Posted by: kerryl29 | May 13, 2019

A Return to the Mundane

On several occasions during the nearly ten years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve ruminated on the significance of going through the process of learning how to photograph the landscape in a locale that (mostly) eschews grand landscapes and forces the novice photographer to focus his/her attention on the intimate.  The past few weeks have provided a refresher course that has served to validate the maxim that the Upper Midwest of the United States serves as a true taskmaster in the art of “landscape seeing.”

Otter Creek, Baxter’s Hollow Preserve, Sauk County, Wisconsin

In the last entry, I displayed the results of my recent experiences–frustrating and satisfying–in Indiana and Illinois.  Partly as a function of those brief experiences in the field this spring, I headed up to Wisconsin for a couple of days last week, on a bit of a whim.  I spent my time in the Baraboo Hills region of the state, about an hour north of Madison, and not quite three hours northwest of my base in northeast Illinois.  (I had been in the area to photograph briefly once before, but that was 12 years ago in October.)

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

I found myself in a fairly familiar environment:  natural areas that were heavily wooded and filled with visual “clutter,” small streams with some canyon-ish areas reminiscent of Starved Rock (Illinois), Turkey Run (Indiana) and Hocking Hills (Ohio).

Skillet Creek, Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Backlit Tree, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

I’ll relate the specific experience of my brief Wisconsin trip during future entries, but I want to focus my attention in this post on the broader lesson of acting on the familiar.  With a few exceptions, the vast majority of my time in the field over the two days I was in the Baraboo Hills was spent wandering around places completely devoid of mind-blowing visual stimuli, in light I frequently hear derided as flat.  Due to the second straight year of delayed bloom due to a cold early spring punctuated by copious amounts of rain, it was early in the leaf-out/blooming season in central Wisconsin during my time there.

East Bluff Trail View, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

And yet…

Thought I’ve kind of poisoned the well by using the word “mundane” in the title of this post, I repeatedly saw the subtle, captivating beauty of this landscape emerge from the visual chaos.  This should be no surprise, as I’ve been through this exercise too many times to count, at this point.  And yet, somehow, it never ceases to amaze me.  When photographing in locations like these I simultaneously feel as though I’ve “done this a thousand times before” and a remarkable freshness, as though I’ve discovered something entirely new.

Parphrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

It was only two days, but it served as a great antidote to the malaise that had so concerned me after my less-than-entirely satisfactory experience at McCormick’s Creek just a couple of weeks prior.  It never hurts to receive a direct, no-nonsense reminder of why I photograph the landscape in the first place.

Rural Sunset, Sauk County, Wisconsin



  1. This is like a breath of fresh air.

  2. Your photos make your point for you, Kerry – so full of subtlety and beauty. I especially love the image of the forest just beginning to leaf out, one of my favorite moments of spring. As always, thank you for sharing your insights and your images 🙂

    • Thanks very much, Lynn. That period of leaf out in the forest is among my favorites as well. Toothwort was in bloom at McGilvra Woods when I was there, as I will display in a future post.

  3. Yes

  4. Finding the beauty close to home always has a relevance that’s lost further afield.

    • Thanks and agreed!

  5. I like your shot of Otter Creek.

    • Thanks very much!

  6. […] first site I visited on my brief two-day visit to central Wisconsin earlier this month was Pewit’s Nest State Natural Area.  This is a relatively small […]

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