We were in Edmonton and only days into our summer break when I seized the opportunity to cycle along Edmonton’s River Valley Bike trails. These trails were ones I road between terms at University thirty years ago. Then, I road a Kuwahara, chromoly steel-framed mountain bike. I bought it after my 1986 convocation and completion of my first degree. Now I road a new, Giant Hybrid Roam I. It replaced my weathered, well-ridden, fifteen-year-old, yellow Specialized HR (HardRock) Comp mountain bike. I donated it to Goodwill and bought the Giant Roam I.
The trail I remember had been a quick-paced, two-hour ride. The route covered upwards of forty kilometres. Now, I encountered the River Valley’s up and down on each side of the North Saskatchewan River. It passed by the Riverside Golf Course, through Rundle Park, out to the Strathcona Science Centre, then back along Ada Boulevard to Concordia College. From there, it moved past the Dawson Bridge, under the City Centre, past the Alberta Legislature, across the High Level Bridge, alongside the Pitch-and Putt behind the Kinsmen Field House, under Saskatchewan Drive toward the James MacDonald Bridge, then the Low Level Bridge and finally up a rigorous climb from under the St. Joseph Seminary out of the River Valley and then through Forest Heights Park to McNally High School where my truck waited.
Where I had completed this trek in two hours, thirty years ago, this well-worn path was taking me upwards of three and a half hours to complete. Sections of the once familiar route now suffered neglect – cracks and frost-heaves made the trail uneven. Hard-core, cycle-til-you-drop Edmonton cyclists had taken to spray painting cracks with bright paint to remind and to warn other cyclists of bumps along the trail. Other parts of the cycling trail were being restored. In one case a cycling bridge beneath the Shaw Centre was being dismantled and replaced. A detour was needed around this construction site – a ten minute, hard climb out of the valley with travel along the edge of the city centre core. Cycling time extended. Detours added delay.
Stopping to gather photographs slowed my cycling circuit. I was searching-out images associating to memories of early morning cycling in the Edmonton River Valley. Other images took-in and experimented with Edmonton architecture. Composition in some photographs now seems hasty. Cycling’s faster pace has seemed, at this later editing date, to have limited my awareness of all (or other) composition choices. Images that I photograph while walking hold different consideration. Walking into the scene gathers perception for what an image can become. Good consideration for how to frame a shot can occur. Three days of early summer cycling gathered these images.
Listening to – Keith Jarrett’s concert album, ‘The Köln Concert’ from 24 January 1975 – enjoying this as a former piano player.
Quote to Consider / Inspire: “Adequate photographers use their sight, good photographers use their senses, and great photographers use their souls.” – A. J. Compton
Summer images remind of other photos yet to edit and look back through. With our Ford F-150 we pulled our Tracer Ultra-lite southward from High Level, camping around Alberta – Edmonton, Pigeon Lake, Gull Lake, Hinton, Jasper, Banff, Nanton and Red Deer. We saw cousins and family. We enjoyed an afternoon, with my father in assistive care – out among the flower gardens. We explored the regions we camped in in a more settled way, always having a familiar, yet temporary, home to return to at day’s end. We got out to the Calgary Stampede and my daughter got me on a sky-lift tram – a first for us both. My daughter attended dance camp. I cycled in Jasper National park along highways and upon cycling / hiking trails – the Maligne Lake canyon and trails 4 & 7. I cycled in Banff National park and up to the Johnson Canyon. I attended a conference with our trailer.
Quote to Consider – “It is always the instantaneous reaction to oneself that produces a photograph.” – Robert Frank
Listening to – The Candid Frame podcast and an interview with Andrea Francolini, an Australian sport yachting / sailing photographer and his charitable work in Northern Pakistan setting up and supporting a school – ‘My First School.’
A summer image, looks west from Baseline Road at 17th Street to Edmonton’s skyline; it appears as silhouette. To the left and right are various petroleum-based industries – the road is known also as ‘Refinery Row.’
Quote to Consider – “Just put on the lens and go.” – Miroslav Tichy
Listening to – Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Open All Night,’ as first rendered on his Nebraska album – a rockin’ boogie on an electric guitar and the voice of Bruce, those two instruments, nothing else; the song is quite different from piano and band boogie as it is rendered on his ‘Live in Dublin’ performance. Also, listening to ‘The Candid Frame: A Photography Podcast’ and Ibarionex Perello’s interview of Stacey Pearsall and the subject of Military Journalism and the Veterans’ Portrait Program.
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.
My computer has sat dormant through six weeks. Now, summer’s hiatus concludes. The computer’s card reader accepts an SD card and I upload a first batch of images into Lightroom. I attend to those images pulling me to edit them. I begin work with new and old editing tools and wander the path of image creation, a kind of play, a kind of exploration – seeing what can happen with each edit. Colour, structure, light and shadow – four images, vintage grain trucks, images from a farming heritage museum in central Alberta.
Quote to Consider/Inspire – “If you want to learn what someone fears losing, watch what they photograph.” – Anonymous
Listening to Sigur Ros, their live concert performance entitled ‘Inni’ – Svefn-g-englar, Glósóli, Ný batterí, Fljótavík, Við spilum endalaust, Hoppípolla, Með blóðnasir, Inní mér syngur vitleysingur, and, E-Bow.
I had a go at photographing remnants of long ago creatures, fossilized and in many cases fully intact, displayed to be discovered again by the would-be archeologist at The Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology. The challenge then became that of presenting images that focused solely on the creature; that was accomplished with editing.
Quote to Consider/Inspire – “I began to realize that the camera sees the world differently than the human eye and that sometimes those differences can make a photograph more powerful than what you actually observed.” – Galen Rowell
Listening to – Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,’ Over the Rhine’s ‘White Horse’ and ‘New Redemption Song,’ The Steep Mountain Rangers’ ‘Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,’ Martyn Joseph’s recently released ‘Bobby,’ ‘The Luxury of Despair,’ ‘Are You Ready’ and ‘Sanctuary,’ Deacon Blue’s ‘Bethlehem Begins,’ The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York,’ Dustin Kensrue’s ‘This is War’ and Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Cry of a Tiny Babe.’
Merry Christmas, all – Take good care of your good selves.
It was a Pontiac, the car my father taught me to drive – an olive green, two-door Pontiac Parisienne built for 1969 yet available to Dad in the fall of 1968. On St. Brendan’s field, hanging out with friends, I saw Dad drive it home – colour, class, chrome and shape. It had a 350 cubic inch engine, powerful enough to pass others easily on the open road; Dad said it had ‘Pep.’ There were seat belts for us all and an a.m. radio tuned to CBC 740, CKUA 580 or CFRN 1260 on the dial … and you dialed in best sound. With Dad, I learned to drive carefully, eloquently and with ease. There were wake-up calls and near misses and other drivers who spoke with their horns. On the highway, Dad said my foot was a little heavy … he said that with a smile. The transition was from driving with Dad to driving alone the way Dad would have me drive. There were times when the tie-rod end came off, when after ten years the regulator was jammed so full with dust and sand that the alternator couldn’t keep a current running through the electrical system on a slow idle and there was that time when a lifter clanged loudly after a drive with me at the wheel. Dad knew what to do and we kept the Pontiac running. My Dad, who made time for all this, did this for me, his son.
Parker J. Palmer speaks of something similar with his father; his father gave him, “… a sense of being at home in [his] own skin and on the face of the Earth.” William Stafford’s poem ‘Father’s Voice,’ resonates in similar fashion.
by William Stafford
“No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark.”
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.
And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.
World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.
Listening to – Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’ and for a bit more fun, ‘Bru’s Boogie Woogie’ – tunes Dad would play on a Saturday night on his Heintzman grand piano in vertical form, a very bright sounding piano.
Multimedia Artist: based in Pilton, North Devon, England. Gaining inspiration from local beaches, coastline & Exmoor National Park. Commission work undertaken & price enquiries welcome. More artwork at Al Brown Artist on Facebook.