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Steve Meurett/For


Yeah, it's supposed to be known as the 'Golden Hour' or the 'Magic Hour' in photographers terms.

Right ... I call it the 'Frantic Hour.'

For whatever reason, sleep seems to leave me rather early these days and I'm up way before most people would even roll over for another hour or two or to hit snooze repeatedly.

I like getting coffee ready in the dark, feeding the parade of pets leading downstairs and taking on any social, work or writing and photo business in the quiet of the pre-dawn hours. It also offers a chance to shoot in those early morning precious minutes.

A few days ago, all those things were taken care of. So as the day woke up and the first warm colors started filtering through poplars in the swamp nearby, I thought it best to hit the township roads and make some pictures. The trusty black lab, always eager for a truck ride, would join me.

I'd hoped to maybe catch some early morning sandhills, who have started to filter back, or a rare (around here this winter) strutting tom, or maybe even deer breaking out of their yards for early morning warmth.

The April sun was already painting a thin orange and yellow ribbon on the eastern horizon and the sky quickly lightening.

A quick shot of the slush covered town road with orange tinted ground fog started the hour. It amazes me how quickly the sun breaks across the treeline when it gets rolling-it seems to gain speed as it climbs higher.

Barely driving a mile, the ball of light was already punching streams of light past tree trunks. Driving faster and bypassing a few potential shooting locations, my destination became a long drawn out valley where maybe I could catch the warm sunrise behind a sandstone mound. Cresting a hill, the ground fog lived here as well, lit up by ... well, the golden hour. Hoarfrost coated every twig and branch and made for a surreal scene ahead. The dog grew impatient with me jumping in and out of the truck constantly (not inviting her along).

There were more spots to scout and photograph but the sun would not slow its trek upward. Skipping a whole section of the township, I slammed on the brakes just once to get a shot of a red tail hawk silhouetted high in a lone Burr oak tree.

Shadows falling across the snow covered roads began shortening, making for less dramatic images, but there still was a little time. Soon I began just shooting, thinking less, maybe seeing more, trying to get something in the camera body and sort it all later. I think every photographer reaches a point sometimes when after a slow start, they start 'seeing' pictures. This was happening.

Jump out of the truck, take one or two pictures and back in drive, headed on another bearing. A frantic pace? Yes.

The sun was really getting high now with colors cooling and shadows shrinking-soon the pictures would be plain and drab and flat.

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As sometimes happens, the intention of this shoot changed directions, much like the rural townships I drove through. I'd hoped to get some wildlife images, but they were late to show themselves and who can blame them? Instead, landscapes jumped out in front of the lens. They were the result of a crazy April snowstorm that had left behind chilled air full of moisture, creating a sparkling world.

Less dramatic but interesting were the squiggly lines of snow rutted town roads, maybe telling a story of the benign beauty of simple rural life. Dirt, slush, gravel, slumping barbed wire and flocked trees. That's what I began to see and where this outing went. Nothing wrong with letting go of one plan and following a new path.

For me, a satisfactory approach at the end during the frantic hour.

Read more posts from Steve Meurett.

Steve Meurett lives, works and plays in West Central Wisconsin and spends about every free moment outdoors where his passions lie. His outdoor interests take him on and off trail, pursuing mountain biking and skinny skiing, photography and hunting, while keeping an eye on wild mushrooms and the next fruit for craft wine. Steve is the Trail Director at The Levis Mound Trail System and member of the Clark County Trails Advisory Committee. He resides, teaches and is a photographer in Neillsville. Steve can be reached at

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