Thursday, December 29, 2011

Creature Circus

Human beings are in the minority here in my neck of the woods of the Pacific Northwest, outnumbered by domestic animals like chickens, horses, goats and sheep, and wild creatures like birds, beaver, deer and coyotes. The role that we humans play in the theater of daily dramas is a “bit part” at best, and often humans get no on-stage time at all. When the spot lights come on, my neighbors and I tend to retreat into the shadows, find ourselves a comfortable seat in the audience, and settle-in to watch the creature circus.

Popcorn, anyone?


It’s possible that you might wonder whether I could be overstating the attention my neighbors and I give the animals who live around us, so I offer two photographs today.

The scene above presented itself one recent chilly morning when I was cycling the four miles to town to get the mail. Some folks down the road had dressed their cute-as-heck pygmy goats in sweaters, and, when I stopped to shoot the picture, I had to be careful about camera shake because I was giggling so much.

Another day I was also riding toward town when I saw, off in the distance, a woman exercise-walking down the road. She seemed to be dodging passing cars and stopping here and there to pick things off the road (bits of litter, I assumed.) As I got closer I realized she was rescuing tiny frogs that had hopped out onto the pavement from a nearby pond, saving the frogs from being squished by the cars.

I thought her effort was a worthy thing to photograph.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The New Girl

A friend recently introduced me to a trail in the Olympic Mountains I’d never hiked before, and I can tell you right now it will be one of my future favorite destinations for ambling, rambling, and photography. Only about an hour from my house, the trail follows the course of a wonderful creek, through an equally wonderful forest, and up, up, up into a land of mountain vistas that are (you guessed it) wonderfullest of all.

I’ve made three pilgrimages already to this new area, and I feel like a junior high school boy who has fallen in love with a new girl in school. I know I’ll be posting lots of pictures of this sweet girl/place in the coming year, and I promise to tell you all about her...except for her name, that is, because I don’t want other boys reading my love notes and seeking her out.

My new love is quiet, and I think shy, and too much attention might change her.

But...isn’t she just the prettiest thing?

I have some money I’ve saved from my paper route, and I think I might buy myself a new tent. Then, this summer when school is out, I’ll camp in the new girl’s yard because I know I’ll just want to be close to her.

Oh man, she’s just the best girl ever!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seeing Childhood

It is said that the real spirit of the holiday season is best seen through the eyes of a child, and I think that is probably true.

I can remember, for example, the awe and wonder I felt when I was about four or five-years-old -- that was some 50 years ago now -- and my parents took me to have my picture taken with a department store Santa...and I visited also with a “Talking Christmas Tree.”

For some reason, meeting Santa, as special as that must have been for me, pales in my memory to my visit with the Talking Tree. Today I can vividly picture, in my mind’s eye, the huge, living tree...and how it was filled with multicolored lights and decorations 100 times larger than my incredible feeling of wonder... and the tree was surrounded by what I must have understood were plaster reindeer figures and foam snowmen, and yet I believed the tree was really talking to me. My memory is so clear, in fact, that right now, as I type these words, I might as well be standing at the little wooden booth at a shopping center in Northern Ohio in the late 1950’s, in my kid snow boots up on kid tiptoes, talking into a speaker to converse with the tree.

Geez, memories are amazing.


Anyway, clients and friends have been asking me lately to do pictures of their kids, and several of the resulting images are posted here. (I'm particularly tickled by the photograph above of the little girl who initially was less-than-excited about having her picture taken. She later warmed up to the idea.) Some of the pictures will be used on holiday cards, others will be printed and framed and given as gifts to grandmas and grandpas.

One day, these pictures will be the stuff of memories.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In the Woods

It was 40-some years ago that my grandfather first introduced me to the exhilarating freedom of long, rambling tramps through the woods near his farm in Eastern Ohio. I was about 10-years-old and grandpa would let his two dogs -- a beagle, and a collie mix -- run loose and the dogs would kick up rabbits while my grandfather, a retired greenhouse owner, would teach me the names of wildflowers we’d see. Or we’d dig sassafras roots and later my grandpa would make tea that to me smelled like hot root beer.

Years later, when I was in college and already crazy about photography, I’d head to my grandparents’ farm on breaks from school and grandpa and I would continue to explore those fields and woods. I would take pictures then, hoping to preserve what I knew were precious times.

Today, when I pull out the photographs I did of my grandfather on our walks, I am humbled by the limitations of my photographic craft. I realize that I best remember those times-long-ago, not through my two-dimensional prints, but rather when I encounter the aroma of root beer or sassafras tea.


I thought I’d post pictures today from some recent walks in the forests where I live now in the Pacific Northwest.

The two images above were shot in the damp, ultra-green lowlands, where moss often covers the trees, and -- if one is attentive and fortunate -- chanterelle mushrooms can be harvested from the forest floor.

The images below are from a hike I did last weekend when I trekked up-up-up into the high country woods of the Olympic Mountains on a photographic hunt for ice formations on a wild, rushing creek.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour

I’m interested in the Creative Process: The weird, quirky magic that happens when a writer takes a pen in hand and begins to scribble words on a blank piece of paper or type on a computer keyboard; or a composer has a few notes in his/her head, and senses those fledgeling sounds might be the beginning of a symphony; or four women sit down with random squares of fabric and begin to sew together what eventually becomes a beautiful quilt.

I make photographs almost daily, and have done so for nearly 40 years. And yet, where those photographs come from -- do they fall like snowflakes from the sky, or do I unknowingly harvest them from some kind of unseen image garden? -- is often a mystery to me.

Take the four photographs I am posting here today, for example. I thought I was heading out for an early-morning run. I was dressed in running clothes; I was wearing running shoes; I had done a few pre-run stretches. But I also had a small camera in my hand, the little camera I always take with me when I run or bicycle. And as I stepped out the front door and began to jog down the driveway, I noticed that there was frost everywhere: Frost crystals in the sky had made a rainbow, reflecting the light of the rising sun; there was frost on the windows of my car parked in the driveway; and there was frost on the autumn-colored leaves on the ground.

I realized that, before I could go for a run, I had some photographs to take. What I had thought would be exercise time for my body would, in fact, begin with exercises in seeing.

Where did those images come from? Were they gifts from Photo Fairies that had visited my house overnight?

It’s all a wonderful mystery to me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Simple Gifts

I suppose it might sound a little surprising when I say that I admire the craftsmanship and art that can be created by someone who is skilled in fine woodwork, since my own abilities are pretty much limited to what I learned in Shop Class way back in seventh grade. Yes, I can handle a power saw and most basic hand tools. I can usually fix stuff that breaks around our house. But fine woodworking? No way.

Mostly, I have to admit that I just don’t seem to have the patience to shape, sand and finish a piece of wood to make it a thing of beauty, something that one could call “art.” Yes, I can and do work for hours or days or weeks on a photograph -- no problem for me in showing patience there. But could I ever make a piece of furniture or construct even the most rustic of dwellings? Nope. ‘Fraid not.

I made a trip to Ohio last week to visit my mother, and one of the things I proposed she and I do was to take a road trip to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, because for some time I’ve wanted to photograph the furniture and clean-lined dwellings of the Shakers. Mom loves “Early American” furniture, and is always up for anything that sounds like an Adventure. So off we went, leaving Mom’s home in Northeast Ohio and driving in the general direction of Lexington, six hours away. We listened to CDs of the music of Aaron Copland on the car stereo, since that composer incorporated a number of Shaker tunes (like the hymn “Simple Gifts”) in his works.

" 'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right."

When we arrived at Pleasant Hill, Mom and I wandered around the village and were gently, visually transported back into the 1800’s. Though the Shaker community of Kentucky died-out in the early 1900’s and for a while Pleasant Hill fell into disrepair, the village has been restored by hardworking locals. There are tours of the Shaker village buildings and demonstrations of craft-work like handmade brooms and classic Shaker bentwood boxes.

After making that long road trip, it seemed that Mom and I did indeed “find ourselves in the place just right.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Batting Practice

I bought a new camera this week...which, to be honest, is a happening about as unusual as Lindsay Lohan getting arrested. I mean, truth be told, it seems to me like I purchase a lot of cameras. I have Work cameras and Play cameras; cameras that help me earn income; but other cameras that, unfortunately, prove to be mere indulgences -- image-making tools that seemed promising in camera review scouting reports, but struck out when life started throwing fastballs my way.

The camera I bought this week -- a Fuji X10 -- is HOT. Only recently released in the US, it is already sold-out and on backorder at most camera stores and on photographic retail web sites. I placed an order for my X10 months ago when I first read about it...and I’ve been waiting and waiting for delivery.

When the camera arrived this week, I charged the battery, skimmed a few pages in the Owner’s Manual (no pro photographer that I know would be caught dead actually reading a camera instruction book -- only geeks do that.) Then I headed out to the pasture and barn to hang out with Pumpkin the Goat (she is always a willing model.)

I don’t intend for the X10 to be a Work camera. It will be a tool I’ll use for my just-for-fun shooting. Nevertheless, I think my heart was beating a little extra-fast as I began to work with the much-anticipated camera. Without getting too technical or too inside-baseball here, there is a coming-together of several features in the new X10 that previously has been available in one camera or another, but not really in one package.

My verdict? Well, like a baseball player tinkering with a new hitting stance, X10 and I need more batting practice before we perform up to our full potential. I have a feeling, though, that soon we’ll be swinging for the fences.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Picnic & a Prayer Service

About a year ago Leah and I invited some of our friends from the Seattle Tibetan community out to our place for a picnic. Our adult guests that day came bearing gifts of Himalayan-grown tea, traditional Tibetan sweets, and prayer flags. The Tibetan children brought exuberant energy and curiosity for exploring the woods around our house, and playing in the pastures with Pumpkin the goat and Smokey the sheep. The kids’ centuries-old culture might be that of herders and traders, but these Tibetan children live in Seattle and live city kid lives.

“Eeewww, POOP!” they screeched when they saw the raisin-like droppings that Pumpkin leaves in the pasture.

When I consider the volunteer photography I’ve done at now-countless Tibetan events over the last three years, I know I’ve gotten much more than I’ve given. Last week one of my Tibetan friends whose young wife has just passed away called to invite me to a prayer service in her honor. My photographic work has led me to an ever-widening circle of human beings, and my life is richer because of them.

As I guess happens for all of us when we experience the death of a loved one or friend, the prayer service last week got me thinking about how quickly time passes and things change. Just a month ago I made the photograph at the top of this post, and this morning I shot the image below. Same tree, same string of prayer flags, but see how much has changed.

One of the lamas at the prayer service reminded us that each day of life is a gift. I hope you don’t mind that I’m using today’s post to pass his teaching along.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pumpkin Place -- NOT!

There are six families with homes or small farms on the primitive, country lane where Leah and I live. The lane is gravel, maybe 3/4 of a mile long, and maintained, quite informally, by the folks who live out here.

The lane is humble -- so humble that, for the 15 years we have lived here, it has had no name.

Recently, however, the county sent a letter to everyone who lives on our lane, stating that this no-name situation needs to be rectified. The letter said that the neighbors could get together and propose a name (subject to county approval.) Or the county would choose a name for us, and we’d be stuck with it.

We wondered: Would some county landuse/planner-type come out, look around at the six homes, and decide to name our lane “Poverty Hollow”? Or maybe “Recluse Road”? We neighbors decided that we’d better take on the naming responsibilities ourselves.

And so one evening a couple of weeks ago four families came together to brainstorm monikers for our lane (two families couldn’t make it, but said that anything we came up with would be fine with them.) We chatted about the character, the feeling of where we live. We made lists of the trees that tower over our houses (words like Fir, Evergreen, and Maple were suggested.) We also talked about animals, both domestic and wild, that live around us, so coyote was added to our list; and we wrote down the names of the horse called Wildfire, and the neighborhood dog, Yogi...though we doubted the county would approve of “Yogi Lane.”

In the end, we all agreed that the spring peepers that serenade us on mild evenings are a wonderful part of life where we live, so we settled on the name “Frog Song Lane.”

Leah and I came home from the neighborhood meeting and I stood outside the barn, looking through the barn doors at the sweet-faced goat, Pumpkin. It was my job now to explain to Pumpkin that, though she is without a doubt queen of both barn and pasture at our place, the neighbors had nevertheless given a polite thumbs-down to my suggestion that we name the neighborhood lane “Pumpkin Place.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Close to Home

An alluring temptress named Wanderlust began visiting me in my dreams last week, whispering in my ear (she has a very sexy voice) that she and I should go on a road trip together, maybe to Eastern Washington, where Wanderlust said there would be amazing things to see and photographs I might make. Even when I woke, Wanderlust's beckonings remained in my brain, but so far I have resisted the urge to pack my camera and sleeping bag and hit the road with a babe I know could be Trouble.

Trees ablaze in the colors of autumn -- that’s what Wanderlust promised I’d find if only I’d go away with her. You see, where I live here in Western Washington, the trees are primarily conifers, everlastingly green. The trees are beautiful, though the green-green-green gets a bit boring after a while. But east of the Cascades there are aspens and maples and larch, and mid-to-late October is their time to shine.

Wanderlust whispers that I need a change of scenery, and experience tells me that she might be right. The truth is that Wanderlust has popped into my dreams about this time in past years, and I admit that I have followed her (the images above are of aspens that I saw one October in the mountains near Leavenworth, WA.) This year, however, gas is expensive and I am resisting Wanderlust's siren call for a road trip, hoping to stand my ground and find images closer to home.

Two evenings ago the photographs below presented themselves, just outside my front door. There was a fern -- green of course -- but there were also deciduous leaves in fall color, and the scene was bathed in the most amazing end-of-day light. “See?” I said to Wanderlust, “there are fall pictures to be found right here at home. We don’t need to go someplace else.”

The temptress pouted, and last night she did not visit my dreams...but I know that one night she will be back. Wanderlust always comes back.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Simple Monk

Palden Gyatso is an 81-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk with a smile that can light up a room, and even a brief encounter with him warms one’s soul. Children and adults alike seem to have a spontaneous urge to hug or express respect for him. I know this because I spent several days this week with Paldenla as he visited the Seattle area, a guest of my friend, Rigdzin, and his family.

We traveled by ferry to beautiful San Juan Island where Paldenla spoke to 60 island residents at the public library. Another day we drove to Olympia, the state capital, and Paldenla presented a letter at the Governor’s office. That same evening we attended a public rally held by the Tibetan Association of Washington. The venerable monk’s message at all the events had several common themes: Human Rights for Tibetans living in China; that China should engage in talks with representatives of the Tibetan people; and that China should recognize the Dalai Lama as the spiritual leader of Tibetans.

Paldenla probably would have chosen to live life as a simple Buddhist monk, but events conspired to thrust him into the public arena. When the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950’s and Mao Zedong and the communist party insisted that “religion is poison,” Palden Gyatso refused to renounce the Dalai Lama. When he was 28 years old, the Chinese authorities imprisoned Paldenla, stating that he needed to be “reeducated.” He says he was abused and tortured.

Palden Gyatso served more than 30 years in Chinese prisons and labor camps, and was 60 years old when he was finally released. He lives today in Dharamsala, India, and is the subject of the powerful documentary film “Fire Under the Snow.” Here’s a link to the trailer for the film:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Creature Pictures

Everywhere I go these days there seem to be creatures...big ones, but tiny ones too.

The creatures eye me quizzically: “Wazzup?” they seem to be wondering.

Something pops into my head -- a bumper sticker I remember seeing:

“I’m trying to be the person my dog thinks I am.”

I believe these creatures I happen upon sense that I’m a human being who means them no harm. The dog, horse and goat do seem to prefer, however, that I spend more time petting them or offering treats and less time taking their pictures.

The newt is pretty a mellow fellow, no matter what I do.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


It’s raining nostalgia in Seattle these days and many of us who live in or near the city are having conversations that begin: “Do you remember where you were when?...”

You see, it was exactly 20 years ago that a then only-locally-known group called “Nirvana” released its “Nevermind” album, a recording that some now call “historic” in the world of rock and roll. And it was on Halloween night, 1991, that Nirvana -- singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl -- performed in Seattle’s Paramount Theater, as “Nevermind” was about to go viral.

That was the first time I had seen the band, the first time I heard the song “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song that in the 20 years since has become an iconic anthem of rock and roll. I was a photographer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the paper assigned me to cover the concert. Thus, when my friends and neighbors now remember back to 1991, trading stories about those days and about first hearing that music, I can say: “I was there. In front of the stage, wedged in between Kurt Cobain and the fans flopping into the mosh pit. I was there.”

As a newspaper photographer, one of the incredible side-benefits of my job was that I was often paid to be places where I’d witness amazing things...and that concert was certainly An Experience. I remember that it made me crazy, trying to photograph Cobain as he sang, because his hair was in his face and I wanted to get an image of his expressiveness, but there was all that hair...and I remember too that I really liked the music I was hearing, which surprised me because I had assumed “grunge” wouldn’t be my thing.

The day after I photographed that concert at the Paramount, I went to Tower Records (remember back when we bought recordings in stores?) and bought the “Nevermind” CD. My musical tastes are eclectic, ranging from classical to rock -- I have, for example, a CD of Bizet’s opera “Pearl Fishers, ” and also a recording of a live concert by Pearl Jam.

Nirvana went on to sell 30 million copies of “Nevermind,” and about a year after the Paramount performance, I photographed Nirvana in concert again (photo below.) That assignment also was fun, but in my mind there was no doubt that it was that first show in the Paramount that was history-in-the-making.

Here's a link to a video of the Paramount performance:

Both photos above copyright Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Travels with Minnie

Minnie the Australian Shepherd is laying kind of low today, resting her old girl bones because I took her on a hike yesterday that, in hindsight, was probably a bit too much for our aging pup-no-more.

Minnie is 13, has cataracts, and seems to be hard of hearing (it’s a bit difficult for us to judge what Minnie hears and what she does not, as she has always pretty much ignored any “commands” we might give her.) But she, like yours truly, is the sort who is always up for an adventure, and so I cooked up a plan that would be reasonable for man and dog.

What I thought Minnie and I would do was this: Just a simple one-day road trip to the Mt. Baker ski area, where I’d photograph Mt. Shuksan, first from Picture Lake (every camera buff in the state has visited that lake, hence its name. ) From there I'd drive on up to my serious destination, Artist Point (elevation approx. 5200 feet,) where there is also a wonderful view of Shuksan, plus a number of ponds and secluded spots that are not known to the masses.

It turned out, however, that the heavy snow we had in the mountains last winter hasn’t melted off the Artist Point road, and if one wants to go high, one must hike. Uphill. Gaining about a thousand feet in elevation in a little more than mile. The trail is steep.

My plan had been to be at Artist Point for the sweet, end-of-day light on the mountain, and, even after doing our unexpected hike, Minnie and I actually arrived there an hour early, giving Minnie a chance to rest and me time to scout out the perfect snow-melt reflecting pool. I set up my tripod, waited for the good light, and then made the image I had had in my mind’s eye for months. The light was amazing!

Minnie and I hiked back down to the car in the growing darkness. On the drive home, Minnie snuggled up close to me; I patted her on the head, and she licked my hand. I sensed that it was a dog’s way of communicating: “Thanks for bringing me.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Nobody's Perfect

I’ve been thinking this week about the word “practice.”

Practice was something that I guess first entered my life 40-some years ago when I was in high school. I played the trumpet, and every afternoon my friends and I assembled in the school’s music room for band practice. I was also a distance runner, and the end of the school day meant it was time for track or cross country practice.

Music and sports both required repetition -- practice. I played scales and exercises and musical pieces, again and again. I ran mile after mile. The idea of all this practice, of course, was that when it was Show Time -- whether it was a concert or a cross country meet -- I could perform.

Looking back now, I realize that there were days when practice wasn’t much fun...repetition sometimes morphed into drudgery.

It was also back in high school, however, that I got my first camera and took my first photograph and -- Holy INSPIRATION, Batman! -- what a light went on! I shot roll upon roll of film, a kid in a candy store (it seemed like there were pictures everywhere!) I made thousands of bad pictures and a very few good ones. Without realizing it, I began to practice photography daily. And drudgery? Why no way could this practice ever be anything but the most positive kind of kick in the pants ever.

So today, 40 years after high school, I’m still traveling the photographic path, and I laugh when I think about that old adage “Practice Makes Perfect” -- as if there’s some end-point I should strive for -- some concert well-played, or track meet victory, or even a perfect photograph I might make. What fun would that be? Where would I go from perfection?

I’m having too much fun everyday, simply practicing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bad Reputation

Wild blackberry vines have a PR problem here in the Pacific Northwest.

Brought here back in the day from Europe to produce fruit, blackberry plants quickly spread, here, there and everywhere, to the point that modern gardeners now regard the thorny vines critically, using words like “non-native,” and “invasive,” or even “weeds.” Folks attack blackberries with loppers and shovels; they dump gasoline on the plants and burn them; farmers in rural areas bring in goats, hoping the four-legged eating machines will destroy the vines by munching them to the ground.

Blackberry plants are tough buggers, though. Pick a fight with them and they'll rope-a-dope 'ya and wear 'ya down with their tenacity.

Only during a few weeks in August and September when blackberries fruit and ripen do the plants get any respect. And this year, perhaps partly due to the recession, I’m seeing people out foraging for berries, picking huge buckets-full. Last week I walked down our gravel lane to do barn chores and I heard voices just outside our gate, where lots of berries grow. Two women I didn’t know were picking, and I politely requested that they also leave some berries for my neighbors and me.

A half-pint of blackberries purchased from the grocery store or the local farmers’ market will cost you $5-$8, so it’s no wonder folks are out foraging. I picked six half pints and took them with me one day when I went to Seattle to do errands, giving the berries to friends. But first, of course, I made a picture of the fruit, simply because it looked oh-so-tasty.

I guess I feel a little sorry for a feisty, misunderstood plant that has such a bad reputation.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Hike to Muir

In the 34 years that I have lived in Washington state, I have probably done the hike from Paradise to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier at least 50 times. With an elevation gain of nearly five thousand vertical feet, it’s my go-to hike if I want to challenge my body and test my fitness level, or if I’ve had it up-to-here with busy Seattle and I want to go someplace quiet and unbelievably beautiful.

I’ve done the hike in all seasons of the year, and I’ve encountered every weather surprise Mother Nature has in her bag of tricks: Can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face-fog; freezing rain; blowing snow; and even oven-like heat. Some days I’ve experienced several or all of these weather variables within the space of a few minutes.

Yes, I’ve even experienced nice weather, though, at an elevation of 10,000 feet, Camp Muir is rarely a day at the beach. This past weekend, however, some friends and I did the Paradise-to-Muir trek, and oh did we hit it right.

Check out the photograph above to get a sense of what my friends and I beheld last Saturday: In the foreground of the picture there’s the lush green meadow country of the Paradise-area slopes of Rainier (a snow patch still remains from last winter.) In the middle distance are the lovely little peaks of the Tatoosh range. And in the far distance is Mt. Adams, a volcano some two thousand feet lower than Rainier, but beautiful in her own right.

Below is a self-portrait I shot with my phone...a picture of a hiker as contented and blissed-out as anyone you’ll ever meet.

Oh YES! It was a FINE day to be on Mt. Rainier!