Friday, July 30, 2010


I live on a Pacific Northwest landscape where things tend to jut up above the horizon and point toward the sky: Trees, rock formations, mountains, for example. Even out along the Washington coast where one might expect the Pacific Ocean to be a fairly level scene -- water is flat, right? -- a look at the fantastic, otherworldly sea stacks will get your eyes to popping up and down like ping pong balls.

I’ve spent more than my fair share of evenings hanging out at various favorite spots near Puget Sound and the coast, wondering what the light will look like once the sun has set. Often I’m not just keeping my eye on the sea, but on the sky, and on the shapes that knife their way into the blueness (or orange- or red-ness.)

The pictures above are from past trips to Second Beach and Rialto Beach at the coast; the scene below was something I enjoyed two evenings ago as I waited for a ferry in Edmonds. I was a little bit taken-aback at the flatness of that evening, the calm water and the uninterrupted sky.

Initially I’d hoped to catch an earlier boat so I could be home in time for dinner. Had that come to pass, I would have missed seeing the wonderful light.

Tardiness has it’s merits, don’t you agree?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Namaste, Karen

It was when Leah and I were in college and first began to talk about the M Word (marriage) that we first met Jim and Karen, a couple a bit older than Leah and me and already married. While Leah and I lived in dorms and went to classes and took exams, Jim and Karen had graduated and had jobs, an apartment of their own, a nice stereo (I remember being very envious of that at the time) and they had a life.

It was like Jim and Karen were cool kids who were riding two wheel bikes blocks away from home, while Leah and I still had training wheels on and could only dream about what might be discovered out there in the beckoning distance.

Jim and Karen were sweet and kind to the youngsters Kurt and Leah and visited us occasionally at school to relive their college days; in turn they had us over to their apartment so we could hear what the Woodstock album sounded like when played on a really good stereo.

When Leah and I eventually also got married, Jim and Karen stood up with us as our best man and matron of honor. We’ve been friends now for over 30 years and, though we live on opposite ends of the country, have traveled often together, hiking and playing outdoors by day in places like the desert Southwest, or in the mountains and along ocean beaches here in the Pacific Northwest. Leah and Karen also are amazing cooks, so our evenings together always meant the sharing of good food and happy conversation.

About a year ago, however, Karen’s health began to slip and her doctors eventually diagnosed a rare, degenerative brain disease. When Karen passed away last Thursday, Leah was there in Maryland with our friends.

Namaste, dear sister. We honor the good in you, and pray for your swift journey onward.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Package from Japan

I believe that there are ways that all of us, no matter what it is that we have to contribute, can reach out and give to others. Because I happen to be a photographer, I seek out a few, carefully chosen worthy causes and organizations and I give photography.

The funny thing is -- and I really can’t say why this is the case -- I generally don’t “go public” about my volunteer photographic work. More often than not I don’t write blog posts about my volunteer shoots, and I seldom talk about that work in everyday conversations with friends. It just kind of seems to me like volunteerism is something that needs to be done for reasons of pure giving, not because we’ll look good in the eyes of others if they know what swell, compassionate individuals we are.

The thought hit me this week, however, that we humans are all bombarded every day and from every direction by bad-news stories, and that maybe there are times when we might benefit by hearing a good-news tale, if only because it’ll warm our hearts.

I volunteer for a foundation called Soulumination whose mission is to provide free photographs to families who have loved ones with life-threatening illnesses. Twenty-some photographers in the region shoot for this foundation. Several weeks ago I did a “Soul” shoot, making portraits of a young wife and mother of Japanese descent. This week I received a box from Japan. There was a thank you note enclosed, the young woman’s mother writing to say how precious the photographs are to the family.

The mother also sent 1000 small paper cranes -- strung together and tipped with blue beads, wrapped is tulle decorated with butterflies -- that she had folded by hand as a thank-you and a good-luck wish to the foundation for its work.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Taking Notes

Leah recently had to travel out of town for several days and I experienced an embarrassing realization as we loaded the car so that I could drive her to the airport: I was packing more stuff to be away for five hours than Leah had packed to be away for five days.

Camera gear. I can’t go anywhere without it, but my dear mate sometimes gives one of the wrinkled-nose expressions that tells me she wishes I’d try.

I suppose most everyone has heard that Socrates observed: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I wonder what he’d think about a photographer NOT taking pictures of whatever it is that he sees? Leaving my cameras behind, even for a few hours, is simply not an option for me.

I just never know what kind of miracle might land in front of me and stretch its wings in the morning sunshine -- when a moment might present itself, a moment that I would not want to go unnoticed or unphotographed. So I schlep the camera bag, even if it means I have to endure good-natured grief for overpacking.

Friday, July 16, 2010

In the Sun

There’s a fiery orange ball that can be seen moving slowly, east to west, across our sky these days. I’m told that in other parts of the country that ball is known as the “sun,” though, here in the drippy Pacific Northwest, “sun” is a word we use so rarely we sometimes forget that it exists.

Legend has it that Alaskan natives have many words for snow; I guess the same is true for “rain” in the languages of the humans who dwell here near the Puget Sound. We have drizzle, mist, showers, cloudbursts, downpours, low-lying fog (heavy or light.) Rain can fall in torrents, squalls, or storms.

You get the idea. It rains a lot here.

Regarding the sun that has appeared the past few weeks in our sky, though, the animals in particular seem to be digging it. The critters lie about in this sunny spot and that. They sleep in the sun, preen in it, dine in it. This will go on for the next two months because July and August tend to be fairly dry here, exceptions to the norm of rain.

We’re so accustomed to rain here that, come the end of summer, we’ll be itchy for the rains to return (which will indeed come to pass.) For now, though, life is good in the sun. The critters and I can deal with this.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Heart Songs

If any of the kids who live near me grow up to have the desire to do foreign travel or develop an interest in threatened cultures, I guess I might be a little bit responsible. At the very least my neighbor kids are likely living with some very exotic musical ear worms this summer. This is all attributable to CDs I’ve been giving away as gifts -- a recording of children’s songs sung in Tibetan.

The songs are simple tunes that can help a child (or sometimes-adult, like me) learn to count in the Tibetan language, or learn Tibetan words for the seasons of the year. There is a song about peace, and another about the beautiful mountains and landscape in Tibet. The melodies are sweet and I for one can’t stop listening to the recording. I play the CD over and over again.

My friends in the Seattle-area Tibetan community recently hosted a CD release party for the recording artist, Jhola (also known as Techung,) whose new album, Semshae (“Heart Songs”) is the musician’s effort to support and help sustain Tibetan culture. The local Tibetan children sang along with Jhola at the party, and the innocent little voices enchanted all of us in the audience.

Here’s a link to a video about Jhola’s CD project. I encourage you to give it a listen:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

No Assumptions

It might appear that I packed my cameras, donned a space suit, and talked NASA into putting me on a rocket and flying me to two entirely different planets.

If you look at my photographs from my last two posts, shot just five days apart -- images from the Fourth of July celebration here in the small Seattle-area town where we live; and photographs I did yesterday at the annual Oregon Country Fair near Eugene -- you’d probably draw the conclusion that the human beings who attended the two events could not be more different. The parade pictures look All-American, red-white-and-blue-star-spangle-bannered; the images from the festival in Eugene have a feeling of a blast from the past, a 1960’s-style hippie gathering.

I personally am not inclined to make too many assumptions about the personalities or values of the people I photograph. I learned very early in my career as a photojournalist the truism about the word “ass-u-me”...that it “makes an ass out of you and me.” If you go around looking for black-and-white in people, you’re missing all the wonderful shades of gray or even color that human beings bring to their lives.

Mostly, I’m just happy that people let me hang around and take photographs of what ever it is that they’re doing. The world outside my door is pretty damned cool and I move around in it with my eyes and my mind wide open.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Parade

The Fourth of July parade is a VERY big deal in our small town.

Though I’m no expert on crowd size, I’d guess maybe a thousand or so individuals lined the parade route this morning (a distance that would be about five city blocks if our town was big enough to have blocks -- which it’s not.) There was a military color guard, our local high school’s marching band, vintage cars, new convertible cars (carrying beauty queens,) scout troops, and dignitaries.

I saw one person parading by with a lamb on a leash and someone else leading a pony.

Our parade is both funky and sweet, and it’s something folks here look forward to every year.

Friday, July 2, 2010

In the Garden

She told me she’d come to the US from Botswana, but I met her earlier this week as she worked in her garden on an island in Puget Sound in Washington state.

She has a wonderful face, doesn’t she? And her hat...well I thought her hat was just The Best. (Do you remember that hippie dippy artist guy who taught painting on TV?...well, I think he would have said this woman was wearing “a happy little hat.”)

I approached her and we talked a bit; then I asked if I could take her picture, just because I liked her face and her hat. She was a bit shy and uncertain at first, but she allowed me to take a picture. I showed her how the image looked on the screen on the back of the digital camera. Then she permitted several more pictures. One of my favorites is posted above.

This morning a dear friend of mine sent me an email with a link to a short YouTube video that seems like a perfect accompaniment to my moments this week in that garden. I think it’s worth a look: