Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Along Back Country Roads

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Far off the major highways, in deep woods and high mountain forests, lie some of my favorite back country roads.

Paved roads in remote places in the American West lead to canyons and deserts where the human population is minimal and natural landscapes stand out.

Sometimes a back country road is a little more than your vehicle can handle. Use caution!

My very favorite back country road is the gravel lane where my mailbox stands. I’m grateful to have a home far from the heavy thoroughfares where noise and stress oppress the environment.

Thank you to the Lens-Artists guest hosts this week, Wandering Dawgs, for inviting us to share our back road adventures. Happy travelling, all, and safe home again!

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Getting Away

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
…”

Not being a city girl, I have never escaped the hustling crowd by climbing the stairs to find solitude “Up on the Roof”, like the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song describes. I prefer to travel to and explore places of natural quiet where there is (ideally) no human presence. Wilderness is my favorite Get Away. I am heading out tomorrow to Strawberry Mountain Wilderness in the Mahleur National Forest on my very first backpacking trip. I will not be tethered to a powered vehicle or a “civilized” infrastructure for three whole days. I will be relying on my own two feet and the company of a few experienced hikers. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for more than 40 years!

I have done day hikes in designated Wilderness before, but never an overnight. It is extremely important that our group Leave No Trace of our visit. Keeping wild spaces as pristine as possible ensures that conservation and spiritual values are not compromised.

If we lose the ability to get away from the impact of human domination, we may lose sight of humility and perspective altogether.

Thank you to this week’s hosts, Rusha and Bert of Oh the Places We See.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: California Picks

 

“There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California.”
— Edward Abbey

For this week’s photo challenge, Tina invites us each to pick our own theme. Having just returned from three months in California journeying with my family of origin through my mother’s hospice care and death, I have new photos to share and a complex perspective.

A jewel in the sparkling allure of California to me is my siblings who live there. I reconnected with them in an intense situation and discovered that they are exceptional human beings…and they really do like me, after all!Our days together were full of the poignant joys of life: memories, change, and resilience. We hiked the mountains, beaches, and urban green spaces to keep a grounded perspective. The natural surroundings in California are breathtaking, but the impact of humans is often completely overwhelming. While I was there, record-breaking temperatures, catastrophic wildfires, and the Covid-19 virus often prohibited us from leaving the confines of our protective shelters. How ironic that the things that make California a popular place to live also create the populations that make California unlivable. Finding a sustainable balance is the never-ending challenge here.

“It was a splendid population – for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home – you never find that sort of people among pioneers – you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day – and when she projects a new surprise the grave world smiles as usual and says, “Well, that is California all over.”
― Mark Twain

How to live gracefully on this planet, in a human body, with all the complex interactions going on all around me, continues to be the challenge that I strive to meet. Grace is an attitude of balance and mercy, I think…but I’m still pondering it. 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: All Wet

“A normal lake is knowable. A Great Lake can hold all the mysteries of an ocean, and then some.”
― Dan Egan, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

“A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” ― Henry David Thoreau

“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” William Wordsworth

When Tina invited me to delve into my photo archives for a look at something All Wet, I immediately thought of Lake Michigan.

This truly Great Lake is an old friend. I have visited its shores while living in Illinois and Wisconsin and while vacationing in Michigan and Indiana. I have been to the northernmost shore and the southernmost. It always impresses me with its size.

Four generations of my family have submerged themselves in its waters. I knew it as a playground when I was a little girl. I worked in a museum on its shores half a century later and came to know more of its power and importance. 

I find it unfathomable in every sense because there’s so much to know and imagine about its history, its living presence, and its intricate and moody details. I will leave you with a gallery of images to peak your curiosity. 

 

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Going Back

“There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever, not for better;
Some have gone but some remain.”
~ ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles

During this time of staying “Safer At Home”, I have begun a photo project converting snapshots in my family albums to digital files so that I can share them online with my loved ones, most of whom live on the West Coast while I live in Wisconsin. Scanning these precious images, I keep returning to a very special vacation spot that has been in the family for four generations.

We call it simply The Cottage. It’s a beach house built on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan some time in the 1940s by my father’s parents. My father first brought my mother there when they were courting as college students at Harvard/Radcliffe in the mid 1950s. I spent long weekends and extended weeks there in the summers while I was growing up. Here are some images from the party we had for my third birthday.

I last visited The Cottage with my mother, my sister and brother, my husband, and my four children in 2007, following my oldest daughter’s college graduation. 

To me, The Cottage will always be about the feeling of summer freedom. Walking right out the front door onto the beach at any time, free to explore the sand, the water, the endless horizon, the numerous bits of driftwood and stone, I felt that my life was my own to create. We built sand castles, buried each other up to our chins in sand, jumped waves, collected “glassies”, scared seagulls, threw balls and Frisbees, and lit campfires. I wanted my children to have that same freedom.

We also challenged ourselves to bigger adventures, like canoeing down the White River and riding over the huge dunes, and treated ourselves to local summer pleasures, like root beer and ice cream. 

Freedom and fun are the summer hopes of many children. In the present climate, these are threatened. But these are not frivolous dreams, these are the experiences that demand and build real growth. The ability to make choices and the motivation to make choices for joy must be modeled for the next generations. Limiting choices to staying insular, to keeping things as they are out of fear, is a dangerous example to give our children.

I fervently wish for this global pandemic to teach us the moral lessons we need to learn about continuing exploration and adaptation while treating all living things with compassion and wisdom. May each of you be safe and healthy while you look forward to freedom and fun.

Thank you, John, for hosting this week’s challenge and inviting us to go back into our travels, to remember fondly and to learn.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: A Window with a View

Amy of The World is a Book is the host for this week’s photo challenge. She writes: “This week, we invite you to explore ‘A Window With A View’. Share with us photos you’ve captured through windows.” Some of the views she shares on her post take my breath away!

In my part of the world, this is a typical January view. It’s good to be on the inside looking out!

The moving window of a car is a difficult opening through which to photograph, but I’ve seen some of the most spectacular sights through those windows. 

Telluride, Colorado

Near Hovenweep National Monument, Utah

Windows high above a vista provide a good frame for a landscape shot.

Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin

From the spire of the Basilica on Holy Hill, Wisconsin

And sometimes, the view from the window is not as important as the contemplation within.

Whether you are inspired from within or without, may you have new windows of perspective in this New Year!

Lens-Artist Challenge: My Travels

I met Steve eight months after I was widowed. In the tumult of grief and transition, he offered me something that was transformational – a chance to go camping. My husband and four kids and I did not camp together. I hadn’t been camping for years, but I consider myself a lifetime Girl Scout. Getting back into the outdoors, practicing self-reliance and adaptability, and surrounding myself with the beauty and non-judgmental, non-moral embrace of Nature was just what I needed to consider Life worthwhile again. Steve’s style of camping has a distinct difference from mine: his motto is not “Be Prepared”. His motto is “Be Open”. My instinct to make lists and consult maps was challenged at the very outset. We spent the first hour of one of our early trips parked at the curb outside my house in a deep philosophical discussion of what it means to be on an adventure. 

Steve also introduced me to the wonder of the National Forests of the U.S.A. There is no fee for camping in the National Forests, but there are Leave No Trace rules. A world of freedom opened up for us when I discovered we could easily make camp, cook, clean up, sleep and deal with personal waste (!) outside of crowded developed campsites.

We have, however, depended on either his former Toyota or my late husband’s Honda to transport all our gear.I would love to be able to experience the freedom of going into even more remote wilderness areas, either with a 4-wheel drive vehicle with higher clearance or a backpack. (The latter would be more realistic if I were ten years younger and in better shape…)

We have enjoyed the diversity, the grandeur, and the autonomy of places not dominated by human impact. I find those sacred spaces truly inspiring… and extremely photogenic.

(I had to include that last photo just to prove I’m not kidding about the Girl Scout bit…)
I thank Amy for sharing her inspirational Travel stories and for inviting us into this Travel Challenge. 

At Wounded Knee

The southern portion of Badlands National Park is jointly managed by the National Park and by the Oglala Lakota. The hope was that one day this section of the park would be the first Tribal National Park in the country. Those plans have not yet become a reality. The northern unit of the park hosts the scientific interpretation of the land and holds all of the associated resources you’d expect at a National Park.

The southern unit is entirely within the Pine Ridge Reservation. At the White River Visitor Center, you can hear the historical interpretation of the people of this area, from paleo-Indians to European settlers to US Army Air Force troops in WWII who used the reservation land for a gunnery range and bombing practice. Just under 350,000 acres were acquired by eminent domain from the Oglala Lakota in 1942 on the pretext that it was “unused, unoccupied, and blighted”. 

Wounded Knee is not within the boundaries of the Park. Its history is told in signs, tombstones, graffiti and the living words of people who live in extreme poverty, mistrustful of neighbors and governments and directly impacted by changes in climate and habitat for the animals that provide their sustenance. I am grateful to Mr. Apple (age 25) and Mr. Fast Horse (age 13) for sharing their story. 

My heart aches for these people, for their wounded dignity, for their invisibility, for their spoiled livelihood. That “living off the land” was ever possible for humans in this place year-round is doubtful, especially after the buffalo herds were decimated by European immigrants. This is an area of seasonal extremes, a place to which you’d make a sacred pilgrimage, spend a time in awe, and respectfully vacate. 

To see the land as sacred, wild, and autonomous allows an attitude of humility to flourish and banishes thoughts of domination, extraction and exploitation.  It brings truer balance and harmony to the relationship. Perhaps from this new understanding, a more sustainable future will develop for our species. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wisconsin Tour Guide

“Share with us an image, or two, or three, (or more!) of where you live.” 

If you look up over this post title, you will see two links to separate pages labelled “Wisconsin Historical” and “Wisconsin Outdoors”. You will find quite a few more than three photos there!

I moved to Wisconsin 7 years ago from Illinois, and have absolutely fallen in love with my new home state. I used to summer at Girl Scout camp as a child in northern Wisconsin, but I’ve come to feel like I’ve always belonged outside, here, even after living for 15 years in California. When I first moved north, I worked for 3 summers at Old World Wisconsin, a 575-acre living history museum that recreates 19th century farm and town settlement. Last year, I moved onto a property that is owned by the land trust that employs me. I have thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by 56 acres of Wisconsin woodland, wetland, and restored prairie. 

Wisconsin is a ridiculously photogenic state. It can take your breath away, fill you with pride, and surprise you at every outing. When we’re out hiking, my partner Steve very often just flings wide his arms and remarks (to nobody in particular), “Ladies and gentlemen — Wisconsin!”

Yes, it deserves your attention and applause. Here’s why: 

Tour Guide

An American Adventure: Part Seventeen

Cave Tour and Home Again

You’re a sixteen year old boy who has just moved to South Dakota in 1890. There’s a cave in your backyard…and your mother is still in Iowa. What would you do? Grab a candle and some string and start spelunking! Alvin McDonald spend three years exploring the cave and keeping a daily journal of his discoveries. While presenting his findings at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, he contracted typhoid fever and died at the end of the year. He was just 20 years old.

This cave’s natural entrance is only about ten inches in diameter. Depending on the pressure difference between the outside air and the cave air, it is either “breathing” in or out from this orifice. This Spirit Wind figures prominently in the creation story of the Lakota people. How were you breathed into being?

This cave differs from the others I’ve visited (Mammoth Cave, KY; Carlsbad Caverns, NM; Cave of the Mounds, WI) in that its formations are mostly boxwork, rather than stalactites and stalagmites. Boxwork is kind of like what you’d see if you built a castle of sugar cubes and mortared it with cement. The sugar cubes dissolve, and what is left is a kind of honeycomb of borders, criss-crossing each other. The calcite “mortar” that filled cracks in the limestone and dolomite is what remains. These structures were formed at the genesis of the cave, and not later by the action of dripping moisture, so they are speleogens rather than speleothems. (My new word for this section of the trip!) The ranger asked us what we thought it looked like. My first response was “a Jackson Pollack painting”.  

They also rather resemble cobwebs, giving the dimly illuminated cave interior an aspect of Gothic horror. Creepy and fascinating!

Cave tours are absolutely spellbinding, but they don’t make good photography hikes. Watching my head and my footing, looking around at the surroundings, asking questions and trying not to hold up the single-file line of tourists took too much concentration for me to get many pictures.

I was reminded of the phenomenal bat program at dusk at Carlsbad Caverns, but learned that Wind Cave doesn’t have one. The number of bats is far less and the egress far smaller than the natural arena at Carlsbad. (If you’d like to read about that experience and see a photo of the natural entrance at Carlsbad Caverns, click HERE.)

So, early the next morning, we headed home across the tall grass prairie of South Dakota, past Badlands (which we will return to see), through Minnesota, across the Mississippi River, and back to our Wisconsin home on the conservation prairie. The lawn hadn’t been cut yet this year and was absolutely lush and about waist high. It made us almost giddy! A good old Midwestern thunderstorm washed my car of all the insects and dirt we’d accumulated on our trip.

Five thousand miles, eight National Parks and Monuments, five hundred photographs, and four new brake pads later…I’m back at the computer, dreading the news about what is happening to our public land. I am so glad to have had an opportunity to walk in those places, to breath, to see, to sleep under the stars. I hold a hope in my heart that my children and my future grandchildren will have the opportunity to get to know the America that I visited on this journey, and that it will endure in its character. I may never know what they will inherit, but I will try to do my part to protect it.