Stating that 2020 has been the most unusual of years surely won’t be news to anyone. I hope that as the year winds down, all of you and your loved ones have been able to stay safe and healthy through all of the challenges that this year has thrown at us. Even in a difficult year like this one, I personally think that rather than vindictively flush 2020 down the drain, it’s important to look back and reflect on the year while recognizing the bright spots that we enjoyed, even if they were few and far between. Even with all the sacrifices that had to be made this year, I feel incredibly fortunate to have still been able to get outside to explore and photograph the great outdoors so much this year, even if that meant scrapping international and out of state adventures and traveling exclusively in good ol’ Upstate New York. So here are 12 of my favorite photos (plus one bonus!) that I took this year, presented in chronological order (starting with “Ecstasy”). I hope that you enjoy them, and that 2021 will be filled with good health and good times for all!
Morning Mirror (opening photo)
Calm, foggy mornings are the perfect time to be out in a canoe, and sometimes the water is so still it feels like you’re floating in a giant mirror. Adirondack Park, New York. Prints available.
As you can probably tell by the quantity of such photos in my portfolio, the Adirondacks in winter is quite possibly my personal favorite photography subject. In particular, the gnarled and hardy evergreens that occupy tree line and the beginning of the alpine zone make my heart pound and creativity flow unlike anything else found in nature when they become covered with snow in the depths of winter. After climbing the surprisingly deserted trail to the summit of Cascade, I was greeted with a wind-chill that approached -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and a fantasy-land of pure winter magic unlike anything I had seen before. The challenging weather conditions only added to the experience and made it that much more memorable, and as the sun dipped below the distant mountains and the most intense post-sunset glow I’ve ever witnessed emanated through the sky, I raced around like a madman capturing as many photos as I could. After the sky shifted from orange, to pink, to blue, to black, I began my descent down the dark and lonely trail, reveling in the feeling of pure ecstasy that only comes from the wilderness and doing what you love most in the world. Prints available.
Low-angled evening light struck the snowy landscape at just the right angle to allow a little evergreen sapling to project a shadow much larger than the tree itself. Adirondack Mountains, New York Prints available.
The Cozy Cabin
Stars twinkle over a cabin nestled in the Adirondack Mountains. There aren’t many feelings in life better than returning to a cozy cabin with a roaring fire after a day full of winter adventures. This photo appeared in Adirondack Life’s 2020 Cabin Issue. Prints available.
Above All Else
Sometimes a photograph comes to fruition at the spur of the moment, with little to no planning or pre-visualization. Other times, however, much preparation and just the right circumstances are required for a vision to become reality. This photo of sunset from the snowy alpine zone below the summit of Mount Marcy falls squarely into the latter category, as I had been wanting to make this image for the past three winters before everything came together in early March 2020. After the Adirondacks got covered in 3 feet of snow from possibly the last snow storm of the season, I set off from the Adirondack Loj hopeful that I would finally be able to make the images that I had long sought. The trail conditions were fantastic, as other hikers and skiers had thankfully packed the powder down the previous day. As I gradually crept closer to the summit, my excitement grew as I realized that I’d finally have a chance to capture the photo that I sought for so long. I arrived at the summit area later than I had hoped, as I stopped often en route to the summit to photograph the snowy paradise that I hiked through. The quiet serenity of the forest was abruptly replaced by the howling winds of the alpine zone, and I searched out some compositions while struggling to stay warm. As the sun went down and the landscape was bathed in soft light, the beauty of the scene and the fact that I was capturing the photos that I had sought for so long made me forget about the cold and wind and the long hike out in the darkness. As the sky began to darken and I packed up for the journey down the mountain, I took one last look towards the summit of Marcy, and it dawned on me that in that moment, I was the highest person in the state. In elevation, as well as spirit. Adirondack High Peaks, New York. Prints available.
To the Heavens
There’s nothing like exploring the High Peaks after a snowstorm. After photographing the sunset from just below the summit of Marcy (including the previous photo in this post, Above All Else), descending into the sanctuary of the forest was a welcome escape from the hostile, wind-raked alpine zone. Soft moonlight illuminated the snowy evergreens with delicate light, and my descent of the mountain took much longer than it should have as I stopped often to attempt to capture the beauty. I passed this stand of evergreens on my way to the summit earlier in the day, and immediately became enraptured by the large tree on the left of this photo, as I had never before seen a tree caked with so much snow. The light from the moon was just strong enough to illuminate the snowy trees, and a slight halo in the thin fog around the moon added a final touch of etherealness. Knowing that I was the only person still out on the mountain made this moment all the more special, and helped to make the experience one of the most memorable ones I’ve had in these mountains.
On a much sadder note, a few days after returning home from this trip, I heard the news that a 21 year old hiker, Andrew Nichols, had tragically passed away while hiking Dix Mountain (in the southern High Peaks, not too far from Marcy) on the same night that I was on Marcy. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had actually driven right by the Dix trailhead, which was filled with the flashing lights of rescue and ranger vehicles, while on my way home. While I had never met Andrew, the fact that he passed away while doing what we both loved, while we were both out doing it on this night, hit me hard. The title of this photo is inspired by these events, and I’d like to think that the halo around the moon was his spirit, making one final ascent, to the heavens.
Adirondack High Peaks, New York. Prints available.
Fourth of July fireworks and the full “Buck Moon” light up the sky and reflect in the calm waters of Great Sacandaga Lake. I was pleasantly surprised with how this shot came out, especially since I had been enjoying some celebratory beverages throughout the day. Adirondack Park, New York. Prints available.
One of the best things about becoming a canoe owner in 2020? Still being able to explore the wilderness after I busted up my ankle in August. A morning paddle took me out to a rocky little island in the middle of a calm pond, where I thankfully was able to hobble around enough to find this little clutch of grass and flowers nestled in the rocks, with my canoe beached in the distance. Adirondack Park, New York. Prints available.
High on Life
Camping on our own private island on an unseasonably warm autumn day during peak foliage instantly became our all-time favorite camping trip. Indian Lake Islands, Adirondacks. Prints available.
The Scenic Route
Spectacular fall foliage blankets the mountainsides surrounding Indian Lake. The many incredible paddling and hiking options at Indian Lake quickly made this one of our favorite areas of the Adirondacks. Prints available.
An Autumn Haunting
Two small islands appear through thick fog and reflect in a still lake on a late-fall morning. Even after the colorful leaves of autumn drop and fade, there’s still much beauty to be seen and photographed in the wilderness. Adirondack Mountains, New York. Prints available.
One of my favorite parts of camping with my dad is chatting by the fire, often with a martini in hand, after an exciting day in the woods. While any topic of conversation is enjoyable, some of the most entertaining and memorable stories have been tales from my dad’s youth working as a park ranger at Green Lakes State Park in Syracuse, NY. Green Lake and its neighbor, Round Lake, are both meromictic lakes, which means that their surface and bottom waters don’t mix like most lakes do in the fall and spring. The fact that there are only about 20 meromictic lakes in North America makes Green Lake special, and its made even more unique by the fact that it possesses an incredible blue-green color that seems out of place in Upstate NY and more likely to be found in the tropics. This color comes from the high presence of minerals in the water that seeps through the surrounding bedrock and into the lake. Similar to the turquoise-colored glacial lakes that can be found in the Canadian Rockies and other parts of the world, Green Lake shimmers in otherworldly hues when sunlight hits the water. Green Lakes State Park, New York. Prints available.
BONUS PHOTO – Honor Flight
Although I only planned on including 12 photos in my year-end review, I captured the above photo this past weekend after I had already written the majority of this post. This photo is incredibly dear to my heart, and I’ll detail just how much it means to me below:
It started back in September, while out for a glorious autumn paddle on Indian Lake. All day I’d been thinking about my grandfather, or “Papa” as we affectionately called him, who had passed away in December. A master carpenter, WWII veteran, avid fisherman, loving and devoted husband, father, brother, grandfather, and friend, he was and always will be my hero. Some of my favorite memories are of the days we would spend every August fishing in the Thousand Islands with Papa, and the beautiful scenery and island-studded nature of Indian Lake had been bringing back all sorts of recollections of precious moments that we had shared. As we slowly glided into a calm cove, I mentioned to my wife how this place made me think of Papa, and on cue, as if it had been sent straight from Heaven, we noticed a large bird soaring overhead, coming towards us. “I wish that was a bald eagle,” my wife, Amanda, remarked. “Gosh I know, wouldn’t that be cool?” I replied. As the bird crept closer and closer and began to take shape, though, it became clear that this actually was a bald eagle. We both sat there dumbfounded with our mouths wide open as we watched this magnificent creature circle above us before continuing along, on a fishing trip or perhaps just out for an afternoon joyride, much like we were. Once the shock passed, my wife turned to me and exclaimed “that was Papa coming to say hi!” It seemed very fitting, and made my heart swell with emotion. Bald eagles are prolific fishers and symbols of patriotism, just like Papa.
Fast-forward a few months to December, as the one year anniversary of Papa passing away is drawing near. While up to this point we had never seen a bald eagle in the area where we live, in the week leading up to the anniversary, we saw not one but two bald eagles while running errands around town. As if this wasn’t enough of a sign, we experienced one of the most surreal moments of our lives the morning after the one year anniversary. We were driving back home after a sunrise snowshoe, and were waiting for traffic to pass so we could turn into our apartment. Just as we were about to turn, we saw a large bird flying straight down Route 146, right towards us. “What is that?” my wife said, with a sort of hopeful excitement in her voice that really said “that couldn’t be a bald eagle, could it?” But it was a bald eagle, flying down the busiest road in Clifton Park, right at us. As if this wasn’t freaky enough, we watched the eagle soar across the street before landing in a tree that was right next to Peregrine Senior Living Center, and Papa had spent his final years at a Peregrine in Syracuse. Ever the expert driver, Amanda quickly did a U-turn to park in a church parking lot, across the street from the tree the eagle had landed in. Before heading out for our morning snowshoe, I had decided at the last minute to bring my camera with me in case it was a nice sunrise. As we sat there in our parked car, staring at the eagle as cars unwittingly drove right by it, I knew that I had to get a photo to capture this moment. I was fortunate to get a couple shots off before the eagle took off, and will be forever thankful that “Papa” had the patience (much like on all those hot, fishless days on the River) to stay long enough for me to get some photos of him.
When it was all said and done, my wife and I just stared at each other, speechless, trying to wrap our heads around what had just happened. The chill that I felt run down my neck and spine was a feeling that I had only felt a few times before in my life. I knew, without a shred of doubt in my soul, that the bald eagle we saw was Papa. Coming to say hi. To tell us that he loves us, that he misses us. That while he might no longer be on this earth as we once knew him, he will always be here, watching over us.