Thursday, January 31, 2008

Food Bowl Theatrics

Here are some bumper stickers I really enjoy:

--I (Heart) My Dog
--Wag More, Bark Less
--Dog Is My Co-Pilot
--The More People I Meet, The More I Like My Dog
--My Dog Is Smarter Than Your Honor Student

And my all-time favorite:
--My Dog Is Smarter Than Your President

The above phrases come to mind today as I share these photos of my son Abell’s dog, Buddha. Several years ago when Abell lived in New Orleans, he adopted Buddha from the Humane Society of Louisiana. Abell was told that Buddha's first owners had named him "Chandler" (after the character on the TV show, “Friends.”) It's my theory that when a human names a puppy after a lame-o dude on television, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when--once the dog outgrows the Cute Puppy Phase--the sorry human tires of the animal and puts it up for adoption.

The folks at the Humane Society decided that “Buddha” was a much more appropriate name for this serious and wise fellow. Abell came along and decided to follow the path of the Buddha (or Buddha followed Abell, I'm not sure which.)

As you can see, Buddha does seem to copy the oh-so-cute shtick of another TV character (Snoopy) in his vaudevillian performance of the How-Can-I-Get-People-To-Fill-My-Food-Dish? act. (You might remember that the talented Snoopy could balance his bowl on his head.) Because Buddha’s previous owner apparently overfed him, our vet suggested that Buddha be put on a diet, and our four-legged housemate is obviously less-than-happy about it.

Look at these moments of Food Bowl Drama. Could YOU resist dropping a kibble in the bowl as an offering to The Hungry Buddha?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Red Barn

I feel fortunate to have some good neighbors.

Nearly all of the people who live around here give a friendly wave when they walk or drive by. There are probably a dozen homes around mine, small places tucked here and there into the woods. My neighbors and I are at the end of a country road. The only people who come out here are those who live here, or those who are lost.

I guess I must be known as "The Guy Who Takes Pictures." My neighbors see me out with my camera, usually at sunrise or sunset, looking toward the trees and the clouds. Often my neighbors are out as well; they’re splitting firewood or working in their garden or just sitting on the porch, and they too are watching the sky. “Nice time to take pictures!” my neighbors yell to me.

Yesterday morning as the sun was about to rise, I walked down the lane that leads toward my house. It had snowed overnight and the trees, pastures, houses and barns were blanketed in beautiful winter white. Amazing clouds filled the sky over the red barn where, most every spring, my friends Clint and Cindi host a neighborhood picnic. It’s a very cool event. My neighbors and I come out of our houses in the woods. We put aside garden chores for the day. We eat burgers and brownies. Clint invites some of his musician friends and there is fiddlin’ into the night.

People are friendly out here, yes, but this is, after all, a rural area. Folks respect one-another’s privacy. Clint and Cindi’s barn picnic gives neighbors a chance to visit and socialize.

Standing out in the snow yesterday, I guess my mind wandered. Even as my eyes and my camera were focused on winter, my brain was hearing fiddle music.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Free Day

It snowed last night--probably about three or four inches here at our house, a LOT more up in the mountains. The bus that Leah takes as part of her commute into Seattle wasn’t running (even minor snowfall here brings transportation to a standstill) so she worked from home.

We’re hearing that in the next several days, there could be snowfall totals in the mountains of one to three feet, and avalanche danger is very high. This means that I probably won’t be going up into the high country to snowshoe this coming weekend.

I walked around our property this morning. It was eerily silent--no cars could be heard in the distance, no dogs barking, no planes flying overhead. I like it that snow is unusual here in the Puget Sound lowlands. Rather than being a nuisance or an inconvenience, snow is viewed as a pleasant oddity. Our local NPR station did a call-in program, asking listeners what they planned to do with their “free day.” It sounded like lots of books would be read, a few closets would be organized.

As you might expect, I spent an hour or so this morning, looking for pictures. Then I came inside, corresponded with clients, edited a recent wedding shoot.

I thought about cleaning out my closet, but decided that didn’t sound like any fun at all.

Friday, January 25, 2008


The weather has been clear the past several days in Seattle and citizens have reported seeing a USO--Unidentified Shining Object--in the sky.

I’m told that in far-off lands--in a place called Arizona, for example--these sightings are common, and that the shining object is called The Sun. Where I live this object is rarely seen, at least at this time of year. Our local TV stations have dispatched news teams to cover the Sun Sightings. I must admit that, as a former journalist, I too have sensed the importance and the gravity of this event, and have taken camera in hand.

I was in Seattle yesterday and noticed that, as the day drew to an end, the Shining Object seemed to descend lower and lower into the western sky. Clouds near the horizon took on an unbelievable color. The city’s best-known landmark, the Space Needle, suddenly listed to the right and appeared for a moment as if it was about to tip over (I’m almost positive I was holding the camera level.)

This morning, more USO-related weirdness was afoot. Shadows that one never sees here in January were cast by the curtains in my bathroom window. Our medicine cabinet looked frighteningly spooky. I think I heard tiny aliens inside, stealing my deodorant. Later I went into the kitchen where Leah had placed tulips on the table. The tulips were fairly glowing in a way that I suspect indicates dangerous levels of radiation.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Facts of (Art) Life

Child: “Mommy, where do babies come from?”

Mother: “Well, honey...babies start out as tiny stars in the nighttime sky. The stars fall to earth and Mommies and Daddies gather them up, give them love, and the stars grow up to become beautiful little children.”

Child (a few years later, when he/she feels creative stirrings and becomes interested in making Art): “Mom, I feel that I have Art inside me. How do I get it to come out?”

Mother: “Hell if I know, dear.”

Even though I have been making photographs for over 30 years, I would be hard pressed to tell you just where it is that my pictures come from. Geographically, I can say that many of the images that I shoot for myself and for my own enjoyment are made no more than one hundred yards from my front door. Creatively, all I know is that I take my camera into the woods near my house, or out to our barn. I play a little visual game: What can I see today? If I find images I like, fine. If not, I try to remind myself that this photo journey I’m on is an exercise, a visual workout. It needs to be fun.

The process of seeing and making pleasing pictures can be Heavy Labor, or it can be a Cakewalk. You just never know. The one thing I do know is this: If I find a photograph today, I will consider myself fortunate. If not, I will go out again tomorrow, hoping that maybe a star will fall from the sky...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

White Rain

It rarely snows at my house. Yes, it is true that most times of the year I can look to the west up at the Olympic Mountains and see snow, but down here where I live in the lowlands of Puget Sound, it’s usually rain that we experience. And rain. And more rain.

It seems like the best we can hope for in terms of snow (and then, it’s only hope) is maybe one good blast a year. When I look out the windows and see the strange white stuff blanketing our property, I grab a camera and run out to document the event, like it was some Big News Story.

I have just the best time.

I was going through some of the personal pictures I shot in 2007, organizing my archive. I came across some images I kind of like from our Big Snow of ‘07 (the storm was in the first week of March, when the spring crocuses were beginning to poke their hopeful heads above ground, and my son Abell and I were getting twitchy because Opening Day of Seattle Mariners baseball was only a month away.)

Right about now, I wouldn’t mind seeing snow outside my window.

We’ve all pretty much had our fill of rain.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Habitat Lost

A developer is cutting trees not far from where I live. He’s bulldozing land and building gawd-awful huge McMansions in an area that had been the habitat of coyotes, deer, and a bear. A number of people who live around here (including yours truly) realized we probably couldn’t stop the new construction, but we wanted to make sure the project was being done responsibly. We hired a lawyer.

Bulldozers are working right near an osprey nest! we argued. A creek is being plundered!

As is usually the case in situations like this, the developer had more money to spend on attorneys than my neighbors and I did, so the houses are going up.

I wonder what the developer will call his project? Will he follow the marketing example set by his land-clearing, house-building brethren who have come before him in the "settling" of other wild places? What I’m asking is this: Will the developer name his project after the animals who have lost their habitat, or the land features that have been bulldozed? Maybe this new development will be called “Bear Creek Estates,” or “Coyote Woods”?

Two night ago, I saw the most amazing cloud hovering over the area where the bulldozers have been working. It was a cloud that was both beautiful and ominous. As the sun set, the cloud took-on an otherworldly glow.

I think Mother Nature might be looking down on those earth-moving machines, and I believe she is pissed.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Sir Edmund

I’m sure that there is a feeling of loss today in Nepal.

Sir Edmund Hillary died yesterday in New Zealand at the age of 88. He was known throughout the world as the first man to successfully climb Mt. Everest, but in Nepal he was beloved for his humanitarian efforts on behalf of the people of that Himalayan nation.

I didn’t know Sir Edmund personally, but I have walked in his footsteps and I have seen that he casts a considerable shadow. When Leah and I visited Nepal in November, I stood in awe, looking up at the mountain that Hillary summited in 1953 (with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.) Later we visited the school Hillary and his family built in the village of Khumjung for the Sherpa children of the region. We saw the good that one human can try to do for others.

It’s my understanding that when Sir Edmund was asked to look back on what he’d accomplished in life, he downplayed his climb of the world’s highest peak. He talked instead about the achievements of his foundation, the Himalayan Trust: the building of 30 schools, several clinics, and two air strips. At the same time, it is said that he worried about the intrusion of the modern world into the simple lives of the hill people of the region.

As Leah and I walked around at the Khumjung school, the students proudly took us to a small room that they use as an art gallery. Leah bought a drawing that a 13-year-old girl did of the things in her world: the Musk deer, the high and wild landscape, the Buddhist prayer flags.

The students made us feel at home. I shot a portrait of a girl smiling at me through a screened window. Moments later we were flattered when the girl asked if we’d like to sit-in on her class.

I sense that Sir Edmund was an amazing man. I wish our paths had crossed while I was in Nepal. My guess is that we could have had a good talk about being drawn to a country by a high mountain, but falling in love with the people who live there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Living Things

Today is Fence Repair Day here.

We had a big rain and wind storm last week and an old, dead alder tree fell on the electric fence that surrounds our sheep pasture. Don’t tell the coyotes that live in the woods outside the fence this, but there is no “pop” in the wires that separate the coyotes from our chickens and our sheep. That situation will be remedied today.

A cedar tree, this one living, was another casualty of the storm. The wind blew so hard that some of the roots of the cedar pulled up out of the soggy earth. When the storm had passed, the tree was left tipping precariously at about a 45-degree angle. Some of the roots held, but I worried that the cedar (with a trunk perhaps a foot-and-a-half in diameter) might one day fall on one of our sheep. Yesterday I used a chainsaw to cut the tree down. I hated doing it. I admired the way the tree was clinging to life.

I would not make a good logger, and Leah would not be a good logger’s wife. She stood and watched as my saw made about a two inch cut into the cedar. The tree bent even further. The trunk cracked and snapped. The cedar fell to the ground with a crash.

I looked at Leah and saw that there were tears in her eyes.

Monday, January 7, 2008


There’s a slogan printed on the lining of my bright, neon-yellow bicycling rain jacket: “Never A Bad Time To Ride,” the cheery message proclaims. “Great,” I think to myself, “just what I need: A pep talk from my sports clothes.”

I looked out the window of my house yesterday morning to see that, not only were we getting a dose of the Pacific Northwest’s typical chilly January rain, but the wet stuff was blowing horizontally. Nevertheless, I took my jacket-maker’s inspiring sermon to heart, steered my two-wheeled steed out into the elements and headed off for a ride around Bainbridge Island (billed not-so-humbly as “Beautiful Bainbridge Island” on license plate frames I saw on cars that splashed past me.)

Yikes! Sales Pitches coming at me from This Way and That! Such is life in the country that a social critic referred to as “The United States of Advertising.”

For the record, I should admit that I’m kind of over-the-top blown-away by the simple practicality of the bicycle. Plain, no-nonsense recreation or transportation on the one hand, sometimes a finely-crafted work of art on the other, I think that bicycles are amazing machines. A diamond-shaped steel frame, a couple of wheels, a chain and a seat--why an investment of $500 in a bike would easily make it possible for an individual to ride from Los Angeles to New York City with not a penny spent on gas, not one puff of planet-warming carbon spewed into the air.

Yesterday, it seemed the photographer in me was fixated on bike spokes. On my front porch as I prepped my bike for the ride, I noticed that the patterns and lines of my bike’s front wheel contrasted nicely with the design of our wooden porch bench. Later, as I rode along the shore of Bainbridge, the bike spokes struck me as a visual element that I could play with and incorporate into a quick self-portrait.

You’ll notice that in the self-portrait, there is sunlight breaking through the rain clouds and beginning to shine on the waters of Puget Sound. As the sloganeers and pitchmen would be quick to point out:

“It was a good day to ride...On Beautiful Bainbridge Island.”

Friday, January 4, 2008

Breaking Rules

If you pay any attention at all to photography, you know that it is a medium of rules:

--Don’t shoot into the sun.
--Never compose a photograph so that the subject is in the center of the frame.
--Always try for a composition where there is something going on in all corners of the image.
--Blah Blah Blah

Well, I have bookshelves filled with photography anthologies that prove that rules are at their best when ignored. Some of the greatest photographs ever made break this rule or that.

Two friends (they happen to be photographers) were here visiting us during the holidays. We took a drive up to Hurricane Ridge in the nearby Olympic National Park. Our drive started out in typical, Puget Sound-area rain and mist. It was probably 40 degrees. By the time we reached Hurricane Ridge (5240 feet in elevation,) temperatures were in the ‘teens, the landscape was covered in snow, and visibility was zero. We’d driven into fog.

Still, we were photographers. We would not be denied. On a day when it seemed like finding photographs would be difficult or impossible, we looked. And we looked. And we looked. Two pictures I shot are posted here, and they both are rule-breakers. One image has nothing but a white emptiness on one side of the composition. The other was shot right into the sun. But both photographs do follow My Number One Rule:

Photography I do for myself should be fun.

My friends and I had a great day. We got out into nature and we took a few pictures. On the trip home we stopped for wonderful Thai food. Life was good.

To heck with the rules.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Prima Donnas

My macro lens and my camera don’t like each other, and my job as “The Photographer” is to try to resolve the differences these two pieces of equipment have with one-another.

On the face of it, macro (close-up) photography seems very easy. Viewed through my camera and lens, dew drops on a blade of grass or the veins running through a brightly-colored autumn leaf just scream to be photographed--until the camera and the lens start their bickering. The conflict goes something like this:

--Photographer (me): “I found this great leaf, kind of decayed but still with autumn color in it. I think it’ll make a cool macro photograph. I want every vein of the leaf to be in focus.”

--Lens: “That’s fine, I can make everything sharp. Set me at f22.”

--Camera: “Okay, if Lens wants f22, then I want a shutter speed of two seconds.”

(Enter an uninvited guest: Mr. Winter Wind. He blows the beautiful leaf around during the two-second exposure, making the image appear blurry--not cool blurry, but out-of-focus-looking blurry.)

--Lens: “Not my fault. Mister Photographer said he wanted everything in focus.”

--Camera: “Not my fault either. The light meter inside me says I needed a two-second exposure.”

--Photographer: “Lens! Camera! STOP your yelling! I’m trying to remember the Photographer’s Prayer that is supposed to stop the freaking wind!”

I mumble a few words. I hope I’ve said the right damn prayer.

Lens, Camera and I wait. And we wait. And we wait.

Finally, it seems like Winter Winter has died-down for a moment. The beautiful leaf is motionless. The Photographer (me) fires the camera.
I hold my breath for the two seconds the shutter is open, praying (again) that nothing goes wrong.

--Lens: “Check it out. Every vein in focus.”

--Camera: “Lens, you always think the image is about YOU, but you’re NOTHING without ME.”

--Winter Wind: “Boys, there’s a new sheriff in town. From now on, you all are going to have to learn to play by MY rules.”

--Photographer: (I babble incoherently, as if possessed by demons.)