Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Help Shape Your Future (Bridgewater)

Published September 28, 2016
Home is where you hang your hat. Some of us are forced to live where we can find work, but some of us are lucky enough to choose where we want to live. When I tell someone I live in Bridgewater, I often have to listen to their comments about everything thats wrong with the town. Is the glass half empty or half full? I lean towards the half full point of view. My interpretation is that things are good, and they are trending in the right direction.

Yes, the glass half empty people will say the downtown street is torn up right now and its a challenge to maneuver through the construction either on foot or in the car. Yes, the South Parkade is gone and we might have to walk a block to get to a store. But the glass half full people are thankful that the ugly parkade is gone and are looking forward to the day when we can sit on the boardwalk in Pijinuiskaq Park on the edge of the LaHave River. 

Aging infrastructure is being replaced. Thats not a fun thing to spend money on, but it has to be done. Its sort of like having to buy a new roof to protect your home. It would be a lot more pleasant to spend our hard earned money to buy some new art or electronics, but without a functioning roof there would be no home to enjoy.

Two women enjoy the ambiance of the King Street Court
Looking for a place to eat? Bridgewater has lots of choices that dont involve big chain restaurants. We have a Thai restaurant that is so good people travel from Halifax to eat there. We have a kid friendly coffee shop on King Street that serves delicious organic coffee, pastries, breakfast and lunch. We have a river front restaurant where you can sit on the deck and relax with food and drink and watch the river fountain. Thanks to relatively new by-laws, we have a couple of food trucks around the town where we can pick up a quick bite to eat that doesnt come from a chain. I could go on, but Im getting hungry and I need to finish this column.

Yes, the glass half empty people will tell you that the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre (LCLC) is a drain on our tax dollars and we need to figure out how to generate more operating income. But glass half full says its a state of the art complex and a hub for exercise and social well being. Our library is being utilized much more since moving to this location. As I take my twice a week swim, I marvel at how lucky I am to have access to such wonderful facilities at such a reasonable fee.
The Bridgewater Marina is a lovely place even if you don't own a boat
If you prefer to walk or ride a bicycle, the trails and parks in Bridgewater are second to none. I have access to an eight kilometer multi use trail just half a block from where I live. The trail loops through forests and parks and around the town. Another option for our daily walk with our two dogs is through the marina. We take a walk down to the marina and by the boats, and then take a break at one of the landscaped seating areas before we head down the road and onto the Centennial Trail. And, sometime in the next year or so, there will even be a dog park for lovers of our four legged companions to enjoy.
The Centennial Trail is enjoyed by dogs as well as humans
I have to be honest, and admit that I slip into the glass half empty mode when it comes to arts and culture. However, lets think about Art Happening, the Growing Green Festival, and the Afterglow Festival, to name just a few. Glass half full me would like to see this trend continue. One can dream of a theatre space, perhaps combined with dedicated space for a year round farmers market.

No matter where you live in Nova Scotia, you have the opportunity to vote for your municipal council in the next couple of weeks. The people running for office are willing to dedicate their time to help shape the future of the place you live. Do they have the same vision as you? Do you like the way things are, or would you like to see changes? Please take some time and find out about the people who are willing to become the leaders of the town or municipality where you live. Come out and talk to them at local debates or meet and greets. Ask them for their vision, and then place your vote on election day. Our future is something we all need to focus on.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Photographing furry friends

Chronicle Herald - Sept 19, 2016

When you spend 17 years of your career in financial services and your job disappears, you are faced with a decision. Do you buckle down, and head out, and try to find yourself another job in the same field? Or do you step outside the corporate box and try something new? 

I faced that decision 18 years ago. I could say it was a tough decision, but it wasnt. The decision to try something new wasn't tough. But becoming the master of my own destiny was totally different from the white collar background I was raised in.

To the disbelief of many people who knew me at the time, I decided to start my own business. Not only my own business, but a dog biscuit business. Its fairly common now to see dog biscuits packaged by small companies, but 18 years ago it was not. I grew the business for ten years and then it was time for a new dream. We sold the company and decided to move to Nova Scotia.

I left the dog biscuit business behind, but I wanted to continue working with my love for animals. I created the Paws For Charity Art Book Project and for six years I compiled fund raising coffee table books using donated art and photography from artists around the world. I learned a lot about animal photography while working together with those generous people.  

Animals are very special to many of us. As we get older, some of us spend more time with our pets than we do with our kids. Similar to people portraits, animal portraits are best taken without a distracting background. Make sure you have a plain backdrop, or that you blur the background to keep only your pet in focus. If you cant keep the whole face in focus, make sure you keep the eyes sharp. Similar to the "candid versus posed" article I wrote a couple of months ago, its up to you to decide whether to pose your pet for a portrait or whether youd like a candid action shot.
Phantom and his shadow were perfectly framed by the shadow of our screen door
One of my favourite photos of our pets was totally unplanned. Our 18 year old cat Phantom was sitting in our screened in porch. Both he and his shadow was framed by the shadow of the screen door. I ran to get my camera and took the photo without him noticing.

After his death, we were without a cat for a couple of years, but finally it was time for a new feline and we headed to SHAID, our local animal shelter. Myrtle joined our family just after Christmas in 2012. Oddly enough, my favourite Myrtle photo was taken in the same screened in porch. Although I dont know a way to pose a cat, sometimes you can capture them in a pose of their own choosing. This example has a blurred background and Myrtle looking directly into the camera.
Myrtle strikes a pose
Dogs are much more obliging and are happy to work for praise or treats. Try to get down on their level. You will miss some great body language and expressions by requiring them to look up at you. Remember, although we often think it, dogs are not human. We cant tell them what to do. You need to be patient and creative. If you are trying to photograph a dog with a person, try dabbing a bit of peanut butter on the persons cheek (with their permission of course!) or have the person hold a treat to capture the dogs attention. Making strange sounds can also grab their interest, and supply some funny expressions.

When we are taking pictures of our own pets, its important to remember that we are capturing memories and our love for our animals. The image doesnt have to be perfect, it just has to mean something to us.

If you arent happy with your own pet photography results, or even if you are, there are local charities that photograph pets to fund raise for their cause. Supporting their events are a win-win situation. You end up with a great gift for yourself or a family member. The charity ends up with some much needed funds for their programs. And thats something good to focus on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Open Your Eyes

Published in the South Shore Breaker - September 14, 2016
I was listening to the radio the other day and heard someone from Newfoundland being interviewed. He said something that caught my attention. He never appreciated the beauty of his province until people from away started to visit and tell him how spectacular the scenery was.

I got to thinking. Maybe that applies to people in other places as well. I live in Nova Scotia, but I wasn't born here. I haven't yet got to the point where I take the beauty of Nova Scotia for granted. I don't need someone to visit me and tell me how spectacular it is here. I know.
Does that apply to everyone who lives here? Do our politicians understand what people love about our province?

I suspect that people who add Nova Scotia to their vacation list of places to see, or people who choose to make this province their new home, appreciate the peace and tranquility that come from the natural beauty of the area. The longer I live here, the stronger I believe that the people in charge don't get it. Maybe they haven't been visited by friends from away who tell them how beautiful our resources are. Maybe they have lived here all their lives and they just don't see anymore. 

I can drive down the road with a friend, glance out the car window, and spot a functioning fishing shed in the bay with red rowboat floating nearby. In the background sails a tall ship filled with tourists. Seeing something like that usually ends up with pulling the car over, grabbing the camera, and capturing the moment.

I can also drive down the road and see a seemingly endless stretch of land that has been stripped of it's trees, a waste land denuded of all living things. Whole forests taken down on crown land because the machines that harvest the trees are too big to be selective. Private land desecrated because it's better to get the cash now than leave it for someone else. Agencies that don't enforce laws. Government that abandons the commitment to reduce clearcutting. Biomass power generation that is inefficient and anything but "green". 

My heart aches.

But I can walk the beaches and trails and see skies so blue and so large that it's impossible for my camera to duplicate. 

My spirits soar.

Then I can visit towns where the sky is filled with emissions instead of clouds. The smell in the air is so bad that eating a summer lunch on an outside deck becomes a chore, not a pleasure. Songwriters can sing about the issue. Photography exhibits can illustrate the problems without saying a word. But our government does not enforce the regulations already in place.

Still, my love of this place cannot be broken. 

I can spend a couple of hours in a friend's boat touring the waters around some islands and see seals basking on the rocks. I can hear their strange calls, and glory in the wonders of nature.

Conversely, I can read about hundreds of homes along the rivers and ocean that pump their waste straight into the water. A young student can get thousands of people to rally behind her to press our local government to make token changes. But our provincial government does not enforce the existing environmental laws to eliminate the problem. According to our local MLA, there are not enough resources to do the job that needs to be done. Apparently there is also not enough will.

Our government allocates our resources to give hundreds of millions of dollars to large corporations, companies that often fold up and leave the province without fulfilling their promises.

But we don't have the resources to protect the very thing that brings our tourists. Our environment is beautiful enough to convince people to leave the places they live and move here instead, but not special enough for our government to protect.

And now our politicians have given their okay to spray over 1300 hectares of woodland with glyphosate, a poison that the World Health Organization deemed a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

It's enough to bring the most positive thinker down. 

What will it take for our politicians to open their eyes and see? How much more will it take for our politicians to look into their hearts and do what is right and protect our most valuable resources? For truly, that is what we all need to focus on.
Wounded by Sara Harley

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hiking the High Head Trail

Published in the South Shore Breaker - Sept 7, 2016
One of the things to be thankful for is friendships that lead you to new adventures and discoveries. All of us know about Peggys Cove and the spectacular granite rocks. I was recently introduced to an amazing place that rivals the scenery around that famous cove, but lacks the droves of tourists. A couple of weeks ago I went hiking on the High Head Trail in Prospect with a couple of friends.

Just a 30 minute drive from downtown Halifax, it took us about one and a half hours from the South Shore to arrive at the small parking area. The trail is protected by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and is part of the Dr. Bill Freedman Nature Reserve, a 372 acre area of protected coastal barrens and forest. There are no facilities, and no signage. The four kilometre trail is quite easy to follow and I would rate the difficulty as moderate, but I
m not a hiker. There are lots of rocks on the well trodden paths, which meant a lot of looking down for me as I was walking. My bursitis filled hip was talking to me by the end of the afternoon, but the scenery was spectacular and a sore body was a small price to pay.

hikers on the ridge show the proportion of the landscape
It constantly surprises me how often I think to myself that I am so very lucky to live in Nova Scotia.

Oh my. The beauty of the area is amazing. There are two approaches to the trail and we parked at the end near Prospect Village. We hiked up the hill covered in rocks at the beginning of the trail and quickly came to a beautiful ocean view. The constant breeze was a blessing on the hot summer day that we were there. The wind swept barrens were abundant with low growing plants, most of which I didn
t know. There were boggy areas with cranberries that will be ripe for the picking in the fall. Wild irises were everywhere, and I made a note to myself to come back early next summer to see them in bloom.

It seems every time I hike with my friend, I learn something about nature. This trip introduced me to pitcher plants, which I had never seen growing wild before. Carnivorous plants with a single dull reddish flower rising on a leafless stalk, the pitcher holds water to trap insects. We carefully walked over the spongy ground to take a close look at them.

Reading about the area after I returned from our hike, I learned that the granite barrens purify the ground water prior to its entry into the ocean. Regardless of their role in nature, the rocks are stunning and a joy to climb on, or simply just stand on and take in the endless beauty of the area.

a sailboat in the distance enjoys the area in a different way

They also make good resting spots to stop and eat. If you want nourishment along the way, you have to pack it in and you just couldnt ask for a more beautiful location for dining. We watched a colony of cormorants and a few seagulls while we relaxed. A couple of fishing boats went by, and we saw several sailboats in the distance. A while later we snacked on some wild beach peas, similar to the garden variety but smaller. Theres nothing like freshly picked peas.
scavenged beach peas make a great snack
A small fork in the trail led us between two boulders, one of which was painted with the words "HMS Fantome 18 gun rig sank in storm off this shore Nov 24, 1814". Another internet search when I got home revealed that the ship was originally a French privateer which the British captured and commissioned into service in 1810. The ship saw extensive action in the War of 1812 and was shipwrecked at Prospect in 1814. Not many hikes can provide a history lesson as well as a nature lesson!

We hiked for over four hours and probably didn
t see more than twenty people the whole time. Our hiking included a lot of stopping to gawk and a lot of photography. Not many walked as far as we did, and many people had dogs with them.
lots of photo opportunities, and a great area for dogs
We just couldnt have asked for a better day. Sunshine. Cool breeze. Ocean air. Spectacular scenery.

I hadn
t even finished walking the trail, and my mind was busy thinking about all the times Id like to return to take photographs. Late in the day with the setting sun. Fall for the crimson cranberries. Winter for photographing the area under much different circumstances. And late spring to capture the irises in bloom.

Or maybe I
ll just return with my walking shoes. Ill relax and enjoy. Ill focus on the sights with my eyes, not my camera. And Ill fill my heart. And my soul.