I grew up in a very small town in Michigan. I didn’t think much of it while growing up until I moved out here to the DMV area (Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland). It was then that I realized how tiny my area is and how rural it is. I do enjoy going back to visit but I could never live there again. My parents are still there so I do end up in Michigan 2-3 times a year. I wish it was more but alas, life.
The kids and I were there for Christmas this past week. I did not have very much time for photography and didn’t have any time to get out and hike. There are a couple of small trails I try to go to while there but just didn’t have a chance. My father is not quite home bound but he can’t walk for very long and uses a walker. It does make me sad because the love of the outdoors was instilled in me by my father. He used to always go for walks – long ones. There are train tracks near the house and he’d walk down those any chance he got.
The photos I took this past week are rural photos. They showcase the county where I grew up and the history.
First, THE Polar Express. The Pierre Marquette 1225 Steam Engine was the model for the movie The Polar Express. Each year, you can buy tickets to ride it from my hometown up to another small town where they have a Christmas village. They try to make your experience like the movie so they have bells and hot chocolate. It runs right past my parents’ house so I always try to get a photo of it. I am incredibly happy with my photos this year and am featuring one below. I just ordered a large metal print of this and am excited to receive it.
As I was out driving around, I came across what I thought was an old chapel or church. I did some research and found out it is actually one of the first schoolhouses in my county. It was built around 1849 for $166. I love that fact. $166… the money was from the taxes. I found out it is privately owned. If I would have had more time, I might have called the people and asked to photograph the inside. In all my years growing up, I had never seen this.
I really enjoy photographing barns. In the right setting, they can be beautiful. And one thing is for certain, there are numerous beautiful barns in Michigan. I had read about an octagon barn in the area and really wanted to see it. Like a dork, I had driven the wrong direction and missed it. My sister stopped in to see me and said, “Hey! I know of a barn you might want to take pictures of.” and told me about the same barn. She told me exactly where to find it and I took off. I have to say it is a wonderful barn. The country roads near me are often empty so I was able to park and take as many pictures as I wanted. I took many barn photos on my trip but this one is my favorite.
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the photos I took. I really wanted to get to a Wildlife Management area while there but, as mentioned, I ran out of time. Note to self: Save up more vacation hours. I feel like I was truly able to capture the feel of my county. Wide open fields. Barns. Bare trees in winter. I’m going to share one last photo below. I saw this tree with shoes hanging from it. It felt very random because there is nothing near this tree. Maybe a farmer in the area started it? No idea but it was humorous.
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One of the joys of hiking in southern Virginia is driving through all of the rural roads. When possible, I make sure to take the back roads and stay off of the highways. While I was growing up in Michigan, I lived in a somewhat rural area. We had our share of barns, farmland, cows, etc. and I always wanted to live in a big city. Funny how things change. I am not a “country” person in the stereotypical ways. I hate country music. I wouldn’t want to live on a farm. But I do dream of living in a rural area when I retire. I live pretty close to rural areas now but because it is forever-expanding, we still get a lot of traffic.
When I was driving on some of the roads around Bland, Virginia there was no one else on the road with me. I had the luxury of pulling over, jumping out of my car, and taking photos. Sometimes I still felt rushed and do wish I had taken just a couple of extra seconds to check my camera but I was able to capture some photos that give me that “feel”.
One of my favorite photos is of a church. I had passed it on our way to Bush Creek Falls. Lo and behold this was a rare moment I had someone behind me. I saw it too late and couldn’t pull over. However, on our way back, I made a point of it. I think about this whole 3 minutes of time and it still makes me laugh. The area where I pulled over was a parking lot of a closed business. I stepped out of my car and immediately some dogs on the property across the street started barking. That woke up the cows and sheep on the farm adjacent to them and they mooed and baaed. I was in the middle of an intersection trying to get my settings right while it sounded like a farm erupting. Then, at the house to my right, I heard a screen door slam. If you have spent any time in the country or a country town, you know the sound. They have different sounds. And this particular slam was one of, “Who is that out in the intersection, making all the animals go crazy, taking photos of this church?” I finished and ran back to my car before someone yelled at me.
Needless to say, I probably didn’t need to fear. I emailed the photo of the church to an email address I found on the small town’s website. The lady was very gracious and told me all about the church and history. I am sure no one would have been upset with me. Just a small anecdote to share how life is in some very small towns. When you travel, do you take the back roads? If you don’t, I highly suggest it. Especially with our mapping tools we have these days. It is almost impossible to get lost so taking side roads isn’t a big deal.
Over Thanksgiving I traveled home to be with my parents for Thanksgiving. I enjoy taking my camera and seeing what I can discover while I am there. I had a list of places I wanted to go for photos and I made it to almost all of them.
One plan I had was to photograph some of the dams that make up part of the Shiawassee River. This river flows through my town and there are various dams along its path. I had originally wanted to photograph a few of these. I was able to accomplish… one. Sometimes when I’m home there just isn’t enough time. But the afternoon I arrived I bugged my dad to show me where one of the nearby dams was and we headed out there even though it was cold.
This particular dam is in Corunna, MI. From the photo you can see the cement portion of the previous dam. There used to be a mill at this location and that is what is left. Apparently, in the summer, they will be re-doing this whole dam and removing it. Instead, they will be placing large boulders. To me, that sounds good because I imagine it will cause a cascade-type effect which would be far prettier to photograph. I did not make it to other Shiawassee Dams but maybe I will in the future. Another item on my list was barns. I was told that barns sell well at shows and so I had a plan. Thankfully, there are numerous bars around my hometown. I took photos of a bunch while my daughter drove. A few didn’t turn out as good as I would have hoped but I got one that is perfection. Funny enough, I shot it with my phone. I hadn’t grabbed my camera yet and I couldn’t pass it up. I’ve already sold two prints of it.
I also wanted to photography my downtown. Owosso is a quaint town that has seen a bit of a revitalization as of late. There are now some really cute shops and one fantastic coffee place. Fosters Coffee has some of the best coffee I’ve had anywhere. At this visit I simply got a white mocha latte. The best part is it isn’t overly sweet (like some places). The flavor is subtle and you still have the richness of the Espresso. We took our time to support Small Business Saturday in town and I loved taking photos of the architecture. Much of it has remained unchanged since the early 1900s.
On Thanksgiving we headed to my brother’s house in Holland, MI. After sufficiently stuffing ourselves with incredible food we headed to Mt. Pigsah. I had never climbed this “mountain” so I was excited. It consists of 239 steps and once you reach the top you can see Lake Macatawa to the east and Lake Michigan to the west. There is a trail that continues through the area but we did not have time to take it. We, instead, headed to Holland State Park to see the sunset.
The wind was whipping pretty hard at the beach. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t feel my face or fingers. I had hoped the sky would clear a bit for the sunset and instead it cleared completely. And while that is nice, it does mean less drama. I took photos of the Harbor Light (Big Red) and the golden tones on the beach. I felt pretty happy with my advancement of my photography skills to take some cool longer-exposure shots of the sunset. I wasn’t quite sure how they would turn out but I am pleased with them. When we finally got back to the car, my whole body was frozen (keep in mind the temperature was only about 44 so it wasn’t even that cold. Yes, I have lost all ability to survive Michigan winters).
The last item on my list was The Polar Express. You may wonder about that because don’t a bunch of cities have rides on trains that they call The Polar Express? Yes. However, none of those are actually on the very train used as the model for the movie The Polar Express. That steam engine lives right in my hometown and can be classified as THE Polar Express. The last time I tried to photograph the train I failed miserably. I didn’t know what I was doing so I was excited to try again. Because we missed the morning trip, we headed down to the train depot around 5:00 pm. The sun was setting so this makes for a difficult shoot. Low light and fast train. I found a good spot to set up my tripod until a vehicle came and parked right in front of it. Words were exchanged and it was declared that I owned that whole parking lot so they eventually moved. The trail started and I shot off a bunch of photos hoping at least one would be good. After it left the station I hopped back in the car and raced back to my parent’s house. Please note that “raced” is a liberal term I applied to going 22-25 mph behind a car that was going the exact place as me and there was no way to get around them.
We got to the train tracks down the street and I jumped out, ran across to a brush area, and had just enough time to pop my camera on the tripod before it flew past us. I felt pretty confident about these photos because I had positioned my car to shine its headlights on the train. I’m pretty pleased with a few of the photos. Next time, I will take a large light and only be at the tracks down the road and have someone shine the light as I take photos (or, you know, catch the morning train when there is light).
Overall, it was a great trip. I love my photos. I think that I really captured my hometown and the rural area where I grew up. If you’d like to see all of my photos please click on the link below. Prints area available (just comment here if you’re interested).