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    October 2010
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Fall Color In Vermont – 2010

Bragg Hill Road, Waitsfield, Vermont

On October 1, I left for New England for my third week-long fall foliage photography trip to Vermont in the past 10 years.  I may be a jinx on Vermont foliage.  In 2005, I cajoled my best friend, and fellow photographer, Rich to drive with me for the week.  I had promised him for years that as good as our Northern Michigan fall color is, New England would “blow it away.”  We have a governor here in Michigan who made that promise, too.  Sadly, neither of us have been able to deliver.  In 2005, color essentially never happened.  The numerous Vermonters I know assure me it was the worst year ever.  I went again in 2006 and while much better than 2005, it was still a lackluster year, with a strange tendency for early Maple leaf drop.  2007, I understand was incredible, as was 2009.  So I headed East in 2010 with proverbial “great expectations.”

Interstate 91 near Windsor, Vermont

Once again, Mother Nature decided to test my resolve.  Due to a variety of conditions, Vermont (indeed, it seems the whole Northeastern United States, from Minnesota to Maine, with the possible exception of the Adirondack region of New York) experience unusually early turning of the foliage and rapid and early leaf drop.

Dummerston Covered Bridge

Common Road, Waitsfield, Vermont

Fortunately, however, there were numerous pockets of good foliage.  And with a little work, I was able to find some of it.  With a network of friends and the help of the Scenes Of Vermont Foliage Forum, I chased the color around the state.


Working At “Creative” Photography

Farm On Burton Hill Road, Barton, VT

I am a mechanic.  I like equipment, software, techniques and guidelines for good composition.  I have to work at the creative side of my photography and often marvel at the “eye” for composition others have, “seeing” things I completely missed.  I find traveling to new or different venues for photography gets my creative “juices” flowing.  I always get excited planning for a photo excursion, researching the location, deciding which equipment to take, where to stay, etc.  But I am admittedly a gear head, putting heavy emphasis on tripods, lenses, maps, software, etc.

This October, as I planned my trip to Vermont, it occurred to me that I was missing something.  I solicited advice from a pro who is an artist as much as a photographer.  I wanted to know how to mentally prepare myself for the creative side of photography for the trip.  I borrowed what he suggested were the two most important principles he considers when going into the

Sunrise Over Pond, Barton, VT

field, adapted and internalized them in my own way:  (1) Let the light dictate the image; and (2) Make the image your own creative process.

These images are characterized, in my view, by unique light, and I hope by my own unique creative style.

Sunrise and fog often work together to create an ephemeral, almost “high key” look that is, at the same time, pastel.

Foggy sunrise, Jordan Farm, Bakersfield Vermont

I think early morning light from the pre-dawn alpenglow to just after sunrise is among the best quality light available.

Another time when the quality of light is always surprising  and presents presents unique opportunities is when the whether is changing.  The light on this farm on “Cloudland Road” near Woodstock, Vermont happened suddenly and unexpectedly.  We had been photographing all day long with clear blue skies and as we arrived on Cloudland Road the sky was suddenly gray behind the late day sun.

Farm on Cloudland Road, Woodstock, VT

The last, waning light of the day often yields surprises, especially in geographic regions like the Green Mountains, which create modeling shadows. This barn on theLower Pleasant Valley Road in Cambridge, Vermont is partly lit and partly in shadow, but it is the late afternoon sunlight on Mt. Mansfield in the background that creates drama in the image in my view.

Lower Pleasant Valley Road, Cambridge, VT

More Minnesota North Shore Photography

Split Rock Lighthouse

A few weeks back, I posted a piece on the Centennial celebration of the Split Rock Light in Split Rock State Park on the Minnesota North Shore.  This decommissioned light celebrated 100 years in July.  The light will be lit in recognition of this milestone a number of times during 2010.  It also gets lit on the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, in tribute to those seamen, each year.  There are books devoted to photography of the lighthouse.  It has been photographed 1000’s of times and surely appears on 100’s of web sites (now including my own).  Probably only a few, however, have shots of the light with fireworks in the background.

While Split Rock is what drew me to Minnesota, I discovered that the North Shore has many other opportunities to photograph natures wonder. There are numerous cascading waterfalls and rivers finding their eventual way into Lake Superior.  There are bluffs and “seaside” scenes.  And this is the gateway into the famous Boundary Waters Canoe area.

We photographed the “touristy” Gooseberry Falls on the Sunday morning after the lighthouse

Gooseberry Falls

shoot.  We were fortunate to be there at sunup and not have to deal with the crowds of people climbing and swimming around the falls during the daytime hours.  Shots of the main falls are nice, but in my view, “ho hum.”  The upper falls, however, are worth wandering up the trail a bit.  However, the real photo op for the upper falls is in the late afternoon when the golden light of the setting sun lights them.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that on this trip.

Of course, I had to climb down into the top portion and follow my own vision of more intimate shots of the falls.  In spite of a gray overcast morning, I like the colors in the rocks and the water.

On Saturday morning, following the morning Split Rock shooting, we traveled up to the Cascade River and climbed way down into the gorge for a shot.  My friend Al has the shot hanging on his wall.  When we got down there, it was no longer there!  Mother nature is amazing.  It is an argument for taking shots when you are there (I have a shot of Miner’s Castle in the Michigan U.P. which can never again be taken, as erosion caused one of the turrets to fall since then).  Once down in the canyon, we decided to make the best of what we had.  I like the colors of the swirling water and the rocks in the background.

Cascade River

Lobster Tail; A Tale (and Industry) of a Popular Delicacy


Maine Lobster at the Boat


Homarus americanus; The North American Lobster, is characterized by large size, meaty tail and claws (as distinguished from “Rock Lobster” which can be found often in warmer waters, and which has only tail meat).  Last fall, I posted “When in Maine . . . Do As (Eat Lobster).”  Shortly afterward, I was contacted by a non-profit organization, devoted to the Lobstering Industry, with a request for use of one of my photos.  Flattering.  But more importantly, as I perused their website, it piqued my interest in writing something about this industry.


Dave, coming ashore after a day hauling traps


In “real life” I make my living advising clients about Estate Planning and Business Succession.  Many of my clients are involved in the food production industry (ok, farmers  🙂 ).  I have always had a keen interest in all things related to nature, plants and animals.  So, to me, my casual conversation with Dave, a Lobsterman returning from a day’s work was strongly reminiscent of my family farm “roots.”  These are largely small, family businesses, much like most farming.  Dave told me that during the season, he would be on the water from just before sunrise (I think they can start to pull traps sometime just after sunrise, so they need to be ready), often until sunset.  On a summer day, those are some hours!  Many of them do it 7 days a week.

Lobster with a capital “M”

While lobstering is done over much of the North Atlantic Coast, from Long Island to “Down East  (Maine),” the large majority of American Lobstering occurs in Maine.  I am often guilty of being (innocently, even if ignorantly) parochial.  So I tend to think of Maine for Lobster and Vermont for Maple Syrup, for example.  But the clear majority of Lobster caught worldwide is “landed” in Canadian waters, from Maine to Newfoundland (about 62%, according to the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute).  Maine is the next at 38% (approximately 62% of the U.S. catch), followed by Massachusetts at 18%.  Understanding the Major role they play in the industry, Maine Lobstermen participate in a number of ways in marketing and promoting their livelihood.  One of the primary vehicles is through organizations like the Maine Lobster Council, which devotes its activities to educating the public and regulatory bodies about vital industry issues and promoting the industry with news about lobster events.

Tough Times

Like some other sectors of the food production industry (notably, dairy), they have had some tough economic times in the past couple years.  Boat price for these delectable crustaceans is low.  New equipment regulations take their toll (in recent years, rope that sinks to the bottom has been mandated, to protect whales from becoming entangled).  While a worthwhile regulation, it makes it difficult to impossible to grapple it up, if lost.  One Lobsterman notes that if you lose one of these series of traps (referred to as a “trawl”), represents a $1,000 equipment loss.

Sustainability is Key

The first recorded catch, according to the Institute, was around 1605.  I am guessing native Americans already here were catching and eating them before that, and may have even showed “us” how.

It takes from 5 to 7 years for an average lobster to grow to the legal size to harvest.  A Maine lobster at minimum legal size (3 1/4 inch carapace – from just behind the eye on the head, to the tail section) weighs in around a pound.  According to the Lobster Institute, a freshly laid lobster egg is about 1/16″.  A 1-pound female lobster carries an average of 8,000 eggs,  A 9-pound upwards of 100,000. The eggs remain inside for 9 to 12 months and then are carried for another 9 to 12 months externally attached under the tail. [link to LI page].  Sounds like a lot of eggs.  However, the important part is how many of them live to viability, without predation.  I couldn’t find any statistics, but I’ll bet a significant proportion do not.  (For more lobster “biology” see The Lobster Conservancy.)

Clearly, a key to the Lobstering Industry is long-term sustainability

So, clearly, a key to the Lobstering Industry is long-term sustainability.  To that end, there is a fair amount of government regulation, but perhaps more notably, self-regulation, voluntary compliance and community action.  According to the University of Maine’s Lobster Institute, Lobstermen have marked egg bearing females with a “V” notch in their tail fin and returned them to the sea since 1872.  This is still a current practice.  When a lobster with a “V” notch is caught, it is thrown back (eggs or not).  In the United States, it is law that a lobster with a V notch may not be kept.

Of course, like other fisheries, there is a minimum (and maximum) size, which is generally regulated by each state, as well as a traps (also called “pots”) per Lobsterman limit.

The Federal Government has (surprise) its part, too.  “The Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act” (Title 16, USC, “Conservation” Chapter 71) authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to regulate coastal fisheries, including lobstering.  Its stated purpose is “to support and encourage the development, implementation, and enforcement of effective interstate conservation and management of Atlantic coastal fishery resources.”  The Act authorizes the “Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to promulgate fishery management plans.  It empowers the Secretary to impose a moratorium on fishing if states to not comply.  It also empowers the forfeiture of vessels in certain instances where their owner does not comply with law.  That certainly is enough for the owner of a several hundred thousand dollar boat to take notice!

For many years, the weathered, wooden trap was symbolic of the Northeast and Lobstering


Traditional Wooden Lobster "Pots"




Modern Lobster Traps


For many years, the weathered, wooden trap was symbolic of the Northeast and Lobstering.  In the 1970’s wire mesh traps began rapidly replacing the wooden traps.  Much lower maintenance, the new wire traps are lighter (about 40 lbs. vs. 125 lbs. for a wet, wooden trap).  At the same time, because of their lack of buoyancy vs. wood, they are much “heavier” in the water, making them more easily handled.  According to the Institute, a typical trap costs between $45-$60.  These days the traps also feature a biodegradable “ghost panel.” The purpose of this is to eventually biodegrade allowing a large space for lobsters to escape from lost traps (known as  “ghost traps”).  While the new traps don’t have the quaint, photogenic quality the wood traps did (we had to do some searching to even find a stack of wooden traps), they are colorful.  Lobster traps are baited with any food that might attract the Lobster.  The most popular bait is herring.

These boats have characteristic “fishing” lines, including, typically, a wide stern, open cockpit in the back of the boat; and rails (sides) which slope downward from bow to stern, with higher fronts managing the seas, and the rear closer to the water (freeboard) to facilitate hauling of traps.  Lobster boats commonly range from 22-45 for most inshore lobstermen (“inshore” means they go out during the day and come back into port each night – “offshore” will go out to sea for several days and obviously require larger boats).  Starting in the mid six figures and an up, these craft are a substantial investment.


Lobster Boats


I know that the next time I enjoy a lobster tail, I’ll eat with a different perspective

When I visited the working harbors of Bernard and Stonington in October, 2009, what my eyes saw were quaint, picturesque communities nestled in the hills behind a harbor full of colorful, photogenic boats (you can see more of my shots of these magnificent harbors here).  What I have come to realize is that – like all of the agriculture and food production industry, these folks are sophisticated business owners who understand the legal, financial, technical and biological aspects of their business and who–daily–risk life and fortune.  But, unlike many business ventures, its much more than “just business.”  Like family farming, it’s a way of life.  I know that the next time I enjoy a lobster tail, I’ll eat with a different perspective.  Thanks, Lobstermen!

See a brief video on Lobstering in Maine: