Today started like many of my days. The alarm went off and I stumbled into the bathroom to clean up. Then downstairs to grind beans for the family’s morning coffee. As usual, I measured the amount of grounds by eye, then reconsidered and spooned off a teaspoon or two. I know from past experience that overfilling the coffee maker’s basket results in a countertop flooded with grounds and hot water.
I looked out of my little study’s window to check the weather to determine if I could still wear my slippers outside, as I needed to move one of our cars off the driveway. I wondered if the neighbors saw me doing this in my bedroom attire. Then a task here and another there, and my morning was over.
I expected to visit my friend, Tom after lunch. He had to cancel so I move to “Plan B,” but I ran into another roadblock, and that option had to be abandoned. Desperate times call for desperate measures-it was time to freestyle!
The day before I dug out my 10-year-old Fujifilm X100 camera. I hadn’t used it for years, yet it is one of those cameras that I would never consider selling. The X100 was created during a time when cameras were becoming ever more sophisticated and automatic. This camera’s designers took the opposite stance and it was deliberately modeled to mimic 35 mm film cameras from the 1950s. It is a beautiful device that has a fixed lens and a slew of manual dials. Photographers love it or hate it, depending on their sensibilities. I love it, and I always wonder why I leave it to languish on a shelf.
I am fortunate that I have many local forest preserves that give me endless joy. Today, I wanted to try a place that was just a bit different and so I decided to drive to the southern part of my town to a large preserve with multiple winding paths. These paths are usually filled with bikers and horses during the summer months, but I knew that they would be empty on this cold November day. I grabbed my X100 and hopped into Violet the camper van for the 10-minute ride. My goal was simple, I was going to do a little hike and take some photos. Prior to going I researched the preserve and decided to take its Kestrel path. I added an additional side path to turn my hike into a 5-mile walk. The paths at this preserve are both wide and flat making such a trek “a walk in the park.”
A more difficult issue was what to photograph. This particular preserve is mostly trees and fields and doesn’t have notable features even in the summer. Now, the trees would be barren and the grasses would have already gone to seed making the site less photogenic. My plan was to go and to see what inspired me. Indeed, I was surprised by what I eventually discovered.
I did photograph the twisted branches of leafless trees, and the golden deadness of grasses that had lost both their chlorophyll and vitality. However, I was more struck by the preserve’s close proximity to high-tension power lines. Giant towers crisscrossed the paths, and when you walked under them you could hear the buzzing and cracking sounds of thousands of volts coursing through the tower’s copper veins. I decided to shoot a number of them as a contrast to the peaceful, yet lifeless forest below. Compose, focus, snap…compose, focus, snap…compose, focus, snap…and so it went.
I continued my walk and saw a toppled tree. I then saw another, and another, and then a whole field where the crowns of many trees were gone as if they had been ripped off by some giant hand. An uncomfortable feeling settled inside me as it seemed as if some monster literally drove down a path destroying dozens, if not hundreds of trees, and everything else along the way.
Suddenly, the realization hit me that I was looking at the remnants of the path of a tornado. In fact, it was likely that I was visiting the path of the tornado that devastated Naperville last June. Our neighborhoods have been cleaned up, but this forest remained in its post-apocalyptic state. Witnessing the devastation made me feel small and insignificant.
If I looked ahead I saw a forest preserve in its peaceful winter slumber. If I looked above I saw the mighty human-built towers that carry the electricity that allows me to use this computer, make my morning coffee, and sit cozily and warmly in my study’s overstuffed chair. If I looked to the side I saw toppled trees from several seconds of nature’s fury. How strange to be standing in a place where it seemed that we are conquering nature, only to witness nature conquering us.
I remember commercials and other advertisements from my childhood that touted our superiority over the planet. “Better living through chemistry,” one of them proclaimed. Now we have oceans choking on plastic, aquifers poisoned with pesticides, and the devastation of rising global temperatures. We are such short-sighted little creatures. So full of ourselves, and so self-centered. We want to believe that we are powerful, but it only takes a few seconds for nature to put us back in our place.
I thought I would share with you some of the photos that I took today in three parts. The first part consists of the pleasant and quiet path that I walked on. The second set of photos are powerlines-I think that they look alien for some reason, and the third group shows some of the devastation left from Naperville’s June 20th tornado. Come along and keep me company, won’t you?