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