Posted by: kerryl29 | April 19, 2016

The Landscape Letdown Syndrome

I have an acquaintance who told me, upon return from a trip to Olympic National Park a few years ago, that he was done photographing locally.  “I just can’t get inspired by anything around here anymore,” he said.  In his case, “locally” was the greater Chicago area, but it just as easily could have applied to someone in central Indiana.

For those unfamiliar with this part of the world, “locally” does, in fact, pale in comparison with…well, Olympic National Park, among other places…like just about all other places, it seems.  I’m frequently faced with this problem, most recently when I returned from the Canadian Rockies last October.  This was pretty much the acid test, given the landscape I was leaving behind (because it doesn’t get any better than the Canadian Rockies).  The fall color season in the American Midwest was less than three weeks away when I got back and, while I wasn’t going to see anything comparable to what I’d left behind, I was determined not to fall prey to the Landscape Letdown Syndrome.

What is the Landscape Letdown Syndrome?  It’s my descriptor for the malady I outlined in the opening paragraph:  a malaise that can arise when the place you’re at doesn’t measure up to the place you’ve been.

In early October, I determined that I was going to pay a visit, hopefully during the peak of fall color, to Brown County State Park in south-central Indiana, about 75 minutes south of my Indianapolis area base.  I had visited the park before–once, more than a decade prior, on a relentlessly blue sky day.  People in the Indianapolis region absolutely rave about Brown County as a fall color destination…and, as local venues go, it’s pretty nice.  I mean, it doesn’t hold a candle, colorwise, to the North Woods (hundreds of miles to the north in Wisconsin and Michigan), and it’s hardly the treasure trove of subject matter endemic to a place like Great Smoky Mountains National Park (more than 500 miles to the southeast), but for the region, Brown County State Park has much to recommend it.

Ogle Lake Oak, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake Oak, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Overlook, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Overlook, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Brown County State Park is located near the northern terminus of the hilly terrain that makes up much of the southern half of the states of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.  There are a series of overlooks, providing vistas covering miles of thickly forested ground.  There are several creeks that flow through the park and they’ve been dammed, creating a pair of lakes.  The park itself is filled with trees, including oak, maple, beech and sycamore.  There’s also a coniferous stand, near Stahl Lake.

Autumn Overlook, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Overlook, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

The truth is, I’d been aiming to get back to Brown County during peak color for years, but I kept being denied.  Sometimes I was simply out of the region when color was at its best.  Several years, the color basically never materialized, due to preceding months-long summer droughts.  In 2014, I thought I’d finally get my opportunity and headed down to Brown County one Saturday only to be hit with miles of bumper to bumper traffic.  There’s a fall festival on the weekend before Halloween every year and the tens of thousands of attendees turn the two-lane roads in Brown County into parking lots.  I’d forgotten about that and I ended up spending several hours trying to fight my way through the traffic and never so much as set foot inside the park.  (It was at that point that I resolved that I would never, ever head to Brown County on a fall weekend again.)

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Stahl Lake Trees, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Stahl Lake Trees, Brown County State Park, Indiana

So, in 2015, I planned ahead a bit.  In the middle of the month I traveled down–clearly ahead of the best color–to scout the park…on a weekday.  The scouting session was well worthwhile.  I scoped out a series of overlooks and interesting spots around the two man made lakes in the park.  And I was able to determine that peak color was just about exactly one week away.  So, I planned to return the following week (also on a weekday) and spend the day photographing.  And so I did.

Ogle Lake Reflections, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake Reflections, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Brown County is no Canadian Rockies–there’s no point in denying it.  But, I basically concluded, so what?  It doesn’t need to be.  I avoided Landscape Letdown Syndrome by simply not making the comparison in the first place.  The trick is to view each location with fresh eyes–to, essentially, take what you’re given.  Perhaps it’s easier said than done, but over the years I’ve found that it’s possible to appreciate all forms of landscape beauty for what they are, rather than being blinded by what they aren’t.

Stahl Lake Reflections, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Stahl Lake Reflections, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Tapestry, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Tapestry, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Perhaps it also helps that the main theme of this Brown County shoot–rich, varied fall color–was effectively absent during my time in the Canadian Rockies (where fall color is largely manifested by the beautiful–but single-minded–yellow of aspen leaves).  Perhaps the change of pace made it easier to avoid the perils of Landscape Letdown Syndrome.

Autumn Overlook, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Overlook, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Regardless, I was rewarded with an enjoyable day and had the opportunity to spend time photographing at another Midwest state park.  That in and of itself was worth considerably more than the price of admission.

Ogle Lake Oak, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Ogle Lake Oak, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Overlook at Sunset, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Autumn Overlook at Sunset, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Hesitation Point, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Hesitation Point, Brown County State Park, Indiana

Even better, I proved to myself, conclusively, that I could overcome the pull of Landscape Letdown Syndrome.

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Responses

  1. Kerry: More spectacular images!

    • Thanks very much!

  2. ….stunning–and I live in British Columbia! We don’t have nearly the range of Autumnal colours as you do.

    • Thanks!

      Yes, with a few exceptions, fall color is a lot richer in the eastern part of the continent than the western half. But the best of the best is in the North Woods areas, a band ranging roughly from Maine and New Brunswick, through all of New England and southern Quebec, through upstate New York and southern Ontario, through Michigan (roughly from the northern half of the Lower Peninsula and all of the Upper Peninsula) and the northern half of Wisconsin, petering out somewhere in the northern half of Minnesota.

  3. I really enjoy some of the brown oak colors, even though they are bursting red or orange or whatever. There’s a tree by my office that almost looks rusty in fall. Your Ogle Lake shot reminded me of that a little. Nice work!

  4. Wow, the colours! Picturesque.

    • Thanks very much!

  5. I can see why that area would be so crowded on weekends, the colors are spectacular! While Indiana will never compare to the Canadian Rockies, your photos of it bring out the absolute best of it. Once again, I’m amazed at your talents as a landscape photographer!

    • Thanks, Jerry. I greatly appreciate the kind words.

  6. This post was doubly delightful: both for the images, and for your description of your syndrome. I grinned all the way through, since last fall I wrote my own post called “An End to Autumn Envy.” Here on the Texas gulf coast, we’re as far from what you captured in Indiana as Indiana was from the Canadian Rockies. In fact, the gap might be even greater, and I suffer mightly from a lack of “real” autumn color, every year.

    The trick, I suppose, is that old one, which you counsel here: stop, take a look at what is, and bring that to life.

    Confronted with a forced choice, I think I would name Stahl Lake reflections as my favorite among the photos. Not only is it a beautiful and intriguing abstract, given your topic, that “arrow” is just too delicious.

    • Thanks for the kind words and for mentioning your (of a sort) kindred post; I was able to find it on your blog and I quite enjoyed reading it.

      From your post: “What if I set aside my criteria for a perfect autumn, and simply accepted what is?”

      I think that’s it, essentially. It’s easier said than done, but the key is to establish the mindset of working with what’s accessible to you. No comparisons. No idealization. The alternative, taken to its logical conclusion, would be utter stagnation because everything would pale in contrast with its Platonic ideal. But, as I noted: easier said than done.

  7. Simply stunning. Reflections on the lake look like paintings. Poetry of colors..

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

  8. Remarkable lesson in keeping the mind and the eyes open to what is available. Then again when local gets a bit stale (hard to imagine that happening in the Canadian Rockies, but perhaps?), there’s nothing quite like a trip elsewhere to clear the palate.

    • Agreed. Heading somewhere new–even if the new place is ostensibly less interesting than the old one–can do wonders, because it forces you to look at things with a fresh perspective.

  9. Always hard to stay engaged with the normal. Looks like you’re doing a great job of it, I may have to go give San Francisco another try.

    • It’s funny…obviously because you live in the immediate area, San Francisco is routine, or something approaching it. For most of us, it’s anything but and photographing there is a highly engaging experience. I guess familiarity really does breed something not entirely unlike contempt, regardless of the subject (i.e. this is far from the first time I’ve encountered something like this).

      Thanks for posting; this is fascinating stuff.

  10. Great pictures and philosophy “…The trick is to view each location with fresh eyes…”.

    • Thanks very much!

  11. Those are beautiful fall colors in your photos. We don’t see much of the red and oranges. Red around here are mostly from scrub oak and a particular variety of weed.

    During the fall colors season here in Colorado, I trade off in not going to the mountains to photograph the sweeping views of the aspen in their gold colors. You spend more time in traffic. And, some of the best views can be found from the side of the road. As such, you’re jockeying with others for that roadside spot. Also, some of the most photographed scenes, like Maroon Bells near Aspen, the traffic is rather busy year round. The traffic is further compounded by the foot traffic on the trails to Maroon Bells. It is not on my list to see.

    In many ways, I don’t mind shooting close to home – from my neighborhood to places maybe an hour away.

    • Thanks!

      Your description of traffic during fall color season sounds like New England, which can also get quite crowded during the leaf-peeping period. My go to “away” location during the fall is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which is NEVER crowded, but harbors a true North Woods environment. I always say, it’s about 95% of New England’s fall color with about 5% of the crowds.

      • Might be interested in the latest regarding Maroon Bells – the US Forest Service is considering a reservation system to hike and camp overnight in the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness Area. They will likely to begin limiting access into the area next year. The heavy foot traffic has taken a toll on the trails, plus they are beginning to see significant impacts in the adjacent sections within the wilderness area.

        • Thanks for the update. Are there any plans to limit daily access to the area as far as you know?

        • They (US Forest Service) haven’t said anything regarding daily access, but I presume that maybe considered as well. The trails are so overcrowded, especially during the summer, they may be in rough shape as well.

        • Thanks. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

  12. My gosh, stunning photography! You’re a genius!

  13. […] plenty of beauty very close at hand here in the Midwest, and–as was the case with Brown County State Park last fall–trips to more obviously breathtaking places like the Canadian Rockies or the Oregon […]

  14. Beutifull I have started following you

    • Thanks; much appreciated!


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