Monday, November 30, 2009

Turkey Ballet

Photo taken at the Colony Farm Orchard, August 2009.

Thanks for the Turkey

Thanksgiving and Christmas both have substantial sacrifices: for Christmas, it's the tree, and of course for Thanksgiving, it's the turkey.

Taking life is no small matter and for that reason I give thanks for the turkey, a bird in a class of it's own and indigenous to North America. Although most people eat the domesticated variety, they're descendants of the more attractive and now plentiful wild turkey. And when it comes to the bounty of the autumn harvest, there is no bigger bird around. We are very fortunate.

Bird books, when identifying a bird, will reference other birds that are similar, to help you narrow your sighting down to the specific bird. Well, in one of my bird books (National Geographic?) they say for the turkey that "there is no other bird like it". And that's true, they're unmistakable.

Thanks to State reintroduction programs, the turkey has rebounded amazingly well, and like a great deal of wildlife, is penetrating our urban cores. I was astonished when I discovered this turkey on my trailcam over next to the Michigan Center for the Blind. Taken in 2005, I had no idea at the time that we had these big birds roaming our woods. Now, they're relatively common, but need good habitat with good cover and most importantly, privacy.

To date, I've yet to photograph, let alone witness a Tom (adult male turkey) in full display, fanning it's tail feathers and strutting it's stuff. Yet another natural wonder awaits me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If You're Gonna Shop...

With Black Friday fast approaching, and in some ways eclipsing Thanksgiving, I urge you to counter the impulse to shop, or consume, and instead, make your way out into the wild. Walk off the caloric intake and give thanks for the turkey's sacrifice and the bounty of the harvest with a walk in nature. This is where all our sustenance comes from originally anyway.

Not to contradict myself, but let me offer a counter balance to my plea for less consumerism. If you're going to buy a Christmas present, either this coming weekend or in the coming weeks, buy one from ME! But seriously, my wildlife documentary, ANIMALS AMONG US is a great Christmas present. It's physically small, affordable, created locally, and most importantly, celebrates local wildlife and wild spaces. It can also be an excellent way to bring the family together, gathering around the electronic fireplace. 

To that end, I'll be at the Kalamazoo Nature Center's Local Art & Gift Fair, December 12th, selling DVD's and various prints of my photographic art. Come check it out; admission to the Nature Center is FREE, and you'll be supporting a local economy. So, don't forget December 12th. That way you can avoid Black Friday as well as procrastinate on your Christmas shopping with little worry. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Haunted or Enchanted Forest?

It took this photo last year at the Colony Farm Orchard in the section I believe the WMU students call the Enchanted Forest. I've always seen this area as haunted because of it's history with the Asylum, ruins from an old cistern, huge, ancient, dying maples with massive limbs falling off, and an eerie kind of vacancy. 

After taking this photo, I have to ask the question: haunted or enchanted? 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Rush of the Rut & Sex and Death in November

Beginning this morning at first light, the cracks of gun-fire rang throughout the state, in an erratic, percussive number, not unlike the popping of popcorn, until the veil of night brought the opening day of gun-season in Michigan to a close.

Hundreds, if not thousands of deer were killed today in this highly organized, ritualized, and commercialized tradition of gun hunting in America. As a hunter myself (preferably bow) I'm not writing to condemn the act (believe me, I have my criticisms - that's another post), but rather highlight the alluring and profound timing of hunting season with the ancient, genetic phenomena of the rut. This is no coincidence.

Every year, like clockwork, increasing amounts of hormones, beginning in October, trigger and orchestrate an elaborate, sexual dance for does and bucks that lasts through the end of December. This is what we call the rut. Unlike humans (and cougars), deer procreate only during this time of year. The crescendo for this animal drama is basically the middle of November.

When hunters sneak into the wild with gun or bow, they're essentially sabotaging sex crazed deer who've thrown much of their caution to the wind because of a burning desire to procreate. 

Whether hunting for meat or for trophy racks, this sure makes it a lot easier for the hunter. Normally elusive bucks are suddenly found trotting through the woods, fields, streets and backyards, hot on the trail of a doe in estrus. It's a primal ritual, rife with funky, musky scents, ritual displays of power with bucks rubbing trees with their antlers, fighting each other often to the death, and courtship behavior that's not all that different from our own.

Being out in the woods during this time can be an absolute rush. Although it's actually quite rare to witness much if any of the more dramatic behavior, ie. copulation, fighting, chasing, once in a while you get a glimpse of it and it's a real gift. The following video is from the original version of ANIMALS AMONG US. It was unfortunately deleted from the TV version because I felt another, earlier scene succinctly captured the intensity of the chase. I love this scene though because it captures a different kind of intensity.

In that scene I was trying to capture the drama on tape, with no consequence to the deer, save but a slight intrusion on their private lives. Now imagine a hunter, with a gun or bow, stopping a deer in it's tracks while it's caught up in it's own primal struggle to procreate, to perpetuate it's genetic material, to fulfill it's own destiny; at the height of that passion, it slams up against it's own demise. It's a tragic convergence of sorts, but many survive the gauntlet and keep the herd alive.

It's important to mention that not all deer are shot while in the middle of a chase, a fight, or "the act". Most are harvested simply walking home to bed or making their way to a food source. It's not an epic struggle. Having said that, there's still perhaps no greater rush in life than the simple sound of leaves crunching under the hooves of an approaching deer. Amplifying that rush is the excitement and intensity in getting a shot, whether with a weapon or a camera. If it's for a kill (in my case for meat) I always temper my enthusiasm with the sober truth of the animals death. Hunting for me is a necessary mix of celebration and reverence, always remembering to give thanks.

Another Autumnal phenomena, Halloween, fits nicely into this theme of sex and death, life and renewal. For the ancient Celts, Halloween (formerly known as Samhain [pronounced sah-wen]) was the Celtic new year, a time of transition with the death of the old year and the beginning of a new cycle. This calendrical marker poignantly reflects the our lives sustained from the meat of the harvest as well as the conception of a fawn that survives the season and lives to see the spring of life six months later.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Interviewer Interviewed

If you want to learn a little more about the seemingly invisible person behind this blog, check out the recent article on me in Encore Magazine. Of course I knew the article was coming out, but those sneaky little elves down at Encore kept the fact that I was on the cover a secret, eluding to it with snickering hints. I got wind of it from a subcontracted graphic artist who worked on the layout. Quite a surprise. Big thanks to Encore for the Christmas Present.

One of the more profound experiences to come out of the article was having the camera and microphone turned on me: the interviewer being interviewed.

Shortly following the premiere of my recent video, "The COLONY FARM ORCHARD", which features interviews with a half dozen or so people, it was only appropriate that I became the subject of someone else's journalistic creation. 

And although by no means an investigative report, it sure did give me a poignant glimpse into what it feels like to have your words, your story, in the hands of another person. It immediately heightened my understanding and appreciation for the subjects of my documentary work. 

In a documentary or video, people tell their intimate life stories, challenge authority, and subject their face and person to all the scrutiny and attention of the screen, whether it's a credit-card size picture on the internet or a huge screen at the Little Theater. Not only do they put themselves out there, they trust me to edit and shape their story into something true to their intention as well as the larger story. When I think about it, it's a daunting responsibility - very humbling.

I labored hard and long on "The COLONY FARM ORCHARD" video, being very careful to present everyone fairly and accurately, constantly curbing sensationalism or personal bias. I trust I didn't misrepresent anyone. 

On the flipside, I can say that Bob Weir and Encore Magazine did not misrepresent me; they celebrated me. For that I'm eternally grateful.

Coyote in the fog

You know an animal isn't aware of you when it's looking the other way.

(picture taken 11/8/09)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


As I march through the fields, doggedly tracking deer, and the applause assured by a handsome rack, I trample countless plants, with absolutely no regard - not unlike a rutting buck thrashing a sapling or bush. These are the casualties of obsession.

But when the bucks outwit me on home turf, I find myself turning to the subtle frequency of a "chick-a-dee-dee-dee", harvesting breakfast from a plant I could have felled with a single step. Suddenly, the world beneath my feet is now the kingdom at hand.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Update on the Colony Farm Orchard

If you've seen my recent video on the Colony Farm Orchard controversy (posted Friday, October 2, 2009), you'll remember that House Bill 5207, the bill that would effectively erase the open space restrictions on the property, was on it's way to the Michigan Senate for deliberation. Well, it's still in the Senate waiting for a vote. It's been on hold now for a couple weeks as the Senate wrestles with a burdensome state budget.

This pause in the process offers an opportunity for some much needed dialogue, one of the reasons I produced the video. To that end, now is a perfect time to contact Senator Tom George, State Senator for the 20th district, and express your support or opposition to House Bill 5207 and WMU's intentions to expand the BTR Park onto the Orchard. I've also provided links to other key players in the process and debate. In addition to Senator George, they're also worth contacting.
With election day tomorrow, it's important that we participate in the political process either with our vote or our voices. There's no better time than right now.

George represents the 20th District which includes all of Kalamazoo County. He has expressed his support of HB 5207 and WMU's plans to expand the BTR Park onto the Orchard.

As the Majority Leader, Bishop is in charge of the Senate agenda and is conducting a straw poll on the Orchard, based on phone calls, letters and e-mails received either in opposition or in favor of HB 5207.

Most of the dialogue over the Orchard has been through the Gazette, in articles, Viewpoints and Letters to the Editor. You can either write to be published or even comment on existing content through the comment forum online.

This is a Facebook page started by WMU students in opposition to development of the Orchard. 

President of Western Michigan University. The Gazette published Dunn's Viewpoint in September 2009: WMU remains committed to jobs & green space.

The most vocal neighborhood association in opposition to expanding the BTR Park onto the Orchard. The Gazette published a Viewpoint by the co-presidents of ODWNA: Business park is wrong use for orchard

Representative Jones introduced HB 5207, which was passed by the Michigan House in September 2009.

Richard Brewer, a former WMU professor, biological scientist, and author, has vocally opposed WMU's intentions through his website (the link above) and a Gazette viewpoint: CFO supposed to be used for public, not private, purpose.