A first trip to Cape Cod: photographed in watercolor

In our extensive travels there are still lots and lots of places we haven’t been to – some by design and others because it just wasn’t on our way to anywhere else.  It was high time, we thought, to make a trip to Cape Cod.

We left Maine as the rain began to fall and headed south.  We took a lunch break at the harbor in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  After a seafood meal, we explored the working harbor with cameras at the ready.

Beth’s Sony RX100 II camera has a “watercolor” setting, and the overcast day was ready to be livened up with the painted effect.

The day was grey – both water and sky.   When we looked out to the distant boats they appeared to be small dark dots in the water. Using the telephoto and the paint effect created quite a different image.

Once we arrived on Cape Cod, where we’d be staying for 10 days,  we joined a guided bird walk at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  We saw very few birds but the excellent guide dazzled us as she described how the diminishing night heron bird population and increasing numbers of native square-back marsh crabs negatively affect the sand grasses so important to the marsh ecology.

As she spoke, Beth captured a few images of the grasses, the critical buffer between and the water and the land.

At another beach, the more a photo image took on a painterly quality, the better we liked it.

We enjoyed another excellent guided hike at the National Seashore to the beech forest.

A few small bushes and trees had started to change color which is always a good time for photography.

We headed over to Head of the Meadow beach in Truro and started walking north along the water’s edge. Soon we saw a grey seal in the water, then another.  We sat on the sand and 25 seals swam nearby, just off shore, to gawk at us as we continued to watch them.  At the end of the sandy spit there were about 100 seals gathered – some on the sandy beach – but most in the water not far from the shore.  We walked down towards them for a better look but took care not to disturb them.

This was no time for a watercolor photographic image.  Beth turned the setting off and took many photos of the seals as they watched us.

Our favorite was a seal that looked like it was body surfing on a wave, never taking its eyes off of us.

We got some lovely images using the watercolor camera setting, but we knew that, when the seals swam nearby, it was time to reset the camera to manual and get the best photos we could.


October 2018

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We love the state of Maine – enough to have lived there many years ago when we were both teachers. We didn’t live near the coast but in the northern woods on the Kennebec River near the small town of Bingham (population 903).  We found the intervening years have not been kind to the area.

The best site in Bingham was the moose statue.

We took off south and headed for the state capital, Augusta, where we took our daily walk at Viles Arboretum.  The green ash forest was our first stop, then we strolled through a display of conifers.  At the end of the walk, a number of protective wire cages dotted a field.

American chestnut trees had been planted in hopes of replacing some of the many chestnuts which were almost wiped out years ago due to a fungus.  They look like they’re getting a good start.

We joined our longtime friends, Warren and Ethel, and headed east to Rockland, home of the Farnsworth Art Museum.  There was a lot to like at the Museum, starting with the special exhibitions of the Wyeth family paintings and Ai Wei Wei.

The untitled Greenland oil painting from the 1930’s by Rockwell Kent was one of our favorite works.  He was one of many artists featured who lived and painted in Maine.

Owl’s Head is a short drive down the coast.  Joe and Warren led the way through the woods to the lighthouse at the point.  The Abenaki lived in this area when Samuel de Champlain arrived to explore the area in 1605.

The Maine coast is rocky, and we weren’t finished exploring. Another park we visited, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, is south of Freeport, Maine.

Islands dotted the bay.   Most are very small and unoccupied except for double-crested cormorants and other sea birds.

Freeport is home to LL Bean, well known for its famous boots and outdoor gear.  In the years since we lived here, Freeport has become famous as a shopping mecca. We browsed in a number of shops ourselves and found the prize of the day in an antique store.

Beth sews a lot and found two little bags of antique fabric scraps dating back to 1875-1900.  She spread a few of the scraps on the table to see just what was in those bags.

Whatever she makes from the antique scraps will be a souvenir from our return visit to Maine.  How perfect is that?  Homemade and a memorable story of its own…


September 2018

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Rest days turned into touring days

Sometimes good intentions are abandoned for better plans.  We intended to spend our few days at a lovely Charlotte, Vermont AirBnB resting and reading. Then we talked to our host and discovered that, just a few miles down the road, the neighboring town of Shelburne, Vermont has two fabulous destinations that must be seen.

We headed first to Shelburne Farms with the largest barn we’ve ever seen.

Dr. William Seward Webb and Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt and their descendants owned Shelburne Farms from 1886 until 1972.  An inheritance from Vanderbilt money allowed them to create an “ornamental” farm, complete with numerous barns and Brown Swiss cows to graze on the picturesque land. Frederick Law Olmsted guided the Webbs in the design and landscaping of their 3,800 acres (1,500 ha).  Since 1972, the farm has become a nonprofit organization.

We saw turkeys, pigs, sheep, and a wide variety of chickens as we walked around the barnyard.

We’d been told the breeding barn was interesting so we walked over to see it. The size and architectural detail of all the barns at Shelburne made quite an impact.

Walking back along the paths through the landscaped woods and rolling lawns, we admired Olmstead’s work.

We came upon a wood sculpture by Jerry Geier not far from the main barn.  It was so subtly placed near the woods that we almost missed it.

One of the nicest gardens we’ve seen graced the lawn of the Webbs’s home (now an inn).  Imagine lush  plantings along long brick walls stepping down to Lake Champlain.

The next two days we spent visiting the other “Shelburne” in town, the Shelburne Museum.  The Webbs, of Shelburne Farms, had a son who married Electra Havemeyer, a women of great wealth.

Electra became an avid collector of all things related to arts and crafts in America, and the museum she founded was the repository for her extensive collection.  Her collection was housed in a series of smaller buildings, many of historic note, which had been moved to the site.   We toured through her collections of Early American and Impressionist paintings, weathervanes, quilts, trivets, dolls, hatboxes, duck decoys, pottery, and so much more.

One of the old colonial houses held her early American art, including one of our favorites, “Penn’s Treaty with the Indians” by Edward Hicks, ca. 1840-1845.

We passed a little lighthouse that had been moved to the museum grounds and placed on a small hill.   Nearby, in a sea of grass, …

…was the steamboat, Ticonderoga, originally built in Shelburne in 1906.  It had transported passengers across Lake Champlain before it was retired and made its journey back to rest at the Museum.

We did not overlook the many plantings and small gardens at Shelburne Museum, but two days is hardly enough time to see everything.

Our time at that lovely AirBnB in Charlotte was entirely devoted to seeing both Shelburne Farm and Museum, and we never did get even a moment to read or relax.  We couldn’t have asked for anything better!


September 2018

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Travel through a fog

A year before our road trip across the US and Canada, we started selecting destinations that we really wanted to see as we worked our way from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Bet you’d be surprised that little Amherst Island in Lake Ontario made our final list. It’s an excellent location to see birds, particularly raptors and owls in the winter.

This destination required a lot of preparation ahead of time: researching birds we might see, consulting the ferry schedule; downloading a map of the island with specific instructions of where to look for birds as we drove around the island; packing bird book, binoculars, and snacks as there is no place to buy food on the island.

The night before we had decided to get an early start (as birds would be up with the first light), but, when the alarm went off, we struggled to get out of bed and ready to go.  As we opened the motel room door, we stepped into a thick fog.  What a surprise!  Our immediate second thought: how could we watch birds in the fog?

By the time we got to the ferry dock the sun was up, but the fog stubbornly hung on.

We reasoned that by the time the ferry crossed the water and landed on Amherst Island, the fog would certainly have lifted.

A half hour later as we drove down our first road on the island, this was our view. We could hear birds, but, except for a few in tall grasses literally at the roadside, we couldn’t see any.

When the fog finally started to lift, moisture hung on the spider webs, creating a sparkly effect.

Birds started to appear, though not always as clearly as we would have liked.  Out of the last haze we saw a very large white bird swoop over the car and not long after a gull came by, much smaller in comparison.  We later found out we were in the area where one juvenile snowy owl has been hanging out – so maybe that’s what we saw?

Our last stop of the day was saved for the best place to see owls on Amherst Island.  The road there had a caution sign posted. A local woman had warned us the dirt road was not in good shape so we parked off the main road and walked in.

Several cedar waxwings settled on a nearby tree, and then we spotted a bronze-hued leopard frog sitting not far from a puddle.

At last, we arrived at the Owl Woods Nature Reserve.  No one else was there.  We heard a few birds calling so we walked slowly, while we carefully scanned the tree branches overhead for an owl.

It’s never been our talent and only on rare occasions have we seen an owl without someone else pointing it out.  No matter how hard we looked, we saw not a one.  However, some black-capped chickadees flew along with us.  We knew it wasn’t to console us though.  They hoped we might have brought some seed for them (a common practice of walkers we discovered in this part of Ontario).

At the end of the day, we took the ferry back across to the mainland and tallied the number of bird species we’d seen that day.  It was better than we expected, given the very slow start in the morning due to the fog.

Even though we didn’t have any interesting bird photos the entire day,…

…the next day we came across one of the most beautifully colored, ordinary birds we’d ever seen – a common grackle.

We had to laugh at our bad luck to choose a foggy day for our big trip to watch birds – and that the one wildlife photo of the day was a frog.


September 2018

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By the shores of Gitche Gumee

We finally know where Gitche Gumee is, and it took us a long time to stand on its shores.

We had to memorize lines from (important? American?) poetry in grade school.  One of the few that we (vaguely) remember is “TheSong of Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written in 1855.

“By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water…”

Gitchi-Gami is the Ojibwe (Chippewa) name for Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area.

When we planned our road trip from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, we thought looping up and over Lake Superior could be a great drive.

Our first view of Lake Superior was in Duluth, Minnesota.  We took 8 days to explore the shore in both Minnesota in the US and Ontario in Canada. We visited small towns along the way, hiked in parks, ate walleye fish, and hunted for agates on the rocky beaches.

Our stop in Wawa, Ontario included a visit to Young’s General Store and a photo op.

We stopped at numerous parks along the way, and one of our favorites was ‎Lake Superior Provincial Park.

We drove for miles and miles (and then more miles) through Canada’s two largest forests – the Great Lakes/St Lawrence forest with both coniferous and deciduous trees (including birch) and the Boreal forest, mainly coniferous.

The bark of the birch tree is waterproof so it was used by Native Americans for making baskets, papering houses and canoes, and even maps.

We searched every chance we got for an agate.  We never found anything even close.  The signs at all the parks in Canada politely remind visitors to enjoy what they have seen, but to please leave the wildflowers, the plants, and the lovely rocks where you found them.

We took a long walk down a beach at ‎Lake Superior Provincial Park and collected our favorite rocks.  No agates among them.  To remember our favorites, we took their photo, and then left them on the beach.

It took us 7 days to drive from the western edge of Lake Superior to the eastern edge at Sault-Ste.-Marie, Ontario (known as “Soo” to the locals).  We celebrated when we arrived by going down to the water’s edge on the Canadian side to see the locks allowing pleasure boats to get from the eastern waterways through the St Mary’s River to Lake Superior.

We inspected the Canadian lock used in emergencies if the other locks failed. It was needed once, and it did the job. Since then, it’s been retired. Above the lock is the Sault-Ste-Marie Bridge connecting Canada and the U.S.

We walked over the lock and crossed small bridges to Whitefish Island, the outermost Canadian island in the river.  Native People used the island for 2,000 years as fishing grounds.  Despite a treaty in 1850 that gave them the rights to the land, when plans for the canal moved forward and then later a railroad, the land was taken by the government.  “A land claim was filed in 1982 by the Batchewana Indian Band, of the Batchewana First Nation of Ojibways, for the 22-acre (89,000 m2) island. After years of unsuccessful negotiations, hereditary Chief Edward James Sayers Nebenaigoching occupied the island from 1989 until the claim was settled in 1992. 3.5 million dollars in damages were paid to the tribe, and the island was returned to Indian reserve status in 1997.”

Whitefish Island has open walking trails, and it was there that we discovered the tame black-capped chickadees.

As we walked back across St Mary’s Island, we saw beaver dams and lodges, and scores of mallard ducks.

We started our trip around Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior) with thoughts of the “Hiawatha” poem and of the Indians who lived by the shore.  We ended our long drive with the sad story of the long struggle for Indians to regain even a small island by the shining Big-Sea-Water.



September 2019

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Photography: Let’s Change the Subject

We followed the highway from Grand Marais, Minnesota aiming for Thunder Bay, Ontario when we took a turn off onto a narrow, rough road in the middle of nowhere. These are the times on our trip that we wonder: have we made a mistake? Will this side trip to photograph wildflowers and watch birds be worth the effort?

Some many miles later, the road ended at Lake Superior. We’d arrived at our destination, the Hurkett Cove Conservation Area, an area well-known for its many bird species.  As we headed down the forested path, we heard birds calling. Edging the path were the same few wildflowers we’d already been photographing for several days. Suddenly, no birds appeared, and no new wildflowers were to be found. What a discouraging trip, we thought, until…

…we saw a grouping of mushrooms. For joy!

Once we spotted our first, it seemed that there were many more mushrooms, lichen and fungus in this forest. So, the planned photography outing for birds and wildflowers ended before it began, replaced by photographing what was at hand.  A total change of subject.

Are these the same type of mushrooms we normally eat? We knew enough to not even think of trying to test them out.

A metallic brown mushroom in the dark woods was surprisingly tricky to photograph.

The trees around us had their own photographable wonders.

We appreciated the pattern of the lichen on the almost black tree bark.  Could this be common greenshield lichen with a bit of oak moss (in the lower right)?  Since there are 15,000 lichen species, those are just our wild guesses.

One decaying log had an amazing growth (of whatever it was). Doesn’t it look like a sponge from the ocean? For scale, note the little pine needles in the foreground.

Fungus on a tree can indicate a disease and the host tree certainly looked unhealthy.

Most of the Lake Superior shoreline we had seen was rocky, but the water at Hurkett Cove was shallow with tall grasses and reddish sand.

With a change in the subject of our photography outing, we had lots to material to work with. That was exciting, but also challenging. Taking photos of small objects in the dark forest requires more research, practice and experimentation.

How to photograph mushrooms in a dark forest? Bringing along a little tripod would help (if we had one).  We should also experiment with throwing a little light on the subject.  Next time we’ll try the “fill flash” option on the camera.  One piece of advice was to carefully position the camera to focus on the mushroom without using any zoom.  This would require getting down on the (sometimes muddy) ground.

No doubt that the next time we make a trip out, now prepared to photograph mushrooms, the conditions and subject matter will be different.  We’ll find ourselves, once again, taking photographs of birds and wildflowers with nary a mushroom in sight. So, what is the moral of the story?  Be ready for change ahead. It’s good for a photographer to anticipate.


September 2018

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Variations on a Theme

We often take an evening walk, and, when we travel, the scenery on our walks varies a lot.  Some nights what we see is frankly a bit boring, but other nights (like the one in Minnesota’s Grand Marais) it’s pure magic.

In the early evening, we left our lovely room at the Mangy Moose Motel and took off for a walk.

Right away, we came to old buildings with interesting painted fronts.

We photographed several other buildings as well on the walk.  This group of photos comprised the first theme of the evening.

We continued on and came across an overgrown path.  In the low light, we hesitated before continuing but then realized it led to the breakwater for the Grand Marais harbor.

We climbed up on to the breakwater and were surprised to see that large rocks between the breakwater and Lake Superior created a calm pool of water.

Several rocks appeared above the calm water’s surface.

The difference between the water surfaces became more obvious in the diminishing light. It was another variation on a theme.

We came back another night to see the town beach at sunset.  We looked out to the Grand Marais Light on the breakwater where we’d taken the earlier photos.

Sunsets were our final theme.

When taking a walk at dusk coincides with photo opportunities, there’s not a lot of time to spare.  We took our photos as quickly as we could. We tried to keep adjusting for the disappearing light and the changes in how we would photograph the water and rocks.

The quickly disappearing light gave us some of our favorite photos. Each group of images – the old buildings, the water and rocks at the breakwater, and the Lake Superior sunsets – say a lot about the great little town of Grand Marais, MN (population 1,351) and it’s long history as an outpost on the lake.


September 2018

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