Tag Archives: photography

Arts and Sciences

Last week was the end of DOXA fest here in Vancouver and, while I’d planned on putting up a little post about it while it was still on, I happily spent all my spare time casting shadows in the flickering light of the projectors at the Cinematheque and the Vancity Theatre watching intensely beautiful and, sometimes scientifically themed documentaries.

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In the well-planned variety of films chosen this year, I saw men driven mad by probable government agents feeding them stories of aliens so as to distract them from the stealth bomber testing they’d observed, a wordless scenes of a life and death in a rural Brazilian village, doom metal from the apocalyptic landscape of post-financial-crisis Las Vegas, and astronomers peering up from the Atacama desert in to the past life of stars while old ladies searched the sand with small shovels for the bones of their loved ones taken from them during the ‘disappearances’ common under Pinochet’s rule.

The theme of the festival – secrets and lies – ran through all these films. But something else surfaced from within the stories of the people and the places on screen. Something linking science to art. Through the science most of us are exposed to today, we know so much about the way the world works. Whether it be tourism, astrophotography, animal husbandry, or government atrocities, there’s a reality that can be studied and documented.

What I felt was being captured in the festival – the art of it – was the showcase of how individual’s emotions fit into the documentable reality, and, more importantly, how they sometimes don’t. The resulting pictures are of sorrow, longing, and misplaced happiness and how people fit their own emotional lives into the reality of the world.

Not too long ago I saw another kind of artistic capture of something from the world of science in the photography of Rose-Lynn Fisher and especially in her studies of human tears. I won’t copy the images here, but her site has a series of pictures which capture the differences of tears between persons and between feelings. I was especially struck by an image called “Tears of change” where a large, squared rather solid-looking crystal is surrounded by a sea of shattered wavy ripples. Each image is unique and I’m sure connected to the person’s thoughts and feelings at the time the tears were shed.

So now I wonder if this is the role of the artist – to capture the emotional life of a being’s living reality. How much of this reality is based in our surroundings, our situation? How much of that situation does the artist need to show in order to help the viewer understand the emotion? The documentary format is, of course, the ideal platform for the kind of presentation that provides that context.

In the images of tears, we have to wonder about the person’s situation based on the title of each image. This is powerful too – in order to identify the situation that could have caused the tears, we look inward to an experience of our own we could conjure. Something our reality has included that made us cry similar tears.

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Spring Breaks

If summer is for vacation, then spring is for weekend trips.  Longer days are here and I’ve got the urge for going, but the weather isn’t right for long day in the sun just yet. Luckily, there’s lots of neat little places to explore nearby and we’ve been making the most of the weekends lately. It’s still a bit gloomy out, but a few recent excursions have made taking on the last  of Vancouver’s days of rain more of a pleasure than a burden.

Washington, the Evergreen State, the place who’s unofficial motto – Alki , or “Bye and Bye” – has been especially good at taking some of the sting from my summer yearnings. Recently we visited Blaine – a town where you can ride in historically significant ferry boat and then get coffee from a building shaped like a boat. A little further south, a nice little rainy Sunday found us in Edison – a little town named after an inventor and the former home of Edward R. Murrow – eating some delicious Irish soda bread from the bakery and watching ducks in the sloughs. A little later, we thought about out friends in Ireland as we talked the cliffs at Deception Pass.

Blaine Harbor's The Plover

Blaine Harbor’s The Plover

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

Coffee from a building shaped like a boat

A drive over Deception Pass

A drive over Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

From the cliffs near Deception Pass

But all travel hasn’t been southerly. In fact, one of the nicest spring days yet was spent east in the Chiliwack Valley where we trekked along the Trans-Canada Trail. Further up the elevation rise outside the Fraser Valley, we got pretty significantly snowed upon for (what I assume will be) the last time this winter.

Snow over the Chiliwack

Snow over the Chiliwack

River in early spring

River in early spring

There have also been some neat in-town events lately too that are occupying the weekends. At the Museum of Anthropology I was happy to visit the dream world of Mexican artist in a dramatic show called The Marvelous Real. Paintings, sculpture, music and more all pointed to observations of this world by some of the most culturally creative artists I’ve seen in a while.

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum...

I always feel gross taking cell phone shots in the museum…

I also stocked up on all things animal hair at Fibers West which always makes for a nice way to spend a spring Saturday. Here we heard all about skinning goats and combing fleece and even took home some to spin. Best of all, we got the news of a sheep festival of sorts complete with shearing demos and info on farming coming up in September. My fantasy farm-living self can’t wait.

A display only a knitter could love.

A display only a knitter could love.

So much yarn I'm spinning!

So much yarn I’m spinning!

As the weather warms, I’m still hoping to visit the Gulf Islands and maybe even head out into the Washington rainforest. Does that mean I’m finally coming to like the rain? I’d have said so except for this lovely little Sunday sun shower we got this afternoon. Don’t worry, sunshine. I still like you best.

soon, sunshine.

Soon, sunshine.

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First glimpses of winter

November’s end has brought a smack of winter weather and it’s that time of year when I usually mis-gauge the weather and leave the house dressed inappropriately. It’s raining. It’s really raining. It’s windy. It’s dry and cold, but the ground is wet. We’ll take the bus. The bike. There’s a cold front. The sun is out. How other people seem so comfortable these is beyond me even after living three winters here.

I get it right sometimes, but more often than not that’s because I’m carrying a pile of hats and mittens and extra socks and a different coat, which, if you’re doing much on-foot traveling, is a pain. It’s usually when I’m getting ready for a day like this when I miss the ‘Floridian lifestyle’ – not so much because of the cold, but because things are easier when the only pair of shoes you need are plastic flip flops and a hoodie is your go-to coat.

But to the diligent goes the reward I suppose, and the rewards of winter are already peaking out from behind grey clouds. I’ll be making some trips back upstairs to switch jackets for a while and I’ll probably step in at least one puddle in shoes that I forgot to waterproof spray, but at least I’ll be greeted with beautiful views.

Yesterday, we hung out at Acadia Beach for a while looking at winter’s visiting ducks and spotted some of the first snow on nearby mountains. The thin winter clouds are also here now and make for some really beautiful skyscapes.

A big white monster.

A big white monster on the Sunshine Coast.

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The view from a different kind of beach paradise.

And winter has a way of making us appreciate things familiar in a new way. Take the Bloedel Conservatory where we went for the first time in the dark the other day. You know, because it’s dark at 4:15 now. Good thing we have a secret tropical garden right here in town that happens to look like an alien ship in the right kind of fog.

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Bloedel looking almost alien in a winter sky.

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Tips from a Jazz Kitchen just in time for Thanksgiving

Not long ago, I wrote about how many hobbies I’d picked up since moving to Vancouver and since I’ve had a small desire to streamline some of them. For one, I’m going to shut down, or at least stop posting to, my blog about food called Jazz Kitchen. I’d started it in the hopes of figuring out what kind of cook I was and, in defining a set of rules for the kitchen, I think I did. Now I feel like running a separate blog from the kitchen might be a bit much. I’ll repost some of the highlights over the next few months, and then keep up with anything new and interesting from the kitchen here.

Thanks to everybody who checked out the good vibes of stress-free cooking, inspiration, and improvisation of Jazz Kitchen. I’ll see you around here from now on. In celebration of Thanksgiving this week, here’s a re-post of my de-stressed Thanksgiving dinner summary last year –

Originally Published over on Jazz Kitchen on Nov. 22, 2012

– Thankful for Rule #1 –

Today I’m thankful for food on the table and, frankly, the table itself. We  Also for my mom for relentlessly keeping us well-fed every day and for passing on her rational curiosity for food and cooking. On tonight’s menu: roast turkey, home made cranberry sauce, my sister’s version of green bean casserole, sweet potatoes (southern style, as in, with the marshmallows) and a pumpkin pie.

Roasty, toasty.

Roasty, toasty.

This is the perfect day to begin this blog project as Thanksgiving can encapsulate everything fun and good about cooking. You know the food, you can plan in advance, you have room to play with tradition and ultimately you’ll be feeding people you love. I realize that for some, it’s more like hours and hours of prep work and a kitchen full of chaos, but this brings us to Rule #1.Although it’s part of many recipes, I say it’s OK to Skip the Added Stress in your cooking.

Cooking for a large group is hard and can get complicated, but part of this rule entails not taking on more than you can manage. Budget appropriately and don’t decide to try something requiring skills you don’t have. I’m not making a whole turkey cause this year there will only be two of us. This means that instead of the stuffing that I do love, I’ll actually end up with more time to prep casseroles and have a glass of wine. The celery sticks with cream cheese that are always a part of mom’s dinner also got the ax because I don’t see myself cutting up and dressing individual sticks and I don’t really have the fridge space to do it advance. Leftovers are great, but I’m only making half portions so we don’t have them for ages. These decisions made shopping easier and will eliminate frustration during cooking and clean up too. Best of all, the dinner is still going to be delicious!

Turkey for two.

Turkey for two.

Here’s the plan:

Home from work at 4:45 (in Canada now so no time off today!)

Potatoes in the oven – sweet ones just stabbed with a fork and in foil, savory ones cut in half then bathed in a little olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano.

Turkey prepped with a good rinse and dry then a salt and pepper and butter rub with rosemary under the skin. This will probably be about an hour or so in the oven as it’s a smaller size but will need to check on that as we go.

Cranberries cooked up following this recipe. I was super excited about quite a few other ones out there many of which called for liquors, uncommon spices or soaking over night. I’m aiming for simplicity here so this should be a good basic recipe to start with – the more steps and the longer the ingredient list the more time you should give yourself.

I already prepared the pumpkin (split, gutted, roasted with brown sugar for about an hour) so the pie will be home-made delicious and a cinch. The author of this recipe cut out the crust for calorie concerns; I’m more excited about the time it will save!

Two cans of green beans + one can of classic Campbell’s mushroom + s&p into a casserole. This just needs to warm up a bit so it gets last priority in the tiny oven. A few of those crispy onions on top and broil.

Potatoes out – sweet ones mixed with sugars and maple syrup and topped with jiffy puff and then broiled for a few minutes. Savory ones are ready to go.

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Lovely, lumpy marshmallows.

Herbs in the oven.

Herbs in the oven.

Then just a few slices of yummy bread, glasses of wine or maybe cider, and time to call mom back home.
What do you think… Thanksgiving dinner by 7:30? :) Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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 (with my thanks to a very good friend and dinner guest for taking these photos of dinner and being there to celebrate!) 
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30 Cakes (22/30)

Of all the phrases we hear (and use) too often, and I think ‘pleasant surprise’ is one of the ones I like least. This is only because when I actually do encounter one, the phrase kicks in and I immediately stop considering what makes the surprise pleasant. Like the other day when I ordered apple pie and coffee at a sandwich shop as part of my endeavor to eat 30 Cakes in this, my 30th year. It’s a deli so, low expectations, right? Wrong.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Apple pie and sweet surprises.

Turns out this sandwich shop (it’s called PHAT, you know, like pretty, hot and tasty) has an apple pie good enough to be tagged as a pleasant surprise. ‘Pleasant’ in that it’s nice to be presented with a something the maker of which cared about, took their time with, and wanted you to like. ‘Surprise’ because we spend so much time noting the petty problems and annoyances of a day, so when something nice comes at you, it’s probably better to drop the over-used phrases and just enjoy it.

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Falling leaves, falling temperatures

For a person who grew up in a place where driving 400 miles north to “see the leaves change” was something we considered tourism, being in a city full of deciduous trees is a sort of treat every October.

The skinny pines of north Florida don’t offer much of  a show any time of year – steadily they live in needle-floored forests usually towering over palmettos that don’t turn for fall either. We did have a single Turkey Oak tree in my yard as a kid with leaves that reddened and then crisped up to to make one little corner of our yard a hard place to sneak around in for the noise of crunching leaves. Other than that, things were pretty green most of the year.

Here in Vancouver, the leaves are turning all around us. Orange, green, and golden showers of leaves pulled down in the wind litter the streets. Bags of yard leaves line the streets during what the city calls and “unlimited leaf collection period.” While others rake, I look up for color, deeper into my closet for  warmth, and on the ground for the found fruits of Autumn.

Green turns to red.

Green turns to red.

Blazes of orange.

Blazes of orange.

Golden and blue.

Golden and blue.

Other fruits of Autumn.

Other fruits of Autumn.

 

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Summer, according to my phone.

Recently, I was asked what thing about people bothered me the most – as in, did I have an irrational fear of the elderly or an instant dislike of people who perpetually told you the gritty details of their health problems. It was one of those things that you can only talk about with close friends, but we all have ‘peves’ with each other and it makes for pretty good fun to identify the minimally terrible and often hilarious things about your friends that you so enjoy.

One of the things we didn’t bring up was over-use of cell phones that seems to have become socially acceptable. It’s a practice of mine that I don’t use my phone when I’m talking to, sitting with, or generally in the same area as someone I know. Right next to hand written letters, I think people sharing time with each other is one of the greatest things about friendship and family. These days, so many conversations between two or more humans is perpetually stopped or distracted by looks into pockets or screen-based chats. Hopefully this is a trend that will die out as we realize how rude we are being to each other. Not trying to sound like a bossy old lady, but one can only hope.

In the meantime, I must admit that I remain undecided about the addition of phone cameras into our lives. While I’m certainly no professional, I have appreciated photography since I was given access to my dad’s old 35mm Cannon with detachable lenses when I was eight or maybe twelve. Seeing the working mechanisms of a little dark place that made printed copies of things that otherwise exist only in memory made me want to take pictures, study photographer’s styles and techniques, and generally appreciate thoughtful and interesting documentation of the world.

Perhaps mistakenly, I often don’t carry a camera these days because I can rely on my phone to take snapshots. This brings me back round to the over-use issue and, like I said, I actually don’t know where I stand on this. Yesterday, I purposefully didn’t bring a camera or my phone to the release of a hand full of Harbor Seals that I had helped care for as a volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Center. This was the annual volunteer-led release where the people who have helped feed and clean and grow and heal get to carry cages down to the water and release now-healthy seals. The beach is usually cluttered with friends and family and yesterday was no exception. The dry beach where we were was pretty shallow and everyone was standing as close as they could almost piled on top of each other. Amidst the crowded bodies, all arm were up and out; everyone was ready with their phone cameras.

What I’m afraid of is that this sort of photography removes us from the moments we are experiencing. There’s no zoom on those things, after all, so we must push our way to the front and sometimes get so close that we loose the perspective of a regular camera man – one where you take the whole scene into account, where the background matters too.

On the way home, I looked though the things I had photographed this summer and found another layer to the argument – I had not remembered several of the events documented with a quick snap, or should I say finger press, of the camera phone. For this, spy-camera-sized and instantly obtainable photo ability, I guess I’ll have to say I’m glad. But I still think we should put phones down more often and really look around, listen to each other, and try to remember the events of our lives. Here are a few that, thanks to having the phone,  I’ll remember from this summer.

My first 'swim' in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

My first ‘swim’ in BC waters. Can you believe it took so long?

Weird things downtown.

Weird things downtown.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

That afternoon we went to a neat forest on the riverside with some good friends.

Neon.

Neon.

Wine and sunshine.

Wine and sunshine.

Cute street scenes.

Cute street scenes.

Tomatoes!

Tomatoes!

Jorts!

Jorts!

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

A day at the pool in Stanley Park.

Visits to a muddy border.

Visits to a muddy border.

A picnic at Green College.

A picnic at Green College.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

A paperweight at the Vancouver archives embellished with the humor of an antiquarian.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

Finding this map of what Coal Harbor was going to look like once.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The plan I made for my Green Streets garden.

The walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Appreciating the walkway into the Anthropology museum.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Finding a view of the fireworks form our bedroom window.

Meeting this guy.

Meeting this guy.

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Sunsets, Rainbows and Islands in Lakes

Sunset on the Fraser River

Sunset on the Fraser River

September is a weird time in the Pacific South(North)west because it’s still warm and mostly sunny, but the Fall weather is upon us. It’s creeping in at night and in the occasional rain. There will be more, says each drop, many more.

But there’s still time for Summer adventure as we discovered on a recent drive East toward a place called Harrison. It’s a lake resort and is home to lots of family-oriented motels and playgrounds for kids attending family reunions. There are also hot springs, but we’ll save that for when the winter arrives.

The whole area to the east of Vancouver is shaped by the Fraser River. It starts up in the mountains to the northeast and continues down in a hook shape until it pours out into the Strait near the city. The river valley is incredibly fertile and in the towns around the farms there are corn and berry stands to be found, antiquated gas stations and great little place to eat or take in the scenery.

One of the attractions we’d never yet seen is Mitner Gardens. Started by a family who recognized the hilly spot as a great place for a garden, it’s now in it’s final season as the owners are selling and closing it down next month. We’d wanted to see it for a while so were glad of the reminder in a recent news story about the closing. I assume it’s pretty hard to keep a 30+ acre planted garden in shape, so I assume retirement from it at some point is expected. It is a bit sad to wonder what will happen to the place and I hope someone takes it over.

A garden lady waits.

A garden lady waits.

Flowers in the sun.

Flowers in the sun.

There’s also some interesting lakes and, within those lakes, little islands ripe for exploring after a short swim or paddle on a canoe. Lake visits are a pastime I have yet to understand fully. Growing up near a warm, sandy beach makes me leery of dark water and mushy, rocky bottoms. Harrison Lake is beautiful but it’s cold and I’ve so far been a little too afraid of unfathomable monsters to dive in. The way the mountains rise up out of the water does make for nice scenery though.

A lake with an island.

A lake with an island.

We also hiked the little ways up to Bridal Veil Falls that’s in the same area. Waterfalls are another obviously new-to-me landscape feature. Everything in Florida is flat. The creeks we do have are slow-moving and swampy and trees are able to grow up within the water without being disturbed. Here, the elevation and the melting snow are forces with which you cannot reckon. Bridal Veil comes down over the height of the slope and washes wide down through the forest. It has knocked down huge trees and made pebbles from what I imagine were once boulders. On dry days like this, traces of other nearby falls can be seen even though the water isn’t moving. Bridal Veil continues most of the year and it’s easy to impressive to picture how much more powerful this will become in the spring snowmelt.

A look up at Bridal Veil Falls.

A look up at Bridal Veil Falls.

The end of the day caught us looking for a place to climb down to the river. A rainbow had distracted us from our original path – as we drove around we realized it was a full arc worth stopping to gaze at for a bit. Up it went from one side in the mountains down and into the growing corn.

Pink and purple mountains in a rainbow-glazed sunset.

Pink and purple mountains in a rainbow-glazed sunset.

A few turns later and we arrived at a little beach. The Fraser is a chalky thing of a grey-brown color like potter’s clay. It’s quiet away from towns or boat ramps. Occasionally a fish jumps or a piece of log floats by which makes the strength of the current visible. Carrying  nutrients from the mountains that makes the surrounding farms so productive, it continues sweeping past little islands and lakes that surround this area as it picks up fallen branches and calls shore birds inland following along a wandering path.

The last of a blue sky as river winds dance through the grass.

The last of a blue sky as river winds dance through the grass.

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Touch Wood

In Florida, pines are the predominant trees. Specifically Slash Pine, Sand Pine and Scrub Pine in the place where I grew up. These trees have a lot of strength in what’s called ‘heartwood’. This means their centers are tougher than rot and, often, tougher than fire. You’ll see the heartwood of a fallen pine still strong and silvery years after the bark and inner layers have sunk back into the Earth. It’s prized as firewood because it burns slow and steady. While the trees grow skinny and scraggly, the heartwood bends in the winds off the Gulf shaping the trees near the shore into strange, back-bent shapes that make little hide-a-ways and branches good for sitting.  Grown up in planted lines, the heartwood reaches up straight and high and hosts tuffs of needles only at the very top. Walking in planted pines as a little kid I used to think these were tall, and they are for their landscape. Now I live here and I’ve met the likes of Douglas Fir and Giant Red Cedar and it turns out I don’t know so much about tall.

These true west coast giants don’t compare to the trees back home aside from their both having bark and needles and roots. Almost nothing else is recognizable. Standing under a Sequoia is like being invited to look behind the curtain of time and remember the ghosts of the forrest as they were hundreds, even thousands of years ago. They almost breathe they are so large. Around them, the woods are often quiet. The woods are big here and animals are spread out.  No packs of Blue Jays or Cardinals to cheep cheep and, if there are little birds, they flit and fly two hundred feet up above you.

The other difference is that many of the trees here aren’t supported by their heartwood, which is why you can walk into the bellies some of them.  Stanley Park is famous for a photo of Victorian-era people standing on the big old shell of a tree that’s left near Prospect Point. It’s got a triangular opening, like the slit of a a tight skirt, and you can walk right into the tree’s empty innards. The heartwood dies here and rots back into the earth in piles of red sawdust gathered by the outside bark layers holding up giants.

Some of this is grandness is visible at the current sculpture exhibition at VanDusen Botanical Gardens which lasts through the end of September. The exhibit, called Touch Wood, is a collection of wood sculptures by a dozen or so B.C. artists placed in obvious and not-so-obvious places through the garden. Here where the woods are so different from the kind I know and where the trees have had such an important role in the lives of the people here, it’s really a beautiful way to get to know these trees better.

We’ve been to the Garden a few times since this exhibit opened, but the other night we arrived just in time to catch that lovely twilight hour just before they closed. Summer’s end is near, visible not only in the cooling of the air around us each evening, but also in the reduced hours many of Vancouver’s attractions are about to envoke. In these few snapshots of carvings made from big, empty trees taken on one of the last late evenings for VanDusen this year will be one of a few different ways I’ll say farewell to another summer in a land of empty trees.

Nine Sentinels by Brent Comber

Nine Sentinels by Brent Comber. In this sculpture, you can stand where the heartwood should be.

Shattered Sphere also by Brent Comber

Shattered Sphere also by Brent Comber

Ghost Salmon by Paul Burke

Ghost Salmon by Paul Burke

close up of the Nine Sentinels

close up of the Nine Sentinels

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Insta-bog

For plenty of reasons, Vancouver is a pretty green city: composting, greenways, community gardens, and Stanley Park (which is the subject of one of a couple of 2013 pet projects) to name a few. A green place that people don’t talk about so much is Camosun Bog located off, you guessed it, Camosun Drive in Point Grey.

It’s one of those places that was meant to disappear like the rest of the undevelop-able parts of the city. A piece of what was once a much larger bog habitat, it remains because a group of people stood up, volunteered to care for the place, and made sure (in work that still goes on every weekend and in writing on this bog blog) that at least this one little part wouldn’t be drained or disturbed.

Bogs are neat because they feel old. Ice age old. Remember that guy they found from thousands of years ago who pretty well looked as is if he’d just gone to sleep in freezer? That was the work of Sphagnum Moss, which has amazing qualities of preservation. It’s thick across the ground, but is easily disturbed. Like almost all little systems in nature, once the moss is uprooted, trees and shrubs move in and the place changes.

There’s also bog blueberries and huckleberries growing within the undulating carpet of green that rolls over rotting log and leftover stump. If you arrive in the morning or the evening thrushes, towhees and warblers can be seen flitting around in the nearby pines. They were mostly asleep in the heat of the July afternoon when I was there last. That emptiness worked to enhance the sort of eerie quality of the place. I’d (once again) forgotten my camera, but I did snap a few  photos on the phone and managed to find a few Instagram settings that seemed to give the appropriate sense of drama.

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30 Cakes (13/30)

This year had a good feeling from the start. Perhaps because the dread that afflicted me from about the day after my 26th birthday had finally worn off. Perhaps because it started as one of those years that felt like neat things were going to happen. Perhaps because turning 30 isn’t so bad after all.

Whatever the case, this year calls for more celebration than just one day. How am I celebrating, you ask? Well, by making, baking, or just plain ordering 30 different cakes before my next birthday.

A little more than halfway there, number 13 is one I made myself.

No. 13: Elderflower and Lemon

No. 13: Elderflower and Lemon

It’s been so nice outside lately that I wanted to make something to celebrate blue, cloudless skies and warm sunny lawns. Having recently purchased a new bottle of Ikea’s elderflower syrup and a couple of extra lemons, inspiration was right there in the fridge. The cake is Martha Stewart’s plain vanilla layer cake plus the juice and zest of one lemon. The butter cream has a not-so-little touch of elderflower. Together they turn out to be a perfect pair for the steadily strengthening summer!

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The Vegetables of my Labo(u)r

June this year has been kinder than last. I’ve only had to wear rain boots two or three times so far and have switched to my lighter jackets successfully. That said, there’s still a chill in the air and we’ve been spooked out of camping twice so far with temperatures dropping to the single digits (Celsius, people… I’m trying!) still.

That said, one part of summer has already arrived – the happy results of early spring planting.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

Bucket of greens fresh from the farm, er, I mean balcony.

This wonderful little concoction of greens includes some kind of choy vegetable I forgot the specifics of, red and green leaf lettuces and a few pieces of arugula. Having grown up successfully (in spite of a north-facing lack of sun and squirrel who ate quite a few of their seedling brethren) these little greens will keep me from having to buy lettuces for a while.

But not everyone is an enemy!

Garden's friend.

Garden’s friend.

I still have sugar snap peas on the way and fingers crossed for red tomatoes (last year’s were mostly green).  I also have some wonderful flowers starting to come up so come on Summer and bring my little green balcony some sunny days, warmer nights!

Greening.

Greening.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

Vegetables of my labo(u)r.

 

 

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Explore(r)

This afternoon the weather is perfect; a cool breeze, blue sky, and warm sun are wrapped around the city and it feels like the forecast might just have enough teeth for it to stay like this a while. I walked a while this afternoon and contemplated how it’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere else.  In the early spring I had a excellent trip up the West Coast but since then we’ve been city bound.

In thinking about where I haven’t gone lately, I return to the notion that travel defines us. A trip can shape our outlook on the year and keeps us looking forward to something in the months leading up to the departure. We decorate our spaces ‘here’ with our best pictures from ‘there’ and we repeat stories from places other than home because those are the stories that become our favorites.

I also thought about how it’s almost our third anniversary with Canada. I certainly define myself as a person “who travels” and hope to see more and do more with each passing year. But what does it mean to stay put? To move and stay and live in a place that’s foreign? How long do you have to be there before you stop being a tourist? Is it when you know how to get around? When you accumulate all the spices you’ll ever need in your new house? When you can know that this is going to be one of the best days of summer because you’ve seen a few now and you can tell?

What I landed is the idea that maybe the thing I want to be isn’t ‘traveler’ so much as it is ‘explorer’. Not so much about racking up miles or ticking off lists, but to come to know a place through time, through experiences. To choose your path home by finding the one last street you haven’t yet walked. To learn the names of native trees and the animals who live in the woods. To get to know the guy who runs the market and how to find a quiet place even downtown.

This is a different type of travel. It’s slower. It happens more in your head than in your feet or on your passport. It’s not the kind of thing that works really well for stories. You can’t really get by telling an acquaintance about that time you learned which color slug was the native species without making a weirdo of yourself. A few years gone, I know the slug and I have a few sunny days to remember. I can tell Canada that I know it a little. I think it will listen to me in a way it couldn’t if I were only here a week or even a month. I’m an explorer, I will say, and I will come to know at least this one little peninsula here at the edge of the world.

Little roads, close to home.

Little roads, close to home.

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Picture Memory

At my grandfather’s house there are dusty cardboard boxes of photographs and trays full of haphazardly stacked slides. My mother keeps shelves of heavy albums with clear plastic covers in a cabinet in the room that used to be mine. I have SD cards full of digital backups wrapped in paper or in little plastic baggies scattered about my desk.

What do we have in common?

Those precious times when, while cleaning or reorganizing, we stumble across an image we’d entirely forgotten about.

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This morning I found this shot taken on Black Creek back home in Walton County at a spot where Turkey Vultures come to roost. The sunset was calling them back to skinny pine resting spots where they then squabbled over who would sit where for an hour or so into the darkness. The slow movement of black water mirrored their decent from sky soaring all of the hot afternoon.

The beauty of scavengers is sometimes hard to see. Those who feast on what’s left behind can leave the impression of desperation and depravity or remind us of images we’d just as soon turn away from. This particular evening, the happenstance of my being there when the group returned left me with none of those sad feelings. I’m happy to see this image again to be reminded of the peaceful smallness I did feel that night.

Later I learned that the similarity of vulture species found in the New World to those from the Old World is the result of what’s called convergent evolution. This means that these birds aren’t genetically linked to the older scavenger bird species that exist on other continents; they did not decent from birds that look like they would be their ancestors. The “daily life” similarities of the two groups (what they eat, how they look) arose entirely separately and, you might say, coincidentally. Speaking as a person transplanted, this offers the comfortable contemplation that certain things need doing (and certain animals will fill the holes) no matter our place in this world.

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North, South, West, West.

I don’t think I’ll ever get too old for a road trip. There’s something that just feels American (or, as I’m learning, North American) about renting a car, buying a map, bringing a camera and hauling yourself and the best possible company along some roads you’ve never been down.

Some of the roads I just traveled with my sister I will probably never visit again. Today, the day she packed up and flew to her home back in Florida, this feels a bit tragic. That one thing we saw just doesn’t look as cool as it was in the photo. What was the name of that place we stopped for ice cream? Did we turn there, or here after that one city? Why do we wish so much to try and preserve these adventures in the first place? When will we get to do this again?

Looking through photos this afternoon, I want only to preserve the idea of the West. We drove through about 1,400 miles of it and spent the better part hugging the coastal roads of the Pacific. From that, what’s sticking with me are the images of the coast. The edge of the world. The fault line from Monterey, CA to Tofino, BC. The Pacific is lovely and big and cold and beautiful. One guy on a boat we rode on called it “majestic.” I’m hopeful my memories (and possibly the snapshots) can continue to be called that so as well.

Here are some of my favorite views of the sea from our trip.

Highway 1 in Big Sur

Highway 1 in Big Sur

Water in the air, water in the sea.

Water in the air, water in the sea.

Purple mountains of another sort.

Purple mountains of another sort.

A giant's reflection.

A giant’s reflection.

View from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

View from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For a moment this one felt a lot like home.

For a moment this one felt a lot like home.

A sea of glass.

A sea of glass.

At dusk.

At dusk.

The lazy lives of Harbor Seals.

The lazy lives of Harbor Seals.

Best animal ever?

Best animal ever?

Pinky the Humpback whale near Ucluelet.

Pinky the Humpback whale near Ucluelet.

Calm water surrounding rocky cliffs and a grey sunset.

Calm water surrounding rocky cliffs and a grey sunset.

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The Desert. California. Oregon. A Train. My Sister.

A recent quiet around this place is due entirely to the most awesome thing that will probably happen all year: my sister is here! After a nutty trip up that started with me meeting her in the desert and picking up a rented Honda Civic, we drove up the coast of California and landed on a train ride in from Portland. She is staying here for a while in a land where it’s still forty degrees so we’ve put away our flip flops once again. For a brief moment, we wore tee shirts and our toes were free to feel the sun. Back in Vancouver, we are making the most of snowy mountains and the sunny days that are here this week.

More to come from here, but I thought I’d share a few photos from our drive. California is as beautiful as people say. The rocky coasts and hugeness of the landscape took us both by surprise mostly because we didn’t think much on what to expect beforehand. The wine is better than we thought (both of us pretty dedicated to all things French in that area). The oranges and the tacos, the lovely people and the incredible wildlife left us wanting to return soon.

Holy Sheep!

Holy Sheep!

Farm roads

Farm roads in the Central Valley. 

Like little sun globes

Like little sun globes. 

We had a beautiful day here. Snow still on the ground at the Sequoia groves and the place almost entirely to ourselves.

We had a beautiful day here. Snow still on the ground at the Sequoia groves and the place almost entirely to ourselves.

Sunny and warm at the bottom, snowy majesty at the top.

Sunny and warm at the bottom, snowy majesty at the top.

Nothing so pretty as wildflowers at the beach.

Nothing so pretty as wildflowers at the beach.

One of several natural bridges we stumbled upon. This one is inside Big Sur.

One of several natural bridges we stumbled upon. This one is inside Big Sur.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium had an amazing Jellyfish exhibit including this little spotted guy.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium had an amazing Jellyfish exhibit including this little spotted guy.

If you ever can't find me you should check to see if I'm here.

If you ever can’t find me you should check to see if I’m here.

Why is California so pretty? In part, stunning blue seas and the beauty of hills colored in color.

Why is California so pretty? In part, stunning blue seas and the beauty of hills colored in color.

Here we saw Elephant Seal pups and big males both waiting for the right time to head to the ocean.

Here we saw Elephant Seal pups and big males both waiting for the right time to head to the ocean.

Golden Gate as viewed from the Red and White tour boat.

Golden Gate as viewed from the Red and White tour boat.

Happy cows do live in California.

Happy cows do live in California.

Wine country.

Wine country.

Sea Glass Beach at Ft. Bragg, CA.

Sea Glass Beach at Ft. Bragg, CA.

Giants in the Redwood forest.

Giants in the Redwood forest.

Portland, my dear, I hope to see you again soon.

Portland, my dear, I hope to see you again soon.

First real train ride ever was a success.

First real train ride ever was a success.

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A Sunny Day in Delta and a Rant about Bird Photography

With spring migrations on the way and the promise of Saw Whet owls residing at the bird sanctuary, a trip to south was in order for yesterday’s amazingly sunny weather. Delta and Ladner are smaller towns built around vibrant farming communities and proximity to the river. In the summer, you can pick or purchase the best berries I’ve ever eaten. In the late winter, you can track Arctic waterfowl and pick up some seeds for a garden soon to grow on your big city balcony.

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Delta, complete with a seagrass T.

At Riefel, a bird sanctuary you arrive at only after crossing a charming, one-hundred-year-old bridge to Westham Island, we looked for regular residents and some stunning visitors that make their flight over this area. I was happy to get a glimpse of the Saw Whet, the smallest of North American owls, that have been living at the sanctuary recently. Unfortunately, the moment was tainted by my disappointment in fellow bird watchers who thought it acceptable to hoot and whistle at sleeping owls. I hate to sound critical, but I think those of us who think ourselves “Nature Photographers” should to take a moment to realize sticking camera lenses in the faces of nocturnal birds might not be worth your capturing of an image that, frankly, is already all over the internet.

I stood behind ten or so people who were testing the limits of the sawhorse fence newly built to keep bird watchers away from the tree where the Saw Whets have been roosting. On this particular afternoon, one of the owls picked a pretty low branch to sleep. Since it was so close, I figured people would look at the bird, maybe take a snapshot and then be on their way. Instead, they all squished together, talked to each other rather loudly, and reached closer and closer to the bird. As if that weren’t enough, several “photographers” then started making noises directly at the bird I assume in the hope it would opened its eyes. That’s the way you do nature photography, right? Following the huddle of people with fancy lenses who appear at popular city nature parks with free parking lots on busy Saturday afternoons? Get a tip from the lady in the office or an email rather than happening on an animal naturally or by your own tracking instincts?

Needless to say, I didn’t feel right photographing the Saw Whets this particular afternoon. They are the cutest little things and I would have loved a photo, but last time I checked, nocturnal animals need to rest during the day so they can hunt all night. We took a good look at him with binoculars from about twenty feet away and found that to be enough for us. I will say that the Saw Whet is worth a trip to see, even if you have to rely on a tip from someone else. You, however, just do an image search for them and get the idea and perhaps that’s preferable to some of what I saw going on today. I’m going to trust that at least some of these photos weren’t taken by people harassing wild birds while they slept.

Thankfully there was plenty else to see including a visit to West Coast Seeds and lunch at Sharkeys back in Ladner. We also happened  upon a flock of snow geese making the most tremendous racket. As we watched, a single Tundra Swan flew over us thinking he’d found his friends. Circling over the noisy group for a hesitant moment, he discovered his mistake and quickly turned away to the south. A few Douglas Squirrels took advantage of little piles of seeds left along the path. A guy in plastic boots and long white hair took advantage of a Vancouver riot to add some depth to his truck bed.

The green gates to Westham Island.

The green gates to Westham Island.

My future garden - complete with free "thank you" seeds and a pair of complimentary gloves.

My future garden – complete with free “thank you” seeds and a pair of complimentary gloves.

All the potential of West Coast Seeds.

All the potential of West Coast Seeds.

So there was this riot and people came to write apologetic notes on the plywood that covered broken shop windows... and then this guy did *this* with the plywood.

So there was this riot and people came to write apologetic notes on the plywood that covered broken shop windows… and then this guy did *this* with the plywood.

Nothing like a little Local Color. What's that on the dash? Oh, right. A Beluga Whale stuffed toy.

Nothing like a little Local Color. What’s that on the dash? Oh, right. A Beluga Whale stuffed toy.

We didn't get the Poutine because I love the fish and chips too much, but Sharkey's is in the contest. Lunch here is always a treat.

We didn’t get the Poutine because I love the fish and chips too much, but Sharkey’s is in the contest. Lunch here is always a treat.

Farm Life.

Farm Life.

A swan flew over to check out the group of snow geese but quickly turned back to find his own kind.

A swan flew over to check out the group of snow geese but quickly turned back to find his own kind.

A flock of Snow Geese making use of a winter field.

A flock of Snow Geese making use of a winter field.

Douglas Squirrel.

Douglas Squirrel.

Winter woods.

Winter woods.

 

 

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YOU GUYS It looks like SPRING in here

Well, at least in a pot inside the house that I, um, put near the floorboard heater. The road outside our apartment is being dug up to make way for an improved sidewalk and more room for a bike path and some of the little garden area has gotten tampered with in all the construction. The other day I picked up some casualty bulbs I found lying on the road and planted them in the house. It’s only been like four days and look what happened…

Spring! Look it's coming!

Spring! Look it’s coming!

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Adventures in Photography 2.0

Work Space

Work Space

Standing Man Rock

Standing Man Rock

Green

Green

Trinket

Trinket

I put it off for a long time, but the other day I started playing around with Instagram. Something about it still feels cheap to me, but it is fun to play around with your photos easily. I’m also impressed with the images of other Istagram-ers that are visible through connecting with photographers around the world. For now, I’ll stick to pictures of thing around my house and images that help me think about my Stanley Park Project. Check out more here and follow me @newnorthcountry. I’d love to see your photos too!

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two worlds

So the sunny skies that have graced us here lately are wonderful. A break from the famous Vancouver grey and a chance to wear shoes that aren’t made of plastic is certainly nice. The clouds work like a blanket though, so when they leave, the temperature drops. Yesterday we took a moment to check out the frost in the best possible place to do so – Queen Elizabeth Park. Why is it the best? Because it’s really two worlds in one.

 

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The first, rhubarb melted into a frozen puddle (still amazing looking… this is such a cool plant!) I can’t stop being fascinated by the way the water expands as it freezes. It’s like the plants are all wearing a little wig of crystals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013-01-12 12.35.22And then there’s the Bloedel Conservatory. At the top of Little Mountain (where the park sits) the conservatory makes a great little respite on cold days. The Christmas lights were still up last weekend so it really did feel like two worlds!

 

 

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moonlit forest memory

All my favorite photos are the ones that utilize the beauty of natural light and shadow. I’m especially taken by photographs taken at twilight or at night that capture the lighting as it is as opposed to how it is with bright flashes. On our trip home this Christmas, I decided to take the night’s moonlight for what it was worth and try to capture some of the remaining woods near where I grew up.

When we were kids, my backyard extended acres and acres as we were one of three or four houses in the neighborhood and the neighborhood backed up against open woods and swamp. My sister and I made forts and named landmarks and kept the place quite to ourselves. Not needing shoes for the soft pine-needle-carpet, climbing on cypress knees, watching for moccasins, and generally being in a quiet place has made me into one of those people who is often happiest enjoying the pleasure of my own company.

Since the time when I was only old enough to have to be home by dark, what I think of as my woods has changed dramatically: a devastating fire, a partial purchased and developed of a gated community, and, thankfully, the rest set aside as a state park.

It’s been a while since I walked these woods so I was happy to find myself visiting under a full moon. Here’s my attempts to capture the beauty and eeriness of the place.

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Goodnight, forest.

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Hope

So the interior is mostly yet unexplored, but we did make it as far as Hope, B.C. and Manning Park recently. The hills mountains take off out there and it’s home to the remains of a huge landslide which moved something like 55 meters of rocks down into what was a valley. Seeing it makes this song sound totally different.

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There’s also a much chances for appreciating fog out there. Image

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We also met Clark’s Nutcracker, Cascade Golden-MantledGround Squirrel, and Gray Jay (who is called a by several names including a variation of the name of a mythical Boreal forest trickster. In English you’d say Whiskey Jack).

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The park also has some incredible lakes blue like the sea tucked away between the mountains.

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At one point we had driven up to a view point quite high and were looking down on the valley all coated in deep green fir trees and talking about being small.  Within a few minutes, the echo-y clucks of ravens were heard bouncing off the trees and two turned and landed to check us out. Ravens, also new to me, are smarter than us. They look you up and down can tell things about you like a sage or a grandmother. We’d be tolerated for a bit it seemed when their arrival was followed by the appearance of two nutcrackers who had clearly learned where to get treats up here in the woods. The six of us stood together there and looked around at the world of sky we were lucky enough to join them in for a time.

This was too nice a moment for the camera.

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