Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gabriola in Winter

I must admit that I have been very hesitant to get into doing landscapes here on Gabriola.   But they are very compelling and can be seen everywhere it seems if you have the right attitude.


Mischa and Gracie see this place as a giant playground.   They are so happy when we set out for a walk, it seems they can hardly contain themselves.  They race through the bush , chasing each other or following some scent left earlier by another animal.   It is a great experience to take a minute and think like a dog.  To see the world from their vantage point, to imagine their exuberance as they race through the woods, leaping and running as fast as they can.


Here is a magic place where the trees and the light complement each other, it's at the side of a road that we drive past almost every day.  It changes all the time, the light, the colour, the depth of the foliage, living in such beauty and harmony.


Watching a fog bank as it moves inexorably toward us promising mystery in our evening hours...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It's the Little Things...


The older I get the more important little things become for me.   Our neighbour Robin, brought these beautiful little Paperwhites the other day and they have been sitting in front of Heather's beautiful wall hangings.   Today these blossoms opened and I swear I would have missed them on any other day.  But because it is Christmas and I'm spending the day at home, I noticed this tiny cluster was in full celebration.

It has been foggy here lately and I swear that sometimes the clock just stops.  This is my view from the upstairs window.  It has a bit of fog and some distortion in it. It makes me feel suspended in time.  I often have that feeling here.


We took the dogs for a walk yesterday on a typical Gabriola path through the woods.  I must admit that I am not a nature kind of guy but there were moments when I felt we might run into Frodo and Sam as they set out on their journey.   One thing I really enjoy is seeing Mischa and Gracie as they flow through the woods, at speed.  I am so aware of them as they are of me.  I love to call them occasionally and watch their heads pop up to see what I want.  Heather gives them way too many treats by the way, so they are especially concerned about keeping us in sight so they can fly back as quickly as possible.   Watching them run, jumping over logs and dodging around trees is one of the joys that this island gives us anytime we go out together.


I often arrive home to find new little groupings of stones and other things on the window ledges, usually in the kitchen, sometimes elsewhere.   These little things make such a difference in life.  They cost nothing and yet they speak to me in quiet tones on what life is about.  Sometimes it's important to stop, look around and appreciate how rich life can be.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Well Done Westjet

Heather just told me a story about her mother who flew Westjet to Kingston to visit her sister, Laura.

Apparently, there was a bit of a mix-up with dates, one thing led to another and Laura discovered that her mom had missed her return flight as she noted it on the wrong day in her calendar.

Laura immediately called Westjet to see if they could book a seat for the next day.   The cost she was told would be around $500 for the ticket.   She asked if it might be possible to get a discount whereupon the agent asked her to hold while she spoke to her supervisor.

She returned to say that a new ticket would not be necessary, that the airline would honour the return ticket for the flight she had missed.

WAY TO GO WESTJET!   A company with heart, how rare is that!


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Post by Robyn Ward - My Niece

Fran sent this to me by email.  It is such a beautiful testament to my sweet Jacquie, I asked if I might share it on my blog.

Robyn's Post
My Auntie Jacquie was like a mother to me. When I was a child she always made me feel immensely loved. She would give warming hugs and tell the funniest stories that always ended in a full room of echoing laughter. She was by far, my favourite teacher as well. Her first lesson that I remember was about love. When I was 5, my Auntie Jacquie fell in love with my Uncle Zia. At the wedding reception I remember witnessing the connection they shared. My Uncle Zia said something like “come here Robyn, let me show you what a real kiss looks like.” Then he gave her the most loving, sweet kiss. “That’s a real kiss he said, none of that hollywood nonsense.” My heart understood the lesson long before my mind could catch up to it. Hollywood love is often a story of irrational choices, huge sacrifices, and large risks. I witnessed a love that was mixed with reason, clarity, devotion, loyalty and a side of humor. It wasn’t all or nothing, it was woven, carefully, lovingly into every part of your day. The next lesson was one of protection. When I was in grade 6 I was bullied and beaten by a group of girls. My Auntie Jacque and Uncle Zia took me into their home to live. They were my sanctuary in a time of fear. They let me live with them without a hesitation, even though they had a full home with three other children. I remember a few days before school started, my Auntie Jacquie took me aside for a quiet moment. She had known how nervous I was, starting a new school and having had such a hard year before. She asked if she could give me some advice, she said don’t make friends right away. Don’t let fate decide who your friends will be. Spend the first week getting to know everyone. Be nice to everyone, be friendly to everyone. After the first week, after you get to know the fellow classmates, then choose who you think has the best character in the class, the best integrity and be friends with them. This idea caused a shift in my thinking. The idea of surrounding yourself with like minded people. Surrounding yourself with people that strengthen your character, people that lift you up, people that make you better. Surrounding yourself with like minded friends offered me a blanket of protection. In addition to that advice, in order to keep me safe, she taught me the power of faith. First, subtly by example, I would see the choices she made, that lead to a better life. Then over time, I was able to see that the driving force behind her amazing character was her relationship with God and the Baha’i Faith. The relationship with God that I’ve gotten through being a Baha’i has kept me safe from all sorts of harm in the world and gives me strength when I need it to overcome difficulties. It has been the strongest form of protection one can have in this world. The next lesson was one of belief. One of the most brilliant effects of love, is that if you are loved and truly believed in, every once in awhile you can get a glimpse of what that person sees in you. Like a reflection in a mirror of hope. You can see a picture of what you could be, of what you could become if only you believed in yourself. My Auntie Jacquie embodied that mirror, not just for me, but for everyone she loves. She showed us all a better, more loving, more spiritual, more caring versions of ourselves. For me, she saw an educated, spiritual woman living a happily ever after. I would never have had the confidence, courage or strength to seek those dreams if she hadn't shown me, with beautiful clarity, what that life could look like. I would never have thought it even possible. She taught me to believe in myself, because she had so much confidence that I could accomplish great things. She opened her home to me again for my first two years of university. Gently guiding me down a path to a better life, because of how much she believed in me and the potential she saw in that mirror of hope. While I lived with her, when I going to university, I was able to learn the last lesson I want to share. The lesson she taught me about motherhood. She shared with me the secrets of motherhood. That is was an endless role of joy, love, support, guidance, laughter and sometimes even heart ache. It’s impossible to keep the ones we love most from harm, though we can wish it with every fiber of our being. She role modeled motherhood with grace, love, humor, devotion and even more humor. I use this lesson everyday of my life. When I sit with my children and I choose to find teachable moments in our conversation, or play Red Grammar to sing along to, or play video games with them and savour the moments that we get together. Her lesson reminds me that each moment is a gift, and above all, to make those moments count. There will never be enough thank you's in the world for what she has given me and will continue to give to me and my family through all these lessons. That kind of pure love ripples it's effects across generations. It is always present, everyday, like the sun, you can depend on it.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Jacqueline Ann Emler - January 28, 1952 to December 5, 2013


I am so sad to say that my sister Jacquie passed away this morning.    She did her very best to fight her cancer but some battles cannot be won.   Jacquie was an extremely brave and very loving woman.

She was very sick.

I think one of the greatest losses during times like these is personal dignity.   Jacquie was always covered on bruises, puncture marks, tape, tubes, and various bits, she was weak all the time.   She took so many drugs and was subjected to sometimes violent reactions to them yet somehow, she always managed to be a lady.   She was always thoughtful, warm and loving despite the misery of her condition.  She wielded her sense of humour like a shield.   Her smile warmed people's days.   She rarely complained.

I want to acknowledge my brother in law Zia who has been so dedicated, fierce and steadfast in looking after her.  He has used every ounce of his energy in fighting to keep my dear sister alive.  Zia is formidable, he was by her side constantly, gave every bit of himself to her and fought bravely right to the end to protect her from harm.  One could ask no more of any man.

I have been to California four times this year.  We have all wanted to be there for her and I count my time there as precious in every sense.  Leukaemia is a nasty, insidious disease that attacks the very core of our existence and during my times with her, I was struck by how bravely she fought.  There were days when she could hardly walk down the hall, she'd be all bundled up, face mask, floppy hat, dark sunglasses, gloves, and big coat.   We always joked though, and I would imagine her smile as she chuckled through the mask.  We had some very special times together and though we were always aware of the threat surrounding her, managed to make the best of every situation.

Even in the last days, Jacquie was joking with us, teasing Zia, and admonishing everyone to "sit down" where she could see us.

I am lucky, I have a particularly wonderful family.   We would do anything for each other it seems and when called, we will drop everything to do what needs to be done.   This last time, I got a call from Gerry around noon saying that they were going to suspend Jacquie's treatments and didn't expect her to last more than a few days.  I called Paul at work and we arranged to meet in Duncan at 3:00pm so that we could catch the Coho from Victoria to Port Angeles at 5:00pm.   Well it turned out that the ferry was actually scheduled to leave at 4:00pm!   So we hustled for Duncan to Victoria in the hope that we would make the sailing.

Unfortunately, by 4:00pm we were still in on Douglas Street and 5 minutes from the ferry.   Paul phoned them from the car and without any hesitation, they held the ferry for us.   We were there by 4:05 but I must say that I have never even heard of anyone holding a ferry like that.  I will never forget it.   We were last on and because of that connection, were able to get to the hospital in Mountainview, California by 10:30 the next morning.

So here's a tip of my hat to Blackball Ferries;  you've got some really terrific people there,  maybe you could offer some tips to the BC Government on how to run a ferry business.   We could sure use some help up here.

Then there are the people who have made this year bearable in so many ways for me.  I was blessed when Heather Cameron came into my life seven months ago.  Her love, support and understanding have been a solid foundation for these last months.   Thank you Heather, for taking such good care of Mischa while I have been away, for looking after our home and for being there for me every step of the way.

I am also grateful to Gaetanne who has been my partner for so many years.   We separated this year but we remain good friends I am happy to say.   I still love her and it has taken me a while but I do now understand that our separation was the right thing.   I trust and hope that we will remain friends forever.

Finally, Jacquie, I hope you are right and there is another phase beyond the grave.   If so, I'll see you on the other side.  Otherwise, all I can say is that it has been my honour to be your brother.   Your life, you charm, humour, your poise and most of all that loving heart of yours made this world a much better place.

Goodbye my sweet Jacqueline...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Observations

This has been a pretty tough year for my family.  This time last year we were all pinning our hopes on a stem cell transplant to combat Jacquie's Leukaemia.  The actual transplant took place on the 22nd of November and the apparent result seemed to be so positive that everyone wanted to believe that our dear sister had been saved.  Well, as you probably know, it failed, Jacquie crashed and has been fighting for her life since April.

Zia, her husband, has been exemplary.   This fight actually started two years ago when Jacquie was diagnosed and started down the long and arduous path toward a hoped for recovery.  One must surrender it seems, to the protocols of the prescribed healing regimen at the cost of freedom and personal dignity to invest in a hope that all will be well.   I have now come to understand how enormous this cost can be, particularly in the United States where health care is only there for those who can afford it.

Fortunately, Jacquie and Zia had excellent health care insurance but that didn't mean it was easy.   Everything has to be approved by the insurer, everything.   The accounting exercise to fighting an illness is formidable and continuous.  The implications of a decision are often insidious.

Canadians need to understand that the fundamental difference between the Canadian and American health care systems is that the American system is a FOR PROFIT system.   The bottom line is that, if you are not in a position to pay for your health care or your health insurance, a serious illness means death.

Even if you are relatively comfortable, with a good income, a serious illness will probably destroy you financially as well as physically.

For me, a five minute visit to an emergency ward resulted in a $1,200 invoice to be followed by another $400 invoice from the doctor who spent 5 minutes with me diagnosing my bronchitis and writing a prescription for a useless antibiotic.   (My bronchitis was viral.)   I can't imagine the costs of my sister's treatments.

What's more, hospitals compete with other hospitals and that means that they don't necessarily share patient information.  We discovered this when my sister was transported by ambulance to a hospital, dictated by her insurance plan, that was closer than the hospital where she was receiving treatment for her leukaemia.   The doctor there, who had never treated anyone with leukaemia before, told her that she would be dead within a week and that he was recommending that she be moved to hospice immediately.

Fortunately, Zia is a fighter and managed to get her home and back to her regular oncologist who saw  things very differently.

When you are fighting for your life, every day is precious.  In Jacquie's case, it seems that she lost weeks due to screw-ups, delays and misunderstandings.  Each day this relentless disease tore away at the foundations of her life process.  Her body developed defences that destroyed the very things that might have saved her.

Do I blame anyone?  No, it's the system that failed her.   A lot of wonderful, dedicated people tried to help, to save her life.

But our reliance on systems will be our downfall.  Not only in healthcare but in so many areas of contemporary life, systems, our greatest invention, will be our destruction.  Our society can not survive without the systems it has developed and frankly, I don't think it will.   We are destroying ourselves and destroying our planet with every passing day.   When I was younger, my belief was that we were working to make the world a better place.   I see now that we are merely servicing our own perversities.

I know that I am in a fairly dark place right now but I don't think that makes me wrong.  In fact, I think that we all know that I am right and that the average person feels trapped and powerless to stop it.

Actually, the most depressing thing I have been exposed to this week was Black Friday where I witnessed the buying frenzy of thousands of people whose response to an idea of personal responsibility was to run to their local shopping centres and perpetuate this disease we call consumerism.

Sometimes, I think humour is the only answer to this ridiculous world.   I worry about what we are doing to this planet, how we will affect our children's futures.  What they will eat, what they will drink.   We seem to be destroying the planet at a breakneck pace.   Fracking, Fukushima, oil spills, genetic engineering, consumerism, corporatism, and whatever new disaster I've read about roll around in my thoughts daily and often keep me awake at night.   But then, when we were driving home from California my brother pointed out a sign on the side of the road that seems to sum it all up.

You can't cure stupidity, but you can vote for it!





Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Sweet Sister Jacqueline

I'm writing this to let you know that my dear sister Jacqueline is getting close to leaving this world.  For anyone who doesn't already know Jacquie was diagnosed with Leukaemia almost 2 years ago.   She and her husband Zia have put up a valiant fight against this nasty disease.  She is still breathing and comes back into consciousness briefly but the time is coming near now and I feel it is a matter of hours. Paul, Gerry, Fran, Zia and I are here with her in the El Camino Hospital.   They have been doing everything possible to manage her pain and keep her comfortable in these last hours of her life.   We have been here for almost a week and it has been a deep and powerful experience.   The is the first day that she has been unconscious for most of the time.  Yesterday we were joking and kidding one another just like the old days.   I love her very much.

After her diagnosis Jacquie endured months of chemotherapy, and finally received a stem cell transplant from my brother, Paul, on November 22, 2012.   She was supported through December and January by Zia, Paul and Geraldine who set up a sterile safe house in Mountain View California, close to Stanford Hospital.  We were all pretty excited because Paul's stem cells were close to a perfect match and she responded well to the transplant.   I came down in January and stayed with her until the end of February when the first 100 days were completed.   She was looking good and seemed to be getting a little better every day.  Needless to say, we were thrilled.

Unfortunately, she crashed in April.   Her blood began to deteriorate and they rushed to get her back into a chemo program as quickly as they could.

It has been a long and difficult struggle for Zia and Jacquie.   Zia has virtually never left her side, monitored her meds, her treatments, and looked after her in every way.   He has researched every drug, every symptom, every option in relentless detail.  He has fought with the system, with the doctors, with the insurance people and yes, with our family to keep her safe.  She called him her tiger and I know that he has done more than anyone could possibly ask to keep her alive.

But Leukaemia is a stealthy, relentless and nasty disease.  It attacks and affects the very core of human existence, going to the source of cell regeneration and destroying the body's ability to protect itself.

In Jacquie's case, it has won.   Her grace, humour, her gentle loving, and her warmth are disappearing from the world and we are all very sad.  Jacquie and Zia are Bahais and believe in life after death.  I hope they are right.

Here are a few pictures of Jacquie in her younger years.   She will be survived by her children Kelly, Kerrie and Shahawn, her devoted husband Zia, her sisters Geraldine and Francine, and her brothers Paul, Mike and Jim, that's my family name.
Jacquie Kelly and Kerrie
Jacquie and Kerrie
Jacquie and Kerrie

Jacquie and Shahawn
Jacquie and Zia
Jacquie and Kelly

Monday, October 21, 2013

Toward a Simpler Life

Over the past while I have been writing about the things that scare me, particularly Fukushima.   But surely, someone besides me, realized that once the nuclear pile burned through the containment, the situation became horrifying on a global level.

I think we all hope that someone out there has a course of action to rectify the problems that are being created by this disaster.   I certainly do,  not that I am hoping for a superhero to step in and carry these problems away but I do hope that the politics of greed will be overcome by rational thought.

It's depressing to be on the outside, to be helpless to affect the situation.   But are we helpless?

I think that most people feel depressed over the state of the world.   So we immerse ourselves in the macro world that we inhabit.  We become the persons we can be, parents to our children, brothers to our sisters, friends to our neighbours, believing that these efforts will help to make the world a better place.

Living the 21st century is more complex than ever before.  We love, we strive, we hope, we think others should be honest, as we try to be ourselves.   But our world is overwhelming.   We drive our cars knowing that we are polluting our atmosphere, our children's atmosphere but feel that we must do so to support them, to provide them with an education, to put food on the table.   And yet, we know we are wrong.

Our jobs seem important, so important that we lose ourselves in them.   But intact, many are senseless, providing little more than money to keep food on the table.  We rationalize, we fight the emptiness that we feel inside in whatever way we can.  We tell ourselves that these feelings are normal and drug ourselves to make the pain tolerable.  Yet, we are constantly surrounded by images, by products and advertising whose sole purpose is to make us uneasy, to make us want to buy, to travel, to experience things that are beyond our daily life rather than to embrace the simple things that make daily life worthwhile.

And in the end, we die.  We know that we will die one day and nothing we own, nothing we have accomplished will matter anymore.  The damage that we have done will be incurred on our children but for some reason that doesn't matter.

Two years ago, I made a decision to change my life.  I moved to a small island in the Salish Sea and have been attempting to simplify; to define the things that give my life meaning and drop the things that are purposeless.   To say it has been difficult would be a gross understatement.   So much of my identity and self worth is tied up in physical things.  Letting go of them has been difficult but I am getting better at it.

I keep telling myself that there is not much that I need.  Yet I am surrounded by so much,  it's a lot less than I used to have but I don't miss the things I have let go of.   I actually feel relieved of their burden and embrace the progress I have made.   I am lighter  and I live more efficient life.   I still have a long way to go but I can see where I am headed now.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Freedom's just another word...


Many years ago, I came across a tiny little booklet that was written by a zen patriarch. As I recall, it cost 25 cents.  It seemed to encompass so many ideas in a simple and beautiful way and opened a world of thought for me that I have tried to embrace (not very successfully) as it defines a way of moving through the world in peace.

I gave it away, then I would go back to buy more copies as I gave more away until they were all gone.   I missed having it but always remembered the first paragraph.   There were many times that I rested myself on this simple piece of wisdom and I would like to share it here.

As I approach the last years of my life now I feel more able to understand the wisdom of this mode of existence.  I am slowly letting go of my possessions and looking forward to the freedom of no things.   Janis Joplin sang "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" and I believe that is another great truth.

We all leave the world empty handed, our deeds the only things that survive.   I try to do good things, to be a loving heart, I sometimes fail but that is life.   I have no claim to perfection but I can strive for simplicity.

I am leaving soon to be with my sister as she struggles for her life.   I see her dignity and her capacity to love those around her despite her pain and sorrow.   I am inspired by her brave and loving heart.

---------------------------------

Verses on the Faith Mind by The 3rd Zen Patriarch, Sengstau

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.

When the deep meaning of things is not understood the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

The Way is perfect like vast space when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.

Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject that we do not see the true nature of things.

Live neither in the entanglements of outer things nor in inner feelings of emptiness.

Be serene in the oneness of things and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.

When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity your very effort fills you with activity.

As long as you remain in one extreme or the other you will never know Oneness.

Those who do not live in the single Way fail in both activity and passivity, assertion and denial.

To deny the reality of things is to miss their reality; to assert the emptiness of things is to miss their reality.

The more you talk and think about it, the further astray you wander from the truth.

Stop talking and thinking, and there is nothing you will not be able to know.

To return to the root is to find the meaning, but to pursue appearances is to miss the source.

At the moment of inner enlightenment there is a going beyond appearance and emptiness.

The changes that appear to occur in the empty world we call real only because of our ignorance.

Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.

Do not remain in the dualistic state -- avoid such pursuits carefully.

If there is even a trace of this and that, of right and wrong, the Mind-essence will be lost in confusion.

Although all dualities come from the One, do not be attached even to this One.

When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way, nothing in the world can offend, and when such a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way.

When no discriminating thoughts arise, the old mind ceases to exist.

When thought objects vanish, the thinking-subject vanishes, as when the mind vanishes, objects vanish.

Things are objects because of the subject (mind); the mind (subject) is such because of things (object).

Understand the relativity of these two and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.

In this emptiness the two are indistinguishable and each contains in itself the whole world.

If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.

To live in the Great Way is neither easy nor difficult, but those with limited views are fearful and irresolute; the faster they hurry, the slower they go, and clinging (attachment) cannot be limited; even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment is to go astray.

Just let things be in their own way and there will be neither coming nor going.

Obey the nature of things (your own nature), and you will walk freely and undisturbed.

When thought is in bondage the truth is hidden, for everything is murky and unclear, and the burdensome practice of judging brings annoyance and weariness.

What benefits can be derived from distinctions and separations?

If you wish to move in the One Way do not dislike even the world of senses and ideas.

Indeed, to accept them fully is identical with true Enlightenment.

The wise man strives to no goals but the foolish man fetters himself.

There is one Dharma, not many; distinctions arise from the clinging needs of the ignorant.

To seek Mind with the (discriminating) mind is the greatest of all mistakes.

Rest and unrest derive from illusion; with enlightenment there is no liking and disliking.

All dualities come from ignorant inference. They are like dreams or flowers in air: foolish to try to grasp them.

Gain and loss, right and wrong: such thoughts must finally be abolished at once.

If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease.

If the mind makes no discriminations, the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence.

To understand the mystery of this One-essence is to be released from all entanglements.

When all things are seen equally the timeless Self-essence is reached.

No comparisons or analogies are possible in this causeless, relationless state.

Consider movement stationary and the stationary in motion, both movement and rest disappear.

When such dualities cease to exist Oneness itself cannot exist.

To this ultimate finality no law or description applies.

For the unified mind in accord with the Way all self-centered striving ceases.

Doubts and irresolutions vanish and life in true faith is possible.

With a single stroke we are freed from bondage; nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.

All is empty, clear, self-illuminating, with no exertion of the mind's power.

Here thought, feeling, knowledge, and imagination are of no value.

In this world of suchness there is neither self nor other-than-self.

To come directly into harmony with this reality just simply say when doubt arises, 'Not two.'

In this 'not two' nothing is separate, nothing is excluded.

No matter when or where, enlightenment means entering this truth.

And this truth is beyond extension or diminution in time or space; in it a single thought is ten thousand years.

Emptiness here, Emptiness there, but the infinite universe stands always before your eyes.

Infinitely large and infinitely small; no difference, for definitions have vanished and no boundaries are seen.

So too with Being and Non-Being.

Don't waste time with doubts and arguments that have nothing to do with this.

One thing, all things: move among and intermingle, without distinction.

To live in this realization is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.

To live in this faith is the road to non-duality, because the non-dual is one with trusting mind.

Words!

The Way is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.



Monday, September 30, 2013

Heather's Garden

I swear it has been less than a month since Heather started her garden at The Commons here on Gabriola Island.  For those of you who don't know us, we recently moved to a somewhat larger rental house here on the island and Heather has been dying to start a garden.

Well Gabriola is a pretty special place and the community here has established a commons consisting of,  among other things, a community garden where residents of the island can grow their own food.  Heather was delighted to hear that there were spaces available and applied for one.   The cost for the garden, she found, was so small that it felt like pocket change.

I swear she has been there every day tearing out weeds, preparing the soil and planting.  Garlic, Radishes, Kale, and others.  She was excited to find strawberry and blueberry plants among the weeds and carefully saved them.

I recently had to go down south for a while and when I returned I was mightily impressed to find this beautiful space that she has so carefully reconstructed.



Here's shot of her in the garden as she began clearing.   Actually, she had already done a fair amount of work by the time I got there but you get the idea....


I've been somewhat blown away with this transition as my thoughts about gardening don't have much to do with dirt.   

Drawings From My Notebook



More to let you know I am still working on this stuff than anything else.   I wanted to share these two drawings with you because I find them satisfying.   I did them just before my last trip to California and haven't done much since.   I am excited about doing more as it seems that there is so much more waiting for me beyond the frame and on the blank page.  
I am hoping to get back to doing some figurative work soon but it appears that is unlikely as I am scheduled to head back to California next week.   It's a bit of a bummer because I love my sister very much and it is hard to watch her go through these travails.   She's at the point where she needs someone with her 24/7 and I truly want to be there for her.  
Anyway, here they are and if your reaction to them is to say "Hell, I could do that!" my response is that I am sure you can and I hope you get as much joy from it as I do.



Sunday, September 29, 2013

Real Heroes


This was published on Facebook today by a chap named Dennis Roberts who invited everyone to share it.   
I must admit that I have been finding it difficult to hold a positive attitude about humanity given recent world events but I am reminded that there are people out there, and many of them who show nobility and selflessness in the face of adversity.
Here is one of them and I quote from the post...

"You're a 19 year old kid. 
You're critically wounded and dying in
The jungle somewhere in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam .
It's November 11, 1967.
LZ (landing zone) X-ray.
Your unit is outnumbered 8-1 and the enemy fire is so intense from 100 yards away, that your CO (commanding officer) has ordered the MedEvac helicopters to stop coming in.
You're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns and you know you're not getting out.
Your family is half way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you'll never see them again.
As the world starts to fade in and out, you know this is the day.
Then - over the machine gun noise - you faintly hear that sound of a helicopter.
You look up to see a Huey coming in. But.. It doesn't seem real because no MedEvac markings are on it.
Captain Ed Freeman is coming in for you.
He's not MedEvac so it's not his job, but he heard the radio call and decided he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire anyway.
Even after the MedEvacs were ordered not to come. He's coming anyway.
And he drops it in and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 3 of you at a time on board.
Then he flies you up and out through the gunfire to the doctors and nurses and safety.
And, he kept coming back!! 13 more times!!
Until all the wounded were out. No one knew until the mission was over that the Captain had been hit 4 times in the legs and left arm.
He took 29 of you and your buddies out that day. Some would not have made it without the Captain and his Huey.
Medal of Honor Recipient, Captain Ed Freeman, United States Air Force, died last Wednesday at the age of 70, in Boise , Idaho
May God Bless and Rest His Soul.
I bet you didn't hear about this hero's passing, but we've sure seen a whole bunch about Lindsay Lohan, Tiger Woods and the bickering of congress over Health Reform.
Medal of Honor Winner Captain Ed Freeman"



Friday, September 13, 2013

Steampunk Auto

I had occasion to photograph this marvelous old Rolls Royce Aero the other day. It seems the owner decided to take it to the limit and rebuild it as an aviator's dream. Heather, my partner actually spotted it and knowing my love for all things aeronautical and many things steampunk, dragged me across the road to see it. My little Olympus was a challenge to use in full sunlight as I had forgotten my daylight viewer. Plus the highly polished aluminum finish reflected clear blue sky with strong specular highlights.
The details on this car are something to behold. The cockpit, yes, cockpit looked like it was lifted from an old DC3 or something. Anyone know about that stuff? The airspeed indicator appeared to be connected to the pitot tube to give airspeed in knots. You can also see the turn and bank indicator, rate of climb etc. Anyway, here are the pictures. I hope you enjoy them..
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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tokyo Soil Samples Would Be Considered Nuclear Waste In The US

"While traveling in Japan several weeks ago, Fairewinds’ Arnie Gundersen took soil samples in Tokyo public parks, playgrounds, and rooftop gardens. All the samples would be considered nuclear waste if found here in the US."
These chilling words greeted me this morning as I scrolled through my usual sites to see what has happened over the last few days.  I was away for a couple of days and blissfully unaware of the events occurring in Japan or anywhere else.   
My return to reality came with a thud this morning.   I watched Arnie Gundersen's video and learned that from the NRC's perspective, these things haven't even been considered in estimating the costs and viability of nuclear facilities in the past.   
Well, we're about to learn the costs of this calamity.   The next couple of decades will be very tragic for a lot of people.   I just hope, dear reader, that you and I are not among them.   My heart goes out to the people of Japan, especially the children who will have to bear the consequences of our collective greed and arrogance.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On the Anniversary of 9/11

A folio of photographs from the scene by one of the greatest and bravest photographers of our time,  James Nachtwey

I don't know how he got there but Nachtwey is a fearless photographer.   I have seen many, many of his truly outstanding pictures but I think these are very moving.

http://lightbox.time.com/2011/09/07/revisiting-911-unpublished-photos-by-james-nachtwey/#1

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Fukushima Containment Picture


This picture (click to enlarge) was up on the CBC website today and seems to be the most concise description of the ongoing plan to manage the disaster at Fukushima.   This is the link to the rather short article accompanying the picture which is attributed to TEPCO.

I looked on the TEPCO website and could not find either the picture nor any reference to it but I confess to a certain level of impatience.   It does make a certain amount of sense to me but it seems very power consumptive and my immediate response is one of concern for future earthquakes and/or power outages.

I note the planned date for completion of the containment wall is Sept 2014.   I assume by then we will have seen a minimum of an additional 175,000 tons of irradiated water will have escaped into the Pacific.   I know, I know, the Pacific is a very big ocean but if this groundwater is actually contacting the core or carrying any radioactive particles into the ocean dilution seems irrelevant.   After all, if a fish ingests a particle of cesium it doesn't just go away and I'd rather not have it on my plate.

Monday, September 2, 2013

If You Are Concerned about Fukushima...

And you should be.

Listen to this Podcast from the Fairewinds site.  It is the best thing I have heard so far on the situation.  It is scary but there are things we can do, such as demand that our governments institute a comprehensive food/water/milk and air testing system that determines exactly what our ongoing exposure risks are and what sources they are coming from.   We need facts so that we can make informed decisions that will affect our health and the health of our children.  So far, we have been kept in the dark.  It is time for the truth.

http://fairewinds.org/media/radio/concerned-fukushima


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Looking Back

Things that influenced his life...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

New Ground


Those of you who actually know me will probably remember that I have been struggling with drawing for the last couple of years.  Well, the truth is that I have actually been struggling with the idea of drawing for the most part.  I have done a hundred or so drawings over that time but the fact of the matter is that it has been really difficult.  My hand/eye coordination barely works for me to press the shutter and though I am convinced that drawing is a skill that anyone can acquire, I seem to be the exception.  

Virtually every drawing I have done has been a disappointment, no exceptions.  I love working with the nude of course and the style of Degas, Renoir and several other masters have been such an inspiration to me that I sit down again and again, trying to do something that is beautiful.   I have lived with failure in this venture for almost 700 days.   No, I have not drawn for 700 days but I have thought about it and tried to overcome my shortcomings for at least  a hundred attempts.   Occasionally I get a line right, an arm, a breast or a buttock but it is invariably outweighed by the disaster that represents the rest of the picture.  However, I am one stubborn SOB and I have sworn to keep going until I master it or die!

I seldom show anything to anyone as I can see so many areas for improvement on my own that I prefer to skip the pain and embarrassment.   It seems like it is going to be a very long time before I can move past my ineptitude to express my feeling in a drawing.   Or so I thought.

On Thursday, somehow I ended up seeing a short film of Wassily Kandinsky drawing with a brush.  I was blown away.  I did not understand his drawing at all but as I watched I realized that he was opening a new door for me.   A door that allowed me to mark the paper based upon my feeling without trying to represent anything other than the idea that was in my head at the time.   

Several weeks ago, I blogged about my favourite cameras and expressed my love for the Leica rangefinder.   This drawing is about the basis for that love.   

Photography is all about the frame.  Placing a frame around a situation assigns significance to it.   It also excludes everything that exists outside the frame due to the nature of the viewing system.   Plus, with most cameras, when you press the shutter, the frame goes dark!

Not so with the Leica. You can see in the viewfinder what you are cutting out.   The edges of the frame are simply delineated by the hash lines in the window.  So when composing, you are consciously cutting things out and predicting what might enter the frame.

But the frame is dominant, and by imposing a frame the photographer determines what is to be seen and what is not.   That is what this drawing is all about.   

I realized over the last few weeks that what I was concerned about with the Fukushima crisis was what was not being placed in the frame.  The information that we are granted as it were, is placed in a frame and the information that we are denied is left out.   Much to my dismay in this case.   The Fukushima lies, the omissions, have been kept outside the frame.

Drawing in the abstract allows me to express what is outside the frame.   That's what this picture is about and that is what I am going to be working on for some time, not in a figurative sense, in an abstract sense, in way that will allow me to work out my own thoughts without having to go through the linear process of writing and without trying to find visual subjects that already exist to act as metaphors.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Glimmer of Light for a Dark Problem

This is an article in yesterday's Japan Times offering international help from France and Russia.

And another stating that the Japanese Government is taking control of the situation.

Of course, Elizabeth May is on it, I feel better already.

Don't get complacent though, it seems that CNN has discovered that this is a very serious problem.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fukushima Concerns Part 2

As I stated in my comments on Fukushima Part 1 the Fairewinds site has been the most informative and  straightforward site I have found on this issue so far.   Unfortunately, it sounds worse than what I originally thought so be forewarned but check it out.  This is a major crisis and it seems like it is going to take the coordinated efforts of many nations to control it.

I think the podcasts are particularly useful.  Check out Fighting a Dragon I Cannot See first for an overview of the political situation.

Also There is no way to stop Fukushima radioactive water leaking into the Pacific
And
Japan’s Black Dust, with Marco Kaltofen





Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fukushima - Where's the truth?

In 1979 I recall going to a presentation booth that I believe was hosted by Ontario Hydro or the AECL.  I had one question that was really bothering me and I hoped that there was an answer for it that I had just been unable to find.   The question was and is, "How can mankind expect to control tons of highly toxic nuclear substances whose radioactive life extends to as much as 125,000 years?"

I was astounded by the arrogance of the dweeb who manned the booth and, I admit, walked away in disgust feeling that mankind was doomed by its own arrogance.

It seems that we are now on the verge of a new nuclear age.  The age of rampant and complete destruction of the planet due to the uncontrolled release of refined nuclear wastes into our oceans and groundwater.   Fukushima appears to be the start of that age.

I hope I am wrong.

What scares me the most is that there is actually very little coverage of the very serious situation at Fukushima in our major media.  I read a copy of Saturday's Globe and Mail and not a single inch of column space was devoted to this topic.

The CBC and CNN websites have also been very sparse in their coverage of this ongoing disaster, perhaps because it is "old news".   But the fact of the matter is that Fukushima appears to have been leaking nuclear waste into the Pacific every day since the earthquake.

In an article on the National Geographic website we now learn "The  government now says it is clear that 300 tons (71,895 gallons/272,152 liters) are pouring into the sea each day,"

Here is a link to the article    
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/08/130807-fukushima-radioactive-water-leak/

I recently found an image on the web that illustrates the potential of this leak and attributes it to US Department of State Geographer whatever that means.   But what is truly scary is the date,  March 2012.

There have been a number of articles regarding this issue over the last few months but frankly, I haven't known what to believe.

Here's one from Truthout...

http://truth-out.org/news/item/18277-letting-tepco-clean-up-fukushima-is-like-letting-a-murderer-do-brain-surgery-on-a-vip


Here's the link to the CBC article..

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2013/08/23/fukushima-water.html


There are many others that you can find if you are willing to search.   It's not encouraging to say the least.

So, my questions...

"When is someone going to tell us the truth about this situation?"
"Where is the media?   Why are they not writing more about this?"
"Is the UN too preoccupied with Syria and all the other issues going on today to face this situation?"

This seems to me to be the most pressing issue we on Planet Earth are facing.   I always thought Global Warming was on top but this seems far more serious.

"Am I over-reacting?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Two Favourite Cameras



In 1989, I decided that I was going to change my life.  At that time I was working for a software company and I decided that I needed to create a more authentic life for myself.   I loved photography and decided that the skills I had developed over the previous 15 years were probably sufficient to get me through.
At the time I had a Leica M2 with a 50mm summicron, 35 mm Summaron f2.8 and a 90 mm Tele Elmarit.   It was the sweetest system I have ever owned.   That camera fit under my jacket, I carried a light meter in my shirt pocket and often carried both of my other lenses in my jacket pockets.
The camera was fast, heavy for it’s size but quiet as can be.   I carried it on a fairly short strap, under my arm a lot of the time, around my neck the rest.   I shot many, many rolls of film on that camera and it was always a joy to use.
It had one very big shortcoming however, the flash synch was poor.  The connectors to the back of the camera were loose and when I was using a flash I could not predict if the flash was going to go off as planned or not.   One thing though, when the flash did go off, you could see the picture through the viewfinder.  I felt like it was etched in my brain and was very confident of important details.
So, the M2 was a great camera but not with flash.   I eventually traded up to an M4 but only kept it for a short while before changing over to a Nikon F2.
The F2 became my second favourite camera.  Robust, sharp lenses, and, as  Dave Buzzard points out, bulletproof.   The lenses I loved the most were the 24 f2.8, the 50mm f2.0, the 105 f2.5.   I also had a 35mm f2.8 and it was ok but not as exciting as the others.  The beauty of the F2 was that you didn’t need a lot of equipment because you could always rent what you needed.  
I still have an F2.   Last night I put a roll of film in it and went for a walk.   It was great to take meter readings and decide where to set my shutter speed and fstop knowing that this film had a 5 stop latitude.
I don’t have an M2 and I could kick myself for letting it go.  
Right now I am shooting a digital 5D.   I like the camera a lot but frankly, I am not impressed with Canon lenses.   The really good ones are so expensive they are out of my price range, not that much less than the Leica lenses these days.   
The Leica system is so expensive now, I’m considering going back to film and looking for an M2, 3, or 4.   The feel of the camera and my confidence in the lenses has become more and more important to me lately.     I miss the simplicity of the aperture/shutter/manual focus systems.   Maybe I’m nostalgic for a time long gone when photography and alchemy inhabited my brain equally.   There were times when I felt like a magician rather than a technician.
I used to love processing my own film.   I loved making negatives, the mystery of the emulsion and my imagined images taking form.   I just realized that my scanner, an Epson 3200, doesn’t work with my Macbook Pro.   The drivers are out of date.  Anyone have any suggestions for a good scanner that won’t cost an arm and a leg?   I really prefer inkjets to silver prints…
But there's another side to this whole line of thinking.   I have been a large format proponent for a number of years.  I have taught Large Format Photography, tutored people on the fine points of working with LF and taken many, many pictures.   I have four LF cameras today.  A Sinar P, an old Calumet (Kodak style), a Crown Graphic and a Pinhole camera.   (I've actually put two of them up for sale as I live in a small cabin now and have little room.)
4x5's are very satisfying to work with though they are a meditative experience, the opposite end of the spectrum from Digital Photography in my opinion.   There is nothing like looking into a large ground glass and frankly, if I had the cash, I'd be shooting 8x10 right now.  But as it is, I'm trying to lighten the load and keep my work down to a couple of cameras.  So, I have decided that I am going back to the Leica system, hopefully to eventually work with the M or M9.  But in the meantime, it's back to film for me with the M2, M3, or M4.   I'm keeping my Crown Graphic as it is light and easily portable and those will be my working systems for the foreseeable future.   I am hearing great things about the Fuji XPRO-1 and will be looking at it but frankly I haven't found a camera as satisfying as the ones I've decided to work with.  I'll keep you posted as things develop...   (No pun intended.)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Vancouver's Capture Photography Festival Contest "In Transit"


An interesting day today, I signed on this morning to discover that the Contact Photography Festival is running a contest on the theme of “In Transit”.   I saw that there was an entry fee and that the winner would have several, large format prints displayed at the King Edward station of the Canada Line.  Now, I never, for a moment believed that my photos, from my own essay titled “In Transit” would be considered suitable for this particular venue as they are somewhat “dark, moody, “ and even, according to some, “a bit depressing.”   But it was too much for me to resist because I thought, “a contest, I wonder how much the winner will get?”

Now, most of you who know me, know that I am not quite that na├»ve, but hell, I thought it was a question worth asking.  So I wrote to the Contact Photography Festival people and asked the question.
The reply I got was as follows…

“Thank-you for your interest. We will be offering a prize which will go out next week in another e-mail. It's a not a cash prize however.
This competition is part of our larger programming of "Capture in Transit" for our festival.”

Hmm, another freebee from the artist to the festival for which you will get an unspecified prize and a line to add to your resume.   Wow!

Oops!  Wait, it’s not free.  It will cost you $25 to enter the contest.  Now I know there are a lot of photography enthusiasts in Vancouver.  How many do you think would rush to grab this opportunity?   Surely more than 100.   Perhaps 500 or even a thousand?  Well now, that’s not bad money!  Something to celebrate for sure!

Now, I wonder what the Canada Line thinks about this?   I also wonder whether they will have any say in what is chosen?  Hmmm.   So are we being invited to do a free advertising campaign for the Canada Line?  

Oh, and if you are seriously thinking of entering this contest don’t forget that they are looking for a substantial file size in your submission as they want to make the images nice and big!   However, I suggest that you check with Translink before setting up your tripod on the train platform to catch that incredibly creative shot that you have in mind. 

But hey, you might win right?   Well, in considering that possibility I urge you to read the terms and conditions (found at the bottom of the page) very carefully.  As the winner, you agree to turn over the rights to these photographs, a picture of you and your remarks related to the submission forever, for whatever use they decide, with no compensation. 

By the way, when you are photographing all those people getting on and off the train, you better make sure you get model releases from them as I am unsure if this exhibition as well as its subsequent unspecified uses might be considered as advertising.

In short, stay away from this one kiddies, there’s no pot of gold at the end of this particular rainbow.   As a matter of fact, I think it could be much more trouble than it’s worth.
___________________________________________________

Since I wrote this, Kim Spencer-Nairn from the festival has commented on several changes that they plan to make regarding the contest.   Please read the comments below for an update.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gabriola


This photograph was taken on the beach actually.   It felt like a metaphor for life's journey to me.   I stopped, looked down and there it was waiting for me.   One thing that life has taught me is that there is beauty everywhere, we only have to stop to enjoy it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

"I Saw a Light..."

I have had many times where I felt that I was losing heart over the last year or so.   I have made no secret of my sense of alarm about the actions of the Harper Government.  They are reminiscent of other sinister forces in my mind and frankly, I fear for the future of this country.

Be that as it may, I live my life mostly a day at a time and try to maintain faith in my fellow human beings.   I also have a sense that beyond all of this, there is a greater good.   Part of that is due to my upbringing I guess.  I was reminded today of a profound experience I had when I was young.  It happened in a conversation I had with my mom over coffee at the kitchen table.

When I was in my teens I discovered that my mother had already died.   She was in surgery at the time and her heart stopped beating.   She was still a young woman and found herself floating at the ceiling, looking down on herself, and the surgical team frantically working on her.   She was not afraid as she turned to find that she was being drawn to a light in the distance.   As she drew closer, she was met by an old man who was dressed in white.   "You must go back" he said.   It is not your time.   She wanted to move forward but felt herself being pulled back as he told her that she was going to have several more children.

Perhaps it was a dream, but she was adamant that it was greater than that and I believed her.

I have never forgotten that story and was reminded of it again when I read this posting on the "Daily Good" Blog.   The Night I Died

I recommend this blog to you and offer you this link.   I also encourage you to read Gandhi's Ten Rules for Changing the World.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Suicide of the Fourth Estate - Death by Dismemberment

It's surprising to me that in this age of digital imaging where we are creating more images every year than we have since the beginning of time, that we are becoming less and less visually aware than ever before.  The idea that a reporter with an iPhone can create meaningful and eloquent images that encapsulate a moment is beyond belief.  It seems to me that what is happening here is a movement by some powerful individuals to destroy the foundations of the fourth estate by eliminating journalism's visual practitioners.

Iconic images are rare.  Photographers spend their lives in search of them.  When they find those events and are able to record an image that speaks to the truth, the picture takes on a life of its own and lives in our memories for decades.  These photographs are a call to action.  A picture of a little girl running down a road after being burned by napalm speaks about the horrors of war. (Nick Ut)   A man being executed in the street, his head being ripped open by the bullet fired by his executioner. (Eddie Adams) These pictures live in our memories longer than the myriad of articles written about war's atrocities.

Vincent Laforet's blog posting is a must read for us all and I link to it here for your consideration.

We deserve the truth, photojournalists dedicate their very lives in search of it.  Crowdsourcing is an important extension of this medium but it is not a replacement for it.   Photographers are an important, indeed vital arm of our information.   Removing them from the business is imposing a form of blindness on the world.

Great photographers like James Nachtwey and W. Eugene Smith took years to learn the craft before becoming the greatest of their time.   Nachtwey worked at the Abuquerque Journal in 1976.  Smith went to Minimata on assignment with Life Magazine but could not leave until the whole story had been documented (and he had been severely beaten by thugs) two years later.

Closing these departments will restrict the young photographers of our time from establishing themselves and attaining the competence to become great.  It is a sad comment that we value this work so poorly that we are willing to hide our collective heads in the sand so that we don't have to be influenced by the work of these brave men and women.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Speaking of Lenses


Image from "Fragments" Folio
People often ask me what I think of digital imaging as opposed to using film.  I think  there's little difference whether we are shooting film or pixels, both are lens based disciplines. It's true that there is a certain immediacy to the feedback that one gets from using digital but I am not, at this point, convinced that it is a real aid to the process of learning to see through a lens. In fact, I wonder if this technology doesn't somehow stifle the more explorative aspects of visualization. (Why should we attempt to imagine what the image might look like when we can see it "real time" as it were?) This process of visualization is, in my opinion, a very important component of photographic learning, one that should not be short-circuited.

This leads me to something that I have often talked about but never written of, the process of establishing a dialogue with a lens. You see, my belief, and my experience with lenses has led me to the conclusion that it is not only possible, it is essential to have dialogue with the lens in any imaging situation. After all, the perspectives offered when viewing through a lens are of paramount importance to the success of the image. But I often wonder if I come across as a bit of a Luddite when it comes to this subject as I usually do my best to discourage my students from using their zoom lenses as an ongoing practice and often recommend that they put these devices away in favor of prime lenses when they are working on their projects.

In fact, I am of the opinion that many people use zoom lenses as a means of distancing themselves from their subject.  This is often a practice that does not make for good pictures. In street photography for example, the best pictures are often made up close and personal. This often means connecting with the person and asking their permission to make the photograph. It's hard to do, particularly when one has the option of zooming in from across the street. Crossing the street means taking a risk and risks are scary even when they mean better photographs. Zooming in can also become a lazy way of exploring perspective and solving compositional problems. We all know that zooming in makes it easier to compose the picture, but the real challenge is to see the subject in a new way, to explore different points of view. In fact it often comes down to a simple truth, it is easy to zoom and hard for many of us to remember to bend our knees, let alone venture across the street.

Then there is the question of focus. In photography we explore, emphasize, soften and accent using focus. Focus tells the viewer where to look, forces point of interest and places importance. Students wrestle with the concepts of hyper focal distance, depth of field and circle of confusion but what happens to these hard gained concepts when we pick up a zoom lens? How does one calculate depth of field for a focal length of 184mm when focused at 7 meters and stopped down to f16? The fact of the matter is that in most cases it becomes a guessing game.

The real issue though is not technical. It is about, surprisingly enough, missed opportunity. Yes, I know that zoom lenses are supposed to help us to take advantage of picture making opportunities but bear with me here and I will explain what I mean.

First, let me say that many world class photographers subscribe to the use of prime lenses and often adhere to or prefer a particular focal length. People like Cartier-Bresson, Gibson, Sieff and many others are known for their preference for a particular prime focal length. Each has gone to great lengths to not only understand that lens, they have made it their own, an intrinsic part of their vision.

Second is a rather curious phenomenon that I discovered about shooting with a prime lens. A number of years ago I noticed that, not only could I tell how an image was going to look before I raised the camera to my eye. I found that in my mind, I could see in the focal length of the lens that I was carrying. What I saw matched my lens.

I also noticed that by using a single focal length, my use of that lens became more intuitive. I felt like I understood how that lens worked. My efforts at picture making became easier and I began to notice an interesting phenomenon. The camera at times, would disappear in my hand. I would no longer be conscious of the fact that I was using the camera in a tactile way, I simply made the pictures directly. There was no transition between seeing and lifting the camera up to my eye because I knew what I was about to see through the lens. In a way, I felt that I was in dialogue with the lens, that it was showing me how to see the world around me and to understand the potential of each opportunity.

Having learned all that I promptly discarded it when I went on a trip to Europe. Being lazy, I took two zoom lenses ranging from 28mm to 70mm and 100mm to 200mm. The first thing I noticed was that I didn't feel the kind of harmony that I had come to expect from my camera. I almost felt awkward at times as I made my pictures. The second was that I realized that in my haste to provide the range of focal lengths that I felt I would need, I had ignored the focal length that I normally used, the 85mm. It wasn't that my pictures were bad, they were fine but they just weren't me. They had a quality that I could only describe as "lensy" and did a poor job of conveying my feeling for the shot. I have some that I like but in all, they are not very satisfying. At that point I realized that the best of my pictures satisfy something in me that I can't quite describe and it is this sense of satisfaction that I seek. 

After that I changed to working with large format almost exclusively. It presented an entirely new set of perspectives and pre-visualization became more important than ever. Of course my methods changed but I now knew the value of dialogue with my lens. I also knew what I was looking for and what would give me that sense of satisfaction. I felt closer to my subjects, I saw details in a different way, upside down and flipped left to right. I'd carry a viewer but eventually I didn't need it. Did you know that one of the most difficult things for a large format photographer is knowing where to place the tripod?  I

t's a great life, being a photographer. There's always something to discover and life always looks incredible on the ground glass.