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Fullersburg Woods Photography

Photography from Fullersburg Woods
by Eric Schwister

Photography at Fullersburg Woods encourages you to be aware of so many things: light, forms, lines, textures, seasons, movement, growth, change. The natural world - especially a woods with a creek flowing through it - is not static, it's not posed, it's always changing, from minute to minute and season to season, a life and death and life cycle that is beautiful in itself.

I grew up in small-town Wisconsin just north of Madison and enjoyed the beautiful areas of the Wisconsin River valley, the Baraboo Bluffs, Devil's Lake, and the relative wildness of the northern part of the state where we went every summer for family vacations. Some natural places around Chicago I like because they remind me of where I grew up. The whole area around Fullersburg Woods, Graue Mill, and even going down Salt Creek do that for me in the sense of being beautiful, relatively natural areas that are also accessible for the casual visitor.

Although as a child I spent my free time in woods and on lakes, I lived in the city for many years as an adult. I still work in Pilsen in Chicago, a very urban place, where I also love to take photos. Both the urban beauty and urban decay contain an abundance of forms, lines, colors, and textures, all displayed in different kinds of lights and shadows throughout the year. I also like to find the bits and pieces of traditional nature imagery in the city as well. So I don't see much difference in nature versus urban photography.

In Fullersburg Woods the "decay" takes many different forms: driftwood in the creek, especially that which catches in the dam; downed limbs and trees in the woods; human-made structures being reclaimed by nature. As part of the natural cycle of life, these things have great beauty.

Photography helps us to more deeply appreciate nature and be more educated about the world. I admire several friends of mine who have the enviable ability to remember the names of birds, fish, trees, and flowers and can identify them easily when encountered in the outdoors. I'm not one of these people. Photography gives me the chance to go home and look them up online or in the guide books. Knowing the names of things in nature is a good thing. It gives us a language to communicate with others, to recognize the value of individual species, and to appreciate the inter-relatedness of the whole.

One of the drawbacks of photography in nature is that it can take you out of the moment. While taking a walk in the woods, instead of being present to the experience you are grasping, desperately searching for that next great shot, anxiously wondering why you're not seeing any birds, or cursing because that deer ran away before you got a good photo. It's important to really see and appreciate your place by letting go, not always going after great pictures but enjoying the moment and being present to the surroundings with all of your senses.

My favorite species in our area is the Great Blue Heron. I see many of them on the McDonalds campus in Oak Brook, in Fullersburg Woods, and while kayaking down Salt Creek all the way to Brookfield. The elegant presence of so many Great Blue Heron certainly must be a testament to the improved water quality of the creek. In the 25 years that I've been coming to areas around the creek, I've noticed a gradual increase in fish, birds, and animals in and near the water.

The human element also is important in this place. The four bridges at Fullersburg Woods make for wonderful photography, both as places to stand over the water and as subject of photos themselves. Graue Mill dam itself is the most well known human-made structure in the area. For a photographer, it is a delight. It's full of motion and looks different every single day. I can't ever drive down York Road and cross the bridge below the dam without slowing down to gape: how much water is flowing? How much driftwood and detritus are caught up in the dam?

Photos from Fullersburg Woods - 1
Photos from Fullersburg Woods - 2

Photo credit: Eric Schwister

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