Photo of the Week – March 9, 2018

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to dedicate this post to a friend of mine who’s going through a difficult time right now.  Ernie Ochsner is an extraordinarily talented artist from here in Aurora whose paintings and photographs have inspired me for years.  More importantly, talking to Ernie always makes me feel better about the world.  He is incessantly curious, thoughtful and kind.  I’ve seen very little of him in recent years – my fault, not his – and I’ve missed his energy and conversation.

Whenever I see a sky like this, I think of Ernie and his artwork.

Ernie is a first rate explorer of both landscapes and philosophy; he chases skies and truths.  Some of the most thought-provoking discussions of my life have been with Ernie, largely because his explorations have given him an expansive view of life and spirituality, and he is excited to share what he’s discovered.  However, many of our conversations have started by him asking, “Did you see that sky last night?”   Every time I look out my window and see gorgeous clouds and light above town, I assume Ernie is out with his camera, trying to find a foreground to put in front of that sky (and he usually is).  His landscape photographs are wonderful, and his paintings are sublime.  There’s no mistaking an Ernie Ochsner painting – he has a distinctive and beautiful style, characterized by colors that jump off the canvas.

I tend to look down, rather than up, as I walk prairies with a camera.  However, when a sky is striking enough that it causes me to lift my head and gaze at it, I often think of Ernie.  Today’s post includes photos of some of those skies.  I hope they give both Ernie and you some joy.

Niobrara Valley Preserve in the spring.

Bison, sandhills, and sky.

Early morning light at Konza Prairie in Kansas.

Showy evening primroses in the Platte River Prairies.

Plains sunflowers along a fenceline in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Gjerloff Prairie, one of Ernie’s frequent haunts – owned and managed by Prairie Plains Resource Institute, which Ernie has been part of from the beginning.

Snow and Light

We finally got our first measurable snowfall (4-5 inches?) of the year here in east central Nebraska.  I took my camera for a walk at our family prairie yesterday evening, enjoying the way a little snow really transforms a landscape.  I found and followed tracks of coyotes, mice, birds, and deer, and flushed flocks of meadowlarks and tree sparrows.  As the sun started to drop quickly toward the horizon, I wandered through one of the areas we grazed particularly hard last summer, enjoying the broad expanse of whiteness, punctuated by scattered plants poking up through the snow.

Heath aster (Aster ericoides) protrudes from a tiny mound of snow.

I spent the next half hour mainly lying prone on the snow, tripod legs splayed flat to the ground, photographing heath aster and sideoats grama plants, and having a great time.  As you look through these photos, you’ll be able to see how the quality and color of the light changed as the sun approached the horizon.  Shadows became much less stark and more blue in color, and the plants and snow both reflected increasingly golden-orange light from the setting sun.

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)

More sideoats

More heath aster

Final sideoats photo, as the sun was right at the horizon.

The opportunity to watch sunrises and sunsets is a big perk of living on the Plains, where we get an unobstructed view of the sun from horizon to horizon, without pesky trees or mountains in the way.   On many nights, the combination of a low sun angle, expansive sky, and scattered clouds can provide spectacular views.  Other times, however, the best way to appreciate a setting sun is to turn and look in the opposite direction at the changing colors of light and shadows.

Merry Christmas everyone!