Driftwood: A Story of Trees, Water, Storms and Time

This winter was long and harsh, with high winds and big storms.  Lake Huron froze early and stayed frozen until March.  Once the ice left an unusual amount of driftwood remained on the beaches and in the water.  Where did it come from?  How far had it travelled?  Impossible to know.

This image was taken on May 9, a half-hour before sunset.  Most of the driftwood had been returned to the water and the smaller pieces picked up by people walking the beach.

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Three weeks earlier this is what that same beach looked like.  The large tree in the water is constantly tossed and turned by the waves, and the rest of the wood and debris has mostly disappeared.

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Late in the evening, a silver shimmering lake and a log sculpted by water, wind and time.

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The same scene, taken with a longer exposure.  The first a "natural" representation, the one below created to smooth the lake and sky and give a more serene and minimalist look.  To my eye both images work.

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A different beach, again photographed late in the day.  The evenings have been cloudy with storms ever present on the horizon.  The light is hard to catch.

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A closer shot of the three logs, buried in sand under the water, and projecting up.  Hard to know how long they'll keep their positions before the sand shifts or the next storm takes them out.

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The logs, despite their weight, are hurled together by water and wind, ending up as interlocked forms.  To lift these logs is impossible; only the changing water levels, pushed by winds and storms, can toss them around and shift the configuration.

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White, smooth, and sculpted - and now mostly out of the water - this lovely piece still decorates the beach, hopefully for some time.

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Again late on another evening when the skies were dark and a storm threatened.  

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Over the three weeks that these images were taken the beach has changed.  The large logs are still there, heavy and hard to move; the smaller pieces are scattered or gone.  The opportunity to find and photograph these natural sculptures is probably over for this year but I'll keep on looking. As always, I am awed by the beauty of the world around me.  And grateful to be able to photograph it.

A Few Days in New York

Like so many people I love New York.  Hard not to.  It's a unique place, with it's own look, feel, and special kind of energy.  Last week I spent five days there, seeing some opera and spending as much time as I could exploring different parts of the city with my camera.  I visited the East Village, NoHo, a bit of Little Italy, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  I used the subway and the East River ferry to get around and was surprised how fast, inexpensive and easy it was.

This time I wanted to visit areas I hadn't been to before, and Astor Place in NoHo/the East Village was the first stop.  This huge bronze sculpture jumped right out at me.   Installed in mid-March it has been met with both delight and derision.  Called The Last Three it was created to honour and bring attention to the last three remaining northern white rhinos on the planet.  I found it quite beautiful.  

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The sculpture had been up less than a week when the male rhino, Sudan, died.  He was 45 and is survived by his daughter and granddaughter.  

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The sun was out this morning, lighting the buildings and casting shadows.  Old and stately residential buildings with their cast iron fire escapes, sections painted in different colours, with a slim and elegant church making up part of the block.

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On another day It was wet and cold much of the time, but the streets were still busy and the rain made the colours pop.

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A brightly painted coffee shop.  Some inside enjoying a break, a man outside heading somewhere in the rain, another with a shopping cart perhaps out for groceries.  This is a neighbourhood with more residents than tourists.

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One of the many steam vents that can be seen on the streets, part of the New York City steam system.   Steam produced by the steam generating stations is carried under the streets and used to heat and cool residential buildings and businesses. Excess is expelled through the vents.  In use since 1882 it's the largest steam generating system in the world and services much of Manhattan.

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Walking around is a delight.  There is beauty everywhere - the buildings, the people, the streets.  I simply couldn't get enough.  

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I turn the corner and come face to face with art on the side of a building.  Based on an old Blondie poster dating back to a concert that took place in 1979.  I stood and looked at it for a while. People strolled by, some not seeming to notice - perhaps they've seen it many times before - others, like me, stopping to take it in.

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As in most big cities there's construction everywhere.  From the look of the paint and graffiti these barriers have been around a while.  People and traffic simply move around it all.

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These two guys were movers, carrying things down from a walkup, then taking it all to a truck they had parked around the corner.  Not an easy job that's for sure. 

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A pause at the edge of Little Italy.  Not enough time to wander through it.  Perhaps that will be part of my next trip.

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An Asian lady walks by, and then stops to have a chat with an Asian man who was eating a sandwich in the outside seating area of a local coffee shop.  I watched them for a while as they talked to each other, oblivious of the many people walking by.

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Another day that began with trip on the subway.  And just as I could spend hours on the streets I could do the same in the subways.  There is so much to see.  There's art in many of the stations, musicians playing in some, and lots of the subway cars are brightly painted.  And of course there's the people.

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Roy Lichtenstein's Times Square Mural, 6 feet by 53 feet, commissioned in 1994 by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and installed in 2002.  It's remarkable.

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Brightly coloured subway cars, these two painted with themes from The Walking Dead.  A musician playing and singing and a group of people waiting for a train.

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After the subway, a ferry across the East River to Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  Going down and across the river you see both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge up close.  Two beautiful and amazing feats of engineering.    

First the Brooklyn Bridge...

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---and then the Manhattan.

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Once across the river in Brooklyn, looking at Manhattan from the other side you get a sense of the size, scale and density of the place.  The East River Generating Station is on the left, the Empire State Building in the middle, and the spire of Chrysler Building visible just a little to the right.

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The United Nations Building in the Foreground and the Chrysler Building to the left.

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A walk through parts of Williamsburg, and then the ferry to travel back up the river and across to Manhattan once again.

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Manhattan's East River Generating Station seen from the ferry dock.

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A great few days in New York.  Walking around with my camera, trying to take it all in, a feast for the eyes.  And in between, opera at the Met, a feast for all the senses.  New York is a gift to the world.  I can't wait to return.

Tundra Swan Migration 2018

The annual Tundra Spring Migration is just about over.  The swans left their winter home in Chesapeake Bay and started arriving here at the end of February.  This is the first stop on their journey to the Arctic.  They land in the wet farmers' fields where they can find food and rest up for the next stage of their journey.  Large groups of swans have been in the area for the past three weeks.  They're also in Aylmer, at a wildlife sanctuary where food and water are both available.

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Unlike other years this time the light has been excellent, with blue skies, patches of cloud, and soft golden evening light rendering the swans even more beautiful.

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They tend to fly in groups and can be heard long before they're seen.   Watching a large group of tundra swans flying overhead is an amazing sight.

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These are large birds, almost 5 feet in length with a wingspan of 5-1/2 feet.  Males weigh in at 7.5 kg and females a little less at 6.3 kg.  They take their time in choosing a mate but once chosen they pair for life.

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This group is taking off for the next stage of the journey west and north.

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They're active on the water, interacting with each other, moving around, making loud sounds.  They run across the water as they prepare to fly from one section of the pond to another.  

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Despite being large birds they land easily and elegantly, although sometimes nearby swans and geese get swamped.  Here three swans land among a group of resting swans and geese, and startle a dark morph snow goose into flight.  The goose flew a few feet away and quickly settled back down.

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When the birds come in for landing they brace their legs, lower their rear ends, skim across the water for several yards leaving visible trails, and slowly retract their wings as they prepare for a resting position on the water.  The settling of the wings occurs gracefully over several seconds.

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Several swans landing in the middle of a large group already on the water

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A family of four arriving late in the day and getting ready to land.  The two younger birds, the ones with brown heads, were born in the Arctic last year and are undertaking their first migration north.  They remain with their parents for at least one full migration.

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This year's migration is coming to a close.  As always I've enjoyed seeing and photographing these strong, beautiful birds.  I wish them well on the journey to their Arctic breeding grounds and look forward to seeing them again next year.

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Images from the Dior Collection

On a recent trip to Toronto I went to see the Christian Dior exhibit at the ROM.  I've always loved fashion and clothing but wasn't sure what to expect from a display of ultra high couture dresses and gowns.  Perhaps they'd seem strange and old-fashioned, suited to another world, another age.  Or simply extravagant and ostentatious, unattractive symbols of wealth and privilege.  

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The exhibit is beautiful.  There are dresses of all sorts - cocktail dresses, dinner dresses, long gowns, summer dresses, and a group of three dresses designed for a mother and her two daughters.  All are exquisite.  The detail remarkable, the fabrics rich and varied, each chosen to work with a particular design.  And they are timeless.  These dresses could just as easily be worn today as they were 60 and 70 years ago.

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A cocktail dress and summer afternoon dresses.

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Much of the exhibit is displayed in open spaces and that gives it a special feel.  You can walk around the clothing, see it from all angles, and appreciate that there's as much detail, sometimes more, in the back of the dress as on the front.  

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Along all sides of the room were exhibits in glass - sequins and other stones that were applied to certain gowns, embroidery skeins, fabric swatches, shoes, some jewellery - along with other pieces of clothing.  The origin of each, how it was created, and its purpose for the garment was well explained.  As interesting as that was, and it did add valuable information about the complexity and rigour of the construction process, having the articles behind glass was a distraction.  The beauty for me lay in the three-dimensionality the on-floor exhibits offered, and I was mesmerized.

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Three dresses, created for a mother and her two daughters, for a special event.  Each dress a work of art, and each designed to best suit the age of the person wearing it.  

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Detail from the back of the younger daughter's dress, and two more long gowns.

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On the way out I was asked if I would participate in a survey about the exhibit.  Normally I avoid those things but this time I said yes, and I'm glad I did.  The focus of the survey was to understand the impact of having items on open display versus in cases.  In most museums, the exhibits are always under glass, and I understand that, given their value.  But that has limitations.  The glass reflects, the items can't be seen as well, and they're certainly not as accessible.  This exhibit was special, and very well curated, and I hope the ROM plans on doing this again.

Due to popular demand the exhibit has been extended until April 8.  If I can I'll visit it again.  And if any of you reading this are in the Toronto area and have some time this Christian Dior exhibit at the ROM is well worth seeing.

Iceland Through a Long Lens

On a recent trip to Iceland my main lens jammed on the first day and I was left photographing that big-picture landscape country with just a long lens.  And while my 70-300 is a good lens it's not the one I reach for first, and certainly not for a place like Iceland.  First disappointment, followed by mild panic, and then I simply had to get on with it.  So two weeks to go and an opportunity to practice longer focal length photography.  Not ideal and It was a challenge.

Iceland is known for the size and scale of its waterfalls.  Broad and high, cascading over massive rock formations, they are impressive.  With this lens I had two choices:  shoot from further away or focus on just a section of the waterfall.

 150 mm, 1/40sec  @ F9, ISO100

150 mm, 1/40sec  @ F9, ISO100

A tall, narrow waterfall a short walk away from the massive Skogafoss waterfall.  It was the small tree, growing in a rock wedged into an opening that caught my eye.  

 70 mm, 1/15 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 1/15 sec @ F16, ISO100

A small section from Skogafoss, a large waterfall in the southern part of the island.    Capturing the entire scene wasn't possible but this shot gives a sense of the volume and power of the water cascading from the river above.

 108 mm, 1/8 sec @ F20, ISO100

108 mm, 1/8 sec @ F20, ISO100

Hraunfossar Falls, or really just a small part of it, is a series of cascading falls that stretch along the lava fields.  The landscape above was a riot of fall colours.  And because it's off the beaten track it gets fewer visitors and can be enjoyed almost in solitude.  That said, it's difficult to capture without getting unwanted twigs and shrubs in the foreground.  So this time the longer lens was an advantage.

 70 mm, 1/8 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 1/8 sec @ F16, ISO100

A struggle at Oxarafoss Falls in Pingvellir National Park.  There was no way to get the right angle on the falls and also be far enough away.  At 70 mm, the widest angle I had, I focused on the lower section and the water cascading over the rocks in the foreground.  Vertical shots or closeups provide a different view.  

 79 mm, 1/5 sec @ F22, ISO100

79 mm, 1/5 sec @ F22, ISO100

 300 mm, 1/10 sec @ F16, ISO100

300 mm, 1/10 sec @ F16, ISO100

Lava fields, rock formations, black sand beaches, ice formations - Iceland has it all.  Rock formations jutting into the seas, formed by lava and shaped by time and weather, are remarkable.  Here a longer lens often worked well, as in the image below, taken at Vik in the south of Iceland.

 128 mm, 1/20 sec @ F16, ISO100

128 mm, 1/20 sec @ F16, ISO100

"Drinking Dragon" rock formation with mountains behind.  

 135 mm, 1/20 sec @ F11, ISO100

135 mm, 1/20 sec @ F11, ISO100

Ice formations on a black beach taken in the "blue hour" just before dark.

 81 mm, 0.5 sec @ F16, ISO400

81 mm, 0.5 sec @ F16, ISO400

And the same place at dawn the following morning.

 124 mm, 2.5 sec @ F16, ISO100

124 mm, 2.5 sec @ F16, ISO100

The Blue Lagoon.  Large chunks of ice and small icebergs break from the glacier, stay in the lagoon for a while, then make their way to the sea.  The black markings on the ice are ash from volcanic eruptions that occurred in ages past.  The longer they're in the lagoon the smoother the ice surfaces become, shaped by all kinds of weather.

 182 mm, 1/50 sec @ F11, ISO 100

182 mm, 1/50 sec @ F11, ISO 100

Blue skies and snow-capped mountains with glaciers moving down them are part of the unique beauty of this place.

 244 mm, 1/800 sec @ F7.1, ISO100

244 mm, 1/800 sec @ F7.1, ISO100

Lava fields are slow to regenerate.  It takes years for earth to accumulate sufficiently for moss to grow, and the hardy plants, bushes and few trees that are able to grow in this environment take much longer.  

 70 mm, 1/50 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 1/50 sec @ F16, ISO100

 112 mm, 1/6 sec @ F16, ISO100

112 mm, 1/6 sec @ F16, ISO100

Fishing nets along the shore in the northern part of Iceland.  

 93 mm, 8 sec @ 16, ISO100

93 mm, 8 sec @ 16, ISO100

 300 mm, 13 sec @ F16, ISO100

300 mm, 13 sec @ F16, ISO100

Winding roads along the fjords and small communities built along the water or nestled up close against the mountains, common sights as we travelled through the country.

 78 mm, 1/160 sec @ F9, ISO400

78 mm, 1/160 sec @ F9, ISO400

 90 mm, 1/80 sec @ F10, ISO100

90 mm, 1/80 sec @ F10, ISO100

 124 mm, 1/50 sec @ F8, ISO400

124 mm, 1/50 sec @ F8, ISO400

 100 mm 1/250 sec @ F8, ISO1000

100 mm 1/250 sec @ F8, ISO1000

Churches like this are found all over Iceland, brightly coloured, with a few buildings nearby.

 300 mm, 1/200 sec @ F8, ISO400

300 mm, 1/200 sec @ F8, ISO400

The abandoned herring factory at Djupavik in the north of the country.  Built in 1934, closed in 1954 when the herring were gone, and recently painted and refurbished as a setting for part of the superhero movie "Justice League" in October, 2016.  A beautiful location.

 105 mm, 0.3 sec @ 11, ISO100

105 mm, 0.3 sec @ 11, ISO100

 70 mm, 1/30 sec @ F10, ISO100

70 mm, 1/30 sec @ F10, ISO100

The harbour in the town of Patrekskfjordur.

 116 mm, 1/2 sec @ F8, ISO100

116 mm, 1/2 sec @ F8, ISO100

 100 mm, 1/160 @ F8, ISO400

100 mm, 1/160 @ F8, ISO400

Iceland's famous black church in early morning.  And a full view of the church at dawn.

 300 mm, 1/15 sec @ F13, ISO100

300 mm, 1/15 sec @ F13, ISO100

 70 mm, 0.6 sec @ F16, ISO100

70 mm, 0.6 sec @ F16, ISO100

Spending two weeks in Iceland was a treat.  Being there without my regular landscape lens was a challenge.  Just an unlucky break.  I had an extra camera body with me, extra cards and batteries, a second cable release, but it wasn't practical or feasible to take a duplicate of each lens.  So I struggled to overcome my frustration, worked with what I had, and learned more about shooting with a long lens.  Despite the setback I had a great time and the images I wasn't able to capture with my camera are firmly tucked away in my memory.

Photographing in the Snow

I live in a country with seasons and I enjoy that.  Places take on a different look with each change of season, providing fresh scenes to photograph.  Right now we're in the middle of winter, a time of year I quite like.  The light is different -  softer, less harsh, and the colour palette works for me.  But it can also be bleak with many days that are simply grey and uninviting. This winter has been a harsh one, with cold temperatures and bigger snowfalls than usual.  And while that makes it difficult to get around it does offer up some interesting photography.

With all the snow we've had this year I bought some snowshoes which gave me access to places I'd never be able to get to without them.  I've now spent a lot of time In the woods, among the trees and grasses, where the snow remains pristine, enjoying the spaces and creating photographs.

 Winter trees at the edge of the lake

Winter trees at the edge of the lake

 Grasses along the edge of the dunes

Grasses along the edge of the dunes

 Lake Huron dunes in winter

Lake Huron dunes in winter

 Shadows in the snow

Shadows in the snow

And in winter the birds are hungry and looking for food.  Travelling with some seed and investing lots of time and patience gave me some images I like.  The birds are small, beautiful, and very fast.  Capturing them on camera isn't easy.  I'm very much a novice at this type of photography but plan on doing more.

 Rose-breasted nuthatch 

Rose-breasted nuthatch 

 Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-bellied woodpecker

Sarnia experienced a rare weather event a month ago.  A combination of high winds, bitter cold, and a recently thawed river threw vast amounts of water from the St. Clair River up onto the shore where it immediately froze.  The resulting ice sculptures were both eerie and beautiful.

 Dressed in Ice

Dressed in Ice

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Summer vacation towns and other urban areas present differently in the winter.  Bare trees, ice on the water, reflections, and so much more.  There's lots to photograph.

 Ice along the river in Grand Bend

Ice along the river in Grand Bend

 Great Lakes freighters in dock for winter maintenance in Goderich

Great Lakes freighters in dock for winter maintenance in Goderich

It's now been raining for two days and the snow has disappeared.  Yes, it's milder out there but nowhere near as lovely to look at.  But it is only the middle of February and winter isn't over.  There's bound to be more snow and when that happens my snowshoes and camera will be ready for action.

The Arctic Hamlet of Pond Inlet

The Hamlet of Pond Inlet, Mittimatalik in Inuit, is a vibrant and growing community in Nunavut on the northern end of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic.   Poised at the eastern tip of the Northwest Passage, Pond Inlet is surrounded by mountain ranges, glaciers and fjords, and drifting icebergs.  It's a beautiful place.  

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The population of Pond Inlet, currently around 1,600, is expected to grow further once the Mary River Iron Ore Mine is in full operation.  Funding has recently been secured to deepen and expand the harbour in Pond Inlet to allow easier access for freight and cargo ships and that work is expected to begin shortly.

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After crossing Baffin Bay from Greenland, the group is welcomed to Pond Inlet for a community visit.  This was a more structured process than I've seen in other communities, with each person's name checked against a master list both upon arrival and again when leaving, and that was a bit of a surprise.  Perhaps it's always done that way in Pond Inlet.

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Once cleared to enter we wandered around the town, which is a mixture of the picturesque, the functional, and the somewhat dilapidated.  Obtaining supplies is difficult and expensive and the northern climate is harsh on buildings.  There's lots of colour in the buildings and the mountains and glaciers form a magnificent backdrop.

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The walk through the town, winding our way through the streets to the community centre where we had been invited to enjoy a cultural presentation of Inuit games, singing and drum dancing was enjoyable.  

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A young girl in the hockey arena, which is part of the Community Centre.  The arena is well-used, with skating activities scheduled most days of the week.  The sign above the door says a lot. 

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Enjoying the presentation.

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The games are challenging, requiring a serious level of strength and fitness.  None of the pictures I took captured either the skill or the difficulty involved so I haven't included any.  The singing, especially the throat singing done by the women is lovely.  We were all delighted, visitors and townspeople alike.

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After the cultural presentation there was an opportunity to explore the town. Pond Inlet has an active airport which is the way most visitors arrive, road transportation being limited or non-existent.  With a growing interest in northern exploration tourism is increasing, and Pond Inlet provides outfitting services for groups interested in getting out on the land.

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The Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the most northern Catholic church in the world.  This image was taken from the top of the hill looking down on the back of the church, with the Ocean Endeavour in the background.

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The Crucifix on the hill above the church, a large and visible landmark.  And a closeup of the church steeple.

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I saw few people around the town and that struck me as unusual.  In other communities I've visited people were outside, busy with their lives, and interested in connecting with us.  There were always lots of children around.  But not here.  The town seemed deserted, and I saw only two children outside of the community centre and just one other inside.  When I asked about it I was told the men were out on the land hunting and some of the older children might be with them.  We were also told that Saturday mornings tend to be quieter as people are taking it easy at the end of the work week.  And that may be all there was to it.  But I did wonder if perhaps the people of Pond Inlet no longer want groups of people landing on their shores and wandering through their town. We look, we observe, we're curious, but what, if anything, are we giving back?

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Nunavut is a beautiful part of our country.  I was pleased to have had the opportunity to visit Pond Inlet to see and learn a little more about this land and the people who inhabit it.  I will return to the Arctic again next year.  It is a unique and special place.

 

 

 

 

 

Greenland's Stunning Icebergs

Icebergs are amazing in every sense of the word.  Massive, beautiful and powerful floating blocks of ice, some as large as buildings, others in the shape of giant columns, wedges, or other formations.  Seen up close they invoke awe and a strong appreciation for the forces of nature.  And as large as they are, only 10% of their mass is visible, the rest remaining below the surface.  These icebergs calved from the Greenland ice cap.  They will initially travel north, pushed by ocean currents, and then start their journey south where they'll melt along the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland.

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The scale is hard to describe.  The smaller iceberg on the left is higher than many buildings; the larger one the size of several city blocks.

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Icebergs assume different shapes and names are given to the various formations.  This one is a "Pinnacle"; the first image is a "Dome".  They weigh between 100,000 and 200,000 metric tons.

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Icebergs remain in the water for months and often years, their shape changed by water, weather and time.  This one now has deep caverns along one side.  On the narrower side at the left daylight can be seen filtering through the cavity.  Icebergs with slots or channels through are described as "Dry-Dock".

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Deep cracks appearing at the edge of an iceberg, indicating part of it may be getting ready to split off from the main section.

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The tiny zodiac with it's driver and ten passengers on the left edge of the image provides scale and shows just how large these ice formations are.  To be on the water, circling closely around them, was an incredible experience.  

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Black-legged kittiwakes sitting on a small floating piece of ice, with larger icebergs in the background.  A few moments later they flew off showing their lovely wings in flight.

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A "Tabular" formation.  Flat on top, longer than it is high, with sheer sides.  It's the length of a city block or more.

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Columnar icebergs, probably once part of larger formations, broken off and made smaller by the elements.  

These images were taken off the west coast of Greenland near the town of Ilulissat which is  the iceberg capital of the Arctic.  Across town lies the Jacobshavn Glacier and Icefjord, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The glacier produces 10% of all Greenland icebergs, with 35 billion tonnes of icebergs calving and passing out of the fjord every year.  

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Ice sheets, calved from the glacier, moving through the fjord.

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While hard to compete with the icebergs the rocks and tundra at the edge of the fjord offer up their own beauty.

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Jacobshavn is a fast-moving glacier, calving vast amounts of ice into the fjord each year.  Larger icebergs can get stuck in the fjord where they remain until they are broken up by the force of the glacier and the continually moving ice.  Looking out across the fjord the vista is a mountain range of ice, moving steadily on its path to open water. 

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The towns along this Greenland coast are colourful against a backdrop of rugged mountains.  And they have these ice structures as part of their landscape.  

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Some smaller icebergs and floes in and around the fjords and mountains.  The beauty of it all can be overwhelming.

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I've been drawn to icebergs for a long time.  Their beauty, mystery and raw power is unique.   As is the soft light and the northern colour palette which I find wonderful to photograph.  I first went to the Arctic two years ago and immediately knew I would return.  These past two weeks along the coast of Greenland, across Baffin Bay and into some of the northern parts of Nunavut was memorable.  This world is beautiful.

Rural Industrial

I've always been fascinated with manufacturing, with the process of creating something, of assembling an object from component pieces using techniques and methods honed and refined over time.  Big manufacturing plants intrigue me.  But recently I've come across small operations, away from the big cities, situated in rural towns.  They are remarkable, specialized businesses, utilizing rigorous and standardized - often proprietary - processes.  And in them I've found the beginnings of a new photography project.  I'm calling it Rural Industrial.

It's different from the landscapes, travel and urban scenes I've photographed to date. These are working facilities, full of equipment, often dark, where a shot is neither obvious nor easy to get.  And before I can even take out a camera there's the challenge of talking to the owner, explaining what I want to do and why, and getting permission to enter their premises and take photographs.  The explanation can take some time; they don't see what I see - that the shop floor, the machinery, the works in process, are beautiful.  And sometimes that particular time isn't convenient for them to talk to me but if it's suggested I come back and try another day of course I do.  Approaching busy owners is definitely not comfortable but it's the only way to get the images I want.

In the last few months I've photographed four rural industrial operations:  a farm services facility, a foundry, a machine shop specializing in parts for local oil rigs, and a heavy machinery repair shop.  Each is different.  Each requires a dedicated owner or owners and skilled staff.  Sometimes it's a single owner, sometimes a family group, and sometimes it's a second or third generation business.

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Fertilizer storage and mixing silos, built in the mid-60's.  The family-run farm services business has replaced the silos with modern versions and these are now scheduled to be taken down.  With the late sun bathing them in colour and then a full moon rising in the background I find them a striking addition to the landscape and will miss them when they're gone.

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A local foundry quickly became a favourite place.  It's a thriving business where industrial products such as tree grates, manhole covers, and specialized parts are cast, and larger commissioned artworks created.  The process is rigorous, time-consuming, and physical.  Making the moulds, firing the furnace, preparing the molten metal, filling the moulds - all part of the process.  

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This shot was taken at the back of the foundry using only the natural light that came in through the frosted window.  The boxes stacked in the corner, and the one on the floor are casings for moulds.  The round object in the foreground is a furnace where metals are heated at intense temperatures and transformed into molten liquid.

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Poured castings in the cooling process, weighted down to keep them stable.

Assorted weights, seen in the background of the previous images.

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Scrap metal to be melted down, with pokers lined up against the wall in the foreground.

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This part of western Ontario was where the oil industry began in Canada, and while it's no longer the "oil capital of Canada" oil is still in production here.  It's done on a different scale, using different methods than the large scale operations, and it relies on the proprietor of a local machine shop to produce and repair the specialized parts needed to keep the wells running.  

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Belt-driven machinery, once powered by gas, is still operational after almost a century of use.  

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Brass tubing to be turned into parts for the oil wells.

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There is equipment everywhere, and it's all in use.  Not obsolete, not replaced with something new and modern.

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There's more I want to photograph here.  And I want to capture the history of this business that was started by a father and son in 1914.  There's much to tell.

The last place is a heavy machinery repair shop.  Trucks, large farm machinery, and lots of parts, both inside and outside the shop.

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Two of the places I don't think I'll be returning to.  The other two I definitely will as there's lots more to capture.  I've found all these businesses exciting to visit and a privilege to photograph.  I'm grateful I've had the chance to learn a bit about what goes on in our rural industrial world.  And, as is often the case, one thing leads to another.  I've now heard about a local blacksmith and a lumber mill that runs its equipment on steam.  I'm thinking both would be worth a visit.

Friendship, Conversation, and Time in the Country

We met in graduate school thirty-seven years ago.  Our backgrounds were different, as were our personalities and many of our preferences.  Our friendship was built on a shared love of learning, a commitment to personal growth, and a deep curiosity.  We spent out time together in conversation.  Long talks, deep and intense, across a wide range of topics.  We talked about the books we'd read, the authors and thinking that had an impact, along with what was going on in our lives.

In the early years our children, the challenge and joy of relationships, and our developing careers were part of our stories.  But always, it was the conversations that mattered, the glue that kept us connected.  We seldom went out - dining, movies, shopping, entertainment - weren't what we did together.  One time, strong in both our memories, we spent an entire day in early spring sitting on lawn chairs just talking.  We simply moved the chairs to follow the sun.  It was pure pleasure. We did travel, to places like Esalen, New Mexico, deep into the Ecuadorean Amazon jungle, and to workshops and retreats that fed our curiosity and hunger to learn which, in turn, provided more to talk about.

Over the decades our children grew up, relationships ended and new ones began.  Successful careers enabled much.  We kept learning and growing.  And at one point, late in our careers, we were able to work together, and that was a joy.  We created something together than was larger and better than each of us could have achieved alone.  And we kept talking.

But change continued, as it always does.  We both moved away, pursuing different chapters in our lives.  And our times together became less frequent.  Sometimes long periods would go by without contact.  But the strength and draw of those conversations remained important to us and we sought a solution.  So every other week, at a prearranged time, one of us calls the other and we settle down for a feast of rich conversation lasting an hour or more.

Recently I went to stay with my friend at her home in the country.  Her home is beautiful, situated in lovely rolling countryside.  She and her husband have created special places throughout the property.  Passing through grasses, a small grove of trees, and up a hill, they found the perfect spot to build a labyrinth.  Modelled on the one in Chartres Cathedral, it's comprised of eleven concentric rings split into four parts, creating a path which leads from the outside to the inside passing once over every track.  The journey to the centre is a slow and contemplative one, and you remain in the centre of the circle with your thoughts and reflections for as long as you wish before retracing your steps to reenter the world.  To walk a labyrinth is a spiritual experience.  We walked that labyrinth, in silence, delighted to be there together.

We woke to the crowing of roosters on a nearby farm.   We ate simple nutritious food, we spent time together, and the days went peacefully by.  There was beauty everywhere.  

The conversations, as always, had strength and meaning.  It wasn't that we had to catch up or reconnect - that was always there - but we both experienced a deep pleasure in seeing each other and simply being together.  The telephone had kept our friendship from slowly fading away but at the end of our time together we knew it was important to see each other on a regular basis.  And we'll now make sure that happens.

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The gift of deep friendship, the joy of real conversation, and delightful time in the country.  Life is rich and full.  I am so grateful.

This Year's Sandhill Cranes

This is the second year I've photographed Sandhill Cranes.  These birds migrate north to nest and raise their young, and this year I followed a pair in Port Franks and another in The Pinery.  They are large and majestic, with plumage that blends with the grasses and wetland areas where they build their nests.  Sandhill Cranes are the only member of the crane family that is now off the endangered or threatened list as their population is slowly but steadily increasing.  In the wild they can live for 20 to 30 years.  

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Cranes feature prominently in both Asian and Aboriginal art and symbolism.  They are associated with royalty, balance, grace and longevity.  It is believed that an encounter with a crane can be a powerful experience, pointing the way to the achievement of balance and good fortune.  Cranes are also depicted as creative, with an ability to focus, and as problem solvers and wise teachers.  They are seen as loyal.

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Nest building occurs in the early spring when the wetlands are still covered in dead stalks, reeds and grasses from the previous year.  The nest is built close to the water and large enough to keep the eggs dry.  Normally two eggs are laid which will hatch in 29-32 days.

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Sandhill Cranes mate for life.  Both parents build and maintain the nest, and both sit on the eggs.  When it's time to change places on the nest a specific set of behaviours occur.  The nesting bird stands up, bends down to the eggs, and moves them around a bit.  The other bird, usually some distance away, starts to walk toward the nest.  Once there, both adults spend time minding the eggs, cleaning up the immediate area and adding grasses and sticks to the nest.  The bird who had been feeding and wandering nearby settles down on the nest.  The other stays for a short while, eventually wanders off, and  then takes flight. 

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Sometimes Sandhill Cranes are tolerant of other birds but often not.  I've seen them aggressively chase the Canada Geese away and yet the next day be indifferent, even when the geese are close to the nest or the chicks are near by.  If it's territorial behaviour it's not clear to me what triggers the aggressive mode. 

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Many shots this year were taken from a canoe, and that offered closer and better access.  The birds were not concerned.  They ignored the canoe and its participants, giving us opportunity to photograph them closer than we could have done from land.  Seeing them up close made the experience even more powerful.

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Once the chicks are hatched both parents remain close by.  Neither takes flight, both alert to what's happening with the chicks and on guard for predators.  The chicks, covered in soft yellow down, leave the nest within a few hours of hatching and are capable of swimming.  

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They sleep under their mother's wings for three to four weeks.  In their first month they run, flap their wings and eat food provided by their parents.  In the second month they learn to dance and begin pre-flight training.  In the third month they learn to forage on their own, dance, practice take-off and landing skills, and fly with their parents.  By the end of the summer they are ready to migrate south with their parents.  But once they're fully mobile it's hard to find them.  

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Cranes are known for their beautiful spirited dancing, something I've not yet seen.  As part of their mating behaviour they leap, run, twist their bodies and flap their wings in powerful movements.  One year I hope I'll be fortunate enough to see that.  But for this year I've spent more time watching and photographing them than the year before, I've seen the nests survive a wet spring and rising water levels, and watched the chicks get stronger and more active over the first ten days of their lives.  And seeing them cross the river, one parent leading and the chicks swimming close to the other parent, was wonderful.  I've learned more about them; It's  been a joyful few weeks.

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Sandhill Cranes:  big, beautiful birds.  Symbols of longevity, loyalty, creativity and focus.  Having watched their behaviour I understand why.

The Light is Everything

I've been photographing for a few years now, and I like to think my images have improved. But it wasn't until I started focusing more on the quality of the light that I could see a real difference.  Prior to that I'd tend to go out with my camera during the middle of the day, the mornings and evenings usually taken up with other things.  And the images reflected that.  Many were not interesting.  The light often harsh, hot, or simply not there.  It became clear:  The Light is Everything.

Photography is important to me, a creative outlet that's quickly becoming a passion.  And if I wanted to get better I'd have to pay more attention to the light.  So I made the commitment but it wasn't easy.  Light is something special - I think of it as a gift - and it's not always there.  Weather patterns shift, clouds come in where none were expected, it rains or is overcast for what seems like weeks, and this winter has been one of the greyest I can remember.  The lake didn't freeze, there was little snow, blue sky was a distant memory, and the wonderful soft winter palette of pinks and blues was mostly absent.  And when it does make an appearance it doesn't stay for long.  It's elusive and challenging.  But when you are there at the right time, and you're able to get the shot you've visualized, it is exciting.

A winter shot of a few bleak trees at the edge of Lake Huron.  Nothing much to look at most of the time, but when the light hit them late one afternoon they put on a show.

A group of farm buildings in Lambton Shores.  Again, not much to look at in the harsh light of day, but late in the afternoon they seem to sparkle.  And those old silos right beside that brand new wind turbine tell a story.

Good light often partners with bad weather.  Just before or after a storm front passes through the sky can be striking, with good contrast, dark clouds, and slivers of light.  It's a good time to be out photographing.  But, as always, those peak moments are fleeting.

Last November I hoped to get some pictures of the Supermoon.  The sky was clear that night and it looked promising.  Along with a photographer friend we set up in a field at a spot where, using the Ephemeris app, we'd calculated the moon to rise just to the left of the large silo.

But our calculations were off by a touch, and that beautiful moon rose just a bit further to the right and not over the silo and farm buildings.  An error of a few degrees makes a big difference.  Some scrambling and fast running to get the best shot possible under the circumstances.  I did get the Supermoon, just not where I expected it.

The next morning in Grand Bend.  That amazing moon setting exactly where Ephemeris said it would.  And that light on the lighthouse is from the rising sun.  Light is the magic sauce that makes the difference.

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A shot of the Assiniboine in the Sarnia Harbour, taken just as the sun broke through on a cloudy day.  The light hit the ship and the colours popped.

Two similar images taken on the same day, 16 minutes apart.  The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the buildings, creating a completely different look and mood.

A picture of Sarnia's Chemical Valley, taken at dusk.  Dark, moody, and mysterious.

An oil tanker, the Algoma HANSA, in dock on the St. Clair River.  The sun caught the side of the ship just before sunset.  I think of these scenes as beautiful industrial landscapes.

Another industrial landscape, this one taken in Hamilton at the end of February when the harbour still had a thin coating of ice on it.  Large storage containers, tugboats, and reflections in the water.  Industrial for sure, perhaps not appealing to everyone, but for me it definitely works.

I'll close this post with a Tundra Swan coming in for a landing.  Taken late in the afternoon it wasn't quite "last light" but the blue sky rendered the water a colour that contrasted nicely with the bright white of the swan's feathers, and the shadows provided detail.

It is harder to get out when the light is right.  And that light is changing all the time.  It's also brief, the time of day when the light is at its best is incredibly short.  But good light makes for better images and that's what I'm after.  So I'll continue to be out there, chasing the light and seeing what I can do with it.  The light is everything.

Tundra Swan Migration 2017

It's late winter, early spring and the Tundra Swans (also known as Whistling Swans) are migrating once more from their winter home in Chesapeake Bay north to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, a journey of more than 3,000 km.  A stop on their migration path is close by and seeing these magnificent birds is something I look forward to each year. There are approximately 160,000 birds that make up this Eastern Migration.

They are large birds, 4 to 4-1/2 feet long, with wingspans of 5-1/2 to 6 feet.  They fly in groups, in the usual V-formation, with birds joining along the way.  When one or two leave a staging area, getting ready for the next leg of the journey, others join in.

They come in to this area over a period of 25 days on average, depending on the weather conditions.  The full journey going north will take them 85 days.  (The return journey south takes longer,  averaging 101 days, because they have their young with them.)  Tundra Swans spend 51% of their lives in migration.  On this first longer stop they remain for some time, resting, eating, and getting ready for the next leg of their journey which will take them to North Dakota and Southern Manitoba.

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These Canada Geese look small when swimming alongside the Tundra Swans.

The swans tend to stay together in groups, either the family group, or groups of younger, same sex birds.  The younger birds can be identified by the brown colouring on their necks and undercarriage; the darker the brown shading the younger the bird.  A bird is fully mature and ready to mate when it is 4 to 5 years old.

Parents and last year's cygnet in flight.  The family stays together for one full migration year.  And previous offspring will often remain close to the family group in the Arctic nesting areas.  

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A younger bird getting ready to land.  They are so graceful in flight but less so as they prepare for a landing, angling their bodies downwards and using their feet as brakes on the surface of the water or the ground.  

A group of swans leaving for the next leg of the journey

Tundra Swans mate for life.  When mature the 4-5 year old males will start looking around for a mate.  The male does the courting and the female does the choosing.  The males start strutting their stuff, showing their feathers, looking strong and powerful.  The females take note.  And this goes on for some time.

A male swan engaged in his courtship dance.  He may have selected a particular female he's interested in and this display is for her.  If she's interested she will give a slight nod of her head.  But that doesn't mean it's a done deal.  There's a lot more dancing and nodding over several days before the female makes a definite choice.  It's a big decision as they will remain together for the rest of their lives.  And Tundra Swans live for about 20 years.  If one partner dies it will be several years before the survivor takes another mate, if at all. 

Getting out and seeing these birds is a joy.  Their migration through this area is nearly over but I'm hoping for one more visit next week, ideally with better light and a more interesting sky to showcase their strength, beauty and grace.  If not, there's always next year.

Great Lakes Freighters in Sarnia Harbour

All winter the city of Sarnia has several Great Lakes freighters in dock for maintenance and repairs in preparation for the upcoming shipping season.  The ships are large and impressive, carrying a range of cargo through the Great Lakes system of lakes, rivers, canals, and locks.  They've captured my imagination and I find myself going down to the harbour to see and photograph them as often as I can.  Learning their stories, getting an understanding of the industry, and chatting  with the crews that work on them has become a great interest.  The fact that this all happens in my own area is a delight.  

These two ships are bulk carriers.  The CUYAHOGA, built in 1943, with a length of 605 feet, is a self discharging cargo ship;  the OJIBWAY, built in 1952 and a little longer at 638 feet, discharges its cargo is manually.  These ships are workhorses.  

 The CUYAHOGA and the OJIBWAY

The CUYAHOGA and the OJIBWAY

And the same vessels viewed from the other end on a different day.

This image shows some back end detail of the Canada Steamship Lines ship, the ASSINIBOINE.  It's a newer Self Discharging Carrier built in 1977 and it's also a little longer than the others at 728 feet.  This shot was taken on a cold and cloudy day.  At one point the sun managed to break through the cloud, painting the ship in beautiful late afternoon light.  To me these ships are works of art.

 CSL's ASSINIBOINE

CSL's ASSINIBOINE

These next images are from the ALGOSEA, an Oil Products Tanker, built in 1998.  While it's a little shorter than the others at 485 feet, seeing it up close in the Sarnia Harbour it certainly doesn't look or feel small.   This shot was taken just before nightfall looking up and towards one end of the ship.   

 The ALGOSEA

The ALGOSEA

Details taken from the side of the ALGOSEA a couple of hours earlier.  The longer I looked the more I saw.  The markings along the side present unique images of abstract art.  And details of the ropes caught my eye, as did so much more.  Hours can go by just looking and capturing images.

 Abstract art in unusual places

Abstract art in unusual places

 Side detail from the ALGOSEA

Side detail from the ALGOSEA

The ships often have the Granaries as their backdrop and when the light hits those large concrete structures it's magical.  The deck of the ASSINIBOINE can be seen in the foreground on this image.

A shot looking along the deck of the SAGINAW, another Bulk Carrier.  

The size and scale of everything is hard to grasp.

Caring for it all is complex, requiring a unique set of skills and, I would imagine, a particular temperament.

Large machinery, laid out in complex and, to my eye, beautiful arrangements of line, shape and form, with sometimes just a perfect touch of colour.

Looking down at the tug the DEFIANCE which will be assisting these freighters out into the lake in just a few weeks.  A small but mighty vessel with almost the same engine power as the larger ships.  The CUYAHOGA and the OJIBWAY at rest behind.  A cold night, with ice forming in the harbour, but soon the ships will be gone, moving through the Great Lakes with their loads of cargo and their dedicated crews.

Lake Huron's Winter Colours

It's been a mild winter and Lake Huron has been slow to ice up.  And I miss that.  I find the winter palette serene and peaceful.  The many shades of white, blue, pink and purple offered up in layers of water, ice and snow delight me.  It's cold but it's certainly beautiful.  

These pictures were taken over a 2-hour period from 3:30 to 5:30 yesterday afternoon.  The sky was somewhat cloudy with the sun breaking through every few minutes.   The dunes were still visible a little further from the shore, frozen in place and lined by winds that pound the land from the northwest.

That same wind blows sand onto the frozen structures, turning the pure white of the initial formations a muddier shade.

Layers of ice and snow, that will keep expanding out to the horizon as long as the temperatures remain below freezing.  

As the afternoon wore on and the winter sun dropped lower the ice and snow took on a blue cast and the sky and water picked up more pinks and mauves, changing by the moment.

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The ice structures are built up from the constant spray of waves and moving water.  And once the temperature drops enough the build-up happens quickly.  In this area iI's not unusual to see the lake go from a liquid state to frozen right up to the horizon in a couple of days.  For me, it's that time in-between that offers the most.  

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Layer upon layer, all different.  Ice "volcanoes" in front, ice floes at the back, and slow-moving ice in thick water in between.  Cold but beautiful.  Peaceful and serene.  I never tire of looking at it.

Photographing Raptors

I've now had a chance to photograph raptors on two different occasions, and I'm hooked.  Seeing these large, beautiful birds up close is an amazing experience, and I know I'll be doing it many times.  These birds reside on a raptor conservancy in southern Ontario and many were raised there.  Some have been there for years, mating and raising their young.  Birds on site for rehabilitation and eventual release back to the wild are kept from the main group and are not available to photograph, their contact with people kept to a minimum.

Eagles are large.  They are strong, powerful and majestic.  These images of the Bald Eagle were taken in different locations on different days.

 Bald Eagle at Rest on a Log

Bald Eagle at Rest on a Log

 Bald Eagle Preparing to Land

Bald Eagle Preparing to Land

 Skimming the Pond

Skimming the Pond

Those eagles are impressive, but it was the owls that really captured me.  Like the eagles they are strong and powerful, but they also have expressive faces and  beautiful markings.  I had an opportunity to see a variety of owls, each different in its own unique way.

 Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

 Great Horned Owl in Flight

Great Horned Owl in Flight

 Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

The birds know their handlers and respond to them.  And the handlers treat them with care, kindness and respect.  It's a mutually beneficial arrangement.  The birds are given safety, security, shelter and food in exchange for a life that is less free.  They are well treated.  They could fly away each time they're released, but they don't.

 Barn Owl

Barn Owl

 Eurasian Eagle Owl

Eurasian Eagle Owl

 Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Owl

 Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Owl

The hawks and falcons are smaller and so very fast.  Photographing them is an even greater challenge.

 American Kestrel

American Kestrel

 Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk

I'm not a bird photographer and I struggled to get the settings right.  I took a lot of shots and finally started to get the hang of it.  But there's a lot to learn.  And sometimes I just put the camera down and simply watched these beautiful creatures.

I'll be looking for more opportunities to photograph raptors.  And in the meantime I'll learn as much as I can about them.  

 

 

A Home in the Cemetery

Woodland Cemetery in London, Ontario, is both old and modern.  Established in 1879 and occupying over 100 acres of woodland it houses more than 50,000 graves.  The place is beautiful, with an older section of large and lovely tombstones going back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  There is a dedicated area for veterans, marked with identical stones laid out in rows that is deeply moving.  It is also the home of a family of deer.

The deer are what initially drew me to Woodland.  I thought perhaps it was simply an urban legend, not really believing deer would choose to live in a populated city space, and I wanted to see it for myself.  The deer are definitely there, in a group that averages twenty-five or more.  And over the past three years I have gone back many times.  

 A Large and Stately Monument

A Large and Stately Monument

 Older Tombstones

Older Tombstones

 Veterans' Section

Veterans' Section

These are white-tailed deer.  They are reddish brown in spring and turn a grey brown in fall and winter.  The females become pregnant in late October or early November and the fawns - anywhere from one to three - are born in May or June.  The stags regrow their antlers every year starting in late spring and shed them between January and April of the following year.  Their antlers can vary in size and number of points; larger antlers are a sign of maturity, health and vitality.  Apparently the shedding of antlers is not painful.

 Alert but not concerned

Alert but not concerned

 Stag resting at the edge of the ravine

Stag resting at the edge of the ravine

The deer wander throughout the cemetery and in and out of the ravine at the back, but they seem to prefer the older section.  The stones are larger, the trees more mature, offering more shelter.  It's a beautiful space and I like to imagine the deer sensing the peace and aesthetic of this particular part of the cemetery.

 Old tombstones at the edge of the ravine

Old tombstones at the edge of the ravine

The grounds are well kept.  The gravestones are cleaned periodically, and restoration is an ongoing process.  Some stones have fallen, some are broken or cracked, and many lay buried under accumulated dirt and grass.  Recently three students from Western University were hired to unearth, clean and repair more than fifty of these Victorian-era tombstones.  An impressive project, not only honouring the dead but providing us the living with more beauty and a greater sense of the history of the area. 

The deer, while not domesticated, have become accustomed to people.  They will run off but often, if you're willing to wait, they'll remain close by, letting you see their expressive faces, the fur in their ears, their lovely coats and impressive antlers.

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I return often, seeing this family of deer in each season.  In spring the babies are born, in fall the changing leaves seem to enhance the colours of the deer themselves, and in winter seeing them against the snow in that soft winter light takes my breath away.

 Fawn born this past spring

Fawn born this past spring

There is something special about a group of living sentient creatures residing so comfortably among those who are no longer here.  It adds something unique to Woodland and I like to think the deer feel it as well.  A mutually beneficial relationship.

The Port Huron Float Down

This is an annual event that's been taking place on the third Sunday in August for 39 years.  It starts in Port Huron, at Lighthouse Beach, just north of the Blue Water Bridge and across the river from Sarnia.  Participants "float down" the St. Clair River to Marysville, 13 kilometres downstream.

It's unauthorized, unsanctioned, unregistered, unsponsored, and gets the media and some people agitated.  But it's a lot of fun.  A boisterous and joyful event - playful, quirky and over the top in its sense of delight and adventure.

So what exactly happens in a "float down"?  Vast numbers of people gather on the shore at Lighthouse Beach with an amazing array of flotation devices.  All sizes, shapes and colours.  Some floating alone, others tied together in a group.  And smaller groups enter the water on the Sarnia side.  The participants are happy, laughing, busy putting their flotation devices in the water, loading their coolers on board (food and drink a necessary part of any serious adventure), and getting their oars in place.

 Gathering at Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron

Gathering at Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron

 Getting organized on the Sarnia side

Getting organized on the Sarnia side

The event starts at 1:00 p.m.  All motorized shipping and boating traffic along the St. Clair River is shut down between 12:00 and 8:00 p.m. which is annoying to some.  The only motorized boats permitted are those belonging to the Police and the Canadian and U.S. Coast Guards.  This tanker, the Radcliffe R. Latimer, was the last one under the Blue Water Bridge, pushing hard to get out of the river and into Lake Huron on time.

 Full steam ahead into Lake Huron

Full steam ahead into Lake Huron

 Getting a helpful tow from the Police

Getting a helpful tow from the Police

 Well equipped with a barbecue on board 

Well equipped with a barbecue on board 

 Looking back at Lake Huron

Looking back at Lake Huron

 Recording his adventure - at least the start of it.

Recording his adventure - at least the start of it.

 Floating on the Canadian side ... 

Floating on the Canadian side ... 

  ... and strung together

 ... and strung together

 Moving down the river on the American side

Moving down the river on the American side

In our excessively monitored, regulated and rule-driven world of today I find the whole thing wonderfully refreshing.  Where else can  you see thousands of people in hundreds of brightly-coloured flotation devices doing something as bizarre as floating down a fast-moving river that is also the boundary between two countries?  Just thinking about it lifts my spirit.

But the river does move quickly.  And the prevailing winds tend to push the floaters over to the Canadian side.  In most years a hundred or so American citizens end up on the Canadian side, usually without a passport or any other identification, with no way to get back.  They have to be "rescued" and transported back to their own country.  This year the winds were unusually strong and a record 1,500 needed "relocation assistance", being bussed back home with a police escort after being "processed" on the Canadian side.  It does take effort and resources but, as everyone knows, we're a friendly country and happy to help out. 

It was a great day.  Good weather, blue skies with lots of beautiful August clouds, and the always incredible blue water of Lake Huron.  Just a bit too much wind.  A scene of wondrous adult play.  Perhaps it is foolish, and probably a bit risky, but there were no fatalities, just a few minor injuries, and some participants who ended up cold and wet on the wrong side of the river.  But in a world that at the moment is darker, nastier, and more fear-based than anyone needs, the Port Huron Float Down is a happy, joyful and playful event.  We could use more of them.  I'm already looking forward to next year.

 

 

The Challenge of Summer Photography

A hot summer.  Mid 30's most days.  Beyond a couple of fierce and impressive thunderstorms in early spring there's been little rain.  The light is harsh and contrasty.  Sunrise is early, sunset so late, and lots of strong unappealing light in between.  Those beautiful intense greens of spring are gone and most vegetation is dry and dusty; in full leaf but no longer fresh and vibrant.  The lake is high, higher than it's been in years and there's little beach.  The kettles at Kettle Point are completely under water and the loss is deeply felt.  Perfect weather for camping or cottage life, or even being at home enjoying food on the patio with friends.  But not so good for photography.

I haven't taken many images this past month.  The camera hasn't been out much.  The beach I love - wild, empty, with loud crashing waves - is now decked out for summer.  Loads of people, each group using umbrellas and beach chairs to lay claim to their staked out piece of sand.  Boats and Sea-Doos racing across the water at full throttle, making a different kind of lake noise.  But it's summer and this is a beautiful beach:  sandy, shallow for a long way out, safe, clean, with waves for the kids to jump and play in.  People love to be here.  And that's a good thing.

I walk the beach often but in summer I seldom take a camera.  But today it came with me.  The beach is narrow, much of the dunes have been washed away, but there were clouds in the sky that  made for interesting lighting.  So I took some images, letting myself get lost in the place and the moment.

 The Dunes of Ipperwash Beach

The Dunes of Ipperwash Beach

 Old Log Pushed up on the Dunes

Old Log Pushed up on the Dunes

 Tall Grasses at the edge of the Lake

Tall Grasses at the edge of the Lake

 Summer Clouds and Children Playing in the Lake

Summer Clouds and Children Playing in the Lake

 Dune Grasses and Trees seen from the Lake

Dune Grasses and Trees seen from the Lake

I was waiting for a sunset shot to fill out the day but as it often does the sun got lost in cloud in its final hour.  A group of people were still playing in the water and the sky and lake were interesting shades of blue and pink so I took the shot.  A different kind of beauty.

 Last Light on the Lake

Last Light on the Lake

It's harder for me to find the beauty I search for during the summer months.  It doesn't mean it isn't there.  I simply have to look for it in a different way.  

Technology, A Smartphone and Final Conversations in a Nursing Home

My mother passed away three days ago at the age of 92.  She spent her last eight months in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair following a fall that left her unable to stand or walk.  She had very little sight, was legally blind and, like many her age, suffered from dementia.  But this is not a sad story.  Rather it's one of wonder and unexpected transformation, a gift to both her and her family.

All her life my mother was driven by anxiety, fear and a deep distrust that coloured everything.  There was a harsh edge to all that she did.  Why that was so doesn't matter; it's what happened over these past eight months that's important.

Her first two months at the nursing home were difficult.  She was recovering from surgery, she didn't interact, didn't participate, and cried a lot.  But the care was excellent, the staff kind and supportive, and she slowly settled in.  But visiting wasn't easy.  She remained flat, negative and despondent.  And what to say, what to do?  Push the wheelchair around the facility?  Ask if she enjoyed breakfast or lunch?  Time passed slowly.  Conversation was bland, lacking any real meaning.

And then we hit on something that made a difference.  We started using my smartphone.  It started out simply enough.  A phone call to people she could no longer visit.  A few pictures to send to her friends and family.  From there we moved on to short video messages.  She found it enjoyable and became animated and energized as we talked about who she wanted to phone or do a video for.  It turned out she liked being "on camera".

 Talking to her sister in England

Talking to her sister in England

The Internet got us to the next level.  Anything I thought she might be interested in we used the phone to search for information.  We learnt a lot about red foxes and sandhill cranes.  And we listened to the sounds they make on YouTube videos.  She was fascinated.  And she thought that having access to anything you want to know in just a heartbeat is magic...which of course it is.  Those first searches on foxes and cranes became a turning point.  She would think about what she'd heard and would often talk about it the next day.  And she'd think of other things she wanted to know about for the next visit.

My mother loved birds, always fed them, and knew a fair bit about them.  She certainly knew a lot of their calls.  There are many bird apps for a phone.  In addition to pictures of each species, these apps have recordings of birds singing and calling.  When we talked about any bird we then listened to the sounds.  Once when we were sitting outside she heard a red-winged blackbird.  When we played the call on the phone the bird answered back.  She was delighted - clapped her hands, laughed, and said "do it again".  We sat out there talking to that red-winged blackbird for fifteen minutes.  After that, she would remind me to be sure to bring that "gizmo" (my phone) with me when I came. 

 Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Memory loss and dementia are strange things.  As with most older people, my mother's long-term memory was somewhat intact.  When she would talk about something that happened long ago - her memories from the war, or from her first job at fifteen - we would look it up.  That company she went to work for in Hull, England, was established in 1840 and there was a ton of information on the Internet about it:  its history, social justice philosophy, products, and manufacturing sites.  She couldn't see the pictures but when I read the street address of its main site she remembered going there.  And she remembered some of the products - Brasso, Dettol - from her days on the assembly line.  It pleased her to hear that the owner had a strong sense of responsibility towards his employees.  From there we found a blog called "150 Facts About Hull", her home town.  As I read them they were real to her; she could take in the information because she knew the place, she'd grown up there.

On some days the dementia was dominant.  She would talk about places she'd just gone to on the bus, towns in England that she'd visited, a wide variety of stories.  It didn't matter if these "events" weren't real.  We'd still look them up and often, to my surprise, these places did exist and some of what she'd described - the Cathedral in the town of Beverley - were right there on my phone.

We found pictures of the house she grew up in all those years ago.  And so much more.  And through the "magic" of that smartphone we were able to have interesting and meaningful conversations, something that just wasn't there before.  Sometimes, when it was time for me to leave, instead of being sad she would ask me to take her back to her room because she "had lots to think about".  It was lovely.

During the last six months of her life she became calmer, happier, and more content than I'd ever seen her.  The anger and harshness was replaced with an appreciation and gratitude for what she did have at this late stage of her life.  Her conversations were no longer bitter.  She expressed love for her family, and thanks and appreciation to the staff for their care and kindness.  She was liked by the staff and the residents and I believe she found her place there.

 

 Enjoying a laugh with another resident

Enjoying a laugh with another resident

I had a troubled relationship with my mother.  The time we spent together in the nursing home helped us both.  With the assistance of today's technology we did find things to talk about.  We were able to have meaningful conversations which enabled our connection to deepen.  We could both finally see the other.  The day before she passed I was holding one of her hands in both of mine.  She slowly took her other hand out from under the covers, put it towards me with her palm up and hand gently closed and said, "I have a gift for you".  What is it Mum?"  "All my love", she said,  "and I really mean it."

She passed peacefully.  She simply stopped breathing.  She had said the day before that she felt she might be close to the end.  I asked if she was afraid or had concerns.  She said no, none at all.  And then she added that if she did go we were not to be upset.  She'd had a long, full life and was ready to leave.  And that was another gift.

To be with someone at the end of their life is a privilege.  Meaningful conversations draw us closer together, they are important and are worth striving for.  But it's not always easy to find things to talk about.  My cell phone turned that around for me and my mother.  We all have cell phones.  How else might we use them to enrich our time with others?