Sunday, February 24, 2013


There was no avoiding it: My entire being and all my camera gear was covered with barley flour.

There was barley flour on the two camera bodies I was using, and on my lenses.  The powdery stuff had made its way into every nook and cranny of the camera bag that I had hanging from my shoulder, and there was gray dust all over the black jacket I wore. 

I spent a number of days last week with my friends in the Seattle-area Tibetan community. I was photographing their observance of Losar, Tibetan New Year, and barley flour is a big deal in Tibetan culture.  It is used to make a dough called tsampa that for centuries has been a staple for the people living on the high, cold Tibetan plateau.  On Losar,  barley flour seemed to me to be a kind of sacrament, thrown into the air during a ceremony that welcomes in the new year with prayers for good health and prosperity.

Like most other cultures, Tibetans have traditionally marked the new year by eating and celebrating,  but I have spent Losar with my friends for the past several years now and there has been little or no celebration.  Political and human rights circumstances for my friends’ brothers and sisters who remain in Tibet are simply too dire.  Tibetans living outside their homeland have decided that Losar should be a season of  meditation and prayer, not partying.

And so, once the hopeful barley flour had been thrown into the air, my friends headed into their quiet, peaceful monastery.  I went in too.  I was a little dusty, and dust can sometimes present a problem if it gets inside camera equipment.

I decided to consider barley flour dust to be a blessing.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Le Tour

I was doing a mega-bike ride yesterday,  an epic event I do several times a week and have named “Le Tour de Garage.”  The ride is a wintertime athletic invention of mine and it is a kind of homage to a similar, admittedly better-known sporting spectacle held each summer in France. 

To do Le Tour de Garage, I mount my bicycle on a stationary trainer, indoors, where I am sheltered from the Pacific Northwest’s winter rain.  While the world-class athletes who compete in the event in France do have to contend with rain and grueling routes that cross over mountain passes in the Alps and Pyrenees, the ride I do in my garage is challenging in its own right:

Le Tour de Garage can be utterly, oppressively BORING. I am not cheered-on by hoards of European cycling fans, and I do not have amazing scenery to inspire me.  Rather, I ride alone, in a dark-ish room, with only my workbench as my “view.”

Music on my iPod is my godsend when I’m riding Le Tour de Garage.  For yesterday’s one hour ride I began by listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” album, and later, to the  “Bat Out of Hell” album by Meatloaf. If you haven’t done so lately, you really, absolutely,  must go back and revisit the song “All Revved Up With No Place To Go.”

The workout routine I do keeps me fit, so that, when I head to the mountains, I can hike, snowshoe,  or climb with confidence, safety,  and efficiency.  I can enjoy the exploration of terrain that others might find difficult.

Last Sunday several friends and I did a snowshoe trip to Mazama Ridge on Mt. Rainier.  It was a glorious day: Sunny, with mild temperatures, and views stretching from here,  to way beyond forever.  New snow had fallen earlier in the week and we were giddy as we moved across the pristine, untracked canvas of white.

We were four grown men -- at 59 I was the junior member of our group -- but thankfully we are all active and blessed with good health, and we were playing outside on an amazing day...kinda like teenagers. 

We Were All Revved Up with Someplace To Go.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Barn Art

I headed out to the barn the other morning to feed Pumpkin the Goat, Smokey the Sheep, and our three hens and one rooster (the feathered creatures do not have names.)  It was  foggy out, and still.  Even Pumpkin and Smokey, who usually bleat or baah when they see me coming -- they want to encourage me to get a move on and serve up their grain, pronto -- respected the quiet.

As I approached the barn, I noticed the elements of the photograph you see above.  There is an external post that is part of the support structure for the sliding barn door, and we’ve hung an old bike from that post, creating what I guess might be considered a funky piece of decorative “art.”  I pulled out the small camera that is nearly always in my jeans pocket and, as is my habit, made a visual note of the foggy scene.

I was reminded of a couple of images I shot several months ago when I was back home in Ohio visiting my mother.

Mom and I were driving through a rural part of the state, on our way to eat at a plain little Amish lunch counter that my mom enjoys very much.  For about $3.95 there,  one can get a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of soup, but it’s not an inexpensive meal that makes the lunch counter a favorite for us.  Rather, we’re drawn by the place’s unpretentious, country simplicity.  That lunch counter is a good place for Mom and me to reminisce,  and to retell the sweet, often-repeated family stories that we share every time I visit.

There is also serious barn art to be found in Ohio and, when I drive my mother around, I pull over often to photograph perfectly maintained, new-ish Amish barns with clean and straight architectural lines and fresh white paint; or, more often,  I take pictures  of barns and farmhouses whose better days are past.

Mom is always good-natured about the stops I make, and, in fact, I suspect she’d be a little disappointed if I did not see things in my old home state that I’m moved to photograph.

Barn bling:  I admit that I’m a sucker for it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Magic Box

Someone once said that “Life is what happens when we’re on our way to somewhere else,”  which I guess is an admonition that we should pay attention to this moment, this very moment. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes catch myself thinking that what I’m doing right now -- typing a few words on a computer keyboard, for example -- isn’t that important, but that thing I have planned for this afternoon (shooting a job for a paying client)...well, that will be important.

Fortunately I have a camera to remind me to pay attention. I can be walking through a room and glance out a window and notice -- even if ever so vaguely at first -- that there are shapes and colors to be seen. A lamp and its warm light inside the room are reflected in the glass, and they kind of magically complement wind chimes and a withered plant outside the window. 

Another time I pass a mirror in our front hall and notice that, where the mirror glass is beveled, one nearby Buddha statue becomes three, and a single candle becomes many (my cerebral Tibetan monk friends would get a huge kick out of this things-aren’t-always-what-they-seem kind of realization.)

So I stop. I use my camera to take notes, and I divide my days into slices of 1/60th or 1/125th of seconds.

Then I post the bits of my day here, to share with others.

That camera really is a magic box that often sees far more clearly than I.