After a long, hot and much drier than normal summer in western Oregon this year, the seasons are changing right on cue with the Autumn Equinox. Photographers, and nature lovers in general, are eagerly anticipating the time when leaves go from green to gold and the arrival of fall color.
The last days of summer are a time of transition. Daytime temps are still warm, but the nights and early mornings are turning a bit cool. Many photographers are grateful that the days are not so darn long now – we no longer have to get out of the sack at 3-4am to catch the dawn glow or stay up until all hours to get the dusk sweet light.
Personally, I’m a bit sorry to see the end of summer – there just weren’t enough family camping trips, enough time for leisurely kayaking Cascade lakes, whitewater rafting, hooking a trout, or even enough BBQ’s with friends and soulmates on the deck. At the same time, I’m excited about the advent of fall color, and have my plans for photographing the colors of autumn in several locations.
However, there’s a lot of opportunity for great nature photography right now, too. After days of office work, computer time, processing recent (and not so recent) shoots, and the day-to-day stuff we all have to deal with, I needed a break. Much as I wanted to jump in the Westy and take off for the mountains or desert or coast, that just wasn’t in the cards, so I headed to my favorite quick nature break, the Mount Pisgah Arboretum and Howard Buford Recreation Area here in Oregon’s southern Willamette Valley.
Sometimes the most important thing is just getting out there, enjoying nature and not worrying about creating the perfect photograph. Like most accomplished nature photographers, the vast majority of my photographs are taken with the camera firmly attached to a tripod. This day, I purposefully left the tripod behind, limited myself to a 70-200mm zoom lens, pumped up the ISO, turned on the handheld VR, and decided not to worry if everything was tack sharp. I wasn’t looking to make iconic landscape images for wall-sized prints, nor was I intending to produce agency-acceptable stock photos, and I knew the light wasn’t going to be all that great. The experience was fun, liberating, invigorating and at the same time relaxing and inspiring, and I highly recommend you give it a try.
My usual MO when needing some nature time at Mount Pisgah is to strike out on one of the more challenging trails, looking for some aerobic activity to get my mind off the day-to-day. This time, I took a leisurely stroll to the wetland ponds. I’m always hopeful of spotting the rather rare Western Pond Turtle there, but I knew at this time of year the ponds were likely to be mostly dried up due to the lack of recent rain. I was delighted to spot a couple of bullfrogs, lazily sitting on pond lilies, hoping for a meal to fly by.
Bigleaf maple trees are one of the most obvious harbingers of fall color in western Oregon, and I was fairly certain I’d find a few leaves with characteristic lemony yellow leaves along the trails at Mt. Pisgah. As well as elsewhere west of the Cascade Mountains crest in the Pacific Northwest, these maples are just starting to turn, with the real color still several weeks away.
Much of Mount Pisgah and the Howard Buford Recreation Area is oak savanna, a habitat characterized by grasslands with open stands of oak trees. Some of the Oregon white oak here are huge, and while the leaves of these oaks don’t turn bright red or gold, they do show some nice, subtle fall color.
The grassy meadows are now a pale straw color, and what were the bright white flowers of Queen Anne’s Lace just a month ago are now curled seedheads packed with the tiny burrs that almost seem to jump onto your socks and pants when you walk by.
Both the invasive Himalayan blackberries and the poison oak have given up, for a few months anyway, their attempts to take over the trails. Poison oak leaves have lost some of their shine but have turned to an eye-catching red. The once plump and juicy blackberries now shrivel on the vine with the heat and lack of rain.
I hope that everyone who reads this has an equal opportunity for a quick getaway wherever they live. If you’re not aware of such an opportunity, search it out or get busy advocating for it in your community. We all really need to get out, breathe, reflect and reconnect with nature.
Where do you go for a quick escape?