Sometimes when I’m on the verge of waking, I linger on the edge of sleep, reluctant to relinquish that moment of possibility between dreaming and consciousness. In this moment, I feel anticipation and hope, I sense that something good might happen when the day begins. The closest word I can find to describe it is “madrugada”, a Spanish word meaning dawn or daybreak, or more literally, the hour before sunrise.
On many mornings, when I open my eyes and wake up, this moment vanishes; routine and responsibility rush in, and I push my dreams aside. But if I wake up early, in that hour (or two) before sunrise, I don’t have to rush into the day. I can sit for a moment and think about my day, my dreams, my desires, my disappointments. In the quiet of this madrugada, I can listen to God and be open to my heart. And I find that if I start the morning with stillness, I am better organized, better prepared, and better balanced as I head into my day.
As I look toward the future (now that I’ve passed the long-anticipated 50th birthday milestone), I realize it is this awareness of each day that is becoming most valuable to me. As much as I enjoy getting “stuff”, acquisition is not my goal; neither is career climbing or travel or fame. None of this will ever give me any satisfaction unless I know who I am, unless I can be whole and at peace in that moment between dreams and waking.
Photo taken on November 4, 2009
We had a green Christmas. The sun shone, the roads were bare and the temperature was mild. Although I was hoping for snow, I admit that it couldn’t have been a better day.
Then, late on Boxing Day, a Nor’easter blew up along the coast and dumped a pile of snow and some rain through the Maritimes. As I write this, a blustery wind is shaking the trees and blowing last night’s fresh snow into sharp-peaked drifts. The landscape has completely changed. My shoulder and back muscles are still sore from shovelling snow yesterday, and I know there will more shovelling to do today.
Welcome back, winter.
Photo taken on December 27, 2010
On the street where I live there is a young mother who goes for walks, pushing her baby in a stroller while keeping a firm grip on the leash of her happy dog. There is a little dog who guards his little porch, and a bigger dog who loves to run, given half a chance. Sometimes I see a Siamese cat slip under the fence to explore the back field, following the tracks of mice and deer and other cats who wander there. There is a young man who has a truck parked in his backyard just for parts, and a family who, I am told, keeps a few chickens in their basement so they can have fresh eggs. There is an old man who keeps his yard as neat as a pin, and an old lady who walks to church every day, her tall hair carefully wrapped in black lace. I think I will go for a walk down the street today, and say hello to my neighbours.
Photo taken on December 7, 2010
On the weekend, I drove to Moncton and took in three workshops at Foto Expo, getting the chance to work with and learn from photographers including Maurice Henri, Daryl Benson, Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Crysanthou. I met an interesting crowd of photographers, ranging from just-got-a-new-camera to been-shooting-all-my-life, and had some great conversations. And I spent the best part of two days thinking, breathing and doing photography. I loved it.
Then I came back to reality. It was snowing early yesterday morning. I still don’t have a job, but I there’s one that I’m applying for, and I need to spend time crafting the cover letter. The housing insulation project is coming to a point of big investment, along with big decisions about how, and how much, to do, and the pressure is rising to get it done soon. I have to think about money, and the bathroom that needs cleaning, etc etc and at the same time I’m trying to hold onto my dreams about doing a November project, taking time each day for a series of photos looking for beauty (or at least compositional interest) in the bleak November landscape. But right now it feels like I am being selfish to talk about taking photographs while reality waits impatiently, ready to shred my dreams and scatter them to the winds.
Photo taken on October 31, 2010
Have you ever noticed how endings are also beginnings? In the Sound of Music, Maria says, “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” “When a door closes, a window opens” is a Dutch proverb. And Alexander Graham Bell is quoted as saying, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
As A.G. Bell says, sometimes we’re so obsessed with the ending we hardly notice the beginning. So many of us sigh over the end of summer that we scarcely notice the kids excited about the return of fall and the school year. Barely six months later, we’re eagerly pointing out the signs of spring’s beginning without giving a thought to the end of winter. Births are easy to celebrate, deaths are hard, but I think it’s important to acknowledge both; they will be the landmarks that you see when you look back on your life. Endings and beginnings are linked together, like moonsets and sunrises.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
- T.S. Eliot from Little Gidding (No. 4 of Four Quartets)
Photo taken on October 24, 2010
I grew up in Millidgeville, a suburb on the north edge of Saint John where it meets the Kennebecasis River. In the winter, we skated on the river, dodging snow drifts and cracks as we traced a path across the smooth ice. In the summertime, we swam at the beach a little way up the road. We had a good view of the river from our house, and I loved to watch the clouds, the sunsets, the early morning light change and glow as it hit the water.
I was in my old neighbourhood the other morning just before dawn, and couldn’t resist stopping for a moment to watch the river. A cold breeze was blowing from the west as I drove to the end of a nearby road. As I walked toward the shoreline, watching the rising sun redden the hills across the river, I found a small wetland next to a new housing development. I heard a hoarse call and watched a kingfisher fly swiftly across the water’s surface. As if on cue, two mallard ducks emerged from their nest in the tall grasses, wending their way toward the river. The sun rose, and the wind blew more strongly. My hands were frozen. Feeling cold, but awake, I headed home.
Taken on October 18, 2010
This weathered door has seen a lot of Octobers. This door on Elliot Row, a few houses in from the sea in one of the oldest parts of the city, has seen thick fog and hurricane rains, hot sun and freezing gales, and everything in between. You can see the marks where the door has been pushed, shoved and bumped, where the paint is worn down to the wood by frequent use. It looks like this door was painted white before it was red, and before that — before the new owners refinished it and repainted and re-sided and renovated the house from top to bottom — I wonder what it looked like then?
When the Nor’easter rolls up the Eastern seaboard and sends the Bay of Fundy waves pounding against the shore, it will stand firm. When snowbanks ploughed off the street climb all the way to the top of the railing, and ice encases the steps, it will still open and close, firm against the weather. For now, it’s strong enough. For now, there are flowers, and a pumpkin to mark the season of harvest and Hallowe’en. Welcome.
Taken on October 2, 2010
When I was young, a car ferry crossed the river at the bottom of the road a few minutes walk from home. I don’t remember taking the ferry much, but I remember the ferry store, where they had penny candy (mmm… pixie sticks) and chocolate bars and chips. The ferry landing has since moved farther down the road, but you can still take the ferry across the river, and travel almost instantly from a city suburb to the rolling countryside. It always feels like an adventure to take the ferry.
On Saturday morning we took the ferry to go to a local farmers’ market. It was cold and windy — a classic fall day — with a bright blue sky and rich oranges and reds decorating the hills. When we returned (with fresh garlic, apple cider, red cabbage and eggs), the line-up for the ferry was a kilometre long. I looked at all the people bundled up in their cars as we drove by. I hope it still feels like an adventure to them as well!
Taken on October 9, 2010
The sun is up, and the air feels fresh. Light is streaming between buildings, casting bright reflections from one side of the street to the other. Walking through the cool shade, you suddenly emerge into blinding light. There is a fluttering of wings as pigeons scatter through the park. Looking down King Street, you can see the sun sparkle on the open water at the bottom of the hill. A seagull calls as it soars high above the bridge. You might stop for a coffee, or maybe meet a friend along the way. The thing is, to get moving. The rest of the day beckons.
Taken on September 14, 2010
The fog is so thick you can barely see across the river. This narrow rocky gorge is where the St. John River rushes and foams into the harbour mouth. These rapids are extremely dangerous, featuring whirlpools, strong currents and sharp rocks… that is, when the river is running downstream. At high tide, the river is overcome by the the sea, which pushes the water back upriver — this is the local phenomenon known as Reversing Falls. You can see how the current runs from left to right, instead of the other way around. The fierce force of river and rapids has been tamed by the tide, but only for a short time.
Taken on August 20, 2010
Every now and then, something ordinary will catch your eye. You will stop and lean down for a closer look, and you will say: Wow, look at this spiderweb! Yet you’ll know that the spider has been building this web across the corner of the front porch for a days or even a couple of weeks. But you didn’t notice it — really notice it — until today. Because today the sun was shining when you walked out the front door. Today when you went to work you didn’t have something else on your mind. Today there were water droplets strung like pearls on the delicate threads, and the sunlight caught them just so, making them glitter like tiny diamonds. Today something ordinary became extraordinary, a gift for you to enjoy.
Taken on August 10, 2010
Imagine what this narrow bay at the mouth of Marsh Creek would have looked like 150 years ago. Imagine away the train tracks, the smoke stacks, the silt. Imagine the golden age of sail, a sea of masts, a tide of longshoremen. Imagine long piers, and the rough bones of new ships being built, one rib at a time. Imagine the Marco Polo, launched on the 17th of April, 1851 from the yard of James Smith at Marsh Creek. She was a clipper, with stout planking of tamarack, pitch pine, and oak and three tall masts. She was the biggest ship the yard had built, and when she was launched, she got stuck in the mud for two weeks. Imagine this ship, free to ply her trade across the seas, sailing across the North Atlantic to Liverpool, England in just fifteen days. She was the first ship to circumnavigate the world in less than six months, travelling from Liverpool to Melbourne, Australia, and back in 5 months and 24 days in 1852. She was the fastest ship in the world. And she was built right here.
Taken on July 12, 2010
I have been wandering through Rockwood Park for more than an hour, taking long-exposure photos of the forest in the pre-dawn light. The birds are singing, the sun is rising, and it is time to go home. I woke up at 4 am to go on this adventure, but now I am beginning to feel tired. I stop for a moment by a small lake to watch the changing light. The dark water is calm, waiting for the morning’s first breeze. I set up my tripod on the grassy bank. One more photo.
Taken on July 31, 2010
This could be a classic postcard image — the red-and-white lighthouse shining out to sea, clinging to the top of a rocky cliff — you can picture it, right? Cape Spencer has all the right elements: lighthouse, cliff, sea. But in order to get that perfect picture I would have to be in a boat on a calm day at low tide in the evening. Instead, I captured an image that showed just what I saw, the sun climbing into the sky on a beautiful summer morning, a cool breeze off the Bay of Fundy moderating the warming temperatures. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for the perfect photo, because I was there to go berry picking. Several hours (and a 2nd morning) later, we had collected 8 cups of raspberries, 6 cups of blueberries, and 21 cups of gooseberries. I think this photo is just fine.
Taken on July 23, 2010
I love the way the orange train lights up against the blue sky. I love the way the daisies decorate the hill above the train tracks. I love the way Marsh Creek carves channels through the silt that you only see at low tide. I love the view across Courtney Bay in the morning, the sun bright on the water, the fresh day just beginning.
Taken on July 12, 2010
Recently I read that photographers — serious photographers, that is — avoid sunny days for fear of making their images look too much like postcards. It’s true that images I take with lovely blue skies tend to look less interesting than one with dramatic clouds. I think what makes the difference, though, is the light. On a blue sky day, the light is cold and clear, and the shadows are harsh. On a stormy day — like the morning I took this photo — the light has a yellow-pink cast to it that warms the whole scene. And on a rainy day, the colours are intense and everything shines and glitters. The challenge, of course, is to get outside and find these dramatic scenes when it’s so much nicer indoors.
Taken on November 11, 2009