Posted on Dec, Wed, 2023 in Uncategorized

“Past Visible” Tummonds Bog

In 1986, with little fanfare, the “Charles Tummonds State Nature Preserve” was designated Ohio’s first scenic river preserve in the small, rural community of Mantua. The Upper Cuyahoga river forms the southern boundary of the preserve, its glacial moraine overlooking the wetland as it continues south, falling precipitously through kame woods into a broad marsh and sphagnum bog.
As the Pleistocene era ended 11,000 years ago, Ohio’s last glacier receded leaving rich sand and gravel deposits known as eskers (narrow ridges) and kames (hummocky irregular mounds) that would define this wetland. Pin oaks, white oaks, beech and shagbark hickory flourished and persisted, tracing the wooded hummock slopes to the water where rush and sedge still support nesting areas for waterfowl, provide construction material for beaver and food for deer and small game – a symbiotic ecosystem, self-sustaining yet fragile.

Tummonds bog is visible evidence of northeast Ohio’s last glacier, its geologic record contained in the silt, sand, and gravel of retreating ice. The survival of this wetland, at least until now, is deeply ironic as the mineral deposits that constitute and have sustained the land and wetlands, the bogs, fens, and marshes, even its geographic aesthetic, contain seeds of extinction planted by those who “harvest” its sand and gravel at the expense of vegetation and wildlife. The same materials that created the moraines, eskers and kames, ones that have textured and contoured the landscape for thousands of years are now under siege – in this instance by the “Oscar Brugmann Sand and Gravel Company,” a 5th generation local mining company that sells the natural resources for construction materials and golf courses. After mining 700,000 tons of sand and gravel each year the inevitable problem now confronting the company, is depletion. The area’s natural resources, those that have enriched the Brugmann family since 1929, are now running out and the rich deposits beneath Tummonds marsh are now in their sights – after almost a century in business and strip mining hundreds of acres of land, the company is moving to extract minerals that lie next to and beneath the marsh.

The story of this local mining company is repeated in other locales across the country as land is stripped of its resources to enrich families and shareholders. Hopefully, we can bring awareness to interested parties and organizations in the year ahead, to find a solution to what appears to be the imminent loss of a natural treasure.

*Perhaps even Brugmann can be enlisted. After all, their tagline is : “Since 1929, Putting Natural Materials to Use, Leaving Nature at Its Best.” Oscar Brugmann Sand and Gravel, Inc.

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Posted on Dec, Wed, 2023 in Uncategorized

“Woodland Explosion”

Nature’s generosity, so often subtle, is revealed seldom more dramatically than through the pandemonium of puddler ducks in existential flight. Once startled, raspy quacks, cries and whistles rise in dissonant desperation echoing from the shallow ponds, puddles and swales of northeast Ohio’s woodlands. Sensing an intrusion, they share a frenetic escape. For me, a brief moment of animated beauty is the reward.

My great love for ducks began in 1956 when I pulled a hand-carved, maplewood, mallard call from my Christmas stocking, a device that would liberate and empower the early impulses of an eight year old, encouraged by his parents to explore the woods, creeks and ponds surrounding his home. Much of the excitement was in the occasional sightings of deer, fox or pheasant, however, the more intimate thrill came through conversation with ducks as I hid in rushes imitating their chuckles and feeding calls.

Hiking woodlands in autumn and spring one can easily find the swales and ponds that harbor the “puddler” ducks – the mallards, blue-winged teal, black ducks, wigeon, even the rare pintail or woodie. Unlike “divers” that must run some distance over open water to get airborne, puddlers leap vertically on long wings, rather clumsily at first, bumping into one another, twisting and turning through pin oaks and hawthorn like dragonflies threading reed and sedge.

Somewhere, I imagine boys may still spend their days carving trails, talking with ducks, and putting aside the preoccupations of today’s world.

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“A Spot In Time”

Posted on Nov, Thu, 2023 in Uncategorized

“A Spot in Time”

At least twice each year I am left breathless by this view of the Chagrin River. Running parallel to River Rd., a half mile north of Fairmount, the river doglegs west only to make an abrupt turn a half mile later (visible in the foreground) as it continues north through Gates Mills.

By late April the deciduous forests gripping the steep eastern walls of the Chagrin escarpment begin coming to life. Almost imperceptibly, faint yellow and green hues bleed slowly into the landscape illuminating the Valley; and almost on cue, six months later, towards the end of October, the sublime senescence of autumn is suspended momentarily in time and vivid yet ephemeral color … until the inevitable storm arrives the last days of the month and this iconic scene, stripped of color and texture, is left to languish somberly into the next year.
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“Roxbury Russets”

Posted on Nov, Thu, 2023 in Gallery Image, Musings from Still Point

Roxbury Russet

“But I suppose I am like a Roxbury russet, – a great deal the better, the longer I can be kept.”

And so, in mid-nineteenth century America, 100 years after the introduction of these uncomely apples (1735), Uncle Venner, a lesser though important figure in Hawthorne’s “House of the Seven Gables,” speaks the metaphoric truth about this fruit as well as his own inner felicitous character. Superficially, each suffers from the derision of disfigurement, yet each exhibits its own rare beauty.

Visiting the small towns of the Hudson River Valley, Kate and I came across a local farmer’s market in Hudson, New York, early Saturday morning. In the lot’s far corner, a box of Roxbury russets, skins webbed and mottled, marked by warts, nestled between crates of McIntosh, Red and Golden Delicious, Winesap and Braeburns. These most aesthetically lamentable of apples are still grown in New England and, as we were advised, their sublime flavor continues to improve over weeks as with fine wines over decades.

As I reflect on this image taken in the soft light of early morning, I think there must be no more glorious fruit.
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Where Shadows Come to Die

Posted on Oct, Thu, 2023 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point

“Where Shadows Come to Die”

Perhaps it would be better titled, “When” than “Where” shadows come to die. The image below was made at Squire Valleevue Farm’s eastern meadow shortly before noon, May 26th. By late morning in the month of May in northeast Ohio the sun casts only weak shadows that cause the landscape to lose much of its texture and perceptive color.

Several years earlier I had photographed this same meadow at the same unpropitious hour yet had the good fortune to capture what became a popular series I named “Constellations.” The images were ground-level views of dandelion heads, white spheres clustered like so many stars, their desiccated yellow petals dried in the sun, replaced with white threads; orbs of geometric, flickering fluff fixed in a transient state awaiting a propagating wind. Mirroring these constellations of dried dandelions, small, tightly bound cumulous clouds arranged themselves against a blue sky. The successful images that day were unexpected as the effulgent light almost directly overhead produced almost no shadow, absorbing red, orange and yellow wave lengths, rendering the landscape texturally flat. And though the more recent photograph pictured below was afflicted by the same midday light, it too retains dimension and texture. But why?

As I found myself comparing other photographs I had taken at midday, I developed a theory as to why some appeared washed out and some still succeeded in the harsh light. My own experience suggests that there may be another explanation to this counterintuitive phenomenon. It may be illusory, simply a function of the sheer number and variety of elements in the image, especially the number of complementary colors that add texture and dimension, creating the illusion of shadows as the visual effect defies conventional lighting orthodoxy.

The photograph below provides some insight that I should have discerned years ago. Early blooming magenta heads of clover in the foreground, violet hued, little bluestem prairie grasses and contrasting variegated green Timothy grass, dotted randomly with bright buttercups, in toto creating a counterpane tapestry of light and color, appearing to undulate in waves, spreading, almost floating across the meadow. And in the distance, anchoring the scene, the farm’s small hoary-white barn, flanked by a brilliant black locust, its first leaves of spring opening, soft neon yellow and green.
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“Morning Twilight, Schweitzer Marsh”

Posted on Sep, Tue, 2023 in Musings from Still Point

“Morning Twilight, Schweitzer Marsh”

Too often lost on the tangible object, art’s greater value may inhere in the abstract and intrinsic – qualities that nurture, that bind humanity through nature and contemplation. Those that open to the mysteries of a marsh perhaps, to such as the dragonfly in its luminescent carapace hovering and darting, or the jarring croak of the Great Blue Heron, its primordial voice announcing its being, exploding into morning and as abruptly, the earnest silence that follows, echoing through early twilight.

I post this image taken nine years ago (August,) 2014, before the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway’s unmindful drainage and destruction of this hallowed wetland began earlier this year, a place sacred to generations of wildlife and flora, a natural creation where William Wordsworth might well have experienced a “spot in time.”  Or, after the railway’s heresy upon the landscape, John Keats, in his time, might have remarked,

“The sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.”
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“Time Irresolute, Tummond’s Bog”

Posted on Sep, Tue, 2023 in Musings from Still Point

“Time Irresolute, Tummond’s Bog ”

“Others will see the islands large and small; …
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them …”  “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Walt Whitman

167 years after Walt Whitman published these prophetic lines, technology, capitalism and exigent political and religious ideologies now conspire to change at least one dimension of time’s long held notion; that some things are immutable, that some things transcend the temporal, that some things endure. How can the simple beauty of a wetland that has survived for 11,000 years fall to the whim of man in the course of a few years? Entropy comes to the natural world with surrealistic speed disguised in many colors but almost always motivated by profit and power.

This scene of mallards flushing over a beaver lodge is at once iconic and timeless but imminently precarious. Imagine a world devoid of these creatures and the everyday quotidian beauty of the landscape.

Kate and I were visiting Tummond’s bog, a little known wetland in Mantua, Ohio, when mallards exploded over a beaver lodge at the west end of the marsh. It was the same location and scene we might have experienced 11,000 years ago with the end of the Pleistocene era as Ohio’s last glacier receded leaving eskers and kames behind to delineate the wetland, effectively arresting it in time. Pin oaks, white oaks, beech and shagbark hickory trace the slopes to the water where rush and sedge frame nesting areas for waterfowl and supply material and food for beaver lodges – a remarkable ecosystem, symbiotic, self-sustaining yet fragile. The area was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1976 and a state nature preserve in 1990.
One can walk, as we did, along the top of the serpentine eskers that still shelter the bog. As this scene existed in the past, it remains today. Tomorrow is less sanguine.

Oscar Bruggman Sand & Gravel, a privately owned, local company, is strip mining the wetland’s contiguous boundaries, first removing surface vegetation (trees and brush), then topsoil and eventually the gravel to be sold. The mining impact to the hydrology, water chemistry, soil acidity, the underground aquifer, wildlife and myriad other critical components of this natural system presents an imminent existential crisis.

Perhaps it’s not of any real consequence. There are thousands of bogs of course and when they disappear few will be aware of the loss and few will care. My personal hope is we come to see this obscure little bog as a microcosm, a metaphor that somehow helps, ever so minutely, to affect public opinion and, perhaps as a long shot, to galvanize action to preserve its beauty and silent wonder.
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