Wednesday, August 29, 2007


There’s a little teriyaki restaurant about three miles from my house. Sometimes when I’m out doing errands on my bike, I’ll stop at the restaurant and order the wonderful lunch special chicken teriyaki, then sit outside in the sun, enjoying the food and the day. Life feels good--until I’ve finished my meal and am standing there, holding an empty styrofoam container and my used plastic fork.

As Kermit The Frog would say, “It’s not easy, being green.”

Consider one day in the life of that one restaurant, the number of styrofoam containers and plastic forks that go into the trash and are then trucked to the landfill. Consider these things. Right across the road there is another teriyaki joint and they too sell carryout food in styrofoam containers. Consider the waste from that second restaurant.

There’s got to be a better way.

Yesterday I called in an order of chicken teriyaki. I asked if it would be okay if I brought my own container (a metal pie plate) for my meal. The woman on the phone hesitated--English is not her primary language, so she went to consult with someone else. When she came back to the phone, she said “Yes, bring your own plate. No problem.” She giggled when I showed up and handed her my metal plate, but she dished up the chicken teriyaki. She offered me a plastic fork and a paper napkin. I said no-thanks, I’d brought my own fork and a cloth napkin.

Is it a silly thing I did, taking my own plate? Was I spitting into the wind, one lone individual, hoping to lessen our societal waste? Even worse, was I making a show of my greenness? I later told Leah about my take-my-own-plate exercise, and I mocked myself, saying I was a “Silly Green Man.” Leah thought for a moment, then reminded me of something Gandhi once said:

“Be the change you wish to see.”

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yin and Yang

I was walking through our kitchen yesterday morning when I noticed that Mr. Sun was having some fun, playing games in our house with his friends The Shadows. I pulled my camera from my pocket, thinking: If these guys are going to play here, I can certainly take a few pictures.

There was an empty dog bowl on the floor. I liked the way the blue bottom of the bowl added an amazing dash of color to the otherwise monochromatic scene. I also noticed that the shadows in the bowl looked a bit like the Yin-Yang symbol. (Do you suppose Sun and Shadows were just goofing around, or was there a message here?) The day began to get weird.

Leah and I rarely argue or bicker--our relationship, happily, lacks even the slightest hint of tension or acrimony. Yesterday, however, we found ourselves picking at one-another.
I wanted to spend the day doing one thing, Leah wanted to do another.
Eventually we decided we’d go to Bainbridge Island and do a long walk together, but we couldn’t agree on which roads were best for getting there.
We began our walk and I wanted to go one pace, Leah wanted to go another.
I saw a fence and a sailboat that I wanted to photograph; Leah gave me a look that let it be known that I’d better shoot fast, she wanted to keep moving.

We walked for three hours. By the end of the day, the bad juju seemed to have passed. We went out for dinner--both agreeing on the choice of restaurant. When we ordered our meals, we both chose the chicken enchiladas.

I don’t know much about Yin and Yang, but this morning I did some reading. I learned that Yin and Yang are ancient Chinese symbols that represent opposites in the universe: black/white, hot/cold, aggression/passivity, man/woman. I guess there's supposed to be a balance in Yin and Yang, though I personally would be happy if balance wasn't quite so elusive.

I’ve decided to blame Mr. Sun for the introduction of angst into our relationship yesterday. Next time he starts making shadows in the dog bowl, I’m going to close the curtains.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


I had errands and a simple photo shoot to do yesterday in Seattle. I rode Leah’s little 125cc motor scooter onto the ferry for the boat trip into the oh-so-hip city.

I like Leah’s scooter. It gets over 80 miles-per-gallon. Ferry tickets are much less expensive for the scooter than for a car, and the ferry workers load bicycles and motorcycles first, so getting on and off the boat is fairly hassle-free. For environmental reasons, I would have preferred to ride a bicycle, but schlepping cameras and a tripod on a bike would have been hugely difficult.

The over-loaded scooter would only go about 40 miles-per-hour, max (since, even for a "simple" shoot, I stupidly packed a ton of gear) so the ride gave me a chance to snoop around and people-watch. Based on what I saw yesterday--and what I know from experience-- I came up with a snotty, smart-alecky list of the traits and habits of Seattleites

1: True Seattleites drive old, beat-up Volvos. Bumper stickers of choice seem to be “Love Your Mother” (this sticker features a picture of planet Earth) and “Impeach Bush.” Other adornments might be Tibetan prayer flags (hung inside the vehicle,) or artifacts from some long-ago Grateful Dead tour.

2: True Seattleites have one home in the city and a weekend cabin in the San Juan Islands. Lacking the cash for a place in the ‘Juans (or the desire to spend hours in line on weekends, waiting for a ferry) a second-best choice would be to have friends who have a place in the Islands, and tag along with them while they wait in a ferry line in their old Volvo (see #1 above.)

3: True Seattleites remember the time when some magazine--Conde Nast Traveler, Backpacker, or Highlights, I can’t remember which--named Seattle the “Most Livable City” in the U.S. Though this honor was bestowed upon the city quite a number of years ago (maybe 20?) true Seattleites still walk around, half-expecting a reporter from one of the above magazines to approach and inquire--breathlessly-- what it’s like to live here. (Note: the magazine reporter expects to hear about that weekend place in the Islands.)

4: True Seattleites have their REI Co-Op numbers memorized, and attend Seattle Opera or Seattle Symphony concerts wearing an REI soft-shell or Goretex parka. Trekking pants with enough pockets to hold sunscreen, a compass, and a fold-up map of the city, complete the ensemble.

5: True Seattleites have a climbing resume and will find subtle, offhanded opportunities for mentioning their last summit climb of Mt. Rainier (a winter ascent of Liberty Ridge would earn big nods of approval.) Even old, rich guys, walking around naked in the locker room of the posh Washington Athletic Club, will tell you about their climbing exploits-- the time 50 years ago when a yeti crept into camp Muir during the night 'n stole Mr. Adventure’s climbing boots. He had to walk down the snowfield back to Paradise, barefoot. Naked man’s still got frostbite on three toes, jes’ lookey-here...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Mornings are my favorite part of the day.

We get up early here (yes, it’s the stereotypical crowing rooster who wakes us up. ) Leah or I head out to the barn to feed the sheep and the chickens. We take our two dogs, Minnie and Buddha, out with us. This morning patrol is when our dog-friends make sure no rowdy coyotes have decided to move-in overnight. Our two acres are the turf of Minnie and Buddha and they pee here and there, letting it be known that party-animal, wild dogs are not welcome.

I often shoot a few just-for-fun pictures during this morning routine--the dogs need to stretch their legs to wake up, maybe I need to stretch my eyes. A few days ago I saw that Buddha cast a cool shadow on the weathered, corrugated metal barn door. Snap. Minutes later, there was a fleeting moment when his tail moved back and forth in an area of light and shadow. See it quickly! Snap.

Ten years ago when I left my job as a newspaper photographer and began shooting weddings, I promised myself that I’d organize my life in a way so that I’d have time to shoot for my own enjoyment, as well as for clients and for income. The results of that plan are pleasing: I can look at my bookshelf today and count at least a dozen albums I’ve put together of personal pictures, images I’ve shot in this “new” phase of my life. And I have yet another scheme: I’m putting finishing touches on the mockup of a book I hope to get published, a photo-journal of our life here on two acres, the two acres our dogs and I walk each morning.

The Taoist, Lao-tzu, said: “He who knows he has enough is rich.” My mornings out with the sheep and chickens and the dogs make me feel like a wealthy man.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Comfort Food

It rained all day here yesterday. It was cool enough that I spent most of the day wearing a fleece pullover and a stocking cap. It’s raining again today, a gentle, steady rain, what the Navajos call a “Woman Rain.”

It’s beginning to look like summer has passed us by. Normally the weather here is darned-near perfect from mid-July through mid-September, daytime temperatures in the low 80’s, not much humidity, no rain. For those of us who live on the wet, west side of the Cascade Mountains, summer is what saves our sanity. We suck it up through nine months of rain and light deprivation, maintaining a tenuous, by-the-fingernails grip on mental health, hoping that summer will heal us. That’s not happening this year. I fear we will become a region of crazies.

I had to go to shoot in Seattle last Saturday. Leah spent the morning in our small orchard, picking apples. She canned applesauce, and, when I got home Saturday night, treated me to warm apple cobbler and ice cream. It was comfort food.

Who needs summer and sunshine? Not me. There’s still ice cream in the freezer, and Leah has promised to make more cobbler.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Our Barn

One of my neighbors is building a new barn and I’m pretty sure that when he sat down with paper and pencil to plan out what kind of structure he wanted, he didn’t look over at our barn for inspiration.

Our barn is a patchwork of wood-scraps, corrugated metal, and other odd bits of stuff. It was built many years ago by a fellow who hates to throw things away, who saves scraps of this-and-that for the day it can be put to use (a good ethic, if you ask me.) Our barn is not pretty but it is functional, and even reasonably weather-tight. Our sheep and chickens can spend the long, drippy, Pacific Northwest winter nights in the barn. If Leah ever gets really mad at me, I suppose the critters would share their shelter with me.

When we moved here about 12 years ago, some folks gave us a couple of goats, a male and a female. At first we thought the goats were a sweet couple and we named them Bill and Louise, after my in-laws. As time passed, we decided that the female goat was indeed a fine, gentle creature, but the male goat proved to be a surly, macho fellow, big of horns, dim of wit. He used his horns to bully Louise and to batter the heck out of the sides of the barn, just bang-bang-banging away on the walls for hours. If my father-in-law had seen the boorish behavior of his namesake, he would have demanded that the goat receive an immediate name-change. Eventually, we too gave the goats away, to people with more pasture and a sturdier barn.

Our barn is one of the places I like to go with my camera. Like the bear who went over the mountain, I go to the barn to see what I can see. We have a chicken named Goldie who comes out to watch me work. I can photograph Goldie and not worry about having to get a model's release.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happy Ending

There is a young man, a mountain climber, who has been missing on Mt. Adams the past two days. Leah, our friend Joelle, and I were on the mountain this past weekend with plans to climb, but events unfolded so that we became involved in the search for the lost climber. Today the three of us are back in Seattle and anxiously waiting for a call and for news from Yakima County Search and Rescue.

The phone just rang and I jumped to answer it.

GOOD NEWS! The climber was found last night, alive and well, after what sounds like an epic two days of being lost on the mountain. The Search and Rescue folks say the lost climber descended, then reascended the 12,276 foot peak, looking for a viable route. Leah and Joelle both had to go in to their offices to work today. I wish I could be there with them to see their joy when they hear the news that "our" climber is safe.

Here’s how it happened that the three of us became involved in something much more important than climbing a mountain...

Sunday we drove the nearly 300 miles to the base of Mt. Adams. What with stops at a Krispy Kreme for breakfast and a brewery in Hood River for lunch (donuts and beer: the Homer Simpson diet,) it was fairly late in the afternoon by the time we arrived at the Mt. Adams trailhead and shouldered overnight packs. We hiked for about three-and-a-half hours, gaining 3000 or 3500 feet, to a high camp at an elevation of around 8500 feet. It was windy and chilly and we griped a bit about how cold it was, since August is supposed to be nice here, fer-gawd-sake. We set up two tents (we don’t own a 3-man tent, so we had decided beforehand that we’d use two, 2-man tents.) Leah and Joelle climbed into one of the tents and began organizing food for dinner while I sat outside and fired-up our backpacker stove. We cooked and ate dinner and enjoyed an amazing sunset from our lofty perch. To the west of our campsite, Mt. St. Helens floated above the clouds and was puffing steam. South of us in Oregon, Mt Hood was behaving with a little less volcanic drama, but looked beautiful in her own right.

It got dark and we finished dinner. The three of us crossed our fingers, hoping for a night of clear skies. We’d heard that our night on the mountain should offer prime viewing of the Perseid meteor shower. We switched on headlamps and puttered around our tents. Looking up the slopes above us, I could see two climbers, also wearing headlamps, descending toward our camp site. I didn’t know it, but our weekend--and our plans to climb Mt. Adams--were about to change.

When the two climbers arrived at our tents, they asked if we had a cell phone (we did.) They explained that they needed to call for help, that, higher up the mountain, they’d become separated from a member of their climbing party . He was lost up there now in the dark. He had no overnight gear --the two fellows weren’t even sure their missing friend had a headlamp or flashlight. After the two young climbers used our phone to call 911, I knew it’d be foolish to go up the mountain, searching in the dark. I insisted the two climbers spend the night in our camp. We gave them hot food, and we told them to get into one of our tents. We also gave them a sleeping bag to zip open, blanket-style, and share. Leah, Joelle and I piled into the other tent.

Monday morning at 6 AM, a Search and Rescue specialist from Yakima County called my cell phone. His name was Mark and he said he was assembling a search crew to check the lower west slope of Mt. Adams, and was also sending a Mountain Rescue climber up toward our camp. I proposed to Mark that I ask the two climbers now in our camp to join Joelle and me, and the four of us would search the snow slopes above camp. Leah would stay in camp so that someone would be there to offer assistance, should the missing climber wind up there. Mark and I agreed to stay in touch via cell phone.

By Monday afternoon, we hadn’t had any luck finding the missing climber above our camp, and Mark’s search team was in position and at work. A search plane was also flying overhead. Because there was nothing more Leah, Joelle and I could do, the three of us packed up our tents and overnight gear and headed back down the mountain. Three hours later we reached the climbing trailhead, where we finally met Mark in person. After a day of cell phone conversations, it was good to connect a face with the voice. We also met the worried parents of one of the climbers. They’d come to the mountain to wait, and hope their presence would be some kind of support.

Apparently it wasn't long after we left the mountain that the missing climber was found. Some stories in life do have happy endings. Leah, Joelle and I are pleased that this is one of them.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Gone Climbing

It'll be a short post today. We’ve gone off to the mountains. We have a climb in mind. Wish us luck.

Muir said: "Mountains speak and wise men listen." We'll be all ears.

Next post Wednesday 8/15, mountain gods willing.


Friday, August 10, 2007


Not long ago, a photographer friend and I spent about an hour talking with a teenage girl who is interested in photography. The girl’s mother felt her daughter would benefit from some mentoring, so my friend and I sat down with the girl, showed her some of our own work, and also showed her books full of photographs by the great masters. We told her about our enthusiasm for photography and that, for us, taking pictures is a joy, not a job. We encouraged the girl to shoot, shoot, shoot, and to always keep it fun.

After that meeting, I got to thinking about my own teenage years. My parents were both music teachers and I know I made them crazy because, as a high school trumpet player, I enjoyed music but wasn’t so good about sitting alone in my room, practicing my horn. Scales and exercises bored me to death. I listened to albums by “Blood, Sweat and Tears” and wished that I could play music that way...

Then something AMAZING happened: I discovered PHOTOGRAPHY! Flash! A light went on in my teenage head, and it was intense. The camera--”taking pictures”--was something so enjoyable for me, I could (and did) practice, and it never felt boring. To this day, 30-plus years later, I am still practicing with my camera, always learning. My everyday shooting does not always produce great art, but it is certainly an exercise I do happily. I walk to the mailbox and along the way I take a few pictures of my neighbors' horse. All the while, tunes by “Blood, Sweat and Tears” play in my head.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Stylin' Glasses

Some friends of mine recently hosted a party, a real fancy-schmantzy event. They hired a caterer to bring in upper-crust food, a professional decorator to pretty-up the party space, a live band for entertainment. And though it seemed that all stops were being pulled out to make the event something special, my friends knew that their crowd would be VERY Northwest--hikers, sailboat racers, aging hippies. The party invitations my friends sent out made a funny but quite realistic two-word suggestion about proper guest attire: “Seattle Formal,” the invitation said. Meaning: wear new flip-flops, clean jeans, and maybe a plain, black t-shirt, not the one with “Bush Sucks” printed on the front.

We’re pretty informal folks up in this corner of the country--I think the photo above speaks to this point. I had errands to do yesterday in Seattle so I rode Leah’s little 125cc scooter to the ferry dock and got on a boat to the city. During the ferry trip I shot a couple of pictures of myself, looking kind of Darth Vader-ish in my helmet. Going through the photos later, I realized that my eyewear is the most stylin’ thing about me, while the rest of me is quite ordinary. For my cool glasses, I can thank a young man named Dan.

Dan worked at Market Optical in Seattle. He was friendly, funny, and easy to like. A couple of years ago when I needed new glasses, it was Dan who convinced me that even a hiker, rural-living, Amish-leaning simple guy like me could feel at ease in a pair of stylin' eyeglasses, and Dan was right. In the two years I’ve had my cool eyewear, I've been amazed and surprised at how many people have complimented me on my glasses, making me feel like, yes, I’m okay with some style on my face.

Whenever my glasses needed tweaking or the fit got loose, I’d go to Dan and he’d fix ‘em right up. When Leah needed new glasses, I suggested she go to Dan, and she too thought he was a great guy.

About a week ago I called the optical shop to make an appointment for my yearly eye exam. It was a woman who answered the phone, but I didn’t recognize her voice. After making my appointment, I asked her to tell Dan that Kurt said Hi. There was an uncomfortable silence. Then the woman told me that Dan had passed away, killed on his birthday when he was hit by a car. The driver was drunk and going 70 when she hit Dan. He was crossing a street, in a crosswalk. He died instantly.

I realize now that I don’t know Dan’s last name, but I know I liked him, I will miss him, and Leah will miss him too. I realize also that there are people we encounter in our everyday lives who are bigger than just “Guy Who Fixes My Car” or “Guy Who Sold Me Glasses.”

Namaste, Dan. We celebrate the goodness in you.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Today I thought I share something I like from Annie Dillard’s book “The Writing Life”:

Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment. Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. At length he turned to the young man: “You submit the same landscape every year, and every year I put it in the bad stack. Why do you like it so much?” The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.”

Friday, August 3, 2007

Gandhi's Words

We look at the calendar with eager anticipation, but we’re also a little nervous. Our trip to Nepal is only a bit more than two months away. Leah and I agree that it’s time to turn up the intensity of our training hikes.

When we trek this fall in the Solo Khumbu (Mt. Everest) region of Nepal, our daily itinerary is planned so that, mountain gods willing, we’ll avoid altitude sickness. Our trek begins in Lukla, 9,200 feet, and our eventual high point, several weeks later, will be 18, 500 feet. Along the way we'll gain, loose, then regain enough elevation so that, mathematically, we will have more than climbed Mt. Everest, but our days are planned so we’ll ascend gradually, giving our bodies a chance to acclimatize.

This is some adventure we have planned.

Gandhi said: “There’s more to life than increasing its speed,” and we try to keep those words in mind, particularly when we’re walking in the mountains. Last evening we hiked a trail to the top of a small peak in the nearby Olympic National Forest. The trail is a meager two miles one-way, but there is a two thousand foot elevation gain (for a trail, that’s a fairly steep grade.) We moved at a steady pace and allowed ourselves time to enjoy the scenery, while also getting a good workout. The views from the top of the mountain were a kind of Pacific Northwest Greatest Hits, the water of Puget Sound off in one direction, the ridges and peaks of the Olympic Mountains in another.

We’re excited about the experiences that might lie ahead for us in Nepal. Last night, though, at home in our local mountains, there was no reason to think about the future. The present was most excellent.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

At Our Best

If there are intelligent beings in other galaxies, I hope they can’t see the ways humans on planet Earth use our Internet, or read what's in our e-mail. Earthlings, when viewed from afar and through the lens of the Web, must seem like a bunch of con artists. At the very least, the "spam" in my e-mail In-Box suggests that our planet is full-to-overflowing with shady characters would like to steal my personal information, or get me to buy a truckload of cheap Viagra.

Some of my friends ask me--politely, but pointedly--why I spend valuable, creative time and energy posting photographs and words on-line. Why Blog? (Admittedly, even the word “blog” is kind of awkward and inelegant.) I reply that my online journal is a challenging, creative outlet, a place where I can share my personal work that otherwise would go unseen. Perhaps I’m also posting a blog as my way of demonstrating to the Cosmos the good side of humanity, as if to say : "This is what we humans can be, when we are not popping pills, not trying to con some unsuspecting innocent out of their bank account numbers, not trying to sell worthless swampland."

I do two kinds of photography: professional work that generates income (generally this means I am covering weddings, shooting in a catch-the-moment style of a photojournalist;) and personal work (the everyday, visual journal I do with a camera--imagery that produces no income whatsoever.) I’m very serious about both kinds of photography, but most often it’s my personal work that you’ll find on this forum, if only because I have a Web site where people can go to see my professional images.

Today, however, I’ve decided to post two recent wedding photographs, I guess because the pictures for me blur the line--they are professional images that I also find personally pleasing. I like the pictures because, like weddings themselves, they say something about human grace and joy. They show us at our best.

Additionally, you might check out the blog (linked below) that my friend Carol did today. It’s called “Mistie the Moo,” and it’s quite nice.