Friday, February 7, 2014

Standing in the middle of the river...

I have been looking back at my photos from past years to find something interesting to share and I came across a set of images from 02 February 2009.  I remember taking these photographs because of the unique circumstances.  A few days earlier, on January 27th, I had visited the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace preserve

I remember the temperature on January 27th was very cold for Mid-Michigan.  Looking at weather records for that date show a low temperature of about -5 degrees Fahrenheit at 9:00AM.  I snow-shoed from the parking area along the River Loop.  Even with the cold air temperatures, the river was flowing freely with only a little ice along the edges.  Because the river was warmer than the air temperature, vapor was rising up and condensing in the air over the river.  Some of it was forming hoarfrost on trees along the river.  A mostly sunny sky made for some nice pictures.

I took several pictures and an idea formed in my head.

When I went back to Sylvan Solace on February 2nd, I again snow-shoed from from the parking area to the river.  This time in addition to my camera gear, my backpack carried something else - a set of neoprene chest waders.  Even though it was warmer that morning (12 degrees Fahrenheit), I was hoping that vapor would again be rising from the river and I could get some photos of the fog forming over the river.

No such luck.  The air temperature was just a little too warm and the sun refused to come out from behind an overcast sky.

Even though my original plan was not going to work out, I still pulled on the waders and prepared to wade into the river.  As I was putting on my waders a small flock of Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser) swam swiftly out of sight down the river - I was able to snap a couple of hasty pictures as they disappeared around the bend.

Then I waded into the river... The neoprene blocked the cold.  I started looking around for photography subjects.  A whole new world of possibilities opened up.

First a couple of landscape images - the river up and downstream.

The view upstream from the center of the river

The downstream view
Unlike a few days before, there was nothing special about the landscape on this day.  The clouds were too thick.  The light was too flat.  I turned my attention elsewhere.

How about straight down...

Gravel bottom, oak leaf, and ripples
I started looking for interesting subjects on the river bottom.  Along the near shoreline there was a grouping of empty freshwater mussel shells and driftwood.  Grasses draping down from the bank added another interesting dimension to the image.

Freshwater mussels near a cut bank

Driftwood and mussels
The far bank was covered with a dense growth of Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis).

Northern White Cedar on the opposite bank

Cedar roots and reflections
By this point, the sky had developed a little bit more contrast.  Some of the clouds were darker, but in other areas the sky was opening up, allowing the sun to peek through.

A view downstream - The sky was a little more interesting at this point

Snags and reflections
A single male Common Merganser decided to make an appearance.  He was not expecting a human standing in the river with a camera on a tripod.  After a few seconds of confused swimming around, he flew/swam quickly back upstream and out of sight.
Common Merganser drake

Hurrying back upstream - Common Merganser drake
By this point, the cold was starting to seep through my waders.  My toes were beginning to numb and wiggling them was not warming them back up.  I walked back toward the near bank and sought out a few more pictures, knowing that I would soon need to get out of the water.

Branches, ice, snow, and water

Ice and snow

Flowing forms of grass and driftwood
Some of my favorite pictures of the day were the last ones that I took right before I climbed out of the water.  I really like how the movement of the water blurs the driftwood and mussel shells, making this set of pictures look almost like they were painted.

Driftwood and freshwater mussels - I really like the painterly qualities of this image
By now, my feet were completely numb from cold.  They were glad to get out of the icy water and back up on shore.  Altogether I spent about 30 minutes standing in the middle of the river taking photographs.  Five years later, looking back at these photos brings the cold and quiet of that Winter morning right back to the front of my mind.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful pictures taken at a time and from a perspective that few experience. With the exception of the gun deer season from November 15 - 30, the Sylvan Solace preserve is open to the public year-round. More information about the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy is available on their website,, of their Facebook page, Watershed Conservancy.