Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Murmuration of Joy

published in the South Shore Breaker - November 30, 2016
I joined a few friends for a meal at a local restaurant a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn't a very good dinner companion.

I was seated at a table facing a window overlooking the river. Shortly after I sat down, a huge flock of birds swooped by. I immediately became distracted from the conversation around the table and blinked in amazement. I was informed that the birds were starlings, and put on this performance every evening at dusk. 
taken through the window of the River Pub
If you know me, you know I often have a camera with me. The door to the deck was locked, so I had to be content taking pictures through the window with my point and shoot camera. Not ideal, but it was enough to satisfy my inner photographer. After a few minutes, the birds were gone and I could get back to being sociable. One of the good thing about friends is that they tolerate your little idiosyncrasies.

The next day I decided it was time to learn a bit about starlings. They appear black when you see them performing their aerial ballet, but close up their feathers are a beautiful glossy green and purple iridescent colours. In the winter they are duller with white spots.

Despite their beauty, many town and city people, as well as farmers, consider them pests. Town people don't like them because they gather in such large noisy numbers and are a nuisance. Large flocks of starlings can be beneficial to agriculture by controlling pests, however they themselves can be considered pests when they feed on crops. Some farms try to manage populations with noise and visual deterrents. Many cities try to deal with the noise and mess nuisance by culling, with limited success. Although some city populations can number into the millions, the numbers in some areas have declined quite drastically and there is a range of classification by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, depending on the location. 

The performance I watched while eating out with my friends is a nightly routine for the starlings in colder months. They gather in large flocks called murmurations just before the sun goes down, and then perform an amazing aerial dance of graceful winging and soaring across the sky before they swoop into their roosting spot. Perhaps their change in behaviour in the colder months are the reason that some people believe they are messengers from the spirit realms, a reminder that changes in situations are coming. They signal the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one.
the starlings gathered in the trees before starting their aerial display
So, you might guess where my interest in starlings took me. I went out the next day just before dusk with my "good" camera and planted myself on the bridge to wait for the entertainment. My anticipation grew as I saw the starlings gathering in the trees on the hill. A few small groups would rise out of the trees and circle around and back. Some stayed, some flew. Maybe they took turns. Then the whole group started to lift off. Around and around they went, swooping and soaring. I could hear them calling to each other and could even hear their wings beating over the sounds of the traffic. It was exhilarating and mesmerizing, and utterly beautiful to watch. As I snapped my shutter and did a private dance in my head, the traffic continued to flow, oblivious to my joy.
the take off
I tend to get a little obsessive about new to me photographic subjects and I went back yet again the next night and chose a different perspective, down on the river bank. This time I brought my husband with me and his enthusiasm was of a more practical nature. Instead of romantic visions of soaring with the starlings like me, he wondered about scientific questions and practical thoughts. I just clicked and let my spirits fly. The moon was cooperating that evening. Just days before the super moon, it was near to full and set a glorious background for the starlings in flight.
a few days before the Super Moon
When we moved from the county into town a year ago, one of my fears was that I would lose touch with nature. But isn't it lovely to know that a quick glance out a window can lead to such a wonderful experience? A flock of birds have things to teach us if we're willing to take the time and listen and learn. You don't have to go to the riverbank at dusk. If you have access to a computer, I recommend that you visit and do a search for "starling murmurations". You'll be awed and amazed by some of the videos you can find.
Bridgewater has just a small murmuration - check YouTube for some spectacular displays
According to Animal Spirit Totems, starlings provide us lessons of group etiquette and how we appear to the world in relationships. Seeing a starling tells us that it's time to speak our voice. They teach us about sensitivity to others and working with unity, instilling a sense of protection and hope. That's truly something inspiring to focus on.

Friday, November 25, 2016

A B Seas

AB Sea Collection by Sara Harley
One of our favourite things to do is visit the beach. But we don't lie around in the sun. We like to go in the cooler weather when there are not many people around and we can let the dogs run off leash. I have collected jars of sand dollars and sea glass and shells. But this year I created a collection of a different kind.
I collected photos of seaweed letters on all our beach walks this year and put together an "A B Sea" poster. Nothing photo shopped or moved on the beach to create the letters. And I wrote a little song to put on the sides of the "poster" I created (to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star): 
Shuffle shuffle little feet
on the sand to help me seek
world of wonder from the sea
ocean letters just for me.
LOL...yes, I know I have a strange mind!
But, oh my, I have had a fun time creating many word images this week using the seaweed letters! 
AB Sea Collection by Sara Harley
I'd rather be at the Beach - a sea shell in my pocket...waves breaking on the shore...ocean breeze in my in my heart

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The most wonderful time of the year?

published in the South Shore Breaker - November 23, 2016
You know its coming, even though you may not want to think about it. The most wonderful time of the year, or maybe the most trying time of the year, depending on your point of view.

The holiday season can be tough, and living in the real world is seldom like the happily ever after scenes we see in movies. You know the types of things Im talking about. Houses decorated in every room. Everyone in the family smiling and happy. Giving and receiving the perfect gifts. Gourmet meals. Outside decorations gone wild a la Chevy Chase and the Christmas Vacation.  Fa-la-la-la-la and Pa rum pum pum pum.

I am no Scrooge, but the thought of Christmas can be fairly stressful. Our society has changed the whole meaning of the season from a celebration of faith to one of commercialized excess. I was raised on weekly Sunday school, although I am not now a follower of organized religion. However, that doesnt stop me from lamenting the loss of the spirit of the season and cringing at the unrelenting promotional grabs in every store you enter and every paper you read at this time of year.

Gearing up for the season can actually grind a person down.

So, how to overcome this? I try to tackle it by focusing on the things I like to do, not the things that I think people expect me to do. For instance, Im not actually that interested in baking and feel no need to bake dozens and dozens of cookies and squares. Id be the one doing most of the eating anyway, and my waistline thanks me for not spending hours and hours in the kitchen.

However, in this day of electronic messages and declining card sales, I actually enjoy creating a Christmas card (no Happy Holidays for me) and addressing all the envelopes. Who doesnt like receiving something in the mail other than a bill? Its my way of sending a bit of cheer to family and friends.

I have never been a shopper and avoid the malls even at the less busy times of the year. So, for the very few presents that we actually buy, I head to the craft shows and local shops. Last year, Ontario stockings were filled with Nova Scotia jams, jellies, and chutneys. Santa even delivered a braid of homegrown organic garlic.

Just about everyone takes photos these days, even if its just with their phone. Whats more personal than a gift that you have created yourself? Even non crafty people can create things using their photographs. Coffee mugs, puzzles, playing cards, calendars. You name it, you can put a photograph on just about anything these days. Some of my photographer friends create and give books of their favourite images from the year. Coupled with stories about why the photographs are important to them, the books make a very personal gift. Another friend creates day planners and includes his photographs. Yes, there are still other people around like me who use paper based daytimers. For many years, I created an annual book for our granddaughter including pictures from all the things we did together through the year. Im not sure how thrilled she was to receive a non toy gift at the time, but I know in years to come the photo books will be treasures for her to look back on. 

We are one of the fortunate families that doesnt need any more stuff. We would rather have a nice meal together with our family rather than have our kids buy us things. But its hard to convince everyone else in the family that we really dont want to exchange gifts. I mean, it sounds so very un-merry and ungrateful to say that. Many people of the same age, or folks who have jumped on the downsizing bandwagon, might agree that gifts are overrated.

Two years ago, my husband and I decided to do something non commercial to celebrate the season and we created our "Twelve Beaches of Christmas". In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we toured twelve beaches on the South Shore and took family photos with our dogs and short little videos of the beaches to share with our online friends. We visited The Hawk on Cape Sable Island, Cherry Hill Beach, Rissers, Crescent, and 8 more. We had some very chilly walks, but we dressed warm and almost always had the whole beach to ourselves. Unlike the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song, I didnt receive gold rings or a partridge in a pear tree, but I will have very special memories to keep instead. 
In an effort to overcome the commercialization of Christmas, Sara and her husband visited 12 beaches during the month of December in 2014. Calling it their “12 Beaches of Christmas”, they took family photos and short videos of the beaches at 12 beaches along the South Shore.

Maybe you agree, or maybe you totally disagree and you believe that the more gifts the merrier. Whatever your traditions are, I hope you spend the upcoming weeks doing things you love to do and being with the people you want to be with. Because thats what all of us should focus on.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Into the deep

published in the South Shore Breaker - November 16, 2016
published in Chronicle Herald - The Nova Scotian  - Nov 21, 2016
If you're like me, you may have a small irrational fear or two, little things you're scared of that don't seem to be based on any life event or make any sense. Nonetheless they can challenge us from time to time in our lives. 

I'm not talking about a monster in your mind type of reaction or a life restricting phobia, those are a different kettle of fish. I'm talking about little fears like my husband's dislike of snakes or my granddaughter's fear of bugs.

For some reason, I have always been terrified of swimming in natural water. Ponds, lakes, oceans, it doesn't matter. If I can't touch the bottom, I go into mild panic mode.  I love being in the water, and my fear isn't based on lack of skill. I am a good swimmer, and spent many years taking lessons. I swam in a pool everyday in the summertime, and I even taught a swimming class for a week when I was a teenaged camp counsellor.

with my mom at a beach in the late 1960’s. I have spent my life trying to overcome my fear of swimming in open water.
When I was young, every summer my parents and I used to stay for a week at a cottage belonging to their friends. My mom loved to swim. When we stayed at the cottage, every morning my dad rowed a boat beside her while she swam across the bay. I always stood on the dock and watched, but I dearly wanted to be swimming with my mom. The summer when I was ten, I stood with my dog and watched them move away from the dock. They moved farther away and our dog jumped in and started to swim along. I wouldn't, I couldn't, jump in and swim after them. Frustrated, it made my ten year old self believe that I wasn't as brave or determined as my dog.
A couple of summers later we rented a cottage of our own at Port Stanley. Back then, kids were free to roam around on their own during the day, and I walked down to the beach and out on the pier with my friend. It was a windy day, and the water was raging. Waves were washing over the pier and one of them was strong enough to knock us off our feet. We grabbed an iron mooring ring and held on. I think it was my fear of ending up in the water that made me strong enough not to let go. When we got back to the cottage and told my parents, it was clear they didn't believe our story. Maybe the thought of us being washed off the pier was too frightening for them to deal with. In any case, we didn't get any sympathy.

Years later I was spending a weekend at the lake with some university friends. We went out to the middle of the lake on a ski boat and drifted around. Everyone decided to jump in the water for a swim. My embarrassment about my fears overrode the fear itself, so I jumped in too. Breathe in. Breathe out. It was the good kind of peer pressure, and it was my determination not to make a fool of myself in front of my friends that helped me accomplish something that I otherwise wouldn't have the courage to do.

And now I am a grandparent with grandchildren who swim like fish. At a family gathering by the lake, I was determined to conquer my phobia and swim along with them. I did it, and no one realized my fears but truth be told it was a real challenge for me.
Small victories are worth celebrating when trying to overcome your fears. I have just finished a late September swim at Summerville Centre Beach.

In late September, on a glorious warm fall day, I took a solo plunge into the ocean at Summerville Centre Beach. Okay, so I didn't go in over my head but my husband was on the beach taking photos so I have the pictures to prove that I was actually swimming. It's just baby steps, but it's nice to prove to myself that I can overcome my silly fears if I put my mind to it.

However, I can change my environment and be completely happy. There's always the swimming pool at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre to satisfy my love of swimming!

At least twice a week, I head to the pool. Fifty lengths of swimming doesn't feel like work to me, and it's the only form of exercise that I actually love to do. After my workout, I reward myself by floating on my back in the open section of the pool. Eyes closed, hands behind my head, only the sound of ripples in the water that make me think of canoe paddles dipping. I get so relaxed, I actually think I could fall asleep floating around.
I can swim at the LCLC with no fear at all!
Swimming in the open water is obviously not for me, but I can change my environment and enjoy my love of swimming in a different way.

Many of us have our idiosyncrasies, and yours probably isn't a fear of being in open water. Maybe we can never completely overcome our personal little challenges, but we can try to adjust and adapt. And that's something good to focus on.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Shoot for the moon

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars" - Les Brown

We went out last night at dusk to take more photos of starlings, and then shifted down the road a bit to capture the supermoon. There were clouds along the horizon, so we had to wait a while before the moon put in an appearance. These are the first moon photos I've taken that have actually turned out. We'll be going out again this evening to a different location.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Extraordinary, Ordinary Life

Published in the South Shore Breaker - November 9, 2016
How many "likes" have you had today? Have you updated your status? What interesting adventure have you had recently? Are you keeping up with the Kardashians? Has your video gone viral?

In this world of everyone trying to become famous, or just trying to out-do their friends and neighbours, it can be a real challenge to be happy just to be yourself and simply enjoy your everyday life.

And by "enjoy your everyday life", I
m not talking about taking photos of every meal you eat and posting it on facebook.

I recently watched a short documentary called "Born to be Mild" featuring The Dull Men
s Club, an online community of men (and women who appreciate dull men) who just want to be ordinary. According to their website, the groups greatest accomplishment is "remaining dull in spite of the ever-increasing pressures from advertising, the media, and elsewhere to change." 

Now thats a group that I could happily belong to, but I dont think Ill sign up. Ill just try to enjoy being dull in my own way.

Everything has the potential to be interesting, but the great thing is that we are all unique and we all have different things that capture our attention. The documentary featured a man who travels around taking photographs of mailboxes, someone who collects milk bottles and stores them in a special building, and someone who takes pictures of roundabouts. Did you know that each roundabout is different in some way?

Do those things interest me? No. But the great thing is that these people are happy doing what they
re doing. They found something that makes them happy, even if their hobbies might seem strange or mundane to other people.

Sometimes we can get caught up in the drudgery of living. Every morning, I have the same routine. I get up, get dressed, let the dogs out, make coffee, let the dogs in, feed the dogs, feed the cat, and on and on it goes.

You get the picture. Not exactly the exciting life some people strive for, but I would wager a bet that most of you are the same way. You
ll have your own daily routines, not mine. But we all have our regular patterns that seldom change.

And we should celebrate that. We should strive to be like the Dull Men
s Club and be content with who we are and what we do.

I collected feathers from under the bird feeders in our yard for a few weeks, and I spent an afternoon photographing them recently. Yes, I know. Who gets happy taking pictures of things like feathers or insect wings or other small, inconsequential things? Well, I do. Maybe that
s strange. Or maybe its just ordinary. Maybe its me being me.
Dreams are like feathers. Delicate and fragile, but able to fly higher than the clouds.
And you know what? Sometimes I need to remind myself that it makes me happy that I take pictures of feathers when Im feeling envious of other peoples stunning landscape images of exotic locations. Now and then I have to remember that I actually enjoy staying at home and doing ordinary things with my husband and dogs and cat. Being able to travel locally and "just be" makes me happier than indulging in a travel vacation for a couple of weeks each year to escape my everyday life.
Bottle House in Cap-Egmont, PEI
This summer we broke from our day tripping routine and traveled to PEI for two nights. One of my long time goals was to visit the Bottle Houses in Cap-Egmont, and that was our first and only official tourist stop. I have always loved old bottles and coloured glass, and the way the light shines through them. Combined with my love of unique buildings, it seemed an attraction made just for me. And I loved it. My husband thought I was crazy and took the dogs for a walk instead of joining me when we arrived. Some people might think thats strange, but its actually a thing to celebrate when two people can spend time together and each do something different that gives them joy.

We should all try to be happy just being ourselves. It helps to understand that sometimes this takes work. Most of us fall into the trap now and then of measuring ourselves, our achievements, or our lives, against other people. It
s easy to slip into the comparison habit, especially if we spend a lot of time online. Remember that most people only share the "best of" their lives. Hey, look at this fantastic gourmet meal I just made. Wow, look at me enjoying this exotic location. Everything is sunshine and light, happiness and life fulfilling achievements. Reality tv is nothing like reality.
detail from inside one of the Bottle Houses in Cap-Egmont, PEI
So lets all try to think about the little things in our lives that make us happy. It may be mundane, or it may seem silly to someone else, but if it gives us joy then thats what we should focus on.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Shooting on the street

Published in the South Shore Breaker - November 2, 2016
Picture yourself walking down the street, maybe with a friend or maybe youre alone. Someone comes up to you and shoves a camera and flash into your personal space and click! Youve just been startled, maybe even frightened, and the image of you that has been recorded is probably less than flattering. Are you okay with that?
That is how a famous New York street photographer works, but I find this method exploitative, and not true street photography. 
Similar to the fact that we are all taught different manners while growing up, ethics vary from person to person. There is a fine line somewhere between capturing a true representation of someone, and invading their personal space to create a sensational image.

Other photographers who specialize in street images recommend that you carry your camera low and "shoot from the hip" so that people dont know you are taking photos. Another technique is to hold your camera up, take the image you want, and leave the camera up to your eye until the person you have photographed passes by. That way, they are less likely to be aware that you have taken their picture.

A lot of people will agree and believe that they have a right to photograph whatever and whoever they want, but I have a problem with this. Whatever the reason, I say if you are trying to hide what youre doing then you shouldnt be doing it.

I am more of a landscape and scenic photographer, and have been known to wait for quite some time for a person to move out of my viewfinder before I make an image. However, a few years ago I had the opportunity to go to Toronto for a couple of days. An online book publishing company flew me from Halifax and interviewed and filmed me as one of only six people across Canada to be featured in some promotional videos. I knew I would have a few hours of personal time, so I took my camera with me on the trip. Carrying my camera almost made me miss my flight, but thats a story for another time.

Feeling like a country mouse in the big city, I wandered the downtown streets trying to capture images that I wasn
t familiar with. I did take lots of photos of buildings, but that didnt convey the feelings that I was experiencing. I did try the shoot from the hip technique, but that just felt wrong to me. In the end, I took an image of a woman who was walking ahead of me. Since I was shooting from behind her, she didnt know I took it, but no one else who sees the image will recognize her either.  To this day, I enjoy looking at this photo. It conveys the feeling I had while walking, a feeling of solitude amidst the traffic and confusion of the city streets.
Feeling like a country mouse in Toronto, I tried to take an image to capture my feeling of solitude amidst the hustle and bustle of the city street
On the other hand, a few weeks ago my husband and I were on the Halifax waterfront and saw a ceramic artist with a portable throwing wheel. "Port-o-Potter" Julian Covey had a storage box filled with wet clay, and was making pots while we watched. I asked if I could take his photograph and I also asked him if he had a business card so I could send him the image when I got home. He was happy to carry on with his work while I took some images, and even posed for a portrait. I saw this opportunity as win-win. I got the images I wanted, and I shared them with him, who then shared them with his followers online.
Halifax “Port-o-Potter” Julian Covey was happy to have his photo taken while throwing pots on a portable pottery wheel on the waterfront.
Laws vary in different countries, but in North America simply photographing someone in public does not require a model release, or even consent. Also, contrary to public opinion, its not against the law to take photographs of children in open spaces. But you could find yourself in a lot of trouble if you do. If someone is aware youre taking pictures, a simple way to gain consent is by pointing at your camera and nod. If they indicate its okay, then go ahead and take the photo. It might also help to raise their comfort level by showing them the image afterwards.

A general rule of thumb is that if a person in your photograph is identifiable, you should obtain a model release if you intend to sell the image or show it publicly. And be aware that different countries have different rules, so a little research before your trip would be prudent.

How to do street photography is highly subjective, and there are no official rules. My personal rules are this. Respect people, don
t exploit anyone or take embarrassing or compromising photos. Ask for permission for photos where people are identifiable. Try to capture a human connection. Smile. Say thank you. Offer to share.

If you treat others the way you would want to be treated when you
re walking down the street, then thats something good to focus on.