(Photo by Vince Aiello)

(Photo by Vince Aiello)

By Vince Aiello, Foundation volunteer photographer

To view more of Vince’s photography, visit his website at http://vincentaiellophotographer.com.

I have always had a strong interest in nature. I can’t pinpoint when it started. All I know is I’d rather spend as much time outdoor rather than inside. For me, I think it started by hearing the stories that my grandpa would tell at the dinner table. He had all of these amazing stories about things in nature. He lived in rural Wisconsin during the depression. He would talk about hunting, fishing, trapping, foraging and herbal medicine. As a young child I would spend as much time by his side going through the woods. To me the forest and field were just random plants and trees. To my grandpa it was like walking through a superstore. Everything he needed was right there. He would often talk about the plants they would eat or use for medicine. I clearly remember the day he showed me the sap of the milkweed, and told me how that would treat warts. He said years ago warts were much more common than they are now. Through reading about and studying plants I later found that the same wart dissolving sap can be found in the common dandelion. I have personally used it to rid myself of a wart that one day appeared on my thumb. Just one of the many incredible things I have learned about nature.

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(Photo by Vince Aiello)

The dinner table conversations with my grandparents were usually related to a rural lifestyle. They always ended up with a mention of foraged food that they would eat out of necessity. The conversation would go something like this: You know those weeds we pulled from the garden today? Well, when we were kids we ate them. There was nothing else to eat. Out of the corner of my eye I’d see her roll her eyes and give the “not this conversation again” look. The conversation was always seasonal. It would start with “every spring we tapped the maple trees,” then on to cowslips, then dandelions, nettles, etc.

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(Photo by Vince Aiello)

With all these stories swimming in my head, and being at a young and impressionable age, I wanted to learn as much as I could about nature. When I was about 12 my family bought some land in the country, and that really fueled my interest in nature. I spent all of my free time outdoors and observing plants and animals. Many years later I purchased a camera, and on a whim I thought I should take photos of the interesting and beautiful things I would see on my adventures. At that time I also belonged to the Beaver Creek Nature Center outside of Eau Claire, and I took a few of my pictures in there to see if someone could help me identify some of the plants I had photographed. A lady who worked there saw them and thought that they were very good. She suggested I submit some to their photo contest for their calendar. I was naturally hesitant because I knew they had really great photos in their calendar, and I was just a guy with a camera. I didn’t have any training or knowledge of the settings. I submitted five photos and was lucky enough to have three of them in their calendar. From that moment I was hooked. I was really driven to take more good nature/rural landscape photos.  I have since had my photos published in several nature calendars. Other places my photos have been used are on the UW Press website and Aldo Leopold Nature Center.

(Photo by Vince Aiello)

(Photo by Vince Aiello)

About a dozen years ago I stared to do a self study of plants and trees. When I first started I could identify with any certainty maybe five plants and four trees. Today I can identify more than 80 plants and about 20 trees. Along with learning to identify plants, I also learned about their uses. For instance, there are plants that are soap plants filled with chemicals called Saponins. Plants with an abundance of these chemicals are a natural soap. I have personally washed up many times with them. I can tell you your skin will never feel softer than when you wash with bouncing bet. With a little time and dedication you can really learn a lot about nature. It gives you an appreciation of the natural world, and a glimpse through the eyes of our ancestors.

To view more of Vince’s photography, visit his website at http://vincentaiellophotographer.com.