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How one Northwoods photographer uses pictures to spread positivity

Local photographer Bob Kovar stands near the bank of a river where he finds the subjects for many of his photos.
Erin Gottsacker
Local photographer Bob Kovar stands near the bank of a river where he finds the subjects for many of his photos.

When COVID cast a cloud of gloom over everyday life, one Northwoods photographer took to Facebook to spread joy. Bob Kovar shared a photo and accompanying positive thought each day on social media throughout the pandemic. Now he’s publishing a collection of those photos and thoughts in a book.

A layer of frost crystallized on Bob Kovar’s winter coat as he lay belly down on a snow-covered riverbank. Camera in hand, he was waiting for the first rays of sunshine to peek over the horizon and reflect on the mirror of icy water stretched before him.

But when he looked up from his perch on the riverbank, he couldn’t find the sun.

Instead, he found himself gazing at a wolf.

Bob Kovar

“This wolf came bounding around the corner,” Kovar remembers. “We’ve heard wolves howling here, but I’ve never seen one here. It just stood there, and I thought, ‘that’s why I’m out here.’”

Kovar almost didn’t leave his bed of blankets that morning to face the sub-zero temperature on his daily pre-sunrise trek to Wild Rice Lake. But he’s followed this ritual for years, rising early before the summer sun and sleeping later in the dark winters to photograph sunrise.

This morning, like the hundreds of mornings before it, Kovar found the trek worthwhile.

“There are things waiting for us to be found,” he says. “You can only find them if you’re out there.”

It’s an experience that fills Kovar with wonder, awe, peace and appreciation. When COVID-19 struck, those were the feelings Kovar knew the world needed more of.

Bob Kovar stands outside his studio in Manitowish Waters.
Erin Gottsacker
Bob Kovar stands outside his studio in Manitowish Waters.

“When the pandemic started, I challenged myself to start writing with my images and post something positive every morning on Facebook,” Kovar says.

The practice added an element of intentional gratitude to his mornings.

“I’m a long-distance skier and biker, so I know how to train my body to stay in good shape,” he explains. “But those pathways for positive and negative thinking, not so much. When I started writing, it took me some time, but I wanted to be positive because the world felt so negative.”

Soon, Kovar’s Facebook page was fuller than his one-room studio.

A recent photo on his virtual wall shows the sun setting over a sea of floating cranberries. Another shows a sliver of moon smiling through a tree of fading yellow leaves.

Some of Kovar’s positivity posts are poetic. Others are more rambling.

He’s compiled them all into a book.

“The book is separated into these different sections of mood, so wonder and joy and things like that,” he says.

The book is called Beneath the Eagle Tree, referring to Kovar’s sunrise perch beside the river.

We walk there together now, crunching down a path of fallen leaves.

Kovar points out the eagle’s nest, and closer to the river, finds the spot where he saw the lone wolf.

“I was laying over there by the dock,” he says. “It came around this point and wanted to play.”

There’s no wolf today, but against the backdrop of a gray sky, a trio of swans float by.

“Before the sun comes up and lights up the whole sky, it’s beautiful,” Kovar says. “But it’s the shortness of it that really amazes me. It’s that fleeting beauty. If you’re not out here, a lot of times the clouds just roll in and it looks like a gray day. But it started out absolutely beautiful.”

“That’s enough to get you through a gray day sometimes.”

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Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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