Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Earth Hour

We do what we can each day here at our house to live mindfully and intentionally and not use more than we need of the planet’s finite resources. Turning off the lights for an hour might have only been a symbolic gesture, but it was nevertheless a gesture we wanted to make.

“Earth Hour” is an awareness campaign by the World Wildlife Fund, a worldwide effort to encourage humans to think about the resources we use, and to maybe help us see ways we can conserve. The idea was simple: Turn lights off for an hour, starting at 8:30 PM local time last Saturday night.

We invited neighbors to come over and hang out with us by candle- and lantern light. We shared good conversation and ate junk food. If nothing else, “Earth Hour” was a good excuse for a party.

You can follow the link below to see a slide show of the event worldwide. The slide show can be found below "Latest Photos."


Friday, March 27, 2009

Sympathetic Ear

My poor Mom. I called her from my cell phone and I think I must have sounded a bit deranged, a little too happy.

“I had to call and tell you I’m having just the best morning,” I gushed. It was 7 AM here in the Pacific Northwest, 10 AM where Mom lives. I proceeded to babble on in a kind of high-on-nature blahblahblah about how beautiful the early morning sky had been, what an amazing sunrise I’d seen, yadayadayada. My mom is pretty calm and level-headed, and that’s good. I was in such an it’s-good-to-be-alive Out There mental state that one of the participants in this phone call needed to have their feet on the ground, and it was obvious that person wasn’t going to be me.

I told Mom how my morning had unfolded: I was driving to a photographic job in Seattle that had an early start. There was a delicate sliver of a moon in the morning sky and I pulled the car over, photographed the scene, and drove on. A few minutes later several bands of clouds lighted up. Again I pulled over, took more pictures, and drove on. Finally I approached the Green Lake area -- popular with runners and walkers -- and ground fog began began to develop. I parked the car as the sunlight hit the fog and the landscape went absolutely bonkers, turning otherworldly red-orange. I was photographing madly (and I think maybe giggling to myself.) The crazy light only lasted a few seconds.

I was standing near a running path when the light returned to normal. As runners passed by I greeted them and asked: “Wasn’t that intense?!” and they looked at me and I think had no clue what I was talking about. I sensed I was behaving like an odd man with a camera.

I called my Mom. Even when I’m being odd, my Mom seems happy to talk to me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dust Bowl

I’m no sociologist, but I have a theory that there are two kinds of human habitation in our society:

--Dwellings where humans do not bring dogs or cats into their homes (and, as a result, a vacuum only has to be run maybe once a week.)

--Dwellings where humans do live in furry house-sharing semi-harmony with four-legged creatures (and where a human runs a vacuum pretty much constantly.)

We have two dogs in our home. When Buddha or Minnie go outside into the often damp or rainy Northwest weather, we towel them off thoroughly before they come back inside. Still, there is no keeping up with the dust that magically seems to appear in our home.

There’s a woman down the road who is a dog trainer. I wonder what she’d charge to teach our four-leggeds to run a vacuum?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sleeping with Sigmund

There are a number of swamps, ponds, and protected wetlands around our house. This time of year those places are full of weirdness: there’s the skunk cabbage (a plant that Freud would love,) and of course, our bug-eyed, raucous neighbors, the frogs.

Fecundity. We’re up to our eyeballs in fecundity. Every bit of plant life outside our door is bursting into bloom, and, from the sounds of it, all the things that go croak in the night are breeding. Though it’s still much too cool at night to sleep with the windows open, last night, even though the windows were closed, the amorous froggy choir outside was deafening. I had spooky dreams that snakes were crawling on me.

Snakes! Tell me what that dream means, Mr. Freud!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


1983 Seattle. M.L. King Rally

Bilbo Baggins had sage advice for Frodo: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step out onto the road and if you don’t watch your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Today the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its last newsprint edition. For 18 years, from 1980-1998, I worked as a photographer at that paper, a job that daily swept me off to varied and unpredictable worlds. Whether I was photographing news, politics, sports, or everyday life in a neighborhood, I was witness to and documentarian of all that went on around me.

I wonder whether we as citizens will get the depth of coverage from television or the Internet that we have gotten over the years from a printed newspaper? Of even more concern to me are these two questions:

Do our citizens know good journalism from bad?
Do people even care?

1981 Seattle. Hmong New Year

1981 Seattle. Parade.

1989 Idaho. Richard Butler, Aryan Nations.

1989 Seattle. Ken Griffey Jr. & Sr.

1984 Seattle. Presidential Rally

1996 Seattle. Presidential Rally

1989 Cincinnati, OH. NFL Record Catch

1998 Issaquah, WA. Farmland/Proposed Golf Course

All Above Photographs Copyright Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Friday, March 13, 2009

Big Fat Liar!

Folks around here generally mind their own business. That’s a good thing because I think our sheep Sweet Pea is trying to convince anyone within hearing distance that he is underfed and mistreated. He stands in our pasture, bellowing the most pathetic-sounding baaas. And do you know why? It’s because, in these tight economic times, I’m trying to feed him regular grass hay, rather than the fancy-ass, twice-as-expensive orchard grass hay he’s gotten in the past.

Somebody explain the recession to Sweet Pea, will you? Somebody please tell my sheep friend the meaning of the word BUDGET.

I’ve decided I’m going to retaliate. If this spoiled -- and, dare I say fat -- fleecy fellow is going to make a big, noisy show as a way of maligning my reputation with the neighbors, I think I’m justified in using this post to defend myself.

Yesterday I went out to the pasture, put a camera in front of Sweet Pea’s face, and fired the shutter, just as he let out one of his phoney-baloney, I’m-starving baaas. Later, I followed him into the barn and shot the picture you see below, Sweet Pea standing near his hay feeder -- full to the brim, I might add -- looking at me, as if to say: “You don’t really expect me to eat this peasant’s hay, do you?”

I showed Sweet Pea my photographic evidence and I told him his performance was shameful. He nose-smudged my camera and bellowed:


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Stone Wall

I packed my two passports yesterday, boarded a bus in Seattle, and headed north to Vancouver, British Columbia. I had my actual, paper, US passport that would allow me to cross the border into Canada; and I had my faux passport, the black metal box with “Canon” painted on the front, the tool I use for making a visual diary of my everyday life, as well as the excuse I hang around my neck when I’m feeling curious and want to move about in the world outside my door.

Leah was on the bus with me, and so were about 50 Tibetans who live in Washington and Oregon. This week marks the 50-year anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s fleeing of Tibet during the 1959 Chinese invasion. Two of the Tibetans on the bus are friends of mine, and Leah and I wanted to join them as they traveled to Vancouver to rally in front of the Chinese embassy.

It’s weird that I felt, if only subconsciously, that I needed a camera to justify my presence at yesterday’s rally. The Tibetans couldn’t have been more welcoming of Leah and me, sharing milk tea and sweets with us as the bus traveled to the rally, thanking us, again and again, for caring about their cause.

When the bus arrived in Vancouver and the Tibetans from the American Pacific Northwest were joined by their Canadian counterparts, there were perhaps 100-150 Tibetans and supporters outside the Chinese embassy. No Chinese official came out to talk with the Tibetans, whose prayers and chanted slogans about peace, human rights, and autonomy for their homeland were met only by the stone wall that surrounds the embassy compound.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Taking Notes

One of the Abiding Truths about being a photographer is the lure -- for me it’s a kind of pact I have with my art -- to be out, camera in hand, when the light is good. Bill Allard, who has worked on-and-off for many years for National Geographic Magazine, refers to this photographic quest-for-light as “showing up for work on time.”

Over the years I’ve gotten into the habit of getting out for daily exercise. Once upon a time I was a competitive runner; now my geezin’ knees will tolerate bicycling and walking. I try to plan it so that my outings are done early in the morning or late in the day, which happens, of course, to be when the photographic light is best. I put a pocket-sized camera in my bike jersey or just carry it in my hand on a walk. If an image presents itself, I’m ready to take visual notes.

Not long ago I was out early walking near my home and was greeted with the sunrise you see in the photograph above. A couple of days later I was 2500 miles away in Ohio visiting my mother. My morning appointment with an elevated heart rate gave me witness to the moment you see below.

Yes, I show up for work on time, but more often than not what I’m doing feels like play.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Building Community

Let’s share something positive, shall we?

I mean, just glancing at this morning’s newspaper, we see stories that tell us that:
--Yesterday was another lousy day in the stock market;
--Kids who get involved in gangs find it difficult to make their way out of that lifestyle; and
--A local Girl Scout troop was bilked out of $100 worth of cookies by slimebags who passed counterfeit $20 bills to the girls.

So, yes, let’s do look at something good about our world. Allow me, if you will, two or three paragraphs to tell you how 30-some people from the law firm where Leah works spent last Saturday.

They toted plywood. They pounded nails. They put up walls on a four-plex structure that soon will be a home to several families who have immigrated to Seattle from Congo and Ethiopia. Attorneys and law firm staff worked side-by-side with soon-to-be homeowners. The sharing of labor -- and pizza -- made for a coming-together of individuals from opposite sides of the globe.

And while it's my inclination -- and I suspect the same might be true of many of the folks from the law firm -- to be low-profile and not “go public” about our volunteerism, the reality is that we human beings are all bombarded by so much bad news each day, I'm thinking that it’s important, for the sake of our common sanity, that we also share the good.

Our Saturday was good.