I daydream sometimes about cutting loose, traveling the country and world to make amazing photos and write captivating accounts of them and somehow make a living with it all. If that’s ever going to happen, it’s a long way away. The idea can feel unattainable, like I’ve failed to grasp its secret, after years of galleries and art shows with only a handful of sales. I can’t afford the newest camera or travel for weeks or months at a time like Thomas Mangelsen or Ed Cooley, whose gallery is just down the street. It’s a bitter feeling that author Tom McAllister happened to describe perfectly in an article yesterday. Even after three books and prestigious reviews, his book reading events drew depressingly tiny audiences. He asked his wife before one reading if he could simply leave.
But just in the last couple of days, McAllister and my dad and others have reminded me of a different perspective to take on all of this: We write books or pursue some other creative work first for ourselves, because we love and need to do it. I’ve realized that my bitterness ignores a lot of important things, like the support I have gotten from loved ones and a few strangers, the blessing in having any of this to worry about, my gratitude for people like you who give me some of your time and attention. It ignores the old joy in the doing, the joy in my search with no end for new places and new points of view on familiar ones.
This post is about that last part. Some of us last weekend hiked and camped around Devil’s Den State Park and the surrounding Ozark National Forest, which are like old friends at this point. I sought different perspectives and explored them a little further than I have before. I did my regular hunt for new shapes and colors of fungi. In literally the last few minutes of the trip, I also found a spectacular reminder of why I do this.
I saw this vivid, foot-wide fungal behemoth just off the Devil’s Den Trail, gasped absurdly loudly and exclaimed a profanity a few times to myself. The prize seemed to glow in the undergrowth. It was easily the most magnificent fruiting body I have ever seen in person. I breathed quickly, terrified of not getting the perfect shot of it. I excitedly pointed it out to everyone passing by. I couldn’t help but smile for the rest of the hike. It’s ridiculous and nerdy, and I loved it.
And I’ve still only just begun. Thanks, as always, for looking.
Spring is here. It’s here. It’s here, no matter how many snowflakes fell Saturday morning and regardless of the fact that it’s forecast to fall below freezing yet again this week. The sun is higher in the sky, the waterfalls are flowing and the flowers are out, if they can endure the freezes. Fresh fern fronds are unfurling over last year’s worn-out models. But the forests around Devil’s Den State Park and the rest of this region are still largely bare for the moment — dogwoods and redbuds are busy, but oaks are slowpokes. It seems less like a seasonal transition than a seasonal battle.
No matter how many last-minute freezes nature throws in, soon spring will win out and the place will explode with green, and I’ll be there. Thanks for looking.
The zenith of fall’s colors lasts only a few days, and for some reason or another, I think I’ve missed it every year I’ve been here in Arkansas. But this year’s peak fell on a weekend with beautiful weather and plenty of time for a hike — this weekend. I took advantage at the old standby, the Ozark National Forest around Devil’s Den State Park.
What continually amazes me about the annual color explosion is that plants have a lot of the pigments that make it happen year-round, part of a chromatic net to catch as much sunlight as possible. They’re just overwhelmed by the familiar green of chlorophyll. Plants usually have to keep remaking the stuff and stop doing so around this time of year. So the oranges and yellows of carotenoids burst forth, sometimes in a way that looks almost pointillist, as with the oak leaf above. The same class of compounds gives carrots their color. The red is my favorite, though, and comes from a combo of sunlight and sugar.
If you want to see it all, hurry. And thanks for looking.
The soccer field at my elementary school in Springfield, Missouri, was nothing but a patch of bare, reddish dirt, and it was my favorite part of the place. I liked soccer just fine, but the real reasons for my affection were the thousands of dime-sized rocks caked into its surface. Almost all of them were imprinted with fossils: tiny grid-like bryozoan colonies, striated mollusk shells, cylindrical crinoids the size of pencil erasers, all remnants of an ancient sea. I was 7 years old and could spend half an hour after school crouched over the gritty dirt excavating these treasures with my fingertips, saving the most striking ones for my collection.
That’s all to say keeping an eye out for the small and overlooked underfoot has been my jam for pretty much forever. How could I possibly resist the yellow slime mold above? I’d only seen these weird organisms in textbooks before this moment. It might look like a fungus, but it’s actually the result of countless microbes literally fusing together into one huge cell that can move around and even learn, at least in some senses of the word.
Other denizens of Devil’s Den State Park’s forest floor don’t have the same flair, but I still love them.
This unsettling phenomenon seems to be guttation, which is apparently just the excretion of excess water — one more thing I’d only seen in books before now.
After almost four years photographing the woods around here, they’re still surprising me. Thanks for looking.