Changing Seasons April 2017

April brought more rain but also more opportunity to be outside.

I have picked up my exercise. Though I will admit I am not exercising as much as I should be doing, I know I need to do much more. The issue is trying to deal with the stress in my professional world, relaxing enough by the time I get home, and then going out for a nice walk o hike sometime after dinner just to let my body relax a bit and get the exercise it needs. However, I also know that the winter months bring cold, wet, and gloomy skies, and I will not be motivated for any outdoor activities.

With that in mind, my wife and I agreed to buy an exercise bike. We did some online research, looked at Consumer Reports reviews, visited a store to try out different bikes, and ultimately purchased a Schwinn IC2 Bike from Amazon. I set myself the goal of working out for about fifteen minutes every evening. My goal is to work my way up to thirty minutes, then sixty minutes, and a bike ride from my home to the local brewery for a stretch goal. I am motivated.

Hiking Devil’s Half-Acre Boulders

rocks, sourland mountain, boulder
Ridge Trail
We had some excellent weekend weather for the Easter weekend. On Good Friday, my wife Bhavna and I went for a hike in the Sourland Mountain Range. We drove over to the Sourland Mountain Preserve, located between Hillsborough Township and Montgomery Township in Somerset County. The large parking area near the pond was nearly full. I think residents wanted to enjoy the incredible spring weather we have had this week—clear, sunny skies with temperatures in the teens (ºC).

Located in Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, the Sourland Mountain Range is aptly named. The underlying geology, igneous rock from the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic age, could not support the farming and living needs of the early Dutch and German settlers to the area. One Wikipedia suggests that the name may be derived from the word 'sorrel' which German explorers used to describe the reddish-brown soils in the area or "sauer landt" because the region was not suitable for farming by 17th-century Dutch settlers.

people, rocks, sourland mountain
We chatted with other hikers along the Ridge Trail
rocks, sourland mountain, boulder, woman
My wife Bhavna.
rocks, sourland mountain, boulder
Ridge Trail

We have hiked other trails in the Sourland Mountain Preserve, but we wanted to try something new. I suggested that we hike the Ridge Trail to Devil's Half-Acre Boulders, the most popular bouldering area in the Sourland Mountain Preserve. Devil's Half-Acre Boulders is a fairly open section of the mountain with a cluster of boulders among the trees. There is also a handful of isolated boulders nearby the main cluster which I could not resist climbing.

It took us about 30 minutes to get to the boulders of Devil's Half Acre, with the trail winding steeply through interestingly shaped rock formations with trees growing through cracks and crevices. The park is 12.24 km2 (3,025 acres), but we used one of the connecting trails to shorten the trip back from Devil's Half-Acre Boulders. We hiked about half of the 8.0 km (5-mile) Ridge Trail. According to my iPhone, we hiked about 2.6 km and climbed the equivalent of 21 floors. My calves ached from the exercise.

flower, sourland mountain, rue anemone (thalictrum thalictroides)
rue anemone (thalictrum thalictroides) is a herbaceous perennial native to woodland in eastern North America.
The Sourland Mountain Preserve is “home to several rare and threatened plants and animals, including: trout lilies, wood anemones, ginseng, spotted salamander, pileated woodpecker, bobcat, wood turtle, barred owl, bobolink, Cooper's hawk, grasshopper sparrow, Savannah sparrow, upland sandpiper, and the scarlet tanager.”

Along the sides of the trail, I saw a number of wildflowers including Spring Beauty, Rue Anemone (thalictrum thalictroides), and Bloodroot (sanguinaria canadensis).

flower, sourland mountain, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Bhavna was annoyed each time I stopped to focus my camera and take photos. The slight breeze made handheld focusing challenges. I had the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR lens with attached macro extension tubes but even using my miniature Manfrotto PIXI mini tripod required patience and persistence. Minor body shake exaggerated the smallest movement in the subject (or my hands), and the photos would be blurry. Bhavna felt my photography was slowing us down, but it gave my body a chance to rest in actuality. At one point, my blood glucose fell below 70, and I had to swallow twenty carbohydrate grams of glucose gel. Stopping to take some photos helped my body recover.

We took the shortcut across a boardwalk back to the trailhead and discussed our plans for the next day. We decided that we would return and complete another Sourland Mountain Preserve trail. Bhavna had never visited Roaring Brook, but I hiked that trail with my friend Prasanna a few years ago.

I enjoyed the walk, which made me realize I truly want to get back into nature more. It is a way to be out and moving, enjoying the warmer weather, but getting out into nature while getting some exercise with a purpose is nice.

bhavna, board walk, sourland mountain
Bhavna walking the boardwalk shortcut back to the trail head.

Hiking to Roaring Brook

On the Saturday after Good Friday, Bhavna and I decided to hike the other half of the trail to Roaring Rocks Boulders.

The day started cooler and cloudier than Friday. The parking lot at the trailhead was almost full.

grass, cards, sky, clouds
It was an overcast day but the parking area at the Sourland Mountain Preserve was nearly full.
Some parts of the trail were muddy, but mostly it was dry. On the way back, I strained a muscle in my left foot. I assumed the pain was just from pushing my ankle muscles too hard. Nevertheless, the next morning I awoke with pain in the middle of my foot. We iced it for twenty minutes on and off for the whole day. There was a little improvement on Monday morning, but Bhavna and I agreed it was time to see a doctor. In any case, The injury shortened our hike to Roaring Rocks Boulders, and we took a connecting trail back to the parking lot.

water, pond, trees, clouds
I wished I had brought my tripod and neutral density filter for some long exposure photography of the pond and the sky.
I will let the photos tell the story.
boardwalk, sourland mountain, trees, woods, woman
Some of the trail had boardwalks which made walking much easier.
woods, trees, underbrush
Some of the woodland plants had tiny new leaves. But mostly the trees were bare and the ground was covered with dead leaves. Need we be concerned with fire?
trail, water, sourland mountain, trees, woods, woman
Other parts of the trail wound through the woods.
rocks, water, sourland mountain, trees, woods, woman
Bhavna and I cross some rocks areas where a stream had formed from run-off from the mountain.
rocks, sourland mountain, boulder, woman
My wife Bhavna.
people, rocks, sourland mountain
We chatted with other hikers along the Ridge Trail

When we arrived at a clearing where the Roaring Brook was visible through the trees, we stopped to take some photos. I practised the Brenziner effect. I chose that photo as the featured image for this post.

Bhavna was quite patient while I found a spot in the middle of the brook from which to shoot. The rocks were slippery, and I was at risk of going ankle-deep into the water.

Holi Hai

In the latter part of April, we were invited to celebrate the Hindu spring of Holi hosted by an organization at the Bharat Sevashram Sangha in South Brunswick. Around India, Holi is a lunar calendar harvest festival celebrated in March by Hindu’s of all sects. This year’s Holi was March 1 in India. Spring arrives one month later in the North Eastern USA. In March, the weather is too cold and dreary for an outdoor festival that signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, the end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet friends and family, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair relationships. My wife’s birthday was the same week, and this Holi festival celebration makes her birthday special each year. The first year we attended, the celebration fell right on her birthday.

A Boy is a Man

Shaan and high-school friends
Shaan and high-school friends | Friday 28 April, 2017 | Nikon D5100 | AF-S DX Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G | 140 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 100

It feels like it was just months ago when I held him in my arms. He was so small, pale, and helpless. I worried that I would not know what to do as a father, but that morning a piece of my heart (and Bhavna’s) broke off and became this person.

Shaan, Yejin, Luke, Raymond, Josh | Friday 28 April, 2017 | Nikon D5100 | AF-S DX Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8G | 130 sec at f/5.6 | ISO 100

That helpless baby grew into a handsome, warm, caring, capable man who loves his mother and dotes on his sister. My “baby boy” is eighteen next month. He is graduating from the Montgomery Township high school in June and attending the Honors College at Rutgers University, where he will be studying biology.

Shaan Williams
Shaan Williams | Friday 28 April, 2017 | Nikon D5100 | AF-S Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8 G | 1160 sec at f/4.0 | ISO 100

The Changing Seasons Monthly Photo Challenge is a blogging challenge by photographer Max a.k.a Cardinal Guzman. Each month I will post a photo that I think represents the month. It's also a chance to write a narrative of my adventures.

Tuesday Photo Challenge - Abandoned

Along the trail were some abandoned buildings.

The Tuesday Photo Challenge is a weekly theme-based challenge for photographers of all kinds to share both new and old photography. This week's theme is abadoned.

I had been thinking about what I might do for the weekly challenge all week. Because of my workday time constraints, I do most of my photography during the weekend. Initially, I had thought to photograph an abandoned barn along Route 206 in Skillman. I have passed the dilapidated barn many times over the last sixteen years. I am always curious about it but have never stopped for a photo. I guess I am afraid of being called out for trespassing.

I woke up on Saturday morning, made breakfast, and performed my daily coffee routine. I sat down at the computer, opened Google Maps in a browser and typed in "abandoned places". Google found a handful of places "nearby" if by nearby, you mean driving one hour or more. I found an abandoned high school building forty-five minutes away in Lambertville, but further research showed that it had been demolished in 2012. Frustrated, I tried again, using the keywords "abandoned building near Princeton".

I got exactly one result for Princeton. From Google Maps entry, I could see that Herrontown Woods Arboretum had a hiking trail. Along the trail were some abandoned buildings. I found a trail map on the New Jersey Trail Association website and prepared my camera bag.

My wife, Bhavna, awoke just as I was about to leave. We chatted about our plans for the day, and she offered to go out with me; soon after, she had a quick breakfast. I was happy for the company. Herrontown Woods Arboretum is less than two miles from our home, but because of my illness, I always feel better when I have someone with me when I am out in the woods.

We took the red trail to a fork from the parking lot in the trail and walked through an opening in the fence. We followed what appeared to be a new "green-white" path and found the abandoned property quite quickly.

An active farm, deeded to Mercer County by Princeton University mathematician Oswald Veblen and his wife Elizabeth in 1957, occupied the southeastern part of the woods, including the cottage clearing with its now-abandoned house and barn. Wood-cutting for timber sales continued through the 1920s. The Levine tract, additional land on the eastern side of the woods acquired in the early 1970s, had seen traprock quarrying around the beginning of the 20th century. ~ New Jersey Trail Association

We walked around, exploring the property. Bhavna was quite patient while I kneeled in the grass, composing one shot after another. I wasn't happy with the photos I was getting. The buildings were abandoned, but my compositions were not capturing the feeling.

I also felt that the Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX-II 11-16mm f/2.8 was not the right lens. I bought the lens for landscape photography; at the time, I wanted a wide DX lens. But I now regret the purchase. I think a 16mm f/2.8 DX lens (24mm full-frame equivalent) would have been a better choice. I am starting to regret the purchase.

We walked the path over to the abandoned barn and barn house. While I tried compositions with the barn house, Bhavna explored the barn. She peeked through an opening in the door and spotted an abandoned bathtub. I took some photos from outside, with the door ajar and part of the tub visible. I planned to create an HDR. I could also see the bathtub through a small hole in the side of the barn. I took a few more shots using the hole to frame what I could see of the bathtub. Eventually, I ventured inside. Someone had placed the tub in the middle of the room with two rocks inside.

Who placed a bathtub inside a barn? Why right in the middle? Who put the rocks inside the tub? What was the purpose of the rocks? How long had the bathtub sat here? I looked around, but I saw no signs of any plumbing. All I saw were leaves and other debris. I realised I had found my "abandoned" photograph.

I captured three bracketed exposures and combined them in Photomatix. I then applied a Kodak Ektachrome 100 film emulation preset.

After a few more experimental portrait shots with my Bhavana as my model, we decided to head back to the car. Bhavana was feeling cold, some snow flurries were coming down, and we were concerned about losing the trail path if the snowfall was heavy.

With more than three miles of hiking trails, Herrontown Woods Arboretum is on the eastern end of Princeton Ridge. We got "lost" on our way back. We were on the green trail but somehow ended up on the white trail before finding the red path back to the parking area. It was like having a mini-adventure. We encountered intermittent streams that wound along our return trip to the parking lot.

I want to return to the Herrontown Woods Arboretum in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Tillman Ravine, Stokes State Forest

Two weekends ago I wend on a photo-hike through Stokes State Forest with some friends.

Two weekends ago, I embarked on an adventure to Stokes State Forest, a captivating New Jersey state park nestled in Sandyston, Montague, and Frankford within Sussex County. The expedition was shared with my friends Chris and Walt, who had set up their campsites separately in the vicinity of Sandyston. Excitement filled the air as I coordinated a photographic hike to explore the forest.

Initially, our group consisted of five enthusiastic participants, but two decided to opt out on the eve of our expedition. Nature blunted our determination to brave the elements with sporadic and heavy rain throughout the weekend. Nonetheless, when I arrived at the meetup location, I introduced Walt and Chris to each other, and with decisiveness, we ventured deep into the forest.

Stokes State Forest
Stokes State Forest · 5 June 2016 · Nikon D5100 · Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX

The forest left a lasting impression when I set foot in it. Nature's spectacle was fully displayed, and lush greenery surrounded me. The air was sweet and damp, enriching the overall experience. Surrounded by green trees, I felt like a child in a candy store. Various hardwood tree species graced the landscape, including oaks, hickories, maples, birch, chestnuts, beech, sycamore, cherry, walnut, ash, elm, etc. While I am allergic to most, if not all, of these trees, the steady rain eased any concerns. Bryophyta moss and lichen, common in wooded or moist areas where it can thrive in the shade and dampness, adorned the base of nearly every tree I encountered, adding to the glamorous scenery.

Stokes State Forest
Stokes State Forest · 5 June 2016 · Nikon D5100 · Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX

We found ourselves caught in the midst of a torrential downpour with our cameras, tripods, and camera bag in tow. Swiftly, we collected our equipment and hurried back to the safety of our cars. Our hike had taken us quite a distance, and we were thoroughly drenched when we reached our parked cars. We exited our cars after the rain subsided. To our disappointment, Walt discovered a technical issue with his Nikon D800, which was displaying errors. Something was wrong despite his attempts to resolve it by removing and replacing the battery. I patiently waited, and miraculously, about 30 minutes later, his Nikon sprung back to life.

Stokes State Forest
Stokes State Forest · 5 June 2016 · Nikon D5100 · Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX

Our immediate objective was to find waterfalls, and thus, we ventured on the Tilman Ravine Trail. Although we hiked a short distance, the trail presented alternating peaks and troughs, creating a fascinating exploration trail. Ferns, likely part of the class Polypodiopsida, were displayed with their green fronds spreading out on the forest floor. With their straight trunks rising towards the canopy, the trees were a mix of deciduous and coniferous species common in temperate forests. I was greeted with many photographic possibilities upon reaching the waterfall. The many possible compositions left me momentarily indecisive as I stood there, absorbing the spectacular surroundings and pondering the perfect shot.

Walt Varn at Stokes State Forest
Walt Varn at Stokes State Forest · 5 June 2016 · Nikon D5100 · Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX

Tillman Ravine, located within the confines of Stokes State Forest in northwestern New Jersey, is the epitome of natural allure. This serene and picturesque haven in Sandyston, Sussex County, became the focal point of our expedition. The ravine beckoned us with its lush foliage, serene waterfalls, and captivating hiking trails. It is an idyllic escape into the heart of nature.

Stokes State Forest
Stokes State Forest · 5 June 2016 · Nikon D5100 · Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX

The ravine's defining feature is its dense vegetation, overlooked by towering hardwood trees and a diverse array of vibrant plant species. The lush canopy overhead created an atmosphere of tranquillity as we ventured deeper into this natural sanctuary. Beneath our feet, the forest floor was decorated with a tapestry of ferns, mosses, and wildflowers, enhancing the magic of the surroundings.

Stokes State Forest
Stokes State Forest · 5 June 2016 · Nikon D5100 · Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX

A central attraction of Tillman Ravine is its meandering stream, gracefully weaving its way through the ravine. Though smaller in scale compared to well-known waterfalls in other regions, the ravine boasted a series of charming cascades and waterfalls along the stream's course. These water features contribute to the ravine's natural splendour, providing a soothing backdrop for hikers and nature enthusiasts immersed in exploration. The pleasant blend of lush foliage, peaceful forest ambience, and the gentle melody of running water set the tone for our hike.

Tillman Ravine, Stokes State Forest
Tillman Ravine, Stokes State Forest · 5 June 2016 · Nikon D5100 · Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX

Navigating a network of well-maintained trails, we explored the ravine, providing Chris's daughter ample opportunities for adventure and discovery. The trails followed the stream, affording us occasional glimpses of cascading water and immersing us in the natural milieu. Though moderately challenging, the terrain added to the sense of accomplishment as we traversed the ravine's pathways.

Despite the looming threat of rain and the slippery rocks underfoot, Tillman Ravine is the kind of place that beckoned for repeated visits. Its charm and the various activities it offered left an indelible mark on me.