Friday, April 30, 2010

B, S & T

When I was growing up --the son of two music teachers -- and played trumpet in the high school band, sitting alone in my room and playing scales and exercises (which my private teacher expected me to do) felt like torture. Yes, I wanted to play as well as the members of “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” but, as I listened to the group's records again and again and often even played along with them, I wondered: “When those guys were kids, did they have to practice scales?

Practicing my trumpet felt SO B-O-R-I-N-G!

It was also while I was in high school, however, that I discovered photography, and, in the 40 years now that I have considered photography both my profession and my art, the search for images has rarely failed to provide some kind of rush.

Every day I look for pictures, and it’s a hugely enjoyable game I play to see if I can find photographs in the most common, mundane places. Even on days when I’m not shooting professionally for a client, I’m looking-looking-looking, exercising my eyes and working to stretch the way I see. Often my subject matter is one of our critters, or something else that is right in front of me all the time, and that offers a visual challenge by virtue of its everyday-ness.

Funny how, once I found my passion, practicing was no longer a matter of blood, sweat and tears.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coming-Out Party

The weekend of Earth Day signals the time of the year when folks in our community come out of hibernation. We poke our heads out the doors of our moss-covered houses, notice that the winter’s monsoon rains are subsiding and that the sun is kind of, somewhat, occasionally visible in the sky. Taking a cue from the frogs we hear at night who are massing and singing their little green heads off in our area's ponds and wetlands, we humans come together in choruses and we too feel a primal need to communicate with our kind.

We’ve had six months of social deprivation. This is the season when we gather and we talk-talk-talk.

A friend and I spent our day Saturday talking-up the benefits of bicycling at the community’s spring “Ecofest,” a celebration of all-things-green. We handed out maps of bike routes and gave folks tips on how to get that old Schwinn that’s been stored in the garage back into riding condition. Our county’s transit division supplied us with safety blinky-lights, which my friend and I handed out to kids, who are, after all, the future of our planet.

“Ecofest” was only "spring training" for our summer season of coming-together as a community. Farmers’ Market begins this weekend, and we human members of the frog-wannabe-chorus will gather each Saturday now through fall.

It feels good to be out and about.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stop and See

This being Earth Day weekend and all, I seriously doubt that anyone who knows me would expect me to write a blog post with a theme other than: “The Earth is a miracle of beauty. Stop to see that.”

Yes, I’m well aware that some folks seem to relate to nature by driving through it, some by walking, others by looking at pictures on television or in books. I guess it takes all kinds to make a world.

However you get to a place where you can view nature -- whether it’s by hoofing it down a trail or maybe even just looking out your living room window -- I hope you take a minute today and this weekend to look, take a breath, and perhaps relate more personally to what you see.

I bet you’ll find that it was time well spent.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Seeing Stories

We photographers -- particularly those of us whose path is photojournalism -- tend to be here today, someplace else tomorrow. For 30 years, the editors at the various newspapers where I worked sent me off to this place and that to cover politics, sports, social events, and all the other mind-numbingly weird and amazing ways we human beings spend our time on this planet.

The only constant in my workdays as a newspaper photojournalist was that my days were rarely routine. It was my job to enter the worlds of liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, the successful and the hapless. I remember one Christmas season when, in one day, I had an assignment to photograph a well-to-do, retired gentleman who traveled the world in search of crystal Christmas ornaments for his immaculate holiday tree; an hour later I was taking pictures for a story about folks who were destitute and living in a shelter for the homeless.

In my present-day photographic life I still seem to have the heart and soul of a visual documentarian. Last week, after an earthquake rocked Tibet and killed an estimated two thousand people and injured many thousands more, my friends from the Seattle-area Tibetan community held two candle-lighting and prayer services. Leah and I were there with our friends on one occasion to lend support and comfort; at the second event I made photographs that I gave my friends for their community web site.

Earlier in my career, I took my cameras where editors assigned me to go.
Now I follow my heart.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Nature's Art

I was walking along a trail near my house this week when I looked down toward my feet and got a visual blast of the Colorado Plateau.

Well...not really. The reality was that my hiking boots were most certainly squishing over the mooshy-gooshy, rain-saturated earth to be found here near Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. But what I spotted as I walked -- the amazing pieces of tree fungus...all a-swirly and a-whirly -- reminded me instantly of patterns and shapes in rocks I’ve photographed on trips to the American Southwest. are pictures you can consider. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether: A: You understand and agree with the visual connection I made...or B: You think I’ve been gathering too many magic mushrooms in the woods and I’m slightly-to-completely deranged.

Regardless of how you judge my level of sanity, I trust that you will agree with me about one thing:

Nature is just utterly amazing. We can all be humbled and inspired by her art.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Madam Ambassador

We adopted the goat Pumpkin and brought her here to our place to be a companion to our sheep, Smokey. This week, however, Mrs. Pumpkin Goat seemed to be taking on the challenge of building bridges even farther afield, brokering a stronger bond between the US and her European allies.

Pumpkin extended a hoof of goodwill and friendship toward France...and though the event was not covered by The New York Times, I think time will prove that Pumpkin’s gesture will prove noteworthy nevertheless.

Our high school student niece has a French pen pal who is visiting our niece and her family, and Leah invited the girls out here for an afternoon of baking projects. (ALL the French -- even teenage girls -- are wonderful cooks, right?) It appeared that the baking and frosting of a cake was a pleasant enough experience for our young guests, but it was when the girls ventured outside into our pasture -- and Pumpkin the cultural attache turned on her charm -- that diplomacy melted into friendship.

There was giggling, and nuzzling. Pumpkin received many kisses and gave even more in return. No politicians were present, no treaties were signed, but good things happened in Pumpkinland that day.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Helpful (Not!) Friend

In an area of the country where there are literally thousands of miles of hiking trails -- many of which I know step by step -- there is a quiet, wooded path only 10 minutes from my house that I only recently discovered. This week my smiling, always ready-to-go friend Minnie and I went to check it out.

On my knees: That’s how I wound up spending most of my day. The weather was showery and damp and the woods where Minnie and I walked were carpeted with a riot of wildflowers. I’d walk for a while, then tell Minnie to hold on...I needed to take a picture of this flower, then that. We’d walk a bit longer until another patch of flowers got me back down to my knees again.

There were bleeding hearts and trillium and mosses and ferns. Minnie, an Australian Shepherd and a herding dog whose instincts are all about moving sheep, gets antsy when her "flock" dawdles. When I stopped to photograph the bleeding heart on the rain-soaked fern you see below, Minnie came over and brushed past the plants, spilling the moisture to the ground, ending the picture opportunity.

I took the hint. I got back to my feet and resumed walking. Minnie resumed smiling.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Finding Pumpkin

When Jupiter died several weeks ago and the dark-fleeced Smokey was left as our one remaining sheep, the vet suggested we think about adopting another critter. Sheep are social animals, the vet said. Smokey needed a buddy, or a buddy-ette.

We put the word out to the local community, asking whether anyone had a sheep or a goat that needed a home. “Putting the word out” around here has always meant a trip to the local feed store, where all manner of information has been exchanged: Looking for someone to farm-sit while you go on vacation? One would ask at the feed store. Need worms for your worm bin? The folks at the feed store could direct you to the local worm maven.

There was a time -- and this was perhaps only five years ago -- when a friendly chat at the feed store could answer most any question a gentleman/gentlewoman farmer might come up with. On the rare occasion that conversation didn’t yield an answer or a solution, one could always post a note on the cork bulletin board outside the store.

It seemed just a tad too high-tech, then, when it was via an email last week that one of our neighbors connected us with an Internet bulletin board for local farmers. We learned about woman who had some goats that needed a home, and we found our newest pet, Pumpkin. Don’t get me wrong...I’m not a Luddite, and certainly I’ve embraced my computer as a valuable part of my life. Heck, I don’t go an hour without checking my email.

I’m just not at all sure that Smokey would be happy if he knew that we’d found his new goat girlfriend via what amounts to an online dating service. Smokey is kind of a private fellow and a traditionalist. I think he’d be upset if he knew we found Pumpkin via

Friday, April 2, 2010


I have a friend who likes to tease me that I live like I think I’m Amish. Our garden and farm animals and rural lifestyle might seem a bit quaint, I guess...and there have been times when, over a few beers, I’ve gone off on a philosophical sermonette to my friend about how "the important things are not things"...which I guess is a fairly Amish way of looking at life. I don’t blame my friend for giving me a hard time.

This is the season of the year when the power goes off at our house -- and it goes off a lot. Spring storms come blowing in off the Pacific. Winds wail up, over, and around the Olympic Mountains and across Puget Sound, and big, iconic Pacific Northwest fir trees blow down over power lines. Quicker than you can say “Horse and Buggy” our lights flicker off and we’re lighting candles and oil lamps and living without computers and the Internet in our know, like the Amish.

“Unsettled” is how meteorologists refer to spring weather here in the Seattle area. We can have rain and hail and high winds one minute, gentle, blessed sunshine the next. Even as I type the words for this blog post, a storm is supposedly heading this way. We could well be without electricity tonight.

Several evenings ago I looked up at an unsettled sky and I knew a picture possibility was in my near future. The combination of storm clouds and sun over Puget Sound was quite amazing. A picturesque ferry boat came into view.

Life was good in my photographer-quasi-Amish-world.