Three Guys and their Bikes at London's Southbank Skate Space

On a recent trip to London with a friend we came across the Southbank Skate Space, opened in 1967 and used by skateboarders, BMXers, street artists, photographers and others from all around the world. It’s a free creative space, accessible 24 hours a day. It’s billed as the world’s longest continually used skate spot. Covered in graffiti, it provides a striking backdrop for the skateboarders and bikers.


We’d found the space the day before and watched some skateboarders for a while. On a whim we decided to go back the next day, and met up with three young guys giving their bikes a workout. We watched them for a while, mesmerized by what they could do with their bikes in such a small and challenging space.


We took a few shots but quickly realized how much fun it would be to photograph them in a more serious way. We started chatting with them and asked if we could take some pictures. From then on it was all fun. We’d take pictures, and then show them what we had on the back of the camera. Some were o.k., lots were out of focus, or they were moving so quickly that key parts of the shot were out of the frame. But we kept shooting and the time went quickly by.

Here’s Andrei, moving his bike on just the back wheel through space that’s full of obstacles, getting set up for more complicated moves.


Jacob, coming down one ramp and then quickly up another.


Jacob and Cameron talking over some moves perhaps. Maybe the new one where Jacob stops Cameron’s bike by grabbing the front wheel. Given the speed the bike is moving at that requires some courage.


As they explained, it’s not enough to have the wheel off the ground, turning it at an angle is more complex. Being airborne, off the seat, legs and feet at all angles, is important and requires concentration, skill, strength and athleticism.


Cameron, also off his bike and twisted to one side. The centre of gravity shifts and maintaining balance and keeping the bike upright is a challenge.


We asked for a picture of the three of them together. And - no surprise - the bikes made it into the shot as well. That evening we processed our images and sent a bunch of them to their e-mail addresses. And that was also fun.


Photographing Andrei, Cameron and Jacob was a memorable part of our trip. We were both delighted to have had the opportunity to spend some time chatting and photographing these friendly and talented young guys from London. Thank you from both of us.

London's Thames River

A friend and I recently went to London to photograph both the city and the sites along the Thames River. We felt the winding river, the bridges and the combination of old and new architecture would have lots to offer. The River Thames at 215 miles is the longest river in England. It’s been a centre of commerce and transportation for much of the city’s history, and currently provides London with two-thirds of its drinking water. While most of the images are long exposures this one, taken from the top of the Tate Modern, is not. It offers both a view of the city and the river, and shows the contrast between the old and the new.


A view of the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian bridge built in 2,000 to celebrate the turn of the century, with the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Christopher Wren and completed in 1708, in the background.


An image of the bridge taken from the south side of the river, close to the Tate Modern. The long exposure removes the many pedestrians from the shot providing a clearer image of the bridge itself. The temporary fencing along the right side is there to restrict access while construction work is taking place.


Southwark Bridge, an arch bridge across the Thames, built in 1921 to replace an earlier bridge. The older structure pairs nicely with the classic architecture of Vintners Place on the left and contrasts with the taller modern skyscrapers in the background. Southwark Bridge carries the least traffic of all the London bridges.


Two images of London’s famous Tower Bridge, taken from the south side of the river . The first image was taken in mixed light with some sun coming through the clouds. This was one of the few times in the week the sun was out.


A little further along the river, a small alleyway took us closer to the river and offered another opportunity to photograph the Tower Bridge from a different vantage point and in different light. The Gherkin, a commercial skyscraper built in 2003, can be seen between the two pillars.


The Thames is a working river, with barges and tourist boats moving along it constantly. Construction is evident everywhere.


A different day, still on the south side of the river but walking west towards the Parliament Buildings. Westminster Bridge in the foreground with the Parliament Buildings and Big Ben, wrapped and scaffolded for repairs, behind.


The Parliament Buildings and Big Ben are large and hard to capture in a single shot. The panorama seems the best way to showcase them both


Across the river on the South Bank views of The Eye dominate the scene. Completed in 2000 for London’s Millennium celebrations, The Eye is Europe’s largest cantilevered observation wheel providing incredible views of the city . The wheel has 32 sealed and air-conditioned passenger capsules, each with a capacity for 25 passengers. One revolution of the wheel takes 30 minutes. The Eye is the most popular tourist attraction in the UK with about 4 million passengers a year.


And if we need to imagine The Eye a little smaller we can frame it behind the Sphinx, a large statute - one of a pair actually - that guard Cleopatra’s Needle, an Egyptian obelisk built around 1450 BC and gifted to the United Kingdom by the ruler of Egypt and Sudan in 1819.


Renzo Piano’s Shard is a building that also dominates the skyline. Started in 2009 and finished in 2012, at 95 stories and 1,016 feet it’s the tallest building in London.


The Tower Bridge seen from the North Bank of the river.


The section of the River Thames that runs through London is also tidal, with a difference of 23 feet between low tide and high. The tides are measured at Blackfriars Bridge. It’s the one on the left in the picture below. Beside it are the red posts, left over from the original Blackfriars Railway Bridge, built in 1864 but declared 120 years later as too weak to support modern trains. It was removed but the supports were left, with the ones on the far right becoming pillars for the new railway bridge. I like that the old posts remain to tell a bit of their story and that their red colour is maintained.


And to close this post, a couple of evening and night shots.


London is a great city to spend time in. And not just for the photography. We managed to see a couple of plays, walked much of the city, and enjoyed some excellent meals. There’s lots to see and do in London and I could easily return. And perhaps on another trip the sun might be out a little more often.

Spring Thaw

Winter started its annual retreat around here about a week ago. And with it the ice on the lake began to break up and move out. Open patches of water appeared and the ice volcanoes shrank a bit. And blue skies - something we haven’t seen much of this winter. But weather changes quickly, as I recently experienced. These images were taken over a five-day period, in different light, in areas close to where I live. All were taken around water and ice that changed on a daily basis.


A large piece of driftwood sitting close to the beach in the open water. But it didn’t stay that way for long. Just five days later strong winds, high waves and cold weather brought in more ice and water and that large log was buried once more.


Looking out from the shore, a close up the ice volcanoes. The white bands, and soft edges on some of the ice is due to the combination of moving ice and a two minute shutter speed.


The change in weather also affected the river cut. Completely open just a few days ago, it’s full of ice once more. It won’t last long, the warmer weather will quickly melt it, but for now this is what we have.


Driftwood comes and goes. It’s been in the water - sometimes already on the beach, often coming in with the winds. But those trees are no longer alive and the harsh weather can’t hurt them. But this small tree, once on the beach, is now surrounded by water and lots of wind. Will it survive? I hope so.


The living trees growing near the edge of the lake face harsh weather in the winter and early spring. Ice builds up on the branches, melts, and builds up again. Yet the trees somehow survive. I find their resilience - and their beauty - comforting.


I’m captivated by driftwood. Once living trees, possibly part of a forest, transported from parts unknown, they now appear as natural sculptures, formed by time, wind and water. Their shapes and textures are remarkable.


There was a lot of ice at Grand Bend this year. It is starting to melt but it will take time and some warmer weather before it’s all gone. But people are already there, watching the ice recede, and looking forward to the summer that’s not too far off now.


Weather changes everything. The light makes a difference, as does the wind. And ice - well that’s a whole story on its own. Ice is powerful, it moves whatever’s in its path And when it leaves, what’s left behind is different than what was there before.

The Beauty of Winter

I tend to like winter. Not the cold I must admit, but the beautiful soft light and pastel colours that make up the winter palette. Images taken then can be peaceful, minimalist, quiet. And now this winter’s nearly over. It’s been a dull one, grey most of the time, not a lot of snow to brighten things up and lots of ice. The combination meant there were fewer days with good light and many days when it was simply too treacherous underfoot to be wandering around. So not as much photography as I would have liked.

But there were a few good days, and there’s always beauty when I search it out.


I’ve photographed these wooden posts many times in just about every kind of weather. But I think these images, taken in January, are my favourite. Ice and sleet from the day before had “dressed” the posts in beautiful layers of ice, the wind had twirled and shaped the water as it froze, curling it around the posts, and the icicles had not yet melted or broken off. I took some shots at normal exposures and then made long exposure images which changed both the look and mood dramatically.


My imagination gives stories to these images. The two posts, side by side, seem intimate to me. I can think of them as “sisters” or as a “couple”. They are beautiful. They are “dressed up”; they stand proud. The simplicity and elegance enchants me and I am transported.


And what about that “No Parking” sign. It looks strange, out of place in that environment, but there it is and I quite like it.

A few days ago the ice on the lake started to melt. Winter is coming to a close. The ice volcanoes are still there but there’s also some open water. Another week and the ice will be gone, some driftwood will become visible and the lake will look different again.


Away from the lake, a couple of days ago I took a walk through a nearby forest. Different in winter but still beautiful. The last of the ice still lies in patches on the path ahead.


Just off the pathway a small body of ice lay in a shallow area. Looking closer, leaves under the thin sheets of ice created abstract images of shape, pattern and colour. The frozen bubbles were mesmerizing. So many images there.


Time stopped. I became completely absorbed in the beauty around me and in the joy of trying to capture what I saw.


Winter is nearly over. These kinds of images won’t be possible for another year. But two days ago I saw a group of tundra swans passing overhead and heard their loud unique sound - a sure sign of spring. And with the warmer weather and the start of a new season there will be other beautiful subjects to enjoy and photograph. Our world feels harsh these days, but seeing all the beauty there is in the world does much to soften that.

A Visit to Coney Island

I've wanted to visit Coney Island for some time.  It's close to New York, a city I love and visit often, but so different.  It's old and new at the same time.  It's historical, a New York landmark.  and it has a devoted following.  I'd seen the pictures, read the history and I wanted to experience it first hand.  


Public transit makes Coney Island readily accessible.  I was amazed that from Times Square in the centre of Manhattan I could take a subway, on a journey that took almost an hour, for the tiny fee of $2.75. A bargain for sure.

Coney Island, the last stop on the Q Train

Coney Island, the last stop on the Q Train

My first view of Coney Island -  with the Wonder Wheel ferris wheel dominating the scene and the beach in the background - photographed through the window of the subway train.


Coney Island is an amusement park on the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn.  Well established by the 1890's with its three separate amusement parks Coney Island was the largest park of its kind in the United States for many decades.  Over the years there's been several attempts to rezone the area and develop it for residential and commercial use, with some success.  Two of the original three parks have been demolished.  Each attempt to develop large sections of Coney Island has been met with vigorous opposition, and today the area continues to be zoned for amusement and recreational use only.


Today there are two amusement parks - Luna Park and the Wonder Wheel Amusement Park - along with other rides that are not part of either.  And there's also the New York Aquarium, opened in 1957, severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, then rebuilt, expanded, and reopened in 2018.

Nathan's, home of the famous hot dog eating contest.  Hot dogs for sale, along with all sorts of seafood.  A busy place.


Three of the original Coney Island rides are now designated New York landmarks:  The Wonder Wheel, a steel ferris well built in 1918 and opened in 1920.  At a height of 150 feet it's the tallest in the world.  It's also been in continuous use since it opened, with more than 30 million riders and no accidents.


The Cyclone, a rare wooden roller coaster, built in 1927, and still in use today.  Seen in the background with the Coney Clipper in front.


And the Parachute Jump, a Coney Island landmark.  Built in 1930, it closed in 1964, was renovated between 2002 and 2004 but remains inactive.  


The Thunderbolt, a new ride, opened in June, 2014.  There's also a children's area, a Carousel, bumper cars, haunted houses and lots of games.  Something for everyone.


Two and a half miles of boardwalk connects the beach to the amusement area with restaurants and arcades all along it.


And then there's the beach.  It's sandy, well maintained and open to everyone, and there's no charge to use it.


I spent half a day at Coney Island, wandering around, photographing what I saw, and enjoying the experience.  It's a busy place, with lots of activity and people having a good time everywhere.  There's lots to see but it's not always easy to photograph.  Dense with colour, movement, big-scale structures, and lots of people, getting a clean composition is a challenge.  But I'm glad I went.  It more than met my expectations and I'm thinking a return visit at night when it's all lit up would be well worth doing.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.  


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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. 


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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...


---and then the Manhattan.


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.  


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.  


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.


A cocktail dress and summer afternoon dresses.


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.  


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.


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.  


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


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.

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


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.  


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. 


Enjoying the presentation.


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.


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.


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.


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


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?


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.






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.


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.


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.  


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.


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

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


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


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.  


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.  


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.


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.


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. 


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. 


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.


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.  


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.  


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.  



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.



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.   



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.

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.


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.