Friday, May 30, 2008

Amusing Myself

I shot both of these pictures the same day. Maybe it’s just me, but these images make me laugh. In my head I can hear the dogs and the llamas saying “It’s over, it’s over there.”

This imaginary conversation on the part of the four-leggeds reminds me of the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on first?...What’s on second? I dunno’s on third.”

Whatever the critters are looking for, I hope they find it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In Recovery

I have owned way too much camera equipment in the 30-some years I’ve been making my living as a photographer (my friends reading this will, at this point, nod their heads in emphatic agreement.) I started out my career using Nikons, then I switched to Leicas, then went back to Nikons. In my more recent life as an over-consumer of cameras, I’ve owned a Hasselblad system (for landscape work, ) more Leicas, and Canons. I have boxes and boxes of shoulder bags, backpacks and waistpacks, all designed with camera gearheads like me in mind, so that we can schlep all the crap we own. Don’t even get me started telling you about my tripod collection.

This past weekend I shot many hundreds of photographs over the long Memorial Day holiday--some at a wedding where I used my all-out “pro” camera gear--but many around the house when we hosted a neighborhood get-together and I did personal pictures using the snapshot camera I always carry in my pocket. I think I can say (hopefully) that maybe, possibly, I’m recovering from my overly-consumptive ways, finally taking to heart two (obvious) Photographic Truisms:

A camera is not much good if you don’t have it with you, and

Keep it simple, stupid.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Simply Sitting

Over a year ago when I began posting this online journal, my intention was to share my everyday, personal pictures, the images I do as a kind of visual diary. Often these pictures are not extraordinary--in fact, if the images have any value at all, it is because they are utterly, absolutely, breathtakingly ordinary.

Sometimes I’m a tad reluctant to post these photographs on what is, after all, the worldwide Web. The very same computer you’re using to view these quiet, unspectacular photographic moments of my life can lead you to images of the Big Stories of our planet: war in Iraq, an earthquake in China, a cyclone in Myanmar.

Still, I have to believe that “little moments” matter. I look out the window and see our cat sitting in a chair in our garden, watching over a jar of honey. I walk into the kitchen and see beautiful light shining on a chair and an empty dog bowl.

Lately I’ve read several short but wise books by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book “The Miracle of Mindfulness," the Zen master writes about meditation, and gives advice on sitting quietly, mindful in the moment:

“If you cannot find joy and peace in these very moments of sitting, then the future itself will only flow by as a river flows by, you will not be able to hold it back, you will be incapable of living the future when it has become the present. Joy and peace are the joy and peace possible in this very hour of sitting. If you cannot find it here, you won’t find it anywhere.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Seeing Trees

My mother lives in Ohio and when she comes to my home in the Pacific Northwest to visit, she can’t stop talking about the evergreen trees out here, how tall they are, and beautiful.

I’ve learned that it’s a good thing to see one’s everyday surroundings through the eyes of a visitor. The things I sometimes take for granted--views of snow-covered mountains, even in the summer, and how amazingly green it is here--are indeed gifts, and when my mom visits I’m reminded that I live in one very special place.

The trees that my mom loves are, unfortunately, a valuable commodity here. One of my neighbors had a death in their family recently and they had to cut down many of the big trees on their property to pay funeral costs. Another neighbor is going through a divorce and I saw yesterday that she’s cutting an access road into the woods on her land. I’m afraid those trees might be the latest casualty of a marriage gone bad, a way my neighbor will buy-out her ex-husband’s financial share of the place.

Every spring I buy doug fir and cedar seedling trees from our local conservation organization. I’ve planted hundreds of trees in the 13 years we’ve lived on our place, and the babies grow in the shadows of the giant old cedars that were here when we came. Some of the first seedlings I planted, 10 inches high when I put them in the ground, are probably 15 feet tall now.

I understand my neighbors’ needs to pay their bills, but I also know that if Leah and I fell on financial hard times, I would sell my soul before I cut down the trees.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Seeing Spring

I walked around this morning saying howdy to the trees and flowers that surround our house and barn. There’s a green here this time of year that hurts my eyes and gets the photographer in me weak in the knees, and, when I sit down to write about what I have seen, the word "fecundity" comes to mind. The doug firs are a-bustin’ out their new, neon green growth, the birds are belting out songs that I’m absolutely sure translate as ”I’m in the mood for love,” and the frogs...well the frogs have got themselves a bawdy and deafening nighttime chorus going that tells me that our pond is a place of sex, sex, and more sex.

Fecundity. There’s a hell of a lot of fecundity going on out there, and it’s not just at our
place--our neighbors see spring’s showy bling in the woods and fields around their houses too. A friend down the road called me to let me know about a patch of trillium blooming near her house, and invited me to come photograph them. I took my camera over and had just the best time playing flower photographer: wide shots of 10 or 12 blossoms, tight images of individual plants.

And though the Pacific Northwest has the market cornered on the color green, come evening there’s often a gold to be seen that I guarantee will make any
photographer--any observant individual, really--shed tears of I’m-Not-Worthy joy. I looked out the window recently to see that the end-of-day light was a living, glowing thing, illuminating a Tibetan prayer flag, kissing the new growth of leaves on the young trees in front of our house.

During the dark and rainy winter months, I guess my neighbors and I get a little stir crazy. Come spring it’s time to appreciate things that grow, and to celebrate light.

Fecundity. We’re down with that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In the Desert

Sometimes black and white photographs can be so darned beautiful, I find myself wondering why human beings have eyes that see in color.

My brother and sister-in-law are visiting Arizona this week. Their trip prompted me to dig around and unearth some black and white images I remembered I’d shot when Leah and I visited the Tucson area in 2002. I’d never printed the images, they were just filed away in a box and kind of forgotten.

Back when Leah and I did our Sonoran Desert trip, we were joined by our friends, Jim and Karen. The four of us stayed in a house outside Tucson, within walking distance of Saguaro National Park. Early each morning we’d go for a hike in the park, and later we’d venture off to photograph old churches and missions. In the evenings we relaxed back at the house, and javelinas (wild pigs) came snorting around, inviting themselves to our little cocktail party.

Jim and Karen live in the Washington DC area, and each week they post a web site of photos and notes from their hikes and adventures. Their post this week features their amazing color images of a light display at the National Cathedral. I invite you to check it out:

Friday, May 9, 2008


I know why there are windows on our house: It’s so the cat who is outside can look in, and the dogs who are inside can look out. Any human use of said windows assumes that the human doesn’t mind peering through a slimy layer of nose smudges, left behind by the four-leggeds.

Windows and pets. Pets and windows. I seem to have stumbled upon a photographic theme in my life (it’s unintentional and unwanted, believe me.)

This week I went around with a bucket of clean water, a sponge and a towel and de-boogered our windows. The clean lasted about an hour. Next thing I knew, there was a cat nose print on the glass, then an I-Was-Here calling card smudge left by one of the dogs.

Not only do our windows sometimes make our house look a tad unkempt, don't get me started talking about our carpets. Spring is the time of year when the dogs shed their winter coats. We vacuum like crazy. I take the critters outside and brush them and brush them, and still they come back inside and leave a bunch of their former selves here and there.

"Love our pets, love their leavings" is pretty much the way we hafta live around here. Makes me crazy, in a happy kind of way--a way that probably only a pet lover can understand.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Close to Home

I’ve been hiking and climbing in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest for 30 years. Though there is no such thing as a bad day in the mountains, some of the trips I’ve done have been so over-the-top amazing that I’ve gotten into a routine of making them into yearly pilgrimages.

There is a waterfall in Mt. Rainier National Park. I hike there late in the spring to see the cascading snowmelt plunge 300 feet down a rockface. I stand in the warm sunshine looking up at the falls and the spray of the water washes over me, a kind of seasonal baptism.

In the heat of summer when the lowlands feel like an outdoor oven, I sweat and trudge uphill all day to get to a high mountain pass, seven thousand feet up. The air is cool in that alpine country and there’s a rock, a granite chaise lounge, where I lay back and watch the sun set. In the dark and by the light of a flashlight, I hike back down the trail to my car.

I know a lake in the backcountry of the Mt. Stuart area. The lake is surrounded by larch trees, a conifer whose needles turn yellow-gold in the fall. Come October 15th, that lake and those trees call to me. I have usually answered the call. I admit to being a shameless junkie in need of a fix of serenity and beauty.

As much as I have loved these travels, I’m sadly learning--as we all are--that the planet can’t sustain the kind of driving I’ve done to make my pilgrimages into nature. My trips will be fewer now. I’ll be more selective about where I travel, and when.

Inconvenient, this truth about climate change.

Still, I’m choosing to hope that our planet will teach us good lessons, if only we’ll listen. Leah and I stayed close to home this past weekend, and by not driving to the mountains we got to know one of our neighbors a little better. Our neighbor has big eyes and he’s kind of green, but we like him. Maybe I can learn some stuff from this green fella.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Speaking for Sheep

Spring is very much a Bad News/Good News time of year for Smokey, Jupiter and Sweet Pea, the three sheep who live at our place. The Bad News (from a woolly creature point of view): “That lady with the clippers comes around and takes our nice warm fleeces. It’s still chilly out at night. Now we’ll hafta sleep in the barn for the next three weeks.”

The Good News (again, I’m taking the liberty of interpreting for the sheep, based on the contented looks I saw on their faces): “Those spring rains sure make for good grass to eat.”

Unfortunately the shearing process is not an exact science. Sometimes the fleeces come off easily and smoothly; occasionally our sheep-boys are left having to cope with the humility of a Bad Hair Month. This year Sweet Pea particularly looked a bit raggedy, post-shearing. I thought the sheep might enjoy a bit of entertainment. I sang a little song for them:

Baa Baa Shetlands
Have You Any Wool?

Yes Sir, Yes Sir,

Three Bags Full

“Tee-hee-hee,” I giggled.
“Bite Me,” replied Sweet Pea.