Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Gate 30’

The Middle Branch of the Swift River and the Hazards of Nature Photography

As readers of this blog know by now, one of my main concerns about how we think about our environment is, actually, how little we think about it.  We take for granted so much without questioning what supports our lives.  The food shows up at the grocery story, the water in the faucet and the oxygen that sustains us in the atmosphere.  I live in central Massachusetts and work in eastern Massachusetts.  Most people in eastern Massachusetts don’t know where their water comes from, the Quabbin Reservoir.  So my mission is in part educational.  As such, I’ve been working more with video as a media for engaging with people about the source of their water.  This has involved creating short videos that hopefully take the viewer to the source of their water and at least help them connect a few dots.

With that as background, here is a short two minute trip along two sections of the Middle Branch of the Swift River, one of the most important sources of water that goes into the Quabbin Reservoir. I’m shooting from two locations, one the Bear’s Den and the second, where the Middle Branch cuts through the Quabbin Reservation, closer to the Reservoir itself.  You can reach both in New Salem.  Both are rather tame walks (but see my warning below).  I find both of these locations compelling and have posted still imagery from there many times.  I hadn’t been back in a year or two, much had changed, though much remained the same.

A word of warning and a request.  Posting video online is not as satisfying as you might think given that every one seems to be doing it these days.  Most services compress the video severely and if you’re used to good photography, you notice this immediately.  Second and more seriously for me, most of you read my blog as subscribers.  You have it e-mailed to you and WordPress does not always embed the video properly, meaning you may not see it.  This happened a few months ago, to my chagrin.

Trying something different this time, I’ve actually uploaded this version to WordPress itself rather than embed it from Vimeo. However, If you can’t see it, click here and you’ll go right to the video as posted on Vimeo. Regardless, make sure you’re watching the HD version by clicking on HD in the lower right hand corner of your video screen.  You’ll know to do that if the quality of the video is particularly annoying.  If the preview version I can see is any indication, you will need to click HD to get the higher quality view.

On the hazards of nature photography.  When we go out into the field, we are actually quite careful.  Tics are everywhere and they are particularly dangerous in New England.  So we are fully covered regardless of the temperature.  No sandals, short sleeves, etc.  Never, even when it’s really hot.  But that isn’t always enough to protect you it seems.  I’d been to this location many times but evidently this is where I contracted poison ivy, or something like that.  Even though I didn’t think I was excessively allergic to poison ivy, I have never been cavalier about it.  Your reaction can change over time with aging.  This time something went wrong and the poison ivy mixed with something else and left me severely ill.  The treatment, prednisone was just as bad as the disease as some of you know.  It finally seems to be working now thankfully.  I got some good medical care along the way, including from an excellent Dermatologist.  Just as I was leaving his office, he shared a rather bone chilling observation that he said all his dermatology friends had been pondering over the past few years.  Poison ivy is getting much more virulent. They don’t know why.  I have no expertise in this area other than what I’ve learned over the past month so I can’t verify his statement, but he’s a good doc and very well trained.  So why am I saying all this?  If you’re old enough you may remember a pretty good police show, Hill Street Blues.  The desk sergeant at the precinct had a way of closing his start of shift meetings that came to mind recently:  And hey… careful out there.

Quite the Mess

I have written before about the work of Robert Glenn Ketchum.  He is without a doubt one of America’s great landscape and nature photographers.  Some of his best work, in my opinion, was on the Hudson River Valley.  An environmentalist to the core, he does not shy away from troubling vistas.  His work is not anything like “eco porn” as it is sometimes described, beautiful but essentially meaningless pictures. He tells a story with his work.  I cite him in the rather unusual context of a blog with a title “Quite the Mess” because of his ability to deal with just how messy nature can be.  We are implored as photographers to simplify, get just a few elements in your photos, and above all, get an image that doesn’t include a lot of distractions. I actually agree with that advice.  On occasion, such opportunities fall right into your lap.  More often when you’re trying to capture what is really happening in the wild, it ain’t going to happen.  Or, if it does, you will have lost your story line.  Case in point, the Swift River (Middle Branch) running under the old stone bridge at Gate 30 of the Quabbin Reservoir (located in New Salem, Massachusetts) a few weeks ago.

Could some one get that tree out of there!  No, I guess.  I actually debated the wisdom of putting these messy vistas on view.  I can hear some of my old teachers now.  “Some things are beautiful, but don’t photograph well, that’s the way it is…..cope!”  But it occurs to me that we run risks when the work is always pristinely simple.  Have we at least paid attention to the way nature works, the way things look when they are in fact left “wild?”  So, ladies and gentlemen, from my “messy” portfolio..

I have to comment on these bells.  I tried every way I could think of or was physically capable of to create a compelling composition.  The problem here is that the tree branch from which the ice bells grew cuts across the frame in a rather mundane fashion.  Such is life.  This fallen tree created a platform for all sorts of wonderful ice forms.

A work of classical fine art?  Perhaps not. But the story here is, in part, the weather. Much of the “mess” resulted from the Halloween 2011 snow storm.  Such storms reshape the forest.  Nature obeys the laws of, nature, of course, the rules of photography not withstanding.

On closer inspection, things start to make a bit of sense.

With apologies to Robert Glenn Ketchum!

Happy New Year

May your water always flow…..

This coming year the environment will face, potentially, it’s gravest series of threats, ever….the Presidential and Congressional Elections in the United States.  Hopefully, the water will still be flowing next year at this time.  Those of us who care about the environment need to NOT sit this one out.

Then as Now

Over the past year we’ve increasingly been drawn to “character trees,” inside the Quabbin Reservoir.  The typical definition of character tree (it is really a subjective one to be sure) has more to do with it’s shape and the apparent story it tells by the twists, turns and gnarls in its trunk.  I now add a qualifier:  they were planted, by humans.  This highlights for me the idea that we can understand something about a society’s relationship with nature by the way they planted trees.  And, trees last a long time, particularly away from an urban environment (less pollution, fewer dogs). The story they tell can last longer than the communities that planted them, as we see here along the Road to Millington, inside Gate 30/29 at the Quabbin Reservoir.  (Click on the images for a better view.)

We were quite surprised to come upon this carefully ordered stand of trees last December.  What stories can we infer?  It’s fun to image.  This area, a part of North Dana, was relatively prosperous.  There was manufacturing nearby but it was still largely a farming community.  The land owner was trying to make a statement. There is graphic order here, but it’s kind of a friendly order.  After all, these are shade trees.  Just the thing for a hot summer day, pre air conditioning.  The temperature under row of trees on a summer day might have been 15 degrees cooler than the hot sun.  A nice place to stop and rest the horses perhaps.

These rows of trees, along stone walls, are not, however, just an artifact of the past. They are still with us today.  Here’s a recent image from “downtown” New Salem, just a few miles away.

Perhaps this is something like the scene along the road to Millington would have appeared were North Dana here today.

On the Road to Millington

You can reach the road to Millington via either Gate 29 or 30 in New Salem, Massachusetts.  The two entry ways converge about one half mile in.  Millington was a village of Dana, now underwater, of course.  There are quite a few cellar holes along the way, but the real witnesses are the character trees.  I’ve pointed them out before, back during the winter, but they present quite a different site in the early summer.  They standout from the pines and the vegetation by virture of their gestures.  Their shapes and the detail in their bark suggests a story.  Click on the images for a better view.

It is almost as though they are speaking to you, but not quite able to be understood.

And they certainly seem to be keeping an eye on things.

What is so striking to me about the trees is that they represent for the most part real artifacts of what was once the  life of these villages.  They dot the side of the road in an orderly fashion, clearly planted for the purpose of providing shade, syrup, play and  beauty.  In that sense they represent the last communications from those who were here.

We thank them.