Photo Play

When deer hunting season infringed on our hiking options, our recent trip up the North Shore took on a slightly different flavor.  Since we always have our cameras in tow, we traded miles on the trails for shutter time.  With such great material for shooting photos and plenty of time on our hands, we took the opportunity to play around with various settings and options.  Since I’m still just a novice, it was a great learning tool, and fun to see the results.  Even the pictures that didn’t turn out well were useful for knowing what not to do in the future.

Early in the morning, when I tired of shooting the sunrise, I turned the other way to watch the waves lapping the shoreline.  It was mostly calm, but there were enough good splashes to entice me to try and capture them.  My camera was still set on a long exposure, and I was intrigued by the blur of the water’s motion that flashed briefly across my LCD screen.  It made for rather a fantastical scene.  Resetting the shutter speed, my next goal was the exact opposite, to capture the water droplets.  I still got a bit of blur, but did manage to catch the tall splash in the air.


On to the Cascade River.  With my new found techniques, I was eager to test them again.  This time I had roaring water to focus on.  Using shutter speed priority on my camera, when I adjusted from a long exposure to a much shorter one, the camera compensated by changing a whole lot of other things, including aperture value and ISO speed.  I also changed the White Balance.  As a result, in addition to the clarity of the flowing water changing, the scene took on entirely different hues as well.  Hmm, who knew?


Okay, let’s try this again!  The next target was a tall waterfall further up the river.  Similar to the last results, the camera adjusted all the other settings for the difference in shutter speed.  Only this time the effects were less dramatic.  Interestingly, I tend to feel that the “blurred” picture has more crisp detail in the trees than the stop-action version.  But since I was hand holding the camera, that could have a lot to do with it.


While none of my pictures would be considered stunning or artistically awesome, I felt like I accomplished a lot from my attempts.  And after all, that was the goal.  To play.


Hiking in Short Bursts

The idea was a good one.  In concept.  We planned a short get-away to take advantage of the off-season mid-week rates at Cascade Lodge and do some hiking at the State Parks along the North shore.  The advance forecast looked reasonable, so we went ahead and booked our room.  We even splurged on the extra $5 for a lake view and corner room.

What we didn’t count on was the fact that the State Parks now allow hunting on a good share of their land.  While everything between highway 61 and Lake Superior was off-limits to hunters, much of the remainder was posted with bright orange signs warning us away from the trails.  Although Rich looked longingly at the enticing trails along with the empty parking lots, I became the trail police and insisted we stick to safe ground.  As a result, our options were rather curtailed, and we ended up with shorter hikes than planned.  But it wasn’t all bad.

The first day turned out to be cold, gray and blustery.  By the time we finished hiking along the shore at Split Rock Lighthouse State ParkIMG_3038 trimmed, the wind had picked up and snow was starting to fly.  We consoled ourselves with bowls of hot soup at Coho Cafe in Tofte and watched the snow swirl and settle on the deck outside.  Cascade Lodge suddenly seemed very appealing, and we quickly traded the chilly afternoon for reading by the fireplace in the lodge.  We could further rationalize our decision with the promise of a better forecast for the next day.

Sure enough, morning brought bright clear skies.  We were up before dawn and crept outside and across to the lakefront to catch the first morning rays of sunlight.  It was crisp and cold, but an invigorating and rewarding photo session.IMG_2987 straightenedIMG_2956 straightened

The Cascade River was open for hiking to the top the waterfalls.  The trail was beautiful, following the icy flowing waters up one side of the river and back down the other.  We followed that with a trip up the Temperance River.  The gorges were as impressive as ever, with the added attraction of icicles clinging to the edges of the IMG_3051rocky canyons.



Returning to Split Rock Lighthouse, we hunted down good vantage points for photos.  We had great fun clambering around the campsites and down on the rocky beach, testing out all the sites for good shots.  What we lost in terms of hiking mileage, we made up for in photography research.

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All the way from Cascade Lodge, we followed the Roger Blough ore boat down the lake.  When it turned into Two Harbors to dock, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to watch it come into the harbor.  We were amazed at the sharp turns required to slip past the breakwater and position the boat for the ore docks.  Despite the close proximity of Two Harbors, we’d never seen a boat come into port there before.

Our get-away wasn’t the hiking trip we’d originally envisioned.  But neither of us minded the short bursts of hiking interspersed with photography and some creature comforts.  In fact, we quite enjoyed it.

Sharing my passions

As any good Grandma, I eagerly awaited the weekend when my daughter and her husband were coming to stay with their two young children – my grandkids. My favorite part of those weekends is sharing my favorite interests with those toddlers.

The preparations started long before, when I IMG_2944pulled out my sewing machine and brushed up my embroidery skills to make personalized aprons for the kids.  They both love to bake, as I do, and I couldn’t wait to surprise them with the matching aprons.  And of course I had several baking projects lined up.  They are eager helpers, and willingly donned their new aprons.  But there is no question that licking the bowl was the best part.  Who can argue with that?IMG_0017

No day in Duluth is complete without a visit to the Lake.  I run or cycle by it daily and savor its many moods.  Even on a dreary day, Ben was eager to throw rocks in the lake.  This time he took a liking to the large boulders as well, scaling their heights fearlessly.

I did reserve some mother-daughter time to goIMG_0486 for a run with my daughter, Karen.  That’s a passion I passed on to her, and between my aging body and her busy working mommy life our paces still manage to stay close enough to run and talk.  That’s our special time together.  The grandkids aren’t quite ready to join us yet, but don’t tell Mya.  She thinks she is.

IMG_2922Even Rich was not immune to the inquisitive young minds.  Each morning his favorite birdwatching perch on the window seat was invaded by the little ones.  He willingly pointed out the various species out in his beloved bird feeders, sharing on his own personal interest.  I don’t know which held their attention more, the birds or the antics of the squirrels.  But they were precious moments together.

I’m already anticipating their next visit.  Hopefully by then we’ll have snow on the ground.  That opens up a whole new world of passions to share.

Winter by degrees

It’s inevitable.  Winter is coming.  There are some who would rush the season (I live with one) and wish for piles of snow for skiing right away.  But I can wait.  I prefer to linger in the seasonal changes from fall to winter, seeing the surroundings change with the weather.

The sudden dip in temperatures thisIMG_2897 last week has already transformed Amity Creek.  I expected isolated icy spots, so I was amazed when I found that the river is largely iced over in places. Not only that, but the ice is already crusted with thick snowy-white frost.  The vivid white stands out in sharp contrast to the drab weathered leaves and barren trees surrounding it, creating a stark visual path where the creek snakes through the woods.  It’s more visible than at any other time of the year.

The sound of rushing water persist, even under the ice and in the openings.  Following the creek down closer to Lake Superior, I find more open water where the sun has penetrated the ravine.  There I find what I’m really looking for – delicate ice lace.  The artwork created by the water, the sun and the freezing temperatures is exquisite – far better than my camera can capture.  But I delight in the patterns and shapes I find.IMG_2901IMG_2907

IMG_2910Full fledged winter will come soon enough.  And it will bring its own visual delights.  For now, I’m content to watch the transformation by degrees.

Happy to Fall Back

There are a lot of things to like about going off Daylight Savings Time.  At least if you’re a morning person.  This week I have been relishing the perks of changing the clock so that everything is an hour earlier than it was last week.

I love early mornings.  I’m not the best at getting out of bed, however.  So fooling my internal clock to get up at 6:15 when it feels like 7:15 is a good thing.  I’ve been able to retrieve that morning hour that slipped away all to easily when I hit the snooze button too many times.  Being up before much of the world is out and about is a great feeling.

I feel so productive when I get rolling first thing in the morning.  I hit the ground running and attack the day.  I’m pumped when I’ve gotten a whole lot done by mid-morning.  Only then do I feel I’ve earned the right to brew my coffee and savor it with a fresh batch of muffins.

My favorite early morning activity is to go out for my workout.  Run, cycle or ski – if the weather is at all accomodating, you’ll find me out there.  Which is another reason to love the time change.  I can leave behind the headlamp I’ve needed for the last few weeks, and actually see my surroundings when I leave home.  I know I’m not the only one enjoying it – the morning population on the lakewalk has boomed this week as well.  We’ve all been out there enjoying the beautiful glow of the sun’s rays at its low angle, illuminating the last remaining colorful leaves along the shoreline.  I realize that it’s a temporary blessing.  The inexorable creep of darkness accompanying the shorting of the days will reclaim my morning light in a few short weeks.  But I will enjoy the reprieve in the meantime.

There are benefits on the other end of the day as well.  My nocturnal habits are more easily curbed when it seems to have been dark forever, and I might entertain hitting the hay at a more reasonable hour.  At least for a while, until I adjust to the new normal.  Better yet, pursuing night time photography needn’t wait until an absurdly late hour.  The sky is plenty dark for illuminated landscapes or starry portraits in the early evening.  Waiting for the Northern Lights is another matter entirely, but I’m reasonable enough not to expect the clock change to remedy everything.

Yes, in my book there is a whole lot more than one hour gained by turning the clocks back.  And you can probably guess that I’m not to fond of springing forward.

In the Dark

There are certain hazards being married to someone who is fascinated with seeing and photographing the Northern Lights.  Being kept outside in the dark in the wee hours of the morning is one of them.  Granted, I don’t have to go along on those nocturnal excursions, and if the odds of seeing anything are poor I tend to exercise more restraint and stay home.  But being a neophyte photographer myself, and enamored with the elusive night time glow, I do accompany him on many of these outings.

Recently he discovered he had company. A lot of it.  The Great Lakes Aurora Hunters is a group of photographers from across the Midwest dedicated to finding and capturing images of the Northern Lights.  And last weekend they convened in Two Harbors to network, share techniques and hopefully see the elusive Aurora Borealis.  We joined them for a photo shoot on Saturday night.

The timing and location were carefully selected.  It was a full moon, so there would be no competition from that bright orb.  And our destination was deep in the countryside, far away from the light pollution of any city.  We headed inland and drove for miles on a long dirt road.  The further we went, the narrower and more rutted it became.  But still we inched on.  Although we had been strongly encouraged to carpool in order to reduce the number of cars, our caravan still stretched 20 cars or so.  We thought it must have been a strange sight for locals who may not see that many vehicles in a week.

Arriving at our photo spot, we had to agree it was excellent.  We had a long accessible stretch of shoreline facing north, which could easily accommodate the large numbers of photographers and tripods.  The darkness was absolute, and it was an eerie feeling to be out among so many people, camped behind their tripods in spots we could barely see.  We could hear voices and cheerful chitchat among members of the group, but there were few other clues to tell us where they were.  Carving out a spot for ourselves on the shore of the lake, we set up our cameras.

The weather was perfect – no wind, clear skies, calm water for beautiful reflections, and a modest chill in the 27 degree air.  The night had everything – except the Northern Lights.  That was no real surprise, however, as all of the forecasts showed a distinct lack of activity.  But that didn’t deter the group.  The stars were glorious, and nicely reflected in the lake.  The path of the Milky Way shone clearly across the sky.  And the Big Dipper was in strong evidence.  Occasionally we’d see a shooting star, and a cry would go out “Did anyone get that?”  We took photos over the lake, then turned our cameras to frame the stars over the trees on the other side.  We tested different settings and angles.  We chatted with others in the group. But eventually our interest waned.  Our fingers cold and our brains weary, we were ready to be done.  We could see that this was a hard core group, likely to be out there for hours yet, and we just didn’t have it in us.  The only trick was extricating our car without making enemies of the rest of the group by ruining their photos.  Slowly we threaded our way back through the photographers by the the faint glow of our parking lights, catching brief glimpses of more people and tripods than we knew were there.  They seemed docile enough, so we can only assume we exited the scene gracefully.

As it turns out, my photographs weren’t very good.  They looked a whole lot better on the camera LCD than they did on my computer screen.  But I chalk it up to a learning experience.  And going out with the group proved to be inspiring as well as educational.  Rich fared better, especially after he did a bit of post-processing on his shots…

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Hopefully by the next time we actually see the Northern Lights, I’ll be better at my photography techniques.  Heaven knows, I’ve had enough practice out in the dark.

A Tricky Halloween

Sometimes you just have to do what you need to do.  And Halloween was one of those times.  For the last three years we have gone over to our daughter’s house for Halloween to have chili for dinner and go out Trick or Treating with them and their kids.  The first year Ben was only 5 months old, but he had a costume, and we just went to the houses of two neighborhood friends.  But it was still Trick or Treating.

Now that we are in Duluth full time, it’s not like we can hop across the Twin Cities to join in the festivities.  So we thought we’d pass this year.  But as the date loomed closer, I began to get itchy.  Keeping an eye on the calendar as each day passed, I kept pondering the opportunity.  By two days before Halloween, I knew I had to go.  Rich was lukewarm on the idea, but that didn’t deter me.  After all, it was my passion that had been quietly simmering not his.  And there was a certain appeal to making the trip on my own – what better opportunity to squeeze in a shopping trip at the same time?  And I could hang around with the grandkids as long as I liked, operating on my own timeline.

Our daughter Karen was thrilled at the turn-about and we quickly laid plans.  I arrived in time to make some fresh cornbread for the chili dinner and was there to see the kids’ excitement and anticipation of the big night.

DSCN9683 trimmedOf course, nothing ever goes quite according to plan.  After days of anticipation and practice Trick or Treating with Mom and Dad, 3-year-old Ben grew anxious when the real event arrived.  He declined to wear any of his previous choices of costume, finally consenting to wear a Batman shirt.  Mya was a bundle of wiggly energy, but at least tolerated her bumble bee outfit.  It was a rocky start, but Ben eventually warmed up to the concept and was soon chasing the other kids from house to house and saying his Trick or Treat’s and Thank You’s as loud as any other kid.  Whew, a happy turnaround.IMG_0463 trimmedIMG_0466 trimmed


There’s nothing like pawing through a pile of DSCN9691candy, all in bright wrappers.  Ben and Mya were captivated by the activity, although not too distracted to miss sampling the goodies inside.  Being the grandma, I could let Mommy and Daddy be the portion police, and just enjoy the show.DSCN9694compressed

Transitioning from a sugar high to quiet reading for bedtime was accomplished with less fuss than I might have expected. And I can never resist those precious warm bodies pressing close to my sides to take in the story books.

The decision wasn’t really so tricky after all.  I just had to follow my heart.  And I already know where I will be next Halloween.  Trick or Treat!