make a good picture.
Levis Photo Shoot
An advertising firm selected "my" trail as the backdrop for a photoshoot of Arctic cat ATVs and gave me a chance to see the "pros" in action.  It was fun to see them work and some of their techniques and they go about capturing the very best of a location.
Biker Dudes
Nothing about photography-just a travel picture of two friends on the road.
Morning in the Bog
Quiet Fog
Grand landscapes are fine, but sometimes I think I like the smaller ones, the quieter places and it  doesn't get much more peaceful than a northern Wisconsin floating bog lake.
UP River and Falls
So from "quiet" to loud and the rush of water on the Presque Isle River in Northern Michigan-yeah, the rock is pretty amazing and it's almost overwhelming to find the right things to shoot.
Fire Chief
A cool (ha) visual effect of a long lens flattening distance.  The Neillsville Fire Chief stand watch over a prairie fire, keeping an eye on the burn progress.
Fireman Chuck
One of the volunteer fireman at the prairie fire-and the stories he can tell....and did.
Colored Tunnel
Fall, my favorite time of year-almost too much color?  I'll take it-too bad one can't capture the smell as well-this was a perfect fall day with shotgun cradled and black lab scouring cover for birds.
Quick Drink
Tom and Olds
I did a photoshoot of an old car for my friend Tom.  He's a car and race nut, so the location on an old abandoned race track in Black River Falls was perfect.  The native grasses are trying to reclaim it and are pretty successful.
The annual homecoming parade will always find me with camera in hand.  of the hundreds of photographs I took, I kept coming back to this one-a happy innocent they should be.
Northfield Sunset
Not a grand sunset like my first picture, but a subtle one looking up across a tall grass prairie.  Pretty darn simple, but for an unknown reason to me, it's a favorite.
Lake Placid Birch
I'm not sure this will pass the test of time or not, but something in me saw a picture as I walked by this tree.  It generated some discussion on a facebook page-good banter and feedback to be sure.  I know Douglas Beasley had some influence on me or I'd walk past such a simple, not-quite perfect subject.

So I went was over my year limit here in selecting these photographs-oh well, they are images I enjoy and for me, that is the reason for making pictures...not money, certainly not fame but rather the sheer satisfaction of seeing things maybe others miss or at the least, seeing something that captures my attention and I find interesting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Birdless Bird Hunt

The shortening of days now at the tail end of autumn is something I’ve never been a fan of, but it’s out of my control, so I make the best of it.  Flying home after work, lacing up boots, sliding the 20 gauge into a case and loading the lab seems to be the best way to deal with it.  It’s a half hour drive to my favorite bird hunting spot, which leaves barely 30 or 40 minutes to roam the tall grass prairie to hunt pheasant before the sun sinks.

Birdless?  Well, not entirely true.  Birdless because the safety was never slid off?   That much is correct, like so many hunts-especially in the grouse woods.  Because I missed?  Also frequently true, I’ll never win any wing shooting competitions. Birdless just because Molly and I never had the chance to take a shot or put game in the bag and that was the subjective score.  It still was a bird hunt, a successful one at that.  I’m realizing I frequently write about this same thing over and over-what “success” in a hunt really means and as most of us know, it changes over time.

The “Birdless Bird Hunt” started as the quivering black lab leapt from the back seat, barely waiting for her collar bell and for me to slide 2 shells into the gun.  She seems to sense when we’re almost to the field while driving-her tail thumping speeds up several notches.  The sun is already touching the arched horizon and colors flood the sky.  The birds will have to wait as I pull out a small camera to take home a few images.  Molly isn’t as patient, her nose already pulling her in directions I can’t imagine.  Off we go and I follow the dog wherever scent steers her-I have no agenda to cover the entire field, just to watch her work.

Over the course of the past two seasons, I think I’m starting to read this labs movements; starting to know what she’s sensing and when to be ready… and when to be really ready for a flush. There seems to be a “I think there is a bird here somewhere” search of the grass in front of her and a “I know there is a bird here!” frantic scouring of every inch of ground.  She either slows way down (except her tail) or speeds up to track down a moving bird.  That’s when my thumb slides up to the safety and I scan carefully the terrain she’s probing.  More often than not, the her nose was right and if I trust in it we put a bird in the air.

Flush or not, I’m finding that proudly witnessing a few of those “I-gotta-find-this-bird “ frenzied sessions by Molly is what it’s all about.  As darkness steals the color from the sky, I snap a couple more pictures of tall grass and abandoned sunflowers against a deepening cold blue horizon.  I’m satisfied….cradling the double barrel in the crook of my arm Molly settles in alongside knowing tonight the hunt is over.  Her nose is always working however and pulls her away for a couple detours in the dark.  I slipped the bell off her collar and the gun into its case and settled in for the drive back home, content in knowing that even a birdless hunt can be some of the most enjoyable and appreciated time spent outdoors.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The 30th Twangfest

 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of Twang Fest.  Or thirty-first.  We never know exactly when year one was or we’re just bad at math.  Either way it’s fine, we began this journey while young and are still gathering here in the woods each year to hunt, laugh, sing and just be together.  In the past three decades, so much has changed for all of us, but maybe more importantly, so much has stayed the same-that’s why we’re here.

It’s always hard to explain to outsiders what Twang Fest is, what it means and why we continue each fall.  It’s far more than a bow hunting trip, yet that’s where it all started and that remains at its core.  But if it were only that, I know in my heart we wouldn’t have continued every year for thirty additions.  Life would have moved in and we’d move on  as well.  It’s the hunt and everything else that keeps the calendar marked each November to gather again.

 This journey started while in college-young nimrods in the woods taking a break from classes each Sunday morning for dark drives north from La Crosse to Jackson County.  An entire weekend of camping and hunting would be better it seemed, and Twang Fest was born.  Quickly after the first addition, we moved into the real world-graduation and new careers, families, changes of jobs and in later years sadly, losses to our family.  That was the start and those were the changes and yet we still made time to make it all happen again and again. 

Huddled in a blind the first night I made a note in my journal about all the things that have remained the same.  Twenty years ago the fest began very similarly-my friend Mike and I started a day early and like then, it was raining-didn’t matter, we were so happy to leave the work world behind and start this.  On that date, the rain turned to snow overnight and by the next morning the “Great Halloween Snowstorm” was born.  Even through 20 plus inches of snow, all the Twangfesters arrived at some point and we carried on.  This year, raining oak leaves replaced snow, loosened by the gentle breeze and landing with a thud on the forest floor (amazing how quiet a woods can be). Like twenty years ago, the murmur of the interstate miles away and a distant train horn were background sound only pierced by warning squawks of squirrels.  Yep, being a participant in the hunt, being in the woods and soaking it all in will always remain.

Over the years, “everything else” has included impromptu mid day football games, a mock ridge wedding (coinciding with the first Twangster getting hitched), skits of all sorts (including political debates), documentary footage, scrap paneling bowling, late night hay rides, golf, Friday night steak feeds, campfires and of course music.  I sometimes shake my head in amazement at the talent that dresses in camo each year and provides entertainment at Twangfest.  We are fortunate to have such gifted musicians in our group and it never fails that as soon as the bows are unslung, guitars are out and the music jam begins.  There are almost an equal amount of bow and guitar cases lined up in the camper and each have its place during the weekend.

As in all things that one looks so forward to, it goes by too quickly.  Other obligations pulled one brother away at a time in this 30th year, and by the final hunt Sunday morning, only three made the trip to stands in the dark.  Maybe appropriately, for the last day is a bit melancholy anyway and all too soon everyone has left and all that clings to Twangfest is the dust cloud on the ridgetop dirt road- we’re off heading in all directions back home.

The statement by close friend Norbert maybe summed up some of my feelings as well and kick started how I wanted to write about Twangfest this anniversary year:
“It is a sacred part of my life I don't like to share. …I just want to keep it away from people who don't understand and never will.” 
For those of us who do understand and always have, we will continue until we no longer can lace the boot strings or pull back the bow or strum the guitar…. for everything Twangfest is, most importantly-it remains a sacred part of our lives.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Proud Moments-First Retrieves

It’s been a long time in coming-anyone who has ever owned a retriever, a Labrador Retriever to be sure, longs to see that first retrieve. The hours in the back yard and trips to the local pond with a jacked up pup and dummy in hand knows this. It’s one thing to hit the water at full tilt in July, but quite another in a mucky cold marsh in October.

Molly made her home at the Meurett camp 2 years ago and even though she has a stellar pedigree, one never knows until feathers hit the water so to speak. She had a prolonged training period since signing on with her hunting partner (me)-a major injury kept her out of her first fall, but we resumed working in the field as soon as possible after that. A considerable worry for all hunters is gun shyness, but a gentle introduction to the report of a shot proved no problem for the excited dog chasing pigeons. Good friend Jamie (a master with German Wirehaired Pointers) provided the birds and encouragement through Molly’s indoctrination to the gun.

Last year became her first as a hunter, even though she was four years old. Prior to her joining me in the pick-up, she lived at a breeding kennel and had no field experience, despite her championship bloodlines. I remember vividly her first hunt at some DNR property where pheasants are stocked-she could be exposed to a few birds there and we could take our time to work them. She became birdy within minutes, speed and urgency surged through her body and soon a rooster was in the air. A fortunate shot brought it down and Molly knew exactly what to do, returning it to hand through the tall grass. I was so proud. She went on to have a great autumn, doing well on pheasant, grouse and woodcock. Upland game is one thing, but waterfowl, quite another.

We never had a chance to hunt ducks or geese last year, so it was a priority for this fall. I was given permission from a neighbor down the road to hunt a small marshy pond for one weekend-a rainy cool weekend, perfect for ducks I’d hoped. Being on private land, I didn’t have to worry if Molly totally failed at figuring out a retrieve on a woodie or mallard, we could be patient. This would be the perfect location to see if all our water work last summer would pay off.
 It’s been 2 years since I donned waders, tossed out decoys, and slid 3 steel 12 gauge shells into a gun. Man, I’ve missed that. Molly didn’t know what to think of all those bird looking things floating around in the water-they sure looked like her retrieving dummy. I figured as much, so I tossed her fake duck out a few times and let her thread her way through the bobbing decoys to see if she could distinguish between the two. She could. We settled into a makeshift blind behind willow branches I’d cut and the natural cattails getting pelted by the rain and waited. I’d brought my two favorite calls along, but realized any bird that flew near this pond was going to land here with no encouragement from me. That’s exactly what happened-I heard a splash and glanced to see 3 woodies already swimming toward the decoys. Molly did as well and spun out of the blind and in seconds, I managed to stand and drop one of the birds in the water. Molly was interested in perusing the flying birds, but quickly saw the flapping in the water and was in, instincts taking over and she was back with the bird in the blind. That was her first duck, so I snapped a few pictures, which she seemed ho-hum about, it was like she was saying “that’s what I do dad-dahhh.” It would also be the last bird we’d see that day, but it surly was a successful hunt.

We returned the next morning a bit late (still pelting rain) and quietly approached the pond-I sensed maybe there would be geese on it as I’d heard some flying earlier nearby. Sure enough, as we crested the dike, birds were in the air everywhere and I picked one and dropped it on the far side of the water. Again, Molly had it pegged and swam across to pick up the large goose and returned across the water with the bird seemingly half the size of her. I think all labs get really jacked up about geese, for her compact body and tail were just quivering. So our second trip to the water was also a success as she’d made her first goose retrieve and I couldn’t have been more proud.

We returned one more time, but birds were scarce and soon decoys were packed in oversize bags and the clumsy hike in waders back to the truck began. I’ve found that hunting with a dog changes everything. If I’m by myself, working brush or a swamp for hours and never click the safety off, it can feel like a poor hunt. With the dog along, it’s fun just to see them work cover, get birdy and in the end, trot alongside you as we return to the pick up-they are just happy to be out there, as I am. I hope we have many more years together in the field and marsh, for seeing how Miss. Molly did on her first retrieves I know all the summer “work” pays off and there will be many more proud moments for this hunter and his pup.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Faces of the Parade

It's become another yearly thing, photographing the Neillsville Homecoming parade.....  Just like the first day of school, I like to have the camera at the ready for what I know will be some great photographic opportunities-as I like to say, a "target rich environment."   The expressions of the kids, happy to be at the parade, maybe happier to be out of school early, are usually priceless.  Walking down the street from school, with camera and long lens in hand, I'm everyones best friend it seems.  There are plenty of "smile, say cheese" shots (which usually are the worst) but my favorites are the casual and documentary style ones of the spectators watching the parade in anticipation.  Sometimes along the way, I manage some nice portraits as well....surprises in a way, but ones I like because I know just about every student sitting on the curb. 

Of course, my best are always the images that I feel catch the personality of the person, and even though most of them are young, by now, a few years in my classroom, I see that personality come out frequently.  Great kids, and as always, fun for me to photograph.