Friday, December 8, 2017

creating art for wellness

I was terribly excited to receive an acceptance email yesterday for the February 2018 Picturing Health exhibit at Viewpoint Gallery.

But I am very trepidatious as well.

I created a series of images over a few months that were meant for my eyes alone. My husband had a major stroke in June and spent two months recuperating in two different hospitals. It was a fearful, stressful, and lonely time for me. Days were spent at the hospital. Nights were spent alone with my animals in a zombie like state. I had no ability to focus and no desire to see anyone or do anything.

I had been following a photographer online who creates self portraits, usually very creepy ones, using composited images. I was intrigued by her images...I had never before seen anything like them. (her name is Brooke Shaden,  

Then I came across a quote that I found interesting:
"Art is not always about pretty things. It's about who we are, what happened to us, and how our lives are affected." - Elizabeth Broun, Director 1989-2015 Smithsonian Art Museum

Those two things connected in my mind, and in an effort to heal myself I decided to create an image to try to convey how I was feeling. The word that was uppermost in my mind was "Devastation". So I set about creating an image to portray that word. I took a self portrait and I inserted myself into a composited image created from nine different photographs in my library files.

I never planned to show anyone that image.

Then I created another image called "Overwhelmed", and another called "Depression". On and on, night after night, I worked on learning a new skill and pouring out my emotions by creating. The end result was a series I call Stroke of Emotions.

It took me two months to show anyone those images, and I only showed 3 people....all family members.

Then I found out about the Picturing Health exhibit at Viewpoint Gallery. Funded by the Robert Pope Foundation, the Picturing Health project was created to explore the relationship between wellness and creativity. My Stroke of Emotions project was a perfect fit.

If only I had the courage to share my project with other people.

Deciding that my images might just help other people, I submitted five images for consideration (that was the maximum allowed). All five images were accepted into the exhibit.

Sharing my journey was something I never planned to do. But it may help other people. I know it will help me.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Accepted - Picturing Health Exhibit

Received by email today:

Dear Sara,

I’m delighted to inform you that your submission to  the Robert Pope Foundation - sponsored competition  has been selected for inclusion in our Picturing Health Exhibition. 

For the exhibition, each of  your prints must be 12”x18” (or equivalent size) and  be framed with a black frame and white matt. 

All framed images must be delivered to ViewPoint Gallery by 5 p.m. SUNDAY, JANUARY 21 in order to give us time to  deal with  any problems that might arise.

Thank you and congratulations.

Carl Snyder

director of communications
ViewPoint Gallery

Yahoo! Now to get printing and framing my images...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In the blink of an eye

A photograph taken on an outing to Miners Marsh in Kentville shows how one minute youre swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.
There are moments in our lives when everything changes. No matter who we are, or what we do, we all have experiences that change our lives in a heartbeat. One moment everything is normal, and in the blink of an eye our world has been turned upside down.

I was photographing some birds at the Miner's Marsh in Kentville a while back, and had my camera trained on a black bird walking along the water's edge. In a flash that must have been just a split second, the bird reached into the water and grabbed a small fish. It happened so quickly that I missed the action while looking through my camera lens, and only captured the result - the bird with the fish in it's beak. One minute you're swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.

Maybe it's a cancer diagnosis, or a car accident, or a death in the family. There are endless situations that can pack a wallop that drops us to our knees when we least expect it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the swing of our backyard deck and thinking about how lucky I was. I often think about how lucky I am, so that's no big surprise. However, that particular week was not one of my best. I was alone on the swing with only my dogs for company while my husband was in the hospital after surviving a major stroke. At that particular moment, I was feeling lucky and blessed because just a few days before he was completely paralyzed on the left side of his body. But a couple of days can make a huge difference, and after his brain recovered from the shock he became more and more mobile. 

While I was sitting on that swing and trying to process all the changes, I was contemplating life with some new challenges instead of facing a future with a completely dependent person. And that's why I felt fortunate instead of filled with despair.

I am no stranger to strokes and the devastation they can cause. My father had a severe stroke when I was just 21. He was told he would never walk again, but he worked hard and was released from the hospital after one year. He lived a fulfilled life for another 16 years and accomplished many wonderful things.

In a very broad generalization that I am prone to concluding now and then, I have noticed that there tends to be two types of people. We've all heard of the "glass half full" versus "glass half empty" example of how different people can be presented with the same situation and come away with totally a different perception of things. I truly believe that attitude can make a huge difference. 

Don't get me wrong. Since that awful day in late June, I have had times of terrible grief and feelings of complete helplessness. There have been moments when my sadness has been so great that it was a physical thing, squeezing my heart and stealing my breath. I have had periods of self doubt so overwhelming that I didn't think I could cope with the future ahead. I didn't think I would have the patience or ability to do what I needed to do, or be who I needed to be.

But I continue to give thanks for the blessings in my life. I am thankful that we were in the emergency department when the stroke occurred, and my husband received the absolute best and quickest care possible. I am thankful for the doctors and nursing staff, the therapists and team of people working hard every day to ensure whatever possible progress is made. I am thankful for our family and friends who have made my time at home alone more possible to bear. I am thankful for the strength of my husband, who has been determined to prove he can do whatever he is told is not possible.

So in these post-stroke weeks, I have given a lot of thought to the priorities in my life. Some of the dreams that seemed important to me before, now become a lot less significant. Some of my "to do's" have dropped by the wayside. Now, some of the "major accomplishments" I wanted to achieve don't seem to matter anymore. At this moment, somehow it seems more important to be kind, to be generous, and to enjoy friends and family, rather than achieving goals that really dont matter in the grand scheme of things.

I am thankful for this chance to continue to share my life with the most important person in my world. It will be a different life than we had planned, but I have a partner to travel that path with me, and things might have been very, very different.

During our weeks at the hospital, a nurse asked my husband "Is this your wife?", he replied "She's not just my wife. She's my everything." And that is truly something wonderful to focus on during our challenges ahead.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 19, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Church Going of a Different Variety

A recent trip to St. Matthew's United Church in Halifax to listen to the Lunch Bunch community choir sent me down the memory lane of visits to various church conversions.
I was in downtown Halifax listening to a lovely choir singing a couple of weeks ago. As I sat there, I gazed around enjoying the sights as well as the sounds. There is something lovely about century old churches, almost as if they absorb the feelings of generations of people and then pass them on to every visitor.

I am not a church goer, nor a follower of organized religion. My parents were members of a church when I was young, and I attended Sunday School every Sunday until I was old enough to switch to the services. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I rebelled when I hit the age of 16 and stopped going. It was a year when the young brother of one of my friends died, the father of another friend died, and my own brother, who was 17 years my senior, lost his battle with brain cancer. I was not happy with the world, and religion wasnt my answer. That does not mean that I do not give thanks every day for the blessings in my life.

I do, however, love visiting old churches and a peaceful feeling always washes over me when I walk through their doors. I also enjoy photographing them, although I have yet to capture the essence of how they make me feel in a two dimensional image. 
And, to the bewilderment of my husband, I have always wanted to live in a converted church. I have dragged him to several abodes over the years, in Ontario and in Nova Scotia. Some were already fully converted, and some were a work in progress. Many people, my husband included, would be dismayed at changing a church into a private residence. But I believe that giving new life to any unused building is something to be celebrated.

We visited one residence during an open house. It was partially converted, which lots of work still to be done. We drove by a another while we were living in Ontario and vacationing in Nova Scotia. It was located across the road from the ocean, a more scenic spot than a lot of churches have. They catch my eye, and my interest, no matter where they are located.

We used to travel around the back roads of Eastern Ontario in a bright yellow Miata, and often drove south through small towns like Athens and Delta. Every time we drove through Delta, we would sing "Delta Dawn, whats that flower you have on?" in perfect harmony (not). It was something that one of us started, and then both of us continued doing every time we passed through the area in one of those silly rituals that only people who have been together a long time can relate to. 
We also passed an absolutely beautiful converted church every time we drove that road. But one time we went by and there was a for sale sign on the lawn. Do you want to turn around and go back, my husband asked after we breezed by. Yes, of course, was my reply. He began to regret asking that question. 
One of many rural churches now privately owned and waiting for new life.
We drove by slowly and took a long look. I checked out the listing online when we got home, and then called the real estate agent and booked a showing. I was captivated, and enthralled, and my husband was horrified. The windows were not stained glass, but neither did they open. Ever the practical one, he wondered how we would get any fresh air. My answer was to visit a window supply store with photos in hand, in order to obtain a quote to replace all the windows. Another visit was booked with the real estate agent, and I was still enthralled. My husband was not. Adding yet another negative in my husbands mind, the real estate agent told us that she had to disclose the residence had a ghost. 
Finally, figuring that this dream had been taken way too far, I was told that he was absolutely not interested in moving. His strategy of thinking I would come to my senses had backfired. I was devastated, and cried my heart out sitting on our backyard deck. We were on different pages during that whole period of time, and my dreams were dashed. It was a tough one to get over, and I kept my photographs and looked at them every day until I knew it was time to move on from that particular dream.

But dreams are dreams, and arent always practical. I still look at listings of churches when I see them, even though we have no ability to renovate. Practicalities are not my strength, but why worry about feasibility when dealing with a dream? 
Besides, if that dream had come true, then I wouldnt have ended up living another dream in Nova Scotia.

Since it doesnt look like Ill be living in one any time soon, I do enjoy visiting church conversions, and there are some lovely ones to see. Wineries and art galleries located in former churches are lovely to visit.
Now, I wonder if the former Baptist Church in Bridgewater is being converted to condos or apartments? Theres always something new to focus on.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 14, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

South Shore Stories

a cozy corner from inside The Port Grocer in Port Medway
Being involved with a hobby, any hobby, can be a fulfilling pastime. Sometimes frustrating, when we're trying to learn a new technique. And very rewarding, when something we are trying to create comes to fruition. Whether you sketch, paint, hook, knit, crochet, garden, sail, show cars,or whatever, it all takes patience to learn a craft and a willingness to try new things in order to succeed.

And there comes a time when it's important to share our skills with other people.
It can be intimidating to put our work into the public eye because, let's face it, sometimes people are critical and heartless. It can be challenging to develop the confidence in our achievements, and even ourselves, to put our work on display. 

It may surprise you that I am a very private person, and tend not to share too much of myself with anyone. Writing these articles is a real dichotomy for me, but somehow it doesn't seem too public to reveal my thoughts while keyboarding on my computer in my private office. It always surprises me when someone I meet comments on something I have written, because sending my articles to my editor never seems like I'm sharing with the public.

Maybe for that reason, I have become braver about sharing my photography and have been involved in several exhibits recently. I was thrilled to have two of my photographs accepted for exhibit at a public gallery earlier this year, something I haven't done since 2013. 

One of the most challenging things for me to do regarding an exhibit is to decide which image to display. I'm sure every artist must face the same frustration. Each image that I create has personal meaning for me. Some people think photography is just the press of a button, but it is so much more. It takes time, sometimes many trips to the same location, to get the circumstances exactly right in order to capture the scene the way you want. A lot of thought goes into how to best set up the shot to try to convey some feeling and connection with the viewer. And sometimes a lot of time is put into the processing of the image, tweaking the pixels on the computer in today's modern version of the darkroom.

In addition to my personal displays, I've been working hard with a couple of other people to put together several shows for our photography club. 

It has been five years since our photo club has exhibited, and this year we have created three in just six months. The first one was held at the library in Bridgewater in May, and we have moved some of the images to a new location for the next couple of weeks. Later in the year, we'll be mounting a brand new exhibit at the DesBrisay Museum in Bridgewater.

The Port Grocer, Cafe & Art Space in Port Medway is an active place of food, music and art. A small, rural grocer, they also supply packaged foods for take home, and a wonderful cafe if you choose to eat in. It's a charming location for displaying our photo club's South Shore Stories until July 17th.

Choosing an exhibit theme for a large group of people is more difficult than you might think. Keeping it general enough to entice a number of people to participate, yet interesting enough to create a cohesive display, is a daunting task. But our committee rose to the occasion with the South Shore Stories theme. Reading the story cards that correspond with each image is quite interesting, and reveals the interests of a wide range of photographers.

New to our club this year, Shelburne photographer Brenda Bancroft chose to display an image of the Drowned Forest at The Hawk, Cape Sable Island. Only visible at low tide, the 1500 year old forest of petrified tree stumps are a wonder to see. I have never timed my visits to The Hawk right in order to see them, and Brenda's photograph is a beautiful capture of this intriguing area.

Dublin Shore photographer Kas Stone also chose to display an image of a sight I've never seen. Using her artist's eye, she took the waterfront buildings of the iconic town of Mahone Bay and re-imagined them into a vibrant display of colours and whimsical reflections using her post processing skills.

Trevor Awalt, a photographer from the Aspotogan Penninsula, keeps us in the real world with his image "While I Lay Sleeping", a beautiful night scene from Northwest Cove. The boat "Jubilee 1", built in Chester in 1996, was involved with recovery operations during the Swiss Air disaster in 1998.

Gary Smith, our current Photo Club President, chose to display a beautiful nature photograph of two young fox nestled in the sand dunes at Crescent Beach, capturing their innocence and curiosity.

I can't list them all here, but there are more photographs made by a talented pool of interesting people, and I hope I have enticed you to take a look. All these people have found something good to focus on for their South Shore Stories.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 5, 2017 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pond-ering Several Homes

Backyard ponds are a benefit to frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, and birds, to name a few, and also create opportunities to improve photography skills.
I spent a few days last week harvesting one of Nova Scotias best crops, a never ending supply of rocks. I was digging a hole for a small backyard pond and Mother Nature threw me a challenge or two. Admittedly, it would have taken me a lot less time to dig a few years ago. It's amazing how age seems to creep up on you and then hit you with a wallop.

Weve been without a backyard pond for the past two years, ever since we moved from our country place into town. We did, however, have a pond form, one of those molded shapes made out of rigid material to make backyard do-it-yourself a simple task. The pond form has been sitting unused in various places over the past two years, either hidden by a fence in a corner of our backyard, or taking up prime real estate in our garage. 

Both storage places irritated me enough to forget about how much work having a pond is, and planning the best spot to locate one on our town lot. How did we end up with a pond form, you might ask. Are we the only ones who have carted a pond from home to home as we moved across the country to a new province? Probably.

Our first pond in our first home was really just a spot of water in our postage stamped size downtown lot in Ottawa. We used a half whisky barrel, filled it up with water, and threw in a pond plant. The barrel was buried in the garden, and absorbed and retained the water just fine without a liner. We moved from the city to our first country place, which was actually not in the country but in a suburban type residential area just outside a small town.

Thats where my gardening adventures began. We had a one and a half acre lot, and when my dad visited us his piece of advice was not to let my gardens get too large or they would be a burdensome amount of work. I remembered that advice about 15 years after he gave it to me, two properties and very large sized flower and vegetable gardens later.
Our cat Phantom enjoyed drinking from one of our first ponds
We had a few ponds at that home. We started with a new half whisky barrel and liner on our deck with the obligatory pond plant and our cat Phantom enjoyed drinking out of it. To be honest with you, I really cant remember what happened to that pond. Next, I spotted a blue bathtub at the end of someones driveway when we were out on a back roads drive. I convinced my husband to return and pick it up and we lugged it home for me to create a larger pond on the ground at the corner of our deck. I made a rock wall around it and we became the owners of two goldfish. 

It didnt take me long to be unhappy about my bathtub. It turns out that although I like the thought of re-purposing used items, I really dont like to have them in or around my own home. 

We lugged the bathtub to the dump, where it should have been deposited after the first owner, and invested in a three foot by four foot pond form. Im not sure if the fish were happier, but I was. Until the day that our fish disappeared and I found a molted snake skin on the edge on the pond.

After 10 years living in suburban country, it was time for us to make one of my dreams come true and we moved to Nova Scotia. Crazy me, I dug up my pond form, filled in the hole with dirt and perennials, and hauled the pond across the country to our new home.

But the pond looked puny on our 20 acre lot. You know where this is going, right?

After we purchased a tractor with a back hoe, we put my husband to work. He dug a huge 15 foot by eight foot pond, with a depth of over six feet. We bought a tarp and created our own liner, and filled it up gradually so our well didnt run dry. A birthday present of two koi, lots of work to "naturalize" the area, and a bench made out of a huge rock slab dragged into place by the tractor, made it a wonderful spot to sit and contemplate. Our pond form was retired to the storage shed.
Our granddaughter, with the help of our dog, added koi to our expanded country pond before the surrounding landscape was created.
We didnt see our koi the next spring, and thought they must have perished over the winter, so we stocked the pond with six goldfish. It turned out that the koi got moving once the water warmed up, and the koi and goldfish like the pond so much that we ended up with hundreds of them. Frogs, dragonflies and butterflies all loved it and, along with quiet times around the pond, I had lots of opportunities to improve my photography skills.

This is about the time I remembered my dads advice from years ago, and all that work catches up to you as you age. It was time to move into town, and time to move the pond form to its third home.

I contemplated selling it, but I couldnt do it. Two years later, and here we are with a freshly dug hole and inserted pond form. Im very proud to say that its as close to level as it has ever been and it has just been filled with water from our rain barrel.

Its primed, and ready for a couple of fish. But were waiting on a visit from our grandchildren to introduce the fish, so that will be a focus for another day.

published in the South Shore Breaker - June 28, 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A variety of hermits

I created this water mosaic with photos from our walk on Stoney Island Beach. These were taken with my point and shoot, an experiment to see if it's worth taking the time to create a larger mosaic with higher quality photos.
It is my belief that even non birder people can appreciate a lovely bird song. Last year, I often heard tweeting of a non technological variety coming from the forest behind our house, but I wasnt familiar with the song and I could never spot the bird. I recorded it one evening and then posted the sound on facebook, receiving immediate responses that the mysterious crooner was a hermit thrush.
According to information on the internet, they are often found in forest understories, especially at the edge or openings.

I never spotted a hermit thrush last year, but recently heard the song again while walking my dogs on the Centennial Trail. I stopped, spent a few minutes trying to track the sound, and I was rewarded with my first sighting. Not a strikingly colourful bird, but a thrill nonetheless.

I came across a hermit of another species on a recent excursion to Beach Meadows. I always collect bits and bobs on our beach walks, and our house is decorated with my finds. Jars of sand dollars, large sea shells, beach glass, and unique stones can be found throughout our home. I love to be surrounded by natural things, and you cant beat the price for decorating on the cheap. I have a unique jar I scored at an auction several years ago, and every now and then I add a small shell to it. Not a memory keeper of particular moments, the jar is a general reminder of how happy I am to live within easy access of the shore.

But I digress. On our recent walk at Beach Meadows, I picked up a shell to add to my jar on the mantle. I turned the shell over to make sure it wasnt inhabited and found a surprise. It wasnt empty, but it wasnt a snails home either. Instead, I was shocked to find legs protruding from the shell and in a momentary panic that revealed my city girl roots, I flung the shell into the water with a yell. My startled husband wanted to know what was wrong. Sheepishly, I told him that I had found a hermit crab and reacted instinctively rather than with any reasoned thought. Hopefully the hermit crab wasnt hurt on his journey through the air into the ocean. Im guessing he was as surprised by the experience as I was.

The only other time during my nine year life on the east coast that I have seen a hermit crab was when walking with a friend on Crescent Beach last year. She made the discovery and we were both enthralled. We gently turned him over and watched as he slowly extended his legs from the shell. I can tell you from experience, its much nicer to watch a hermit crab from several feet away, rather than looking at the spidery type legs just a few inches from your face. Flashbacks from the movie Alien come to mind.

My husband and I try to get to the shore once a week, but really our goal is to take a beach walk at least eight times a month. The air is fresher. The breeze blows away any troubles. And the exercise of a walk along the ocean, for us and for our dogs, just cant be beat. Someone asked me once why I dont live near a beach, since I spend so much time there. Well, thats a good question. Youll have to ask my husband for the answer.

Recently, it was over 30 degrees in town and we decided to escape further down the south west coast to Cape Sable Island. At this time of year, the beaches closer to us get a little more populated so we head to the beaches that tend to have fewer people around. On that 30 plus degree day, it was a cool and breezy 14 at Stoney Island Beach. I thought I had dressed appropriately, taking a cotton hoodie with me. But, no, a short photo shoot on the windy shore by Clarks Harbour had us heading back into Barrington Passage and do a quick shopping expedition to purchase another sweat shirt. A warm woman is a happy woman. Ironic how you can leave one place to escape the heat and then your goal shifts to trying to keep warm.

Shopping trip successful, we headed back across the causeway and to the beach. Happiness is seeing a parking location that is free of any other vehicles and knowing you
ll have the beach to yourself. One of the best walking beaches we have found, firm sand stretches just about as far as you can see. It was the windiest we have experienced there, and the return walk was a lot easier to accomplish. Rarely without a camera, I snapped a lot of quick photos of the water with my point and shoot in order to put together a mock up of a mosaic of photos that I have in mind as a mini project. I thought Id try a mocked up version first, to see if its a good idea, before trucking my larger equipment to the shore.

Feeling free as the seagulls hovering in the wind, and happy about the secluded beach, it occurred to me that I could easily be a hermit too. But those thoughts are the focus for another day. 

published in the South Shore Breaker - June 21, 2017 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Time for a re-boot

There is no need to travel to other destinations for wildlife or landscape photography. Every day life can supply endless opportunities, if we take the time to look. Double Crested Cormorants along the LaHave River.
My disappointment at being turned down for a photographic experience I had applied for recently was quickly tempered by inspiration I received in the same batch of emails. I subscribe to a popular photographers newsletters, and the advice wasnt directed at just me, but it felt like she was talking to me nonetheless:

"I want to encourage you, no matter what negative thoughts you have going on in your mind, to do the thing you feel you cannot. Never stop yourself from creating because of what the end product will be like. Good or bad, the experience is everything". Good advice from fine art photographer and visual story teller Brooke Shaden.

Every now and then I have to remind myself, and sometimes get reminded from other sources, that momentary defeat is not failure. If we dont fail at something now and then, maybe it just means were not stretching ourselves. I consoled myself by taking my dogs for a walk. 
I was rewarded by being reminded how special life is. My first interaction with nature that morning was seeing a small herd of deer bounding away through the dog park trails, perhaps the same group I photographed for a previous article. Walking along on one of the busiest residential streets in town, I was able to stop and watch two ospreys - one in a nest, and the other sitting at the top of a hydro pole fine dining on a freshly caught fish. I could hear a loons cry coming from the river. When we reached the river, I was rewarded by the beautiful sight of calm water, fog on the hills, and perfect reflections of the homes on the other side.

Sometimes I see more nature in a day living in town than I did while living on a 20 acre property in the country. It can be easy to take everything for granted, and I have to constantly remind myself to slow down and look around. Its surprising how much I can see if I take the time to appreciate.

And often times I am totally clueless about my surroundings. I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and telling her about the group of double crested cormorants that I had photographed while in New Brunswick. She told me that there is a group of them who hang out in a tree along the river right in the town of Bridgewater. So of course I headed out with my camera one morning to find them. Less than two kilometres from my home, I was amazed that I had never noticed them before. Apparently, this has been a favourite spot for them for years. Now that I know where they are, I see them every time I cross the bridge. The thrill hasnt worn off for me yet.

Its easy to take things, as well as people, for granted. Your home is just your home until someone else comes to visit and tells you how nice it is. Tourists visit us from other provinces and places around the world, paying for the privilege of seeing things we get to see every day.

Sometimes we just need a re-boot, a gentle reminder to look at things a different way.
I find I run into the same thing with my photography. I have been carrying a camera since I was a teenager which, I hate to admit, is more than forty years. I tend to take the same kind of pictures, and be interested in the same type of things, as I was when I started out with my hobby. Nature and scenic images are always my "go to". I do try to challenge myself by taking photo challenges with our local club, or forcing myself to use a specific lens for a period of time. But, like an old pair of comfortable jeans, its a lot easier sometimes just to slip into the familiar and do things the way Ive always done them.

No matter what your hobby or pastime, I think its good to shake things up now and then by getting together with other people who like doing the same things. Maybe just a group of friends, or a club of like minded people, or even a paid workshop or course. While attending formal presentations, I find I learn just as much through conversations with other people in the group as I do by the meeting itself. Seeing and hearing what other people do helps me think about things differently and gets my mind going in new directions.
Getting together with like minded people, or enrolling in courses and workshops, exposes our minds to new ideas and helps us improve our skills. A recent landscape workshop at Crescent Beach helped reinforce landscape techniques for a group of interested photographers.
I decided that my scenic and landscape photography needed a boost, something to bring back my passion for the genre, and my interest in creating new images. I signed up for a landscape photography workshop with Dublin Shore photographer Kas Stone, and one Saturday at the end of May found me sitting in a room overlooking the LaHave River with 10 other interested people. After several hours of classroom theory and beautiful examples, we headed to Crescent Beach with our tripods and cameras to put the theory into practice.

I discovered that its a lot easier to listen to someone tell you how to create a dynamic image than it is to actually do it yourself. Repetition is the key for my aging brain, so I will need to continue my practicing for a while in order for all that theory to become second nature to me.
Getting outdoors in all the beautiful Nova Scotia scenery is not a hardship at all, and even if you're not a photographer, its something good to focus on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Single Minded Focus

When driving around without a specific goal for photographs, sometimes its difficult to get enthused and its best to pick something to concentrate on. Bridges was a theme for me on a recent road trip.
I am often lost in my own little world. Im not sure if its escapism, or hyper focus, or what it should be referred to. Its not unusual for me to be there in body, but not in mind.

For instance, my husband and I can be driving somewhere and hell point something along the way that I missed. Ive heard the phrase "How could you not see that?" more times than I could count.
Sometimes Ill just be focused on something totally different. Hell be commenting on a car that went by, when I was busy ogling a beautiful home. Or sometimes Ill be thinking about something and I just dont see the world around me any more.

If you see me at the grocery store and I walk right by you, please dont think Im ignoring you. I really just didnt see you. Im probably thinking about whats for dinner, or whats on my grocery list that I left sitting on the kitchen counter. Or I could be thinking about my next project, or planning something totally off the wall and unrelated to shopping.
A road trip that follows a river provides lots of opportunities for photographing bridges.
Watching the news while my husband cooks supper (yes, I know how lucky I am), hell ask me to repeat something from the news story or the weather. I wont know the answer, even though Ive been studiously watching the program. Instead, Ill have to back up the program and re-watch it so I can clarify it for my husband who is working with the fan on and not able to hear everything from the living area.

If I am focused and trying to work through something on my computer, I cant have music or sound of any kind distracting me. It used to drive me crazy when I worked in an office and had to listen to radios on other peoples desks. Silence is golden in my world.  
It also drives me to distraction when someone is making a speech and gets interrupted by someone who thinks they are offering a witty comment. People talking in the audience when someone is trying to make a presentation, hecklers, and whisperers alike, all get my goat. And dont get me started about political "debates", where everyone is trying to talk over the next person. 
Super concentration could be a blessing, or a curse, depending on how you look at things.
I tend to be a generalist when it comes to photography, not a specialist in any one area. However, when I do latch on to a new passion, I do become quite obsessed about trying to achieve my goals. Earlier this year, we made trip after trip down the south shore to try to capture snowy owl photos. My husband laments the fact that we probably wont do that next year, because Ive "been there, done that" and once I have satisfied my obsession, I tend to move on to something new. I may just surprise him. After all, marching around for hours on the cold windy barrens lugging heavy camera equipment in sub zero weather is a dream for most people, right?

When we are driving around without a specific goal for photographs, sometimes its difficult for me to get enthused. Once I take my first photo, though, I generally get into my zone and find something to concentrate on. The theme on our recent trip to New Brunswick, other than the flooded river, seemed to become bridges. Im not sure why, because bridges have never interested me before, but I came back with enough photos of them to create a small series. 
With no access to the decommissioned bridge, my hopes of photographing the flooded river from above were dashed, so I contented myself with exploring below the bridge.
I had spotted a decommissioned bridge on our earlier trip through the area, and was determined to go back and explore it on the dead end road. The road had been removed from the end of the bridge, which made it impossible to cross by foot. I had imagined taking photographs of the submerged trees from above, so was disappointed about that. However, I decided to explore underneath the bridge instead and trekked ahead of my husband and dogs. In my photographic zone now, I would have spent much longer there, but I knew he would be worried about me being out of sight for so long. He knows what Im like when I am concentrating with my camera in hand, with a total lack of awareness in the world around me.

My thoughts of beautiful monochromatic images of trees and water from high above morphed into exploring rot and decay from underneath the huge cement pillars. A dumping ground for garbage, mattresses, spray paint cans, graffiti and fires, the area was far from beautiful but it was quite interesting to explore. A single minded person could have spent hours just in that one location.

But single minded photographers traveling with worried husbands have to make allowances, and my new found bridge obsession would have to be a focus for another day.

published in the South Shore Breaker - June 7, 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Non Bucket List Events

a small herd of deer crossed the road without my dogs noticing...they were busy sniffing something exciting on the ground
Ill start this column with a warning: the following content may contain elements that are unrelated and not suitable for organized minds. Rambling words ahead.
I recently wrote about my observations and admiration of crows. There are two sides to every story, and although I can admire their cunning and adaptability, I am currently frustrated by their antics in my yard. 
The area I live in has a problem with chinch bugs, which results in very poor lawn conditions. The crows do their part by tearing up the dried up turf and presumably feasting on the grubs. Our front lawn was spared last year, but when we went on a short breakaway from home recently, the crows had a wild party at our place. We came back to the sight of our front yard torn up beyond repair. What to do?

An extension of the flower garden was my answer and we invested in landscape fabric, a few shrubs, and lots and lots of mulch. My theory was that the crows just seem to tear up the grassy area, so we should replace the grass with gardens. I used to be able to garden for days on end, but six hours of planting and moving dirt and mulch resulted in an exhausted state and a very sore body. Theres nothing like hard work to make you feel your age, or maybe even a tad older. This was repeated the following day, but at a much slower pace and a lot less accomplished.

We still have at least half of the front yard in patchy grass, a dilemna to ponder for a while. Any recommendations that dont involve pesticides or further back breaking work would be appreciated.

The good weather has brought back my morning routine of walking the dogs before I sit down for coffee and breakfast. One of the good things about owning dogs is that they are creatures of habit, and even after just two days of walking they adapted to the new routine and guilt me into walking even when I would rather just sit with a morning coffee. Theres nothing like a guilt trip to force a person into exercise.

The other day we had just headed down the road and had paused at a vacant lot for some dedicated sniffing. I looked up and there were 5 deer frozen in place about fifty feet in front of us. I pulled out my pocket camera, turned it on and took several pictures of the deer while their hooves clattered across the road and they disappeared. All this went unnoticed by my two dogs, fierce protectors that they are. I put my camera away and we carried on with our walk without incident and without the dogs knowing what they missed.

I dont know if its age, or just part of lifes cycle, but Ive been doing a lot of thinking lately about our routines. Prompted by my husband, who is one of the worlds greatest analyzers, Ive been giving thought to what makes me happy and what projects I want to be involved in. For I am a project person and am lost without a list of tasks to do or things to accomplish. I do a lot of philosophizing about how I would like to "just be", but the fact is that I like to be doing things. The trick is to be doing things I enjoy, not doing things because someone else thinks I should be doing it. Thats one of the benefits about being retired, we get to pick and choose how we spend our days. 
It seems that there isnt an age restriction on the question "what do I want to do with my life". However, when youve got several decades under your belt, there is a general feeling that you better get on with things before you run out of time. Some people have a "bucket list" of things they want to do, but I never could write one. I have something I call the "bucket list in the rear view mirror", a list of things Ive done that give me a warm fuzzy feeling. 
On those days that Im feeling down, its nice to take a look at my list and see the things that I have done that make me happy to think about. We all have those days despite the fact that social media wants us to think all our lives are perfect and filled with one great adventure after another. My list starts with "raised a son with excellent life values who is a contributor to society", so you can gather that its not an itemized list of great adventures. 
Whats on your rear view mirror list? Thats something good we can all focus on.

published in the South Shore Breaker - May 31, 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


A group of double crested cormorants along the flooded St. Johns River in New Brunswick were a perfect photographic subject for me and my newly discovered joy of monochromatic type images.
I'm not a fan of old country music, but there are some classics that I really enjoy and sing along at full throttle, putting my heart into the words. George Jones had some real tear jerkers, including "He Stopped Loving Her Today". But one of my favourites from George was "Choices". I've had choices since the day that I was born...

Like a lot of young people, I was facing university without a clue of what I wanted to do with my life. A friend mentioned a program called Finance and Administration and told me that there was an opportunity to have a job with a financial company every summer. Having a guaranteed job every summer to help pay for school sounded good to me, so I took the interviews and landed a spot with one of the big banks. For three years, I went to school and worked each summer at a different branch. That started a twenty year career in banking, all because of a chat with a friend and me not knowing what I wanted to do.


Those years were good to me in a lot of ways, and I worked my way up the corporate ladder rather quickly. From teller to manager of thirty people administering work for fifty branches, I was completely dedicated to my job. For several years, I lived and breathed work. If I wasn't on the job, I was taking courses for accreditation to further my career. That all came to a screeching halt when the trust company I worked for was taken over by a bank. A team of people from Toronto flew in one day without notice, and my department of thirty people, as well as dozens more, were given severance packages and told to pack up their desks and sent home. Not sure whether I was one of the lucky ones or not, I was left behind to help clear up things left behind. It was devastating, and a real eye opener for my working life. I struggled along for a couple of years, but my heart wasn't in it anymore and I was just going through the motions.


A couple of years later, when I was managing a branch and my job disappeared, I was given a choice. Take another job in the bank, or take a severance package. I didn't hesitate, took the package, and never looked back.


For the first time, I made a choice that wasn't the safe one. I decided to start my own company and went into the dog biscuit business. From banker to baker, I started by baking biscuits in my own home and selling them bag by bag to people at craft fairs. I landed my first wholesale customer, progressed to having people bake biscuits for me, then to having a commercial bakery. The business won the "Most Innovative Local Business in Ontario" award in 2001, and had lots of free press and exposure. Ten years, one hundred thousand bags of biscuits, and lots of happy dogs, and I was making my own choices about my own company.


There comes a time when decisions just feel right, and in 2007 I decided it was time to sell the business and fulfill my dream of living in Nova Scotia. That's when photography started becoming more important in my life.

There are lots of choices when it comes to hobbies. First, which hobby are you going to pursue? Then, how far are you going to go with it? My heart has always been with photography. So when I moved to Nova Scotia and needed to meet new people, I chose to join a photography club. Involving myself in club competitions forced me to take pictures of things that I wouldn't naturally be interested in and, in turn, my skills grew. Never a technical person, I have enjoyed taking pictures of things that catch my eye, in my own way of doing things.

A couple of weeks ago, I was working on a few projects that required me to go back over my photography files and try to organize them into something cohesive. It was quite an interesting task, as I have never specialized in any particular genre of photography. I tend to get interested in something for a period of time, and then go madly off in another direction and try something different. Looking back at old photographs can be very enlightening, and I'm sure most of us can see a progression of sorts as we move along the learning curve.
It can be easy to forget that we all have our own path, and our own successes and failures. The important thing is to keep learning and keep trying. Sometimes we can forget how far we've come, until we take a look back over our shoulder. One bonus with digital photography is that we can go back to our old files and work with them to come up with something completely different.

Once I selected my favourite images, I took a look at them as a group and had an epiphany of sorts. Friends in my photo club might have noticed already, but it took grouping my photos together to make me realize that I prefer almost monochromatic images. I had put together fifteen of my favourites, and only one of them had noticeable colour in it. I hadn't realized it before, because I take thousands of colour photographs every year. But it took looking at the ones that have special meaning for me to realize how much I leaned in that direction.

The weather on our recent trip to New Brunswick was drizzly and foggy and a perfect backdrop for my penchant towards colourless images. As I continue to work through those files, I can embrace my new found knowledge about my photographic choices. Our learning curves on this journey through life are always something good to focus on.

published in the South Shore Breaker, Bedford & Sackville Observer, Dartmouth Tribune - May 24, 2017