“Bracing, First Snow”

Posted on Dec, Sun, 2020 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point

On the east bank, perched on a shelf of shale and siltstone 15 feet above the Chagrin River and less than a half mile south of the Gates Mills bridge, a trio of American Sycamores flanked left by young beech, right by a small hoary oak, brace for the first storm of the season. Yesterday my own mood, no doubt informed by radio reports, had me observing the landscape through a lens of apprehension. Quite conceivably the anxiety was also being shared beneath the forest floor, through messages exchanged between trees in a neural and biological network as beautiful and complex as that which grows above. Within that network of roots and ribosomes, early warnings manifest for changes in weather, disease and nutrients; challenges trees address through shared resources and a sense of community.

Ghostly, like bleached bones, the great white sycamores of the Chagrin Valley stand, erect, dendritic fingers reaching toward heaven. I’ve written before of their majesty which is only fully visible in late autumn and winter. Observed during a heavy rain yesterday afternoon, this transient scene was textured, filled with subtleties and wonders along the banks of the river, on the forest floor, above and below, seen and only to be imagined.

Today the landscape is white, dead and two dimensional.

Would that you and I, that we, in this moment of despair and need for community, behave as sycamores.
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“Chagrin Valley, Fairmount and Chagrin River Roads”

Posted on Dec, Sun, 2020 in Landscapes, Musings from Still Point

Reminding us of nature’s caprice, the arrival of a brief cold front 10 days ago, accompanied by the usual suspects (rain and wind gusts), was sufficient to strip much of the color from the slopes above the Chagrin river at the intersection of Fairmount and River Roads. The panorama below is a composite of 12 photographs taken a day later as maples, poplar, exposed oak and sycamore were left bare. Cherry and beech had lost their leaves a week earlier.
Returning this afternoon after yesterday’s (Sunday, November 15) heavy winds, all that remain are the bones of black oaks (right foreground) gesticulating, flanked by ghostly sycamores and random pockets of spruce and white pine. These slopes rise above the river to the east and west to form the Chagrin Valley, creating some of the most spectacularly iconic landscape in the country. And, with their mercurial personality, the trees anchor our affinity for nature as they remind us of its impermanence.
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“Autumn Rails III”

Posted on Nov, Sun, 2020 in Uncategorized

In 2007 I published “Autumn Rails I”, an image of this railroad track disappearing into the morning fog. Five years later (2012) I published “Autumn Rails II” taken from the same section of track in the blue light of early morning. The night before, heavy winds had stripped the trees of color, all except a small Hawthorne its auburn leaves intact, defiantly bracing into winter. This latest image was taken the last week in October. For me it’s a metaphor of promise, ephemeral of course, but one that augers well for future seasons of renewal.

Looking north into this frame the tracks form the western boundary of Schweitzer marsh. For five decades I’ve walked these rails, through each season, through the twilight of many mornings, through countless days and occasionally moonless nights.

Following a morning rain in late October this year I found myself seduced by the perspective, a narrow vista of burnished rails and colors converging, its sensate hues and geometry pulling me into a vanishing point. The element I found most provocative and compelling, however, was a black cherry tree listing overhead, content with the passage of time as it slowly, deliberately, etched its shape and form through space. This old tree, leaning in, its imperfect arch only inches above and beyond the passing trains seemed to taunt the cars closer. Something I could relate to, growing old, not yet fully resigned, a few leaves still clinging, still taunting.

The tree … an artist’s design?  Divine agency?  Nature’s beauty, arbitrary but unrelenting, finds its path … by an artist conceived, or a bird perhaps.
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“Chagrin Valley, In Memoriam”

Posted on Nov, Tue, 2020 in Uncategorized

“Chagrin Valley, In Memoriam”

 

At Fairmount and River Roads, on the eastern bank of the Chagrin river, for one week only, an acre or two of sugar maple stake their claim in time and space. Rising above oaks and pines, beech and sycamore, a cloud of burnished gold like souls ascending; 231,000 but who’s counting?

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“Splendor”

Posted on Oct, Fri, 2020 in Uncategorized

Splendor

“Splendor”
I almost named this “In Praise of Restraint” (see below). This is an autumn scene I took Monday atop the Miles road bridge spanning the Chagrin river in Bentleyville. I was looking for a view that might illustrate this year’s extraordinary range of fall colors without resorting to computer enhanced, hyper-saturation, the increasingly popular artifice employed in post-processing, especially during this season. My own favorite time to photograph the leaves is shortly after or during a rain, when the colors are naturally saturated and the contrast is enhanced by the soft intensity of color against dark, almost black branches and tree trunks. In this image I actually had to desaturate colors somewhat, a concession to the value of “restraint”.

One of the very interesting elements from my vantage point above the river was the vast number of easily identifiable trees. I suspect this compressed photograph will make it difficult to discern specific leaves but northeast Ohioans will recognize many species by the tree’s overall shape and color. On my original full sized image file I found yellow maples, sugar maples, American sycamores, American cherry, beech, honey locust, ash, red and white oak, spruce, white pine and possibly hemlock. I’ve stood above Vermont’s amazing Quechee Gorge during the height of color and, apart from the altitude, would say our views compare very well.

The challenge for many new photographers is that iPhones and most consumer level cameras process and save image files in a jpeg format that by design and default over-saturate the image. Color amping landscapes is especially seductive in autumn because the “pop” is easy to create and addictive initially. Photoshop and similar post processing software provide filters and sliders that make it easy to pervert the color spectrum into luminescent neon with a click of a mouse. These garish colors seem to exist because they “can”, not because they are in any way faithful to the colors we experience. Notwithstanding the principle of artistic license, most serious photographers have a threshold for image manipulation, some committed to reproduce an image precisely as experienced, some comfortably adding or deleting information purposefully, and some simply resigned to gratuitous changes without regard for an aesthetic.


My own preference is not to rely on computer algorithms (i.e. computer engineers) to make those choices for me. Over saturating, adding too much contrast, etc. usually does not contribute to the power of a landscape. To the contrary, it introduces visual noise that detracts from an artist’s intent, especially his/her ability to communicate subtleties that may otherwise be lost. This is a consideration for all photographers that I’ll address with more specificity in a future post but it has become increasingly disconcerting in the last decade to see the profusion of photographs from iPhones and digital cameras posted on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) that so distort the natural world. I would encourage photographers of all levels to consider photographic restraint when venturing into the farms, forests and fields. Many if not most cameras can be adjusted (see your manual) to save files in a raw or tiff format. Desaturation during post processing is also a good alternative through photo editing programs such as Photoshop, Capture One, Skylum Luminar, Adobe Elements or free basic editing programs offered by most camera manufacturers.

Some grist for the mill.
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“First Light, Suttons Bay, Michigan

Posted on Oct, Wed, 2020 in Uncategorized

“First Light, Suttons Bay, Michigan

 

Sunrise brings form to the farms here in Leelanau county where the sweep of wind across the dunes is like the music of antiquity. 10,000 years ago the last glacier left deposits of quartz, ground through the millennia to sand by the weight of an ice sheet over a mile high, creating in its retreat the largest area of “lake” dunes on earth. Mimicking undulating sine waves continually recast by the winds, the dune fields advanced across Michigan providing a footing for timber, orchards, crops, cattle and wildlife. Traveling through these mountainous mounds one senses the mutability of time, the endless rhythms of the landscape, all coalescing into an ensemble, not of time only but a harmony of the trees, grass, sand and water. Like ancient tumuli, these migrating dunes honor a continuous narrative of the past.

Varieties of late autumn grasses provide the visual texture. At their origin along the Niagara escarpment, the sand dunes of Michigan’s northern lower peninsula follow Lake Michigan’s eastern shore from the Straits of Mackinaw to northern Indiana, their path swinging briefly north from Traverse City passing through the 45th parallel and the small town of Suttons Bay. Fifteen miles beyond, the dunes arc to the west around the northern tip of the Leelanau peninsula and dip southward past the Great Sleeping Bear dunes before traveling 300 miles south to Indiana less than 50 miles short of Chicago.

It was on the outskirts of Suttons Bay, however, that this sunrise scene presented itself in late October five years ago. Even the small roads and drives seem to trace the contours of the land. I thought this scene, illuminated by early light and long shadows, captured the visual rhythms and texture of the dunes. Swales and hollows form providing an anchor for vegetation as grass traps windblown sand. This image represents the typical farm with its sometimes random, sometimes deliberate copse of poplar that serves to arrest the landscape’s inexorable flow. Maples, cedar, oak, juniper, marram and bluestem grass are all visible in the landscape.

In the midst of today’s political and economic turmoil and the worst epidemic since 1918, Leelanau, County, Michigan provides a healing landscape and a magical outpost of nature for the weary. My earnest hope is for each of you to visit one day.
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“September”

Posted on Aug, Sat, 2020 in Gallery Image, Landscapes, Musings from Still Point, Musings from Still Point, Uncategorized

For sale at Still Point Gallery

September

My memory of Septembers in northeast Ohio are of crystal skies and filtered sunlight, a month as temperate as its equinox suggests.  The image here, taken September 8th, 2012 as I walked the center path of Squire Valleevue farm’s eastern meadow depicts a very different month, the portent of a seasonal change.  Stratocumulus clouds on the trailing edge of a cold front swept through that morning auguring an early winter. And in a moment of nature imitating art the landscape bore resemblance to layers in a Rothco painting, a study in color, horizontals and horizons.

This was the rare and restive September day with uncharacteristic temerity, an abruptness and “matter of factness” foreshadowing change, where the transition of seasons is rarely subtle. Even September with its few discordant days, skies prematurely brooding and bracing, still the meadow waiting, a renascent source for life through each season.

And yet most of the month a contrast, a nostalgic time when tall meadow grass makes its final surge then rests weary upon itself. Blue asters tenacious through their last days, Liatris and Ironweed bending reluctantly, folding and fading, their roots and rhizomes anchoring the meadow through time. I’ve often thought September in Cleveland, a mix of memories and wistful, melancholic longings for another place or for past friends and family. The comforting melancholy of  September is reflected in the last stanza of Robert Frost’s poem, “Reluctance”.

“Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?”

The barn, its weathered sides and growing clefts reminding us of changes ahead; each season – life’s measure and mystery.

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