Less than a week ago I was in the tropical forests of Costa Rica. Although we had to manage with a couple of rainy days, in that Central American country's dry season, the weather was generally warm and clear, and of course the wildlife was abundantly exotic. It is the price we pay for the miracle of modern travel that, within a day, my system was shocked with the abrupt transition to the cold, dark, barren environment of our New England winter. and my winter funk was made worse by the lack of our usual soft pristine coating of snow.
The depression has been softened by my time spent reliving my warm Central American experiences as I edit the images from that lovely two weeks, but I realize that I must return to an appreciation of the special attractions of our varied seasons. Who needs constant warmth, garishly decorated birds and sinfully delicious fruits, when we can have the sharp clean air of a northern winter and the enveloping warmth of a fire in the wood stove.
My forced re-acquaintance with the charms of New England has been helped by the rapid approach of a talk I agreed to give to a local women's group. In the past I had presented stories of my trips away from our region, such as Alaska and the Galápagos Islands, but this time the request was for a discussion of some of my favorite local areas for photography. When I got home I was shocked to discover that the talk is coming up in just over a week, but it does give me chance to remind myself of what makes my home a uniquely beautiful place in which to live and photograph.
As I looked for iconic images, I decide to organize the talk around one of our most important advantages over the monotonous weather of the tropics, we have seasons.
As I considered the range of attractions of our New England seasons, I realized that honoring all the beauty deserved at least two parts, so here is a brief examination of the photographic wonders that are found in our winter and spring.
We can start with the current season. Winter can take the greatest effort to find photographic attractions, but in its simplicity it is the most elemental of our seasons. Without the colorful thick foliage it is possible to appreciate the intricate structure of the tress and the stark interactions between light and shadow. Unlike any other season, the winter's quiet frees us to concentrate on the visual beauty all around, but in winter all is not always calm and peaceful.
Winter provides a striking contrast between the harshness of our storms and the quiet softness which is often left behind. Stormy weather always provides excellent subjects for photography, and the elements are never as visible as they are in a winter gale with the snow angrily slanting across the landscape.
View without Foliage
With the leaves off the trees, broader views of the landscape become apparent, opening vistas that can be appreciated at no other time. It is this time of year that we in the Chesterfield Conservation Commission often take advantage of the longer views to plan new trails.
Bird Feeder Wildlife
Winter birds are always a welcome reminder of life in the bitter winter months. In the last few years, I have become an enthusiastic feeder watcher, but happily birds are found surviving the elements throughout the region. The Snowy Owls are just one example of these vigorous and resilient creatures.
The holiday lights on our homes and public spaces provides a much needed sense of warmth as winter settles in.
Sugaring is always a happy harbinger of the coming spring and every year, in Keene New Hampshire, we are treated with a look back at the old ways of sap collecting at the Stonewall Farm Sap Gathering Contests. No tubes, just red buckets and horse drawn sleds. And there is nothing better than the sweet tastes of maple syrup on ice cream or snow.
One of the earliest signs of spring is the flowing water which cascades through our brooks and waterfalls as the run-off progresses. Until the time that the first buds appear, early spring is primarily a season of mud and the blessed sight and sounds flowing water.
I find the earliest buds of spring to be especially interesting and surprisingly attractive. The plants come forth with strange, almost other-worldly explosions of delicate life, often looking nothing like the mature growth that they will become. It only lasts a few days but it is a remarkable promise of the life to come.
When spring gets thoroughly established the colors present in infinite shades of green and yellow. I refer to this time as our second autumn and I find the variety of tones to be even more varied and interesting than those of our more garishly colored fall display. The added advantage of the spring color is that it is not immediately followed by the dull shriveled leaves crashing to the ground. By contrast, the spring color is the harbinger of our great explosion of life.
Spring means flowers and I'm always excited by the first blooms. I am heartened by the appearance of the Crocuses and Daffodils, but I also look forward to getting a jump on the season by visiting our local greenhouses. My favorite is at Walker Farm in Dummerston Vermont. They always have a great collection of well cultivated blooms which are easier to photograph in the soft light and calm air of the greenhouse.
As it turns out spring and summer are the best seasons to view the Milky Way as the galactic center rises higher in the evening sky. As the air warms I look for areas of dark sky and greedily run out to capture the Celestial show. After all in a few billion years it will all be different.
Spring is the time of animal enthusiasm as both wild and farm animals rush to feed on the tender fresh growth. This is no better seen than at Stonewall Farm's Annual "Dancing of the Ladies", when the cows are first released to pasture after a long claustrophobic winter in the barn. For a few minutes the cows go wild prancing, butting heads and even occasionally kicking up their heals. It all makes a great show, but quite quickly they return to their usual semi-comatose grazing state.
Dancing Lady, Stonewall Farm
Next week, Summer and Fall and, somewhere in between, I have to assemble it all into a short talk. HOW can it be short!