An early, July, Saturday morning in Edmonton finds me with my camera at play with haze and light.
Quote to Consider / Inspire: “Elegance is a virtue. Elegance is simplicity. I learned about elegance … because one day I was in Japan and saw a totally empty house and then a small detail … like a flower arrangement or painting. And, the rest is empty. This is elegance … because … there’s only one detail that you can pay attention to. Elegance is about getting rid of all the superfluous things and focus on the most beautiful one (paraphrase, Paul Coelho).”
Listening to: Cloud Cult’s ‘You Were Born,’ from their album ‘Light Chasers.’
Summer had begun. I left my truck at a Ford dealership for service and cycled eastward within Edmonton’s river valley. The morning featured billowing clouds against a bright blue sky. Rain and sun would feature throughout the day. I gathered in the world that met me with my camera. Here, the Alberta Legislature building sits in quiet summer morning repose.
Quote to Consider – “Photography is an art of observation. It has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” – Elliot Erwitt
Listening to – Wardruna’s ‘Runaljod Raganarok’ album; if you are into the ‘Vikings’ mini-series, Wardruna provides the opening and closing soundscape, a song entitled ‘Völuspá.’ ‘Raido’ and ‘Odal’ are songs of interest.
I heard a lot about the AVRO Lancaster and the RCAF around our kitchen table. As an adolescent during the seventies, I was making sense of the Second World War. I was grappling with facts coming to me. Twenty years before I was born, Canada fought a war in Europe. My good-natured uncle, who now farmed with his family, in central Alberta had been a bomber pilot. He had done so before marrying my aunt and starting a family. Our families exchanged visits through each year. They would come to our home for Christmas and Easter. We would see them every other month or so at their farm. We would spend the better part of an afternoon and evening together in each visit. Sometimes a comment or question about piloting a Lancaster would come and I would listen to narrative. I would try to work out what a Lancaster was and what the adults were referring to. My curiosity would stir and I’d wait for the drive home to confirm or ask about what I’d heard.
Those conversations evolved into dinner table fodder. Around the table I could ask questions and listen to answers. Extrapolation, implication – I gathered understanding of my pilot uncle and the Lancaster. What was it like to fly forty sorties in a flight stream to Berlin, Kiel and the Ruhr Valley in War? What kind of task was it to lay mines in enemy waters? My uncle and his crew would need to abandon three Lancaster Bombers in the war – none of the crew were lost, all parachuting to safety each time. My father would point me to an AVRO Lancaster book in the Coles bookstore. He and I would assemble a model of the Lancaster together at our kitchen table. I continue to piece this narrative together decades beyond those kitchen table discussions.
Much later on, my uncle re-certified as a pilot. He and a friend purchased and had a single engine, Cessna 172 that had crashed rebuilt. The plane became alternate transport within Alberta and later around North America. He and my aunt flew to Cuba for vacations. He enjoyed flight. His family gave him opportunities to fly them to different destinations. On one flight I got to ride-along. One fall evening, we dropped off my cousin one-hundred kilometres away. It was my first venture flying in a single engine plane. It took a minute-or-two to find my confidence in this mode of transport – it came, I could trust it. The flight only took twenty minutes.
After landing, taking off again and returning to the air, my uncle invited me to fly his Cessna. My hands took the control. My feet explored the workings of the rudder pedals. My uncle spoke about yaw, pitch and roll and how each worked. I was working to manage the attitude of the plane as we returned to his farm. He had me keep my eye on the horizon as the way to maintain level flight. As we flew, my uncle completed paperwork detailing the route we’d taken. I asked about flying the Lancaster. He said it handled like a heavy truck. With the release of its payload the Lancaster became more buoyant, with noticeable lift. Though lighter it did not pick up any agility. That may have been in my second year of University. Implications associated with the Lancaster’s role in the war were yet to surface.
This past winter I watched BBC One’s ‘Bomber Boys.’ The AVRO Lancaster and the men that flew them are the subject of this documentary. Ewan McGregor hosts the documentary. In it, Ewan’s brother Colin, a Royal Air Force pilot, trains to fly a functional AVRO Lancaster. The documentary spurred my curiosity, again. Over the years, I had heard about an AVRO Lancaster located near Calgary, Alberta.
Nanton, Alberta is home to ‘Bomber Command Museum.’ Its chief artifact is a functioning AVRO Lancaster. This past August, I had time between the completion of a conference and some tasks before my return northward home. I arrived in Nanton on 20 August 2016. I arrived as Nanton’s Bomber Command Museum was celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Their Lancaster was outside its hangar. That day I would see the Lanc Crew start all four Merlin engines and before the crowd the Lancaster would move forward 20 feet under its own power. I was able to get a sense for the bomber – its size, the length and depth of its bomb bay, its shape and sound. I also worked to understand the Lancaster through the lens of my camera. The images posted here are of the Lancaster at Nanton’s Bomber Command Museum.
My investigation of what would have been my uncle’s Lancaster and war experience continues. Len Deighton offers a dramatization of a final mission of an RAF Lancaster Bomber. It occurs in the skies and on the ground, in Britain and in Germany. I have it as audio-book on my iPod, listening to it as I cycle to and from our local airport.
I am still at a distance from my uncle’s story. I know that flight engaged my uncle. It brought him challenge and satisfaction. It suited his temperament. For me, the Lancaster is a means to understand that my uncle brought a hand to shaping the world we know. For me, his narrative with the Lancaster helps me understand service, one man’s for another, and that my uncle served our country and protected its freedom. A Flight Lieutenant in the RCAF 428 ‘Ghost Squadron,’ commissioned in 1941, his commendation reflects this well – “His willingness and the cheerful manner in which he has carried out his duties has been a source of inspiration for the younger crews of the squadron. For the completion of a most satisfactory tour of operations and for the support he has given the squadron, I recommend the non-immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.” He received his DFC in 1949.
Well done, Sir. Thank you.
P.S.: My cousin and his wife were able to take my uncle to Nanton in his later years; he took great pride in showing them ‘his’ plane.
Quotes to Consider / Inspire: (1) “In my view you cannot claim to have seen something until you have photographed it.” – Emile Zola; and, (2) “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” – Henry David Thoreau.
Enjoying spring’s weather and colour in these morning images along 20 kilometres from High Level to our airport and back.
Quote to Consider/Inspire – “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” – Pablo Picasso
Listening to – Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A. (Live Acoustic Version)’ from The Bridge School Concerts – 25th Anniversary Edition,’ Peter Gabriel’s ‘Shaking the Tree’ and Jason Isbell’s ‘Speed Trap Town.’
Today, my daughter dances refining skills at a dance workshop. My wife has my truck and gathers bottles in a Church-youth bottle-drive. Our week’s sermon explored the intricacy and direct assertion of faith being tied to works – within my week there has been my action and my shortfall. Much of Northern Alberta burns, consumed in wildfire; we’ve donated money to the Red Cross and gently-used clothing to the 80,000 Fort McMurray evacuees. Today, I am chauffeur, more behind the scenes and needed, as needed. Time in-waiting provides opportunity to edit images and is welcome respite … the activity fits the day. Images – a farmer’s field alongside a highway north from Valleyview serves as resting site for older vehicles, those from a few generations ago … used parts, ready for use – for structure or as donor car. For me, each vehicle associates to former lives in memory. What memories stir and surface for you?
Listening to – Dream Academy’s ‘The Love Parade,’ The Beatles’ ‘Twist and Shout,’ Brian Houston’s ‘Next to Me,’ Nilsson’s ‘Jump into the Fire,’ Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Radio Nowhere,’ Link Wray and the Wraymen’s ‘Rumble’ and Tim Armstrong’s ‘Into Action.’
Quote to Consider/Inspire – “I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as Life itself and felt that their individual feelings were worth expressing. To me, that makes photography more exciting.” – Harry Callahan
I got out for an afternoon drive on a Saturday late in February. I gathered my cameras and set off for a look around within Alberta’s MacKenzie Municipal District.
From High Level I traveled south. I would cross the Peace River ice bridge through slushy water at Tompkin’s Landing, traveling no more than 10km/h. Before I got there, on the hill descending toward the ice bridge a blue, aquamarine colour caught my eye. The colour belonged to a seventies Ford F-150. Someone had dragged it a ways into the trees. It, like the 1970 Buick GS next to it, had served a purpose and was left there – a rusting relic. Tromping into knee deep snow I gathered photos.
Driving past Blue Hills, farms held livestock, the occasional horse and derelict farming implements. I detoured along back roads behind Buffalo Head Prairie. There, second and third generation families are operating farms that have grown in size through the years. Many families are moving from original homestead homes built in the forties into new homes. The older homesteads stand holding memory’s residue. Next, I drove behind La Crete to the Heritage museum. The museum site holds old buildings from the La Crete area, old farming implements and machinery. The old Tompkin’s Landing ferry that transferred people and vehicles across the Peace River is there. The museum is one I want to return to for photos. And, people are invited to arrange a tour of the site. It might be something to see in early June.
Later, in moving past Fort Vermilion and into Buttertown, I managed to get my truck stuck in snow. I had seen some Buttertown buildings built with Swedish log cut corners. They were likely more than a hundred years old and I had been meaning to photograph them for a while. In parking my truck on a snowy road shoulder, I got too close to the shoulder’s edge and my truck and I slid sideways into the ditch. I did not have to wait too long for help though. A young Mennonite farmer out for a drive with his date stopped. He took some time (an hour or so) and was able to pull my truck back onto the road. And, he didn’t want anything for his trouble. He was just being neighborly. Good on him!
I stayed in Buttertown for another hour or so before sundown and my return home with pictures, better for being out of the house, better for being away from town, grateful for all that my afternoon had held.
Quote to Consider – “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.” – Ansel Adams
Listening to – Martyn Joseph’s ‘Strange Way,’ Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Wondering Where the Lions Are,’ David Gray’s ‘My Oh My’ and James Taylor’s ‘Country Road.’