Monday, August 29, 2016

Photograph like no one's watching

published in the Chronicle Herald (The Nova Scotian section) - August 29, 2016
Im sure weve all seen the wall art - "sing like no ones listening" and "dance like no ones watching". 
The truth is, we all start out that way but somehow we lose that as we age and as time goes on some of us become more inhibited than when we started.
A two year old will hear some music and immediately start to dance, and everyone watching thinks it cute and laughs. We clap along, and we share the joy. Its infectious.

If an adult hears music and starts to dance, usually the reaction isnt the same. People seem embarrassed, or think theres a screw loose somewhere.

Sometime along the path of life we are discouraged from public displays of joy and happiness. Maybe its an adult telling us to behave, maybe its the school system that regiments us away from being individuals, or maybe its because a peer makes fun of us.
In public school, I used to love singing. I looked forward to our music classes and always raised my hand to suggest a song to sing. Then we had a class exercise where each student had to sing a note and the other students got to vote on who had to try again. I was the only kid in the class who had to sing my note over again because I was judged not good enough. A year or so later, the school choir conductor told me I should just mouth the words instead of singing them. Then in high school, a friend told me that everyone else in the class used to laugh at the way I sang. Ouch. Its difficult not to feel inhibited after all that. Now my husband is the only one who hears me sing. He keeps telling me hes a lucky guy.
If you have had children and have gone through the teenage years, I think youll agree with me that parents dont even need to work at embarrassing their kids. It comes naturally. Many years ago, I was in a video store with my son. (I think most readers of this column will remember what a video store is). A song from my own teenage years came over the stores speaker system so I started to dance. Not a big performance. Just a little happy dance. And just enough for my teenage son to wish the floor would open up and swallow him whole. I heard the long drawn out "Mo-o-o-m" complete with a groan and slouching shuffle as far away from me as he could go and still get a lift home in the car.
So. What has all this got to do with photography? Well, lots of photographers can go through these phases too. The first time we get a camera, or start taking photos with our phones, we are happy with the pictures we take. Were excited about the results we achieve and we love to share our experiences.

If our love of photography develops into a more serious pass time, we might take a course or join a club. Then we learn the "rules" of photography. We might stop taking photos because its the wrong time of day for the best light, or we think no one else is interested in the same subject matter as us, or were just tired of going to the same locations all the time. The introduction of rules might constrict our free flowing creativity if we become slaves to them. We may lose that sense of joy and wonder that we had when we became interested in the hobby in the first place.

I hit that wall a couple of years ago and lost the feeling that photography used to give me. I wasnt interested in taking photographs and I stopped carrying my camera when we went daytripping and when we got together with family. Then a quick visit with some friends kick started my creative juices again. We dropped by to pick up home grown garlic, and we were shown some decorative gourds. Those gourds mesmerized me. They looked like long necked birds to me and I started visualizing them as a family. We took home three gourds with our garlic and I immediately set up my camera for a photo shoot.
Who would have thought that three little vegetables would get me back on track with my photography? I posted the photos on facebook, and Im sure everyone wondered a little about me. I know my husband did, but after twenty five years together hes used to that. 
Now, Im not suggesting that everyone who gets in a rut should run out and find themselves some gourds. But I am recommending that you follow your instincts. If something interests you, go for it. Forget about the rules of convention. Find something that sparks your interest and take a leap of faith. 
Dance like no ones watching. Sing like no ones listening. And choose your own thing to focus on.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Summertime and the livin' is easy (Lockeport)

Published in the Chronicle Herald - The Nova Scotian - August 22, 2016

It might be hard to believe that a perfect day ended with me standing on our backyard deck wiping my dogs bum, but it did.

On a very hot sunny Saturday, we found ourselves headed down the south shore, and took a little trip to Lockeport. This was a rare day that we left the dogs at home where we wouldnt have to worry about them in the heat. You may have guessed by now, but we are beach lovers. Not sun worshipping, basking in the sand type people but beach walkers. Our favourite times of the year are any time but the summer. But we toughed it out on a sunny 23 degree day at the shore and walked Crescent Beach. Sad for tourism, but lucky for us, that on a sunny August day we only had to share the lovely sandy beach with a handful of people.

And hundreds of sand pipers.

We had seen the information sign for piping plovers, and were hoping that we were witnessing a resurgence of this endangered bird. But that was only wishful thinking, and the staff at the tourist information centre broke the news to us that we were probably sharing the beach with sandpipers. I had taken my pocket camera on the beach, not my "serious" camera, and spent a lot of time trying to capture the dainty birds both on the beach and in flight.
sandpipers at Crescent Beach in Lockeport
I wasnt the only one enthralled with the birds. A little girl was chasing them down the beach, with a woman following close behind with a camera.

Our walk was near completion when my husband asked if I had found any beach glass. I shook my head no, nothing to be found on this beach. Then within a minute, I had six small pieces in my hand. Apparently its best to look down when searching for glass, not up in the sky at birds.

Keeping to the bird theme, we headed to the White Gull for lunch where we could sit on the deck overlooking the harbour. Bright blue skies, the smell of the ocean air, the call of the gulls, all made for a relaxing spot to sit and enjoy. We had a few potential Mary Poppins moments when a gust of wind lifted our table umbrella, but it was a challenge we were willing to deal with. There are other locations to eat in Lockeport, but our first choice in the summer is always an outdoor deck. After all, we wouldn't have seen the kingfisher fly by and land on the wharf if we were sitting inside.
view of Lockeport's harbour from the White Gull Restaurant

We toured a little around the town. Lockeport was first settled in 1760 by families from the northeastern United States. The town was named after the Locke family and there are some lovely historic homes down toward the South Government Wharf that were built for various Locke family members in the 1800s. 

For me, a visit to Lockeport always includes a side trip down West Head Road. At the end of the road, youll find a gate with "public easement" written on it. In a wooden box beside the gate there is a guest register to sign. A quick glance at a page inside the book for August 2015 showed entries from 2 provinces, 6 states, Germany, and the UK. Walk through the gate and youll find a well trodden trail that leads through a very large field out to a bench at a point of land where you can look back and see Lockeport in the distance. It feels like a magical place to me. A place where I could sit for hours and feel the wind, listen to the waves, and experience a sense of peacefulness that is difficult to describe. Ocean on three sides, no sound but the wind, waves, and shore birds. Fields and rocks. No hustle, no bustle.

public easement on West Head Road
Apparently other visitors have similar feelings. The place is pristine, with none of the ubiquitous fast food cups and wrappers found in most areas available to the public.

My next visit will include some drinking water and a goal to walk around the coast back to the car. This visit had me on the same path taking a leisurely walk back. When I reached the car, I had to laugh to myself. It seems I cant leave my husband anywhere, not even a remote spot, where he doesnt meet people. He was chatting with a couple who were with their dog and our conversation might just lead to a new friendship.

We headed towards home with some lovely new memories, and ended the day by sitting on our back deck watching the birds and butterflies in our garden.

And thats when I found myself thinking about how ironic life is when I could wash my dogs bum and think about how lucky I am at the same time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Exploring Abandoned Places

published in the South Shore Breaker - August 17, 2016
One of the reasons I like to take photographs is that I enjoy the challenge of capturing a moment in time. The emotion I felt when taking the image gets wrapped up in the process and becomes part of the image for me. Photographers know we have done our job well if other people can experience part of that emotion when they look at the image we created.

Sometimes the subject matter can convey emotion without much help from the photographer.

Shortly after I moved to Nova Scotia, I stumbled across a blog written by a photographer who specialized in documenting abandoned buildings. She traveled the backroads of Nova Scotia and captured many of the dilapidated structures she encountered. I was intrigued and mesmerized by those haunting photos.

one of the many forgotten homes in rural Nova Scotia
It turns out that many photographers are enthralled with capturing this type of image. There is a page on facebook where people upload photos of abandoned structures from around the province.

Some people think it
s okay to venture onto properties even if there are signs that say no trespassing. I take real issue with this kind of attitude. Why do some people think they are entitled to go anywhere and do anything they want? It is my belief that people and properties deserve respect. Sometimes there are people who do not want their photo taken. Its a photographers job to respect that. Sometimes abandoned properties are posted with signs to keep out. Photographers should respect that as well. My personal rules about taking pictures of abandoned places are simple. No trespassing if the property says no trespassing. No defacing or damaging property. No removal of items. Everything should be left as is, where is. Your photos are your only trophies.

I can tell people what I think, but that doesnt mean they share my opinion. Many, many years ago my five year old son informed me "Youre not the boss of me!". He was mistaken, but he was the only one I was ever the boss of unless you can count my dogs and they test that theory fairly frequently. 
My formerly mentioned five year old son is now 29, and he is always willing to model for me when he visits us from the big city of Toronto. A few years ago, I photographed him in front of an abandoned mill that was just a short drive from where we lived. Shortly after that, my husband met the owner of that mill and arrangements were made for me to have a personal tour. The owner allowed me access to the building and told me many stories about the history of the mill, the mill workers, and the local town. It was all fascinating and I was able to spend a couple of hours with my tripod and camera documenting all the interesting details.
the owner of an abandoned mill gave me a tour
Although I have a rule about no defacing of properties, I do enjoy photographing locations where graffiti artists have spent some time. Those properties are a photographers dream. I heard about one location several years ago, and during my sons visit in May I finally got my chance to photograph an old satellite station. I was trying to capture him in a pose that had a lonely feeling.
abandoned places can convey a melancholy feeling
As I mentioned, many photographers enjoy exploring abandoned sites. Friends took us on a tour along the Minas Basin and we stopped at a church that had been falling down for years. I was glad to have someone with me, as it was in rough shape and could be quite dangerous. It was sad to see nature taking over a place that would have very special memories to many families. Births, marriages, and deaths would have all been shared by the community. Seeing the church is such a state reinforced the sense of impermanence of life.
it has been years since a congregation gathered here
There is something melancholy about abandoned places. Sometimes even the furniture remains. Prints on the walls, toys discarded on the floor, peeling wallpaper. You can imagine all kinds of stories when peering through the windows. I am always filled with a quiet kind of sadness when I see buildings that no longer have someone to care for them. To me, it's like they are living things that are waiting for someone to come along and put some life back into them by filling them up with love again, and something good to focus on.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Oh, deer

published in the South Shore Breaker - August 10, 2016
How was I to know when we moved to one of the busiest roads in town that my biggest gardening challenge would be the deer that come to taste the delicacies? 
We spent over seven years living in the country, and had a small herd of deer who traveled through our fields and feasted on the apples produced by our century old trees. I did learn to be quite creative in protecting our small vegetable boxes. Our veggie gardens werent the picture perfect gardens you see in magazines. Our gardens were draped with chicken wire to keep the deer from snacking.
two members of a herd of deer that wandered our country property
When we moved to our home in the country there was absolutely no landscaping and we had to start from scratch. Twenty acres of hay fields marched right up to the house. No cut grass. No flowers or shrubs. The first year, our flower garden was a four foot square planted with transplants from our Ontario home. Over the next five summers, our gardens expanded dramatically. Enhancements is what we called them, because I would never admit that I was creating more work for myself. The gardens were my pride and joy, and they were a never ending source of wonder for learning about nature. One summer kept us close to home because of health issues, but I had lots to keep me busy in tending to the gardens as well as trying to capture their beauty in photographs. My husband still kids me about spending an hour outside taking pictures of water drops on blades of grass after a summer rain. He says it takes a special mind to be entertained so easily. I take that as a compliment, wouldnt you?

Although the deer enjoyed many of our vegetables, they never bothered with our flower gardens. Until we moved to town.

One of the first things I did when we prepared to list our country home for sale was to divide and pot up some of our perennials. Those poor plants languished in pots for almost two years before we finally received an offer for our house that actually closed. My first priority, before we moved any furniture, was to move my flowers. We loaded up our trailer with flowers and rocks. Yes, rocks. We slogged away in 30 degree heat and unloaded all the goodies and put them in the backyard behind the new house. We went back to our country home for the night and when we returned the next day I made a discovery. I found out that the deer in town had a party over night and we supplied the buffet. All of those plants that I cared for in pots for two years, and they were chewed down to the roots in one night.
Well, we got all our furniture moved on the long weekend last August, and before I got all the boxes unpacked I had gardens planted at the front of the house. I do have my priorities and plants outrank kitchen supplies. Our new neighbours must have wondered what kind of green thumb I had when all the flowers I was planting were stubs of green.

We have our backyard fenced now, but my ongoing battle continues in the front yard. Contrary to advice from gardening experts who say that the summer is not the time to move perennials, I have been digging up and moving all the deer delicacies to the backyard. Thankfully, there are some plants left that seem to be untouched. Most of our neighbours are tearing up their lawns and putting down new sod in their battle against cinch bugs, but thats another story and we havent faced that battle yet.
time stood still in the dappled shade of the Centennial Trail
As much as I am frustrated about the challenges of deer devouring the gardens, I am happy that we didnt leave nature behind when we moved from the country. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking alone on the Centennial Trail. This is something that rarely happens, because I am owned by two dogs and they dont like the idea of me walking alone. The trail was quiet and dappled shade danced in the soft breeze. I looked up and a doe was standing at the edge of the trail about thirty feet in front of me. I stopped and we took a long look at each other. Time seemed to stand still. It was magical. I was carrying my pocket camera, and ever so slowly removed it from my pouch to try to capture the moment. One click of the shutter and the doe leaped across the path and into the woods. I managed to catch another shot of her peeking out from behind some trees before we parted ways. 
a magical moment connecting with nature
I try to remember that magical feeling on the mornings when I take a close look at our front garden and realize that we had visitors the night before. That brief moment of captivation is something special to focus on.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A trip to Tancook Island

Published in The Chronicle Herald - Nova Scotian Section - August 1, 2016
What do stones with rings, a pig, and curry bread have in common? They were all part of my experience at Tancook Island with a couple of friends.

None of us had been there before, and we were looking forward to a new adventure. We were entertained on the ferry by a crew member who told us about things to do when we reached our destination, and the 50 minute ferry ride went by quickly. There's nothing like a boat ride in the sun and wind to lift your spirits.
we hear about things to do on Tancook Island from a crew member
We arrived, disembarked, and it was decided that our first stop after this long arduous journey should be at Carolyn's Restaurant for some ice cream, because you know it's never too early for ice cream. Cones in hand, we started the two kilometre walk towards Southeast Cove. 

I discovered that both my friends shared an interest with me, and our first stop was the cemetery. We spent a fair bit of time there looking at the inscriptions on the old gravestones, and marveling at the information. One particularly sad stone marked the passing of ten children over a seventeen year period. Four children passed away on the same day, presumably to disease or accident, but that information is probably lost to history and it was time to carry on with our walk.

We turned left at a fork in the road, and our walk took us past some abandoned buildings and a line of old trucks...fodder for photographers. One of the trucks was a 1954 fire truck, and the owner treated us to the sound of the siren before we moved on.

When we reached Southeast Cove, one friend took her two dogs down to the water for a swim while another friend and I explored the Wishing Stones Studio. Wishing stones have a white quartz ring around them. According to the gallery, when you find a wishing stone you should stand at the water's edge, close your eyes and make a silent wish, and throw the stone as far into the sea as you can. I was so busy looking around that I forgot to take a free stone and test out the folklore.
Hillary Dionne, owner of the Wishing Stones Studio
This charming attraction is located in the old general store building and is part gallery, part museum, and part library. Owner Hillary Dionne sells her framed photographs and sea glass jewellery and giftware in one part of the building, decorated with bins of sea glass and bottles of all kinds, a couple of my favourite things to collect. The lending library has over 4000 books, movies and magazines which were donated by islanders and island visitors. There is also a games room full of board games and jigsaw puzzles. I'm sure this place is well used by overnight visitors and summer residents. I have to admit, I was so enthralled by the gallery that I completely missed part of the museum. Many of the old artifacts on display were made on Tancook Island decades ago. You may feel as if you've stepped back in time when viewing several rooms that have been set up.

It was time to join our friend and her dogs on the shore, where we continued walking to the end of the road and then carried on along the shoreline. By this time it was past two o'clock and we were getting tired and very hungry. Instead of taking the longer route back, our stomachs ruled and we retraced our steps back along the same route. On a hot day, the walk along the dusty gravel road on an empty stomach seemed a lot longer than two kilometres. I mused that it must be a difficult trudge for some seniors, and I was glad I brought some water with me.

Like a crow with shiny things, we were distracted on our mission to find food when we spotted the Sea Myst Gift Shop. It's located in an old fishing shanty with a beautiful wharf and view of the fishing boats in Northeast Cove. Shop owner Angela Connolly will greet you with an enthusiastic smile and introduce you to her pet pig Ruby. The charming shop is filled with Maritime art, jewelry and unique treasures and was a treat to browse through. Unfortunately, time was running short and we wanted to treat ourselves to some food before leaving on the last ferry of the day.
outside the Sea Myst Gift Shop
A quick walk up the hill and we arrived at the Tancook Island Cafe. After walking around for three and a half hours in the heat, it was a treat to sit and relax at the outdoor tables overlooking the harbour while we waited for our sandwiches. My grilled veggie sandwich on curry bread was well worth the wait while sipping on my homemade lemonade.

Five hours seemed to fly by and it was time to grab the last ferry back to Chester. I had an absolutely lovely day doing the things that I love to do - walking, exploring, taking photographs, and talking to interesting people. There truly are pockets of beauty everywhere if you choose to focus on them.