Sharing the beauty of nature

NIU professor creates calendar of local wildlife to benefit Friends of the NIU Libraries

DeKALB – Michael Day can be spotted on the Northern Illinois University campus carrying a large 7-pound camera attached to his vest, capturing photographs of sunsets, dragonflies and other wildlife native to DeKalb, including herons, egrets, deer and coyotes.

Day, 65, is a professor of English and director of First-Year Composition at NIU. Day, who lives in DeKalb on the edge of the NIU campus, started walking and taking pictures daily about 10 years ago, but got serious about longer walks with more time for photography during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“It began by walking a few miles from my office on NIU’s campus, and now I walk 5 or 6 miles per day, and I’ve rarely missed a day,” he said. “It was my way of coping with the pandemic. One way to deal with the stress, confusion and chaos of that sort is to get out in nature, breathe and walk. There was something out there that’s not going crazy, something relaxing and beautiful, and that’s nature.”

Day created a 2022 calendar of photos he has taken in the past year on his walks. All of the photos in the calendar were taken in DeKalb, from the north end of NIU’s campus to Lions Park and the south end of Prairie Park. A short explanation accompanies each calendar photo.

Proceeds from Day’s “Wildlife from the NIU Campus and Along the Prairie Path” calendar benefit Friends of the NIU Libraries. The calendar costs $20 and can be purchased online at Day’s website, www.mday.org/photos, or in person at Blu Door Decor and Robin’s Nest Bookshoppe in DeKalb.

Day chose the photos that appear in the calendar by making a photo album of his favorite photos from each month. His daughter, who is an architect and graphic designer, helped him choose each month’s photo.

“She helped me choose the most stunning and captivating photos,” Day said. “I wanted some variety between the photos and for there to be a wow factor every month.”

Day credits his mother, who was a high school art teacher and artist in Rhode Island, for nurturing his artistic side.

“She taught me from an early age to appreciate nature and art,” he said. “Even when I started taking photos with my first Instamatic camera, my mom was always very encouraging.”

As an adult, Day said he has always enjoyed hiking, walking in nature and taking photographs.

“Photography has always been something that’s been a part of my life,” Day said.

He started taking digital photos with his daughter’s hand-me-down Canon EOS Rebel T1i, and he has upgraded his camera and lenses through the years. He now uses a Canon EOS 7D Mark II and his favorite lens has 100-400mm zoom capability.

“It’s really the 400mm zoom that allows me to get such great detail in my photos,” he said. “The 400mm magnification allows me to zoom in on birds, insects and other animals. You wouldn’t get that level of detail without that lens.”

Day said he uses Lightroom to do minor editing to his images once they are captured by his camera.

“I do cropping and adjust the color or light settings a bit, but that’s about it,” he said. “One of my favorite photos was caused by a printer error. The photo is of geese crossing the moon, and the printer ran out of ink, leaving the geese white. I call the photo ‘Reverse Geese.’”

Another of his favorite photos, one that appears in the 2022 calendar, also happened circumstantially.

“I was out cross country skiing with my camera, and I saw what I thought was a dog crossing the river behind the WNIU/WNIJ studios,” he said. “It was a coyote. Instead of running away, it went up to the top of the other bank across the river. It sat down and put up its paw. It posed for me. It’s inexplicable moments like that that are delightful to me.”

Day said his daily walks around DeKalb have allowed him to capture images of wildlife that often go unseen, including mink, muskrat and deer. He enjoys watching sunsets from the East Lagoon on NIU’s campus.

“A lot of people go to church, but my church is nature,” he said. “My sense of spirituality has to do with being out in nature, stopping, watching, listening to see what happens. When we rush through life, when we’re too busy exercising, listening to something on our earbuds or yakking on the phone, we miss out on life, on experiencing nature. I see new things every day on the Prairie Path, and there’s so much wildlife and beauty that goes unnoticed.”

Day plans to retire from NIU within the next year, and in addition to doing editing work, he plans to continue taking photos and offering them for sale. In addition to calendars, he sells greeting cards and prints for $5 and $20 each on his website. He also is writing and editing a book with his wife about Japanese Americans in Chicago before World War II.

“Having my work out there is gratifying to me,” Day said. “It’s nice to have some affirmation of my work. My goal is to share the beauty of nature with others, and through photography, I can do that.”

Katrina Milton

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.