Opportunities, Extraordinary

Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 1
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 1
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 2
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 2
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 3
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 3
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 4
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 4
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 5
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 5
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 6
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 6
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 7
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 7
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 8
Vermillion Lakes, Banff, Alberta 8

One aspect of photography that has grown into practice is the matter of recognizing the opportunity presented by the derelict car in a field along the highway, the abandoned farmhouse and former granaries, that thing that you come upon in your travels that you may not ever see again. The challenge is to make time for it, to engage fully in seeing it, to name it, to grasp what it is and what has been its narrative, to share time with it. The choice becomes that of photographing it (… or not) and there are choices in editing that honour the subject and the image, to find its best way(s) of being seen. The image, in its being shared creates opportunity; what has been witnessed and what has been created, not only allows others to see something more of the world, but serves to encourage (or perhaps compel) exploration of that thing witnessed through your camera and lens.

Some of this is about that key teaching from Robin Williams, as professor Keating, in the ‘Dead Poets Society’ in the first poetry lesson – ‘Gather ye rose buds while ye may,’ the import of which was his solemn admonition to his students – ‘seize the day’ and ‘make your lives extraordinary.’ Carpe Diem is about seizing the day as much with any of life’s opportunities as with the opportunities for images that can be created with a camera.


In Banff last week, perhaps owing to summer heat or day/night air pressure differential in the mountains I found myself not always sleeping through the entire night and chose to get out with my camera for landscape photos in pre-dawn dusk. Before leaving for Banff, I had reviewed Maciek Solkulski’s Google+ page for winter sunrise shots he had taken at the Vermillion Lakes in Canada’s Banff National Park. Maciek, an Edmonton photographer, is one half of the podcasting duo of the Shutter Time with Sid and Mac podcast. From Mac’s Google+ page I was able to review maps of where the Vermillion Lakes were in relation to Banff. And, so, before dawn, two days in a row, I got out to the Vermillion Lakes for morning images; these are presented here.

Listening to – Elliott Smith’s ‘Between Bars,’ ‘No Name #3’ and ‘Angeles,’ Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ and The Waterboys’ ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ – all songs from Good Will Hunting.

Quotes to Inspire – (1) “The photographer both loots and preserves, denounces and consecrates;” and, “Life is not about significant details, illuminated (in) a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are.” – Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’

Lost & The Way

Mount Norquay Ski Hill - Banff, Alberta 1
Mount Norquay Ski Hill – Banff, Alberta 1
Mount Norquay Ski Hill - Banff, Alberta 2
Mount Norquay Ski Hill – Banff, Alberta 2

Trusting the map, trusting Steve with the map – some twenty-five years ago, in Canada’s Banff National Park we cycled along a fire road behind Mount Norquay with the intention of riding our mountain bikes up and down the mountain along what should have been a short ride on a horse trail, no more than four hours at the most. Instead, for two or three hours, our bikes were hefted onto shoulders and step-by-step, in sunlight, through rain, in sunlight again and then through snow we climbed upward toward Elk Point summit. Steve, whose cardio-vascular fitness out-stripped ours, was up the mountain easily and a ways ahead, scouting the trail.

We crested the summit in snow, large, feathery, wet flakes of snow, our legs rubbery gelatin, needing rest. Plodding forward without the energy to return to cycling, we pushed our bikes, hoping to meet Steve somewhere on the path and settle-in for a rest. We looked ahead into the snow for Steve and looking harder a second time saw him racing toward us and pointing to his right (our left); he was signalling something quite assertively. When he met us, he pointed again to our left and gasping identified the bear on the other side of the summit’s meadow. We focused our eyes. There it was, scrabbling at the earth, eating, with its back to us. Along our climb we had seen massive bear paw prints in the mud – twelve-to-fourteen inches in diameter. We’d hoped they were not fresh. Now, we needed to get on our bikes, get our pedals pumping and put distance between us and this bear. Ten minutes later we huddled beneath a huge forest conifer, away from the bear, out of the snow.

We considered the time; we started riding at 2:00 p.m. and aimed to complete our twenty kilometre trek by suppertime. It was now 8:00 p.m.; we’d made it to the summit and with September’s shrinking daylight hours the sun’s incline over the horizon had already begun. Riding down the mountain would occur in shadow and our descent would, for the most part, occur in darkness. We began riding downward on the mountain’s horse trail switchbacks. Our bicycles’ brake pads quickly wore down to nothing – we needed to sit on the cross-bar and use our feet on gravel to slow our descent. Seeing pretty well in the dark, I led through the zig and zag of mountain switchbacks. Fifteen minutes went by without incident. Then, rounding one switchback Steve’s bike flew over my head … without Steve; he’d been higher up, on a switchback behind me. His bike had landed in bushes ahead of me. We halted taking stock of how we were doing. We were cold, somewhat lost and had exhausted the food we’d brought – our best bet was to follow trail markers toward Banff. We put Steve back on his bike and trudged on. The switchbacks levelled out into a long valley, an area that should have been easy to traverse – just cycling along the track. But, the track was mud, four inches deep … likely the result of the rain and snow we’d encountered on the other side of the mountain. We would have to push our bikes through the mud or carry them; without sustaining food and calories, our legs remained gelatinous rubber. We hefted our bikes and pushed them on drier bits of earth.

The photograph, presented here, is the area where the four of us moved from mountain trail on to paved road surface.

From here, I rode down the mountain, quickly, got to the Ford three-quarter ton, returned and got the others – Steve, Vince and Goose (last name Guzman). Hypothermic, worried and overwhelmed, Vince and Goose had fallen from their bikes crossing the western-most Texas-gate leading into Banff, Vince hurting family jewels and Goose hyper-extending two fingers. At the hospital, we were fed cookies and tea and Vince and Goose were examined by a doctor who scolded us for cycling into bear country – cyclists, in their speed, can surprise bears and this doctor had treated a cyclist the week before who had been mauled by a bear.

Rather than return to our tent trailer, I rented a chalet and its proprietor allowed us to use the pool/Jacuzzi to warm ourselves. Later, pizza and much needed sleep served to rejuvenate us; we were ready to go at the crack of dawn, the next day. With our endeavor, we’d trusted Steve with a mountain map and there’d been confusion with directions. That night, as we each made sense of the mishap we were amazed at where we’d been; our twenty-some kilometre trek had morphed into sixty-two kilometres by the ride’s end. Looking back, those were much younger days, the kind my son will have with his pals at University. For me, though, I was freshly married, out of University, yet to be employed and among friends as my wife began her school year as teacher in northern Alberta. I had not been to this site for more than twenty-five years. Last week, looking in and around Banff with my camera I found it and this story again.

By David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.

Listening to – Jessica Sanchez’ ‘Lead Me Home,’ Jack Johnson’s ‘Home,’ Sarah Masen’s ‘The Valley’ and Snow Patrol’s ‘Life Boats’ and ‘This Isn’t Everything You Are.’

Quote to Inspire – “[Photographing] … is a way of at least tacitly … encouraging whatever is going on to keep on happening.”

Forgotten & Found

Salt Flats - Salduro, Utah 1
Salt Flats – Salduro, Utah 1
Salt Flats - Salduro, Utah 2
Salt Flats – Salduro, Utah 2
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

That idea, potent, yet half-formed did have to be put down, but not put away – it would yield treasure should I return to it. My father, a plastics chemist, evolved a habit of downloading his mind into moleskins as his best tack for moving past interruption and returning to most current endeavor. Years later I would discover Evernote, a digital means of recording texts or MP3s of current and next ideas without losing them. Scott Smith (Motivation to Move) and Dave Allen (author of Getting Things Done) would both advocate the practice of downloading one’s mind and a system for organizing those ideas into workable and profitable work. Tonight, enough things have occurred organizationally to allow me to uncover and sift through months of notes, curious quotations and ideas (mine) and the trajectory upon which they can move were I to breathe Life into them.

Curious Ideas to Consider (from Moleskin pages)

(1) “… Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can’t be consistently fair or kind or generous or forgiving [any of these] without courage.” – Maya Angelou (in conversation with Krista Tippett, ‘On Being’ podcast)

(2) On Photography – “In composition the important thing is to isolate and simplify.” – Tony Sweet (in conversation with Ibarionex Perello, ‘The Candid Frame’ podcast)

(3) The BBC reported 07 August 2014 that dementia has been linked to lack of exposure to sunlight; my father has Alzheimer’s Disease.

(4) Love Your Enemy (what doing so also means) – it involves the courage to be vulnerable with those with whom you passionately disagree; it requires that you consider what in your own position troubles you, and, that you consider that which resides in the other person’s position that attracts you – an idea from an ‘On Being’ podcast dealing with American Civil Rights.

(5) “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” – Laugh-ins’ Lily Tomlin (in conversation with Krista Tippett, ‘On Being’ podcast)

Part of tonight’s treasure has been the scribble containing music heard as far back as January, this year. My scrawl was the result of auditory capture; listening to CKUA while down in Edmonton I heard two songs – the first, was a quiet, fingerstyle rendering of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction from James Lee Stanley and John Batdorf; the other, was a take on U2’s ‘With or Without You,’ most likely offered by Sarah Darling … tonight is my first chance to hear it again and to purchase it.

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

The poem reminds of George Smiley in one of Le Carre’s MI-5 novels and the personal wisdom of relaxing his mind and letting that half-forgotten idea, concept or name resurface in its time (relax and let your mind have the time … it will come).

Images presented here include the blue and white contrast of Utah’s salt flats as well as a black and white edit of the same image. As well, there’s the road from the interstate to the Bonneville Speedway – Speed Week is next week.

Quote to Consider – “Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Most subjects photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos.” – Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’

Listening to – Sarah Darling’s rendering of ‘With or Without You’ and John Batdorf and James Lee Stanley’s ‘Ruby Tuesday,’ ‘Wild Horses,’ and ‘Satisfaction.’

Utah – Salt Flats & Sky

Utah Skies - Knolls, Utah 1
Utah Skies – Knolls, Utah 1
Utah Skies - Knolls, Utah 2
Utah Skies – Knolls, Utah 2

For perhaps five years, each time my wife and I took our son and daughter out to enjoy a meal at High Level’s Boston Pizza with friends or on our own we would gaze upon what has become a familiar painting on the wall above the cash register and waiting area – Jack Vettriano’s Bonneville; the painting celebrates the work, the interest and the observation of what it is to break and set different land speed records in various vehicles. Beyond this, there was that movie … Anthony Hopkins, as actor, played the role of Burt Munro in a 2005 movie, ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ (Indian, here, referring to the Indian motorcycle). Burt Munro was a mechanic/inventor/racer from New Zealand who raced motorcycles. He set a world record at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. My wife encouraged me to go. She and our daughter would remain at the hotel and lounge at the pool cooling themselves in Utah’s summer heat (close to 100 F most days). They would remain cool, rest and read their newly purchased Barnes and Noble treasures. I would investigate Utah’s salt flats.

From Midvale, I steered our rented 2012 Toyota Rav 4 toward Salt Lake City and then follow directions from our Tom Tom GPS to Utah’s salt flats, then to the Bonneville speedway and to Wendover, Utah and the B-29 Bomber Base where the crew of Enola Gay were trained in World War II. By day’s end, I would have photographed the salt flats, Bonneville and Wendover; I would have had a flat tire and need to double back to Wendover to have the tire repaired; and, I would almost run out of gasoline on the return drive home. Doubling back would allow me to investigate more fully the B-29 Bomber Base and discover a goldmine of remarkably maintained American-built cars from the sixties and seventies – both at Wendover, Utah.

Here, one of the final rewards of the day was the evening cloud-work after the sun had crossed the horizon.

Shout Out – a big thank you to Maciek Sokulski (‘Shuttertime with Sid and Mac’ podcast) for articulating good best practices for working with Adobe Lightroom.

Quote to Consider/Inspire – “This freezing of time – the insolent, poignant stasis of each photograph – has produced new and more inclusive canons of beauty.” – Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’

Listening to – Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Highway Patrolman.’