A photo I took last summer earned an honorable mention in a national “Coastal Love” contest organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management. The images chosen celebrate America’s coastlines – both salt and freshwater.
Sailboats moor off the beach and I suspect the bikes were there for boaters to use to get around town after they row ashore in their dinghies. I was on the beach for a sunrise shoot, but as you can see, the sun was not cooperating.
A few of my photographs are featured in an art show that’s currently on display at my church. The show is open to the public. If you are in Duluth this summer, pop in and take a look! (Unitarian Universalist Church of Duluth, 835 W. College St.) The show will be up until Fall.
This post is a presentation I gave along with other artists for a service today that was centered on the show and the theme of “cultivating beauty.”
During Christmas when I was a freshman in college, my parents gave me an Instamatic camera. I suspect my mother was the driving force behind this gift, as she had begun dabbling in photography. She was a member of the Duluth Camera Club and was starting to take classes with the likes of Les Blacklock and later, his son Craig.
I had fun with the camera and even used it for a visual communication class I took for my journalism studies. Then, when I graduated college, I graduated cameras. My parents gave me an Olympus 35 mm film camera. My mother showed me how to use it, thinking it would be a great way to document my next adventure, which was grad school through the Audubon Society’s Expedition Institute – a traveling school bus classroom that focused on the outdoors and environmental education.
How that camera survived a 20,000-mile journey across America without a camera bag, I’ll never know. But I used it to capture the beauty of the rugged landscapes we traveled through all those years ago.
Once I got into the workaday world as a science writer, the camera came in handy for stories I needed to cover. Eventually, it malfunctioned and, having to buy a camera by myself this time, I downgraded back to the point-and-shoot type.
After I had children, I noticed that my youngest son was interested in photography. He was only 6 or 7 when we went to Yellowstone. We bought him one of those disposable Kodak cameras so that he could take his own pictures on the trip. He enthusiastically clicked away at geysers and majestic elk. Then, when he went to college, I continued my mother’s tradition and helped him buy a Nikon digital camera, since he was interested in taking a photography class. He loved this beginner-level camera and soon bought his own, more advanced Nikon. He’s since started a side business in portrait photography.
I was interested in getting a more serious camera around that time, so I bought out his part of the original Nikon and it became my own. He showed me how to use it, but my phone camera was so much easier, that Nikon mostly stayed in its bag.
Then came the day when my boss at work suggested I take a photography class instead of the typical writing classes I take every year. She liked the images I was able to capture with my phone and wondered what I could do with more formal training.
I was taken aback by her suggestion. After all, I’m a writer, not a photographer. Taking photos was always just a side dish in my life – something I did while doing something else – never the main course.
The idea stewed during the pandemic until last summer when I felt it might be safer for such an endeavor. I found a week-long sunset photography class through the Madeline Island School for the Arts in Lake Superior. My job deals with communicating water research, so I figured I’d get some photos that would come in handy.
I already knew how to frame a photo, but an F-stop? ISO? What are those?
The class was a crash-course in camera settings. Each day, we offered up one image for critique by the instructor and our classmates. I’d never had an image critiqued before. With trepidation, I submitted my first – it was a greenish photo with pine branches against rocks and water. The instructor said, “This photographer knows what they’re doing. Who took this photo?”
I thought, “I know what I’m doing?” I identified myself and listened to his suggestions for a few improvements, glowing inside all the while. None of the other students had been moved to take a photo of that particular scene, and the instructor discussed how everyone sees beauty differently. He said, “You can take a dozen photographers out to a park and they’ll all come back with different images.”
Maybe there really was something to this photography hobby? Maybe I could be both a writer and a photographer?
I returned home with a big confidence boost, new knowledge of my camera and of the photo editing software. I loved having another way outside of words to capture the grandeur of nature that I see around me. Of course, the camera is much more limited than our eyes, but the photo editing software gets things a bit closer to what our eyes actually see.
I have my mother to thank for getting me started in photography and I am glad that my son continued this family art. I’m excited to participate in the UU Art Show – it’s my first one!
Russ and I recently returned from a trip to California that was centered around photography. My photographer son was along, and we had the chance to meet a distant cousin for the first time. As we discussed our lives with our cousin over breakfast, we discovered that she’s a portrait photographer, too, focusing on babies. On a hunch, I asked her what brand of camera she uses.
My son and I exchanged meaningful looks when she uttered, “It’s a Nikon.”
The last time I was in Yosemite National Park, it was on fire. I was there to put help put it out. That was 32 years ago (!) when I worked for the Forest Service. (See that story in “Why I Miss Wildland Fire Fighting.”)
I journeyed to the park this time to be a photographer-tourist.
As Russ and I planned a long overdue (due to Covid) vacation to Lake Tahoe, we discussed what to do there. It came to light that Yosemite was within driving distance and that Russ had never been there before. Well, that would never do.
“You’ve got to see it!” I said. Wise man that he is, we made plans to begin the first few days of our trip in Yosemite and then drive to Tahoe. Thus, began our Westward Ho adventure.
In late April, we flew into Fresno, CA, and then drove about 90 mins to our lodge just outside the park. Our first foray on the day we arrived was to Mariposa Grove, which wasn’t far from the lodge. We eagerly hiked two miles to see the grove, only to be mystified when we discovered it was closed!
How can a grove of ancient sequoia pines be closed, you ask? Well, you’ve got me on that one. There were no signs at the trailhead giving hint of this closure, nor did we see anything obvious online. But after we made it back to the (closed) visitor center near the grove, we did see a small sign that explained the grove was closed until 2023 so that the trail could be rehabbed.
The grove had a fence all around it, which prohibited people from using the trail that runs through it. Thankfully, we were at least able to view the trees from outside the fence on the road that runs past it. Disheartened, we walked back to our car on the road, which was much easier than the trail. Positive points are, we saw a mule deer (see photo) and a cool rock cut alongside the road (see the other photo).
Another closure to be aware of is that Bridalveil Falls – the iconic waterfall that’s the first thing tourists see from the Tunnel View overlook and when they approach the park from the south, is closed. This is another closure that’s not very well publicized by the Park Service. But you can still get close to the base of the falls if you are a bit intrepid.
We spent the next few days driving through the park and doing more hiking. We visited Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake (an easy two-mile round-trip hike on a closed paved road), Cathedral Beach, and Valley View. Valley View was hard to find because there were no signs that designated it, just so you’re aware. We tried unsuccessfully to find it our first full day but figured it out by the second day. We also ate lunch one day at the historic Ahwahnee Lodge, which is in the park.
Russ’s favorite experience was visiting Yosemite Falls. There’s an upper and lower part of the falls, and he appreciated the aesthetics of the approach as you walk toward the falls. I think mine was Mirror Lake. As you can see from the photos, the reflections of the backside of Half Dome in the water were stellar, and I enjoyed the scenes available along Tenaya Creek.
One thing that struck me was how rough the forest looked. Wildfires had obviously burned all the way into the Yosemite Valley floor. That must have been nerve-wracking for the park service. And many areas on our drive to the park were burned or showed evidence of wind damage. California has been experiencing a drought for the past three years and it sure showed. Perhaps the fire that I worked on so many years ago was only the beginning?
Timber salvage operations were taking place in the burned areas of the valley when we were there, necessitating some traffic disruption. BUT it was Spring, and the waterfalls were full, conveying runoff from the High Sierras. The water-full bounty a glorious sight to see, as John Muir would have said.
I hope you enjoy my photos. Next up: Lake Tahoe or maybe a post about my first art exhibit. I’m not sure which I’ll finish writing first.
As always, please do not use photos that have my signature on them. Others you may use with permission.
Last week I took the long way home from work. My route took me past Chambers Grove Park, which is in the far western part of Duluth, along the St. Louis River. I had heard that the pelicans were back, resting there on a stopover during their migration north, and I wanted to see them.
I brought my camera in case the birds were close enough for me to photograph. Alas, the experience reinforced my thought that I really need to buy a more powerful telephoto lens! Also, the light was right in my face, harsh and white, fading out everything on the far side of the river where the pelicans rested.
Luckily, a few were flying around, and I was able to get at least one good shot.
According to the Duluth News Tribune, pelicans were “virtually unseen in Minnesota between the late 1800s and 1960s. Fishermen destroyed them out of the erroneous belief that they competed for game fish, and pesticides took a toll.” They mostly prefer nongame fish and do not compete with anglers.
Thanks to environmental reforms and protection, their numbers have recovered. Minnesota boasts one of the largest populations of nesting white pelicans in the world. I thought I’d share my photos from my sojourn with you.
If you’d like to see some better, close-up images of the birds, please visit Richard Hoeg’s blog, “365 Days of Birds” for some great shots.
Despite the snow we’ve been having lately, their presence is a sure sign that spring is coming.
My aunt is 101 years “old” and lives in St. Paul. I know, one-hundred-and-one, amazing! She’s my inspiration for aging well. She still resides in her own condo and is fairly self-sufficient. She’s cared for by my cousin.
Sometimes my cousin has other things she needs to do, so friends from the condo building or my relatives in the Twin Cities step in and visit my aunt in her stead.
The other weekend was one of those times for us to help. We needed to be at my aunt’s place early in the morning, so Russ and I meandered down from Duluth the night before. To make the trip more fun, we booked a stay in a bed and breakfast in an historic mansion near the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. We’d never been to the center or the sculpture garden near it, so this trip was going to fulfill those cultural deficits as well as getting in an Aunt Marguerite visit.
We booked a room in the carriage house of 300 Clifton, also known as the Eugene J. Carpenter Mansion. Carpenter was a lumber baron who totally overhauled the Queen Anne-style home, complete with turrets and gables, into a more rectangular Georgian-style mansion after purchasing it about a hundred years ago.
As we checked into the big house, we were greeted by the two resident great danes, Madonna and her grandson Clifton. I thought Madonna was big, but Clifton was even taller – his head came to about the middle of my chest and I’m 5-6. After the requisite petting and ear rubbing (I found the spot on Clifton that made him groan) the two mellow dogs returned to their spots by the hearth in the library.
Sorry, I have no pictures of the dogs. I was too busy petting them.
We were oriented by a knowledgeable young man who’s been working at the mansion for eight years. He told us the Carpenters were instrumental in creating the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA). At that point, we decided not to tell him about our desire to see the Walker Arts Center (we’d already seen the MIA). As it turns out, that might have been a good call. Later, reading an information sheet in our room, we found out that the Walker was established by someone who got disillusioned with the MIA project, a competitor of the Carpenters. I expect a rivalry must still exist between the two institutions to this day.
The nice young man (it’s so typical that we know the dogs’ names but not the human’s name!) took us back outside, past the large courtyard with a fountain and gardens, and showed us our room in the carriage house, explaining this was where all the men on the household staff slept because the Carpenters had a daughter they didn’t want sullied by male influences.
The ground level of the carriage house contains an antique taxi, a pool table, big-screen television, and arcade games. The building originally housed horses but then was renovated for cars. The floor even sports the original turntable used to point cars in the right direction for storage. Sleeping rooms are on the upper floor.
Our room was small, but totally adequate – full of nooks and crannies that you just don’t get in a modern hotel room, not to mention the Tiffany-style dragonfly lamp. Our room didn’t have the sound proofing you’d find in a modern building, but that is really the only criticism we have.
Once unpacked, we dropped back into the main house to explore its three floors. The interior is arts and craft style. It contains little of the original furnishings because it was made into a boarding house and offices in the past. However, there is a Georgian Room in the MIA that holds original furniture from the home and pieces collected by Carpenter during his travels.
The library (with its hearth and great danes) features original sconces that were moved from elsewhere in the house. The dining room sports an impressive painted ceiling. The music room, done in muted greens, feels like a place too nice for the likes of us to hang out.
The main staircase reminds me of the one in Duluth’s Glensheen Mansion, but it didn’t have the impressive window art found in Glensheen. The top floor features modern skylights and plants everywhere, including historic images and interpretive text.
Explorations over, we returned to our cozy room and slept while the wind whipped through the city, rattling the windowpanes.
The next morning, we ate our continental breakfast in the impressive dining room. If a person wants to spend $99 more, you can get a four-course breakfast, but we didn’t need that since we were going out for lunch with my aunt and cousin later that day.
We made it to my aunt’s and had a great visit. She brought out some of her old scrapbooks and we took trips down memory lane, which included some highly unflattering class photos of me in junior high, which made Russ laugh.
After lunch at the Tavern Grill in Arden Hills (delish!), we drove back in the direction of our bed and breakfast, which was three blocks away from the Walker Art Center. We could have parked at the B&B and walked to the art center, but a cold wind was still blowing, so we wimped out and parked at the center.
I really wanted to “walk to the Walker” because I like the sound of it, but it was not to be. Sorry for misleading everyone with the title of this post. I know, false advertising! (I’m just seeing if you are paying attention.) But, if you ever stay at 300 Clifton, be aware of this option.
Right now, entrance fees for the Walker are half-priced because many of their displays are closed for renovation, but there was plenty still there to keep us occupied for an hour-and-a-half. I especially enjoyed seeing an Edward Hopper painting (Office at Night) and an Andy Warhol (Sixteen Jackies). Some of the other art just made me scratch my head.
The bright sun made our quick walk in the sculpture garden across the street bearable despite the wind. We had watched television news stories with interest when the cherry from the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture had been separated from its spoon and hauled to New York for cleaning earlier this year. The cherry is now back.
The fifty-foot sculpture is synonymous with the identity of Minneapolis. It was created in 1988 by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen a husband and wife team from Sweden and the Netherlands. It was inspired by a novelty item that Oldenburg collected, which featured a spoon resting on an “island” of plastic chocolate. The sign at the site says, “From this, the artists envisioned a gigantic utensil as a fanciful bridge over a pond. In considering Minnesota as a site, they compared the spoon’s raised bowl to a prow of a Viking ship or a duck bobbing in a lake. Van Bruggen added the cherry, a personal symbol recalling happy moments in a childhood clouded by World War II.”
The cherry was the first sculpture added to the garden, but there are many others, including a bright blue rooster, which also caught our attention. The rooster is called Hahn/Cock, created by Katharina Fritsch from Germany and it towers twenty-five feet over the garden.
Its sign says, “The rooster can be a symbol of pride, power and courage, or posturing and macho prowess. Fritsch has admitted that she enjoys ‘games with language,’ and the sculpture’s tongue-in-cheek title knowingly plays on its double meaning. Like Spoonbridge and Cherry, Hahn/Cock presents an unexpected take on the idea of a traditional public monument. Together, these two landmarks show how ordinary objects can become iconic and deeply symbolic.”
If you’re ever in Minneapolis, the sculpture garden is a must-see! Access to it is free and open to the public. You don’t need to walk to the Walker to see it.
I was supposed to be helping Russ cook supper, but the sunset over our cabin lake was too distracting. At first, I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better. I ran outside to the shore with my camera and started clicking away.
Feeling neglectful of my supper duties, I went back inside to help with the chicken recipe, which involved at least 20 cloves of garlic and wine. Then I made the mistake of looking out the window. The sunset was growing even more brilliant. I grabbed my camera and ran to the lake again.
The orange was intensifying. The purple clouds near the horizon were separating into a zebra-stripe pattern. I clicked away some more. Then I remembered we were supposed to cook veggies with our chicken, so I traipsed back inside.
After taking care of the veggies, my gaze drifted back to the window. Doh! Now the zebra stripes were growing and the clouds were turning pink. You guessed it. Russ just laughed when he lost me to the outdoors yet again.
Since Russ was handling most of the cooking by this point, I had time to enjoy the view without my camera viewfinder in front of my eyes. I felt grateful and priviledged to be in this place at this time, thankful that we own this little slice of shoreline.
Inspired to lofty thoughts by the sunset, I wondered how anyone can really “own” land. It’s such a strange concept, but we’ve made an art out of real estate and all its intricacies. Owning land is as artificial a thing as owning water, or air, space, or stars. We may think we own it. We may have paperwork that says so. But it’s really just a figment of our imagination.
Kind of like owning a sunset.
BUT, if you’d like to own a print of this sunset, I can help with that. 🙂 I’m offering several versions of these images in the “Water” section of my photography website. Just let me know which one you want and how you want it, and I’ll send you a price quote.
A few blocks down a gravel road near our cabin in northern Minnesota sits a tiny lake, easily seen from the road. It’s so small that a football player with a good arm could throw the ball from one end to the other.
On a bright fall day a few weeks ago, I stopped to admire this lake. While the lake our cabin sits on was rocked with waves, this lake was calm in the shelter of trees. Only one cabin hunkers along its shores. Those folks own the land all around it, so it’s likely no other dwellings will appear in the future. Although small, the lake is deep – up to thirty feet – making it a favorite of local anglers. I almost always see wildlife when I visit: mink, muskrats, turtles, osprey.
I had my camera along and snapped several images in sequence, pointing to opposite sides of the lake. I was amazed by how such a small lake could look so different on either side. Below are two of my favorite images from that outing. They got me thinking about how people can be multi-faceted, too.
The way it works is, once you’ve decided on a photo, contact me throught the Contact page on my blog (http://www.mariezwrites.com/contact-1.html). Let me know if you’d like the image as a print, canvas-wrapped frame, or fine art metal (aluminum) print. Let me know what size you want and I will send you a quote. Payment will be through Paypal.
Other photographers — I’m looking for a service that will process photo orders for me. Which one do you use? How do you like it?
Sometimes you can visit a town many times for decades but still discover new places in it. That’s the way Grand Marais, Minnesota, was when Russ and I meandered north for a weekend in our Scamp.
We were too slow on the uptake to get a reservation at the municipal campground, which is right on the shores of the harbor. But half of the sites (the ones closest to Lake Superior) are first-come, first-served, and there are a lot of them. We figured if we arrived early in the afternoon, we might have a good chance of finding an open site. We didn’t have the option of travelling during a different weekend because we had reservations for a concert that wasn’t happening any other time. We made backup plans to camp in a friend’s driveway and headed out.
I’m sure the suspense is killing you. Did they find a campsite? Yes, we did. In fact, we had five to choose from, thanks to the shortness of our Scamp (13 feet). After we got situated, we had several hours before supper and the concert. We meandered around the campground, getting the lay of the land. We walked into town and along the way, checked out the fishing museum that’s on the shore of the harbor. It features an old fish house complete with fisherman mannequins, a fishing boat, and a smoke house.
In town, we visited the Johnson Heritage Post Art Gallery, one of the places I’ve never been inside, despite coming to Grand Marais periodically for fifty years. Unbeknownst to us, the town was hosting a plein air (outdoors) painting festival and competition that week. The artists’ works were displayed in the gallery – a most impressive and inspiring collection!
No visit to the town is complete for us unless we stop in at the Ben Franklin Department Store. The owners are friends who we don’t get to see nearly enough. We also had time to visit the Sivertson Art Gallery, which I think I’ve only been inside once – another notable collection of local artists and photographers.
After supper at the Angry Trout Cafe, which features local foods (note, the Trout is open all year now but is closed sometimes in November), we headed north just outside of town for the concert. The artist is Michael Monroe, an acoustic guitar, ukulele and glass flute musician who’s popular in Minnesota (and other parts of the country, I’m sure!) He offers log cabin concerts. I signed up for our concert months in advance and was dismayed to learn along the way that Michael and his partner Deb sold their log cabin. But they found a friend who was willing to host the concert in their cabin right on the shore of Lake Superior, literally eight feet away from the water.
With the sound of waves as a backdrop, we enjoyed an intimate concert in a home environment. Michael’s music makes a person feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If you like Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell, you’ll love Michael’s music.
After a peaceful rainy night’s sleep (we were impressed by how quiet the campground was), the following day, we pursued more natural activities. Right next door to the campground is the Sweetheart’s Bluff Nature Area. An easy, wheelchair-friendly trail begins on the end of one of the campground loops, offering lake and woodland views. If you’re up for a challenge, take the definitely not wheelchair-friendly black diamond-level trail up the bluff. Be prepared to clamber! But the views of the lake and harbor are worth the effort.
Soon, it was time to vacate our weekend home. One place I wish we would have stopped in Grand Maris is the Gunflint Mercantile. They make THE BEST maple chocolate truffles on Earth. Maybe next time!
On our way home, we stopped just outside of Tofte to hike the Oberg Mountain Trail. This fairly easy three-mile loop is known for stellar views of the Superior National Forest and Oberg Lake. The Forest Service says the trail gets “medium” usage, but when we were there on a colorful fall day, I would classify the usage as extreme. There were tons of people there and parking was at a premium. It felt more like a major national park attraction than a national forest.
As we hiked through the cedars and maples, fog began to roll in off Lake Superior. The first few overlooks we reached were totally shrouded. So much for stellar views. But we persisted and were rewarded by fog-free views on the other side of the mountain.
The wildlife seemed used to people. I was able to get a close look at a hairy woodpecker working on a birch. The red squirrels seemed to delight in racing across the trail just steps away. A ruffed grouse took noisy flight nearby.
All the good art we saw must have rubbed off, because I took some pretty darn good photos. Here’s a show of the ones I haven’t already shared.
I hope everyone’s having a good fall. Stay safe, my friends.
Russ and I meandered south a couple of hours to camp along the St. Croix River in William O’Brien State Park. We chose the park mainly for the location – we wanted to visit the river towns of Stillwater and Afton, both of which are not far south – but we plan to return again someday because of the great accommodations and the views – oh, the views!
Visitor can choose from two campgrounds at the park. We chose the Riverway Campground because it was closest to the river, and we are water people. After setting up camp our first night, we visited Stillwater and took advantage of its foodie options. We ate at the Marx Fusion Bistro – excellent food and drinks – much better than camp food. That was a treat for us — who usually camp in the middle of nowhere.
Back at our trailer, we enjoyed a fire and a visit from three fat racoons who quickly checked our site for food. Finding none, they waddled off to the next site.
The next morning, we walked the 1.6-mile Riverside Loop Trail near the campground. The trail passes through old white pines along the river and then turns inland a bit, meandering by Lake Alice, which is named after the daughter of William O’Brien, a lumberman who used to own the land that’s now the park. Two bald eagles graced us with their presence, performing aerial acrobatics.
Later, we took a nine-mile (round-trip) bike ride to the small town of Marine on St. Croix. We explored its short main street and stopped to visit an old lumber mill site featuring a short trail and interpretive signs. The mercantile in town looked like it could accommodate any forgotten food needs, plus there’s a coffee shop that touts its cold-press coffee as “best in the valley.”
We sipped our coffee while sitting in the town’s gazebo/band stand in a small park just across the street from the shop. The town was so quaint and picturesque, I felt like I was in a gosh darn Hallmark Channel movie.
After supper, we revisited the Riverside Trail and made good use of one of its benches to watch the moon rise above the clouds lining the river. Barred owls hooted their “who cooks for you?” calls and Canada geese honked as they flew to their nightly roosting waters.
As we fell asleep back inside our trailer, the quiet of the night was interrupted by a pack of coyotes who yipped to each other.
On our final morning in the park, we drove a few miles to hike the Prairie Overlook trail through a restored oak savanna. The trail loops around a small lake. As I hope my photos attest, everywhere we looked was a feast for the eye. Seas of sumac had turned red and lined the trail.
The day was overcast, and the rain conveniently waited until we reached our car to begin. The drops came down, steady and persistent, so once back at the campground, we packed up and headed home.