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From the Archives: A Year of Sugar River

As my second winter in the US begins, I figured that now would be a good time to showcase one of my favourite little-known places in the local area - Sugar River Forest Preserve.

Established in 1924, Sugar River Forest Preserve is situated to the northwest of Rockford, Illinois (map). With 529 acres of old growth forest and 5.3 miles of trails, Sugar River might not be the largest nature preserve in the region, but in my opinion, it certainly is one of the most beautiful.

Those of you who visit my flickr page from time to time will notice that I've been taking more and more shots of trees, leaves, flowers, and everything else that falls under the broad category of "nature" over the past few months. In short, the hot, humid summers and cold, dry winters of northern Illinois have helped me appreciate one of the finer points of photography - making the most out of your changing surroundings.

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"April come she will"

Simon & Garfunkel

As I'm sure many people already know, spring marks a time when the weather (finally) heats back up again, and tiny white forest flowers begin to bloom all around. Leaves are budding on the trees and all the little bugs start to come out of hibernation to feast and swarm around anyone who just wants a pleasant walk in the forest.

In April 2012 I had my first ever tick bite (see this tweet). I'll spare you the details (it wasn't that bad), but needless to say my wife and I avoided Sugar River until "the weather gets too hot for the bugs" as my father-in-law put it.

I took my best shot of spring when fiddling around with some close up, wide aperture photography. The low depth-of-field made the flowers look all delicate and lovely.

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"Summertime, and the livin's easy"

George Gershwin (and the brilliant Sublime)

Summer came and brought with it humid 35ºC weather. The pine trees smelled nice, and bottles of water became essential equipment. The wild deer had their fawns, and I even managed to snap one up close (with a 50mm lens, no less).

As the undergrowth turned green, what once looked wide and open in winter now looks close and personal. The trails take on a new feel - catch the light at the right time and the place is quite magical.

My favourite shot for summer used strong, bright sunlight and shade from the trees to my advantage. I found some shade and shot up towards the sun with my wide angle (24mm) lens and some Kodak Portra film, partly expecting an underexposed mess. Quite frankly, I got lucky with this one.

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"And the leaves that are green turn to brown"

Simon & Garfunkel

And yes, I am listening to Sounds of Silence as I write this. Autumn is my favourite time of year, when the hickory trees turn a brilliant gold (see here) and the weather returns to a much more comfortable 25ºC.

The pines and evergreens watch on as the rest of the trees burst into colour - brilliant reds, oranges, golds, and, finally browns. So many browns. The undergrowth loses its depth and the trails go back to feeling wide and open. Occasionally you'll spot the road running through the park and think "has that really been this close all this time?"

My favourite shot from autumn is another lucky one - a path near the main Sugar River campsite. While I wanted a long, straight leading line at the time, I didn't notice until processing afterwards how much colour was in this shot - this was taken well after all the gold and red leaves had fallen from the trees.

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"And the sky is a hazy shade of winter"

Simon & Garfunkel

I write this a couple of days after the first snow of the 2012-2013 winter season. Last winter (2011-12) northern Illinois had hardly any snow, which was quite disappointing.

Unlike some, I really enjoy winter. Getting the insulated snow-boots out, layering up, heading out into the cold, and coming back inside to tingling hands and warm cups of tea makes this season something special.

As you probably guessed, white is the colour of the season. The more white, and the more it sticks to things, the better I say: fresh snow coated to trees gives them a new look.

Two days in to my second winter and my favourite shot so far has been this one - my wife has no time to wait while I fiddle around with aperture and shutter speeds. And you shouldn't too - go out and shoot, and make the most of your surroundings.

Adam Simmons

December 22, 2012

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