Canaseraga State Forest


The forest

This week I went back to my plan of finding some new territory to explore. I headed off to some areas south of Letchworth State Park near the town of Ossian, NY. Searching out new places is fun and exciting, but at first it is mostly just a pain in neck. Too much time is spent in the car and not enough in the woods. I like to find the more offbeat places that aren’t always well documented. Sometimes I just head for a green unnamed splotch on the map not knowing if it is public or private land until I arrive.

I first looked for Wildcat Creek thinking it sounded like my kind of place. Posted. Oh well, I always have plan B. I snaked my way through the hills along some dirt roads to Canaseraga State Forest. I didn’t have the topo map for the forest so I just had to wing it. I saw a creek running under the access road so I hopped out and started walking down it.

This is a beautiful area with a dense feeling. Trees of various ages crowd closely around – very closely. I have to brush past them all the time to make any headway. Their boughs are alive with singing birds. The stream is shallow, slow moving, and meandering – filled with little creepy crawlies. It is so crowded that the trees grow right to the edge of the water and lean over it to form a high tunnel.

As wonderful as this place is in person, it defies being photographed; at least by the likes of me. The trip from living breathing 3D to flat frozen 2D just takes too much out of it. Being submerged in the experience is one thing, trying to narrow it down to a  little rectangle is impossible. I have included a couple of snaps of the forest just for illustration, but they are a pale reminder of something much greater.

More Forest

In my haphazard studies of aesthetics, I have run across discussions of this problem of nature being an immersive experience. Paintings, sculptures, performances, etc. they can all be analysed within boundaries – within a framework. There is a finite number of variables that can be quantified to see if it tallies up to a pleasing total. Even a photo of nature, which could be highly complex with many details, is still just a tiny fraction of the scene as a whole. It can be grasped and discussed in a few words. The real thing is much more elusive.

waterfallI sat on a tree stump and thought about this for a while. There are no intense highs or lows to focus on here – just the forest. There are no firm boundaries or sharp edges. Beyond even the visual there are sounds, scents, textures, maybe even tastes, if I drink from the stream or accidentally swallow a bug. They all blend into an entire experience.

There is no frame. Everywhere I turn the forest goes on. There are no roads, no signs, no TVs, no refridgerators. I might be able to sit here all day and not see another person. My reference points are now the wandering stream line, the moss covered log suspended over the water like a bridge, the old snag away through the trees riddled by woodpeckers.

I can make no judgements about the framing or the exposure or the composition. I am immersed in a work of art. Not just like I’m some fawn on the surface of a painting of a forest looking out into a gallery, but I’m back among the trees where no one sees me and I see no one. I know that if I walk a certain distance I’ll emerge from this art, but right now that is easy to forget. If I had been magically dropped here, I would have no idea where the edges might be. The limit of my senses is the limit of my world.


The longer I sit still, the more I sink down into the scene and become part of it. The noise and upheaval of my blundering in here, fades like ripples on a pond. The scattered birds flow back toward me. Small fish swim out from under rocks in the pool at my feet. Chipmonks skitter through the leaf litter. Bugs crawl over the tree I’m sitting on. Mosquitos close in for a nip. Rain from the night before, long delayed by the tangled web of branches above, finally slips from the last leaves and falls drop by drop into the pool. The life of the wood goes on quite apart from me.

But I am only a visitor here. With a sigh, I must finally stir, rise, shake out the stiffness from long immobility and move on. Once more the life of the forest scatters to the side as a pass. When my rumor has faded, it closes behind me and forgets that I was there. I suppose the only ones sad to see me go are the mosquitos.



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7 Responses to “Canaseraga State Forest”

  1. Bernie Kasper Says:

    Thats quite a narrative Mark, but one that describes my emotions afield as well, what I enjoy most about my photography is trying to bring order from the chaos that is nature.

    It’s funny how you can view a scene of a forest floor a hundred different ways with all looking exactly the same and then BOOM, out of the chaos one image will blow you away.

    I think that is why I love this medium so much, just trying to untangle this giant puzzle and putting it all back together is such a thrill !! :)

  2. forestrat Says:


    Many people think nature photographers just walk out into the woods and start snapping away, but as you say it takes knowledge, practice, technique, and an artist’s eye to pull out just a little bit from the big puzzle so that you can capture a viewer’s attention and point them in deeper.


  3. fencer Says:

    I often think, when out in nature, there’s something special here and I try to capture it with my camera. Upon return, I look at the resulting image and of course everything is lost… The detail or some configuration that at least hints at the feeling I had, I didn’t have the skill or luck to preserve.

    Maybe that’s why the miniaturization of nature, working smaller, like with your leaf (?) above, or more compact settings within the larger frameless matrix, seem to help.


  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    What is that red image? Tree Bark?

    And I’m curious about those mosquitoes. Whom do they bite when no humans are about? Or do they just reproduce meaninglessly waiting for ” the chance human to come by so they can go out for drinks?
    ” Whoopee! Party, guys!!! Bar tender, That’ll be 150 Bloody Mary s please !@!!”

    One Bloody Mary
    Two Bloody Maries? No, that’s not it.
    Two Bloody Mary’s? No, that’s not it either.
    Two Bloody Marys? Doesn’t seem quite right.
    How would you pluralize a Bloody Mary?

    For a perfectly tranquil, almost religious experience that this post’s writing evokes, I must apologize for my irreverent commentary, above. Just couldn’t help it.
    I agree. You can’t look at nor capture the forest as a piece of art to look out from the walls, nor frame it up as if it had rectangular borders somewhere just outside of our peripheral vision. Your photos bring us evocative snatches of your day out in the woods. I enjoy your walks vicariously. Thanks for sharing.

  5. forestrat Says:


    I guess one can go either way with nature to try and simplify it for depiction. You can back way up and go for the big landscape to get the contours of the place without so much detail. Or you can move in close and isolate on one or two aspects in each photo.

    My landscape skills are pretty poor so I opt for the close range thing.

    That weird thing at the bottom that looks like the surface of Mars or something is actually a close-up of a fungus. I love to see the weird and wonderful shapes and colors of fungi, but I can’t name too many of them.


  6. forestrat Says:


    The reddish stuff is the surface of a fungus and I’m afraid that I can’t help you with how to spell anything. My spelling skills are atrocious. Computer spell checkers are a godsend for me. (I had to look up atrocious just now to be sure.)

    I can live with the mosquitos. It’s those deer flies that really drive me nuts.



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