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 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


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.