March 23, 2023

BW photograph looking upward and across a large fallen tree trunk.
BW photograph looking upward and across a large fallen tree trunk.
BW photograph looking upward and across a large fallen tree trunk.

When standing, this was once quite a tall tree…which, I suppose, becomes quite a long tree now that it has fallen. That is a curious change of perspective. Given its size, when it came down, it brought down two other large trees and some smaller ones as well.

BW photograph looking upward and across the debris from three trees that had fallen together.
BW photograph looking upward and across the debris from three trees that had fallen together.
BW photograph looking upward and across the debris from three trees that had fallen together.

This second triptych show the same trees when viewed from the opposite direction. This viewpoint, in part because of the darker, shadowed, branches creates a much different feel, a different emotional perspective if you will… almost as if one were looking into the maw of a sci-fi monster.

BW photograph looking across the debris from three trees that had fallen together.
BW photograph of three trees and their debris from having fallen together.

Finally, two different views of the debris: the first is the ground near the upper end of the fallen trees. The second is from the left flank about the mid-way point of the trunks.

This scene has captured my attention as I am endlessly fascinated by fallen trees. I very much like to move in, over, and about what remains; to smell the wood and feel the texture of the bark. (As an aside, it is important to carefully test whatever is going to be stepped upon before committing one’s weight-sometimes adding a bit more poundage upsets a very precarious balance.) When I was a child, the landlord decided to have the enormous sycamore tree in our (actually, his) yard taken down. I was there when it dropped-the crash and reverberation were much more than I expected, which, really, having not experienced such a thing before, would have been developed with no formal frame of reference. That memory is now the reference point for the sound and fleeting fury of earthbound trees. Also, that tree, as I recall, was dropped in total-not sectioned from the top downward as now is often the case when houses are nearby. In other words, that sycamore came down much the same as the trees here.

Also, a bit of error was made when that sycamore came down: it took out my mother’s clothes line. Once gravity exerts its influence, it does not much matter what is in the way.

Be safe and well.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTES: The first seven images were made with a wide angle lens-24 mm equivalent. This creates the here-to-there perspective that emphasizes the length of these grounded trees. The last photograph was made with an 80mm equivalent focal length, which adds a small amount of compression to the view. This is a favourite focal length for portraits because of the manner by which it flatters faces. That last photo is, in essence, a portrait of nature’s chaos.

I have made and posted other photographs of these trees since they have fallen. I anticipate being able to photograph them for years to come as it will take a very long time for them to completely decay.


March 17, 2023

BW photograph of water running amid rocks.

In 1972, Congress passed and President Nixon eventually signed into law the Clean Water Act, which was, and is, the leading legal action to protect the titular source. It is useful to look back at one of the signature moments leading to this legislation. While it would appear at face value that everyone would want to ensure “clean water”, it is not surprising that the identification and protection of such sources is a politically-contested issue. As is often the case, economics and lifestyle issues create the divide.

BW photograph of water running over several rock shelves.

In keeping with the goal of clean water, as per this report, “The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday proposed limiting the amount of harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water to the lowest level that tests can detect, a long-awaited protection the agency said will save thousands of lives and prevent serious illnesses, including cancer.”

That report goes on to say “PFAS, or per- and polyfluorinated substances, don’t degrade in the environment and are linked to a broad range of health issues, including low birthweight babies and kidney cancer. The agency says drinking water is a significant source of PFAS exposure for people.”

The American Chemistry Council, a trade association, which also has a response in the second linked article above, presents this view of the chemicals: “Many media reports refer to certain chemicals as “forever” chemicals – a pejorative term for a family of chemistries that are vital to the composition of many of the products that we use in our daily lives. This family of chemicals, known collectively as PFAS, are valued for their physical properties, such as strength, durability, stability and resilience. In many cases there are no viable substitutes for them.”

BW photograph of water running off a rock plateau.

The EPA is investigating alternatives via the “New Chemicals Program“. The state of Washington also published this research investigating alternatives specific to food packaging.

BW photograph of a shoe, a plastic bag, and other dietritus floating in an inner-city creek.

Technologies exist for cleaning-up PFAS contamination-this report discusses some of those as well as the associated costs involved. Please note that this is from 2021-costs will continue to escalate as time goes by. It is important to note that states, utilities, and communities, not the companies, often bear the financial brunt of such efforts (“externalized costs”), not to mention the legal expenses involved in holding those responsible at the industrial level for such pollution.

Given that this post led off with a bit of history, it is useful, especially in the context of the chemicals in question, to take a look at this promotional material. I certainly remember growing up with the slogan “Better Living through Chemistry”, which is a riff on the ad. (I should also add that the1960s brought about a much different interpretation of that slogan.) Of course, I also remember old biplanes flowing low over farm fields spraying clouds of chemicals. Rachel Carson had much to say about that.

It is important to recognize that chemistry does benefit our lives. These are not mutually exclusive points of view, until they are made to be so. When that happens, it is important to investigate who and what are on all sides of the issue(s) so as to gain an understanding of the stakeholders. When something presents a clear and present danger, and it goes without saying that clean water in such a necessary resource, then appropriate alternatives must be found and implemented. It is unfortunate that we are such a litigious and politically-blocked culture that not much happens without lengthy and costly procedures before such actions can be implemented.

Be safe and well.


March 13, 2023

BW photograph of a thrown away empty plastic bin laying in the woods.

It has been awhile since I have posted about trash encountered in the woodlands. It is not that it has not been there…just that I was attempting to move away from such imagery. People leave a real legacy of what is thrown away-it is a problem that clearly persists. This bit of rubbish, though, was too much to ignore.

BW photograph of a thrown away empty plastic bin along wtih two near full plastic bags laying in the woods.
BW photograph of a thrown away empty plastic bin along wtih two near full plastic bags laying in the woods.
BW photograph of a thrown away empty plastic bin laying in the woods.
BW photograph of limbs and tree debris gathered by flooding.

Nature will also discard that which is no longer able to survive environmental conditions and/or that which is part of seasonal life cycles.

BW photograph of limbs and tree debris gathered by flooding.
BW photograph of limbs and tree debris gathered by flooding.

There is, of course, at least one major, fundamental difference…

BW photograph of a thrown away plastic milk bottle laying in leaves under a large boulder.

Plastic debris does not decompose; it will degrade as it becomes brittle and breaks into smaller and smaller pieces all the while leaving its chemical profile for generations. Those pieces can be ingested by organisms up and down the food chain (bioaccumulation) and thus transfer that chemical profile to other living beings. That is not at all healthy.

BW photograph of limbs and tree debris gathered by flooding.

Nature’s debris will decompose and leave behind nutrients for future generations. Those who have followed this blog may recognize these tree trunks…they are gradually wearing away. Interestingly, while we have had a fair amount of rain over these past months, some of it heavy, there has not been enough to generate enough flooding to move the trunks off of these large boulders.

As such, it is best to minimize the use of plastics. That, though, can be difficult to do in this day and age, so be sure to recycle properly and not just leave the bins and bags wherever convenient. That, too, presents issues as some plastics are not recyclable. Also, it is clear that not all recyclables are recycled once collected.

Enduring materials create enduring problems.

Be safe and well.


March 10, 2023

BW photograph of the sun rising on a blustery day.

At the conclusion of the last post, I described the conditions under which those photographs were made: “It was 42-44 degrees F, heavily overcast, the wind was blowing, and it was spitting rain off an on.” The photos in this essay were made on the same day, which began with the above sunrise as seen from a second story hotel window.

BW photograph of silhouetted trees against a cloudy sky.
BW photograph of silhouetted trees against a cloudy sky.
BW photograph of silhouetted trees against a cloudy sky.
BW photograph of silhouetted trees against a cloudy sky.
BW photograph of silhouetted trees against a cloudy sky.
BW photograph of silhouetted trees against a cloudy sky.

This would most likely have qualified as a “blustery day” as per Winnie the Pooh.

These are wonderful conditions under which to photograph-the compositional elements change from moment to moment as clouds build and are pushed across the sky by the air currents…eventually giving way to blue skies and sunshine. The limbs and branches danced about with the wind…without their leaves, it is much easier to see the intricate patterns upon which they are made. BW is a perfect medium for such work.

I like this look.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTES: The trees appear (mostly) as silhouettes as the exposures were based on holding detail in the clouds and thus not “blowing out” (overexposing) the detail in the highlights. The wind was strong enough to shift me about, and so I used relatively high shutter speeds to compensate for that-as such, the limbs as shown here do not reflect much movement-nor do the clouds. Had I been using a tripod, I would have slowed down the shutter speed to induce more blur-the same manner by which most of the running water photographs throughout this blog were/are made. I should also add that when on these walkabouts, I usually only carry one camera body and one lens-in this case, a 30mm prime, which on a Fuji body becomes effectively a 45mm focal length. This is a simple and lightweight rig that is quite functional for a variety of compositions.

Be safe and well.


March 8, 2023

BW photograph of an Adirondack chair sitting next to a decorative boulder.

The above and the following are a photo essay of various places on which to sit encountered in a single walkabout.

BW photograph of steps and railing leading into a library.
BW photograph of a white bench in front of a stone wall.
BW photograph of metal chairs and table in a courtyard.
BW photograph of stone steps.
BW photograph of metal chairs and table sitting on a patio.
BW photograph of stairs leading to a walkway between large trees.
BW photograph of several Adirondack chairs sitting within the branches of a large tree.
BW photograph of a folding chair laying flat on an athletic field.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans sit too much: “One in four sits for more than eight hours a day…while four in 10 do not exercise in a vigorous or even moderate way.” That combination creates the risk for a variety of health issues-the link contains additional sources for more info.

I have not kept any kind of records for the amount of time spent processing images from a typical adventure, nor for the amount of time spent researching the related info used in support of the content when writing a blog. What I can most certainly say, though, is that I am frequently surprised at how much time has passed…hours dissipate as I move around pixels and craft words. This is not quite as bad as working in a traditional darkroom wherein there were no clues (the one I used had no clocks or windows) as to the passage of time-other than those associated timers for film development and the printing process. Those were/are quite discreet and can actually stack up to quite of bit of real time going by.

Speaking of risks, the chemicals used in photo processing are really not good for living beings nor the environ at large. As such, working digitally is a benefit from that regard. Although, it is hard on the eyes and body structures. Therefore, it is important to implement proper posture and to look away or move away from the screen frequently. I endeavour to limit my photo processing and writing time to no more than 3-4 hours at any given session.

In any case, it is far better to be outside making the initial images. The walk from which these photos were made entailed 11,169 steps for 3.8 miles and 44 floors as measured by an iPhone. It was 42-44 degrees F, heavily overcast, the wind was blowing, and it was spitting rain off an on. A great day to be out.

Be safe and well.

So Far

March 7, 2023

BW photograph of a broken champaign bottle laying in grass.

We are one quarter of the way into 2023…and it has been a rough go thus far.

Between the outrageous number of mass shootings and the severity of many, many winter storms, a sizeable number of Americans have had much with which to cope in these three months (with March having just begun).

What makes this worse is that both gun violence and climate change are two enduring systemic issues for which there are solutions, or at least, concrete interventions.

Unfortunately, those are also two bedrock issues that are at the root of the political divide in the U.S. Therefore, those needed actions rarely occur, and, when they do, are often undone with the changing of the political guard. It would be naive to be surprised at this; however, on some level it is astonishing that this is so, given the number of people impacted year in and year out.

Yet, here we are.

Here’s hoping you are safe and well.


February 27, 2023

BW closeup photograph of ice crystals sheeting a small puddle.

Today is International Polar Bear Day.

Perhaps no other creature, other than humans, so dominates their environ.

And that is the point. Humans so dominate their environ that polar bears are rapidly loosing theirs-there is a reason they are the poster animal for climate change.

And that breaks my heart.

Be safe and well. Were that to be so for polar bears would make me quite happy.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE: Truth in disclosure-I support the organization linked above as well as several others that work to protect polar bears.


February 26, 2023

BW photograph of a Giant grocery store on an overcast foggy day.

Snow had been in the forecast for Saturday (yesterday)…a prediction that very frequently changed as the day approached. Once here, we received the very faintest of snow flurries in the afternoon. One had to squint quite hard to see that tiniest form of precipitation coming down…precipitation that lasted but a few minutes. What did land promptly melted.

BW photograph of the backs of three buildings on an overcast day.

This morning opened with the very slightest bit of fog and 34 degrees F as the temperature…pretty nice conditions for an early morning walk. We are now into the 50s with a shining sun.

BW photograph of a group of snowdrops.

Those are also conditions to keep the early arrivals a bit more happy.

California, on the other hand, has had feet and more feet of snow fall in the higher elevations-that is very helpful as that will assist in replenishing their greatly depleted reservoirs. Snowpacks tend to melt more slowly and thus trickle into groundwater systems as opposed to the copious amounts of rain that often runs off before being absorbed-especially in the built environs laden with concrete and asphalt and those laid bare by wildfire. What is remarkable, though, is that lower elevations also received snowfall from the most recent storm-so much so that parts of the 5 (a major highway system) had to be closed. Southern California certainly does not have much experience with snow removal…unlike the Northeast, which also has received some serious snow this winter as well.

BW photograph of fallen and upright trees coated in fresh wet snow.

Not here. The above was from a snowfall in the mountains many miles west of here and was dropped at the end of January. While we have certainly had some colder temps, frigid, even, we have not, to date, seen anything even like this locally: that is about 3″ of accumulation in the photograph. The paucity of snow and ice so far this winter is one reason to take photographic advantage of such conditions when they do occur.

BW photograph of a piece of cardboard with "Keep Refridgerated" labelled laying in a gutter.

The above seemed to be an apt metaphor for a warming planet-one whose glaciers and great ice sheets are collapsing and melting away at alarming rates. Therein, though, also lies the vicious circle: as temperatures rise, and remember that parts of India, for example, have had their roads melt in the extreme heat of the hottest days, there is a drive for more and more air conditioning. That, in turn, requires the burning of more fossil fuels for energy (until alternative methods are adopted in much larger quantities globally), which, of course, creates more greenhouse gases and therefore raises temperatures and requires more “refrigeration”.

As an aside, that bit of cardboard was most likely from a food carton-the issues with transporting perishable food great distances is whole ‘nother issue that also applies to climate change.

As a result of my age and accompanying health conditions, I currently have a love/hate relationship with snow-especially when it comes to moving it from one place to another. The Mid-Atlantic region certainly has a history of some monumental snowfalls, and we do still have March on the horizon, so we are not “out of the woods” yet so to speak. A nice dusting of the white stuff, though, makes for a wonderful walk in those woods.

Be safe and well.

Storms and Consequences

February 21, 2023

The weather has been quite volatile of late with temperatures bouncing up and down…it was 34 degrees F when the above photograph was made this morning-nicely chilly. It is now early afternoon and 56 degrees F. Just a few minutes ago, while this blog was being constructed, a thunderstorm blew through with some impressive thunder and a cascade of rain. The sun is now shining brightly. This past Saturday morning, it was 21 degree F. The forecast calls for temperatures to be in 80s for the Washington, D.C. area this Thursday. All the while, another winter storm is set to pound various parts of the country. That spell in the 80s will not long last.

BW photograph of post-rain water flowing between rocks in a local waterway.

It is useful to keep in mind that “weather” refers to the day-to-day conditions experienced in a given area. “Climate change”, on the other hand, covers the much longer term, more global in nature, patterns. Those larger patterns are often drivers of local conditions.

BW photograph of a broken fence frozen in ice.

The upcoming storm will be relatively short-lived, although it will certainly last longer than the thunderstorm that just went by. Some areas will have longer-lasting consequences as the various combinations of snow, ice, and wind could be treacherous. This is weather. While it is difficult to specifically state that one particular storm is caused by climate change, one can look to the longer term conditions-it has been much warmer than usual so far this winter, for example.

This is reflective of the longer term heating of the planet-climate change.

Be safe and well.


February 19, 2023

BW photograph of a waterway blurred by a slow shutter speed.

We had a couple of days of off and on rain…as such, this creek had some decent volume. From a photographic standpoint, when imaging movement, the shutter speed determines the manner by which that movement is recorded. For example, the above photograph was made using ambient light and the sun had not quite risen over the mountain, which was behind the camera. Using an aperture of f/8, for some depth-of-field, and a base ISO of 160, 1/15 of a second was the resulting shutter speed for the desired exposure. This blurs the water, and yet also retains delineation among the current.

BW photograph of a waterway blurred by a slow shutter speed.

Adding a neutral density (ND) filter allowed for a shutter speed of 1/1.6 seconds when using the same aperture and ISO. This created more overall blur to the water.

BW photograph of a fast moving waterway blurred by slow shutter speed.

Using a stronger ND mandated a shutter speed of 4.3 seconds for a decidedly smoother rendering of the water.

Having a variety of ND filters at hand is useful so as to gain more control over the degree of blur in a given photograph. It is nice to have such control. There are also “variable NDs”, which can be rotated like a polarizer to alter the density…I do not have one of those…

BW photograph of geometric patterns in a frozen puddle.

It is worth noting that it was approximately 21 degrees F when all of these photographs were made…that was less than half of the ambient temperature from the previous post. Non-moving water froze.

BW photograph of a leaf frozen into a puddle's ice.

That rain and the accompanying wind was the onset of a cold front that quite literally blew through and served as a reminder that it was, indeed, still the middle of February.

It is 55 degrees F and sunny as this is being typed…that cold came and went. That ice no longer exists.

All of this brings me to another point. Yesterday, I watched Teton Gravity Research’s film Ode to Muir. In that, snowboarders Jeremy Jones and Elena Hight bootpack deep into the Sierras, which was some of the ground immortalized by John Muir. At one point, Mr. Jones was talking about a colleague who pioneered some runs in the same area. However, due to climate change and the loss of snowpack/glaciation, that run is no longer viable-it is all rock now. Mr. Jones used the phrase “last descent” to categorize his friend’s quite likely final ride of that run.

That phrase, “last descent”, struck a nerve.

As a once-upon-a-time-climber, I am very familiar with the phrase “first ascent”-the coveted initial success on a given climb. It is more difficult to think about the last run, the last climb, the last of whatever requires large amounts of snow and ice.

The ability to simply screw on a filter and slow down time to create a desired image is a joy that brings deep satisfaction. If only dialing back the runaway train of climate change were so uncomplicated and direct.

There are, of course, many tools and technologies available and in use to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and subsequent accumulation of greenhouse gases…just not enough to meet the needs of the snowpacks and ice sheets around the world. The aforementioned Jeremy Jones founded Protect Our Winters (POW) as a means of raising voices and adding political clout in the fight against climate change, a theme addressed from a variety of perspectives in Ode to Muir.

If you have the chance, please give the film a watch.

Be safe and well.