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Heap Big Chilly jAN 16 09

January is the month of the Wolf Moon, an apt name if ever there was one. As the failing twilight recedes into night and the stars glisten like ice chips in the boreal sky, you can hear the eerie howls  carrying across vast, windswept stretches of frozen northern lakes. There is a poignant, almost heartbreaking quality to those plaintive wails. They are the cry of the wilderness. They are the music of the Michigan night. They are the sound of ice fishermen freezing their butts off.

I guess everyone has to do something. Shoot, Iím a storm chaser, so who am I to point fingers. Nevertheless, I canít help wondering what it is that motivates some guys to hunker down by a tiny hole in the ice for hours at a stretch, particularly on a night like tonight when even the snowmen are wearing down jackets. I mean, January as  rule is cold, but when it dips down into the negative digits, we are talking some seriously freezing weather.

Today has been heap big chilly. When the cold goes as deep as it has gone these past twenty-four hours, the quality of the outdoors changes in more than temperature only. Things look different. The snow ABCstarktrees

ABCgunlake

ABCsnowygrass

ABCsnowscreentakes on a crystalline appearance, billowing across the landscape in powdery clouds, incandescent in the sunlight. The snow clings to surfaces in a sharply defined way that makes it appear every bit as cold as it actually is. Itís the kind of snow you can hear when you walk on it. You know what Iím talking aboutóthat crunching, squealing sound which comes with temperatures that either make you glad you wore your thermal underwear or else wish that you had. No one in his or her right mind ventures far afield on such a day.

There is one exception: me. Iím glad, too, because doing so today has solved an identity crisis for me. You see, only lunatics and photographers would go to the lengths I went mere hours ago to get a picture, and since Iím pretty sure Iím not a lunatic, that means I must be a photographer. At least, I think Iím becoming one. Considering the alternative, thereís a lot at stake. The learning curve takes time, but Iím enjoying the process, even when the going is bone-zero cold.

Frankly, Iím rather impressed with the pains I took to get what I consider to be the shot of the day. It was one of those landscapes that, once it frames itself in your view, you know you canít possibly ignore. Youíve got to photograph it. That, at least, was the way I felt when I pulled up to the corner of two country roads this afternoon and encountered a row of trees disappearing into a gray mist of snow.

My first act of He-Man Heroism in obtaining the shot was to pull my car off to the side of the road and actually get out of it. Okay, so maybe that doesnít sound all that impressive, but if youíve set foot outside recently, then you know itís not a bad start.

It gets better. Gathering my courage and setting my face against the wind as my ears began to crystallize, I mounted a snow drift, took another step, and plunged nonchalantly into a ditch. Not a deep ditch. It was over my knees, though, and I was only wearing running shoes. Look, it was a hardship, okay? Iím trying to inject a little drama here. And I kept on going, because by golly, I wanted that shot. The right angle, the right framing, the right distance from the fence in the foreground so that it worked with the composition, not against itÖthe perfect shot.

I actually took a number of perfect shots. Iím still not sure which one I like best, but the one here is, in my humble opinion, pretty darn good.

If thereís one thing I learned this afternoon, itís that the best winter photo opportunities are often found on bitterly cold days. Iím not sure what Iím going to do with that bit of knowledge. Chances are, Iíll pursue it further, a thought that scares me just a little. After all, one thing has a way of following another. Next thing I know, I could find myself taking up ice fishing.

Written by Dave.