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A Two-Faced Autumn

Divining the difference between desire and danger.

October 2, 2020 :: Practical Matters

After the first frost of autumn, I feel a twinge and a tug to get away to the mountains or forests for fall color. That's as it should be for a nature photographer. In normal times, at least.

But this year, my spirit is two faced. The Explorer looks to the horizon for the far-off landscapes of autumn. The Recluse stares into the cave where it's dark and safe.

Predawn Mt. Moran and autumn aspens in Grand Teton National Park in pre-COVID-19 days.

This is where the struggle between desire and caution finds me -- standing at the mouth of my cave. I'm like Janus, the two-faced Roman god of doors and gates, who stands in the middle ground between things abstract and concrete, youthful and mature, foolish and wise, living and dying.

Or maybe I'm more like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz who points in both directions when Dorothy asks him which way to the Emerald City. If I only had a brain.

Maybe I'm a hybrid of mythology and children's fiction -- a Janus with the faces of the Tinman and the Scarecrow. My heart says "go" while my brain says "no."

Is this paranoia or caution? Am I crazy or careful? The unrelenting COVID-19 virus has redefined these terms for many of us. I find I have a practical fear of catching the virus and bringing it home that feels mildly delusional. Should I follow my heart or listen to my head?

I'll choose the true middle ground that Janus never considered with his either/or mentality. I will deal with the difference between desire and danger in a way that accommodates my creativity and my safety: I will let fall come to me.

My plans will keep me within a day's drive of home. I'll explore the places I've driven past when the far-away horizon called to me. I freely admit that fall color around here can't hold a candle to the Midwest's Northwoods, the Rockies or the Appalachians. Not even to downstate Indiana. But I'd like to see them again when I can devote most of my brain to photography and less of it to social distancing.

This autumn, there is only one way to handle my two-faced spirit: I will embrace it. I will wish I was there and make the best of being here. How Zen of me.


My plans for leading fall workshops were abandoned months ago. The COVID-19 virus saw to that. And far-away adventures on my own would mean exposing myself to the same conditions that cancelled the group trips. Even if my destination was a remote spot, I'd have to have contact with people along the way there and back.

So I had my sights set on photographing autumn in the upper Midwest, especially in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But a resurgence of the virus means I'd have to travel through some of the hottest spots in the Midwest.

The fall-color map is hard to distinguish from the COVID-cases map. Both are painted with bright red right where I want travel. Even car camping as self-sufficiently as possible would put me in contact with people closer than I'd like.

Instead, once autumn color develops here, I'll keep close to home and plan day trips or overnight car-camping trips to "cooler" places. It will be easier to stay safe around here as long as I practice the health routines we've become familiar with in a science-fiction way.

One of the comforts of keeping as safe as possible from the indiscriminating virus is that someday I'll return to my favorite fall places with a new appreciation for them. And when that happens, I'll toast my friends as we gather in some wild place we cherish as much as we do our friendships.


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