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
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
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
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
Do you see the hedge first, or the houses? Do you see the tiny yellow buds on the topmost twigs, or the green wreath decorating the door? As you walk by, do you notice which tidy post-war houses have their walkways freshly cleared of snow, or do you watch the late afternoon sun as it wraps the neighbourhood with yellow ribbons of light?
I know there’s work to be done and phone calls to make, items to check off my to-do list and projects to finish. But right now I’m busy. Right now I’m outdoors, feeling the cold air on my face, watching the dogs track unfamiliar scents from tree to telephone pole, and listening to the crunch of my boots on the snow-crusted sidewalk. For 30 minutes, nothing else matters more than being here. I don’t have a lot of time, so I want to make the most of it.
Photo taken on January 4, 2010
Barren trees with branches reaching
rendered steel by frosty mornings
mourning the lush and luminous summer
now only memory can find
Before the springtime resurrection
before the sun’s glad warmth reviving
before the sap returns to strengthen
darkness turns us inward
Cherish the flame that thrives in shadow
the bitter wind that drives us closer
hold fast, for though the storm clouds threaten,
the sun still rules the sky
Photo taken on November 6, 2009
Here in Canada, it’s just another Thursday, but in the U.S. it’s “Turkey Day” (aka Thanksgiving). It’s hard to escape references to the American holiday — it’s everywhere in the newspaper (especially the comic pages) and we even have our own “Black Friday” sales happening tomorrow to mirror the annual shopping attack south of the border.
Even though I am not celebrating Thanksgiving today, I have a lot of reasons to be thankful. I’m thankful that we have a warm dry house while the cold wind scours the ground outside. I’m thankful that we have enough food to eat, and plenty for our dogs and cat, and the chickadees and nuthatch taking turns at the feeder. I’m thankful that I have a loving family and good health. I’m thankful that I can travel, and go for a walk in the woods, and enjoy photography.
Maybe I’ll go and get some turkey from the freezer. Happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving!
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
Today is Remembrance Day. I have mixed feelings about this day. On one hand, I think of the awful cost of war, the sacrifice of so many lives, when dreams are crushed and lands laid waste. I think of the war movies I have seen — ranging from Gallipoli to Das Boot — and the almost daily news stories of ongoing conflict, the death of soldiers and civilians, and the hurts borne by those who have returned. We remember them.
On the other hand, I think of the machinery of war. The frequency of violent clashes around the world guarantees a thriving market for weapons and all the supplies needed to maintain conflict. Our culture continually markets war games of all kinds and models violence — and winning by violent means — as desirable and praiseworthy.
How can we remember the sacrifice of war without praising it? How can we work for peace and conflict resolution without dishonouring those who must fight on our behalf when words are not enough? I don’t know the answer, but think it would make a difference if leaders and ordinary citizens could resist the paranoid “us” vs “them”propaganda, begin to recognize strangers as neighbours, and find a neutral space where we can look into each other’s eyes without fear.
Let there be light,
let there be understanding,
let all the nations gather,
let them be face to face.
– Frances W. Davis
Photo taken on October 11, 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
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
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
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
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
Every fall I go through the same symptoms. No matter how much I avoided hot weather during the summer, I become a serious heat-seeker. As soon as the temperature drops down into the low teens (celcius), I get out my winter clothes and start layering. Today I am wearing a t-shirt, two sweaters, jeans and warm fuzzy socks (plus a few additional items). It has been cold and damp lately. I feel cold and damp.
I know that I can’t wear all my winter clothes yet, because there won’t be anything to add when it really gets cold. The temperature will drop below freezing, some days will be minus 20 or lower. I remind myself that 12 degrees celcius in mid-winter would feel balmy, but it doesn’t help. Every year, I have to wait and shiver for a couple of weeks until my body adjusts. Yes, summer is gone. Live with it!
Taken on September 26, 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
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
Deer are common here — so common that they are considered a nuisance. Gardening columns and nurseries contain lists of “deer resistant” plants. Newspaper articles talk about the pros and cons of “deer culling”. When people mention “the Millidgeville herd”, they’re not talking about a social clique. My parents used to be able to grow bulbs and shrubs in their garden, but now the few plants that survive are protected by chicken wire. Our tulips were destroyed before they even bloomed this spring, and yes, there were deer tracks in the ravished garden bed. In the field behind our house, we often see two or three deer, and the dogs know they’re there even when we don’t. Not even the experts can agree on why the city’s deer population keeps growing, so it seems that we have to learn to live with them. I still think it’s a treat to see them appear… as long as they stay out of my vegetable patch!
Photo taken on July 16, 2010
Yesterday, after the showers had passed, the clouds started to lift. The sun appeared, and the moist earth breathed dampness into the air. Then the fog rolled in. (Welcome to summer in Saint John!) Yet, I still love the fog. I love the soft filtered light during the day. And the fog halos around the streetlights in the evening. And the way it adds mystery to the darkness, inviting you out at night, to walk with the fog through the quiet city streets.
Taken on June 25, 2009