Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring Chores

Spring is a time for honest, old-fashioned hard work at our place. Winter’s wind and rain storms knocked down a ton of wood from the big trees in our pastures, and, now that the weather is getting nicer, I’ve spent the last several days, carting windfall out of the critters’ grazing areas. Our ruminants -- the sheep, Smokey, and the goat, Pumpkin -- hang out with me and keep me company, though I doubt they’re aware that it’s the cheapskate in me that motivates my work: The more downed wood I get cleared out of the pastures, the better the grass will grow this summer, and the less hay we’ll need to buy to feed Mr. S and Miss P.

But this is pleasant work I’m doing, and I feel good, not only about money not spent on $20-a-bale orchard grass hay, but for the exercise I get. My body and my photographic eyes benefit from jobs like this. I always have a camera at hand to use as my visual note-taking device, ready for moments when I’m in the barn and, though a hole in the wall, I see Smokey outside, curious about what I’m up to; or times when Pumpkin comes begging for a chin-scratch; or, most heart-warming of all, I find Pumpkin napping and goat-purring in the spring sunshine.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Spring Break

The temperature was 62 in the urban, Seattle-Tacoma lowlands. Trees were all busted-out in blossoms, and we drove past a number of cars with convertible tops down so drivers could enjoy the spring day. My friend Shelley and I were headed to Mt. Rainier, up-up-up into a high, still-snowy landscape, around 5,000 feet in elevation. Knowing that the warmer weather will, in the coming months, eventually make its way even into the mountain high country, our plan was to get out for a good hike, celebrating spring by saying good-bye to winter. Our car was packed with warm hiking boots, snowshoes and ski poles, and the day packs we’d carry that day held numerous combinations of gloves, stocking caps, and layers of outerwear.

Shelley, on spring break from her teaching job at a university back East, had come out to spend several days with us. A go-go-go human being some 20 years younger than Leah and me, Shelley seems to think of me as Hiking Trip Leader-Man. When I pointed out the irony that she and I would spend a beautiful, sunny day up in the snow -- while many of the students Shelley teaches were probably lying, nearly naked, on a beach in Florida or Mexico -- Shelley said: “Well at least we’ll all be wearing sun screen.”

And the day we had at Rainier was, in fact, as good as any day at the beach. The beautiful little peaks of the Tatoosh Range -- we’ve hiked and climbed up into those peaks on previous outings -- made us feel like we were Back Home. Another gift that day was that we happened upon a wild fox, napping lazily in the snow, seemingly unconcerned about our presence. I had time to make several photographs of the fox before he/she yawned, then got up and wandered off, perhaps looking for a more private nap spot.

Monday, March 21, 2011


In all honesty, I can’t really say whether it was the moon that drew us...or the lure of ice cream. But when Leah and I heard that the moonrise Saturday night would be something fairly unique -- a “Perigee Moon," meaning the astronomical conditions would make the full moon appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual -- I suggested we go to nearby Bainbridge Island. There is a picturesque cove that I’ve seen when I’ve ridden my bike on the island, and I had it in my head that the cove might be a cool place for me to photograph the moonrise.

Plus there’s a shop on the island that sells the most wonderful ice cream.

So we hopped into the car and we went. A 20-minute drive down the peninsula where we live took us to the bridge at Agate Passage, where we crossed onto the island.

The photograph I’m posting today will give you a vague idea of how the moon looked...though trying to describe how the moonrise felt leaves me grasping, lamely, for words. “Otherworldly” and “spooky” come to mind...but mostly I remember having a big, empty feeling deep in the pit of my stomach, a sense that I am very small and insignificant.

That feeling of emptiness stayed with me, and, later, not even brownie cheesecake ice cream filled it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Magic Chickens

Just looking casually at our six chickens, you probably wouldn’t think there is anything special about them. They cluck-cluck like other chickens you might have encountered. They mill about aimlessly, pecking at the floor inside the barn, looking for kernels of corn I’ve thrown out for them; outside they do the same kind of wandering, hunting for worms.

If you’ve ever spent any time at all around chickens, you might, honestly, have the opinion that they’re not the smartest beasts on the block, and unless you’ve gotten to know my own chickens, you’d likely say that they, too, are fairly dim of wit. But I beg to differ. My chickens are artistic and inspired, and I’m the lucky beneficiary of their creativity.

You see, the hens in my barn are Magic Chickens. They lay Magic Eggs...or, more specifically they lay Magic Photographic Eggs. I go out each evening and gather the eggs -- an outsider might look at the eggs and say that there’s nothing unusual about them --but of course I am a photographer and it's my job to notice things, and the amazing discovery I've made is that, no matter how casually or thoughtlessly I place the eggs in a spot, a Photograph happens!

To me that is BIG Magic.

A couple of evenings ago I went out to do barn chores. I gathered eggs from the hen house, and then, when I stopped to throw hay in for the goat, I absentmindedly put the eggs on our wheelbarrow. Abracadabra! A picture presented itself! The next night I brought an egg into the house from the barn. I put the egg on the kitchen table to take off my barn coat (we’d just finished supper and a candle was burning.) Presto-Change-o! The egg became a Photograph!

So I’m convinced that mine are Magic Chickens.
I’m even thinking of having a bumper sticker made that says “My chickens are more creative than your honor student.”

Monday, March 7, 2011


I guess I must have been kind of overeager for the day’s events to begin because I arrived at the monastery early last Saturday, way before my Tibetan friends. It was Losar, Tibetan New Year, and the first thing I noticed was that the prayer wheels in the empty monastery courtyard looked amazing in the sunlight, though a little lonely.

Later, the monks would say that having good weather on Losar was an “auspicious” way to begin a new year.

As my friends began to arrive, I was happy, not only for their good company, but pleased that I had decided to wear some reasonably nice American clothes because the Tibetans were dressed in their holiday best. I’ve been attending and photographing Seattle-area Tibetan community events for several years now, but Saturday it seemed like folks were looking particularly stylish.

The day began with the Buddhist monks offering prayers and blessings outside the monastery. Eventually everyone went inside, where there were more prayers and offerings of ceremonial mandalas and scarves.

Later that evening we all gathered at a neighborhood community center where there was a potluck dinner, a long table covered with dish after dish of just the most incredible Tibetan and Asian food (another table held a framed portrait of the Dalai Lama, as well as a ceremonial food offering.) Leah, who had spent the morning and early afternoon back at home, baking for the potluck, arrived with our contribution for the dinner (a vegetarian pot pie...not exactly Tibetan fare, but, hey, we do what we can.) The Tibetan kids supplied the entertainment for the evening, performing a Tibetan-language play, followed by music.

Though many of the Seattle Tibetans are as Americanized and Western as Leah and I are, they also make a great effort to keep their cultural heritage alive. Thus, late in the evening when Leah and I needed to leave to catch a ferry home, we made sure we toured the room saying ka-lee shu (good-bye) to our friends, who smiled appreciatively that we were beginning the new year with a show of respect for their language.