Still Learning To See

Morning in the dunes

There are few places as special to me as the sand dunes along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan at dawn—regardless of weather or the time of year. I love the sense, even if not necessarily real, of being alone in an environment that could almost be prehistoric. Some mornings it is quiet, punctuated by a distant Sandhill Crane or the whir of a dragonfly. Other mornings it can be wild beyond imagining, sand blowing over and into everything, changing and shaping the landscape right in front of me.

I recently spent three mornings in the dunes near Ludington. As it happened all three were quiet times. These are some of the small patterns I saw in the sand—textures, shadows, sand falls and tracks of creatures left the night before.

Without wind there are no dunes. It is exciting to see this process happening actively. I made this photograph several years ago at the last minute of a sunset on a windy Lake Michigan beach with the blowing sand literally creating the texture of the photograph:



At other times I end up finding only the tracks of where the wind has been. It spins the small stems and roots of plants around and around leaving these magical dune circles, either full or partial:

Add a shadow of beach grass and a bit of texture from rain the night before and the result is quite stunning:


Even the patterns of the dead plants against the sand are fascinating and, I think, often beautiful in their simple, balanced form:

Although I know the real world of the dunes is an immensely complex environment, so much of life there seems striped down to a few basic, simple elements: sand, wind, extremes of temperature, the creatures who make it home. It is a place I always treasure being able to visit.


This entry was published on August 16, 2014 at 8:20 am. It’s filed under Abstract, Ecosystem, John Snell, Patterns, Photograph, Summer, Water and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

7 thoughts on “Morning in the dunes

  1. Nature is pretty amazing. Great captures.

  2. Somewhere I have a picture of the wing/wings of an owl or hawk that swept down and probably picked up some little creature, leaving no trace except the impression from the downward edge of the wing as it headed back up again. If you find a strange imprint that seems to not have a good explanation this might be the answer. I’m thinking this may have appeared on fresh snow rather than sand.

    • Karen Dailey on said:

      Yes, Patty. Once I also saw a wing print on the snow with signs of a struggle imprinted nearby…it was almost magical…to think that we saw something after the fact, perhaps something not witnessed directly by another human.

  3. Deborah Leu on said:

    Indeed a lovely and fascinating spot. Great photos – I especially love the circles and the one that looks like layered mountains and valleys.

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