Shades

My favorite State Park in Indiana is Shades State Park. The ominous name is short for Shades of Death, and possibly refers to a battle between Native American tribes. I have already written before about the Silver Cascades Waterfall in that park, but it has many other spectacular features. One is called Devil’s Punch Bowl, where in the early 20th century visitors that arrived from Chicago by train were treated to a movie night. These people had guts.

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In dark winter, the punch bowl is certainly the place that justifies the park’s old name most. For some strange reason, the bare dead trees remind me of Francis Bacon’s crucifixion paintings.

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The punchbowl is the end of a short canyon that has more fallen trees.

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When the canyon widens, surprisingly the walls just get taller. One begins to wonder about the finale of this dramatic development.

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Instead of a drop into the endless void, the canyon ends at the Silver Cascades Fall. That’s a counterpoint the composer of this landscape must surely be proud of.

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Prophetstown State Park

Early in the year, Prophetstown State Park is a solemn place, and rightly so.

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After all, this is where in 1811 a decisive battle between a confederacy of Native Americans, led by Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa (“The Prophet”), and an army of 1000 men, led by William Henry Harrison, the Governor of the Indiana Territory, took place.

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The battle ended with a defeat of the Native Americans, and the complete destruction of their village.

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Today, the park features an early pioneer village and replicas of the earlier Shawnee settlements.

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I found the vistas of the empty landscape more impressive. Much of its geology was formed from retreating ice, when glacial lakes broke their dams and caused devastating floods, as is visible here in the Wabash flood plane.

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Both the flood plane and the lost battle of Tenskwatawa should remind us that there will always be resistance, no matter how often it fails.

The Ehrbach Klamm

Germany is a rather densely populated country. I used to think that wherever you are, you can hear a car. You can find an exception in one of the least populated areas of Germany, the rural Hunsrück. This is, incidentally, the region where most of Edgar Seitz’ TV/movie series Heimat (most highly recommended) takes place. This region is bordered by three of the most famous German wine region, the Mosel, the Rheingau, and the Nahe. As a consequence of this surrounding fame, the region itself, which appears to the casual visitor as mostly flat and agricultural, is largely ignored.

There is, however, a peculiar valley, that transports you back several centuries and lets you experience one of the wildest sceneries in Germany. This is the Ehrbach Klamm. Hiking through this valley is a popular summer excursion, so that on busy weekends it can become rather crowded. Not so in early January, when snowfall, freezing rain and low temperatures make the Klamm almost impassable.

Let’s begin by taking a train to Boppard in the Rhine valley. From there, one can either take another local train to Buchholz, or warm up and climb the steep riverside mountains. The latter allows views back that might or might not appeal, depending on weather and taste.

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After a while the trail flattens, and the breaking sun rewards the effort with nice views of ice covered trees.

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After crossing a highway bridge and passing through Buchholz, the trail follows the Ehrbach, which is at the beginning a pleasant stream,
but becomes larger and wilder during the hike. Needless to say, in winter it will display countless frozen waterfalls.

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There are few settlements along the way, including a water mill and a restaurant where (during the warmer seasons) guests can rest and eat fresh trout, prepared quite traditionally.

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After passing the Eckmühle, the proper Ehrbachklamm begins, rather dramatically. The valley becomes narrow, and the trail is often hewn into rock and secured with ropes.

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Bridges sometimes help to cross the stream.

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Niches between rocks offer beautiful miniature frozen landscapes.

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Occasionally the trail becomes dangerous in winter. Be properly equipped and don’t go by yourself. I didn’t meet a single person during the 16km hike.

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In Summer, one can climb up to the ruins of the Rauschenburg and muse about medieval life. This detour I did not dare in winter.

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Close to the end, the gorge opens up into one of the most desolate landscapes Germany has to offer.

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The rest of the hike is a rather tedious descent to the Mosel village Brodenbach, where one can catch the occasional bus to the train station in Koblenz.

Frost Flowers

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Several years ago I happened to have an empty aquarium sitting outside, and one winter morning its glass faces were covered with intricate from flowers.

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Using a flash from the side created beautiful highlights and eliminated distractions in the background.

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I have not been able to reproduce this. I would be fascinating to make a time lapse video showing how these actually form.

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This, however, requires more optimism and patience than I have.

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I wish these images here had the ability to decay like the frost flowers. Instead, they are truly digital: They are, or they are not.

Fragility

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If Nature has intended to create sacred places for us, then the Silver Cascades waterfall in Shades State Park, Indiana,
is certainly one of them. Don’t expect roaring cascades. Instead, when approaching the secluded site, you will hear nothing but the quiet murmur of slowly running water.

Besides its stunning beauty, this unusual waterfall is partially convex, giving it a womb like appearance.

While frost wedging is responsible to the concave upper part, this process is less effective in the lower part, as it is less exposed.
In Winter one can see how the flowing water prevents freezing.

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The whole area is quite fragile, and the spots where the pictures here have been taken are now closed off due to rock fall. The best time to visit is during the early morning in the Fall, when it is quiet and there is no direct sunlight on the leaves yet.

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The now inaccessible front view offers an entirely different, still irritatingly erotic, perspective.

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Nature Morte

The french Nature Morte is a peculiar contrast to the english Still Life. For today’s images, the french version is better suited.

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The dead tree, resting on a large boulder in front of McCormick Creek State Park’s canyon wall, invites to contemplate about decay and the passage of time very much like many still lifes do.

The image also follows an iconographic pattern, which consists of a platform, a presented object on the platform, and a backdrop. Traditionally, in a still life, the platform is usually a table, the objects can be fruits and flowers, and the backdrop is often a dark wall or piece of cloth. Here, the platform is the rock, the object the tree, and the backdrop the canyon wall. Several of Francis Bacon’s paintings (e.g. the Figure at a Washbasin) not only rely on the same pattern, but are compositionally reduced to it. In his case, the platforms are tables or chairs, the objects distorted people, and the backdrop is often a door or window.

I have probably taken about a dozen images of this tree over the years. It survived several winters.

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However, heavy flooding has moved the tree out of the frame, making room for the next object.

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Seasons

While there are few natural lakes in Indiana, the many artificial lakes have some beautiful shores. One of my favorites is at Strahl Lake in Brown County State Park. To appreciate its beauty, I recommend to be there at the right time of the day. The best time is just after sun rise when the sun illuminates the entire lake front, but not yet the water. This way the reflection in the water is strongest and the sky is not too bright yet. Actually, I recommend being there when the sun just touches the tips of the trees, and then spend some 30 minutes listening to birds, fish and leaves.

I first realized the beauty of this spot in late September 2009, when the Fall leaf colors were on full swing.

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I decided to return at different times of the year, to find out how the same view would look in other seasons and weathers.

Late in the Fall there is a curious asymmetry due to the deciduous trees to the right and the evergreen trees to the left.

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In an early snowless winter, the best time for this view is actually just before sunrise. With a bit of luck, one can then catch the fog over the lake, and the dark colors of the remaining leaves create a gloomy mood.

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With the winter in full swing, it can get tricky. The pictures I have with the lake frozen are no good because they are too bright. It might work in a night with modest moon shine, but I will have to try that yet. Here is a view from late winter where the cloud cover makes a nice contrast.

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In Spring, one gets all shades of green one might wish for.

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Then there is Summer. The enormous humidity can cause the fog to last longer than the sun rise. So yes, it is warm and wet. But the mood is still quite special.

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All these photos were taken with a 24mm lens (35mm/FF).