Tuesday, August 5, 2008

2008 Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium

Well, this year’s Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium is a wrap.

Weather was not as nice as last year, but more than one person commented on the cooler temps being easier to paddle in. And the fog lent a mystic ambience to the paddling trips.

As usual the symposium passed too quickly. This year was my first as a volunteer with the symposium and hopefully one of many working with the group; it was a pleasure to do so, to say hi to people I knew through paddling, and to meet some more great folks in the sport. It really is remarkable the range of people this event brings from near and far.

I want to thank Tiffany, Patrick and the rest of the gang at Riverside Kayak in Wyandotte, Rob and the rest of the committee, the rest of the group, the instructors, other volunteers, the great presenters, the vendors, and certainly the town of Grand Marais for making this such an excellent event. Let’s hope next year’s 25th anniversary can do this great symposium justice.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Candid about Candid Photography

As I continue to feed my photography addiction and my creative jones, I’ve been branching out into shooting candid shots (with varying degrees of success). Now, I’ve always enjoyed shooting people and other animals in action and sports photos - running, jumping, racing, boating, etc. Capturing those brave souls in the Nub’s Nob super pipe or on the recently outlawed tabletop jumps has been a favorite pastime of mine for a few ski seasons now.

But I’m talking more about shooting people who are not necessarily involved in sports or a specific action, but more in the motions of everyday life. Enjoying a book, a stroll or a meal, contemplating one another, or on autopilot as we all are from time to time. Capturing the dynamic of the person lost in thought or the group lost in laughter. For me it’s a new challenge; in addition to developing creative compositions is the added sensitivity of respecting privacy. So I shoot in public venues only and even then, in situations where either a crowd is present and the privacy scale is nil, or in situations where I know I’m being inconspicuous. In other words I try to be considerate.

Last week, while shooting a favorite hot dog vendor from what I thought was a considerate distance, I received a rude inquiry as to what I was doing, and told it was illegal. I was taken aback. I told him calmly that he was in a public space and as such, there was nothing illegal about what I was doing; I wasn’t planning on selling the photo. But it did make me think. So I did some reading and some mulling of candid photography.

In the end I have to say my mind wasn’t changed – much. “Asking permission first” kind of defeats the purpose of candid photography. If people are noticeably uncomfortable I’ll try to pick up on that more. I’ll try to be even less conspicuous. And as before, if someone objects to me photographing them or using their photo, of course, I won’t do so.

I still wonder how some of you photographers out there feel...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Signs of Spring

OK, after a brief warmup we are in the 50’s and grey and cloudy. But I have to tell you, I just returned from downstate and spring is indeed on the way. For further evidence I offer these pictures:

"In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours"

-Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

27th Annual Juried Photo Exhibit

Crooked Tree Arts Council
Petoskey, MI
January 12 - March 1, 2008

Petite Portal Point

Opening this January 12th is the 27th Annual Juried Photo Exhibit at Crooked Tree Arts Council in Petoskey, Michigan. I’ve shamelessly inserted the above photograph, which I took while on a paddling vacation to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore last summer. Fortunately the photo was accepted into the exhibit and I’m greatly flattered. The opening is on January 12th, from 2 to 4 pm, and the show runs through March 1. I enthusiastically encourage everyone to take it in; there are some truly beautiful works this year. And this show has motivated me to go forward and develop a photography website to get my work out there, so look for further development of this website here in the near future.

But my real reason for posting this (honest!) is to trumpet another virtue of the town of Petoskey, Michigan. With a relatively meager population of under 10,000, and removed from the perceived cultural refinement of the Southeast Michigan area, Petoskey does remarkably well representing the arts. Within the city there are no less than six fine arts galleries, and in the adjacent locales of Bay Harbor and Harbor Springs, the number increases to eleven. This, in addition to the numerous stage acting and musical performance organizations in the area. The Crooked Tree Arts Council (link on right) could probably tout their virtues better than I, but they serve as the anchor for the arts pursuits in the region, serving the public out of a beautifully restored an important historical fixture in the heart of downtown. It’s own facilities include two galleries, a performance stage, studios, workshops and administrative offices. Crooked Tree holds some wonderful events, providing funding for the center and a venue for local individuals and organizations to perform and shine. Some of my past favorites have been performances by the Civic Theater, some great films, the annual “D’Art for Art” event in July, and the juried photography exhibit. Some features I’d like to catch down the road are cooking workshops, the “Day Away” trip – a visitation of regional galleries like the Art Institute of Chicago; and almost any of the featured concerts, plays, and art displays.

It’s just another of the many reasons I love living in the Petoskey area.

'Tis the Season!

The temperatures have dropped, the jet stream is nestling into it's winter pattern but the lakes are open and warm. The lake effect snow machine that blankets the northern part of the state in a downy-white quilt has begun blowing.

One of the things I cherish most about living in Northern Michigan near the water is the change of seasons. Of course, people almost everywhere in the U.S. experience the transition. But in this region, the change is dramatic, more akin to turning a page between chapters of a book, rather than a slow 'fade-in fade-out” of a film. The fall colors usher in the transition from summer with vivid colors, colors that use the rolling hills and blue lake as a canvas to paint a seasonal vista unique to Northern Michigan. After the leaves are all but gone, winds increase further, days shorten significantly, and the steely waters begin brooding. For over a week now, I've driven through town every day to see an agitated gunmetal gray bay, full of closely stacked waves anywhere from three to eight feet, obscuring the marina breakwall and light in white clouds of spray and rolling in hurried formation into the east and southern shores of the bay.

Once the patterns shift to winter weather, lake effect snows begin. Cold fronts dropping across the warm lake pick up moisture and deposit it as snow along windward regions adjacent and inland from the lake. Meteorologists say about a fifteen-degree difference in temperatures is required to generate the conditions (obviously with air temps well below freezing). When these ingredients exist, even in the absence of an organized storm, the recipe can create widespread snow across entire regions or within surprisingly isolated areas. One can sit at a coffee shop in Petoskey, with overcast or even partly sunny skies, and look across to the north side of the bay to a heavy snowfall. Sometimes, with no snow falling in town, the other side of the bay is completely obscured by snow. During the beginning of winter, the temperature difference between water and air is great enough to keep us in almost-daily doses of fresh white stuff.

With the arrival of winter and the lake effect snow machine, in an area with three ski resorts in a thirty-mile radius, comes the anticipation of ski season, which commonly begins Thanksgiving weekend. Running shoes and road bicycles pass skis and snowshoes on their respective transitions into and out of hibernation in basements and attics. Snowplows are mounted, snowblowers and snowmobiles are tuned up, winter tires go on, and glinting bright lights of all colors begin to appear, tempering the cold, dark evenings with the promise of the coming holidays. And the words of seasonal greetings spoken to each other in the crispness of winter become visible in the form of cartoon-cloud puffs of frosty steam.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bon Appetit!

You're looking at a piping-hot dish of Calamari Puttanesca alla Fresca with shrimp, on angel hair pasta. Now, before you bookmark this page as a kitchen companion - although I've modified this recipe, made it mine to a certain degree - it began as a simple recipe from an Italian cookbook and not something crafted from scratch. Anyone could make it; people sometimes let cooking intimidate them. But what you get out of it might be more than simply something to fill your stomach.

Salivary glands first awaken with a crackling sautee of onions and garlic, then proscuitto, and the aromatic steam created. Tomatoes, wine and spices add color and a bright, pungent quality to the scent. The calamari, some chopped basil and grated parmesan add some festivity.

I swear, there is something in the scent of any home cooking, but particularly Italian red sauces, that acts as an antidepressant or stimulant. I made this dish on a cold, gray and snowy day, the seasonal change in the weather keeping me indoors. But filling the house with such scents as it did added a warmth and comfort. I sat by myself with a nice glass of red wine and took in the tastes and smells.

Home cooking can enhance sense of place and add to intimacy. And the process of creating good food is therapeutic in itself. Something to be shared if possible, but also enjoyable in your own company.

Apostle Island National Lakeshore

I've lived in Michigan all my life, never more than two hours from one of the Great Lakes, and am fortunate enough to have traveled them often. Once in awhile, even now, I'm surprised by an area I visit for the first time. This last September, when I traveled the islands with two friends for six days, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore became one of those places.

The Apostles Islands are located on the South shore of Lake Superior, in Northern Wisconsin and about 1-1/2 hours from the Michigan border. A collection of over twenty islands ranging from tiny to over ten miles long, the park features red sandstone cliffs, numerous sea caves, wilderness settings, and the unpredictability of Lake Superior. From the Petoskey area, we loaded the three boats and gear into one vehicle and drove about 7 hours, through the entire upper Peninsula and into the town of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Bayfield is another one of those beautiful little Great Lakes towns, with a very nautical feel, quaint downtown, long-established marina and a point of access by ferry to Madeleine Island, one of the largest of the Apostle Islands and the only really developed one.

We planned to paddle the Outer Island loop, as described in the Guide to Sea Kayaking on Lakes Superior and Michigan: The Best Day Trips and Tours, a great publication by by Bill Newman, Sarah Ohmann, and Don Dimond. We awoke Sunday morning to a light drizzle and low sixties temps, and just itching to get out on the water. By the time we made our way to the beach, the skies were breaking, forecast was for north to northeast winds and 2'-3' waves. Smiles broke among us.

I brought my Valley Pintail for this trip for a few reasons: I wanted to have something fun to maneuver into and around sea caves, arches and fallen rock; and I wanted to take the boat in which I could be the most confident in rough water. I compromised a bit in storage space, a compromise that was well worth it to me on a weeklong trip. I was warily but excitedly anticipating traveling this area of Superior, exposed to the northwest to northeast, in fall, when the lake becomes a bit more active. No matter how cliche it sounds, Superior really is different than the other Great Lakes, and more like a sea than any of them.

The first day we traveled from Sand Bay to Sand Island, broke for lunch, and then to York Island, riding waves increasing to 3' or so into shore. Approaching the island, we were able to catch some lengthy rides on the growing waves. Camping at York Island wasn't bad for being so close to the mainland. The island has about seven campsites scattered along a picturesque crescent-shaped sand bay with a sunrise view, and a panorama of some of the outer islands. I slept with my tent facing the bay and a gentle breeze flapping the tent fly.

The following morning, we put in for Raspberry Island. Weather forecast was for sun, 1'-3' waves, and 5-15 mph winds. However, the forecast also called for winds increasing and out of the east to southeast the following day. Stopping at Raspberry Island to visit the restored light house, which turned into a well-guided tour of the lighthouse by a very accommodating ranger who knew his stuff and clearly enjoyed his job, sharing the history of the islands and the lighthouse. What a great representative of the park. After thanking him for the tour, we loaded back up to paddle onward, up the east coast of the island and toward Bear Island. We stopped at the island for lunch, watching a few bald eagles soar and frolic, and then paddled the rocks and occasional arch along the east coast before making the north crossing to Devil's Island, a one-mile long island with numerous sea caves, one campsite, and a remote feel we were going to get used to. As we unloaded, we listened to the forecast call for a gale warning the following day, with 25-35 knot winds gusting to 50. Sounded like we might be windbound.

I had developed a case of tendonitis in my wrists, so I opted out of a tour of the sea caves. I hiked the mile through an almost Pacific Northwest-primeval forest to the north end of the island, spotting such out-of-place residents as azaleas and cranberry among the more northern-climate plants. I arrived at the other end and encountered a group of contractors, working on roofing the light keeper's house. They looked up in surprise at my presence, with the approaching storm in mind. Friendly on this distant island, they certainly made known their concern for our welfare at the hands of Superior, until I assured them we had no intention of paddling if conditions actually materialized as predicted.

Spotting a large freighter on the horizon, I had arrived to the cliffs and sea caves on the other side of the island, just in time to see the two kayaks rounding one of the arches, whooping shouts of joy echoing through the caves below. I filmed and marveled as they literally paddled beneath me through the red sandstone cliffs below, through intensely contrasting aquamarine water.

Sometime early Tuesday morning, the winds increased and the gale began blowing. By daybreak, it was instantly apparent we wouldn't be paddling this day. The weather service held firm on the wind prediction, and called for up to 10' waves nearshore, and up to twenty-foot waves offshore. I had gotten my wish to safely witness Superior in all her fury. Surf snaked angrily along the shore, while whitecaps marched forward from a cold steel horizon. The wind howled overhead through the trees, the roots of some visibly straining to hold their footing. We ended up spending the day exploring the island, lighthouse, lifesaving station, the leeward side of the island, and the same caves we saw the day before, this time with surf pounding through arches and holes. The gale continued all day, the wind like a neverending train roaring overhead and offshore.

Wednesday morning, we awoke to gentler winds and a nice, easy 2’-3’ roll on the water. We decided to shorten our loop, planning to paddle to Manitou Island, then Oak, then back to Sand Bay on the mainland. So we paddled to Otter Island, broke for lunch, and continued on to Manitou Island. Manitou apparently has only one campsite – a beachside spot with another great sunset view. After a fairly easy day of paddling – one of our only calm, easy days - we took advantage of the beachside fire ring to build a blaze to be proud of, sat back, and enjoyed the sunset.

Conditions were forecast to pick up the next day, and continue on through Friday. We broke camp quickly, with a severe thunderstorm warning being aired by the NWS, and by the time we hit the water, the skies were darkening. We ended up sheltering at the south end of Manitou Island, where we found a pretty neat historic fishing camp. I have to say, the parks system has done a wonderful job featuring historical elements like this on nearly every island we visited.

The storm blew through, and we were met with an almost instant calm, belying the conditions to come in a few hours. We made the two-mile crossing to Oak Island, paddled the Hole in the Wall sea cave, and landed for a break, spotting a rather ominous and very large path of Black Bear tracks. By the time we launched again, conditions had picked up to a strong and steady wind and 3’-4’ closely stacked waves. Paddling into the wind, we made slow progress and were reaching the bottom of our collective tanks, when we looked landward and saw no less than seven bald eagles soaring on the updrafts of the island. Personally, that inspiration made me forget about my weariness and paddle on to our camp at Oak Island.

By now, the wind had commenced howling once again. We would wait the afternoon, evening, and into the next day for this gale to calm, but it never really did. After spending the following morning and afternoon socked in from the wind, and hiking 5 miles or so to the ranger station and back, we packed and awaited the forecast cancellation of the small craft advisory. Turned out that it never was cancelled, but we were compelled by a forecast of snow and twenty – degree temps to make our final crossing. It ended up being a challenging one, with 4’ beam waves and wind, with waves in a secondary direction coming from clapotis generated from the mainland cliffs. After reaching Raspberry Bay at near dusk, we decided to bail, stow our boats under a launch dock, and hiked the rest of the way to Sand Bay. After fetching the car, we drove into Bayfield to have a much – deserved pint or two and some real, hot food at Morty’s Pub, a great local spot.

Almost very place I’ve paddled in the Great Lakes warrants a return visit, but not too many more than the Apostle Islands. The islands, the red cliffs – actually called Brownstone, from which Brownstone townhouses got their title – the sea caves, and the mighty Superior prove to be a compelling combination. If you’re looking to challenge your abilities, get away from the crowds, and have your own little island to yourself, I highly recommend this island getaway during spring or fall.