Available light

Indian pipes

Solstice though it may be, this is nothing like the bright and open woods of midwinter, when the low sun floods the leafless trees and blue shadows craze the snowy ground. In the midsummer woods, small patches of sunlight appear, inch across the forest floor, and fade out. A photographer searches first for available light, and only then for subjects. These Indian pipes that were all aglow one moment were in shadow again before I could change the settings on the camera. One shot was all I got.

red maple burl

I was pleased to see a favorite burl illuminated. Grotesque arboreal bulges and hollows may be easier to spot in the winter, but they gain in mystery and significance when surrounded by the noisy, fecund life of high summer. What might have seemed as inert as the head of a mannequin now appears to pulse, the tree’s extruded heart — until the sun moves on.

funnel spider web

Funnel spider webs are everywhere. In full sun, their layers of silk act as prisms, capturing not just insects and bits of leaf dropped by caterpillars, but every color of the spectrum as they vibrate back and forth in what passes, this time of year, for a wind.

14 Replies to “Available light”

  1. I am absurdly pleased with myself for thinking to use the word “extruded” there. Such are the simple joys of the writing life.

  2. Indian pipe is so damned difficult to photograph, in my experience. Congratulations on getting such a good shot the first time.

    Does Indian pipe typically bloom this early in your neck of the woods? I always think of it as blooming in mid- to late-July.

    1. Since we had such an early spring, everything’s been about two weeks early here, including the Indian pipes. Some are still just coming out of the ground, though, too — I don’t think they’re quite at peak yet.

  3. Wow, what an unearthly glow! I don’t think we have Indian Pipe here; I don’t recognize the plant, anyway.

    And I’m continually struck, reading about Plummers Hollow, by how different our forests are: mine, being mostly evergreen and snowless, don’t open up in winter — they get even darker, wetter, and more mysterious.

    1. You’re right, and coniferous forests are wonderful in winter, especially if they are in a snowy rather than a riany part of the country. I have to satisfy myself with our one-acre spruce grove at the top of the field and the hemlocks down in the hollow (which are slowly dying due to the wooly adelgid, an non-native scale insect). Since we lived in the north woods of Maine for the first five years of my life, I think I did kind of imprint on that kind of forest.

  4. That’s all the light you needed, apparently. Great photo of the Indian Pipes. They look like sea horses, or, god forbid, some sort of mystical creatures out of bad art. But they really are beautiful.

    Extruded is good. It looks herniated.

    1. It looks herniated.
      Ha ha ha! I didn’t think of that. (Fortunately.)

      Glad you liked the photo. I didn’t add anything that wasn’t there — no extra glow, for example — but I did of course mess with some of the colors, basically changing the yellows and reds to green. I wanted to bring out that “corpse plant” ambience.

  5. It’s one of my great ambitions in life to one day see some Indian Pipes. The thought that you actually have bears living not far from your house is in a way more exciting, of course. But bears are very much of our earth, even if not of my country. The Indian Pipes are like something from another world – a mythical, unearthly beauty.

    1. You’re right. I try not to take them for granted even though they are exceedingly common in our woods. We have three other species of saprophites on the mountain — beech drops, pinesaps, and squawroot — but Indian pipes are certainly the most other-worldly.

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