When Sebastien texted me on a bright, chilly Sunday morning saying hey, it’s a nice day, what are we going to do, I suggested a walk in Five Rivers not expecting him to actually agree. But he did, and we went back to one of my favorite places in the Albany area.
Even though I’d never been to Five Rivers prior to this year, it quickly became, in my mind, one of the hidden gems of the capital region. A short drive from the city proper, and nestled behind suburban developments and a sizeable power transfer station, it’s almost shocking that so much natural land exists where it does and so much biological diversity is preserved in a relatively small and well-trod space. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting often throughout 2010 and witnessing the changes that time brings, and I hope to record the transformations across seasons and years.
Many of the migratory bird species are gone, and only hardcore winter denizens are still around. You’ll see and hear black-capped chickadees, crows, cardinals, and blue jays, but not that much more (though some feral geese have stuck around). Some members of my group who will go unnamed are a bit loud so we didn’t see too much wildlife, but even though it’s getting colder there are plenty of animals there if you know where and how to look. And of course, though peak leaf peeping season is behind us, there’s still plenty of color to be found.
Five Rivers earns it name, and we took the trail along the Vlomankill to prove it. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the short period at the beginning of winter, before the snow really blankets everything, brings out the true beauty of moving water. Trees offer less shade, so the sun plays off the ripples and falls more easily, reflections are more prominent, and the leafy detritus of fall constantly drifts by.
As far as photo tips go, I honestly don’t think there’s a wrong way to shoot nature. In the past few months I’ve fallen in love with the Canon EF 100mm f/2 for its sharpness and ability to go wide or narrow aperture-wise, letting me grab details or nice compressed landscapes. But a zoom lens, macro, wideangle, supertelephoto for wildlife, or anything else works just as well; there’s so much there that it’s really just about shooting what appeals to you. I like sticking with just one lens to limit myself a little, and using a prime lens is excellent for this; from there, just look for great light, or a nice background, or whatever you usually don’t have the time and patience to consider. For example, in the case of the cattail photo at the top of this post, I knew that at 100mm I could isolate the subject and the pond behind would give a nice, even background. It was honestly an easy shot, and isn’t very deep in terms of narrative, but I think it’s visually pleasing. But if I had a zoom lens or kept switching between wide and telephoto, I may have missed that opportunity.
Five Rivers is a NYSDEC education center, and with all of the recent news of state layoffs my companions asked exactly what would happen in a worst case scenario. I gave a lame answer about maintenance ending and the public having to sneak in at their own risk, but the truth is a little harsher. In the event that it’s not cost-effective to maintain, the state can of course choose to sell any land that it owns. There’s a possible alternate future where this natural, wild land, abutted by heavily developed encroachments, could be leveled and topped with 3BR/2BA cookie-cutter homes or a big-box store. I don’t really want to think about that.
It was an afternoon well-spent, and while we didn’t get there just at daybreak as I like, the low winter sun in the northeast wasn’t too harsh for us. I look forward to revisiting once there’s a nice covering of snow, and again in the spring when it melts… Five Rivers, I’ll be back.
There are plenty more photos; you can see my entire Five Rivers set, with the newest images frontloaded. If you want to sit back and relax, check out the slideshow. And there’s plenty more to read below.