Monday, January 23, 2012

The Trow Wolf Track

Deer Carcass on Moundbounder
Photography isn't always pretty.  Nature isn't either...some would say.  But it's the way of things and it's the reality of how life works.  One of the things I love about snow, and grooming snow, is in the early morning hours, when the sun brightens the woods, the stories of the dark hours begins to emerge.  It's the same when I see tracks, and I wonder what happened before I stumbled across them and what happened after.  On this morning, some of the story was left on the ski trail.

Within the first mile of grooming, I quickly cut a lone wolf track, which seemed content to just follow the powdered surface of the trail heading west.  The meandering tracks were easy to see-sunk deeply into the base getting wiped out by the ski trail groomer passing over them.  I stopped a few times just to get a closer look.  They soon veered off on an ungroomed trail, so I decided this day was the one to catch up and get it in skiing condition...besides, the tracks pulled me that way.  A short trip and we merged onto the Moundbounder trail, the name implies a lot of hills and it does deliver.  At the top of the first climb, the lone track melted into a mass of packed snow-canine tracks everywhere, like a wolf party zone.  It stopped me in my...err, tracks.  I couldn't believe, or understand why everything was tore up. I could see more tracks cascading off the ridge line above me onto this spot.  Further below, something lay in the trail.  The deer skull and spine, with snapped off ribs, had been dragged, pulled and wrestled with from the top of the ridge to the spot where it rested.  That much of the story was now clear.  I may have even disrupted the tug of war or the feeding frenzy that had taken place.
Drag lines and Rib Patterns
In hind sight, I was probably right.  After completing my first pass, I discovered fresh wolf prints in the newly groomed snow.  They were still here, closeby.  I had moved the carcass off the trail and on my return trip, ravens and a immature bald eagle stood watch in the trees above- a sure sign they were aware the deer's body had been there and the wolfs feeding earlier had not gone unnoticed.

There were several places along the trail where earlier in the day or previous night, the wolves had taken advantage of the packed snow to wrestle, play or frolic, (if wolves do that) evidenced by the hundreds of tracks, "skid" marks and body slams in the snow.  I wondered what this must look like live.  The three (it appeared to be three wolves together at several tracking points) didn't appear to be fighting over scraps of food at those places-there was no blood or bone there, just a free for all as they loped along here and there.  I'd seen this behavior last winter while grooming in fresh snow, seeing the imprint of their bodies and heads in the snow.  They also appear to love snow "baths"-something our golden retriever would do, rolling around in the snow back and forth.
Tracks of Wolf and Sue J.
Fellow skier and trail worker Sue had been skiing the evening before and said she felt like wolves were stalking her.  She cut tracks several times during her ski, and as observed, some of her ski tracks lie on theirs, some the other way around.  I don't think it was stalking in any way, she was just skiing in their house.  On one pass, I stopped again and clammored up the sidehill where they had slid down and quickly found three beds directly on the Hermosa singletrack.  They'd slept here and at some point returned to the carcass below, which Sue had dragged off trail.  Apparently, they preferred it back where it'd been.
Tracks on Corduroy-Second Pass
The hours on the fourwheeler continued on and at several places, where I finished up my second pass, I'd cut new tracks...they were still here, and I'd strain to catch a glimpse of their shadows back in the trees and brush somewhere.  A similar scenario played out last year while grooming-two sets of tracks, then one and finally they went off trail.  I stopped and followed the line up hill, below the Sidewinder trail, and "he" stood there-unmistakable large dark shape, peering down at me.  My first wolf sighting.  The moment passed quickly and he bounded up to the ridgeline and was gone.  Unlike some, I feel wolves have a place in our natural environment, so for me, it was thrill.  Should there be a balance?  sure there does...I am a hunter, but I'll share with a creature who has lived here far longer than I, and maybe belongs here more than I.  At the moment I saw him, and when I see their evidence and know they are here, I feel a bit more alive, that I am a part of something bigger than myself and that's worth witnessing as often as possible.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Fire in the Sky

Fire in the Sky
Last night was a rare night-it's not everyday we're treated to a sky like this.  The sunrises the past few days have been pretty spectacular as well, but this sunset, was truly amazing.  As I rode the fat-bike through the woods trails, I could see the colors building and hoped I'd get out in time to catch the full view of it.  I did and quickly fired off a few frames.
Molly, Mukluk and Fire Sky
Molly is enjoying these fat-bike rides a lot-I can't really get going that fast on the rough XC ski trails and she can escape from time to time to smell smells only labs love.  I think she rather enjoyed the sunset too.
Everything Glows
Firesky over Jeannes Farm

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New years Day-Best of 2011

I'll give full credit to this post to friend Laura Schmitt, who recently did a best of piece on her wedding photographs from this past year...which got me thinking about going back and looking at my own work from 2011.  It's an interesting exercise in a way-going back and taking a close look at what happened in my life thru images.  I won't get too carried away with those deep philosophical thoughts (I just like photographs!) but still, it's a reminder of what caught my eye before pressing the shutter.  I started picking one image from each month....that lasted until February, then abandoned that and just went with photos I liked and tried to keep it to one per event.  Some months were better than others as they say.  (BTW, who are "they" they always talk about?)  So here they are, in no particular order, my favorites (and not always the best photographs) from the past twelve months.

Colored Snow Drifts
We were blessed with a lot of snow in early 2011 (actually, late 2010) and I find myself shooting winter scenes as a favorite....and I do love snow.  Taken on a late afternoon, on the Miatke farm field, where I hike at all times of the year.  Rain had formed a crust, then high winds blew new snow across this tundra-looking plain to form these colorful forms.

Grousin Around
One early morning last winter I looked out the window and a neighborhood grouse lit in the crabapple tree out back.  He (she?) gladly took the opportunity to fill up on the remaining fruit clinging on the twigs during this cold morning.  I'll never tire of living out in the country when one never knows what might wander through, stop for a bite or just say hi.

Tenley at Levis Mound
The kids have moved away now, so unlike earlier days, they don't appear in my of my photographs, but last March a fun get together at Levis Mound with skis and snowshoes brought Tenley back to town.  A portrait?  Maybe...I love the smile, the location and the richness of the colors and knew this would be a favorite of mine of the year.

Sharp-Shinned with Prey
When I first posted this image, I wrongly identified it as a Merlin, another small hawk, but realized later it actually was a Sharp-Shinned hawk.  Backyard feeders offer plenty of prey for these sift skilled flyers and small song birds are a favorite target.  The hawk picked off a chickadee near the window and lit in a large oak tree, where quickly the smaller bird was dispatched.  It's natures way and I had mixed feelings but grateful to be a witness to the skill and survival of the raptor.

Michael at the Polar Plunge
The Neillsville Rotary Polar Plunge raises money for Special Olympics and other organizations in town, and I figured would offer some great opportunities for images.  It didn't disappoint.  Michael is a Special Olympic athlete and also took part in the plunge and by his expression, wasn't going to swim around in the ice water too long.

Madison Rally
To say this has been a polarizing year in Wisconsin would be an understatement-no matter what side of the political fence one is on.  The unprecedented cuts to workers rights and education brought out a storm of protesters from every part of the state-including myself.  I made the trip to Madison as a participant and also, from time to time that day, as a photographer.  I think this image illustrates people of every walk of life, rallying for the rights they feel strongly about.

Fog Day Off
It wasn't a conscious plan to have this peaceful photograph follow the chaos of Madison last spring, but I guess it works.  There were two days last winter/spring that because of the strange weather we've had, were about the thickest fog I'd ever seen.  School was called off and for good reason-the fog never lifted this day and visibility was truly measured in feet.  Unusual atmospheres are always fun to experience and photograph.

Trombone at Tufts
Am I a "professional" photographer?  I have been hired and even paid for photographs, but don't depend on that income for anything than spending it on more photography equipment!  I was asked to do a shoot of a band rehearsing and performing for a comeback tour of sorts.  The Willie Wisely Trio gathered this past summer at Tufts Mansion for several days of rehearsal, some group shots and the a performance.  I always love shooting musicians and bands-so many great photographs telling stories of their talent and skill and what they bring to us, the listeners.  It's always an honor to be asked to photograph these artists performing their craft.

Forest Ferns
Simplicity.  A curve, a line, a form-I'm attracted to those elements a lot when I'm out shooting and find myself at times, looking for the small quiet subjects.  I shoot a lot of ferns-sometimes just to get them out of my system.  In the spring, everything is too green, so usually these photos end up black and white, where for me, it's easier to see those elements of art stand out and come to the forefront.  This one?  I just love natures perfect curve-no artist could draw that as well.

Bog Lake Photographer
Each summer I try to get a photography class or workshop in to advance my skills, to see differently and to force myself to shoot everyday-a lot.  It's always a rejuvenator for my photography.  This past July I spent time in Northern Wisconsin and the U.P. shooting nature, waterfalls and sometimes other photographers.  This was an early morning on a bog lake outside of Eagle River Wisconsin and my favorite from this photo session.

Young Greek Girl in Rhodes
Coaching at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Greece was a great opportunity to be a part of something I love doing in my life.  The head coaching position on the track seemed to fit me well, and I loved every minute.  Well, almost.  I bought a new camera for the games, expecting to make a lot of pictures, but coaching is a full time job and I was a participant, not an observer here... I found myself not shooting much at all.  Our host town was on the Isle of Rhodes and one day we had the chance to visit an ancient walled city there and as thousands of athletes paraded the cobble stone streets, Greek residents cheered and waved along the way.  I saw this young Greek girl waving from a window high above the street and loved the joy expressed in her face, and in a split second grabbed a shot before getting paraded forward down the narrow crowded street.  It would be an image I'll always remember.
Jermaine on the Ferry
Another World games photograph made the cut here and I guess the color really drew me to it.  It was a long ferry ride from Rhodes to Athens-some parts great, some during those 18 hours, not so great.  Meeting Jermaine, who was a powerlifter, was a highlight-a giant spark of life, who could not only lift small cars, but also perform  cartwheels into the splits to fire up his teammates and the rest of Team USA.

Jamie-High Key
These photographs are loosely chronological as I'm posting them, but I had to go back to late spring to a shoot I did for a family friend down the road.  Jamie has a great personality and it was fun to make some senior portraits of her out on the farm.  There were a lot that I liked and she is easy to photograph, but I kept coming back to this high key image as one of my favorites.

Sam Moku-Skipping
This is actually from the Team USA training camp in April held in San Diego.  We trained at San Diego State on their excellent track-a perfect place for our track and field athletes.  We got to know the athletes and other coaches and Sam became one of my favorites.  He is from Hawaii and not only is he an excellent coach but a fun loving human being and one I'm proud to call friend.

The Sun Bites a Building
One of my favorite artists, Georgia O'Keeffe, once described a painting she did of New York skyscrapers as buildings shooting up to the sky with the sun taking a bite out of the building.  This image reminded me of that-taken in downtown Minneapolis this past fall while attending a wedding of a good friend.  Every once and a while, it's good to get the country boy to the big city....just for a while.

Nate & Ena
Unlike Laura, I don't see myself taking up wedding photography on any great level-that's a lot like work and there is pressure to get the shot and make no mistakes.  I'll admit, weddings I've shot for friends have been fun and there are always a few images I really like.  This was a favorite of mine taken at an unexpected moment high above Lake Wazee where the ceremony was held and captures their fun playful side and love for each other. 

First day-Ava and Juju
I've had a habit of marching around school on the first morning, camera in hand,as students file into their classrooms and settle into their desks.   As a teacher, it's fun to see their excitement (for the most part) of starting a new year, with new classmates and teachers.  Ava and Judah are so very different and so very likable and I love having them walk into my classroom.  On this first day I wonder what they are each thinking...

Molly and Colored Blur
A strange image but I just love it.  Taken on a fall hike out in the county forest along logging roads and ATV trails.  It's sometimes hard to get fall color photographs just right, or something one hasn't seen before, and for whatever reason, this was my favorite from that day...light, motion, color, Labrador retriever?

Mr.Art and Abby
Photographers usually don't like to have their picture taken or photographs of themselves-at least, that's the case for me.  That said, I do like this one-I'm at my job, in my room and with one of my favorite students.  Abby is the sister of one of my past high school students, who is also an excellent photographer, and one who made countless pictures of Abby as well.  As a teacher, there is nothing better than students who love to come to your room smiling, happy to see you and ready to try the next great thing in art and give it their all.

Whew.....bring on 2012.........