Friday, July 30, 2010

Elusive Quarry

Badgers are mysterious.  Despite their ubiquitous presence in Wisconsin sports culture, these shy creatures are rarely seen in the wild.  For this reason, wild badgers seem to carry with them an almost mythical aura shared by the likes of wolves and mountain lions.  And a badger's paradoxical personality of extreme shyness and extreme ferocity helps add to the mythology.  This week, we broke through the myth.  On an excursion to the Dry Landing area of the Upper St. Croix, we got a fleeting glimpse of a badger as it ventured out of it's burrow to check us out.  Thanks to a steady hand and quick trigger finger, Jordan was able to capture a photo.  It was a thrilling experience for everyone.  Below are also some other photos from this week. 

-Ben Thwaits, project leader

"When I first saw the badger, I was amazed and very excited.  Once I captured the photo, I started to think of how much it's like me.  It spends most of its time burrowed in its hole hiding from the world.  But now I am feeling more like an eagle, spreading my wings and soaring to new heights to find a better life." -Jordan, age 17.

"This photo really gets to me because of my struggles with addiction.  The only way to explain it is that it shows me a different kind of life--a life where creatures live free and how happy life can really be if you want it to be.  This eagle and other creatures out there have to survive death and life, and they have to protect themselves and who they love,  just like us people of the world have to do." Photo called "Lifting Off" by Cody, age 16

"Underwater Mystery" by Logan, age 12.  The photo was taken with a half-submerged underwater camera.

"River over Rocks" by Kayden, age 14.  Kayden is starting to master artistic blur effects using slow shutter speeds.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Expedition Success

One week.  Torrential rain.  Miles of bushwacking.  Early mornings.  2400 photos.  One amazing experience.  That sums up last week's photography expedition of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.   Exploring was the name of the game. We hiked and paddled the stretch from Gordon Dam to CCC Landing, then drove south and explored the backwaters and dalles between St. Croix Falls and Somerset, and finally we ended the trip by exploring the Upper Namekagon between Namekagon Dam and Pacwawong Dam. 

What made this trip truly unique was the manner in which the boys got to experience the river.  Most people experience the Riverway from the seat of a canoe.  However, we have discovered over the last few months that photos area easiest to create from the river banks.  When you slow down, photos begin to emerge that you would otherwise miss: a bee on a flower, the playful way water trickles over some rocks, a songbird resting in the shadows.  It is from this place of stillness and patience that the deeper spirit of the river begins to reveal itself, and we tried to maximize such opportunities for ourselves on this expedition.    The experience was more than can be described in words, so I'm thankful this a photo blog.  Below is but a small sample of the amazing photos the boys created last week.

I want to extend a special thanks to NWP staff members Tim Eckert and Jason Greatsinger for making this venture a success.  Jason was able to capture some amazing video, Tim proved to be the most talented fish filleter I have ever met, and both were passionately dedicated to the cause. 

-Ben Thwaits, project leader.

"I love this picture because when I took it, the ducks got so comfortable with me.  I was able to get really close, and it almost seems like you can reach through the photo and pet them."  -Devante, age 16.

Devante revels in the feeling of a good shot near Namekagon Dam at sunset. 

Life is like a sunset
Beautiful and quick
Never knowing when it will be laid to rest
So I take this life and try my best
But always seem to do the worst.
To get through this there needs to be more
Of the things that make me feel whole
-Photo and poem by Lee, age 16.
  Lee gets acquainted with a new friend near Buckley Creek Camp on the Upper St. Croix. 

"I took this picture as the sun was setting.  I snapped the picture knowing that the sun would reflect off the water.  This picture means a lot to me because it shows that if something shines on you, you can shine it right back and make it more brilliant and peaceful."  -Matt, age 15. 

Matt settles in for some low-light photos at Pacwawong Dam. 

"This picture was taken at Interstate Park, near St. Croix Falls, which is my hometown.  For me, the river is a place I go to fish and relax and get away from it all.  I just loved being on top of this cliff looking down on the river with the beautful trees and sky.  It makes me feel at one with all the beauty of nature."  -Mike, age 17. 
Mike get up close and personal with a turks-cap lily on the Upper St. Croix. 

"I was taking a picture of a lily pad as we were floating in a canoe a couple miles below Namekagon Dam.  I looked up and saw the the deer walking real slow.  I was so excited, and I was able to get a picture!  She probably was wondering "What on earth are these people doing?" but she didn't seem scared.  When she got to the other side of the river, she just layed down in the grass and looked like she was napping.  It was an amazing experience to see."  -Travis, age 13. 

"I call this picture "Streaming Life."  I was laying in the water at Pacwawong Dam to get the shot, and I was worried I wouldn't get it to work before it got dark.  But I knew I had to keep trying.  I was using a 15 second shutter speed and tripod to get that blurred look of the water I was going for.  I finally got just the right shot.  To me, this picture shows that the river is full of energy, full of life in a constant flow.  And I feel like my life is just like the river--I have all this energy, and my life is now just beginning for the first time." -Derek, age 17. 

Derek always did whatever it took to get the shot.  Here, he sits in the current as Jason looks on with the video camera.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Every plot needs a climax. Monday, July, 12 will represent the climax of “In a New Light” to date. Accompanied by three staff, six of the boys (DeVante, Matt, Mike, Travis, Derek, and Lee) will embark on a one-week photographic expedition of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway with the mission of capturing its hidden secrets on film. We will seek out the most beautiful, sublime, and mysterious areas of the Riverway, immerse ourselves in the spirit of these places, and emerge with photos to share with the world. We will crawl through swamps, bushwack through dense forests, and paddle many miles to reach our destinations. Staff member Jason Greatsinger, also co-owner of Black Ice Outdoor Productions, will be videoing our expedition in its entirety.  This is the stuff that life-changing experiences are made of. 

We would like to extend a heart-felt thanks to Interstate Batteries for donating batteries for this expedition, which will be invaluable in minimizing the time we must retreat to civilization to recharge our equipment.

-Ben Thwaits, Project Leader

Becoming Artists

The group of five young men who joined our program about 40 days ago (Jordan, Kayden, Dakota, Logan, and Cody) are quickly approaching the half-way point in their journeys as photographers.  By now, they have learned the fundamentals of operating the equipment, and are just beginning to to master the process of translating those technical skills into artistic expression.  If past groups are an accurate indicator, we will now begin to see stunning artistic growth as each learns to percieve his camera not just as a collection of buttons and lenses, but as a powerful emotional conduit.  Enjoy this group's selection of photos below.

     "Orange Bug" by Logan, age 12.

"Lonely Lily" by Kayden, age 13. 

"Painted Turtle" by Jordan, age 17

"Green Life" by Dakota, age 14

"Taking Flight" by Cody, age 15