We are recently returned from a visit to Iceland. While there, we had typical Icelandic weather for September – clouds, wind and rain. But, on the two clear nights, we were able to see the Aurora Borealis in all its glory.
The first evening we saw them, we were staying in a cottage on a farm near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur on Iceland’s south coast. The show was awesome. To naked eye, we could only see the green, but with the long exposure setting (about 13 seconds), my camera picked up the gorgeous magenta in the sky. (I did not adjust the hue or saturation in these photos. The only adjustments were to settings that affect contrast.)
We also encountered the aurora in the city of Keflavík on our last night in Iceland. At 65 degrees latitude, the aurora had no difficulty piercing the city lights.
Thirty-five miles west of the Boston Common in the Town of Harvard, Massachusetts, is a cemetery established by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as the Shakers. The settlement in Harvard, which was the second Shaker community in the colonies, was established in 1769. At its peak in the 1850s, the community had 200 members. By 1890, that number declined to 40.
The first burial in the cemetery occurred in 1792. By the time the cemetery was closed, over 300 members of the Shaker community were buried there.
The Harvard Shaker community purchased the land for the cemetery for $13.12. The men in the community set about building a stone wall around the cemetery, which was completed in November, 1799.
The cemetery is commonly known today as the “Lollipop Graveyard,” because of the cast-iron grave markers. Initially, graves were marked with stone markers. In 1879, the Harvard Shakers replaced the stone markers with the cast-iron lollipop markers.
The lollipop markers were designed by the brothers in the Mount Lebanon Shaker community at New Lebanon, New York, and cost about $1.50 to produce. The Harvard cemetery was the only Shaker Community to convert entirely to the metal markers and is the only Shaker cemetery where the metal markers remain.
The Harvard Shaker Village Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Additional information about Harvard Shaker Community and its burial grounds can be found here:
Once a year on the Fourth of July, the alley between Calvin Avenue and Giddings Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, comes to life as Hollyhock Lane, the end point of the Hollyhock Lane Parade. Begun in 1934, the parade is the oldest continuous Independence Day parade in Michigan. It is a neighborhood event begun “to Instill Patriotism” and “to Promote Neighborliness.” Although receiving support from the City of Grand Rapids and the Ottawa Hills Neighborhood Association, the parade is organized by volunteers who go door-to-door for contributions and work to continue the tradition.
The parade winds along three streets in the Ottawa Hills neighborhood. Neighbors bring out their lawn chairs and children wait to catch candy. A neighborhood band organizes itself every year to march in the parade and children volunteer to fill the coveted roles of the Spirit of 76 (the flag-bearer, drummer and fife player), Miss Liberty, and Uncle Sam. Several adults who have been Uncle Sam or Miss Liberty in the past return each year to watch the parade.
This not being an election year, the parade was without the scrum of politicians that shows up in even years. But among the participants in the parade were our Representative in Congress, Hillary Scholten, and the Majority Leader in the Michigan State Senate, Winnie Brinks. But both participated as members of the neighborhood, not as candidates for office. Also among the parade participants was the Grand Rapids Chief of Police, Eric Winstrom.
The Hollyhock Lane Parade doesn’t just peter out when the last police patrol car brings up the rear. As they do every year, neighbors turned off Giddings Avenue into an alley decorated with flags and bunting and gathered behind 847 Giddings Avenue to sing patriotic songs and listen to an honored speaker.
Elgin Vines and Company entertained the gathering crowd.
Once the crowd was assembled, the Master of Ceremonies opened the program, inviting the Spirit of 76 to raise the flag.
The Reverend Rebecca Jordan Heys, of Calvary Christian Reformed Church, led group in prayer.
Then the Master of Ceremonies introduced the keynote speaker, Mary Esther Lee, who for years helped organize the parade. Ms. Lee spoke about the ties that bind the neighborhood together. She recounted the story of having moved into the neighborhood in the 1970s not knowing that her backyard was the focal point of activities on the Fourth of July. “Why do you think there was a flagpole in your backyard by the alley,” her neighbors asked. Ms. Lee embraced the parade, joining the planning committee the next year and leading the ceremony for many years.
The program ended with the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America and the presentation of awards to children who competed in the float competition. The floats were judged and awards were presented by the family of Congresswoman Scholten, a role her family has filled for a number of years before she was elected to Congress.
The winner of the of the award for the patriotic float was “American Shark.”
The float was created by a young boy from New York City. He was here visiting his grandmother. “My mom grew up in this neighborhood,” he told me after the ceremony. And his mother was in the parade back then. Perhaps that helps to understand what makes the Hollyhock Lane Parade so special. For generations it has brought neighbors together to commemorate our country’s independence, to say the pledge and sing our nation’s anthems, to celebrate community and civic spirit, and to teach our children the importance of it all.
Beginning in mid-March, I made frequent visits to observe a pair of nesting swans on Reeds Lake in my hometown. It was an exciting time, as some birds migrated through and others set about the business of raising a family. My photos of the swans and there story can be found here. Below is a gallery of some of the other birds and wildlife at the lake. (Clicking on an image may open it is full size..)
I have spent the last two-and-a-half months at a nearby lake, observing a pair of nesting swans. I have learned a lot about mute swans from reading and from observation. In this blog piece, I will share a few observations and some photographs.
March 18, 2023, was a blustery day in my hometown, a great day to do photography. So I grabbed my camera and went for a walk on a boardwalk that runs through a marshy area of nearby Reeds Lake. On my walk, I came upon a swan nest about 40 feet from the boardwalk. It wasn’t immediately noticeable since the swan and her nest were covered with snow.
I stood and watched for a while as the cob approached the nest and the two birds ultimately changed positions.
The pen left the marsh and headed out to open water to eat. The cob stood preening himself before eventually sitting on the nest.
On March 24, I got my first glimpse of eggs on the nest. As she would do throughout the gestation period of the eggs, the pen stood up briefly from time to time and rotated the eggs using her bill.
Mute swans lay an egg every day or two until their clutch is complete. On average, a clutch contains about six eggs. By April 5, the pen had laid nine eggs. The eggs were clearly visible on April 5, when the swans were busy raising the level of the nest. The night before, we had received close to 2 inches of rain and the lake water rose to within inches of the top of the nest. The cob and pen worked feverishly to add to the nest.
The nine eggs were clearly visible as the pen climbed back onto the nest.
A Note About Mute Swans
The Reeds Lake swans are mute swans, a species that was introduced to the northeast United States to decorate ornamental ponds and lakes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Escaped swans began to spread throughout the northeast. According to an account in the Petoskey News, mute swans were introduced into Michigan in 1918 near Charlevoix. The News reported that the swans were imported to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from England by George Bruce Douglas. When the swans proved too aggressive to be among his children, Douglas moved them to Michigan, where the family spent its summers.
There were an estimated 15,000 swans in Michigan in 2010. With no natural predators, the population of mute swans in Michigan continues to grow by about 10 percent each year. The State of Michigan classifies mute swans as “non-native invasive species.”
Mute swans have a significant negative impact on the environment. According to the Michigan Audubon Society, “[t]he species’ capacity for consuming upwards of 8 pounds of aquatic vegetation per day while also dislodging an equal or greater amount, causes substantial damage to wetland habitats, reduces native floral diversity, and can decimate vegetation beyond the point where it can regenerate.” The Wilderness Society says its primary concern in Michigan is the impact mute swans have on threatened and endangered native species, including trumpeter swans and common loons.
Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources described mute swans as “[o]ne of the world’s most aggressive waterfowl species, especially while nesting and raising their young.” Mute swans will drive out other native waterfowl. The State’s official policy, adopted in 2012, is to reduce the spring population of mute swans in Michigan to less than 2,000 by the year 2030. The State has established procedures for the removal and destruction of nests and eggs.
Protecting the Nesting Area
As I continued to check in on the swans, I saw several examples of the aggressive behavior of the cob. Not far from the swan nest, a pair of geese established their nest with six eggs.
The cob was not happy with this at all. I watched for an hour one day as the cob threatened the goose and the gander. The cob parked itself within a few feet of the goose nest and alternated between resting its head under its wing and snapping at the goose and gander. The goose and gander stood their ground against the much larger swan.
I visited the goose nest the evening of April 28. All was well. When I returned early the next morning, the goose eggs and geese were gone without a trace, not even a broken shell. It is a mystery how the nest could disappear overnight. Did the cob finally strike? Cobs have been known to stomp on the eggs of other birds. But how can there be no trace?
I saw several other examples of the cob protecting its territory. Early one morning when I arrived, the pen was asleep on the nest, while the cob slept next to the nest in the water. Suddenly, the cob awoke and quickly left the nest, assuming an aggressive stance. I caught a photo of the swan taking flight to chase two swans that had landed halfway across the lake. I was amazed that the cob was alert enough in his slumber to sense that swans were present hundreds of yards away.
I watched on other occasions when the cob gave chase to geese in the marsh.
Reeds Lake is a 283 acre lake in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. From its furthest point in the east to its furthest point in the west, the lake stretches 1.22 miles. While most of the property along the shore has been given over to stately homes, the western shore includes the town’s middle school, city and public safety offices, library, a marina, and John Collins Park (which includes the East Grand Rapids High School crew team’s boat house), and a public boat launch.
The northwesternmost part of the lake is a marshland area adjacent to Waterfront Park and Hodenpyl Woods. A boardwalk extends through the marsh along a channel that leads to nearby Fisk Lake. The swan nest is just 40 feet from the boardwalk, in plain sight.
In the spring, the marshland attracts a wide range of returning and migrating species and it seems a similar number of birdwatchers. Male red-winged blackbirds are among the first to arrive. The males battle to establish to territory in anticipation of the females’ arrival a month later.
For a couple of weeks, American coots by the hundreds were on the lake as they passed through.
The coots are skittish birds and very difficult to get near, but they are great at providing early warning of approaching bald eagles. When an eagle comes near, the coots all quickly fly for cover in the reeds.
The marshland is home, or a temporary stop, for a wide variety of wildlife. I have posted a gallery of some of the photos of the inhabitants of the lake that I took on my visits.
Will they Ever Hatch?
As March turned into April and April turned into May, people observing the nest began to wonder whether the eggs would ever hatch. Mute swan eggs generally hatch 36 to 42 days after the pen lays her last egg. Miraculously, all of the eggs hatch on the same day. From my observations, I calculated that the pen laid her last egg around April 3 or 4. I have the photo of 9 eggs, which I took on April 5, and never saw more than that. Forty-two days passed on May 16. As I write this today, sixty days have passed since April 5. Nonetheless, the swans have not given up hope and continue to tend to the eggs.
It has been a long ordeal for the pen, who spends most of her time on the nest. I have read that the pen loses as much as 40% of her body weight while she sits on the nest. The pen gets up regularly to rotate the eggs and change her position on the nest.
The cob does change places with her from time to time. This “changing of the guard” tends to follow a certain routine. First, the pen stands up and tries to cover the eggs with loose down that is in the nest.
Then, the pen leaves the nest after the cob approaches. The first time I witnessed the change, the cob never climbed onto the nest. Instead, he stayed near the side of the nest and kept a watchful eye on the eggs.
When the cob does climb on the nest, he tends to stand and preen himself for about a half hour before finally settling down on the nest. When the swans get on the nest they often do so with outstretched wings.
As time has passed, the scene has changed dramatically from the snow-covered scene in March to a lush marshland in May and June. The swans have continued out of habit to add to the nest. Here the cobs sits on the nest on May 22 waiting for the pen’s return.
As May turned into June, against hope people, including myself, reached the conclusion that we would see no cygnets. Nonetheless, I have continued to visit the nest every day and marvel that the pen and cob continue their vigil. This morning, when I saw the pen peering back at me from the nest, I thought back to that day in March when I first saw the snow-covered pen.
It has been an interesting project for me to visit the nest each day. I have made many new acquaintances and renewed some old ones as we stood on the boardwalk wondering when the eggs would hatch. I have enjoyed getting a better attuned to nature and appreciating the wonder of renewal that spring brings. While it would seem to be a miracle if the eggs were to hatch now, I will continue to stop by the lake once or twice a day until the pen and the cob finally give up their vigil.
For over two months, I have been checking in on a pair of swans that have a nest with eggs on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapid, Michigan. I have met a number of people who have also been observing the swans and promised them that I would share my photos on this blog once the eggs hatch. Well, as of late this morning, no cygnets yet. The swans are still sitting on the eggs. But come back later and hopefully the eggs will have hatched and I will be able to post the completed article with photos.
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I visited Silver Lake Sand Dunes State Park yesterday anticipating the graceful dunes I had seen on previous visits. (See “The Sand Dunes at Silver Lake State Park.”) But, instead, the sinuous dunes I had anticipated looked more like sedimentary rock that had been disturbed by some incredible force.
The dunes freeze in the winter, so only a fine layer of grains of sand at the surface are free to blow with the wind. I suspect that the formations I saw were caused by the expansion and contraction of the ice crystals in the sand as our crazy temperatures have swung wildly this winter. Having anticipated smooth dunes, I needed to shift gears. I decided to go in close and photograph the formations left by the ice and the wind.
Photos from my previous visits to Silver Lake can be found here:
Cross country skiers and snowmobilers must be very disappointed this winter. The snow brought by the Christmas week blizzard disappeared almost as fast as it arrived. But this past Friday, just a couple hours north of our home, my wife and I found a winter wonderland. The snow was not deep, but the trees were flocked with snow. It was so beautiful, I returned on Saturday to see if I could capture the scene in some photos.
I left Grand Rapids early and arrived at Rosie’s Country Cafe in Thompsonville for breakfast and to await the sunrise. When the sun came up, I was disappointed. While some snow remained on the trees, it was nothing like the day before. Nonetheless, I continued on my way to the Betsie River Pathway. The Pathway has about ten miles of trails. I chose to hike the 2.7 mile West Loop, which passes through a meadow and forest reaching the Betsie River to the west. While it was nothing like I had hoped for, I found a few areas where the snow still clung to the grasses.
Still, there was much to see and enjoy on the hike. The footpath through the forest was carpeted with leaves.
Along the footpath, I took time to explore an ice-covered pond filled with colorful leaves.
After my hike, I headed north on County Road 677 to explore a campground I had found on the map. About two miles up the road, I came upon the snow globe we had seen the day before!
Along County Road 677 is the Weldon Township Cemetery. The cemetery always catches my attention, with its simple white crosses decorated with artificial flowers and American flags. I have stopped before, without success, to try to capture the feeling of reverence I get whenever I pass it. This time, I think I got it.
It’s that time of year again, time to look back at over the past 12 months. The year 2022 offered me some wonderful opportunities to share my work. In addition, we had the opportunity to travel abroad, in the course of which I was reminded of a valuable lesson. Here are some thoughts on the past year and several of my favorite photos taken in the last 12 months.
SHOWING MY WORK
The Glen Arbor Art Center exhibited six of my photos in its lobby gallery at the start of the year. The show, titled Woodland Studies, was my first opportunity of its kind, for which I am extremely grateful to the Art Center and to the Art Center’s Gallery Manager, Sarah Bearup-Neal. Sarah guided me through the process of curating the exhibit and getting it ready to show. Sarah and I recorded a video conversation about the photos in the exhibit, which you can find here. The online version of the exhibit is no longer on the Art Center’s website, but you can view it here.
The Art Center provided me with two other opportunities to display my photos. The following photo was displayed as part of the annual “Members Create” exhibit in April and May. The exhibit is a non-juried show open to members of the Art Center.
The Art Center also invited me to submit photos to the “Small Works Holiday Exhibition,” where artists display small, original art work for sale for $150 or less. I displayed eight photographs, three of which were taken in 2022.
In addition to displaying work at the Glen Arbor Art Center, I entered a photo in the Ray and Nancy Loeschner Annual Art Competition at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. I had not heard of the competition before September of this year, but the timing was fortuitous. Some dear friends of mine married at the end of August. Their registry included an 11×14 frame, which we purchased and gave to them along with a note offering to fill the frame with one of my photos. They chose a photo I had taken of Aria, a wonderful sculpture by Alexander Liberman, which was acquired by the Gardens in 1999. The more I worked with the photo to make a beautiful print, the more I came to love it. I was excited to have the opportunity to enter it in the competition and was gratified to learn recently that is has been selected as a finalist. The final judging will occur in January 2023.
My wife and I traveled to Jerusalem and Paris in early June. Of course, I took my camera and I took plenty of snapshots. The snapshots will help us remember the experience, but the photography was not the focus of the trip. I do, however, want to share one photo with you. We toured Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité in Paris. Sainte-Chapelle was the royal chapel in the palace of the King of France. The chapel was consecrated in the year 1248. The upper chapel has 15 stained glass windows, each 15 meters tall, that include 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testament. In a crowded chapel filled with tourists there was neither time nor room to take a studied photo, but I was pleased to get this photo, which will serve as a reminder of the most beautiful room I think I have ever seen.
MY FAVORITE PHOTOS OF 2022
At the end of the year, I like to look through my photos and select a group of images that are my favorite photos from the past 12 months. Here’s what I came up with for 2022.
The first photo is a close up of Honey Creek in winter time. We don’t have waterfalls or big significant rapids in southwest lower Michigan. But, by focusing close on an ice formation in the creek, a small scene becomes filled with action and drama.
I enjoy being in the forest in winter. I find the stillness, the quiet, peacefulness, and even the challenge of staying warm to be reinvigorating.
I took this next photo in the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Mears, Michigan. The shifting sands reveal the stumps of trees, such as this one, that were swallowed up by the dunes years ago. The early morning light shining on this stump accentuated the grain in the wood and the embedded grains of sand.
Coming upon the following scene was a pleasant surprise. I was on a trail that passed through a pine forest. The pine trees were so thick and the canopy so dense that little else could grow in the area. I didn’t expect to see anything of interest to photograph along the trail. But a brief break in the clouds created patches of sunlight on the forest floor that brought depth and dimensionality to what otherwise was a monotony of tree trunks.
Michigan is not at its photogenic best in early spring, when the snow has melted and brown is the dominant color. So I bought a dozen tulips and used them as my subject everyday for a couple of weeks. When they were fresh, the tulips exuded their typical elegance. But I found that it there was beauty to be found even as the tulips wilted.
I am attracted to gaps in the forest canopy created by the death of a tree. The gaps permit the sunlight to break through to the forest floor – a patch of hope in the darkness.
We visited Acadia National Park in mid-September. Peak fall color was still a month away, but as we hiked along the Jesup Path, we came upon this scene. It is a bit chaotic, but I thought the alignment of the birch trunks and the splashes of color brought an order to the chaos and made for an appealing photo.
I have shot this scene on Bass Lake in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore many times. (I included a photo of this point of land in my Woodland Studies exhibit.) But on this morning, I was fortunate to be able to shoot the scene in a dense fog, creating a softer, more soothing image.
A key to success in my photography is being aware. These last two photos are of things I might of missed had I not slowed down to take in my surroundings. I found this maple leaf beautifully highlighted by ice crystals when I took a walk on the morning of our first hard frost.
This was another happy find as I explored the shoreline of a local lake on a recent foggy morning.
Here are links to my favorite images of 2019, 2020, and 2021.
AN IMPORTANT LESSON
I learned an important lesson while in Paris. Everywhere we went in Paris, my camera went with me. I made a lot of snapshots. When we entered the Musée de l’Orangerie, I saw a sign showing a camera with a red circle and slash through it – no photography. So I checked my camera and began viewing the museum’s wonderful collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art. In the galleries, though, I noticed so many people taking photos with cameras and cell phones. The guards did not seem concerned, so I went back to look at the sign again and read the small print: “No flash photography.” I could have retrieved my camera, but chose not to. Without a camera, I explored the galleries with my wife, comparing thoughts about the paintings. I was able to see the art not only through my eyes but also through hers, which enriched my experience immensely.
In the museum that day, I learned in important lesson: sometimes the camera can get in the way of the experience. It’s a lesson I need to remember whenever I go off on a photo shot. I think if I focus on the experience first, my photographs will improve. But even if they don’t, I will find more meaning in those experiences and be a better person for it.