Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Years Eve Birdless


The four wheel drive came in handy as the truck bounced through hedgerow snowdrifts after the hunt. I felt like the black lab sitting behind me I think-disappointed on this last day of the pheasant season. It's never discouraging not shooting a bird, on this day it was about it being...the last day. Molly, who is usually always able to roust up a couple birds found none. The deep snow was a challenge to be sure, but also offered a chance to track any roosters that were around. We saw zero.

Maybe that was the toughest part-no sign, no birdyness from the dog, no excitement, just cold stinging- your-face wind and tired legs trudging through drifts.

It was New Years Eve day and my last push to get the dog out on pheasant. Sure, I'd maybe try for grouse yet, but we like chasin those big gaudy colored birds the most. Fall had been busier than I liked. In my mind, autumn would be filled with endless days afield hunting. It didn't turn out that way, although a gallant effort was made. State DNR land and nearby private land held roosters, so as often as time would allow, the black lab, a double barrel 20 and bird vest were all tossed in the truck and we were off.

The corn stubble farm land here is surrounded by a huge swamp grass lowland with a couple drainage canals and usually we find birds all over. The dog always goes a bit tail wag crazy when she hits a scent cone. I figured the wind blown snow may make it easier, limiting birds to some select cover near the plowed field. Surely I could hone in on those triangle pheasant tracks to make things simpler. Nope, nada, nothing but mice and ermine prints...everywhere.

Perhaps turning the dog into the breeze would help, but all it did was drive colder than the tempurture wind through my orange bird vest. I tightened down the hat further below my ears and tried to ignore my burning cheeks and nose. More than enough winter blast to remind me what time of year it was, forgetting the sweltering gold days two months ago.

Although most snow cover had been sheared off the bare field, tall grass acted as a snow fence and piled drifts a couple feet high. I'd thought of bringing snowshoes, but they remained useless back in the pickup. We beat our way through, at times Molly cheating by following in my tracks. I'd “shussh” her ahead and she'd go back to her bird dog business-but to no avail.

After an hour and nothing encouraging happening, the sad descision was made to call it a day- a season. It'd be a slow trudge across the vast field to the truck. Molly followed alongside, venturing to and fro only occasionally to investigate some random crow track or scattered corn cob.

It was hard to just be done, so before breaking open and casing the shotgun, I wandered over to some prickly cover near the railroad right of way. Thick berry brush tangles flank the tracks and maybe there would be a “last chance bird” in there. The dog dove in and worked the thicket-I stayed alongside and hoped something would flush, but again, nothing. “Alright, we're good I guess,” - not really wanting to throw in the towel.

The pick-up retraced the truck tracks back out through the deep snow along the field. I wouldn't be back here for 10 months I suppose. Minutes earlier the tinking of the brass bell finally went silent as I removed it from Molly's collar and stowed it in the game bag. Returning home, the over and under bores were cleaned and a spritz of gun oil wiped across everything before tucking it away. Like the bell, the gun, the game bag, and the sleeping lab, it'll be too long a wait for me until the next time we afield. Somehow maybe having a final day like this is good-it'll make the anticipation all the greater next season when we're bouncing along the same field, dog whining with excitement ready to flush birds again.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015-The Favorites.

New years day, 2016. My annual look back at the year through images almost slipped my mind.  As a photographer, I think reflecting on work that has been produced by my cameras, my eye and more importantly my vision, is important.  So how did I almost miss it?  Not to make excuses (which means what follows will be an excuse of some form), but this has been a very different year for me.  After having the same yearly schedule for 50 years, 2015 saw a change.  No longer would a classroom be the center of calendar- as a student when I was younger or as a teacher.  The September to June annual itinerary would now change forever.  Retirement from education would open a new chapter.  What's this have to do with photographs?

They say after retirement you get busier-yeah, right, except it's true.  I had 7 days of "retirement" after the end of school, then quickly jumped into a new job as a wildlife technician for the Ho-Chunk Nation DNR.   I love the job.  For the first time in many years, I was working in the summer and yes, it did cut into photography time, yet also offered some opportunities as well.  It seemed that working now pushed me to use days off to their fullest and sadly (for now) making pictures took a back seat. I think that will change as I get more used to this new role and set some priorities.  There never is enough time.

I always call this post "Favorites" rather than "best of."  'Best' can conjure up some abstract judging criteria and I just don't want to go there-it has a place, but not for these.  A good friend said photographs come down to what you like-what speaks to you.  What follows is my year in images, more or less chronological, and mostly something from each month.  Some are what I'd consider good photographs, others less so, but are here because they speak to me or are important.

This is always one of my favorite posts-maybe because I enjoy just sharing my pictures with the hope someone else will also like them.  Some have commentary-others not as much.  They are shot with my DSLR (Canon 50D) some with an iphone or Canon point and shoot-whatever was handy.  Enjoy.
Wedges Creek Ice Flows

A strange image to start with? Perhaps.  This was takes on Wedges Creek in Clark County during one of several snowshoe treks on the frozen water.  There are high banks and rock outcroppings along this remote location in the county forest and discovering these little gems was a treat.  The tannin in the rock and soil colored the ice and reminded me of  a cathedral Antoni Goudi would have designed.

Homage to Mark-Burr Oak, Agusta Wisconsin

Of course my interests lie with the outdoors and wildlife and I happened upon this burr oak tree while traveling to and from a wolf ecology class near Fall Creek.  My photographer (and biker) friend Mark Hirsch set on a journey a couple years ago photographing a burr oak tree near Plattville Wisconsin every day for a year-with an iphone.  It's an amazing beautiful project.  This tree jumped off the corn field every day I saw it and I could not-not make a picture of it, for Mark.

Sweaty Yeti

The Sweaty Yeti is a fatbike race our club has put on for the last several years-a fun day on awesome trails and it brings much needed money in for the trail system.  Once the gun goes off, I have 3 hours to relax before the finish, and I love getting out with camera in hand to shoot some pictures.

Arndt Road Crane
It's nice to live in the country and have animals so close-if not wandering through the yard or woods, then just down the road. I'm spoiled.  Pairs of Sandhill Cranes show up each year as soon as the last snow fades away.  This shot was a bit later after green-up.  The pair of cranes this guy was a partner in successfully raised a colt to maturity.

Lake Michigan-The Corkscrew
I'd never grown up with great lakes fishing, but I'm learning to love it-something about those big deep blue waters and the fish they contain.  It's not fishing as much as hunting, and my captain, Kris, is skilled at it.  Kris is a cycling friend from way back and now owns a charter boat out of Kenosha-Northfork Sport Fishing.  He really turned me on to spring coho fishing and I jump at any chance to get down there.  My good Friend John, who knows fishing as well, would rather be on a boat than anywhere else and this morning ride out from the harbor was full of anticipation.

Fisher Ave Drainage
I've driven by this little county forest drainage, now flooded by beavers, a thousand times.  In order to get to Black River Falls for work, I'd drive past this early morning each day.  I enjoyed how this exact place changed though the year and my truck would pull over numerous times to record it. A simple quiet place.

Homage to Douglas Beasley-Crow Feather
Doug Beasley is a photographer who I had the pleasure of meeting while at a class of his years ago.  I still remember a photo assignment to do a "self portrait." Recalling an image of his of a hand holding an object, this maybe subconsciously was my self portrait-on this particular day.  I don't know why, it just is.  I like crows and ravens so I couldn't pass by picking this up and making a picture.

Last Day Eve-32 Years
The final week of teaching had me scurrying to clean the room, pack up a career of art and photography stuff and realizing I would not be in front of young kids again.  Every class I had those final couple days (18 in all) I'd take a picture of my kids and their art teacher. A serious one and a fun one.  I miss the kids the most-not all of them mind you, but there are some real gems that I looked forward to each day.  The teachers reward.

Last Day
Last day of school is "field day," just try to keep the lids on-there won't be much learning involved.  A fun day and my last chance to say good bye, get hugs and for me, to record the faces of kids I'd had the privilege to teach.

Mornings-Townline Flowage
The new job required watching the sun come up a lot-I love it.  I'd go to work in the state forest even earlier than I needed (well, in a way, I "needed" to be out there for this) just to have time to shoot.  Townline Flowage in the BR State Forest was home to a pair of swans this summer and some cygnets.  I'd see them from time to time and assume they made it to fall migration.  I stopped here many mornings on my way to the elk pen, make a few pictures and then continue to "elk sit" for the day.

Dike 17 Elk Pasture
Not really a "pasture," but just some fields the WDNR planted for the elk when they were released.  We'd do 12 hour shifts during quarantine to be sure they were doing okay.  I liked the daybreak moments like this-no people, no sound except the day waking up.

BAAP-Prarie Restoration
The Ho-Chunk Nation acquired-ahem, had their land returned to them, at the site of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant south of Devils Lake SP.  I'd drive past it quite a few times back in the day while it was still open.  Now almost all of the buildings are gone and nature is reclaiming it.  The HCN is actively managing it for prairie- a monumental task, seeing how invasives have overrun the place.  It's my favorite property to visit and work at.

Linda
I was fortunate enough to be selected as head coach for athletics (track and field) for Special Olympics USA world games in LA this past summer.  It can be a demanding job, but one I cherish.  Linda on paper way back at the training camp the previous fall, looked like a difficult athlete for such a trip.  The reports (in her application) on her behavior had my coaching staff...concerned.  As it turned out, she was one of the most loving and hardworking athletes on the team.  She was always a hoot to be around.  I couldn't have been prouder when she earned a bronze medal in the 100 meter dash.

Fisher Ave Drainage-August
Another stop on Fisher Avenue-heading toward autumn and my favorite time of year anywhere outdoors.

County K-Black River State Forest-Lone Pine
That tree, well, that ex-tree perhaps, is one my eye would catch on my drive each day.  I made maybe 20 images of this spot at different times through the summer and fall-this one had an amazing angry sunrise.

Aspen-Wildcat Road
Fall colors can explode, be obnoxiously brilliant like the creator turned up the saturation, but they can also be like this.  Softer, quieter.  This one little patch of aspen with a forest floor of green and sentinels standing straight and tall, are also part of the season-the subtle side.

The Pastel Glow-Townline Flowage
 I need a small kayak to explore this body of water, or at least that is a great excuse to add another boat to my fleet.  One of many pictures I made here.  Sometimes the placidness of of mornings in the marsh are the perfect way to begin a new day.

Sidewinder in Fall
Hardly a great photo, but it's here because so much of my life has been invested on this trail.  Every inch of it I know intimately.  This was a day to ride by myself, to soak as much in as I could, to stop, to just enjoy the ride.

Abandoned in Lehr North Dakota
 We've been going to North Dakota for many years and it's a place I think I could spend a whole lot of time photographing.  It's worlds away from what visually we have in Wisconsin.  We hunt ducks and upland birds here, which always requires vast amounts of walking.  When I stumble upon some old farmstead ruins, I wonder what the history was.  What hardships it must have been a 100 years ago to survive.  Even now, it's tough living with wide expanses between towns or even other people.  The dominate tree, if there even can be such a thing, are cottonwoods-planted decades ago as windbreaks or maybe a lucky survivor seed blown across the prairie to lite and begin a tenuous life.  This little grove have all been dead for unknown years, but clinging to the shore of a pothole as guardians of the land.  (oh boy-maybe a bit mellow dramatic steve.... )

Fire Sky over "USA Pond"
North Dakota can have some brilliant sunsets, in part because they are so huge!  Over the years I probably have 100s of sunset/ sunrises and I haven't tired of them yet.  Everyone has seen the pretty  colors of them, so it's just a guilty pleasure that my camera keeps shooting and I just had to include one here.  It was a long hike across a tall grass prairie when this was made.  Decoy bag bumping and banging over my shoulder, the plastic deeks anything but quiet.  The 1187 slung heavily over the other arm.  Molly trotted alongside knowing her day was done.  The trucks waited on the horizon and I was motivated by a cold beer waiting.  It would be a long walk, but this view was worth it.

The Frozen Terrarium
It's always the little things.  Some so small we just walk by.  A quick glace at the ground and for some reason I stopped.  I was hiking out of the woods with a muzzloader on my shoulder ready for some hot coffee after a morning hunt.  I'm a sucker for shapes, forms, color contrast and natures abstract ways.  This little place was worth a pause.

Transition
Townline Flowage again.  Fall was giving way- the water surrendering it's warmth and the pedals of cone flowers long since dropped on the shore.  Small wild birds soon enough would flit from stem to stem pulling out the seed cones.

Oxbo Pond-Super Moon
There was a big deal about "the super moon" this fall.  (or maybe it was an eclipse?) Anyway, I kinda saw it and it was still high in the sky at daybreak in the western sky.  Oxbo pond is a little back water of Morrison Creek, cut off from the flow of water when the river changed direction many years ago.  The steam was leaving on this cold morning, I remember it was 23 degrees-chilly for October.  It's a tranquil little spot.  I had this printed by my friend Ras and he made maybe there best complement I've gotten on a photograph-he didn't have to do anything to this...it stood on it's own.

Mortuum Corvis
Pretty, no.  Intriguing? To me, yeah.  Crows are some of the smartest animals alive, so I wonder what the story is here in it's death.  Another bird, a predator, a disease? I dunno.  It's already returning to the earth in natures way.

A Silent Stand-Wildcat Road
The subtle color of this niche in the forest this fall is now buried beneath the ice and skim of snow.  The steadfast trunks remain standing guard again and I have no doubt I'll be back to make a stark white snowscape picture here.  It's that kind of place.

Solis Ortus
Sunrise, and I break some rules which can be broken.  Centered composition-shoot straight into the sun, squarish format.  It's a journey to look back over a year in pictures-some get better with age, some don't.  This one surprised me, another from Townline Flowage.  It aged well for me.  It seemed fitting to put this last, which makes no sense considering it's a sunrise, but without a compass, it could be a sunset.  As it's now just 10 degrees outside I feel the warmth of this image and look forward to setting a tripod up again on this shore-maybe in the spring next year as things are waking up.

As I look forward I've determined I need to feed my photography more-not in equipment or gear (although maybe a move to mirrorless down the road?) but in time and effort.  I think I need a little project, a 365, a 90 day assignment, something along those lines to sharpen the eye and fuel the creativity and vision.  I never know but look forward to what will find me.