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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

On the Road Again

Sometimes size does matter. Without a specialty lens, my moose would have been a small speck in the landscape, instead of an up close and personal image.
I know some people who have had a really tough time adjusting to retirement. They find their days long, and miss the structure of their old work life. My husband was worried that I would miss my business after it sold, but no. Not me. When I retired, I never looked back.
There are so many things to do and never enough time to do them. Whether you volunteer, follow the political scene, or enjoy one or more hobbies, opportunities are limitless. One of our joys is to be able to jump in the car whenever we want, and take day trips. A couple of weeks ago, my husband turned to me and asked if I'd like to take a longer drive and follow the St. John River in New Brunswick. I had been wanting to take that drive for years, so of course I said yes.

I love that drive winding along the river, and enjoyed it every time we visited between our families in Ontario and Nova Scotia. But they improved the highway, and for many years we have been bypassing that stretch, opting to take the fast route instead. So, just a week or so after our return from our Ontario visit, we found ourselves backtracking to New Brunswick. We took the Trans Canada highway until we reached Jemseg, and then slowed down and enjoyed the sights.

The river was flooded, but not yet endangering anyone. I took countless photos of trees submerged in the flooded banks, their reflections making abstract patterns in the water. It was rainy and foggy, but just enough to make a photographer happy.

This trip was a milestone in our lives. I had to break down and tell my husband he was "right". He is always encouraging me to invest in good quality equipment, something that requires careful thought and a hit to the pocketbook. We usually spend a lot of time with him trying to convince me its worth it, before I break down and agree. He would be an interesting person to have on a split jury, because he would wear even the most determined person down and sway them to his way of thinking.

One of those purchases was a powerful zoom lens that is perfect for nature shots. I used it quite a bit earlier this year when we took many trips down to Baccaro in search of snowy owls. This trip it came in handy to photograph moose along the St. John River, my first moose images. I was over the moon, excited and happy when we saw a pair of moose on a small island a short distance from the road.

Ive written many articles explaining my belief that equipment doesnt matter, you can take good photographs with any camera, your phone or a point and shoot. But sometimes size does matter, and my nature photos this year wouldnt have happened without our investment in the proper lens. My moose would have been a small speck in the landscape, instead of an up close and personal image. I looked him right in the eye without endangering myself, or bothering the moose. And it was an awesome experience.
A new interest was discovered on the impromptu road trip, and I became intrigued by the bridges in the fog, framed by the flooded trees.

Moving slowly down the river, we stopped many times so I could jump out and take photographs of more flooded trees. I found a new interest along the way and was intrigued by the bridges in the fog. I experimented with trying to capture different angles and create compelling images.

Different things interest different people, and my husband couldnt understand why I wasnt taking photos of the homes being encroached by water. It wasn't a lack of interest, my heart went out to all the people who must have been filled with fear every time they looked out the window, wondering whether the water would reach their residence. But somehow it seemed an invasion of privacy for me to photograph their homes in danger, I felt I would be taking advantage of their difficulties. I did take photos of several barns, and was intrigued with a group of horses who were cut off from their field.

Driving down the road, with water up to the shoulders on both sides, made a more somber ride than the previous joy of seeing the moose. We meandered from Jemseg to Fredericton, and somehow the whole afternoon disappeared. It seemed we would have to revise our plans of driving all the way up to Perth-Andover. We found a room for the night and planned to go over some of the same territory again the next day, followed by a drive along the river down towards Saint John.

What would a trip be without having to turn around at least once? By looking at the map, it seemed like a simple plan to cover the same ground on the opposite side of the river, but using a photographer for a navigator can be a mistake and we did have to backtrack once, or twice, or maybe a few times. The weather had cleared up, along with my need to photograph trees in water, so as we headed to Saint John I focused on old farm houses and churches. Then a turn in the road brought us to a river, with a flock of double crested cormorants perched in and around some flooded trees and I was in photographic heaven again.

After a night in Saint John, we had adventures in Cape Enrage and at the Hopewell Rocks. Neither location was officially open yet, but we did receive a private tour of the sights at Cape Enrage, an unplanned stop for us. Hopewell Rocks had me climbing over a barricade to make it down to the beach at low tide, something I dont think Ill attempt again. But those adventures are a focus for another day.

Published in the South Shore Breaker, Dartmouth Tribune, Bedford-Sackville Observer - May 17, 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


An early morning photo shoot of local osprey was ruined by forgetting to reset my camera settings. The images were all three photo compilations due to my camera being set to take multiple exposures.
I had an interesting morning recently, in which I discovered that bird-brained can have two quite different meanings. In my meandering way, I will tell you a bit about both my experiences.

Every morning, without fail, I am awakened by two impatient dogs who want to get started with their day. I cant be irritated with them, even if they decide its time to get going while I am still in a sound slumber, because they are just so deliriously happy that it tends to rub off on me. Okay, its time to get up and start the day. This involves letting them out, letting them in, feeding them, getting the coffee ready, feeding the cat and cleaning her box, getting the paper, and on it goes. When I finally get to relax with my coffee, I usually take a look at our backyard birds.

Moving from the country into town was a bit of a bird watching disappointment at first. We have fewer song birds, and have missed some of our common visitors that we enjoyed in the country. We see some finches and nuthatches, and have only seen a grosbeak once in almost two years. Red tailed hawks are a thing of the past for us. But we have at least one pair of ospreys that live close by, and we have lots and lots of crows.

There are many people around who are not happy about the crow population, and admittedly they do make an absolute mess of our yards. I can sit in my office and watch them tear apart the sod looking for cinch bugs. Our front "lawn" is looking like a disaster and has me considering garden expansions to remove some of the grass. This will be of no surprise to my husband, the only new thing about that is the excuse for the ever expanding flower garden.

But I find the crows to be quite entertaining, and have enjoyed watching their antics. They swoop down over the backyard to tease the dogs. For some reason, our dogs ignore all our birds at the feeder but they absolutely detest the crows. The crows caw and communicate to each other in ways I havent begun to understand. 
A series of photos taken with a camera phone through the kitchen window shows a crow carrying and hiding pieces of bread.
This morning, I stood in the kitchen drinking my coffee and watched a crow in the vacant lot beside us. He had a full piece of bread on the ground in front of him, and picked off a piece to eat. He tore a second piece off and carried it about ten feet away, placed it on the ground, and used his beak to cover the bread with dirt. He went back to the bread, tore off a piece and ate it. Then he selected another morsel, and went about ten feet in another direction, and went through the same process to bury the bread. This carried on, with him burying about five pieces of bread in different nearby locations, until the slice of bread had disappeared. The crow jumped on a rock, and seemed to look right at me through my kitchen window before he took flight. I found this amazing to watch, and had no idea that crows hide their food like this. The popular expression "bird brained" shouldnt be used about crows.
After burying several pieces of bread, the crow jumped on a rock and seemed to look right at me through my kitchen window before he took flight. (shot with a camera phone through the window)
Looking out the window down the road, I saw fog over the river so decided to make it a photography morning, something I havent done in ever so long. I wrote a note for my sleeping husband, said good bye the dogs, and jumped in the car with all my gear. By the time I got to the river, my thoughts of capturing a fog filled landscape disappeared with the lifting of the fog. I turned around and headed to the local osprey nest, and arrived to see the osprey fly away. Momentarily defeated, I headed home, but spied a large bird on a hydro pole so pulled into a vacant lot. When I looked through my zoom lens, what I thought was a crow turned out to be an osprey, to my happy surprise. I spent quite a while taking photographs and was overjoyed to capture some in flight photos of two ospreys together.

Happy with my successful morning, I drove home anxious to take a look at my photos and thinking about my amazing luck. I popped my memory card into my computer and opened up the file. Dumbfounded, I looked at the screen to see a lot fewer images than I thought, all of them a blurred mess. It didnt take long to figure out that I had left my camera set for multiple exposures after a previous photo shoot, and all my osprey shots images were a compilation of three photos. You would think that I would have learned the basics by now, but it seems I needed a reminder that you should always reset your camera settings once youre done shooting. Lesson re-learned and brain hopefully re-trained.

It seems that the neighbourhood is full of bird-brains. And not all of them have feathers and wings.

The crows, and the osprey, will be something for me to focus on again another day. And the lesson will likely be learned another time as well.

published in the South Shore Breaker - May 10, 2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When there's no turning back

A postcard from Lake Ainslie sent back to Ontario by my mother in 1967, during my first trip to Nova Scotia.
Do you ever wonder what could have been? If you had made a different choice, or followed a different path? If you stayed put instead of moving on? Or if you said yes instead of no to a new life challenge?


We are all making choices constantly in our lives. Small choices, like what to have for breakfast. Or big life choices, such as changing jobs or changing life styles. It's all the constant decisions that we face that can sometimes become overwhelming.


We made a big decision ten years ago, and started making plans to move from Ontario to Nova Scotia. I had lived in Ontario for all but one of forty five years, and my husband had lived there for most of his life as well, albeit he moved around the country with his job for many years. Friends asked us why we wanted to move, and most assumed we made the choice to be closer to a son and his family. But that was not the case, as we were leaving a daughter, son, and grandchild behind. You can't make a choice between children.


No, my longing to live in Nova Scotia was buried deep in my psyche, something that I had carried in my heart from early in my life without any explanation. Maybe it started when I traveled to Cape Breton with my parents when I was six. I have no memories of that trip, but perhaps I'll be able to find some evidence when I go through my father's slides. When I was eighteen, I convinced a friend to take a road trip with me and, with our parents' permission, we drove from London to see  the "Gathering of the Clans" in Nova Scotia and PEI. I had visions of thousands of people gathering, but that wasn't the case. We saw some highland dancers and a few bagpipers, but most of our trip was driving from place to place just absorbing the east coast atmosphere. We had some adventures that my parents didn't hear about until we got home. The flat tire in Montreal on the day we left home, and replaced by a spare that we traveled on for the rest of the trip, horrified my dad when he heard about it. We didn't realize that a spare wasn't the same as a regular tire!

Thirty years after my first trip to Nova Scotia, I vacationed in Cape Breton with my husband and son. It would be ten more years before I could make my dream of moving to Nova Scotia a reality.
But real life got in the way, and I spent years climbing the corporate ladder and raising a son. I finally got back to Nova Scotia in 1997, when we rented a cottage in Port Hood for a glorious two weeks. Followed the next year by another stay in Cape Breton, I was hooked. A few years later, my feelings were cemented in place when my step son and his family moved to Halifax. Every time we visited, we put more mileage on the car by traveling around the province than we did in driving from Ontario. Finally, our youngest son graduated from college and it was time to make dreams come true. I sold my business, we bought a house, spent a few more months anxiously trying to sell a house, and finally everything came together and it was time for us to head down a new life path.

Recently, we took a trip back to Ontario, something we have done quite a few times since moving. And that brings me back to the question I opened with. Do you ever wonder what could have been? We did a lot of that during our recent trip. What if we had never moved? What would we be doing now?


Of course we'd be seeing more of our Ontario family. We would still be living in the same house, and our son would feel like he was coming home when he visited instead of coming to an unfamiliar place with no memories. We have two grandchildren in Ontario who we would be spending more time with and seeing their changes.

We drove by our former home and reminisced. When we had bought the house, the neighbours called it "Little House on the Prairie". There was an acre and a half of property with not a tree in sight. We purchased one hundred and fifty trees from a local tree farm and wondered how many trips it would take to transport all of them home. I waited in the car while my husband went it to make the arrangements, and saw his sheepish face as he returned with one paper bag. All the trees were inside that bag! Our little seedlings were all planted, and nurtured through a drought the following year. And now they cover the property in a miniature forest. We created that, and we looked at them wistfully as we sat in our car on the road in front of our former home.

But there is no going back, especially when your heart belongs somewhere else.

As we battled the traffic and hustle and bustle of a big Ontario city, my husband commented that it reminded him of ants on an anthill. A swarm of activity that we were no longer part of. We have no desire to move back to the place where we spent so much of our lives. I would much rather have the time to talk to the cashier at the grocery store, to acknowledge and chat with people when I'm walking my dogs. No matter where you live in Nova Scotia, it's just a quick drive to the coast. The ocean is my grounding place, the place that makes me feel at peace. I feel like I belong here, and that's a good thing to focus on.

Published in the South Shore Breaker - May 3, 2017