That combination of snow and rain on Friday night made for some horrible driving. I agree that the trees look really pretty.
I arrived home safely, but then managed to wedge the car into a snowbank, and with all that ice underneath, all the wheels could do was spin. I was so relieved when my partner remembered the old rug in the garage, and between the two of us, we managed to get it free again.
That high wall of snow and ice chunks left by the snowplow Saturday morning across our shared driveway made me want to cry. I almost cried again when our neighbour’s friend drove up with his plow to clear it.
We bundled up and took the dogs to the park yesterday, but it was so cold I wanted to turn around and go home again. But once we were in the shelter of the trees on the sunny side of the lake, it was warm again, and people were smiling, and the snow sparkled in the sun.
More snow is expected today, and more rain tonight. To be continued.
Photo taken on February 27, 2011
Today is the first of February, the loneliest month on the calendar. There are no holidays to look forward to as we shiver through another 28 days of winter. Of course Valentine’s Day brings its own particular warmth mid-month, but if you don’t have a Valentine, you are left out in the cold.
And there are a lot of lonely people out there. Sometimes you notice them, people who seem impossibly needy, or so brittle and afraid of being hurt that they’ve grown dragon scales. Other people seem quite ordinary, just like the neighbour across the street who you’ve always thought has got it all together, then in a chance conversation you discover she’s lonely, too. I’ve had a chance to talk with a lot of strangers lately, and in conversation — past complaint or concern — I’ve discovered that what many people really need is a friend.
This is in no way an attempt to belittle people’s legitimate complaints or concerns, worries and anxieties. I just feel compelled to point out how a little warmth and an understanding smile can really make someone’s day. I think February should be a month for friendship, not just romantic love, a time that we share some of our warmth and make this cold month a little less lonely.
Photo taken on February 21, 2009
Jingle Bells is not a Christmas carol, it’s a winter carol. It’s a song of the open air and the scent of fir trees. It follows the rhythm of the harness bells, the steam rising from the horses’ flanks as they pull the heavy sleigh, the tug and creak of the runners as they slide across the snow. It’s a song of friends and family, hot cups of chocolate held in mittened hands.
The most magical sleigh rides are at night. I remember going out with a group in my university days on a long ride across fields and through the woods. It was a clear still night, the temperature hovering around minus 15 celcius, the air so cold it made our eyes tear up. At first, there was lots of chatter, laughter, singing. Then gradually our voices died away, and in the silence we could hear only the steady stamp of the horses’ hoofs, the jingle of the harness, the creak of the sleigh. It was a moonless night, so I felt — rather than saw — the shapes of trees as we passed. I looked up and the sky was filled with stars; they seemed almost close enough to touch. As the sleigh glided through the snowy fields, I watched the sky and felt like I was flying.
I’m glad they still have sleigh rides in the park, pulled by horses instead of machines. There’s no modern equivalent to the old-fashioned pleasure of riding in an open sleigh.
Photo taken on January 16, 2011
It’s raining today but I don’t want to show the rain. I want to show the black road glistening between white banks still tall from last week’s storm. I want to show the shards of icicles, half buried in the spongy snow. I want to show the chickadee, feathers fluffed against the cold, hopping from branch to branch. I want to show the inner life of the forest, the way the treetops hum and sway in the wind, the sheltered pockets beneath the wide-boughed spruce, the soft fragrance of cedar.
It’s dark today, but I don’t want to show the dark. I want to show the mystery of light.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011
Look at how the world has changed
a sea of white surrounds us
but look again, though all seems dead
the seeds of spring remain
Beneath the snow, the earth is sleeping
beneath the ice, the river dreams
beneath the trees the groundhog waits
to herald the coming spring.
Photo taken on January 16, 2011
One thing about Saint John: there is no shortage of hills. So if you were given a sled for Christmas, you would find plenty of slippery slopes around here to try it out.
One of the best sliding hills In the city is in Rockwood Park, just across from the pavilion at Lily Lake. When I was a child, we came here as a family and crowded on the toboggan, all five of us. I was first, my legs jutting up and over the wooden prow. My brothers were behind me, then my mom and finally my dad, his strong legs curled around us with his feet hooked into the front of the toboggan, steering with his arms. I remember the long walk up the hill, the feeling of wet wool, and the swift movement — a blur of trees and children and flying snow — on the way down.
Seeing the faces of these two girls sliding on the hill yesterday reminds me of how much fun it is to play outdoors in the winter. Maybe I’ll head out today to play in the snow before the weather turns to rain.
Photo taken on January 9, 2011
When I was young, we often went on hikes together as a family. My dad has a collection of topographical maps of this area, scratched with pencil lines marking the trails he has found and followed. Many of these trails are unmarked; following them was always an adventure.
I remember one hike, in winter. We were walking beside a frozen lake, skirting the edge of the woods, and we could not see the path; only the trackless snow lay ahead. I was feeling cold, and I wanted to go home. Then my dad told us a story about Robert Scott’s expeditions to the Antarctic, and the challenges he faced in exploring its permanently frozen landscape.
Somehow, hearing that story made all the difference. As I imagined being in the Antarctic, I began to feel like an explorer, and I started paying more attention to my surroundings. And I decided that, if this was an adventure, I could put up with a little cold and inconvenience.
One of these days I might make it to the Antarctic to see it for myself. In the meantime, I can have one adventure after another, right here.
Photo taken on January 5, 2008
There is a joke among photographers that the general public’s taste in images can be summed up in two words: sunsets & kittens. The appeal of the colourful and cute seems to be constant and worldwide.
I took this photo last week at a park on the west side of Saint John. It was mid-afternoon, although the sun was already sinking rapidly. The tide was high and for once there was only a light breeze blowing off the Bay of Fundy. We walked out to a path along the edge of the cove, drawn by the loud booming of the waves crashing against the bouldery beach and echoing against the rocky cliffs. I shot this image into the light, which meant losing most of the foreground detail to the strong contrast. The low sun, partially screened by clouds on the horizon, cast an almost metallic light across the scene. I decided to enhance these golden tones, and yesterday I posted it on Flickr.
And today, I’ve discovered that the image has become a sunset — it has already been added to one gallery of sunset photos — and it has attained a level of popularity well over that of my favourite photos.
I think I’ll go look for some kittens.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011
I’m the kind of person who likes to sit and think. I have a very rich mental life in which I enjoy many adventures and have lengthy discussions with imaginary and not-so-imaginary people. In my mind, I am witty and wise, and the bon mots I tend to miss in real life are always ready on the end of my tongue.
Since I’ve been out of the work race the past six months, I have had lots of time to sit and think. I’ve discovered, to my delight, that I enjoy writing. I have been studying areas that interest me, like project management and website optimization. I have been working on my father’s Memoirs. I have been pondering life and the future direction of my career.
And I’ve been pleased to see that many career and work experts recommend that everyone, no matter how busy — especially if they are busy — set aside time in their day to enable mental processing and reflection. Since most people need time to get up to speed in the day, experts recommend scheduling time to think (or in GTD terms, do a “mental sweep”) in the morning.
People who set aside time every day to free their minds from their immediate tasks are better prepared for whatever may be on the horizon. The next time you feel pushed for time, push back. You’ll feel less stressed if you take a few minutes to just sit and think.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011
Yesterday, I saw a green arrow. Even though I have a good sense of direction, it’s easy to lose your bearings in the woods. So there we were; we were walking through the woods and then I looked up and saw this arrow pointing the way.
Last week, I received an email from an Ontario magazine offering to pay me to use one of my pictures. I had taken this photo in 2007; they found it on my Flickr stream, and it was what they were looking for.
So yesterday, feeling optimistic from the sale of this photo and buoyed up by your warm encouragement, an idea came bubbling to the surface. I put words to that change I have been afraid to face. I said, “What I need to do is start my own business.”
I can write, I can take photos, I can create newsletters and design communication materials. I have a whole range of skills that have to do with computers, social networking, strategizing and brainstorming. Although I will still need some other paid work to keep me going, maybe I can make some money on my own. Maybe I can, for once, be able to set my own schedule and do something I love.
I have a lot of work to do as I flesh out my ideas and figure out my next steps. But here is the green arrow, it says “go this way”. I will follow it even though I don’t know where it leads.
Photo taken on January 6, 2011
Change is in the air. A new year has dawned, we have turned our backs on regret and missed opportunity, and now we step forward into the future. At least, that’s our intention.
The future, of course, is always here in front of us, but sometimes it turns out to be just the past again, recycled and wearing new clothes. We think we are open to new possibility, but we don’t notice how our blinders of habit and prejudice show us only what we expect or want to see.
I have been reading Stuart McLean’s The Vinyl Cafe Notebooks, which I received for Christmas, and I was caught by an observation he makes about change. He describes how as a boy, for no particular reason, he stopped eating eggs, and “as is the way with these things, behaviour became belief, and eventually I came to believe I hated eggs.” Then someone he admired mentioned how much they liked fried eggs, and Stuart discovered he liked them too. He started eating eggs again, just like that. He concludes: “We have the desire to change hardwired into our systems. And maybe our capacity is greater than we think. All it takes is a little courage…”
If we think of change as something small, something simple and everyday like that egg, then it doesn’t seem so difficult. Old habits die hard, but they might just melt away when we are inspired to do something new or different. May we all have that little bit of courage we need as we step into the brave new year.
Photo taken on December 7, 2009
Yesterday was rainy and dull, and I desperately needed a boost of colour. So we went to the park.
And as so often happens (why do I so easily forget?), our walk turned into an adventure. We had the dogs with us, so the walk was energetic. After walking around the lake, we decided to follow a path that I’d often wondered about, an unsigned path that disappeared into the woods and up a steep bank. After a couple of wrong turns, we ended up at the top of a rocky hill with a fabulous panoramic view over the city. There was the colour I had been seeking, the inspiration and the energizing hike, all rolled into one.
Most of my photos were blurry, but I don’t mind. I found a fresh outlook, and stopped to admire the view, and that was exactly what I needed.
Photo taken on December 2, 2010
So here we are, on the road of life. Something good may be “just around the corner”, and “turning the corner” is a sign of hope. Yet “going around the bend” can be “a turn for the worst”, perhaps because a sharp bend in the road often precedes an accident.
But no matter how we look at it, turning corners and going around the bend is movement, it’s not sitting still wondering which fork in the road to follow. Right now I’m trying to decide whether to take the safe road of employment, if I can find work that meets the minimum requirements of my household, or taking a new road, trying my hand at freelance writing and part-time work instead. It’s a question of security versus freedom, working for someone else or being responsible for my own keep. I suppose there might be a third route, before the roads diverge: I might test out the freelancing idea while getting my main income from another source, just to see how it works out. I’m not sure if I will “go around the bend” living hand to mouth, but I have to admit that after being home for five months, I’m feeling reluctant to get back to “the daily grind”, working 9-5 for somebody else.
Who knows what’s around the bend? I’m looking forward to finding out!
Come on the rising wind,
We’re going up around the bend.
- Creedance Clearwater Revival
Photo taken on November 1, 2009
As a photographer, I have two goals: 1) to show what I see; and 2) to show what I feel. These goals are sometimes opposites.
To show a scene accurately would mean to show it as if our cameras were our eyes, which can see into every shadow and brightly lit area and where everything has colour and sharp detail. That task can be a challenge in itself, because our cameras do not see in the same way as our eyes, so we have to learn how to expose correctly (and make adjustments on the computer if necessary) and use settings that create as sharp an image as possible. All of these tasks are explained in detail elsewhere, but what I wanted to point out is that photography is about making choices.
Because if you take a photo which is technically correct and visually accurate to the scene, it still may be a boring image. What you choose to capture on your camera is as important as how. And what follows why — why am I interested in this scene? what is it that captures my attention, that draws my eye? Once you have discovered the what and why of your image, then all the how of taking photos will fall into place. For example, with my photo of the trees above, here is an approximation of my inner dialogue:
Why: Wow, those trees are really lovely.
What: I like the way the branches make tall windows of light, like stained glass, all shimmering.
How: If I use a short depth of field (wide aperture) and focus on these branches on the foreground, then the tree branches will blur to show the shape of the windows and the shimmering light.
1) Does the photo show exactly what I saw? No, my eyes only blur like that when I take off my glasses. 2) Does the photo show what I felt? Yes. If I have to choose, getting Number 2 right is the best choice.
Photo taken on November 14, 2010
Yesterday we walked beside the sea. We watched a puppy frolic in the park, the waves dance along the shore, and seals basking on the sunny rocks. Besides the treat of seeing seals (too far away for my 50mm lens), we also saw a snake and a butterfly. And we picked 5 kg of rose hips along the way. I was inspired to get outdoors by writing a list of my favourite 20 activities (check out Herby’s post here for other peoples’ lists). As I created a list of things that I could do, and enjoy doing, I realized that I could add a lot more activities to the list, and — bonus — many of them are free!
As I walked, I considered what it means to say that “time and tide waits for no one”. Focusing on uncertainty, trying to peer into the murky future, is an exercise in futility. Of course we would like to know that life’s problems are behind us, but that isn’t going to happen, or at least not while I’m alive and kicking! I need to stop waiting for change, and start creating the change that I want. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Compared to seeing the future, that should be a walk in the park!
Photo taken on November 3, 2010
Today is — according to the weather forecast — the last mild day of fall. I’ve acclimatized to this first change, finding that 10 degrees celcius does not feel cold after all. But after today, it turns rainy and and cold, and then sunny and cold, and then just cold… that’s when the winter coats will come out.
So I’m harvesting vegetables. I’ve been out in the garden today pulling carrots and parsnips, leeks and celeraic, and adding the last of the zucchini plants to the compost pile. Two sweet peppers I’ve potted up to see if they survive long enough to grow their pistachio-sized sweet peppers into something big enough to eat. The tomatoes, cucumbers and onions have already been picked and eaten (or preserved), and all that’s left of our scarlet runners are a few dry beans ready for planting next year.
The birds and animals have been scurrying around, collecting their harvest as well. Our rowan tree has been picked clean (I don’t know why this one in an uptown park is still covered with berries) and wild creatures of all sorts have made the wild apples behind the fence disappear. The chickadees are back at the feeder, and the purple finches and American goldfinches that kept us entertained all summer have flown south. We have a few more tasks to do — rake more leaves for mulch, empty the garden hose, store the window boxes and whirlygig, and put winter tires on the car — and then we’ll be ready. Are you ready for winter?
Taken on October 2, 2010
In New Brunswick, the spruce tree dominates the forest. At one time, the white pine was plentiful, but these tall straight trees were highly prized for use as ships’ masts — shipbuilding was an important industry here during the golden age of sail — and now the spruce trees grow where the white pine once stood. The white spruce has now reached new heights, as a packet of 24 seedlings from New Brunswick were used for an experiment at the International Space Station last April.
I don’t know the difference between the white spruce, black spruce, red spruce and Norway spruce. All I know is that they are by far the most common tree I’ve seen in this province. When you land at Saint John’s airport, you can see spruce trees in every direction, with a few houses and wetlands to add variety. When you drive North to Fredericton, or in almost any direction, spruce trees line the road for hours, broken by occasional stands of birches, maples, oaks and poplars. There are lots of pines and cedars, tamacks and balsam firs, but when you go for a walk through the forest, the trees you are most likely to bump into — fighting those tough lower branches that catch at your clothing — are spruce trees. I read somewhere that New Brunswick is almost 90% covered by trees, and I believe it. Forestry is still a thriving industry, and with 5.9 million hectares of forest, plus about 30 million new trees planted each year, the province isn’t going to run out of trees anytime soon.
Taken on October 11, 2010
October is half over, autumn’s colour is fading. Frost has touched the forest, turning the fiery red and yellow leaves dull and rusty. A wild wind dances through the trees, and the leaves dance with it, twirling and tumbling through the air. Many birch and maple leaves have already fallen, leaving bare gaps between the spruces and pines. We can see the sky through the poplar now, while the oak — that strong-willed spirit — is slower to relinquish its crown.
This is not the end of autumn, as some think, but the heart of it. The show of colour gives way to the fall itself, to the crunch of leaves underfoot as they break and scatter and enrich the earth. Walk, walk now as the fields turn brown and the leaves fly. Drink in the last mild days as the colour fades, before the wind sweeps us all into winter.
Taken on October 11, 2010
Someone drowned at this beach. It happened just over a month ago, when there are no lifeguards on duty — the beach had officialy closed for the season the weekend before — but it was a warm sunny day and the beach was crowded. The Fisher Lakes are deceptively deep, and you can get in over your head if you go far from the beach. He was only under for 5 minutes before other swimmers pulled him out, but it was too late.
As I’m remembering this incident — this tragedy that happened so quickly — I’m watching the live feed of the Chilean miners emerging one-by-one after having been underground for 69 days. It is a miracle that they survived and have lived to see this day of freedom.
But some do not survive. That is the tragedy: that what might be possible does not happen, that someone drowns so close to shore, that 25 people died in a West Virginia coal mine, that so many accidents cost so many lives.
I would like to hear that safety comes before profits. I would like news reports to say a tragic death could not be prevented, that the safety record is 100%, that the season of fatal injuries has come to a close.
Taken on November 1, 2009
I love walking through the woods, and on a beautiful fall Thanksgiving Monday with colour still on the trees and the sky deep blue, who could resist? So I grabbed my camera and we headed to Rockwood Park, along with the dogs — we have two Cardigan Welsh Corgis — one for each of us.
Some might say dogs and cameras don’t mix. It’s true that I don’t carry my tripod or other camera equipment, and I don’t stop at scenic locations for a period of extended shooting. I tend to take the opportunities as they come, which usually means I look around when the dogs find something interesting to sniff. Or sometimes they’ll wait in one not-so-interesting spot, if I ask firmly, for long enough for me to take a couple of snaps. I suppose a part of me (the contrary part) enjoys the challenge of taking photos with a heavy dslr in one hand while holding the leash of an enthusiastic dog in the other.
So I had quite a few blurry photos. And a lovely walk in the woods.
Taken on October 11, 2010
It was foggy yesterday. This wasn’t the vanish-with-dawn kind of fog, or even the sun-burns-through-by-noon kind of fog. This was stay-all-day fog. As I walked through the uptown streets, several times the sky seemed to brighten and I thought ‘A-ha, now the fog will lift and the sun will come out’. But it didn’t. By the time I headed home again, I think I could see a little farther down King Street, but I wouldn’t swear to it in court.
But I was born here. I grew up with fog. I like fog. And most folks here don’t seem to mind it, to judge from the number of people strolling through town and passing a pleasant afternoon in the park. If you need sunshine to enjoy your day, you’d best move to Fredericton. But if you live in Saint John, and it’s foggy, that usually means it’s not windy. It’s calm and mild and easy on the eyes. And sometimes that’s just what you need.
Taken on September 25, 2010
It’s officially autumn. Overnight, it seems, leaves have started falling. Patches of yellow and red are appearing on the green hills. The market smells like fresh apples.
I remember a greeting card I was given a long time ago. “Stay out of the park: the squirrels are gathering nuts for the winter” it said. And so they are, we are all gathering in, picking the last of the produce from the garden, making green tomato pickle because the tomatoes have not ripened, buying squash and pumpkins while they are cheap and plentiful, storing what we can of summer’s bounty for the cold months ahead.
Taken on October 17, 2009
They say that you have to dream something to make it real. That you need dreams to have a future. That through dreaming you can overcome difficulties and work your way around psychological obstacles.
Yet you’ve also been told that dreamers are not doers, that dreaming doesn’t make it true, and dreams are the opposite of reality. I don’t believe it.
Maybe I was born with rose-coloured glasses, maybe it’s just that I’m an optimist, but I’ve always thought that — for most things — if I can dream it, I can do it. I’m not talking about fantasy; I’m talking about dreams, about having vision and seeing the paths that might open up to you around the corner. When you dream, you see not only your potential, but what you truly want, and who you truly are. And let’s face it, reality can be pretty grim unless you know how to dream, unless you know that it is possible (yes it is) for your dreams to come true.
Taken on May 24, 2009