Thursday, March 30, 2017

On thin ice....

My dad and I drove to Clam Lake Wisconsin looking for elk a couple of weeks ago. We headed right to a likely spot where we had seen elk in the past and... 

we actually found some elk!
It was a group of seven or eight cows and calves browsing on plants in the forest.
And grazing on dried out grass.
The sun came out for just a bit as one of the calves stopped eating long enough to see what we were doing.
After making a few images, the sun went back behind the clouds and we went looking for other subjects to photograph.
At a boat launch on Day Lake we walked out to this view of clouds, shadows and snow.
Clouds can make all the difference.
I kept working the angles with sky, trees, shadows, and clouds in order to find pleasing compositions.
The warm light of the setting sun lit the poplar trees to the east.
The view to the west as the sun dropped below the horizon.
We had seen fresh elk tracks crossing the road on the way to the lake and went back to try and find the elk who made them.
Our luck held, as we found a group of seven more elk including three young bulls.
The sun again slipped behind the trees and I lost the light for good pictures so we headed for a different spot on Day Lake.
I had been trying to make decent images from this particular spot for years without any luck. With a few clouds in the sky and the sun sinking low from our new vantage point I thought I might have a chance.
The lake was iced over and if I hurried I might be able to make some useful images before the sun disappeared completely. My dad stayed in the car and I jumped out with a camera, an extra lens, and a tripod.
I had to walk about a quarter mile in order to use the tamarack and spruce trees as a foreground to the evening sky. The clouds had mostly disappeared and the color was disappointing, but I tried to do something with what was there.
As I was walking out there I realized that I didn't actually know how thick the ice was and it had snowed the day before covering the ice surface.
I slowed down and started to pay attention. I came upon a beaver lodge and could see the snow was wet around it. I stopped and backtracked and looked for a safer route.

So far, so good. So I kept shooting and moving and trying to compose some pleasing images. None of it was working very well and I was starting to feel frustrated.
I took a few breaths, took these last couple of images,
and then put my camera in it's case, hung it on my shoulder, shortened the tripod legs and stood there.  I decided to enjoy the moment rather than struggle for images that weren't there. It was 18 degrees, the sun had just dropped below the horizon, and it was a good day.
After a couple of calm, beautiful minutes, I took a step back to take in the scene, and KAWAAK!! I heard that sound or something like it as the bottom went out from under my feet. 
Instinctively, I grabbed my camera case and lifted it as I launched myself backwards. I didn't actually know what had happened until I was putting both hands on the ice behind me and pushing myself out of the water and back onto the ice. My left leg was soaked past my waist but my right leg was mostly dry.  The ice I was now standing on held as I stood and took stock of my situation.
My camera case was mostly dry and I had zipped the zipper all the way shut so I was good there. The lens in my right side coat pocket seemed dry and undamaged, and my tripod was covered in ice but still in my hand.
Where I had fallen through must have been only about waist deep and it seems I successfully pushed off the bottom with my left foot as I threw myself back when the ice had given out. All things considered I was in great shape. I only had a quarter of a mile to get back to the car and there would be a heater waiting for me when I got there.
I took a look around and found a seemingly safe path back toward the road.  As I got to a stretch of open ice between me and the car I thought about how stupid it had been for me to assume the ice was good on the way out.
I walked slowly and thought happy thoughts about how light I was as I made it across that ice to the car.
I put my stuff in the back and my icy tripod in the trunk, got in shotgun and asked my dad to crank the heat. I told him what happened, felt lucky how it all turned out and looked forward to a hot shower when I got home.