Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Visual Weave

Last week a good friend and exceptional writer, Jeff Rennicke, posted some new photographs he had taken of seagulls in his hometown of Bayfield, Wisconsin. The images were some of the best seagull images I've even seen. I know, you are thinking seagull photos? Well, Jeff had elevated a common subject to a new and exciting level. I wish I had one of those images here to share with you. I'll contact Jeff to see if I can't obtain one to post here later. But, I do have a comment that Jeff had written about his seagull images;

"One thing I love about photography is how it forces me to "re-look" at common things. Living in Bayfield, I've seen gulls probably every day for 20 years and they always seemed pretty common but my camera gives me a chance to "re-look" and see beyond my own ignorance."

Jeff has always had an interest in photography and has become quite an accomplished shooter.
That's a little scary for folks like myself since now he can photograph his own stories! As Jeff's vision has improved so has his excitement and motivation to carry his camera everywhere. I wrote back to Jeff responding to the quote on his posting with that photograph of seagulls;

"Hey Jeff, You've made that wonderful and important transition with your photography. The camera is no longer an instrument of recording. It has become an extension of your mind and soul. The path you take now needs to be a personal one absent of influence to reach that goal of developing a style. You are clearly on your way."

Its so exciting to see Jeff reach that level of developing a style. Photographing not only what he see's but what he feels. Like the strings on a guitar making music, his camera is now a vehicle for self expression.

So many beginning shooters are looking for the "pretty picture" and often times miss those simple details that can communicate a mood instantly right in front of them. Mark Twain's quote "You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" has always been a favorite. As visual communicators its our mission to examine the environment around us and make choices about what and how to photograph to communicate our thoughts to an audience. Different photographers choose assorted ways to express their visions. Some focus on the broad picture, others search inside the macro approach while others might simply seek quality of light to express their visions. One of the greatest photographers living today, William Albert Allard, comments about he likes to photograph on the edge of situations. I've always found this area to rich in material as well.

Creating images for this new book, tentatively titled "PADDLE NORTH-Canoeing Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quetico Wilderness" its been my mission to create a series of moods and informational imagery surrounding text exploring various aspects of the BWCA wilderness. First goal; not to be repetitive in any of the images. This is a difficult task considering everything takes place on and around the water. But, its those little things that bring home the BWCA experience to the reader. Sitting at a portage resting and seeing a tiny clump of water grasses reflecting on the lake, muddy footprints on the portage, fabulous clouds
competing with the tops of radical Jackpines are all ingredients for a diverse examination of this wilderness. This tiny details are the BWCA experience. Not just the pretty sunrise and sunsets. In fact, I doubt you'll see one image like that in this book. I often tell participants in my photoworkshops that at sunrise and sunsets turn your back on the sun. That's where the great light lives! Yet, another example of photographing on the edges.

Jeff and I collaborated on a wonderful book several years ago detailing life in the Apostle Islands. The book, "Jewels On The Water-Lake Superior's Apostle Islands" is a definitive
look at the Apostles and island life. I've enclosed a photo of the cover here along with a
image or two from the book. Jeff's words bring to life the Lake Superior experience that is the Apostles. Its a good example to see that those little details and moods are such an integral part of photographic coverage on any project.

I'm thrilled to have worked on this book with Jeff. Especially now that his photography
has reached new plateaus. Heck, he'll be doing his own books now!

Lastly, there are moments in a photographers journey within a project that a particular moment just cries out with relevance. So much time photographing the area in all seasons, one would thing that a cover image would emerge. Yet for me, one had not surfaced. I've shot hundreds and hundreds of fine images, all strong in their respective form of communication, but not cover worthy. Then, on my last shoot of season, sitting at a portage off the Gunflint Trail, the ground was frozen, small puddles were already icing over, one of our paddling partners was preparing to load his canoe and head out across the lake. His boat was a beautiful birch bark canoe, he was stepping towards his vessel with gorgeous light bathing the side of such a classic canoe. It was a contrasty and low light scene. I grabbed my camera and instantly knew this was a cover. The combination of light, gear, the birch bark, the angle of the lens, all spoke volumes to me about the BWCA experience. It was that romance we all seek when we go there. Seeing this scence unfold in front me completed the project for me. In 1/30th of a second I felt I had captured both the history and mood that is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Now,
I need to convince others who were less receptive to the richness in this visual moment.

Ah, the beat goes on!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter's Beauty

There's no question that I really enjoy the winter season. I grew up in Alaska so winter is nothing new to me. In fact, I embrace the winter season and feel privileged to see a full four seasons here in Minnesota.

What is it about winter that stirs something deep inside us? For me, it's a number of tiny treasures that light the soul. I think at the top of the list would be the silence that comes with winter. Snowshoeing into the BWCA on a crisp February day you can stop and hear only your heartbeat. The insulation of the snow traps the normal sounds. There are no leaves, no waves,
and few voices. Its a real treat.

Second for me is the ice. I love ice. Perhaps its a photographic thing. That translucent quality and visual pleasure that ice brings to the eyes is mesmerizing. Assorted hues and colors dance while playing off the light. That gem like sheen and softness begged to be touched. I see a broken sheet of ice sticking on a lake or shore and I make tracks right to it.

And lastly, the primeval aspects of winter stir the mind in ways non-winter climates will never showcase. Winter camping in the BWCA touches the considerations of survival. Things like wind play a huge factor in many daily decisions. The thickness of lake ice, depth of snow, and carrying of gear all contribute to how a trip will be endured. Tackling a winter camping experience is rewarding and educational on so many levels.

It would be shame if a book on the BWCA excluded the frozen season. We decided early on that a chapter on winter will part of this BWCA/Quetico book experience. We'll be focusing on dogsledding as the vehicle to take us there. With that will come excitement, silence, and textures only winter can bring on. Here's a few examples. More winter discussions to follow soon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fall Moves Into Winter

We experienced an unusually warm November this year. I had planned on photographing someone paddling in a snowstorm but the warm and usually snowy November produced little or no snow. Then, when we did get snow but it came at night. Dang!

Right after the snows, the arctic clipper arrived, ice formed and my chance was gone. This is the way of photography. You want to be everywhere for everything. Its just not reality. Sometimes one gets away.

One that didn't get away was capturing the art of netting Whitefish in the BWCA. A practice I did not know anyone still did. After some research I found that Erik Simula still nets. I hooked up with Erik and spent two nights in the BWCA photographing the process of netting. It was great to observe and the size of the whitefish was impressive. Erik had mentioned if he got 5-6 fish he'd be really happy. I had no idea what to expect. I felt 5-6 would be a bad day. Then, I saw the size of the fish and it all made sense. Many more and it would have been difficult to haul out!

Whitefish I'm told is a rather fatty fish thus is very good for smoking the fish. Erik uses the fish he nets for food over the course of the winter. As a photographer, I couldn't have been happier to see Erik using a traditional birch bark canoe for this. It simply made the images more romantic and captured the mood of days gone by.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The Negative is the Score, the Print the Performance"

Isn't that a fabulous quote from photographer Ansel Adams? Adam's of course was revealing the process of creating a photograph. But, this wonderful thought is applicable to so many aspects in our busy lives. It is also an appropriate phrase for producing a book. I've been asked numerous times how a book like this is put together.

Wow, that's a loaded question.

There's a lot that goes into creating a book that is never seen. And, that's a good thing. Being on this side of the fence and seeing all that goes into the process of gathering materials, research, trips, camera, lens & digital costs, preproduction, postproduction, design, editing, ect. is overwhelming at times. All I can say is the price you pay for most books is truly a bargain.

Producing a book is akin to a musician creating an album. Think of all the musicians, song writers, sound engineers, promotion people, concerts, instruments, all combining to put out an album. And, when in the hands of dedicated people who love their respective jobs, a fine product is born. I feel this comfort and dedication with those I work with at Borealis Books, a publishing division of the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

For photographing a book on canoe country we are rapidly closing out the season for visual coverage as fall leaves continue to drop and snow has landed in the northern reaches of the State. I'm comfortable with the summer coverage but like most shooters I know, I wish I could be everywhere all the time. I feel I am always missing great images because I am not there when wonderful moments happen.

Its just the way it is. We can't be everywhere all the time.

So, we pick our spots and work within the economic timetable allowed. I try to peek under every stone and obtain visual coverage of everything I feel is significant whenever possible. The most frustrating part of creating images for a book like this is leaving the area knowing there will be be situations we want to experience and capture with our lenses. It stresses me to miss

Basically, all books begin with an idea. Writer Greg Breining and I have chatted about a book on canoe country for years. The same was true with our recent book on the culture on ice fishing, "A HARD WATER WORLD." There are lots of books on the how-to aspects of ice fishing. Greg and I were more interested in the cultural nature of the sport. Report on the wild and whacky, those dedicated folks who live in the boreal ring of ice and why do they do it. The book has been a wonderful success and we're using that same approach with this book on canoe country.

First, we look for publications on the subject of canoeing already out there. We needed to come up with an idea that was fresh and would not compete with existing titles. We've broken down the theme into chapters that will explore the myriad of life in canoe country. For example, we'll look at things like mood, history, seasons, and ecology. And, we've kept the effort close to home. This will be a regional book. Can you imagine the costs and time necessary for a book on canoeing with a national scope? You'd need to travel so many places spending what would seem like seconds in one area only to move on to another in order to finish all the locations where people love to paddle. Coverage would be thin and much lost in missing those experiences in such famed and historical areas like the Adirondacks, Arkansas, and Alaska to name a few. There's not a publisher out there who could afford to produce such a book. It makes more sense to stay regional. We are blessed in our region with the likes of the famed Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and Quetico Provincial Park. The rich voyageur history and over a quarter million annual visitors make this area a compelling reason to do a book.

Coverage? Another loaded question. What do you cover when examining a region like this? One could take on any number of pursuits. It could be focused simply on plant life or fishing, old resorts, camping, wilderness, ect. A tremendous amount of time could be spent investigating all of these topics and each could actually prove to be a book all on its own. Our approach is an overview of personal experiences, usage, history and mood. It will blend a fine mix of informational and emotional themes.

Most books projects I've worked on there's been a strong connection with the writer and myself. We seek to have words and images form a marriage. We want different personalities and perspectives merging without repetition. We seek fresh insights coming from both words and images. This effort has been a bit different than others. I've not heard from writer Greg Breining all summer on what he's covering. This of course might make me a bit nervous since this is my key season for creating visuals. However, Greg and I have worked together enough on varied projects around the planet for two decades that we carry a sixth sense between us. Still, we are excited when we see each others work melt together to carry a topic to new heights. We still enjoy learning from each others work. And ultimately, this is our goal for readers.

I've still got some time left before the lakes freeze over and I plan on shooting addt'l images
during the seasonal transition. Rest assured we'll not forget winter. We'll have a chapter on dogsledding in this book too. After all, we use our frozen canoe country in very exciting and richly rewarding fashion too.

In the meantime, a glance back at a few treasures in canoe country.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Winter Visits Today

Today, I awoke to our first snow of the season. Its October 12th. Yikes.
Fear not, its only a temporary peek at life in the Northland. It'll all be gone tomorrow.

What it did for me was kick-start my excitement towards the new season. And my anxiety.
I have this photograph dancing in my mind that I have not exposed yet. I want to capture a canoer on the water paddling in an all out near white-out snowfall. Its glued to my brain and I can't get it out.

Timing is everything.

You need to be at the right place at the right time. I'll keep seeking the right time. In the meantime, I couldn't resist going out this morning and playing with lens and light with the first flakes of the year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Goodbye Summer-Hello Fall

The defined seasons we experience here in canoe country are always a treat. At times the transition is slow and others the change is overnight. I'll miss wearing the Teva's for the summer. But, strapping on warm boots is in itself a treat too.

One of my biggest goals this Fall season for the book coverage is acquire an image I've always wanted; A canoe in a snowstorm. Not just a few flakes but a full fledged white out. How cool would that be to bring the transition to our chapter on winter in this region? Plan on a exciting look at dogsledding in canoe country for the winter coverage of life in canoe country's frozen season.

Monday, September 21, 2009

f/8 And Be There

Early in my photographic journey there was a saying; "f/8 And Be There."
It had relevance to us shooters because at that time f/8 was considered to be the critical aperture for all our lenses. In other words, the lens setting that gave us the sharpest image.
"Be There" was easy. Great photographs happen when you're out there looking for them.

I hear on occasion shooters complain that they are in a rut. Ideas for subjects are not flowing and their minds feel visually empty. My response has always been the same. "GO OUT AND SHOOT." Its amazing how quickly the brain clicks back in creative mode and everything else forgotten and the joys of creating, of seeing, are renewed. It's f/8 and be there!

Last week I was on assignment for a magazine article on the PMA (Primitive Mgt. Area)
areas of the BWCA. Much of the PMA area we paddled and bushwhacked in to was badly burned in the two most recent fires in the BWCA. I cannot share those images at this time but the devastation and most recent fire, the Ham Lake Fire, was an event I can share.

I was in the BWCA early May 2007 along with writer Gus Axelson and renowned scientist Lee Frelich working a story on the effects of global warming in the boreal forest. We entered Seagull Lake at the end of the Gunflint Trail in N.E. Minnesota two days after the ice had gone out. Water temps were dangerously cold yet strong winds coming out of the South were unusually warm. Nearly 75 degrees. This is rare and a bit unnerving this time of year. Even though the air temps felt warm capsizing in these waters meant the quick onslaught of hypothermia. A life threatening situation in waters close to 38 degrees F. Staying close to shores and not taking senseless risks were on our minds.

The winds howled hard all night. We pitched tents on North sloping hills to block the winds on Three Mile Island. We awoke the next morning to continued winds and a small plume of smoke just to our south. We were surprised to see the smoke since we felt we were the only ones in this area of the BWCA at this time. After all, the ice had just gone out a few days earlier. We kept an eye on the smoke and within hours it had grown to one quarter of the sky. By evening, the smoke overtook the skies.

We had moved our camp away from Three Mile Island to the North side of Seagull Lake. The winds never abated and with the fires approaching and cold water conditions keeping us in camp, we were trapped. It lasted for three more days before we could finally paddle out. All of the area around us, those areas we paddled past to begin the trip, were now either burnt or still burning. I just couldn't wrap my brain around what was happening. Gus and I hiked to the top of a ridge on the second evening to scan the horizon at midnight. The landscape was so bright from the flame lite smoke we didn't even need headlamps. The views were both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Its a moment I won't soon forget.

It wasn't until we left Seagull Lake, met by Forest Service employees about ready to paddle in to get us, who then escorted us out and down the Gunflint Trail that we began to realize the impact of the fire. The homes of friends & outfitters, were burned to ground. We came across a fox on the side of the road unable to move because it's foot pads were so badly burnt. We tend to forget about the wildlife that suffers in fires too. I doubt this fox survived the day.

Our minds were so wrapped up in the daily fire issues, the wind observations, evac plans, and at times covering our faces to keep the acrid smoke from burning our throats, we lost track of any emotions surrounding the days and nights. It was'nt until we were out, under escort, that suddenly the realization of the magnitude of this fire and the consequences of such fires hit. I checked messages once I got a signal again and so many messages awaited concerning our fate. Family and friends 300 miles away in Minneapolis knew we were in that area. They hadn't heard from any of us for days. This provided more fuel for the emotions and realization that this was a big, very big fire. So large, that satelite images picked it up as well.

The fire continued to burn for another month jumping back and forth across the Minnesota/Canada border. Many areas were burnt down to the bedrock and will take centuries to recover. Most of the BWCA does not have soil. The areas where trees and plants cling to life against the Saganga batholith granite comes from decayed organic material that took hundreds of years to build even the shallowest depth. Its still too early to know, but the landscape could be changed forever. This new sight is beautiful in a new way, but certainly changed from the way we knew it.

Wild fires are such a integral part of wilderness ecosystems that we will feature the
destroy/renew aspects of this natural beast in a chapter in the book.

Nature at work. F/8 and be there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario

Paddling and portaging through 13 lakes to reach our destination, Kahshahpiwi Lake, in Quetico (Canada's extension of the BWCA) was no easy task. Even in Bob Beymer's book "A Paddling Guide To Quetico Provincial Park" he describes this route as challenging. If you single portage this trip (carrying all your gear and canoes across rocky, hilly paths through the forest that connects lakes) you are looking at 13 in and 13 out. That's hard to do with photography equipment. If you double portage, that's 26 in and 26 out. If you triple portage, plan for an exhausting 39 portages in and 39 portages out. Yes, that's correct, it would be 78 portages. Yikes!

I won't say which count we fell into but I'm pretty sure I'm 2 inches shorter today than I was two weeks ago.

This lake has always been a personal destination for me. Its long narrow stretch running
North-South with steep topographical lines adjacent to the shore present a real beauty on the map. The real Kahshahpiwi doesn't disappoint.

Campsites were tough to find due to the steepness of the shore's pink granite walls and only a few gentle slopes allowed good camp spots. Recent fires had burned the eastern cliffs down to bare stone and one odd, clump of green trees caught our eye. We got lucky. This clump was a five star campsite elevated about 20 feet up from the lake but with flat tent spots and ample tree cover. Even the fire pit was a piece of art. I think this spot is visited frequently and kept up to higher standards by serious canoeists.

Working so hard to get to such beautiful places quickly brings to the surface those simple things that really bring pleasure. One, after a long day of stepping in and out of mucky water and having wet feet for 6-8 hours, dry socks plant a smile on one's face when finally at camp. Also, drinking clear, cold water from the lakes quenches the thirst. We did filter all our water with MSR's wonderful pump filter, and drinking this cold water and feeling secure no micro organisms would take us down added to the intake and smiles. And, before I forget, the simplest of all pleasures on the portage was that site of a bright light beaming through the forest providing that glimpse of the lake you were carrying your canoe towards. You realized you were only a few steps away from putting the beast down.

Out of 11 days we only ate dinner three times during daylight hours. We were either finding our camps late, out fishing or photographing. One thing was constant. We always ended each day around the campfire. I must say I enjoyed the discussions. I learned new details about each paddler and invariably with these conversations past memories located deep in your own mind
rose back to the surface and funny stories would be exchanged. It really builds a unified camp to know each other had unique wilderness experiences.

Putting the physical and mechanical portions of the trip aside, the real joy spending time deep in the wild is what wilderness brings. Twice we heard wolf packs howling in the dark hours. We enjoyed a full moon rising over our campfire early in the trip only to see darkness slowly arrive a little later each night allowing the stars a chance to speak too. The iconic calls of the loons heard day and night, and the tiny northern pike swimming in the shallows that look a lot like alligators without legs all made their own impressions. The hundreds of mushroom species
lighting up the portage trails with their unique color and forms, the emerald green color of the lake water. One highlight was the black bear. Whenever you mention black bear to someone who camps in the BWCA/Quetico thoughts immediately dance inside a campsite. Well, I'm pleased to say that this sighting was just that. A black bear wandered the burned hillside adjacent to our camp on Kahshahpiwi. The bear walked along grabbing berry bushes and pulling them towards his face with his paws. He'd go up, then down and at a slow pace. All this time he never noticed that four men were watching his every move with great excitement. finally, he spotted us. He slowly climbed to the top of the ridge, stopped, turned around and plopped down like a hound dog on the porch waiting for his master to come home. He watched us for almost an hour before either hunger or watching us break camp bored him. It was such a treat to not have an encounter but to enjoy such a wonderful wildlife observation. All these simple moments combined were the perfect ingredients for a damn good canoe trip.

When shooting on trips like this I use my Lowe Nature Trekker II camera pack because I can carry it on my back and its nearly waterproof. An important asset on these water based trips. Its so easy to carry lots of gear and using it as a small backpack I was able to carry both canoe and cameras on each portage. I tried to jump on the portages first with hopes of catching wildlife on the trail or at the end of the portages. Its not uncommon to see moose or bear on portage trails.

The Quetico portion of this coverage for the canoeing book writer Greg Breining and I are working on will be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press is about complete from my end. I may squeeze in one more trip to the Lac La Croix area but its touch and go at this point. I still have other areas in the BWCA to photograph and will continue to shoot until the first ice closes off the lakes.

Here's a few images from the last two weeks in beautiful Quetico Provincial Park. More images and thoughts later. I need to repack for another morning departure.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quetico & Toast

Off for a 12 day canoe trip into Ontario's Quetico Provincial Park. Quetico is Minnesota's BWCA northern extension. Regulations are the same, no cans or bottles, no live bait of any kind, and surprisingly, its mostly U.S. folks paddling here. I asked a Canadian why this is and the response was well put; "why would we go here?.....Canada has so much to offer with her multitude of exceptional natural resources and beauty in easier places to get to." Point well taken. Canada is fabulous and I have always been a fan of this great land to our North. A neighbor I'm glad to have. And yes, I like the Red Green Show too! And, what about "Slapshot?" Canadian treasures for sure.

I'm excited to paddle this thin strip of water etched out of the bedrock with lots of lakes spawning off like flowers. Plenty to explore and experience. And, on the first starry night I will raise my cup in honor of a fallen friend.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Life Ain't Fair-A Terrible Loss

I have always approached life with two thoughts in mind; "You can't win if you don't enter" and "Life ain't fair." It keeps me grounded and puts things in perspective.

A communication to my office yesterday caused my heart to sink.

Will Powers, the Minnesota Historical Society Press Design and Production Manager died unexpectedly while vacationing at a family cabin in Canada.

I first met Will when he worked on my last book "A HARD WATER WORLD." A book that peeked into the whacky culture of ice fishing in North America and Russia. Within minutes of meeting with Will I knew this project was in good hands. I've never met anyone who could multi-task like this man, still smile and offer appreciations for the projects he was overseeing. He loved to talk about the photography and we engaged in conversations well beyond production lingo. Quite simply, he got it. It made me feel secure and I think he truly enjoyed participating in the works managed.

At the risk of revealing emotions so immediate after the news of this loss, I can't hold back. I liked Will. I feel like I need to call him today and ask him "what the heck are you doing?"
I can't believe he's gone. My frequent phone and email communications with Will allowed
an advance look into a relationship I believe was on a lifelong track. A valued friendship. I've tried to hold back the tears but the loss is real. I will miss him.

Working on a book project is no easy task. The pressure to find time, be in the right place at the right time, capturing the essence of your topic can be stressful. I want a perfect book. One that presents the topic in precise fashion. I don't photograph books for myself. I think I photograph them for the audience. I want to share these experiences with people. However, working with Will at the MHS Press, I think I was working hardest to please him. I knew if he liked what was coming in, I had done a good job. That inspired me in a quiet and fullfilling way.

There is no question in my heart to whom this book will be dedicated. Each and every image I create on this effort from here on out I will think of Will.

I wish like hell I could call and tell him this. I'm still in shock. Our know our paths will once again meet. Our common journey splits off here but will continue later.

I'll gaze into the night sky to say hello often. Safe travels my friend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ely, Minnesota

There is no question in your mind when you drive into Ely, Minnesota during the summer months you are in canoe country. Canoes are everywhere! On cars, next to buildings, outfitter after outfitter line Main Street. There's an energy bubbling over with excitement of folks beginning or ending canoe adventures that seeps into you.

I was driving down the Echo Trail, a long, long road North out of town where I was going to
visit some popular portage sites to photograph and I had WELY tuned in on the radio. The DJ was using a slogan that had me smiling each time I heard it; "In Ely, where every car has a canoe on top, every woman has a dog, and every man has a past." Too dang funny! Even the slogan for WELY is great: END OF THE ROAD RADIO. Fabulous!

I had stopped into PIRAGIS NORTHWOODS COMPANY store to purchase a few items and as always, am impressed with the quality of their wares. Their buyers sure know what they are doing there. A fine retail store and bookstore to browse and wet the northwoods appetite. Next door, the Chocolate Moose has incredible fresh pie. A real weakness of mine.

I had shot aerials over the Ely area this week, something I try to do on most stories, and I was surprised at the size of some of the bogs. As the prairie rolls eastward and meets the bedrock of the north and east the lowlands mix with the highlands. Its makes for lots of small rivers and boggy areas. Wildlife is abundant in these areas and one can see why this region is home to many of the State's wolf population. An amazing wilderness region rich with green and peat. I spotted the Little Indian Souix River from the airplane and snapped off a few frames. A beautiful meandering river filled with wild rice. One or two of the aerials will no doubt make the cut for the book.

Next, off to Quetico for addt'l coverage on the BWCA's neighbor to the North. There were already hints of Fall in some of the deciduous trees this week and a slight bite in the air at sunrise indicates that these times they are a'changin.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Erik Simula's Great Adventure

Once in a while on this job you meet someone who launches a project you wish you could join in on. Minnesota has so many talented and inspirational explorers. Polar trekkers Paul Schurke, Will Steeger, and Lonnie Dupre immediately come to mind. I've been lucky to have been part of some of those. In the course of developing this book on canoe country there are many historical and significant areas that demand coverage to offer the reader a complete perspective. Minnesota's GRAND PORTAGE in one of them.

Called the Voyageurs Highway, this string of lakes and rivers connecting inland waters to Lake Superior was a main travel route for trappers selling their wares. I spoke with friend Erik Simula last year as he worked on a birch bark canoe at the Grand Portage National Monument in Grand Portage, Minnesota. A skilled craftsman, Erik told me of a solo journey he was undertaking starting this Spring using one of his birch bark canoes. He was going to retrace routes taken by Voyageurs. A nearly 1,200 mile trip by himself and his dog, Kitigan. I wanted badly to ask to join along but with three kids in college and nearly three months gone from home didn't seem like a good enough reason to present the idea to my wife. So rather than scaring Erik with such a request, I settled for finding Erik on part of his journey and recording this for a portion of the book detailing the famed GRAND PORTAGE.

You can read all about Erik's jounrey on his blogsite:

You'll be able to read all about some of Erik's adventure in this new book to be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in the Fall of 2010. Author Greg Breining, who also joined me for our last book, A HARD WATER WORLD, a humerous book on the culture of ice fishing in North American and Russia, will work his magic on the chapter detailing the Grand Portage as well as many others. Don't miss it!

One of the images posted here will never see ink, but was exciting nonetheless. While traveling to the back roads of Partridge Falls Road looking for Erik, my daughter and I stumbled upon five wolf pups playing with wild abandon on the dirt road. By the time I jumped out, grabbed the camera only two pups were still visible. We never found Erik that morning but the wolf pups made my day.

Take a moment and read some of his journal writing. He stumbled into some pretty incredible and frightening experiences.

Congrat's Erik! I'm proud of your efforts my friend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sourdough Paddling

It was Sourdough Heaven on Lac La Croix this last week in the BWCA. Our guide Jason,, had been preparing a batch of 100 year old sourdough he split off from friends that originated from Judge Wickersham in Alaska. Since I grew up in Alaska and my mother used to make sourdough pancakes and breads all the time my ears and mouth opened wide. You can read more about his sourdough and its history by going to Jason's website, then over to his blog. Type in, sourdough, in the Search box and you'll easily find all about this wonderful century old batch of sourdough.

This trip was filled with lots of heat and humidity in the BWCA. In fact, most say it was the first week of summer. July was the coldest EVER on record. Swimming was part of everyday and the clear nights let us view amazing meteor showers. Thursday evening we saw at least 100 in just over an hour.

The bookproject is coming along piece by piece. This last week's visit to the famed pictographs on Lac La Croix's Canadian side of the the lake thrilled me. The cliff that the images are painted on is an iconic image in this region. Its been photographed, painted, and published hundreds of times. Rounding the corner of an island and getting that first glimpse of the cliff side, the immediate impact of something you've experience before was spectacular. It was comforting to see it and I can only imagine the early voyageurs felt the same way when this landmark came into view.

Wild rice was prevalent on this trip and should be able to harvest sometime in the next several weeks. It was flowering out now and with the tap of a finger, pollen dust would fly off the flowers.

Another hard fought trip in the books. Several more trips on the horizon. The real bonus on this trip, other than the fine company of my companions, was the trip to the Chocolate Moose in Ely for dinner on the way home. The fresh blueberry pie knocked my socks off. All the blueberries were picked from the area. Geez, I'm getting hungry again!

Friday, July 31, 2009

BWCA Photo Workshop

The timing is perfect for a new BWCA Photography Workshop. Crowds are down and the warm days and cool nights are ideal for shooting in this fabulous wilderness. Contact Jason at;

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The key to any book effort utilizing numerous images to help tell the story of a region is to keep the viewer interested in the subject matter. Wilderness images have a way of inviting readers into the scene. Photographs have that ability to remind us of past memorable trips and experiences and eliminating any repetitive visual moments is my goal. One wears a different hat in the woods than when driving to the ballpark in town. Observations and instincts are heightened, meals and weather are always on your mind, and watching nature interact can make one feel like a visitor.
The rewards are many.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blueberries are just on the edge of ready to pick. If you close yore eyes and take a deep
breath, you can almost smell the pie! Not surprising, most big berries are in the areas recently burned
by the Ham Lake fire where good exposure to the sun let them grow wild!

Photographing a book

Moving into the second month of shooting a new book on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for Borealis Books, a publishing arm of the Minnesota Historical Society Press that also includes Canada's wonderful Quetico Wilderness. Time is running short on summer months in the North with so much more to experience and photograph. The MHSP also published my last book "A HARD WATER WORLD" a peek at the culture of ice fishing. St. Paul based writer Greg Breining provided excellent essay's for the book. The MHSP did an outstanding job on that book and I'm thrilled to work with them and Greg Breining once again.