Thursday, December 31, 2009

Seeing BIG


For a photographer whose pictures tend to be about the small moments in life -- the everyday and easily-missed surprises -- today’s images are a pretty darned major departure. There’s nothing small and easily missed here.

Mount Rainier serving as a backdrop to the city of Seattle that’s bathed in wonderful, end-of-day light; fireworks blasting off the Space Needle during a New Year’s Eve celebration...these are grand, over-the-top gestures, collaborations between Mother Nature and man that add up to showy bombast.

Come next week we’ll be into a new year and I suspect I’ll point my camera, once again, toward our cat, and the neighbor’s horse...my more-typical subject matter of subtle consequence. Today, however, let’s say good-bye to 2009 and welcome the New Year with a visual BANG.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Personal Changes


I’m thinking about making a few changes to the nature pictures I currently have posted on my web site, so this week I have been going through my files, taking a virtual tour down Memory Lane... I’m looking at places I’ve visited and photographed over my years of hiking in wild areas of the Pacific Northwest.

As I edited film and digital images, my office radio played in the background and I heard news stories about the climate change conference going on this week in Copenhagen. The reports were that rich and poor countries were bickering, and it sounded less and less likely that the conference would produce a meaningful agreement.

I realize that it’s risky business these days for any of us to try have a calm, rational discussion about a number of issues, climate change included. Folks seem to have formed opinions about global warming -- it is real, or it’s not; it is influenced by the actions of man, or it’s not -- and neither side wants to hear what the other has to say.

Here's one thing I thought about as I went through photographs this week: Though I don’t make my living with my nature pictures -- photojournalistic, people-photographs have always been what I do best -- I’ve been shooting landscape images as a visual exercise for about 30 years...which doesn’t seem like a terribly long time. Nevertheless, two of the pictures I found right off the top in my archive could not be shot today, due to climactic conditions.

The image above is Whitehorse Mountain near Darrington, Washington. The picture was shot on a brisk morning, December 17, 1996. Local meteorologists say that this year we’re experiencing an El Nino winter, meaning it’s warmer than usual, the snow level is higher, and only the upper part of Whitehorse is frosty-white. Maybe it’s indicative of something significant, probably it’s not, but Whitehorse Mountain in December, 2009 does not look like it did in the same month of 1996.

Of more long term concern is the picture below which I shot in 1980 in the Paradise ice caves on Mt. Rainier. The Paradise Glacier has retreated to the point where, today, the caves you see here are long gone. Melted.

When the Copenhagen conference came to a close today, my reading left me feeling that a few small steps were finally taken, but we have a long way to go.

My personal conclusion? Well for the past several years I've been driving a LOT less. Once upon a time I went to the mountains nearly every weekend; now I go maybe three or four times a year. I’m trying to find my nature pictures closer to home, traveling on foot or by bicycle whenever possible. Mine is a singular and possibly an inconsequential effort, but it's arguably more positive than what seems to have come out of Copenhagen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cold Snap


I like to think that I’m a fairly thoughtful fellow, but last week I was confronted with something I’d never considered before: When the temperatures drop into the teens for days on end and the water in ponds and puddles freezes, what do the birds in our yard do to find water to drink?

Yes, we have always put birdseed and suet out in the winter months for our feathered friends, but it was only because folks on a local NPR gardening program mentioned the put-water-out-for-the-birds suggestion that I was goosed into action and initiated my Help Birds Hydrate Plan. I dug around in the barn and found a couple of feeder pans, and I put those out and made sure they were filled with thawed water during the several days our cold snap lasted.

I suppose the birds would have found water somewhere, even without my help. But last week's temps were unusually frigid for this locale, so maybe the birds appreciated my gesture. I sure enjoyed watching them come visit my birdie day-spa.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Perspective


If you were to walk around on the streets of downtown Seattle, there would be man-made structures that would tower above you and you might be flirting with a stiff neck (or look like a tourist) if you stood at the base of those buildings, staring up at them. The Columbia Center tower, for example, is 76 stories high, its rooftop 1,042.5 feet above sea level. You'd probably be quite impressed by what can be created by human beings.

On the other hand, if you ventured away from the city a bit, let’s say across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island or to the Kitsap Peninsula, there is a natural sight to be taken in that would force your eyes into wide-angle mode, and, as they said in the 60’s, would blow your freakin’ mind.

Mt. Rainier is 14,410 feet in elevation, and it makes Seattle’s skyline look like a collection of toy buildings from Legoland.

Unless work makes it necessary for me to go there, I generally try to stay away from Seattle's downtown area. It’s too crazy-crowded for my taste; the parking is too expensive; the bars and restaurants are too trendy and cool for me. But I need to go to the city this afternoon, and I hope to keep in mind this photograph I shot last week. The buildings that we sometimes call “skyscrapers”...well, I have seen what scrapes the sky around here, and it’s nothing that was built by man.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hiking, eventually


Mahatma Gandhi once famously said “There is more to life than increasing its speed,” and that’s a phrase I try to keep in mind when I head to the mountains to go hiking.

As a former competitive distance runner and a fellow who still does a number of endurance sports, I confess that there are clich├ęs that one hears when bike racers or marathon runners are being interviewed that could easily have come from my own lips:

“Put the hammer down and GO!”
“No pain, no gain.”
“I need to step up my intensity.”
“I’ve had a good week of up-tempo workouts.”

A friend and I were driving toward a mountain trail in the North Cascades Sunday with a plan to snowshoe into the high country. Before we even made it to the trailhead and shouldered daypacks -- and, mind you, these short-on-daylight winter days offer precious few hours for one to cover distances on foot -- I spotted a beautiful waterfall out the car window and felt I needed to stop and do a few pictures. Some minutes later I was back in the car and my friend and I traveled several miles further. The road climbed to a higher, colder elevation, where I saw another creek, this one decorated with ice crystals. I stopped the car again and photographed the ice.

We drove on but it wasn’t long before I got the car stuck in snow.

Eventually we freed the car and made it to a trailhead. We hiked through the afternoon and had a fine day.

It occurred to me as I walked that I'm fortunate to have hiking companions who are patient with my photographic habit; and I also realized why I'm a former distance runner: I felt no inclination whatsoever to increase life's speed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shared Moments


A friend who lives about a mile down the road from us says that yesterday morning she looked at the moon as it settled toward the western horizon just at dawn, and she thought about me. Apparently I’m a pretty predictable man with a camera, because it’s my guess that, about the same time my friend was contemplating nature’s performance art, I was out photographing it.

I like it that we live in a region where folks seem to take note of the sunrises and sunsets and the possibilities in-between. I’ve been out early the past couple of mornings, wandering around the lanes and pastures near my house with a camera and tripod. Wednesday the sky was crystal-clear; yesterday there was a thin veil of fog in the air, giving the moon a dreamy glow. Neighbors were heading off to work or taking their kids to school and they gave me big, broad smiles through frosty car windows. Some flashed thumbs-up gestures while pointing toward the sky.

It’s no small thing that we share, if only for a moment, an appreciation for the beauty that happens around us. I like it that my neighbors seem to be accustomed to seeing me out, peering through my camera. I think they expect so see me out. I only hope I’m making pictures that are worthy of those thumbs-up.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Sighting


There are days in a Puget Sound November when it seems like it never really gets light out. “Daylight” is a word one uses advisedly here in November ; 9 AM, or noon, or 3 PM all look pretty much the same: Varying levels of depressing grayness and rain.

When the sun does come out, though...whoo-wee, we DO get happy! We stand around on city streets in Seattle, pointing to the heavens, and squinting. All affectations of Urban Cool vanish. We get giddy...and chatty. “That bright object up there in the sky...whatthehell IS that?” we ask anyone who happens by.

“Well I do believe that might be the sun,” comes the answer.

“Naw, can’t be The Sun,” we say. “Sun won’t be here again till June, mebbe July. Even August.”

“Well it’s Some Damn Thing,” the passerby says.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Personalities


Being the snooty, nit-picky types that they are, linguists would probably tell me it’s technically not correct to say that the creatures you see in these photographs have PERSONalities, since my subjects are obviously not people.

The thing is, I can tell you from my own daily encounters with these beings -- the creatures, not the linguists -- that they each have their own, unique, quirky, wonderful, ways of conducting their lives.

Basil the cat wants-what-he-wants, when-he-wants-it, and what he wants is usually what he doesn’t have at that moment. If he’s outside, he makes it known to me -- loudly, and without mincing, um, words -- that he’d like to be inside. If he’s inside, he yells at me to let him out.

Gracie the horse is about a third the size of her boyfriend, Rusty, but she is absolutely in charge -- she “wears the pants,” as my grandfather would have said. Each morning I walk past the pasture where Grace and Rusty live and I make sure that I have carrots in my coat pocket. Grace is generally girlish and even delicate compared to Rusty, but, when it comes to carrots, she insists that they are handed out girls-before-boys. If that doesn’t happen, she’ll push Rusty aside with a petulant head-butt or a bite.

Smokey the sheep is timid and shy. When I’m doing chores inside the barn, Smokey keeps his distance outside and focuses watchful eyes on me through a hole in the barn siding. Once I put hay or alfalfa in the sheep feeder, however, Smokey is my new best friend. He’ll saddle up to me and let me pet him. I tell Smokey what’s going on in my life, and, with sweet alfalfa breath, he whispers in my ear concerning the secrets of the sheep world.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Visual Feast


I suspect that, for most of us, Thanksgiving is a holiday about food...specificially the over-consumption of it. It’s a bum rap that turkeys got saddled with the gobble gobble gobble reputation, because, come the fourth Thursday of November, humans-types like me can out-gobble any bird.

In our home, however, there is one thing that must happen before people can sit down at the dining room table to begin the Thanksgiving feast, and that’s Photography. The food is always so beautiful, it needs to have its picture taken. It’s a pretty comical sight, actually...our guests sitting there at the table, napkins tucked under their chins, knives and forks in hand, salivating... and waiting...waiting while the lunatic with the camera hops around snapping-snapping-snapping.

Sorry, but that’s My Deal: When I see something wonderful, I almost always need to photograph it, food included. A couple of weeks ago a friend took Leah and me into an ultra-secret wooded area near her house to hunt for chanterelle mushrooms. By the end of the day Leah and I had gathered two big cloth shopping bags full of ‘shrooms...but before Leah the Wonderful Cook could begin the process of making mushroom soup or pasta or quiche, Kurt the Picture Man had to photograph the 'shrooms.

The same scenario was played out last weekend when Leah sent me, shopping list in hand, to the University District Farmers’ Market in Seattle. Before I could purchase the salad greens and parsnips that Leah had requested, I first wanted to cruise the market, photographing the scene. There were other shoppers, and of course beautiful produce, and it all needed to be photographed.

They are tasty, these moments of everyday life. Gobble gobble gobble.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Too Bloomin' Early!


We’re still a week away from Thanksgiving, and, like the stores in downtown Seattle that are already decorating for Christmas, there’s a plant in our kitchen window that is jumping ahead of the calendar on the ho-ho-ho, ‘tis-the-season thing.

Our Christmas Cactus is a-bloomin’ like there’ll be no tomorrow, and I’m afraid that by the time Santa visits us -- a month and five days from now -- the blooms will be wilted, faded history.

It’s said that Christmas seems to come earlier every year, and apparently that applies not only to the retail scene, but the plant world as well. Maybe I’ll make a print of this photograph and leave it out on the kitchen table on Christmas Eve with Santa’s milk and cookies, so the Jolly Old Elf, the Santa-Dude, the Claus-Meister can see what he missed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Act and React


I went out to our barn the other evening to do end-of-day chores. I put hay out for the sheep and I checked to make sure the hens were clucking contentedly in the chicken house.

I also found the picture you see here.

The visual elements of the photograph are obvious: The stark, angular lines of the barn structure; the circular counterpoint of an old bike that hangs from a beam; the prayer flags that Leah has strung from the barn rafter to a nearby flower garden. The visual qualities of the scene were what prompted me to pull my camera out of my pocket, to move around from here-to-there, looking for a composition that brought the elements together.

And what about our emotional reactions to what we see and experience? Surely, our eyes do not function without input from the heart.

I was listening to NPR this morning and was pessimistically told that the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is expected to produce little substantive action. Somehow that story made me think about my photograph of the prayer flags and the bicycle and the beautiful cloud.

I’d rather not give in to pessimism. I like to think that some of us will look at this picture and choose to see Hope.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dig Me!


One of my friends recently told me that he thinks blogs are the modern day communication forum of the self-indulgent. “I mean, how much do I need to know about what some blogger is up to?” my friend asked. “I check someone’s blog and I read exciting news that the blogger has just bought a new car, or gone on vacation, or has a new boyfriend or girlfriend.

“Next thing you know, bloggers will be telling the world every time they go to the bathroom...”

I laughed at my friend’s rant, comfortable in the assumption that he was calling other bloggers “self-indulgent,” certainly not ME.

Sure, I said to myself, my posts are about the little stuff, the every-day stuff. But my posts are INSIGHTFUL!

Plus, I’d NEVER do a post about a trip I made to the bathroom...

Well...not until today, that is.

Leah and I were grocery shopping at a hippie health food store in a town near here. (We had not driven a new car to the store, and neither of us has a new boyfriend or girlfriend.) Yes, I stepped into the restroom, and yes I’m telling you about it now, but the trip was INTERESTING, you see, because I found a picture in that room. The window image I shot indoors got me to wondering what I’d find outdoors, and, sure enough, there was a picture out there too!

But I swear that I’m not self-indulgent! Honest! And if DO tend to go-on about myself, it’s only because my life is so UNIQUELY fascinating.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

About the Experience


A client recently asked me: “What is your one, very-favorite picture?” Judging by the confused look on the fellow’s face as I answered, I don’t think he understood me.

I babbled and rambled about how difficult it is for me to separate a photograph itself from the experience of making the photograph. I told him that I tend to have an attachment for whatever it is that I’ve shot most recently, simply because the experience is so fresh in my mind.

Oh, there are pictures I’ve done that have won awards, or been published by prestigious magazines. Other images have been made for worthy, charitable causes, and I hope those pictures have done some good for people in need.

Still, if I had to answer the question: “What picture do you like best right this minute?” I’d probably point to images I shot Sunday, when Leah and I went for a very pleasant walk on a nearby island. The show Mother Nature was putting on of fall color was outrageous; and island homeowners had ostentatious, well-manicured gardens, obviously meant to impress.

Or it could be that my favorite photograph today will be whatever happens to present itself this afternoon.

I’ll be looking forward to that experience.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Funny Pet Photos


When Abell was a little tyke, my joke-loving friend Larry made an Olympic sport out of getting my child to laugh. More often than not it seemed to be when Abell was eating that Larry would rev his Vaudeville show into high gear...and I got the feeling that there’s nothing a clown likes better than seeing his audience spew half-chewed food through its nose.

I've known Larry for 30-plus years and he's still a Funny Fellow. Yesterday Leah and I took our cat, Basil, to the vet to be checked out for a persistent skin irritation. Basil made the car trip inside a cardboard cat carrier box perforated with one-inch ventilation holes. I shot the photo you see above of our unhappy passenger, and later emailed it to Larry. His reply:

Looks like the bouncer at a cat speakeasy looking through the bar's peephole.

I wasn’t eating dinner when I read Larry’s wisecrack, so no food shot out my nose. (Sorry, Larry. You can’t reach the Humor High Bar every time out.)

This seems to have been a week when Funny Pet Photos made their way onto the pixels in my pocket camera. I shot a picture of Abell’s dog, Buddha, showing his boredom with humans who are too-slow to fill his food bowl; another time there was something about a view of Buddha’s tail that tickled my visual fancy.

The best thing about Pet Photos: I can post them without worrying about model releases.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tree-Speak


I live in a land of giants, huge green giants. JRR Tolkein might have had the giants in mind when he wrote his “Lord of the Rings” books and called his tree characters “Ents.” Here in the Pacific Northwest we refer to them as “Cedars.”

Ever-green are these giants in my neck of the woods: Green in January and green in July; green when rooted in the cold, high country and covered in a blanket of snow; green in the rain or sunshine of a lowland summer.

Sometimes I look at nature pictures other photographers have taken in the autumn in New England. I see the vibrant reds and yellows of the maple and other hardwood trees in Vermont or Maine and I think: “The cedars in my backyard are beautiful, but those New England fall colors would be something to see.” I get a little antsy to travel and see the Big Trees of the East.

For some reason, though, this has been an autumn of pretty darned amazing color, right here in my own normally-green backyard. Though dwarfed by the cedars in terms of size and grandeur, the spunky, leafy deciduous trees are putting on a show of bawdy color, as if to say: “Hey Cedars! ... You might be big, but I’m gorgeous!”

The cedars, I think, know they’ll get the last laugh. Come January the green giants will still be properly dressed, while the flash-in-the-pan maples and aspens will be stark raving naked.



Friday, October 30, 2009

Spooky


This being Halloween and all, people are talking a lot about what is “spooky.”

Ghosts are spooky. Skeletons are spooky. Monsters are spooky.

Personally I think photographs are spooky...or, at the very least, they are a witches brew, concocted from a pinch of vision, a dash of artistic hocus-pocus, and a whole lot of happenstance.

This morning I was walking down the gravel lane that leads to our house. I glanced absent-mindedly over at my neighbor’s barn, and, framed through one of the barn doors, was the American flag that hangs in front of another neighbor’s house.

“That’s a picture,” I thought.

None of the ingredients of this photograph ever changes: The barn is anchored in a concrete foundation, and, even when the strongest autumn wind comes howling down off the Olympic Mountains on the scariest of Halloween eves, the barn never moves...and the flag always hangs from that same flagpole. I have walked up and down that gravel lane hundreds, maybe thousands of times and I like to think of myself as an observant fellow, yet I’ve never noticed the possibility of this photograph.

This morning I saw it.

Oh, this Art Stuff is spooky to me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

300


Today’s post is a bit of a milestone, as I began doing this online journal in April of 2007 and this is post number 300.

This journal has been about little stuff, everyday stuff that we all tend to miss sometimes as we hurry about our daily routines. Photography is one of my reminders -- a string I have tied on my finger -- that tells me: “Stop. Look. See.” And of course it is a way I can share what I’ve seen with others.

Three hundred is quite a number of written essays, coming from someone who has to labor mightily for coherent thoughts to make their way from brain to keyboard to you, dear reader.

In some cases I know who is out there reading these posts, in many cases I’m sure I do not. Several months ago I saw that someone from Europe had posted a “comment” on my blog that invited us all to view his posts, but his link was spam. Because it appeared to me that spammers might be using the Comment sections of blogs to make their sneaky ways into our lives, I removed the Comment option from my site.

The photo I’m posting today is a sunset I watched a number of evenings ago as I rode a ferry across Puget Sound, headed to a meeting with would-be clients. The folks I met with that night have not hired me and my gut tells me that they probably won’t. The photography-for-hire world is like that: Sometimes you get the job, occasionally you don’t.

That night I did get to see an amazing sunset, however. The string around my finger reminded me to stop, and to be thankful I have eyes.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Differing Outlooks


What I saw were shapes and color: the cat’s ears, the umbrella, the porch posts in the background. All these visual elements came together momentarily for the picture I’m posting today. (I say “momentarily” because our cranky cat Basil always gets up and moves if he knows I’m about to take his picture, I swear this is true.)

What Basil saw was rain, rain, and more rain. Basil is a fellow who spends the summer months having to make only one decision each day: Whether to nap in this spot of sun over here, or that spot over there. Now that the summer is over and the fall rains have begun, Basil is bummed, seriously bummed.

This drippy fall and winter, that blue umbrella will be as valued to us as muck boots and work gloves as we head to the barn to feed the sheep and chickens. Once our chores are finished, the umbrella will be placed under cover of our front porch, where it will be left to dry.

Basil is not at all happy about any of this.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Trees in Fog


We do love us our trees here in the Puget Sound neighborhood of the Pacific Northwest, and I point to the way we refer to certain places as an indicator of the respect we give trees: In Mt. Rainier National Park, huge, ancient cedars stand in an area poetically named The Grove of the Patriarchs. In Olympic National Park there are moss-covered ancients in The Valley of Silent Men.

Though there are trees here, there and everywhere in the region, the city of Seattle found itself embroiled in a Big Stink recently when a plan was put forward to expand one of the city’s public high schools. When citizens learned that the expansion would necessitate the cutting-down of some much-loved trees, why all hell broke loose.

And as much as locals love the vistas of the Puget Sound and surrounding mountains, homeowners better not cut down trees to “improve” their views. The neighborhood will be all up in arms faster than you can say “abomination.”

There are at least a half-dozen nurseries within a 10-mile radius of where I live. In addition to selling flowers and vegetable starts, those nurseries have acres and acres of trees for sale. This foggy morning I stopped by the nearby Savage Plants and asked the owners if I could wander around and look for just-for-fun pictures. They kindly invited me in.

There was so much beauty there, it made my eyes hurt.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Anemone and Me


Many, many moons ago when I was a wannabe competitive runner and was racing in 10k road runs and even marathons, I had one major shortcoming:

I had no speed.

Oh, I could run and run for mile after mile, and I could do that at a fairly decent pace. But when the other runners and I neared the finish line, I knew that anyone with a good finishing kick was probably going to blow past me. I’d hold my place in the pack as long as I could, but invariably some speedster would burn me and there was nothing I could do but Accept Reality.

I walked out our door the other day and something I saw transported me back to those long-ago days when I was a 20-year-old road racer. There’s a plant growing near our front porch, a Japanese Anemone. The crazy thing is blooming like it is early spring, though the calendar clearly tells us that it’s fall. Other plants and trees that I see and photograph in our woods also seem to know that it’s time for the order of things to change, for the growing season to fade and for summer to gracefully allow red-hot autumn to pass it by.

But the Japanese Anemone is hanging on.

I honor its spunk.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Four Cookies


Leah and I sat down to a meal the other night and realized that everything we were about to eat had been grown locally: Broccoli and potatoes that we bought fresh that morning at our community’s Saturday Farmers’ Market, and tomatoes that came from our own garden.

Recent news reports say that the ailing economy is causing many of us to tighten our belts, and high fuel prices mean that we’re often tending to stay close to home. The reports say that community Farmers’ Markets have become hugely popular among folks who would like to buy good quality food without having to drive a long way to get it.

There’s also a lot to be said for putting money in the pockets of local growers -- people who are our neighbors and friends.

Saturday was the last market of the season in our community. Because Leah and I are such fans of our Market and shop there most every week, many of the vendors have become friends. We walked around and said our good-byes. I chatted with a woman who was selling flowers grown on her 15-acre farm, then wandered to another booth and photographed beautiful vegetables.

There’s another vendor booth I never miss: The booth that sells chocolate chip cookies. Normally I buy two cookies, but Saturday I bought four. The next Market won’t happen again till mid-April. Pocketing my four precious indulgences, I felt a bit like a squirrel, laying-in a stash of nuts to get me through the long winter months.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

No Mewse


My mother once looked at one of the pictures I’d taken of one of our cats and asked me: "How do you get the cat to pose?"

Mom’s question not only cracked me up, it also proved to me that it’s in a mother’s job description to believe her kids can do the impossible. I mean everyone -- my mother included -- knows that a cat does what it wants to do, when it wants to do it. If anything, I find that a certain feigned disinterest on my part is a good ploy in cat photography: One looks off into the distance, pretending not to notice that the cat has wandered into beautiful photographic light. One whistles or hums a nonsense tune -- dum-dee-dum -- then shoots fast.

The last thing ones wants is for the cat to realize a picture is in the offing. If a cat knows you’d like to take his picture, I’m here to tell you that he’ll begin to aggressively lick his butt (the cat gets it that butt-licking is not something his human wants to photograph.) Cats are like that. If you are a photographer looking for a mewse (or desperate for a misspelled pun) don't expect cooperation from a cat.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Exercises


I know it’s getting to be autumn here when dry leaves and cedar duff begin to fall on our roof and it feels like I spend more time up on a ladder cleaning the gutters than I do on the ground taking photographs. Blustery winds -- all but absent during the idyllic summer -- begin to blow now and then off the east slopes of the Olympic Mountains, as if Mother Nature is doing warm-up exercises for the coming rainy, sometimes stormy months.

The arc of the sun as it travels from east to west falls lower in the sky with each passing day. This too tells rain-wise Pacific Northwesterners that the monsoon season is about to return. We’ve had a couple of months to dry out umbrellas and patch our rain parkas. Soon the normalcy of rain will mark our days.

The good news, for photographers, is that the light here in the fall is just amazing. I shot the photograph above two mornings ago when I was out for a walk at dawn. The wind was whipping the branches of the willow and even the stately cedar trees so that there was no way I could get everything in the scene in sharp focus, but the moon was incredible. The image below happened yesterday, again at dawn, as the low-in-the-sky sun popped through the trees that surround our house and filtered through a curtain.

There will be more to see in the coming days. Like Mother Nature, I’d better do my warm-up exercises and be ready.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Land Matters


I’ve hiked more than my share of wilderness trails on my way to high and wild places. I have spent many nights sleeping on the ground in a nylon sack filled with feathers, my stash of barely edible freeze-dried backpacker food hung by a rope from the branches of a high tree to keep my Mountain Chili away from the neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Bear.

I have gone to those wild places with many intentions, some I’m aware of, others probably not. I have hiked to find peace and quiet, to get away from the noise and hubbub of the city and modern life. Because I’m a photographer I’ve also carried camera gear on my back, hoping to find amazing images, but I know that even the best pictures sometimes don't communicate the essence of a place.

I can tell you from experience that John Muir had it right when he said: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

This week we’ve been planted in front of our television set every evening, watching the latest Ken Burns film on PBS, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” For the past four nights we’ve heard about folks who had the vision to keep a few special wild places wild, to spare them from mining or drilling or damming or development.

Ironically it was just a week ago that we were visiting friends in Gaithersburg, Maryland and I stumbled into a question of land use. One afternoon I went out for a walk in our friends’ suburban Washington DC neighborhood. At every turn I saw yard signs protesting a development that Johns Hopkins University has proposed for the area, and I learned later that my walk was giving me a look at the kind of pro- and anti-development controversy that has been the backstory of our local, regional and national decisions about how to treat our lands. A 108-acre, 19th century farmstead would be developed into a massive biotech campus, 4.6 million square feet stacked in 6- 10- and 10-story high-rises.

I walked outside a white fence surrounding most of the perimeter of the farm, and it took nearly an hour. Beltway suburbia was outside the fence, trees and fields, a big barn and old home within. I took a few pictures.

I had the sad feeling I was photographing land that will soon be lost to “progress.”


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Travels with Mom


Chocolate-covered peanuts. These pictures remind me of chocolate-covered peanuts.

Whenever I visit my 82-year-old mother in Ohio -- which I did last week -- she insists that I take her to a small Amish country store in the tiny village of Kidron, where we buy cookies and candy...and always, always chocolate-covered peanuts.

I shot a number of pictures that I like on that trip. If I look at the photographs 30 years from now I know I’ll be reminded of several pleasant days Mom and I shared, and how cool it is to have a mom who loves candy even more than her kid.