Monday, July 30, 2007

Little Miracles

When we moved to Seattle nearly 30 years ago, I remember thinking that everyone in town was a hiker.

My neighbors were hikers. I’d see them outside on a Saturday morning, loading daypacks and boots into their car (it was an old, rusting Subaru with a Sierra Club sticker on the bumper.) Television news anchors were hikers (they smiled brightly as they engaged in on-air happy-chat about the hikes they’d done the past weekend.) And when the newspaper I worked for sent me to our nation's capitol to photograph Washington's Senator Dan Evans, he talked excitedly about getting back to the Northwest for the summer. He had plans for a week-long backpack trip in the North Cascades.

I do, however, remember talking with one woman who was an outspoken, adamant Non-Hiker. A reporter for the newspaper’s Style section, she was more the type who’d be found shopping for make-up in Nordstrom than lusting over the latest ice axe at REI. She was also very funny. When I mentioned a hike that friends and I had done, she thrust her nose in the air and announced with faux-elitism: “I don’t put things on my back and go walking.”

Well, Leah and I have plans for a trip this fall to Nepal and the Himalayas. It’ll be a month-long trip, three weeks of which will be in country where, to get around, one must put things on one’s back and walk. This summer we’re preparing for our coming Nepal adventure by hiking-- hiking a LOT. Many of the trips we’re doing are in the Olympic Mountains, a short drive from our house. We call these our Home Mountains.

Yesterday we walked 9 miles on a rolling, up-and-down trail that took us through old-growth forest and along a wild river. We stopped to look at wildflowers, and I remembered words that Thoreau had written in his journal: “Nature is mythical and mystical always, and spends her whole genius on the least work.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Prayer Wheels

I rode my bike to Yoga class Wednesday night. As the road blurred beneath the bike wheels, I pulled my snapshot camera from my bike jersey pocket and made a couple of photographs. It occurs to me now that the image you see above is visually about light and shapes and shadows, but personally it is about balance.

My life is crazy-busy these days--I'm shooting, editing, putting work together, delivering photographs to clients. Wednesday night I stayed up till 2 AM going through prints for a wedding client, but I finally had to quit working when my eyes got so bleary that all the prints looked out-of-focus. Yesterday I stopped at the photo lab and picked up prints from two more weddings--1500 new prints to go through, two 200-photo albums to assemble. This weekend I’ll shoot another wedding, and there will be more prints. My mind flashes on a fantasy movie where I am a snowball and I’m rolling downhill, getting bigger and bigger, rolling faster and faster, and I wonder Can I Stop?

Well yes, I can stop--by finding balance. I can think of a zillion jobs I need to do in my office, but I get myself out the door and on my bike, and I pedal (slowly) to Yoga class. I spend an hour going through the various Yoga poses. My back--tied in knots after 30 years of having camera straps hung from my shoulders--begins to loosen-up. My mind focuses in on the soft, encouraging voice of the Yoga teacher Susan, as she reminds the students in class:

“...breathe, breathe, breathe...”

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I’ve been thinking lately about artists, and about blank pieces of paper. I’ve been thinking about art, and how art gets made, but my mind keeps coming back to that blank piece of paper, because, when you get down to it, that is where art begins: a blank canvas, an unexposed piece of film, and empty stage.

I invite you to join me in a little exercise in Art Appreciation (I have some friends who are ballet dancers and they will help us with this exercise.) You, the dancers and I will go into a ballet studio and we’ll put on some music--Stravinsky, let’s say, or if that’s not to your liking, maybe something by Aaron Copland. Now you go out onto the studio floor with the dancers and you tell them what to do. You be a choreographer, the dancers will do whatever you say. Make your own ballet, something simple, just five minutes of movement. You make art. Go ahead, tell the dancers what you want them to do... the dancers are waiting...

Or perhaps you enjoy a good book, you love reading? Maybe you have told friends that one day you'd like to write a book, an essay, a short story? Well your friends and I think you should try your hand at being a writer, and we think there’s no time like the present: We invite you to sit there at your computer and we will go make you a cup of coffee. Sit there for 10 minutes (or 10 hours) and write one good paragraph, something you’d feel good about reading aloud to a gathering your friends and I will host for you one evening at the local bookstore...

My point is this: It’s no wonder that artists tend to be crazy, that they are individuals who are kind of out-there, living in a world where most of us dare not go. Imagine the courage--more importantly, imagine the inspiration--it takes to choreograph a ballet, write a short story, paint or photograph the world we see around us.

Thirty-some years ago when I was beginning my life in photography, I read something that inspires me to this day. It was the credo of Life Magazine, and, though I was only 19-years-old, I realized that as long as I had a camera and film, then the world around me would always be there for exploration.

To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things -- machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man's work -- his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Killing Ghosts

I was snowshoeing on Mt. Rainier on a snowy spring day two years ago when I crossed paths with a brown fox. Though I’ve been hiking and climbing in high and wild places in the Pacific Northwest for 30 years, I’d never before seen a wild fox, perhaps because I hadn't really looked for one. My eyes tend to take-in the big picture--I see the mountains, the sky, the overall landscape, yet only when the brown fox walked right in front of me did I see him.

Another time, two friends and I were camped near Park Creek Pass in the North Cascades. I’d set the alarm on my watch to wake me for sunrise, but my down sleeping bag was feeling toasty and sinfully comfy when the alarm went off. Fighting lethargy, I dragged my sleepy self from the tent, gathered my camera and lenses and tripod and hiked to a nearby rock outcropping, hoping warm, early light might illuminate the nearby peaks (photographer Bill Allard calls this early-morning pilgrimage “showing up for work on time.”) The light was pleasant but not extraordinary. An hour later when I walked back into camp, my friend James was out making coffee and told me he’d seen a wolf east of our tent (I had been focused on the peaks to the west.) Wolves are very rare, fairly ghostlike creatures in the Cascades, and I will never forget that day I missed seeing one.

Now I learn that my government is considering a hunting program that would exterminate half the wolf population in Wyoming and Idaho. I read that the government has purchased planes and helicopters that would make it possible for hunters to kill entire packs of wolves in minutes. I invite you to visit the link below, and to consider responding with a comment to those planning this obscene slaughter.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Playing Hooky

Our friends Shelley and Andrew are staying here with us this week as they make their way toward Montana and Glacier National Park for a seven-day backpacking trip. No underachievers these two, Andrew is a Fulbright Scholar and Shelley recently graduated near the top of her class from law school at UC Berkeley. Looking for a way to decompress from highly demanding lives, Shelley and Andrew could certainly go to Mexico and lay on a beach (I think that would be my inclination) but instead they’ll shoulder 40- or 50-pound backpacks and go out to walk among grizzly bears.

Though there is no getting around the reality that I should be staying home this week assembling wedding albums for my clients, my house guests have lured me outside to play. It’s rainy and foggy here, but my friends and I have done two very enjoyable hikes in the nearby Olympic Mountains. Wednesday we walked a lowland forest trail only 40 minutes from my house, and yesterday we trekked into the high country, teased by cycles of rain/fog/sun, rain/fog/sun. Our walk took us to a pass where rocky spires rose into the mist, reminding us that beauty takes many forms.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


More thoughts after my trip to Sun Valley, Idaho...

It was an amazing place. There were tons of hiking and biking trails, and everywhere I went there were athletes out, hammering away at their workouts, their fit and finely-tuned bodies looking nearly as beautiful and perfect as the natural world through which they moved.

I could happily live in that part of Idaho...but on second thought, I bet not. I came away feeling that Sun Valley must be a terribly expensive place to live, that Ketchum and Stanley and Hailey are the kinds of mountain towns that have become playgrounds for the rich and famous. The houses and ranches I saw just reeked of affluence, and there were nearly as many Hummers as humans.

Not my style at all.

I had a few hours free one afternoon during my trip and I walked around the town of Ketchum and looked for photographs that conveyed a sense of the valley. I made a few images of the beautiful mountains, and of cool, billowy clouds moving across the landscape. But I couldn’t help but also photograph the bling and belongings of the humans around me, and the trappings of wealth and good fortune.

I am not wealthy, but I came home and made a donation to Amnesty International, and intend also to send a check to Doctors Without Borders. This feels like an important gesture for me to make, the least I can do.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Seeing, or not

As an artist, it’s pretty typical for me to go around in a fog. My brain is always occupied with something other than the task at hand.

I am weeding in the garden, but thinking about the text for the book I plan to do.

I am in Yoga class trying to be present in the moment, but there is a mirror at the front of the room and I’m jazzed about the way my classmates look, reflected in the mirror.

I am riding my bicycle one-handed because my bike wheel is casting a cool circular shadow on the road and I’m fishing in my bike jersey pocket, trying to get to the camera before the light changes and the shadow disappears.

So I felt right at home yesterday as Leah and I hiked on a misty and foggy ridge-top in the Olympic Mountains. Every few minutes the fog would clear a bit and there would be the promise of clear vision, but then the fog would come swirling over us again and we’d be back in the soup. There was a waterfall nearby--I could hear it, but it was too foggy to see it. I put my camera on a tripod and waited patiently. Eventually I was rewarded with a momentary view of the falls.

Clarity/fog, clarity/fog.

Yes, hiking imitates life.

Friday, July 13, 2007


There’s a bumper sticker I see fairly often around here, typically on the back of a rusty, beat-up old pickup truck that’s parked along the side of a road, within walking distance of a river or a stream. “Work is for people who don’t know how to fish,” the bumper sticker maintains. It occurred to me yesterday that Leah and our neighbors need to run out to a sporting good store and buy fishing gear. They were all doing way too much work.

I could hear a tractor running over at our neighbor Gene’s place. I looked over the fence--isn’t it fun to watch other people doing work?--to see that Gene was cutting hay. Gene and his wife are retired, though you would never know it. They begin most mornings with a brisk four-mile walk down our road, then can be seen outside gardening, or splitting and stacking firewood, or brushing stain on the deck of their house.

There was band-bang-banging and clang-clang-clanging coming from another neighbors’ pasture. A farrier was at work there, shoeing horses. I ambled over with my camera--isn’t it fun to photograph other people doing work?--and as I talked to the farrier, I made a point of slipping it into our conversation that I’d spent the morning in my office at home, talking on the phone with clients, answering client e-mails, doing “business.” Sweat cascaded off the farrier’s face. I’d never seen a guy sweat that much. My morning of “work” suddenly felt like a day spent napping in a hammock.

Filled with more than a little guilt, I skulked back home, where I found Leah standing in our orchard, picking cherries. “Well, Tom Sawyer, maybe you could help me pick,” she wisecracked. I got up on a ladder and reached for the few remaining, high-in-the-tree cherries that Leah had been unable to reach from the ground. Up there on the ladder, it was cool to look down and see Leah in her straw hat, her bowl full of the fruit of her labor. I pulled my camera from my pocket and shot a few images, realizing that photography, this day, is not something I should call "work."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Taking Notes

As a photographer, I almost always have a camera with me. It’s the tool I use to make visual notes of the things I see and experience--much the way most people use a pen and paper. Sometimes I am “serious” with the camera, trying to stretch the way I see and make images. Other times I just goof around, take snapshots, make record pictures.

A friend once said to me: “Keep photography fun.” It’s the best advice I’ve ever gotten. I do everything I can to keep from feeling like photography is just something I do because it’s my “job.”

For years, a Leica M camera was my carry-all-the-time tool. The Leica was small and inconspicuous and generally didn’t interfere with me having a life. Lately I tend to use a pocket digital point-and-shoot for my everyday journal-keeping. This camera isn’t as fast as the Leica M, but it’s so darned easy and convenient to carry, I can take it with me on bike rides and hikes. It’s in my pocket when I work in the garden or walk down the lane to visit with the neighbor.

As I drove home from a shoot in Sun Valley this past weekend, I stopped in Umatilla, Oregon for gas. Towering above the main street of town was a huge sign, probably 50-feet high, a cutout of a cowboy. I pulled out my pocket camera and did a corny self-portrait.

Back home the next morning, I went out to the barn to feed our sheep and chickens. There was nice light skittering across one of the walls of the barn, and patterns and shapes that appealed to me. I pulled the camera from my pocket and the critters waited patiently, while I had Fun With Photography.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Work & Play

I just got back last night from a five-day work/play trip to Sun Valley, Idaho. It feels good to have yesterday’s 12-hour drive behind me. I’m unpacking and trying to motivate myself to go out and scrape tons of dead bugs off the front of my car.

I’m happy to be home. I love where I live. But before I unpack completely, I thought I’d put this one question out there to friends and strangers alike: Anybody want to throw the mountain bikes (or the hiking boots, or the cameras) in the car and go with me back to beautiful Sun Valley? If we leave right now, we can be there and camped along the Wood River by dark.

My goodness it was nice there.

I joke, of course, about wanting to go back--this afternoon, at least. But for someone like me, someone who is passionate about hiking and bicycling and outdoor photography, Sun Valley was darned near perfect. Ketchum, the town where I stayed, is at an elevation of 5800 feet. One afternoon after I finished doing some photography for my clients, I jumped on my mountain bike, rode up a trail called Adams Gulch, and to the top of a nearby hill. I watched as amazing, billowy clouds moved over the valley, dwarfing not only the 9,000-foot high mountains, but also the silly man with the camera. Those clouds spoke to me. They said: Boy! NOW you are in The West!

I’m already thinking about a return trip, maybe in the fall, when the aspens turn color. Yes, the fall would be nice. But I bet spring wouldn’t be bad either...

Maybe I’ll need to go back twice.

Friday, July 6, 2007


I’m off on a shoot as you read this. The cupboard is bare, my beer glass is empty. It’s time to make some money.

I’ll be in Idaho, the Sun Valley area, Hemingway country.

With a little bit of cyber luck, Leah will be able to upload this short post for me. I’ll be home soon, hopefully with a shoot in the bag that will please my wonderful clients, and also a photo or two of my own. Something that says The West would be nice, don’t you think?

Peace, my friends.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Pardon me for saying so Mister President, but the Fourth of July strikes me as a national holiday when we Americans are not at our best.

Just my humble opinion, Mister Leader Man.

Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, those are holidays of somber reflection, where many of us pause for at least a few minutes to consider our national good fortune, to quietly acknowledge the sacrifices others have made for our country. But on the July 4th holiday, a day we celebrate our independence from the King of England, it is estimated that 41 million of us will jump in our cars or get on airplanes and travel 50 miles or more. (I have a photo shoot to do. I could either fly or drive. I too will be out on the road, in my little Ford Focus.) We will spend this Independence Day holiday demonstrating our dependence on oil. What a weird irony that is.

The United States holds just 5 percent of the world’s people, yet we use 25 percent of its fuels. We generate 75 percent of its pollution and waste.

Mister President, I know you are an oil man, but it is said that you are also a conservative. I was just wondering: Could you please, maybe, possibly, consider leading our nation in ways we might conserve?

Pardon me for asking.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Hiking and Eating

I’m thinking this morning about the peaceful hike Leah and I did yesterday high up on a foggy ridge in the Olympic mountains. I'm thinking too about the amazing, way-too-perfect Thai food we ate on the trip home, and about my buddy Bob, back in the days when he owned a sailboat.

Bob’s period of sailboat ownership, now about 20 years ago, coincided with his time as wild-man bachelor. Smart and very funny, Bob’s bachelorhood probably wasn’t actually all that wild, but I’m married, have been for over 30 years, and married guys like me tend to assume (hope? fantasize?) their single male friends are hell-raisers.

Anyway, I remember a day when Bob invited me to go sailing, and I offered to bring the beer. I assumed brewski was an essential ingredient to the male bonding thing that would happen when two guys spend eight hours sitting around on a sailboat. Bob declined my offer, explaining he didn’t want to “confuse the sailing experience with the drinking experience.” For a second, I thought Bob was being funny. Then it dawned on me that he was serious. It was such a drag to realize my single, wild friend had turned ascetic on me.

Leah and I have no problem, combining the hiking experience with the eating experience. Hikes and other outdoor adventures are filed in our brains with the following information: distance of the hike, elevation gain and loss of the hike, and where we’ll eat on the drive home. And though our hike yesterday was one of our best this year and our eyes feasted on views of peaks and forests as far as we could see, we couldn't help but think about the Thai restaurant waiting for us down in town. For us, gluttony is an essential part of the hiking experience.