My neighbors in Kolberg, my Southern Door hometown, were more than kind when they gave this newly-transplanted photographer from the big city permission to traverse their farmlands, fens and forests. I’ve become a regular sight along the roads and on the landscape now for more than 20 years. Even though most roll their eyes at what seems like crazy behavior, everyone manages a kind wave or stops to visit a bit.
My explorations regularly spill over to the local state park, Potawatomi, but as the season warms, I begin to expand my sights to Peninsula State Park and the many Land Trust Nature Preserves from Clay Banks to Washington Island.
Looking back, I’ve always had a streak of adventurism. When I was young, I would pack a lunch and head out on my banana-seat Schwinn.
On these all-day treks, I would explore the environs of the many small towns we had been transplanted to because of my Methodist minister dad who was regularly re-appointed to parishes in need. With brand new baby siblings, it was not only a great respite from all the diaper duty and tears that constantly filled the house, but also it was exhilarating to travel so far on my own.
When my parents purchased vacation property in northwest Wisconsin—a big piece of undulating forested land—I would set out each day from our campsite and forge through uncharted territory. I developed a keen sense of direction and a silent style that I hoped would have impressed the likes of Sacagawea while on the Lewis and Clark campaign.
My sense of adventure was only eclipsed by my imagination. It was my imagination that kept me curious to see what could be over the next hill, despite my tired legs, or to bravely forge through a thorny blackberry patch—with the possibility of bears.
With little fear of bears here, discovering Door County on foot is my favorite mode of transport. And in spring, it is the only way to discover the true stars of the season: wildflowers.
Many wild or domesticated-specimens-gone-rogue are easy enough to spy by car: the undergrowth of trilliums or a carpet of purple forget-me-nots. But I’m usually in search of the more exotic beauties.
When one stumbles upon their first burgundy and yellow lady slipper, it is like a true moment of magic. Upon my very first encounter with the exotic-looking woodland orchid, I wouldn’t have been surprised one bit to lift my eyes from its strange beauty to see a unicorn giving me a horsey nod of approval.
The boardwalks and trails through The Ridges Sanctuary in Baileys Harbor are ground zero for all the rare botanicals. On almost every visit, I’ve bumped into other hikers hot on the trail of discovery and more than willing to share an exact spot of a sighting of the many rarities this extraordinary micro-climate has to offer.
Not far down the road is Toft Point where true magic still dwells. From extraordinary mushrooms, mosses, fungi and flowers, this land never ceases to evoke blissed-out awe and wonder.
On my wildflower expeditions my camera bag holds three lenses for my Nikon D800e camera body: 14-24mm, 24-70mm and a 70-200mm – all f/2.8, NIKKOR issued.
With this perfect camera kit, I embrace the bokeh (the soft, out-of-focus background) of a shallow f/stop—to draw singular attention to the spectacular beauty of the flower. I hand-hold most every shot while laying on my tummy or tapping into my yoga-strong legs, crouching into incredibly uncomfortable positions. Anything to get the shot.
I also shoot regularly with my iPhone 6s+ and sometimes nail a shot more perfectly then with my “big-girl” camera equipment.
Even though leaving the trail and picking any flower on public lands is completely forbidden—not to mention super uncool—I find myself sometimes in a position of compromise and admit I do step off-path every now and then. But when I do, I do so in the most mindful manner possible. I have been known to even remove my boots so not to sully the scene for the next guy. To pay penance, I pick up any litter along my way and share my sightings with any and all passersby.
When I’m on private lands (only when by the permission of the owners), I carry my garden clippers and a small bonsai-style hand rake. These tools afford me a direct shot without any foreground interruptions by cleaning up the area under the flower before shooting. Cleanly clipping is always a healthier choice than, say, breaking or pulling out a plant by the roots. It keeps the plant intact and free of any possible infection in the future.
Giving back is a good deed that is always appreciated. Whether it is with the organization that oversees the public land, your generous neighbor or local paper, sending quality photo files or gifting a print is a kind gesture of your gratitude.
From April through June, spring wildflowers flourish in Door County. From the earliest marsh marigold to the intriguing pitcher plant, more than 30 known varieties will reliably bloom. Become as curious as the most globetrotting botanist and have fun tapping into your own adventuring instincts to discover, identify and shoot these rock stars of nature.
Happy collecting—photographically, of course.
Visit www.suzannerose.com for a list of upcoming fine art photographic workshops, including a local wildflower expedition this spring.