Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Jumpin Jack Flash

We have a rooster who thinks he’s Mick Jagger. He struts...like a rock star on stage, and whenever there is a beam of dramatic light in our barn yard, you’ll find the rooster standing there, center-stage, in the spotlight, posing and waiting for our hens to swoon.

The rooster is a Polish breed and he is, to be sure, quite an impressive looking fellow (not that he’s quite my type, you understand.) He’s got a mane of feathers that is so over-the-top, I’m afraid there are times when I can’t help but laugh.

Someday maybe I should stop at a toy store and see whether I can find a tiny pair of Ken doll sunglasses that might fit our rooster. I think he needs sunglasses, don’t you? ...just to complete his look of cool, I mean.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Growing Things

This is the time of year when -- assuming we’d like to eat food from our garden this summer and fall -- the man in charge of soil preparation (that would be me) better get off the couch, take shovel in hand, and get to work. The long winter’s nap is over.

Though the garden in the months to come will be Leah’s territory and I’ll generally be best off not trespassing or offering unsolicited opinions about what might be planted or when, I do feel like I should have some kind of involvement in the growing of our food.

Mindless labor is what I get to do.

I was out last weekend pulling winter’s weeds and turning over the rich soil when I realized an amazing thing: I have developed Patience.

You see, the truth is that over the years Leah has been the gardener in our family not only because she enjoys the work, but also because the tending of plants suits her sensibilities. Where I tend to be a man of action, Leah is better at tasks requiring easy, gentle, tender-loving-care.

I don’t know how or when this Patience business moseyed into my life, but as I shoveled soil last weekend, I too realized that working in the garden could be enjoyable if I

A little frog hopped across the soil near where I was digging, and I stopped to

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Acquired Taste

There’s a lot of easy beauty to be found in Washington state. I can pack my hiking boots and my cameras and by driving 40 minutes I can walk in the spectacular and wild back-country of the Olympic Mountains. A drive of less than two hours will put me in the Cascades, and a few hours more than that could take me to the Blue Mountains near Walla Walla (a place so nice they named it twice, as the saying goes.)

This state’s mountain ranges, with summits reaching into the clouds, with wild rivers, waterfalls and alpine meadows that are veritable flower gardens...well, the beauty to be found here is obvious.

A more surprising landscape of the place where I live -- and, for some folks, I think an acquired taste when it comes to outdoor aesthetics -- is the desert country of Central- and Eastern-Washington. Say the words “America’s Pacific Northwest” to most outsiders and they’ll envision tall evergreens and a country of rain, rain and more rain; but few individuals will conjure up images of sagebrush and tumbleweed and country so dry it’s a happy hunting ground for rattlesnakes.

But there is desert to be found here -- in the rain shadow east of the Cascades -- and, in the 30-plus years I have lived here, that dry country has grown on me. Springtime, particularly, seems to put me in a desert frame of mind (spring also happens to be a time when the snakes are still in hibernation, which I view as a Reason To Go Hike The Desert Now.)

A friend and I hiked the Yakima River Canyon a couple of weeks ago. We enjoyed a day of wide open country, big vistas, and not one snake. As I crawled around on the ground to photograph a wildflower, the absence of snakes was absolutely fine by me.

Friday, March 19, 2010


A Southern belle is our house guest this week and I’m afraid I’ve fallen under the spell of her gentle charms. I watch her every move and last night I noticed the way the evening light radiates about her porcelain features, as if the light too is infatuated by her. Our guest’s name is Magnolia and I can’t help affecting a way of drawling and fawning when I, with some great effort, get up the courage to address her. I'm fully aware that I sound like the wimpy Ashley Wilkes character in "Gone with the Wind."

“Magnawlia Honey,” I say, “let’s pause a bit in the shade of that-ol-tree-over-yonder.

“I got my camera right here, and you look purty as a picture, Darlin.’

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

No Answers

The question popped into my head two years ago when Leah and I were traveling in the high mountains in Nepal. We came upon settlements of Tibetan refugees who had fled the Chinese government’s occupation and repression of Tibetan people in lands where Tibetans had lived for countless centuries. The Tibetans’ peaceful Buddhist culture had flourished but now they were essentially homeless and living in neighboring countries like Nepal. The refugees quietly fingered prayer beads and recited Buddhist mantras and I wondered: What is it about Tibetans that the Chinese government seems to find threatening?

Returning home to the U.S., I met Tibetans who are fortunate to have made comfortable homes in the Seattle area, and they too are noticeably peaceful, warm and friendly. I attended a lecture by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet who now lives in exile in India. Speaking to a large crowd in Seattle, the themes of the Dalai Lama’s message were compassion for all beings and nonviolence.

Several weeks ago I photographed the Seattle-area Tibetans’ observance of Losar New Year. There were prayers and the offering of ceremonial scarves to a Buddhist shrine, as well as music and dance. Last week I documented a peaceful rally when the Seattle Tibetan community marked the 51st anniversary of the Tibetans’ resistance to Chinese occupation. At both events I photographed something that struck me as admirable: Adults were taking great care in teaching their children the ways of the ancient Tibetan culture.

Thinking about Tibetans I have come to know, I am utterly unable to conjure up an image of them being a threat to any government.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blooms and Blossoms

I come from a family of flower people -- not the 1960’s, Age of Aquarius kind of flower people (my parents are definitely not the types you’d see in the movie “Woodstock,” dancing naked in fields of daisies.) The flower people in my background were hardworking middle-Americans who grew flowers and sold them: My grandfather and his brothers owned a greenhouse and my Mom remembers driving with my grandpa to weddings, funerals and flower shops in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, making deliveries.

Mom still loves flowers, and her small-town Ohio neighbors have come to expect that each spring I’ll show up and, under exacting guidance from Mom-the-Jobsite-Foreman, plant the many flower beds, hanging baskets and pots that decorate my mother’s yard. Even as I write the words for this post, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mom is sitting with paper and pencil, making a list of how many geraniums, Dusty Millers, and ageratums she’ll need to buy, once the greenhouses put out their spring stock.

This week my own property here in the Pacific Northwest is a veritable Hallmark Card of blooms and blossoms. The ornamental plum is crazy-full of pink blossoms, and the forsythia provides a bright yellow backdrop to the whole scene. I walked around with my camera on a tripod and made some photographs I can share with Mom, because, in our family, it's a truism of nature that the bloom doesn’t fall very far from the tree.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Building Community

I suppose that no matter what one does for a living there’s at least one task that comes along now and then that’s considered part of our job but we’re personally not wild about doing.

Let’s say you’re a doctor but maybe you don’t really like poking that ear-flashlight thingy in some old man’s hairy, waxy ear. Or you’re a lawyer, and a client comes to you to handle his/her divorce but you just know the client is going to sit in your office and vent and maybe even get all emotional about all the crummy ways his/her not-so-better half has treated them.

As a photojournalist, my most-dreaded and to-be-avoided task has always been coverage of Awards Presentations. Back in my early days as a young newspaper photographer I remember having a fairly steady diet of assignments where I photographed somebody presenting somebody else a plaque, or a trophy, or a check. B-o-r-i-n-g.

So there was a weird, why-am-I-doing-this? feeling in my head last week when I volunteered to photograph an event for Habitat for Humanity in Seattle. Though not an award-presentation event per se, what I covered was a fund-raising breakfast: Nearly 600 people were seated at tables in a hotel ballroom, listening to a few other people who were standing at a podium giving speeches. Good pictures to warm my artistic soul weren’t exactly falling from the sky.

There were several candid moments, however, when I was photographing newly-elected King County Executive Dow Constantine, and the look on his face gently reminded me why I volunteer for H for H:


And it dawned on me that people in a room listening to speakers might be a difficult photographic circumstance, but those folks would contribute money ($205,000 it turned out) that will fund the building of houses for the needy in our community...and that is work that many of us are happy to be a part of.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Big Trees

Friends who live in other states come to visit our place and I just know what’s going to happen: They’ll stand in our yard, tilt their heads back looking toward the sky, and exclaim: "Who-weee, look-at-those-TREES!"

Not that the trees towering above our house are any bigger or taller than others here in Western Washington -- this is, after all, The Evergreen State -- but visitors don’t know that. Until I put my guests in the car and take them on the Obligatory Drive to Mt. Rainier National Park or to the Olympic National Forest, they think the trees here at my place are the biggest things they’ve ever seen.

Whatever get-ready-for-company work Leah and I have done to clean the house and put fresh sheets on the guest bed all seems worthwhile from an ego standpoint as we hear our visitors exclaim about our trees.

To tell you the truth, our trees are pretty cool.

I don’t mind looking at them myself.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reality Intrudes

I guess Leah and I had a lot of Andrew Wyeth-ish visions in our heads when we decided 15 years ago to sell our house in urban Seattle and move out to the idyllic Puget Sound countryside, to plant a garden and eat food we grew ourselves, and to keep farm animals. I’m pretty sure we didn’t spend much time considering that the animals would eventually die.

We are fully aware that we’re not real farmers, that the critters we keep are pets and not produce. Our now senior citizen chickens stopped laying eggs long ago but we keep the ditzy dames around and spend a ton of money feeding them because we’re soft hearts and could never kill them. And our sheep? Well at one time we’ve had as many as five Shetlands and each spring we've had them sheared and Leah and her creative friends have used the wool to make scarves and the like.

One by one our sheep have grown old and died. In recent months we’ve been down to just two elderly fellows, Jupiter and Smokey, and in the past couple of weeks Jupiter -- you see him as a baby in the 13-year-old snapshot above -- became quite feeble. He wasn’t able to get around very well though we gave him medication for arthritis. Two days ago he couldn’t get to his feet but he still happily ate grain and hay while nesting on his tummy in the barn. Yesterday morning I gave Jupiter his hay and he ate it from his nest, but Smokey looked on and seemed to know that something was amiss. Jupiter died in the afternoon.

We buried Jupiter on our property last evening, and now, because sheep are said to be social animals, we’ll need to bring in a buddy for Smokey. Despite the occasional heartache, not having critters in our pasture simply doesn’t feel like an option.