My wife and spent a weekend at William O’Brien State Park, north of Stillwater, MN, and the most amazing image I have captured at William O’Brien State Park was the one I wasn’t planning to capture at all. I’ll tell you about it in a bit. First let me tell you about our trip.
We rented a camper cabin for three nights. (You should try it if you haven’t. Really.) It happened to be our 33rd anniversary! What a great way to spend it. I’m glad I have a wife that loves going to the woods and hanging out for a weekend! Of course, I was also planning to spend some time capturing landscape photos that might look beautiful on someone’s wall.
However, the weekend weather turned out windy and cold. In fact, it actually felt more uncomfortable at about 8-12 degrees with a strong wind, than our trip last year to Bear Head Lake State Park. Read about that amazing trip where we were outside more even though the weather then was 8-15 degrees BELOW zero in the mornings. Of course, when I book the cabin 3-4 months ahead, I have no idea what the weather will be like.
A Bit about the Park
William O’Brien is a 1,653-acre state park on the shores of the St. Croix River, just north of Stillwater about 15 minutes. According to the DNR, it is made up of oak-hickory forests, scattered white pine areas, marshes, oak savanna, upland prairie and rolling meadows. The land, which used to be covered in trees and then harvested for lumber in the mid-1800s, was eventually owned by William O’Brien. In 1947, his daughter donated 180 acres to become the state park.
Cross Country Skiing in William O’Brien
If you are into cross country skiing, this is a great park with about 12 miles of trails. Right outside the door of our cabin was a ski trail that leads into the park and connects to various routes with miles of trails for both traditional and skate skiing. The trails I skied on were all groomed well, and in fact, I saw a groomer go by our cabin one morning after a light snow. The park doesn’t have as many snowshoeing trails as ski trails. To snowshoe we had to drive to the interpretive center and walk from there, which I will discuss later.
As I said, while we were there it was cold and windy. I did get outside and ski a couple of days. The shorter loop, Wetland Trail, which doesn’t cross the railroad bed that runs through the park, is a nice flat route. There are several beaver huts along the route. The next day, I went on the same trail for most of it, but I went through the viaduct and under the old railroad bed. That additional stretch of trail had some hills in it and added about three-quarters of a mile. Going up the hills can be work, but they were not so steep that I had to turn sideways to walk up them. Of course, going down the hills was fun.
Before connecting back up to the wetland trail, the trail crossed over the old railroad bed. While on the railroad bed, I stopped and was just reaching for my phone to take a photo when I saw a hawk come floating over. I just missed capturing it on my iPhone. (I had decided earlier that I wasn’t going to carry my big camera along that time, and I couldn’t have gotten it out in time anyway.) It was a beautiful day though. The sun was out, the sky was clear and blue and the snow a bright white.
The next morning, it finally warmed up and didn’t have much of a wind chill, so we parked at the interpretive center and strapped on our snowshoes. One disappointment for me was that I couldn’t drive down closer to the river. We had to walk it because they don’t plow the half-mile road down to the Riverway Campground in the winter. The road (in summer), now trail (in winter) connects to the Riverside Trail, a 1.6 mile loop through the forest and along the St. Croix River. It’s a nice walk.
I captured some pretty pictures, but I wouldn’t say this was my most productive photography outing. However, it is ALWAYS nice to get out in the woods — whether winter or summer.
Since the weather didn’t do anything too interesting while we were there, I tried to make some image blurs by moving the camera. I use a slow shutter speed, anything from 1/4 of a second to 1/30th, and tilt the camera up and down while clicking the shutter. It takes a lot of experimentation to get anything remotely interesting.
Using this technique, I was trying to capture a unique look of the snow and trees. I think I captured a couple. These abstract images, and others I’ve taken over the years, could make some great framed art on the wall for the person into abstracts. Couldn’t you just see them hanging in some hotel room? What do you think of some of these abstract images? Shoot me an email or connect on social media. While I didn’t capture anything super amazing this time, let me tell you about an image I did capture one time that I do think was sort of amazing.
One summer many years ago, we camped at William O’Brien with friends. And, as I always do, I was out early one morning taking pictures. I was capturing a silhouette of the trees against the river backdrop when I heard the familiar sound of scratching on a tree. I figured a squirrel was coming, but wasn’t sure where he was coming from. Then I saw him scurrying down the tree.
I had one chance to grab a quick photo (on slide film back in the day), and that was it. I had my camera set for a slow shutter speed because I was capturing scenery and not trying to stop action. But in this instance, I think the blur works out well because it creates a sense of motion, when everything else is still. He became the subject in my landscape photograph. I think I should call it “the ghost squirrel.”
This is what I have found over the years: serendipity happens. You have to put yourself in a place to potentially capture beautiful images. You may or may not get any that are truly inspiring or worthy of framing on the wall, but once in a while, because you were prepared and showed up, you capture something unique and interesting. Sort of like other areas of life as well. Thanks for reading.