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!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Season for the Senses

This is a wonderful time of year for those of us who tend to be sensual -- and I’m not talking "sensual" in the pop-culture, Cosmo magazine use of the word. What I am saying is this:

The garden is kind of winding down. A lot of the summer’s salad greens have been eaten and the produce has been picked, but you wander past the raspberry bushes and you find one, single berry still remaining. You pop that berry into your mouth and you think: This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted. Or...

You sometimes go for walks in quiet, peaceful places, and you are the sort who gets it that the sounds and smell of dry leaves, crunching under foot, are part of the essential experience the season. Or...

You are appreciative of the gift of sight -- you use your eyes to sometimes look around and really see -- and experience from past years tells you that the curtain is about to go up for the best light show on Earth.

Everywhere I go these days, there are things to photograph...but better still, there are tastes and sounds and smells unique to this season.

Each day offers something to savor.