The Isolation of Winter in the Shawnee Hills

Winter, Winter, Go Away?

– by Gary Marks

Winter is a time that can make us scurry inside, trying to get away from the bitter cold temperatures.  For some of us just the saying “winter” is a dirty word, but there are some people that wait patiently for the cooler temps so they can explore the frozen world outside.

Here in Southern Illinois we rarely stay cold for any length of time.  It can be in the 60’s like this past weekend, then dip almost instantly to below freezing, but in those short time periods some of the best artistic scenery can come alive.


Flash Freeze

It was one of these cold mornings that brought me to Ferne Clyffe State Park.  Two days ago it rained a drought-breaking 3.5 inches.  The temps dipped into the teens in the night making it the perfect time to do some waterfall chasing.  The previous year, 2012, was riddled with drought conditions and the chance of chasing anything water related was next to nothing, so it was a special day to be able to start the new year with thoughts of falling liquid.

Frozen Gold

Walking along the Big Rocky Hollow Creek, it was noticed that the water was not flowing fast enough for a decent waterfall photo.  My mind instantly switched gears looking for other photo ops.  Small isolated pools were along the side of the trail.  A thin frozen layer had formed overnight on the surface of the pool as the water continued to recede leaving an artistic elevated layer of ice.  Sometimes these pools have unique patterns that form as the water disappears.

It doesn’t take long for a photographer to find meaning within these random lines.  Using a long tele-photo lens helped to isolate these meaningless lines into something meaningful.  Slowly loosing track of time, the photos clicked away.  Forcing myself away from the pools I headed toward the base of the falls at the end of the trail.

Ferne Clyffe State Park Winter

Main Attraction Override

Water could be heard tumbling from the end of the U-shaped canyon.  The flow as expected was not high, but the main attraction was not the waterfall. Trickles of water was dripping from the top of the bluff on the unsuspecting trees below.

As the water dripped from high above the water froze on the cooler surface of the exposed tree branches. The icicles on the trees, were not uniform.  Some seemed to be growing sideways, while others pointed downward.  This did not make sense how one tree can have icicles going in several different directions.  The answer was that the weight of the accumulated ice caused the tree to droop, thus changing the direction of the icicles.  What an awesome sight it was.

View From The Beech

Soon beech trees came into view.  The beech tree is known for retaining its leaves throughout the winter, even though they have turned brown.  This gives the rare chance to photograph tree leaves encased in ice, but it also made a great foreground to blur.

As I packed my gear and headed to my vehicle, I took the chance to look back and was reminded even though we as photographers come to a place expecting one thing, we are often shown a more subtle beauty that may have not be expected.

Ferne Clyffe Winter Ice

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  1. phyllis baggott says

    Your winter free ebook is wonderful. I loved your descriptive story behind the images, made me want to step into the image to be there with you. Your images make Southern Illinois a destination that anyone would enjoy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and images with us.

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