Jennifer Steen Booher, Quercus Design

Coast Walk 2 still life

I’ve made it all the way to Blackwoods campground, although the blog is only updated as far as Otter Cliffs. Working on that right now!

From left to right, top to bottom:

Hovering above: plastic ring, sea glass

Row 1: young Blue Mussels (Mytilus edulis), Northern Rock Barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides), more mussels

Row 2: granite beach stone, Corallina officinalis, plastic marker cap, driftwood, Dog Whelks (Nucella lapillus)

Row 3: sea glass, fish eggs (dried out now but there’s a photo of them fresh in the CW2 blog post), sea glass, more mussels (not sure if they’re Blue or Horse Mussels), acorn (probably Quercus rubra), beach stone, mussels

Row4: Dog whelk, more mussels, Rough Periwinkles (Littorina saxatilis)

Row 5: Seaweed attached to barnacle, Smooth Periwinkles (Littorina obtusata), sea glass, plastic thingy (I think it’s from a glow stick), beach stone

Row 6: Rough Periwinkles, granite beach stone, sea glass, mussels

Row 7: Dog whelks, Horse Mussel (Modiolus modiolus)

Hulls Cove, Maine; November 25, 2014 (Beachcombing series No.86)

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In this photo: Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis), stone encrusted with Coralline, Northern Rock Barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides), Waved Whelk (Buccinum undatum), sea brick, Rock Crab (Cancer irroratus), beach stone, lobster claw band, polyprolylene rope (probably from a lobster trap), nursery plant tag, Periwinkles (either Littorina littorea or L.saxatilis), maple seed (Acer sp.), lobster claw (Homarus americanus), Smooth Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata), corn kernel, Paper Birch bark (Betula papyrifera), pink granite, sea glass, acorn (Quercus sp.), Knotted Wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum), Green Crab (Carcinus maenas), styrofoam, Dogwinkle or Dog Whelk (Nucella lapillus), coal, driftwood.

At 7:30am on November 25 it was relatively warm at 59ºF, but there was a chill wind in the shade. The sun was still working its way up over the hills when I arrived, and then clouds blew in and it stayed grey all day. There had been a storm the day before, and I had driven by that afternoon to watch the surge. When I see the waves pounding the shore like that I realize what a miracle it is that I ever find a single unbroken shell! There was more kelp than usual, along with some big quahogs and coralline-crusted stones. There’s one at the bottom of the 3rd column from the left. I was struck by how similar the coralline looks to the styrofoam piece in the upper right. When they are half-buried in mud it’s really hard to tell them apart!

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A beaver-chewed log.

 

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Coast Walk

On New Year’s Day I started a project called the Coast Walk. I’ll be walking the entire shoreline of Mount Desert Island over the next two years. The walking, photographing, interviewing, photo-processing, writing, editing, and general admin tasks have been taking up every minute, so this blog will be a little neglected for the time being. I’ll post links to the Coast Walk entries – hope you enjoy them!

 

The Bluffs, Bar Harbor, Maine; November 18, 2014 (Beachcombing series No.85)

The Bluff, Bar Harbor, Maine; November 18, 2014

Polypropylene rope, sea glass, driftwood, beach stones (basalt, granite, schist?), Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis), crab claws (prob. Cancer borealis), Periwinkle (Littorina sp.), wire, Dog Whelk (Nucella lapillus), Waved Whelk (Buccinum undatum), Green Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus drobachiensis), Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus), Rockweed (Fucus vesiculosus), pottery fragment, rusted metal with Northern Rock Barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides)

 

It was 36ºF when I hit the beach around 1pm. The sky was overcast but every now and then the sun would peek through the clouds. Of course, every now and then a few stray snowflakes would fall, too, as if the weather were trying for an overall balance of some kind. This is one of my favorite beaches – I almost always find some interesting stones and a few good pieces of sea glass, in addition to the usual crab shells, dog whelks, and periwinkles. I also find a lot of trash mixed into the deep piles of seaweed on the high tide line. You can kind of see those piles at the far right of the photo below – there’s a section of paler stones high up on the shore (paler because they are fully dried), and that yellowish-brown strip is an accumulation of seaweed about a foot deep.

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I use a grocery bag for beachcombing; after 2 hours on the beach it was about 1/4 full of my finds. The rest is garbage:

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It was a very good day for sea glass:

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and buoys (eventually I’ll try to return them to their owners.)

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and rocks:

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I think these are Rough Periwinkle (Littorina saxatilis), but I’m still kind of unclear on how to tell L. saxatilis and L. littorea apart. Every time I think I’ve got it, I find a shell with characteristics of both.

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A couple of Herring Gulls were diving for crabs just off shore. Made me glad I brought my big camera with the big lens!

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Art Work

Ever hear of a Blog Hop? It’s usually a chain of bloggers linking to one another with a common theme. I’ve been invited to join one that’s a little different – artists discussing their personal creative practice. Everyone who participates answers four questions:

What am I working on?
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Why do I do what I do?
How does my process work?

I was invited by Jo Atherton, who weaves intricate and colorful tapestries out of rope and objects she gathers off the beaches of Cornwall. We’ve been chatting via email about the peculiarities and similarities of our beachcombing experiences. Jo’s post is here: http://flotsamweaving.com/blog/

What makes this particular blog hop so compelling is that these are really big questions. Since all the blogs link to the person who invited them, you can trace the questions back through dozens of artists, all of whom are making amazing work and each one has different answers to these questions. (Warning: it is possible to lose an hour very quickly following this thread – have fun!)

 

What am I working on?

My main focus right now is a series of still life photos that I’ve been working on for 5 years, called “The Beachcombing Series.” (You can see the whole thing in one place here.) Each photo in the series documents the things I found on a certain day: the title of each photo is the name of the beach and the date on which I found those objects. It’s a simple premise, but over the years it has developed into a very satisfying and complex practice: my walks on the beach have become a a kind of transect, partly scientific and partly poetic. The things I pick up are points of intersection between myself and the life of the shore. In the still lives, I plot those points of intersection and try to visualize the interconnected usages of the tidal zone. I write a blog post for each photo, noting the time of day, the kind of weather, and the things I noticed on the beach (like dead jellyfish and cool geology.) The blog posts help me sort through my impressions by recording all the data.

_DSC4002-web©On January 1, I’m starting an intense, two-year project (for which I’m still trying to find a name!) You can read my full description of the project here, but in summary I plan to walk all the way around Mount Desert Island’s shoreline. I’m inviting lots of people to join me to talk about their interest in the shoreline, whether it’s history, marine biology, tourism, fishing, geology, just about everything – and I’ll be posting those interviews on a dedicated blog.  I’m partnering with local scientists to take advantage of the data I gather, and I’ll be producing a still life photo for each day of walking, which will also go up on the blog. I’m incredibly excited, can hardly wait to start, and a little overwhelmed at the logistics!

 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There are a lot of people who make beautiful photographs of found objects or natural debris on a white background, that is certainly not unique to me. Mary Jo Hoffman’s gorgeous Still blog comes to mind immediately. I don’t know of anyone else using still life to explore complex chaotic systems, though. Frankly, I’m not even sure what my “genre” is – is it still life photography, is it SciArt, is it documentary? I find it very hard to respond when people ask what I do, because if I say “I’m a photographer,” they imagine weddings and portraits, so  whenever possible I say, “I’m an artist,” pull out my iPhone, and just show them.

Hulls Cove, Maine; Halloween, 2014 (Beachcombing series No.83)

Why do I do what I do?

I can’t help myself, I’m fascinated with this whole process – I love going out on the shore and looking intently at it. I’ll squat over a tidepool and watch barnacles feeding, or go out when it’s 5º below zero so I can see the ice freezing in ripples as the tide ebbs. And then I bring all that back to the studio in my head and in the objects I’ve picked up, and try to make this visual expression of everything I observed. I have images in my head that have to come out, it’s that simple. I had to learn photography and lighting and Photoshop to get them out, though, which was not simple.

How does my process work?

I find having a clearly defined framework for a project is incredibly helpful. You can skip the floundering stage of ‘what should I make?’ and move straight into trying to express ideas through that framework. As I said above, mine is to make a photograph from things I pick up in one beachcombing session. So I go out, spend a couple of hours beachcombing and bring home a pile of flotsam and then spend anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks trying to find the right combination of objects and the right balance:

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Eventually I find a composition that feels right, at which point I set up the lights and photograph it. It takes me a day or two of work in Lightroom and Photoshop to make sure every object is evenly lit and has equal visual weight. That’s tricky for me, since some objects are dark and velvety, like periwinkle shells or coal, and others are bright and reflective, like sea glass, so they all respond differently to light.Beachcombing series No.75

 

 

Beachcombing series No.84 (Seal Harbor Beach, Maine; November 12, 2014)

Seal Harbor, Maine; November 12, 2014 (Beachcombing series No.84)

Beach stones, asphalt chunk with reflective highway paint stripe, fir cones, lobster-claw bands, aluminum soda can, Common Slipper Shells (Crepidula fornicata), Jonah Crab (Cancer borealis), Rough Periwinkle (Littorina saxatilis), birch bark (Betula papyrifera), Coralline (Corallina officinalis), Black-backed Gull feather (Larus marinus), sea glass, spruce cone, acorn (Quercus sp.), charcoal (burnt wood), Green Sea Urchins (Strongylocentrotus drobachiensis), lichen, Toad Crab (Hyas sp.), feathers, peach pit (Persica sp.), plastic liner from a soda bottle top, Rock Crab (Cancer irroratus), Horse Mussel (Modiolus modiolus)

According to my tide chart low tide was due at 8:15, so around 7:45am I drove over to Seal Harbor Beach. It was about 53ºF, overcast and foggy, with a light but cold wind from the east. A large flock of gulls was milling around at the water’s edge – there must have been 40 or more, a mix of Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) and a species I hadn’t seen before – Great Black-Backed Gulls (Larus marinus).

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Note: this may be the photo that finally drives me back to using my DSLR on the beach – the day was so dark and overcast my iPhone shots of the birds were all crunchy and grainy. Yuck.

I read up on them when I got back, and apparently they are very common, so it was another humbling moment on the beach. All these ‘common’ things I’ve never seen… . They are also the largest gulls in the world, which is no surprise. Those babies were huge, almost twice the size of the Herring Gulls I’m used to! According to Wikipedia, “The great black-backed gull was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work, Systema Naturae, and it still bears its original name of Larus marinus.” I love that! Species names seem to change so frequently, it’s kind of adorable that these guys have kept theirs for 300 years. (Species names are a bit of sore spot for me right now, as I had learned the Dog Whelk as Thais lapillus, but stumbled across the info last week that the name has been Nucella lapillus for some time, so I had to go change it on all my photo sites. Such tedious, so boring!)

 Seal Harbor has beautiful pink granite outcrops:

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I found a live sea urchin stranded in the seaweed on the high tide line. I thought it was a dead sea urchin, but while I was taking this picture it started wiggling its spines, so I put it in a tide pool when I finished.

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Close-up of sea urchin teeth (apparently these are tough enough for an urchin to burrow into stone):

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And at the far end of the beach I found myself following in the footsteps of an earlier visitor:

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One cool thing I learned while working on this photo – I can finally tell the difference between Rock Crabs and Jonah Crabs. The Jonah Crabs (bottom left) have denticulate edges to the carapace (they’re kind of zigzag) while the Rock Crab (top right) edges are smooth. And of course now that I know, it’s really obvious, doh.

Beachcombing series No.83 (Hulls Cove, Maine; October 31, 2014)

Hulls Cove, Maine; Halloween, 2014 (Beachcombing series No.83)

Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis), beach stone (schist?), Rock Crab (Cancer irroratus), sea glass, Soft-shell Clam (Mya arenaria), Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea), Rough Periwinkle (Littorina saxatilis), acorn cap (Quercus sp.), plastic shotgun wadding, brick, peach pit (Persica sp.), Green Crab (Carcinus maenas), Smooth Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata), Dogwinkle (Nucella lapillus), unidentified clam.

 

When I hit the beach at 11am, Halloween was sunny and 53ºF.  A slight breeze from the northeast chilled my fingers out on the more exposed flats, but it was warm enough in the lee of the rocks to unzip my coat.  The bright midday sun felt good on my pale Northern skin but the glare and harsh shadows made it hard to see little things on the beach. I attempted a panorama with my phone. It looks really weird! The road doesn’t curve nearly that much:

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Among the interesting things I found on the shore was a dead sea cucumber – sorry it’s so mangled looking, but that purple color was gorgeous:

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Wide stripe of pink granite (a geology-minded friend told me this is a granite dyke cross-cutting country rock):

granite, seam, geology, Maine, Hulls Cove

And in the “How have I never noticed this before” category, tube worms. See all the twiggy things sticking up out of the mud?

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Tube worms casings made of sand and mucus. You would have died laughing if you’d been watching me when I found these. I had never seen them before, so I squatted in the mud, studying them. I couldn’t even figure out if they were animal or vegetable – I used a razor clam shell to dig one up, and it was a hollow tube about 6″ long. No roots, no worm inside, and it snapped kind of like a succulent stem. So I asked my Facebook friends, and they came back with Spiochaetopterus worm casings. So now I know! Although I still can’t figure out where the worm went when I dug it up. But damn it I have been wandering around Hulls Cove in every season and all weathers for ten years now, why have I not noticed these before? It makes me marvel at the sheer impossibility of learning it “all,” and also question my powers of observation. [Oh, and those grooves in the mud behind the worms are periwinkle tracks.]

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And here’s a pretty piece of lime-green sea glass to make up for the corpse and the worms (although I have to point out that this was Halloween):

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Beachcombing series No.82 (East Side of the Bar, October 28, 2014)

Bar Harbor, beach, Beachcombing, found objects, littoral zone, Maine, marine biology, Mount Desert Island, natural history, New England, seashore, The Bar, The Beachcombing Series

Razor Clam (Ensis directus), lobster-claw band, Soft-shell Clam (Mya arenaria), beach stones, sea brick with Northern Rock barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides), Dog Whelk (Nucella lapillus), plastic chain, Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis), Green Crab (Carcinus maenas), sea coal, Common Slipper Shell (Crepidula fornicata), brick, sea glass, periwinkle encrusted with Coralline ( Littorina sp. and Corallina sp.), Waved Whelk (Buccinum undatum), maple seed (Acer sp.), feather, Tortoise-shell Limpet (Testudinalia testudinalis), lobster-claw band, plastic button, Rockweed (Fucus distichus), ceramic fragment with barnacle, aluminum soda can top, Rock Crab (Cancer irroratus), Green Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus drobachiensis), Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea), Rough Periwinkle (LIttorina saxatilis), shoelace

 

Late October is unpredictable weather around here. It can be surprisingly warm, and it can turn bitterly cold in minutes. The 28th was overcast, a bit chilly (46ºF) but calm. It always feels warmer without wind! I walked down to the Bar, which is about ten minutes from my house. The Bar is a spit of land that connects Bar Harbor to Bar Island at low tide. You’ve probably already guessed it gave the town and the island their names… I love walking out there because you really feel like you are walking on the bottom of the sea. It’s possible to drive across, although it’s kind of pointless since you can’t drive on the island (no roads) but people do it anyway, and every summer some poor tourist doesn’t understand the concept of tides and their car has to be towed out of the ocean. Those two cars in the photo below would be submerged up to the door handles if they weren’t moved before the tide came in. (But they were, don’t worry.)

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I found another Lion’s Mane jellyfish just off to the right of those cars, and this time I was able to get a decent photo (still with the iPhone, sorry.) Isn’t that color amazing? Like raspberry jam or a Victorian aspic. And yes, apparently the dead tentacles can still give you a nasty sting, so I didn’t touch the ground around it even though I couldn’t see any sign of tentacles. I figure they get 20 feet long, so they could have been anywhere!

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 I show you my own feet here for scale:

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One more shot, because that clear frill is so damn pretty!

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I hadn’t been down to the Bar in a long time, and was pleasantly surprised to see eelgrass making a comeback here.

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Playing with that wide-angle lens, kind of an interesting effect:

 

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And some snippets of cool things on the beach:

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Beachcombing series No.81 (Star Point, MDI Biological Laboratory, Maine; October 14, 2014)

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Sea glass, Blue Mussel (Mytilus edulis), plastic fragment, copper and plastic hose bib, poplar leaf (Populus grandidentata), Dog Whelk (Nucella lapillus), Northern Rock Barnacles (Semibalanus balanoides), rusted metal, Soft Shell Clam (Mya arenaria), metal fragment, acorn cap, European Green Crab (Carcinus maenas), Knotted Wrack (Ascophyllum nodosum), aluminum blob, rusted nail, ceramic fragment

 

At about 9:30 in the morning on October 14 I drove over to the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. It was 62ºF, overcast, with a light breeze from the shore (sort of west-ish), and I’d timed it to hit dead low tide. The Bio Lab was a new site for me (I’d gotten permission to visit a couple of years ago but somehow not gotten around to it) and the first thing I noticed was the dramatic geology – I haven’t seen anything quite like this on the island! The rocks were very sharp, not rounded at all, and they formed arches, clefts, and sea stacks with abandon. I often wish I had a pet geologist to pester with questions, as I find it is much harder to learn geology from the internet than it is to identify flora and fauna.

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The second thing I noticed was a dead jellyfish. I haven’t come across one in years, certainly not since I started paying attention. It was beautiful, a deep wine red with paler interior divisions and a clear frill around the edge- pretty sure it’s a Lion’s Mane (Cyanea capillata). It was lying in a deep cleft, so I couldn’t get a good photo of it. (I’m still using my iPhone on the shore, too, as it’s still too awkward to handle the bigger camera. The finger’s healing, though, and I expect in November Ginormica will come out to play again.)

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One fun thing that has come out of being iPhone-dependent, though, is this lens:

Yes, I bought a lens for my iPhone, I am such a geek. But it’s been so much fun! This is the wide angle:

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And this is with the macro – I took a whole series of barnacles feeding!

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I can’t even tell you how cool this is – those little legs are too small to actually see without a lens, so I’ve never seen them before. I might have to start carrying a magnifying glass on the shore…

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And then there was this:

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The barnacles were covered in little black things that I thought must be baby periwinkles (photo above with wide angle lens) but I just couldn’t see them clearly.

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Well, the macro didn’t entirely clear up the mystery – it’s very hard to know when I’ve got things in focus and well lit – but I’m sure I’ll get better with practice.

 

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