Thursday, June 15, 2017

Our arrival on this planet

I wrote this after seeing a photograph of a friend's father in RAF uniform during WWII. It made me think how obvious our lives seem, seen from our present day perspective, and yet how chancy it all was. My own father fought in WWI, was badly wounded in Palestine and could easily have died there out in the desert sand. What then, finished before I began.

Up in the night sky the sound of aircraft, somewhere over the fields the sound of Ack-Ack and falling bombs, but in the upstairs bedroom Becky was struggling to give birth. There was nurse Bodkin as usual, but sitting in the chair under the low thatched roof there was a different doctor, a young and unsure fellow, because the regular man had been killed, drowned, during the Dunkirk evacuation. This was wartime Britain, 1942, and I was slow to venture down the birth canal. It must have felt safer to stay, given the circumstances.

Let nature take its course.”, said the doctor, crossing his fingers. No, now we must help, thought the nurse, but of course she could not take command when a doctor was present. Eventually out I popped, but that was not the end, because I had my brother, someone I had been close to for many months, waiting in line. The doctor dithered some more, the nurse insisted at last, but baby number two was dead on arrival. Another wartime casualty.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Along the Shore

Full of blossom, the fruit tree clings to a rocky cleft along the shores of Ruckle Park, here on Saltspring Island. I have seen its parent tree go from youth to maturity to dead and gone, a stick lying haphazardly among the sandstone rocks, and have watched its offspring struggle to grow and survive summer droughts and the cold, salt-spray filled months of many winters. Here now it puts out a million flowers beside the sea. I choose to photograph it within its natural setting rather than produce yet another 'blossom' image. It is its life's struggle that is important about this particular tree, its rightful place along the shore.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Walking into Nature. ( with the Trail and Nature Club)

Seeing, in the finest and broadest sense, means using your senses, your intellect, and your emotions. It means encountering your subject matter with your whole being. It means looking beyond the label of things and discovering the remarkable world around you.
'Photography and the Art of Seeing' Freeman Patterson

We took a walk with a difference the other day. A leader who walked behind, choose your own path, lots of time, walk individually, meet you at the big stump for lunch.

As leader, I was presenting a workshop in photography as a way of seeing and recording nature more acutely, and that included finding one's own path.
We tend to assume that a study of nature includes observing, recording and communicating in a scientific manner – kinds of rocks, flora and fauna etc. and that is a powerful way of understanding the world, but I added a First Nations perspective as well, that for thousands of years along this coast people understood the deeper meanings through stories passed down orally: this piece of coastline, a water spirit curled up against the living land. The rich and fecund place of the inter-tidal zone.

At our big stump noon stop I reviewed the ideas I had introduced earlier about photography; angle of view, selecting and organizing what will be within the frame, the intensity and direction of the sun and so on. I demonstrated as I went and encouraging others to have a go. Later, as we walked along the coastline to complete our loop around a part of Ruckle Park I encouraged everyone to think and write about their experience later as a way of cementing their perceptions in the same way as they had taken photographs to both explore and record this natural world.

 * these are cell phone images. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Spring IS sprung.

It has been creeping steadily along for some time,but after several return-to-sender interludes of winter we were not believing deep down. Now we are in the mist of new leaves, froggy choruses in  ponds surrounded by yellow swamp flowers. A new beginning, here we go again.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Walking Miss Poppy

I was dog sitting for a while the other day and took Anne's border collie Poppy for a walk. It was an interesting experience to walk with a well behaved, intelligent young dog who was obviously enraptured by the scents and sounds of early Spring.

Humans are so sight oriented, it takes a pig farm nearby to engage our olfactory senses, but Poppy was experiencing her life principally in that way. Oh, oh, oh, she said as her nose poked deep into a twiggy hollow beside a water filled ditch. What is that, as she listened to a red winged blackbird, trying to catch its scent to really understand.

I found I was listening as well as seeing: a watch-quail calling from a blackberry vine perch, the first robins, the sheep in the fields, the wind in the trees. I watched Poppy's nose twitch to a passing scent, how she lurched from side to side trying to stay in the flow of fascinating smells along the road side. I understood today why humans and dogs have such a long history of co-evolution, their senses complement each other. This morning, thanks to Poppy, I experienced Spring in multiple dimensions.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sittin' on my Boat in the Bay

A dramatic monologue, this is my window into the often lonely and dangerous lives lead by people who do not, for whatever reasons, find a secure place in our society. Having lived on board my own boat at anchor in the winter it was not hard to picture this situation or for that matter to reach for the extremes of my own character to fit this anonymous boat person, 'hanging on 'til morning's light'.
In reality, he is a part of all of us, a background anxiety we try to ignore. How close we are, a pay cheque or two maybe, from loosing our place on the economic ladder and ending up, rejected, confused and defiant, on the street or on the beach.

         Sittin' on my Boat in the Bay

Sittin' here resting my bones
and this loneliness won't leave me alone.
(Sittin' on)'The dock of the Bay.' Otis Redding

A cold Nor'-Wester is screamin' tonight,
Got my fore-hatch duct-taped down tight.
The wood stove is warm, but I'm still damp and cold.
I pray my anchor holds 'til morning's light.

My dear old boat, I got you for a dollar,
Found a cheap foam mattress, cooking stuff.
Free as a bird from paying rent.
You may roll and buck, but you are all I got.

Out in the bay, in spray-filled fear,
dream boats like mine are barely clear
Of one final steep dive, or broke on the beach
Where I would drift and be lucky to reach.

In the summer this is an ideal life,
Jigging for fish in a throwaway skiff,
beach-combing along the shore.
No working for a living, no responsibility.

Had a dog for company, drowned last week.
Fell overboard, couldn't fish him out.
Its a tough old life out here on the bay,
Survival of the fittest, no place for the weak.

Others living this rough life on the sea,
They ain't no friends. You'd think so, eh?
No thievin', from each other,
Parties on shore, that kind a ting?

For my freedom I left my life on the land,
Used to sell cars, life insurance, anything.
Now in winter winds I'm stuck all day long,
Sittin' on my boat in the bay.

Shore folks say get a job, join up again,
I bin there ya see, you don' fool me.
A mug's game: warm house, car,
Wife and kids. Bound hand and foot!

I'm a lone wolf and proud to be one,
Ain't got nothin' to tie me but my boat.
If this storm keeps up I won't have that,
But then, without my life, I won't need one.

Monday, January 30, 2017


Yesterday several people were shot down in an attack on a mosque in Eastern Canada. This seemed a good time to present this poem that discusses how human beings come to do such things  - the shadows of our own human nature.
 The long quote from Beowulf, one of the first Anglo-Saxon poems from a thousand years ago shows how old these fears are. The mere is not far from here, where we are right now, in the present.


 That mere is not far,
as miles are measured.
About it there broods
a forest of fir trees frosted with mist.
Hedges of wood-roots hem in the water
where each evening fireglow flickers
forth on the flood, a sinister sight.
That pool is unplumbed by wits of the wise;
but the heath-striding hart hunted by hounds,
the strong-antlered stag seeking a thicket,
running for cover, would rather be killed
than bed on its bank. It is no pleasant place
where water-struck waves are whipped into clouds,
surging and storming, swept by the winds,
until Heaven is hidden and the skies weep.

Not far from here a forgotten pond is becoming tangled by encroaching vegetation.
Now at dusk, it is covered by alder and willow leaves that first drift to the still surface, pause and then whisper down to darkness.
The shadowed water is shrouding its face, but for an instant we are dazzled by a last glare of reflecting sunlight.

A deep mere, black and stagnant. We uneasily slide our eyes aside toward sunset's golden benediction.
We sense weirdness here, a place where we will surely be dragged under if we should wander astray.
There have always been places like this that fill us with dread.
We follow our fears, hood our eyes and pass by on the other side.

Strangers too: strange voices, strange clothing and face coverings. We shun them, close our minds,
harden our hearts and pass them by on the other side.

These are old, old, human instincts,
Fear of the dark, of the unfamiliar and of what we do not understand.
They still whisper danger to our inner ear.
The shadows of our own human nature.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

We are Bananas


You are bananas!”, we have heard this said before,
often casually, sometimes offensively... “Yeah, whatever”,
we reply and never give a thought to actual bananas.

There are many wild bananas still living natural lives.
They wake up in the morning just like you and me,
but they never have a job, just blend in with the rainforest.

Some were selected though, forced into conformity:
programmed, groomed for production.
They must produce every day. We know these ones.

They have been planted in organized rows all over hillsides and valleys
in tropical places. Bananas are an export crop.
In plastic bags, in bunches, driven to our supermarkets.

In the wind, banana leaves still wave wildly, their green arms
thrashing all over a sprayed landscape, once the home
of monkeys and jaguars, toucans, forests, people ....

Green bananas cling frightened together.
They will not be peeled or eaten until they ripen.
Being not useful yet preserves their lives for a little while.

Every morning I slice banana on my cereal
without a thought of relationship.
Oh, so sorry, bananas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Solstice, Our lady of the Forest

Dec 21st is the Winter Solstice when the days begin to get longer and Spring cannot be so far away ( here on the West Coast). I have related Christmas to the older solstice celebrating Saturnalia of the Romans in this poem and the Madonna statue to the even older Egyptian beliefs that lead to the worship of the mother of Christ - the bringer of the light of the world. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Despite knowing the background of our lady of the forest and seeing her wrapped in Christmas lights, I can still make the intuitive leap, feel the truth of that other reality and benefit from my step off the road, down that narrow trail and into the forest.

 Our Lady of the Forest.

For Christmas she is floodlit at night.
         Just back from the main road,
         a modest statue 
       of our lady of the forest.
It is full daylight on this year's visit -
sun in the treetops 
         patterns of melting snow
       in the blue shadows.
I have to slide down a narrow trail,
         step between trees and over roots,
       to clearly recognize her waiting  
       in the shining green undergrowth.
At this time of year, the darkest
         she takes on a significance
       overlooked during brighter seasons.
       Bringer of the light.
I know this is a concrete reproduction,
         one copy of many, but well made.
       A believable young woman,
       Standing so seriously upon her pedestal.
For thousands of years, the mother.
         It takes me a leap to accept her blessing
       and return to the road,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016



With a nod of thanks to Good King Wenceslas, the Bible , James Joyce, Dickens and Robert Frost. ( and probably others....)

It has been below freezing since seems long ago,
And cool and crisp and even
could describe these particular dark, short, winter days.
Snow is general all over Saltspring Island:
Our driveway and roads are icy and difficult to negotiate,
The woods filled with that white stuff.
We feel frozen fingers despite the gloves.
Roll on Summer, we say, Humbug,
And watch the woodpile shrink
As we keep the fires burning hot.

How beautiful upon the mountain,
And upon the trees and bushes,
Are the traceries of white.
Blue shadows gather in inky pools
At the foot of snow-capped rocky ridges
And rays of sun, casting long yellow stripes,
Brightly peer through green, mossy trees.

How we choose to experience our lives is up to us.
Lets call a truce today and name it
Beautiful, but bloody cold!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Indian Well

I started writing poetry a month ago, trying to find a formal pattern of language that could express ideas that came to me but sounded not quite right in prose. Of course in writing this poem about another culture I have reached for the long European tradition of holy wells, mostly forgotten too in our modern world.
The ink painting, I made some time past.

                               The Indian Well. 

Somewhere on this island,
A dark pool we call the Indian well,
Just back from the beach.

Our island is burdened with the material parts of our culture:
 Houses, roads, schools, churches, hospital .....
Our dominant ways of thinking - beliefs, ideas, imaginings - are here too.

Some old settler story perhaps,
Of native people coming in canoes from all up the coast
To visit this well, drink, take the living waters home.

Oh, we could simply drive down a side road today
And slash our way through the undergrowth to that rock-rimmed pool of water,
But that would not be the Indian well, not really.

If we paddled up the inlet by moonlight,
Pulled the canoe onto beach logs and walked naked into the shadows,
We might be getting close to the well, but not quite.

If we had lived a long time ago, and were one of the original tribes,
Then we would easily find it, the magical, curing water
Reflecting the trees overhead, the shadows of the people, the moon.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The straight and narrow - a creative space

Sometimes it is useful to have a plan in mind, a framework within which to create. It seems counter intuitive, surely complete freedom is best for creative people, but in most cases creating a narrow path down which to venture leads to great things. A structure can form a focus for the mind and of the final product.

A poem these days need not rhyme, or have a steady beat and this can lead to work that, in its freedom, lacks all the other elements of poetry as well, like metaphor for example. Anyone creating music may well stray from historic forms, but at their peril if they walk away from all formal elements and work in a vacuum. Just so in the visual arts, if one is to wander down interesting trails and away from the historic forms of pictorial representation then one should have a very strong rationale to carry the day. Imagination usually requires a form within which to work and that also facilitates communication of ideas to others.

I am still pursuing photography in monochrome and decided today to also limit my photography to a specific theme - trees - their trunks and the texture of the bark, logs washing back and forth in the waves, a grove of oaks poised like dancers, or the twists and turns of arbutus..... I set up a narrow path, thought about composition and benefited from that limitation.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Winter on the Coast

Leaves are gone, stark branches stand against the grey sky and shadows crouch behind tree trunks and bare humps of rock. Here is a time when colour clashes with the steely mood, shapes take on significance and monochrome comes into its own.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Englishman River as Resource.

Recently I visited a familiar section of this river near Parksville BC and took some more photographs. The Fall is an evocative time of year when the salmon make their migration back to their birth river to spawn and die, Their bodies provide the fertility that the next generation will need in their turn and also contribute to the whole ecosystem. This is a climactic event for rivers along the west coast and far into the interior. All those little rivers receive energy from the ocean and spread it around the local landscape.

This particular river is also a resource in the surrounding communities for fresh water and is under pressure to cough up more and more for new developments. We see nature as a resource for human activities, our legitimate needs and requirements, but somehow miss the inconvenient truth that a river is not simply water running down hill to waste in the sea but is a complex of many life forms and has some dwindling rights to be free. Missing that greater truth is to destroy yet another strand in the web of life. A strand that we all need, all our children will need, in the long run.

If you follow the link below you will find a more comprehensive article on this topic.

Monday, October 31, 2016


We write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion.
Robin Williams in 'Dead Poet Society.'

Photography is generally translated as 'painting with light' and certainly the only way we see is by the energy of light waves/particles as it falls upon the things of this world and they are reflected back to our eyes. We can be reasonably sure that the real solid world exists but how we experience it can vary considerably: daylight, moonlight, starlight, filtered through overcast, sunrise and set, reflected, high noon glare.... the list goes on. So it is quite possible to view and photograph the same subject not only from different angles but in different light. Each light communicate its own essence.

Heather and I seized a brief afternoon break between rain and cloud to walk a familiar trail in Ruckle Park. This time we reversed our usual direction and chose a trail that passed higher up the hillside. At this time of year the sun was already low on the horizon and glaring off the surface of the bay. The bright reflected light sent a brilliant glare low through the forest, creating long shadows. Drama! I did not resist the call and say to myself “Too simple, too dramatic, too easy!” Light like this is an occasional gift and we should gratefully accept it when offered.

I take my camera along and use it just about every day and often in the same familiar places. It takes up time, even in the processing that comes after, but like learning to sing or any other skill, repeated practise is a necessary part of mastering it. Native ability counts for a lot, but doing it regularly, challenging oneself, always striving for more complete expression, is the only possible path.

I find that I am always pleased with my photographs when they appear and that sense of being gifted by something greater is with me, but only if I am truly pushing into new territory. Things can stale quickly if I simply follow a set of rules and do not constantly seek a fresh vision.

The other day I was talking to a photography friend about the role of technical knowledge, and I agreed that was important, but maintained a feeling for one's subject comes side by side with it. We all know people who have their cameras ( or their voices, musical instruments, pencils, pens and brushes etc.) down pat, but have little feeling, empathy, 'charity' or passion. As in all parts of daily life, going deeper in all aspects works best. “The human race is filled with passion”.

Seeing the figure below balanced on a log provided a focal point, and gave a sense of scale.
A human figure in landscape invites the viewer to feel themselves part of the scene.

These two photos are of the same scene, but present differently. The more traditional one below is satisfying to the eye because we have been trained to see this way. The one above seems strange, it is so symmetrical. In the end though I prefer this one if only because it was a challenge to break with tradition, and is a challenge too for the viewer to see differently.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Little Rivers of Canada. A new blog for a new project.

If  you visit the list of companion blogs on the sidebar to the right you will find a link to a newly created blog that will handle the background stories behind a writing project I have begun and will hopefully keep me busy writing, researching, drawing and photographing for some time. While a glossy publication or film presents the final product it could be interesting to follow the process of discovery that lead to it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Pauline Johnson. Canadian Poet

The song my paddle sings

Be strong, O paddle! Be brave, canoe!
The restless waves, you must plunge into.
Reel, reel,
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel.

We've raced the rapid; we're far ahead;
The river slips through its silent bed.
Sway, sway,
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocks its lullaby.
Swings, swings,
its emerald wings,
Swelling the song my paddle sings.

( partial quote)
E. Pauline Johnson ( 1862 – 1913 )

Pauline Johnson was a Canadian poet who lived over one hundred years ago. She was also a Metis, and had the heritage of two peoples from which to draw upon in her life and poetry. Even so, her writing like others of her time, would become lost in the rush that came later. More cerebral and more stylish modern writers have all but obliterated her from present day awareness. She had something though that we miss today, and this poem appeals to me in a direct and visceral way.

It seems very simple, the rhymes obvious, and the thoughts expressed seem suited to an unsophisticated mind. But then she calls it “the song my paddle sings” and taken as a song, where simplicity of expression, repetition, and appeal to emotion are important elements, it works extremely well. In fact it has been set to music.

The poem appeals to me because it concerns itself with a canoe and a rushing river within a Canadian setting. It speaks to my own lifelong experiences. It expresses old fashioned virtues like bravery and love of the land that are still Canadian qualities, buried though they may be by the busy city life most of us endure today.

I attended the burial of an old friend the other day and this poem came unexpectedly to mind. Like all good works of art there are layers of meaning involved which can open for us at times like these. I read it in that context as the turmoil of death, the racing rapids, followed by the calmer passage down the river and the gentle song of the landscape to see her on her way. Perhaps its clarity of expression leaves it open for readers to find their own feelings between its lines.

I imagine Pauline paddling her canoe in Lost Lagoon, which is now overshadowed by the city of Vancouver, and chanting the verses aloud as she created the story-path she was paddling down. The dip of the paddle, the ripple of the water, the great red sunset across the straits to the west. The call of the loon, the call of her ancestors at this magical hour. The song her paddle sings.