Frozen Flora – the Season of the Frost Flower

The hills of the Ozarks are a wet place. Rain water becomes spring water or ground water as it passes through our limestone karst topography. As it gets colder out the bluffs leach out this water in the form of icicles. On the ground below the bluffs the water trapped inside the stalks of tall plants expands. This ice takes on amazing forms – frost flowers appear at the bases of these plants. They appear on mornings where the temps are below freezing and disappear as the temperature rises.

It’s been unseasonably cold for a few days. I have been lighting a fire most evenings to warm up the old Stonehouse. This kind of sustained cold is more common in January or February. This morning when I took a look at the forecast I thought that even though it’s a couple of months early, the conditions were right. I packed up my macro lens and hit the highway. I had to slog through some semi frozen mud, but is it was worth it. Fields and fields of frosty blossoms.

I used a macro light on the super close-ups and a flash on a couple of shots. I wish I had taken the tripod, but the white light of an overcast day let me shoot fast enough to get away without it.

Click through and get a sense of the flower and the intricate shapes that make them up. I’m off to the kitchen to make some hot apple cider. Stay warm.

Country Roads – a Tilt-shift View of Autumn in the Ozarks

My bird lens is on the fritz, 9 days at Olympus for repairs and counting. Arrrrgh! Peak fall color hit about 10 days ago so I have not been able to get my leaf shots – it’s something I look forward to all year. The last two weeks have been rainy off and on so shooting days are few and far between anyway. Last weekend a kind of panic hit me – shoot now or miss the whole season. I started by taking a couple of snaps on local roads with my portrait lens – not my favorite for these kinds of shots – but serviceable.

Shooting down roads has always been a mixed bag for me. I tend to shoot things that I can isolate like birds or leaves or objects. A scene can take me in, but capturing it effectively can often elude me. I had been playing around with a tilt-shift set up and wondered if I could use it to look into the distance on these country roads – to use it in a way that would help the viewer to get a better sense of what I feel when I am driving down one of these roads – crisp air, crunching swirling leaves, filtered sunlight. Can I take a photo that makes you feel these things?

I know I have explained this before, but just in case – a tilt-shift lens lets you move the lens at an angle so that the plane of focus is not parallel to the camera’s sensor – it gives you a “slice of focus” and lets you hone in on certain objects that you want to highlight. It is often used to distort an image to give it the feel of miniaturization.

Shooting gear that you are not completely comfortable with is often a good thing – it gives you a new perspective – it pushes you to try new things. Sometimes the distortion is unsettling, sometimes it’s almost painterly. For me, many of these shots give a better sense of the feel of the roads in the autumn.

These shots were all taken in the last few days, some from the same locations as the earlier shots.

OK – so no skyward leaves or birds amidst the color for me this year. Not having my favorite lens should limit me – but instead it’s forcing me outside of my happy place – and that’s a good thing.

Requiem for Fall

The color here in the Ozarks is almost completely gone. Sometimes you’ll find a dogwood deep in a hollow – but the show is essentially over. Here are the last of the stragglers and my attempt to find something interesting or beautiful without a lot of color.

This hickory was one of the last holdouts. More leaves up than down.

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Today even these are on the ground.

Some maples hung on in spite of the recent wind and rains, sometimes the sky was visible right through them.

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Today the maples have all joined the oaks on the forest floor.

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A crunchy carpet of tans and golds a foot thick in spots is all that remains.

Driving west I saw this field full of something fluffy. The sunlight and wind made it dance.

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The puffs were actually quite delicate – like dandelion seeds. Even so they hung on in the wind.

On my way back to town I stopped by to see this old friend – fully exposed amidst its now barren trees. It makes me think of that transition from Fall to Winter.

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It’s just holding on to what little color it has left.

Fall is fleeting and I miss it already.

Country Roads on Standard Time

This morning I got the first opportunity this fall to drive out of the hollows while the sun was shining. That extra hour makes all the difference. These shots were taken along Magnetic Hollow in Eureka Springs. I’m certain I have the most gorgeous commute in the world.

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Curve…

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Orange…

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Bluff…

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Crispy…

 

Sure beats the freeway.

Mary Jane Looks to the Future

I’ve made some posts of the adventures of Mary Jane. She’s smart, she’s spry, she’s 99, and she cares about the future. Specifically she cares about the future of a small piece of the Ozarks.

Mary Jane’s parents settled in the area north of Eureka Springs around 1915. Her grandparents already had a small farm in town and her great uncle was a recluse down in a hollow near the railroad tracks. Her father and his sister bought a large tract of land east of the White River. Mary Jane’s father once told her that owning land meant you would never be broke. You could always sell a few acres. Over the decades Mary Jane has bought and inherited hundreds of acres, and as her family needs have changed she has sold some.

The largest sale came in the late 50s when Mary Jane’s daughter was in high school. She sold her favorite parcel to a developer. She sold because the power company was bringing electricity to the area, her house was on the wrong side of the highway and her high-school-aged daughter desperately wanted to have power. She had been raised in a home where you carried water and lived by candlelight. She built a small home in the area where power was coming and moved to improve the lives of her family.

At the time Mary Jane had no idea what a development would be. She had sold to farmers and neighbors in the past. Today there is a golf course community and 1500 people living on that lovely tract of land where her beloved dogwood forest once stood. This experience has helped to shape her views on land use. It’s not that the development was bad or unrealistic, it’s that there was a sea change in how land was being used. This ignited a desire in her to see that the development stop at the current line of her property.

Since the 1970s she has been more cautious about who she sells land to. She has filled the hollows and hills with people she knows will love the land like she does. More importantly she has made sure that an entire hollow will remain just as it is forever. She has worked with the Ozark Regional Land Trust to create the Oak Hill Wildlife Preserve and Land Trust.

Once a year we meet with someone from ORLT who will verify conservation easements and go over stewardship plans with us. As a long time resident I’m included in these sessions, as a lover of this land I’m thrilled to come along and get the finer details from Mary Jane.

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This year we met with Preston, a smart young man who has a passion for land preservation and who made sure to make Mary Jane feel like he took every concern seriously. Here he goes over a 50-year-old map with Mary Jane that shows an accurate survey.

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Maps are all good and well, but going to the boundary points is crucial, Mary Jane’s memory is amazing. She can walk across a field and take you directly to a survey marker that she has not looked at in decades. Here she just barrels across a field towards the point.

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She pointed out a line where the corners of “the 40” should converge. Old school surveying was based on 40 acre tracts. Corners are marked with metal posts, rock piles, or witness trees.

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Here we are walking one of the lines. This was a really uneven area and Mary Jane reluctantly accepted some help as she walked the side of that 40.

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This find was somewhat disconcerting for me. This is an illegal camouflaged deer feeder six feet from the the property line. Hunting is illegal on the land trust, but it’s also prohibited in the development – I’m have no issue with hunting, but hunting without permission on land like this is incredibly dangerous. Over by the line I found a carbon shafted arrow. People hike and children play in this field. People’s homes are in the line of sight of this. It’s not safe, it’s not legal.

At this point we moved on to a hike into the actual land trust. This part was a little sad for me. Until a couple of years ago Mary Jane took these hikes with us. Physically she could still do it, but with her failing eyesight it’s just not safe anymore. She knows this hollow in a way that I can only compare with the way I remember the cracks in the sidewalk out in front of my childhood home. Not having her with us was sad, even so it was wonderful to be in her favorite place.

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This is the trail as we enter into the hollow. We walk along the remnants of an old logging road.

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Much of the woods are what I call a “beautiful tangle” – vines, saplings, leaves, fallen limbs.

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This is all that is left of an old Volvo parked a quarter mile into the woods sometime in the 70s. I know it sounds odd, but an old gold Volvo was a landmark for us. Turn right to see the pivot rock, go down to see the waterfall, keep left to see the spring. The owner of the Volvo was an old friend of many of my neighbors, he passed away a couple of years ago. The Volvo was full of personal items. It was Jim’s storage unit. Over the years hikers had stopped to look inside. There’s a story of a lady who found a chandelier inside. Tools, fixtures, antiques – one time my nephews carried out a huge french-fry cutter. Jim told me to keep it and its mounted in my kitchen to this day. After his death friends hung prayer flags over the Volvo. His son had been to visit it. It wasn’t natural, but we had all come to love it. About a year ago we discovered that it was gone. Probably stolen for scrap, prayer flags and all. I can’t even imagine the work it took to get that thing out of the woods. We all miss it and will likely leave the spare here as a marker.

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We continued down the trail towards the easement. The woods here are thick and this time of year the light through the trees can be stunning.

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A rich carpet of leaves about a foot thick blanketed the forest floor.

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The dogwoods in the hollow are starting to change – just the slighted turn towards red.

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Francie, an old friend of Mary Jane, owns a small piece of land inside the trust. It’s on a conservation easement and part of the process is verifying that these easements are in compliance. Francie owns a small spring and its a wonderful sanctuary for her. She comes twice a year to spend time there. It’s always going to be a peaceful place. Here Preston and Francie work their way to the spring.

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Dogwood leaves in the afternoon sunlight.

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Color through cedars. I should point out that I shot everything today with my fast prime lens – a Leica 25mm 1.4 – the equivalent of a fast 50. It let me isolate objects like these cedars. It’s not the greatest for the trail shots, but at least I get lots of detail.

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Leaves on the ground.

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Leaf in the sky.

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Seeds…

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Limbs…

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Burls…

These shots are from a special place along the trail. This was Mary Jane’s playground. She tells stories of playing in between the “pancake rocks” and imagining that it was a fort, or a pirate ship, or a carousel…

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I can just see her playing and climbing on these rocks. I would have loved to have had a place like this as a child…

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Climbing, playing, finding wonder in what nature gave her.

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I love the way the moss grows on the sides of the pancake rocks.

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Reds

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A look back down the hollow.

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This leaf was huge – over a foot across.

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I laid it on an old washtub I found near an abandoned wickiup back in the hollow. Throughout the 70s there were young people who lived back in this hollow. Some children were even born back here. Mary Jane loved to have people who enjoyed the land there and they still come back to see it from time to time.

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A look up…

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Off the trail…

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A relic of an earlier time…

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Sunlight…

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Deep woods…

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Dogwoods playing their last song before winter…

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Bent color….

All in all a glorious day in the hollow. My land abuts this amazing place. Thanks to Mary Jane I never have to worry about condos looking up at my mountaintop. Our trip yesterday got her a bit fired up. Some markers are not quite right, some boundaries need to be redefined, some calls need to be made. The whole day made me think about what an amazing gift she has given not just to us, but to those who will come a century after us. Remote, undeveloped, real nature. Over 160 acres of it left to the flying squirrels, the owls, and the dogwoods – forever.

On the Street Where I Live – Indian Summer Sunshine

Today about midday I headed out with my camera to take in some color on my own street. I don’t live on a traditional street, I live on a CR – a County Road. It’s a four-mile stretch of unpaved road that weaves it’s way up to the top of Pine Mountain outside of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I’ve been watching the leaves change day by day – but leaving for work in the early morning and returning at dusk has given me few opportunities to capture the color during the week.

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As I looked up today I was reminded of a professor I studied painting under in college. Rita Abbey – she was always talking about transparencies – layers of colors over other colors…

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Layers that allowed you to see other colors through them. Although I saw her technique as something more graphic and abstract at the time, today I believe I saw it in nature…

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Yellow hickories, backed up by red maples, layered over orange sassafras…

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All of it looking so translucent over a perfectly clear Indian Summer sky…

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In school I saw Rita’s technique as a way to make us dissect space and interpret it in a new way, and maybe it was…

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But today I saw something beyond technique or exercise, I saw nature layered in a way that made solids look translucent. Light and shadow creating shapes superimposed over the surfaces of the leaves…

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Today I saw a work of art as I looked up into the sky. All I had to do was to capture it inside a rectangle.

Autumn in the Ozarks – Red

You can tell when the peak is coming – the reds start to show themselves.

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Maples, sassafras, dogwoods – all putting on the ritz and setting the stage for the finale.

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Greens are still common, but the coming of the first reds signal the big finish.

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Today was an Indian Summer day – warm and sunny. A wonderful time to walk through the woods.

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Are you seeing red in your neck of the woods yet?