Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

From gray to green, or death and rebirth

with 29 comments

Gnarly Dead Trees and New Growth 1313

The last picture included a distant view of a forest destroyed by one of various wildfires that have swept across parts of Mesa Verde National Park in the last few decades. When I’d gotten about half-way back out of the park on September 26th I stopped above a grove of trees that had similarly died in a forest fire, but here enough time had elapsed for new growth to have dominated the understory and turned it green again.

The visual density of all the gnarled trees fascinated me and I took pictures from various angles with two of my zoom lenses as I tried to optimize the interplay of so many branches in one space.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that point 15 in About My Techniques is relevant to this photograph. So is point 7, if you take as your area of focus the apparent tunnel of branches that’s two-thirds of the way over from the left edge of the photograph and two-thirds of the way down from the top edge.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2014 at 5:45 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

29 Responses

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  1. the image loaded in the inbox, thank you email subscription, b/c page links are not loading this morning. i like this photo for many reasons – i love to see the bones of trees, and this image – with its ‘reverse blanket’ of green showcases the starkness of the trees. i also loved yesterday’s image and lingered there in my mind for a while and wondered what it would have been like to have lived in that stark and unique settlement.

    reply compliments of the inbox reply, thanks wordpress!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 8, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    • You’ve wondered “what it would be like to have lived in that stark and unique settlement.” One thing I’ve wondered is how the people kept infants who were old enough to crawl and walk from falling off the cliffs.

      Regarding today’s image, what a great way you put things: “the bones of trees.” We can say without reserve that you’re on a roll this morning with your “reverse blanket” as well. And I, who recently rolled out of bed, will point out that if you reverse two consonants in reserve you get reverse. Seems like your e-mail reversed its cantankerous behavior and let you have ready access for a change, for which you’re duly grateful.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2014 at 7:18 AM

  2. In 2010, we were in Yellowstone Park where 1988 fires burned. New growth looks very healthy.

    Jim in IA

    November 8, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    • And we were there in 1998, when many burned areas were still much in evidence and gave large parts of the park a desolate look. Glad to hear the new growth more recently is looking healthy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2014 at 7:24 AM

      • We see similar renewals with prairie burn. They are on a much shorter time scale. A friend of mine will do one in the spring. I’ll likely post about it.

        Jim in IA

        November 8, 2014 at 7:30 AM

        • Right you are. People in my area from organizations like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Native Plant Society of Texas do prescribed prairie burns and often by the next year you can hardly tell there had been a fire. In contrast, some of the trees at Mesa Verde and Yellowstone grow slowly, and evidence of forest fires lingers for decades.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 8, 2014 at 8:03 AM

  3. The word “thicket” comes to mind. It’s always a surprise to come up against one of these apparently impenetrable walls, then take a second look and see deer trails leading into it. Years ago, when I was introduced to the hill country, I always was moving too fast and not looking closely enough. Once I slowed down and really looked at what was around me, I could get a little farther into places like this. That may be why the journals of the early explorers are such joys to read: they knew how to approach places like this.


    November 8, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    • Thicket sounds like just the right word for this. You’ve reminded me that the early explorers here often had no choice but to deal with places like this because there were no roads to go around them. Anglo pioneers in central Texas used to refer to the hills to the west of what is now Austin as mountains, and for people without all the conveniences that we take for granted, mountains they were. The difficulties of penetrating those regions guaranteed that people would be looking much more slowly and intently than is often the case for us now, unless we make ourselves look at things more slowly and deliberately.

      While I was photographing the thicket in today’s picture, a car with North Carolina license plates stopped along the road and a guy scampered down the embankment the way I had so he could take pictures too. I’m not sure whether his seeing me out there gave him the idea or whether he would have stopped on his own anyhow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      • That’s why places like Bandera Pass were so important: for the Indians as well as the settlers. There’s a Great Western Trail marker a few feet away from this historical marker.


        November 8, 2014 at 9:21 AM

        • Just the other day I read about Bandera Pass in Richard Zelade’s book Hill Country. The state marker you photographed mentions “many a hostile inroad” but doesn’t give details. Zelade mentions a battle there in 1732 between Apache Indians and Spanish troops from San Antonio. Later, after a peace agreement under which the Spanish would stay south of the pass and the Apaches north of it, the Spaniards supposedly put up a red bandera (i.e. flag) to mark the spot.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 8, 2014 at 12:33 PM

  4. That is quite the tangle. I was just clearing a part of our yard in preparation for some trees to be dropped and it resembled, in a way but nearly so, where all the grapevines and wild rose bushes had grown in among the small maples, oaks and other trees and shrubs.
    This works….as Saint Ansel said, “A good photograph is knowing where to stand”.

    Steve Gingold

    November 8, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    • S.A.: in these here parts that might well be taken to mean San Antonio, but for nature photographers it’s Saint Ansel. I resonate to the dictum of his that you quoted: ““A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” With that in mind, during the 20-minute stop for these trees I spent my time trying out literally dozens of vantage points as I looked for those that maximized the tangledness while minimizing distracting details both in the grove itself and in the background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2014 at 12:42 PM

  5. I love this…I have spent much time trying out vantage points like you mention and would have been proud to have captured this image 🙂 What an amazing sight!

    Leah Givens

    November 8, 2014 at 8:12 PM

    • Thanks for your enthusiastic response to this image, Leah. It was indeed an amazing sight, different from anything of that general type I think I’d photographed for over three decades (the other being the remains of a grove of drowned trees in east-central Texas).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2014 at 9:30 PM

  6. Gives me the impression of a battlefield; one involving long fingered people trying to poke out each other’s eyes. I must be paying attention to your posts. I spent about 20 minutes the other day trying to get into the best position to photograph a dandelion. The operative word is trying; I didn’t have much success, in the end. A dog and his owner came by whilst I was busy with my photographic efforts. The owner thought I was odd. The dog desperately wanted to get off lead and see what I was doing. I asked the dog if it wanted its photo taken. The owner replied, “No, I don’t think so.” And hurried off with a protesting dog.


    November 11, 2014 at 3:30 AM

    • Spending 20 minutes in one place to photograph a subject is right up my alley. Sometimes the best position is prone—and that reminds me of an incident from three years ago that’s described in the second paragraph of the post at:


      At least you asked the dog in your story, but no one asked me in mine.

      For something like as small and intricate as a dandelion (and especially its puffball of a seed head), you probably need a closeup lens on an SLR or a camera with macro focusing capability to do the subject justice.

      Coming back to the picture in this post, I’ll say once again you have a vivid imagination to see long-fingered people trying to poke out each other’s eyes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 11, 2014 at 7:17 AM

      • Hmmm……no one seemed concerned that I might need assistance. I could have done with a hand up from my prone position.


        November 11, 2014 at 6:19 PM

  7. I love this picture for the very reasons you decided to photograph it. I’m often drawn to forest devastated by fires. I find a stark beauty in the orange and black landscape. Often the trees exude glossy red sap which dribbles down the trees. After rain, the undergrowth is a vibrant green against the stark blackened forests. I see beauty in death as well as life. I like the dramatic tone that your picture sets. Beautiful work.


    November 14, 2014 at 11:38 PM

    • I appreciate your enthusiasm for this image and for the life~death~life process it represents. When I saw this dense stand of dead trees with greenery coming up beneath it I was captivated and had no choice but to take pictures.

      Three years ago a large part of the pine forest in Bastrop, thirty miles east of Austin, burned down. That was devastating (and many homes were lost as well), but already by the following spring wildflowers emerged:


      You mentioned glossy sap exuded by burned trees. when I photographed in the remains of the Bastrop forest two-and-a-half years after the fire I noticed what I took to be sap, though it had a mostly dull rather than glossy exterior:


      Steve Schwartzman

      November 15, 2014 at 4:03 AM

      • It’s nice to read that someone else finds beauty/interest in this process. Here in my region, bushfires are common. While the effects can often be devastating, it is comforting to see the resilience of nature as the bush regenerates in a glorious brilliant green flush. In fact, there are quite a few native Australian species of trees that need the intense heat of a bushfire in order for their seeds to germinate! A couple of my posts, Karawatha Forest and also Daisy Hill/Venman Bushland have bushfire pictures. In late winter/early spring, “controlled burns” are conducted to prevent out of control wild fires wreaking extensive damage to property. The resin/sap that I see here is very glossy and red, different to the unusual sap in the picture you referred me to. Thank you for sharing these links to your pictures and for the conversation. 🙂


        November 15, 2014 at 6:11 PM

  8. It’s disturbing to read (I think in your previous post it was) how many wild fires there have been in this area in what seems a short time. At the same time, as others have said, there is a beauty in the contrast between the dead trees and the floor of greenery that emerges below. I remember this very well from a huge fire out on Long Island some time back. Driving back and forth to LI over a period, it was quite interesting (and also a relief) to see new growth begin to take hold underneath the blackened trees.

    Susan Scheid

    November 15, 2014 at 4:14 PM

    • I, too, was surprised by how many wildfires have struck Mesa Verde, but the document that lists them attributes each one to a lightning strike, which is a natural phenomenon. As you point out, forests seem to begin regenerating fairly quickly after these fires. With the grove shown in this photograph, I think the trees are naturally slow-growing, but the process had clearly begun, and begun well, by the time I arrived there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 15, 2014 at 5:29 PM

  9. As it greens back up, are you noticing different species coming in?


    November 26, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    • I’m sorry to say I was there for only 20 minutes, and I was focused so much on picture-taking that I didn’t pay attention to the kinds of plants that were coming in.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2014 at 9:06 AM

  10. […] direction and noticed other dead trees that leaned in strange directions. They reminded me of scragglier and therefore pictorially more interesting dead trees that had fascinated me at Mesa Verde in […]

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