Words and Photography by Miles Lowry
Miles Lowry has been a conservationist, teacher, and artist his entire adult life. A professor of photography at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, he spends his personal time photographing remnant woodlands across the eastern United States. Lowry layers individual frames — independently focused and developed — beside one another for arresting effect, both panoramic and intimate.
It was the “architecture” of the savanna that arrested my eye one January day in 2005 after a heavy snowfall. I spent all of an early morning and late afternoon shooting the savanna remnant within West Chicago Prairie, in the suburb of West Chicago. In the winter, especially with new-fallen snow, the basic forms of trees are more striking, their search for light more apparent.
Many open-grown oaks take on an almost symmetrical, dome-like shape. I have seen these same species in a forest, where they stretch for light and end up far more vertical than when grown in the open. In a dense forest, bur and white oaks often lose the battle to maples and other more shade-tolerant species. In a savanna with regular fires, these well-spaced oaks and their descendants will have room to mature for centuries to come.
What amazes me about bur and white oaks is their need for direct sunlight. Many of these trees have matured in the open, yet they extend their lower branches in incredible cantilevered searches for full sun. One might think that the dappled light would suffice, yet these guys stretch to great extremes for that full-blast spot. (My wide-angle lens exaggerated this individual’s extension.) I wonder if any biophysicist has analyzed the forces that keep an oak upright instead of falling under its own spreading weight. I find myself thinking about the strain that each additional foot of a huge horizontal branch must have on the trunk.
The heavy snowfall obscured those trees in the distance, while other details of the site seemed to gain visual strength. Note the abandoned water trough in the lower right. I have noticed in my years of exploring this site that many more seedlings have been surviving since an overpopulated deer herd — unrelenting browsers of oak saplings — has been culled.
During the warmer seasons, the beautiful spring flower Dodecatheon meadia, or shooting star, thrives just a few feet from where I made this picture. A low camera perspective and a medium telephoto lens compress the scene and add density to the grasses.
To order prints from this series or other images of old-growth forests of the East by Miles Lowry, visit his online gallery at the Eastern Native Tree Society, then call (630) 334-5328. Or visit photobistro.com, and type “lowry.”