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Get Back, Get Back...

Get back somewhere for which you've longed.

June 7, 2021 :: Practical Matters / Happy Trails

With my apologies to Lennon and McCartney, it's time to get back to where we once belonged: the woods, the mountains, the desert, the seashore, the lakeshore, the wetlands, the prairie.

Researchers say they can quantify the benefits of spending time in nature.* They report that our physical and mental health improve the more we're active outdoors. Whatever we do -- take a walk in the woods, go bird watching, tend a garden, relax on a park bench, sit under a tree -- our bodies and our minds reap healthy rewards.

We're nurtured by nature. Our exposure to it relaxes our muscles, lowers our blood pressure and reduces our stress hormone levels. Our minds relax, too. That puts us in a better mood and helps us feel a sense of psychological wellbeing.

No matter where your next wild destination is, the path will lead you to better health.

This isn't news to nature photographers. Part of the attraction of this venture has always been merely getting into the wilds. The benefits of it to our bodies and souls are the fortunate side effects. We all know that sense of calm that comes from stepping out of our busy world and into the wild one. It turns out that it's as good as a doctor's prescription.

Maybe you're like me. Now that it's getting safer to travel, I'm making plans for my next photographic adventures far from home. Though I'm fully vaccinated, I'm still cautious, but not fearful. It looks like cautious planning is normal now every time I go back into the world.

The challenge is choosing where to go first. Do I get back to the broad prairie, the broader desert, the tall trees or the taller mountains? They all call to me and I delight in the possibilities. I hope it's the same for you.

So no matter where you know you once belonged, there's only one thing left to say...

Get back, Jojo.

*Find health stories and studies with an online search of "time in nature."


SUBJECT: Eastern deciduous forest in spring, Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary, Michigan.

CONDITIONS: mild, calm, lightly overcast; 65 degrees F.

EQUIPMENT and SETTINGS: Nikon D810, Nikon 16-35mm @35mm, Gitzo tripod, Really Right Stuff ball head electronic cable release, polarizing filter; Auto exposure, Matrix metering.

EXPOSURE: 1/60 sec. at f/22, ISO 400

What looks like a simple composition took some time to make. My intention was to give the viewer a sense of the preserve as they would see it from one of the boardwalk trails. I chose a standing position looking down the boardwalk toward the footbridge and the railroad-tie steps beyond it. From this spot, I used the trail as a path for the viewer's eye to follow off into the woods without too many visual obstructions.

Next, I wanted to show a sense of distance from near to far. The mature white ash tree on the left made a good near subject. The trees at the end of the boardwalk and those beyond gave a sense of depth to the forest. Then I made sure the bottom corners were anchored with skunk cabbage plants. Their scale, form and texture added character to the corners. All of this took the careful repositioning of my tripod-mounted camera and some zoom cropping.

What I chose not to include in the frame was just as important as what I did. I avoided a fallen tree on the left, brushy undergrowth on the right and a blank, gray sky peeking through the trees all along the top of the frame. These careful adjustments kept the composition clean and simple without distractions.

I went to this mixed-hardwood forest preserve to photograph the late-spring wildflowers that blanket the gentle rises and the damp bottom land along a wide creek. Miles downstream from here, the creek grows into a respectable river that eventually flows into a public lake.

Before it leaves this preserve, the river meanders through the rich, moist flood plain that is home to trilliums and skunk cabbage. The high water table insures the prolific growth of dozens of species of spring and summer woodland wildflowers. The downside is that mature trees are prone to toppling when strong winds tug at them. Windfalls reveal how some trees struggle to grow broad, deep roots in the wet, black soil.

As a consequence of this condition, the tall white ash tree on the left side of the composition blew down two years ago. This scene is now altered in a way that would make it hard for me to create another pleasing image from this perspective. I would always compare any new photograph to this older one.

Windfalls are a fact of life in the old-growth eastern forests. Over and over, I've learned not expect any scene to remain the same for long. I tell myself to never walk away from a spot I like without trying to make a photograph. If you pass up your chances, you should get used to disappointment.

A natural history note about this location: The 384-acre nature sanctuary has never been plowed or clear-cut, so it's considered a museum-like example of a southern mesic forest that looks much the way it did in pre-settlement days. It has been preserved by dedicated citizens and civic leaders for years and it still is today. I whisper a thank-you to them and make a donation every time I visit.


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