Jan 202016
 
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Paddling among the mangrove forest on the Buck Key Paddle Trail off the shores of Captiva Island, Florida

My toes curled tightly around the cool, white grains of soft sand as I looked to the angry inky clouds to the south.  Not again, I thought, shaking my head.

I apprehensively scanned the perfectly still, cerulean blue backwater bay to the east of Captiva Island.  Ruminations of my past felt as heavy as the muggy Florida air I now breathed. Only five weeks had passed since my mom and I frantically clung to life, paddling with all our strength and spirit through unexpected stormy six-foot swells on Lake Powell in Utah.  Staring into similar threatening conditions, I was hesitant to offer history such a hasty repeat invitation, especially during my first time climbing back onto a stand-up paddleboard since that harrowing event.

The cordial, clean-shaven 30-something-year-old attendant at the water sports rental hut at the ‘Tweens Water Inn broke my trance. “Let me check the weather forecast for you,” he said while spinning around to meet his computer’s keyboard.

“Heavy rain in 30 minutes,” he yelled back after a few seconds.

I slowly touched my red rain jacket and black waterproof pants, which hid my new black two-piece swimsuit. I dressed to get wet—rain or shine.  My concerns stirred elsewhere.

“What about wind?” I asked while stroking my chin and staring at the summoning sea.

“Nothing significant, just four-to-five miles per hour all afternoon,” he calmly responded.

“If the wind kicks up, does this bay see big swells?” I asked stoically, trying to learn more about the Buck Key Paddle Trail—an aquatic path I had never paddled on before.

“Not really, this area is pretty protected by Buck Key,” he responded, pointing to a mangrove-covered strip of land across the narrow Roosevelt Channel.

“If I go out for 30 minutes and the weather gets really bad, what happens?” I continued my inquisition without changing my scrutinizing gaze.

“You’ll get wet, but who cares?” he responded. “If you make it to the trail, you can hide out there until whatever happens passes.”

My eyes widened as a devious smile grew on my face. Like a pirate or rum-runner trying to outrun authorities (including the most dominant powers of them all—Mother Nature’s hurricanes), I too could find a safe haven in the sinuous waterways lined by twisted gangling mangrove roots. Perhaps history and I could play together nicely after all this morning.

“Let’s do this then!” I responded enthusiastically with a sharp clap of my hands.

He nodded with a grin equal to my own. While I filled out the legal paperwork, he effortlessly pulled a long stand-up paddleboard off the rack of many and then positioned it partially in the water to ease my launch from the gently sloping beach.

As I looped the board’s bungee cord over my large purple dry bag to secure it to my rented board, I looked up at him, “Soooo, how about gators?”

“What about gators?”

“Am I going to run into any out there in the bay or on the trail?”

“There’s a three-foot gator that’s been sunning himself in the bayou. You might see him before you turn right into the trail.  Here’s a map.”

“Do you know if he’s had breakfast yet?” I asked only half-jokingly as I tucked the laminated trail map under my dry bag.

He laughed but did not respond.  Nervously, I then added, “Here’s hoping so. Otherwise he’s going to have a yummy side of granola and peach yogurt with his six-foot tall human main course today.”

Kneeling on my board, I submerged my paddle and pushed the island’s beach away from me to start my two-mile journey under overcast skies—and more importantly, no wind.  However, with the line of dark clouds approaching, I swiftly headed to the lagoon’s entrance a half-mile away, paying little attention to the immaculate mansions and the old dilapidated boats (apparently used only by resting and grooming cormorants and anhingas) lining the canal.

When I arrived at the narrow opening for Braynerd’s Bayou, I balked. An unsettling three-foot wide cut beneath a canopy of eight-foot mangroves offered entrance to the Buck Key Preserve—and the water trail I was to follow.  I shuddered and thought to myself, “Where exactly did he say that gator rested?”

I inhaled a healthy dose of courage with the salty sea air.  I exhaled fear, hoping the nascent light breeze would carry it away.  Goosebumps emerged on my arms and legs, though I could not tell if my irrational worries or the chilly winds (or both) were the sneaky culprits.

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Great white pelicans float in Braynerd’s Bayou

Pushing the opaque waters away from my board delicately, I propelled myself a short 100 feet before the tree tunnel gave way to an open sky and a storybook tranquil cove. Brown pelicans flew overhead in a clumsy V-shaped pattern. American white pelicans floated like graceful swans. An occasional splash from a mullet leaping aggressively into mid-air reminded me of the unseen underwater world no doubt bustling under my feet. A chirping osprey overlooked this magical outdoor kingdom while roosting on his dead-snag throne like a somber-faced gargoyle warding off evil spirits.

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The Buck Key Paddle “Trailhead”

I stopped paddling in hopes of traveling unnoticed in this foreign and enthralling bay, but a subtle current pulled me closer to the northern edge of the bayou where the official canoe/kayak trail supposedly began. When I drifted in front of a small, cave-like opening in the mangroves, I searched fervently for a trail sign or marker—anything that could help answer my anxious psyche’s question, “You really want me to go in there?”

Unintentionally splashing my feet with drops of tepid water, I swirled my board around with strong backwards paddle strokes to survey my scene from left to right in search of a better option—and to spot that three-foot creature lurking somewhere around here. Along the western shore, I spotted a dark, long object. Gator or deadwood?  I was not inclined to paddle over there to find out.

Without any effort of my own, the beckoning waterway’s swirling flow casually rotated my board 180-degrees to allow me to confront the trail’s intimidating entrance once again. I snapped a few pictures of the watery “trailhead” as teasing raindrops started tapping the water’s surface. I extended my arm and turned my right palm face up toward the unleashing sky to feel the soft drizzly dance against my own skin. I took another deep breath, filling my lungs with the earthy, rotten-egg aroma pervasive in mangrove forests now enhanced by the onset of rain.  I grinned.  Time to play pirate.

I answered the trail’s call by dropping to my knees to avoid hitting my head on the low-hanging lanky branches hugging the waterway—and to prevent me from falling off my board into the three-to-four-feet of mangrove muck.  As I slipped into the trail’s grasp, I instantly felt transported to the Dagobah System from the Star Wars movies. Yoda could have dropped out of the trees without startling me.

I alternated paddling and pushing myself off the reddish-brown roots dipping their toes in the brackish six-foot wide channel.  As I weaved steadily through this sheltered dreamlike hideout, I studied Buck Key’s sandy uninhabited landscape veiled behind the wall of green. I contemplated whether I could survive off this land as well as the Calusa Indians once had among their shell mounds. Shy mangrove crabs scurrying among the branches indicated these little critters obviously could prosper here. I wondered if the pirates and rum-runners paused for even a second from their illicit business to appreciate the incredible beauty of their temporary surroundings similar to these.

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Collection of algae-covered shells on Buck Key

After a little more than a half mile of paddling, the shaded waterway greeted the undulating waves of the expansive Pine Island Sound. As if to tempt me to remain in the trail’s dry confines even longer, an elegant great blue heron swooped from one branch to another close enough for me to hear the flap of its wings slice smoothly through the sultry air.  Imagining my good fortune could not get any better, within seconds, a giant eagle ray jumped explosively out of the channel waters, flashing his black-spotted body and bleach white underside to the emerging sun—and to me gazing in awe a mere 100 feet away with my jaw dropped. I closed my eyes and shrugged my shoulders to curl around the warm, welcoming northerly breeze.  I counted my many treasures from this experience. I liked being a pirate.

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A juvenile osprey rests on a twisted mangrove branch – spotted en route back to the hotel’s marina.

With the fast-moving current threatening to push me quickly back into Buck Key’s embrace, I stood up on my paddleboard and shook the stiffness from my folded legs before digging my paddle into the sea to return to my hotel.

As I approached the resort’s marina, the same sun-tanned gent who had helped me launch earlier appeared from the rental hut with a friendly smile.

“Well, how was it?” he asked excitedly.

“Fantastic! The gator was apparently full!”  I joked as I nonchalantly slid my board into the beach.  “Seriously though, paddling through the tight canopy of a mangrove forest was so different than anything I’ve ever done.  I’m from Arizona, where I’m used to paddling under big open landscapes where you can see forever.”

He nodded his head as if he understood.

“Were you fine in the rain?” he inquired.

“What rain?” I asked genuinely, but then slyly smiled as I started humming Disney’s popular Pirates of the Caribbean song to myself, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”

 

Many thanks to the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort and Spa for hosting the Outdoor Writers Association of America Board of Directors and Officers during our winter board meeting activities this past January.  Their outstanding support made this adventure possible.  If the thought of floating gently through a tunnel of green, communing with wildlife, and savoring the ocean air entices you, you won’t soon forget a paddling trip (via canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard) from Captiva Island!  I can’t wait to return…

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View of Pine Island Sound from the Roosevelt Channel

May 022015
 

“Packaged Deale” photo copyright Stevie Deale

“Packaged Deale”
I have this tendency, when I photograph, to not want to force anything. I’ll be doing something with a friend or on a hike and I will see the image in my head; I will see the moment as an image. So, when I photograph, I end up taking images of moments that are happening and not going out with the specific intent to take images, which has a very polarizing effect for the people viewing my images.

In the instance of this image, entitled “Packaged Deale,” I was hiking with my brothers, Ryan and Adam Deale, in the Seattle area, Snowqualmie Falls to be specific, when I turned back around to say something to them and I saw that the way waterfall was representative of them and how the surroundings were framing them. I told them to stop and since they happen to be willing to model for me, for which I am very grateful, they did and I captured this image of them in front of this waterfall, which they now have hanging in their apartment.

However, even though I took this image in a moment of inspiration does not mean that I do not have something to say with the image in mind as I’m taking it. I saw this waterfall, with one side being slightly larger and more forceful than the other before they join into one pool, and I immediately thought that it was representative of my brothers and of the people in our society as a whole. While one of my brothers is more forceful and larger than the other, they still end up coming together and joining in the ‘pool of friendship’ as I’m calling it (cheesy, I know, but you get the idea), or (as a less cheesy option), you could say that they’re a packaged deal(e). Despite the fact that some people in this world are more forceful and stronger, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t all humans and that we all can’t come together to create a movement or create a community that supports all life (like a river, get it?).

Anyway, now I’m sure you’re wondering about the logistics of this particular image! I took this image on a Canon Rebel T3i with an 18-55mm kit lens. My ISO was 400 to capture the speed of the waterfall, my aperture was at f/4.5 with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second. I am using a shallower depth of field so that my brothers would be the main focus while allowing the waterfall to fade into the background and not take up the majority of the focus in the image.

This image really makes me realize the beauty of our world and how we are all similar despite our insistence otherwise. I hope this image is making you stop and think about our world in a new way or that it is a reminder that we are all human.

About the Photographer:
My name is Stevie Deale. I have grown up in California, but in the last two years, I have worked in various places, such as Flagstaff, Arizona, multiple locations in California, England and Madrid, Spain. I have studied photography since I was 13 and I still enjoy the practice of taking images. I take self-portraits and I explore the intricacies of the human experience through my work. My goal is to capture the unexpected and simple moments in life, such as a person in a coffee shop, or out in nature, just enjoying life.

Steviedeale.weebly.com

http://riversandroadstowardsgrowth.tumblr.com/

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at http://youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/3rd-annual-northern-arizona-university-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project/Please take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Feb 192014
 
The Sol of Winter

Winter sunrise at Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park in Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

Last night, the Acadia National Park area received about five inches of fresh snow. The fluffy and light powder created a smooth fondant-like coating over the top of the granite ledges and boulders.  A glorious sunrise greeted those who ventured out early enough to see the winter spectacle.  I welcomed the new day with a smile (and a sunburst!) along the granite headland called Schoodic Point.

Despite the weather forecast suggesting partly cloudy skies would quickly turn to mostly cloudy cover, the sun still shone brightly after I consumed my breakfast. I decided to pack my camera gear and head back to Schoodic Point for a little more fun.  Specifically, I wanted to record me digging a snow angel against the backdrop of Cadillac Mountain (hat tip to my friend and fellow photographer, Olivier du Tre for the idea!)

At Schoodic Point, I danced though the blanket of snow to find a safe place among the wind-swept granite ledges. After composing my frame with a little extra room on the bottom right hand corner for my snow angel, I set my intervolometer to fire my shutter at 5 second intervals following an initial 20-second delay (to allow me enough time to walk into the frame and start moving snow around). After I made several outtakes, I walked out of the scene and back to my camera to stop the automatic trigger.  I reviewed the results on my camera’s LCD, made some minor adjustments, and then tried the process again. (Lather, rinse, repeat for about 20 minutes.)

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Colleen making a snow angel on Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park, Maine

All went according to plan until I finished the third set-up. After creating a sequence of photos for a time-lapse video (a new skill I am practicing), I carefully stepped from one exposed granite ledge to another to avoid stepping on my winter creation and to return to my camera.

I traveled about three-quarters of the route back with no trouble. Then suddenly, I plunged from a solid granite boulder into a large snowdrift about four feet below. After my feet stopped in their unexpected descent, my momentum pushed me forward, causing me to land face first and hands out in the soft snow. Instantly, I started laughing hysterically. After a few minutes contemplating the hilarity of my situation, I pulled myself out of the snow, brushed off, and returned to my camera to stop the intervals.

My tumble had occurred outside the frame on camera right, but when I glanced at the imprint in the snow, it looked just like an animal shape. I had an idea! Without hesitation, I recomposed my camera on the fall area, set the self-timer, and then performed a re-enactment of my face plant.

And with that, I introduce to you my “snow lobster!”  Along the Maine coast, that’s apparently how we “roll!”

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Colleen demonstrates the new “Snow Lobster” on Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park in Maine

For more stories about my photographic adventures in Acadia National Park, pick up a copy of my new guidebook, Photographing Acadia National Park:  The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How In addition to the 12 “Making the Photo” stories, you’ll also learn about my favorite 50 locations in the park so you can plan your own fun in this magical place.  And, 10% of the book’s profit goes to the Schoodic Education Adventure program to help kids learn about science and nature in Acadia!

Or join me in Acadia this fall with the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops!  Limited seats remain, so get more information and register at  ahpw.org/workshops/2014/2014-Acadia-National-Park-Photo-Workshop-2014-10-09/.

Mar 212013
 
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Ride With Me,” Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Of all the images I’ve created thus far, the one I get questioned the most about is, by a landslide, “Ride With Me” in Acadia National Park in Maine.  I’m frequently asked, “Where was the camera?” and “And how did you snap the picture with both hands on the handlebars?”

Though I captured the image above during my second Artist-in-Residence with the park in October 2010, my visualizations for this image started almost a year earlier in November 2009 during my first residency.  In the months leading up to my first visit, I read a wonderful book by Ann Rockefeller Roberts titled, “Mr. Rockefeller’s Roads:  The Untold Stories of Acadia’s Carriage Roads.”  Concerned the “new” automobile would threaten the natural beauty and affect the quiet, peacefulness Mount Desert Island provided him, his family, and fellow community members, John Rockefeller, Jr. envisioned setting aside land to establish a network of carriage roads limited to only carriage riders, drivers, and pedestrians could utilize for recreational purposes. By 1940, a 57-mile system of carefully designed and developed carriage roads existed for exactly that purpose.

Inspired by this story,  as I turned each page, I started to piece together the kind of photograph I wanted to make when I arrived and experienced the phenomenal carriage roads for myself.  As soon as I made it to Acadia in November, I hit the carriage roads on foot or by bicycle, traveling almost every length of the 45-miles within the park boundaries.  Occasionally, I stopped to make a photograph or two or ten or fifty.  I felt I was capturing “nice,” technically acceptable photographs along the way but never truly felt I had captured something that did this unique feature within Acadia justice.

Poor Carriage Road Shot - ExampleThe photo to the right was honestly the best I brought home.  Does this inspire anyone to go to Acadia and see the carriage roads for themselves?  I’m guessing a resounding NO!!  This shot is just, well, really sad…

Now once you have a spark of enthusiasm or even a semblance of an idea, don’t give up on it!  I had the fortunate opportunity to return to Acadia in October 2010, so I had precisely 10 months to analyze what went wrong in the first attempt and design an approach that would yield the type of image I wanted to capture on the carriage roads.

I wanted to share how much fun it was to hike and bike along these paths, so I decided I would show myself in motion.  I’m not a fast walker, and so help me, I do not run ever (unless someone is chasing me or is giving away free cameras across the field…) so I planned to create the image while on a moving bike with a slower shutter speed to imply movement and speed.  I could hold the camera in one hand up to my eye while keeping one hand on the handlebars to render an OK image, but that approach seemed doomed for certain disaster for clumsy ol’ me.  I needed both hands on the handlebars, but how would I trigger the shutter?

I mulled my idea over with my husband, who promptly suggested I research what skydivers do to trigger the shutter when they throw their crazy selves out of planes with both hands free.  Hmmmm, yes…I found a company online, Conceptus, who made switches for just this reason!  So I traveled to one of their distributors in Eloy, Arizona to pick up my tongue-switch, a cable-release that would plug into the camera and would allow me to trigger the shutter hands-free with my tongue!  After just a few clicks, I knew this tool would certainly help me capture my vision!

With fresh enthusiasm for my idea, I returned to Acadia and started biking the autumn-kissed, tree-lined carriage roads with my camera strapped to my mid-section with a basic strap, my camera manually focused at infinity, my lens set at 16mm for a wide-angle perspective, and of course, my tongue switch in my mouth!  I’d bike as fast as I could downhill, experimenting with various shutter speeds to render just enough motion but not so much it looked like the stars when the Millennium Falcon went into hyperspace mode.

Six-hundred shots later- only four of which turned out to my liking – and I can confidentially say this photograph, “Ride With Me” is exactly how I felt about enjoying the carriage roads and perhaps more importantly, it conveys exactly what I wanted to share with my viewers about that special feeling.  I hope this photograph does inspire you to go to Acadia and see the carriage roads yourself!  Truly, as the title expresses, I wanted you to ride with me.

Whether you’re photographing from a bike, an airplane, or with your two feet solidly planted on the ground, remember to look at your image on the back of your LCD before you move yourself or your tripod to be sure what you’ve captured is exactly what you envisioned and wish to share with your audience.  If you don’t, you’re cheating yourself and your audience out of something very important you have to say about the scene in front of you.  Work the scene by moving your position, changing lens, using light differently, modifying your exposure settings, applying filters, or whatever else you can do to ensure you capture that vision. And like I suggested earlier, once you have an idea pop into your head or you see something in the field that excites you, don’t walk away or give up until you’ve recorded it with your pixels!

Technical info:  Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 50, f/20 @ 1/5th of a second, polarizer, triggered by Conceptus tongue-switch, basic post-processing.