Tuesday, May 24, 2016

World fish migration day at Riveredge Nature Center


Did you know there was a World Fish Migration Day? I didn’t. But Riveredge Nature Center in Ozaukee County was honoring it and I found out when I got a Facebook invitation to attend. So I went. It was on Saturday and the weather—finally—was splendid and warm enough to feel like summer had arrived. Reason enough to go for a walk in the woods along the Milwaukee River!

According to the official World Fish Migration Day website, the one-day “global-local” event is intended “to create awareness of the importance of open rivers and migratory fish.” Although I don’t really need a reminder that open rivers are healthy rivers and fish need to migrate freely, I was curious about the event.

I arrived at the river just as a team of fish specialists from the Ozaukee Fish Passage Program, which co-sponsored the day, was wrapping up a fishing expedition. Clad in hip waders, they used electroshocking to stun the fish and scooped them up with nets. Then they brought the catch back to a floating dock where visitors including several families were waiting to see what they had.

The fish were dumped into a tank on the shore where children could press their faces up against the glass and get a good look. Some of the kids eagerly reached in and held up a wriggling specimen. Most of the fish were no more than a few inches long. The prize of the day, however, was the approximately 18-inch smallmouth bass (top). I asked if that was an unusual size and was told that the record at Riveredge was 20 inches, so yes indeed, it was a good find.

In the tank along with the fish there were a couple of healthy, native crayfish. This was a good sign as the invasive rusty crayfish has been aggressively competing with the natives in Milwaukee’s rivers.

Later I went for a walk in the woods where I found a wealth of spring wildflowers and, of course, collected some photographs. 


Tangles of roots, dead trees and branches in the river provide good habitat for migrating fish, as the crowd was told by the fish specialists.

A particularly lovely fungus specimen on a stump

 The may apples, which were budding but mostly not quite ready to flower, were the most spectacular ground cover species I noticed. Here they carpet a hilltop.

May apple, worm's eye view

I only saw this one tent caterpillar colony, however it doesn't take but one to give me the willies. The devastation the caterpillars can cause to a woodlot is one of my earliest childhood memories relating to the balance of nature.

The forest was full of trees bearing bright red-orange markings. I enquired about them. Some years ago a team from U.W. Stevens Point had done a tree study in order to improve forest management techniques. The types of marks indicate a variety of tree species and conditions.

The original owner of the land that is now Riveredge Nature Center had developed a modest version of a Dells-like resort, I was told. Crumbling and overgrown foundations are all that remain of the endeavor.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cudahy Nature Preserve bursting with spring wildflowers

Where it began at the parking area the upland trail led me through a woods still disappointingly barren. But warm sun shone through the leafless canopy and I was happy just to be out and feeling it on my face. Besides, I had it on good authority that there was a treasure of wildflowers hiding somewhere in this place. I strolled on.

When the land and the trail dipped into a small valley I discovered the promised treasure. Small white flowers--trout lillies, I later learned--spread across the valley floor like a carpet of green with white flecks. Where a thin stream of black water trickled under a plank bridge there were luxuriant bouquets of marsh marigold.

Deeper in the woods, where the soil was moist, a thick, rich stew of skunk cabbage gave the forest floor an intensely green buoyancy. A few of the trees in the under-story were just budding out, adding a complimentary reds to the otherwise somber palette of spring. I was exploring the Cudahy Nature Preserve for the first time, thanks to the recommendation of Brian Russart, Natural Areas Coordinator at the Milwaukee County Parks Department.

Here are a few shots that I took while I wandered, rapt and enchanted in the urban wilderness.

Trout lillies carpet the forest floor
Vole-eye view of trout lillies
Field of skunk cabbage
Skunk cabbage
Field of skunk cabbage
Marsh marigolds in wetland
Upland woods
Budding trees
Purple cress
Oh, I suppose I should mention the noise. Every few minutes I was subjected to the tremendous roar of jet engines as an airliner began its acceleration towards liftoff from Mitchell Field. The end of the north-south runway is right next to the park. Between flights it was very peaceful.

Flight path, adjacent to the preserve

To see more photos of Milwaukee's parks and natural areas, go to my Flickr album.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Nothing Kills A River Like Concrete: Exhibit invitation

Concrete River: 
Memorial and Promise on the Kinnickinnic River

Photography by Eddee Daniel
Collaborative shrine and installation with Melanie Ariens

Alfons Gallery
1501 S. Layton Blvd., Milwaukee, WI

Opening reception: May 22, 1 - 3 pm. 
Artist's remarks: 2 pm.

I hope you'll join me and Melanie for this event. This will not be an ordinary photo exhibit. We plan an installation that will make the gallery feel like the concrete channel.

Exhibit runs through July 31

Gallery hours:
Wed, Thu, Fri, Sun 12 - 3 pm
and by appointment.

For more information: Alfons Gallery website.

Artist's Statement:

Nothing kills a river like concrete. How we treat rivers is suggestive of how we relate to the natural world in general.

Historically, rivers have been central to the growth of human civilization. This was as true at the founding of Milwaukee as it was in the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates. Somehow, though, in the late twentieth century, our modern society lost sight of this vital truth. Milwaukee’s three rivers suffered many abuses, including habitat loss, pollution and dams.

But there’s nothing like pouring concrete into it, essentially transforming it into a drainage ditch, to signal the destruction of a river. Sections of other rivers and creeks in the Milwaukee River watershed were subject to this debasement, but the Kinnickinnic River suffered the most.

In the 1960s the KK, as it is still affectionately known, was straightened and lined with concrete in order to mitigate flooding problems in the surrounding neighborhood. Although at the time this dramatic action did provide some relief from the risk of flooding, it also compromised the river in significant ways. The concrete channel destroyed aquatic and riparian habitats, degraded water quality, and increased the risk of drowning during high water flows. Ironically, today even the original intent of the channelization has become outdated and ineffective for flood control.

Fortunately, for the river and for the community, attitudes have once again shifted. Caring for and revitalizing rivers has captured the public imagination. On the KK the current solution is a project to remove the concrete channel and restore the river to a more natural condition. When I was invited by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to document the project area I jumped at the opportunity. It’s exactly the kind of subject to which I am drawn.
The KK River Project, officially known as the Kinnickinnic River Corridor Neighborhood Plan, is a joint endeavor by the MMSD and the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center. The project area is located between 6th Street and 27th Street. (An earlier phase of the project, completed in 2012, removed the concrete channel downstream from 6th St.) The 50-ft. wide concrete channel is to be removed and a 200 ft.-wide rock-lined river channel created. This has necessitated the acquisition and deconstruction of 83 homes in order to accommodate the wider river. Although most of those houses had already been removed, I witnessed and documented the deconstruction of several of the few remaining.

Because the project is in its early phases, most of the images in this exhibit depict the river’s current state as a concrete channel. Furthermore, the installation itself is intended to reinforce the claustrophobic and treacherous conditions that exist. In order to represent the more hopeful future of the KK, I have invited environmental artist Melanie Ariens to collaborate with me on a water shrine to signify the restored vitality that is envisioned in the KK River Project.

See more of my KK River photos in my Flickr album

Monday, April 18, 2016

Millennium Reserve: visiting Chicagoland's ambitious urban wilderness project

Did you know that the land surrounding the southern edge of Lake Michigan was once one of the most important ecosystems on the continent? I learned that last week at a public hearing I attended in Park Forest, IL. The subject was the Millennium Reserve initiative, which is a huge and ambitious undertaking that will involve--among other things--trying to bring back some of the ecological resilience and biodiversity of that region.

The wetlands of this area are located at the precise point where the eastern forest, central prairie and great lakes ecosystems meet, making it unique and irreplaceable. Of course, it's also where Chicago and Gary, IN created an industrial powerhouse that obliterated much of the natural environment. But, in the current post-industrial climate, there is encouraging new interest in saving what's left and restoring what's possible of this remarkable native system.

The Millennium Reserve is located in the Calumet region of Cook County, IL. Last week I spent two days touring some of the parks and natural areas that already have been established. Here is what I saw, one photo from each of the parks I visited.

Thorn Creek Trail, Glenwood
Glenwood Woods, Glenwood
Sauk Trail Woods, Chicago Heights
Osprey, Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie
Egger's Grove, City of Chicago
Controlled burn, Big Marsh, Chicago
Jurgenson Woods, Lansing
Indian Ridge Marsh, Chicago
Wampum Lake, Lansing
Brownell Woods, Thornton
William Powers State Rec. Area, City of Chicago
This is my second visit to the Millennium Reserve and second photo essay. To see the previous one, click here.

More images in my Flickr album.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

It Takes One: A feature by The Cultural Landscape Foundation

I've had the honor to be featured on The Cultural Landscape Foundation's website. I recently went to Houston to attend a TCLF conference called "Leading with Landscape: The Transformation of Houston." In getting to know a few of the TCLF members there I shared a little about my work and what's going on in Milwaukee. They were interested enough to interview me for their feature, "It Takes One." I'm reprinting it below. If you want to read the original on their website, click here.

It Takes One: Eddee Daniel

I am a photographer and writer specializing in urban ecologies and cultural landscapes. My practice is multidimensional. I tell stories about particular places. I also examine how we perceive and construct understandings of nature in the contexts of culture and the built environment. I have long characterized my work with the paradoxical term ‘Urban Wilderness,’ which symbolizes the complexity of my subject matter as well as its inherent tensions.

I have degrees in art education with an emphasis on photography. After more than 30 years of teaching art, photography, and architecture in secondary- and higher-educational settings, for the past six years I have pursued my current practice full time. I also have a long record of environmental advocacy, having served on the boards of several local non-profit organizations. I love all of the arts. Currently, I am collaborating with two choreographers, who are incorporating my imagery into environmental-themed dance programs. My interest in cultural landscapes is less a conscious choice than a thoroughly ingrained personal temperament.

Menomonee River reconstruction, Milwaukee, WI
How do you define a cultural landscape?
A cultural landscape is a place, whether natural, built, or otherwise designed, that has felt the impact of the human imprint. These places may be interpreted broadly or very particularly. Today, at the beginning of what some are calling the Anthropocene Epoch—when human influence has begun to affect ecology on a planetary scale—an argument can be made that all landscapes have a cultural aspect. For the purposes of my artistic practice, I generally choose to examine landscapes where the human and natural elements are inextricably interconnected: Either there has been a deliberate effort to modify a place or the features of a place have motivated humans to adapt to it. To me, cultural landscapes are places that live in the imagination as well as exist as earthy terrain: They have stories worth telling.

What is the Urban Wilderness Project?
The Urban Wilderness Project began as a voyage of discovery as well as a means to advocate for conservation and restoration of natural habitats within my local urban and suburban setting. It was also about how to perceive a watershed while living in a city. I set out to explore and document the existing conditions within the Menomonee River watershed, which begins in an exurban area of farms and encroaching suburbs and runs through the heart of industrial Milwaukee. I spent six years exploring the physical features of the region and, in particular, its rivers and riparian parks. The project dealt with issues of land use, flood management, economic development, recreational opportunities, pollution, wildlife diversity, and habitat restoration. The outcome was a book entitled Urban Wilderness: Exploring a Metropolitan Watershed, published by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago.

Beyond that specific project, I have used the term ‘Urban Wilderness’ more generally to symbolize the complexity of my experiences as well as my creative responses to the tensions and themes symbolized by this idea. The term, which for me is rich with hope as well as contradiction, has provided the conceptual underpinning for various bodies of work I have undertaken in the past 20 years. Although these bodies of work are loosely unified by the overarching ‘Urban Wilderness’ concept, they vary in focus and style from documentary realism to abstract formalism. Throughout, I try to emphasize an experience of the world that is relational and conditional rather than singular and fixed.

St. Louis Art Museum, Forest Park, St. Louis
How do you choose your projects?
In a world that seems to have become an endless series of ecological catastrophes, I have made a determined effort to choose projects that tell a more hopeful story. I admire the efforts of others to raise awareness about a wide variety of important and pressing environmental concerns; that is essential. However, I seek places where I see positive transformation either underway or being planned. In 2014, I served as the inaugural artist-in-residence in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, a blighted post-industrial landscape that is in the midst of economic and environmental revitalization. In 2015, I worked with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to document its Kinnickinnic River Project, which will eventually remove several miles of concrete channel and recreate a more naturalized river.

Is your work primarily documentary, or does it strive to do something else?
My work can be difficult to categorize. Much of what I do is documentary. My writing can be described as creative non-fiction. My photography veers between straightforward documentary and the fine art formalism that was the basis of my artistic education. I am unquestionably an advocate for many things: the creation and enjoyment of urban parklands, sustainable development, river revitalization, instilling a love of nature in children, just and equitable access to nature, etc. My artistic work often reflects this. Sometimes it is more abstract or symbolic, like the long-running personal project I call Synecdoche: the fragment that represents the whole. Uncharacteristically, but importantly, that project is not devoted to a specific place. Instead, it suggests a more universal experience of nature as fragmentary and that what remains must stand in for what has been lost.

I would like to think that I observe the world with a childlike sense of wonder. Occasionally I believe I achieve that valuable goal. But in truth, there is nearly always a defining conceptual basis to the work I do, whether symbolic, as in Synecdoche, or pragmatic, as in the restoration of a damaged river.

Curtain Wall, from Synecdoche: the fragment that represents the whole
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the medium of photography in capturing the essence of a place?
Photography has nearly universal appeal due to its accessibility and democratic character. People generally believe what they see and photography can lend credence to the subject it represents. That can be an asset for a documentary project. It enables viewers to visualize a place and helps drive a narrative. However, to turn the old saw on its head, a photograph often requires a thousand words to put it into context. Without contextual support, a single image can easily be misunderstood. To remedy this potential pitfall, I rarely depend upon a single image and I include written narratives to support my theses.

Alienation from nature is a frequent theme in your work. Are parks and maintained natural areas a true remedy to such alienation?
While I am sensitive to the issue of alienation from nature, I don’t consider that a starting point. It is my fundamental belief that the human/nature divide is a false one. If I have a starting point for my practice it is the idea of the interdependency of all life and the interconnection between nature and the built environment symbolized by the theme of 'Urban Wilderness.' Having said that, in an increasingly urbanized world we do have to deal with alienation from traditional experiences of nature. I believe that urban parks and natural areas are indeed a vital component in combatting what author Richard Louv refers to as “nature deficit disorder.” In my experience, the well-documented health and spiritual benefits of exposure to the natural world accrue to time spent in urban natural areas as readily as elsewhere.

Urban Wilderness, from the Urban Wilderness Project
What message would you like to give our readers that may inspire them to make a difference?
Like most people who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, a huge percentage of my youth was spent outdoors and unsupervised. That kind of upbringing is so rare today that children fortunate enough (from my perspective) to have that experience are dubbed “free-range kids.” If children are not provided with daily opportunities to run free in nature, the consequences will not only affect their own development, potentially leading to an increase in physical disabilities, decreased mental acuity and spiritual poverty, it will also create a society that no longer values nature enough to protect what remains.

As more and more of the global population lives in urban settings, sensitively designed public parks and natural areas become increasingly vital to everyone’s future. We cannot reset the clock to 1955, but we can create a future that enables people of all ages to see and touch nature within their own communities.

Forest Park, St. Louis, MO
Stay tuned for a blog post about Houston and my experiences there.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Forest Park, St. Louis: more urban than wilderness, but lovely

I stopped in St. Louis on my way to a conference in Houston. Spent the afternoon in Forest Park. Weighing in at over 1300 acres, it's larger than New York's Central Park, with which it has more than a passing resemblance. Like Central Park, it contains a zoo and the city's premier art museum. Also two golf courses--currently rather worse for wear due to dry conditions. I'm guessing they don't water much. First time I've seen golfers on brown fairways.

I did manage to find a couple wildish areas to wander about in. A photo essay:

Cypress "knees"
Birch grove reflected in St. Louis Art Museum windows
Trailhead, JFK Memorial Forest (seriously)