January was only the third month in four years during which I failed to take a single nature photograph (aside from some backyard wildlife), mostly due to the weather. But that slothful winter break came to an end on Saturday when a perfect storm of elements – time, weather, new project – inspired an afternoon of exploring the Scarlet Oak Woods in eastern Monroe County.
The new project angle includes a nature photo exhibit, book signing and the 2017 Indiana Nature Photography workshops, all of which will be in collaboration with the Sycamore Land Trust, the Bloomington-based nonprofit conservation organization that owns Scarlet Oak Woods.
I’ve only been to this 66-acre preserve once, in mid-summer. And we only walked a short distance along the ridge top, just far enough in to get a sense of the refuge and grab an image for my Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana. On Saturday, I hiked the entire trail from the ridge top to the seasonal creek valley 130 feet below – a workout even if I were in shape.
I’ll admit to reduced expectations for this hike, as capturing color, form and light in the Southern Indiana woods in February is always a challenge, even when the sun and sky are ideal. But when nature is exposed as bare as she is in dead winter, abstract images – unavailable any other time of the year – are there for the discriminating eye.
Trunk cavities on the ridge, ice in the valley
The ridge top part of the half-mile Scarlet Oaks trail, for example, presented a handful of intriguing tree-trunk cavities – a couple dead ones with rich earth tones to focus on with my 80-400/f4.5-5.6 Nikkor. At trail’s end was an exquisite lake to the east, on private property, that even in February is obscured by vegetation. Google Maps identifies it as Schact Lake. I didn’t find anything online, outside of a couple fishing guides.
After skirting the property’s southern boundary to this classic, V-shaped Brown County Hills valley, I was delighted to find the creek featured pools of water, covered by a sheer layer of ice, with diffuse sunlight peering over the western ridge. I’ve had a passion for reflections since 1978, when I purchased a coffee table book called Reflections, by David Robinson, with foreword from photojournalist Ernst Haas.
In places along the Scarlet Oak creek, pebbles, geodes and crinoids cracked the ice surface with dramatic lines. Everywhere abstract, sweeping streaks accented the surface. These produced my favorite images of the day.
We’ll be posting details on the three Indiana Nature Photography Workshops we’re scheduling for 2017. Stay tuned.