A Spring Prairie Burn

by Dee Hudson Photography

I had a great opportunity to photograph a live fire training exercise at Nachusa Grassland’s 2015 Fire Refresher event. To stand so close to a prairie burn and take pictures all day was soooo exciting and all brand new to me.

Like the crew, first I was suited up in a bright yellow fire–resistant Nomex jumpsuit. The fire crews received first dibs, so when the time came for me to ‘suit up’, there were not many remaining outfits. My suit was made for a ‘tall person’ so I did not make any fashion statements that day, as I rolled up each pant leg about six inches. Thank goodness I was quickly lost in a sea of matching yellow–suited bodies. In fact, recognizing other crew members is very challenging, so every crew member has their name mounted in capital letters on their helmets.

The Burn Boss

Crew boss and crew member names are clearly visible on their safety helmets.

I was told by the Burn Boss to be aware of the moving vehicles at all times. I was instructed not to crouch down behind a truck — basically try not to get run over!

Gwen ignites the prairie grass with a drip torch.

Gwen ignites the prairie grass with a drip torch.

Last year I began to take the online fire training courses in preparation for being a member of the fire crews at Nachusa. However, reading about the prescribed burns and actually participating in them are two different things. I sipped my coffee and propped my feet up while taking the online course. Whereas, in the live exercise, once the fire was ignited with the drip–torch it raced across the dry grass.

A prairie burn.

The head fire towers above the grasses as it speeds across the prairie.

There was no time to stand still as I followed the crew. I tried to advance with the fire crew and was immediately hit by the smoke and heat, so I made a hasty retreat.

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For the shoot, I used my Canon 200 mm zoom lens and this proved to be an excellent choice. This lens allowed me to stay well back from the action, yet capture all the details I desired. Even at a distance, the heat from the fire was intense. I had not expected the photography that day to be such a dirty job and I wished I had covered my camera body and lens. There was ash and small particles swirling through the air, with the tiny pieces settling all over my camera and lens.

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Fighting the Head Fire

This particular burn was an exercise to review prescribed burn protocols and give crew members more experience in a safer situation, where senior crew members were on hand to supervise, help and debrief.

John oversees a crew member as he works on a spot fire.

John oversees a crew member as he works on a spot fire.

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The fire fighter sprays the burning embers so they do not jump back and ignite unburned prairie.

What an exciting shoot! I love the atmosphere created by the fire and smoke. I look forward to shooting another burn in the fall and completing my fire training so I can be on the other side of the camera next time.

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Teamwork

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On a Quest for . . . Bison

by Dee Hudson Photography

So, today I am about to shoot some bison, or rather should I say ‘photograph’ bison?

My alarm blares at 5:00 am. Oh my gosh, I’m a night owl, so waking at this hour is very painful. I only hit the snooze button once, and then I am slowly pulling on all my clothing layers . . . my cold weather biking pants and jersey first . . . jeans and a turtle neck . . . a thick sweater. I stop layering there or I will overheat before I leave the house. I check my packing list, throw my food for the day into my cooler and grab my camera gear compiled the night before. I am out of the house in about 40 minutes — probably my record time, since I am not a morning person.

One stop for coffee and I am on my way to Nachusa Grasslands (90 minutes away), trying to arrive soon after sunrise in order to shoot in some nice morning light. Today I am on a quest to photograph Nachusa’s wild herd for possible use in the preserve’s annual report. In the last few weeks though, the bison and I have never been in the same location at the same time. Today, I’m hoping for success!

I arrive at the preserve around 7:30 am and the morning light is very pretty. The sun is just visible behind a thin layer of clouds — my favorite kind of light! Yikes! The temperature . . .
5 degrees Fahrenheit. . . . brrrrrrrrr!!!! As I exit the car, I pull on another layer — a thin coat that blocks the wind and covers the ‘bum’.

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The bison graze in the fields along Stone Barn road.

I meet my friend and steward, Jay Stacy, at the headquarters barn. Jay already has a vehicle warmed up and ready for our adventure. Jay volunteered to drive me around for the morning and help me search for the bison herd. We are lucky on this cold day, for the herd is grazing in the fields just off of Stone Barn Road. As we pull into the field entrance, the bison pause their eating to look at us. We watch them a view minutes as I adjust my camera settings and look for some good shots. I roll down the truck window and snap a few images. As I exit the truck, the bison turn around and slowly plod away. Rats!

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The bison move to a new grazing spot.

It is soooo cold, that even with hand–warmers in my pockets, I can not stand outside the truck long before my fingers hurt. Before I head back into the truck to warm up, through my telephoto lens I see two males face off and then begin bumping their heads together.

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Two males lower their heads and butt each other.

After lunch we drive back to the field and the bison are still in the same place they were when we left them in the morning. Now, most of the herd is laying down and resting on the side of a hill in the afternoon sun.

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The female standing in profile is one of seven female bison in the herd fitted with GPS collars. These collars collect daily data for researchers.

I was hoping for some nice images of the whole herd, and I was pleased with my success today. Hopefully during my next visit to Nachusa, I will again be in the right place at the right time to enjoy these magnificent animals.

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Something Different

by Dee Hudson Photography

Light, color, shapes and my favorite subject . . . nature.

During a walk one evening, I decided to experiment a bit with some night photography and see what I could create using any available light.

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I was pleased with the look, capturing ‘something different’ from anything I have ever done before. Could I create more images like this and begin a new series?

During my second attempt, the night was a bit windy, but it worked to my advantage as the movement added to the design. I also love the colors that showcase my subject — this time multiple colored lights were present and I think the effect is rather painterly.

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In the future I hope to apply this ‘look’ to my photography with Illinois prairies.

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Now, I just need to name these images. Any good suggestions for me?

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Photo Place Gallery

by Dee Hudson Photography

This was a very exciting week! My image, Silhouette Glow, submitted to the juried show at Photo Place Gallery was chosen from amongst 1200 images for the online gallery. This show was curated by the incredible Jeff Curto, Professor Emeritus at College of DuPage. I appreciate being selected and I am delighted to be in the company of all the other wonderful artists in this show.

Also in the Photo Place Online Gallery are Carol Byron and Becky Davis, fellow members with me in the ‘Fleeting Moments Artists’ group. Congratulations!!

Congratulations also to Joanne Barsanti, a former classmate and fine artist, on her selection to the Photo Place Gallery. Her image, Preening Egret, was selected for exhibition in the gallery in Middleton, Vermont in March.

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Silhouette Glow © Dee Hudson

Silhouette Glow was photographed in the West Chicago Prairie in Illinois during the winter of 2014. When I captured this image, I remember I was snowshoeing through deep snow during a very cold spell — temperatures in the single digits. The day was nearly done and I was cold and tired, about to finish photographing for the day. As I framed this last winter plant stalk (probably in the sunflower family) in my camera view finder, I instantly knew it was a ‘keeper’. People often ask me whether this image was created in Photoshop. No, it was actually all captured in my camera as the photo appears here. To achieve this effect, I carefully position myself in relation to my light source and my subject and then use a very selective focus. Although this is the ‘look’ I strive for, many times I hike miles through the prairie without success, for it is hard to locate exactly the light I desire and the subject I want.

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Porcupines in the Prairie

by Dee Hudson Photography

Porcupines in the prairie? When it comes to prairies, I am of course speaking about the Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea).

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The porcupine grass creates an elegant silhouette.

The seed from this grass is one of my favorites because it is so unique–looking compared to other seeds I have seen. The tip of this seed is rather furry and comes to a very sharp point, like a porcupine quill. Even though I was careful while planting these seeds, I still bled from pricking my fingers with the sharp tips.

 The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

To plant the porcupine grass I actually jabbed the seed downward, burying the pointed tip into the ground. I would squat to the ground (to get a work–out while I planted!!) and then sink five seeds into the ground in a circle around me. Then I would stand up and toss out another five seeds to self–plant and then I would walk eight to ten feet and repeat the whole process again. As you can imagine, this planting process is very labor–intensive.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The seed tails are very fascinating. There are two different colored strands that twist around each other, looking rather candy cane–like to me. Apparently these two strands twist at different rates depending on the humidity in the air. So, when the air is dry, the tapered tail end will coil and fishtail to one side or the other and then when there is more moisture in the air the tail will fishtail the other way. Over time, the humidity changes  will allow this seed to literally screw itself down into the ground. It is pretty amazing how nature works!

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As the seed dries, the end coils.

 

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie.

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands.

 

Of the Earth . . . a Pop–up Show

Patsy R. Davis spent over a month preparing and arranging the art for this week’s pop–up show installed at the College of DuPage. For this exhibition, Patsy combined her works of art created with various media —  photography, inorganic welded scrap-metal sculptures and organic roots. Through her art, Patsy wants to share her passion to honor, celebrate and preserve the bounty of this earth.

Linne Staley and Patsy R. Davis

Linne Staley and Patsy R. Davis (the artist) enjoy a ‘selfie’ taken with the roots!

 

Patsy has been an organic gardener for years. As she worked in her garden and pulled up her excess plant roots, she began to discover how different and diverse each root was from another, even among the same plant species. Each root essentially shares the same common purpose, yet Patsy was awed by the sustenance they provide and their individual beauty and strength.

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A large installation featuring roots.

My favorite! A large root installation that spanned the exhibit floor.

Roots have also been featured as Patsy’s photographic subjects. Using an antiquarian pre–film photo process from the 19th century (wet–plate collodion tintypes) Patsy creates photogram images of her roots. The roots lend themselves to some unique asymmetrical and contrasty abstract designs. “Digging in the earth and moving my hands through the

soil creates a strong connection with the earth and the process is very meditative for me”, Patsy explains.

The meditative experience not only comes from working in the earth, but also from welding materials that come from the earth. Patsy finds it very satisfying to be able to reuse materials as she creates her art, rather than wasting or consuming additional resources.

As expressed through her art work, Patsy believes in respecting all life forms, celebrating diversity and believes in individuals and the commonality of all. In the future Patsy would like to take the connection to earth one step further, and create relationships with individuals who do conservation work. Great show Patsy! To see more of Patsy’s work, check out Patsy R. Davis Eco Artist.

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A welded scrap metal sculpture.

 

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Planting Seeds in Winter?

by Dee Hudson Photography

Yes, when you’re planting prairie seeds, December can be a great time to sow them!! Native seeds actually need many freezes and thaws to soften up their hard seed coats so they are ready to germinate in the spring.

On the morning of December 4th, I helped Jay Stacy, a land steward at Nachusa Grasslands, hand–sow seeds onto a problem area in his prairie field.

A hand holding prairie seeds

Over the past seven months, Jay (with my help also!) has hand–collected seeds from all over Nachusa’s restored prairie fields, to use for this ‘Mullein Hill’ planting. The seed mix we sowed contained over 40 different species, many species that are rare in plantings (conservative species) and many species that will colonize quickly and then give way as the rare species become established.

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I asked Jay what was in his seed mix and he said, “Leadplant, dropseed, cream wild indigo, pale purple coneflower, western sunflower, coreopsis palmata, yellow coneflower, shooting stars, prairie violets, silky aster and many other species.”

The 16 acres surrounding this hill were planted into prairie in 2012, but Jay left this small fifth of an acre unplanted due to all the brush and tree limbs laying across the slope. Jay cleared the hill of stumps and branches in 2013, but in the meantime, mullein, an invasive non–native species, took over!! Boy, did these plants ever take over! See all the green rosette–shaped plants covering the hill and slope as far as you can see? There are hundreds and hundreds of these non–native plants in just this small area._MG_8465

Mullein grows well in sandy, dry areas and this hill was a perfect place for it to thrive. To keep this biennial from making seeds, Jay mowed the mullein down three separate times this past summer (2014). Now, Jay and I are planting some competition for the mullein and once these seeds sprout in the spring, the mullein won’t have a chance at survival.

This mullein hill is shaped irregularly, so Jay used an inventive planting method (known as the Schmadeke Techniqueto insure that we did not miss any spots as we scattered out the seeds. First we ringed the outside perimeter with bright colored flags. Then we stood next to a starting flag and spaced ourselves about five feet apart. We began to spread our seeds while walking towards the next flag. When we arrived at the second flag, Jay pulled it out and handed it to me, and I plunked it in the ground to my left, thus creating a tighter circle to follow the next sweep around the hill.

I’m excited to visit ‘Mullein Hill’ next spring and see what has sprouted. We will probably need to give the hill a new name!