Saturday, October 25, 2014

Photo Phenology 3: A photo essay

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.1

Silver Maple
For the third time during the course of this year I’ve undertaken a personal, somewhat unscientific version of phenology in the parks of the Menomonee Valley. Phenology is the science of observation, specifically of seasonal variations in the life cycles of plants and animals. The Urban Ecology Center has volunteers who go out into the two parks adjacent to its Menomonee Valley Branch on a monthly basis to photograph in a methodical manner. On my first two phenology excursions I accompanied UEC teams. This time, it being a glorious autumn afternoon, I went more spontaneously, alone. The light was magnificent and kept getting better as the day wore on.

Sumac & Steel
The quote above is from Aldo Leopold who was a habitual and meticulous phenologist as well as one of our country’s most famous ecologists and author of the classic, A Sand County Almanac. The quote is suggestive, I submit, of a current way of thinking about the Menomonee Valley. The history of the Valley could easily suggest that our predecessors tinkered with it in rather unintelligent ways. The original, natural landscape was not just discarded piecemeal but very nearly in its entirety. Now, however, there is a concerted attempt to ameliorate the situation and reintroduce some of what was lost. I believe we have gotten better at intelligent tinkering.

My ramblings took me in a loop around Stormwater Park, adjacent to the 35th Street Viaduct, then briefly into Three Bridges Park. Here is what I saw.

Switchgrass & Ingeteam
Black Oak
Wild Grape
Purple Aster
Silver Maple
If you're paying close attention you will have noticed that silver maple leaves can turn red or yellow. I was skeptical so I checked with Jeff, the wildlife ecologist at the UEC. He assured me that this is true.
Stormwater Park & Viaduct
View from Valley Passage Bridge
Kayakers Posing
Sumac Explosion
Tomatillo in Community Gardens
Community Garden Boxes & Sky
Oak Seedling
City on a Hill
I will end as I began, with a quote from Leopold:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”2


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.


  1. Thanks for a beautiful series of photos!

  2. Your thoughtful photographs encourage one to pay more attention and what could be better than that?