Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No Help Needed

There were several amazing, mature trees towering over this property when we moved here 12 years ago. Growing in their stately shadows now are probably 150 seedling doug firs and cedars that I’ve planted myself, trees that were babies when I put them in the ground but are practically tree-adolescents now, some over 15 feet tall.

When the snow began falling one morning several days ago, I got up early. In that dim, blue light just before dawn, I put my camera on a tripod and photographed the small forest that is growing up just outside our back door. A bit later I pulled on my boots and wandered around outside, taking in the holiday-card imagery that was to be found with every step. They say that was a record snowfall we had, the biggest storm in 20 years.

Tomorrow I want to get out and stake-up a few of my trees that got pushed a little sideways in the high winds, trees that sagged under the weight of unfamiliar snow.

The trees probably don’t really need my help, but I guess I like to think they do.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Learning By Not Doing

We’ve had more snow the past four days here in the lowlands of Puget Sound than we normally see in an entire winter, but today the temperatures are going into a more normal 40-degree range and The Big Melt has begun.

Living as Leah and I do at the end of a rural road, Mr. Snow Plow Man from the county rarely makes it out to our neck of the woods, and our comings-and-goings by car this week have been difficult and generally an exercise in spinning-one’s-wheels. At last count I think we’ve gotten the car stuck in our own football-field-length driveway at least a half-dozen times. My beat-up old cross country skis have been a far better way to get around.

Kick-and-glide, kick-and-glide. When we moved to the state of Washington 30 years ago and I learned that the Cascade Mountains are buried in snow at least 6 months of the year, cross country skis were one of my first purchases. Later I bought snowshoes too, and I formulated this simple Outdoor Algebra:

Skiing = Falling.
Falling = Ouch.
Snowshoeing = Remaining Upright.
Remaining Upright = Less Ouch.

I kind of put the skis aside and generally did my winter hiking trips on snowshoes. Only this week did I dig the skis out for tours around my neighborhood...and do you know what I learned? I discovered that I’ve magically become a better skier than I remember being. Like someone who learns a foreign language by listening to tapes while they sleep, I’ve gotten better at skiing by leaving the skis stored, untouched, in the garage for the past 20 years.

There’s a trumpet out in our garage that I haven’t played since high school. I wonder whether my no-practice-equals-success method of learning means I can now play the Hayden Trumpet Concerto?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Practical Fellow

Sweet Pea is no dummy.

Unfamiliar as our sheep are with cold white flakes falling from the sky, Sweet Pea ventured out into this week’s Big Snowstorm -- "Worst of All-Time!"... "One For the Ages!" according to local TV news -- just long enough to get a face full of chilly white stuff. Sweet Pea seemed to learn quite quickly that this Winter Wonderland thing might appeal to humans who go around singing that they’re “Dreaming of a White Christmas,” but sheep are far too smart to fall for such sentimentality. He retreated back into the barn and watched the snow fall from a respectable distance.

Only the silly man with the camera -- the guy whose pockets were stuffed with Christmas cookies, who had that goofy, sugar-high smile pasted on his face -- only he and TV reporters are crazy enough to be out in that weather!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Never Snows Here

When we first moved to the Puget Sound region thirty years ago, local legend had it that the weather was generally mild -- never terribly hot in the summer or cold in the winter -- and that the city of Seattle didn’t even have a snowplow, not a single one. I doubt that was true, but it made for a good real estate come-on as this became one of the fastest-growing parts of the country.

I’m not some kind of zealot working for the Truth Police, but I have to report that most of Western Washington has been chilly and snow-covered the past few days. While statistics say temperatures should be in the 40’s and Seattle commuters should be carrying umbrellas to keep themselves and their lattes dry as they make their way to the office in the winter rain, the reality is that it’s been below freezing. TV news tells me -- as I watch from a safe distance, outside the city -- that lots of folks are staying home from work because the roadways are nearly impassable, coated first in ice, then snow.

The power goes out with little provocation in the rural area where I live, but it’s soldiered on this week. I’ve been able to work at my computer in my office at home, editing my wedding clients’ pictures. Yesterday afternoon I put on cross country skis and toured the snowy landscape around my house, looking for personal pictures. There was a bicycle (it serves as a flower planter in the summer) that looked visually interesting (in a snowbound, not-going-anywhere kind of way); and a very frozen birdbath. Later, as I warmed-up indoors, I photographed the gentle pattern and sweep of curtains, in contrast with the graphically bold railing of our deck.

Much heavier snow is forecast for the weekend. This is exciting stuff here in an area where snow is supposed to be on the mountains, way-off out there in the distance, not down here where we live.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Taking & Giving

I’m a better gift giver than I am a gift getter.

I’m forever photographing one thing or another in the area where we live: A neighbor’s horse in a field of wildflowers; another neighbor’s home, looking Currier and Ives picturesque after a fresh snowfall. Once I’ve taken these pictures, I give: I have prints made and pass them along to the horse’s owner, to the folks who live in the snow-covered house.

For me, the best part of the process of “taking” photographs is that I can later share and give-back. To do otherwise would feel like too one-sided a proposition.

Leah and I spent quite a bit of time this past weekend visiting with neighbors. It was very cold Saturday and the roads were icy and most of us stayed close to home. I shot the picture you see above. Sunday brought a fresh snowfall and the sleds came out. Also, of course, did my camera.

I can’t wait to have prints made. I’ll be fun to share them with folks.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New Roads

Most folks who are at all serious about photography will tell you that the camera can be a tool of great discovery, so spooky an instrument that I sometimes wonder: Who is in charge here? Who's the Decider Man?

I know it'll sound kind of hocus-pocus, but there are times when I have some Life Mystery in my head and, lo and behold, my camera helps me find my way to Insight. More often, it seems like my magic, all-seeing optical box supplies a visual answer, about 1/60th of a second before I even knew there was a question.

Many photographers will also, when pressed, admit to hearing voices. Our cameras push us out the door, whispering words in our ears that no one else can hear: “Dude, there are roads out there. Let’s go follow them.”

I guess it was Yogi Berra who said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
I can't speak for other folks with a Photographic Habit, but I can tell you that in my case, Camera and I surely seem to be following Yogi's advice.

A year ago Leah and I trekked in the Himalaya of Nepal. We were charmed by the friendly and warm Nepali people, yet we were also curious about the the quiet and mysterious Tibetan refugees who had come over the border into Nepal, fleeing, we were told, the Chinese who now occupy the Tibetans’ homeland.

Upon returning to the Seattle area, I learned that there is a small Nepali and Tibetan community here, and I have since made some new friends. One man I’ve met was born in Tibet but his family fled to India when he was two. My new friend is sometimes asked to speak about the Tibet/China issue; he asked me last week if I’d do some portraits he might be able to supply to the organizations that book him for talks. I was eager and excited to do those photographs.

My friend told me about his involvement in the local Tibetan Buddhist community. Because one road leads to another -- and because I’m a curious fellow -- I hope to learn more about this historic and now displaced culture, taking root here in the American Northwest.

I see a fork in the road. Camera and I think we'll take it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


I’m learning, slowly.
Learning to accept Things As They Are.

I saw a sunrise Saturday, one of the most amazing I’ve ever experienced. But I was on my way someplace, in a hurry. I couldn’t be late.

I jumped out of the car with my camera. I shot fast. Pictures were here, there, everywhere.
Bang bang bang.

I was bummed that I didn’t have more time, time to set up a tripod, time to make perfect, worthy photographs. I was disgusted too that there wasn’t time to take a breath, to look around in awe. This was of one of Nature’s Grand Gestures, this sunrise.

Yes, I was being shortsighted, I was being very hard on myself. All that beauty, yet there I stood,
thinking how the experience could be better.

I learned a lesson, just then: I realized I should take a cue from the sunrise and lighten up a bit.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I’ve been looking at stuff this week, everyday stuff like neon-colored chard stalks that have weathered the recent frosts in our garden. I also looked at our frou-frou Polish rooster (“who does his hair?” a smart aleck friend asked.)

Sometimes it’s a little spooky to look close-up, the way one does through a camera. As impressive at Mother Nature’s work is from distance, her artistry can be almost too much to bear when viewed through the all-seeing optics that we photographers have in our gadget bags of tricks.

A macro lens on the chard.
Pan the camera and pop a little flash on the rooster.

It’s play. It’s goofing around. It’s Let’s Have Fun with Photography.

And, now that I think about it, I too would like to know who does the rooster’s hair.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Foggy Clarity

If you thumbed through the photography books on the shelves in my office, I suspect you’d peg me as a fellow with a very wide range of photographic tastes. I have books by photojournalists but also art photographers; I own collections of the work of photographic pioneers, but also contemporary image-makers. Even if you just picked out a few of the landscape photography books I’ve collected, you’d see the tack-sharp, zone-system-perfect work of Ansel Adams, but also the soft and dreamy landscape images that are the recent work of Sally Mann.

My own way of seeing is often all over the photographic map: I make my primary living by photographing human beings at fluid, always-moving, go-go-go wedding events. Not long ago, however, a food magazine sent me a check for an altogether different kind of work: A still-life picture of some eggs.

Photography: It’s too varied a thing to exist quietly on a bookshelf or in a pigeonhole.

The past few days have been foggy around the Puget Sound area and the personal, just-for-fun pictures that have found their way into my camera seem to look best in black-and-white (though color could have been interesting too...) I was on a ferry headed to Seattle and played with the coming-together of objects and shapes as a cormorant tried in vain to dry his wings while surrounded by fog. Another morning I was walking the dog and liked the patterns and lines of my neighbor’s teepee, the out-of-time way the shelter looked there in a foggy pasture.

I get a kick out of wondering what tomorrow might bring.