Scrub oak at the Eales Preserve on Moosic Mountain, 01 September 2012.

Owning a macro lens pretty much means that you’ll spend time in the field crawling around on your hands and knees and shooting with your butt up in the air. It isn’t especially attractive – certainly not as impressive as shooting with a big telephoto lens that makes your biceps bulge – but the results speak for themselves.

My experience so far with macro photography has been interesting. I think there’s something to being able to get up close that lets you begin to understand more about the actual nature of a place, the ecosystems at play and the complex interactions between soil, plants, and animals.

The heath barrens in the Preserve are an ecosystem unto themselves, representing just a small portion of the acreage within the park’s boundaries. And I can’t even imagine what it would take to do a full ecological survey of it, cataloging every single species in even a square meter. All I know is that each time I study a section, along the trail or around a patch of bedrock I keep finding new details. It seems that no matter how closely I peer, there’s always something else, something smaller, worthy of investigation.

A young bough grows from the fire-blackened trunk of a pine at the Eales Preserve on Moosic Mountain, 01 September 2012.

A charred log remains amid green flora as a reminder of the periodic fires that maintain the health of the barrens at the Eales Preserve on Moosic Mountain, 01 September 2012.

You don’t have to look too closely to see evidence of fire on the barrens, scorch marks on the pines and charred deadwood amid the scrub. Fire’s role in this environment is vital, clearing out growth to ensure that the scrub regenerates and adding nutrients to the soil. The last burn listed was in 2008, a prescribed burn for “habitat management.”

Even the soil itself is interesting, differing quite a bit from the dirt in your front yard. It’s much finer, almost sandy, and clearly does a poor job retaining moisture. It’s also an acidic soil, and while I haven’t done any pH tests, the plants that make their home there are solid indicators, like the blueberries, which require an acidic environment.

Fine soil on the Blueberry Trail at the Eales Preserve on Moosic Mountain, 01 September 2012.

Fine soil on the Blueberry Trail at the Eales Preserve on Moosic Mountain, 01 September 2012.

The soil along the trail is probably in the worst condition, with no root systems to hold it in place. Fortunately the trail represents a fraction of the total soil area, which otherwise seems healthy. On the morning of my last visit, I spent a fair bit of time studying it, the fine composition, the animal tracks it held, and shooting photos.

Where the bedrock sticks through, the soil conditions are even worse and, in some areas, non-existent. Yet life still manages to find a way, stunted scrub sinking roots into crevices in the rock face, moss and lichens spreading out from the thinnest layers. Studying the barrens is an education in survival in a classic tortoise-and-the-hare style; over decades and centuries the combination of precipitation, wind, and plant attacks will slowly breakdown the rock, splitting it, cracking pieces off, and reducing them to fine grit that combines with organic elements to slowly, slowly thicken the soil layer.

Small leaves already turned and dropped off in early autumn at the Eales Preserve on Moosic Mountain, 01 September 2012.

This last image is my favorite of the morning, just a simple shot looking down at some sort of low-growing scrub. It’s simple, a image comprised of light and shadow, a basic range of tones. I looked down and saw this image waiting among the plant growth; and if I had looked closer within it, I’d have found another, and another within that, for as far as the lens could resolve.

You just have to remember to look.

Ground flora at the Eales Preserve on Moosic Mountain, 01 September 2012.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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