For a long, long time I've ignored the outdoors during the cold, winter months. Always hibernating myself away, sticking to the warm depths of my domicile unless I absolutely have to leave. But winter after winter I watched countless opportunities pass me by, purely out of laziness and lacking proper winter attire for extended hikes in cold, icy terrain. All the potential for some amazing images, experiences, and stories with every passing storm was missed year after year.
There is so much beauty in winter, but is often rarely seen by folks who spend a majority of their day to day commuting to and from work via bus, car, train, etc. Often through thick slush, blackened highway roads, and salt stained pavement. In the flurry of getting to and from, it can be hard to notice the nuances of winters image, especially when constantly barraged with all the undesirable elements. I certainly don't enjoy crawling through slush, either. And I'd be lying if I enjoyed the sight of all the black snow alongside the roads from heavy traffic pollution. The trick is to look past all that.
Seeing more and more friends and colleagues sharing their images from exploring winter and looking back on all the years I missed out on similar experiences, I decided it was time to get out and go search for that beauty, hidden or not.
After investing in some winter gear I set out to explore what winter had to offer any chance I got. Whether it was a day after heavy snow throughout the night, or through the heart of a blizzard while in the woods, or along the frozen Chicago lakeshore, I was ready with my camera and the desire to capture whatever I could find.
Riles joined me on one of the first days I decided to visit a few different parks, but I dropped her off at home before visiting the last one, knowing a blizzard was on it's way. Half way into exploring the second destination - full of broken limbs, twisted in the wind, and blackened by lightning storms - the snow fell. Harder and harder it fell until visibility became so poor I began to worry about the drive home.
As I hiked back to the park entrance, visibility now so hard to even see the trail in front of me, I debated on the next place I would go the following weekend. And after hearing rumors of a snowy owl or two along the shores of Lake Michigan, the decision became easy.
The windchill along Chicago's lakefront was almost too much to deal with for more than two hours. I checked out a few spots and photographed various details of nature's forces at play and spotted loads of critters cautiously hiding in the bushes. I wondered if they were afraid of me, or something else. Finally, not long before sunset, I spotted an owl perched atop a small tower looking for its next meal. We shared only a few minutes together in silence before it flew off out of sight, beyond the trees.
The sun wasn't quite done yet, and neither was I. Deciding it was time to leave when my camera began to feel sluggish from the cold, I headed back to the car, keeping an eye out for more owl sightings. With none in sight, I planned to return the next day.
Upon my arrival at the same beach where the first owl sighting occurred, I found a relatively fresh kill. Hoping this was a sign that I'd see another, but no such luck. At least not with owls. Instead I became satisfied with the ice formations on the lake and structures, and the golden light flooding over everything. It is a rare occasion when even I will admit that Chicago does, in fact, look beautiful.
I lucked out during a spontaneous visit to the Morton Arboretum, but was also entirely unprepared for the blizzard that fell out of nowhere. Too cold and underdressed to continue outdoors, I left there with only a handful of images I was pleased with.
I checked out Matthiessen State Park to look for ice falls thinking that was the last snow I'd see this season, satisfied with my efforts of truly embracing winter for the first time since perhaps my childhood. Mentally preparing myself for Spring, I had no idea one final opportunity would present itself two weeks later. It was a journey full of new experiences and one I'll never forget. See "Embracing Winter Part II." (coming soon)
Some of the photographs seen in this post are available as prints in my Shop.