Autumn at the Fortress of Moderate Solitude
All too quickly, it seems, cottage season has come to an end. Tomorrow morning, we lock up the lakehouse, with dreams of returning the 1st of May, 2021.

All things considered (and by that, I DO mean the friggin' pandemic, with its associated uncertainties and restrictions), it has been a pretty damn good 5.5 months. Beginning mid-May, essentially every weekend - starting with a Thursday afternoon/evening commute east to Rice Lake - was spent at the #fortressofmoderatesolitude. It's a real hashtag; you should check it out on Instagram. I'll wait.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, I have been more grateful than ever to have a secondary "safe" place to spend our time. Despite the pandemic, we were able to access our cottage for the majority of the season. The Kawartha area - thankfully - was not very hard-hit by the virus, and we observed all the safety protocols recommended by the ministries of health. In the early summer, we brought our groceries with us. And as we moved from May into June, we started making cautious, brief trips into Peterborough for necessities. If anything, we spent more time at the fortress than almost any other year to date. If we did not have four cats to care for at home, we likely would have been there more often and for longer durations beyond 3-day weekends.

Our neighbours to either side of us were equally cautious. We waved at each other and chatted from our respective decks long into June, rarely getting closer than 5 metres. As the summer wore on, it became clear our neighbours were as cautious as we were while both at the cottage and at home. In effect, we had a "cottage bubble."

While I haven't published many projects from the summer, I have definitely been making photographs and sharing them via social media. I thought as things wind down, and we head into what looks to be a Covid-controlled winter, it might be nice to share my autumn with you. Below are two grids, one for September and one for October. Below those grids are my "pick of the crop" with additional commentary.


Color came slowly in September. There were hints in the early weeks, but Mother Nature didn't really start to dress up until the final week of September. That said, even without all her finery, there was still plenty to do and see. We were treated to a weekend visit from my niece and her husband, and the four of us had a great time touring the area and playing cottage games like Lawn Darts, and several board games.

As the weather was cooling off, we were able to get a major DIY project started and completed over one weekend; putting an 8-inch river rock border all around the perimeter of the cottage. The end result is very pleasing to the eye, and it should discourage critters and over-zealous lawn maintenance personnel from getting too close to the cottage skirting.

Friendships strengthened with our cottage neighbours on either side us and we had fairly regular - and socially distant - happy hours on more than one occasion. You know it's a good happy hour with much fun when the "hour" lasts three - or more.

Harvest season was in full swing and I was once again struck by the bounty this province provides, through the hard working local farmers. As we had all summer, we made several trips to our favorite local family-run farm, Indian River Acres, and also checked out Leahy Farms up County Road 28.
I once read a saying, "My favorite color is October." and it rings true for me. Mother Nature had dispensed with her teasing and was blatantly on display, revealing more and more every weekend. 

October also signals the final month of cottage visits, so it's a bittersweet time of year for me.

On one particularly misty Saturday morning, I awoke early with plans to hike the Warsaw Caves trail up to the Indian River look out, capturing fall color along the way. The mist in itself was a real treat, and the maples and oaks that grew in and around the campgrounds were gorgeous. The hike to the scenic look out was filled with mist-covered evergreen forest. Not much colour but oh so mysterious. At the climax of my hike, a lone red/orange maple overhung the trail, right by the lookout. The view of Indian River, though shrouded in mist - was still spectacular.

We also made trips out to Young's Point, The Gut Conservation Area, and took the very scenic River Road drive into Hastings on more than one occasion. This country road does not disappoint with its autumn splendour.

And as the weeks went by, the resort itself exploded in color, too, as did neighbouring Elmhirst Resort.
Pick of the Crop - September
I have photographed this curve on several occasions, but usually in the fall. That grand old maple on River Road (Two-beer Road, to locals) never fails to disappoint in the autumn.
Leahy Farms at the crest of the County Road 28, just before turning left into Lakefield, is a treat to visit. You can buy local produce and baked goods throughout the growing season and be treated to a panoramic view of the valley to the east. I really enjoy the displays they set up with wither fall crop of pumpkins and squash.
What would September be without flash frost at least one night? Although this frost covering burned off quickly, Mother Nature was dropping the hint.
My wife Karen has been busy crafting while at the cottage, and these pony-bead pumpkins and decorative corn were her latest fall project. I set them up on wine barrel table top, with some actual Indian corn and burlap fabric for texture. I was so pleased with the result I added this image to my Adobe Stock portfolio and - just recently - the image was licensed!
The range of colors, textures and sizes of pumpkins always grabs my eye. I could easily spend an hour or more shooting this subject, exploring shapes, abstracts and contrast. I love this "slice of life" shot of the pumpkins on sale at Indian River Acres.
While fall color was in short supply, our visit The Gut Conservation area still produced some great images. I spent a lot of time working at low angles and using very long exposures to capture the silkiness of the water as it moved through the cascade. Converting to black and white enhances the texture of the rock and makes for a stronger contrast against the waterfall.
I was very flattered when more than one follower on Instagram compared this photo to a Monet painting. The lily pad leaves almost seem to mirror the cloud reflections.
I have photographed this scene often and from several vantage points. The lone tree surrounded by a crop field or a grazing field is a common but no less dramatic site in agricultural areas throughout North America and likely worldwide. I can see this tree from Rice Lake, from the resort golf course (where this image was captured)  and also from the road into the resort. A marker. A sentinel, watching over the land in stoic solitude.
Pick of the Crop - October 
A light breeze gently moves the Sumach fronds on the golf cat path near the 4th hole at Bellmere.
Autumn is not always just vibrant colours. On overcast days, you can truly appreciate monochromatic scenes like this one. Often, they are so subtle that your eye might pass them by; that's why it's important to take your time and really look around you.
A red maple leaf in Canada. Need I say more?
After hiking the scenic trail at the Warsaw Caves a couple years ago, I made a promise to return in the fall too see not only the view of the Indian River, but also what fall colour there would be. The campsites at Warsaw Caves did not disappoint in term of color, even on a heavily misted morning. I love this rainbow cascade of fall colours, all from the same tree. It looks like a natural color gradient.
On the hike up to the scenic lookout, I shot mostly with my iPhone 11 Pro, using the Lightroom Mobile camera. The raw DNG captures I made with the phone (and even the jpeg captures with the super-wide lens) were certainly up to the task.
At the top of the trail, under the shelter of a single maple tree, I was treat to a mist-laden view of the Indian River, winding its way through the Warsaw area. I captured a series of images like this, for use in my Adobe Stock photo portfolio (I'm a cheap model). This is the type of shot I must consciously think about doing. More often than not, I capture my landscapes with few to no people in the composition, and then long after I've left the area, kick myself for not doing more. As much as I love a landscape unblemished by human presence, stock photos tend to sell better when there are people in the shot.
The scenic trail, leading back down, untarnished (mostly) by people. Working with local adjustments in Lightroom, I was able to subtly move the eye to the main path.
A carpet of maple and oak leaves covered the public park at Young's Point. There were as many leaves still on the trees as there were on the ground at this point, giving the park a lovely, golden-filtered light.
At the Intersection of Villiers Line and County Road 2 sits this sprawling (to me) farm property. Since first seeing it on a drive into the cottage, I have been fascinated with the pioneer log frame home. You can see it peeking through the trees. I never quite found the right composition to go with the time of day/year until this recent photo. We were actually heading home from the cottage and I had been in full-on autumn photo mode all weekend. The heavy overcast sky made the color on the trees pop, and reduced the overall contrast to allow for detail everywhere. I actually had to ADD contrast back into the scene in post processing to pump things up. A lot of local adjustments went into making this image look the way it does, but the time was worth it.
Fall mornings can be magical for many reasons, one of which is the mist or fog created by the differing ground and air temperatures. On my Instagram feed (@jimbabbage), I often toast the coming weekend, and occasionally greet the early morning. This is one such morning greeting, shot with my iPhone using the Lightroom camera, and corrected in Lightroom Mobile and Lightroom Desktop.
Another autumn scene that surprised me with the number of positive comments/likes I received. Shot from the Keene, Ontario bridge spanning the Indian River as it empties into Rice Lake, I was intrigued by the painterly effect caused by the rippling water.
River (Two-beer) Road, en route to Hastings. While shooting here, a family drove up right in front of me and parked, then piled out in an attempt to get a fall photo of their toddler, waving at me as they cluttered up my composition. Ah well, photography is also about patience, right? While I'm not sure of their success, I was glad when they finally drove out of my composition.
Two-Beer Road is pretty narrow and in many places doesn't really allow for two-way traffic. Inevitably, when I did pulled over (as far as I could), there was a massive pick-up barrelling along behind me. My motto, "Get the shot, don't get killed." was firmly in place. I made several captures at this spot, waiting for the sun to break through the clouds and branches to add more contrast and visual interest to the road.
A panoramic vista, shot from the entry to a field on Settlers Line. The barns in the distance make the shot work by adding scale. In fact, if you look REALLY hard, you'll see wind turbines in the far distance. Cropping top and bottom to create a more panoramic effect also improves this scene. It also eliminated an annoying powerline...
One of my favourite views of the golf course is right near the entrance to the resort. When the water in the pond is smooth, you get a mirror reflection. With a little breeze, you get a watercolor painting, no filter required.
I took time one Saturday to clean up roadside garbage leading away from the cottage resort - the product of inconsiderate golfers as they left or entered the golf course attached to the resort. Along with a garbage bag and gloves, I also brought my camera; autumn was in full swing on Villiers Line and with the mid morning sun, I was able to capture some very nice images - sans litter.
Not 5 feet from this scene was a beer can. Sigh.
Part of my running "Cheers" series, this is one of the few images where I included props beyond the mug or glass.
While I love looking at images with soft, muted colors, my personal style tends towards richer colours. I like this shot because first because of the bottom-weighted symmetry but more so because I intentionally desaturated the image using a combination of a vintage preset, the depth map created when I captured the image and additional local adjustments to that depth map.
The Mississauga River Conservation Area was pretty busy when I pulled in, on our way back from Kawartha Country Wines (excellent ciders!), but in the 20 minutes I spent there, I was able to make some nice captures. The footbridge (access to the walking trail) was the busiest spot, so I kept mostly to the embankments. I like the simplicity of this image, the shallow depth of field forces the eye to always come back to the maple leaf, even with the bright background as a strong attractant.
On our final weekend of the season, we stopped by Elmhirst's Resort for a spa treatment. While I waited for my wife, I strolled the property, capturing would would be my final view of autumn 2020 in the Kawarthas. The sun was bright and still fairly low (it was around 10 am, DST still enabled). There was a great deal of leaf fall. I shot many images in the span of 45 minutes - even I was surprised by both the number and the keepers from that short time frame. 
And that, ladies and gentlemen is a peek into my CoVid-19 autumn. I am going to miss the fortress more than ever before as we head into a psychologically darker and colder winter than many have ever experienced. Indeed, as we were packing up the car on that overcast, cold and rainy November 1st Sunday morning, I found myself pausing, close to tears more than once. The fortress would be out of reach for the next 6 months. 

And hopefully no longer than 6 months. 

I'm sure a lot will depend on how responsible we ALL are in the coming months, minimizing contacts and travel. Here's hoping we can all behave, and that we have brighter things ahead.

You may also like

Back to Top