NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP
WITH JOHN & BARBARA GERLACH

August, 2004

by Flo Deems

My brother, Bud, and I loaded up his SUV the last week of July, 2004, and headed for Michigan to take a week-long nature photography workshop the following week. So with all our photo equipment and suitcases, the SUV was pretty full. I don't remember where we stopped for the first night. But when we got to Mackinaw City, MI, the next day, it was raining and cloudy. I'd wanted to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island the next day. We were going to rent bikes, as no motor vehicles are allowed on the island. But the next day it was still raining. We ended up staying overnight there again. In the morning we set off over the big suspension bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac. Before the bridge was built, people used to have to line up in their cars to take the car ferry over to the Upper Peninsula, a 30-minute trip. The bridge enables people to drive the distance in about 5 minutes. For a $5 fee.

It rained all the way up to the Whitefish Point Lighthouse on a tip that sticks out into Lake Michigan. We arrived there about 10 a.m. but the place wouldn't open until 11. So we sat and endured the rain. About 10 minutes before 11, though, the skies started clearing rather fast. By the time the building opened, the sun was shining brightly. So we explored the museum and gift shop, hiked the short distance to the beach and shot some photos.

Then it was on to Tahquamenon Falls. We visited the Lower Falls first and then the Upper Falls. Things had changed a lot since I'd been there in 1953. Used to be you could walk out onto the lip of the Lower Falls - but that is now considered too dangerous to allow tourists to do. We had to be content to shoot the falls from the vantage point of wooden walkways and observation areas.

We found another motel, so spent the night near Tahquamenon Falls. The next morning we drove south to look at the Seul Choix Point Lighthouse on a little peninsula sticking out into Lake Michigan. Back on the road once more, we arrived at the motel where we would stay for a week during the workshop. Since we got there first, ahead of the rest of the workshop participants, we got our choice of a 2-room suite.

For the workshop, we had our first meeting that evening. John and Barbara Gerlach had been teaching workshops for about 5 years, as I recall. They'd come to Philadelphia the winter before for a weekend of lectures. We had been so impressed with them, that we'd signed up for this workshop.

From the next morning on, each day it was leave the motel at 6:30 a.m in the dark, car pooling, to get out to a dewy meadow and shoot dew-covered plants and insects in the dawn's early light, until the sun came up about 9:30 and stirred up the breezes. If it was a rainy or windy morning, then we'd go to a waterfall and get wetter.

Breakfast at around 10. Then a lecture/discussion at noon. Around 3:30-4 we'd get some free time until supper at 5 or 5:30.

Off at 6:30 p.m. for the evening shoots. One day we slogged thru a gosh-awful trail that only the Gerlachs knew about, out to a beautiful point along Lake Superior (Pictured Rocks National Shore Area) where we were treated to an awesome sunset. Set up tripods and shot away.

One morning, not only was it dewy, but also foggy. We went to a lovely meadow and shot fog scenes as well as more dewy stuff.

The Gerlachs had a 4-yr old pomeranian named Yogi, who loves to eat blueberries. They plopped him down in the middle of a blueberry patch and he'd start chomping away - eating only the ripe ones! He's starred in his own segment on Animal Planet, too, showing him gnoshing blueberries. So of course we nick-named him Yogi Berry.

Since every road in the UP looks exactly the same at night, invariably we'd get "lost" trying to find the motel, lol. John's directions on how to get back would often take us 5-10 miles in the wrong direction before we realized that it wasn't the right direction. Even Bud's new GPS thingie wasn't very helpful, as we didn't know the numbers of those gravely county roads which it posted. We hadn't thought to try to program it to head back to the motel.

Each day after returning late from the evening shoot, Bud would go to sleep and I'd stay up and load my day's photos into my Apple iBook laptop and cut 2 CD back-ups. Sometimes I didn't get to bed until 1 or 2 a.m.

After the workshop was over, we drove 9 hours up to a cousin's cabin. Flossy and George Marks own land only about 30 miles from the Canadian border along the north shore of Lake Superior, near Grand Marais, Minnesota. Since they had Sarah and Andrew, two of their grandkids, there for the whole week, Bud and I slept in their camper-trailer while the others slept in the cabin. I would not have liked to have had to sleep in the loft, as I would have had to climb up and down a skimpy ladder - that's okay for teens, but not for seniors like me. The trailer was unheated, too - got down to 37 for 2 nights. Not too bad, though, sleeping under a couple of below-zero-rated sleeping bags.

I always have to get up at least once a night. So it was find my shoes in the dark, slip into my jacket and flash-light it to the one-holer facility familiar to all who have had camping experience. George Marks, my cousin Flossy's husband, had built the facility, but it had only the floor, the hole with a regular toilet seat, 4 walls with about a 2-ft open space between the tops of the walls and the roof. No door. Since then, they have totally enclosed it, shingled the roof, painted the walls, added a door, etc.

Andrew was about 14 then and we celebrated his birthday that week. Andrew loves to play the bagpipe and plans to major in Medieval History. Sarah was about 11. She's a sweet kid. I liked both kids a lot.

One day the Markses took us into Canada about 40 miles to Fort Williams, a fantastic and large reconstructed fur traders' town. I've never seen so many volunteers dressed in period costumes as in that place. It's well worth the visit.

Another day we attended a Native American pow-wow and a Rendevous, a re-enactment of another fur trading gathering. Got to see an actually working Mackinaw Boat, which was the workhorse boat of the lake during the 1800s. Also the firing of cannons and other demonstrations.

We "cabinned" for a week, then said our goodbyes and traveled south to Moose Lake to see a relative we'd never seen before. Then on south to Preston in southeastern Minnesota to see other relatives we hadn't seen in 50-some years. On to La Crosse, Wisconsin, to visit the wife of another relative who'd died last fall.

Headed for home, we had another "encounter," trying to get around the Chicago area. It took us 3 and a half hours (instead of an hour), because all the interstates, esp at the ramps leading from one to another, were under construction. Miles of bumper to bumper traffic, ugh. And unfortunately for me, I was the one who was driving when we hit the bottle neck, so after getting beyond Chicago, I was very happy to turn the wheel over to Bud.

The only other delay (45 minutes) was in western Pennsylvania on I-80. A FedEx double trailer truck had flipped over in the rain and fog, just at the start of another construction area.

I have no idea how many photos I shot (1500 maybe?). They were all in my then-new laptop. I had to figure out how to get the images out of Apple's iPhoto and into Photoshop to work on them, then onto my host server so I could share them with others. One of the best things about a digital camera is the instant feedback. We can delete the shots we didn't like and try again right away.

During our 3 weeks on the road-more than 4100 miles-Bud and I had a system of sharing expenses. The first day he would pay for the gasoline all day and that night I'd pay the motel bill. The next day we'd switch- I'd pay the gasoline and he the motel bill. We kept records in a small notebook. When we got home we tallied it all up - and I ended up owing Bud only about $19! Pretty good system for sharing expenses.

Even though we had a great time, we were sure glad to be home. Living 3 weeks out of suitcases gets to a person after a while.

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