Tag Archives: fall

Varenna on Lake Como: The Little Village We Love

Varenna on Lake Como, Italy

(Click on image for a larger view)

We sat under an umbrella, our table decorated with two glasses of wine and a plate of bruschetta. It was 2005, and this was my first visit to Italy … my first journey anywhere in Europe. We had arrived in Milan that morning, boarded a train, and immediately made our way north to Lake Como and a little village Rick Steves had gushed about named Varenna.

On the brick-lined shore before us, a father was teaching his two daughters how to skip stones. The warm, hazy sun gave the colorful village the appearance of a melted watercolor, and one of us — I can’t remember who — said to the other “Varenna would be a nice name for a little girl, wouldn’t it?”

Almost five years later, Varenna Autumn Day was born. Now almost 3, she has a lightness, a sense of humor, and a sweet innocence that illuminates my every day. And despite the times people ask how to spell her name, or mix it up and pronounce it Ver-EE-na, or confuse it with Verona or Ravenna, we still feel like we knocked it out of the park with her name. This town — with its vivid colors, wizard hat campanile, hilltop castle and compact lakeside location where the buildings seem to hug one another — is officially on the highest pedestal of any place I’ve ever been. Continue reading

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Time Out … Fall Color Preview


Going to briefly interrupt the Southwest Colorado trip with a quick preview of this past week’s trips to Steamboat Springs, Snowmass and Aspen for fall color in the Rockies. We usually have an autumn trip to Steamboat, but this year we added another to the middle part of the state. It’s pretty cool when you can compare and contrast fall color locales in the span of a week. Steamboat was a bit past prime, and a little less vibrant than previous years (but still gorgeous), while Vail (which we only passed through) had all the colors of the aspen spectrum.

We were in Snowmass so I could attend the Colorado Governor’s Conference on Tourism. I spent much of the time in conference rooms, banquets and exhibit halls, while Hailey and Varenna got to explore. By Friday, however, I was liberated from the indoors and allowed a few hours to see Maroon Bells (above), the most famous mountains in Colorado, if not North America. They were stunning.

More to come … but first I’d like to plow through the rest of Telluride, Mesa Verde and Pagosa Springs.

And for the record, after these past three months, I am more in love with Colorado than ever before.

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The Stone Family

Well it’s been busy for us lately: HeyDay Creative continues to expand it’s client base, we’re 90% done with a whole new, redesigned TanagerPhotography.com, our first ad will be showing in the Greenlight Guide and website on Monday, and we’ve been getting more inquiries on family portraits. This weekend, I got to meet and photograph the Stone family at Southmoor Park here in Denver.

The Stone’s — Ryan, Suzy, Tyler and Andrew — are good friends with my friends Ben and Michaelanne Dehner, and Suzy was interested in a shoot after seeing my photos of Mikey with her horse Cheerio.

So we met Saturday, and what a spectacular morning it was. Blue sky, little wind and still some fall color clinging to those stubborn cottonwoods.

I really enjoyed working with this family. Tyler and Andrew warmed up to me right away and we all smiles all morning long.

Above is one of my favorite shots from the sequence, where I laid down and shot up with the fisheye lens at the Stones and the golden trees.

Tyler was really into all the sticks lying on the grass, and Andrew…well, he was interested in smiling and giggling for the camera.

We then ventured over to the playground where Tyler showed us his excellent climbing skills…

…and how much he loves his mom.

So here’s what we’ve got going in the next few weeks. Tonight or tomorrow we’ll be pushing the all new TanagerPhotography.com live. It’s rebuilt from scratch with a focus on photo essays and portrait/wedding shoots rather than the existing “cities,” “towns,” “water,” etc. Also, I’m getting a new lens tomorrow: a Canon 24mm f/1.4, which is a fixed wide angle that is crazy fast and lets in a lot of light. And yes, this is a milestone moment: my first piece of gear paid for from photography profits!

And then there’s next weekend: we’re heading to Seattle for four days. I have some business to attend to for Weaver, but Hailey will be coming and we’ll be able to build on our travel portfolio…with the new lens.

Thanks to all of you for your continued support and referrals.

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Tilting Toward Winter

Last Saturday, my friend Michaelanne and I got to watch the Rocky Mountains hibernate. It was one of the more memorable hikes I’ve done in recent years, a late-season jaunt across familiar ground in an unfamiliar season. In Colorado, the difference between one weekend and the next is drastic and ultimately humbling. In a week where I watched the economy do more of a tailspin — and also watched more friends lose their jobs — it was deeply refreshing to walk in the woods, hear the most perfect silence, and get my spiritual bearings back. We tend to be small, temporal, self-obsessed, insulated and driven by things that are ultimately not important. Nature is persistent, beautiful, and tends to be more brutal than any stock market. This fact was not lost on me last Saturday — as we entered a clearing on the trail, we could see the Ten Mile Range disappearing in the snow.

That’ll make you pay attention, especially when you are wearing shorts like I was.

This hike is top-notch. I’ve done it four times, and it never ceases to amaze me. Do you want in on the secret? Oh, alright. Seeing that my blog gets about 15 readers a day (and I presume many of you are out of state), I’ll divulge. Just don’t telegraph it to Colorado.com. You can’t trust those tourism promoters!

It’s the southern end of the Gore Range Trail. The first segment is fairly popular as it goes to Wheeler Lakes, a pair of alpine ponds in a clearing. But the trail forks to the left, and what’s beyond that junction is what interests me. I can’t name another trail in Colorado that has such variety: it weaves in and out of the woods, through meadows, past ponds, around marshes, across creeks, along rocky ridges, back into the trees, across scree, beneath a hidden lake, and ultimately, up through the tundra to a low saddle called Uneva Pass, where a window to the north unveils the serrated Gore Range.

Each of the four times I’ve trekked up this (twice I’ve reached the pass), something magical happens. The first time was with my best friend Matt after I’d graduated from high school. At the scree field just shy of Lost Lake we saw an ermine dash across the trail and scurry over the rocks. The stench it left behind — they are mustalids like skunks — was short-lived but I’ll never forget the lesson: don’t f&*# with an ermine.

This go around, Mikey and I had a pretty different wildlife encounter: two couples of blue grouse.

Now, obviously I love birds. Who doesn’t? Certainly not these folks. But more often than not, the only birds you see on the trail in Colorado are juncos, jays, nutcrackers and the occasional woodpecker (a western tanager is another story). But grouse is a bit different. In spring these horny little bastards get all gussied up in hilarious breeding plumage and strut like they’re on Project Runway. In fall, well, they’re more concerned about survival. These fatties were pecking around the forest floor and running around with their tails up. Easy dinner if this were the Oregon Trail.

One couple was just shy of Officer’s Gulch. The other couple was hanging out just beyond it. At the crossing of the creek, Mikey and I found ourselves hiking through chest-deep willows the color of rust.

Mikey is running in the Philadelphia Marathon in November, so we kept a pretty quick pace for most of the day (and she somehow ran 18 miles the next day). By 11am we were at Lost Lake (pictured at the top, where she’s covering her ears) eating lunch and debating whether we should push for the pass. One stiff wind — which rippled the placid lake and carried the scent of snow — sent us back to the trailhead.

We made great time, ultimately reaching these ponds by 1pm, just as the wind mellowed out. In summer, the ponds are surrounded by marsh marigolds and elephantheads.

But on this day, it was pale grass and brittle stalks baring seeds. You can see what I believe are elephantheads, the dark stems below left of the grass.

One final thing about this trail, why I love it and why I was a bit relieved last weekend as we trekked it. As I’ve mentioned before — and as any of you living in Colorado know — our northern mountains have been ravaged by the mountain pine beetle, especially Summit County and the Gore Range. In the past few months, I’ve gotten accustom to the sight of red and dead lodgepole pines in the James Peak Wilderness, Grand Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park and Steamboat Springs.

Last weekend, it dawned on me as we were heading down in a light snow that the forests leading up to Uneva Pass seem unaffected by the beetle. My fingers are crossed on this one, but I wonder if it has to do with how spaced out the trees are. I’ve always enjoyed how this trail weaves in and out of meadows and takes in views of the Ten Mile Range and the Mount of the Holy Cross. And maybe those meadows are a buffer. Or maybe the beetle just hasn’t found them yet. We’ll have to see. In the event I go back in the next few summers and find one of my favorite places in Colorado red and dead, I’ll just have to remind myself that nature is brutal and there is a certain humility I can gain from that.

We got back to the car at 3pm, stretched our chilled muscles and hopped in the car. It then began to pour an icy rain…nature, at least on this day, was forgiving.

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Graspin’ Aspen, Part 3

Tim is not just an early riser, but a marvel of science. As I write this, I’m trying to recall ever seeing him yawn. I’m trying to recall him drowsy, lethargic, or even wiped out.

The guy is always alert.

I lived with Tim for a year right after we graduated from college, I’ve backpacked with him five or six times, and his energy is boundless. Maybe his wife, Lexi, has seen him yawn — and maybe all of this will change in February when their baby girl arrives, but for now, Tim is the kind of guy who sprints through the grass at a flock of blackbirds, the kind of guy to take a sweep-oar boat across Grand Lake in five minutes, the kind of guy to twirl fire around himself, the kind of guy to climb on top of a hay bale and rock it back and forth while giggling like a school boy who snorted his 7-Up.

It was this ceaseless energy that had Tim up early and raring to go last Sunday at dawn, perfectly willing to drive my ass around the ranch country surrounding Steamboat Springs.

He’ll probably comment on this post about my commentary on him. Go ahead, Tim. The form is below.

The Upper Yampa River Valley is defined by wide, sprawling ranches with cinnamon-roll hay bales. These ranches are speckled with forked cottonwood trees that stand over the aimless wandering of the Yampa (one of Colorado’s most pleasant rivers). I love it in the early morning when the highway is empty and the fog is lifting off the river. There are always flocks of ducks on the slow river, and by 8am its common to have seen three or four great blue herons.

I’m sure the valley looks quite different today, just seven days after these photos were taken. The plant life in the valley was brittle but still alive and vibrant with color. Since then, a cold front has moved in and the complexion of everything in the mountains is changing rapidly as things tilt toward winter. My next blog post will be from yesterday’s hike in the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Night and day, the difference one weekend makes.

Below is my favorite barn in the valley. Steamboat Springs has become famous for its barns — tourism ads and travel articles have made them icons because they are so photogenic. Tim and I were getting hungry, so we didn’t linger long at the barn, but I tried my best to replicate a shot I took a year ago with the Olympus.

Above is the new shot with the Canon 40D and a Sigma 10mm-20mm 1:4-5.6 lens. Below is a photo I took 54 weeks earlier when I was shooting with an Olympus E-500 and a Zuiko 14-45mm. Clearly I had better clouds a year ago…

…Or at least better clouds facing south. This year, to the north, I had these wispy angel-wing clouds to work with. I love how the barn’s roof mirrors the upward action of the clouds.

Here is another view.

And on the way back to the condo — with breakfast at Freshie’s permeating my thoughts — we spotted this mailbox. The only thing more quintessentially Colorado than that is the license-plate coffee cabin in Crested Butte.

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Kickin’ It in Grand Lake, Colorado

Enough moping about PhotoShelter. Upward and onward. Time to sink my teeth back into this raspberry-jam filled croissant and make a mess of things.

After eating meat pies (aka wet cigar in a pie crust) and drinking pints of Guiness at Scot Fest, we loaded up the cars and drove into Rocky Mountain National Park. Stu, Tim and I were in one car, Hailey, Lexi and Shannon in the other, and we twisted and turned our way up Trail Ridge Road.

We went by the area I had planted grasses a few weeks ago and endured more pec-puckering cold in the wind. Honestly, it is non-stop up there…the bristlecone pines and elk that live up there are tough sons-of-bitches.

Speaking of elk:

They’re beginning to get horny up there. We came upon this Mac Daddy on the west side of Trail Ridge. He had a harem of roughly 12 cows and 4 or 5 calves. The females were mewing, which I’ve never heard before. It sounded like humpback whale calls echoing in the forest. This bull just stood vigilant, presiding over the whole herd. An amazing encounter.

In Grand Lake we checked in to the Lone Eagle Hotel (check out the fancy, stitched horse decor above…doesn’t it look fresh off the set of No Country for Old Men?), and sought out Mexican and margaritas. Along the way, we came upon a Cobra rally from the Denver Cobra Club.

Can you still call it a rally if they are all parked for the night?

Over margaritas, each couple scraped together their versions of “how we met,” which is always entertaining. Men remember it one way, women remember it another way. It gets funnier with alcohol and lots of hot sauce and chips.

This post goes out to Tim (green shirt) and Lexi (seated). Lexi is due in February and they just found out yesterday that it’s a girl. We’re all very excited for them.

So what’s next? Well, not too much on the docket. Maybe the Great Sand Dunes next weekend. If so, that might be a three-parter. That place is remarkably photogenic. Beyond that, well…If any of you want to come over and model in front of the white seamless backdrop (or you have any other ideas), let me know. With winter coming, I thought it might be fun to do some close-up hoodie portraits. Try to capture the essence of cozy…and maybe get a new stock agency where I can post things.

Oh, by the way: my collection is migrating to the PhotoShelter Personal Archive. I’ll have to market it on my own, but you can order prints and download high-resolution files straight off the site.

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