My Camera and I… Part 1.

It’s usually a day when I’ve had a lot of time to think or a night where there’s a calmness – an ethereal draw to the night sky.  Perfectly clear, not nearly… might clear up later.  What time is it?  No clock around.  Oh, my cell phone has a clock.  I’ll bring that.  It’s got a light, too, I might need that.  Grab the pelican case.  It’s got 18, 24, 50, 100, 35-70, and a 70-210mm lenses in there, along with a Nikon D7000 I’ve had for two years now.

Pelican Cases ready to go

I keep all my stuff in Pelican Cases. The big one is now a suitcase, though.

At that point, it’s probably 11:00 at night, maybe later.  It depends.  I’ll probably grab a water, a root beer (maybe two), and throw my stuff in the car.  What else I’ll need: a headlamp, bug spray, a tripod, the camera case will serve as a chair, if I even use one.  Then it’s off to find a spot.  A couple times I’ve brought headphones to listen to music, but mostly, especially if I’m deep, outside the city, I won’t need headphones… the outdoors will provide the soundtrack.

My car under the stars

My Focus has been a champ the last three years.

The last time I was out, it was a night with lightning in the distance, near Duck Lake State Park in Muskegon County, Michigan.  It was a little damp.  Rained earlier.  There’s a little tiny spot called Marcus Park on the southern end of the park, a bit of land donated by my late neighbors, Ben and Ruth Marcus from way back when.  I pulled my little car up into a sandy spot, hauled out a 24mm and a 50mm, a lens cloth.  After setting the camera up on the tripod, I took a few steps back, and sprayed a healthy (?) dose of DEEP WOODS OFF into a fury in front of me and quickly ran through the cloud I created.  I did this twice.  Then I wiped the excess off my hands, grabbed the camera and tripod, turned on my head lamp, and marched towards the woods where I knew and old path to a fairly secluded part of Duck Lake was supposed to be.

Marcus Park view of Duck Lake

Marcus Park, on the southern end of Duck Lake.

After having located the path, I made my way around through the rather thick, short trees and shrubs that now guard the entrance to the other side of the park.  It’s pretty dense here and I doubt too many folks are going to head to this part without any shoes.  Tonight, I’m wearing paratrooper boots.  Guess were testing how water resistant they are!

Duck Lake

The Moon reflecting off the reeds in Duck Lake on a secluded shoreline to the south.

The frogs are croaking pretty loudly at this point, and with no wind and a breeze to speak of, their calls have little competition in the night air.  From time to time I can hear the sound of a frog leaping several times through the water: “thop, thop, thop!”  Beyond that, it’s dead quiet.  Lightening is far, far off in the distance, but the sky directly above me is clear.  Something else, though: a mist is rising off the lake, barely visible with the naked eye in the darkness of night.  The Moon is struggling to come through some low-hanging clouds on the horizon; it’ll be up soon.  I set up along a small inlet full of lily pads.  The frogs are constant.  There’s a haze.  I make sure the fog isn’t condensing on the lens.  I guess at an appropriate ISO: 1600.  I set the f-stop to 2.0.  I lock the tripod.  Frame a shot of the small inlet with the trees in the background.  I take my first shot of the night…

Duck Lake Inlet at night with lily pads

First shot of the night: lily pads on a small inlet.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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The Endless Horizon

Lucky doesn’t begin to describe it.

I grew up in the woods, surrounded by massive beech, pine, oak, maple, hemlocks, hardwoods, softwoods, ferns, pricker bushes… and on one side of the property an endless horizon: Lake Michigan, extending as far into the distance as you could see. As far as you could imagine. It hummed when it was calm, hissed when it was angry, roared when it was excited. 180 degrees of the surrounding world. Always changing, evolving, shaping the shoreline, dropping things off from afar like a tree or part of a shipwreck, maybe. Like a cat, dropping off a “present” at your doorstep, the lake was always bringing something new.

Lake Michigan

That does something to your psychology as you develop your understanding of the world. What’s on the other side? I can make it whatever I want it to be. Maybe there is no other side. Maybe there’s a city run by pirates. Maybe there’s sea creatures out there.

I got to decide what was out there. I still do. Every time I have the opportunity to sit on the shore of the amazing piece of property my parents were fortunate enough to purchase at a wholesale price 40 years ago, I have a surge of emotions, memories….

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I wish everybody could have this experience. It’s like a best friend, giving you a hug when you dive in, drift out, allowing the waves to toss you around. Rejuvenation. Connection. Electronics have no place here. It’s the Earth, its raw elements in sync, exchanging vibrations. You’ll suddenly feel extremely small. But extremely connected. Bobbing around, going down, rising, splashing, curving with the surf.

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Before I’d leave, I’d look back out on that vast expanse, thanking the chance of the experience, something I’ve done before, but is forever new. God, it’s great!

What’s on the other side of that horizon? It doesn’t matter. It’s always been whatever I wanted it to be. Whatever my imagination could conjure at the time.

I’ll be back. See you soon, my friend.

Let’s build a fort.

The Northern Lights  Aurora

View from where my tree house once stood. It’s still my favorite place to go. I could see the Northern Lights the other night.
Nikon D7000 / 24mm / f2 ISO 800 / 8 seconds

Those were words my friends heard a lot in those middle and high school years. I remember one time, a kid I hung out with regularly actually said to me “I didn’t come over to have to work”, as I insisted he dig his portion of a fox hole bigger. I loved digging. There was something about the smell of the dirt being exposed to the air for the first time that was raw, inviting. Good, clean, dirt. “Make that hole bigger.” I honestly didn’t know how to respond to my friend’s complaints that I was making them work. What were we supposed to be doing? Building a fort was an accomplishment. We could fill it with our supplies, defend it.  It would be ours. We just had to dig the hole big enough first.

I loved building forts. I think it was the sense of “staking your claim” to a small piece of earth. Pretending to defend it from the forces of the world. Imagined forces like armies, or real forces like heavy winds and rain. (I had more than a few “forts” not survive a storm. I would note the weak parts and try again, do it better.)

We didn’t stay friends unto our high school years. I was still digging holes then. Building forts. I think I was 20 the last time I built a tree house. Is that crazy? It was the best one yet.

A few years prior, when I was a kid, I had discovered these piles of rough sawn cedar just lying in the woods. They were there for years. Years! They were going to waste. No more.

The spot was found, tucked away between some other trees, but with a view of the dunes and stretching out to Lake Michigan. I wouldn’t build it very high, but it would have walls, windows, a walk-around deck. I even made a watch tower that you could sit on top of. My dad came out the spring break day (yes, this is what I was doing with my spring break) and he sat on the deck part, getting sun, while I continued to build walls, supports… I had basically made a small block house in the dunes. I was proud of it. At that time, I could sit with my dad, drink a Pepsi, look out at the view.

I go back to that spot, often. Like just the other night. The boards are all rotten, the walls fallen. It looks like someone used whatever is left for target practice. It’s a sad sight, but the memories remain. I’ll always remember the sun passing through the trees while I drove nails. The Pepsis I drank while I built it. The satisfied look on my dad’s face as he enjoyed the view from the small deck. I went back the other night to that spot to take some night photos. The Northern Lights were out. I was still as peaceful as ever. Still a place I’ll go to defend myself against the bad stuff of the world – real or imagined.

It’s my story. I’m going to make sure it’s worth telling.

David stands in the dunes along lake Michigan at night.

My favorite spot. A grassy dune near my parents’ home along Lake Michigan. A source for inspiration, wonder, curiosity, clarity since my youth.
Nikon D7000/ 24mm/ f2/ 8-seconds.

When I was a kid, my mom had to put a bell on my on door at night. Something to wake her up in case I had the impulse in the middle of the night to get out of bed in my PJs, crack open the front door, and wander around in the woods, in the snow, in whatever elements, generally still in my pajamas. Eventually, I just started using the window, which was only about 3 and a half feet from the ground. If I was grounded, I’d use that window as well. “Okay, you can send me to my room… but I’m going to jump out my window when I get bored with my LEGOs.” One time my mom traced me down to my neighbors house in the dead of winter. The snow banks were taller than I was. I was in onesie pajamas, and decided the huge piles of snow looked really inviting that crisp winter night. So I went wandering down to my neighbors to my mother’s dismay. She freaked out when I wasn’t in bed, and somehow had the sense to turn on all of the outside lights, noticed my tiny footprints in the snow, and traced me through the winding driveway, through the woods, and down into my neighbor’s driveways (which served kind of as the dumping area for all the the snow my dad would plow from our huge driveway system our home in the woods shared with our neighbors). I was making a snow fort. It was 4AM. I was 5 years old. My mother was distraught. So the bell went on my door. I had one of those child monitors well into my childhood as well. They never knew when I would get up, perhaps take the fire poker from the fireplace, and go on a “mission” in the woods. At any hour.

While my predictably unpredictable behavior has certainly put my loving parents up for Sainthood consideration, by drive to find new adventures, learn knew things, use my imagination, break a few rules (or a lot) hasn’t really changed. My tools have, perhaps. I have cargo pants, wetsuits, skydiving helmets, tents, air tanks, flashlights, rifles, cameras… oh, yeah…. CAMERAS. I have lots of cameras.

See, I suddenly started to realize that the stuff I was doing was worth documenting. At least in my mind. If I was up at weird hours, finding myself in weird places, going on weird adventures – sometimes with weird people in weird modes of transportation in weird towns or parts of the woods, maybe there was something to be learned here. Maybe a weird sight would appear and need to be captured on film. I started picking specific things to explore or experience. I started sharing the results of my adventures.

Then, most recently, on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, I started getting messages from people. Some I knew, some I didn’t really know. Others, I’d seen their name before, or they were a friend of a friend. Now, some people I know I’ve never met are commenting on my posts and saying things like “Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.” The best one so far: “You are the most interesting man. Congrats!” Wow. I don’t even drink beer. If I did, it wouldn’t be Dos Equis. It would be Summer Shandy.

I’m not at all sure where this blog is going. I doubt it will be chronological. I’m sure I’ll dabble in personal opinions, reflections, things that are on my mind. But there is one main reason I’m doing this, and I’m hoping it’s a lesson that is clear throughout. It’s kind of simple, but profound:

Believe in the beauty of your own story. Believe in the merit of your narrative. The twists, the turns, the ups, the downs, the lessons, the takeaways, the things you leave behind. All of it is more real than any Hollywood script. And you have a choice – every day – to add to that story. To make it a story worth telling.

And HOPEFULLY, you’ll decide as well that your story is worth telling. If you want to start thinking that, then maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and do something to make it a story worth telling as well.

Cheers,

David