Monday, March 31, 2014

Photo Phenology

Phenology refers to the observation of seasonal plant and animal life cycles. Aldo Leopold was a habitual phenologist. Substantial portions of his classic book, A Sand County Almanac, are devoted to such observations. Photography, of course, can serve the phenologist well with its ability to record the visible world with indiscriminate accuracy—as long as you know where to point the camera!

The Menomonee Valley Branch of the Urban Ecology Center has undertaken a long-term project that it calls Photo Phenology. The idea was inspired by the proximity of the Center to newly rehabilitated parklands in the Menomonee Valley. Stormwater Park, 3 Bridges Park, and the Hank Aaron State Trail are all a short walk from their back door. 

tracks in the mud
Once a month, on the fourth Saturday, a team equipped with UEC point-and-shoot cameras goes out on a regular route to record the changes that are happening with the seasons. Last Saturday I accompanied UEC staff members Lainet and Michael on their rounds. They explained that certain vantage places are repeated each time to establish consistent points of reference. They capture several views of the river and the broad landscape. They also keep their eyes open for small details and ephemeral changes, such as animal tracks, blossoming flowers, etc.

We chose Stormwater Park, an undulating strip of swales and ponds under the 35th Street Viaduct that functions as a passive runoff treatment area for the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center. Because this was the first outing since the snow melted away (finally!), we observed a greater than usual accumulation of trash. Another UEC program called Volunteer Park Rangers is devoted to clean up and maintenance of the parks.

Here are some of the things we saw on our phenological excursion. Leopold, indefatigable phenologist as he was, knew its limitations as well. He cautions us not to read too much into surface appearances: “It is fortunate, perhaps, that no matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all of the salient facts about any one of them.”



invasive teasel

Stormwater Park



layered landscape


Valley Passage
out in front

This post is one in a series that relates to my Menomonee Valley Artist in Residency. For more information about the residency and links to previous posts and photographs, go to MV AiR.


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