Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Venus on Christmas Eve

Early last night, Christmas Eve,  I carried my camera, mounted with a long telephoto lens, into a quiet field some distance from a forest of tall evergreens.  It was about 20 minutes after the sun had set, and a single planet -- I think it was Venus -- shone bright in the growing darkness in the southwestern sky.

Back at home there was a fire going in the wood stove, Christmas lights and candles burned in our family room, and the scene was cozy.  Leah was making a special Christmas Eve meal and the house smelled wonderful. Our son had come out for the night, and Leah’s mother was there too.

Earlier in the week, however,  I’d noticed the striking planet in the night sky and had thought to myself: “Wow, if it is clear on Christmas Eve, wouldn’t it be cool if I could make a picture that night?...”  So,  despite all those comforts at home, I had politely excused myself from the family gathering, promising I’d only be away for a short while.  I got in the car and drove a couple of miles to get to the spot I’d previously scoped out for the shot, this field where I stood now,  just me and my not-too-conversational three-legged friend the tripod.

The sky was clear, as I had hoped, and it was a fairly simple matter to make the picture I had in mind.  I focused on the very top of a distant, tall evergreen and waited for Venus to move into just the right spot in my viewfinder.

I shot about 10 frames, packed my gear into my car,  and headed home  (stopping along the way at our local craft brewery to get a growler jug filled with holiday ale.) 

In short order I was back home and seated at the dinner table, taking part in the holiday meal.

Time away from home: Probably 30 minutes.

Ho Ho Ho.  I LOVE IT when a plan comes together!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pictures for Friends

I thought I’d do something on this blog today that is a bit unusual...something that, for a photographer -- this photographer at least --  is not at all easy:

I am posting photographs that are not what I consider My Best Work.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like these images well enough, though not necessarily for aesthetic reasons.  Rather, the pictures touch me because I am personally fond of the people who are in them; and today (as the Christmas and New Year holidays approach) that feels like a good enough reason to put the images on my blog.

My friends from the Seattle area Tibetan community gathered last weekend for a potluck dinner to celebrate, as they do every year, the Dalai Lama’s winning of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.  Community members brought their best Tibetan hot dishes, and, while they ate, folks chatted and visited with one-another. In a room of probably 150 people, Leah and I and one other fellow were the only non-Tibetans, though, throughout the evening, we were greeted warmly and made to feel welcome. Again and again the Tibetans told us how much they appreciated our involvement with their community.

I moved quietly around the room, taking candid pictures that, as always,  I give to the community for its web site and Facebook page.

I didn’t wind up making any extraordinary images, though what I did shoot came from my heart.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mountain Daze

There are a number of months in the middle of each winter when the crews who work Washington’s North Cascades Highway don’t even attempt to plow the roadway and keep it open for cars and trucks. The highway crosses two mountain passes, one of which is over 5400 feet in elevation, and the peaks near the route are steep and subject to avalanche.  I suspect it won’t be long now -- a winter storm is forecast for the next several days -- before officials close the highest portion of the highway  and it won’t open again until about Easter.

My friends and I decided that we’d do one last hike up off the North Cascades Highway, before it is gated for the season. We met early at a park & ride near Seattle (that’s when I shot the sunrise picture you see above) and we drove north to Mt. Vernon, then headed east to Rainy Pass.  We parked the car, donned snowshoes, and hiked south. Several hours, four miles, and 1800 feet of elevation gain later we reached Maple Pass, elevation 6800 feet.

The spot was spectacular, with views to forever, and beyond.  I pulled out my backpacking stove, melted snow and boiled water for the group, and we shared hot chocolate and chai over lunch. I made a number of photographs, including one series of images in a panorama that I could piece together later on the computer (click on the tiny, middle image below to see it at a larger size.)

Warm sunset light kissed the peaks around us during our hike-out, and it was dark by the time we reached the car. We headed home, stopping along the way at a wonderful Mexican restaurant in Burlington,  where we ate to excess and talked excitedly about the fine trip we’d shared.

These Mountain Days: Wow, Wow, Wow.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Since I will gush and blah-blah-blah,  pretty much anywhere, anytime,  to anybody who will listen, about how crazy I am about the knock-me-over beauty of the place where I live, I suppose it was to be expected that yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, I’d stumble upon the wonderful scene you see here.

I was at the ferry dock, waiting for the arrival of the boat that our son had taken from the mainland to come to Thanksgiving Dinner. Other folks who live on my side of Puget Sound were there as well, and they too were waiting for loved ones ferrying over for the holiday. It was late afternoon and the sun was trying its best to burn through fog that had lingered all day long.  Off in the distance, beyond sailboats moored in the harbor, I could see that sunlight was casting “god-beams”  through the tall evergreens, and that the light was incredibly warm and beautiful.

The ferry was late arriving, slowed I guess by the fog, and that gave me time to wander around and look for an unobstructed vantage point, away from the marina.  I found a good spot,  walked to the end of a dock, and realized that a duck was about to do me the favor of swimming into the scene to complete the composition. I made my picture.

I was alone there on the dock -- there was no one nearby for me to talk to -- and only now, as I sit and write these words, can I gush and blah-blah-blah about how thankful I feel to live here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


I was on the cross country team when I was in high school many (MANY!) years ago, and to this day I run (or bicycle or hike) nearly every day.  Last week I was in Ohio visiting my mother -- she still lives in the same house where I grew up -- and my morning running routes were familiar to me indeed because I was covering the same sidewalks and roadways I ran 40-some years ago.

Running is by far my favorite kind of workout, but, photographically speaking,  it does have one downside: It is pretty much the only thing I do where I don’t have a camera with me...not even a phone camera. I sometimes wonder how many photographic possibilities I cruise right past and don’t even see when I’m running (however it's best that I not think about that, because, though I might be O.C. about exercise,  I’m more obsessive about making pictures.)

I was in Ohio for four days and I ran two mornings and the other days I went for one-hour walks, one of which was in fresh snow. It was that day that these two images were made. The above picture was “found” while the other was “arranged,” and I go back-and-forth about which I prefer.  I’ve put both photographs on my iPad,  and, as I review work in the coming months, maybe I’ll decide one is better than the other. 

Or maybe I should just go do a workout and think about the images. After all,  forty years of running, cycling and hiking have given me the certain knowledge (wink wink) that a brain swimming in endorphins can find answers to nearly all of Life’s Questions.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


I’m accustomed to needing to be ready for fleeting photographic moments in the work I do professionally because I’m usually doing pictures of people. An expression on a face, a human gesture, or body language,  all can happen in an instant.

The pictures I do for fun, however, are normally not quite so moment-oriented -- take landscape photography for example. Typically when I see something pleasing,  I have time to set up a tripod, maybe change camera lenses, to consider composition.

One of the things I enjoy about my personal work is how very different the image-making process is from my professional shoots.

The landscape pictures I shot on a hike last weekend, however, were the exception to the Mellow-and-Methodical rule.  All three pictures I’m posting here today presented themselves in an instant: The light was way better one moment than it was the next, or the clouds parted, just-right.

This is a good thing: The for-fun, “practice” photography is not only enjoyable to do, it also keeps my eyes in shape for the times when people are paying me to produce.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Seeing Red

My hiking friends must know me well enough by now  -- having spent who-knows-how-many hours and hiked hundreds of miles of trails with me -- to practically be able to predict when a Gushy Kurt Moment is about to happen.  We’ll come upon a scene -- one lone, red-leafed maple tree, for example, positively glowing in fall color in an otherwise monochromatic  forest of evergreens -- and I’ll enthuse: “Oh my, I love this state!”

The truth, I must admit, is even gushier than enjoyment of the place where I live, or hiking, or the company of good friends:  What I really celebrate is seeing.

I walked out of the post office the other day and noticed wonderful light on some leaves. I pulled out my camera and spent several, happy minutes taking pictures. Another day I was feeding the neighbor's horse an apple, and the look of the scene -- Rusty’s big-’ol horse nose pressed right up in my face, and the lines of the fence around Rusty’s pasture, and of course the red color of the apple -- just blew me away.

All I can say in defense of my gushiness is that, as a photographer, I hope I needn’t apologize for having eyes.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Pacific North-Wet

The summer-long string of sunny, perfect weather days that we enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest from June through September is a thing of the past now, replaced -- as we Goretex-wearing inhabitants of course knew would happen -- by the drip-drip of the fall rains. 

Oh, and fog!... I must not forget fog! Though it presently happens not to be raining as I look out my windows  and type these words,  it IS foggy, and I can hear a fog horn coming from the lighthouse on Puget Sound three miles to the north; and a deeper, more symphonic basso horn from a ferry dock three miles to the south.

Not that I’m complaining about the wet weather, mind you.  The huge trees and the mosses and ferns that are part of life in my neck of the woods are green byproducts of fall, winter and spring rain and fog.  The summer dry weather we experienced this year was actually a little too perfect for my taste.

I walk around the place where we live and I make pictures of raindrops on our clotheslines, or of Tibetan prayer flags hanging from our trees that I suspect are happily drinking in the misty fog, and I feel at peace in this new, damp season.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Golden Years

I’ll turn 60 this week, and I decided to mark that milestone by not acting my age.

Three friends and I headed for the mountains last Sunday (and I might add that my friends are even older than I am.)  We drove to a trailhead in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, shouldered daypacks, and walked up. And up. And up. By day’s end we had covered 13 miles, gaining (and of course later losing) three thousand feet of elevation.

We hiked like super-athletes, barely breaking a sweat.  Coaches for the US Olympic Marathon team should have been there to check our resting heart rates and to interview us to learn our training secrets.

My goodness we hiked like finely-tuned human machines!

And so to AARP and other Senior Citizen groups I say: “Send your Golden Years magazines and your Retirement Investment Opportunity junk mail ads to somebody else. I plan to spend my 60th year leaving forty-year-olds behind me in the dust."

Sixty is the new thirty!


I joke of course.

My friends and I did sweat on our hike -- a little. 

And 60 is probably just the new 59.9.

The memorable thing about the hike my friends and I did won’t be how fast we moved, or whether we felt in-shape, or even that we did the trip on the week of my 60th birthday.

What we WILL remember is the staggering beauty of the place we visited...the knock-our-socks-off, electric color of the larch trees. And the new, fresh snow on the high country landscape.

We’ll remember the good conversations we had during the drive, and at dinner after the hike.

And I’m sure that my friends and I will all agree that this Hiking Life is a freaking perfect way to spend our Golden Years.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Seeing Summits

The mountains that capture my eyes and my imagination tend to be of the severe, sharp-summitted sort: Points of a rocky knife, piercing the sky.  Mt. Shuksan (above) appeals to me, while Mt. Rainier (below) strikes me as a tad too gentle-looking and, well, rounded.

I’ve been wondering why this is -- why do some peaks quicken my pulse but others do not? -- and I’ve decided that it is a Climber-Thing.

Simply put: I seem the be visually lured to peaks that scare the crap out of me.

Mostly what I do when I venture into the mountains would be called hiking, not climbing, but apparently I’ve made my way to just enough summits that my brain now can’t help itself. I look at a peak and I begin to visualize climbing routes: That glacier would lead up to that ridge, and the ridge might get me to the top...

Sheesh. My feet might be on the ground but my head is often in the clouds.

Friday, September 27, 2013

New Canvas

The changing of the seasons always comes as a bit of a shock to the senses for someone like me who spends time in the mountains, and a bit of effort is needed if one is to maintain mental equilibrium.

Just a week ago my hiking partner Neil and I were hiking in shirtsleeves and sweating like crazy and we trekked up a peak in Mt. Rainier National Park, but things change oh-so quickly in the mountains. Yesterday we did a dayhike in the North Cascades and at our high point -- a pass bit above six thousand feet in elevation -- we found ourselves walking in fresh snow.

It was pretty amazing to stand at that pass and be able to look down into valleys at Autumn, while above us the high peaks had the look of Winter. I had to pull a light stocking cap, gloves, and a windshirt out of my pack. Summer was last week’s experience. Old news.

Mother Nature has new canvas to play with and yesterday I was fortunate to be there to get a sense of what she has to show me in the coming months... if only I'm willing and able to venture out and see.

Monday, September 16, 2013


This is the time of the year when I can’t help but think about Lenny, the simple-minded character in Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men,” and how Lenny had an agrarian dream to  “live off the fat of the land.”

Everywhere I look, the soil around me is offering foods that Leah and I can eat, if only we reach up and pick apples off trees or stoop down and gather beans from the garden or forage mushrooms from a forest floor. We gratefully oblige, bringing what the land has produced into the house and Leah dries or cans or freezes the bounty.

Truth be told, I spend almost as much time playing with my camera and trying to record the beauty of the food as I do helping with the harvest.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Crossing Paths

Many of the friends I hike with these days were colleagues during the 18 years I worked as a photographer at Seattle’s morning newspaper -- reporters and editors for whom journalism was a calling, not merely a job.  My friends really know the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest, and, as we drive toward trailheads for treks in wild places, the conversation is often about politics, or land use issues, or the environment.

Last Friday my friend Neil and I decided to hike the Pasayten Wilderness and we piled boots and packs into Neil’s Subaru and he pointed the car toward north central Washington.  The roadtrip part of our day took us along the North Cascades Highway, even casual glances out the car windows treating us to some of the most stunning roadtrip scenery in America.  Neil was a longtime political reporter, is smart as a whip, and, as he drove,  we talked about politicians and governmental policy, both at home and in that far-off place some here refer to as “The Other Washington.”

That’s when we came upon the fellow you see in the photograph above, walking along a fairly secluded stretch of road, carrying a “peace” sign. “What’s up with this?” I wondered, because, though the setting might not quite have been the Middle of Nowhere, it was certainly in that neighborhood. I guess I was in a journalistic frame of mind -- as opposed to the Wilderness Hobo frame of mind I’d get into later in the day -- and I asked Neil to pull over.

I chatted with the fellow for a bit and I learned he was hiking toward a small town where he planned to catch a bus to travel to the county’s courthouse and there he would stand with his sign.  I told the fellow that it was ironic that Neil and I should encounter him when we did...that we'd been talking in the car about Syria, and what, if anything,  the US and the world community might do. I asked the fellow if I could make a photograph of him and he said yes. We shook hands and parted, the man with the sign going one way down the road while Neil and I headed the other.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Parade

My friends from the Seattle-area Tibetan community recently marched in Seattle’s huge,  annual celebration-of-summer, the Seafair Torchlight Parade.  It was a warm evening and the downtown city streets were lined with Seattleites in shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. The Tibetans, meanwhile, were dresed-to-the-nines in costuming they might wear for festive events in their homeland, a high, cold plateau surrounded by snowy mountains.

The Tibetans were wearing long sleeves that night and must have been roasting in their robe-like chubas. Some were wearing hats with fur trim.  Nevertheless, they enthusiastically pounded on drums, blew ceremonial horns,  and danced their way along the parade route, proud to share their culture with Seattle.

And though their volunteer photographer -- yours truly -- did not dance his way through downtown Seattle, I did walk, backwards, the entire 2-mile-long route in order to document the procession moving forward.

So that I’d fit in with the costuming of their group, my Tibetan friends gave me a Tibetan shirt to wear, but fortunately they didn’t ask that I wear a fur hat.