Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A stroll down Loopy Lane.

As I clamber along the rocky beach at Indian Point I am remembering my last visit not so long ago. Then I was struck by a sense of kinship with all that existed here: the ocean shoreline, rocky beach and all the trees that cloak the steep hillside. I start again where I had left off and this time look at individual trees and rocks. It is one thing to feel a general sense of kinship but to communicate from one individual to another is a true test.

Individual rocks? This really is a stroll down Loopy Lane. The rocks I am carefully negotiating along the beach are so pervasive, underfoot, that it is a much bigger stretch of relationship than an otter, or the almost human ‘skin’ of an arbutus tree. Rocks do not think, grow, feel anything, are the basic definition of inanimate so why even try to reach that far. Never-the-less, a leap into the unknown is always a fertile act for me so I begin to photograph the rock beneath my feet. This rock on the point is the same type as that at my home, a very hard metamorphic volcanic ash with streaks of white quartz running through it. A long time ago all this was laid down beneath the sea, folded, eroded and still it is here during my brief lifetime to look back at me through the camera`s lens.

With my new mind-set I see three jagged boulders lying side by side and the angle of sunlight picks out some definite human facial features. Here are three old men sitting on a bench before the village post office trading gossip from a half millenium ago. Click. I have done the easy first step, made them human. Just over the next rock ridge is a rounded granite boulder, unrelated to the bedrock it rests upon. A mere blink of geological time, ten thousand years or so, saw this rock carried by a glacier and, when the ice eventually melted, ushering in the next warmer period (that we consider normal), it was left behind as a glacial erratic. I walk casually down to the low tide line, turn, and catch it unawares. I have photographed this particular rock before, as part of a larger scene, but now I make the leap to a rocky candid portrait. Farther down the beach with my eyes now prepared for it I find a grey, quartz streaked, massive piece of the bedrock tipped on edge and balancing over a cleft. Finally, I simply see it for what it is and take its portrait. Every rock I see from now on will show its individual self, the beach and I have made the transition.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Outside right now a robin is singing its Spring song over and over again. Hard to miss, and it is a lovely sunny morning too but I have passed over nearly all the information about what is really going on. The cycles of nesting, of eating and being eaten, the forming of clouds out of thin air and their drift on the gentle breeze. The relationships between everything that has no reference to human beliefs or practicalities. I think of the photo I took the other day of two tulips in the garden.

The photo was part of a series I was making using the on-camera flash on a bright sunny morning: setting the camera on the ground so small plants were viewed from below and the flash had the effect of darkening the background. An unusual point of view which is always productive of interesting pictures with the added bonus that it lead me into understanding the world from another perspective too.

Two tulips grew side by side, the taller trailed one petal down toward the shorter. I altered my angle of view so that the trailing petal just lined up with the other flower, - a diagonal and dramatic red line against the blue grey of the sky. The impulse for this pattern was elusive. Was it that I personified the flowers, elder helping younger, two dancers, or was there some other factor at play? Certainly it was the gesture, because I had worked to get the line up just right and ‘dramatic’ was in my mind. Seeing a dynamic thing happening here that was more universal than mere human transference. For that brief moment I was seeing the world from a tulip`s point of view and feeling the essence of tulipness.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Spring has even the dark and shady places in my forest rising up from the mish-mash of fallen branches and last years ferns. The new sword ferns reach upward, all fresh and perfect, their tips still curled as they unfurl. In their midst is the stump of the fir tree that I felled last fall and have converted into neat stacks of firewood, drying for next winter. Dappled light, waist high ferns, piles of firewood and the stump with its erect and jagged hinge.

This tree, almost two feet across, had died of root rot the previous year. If it had been in an inaccessible place I would have left it to rot, to feed the woodpeckers and fall with a whump some stormy winter`s night, but this was right beside the main trail and I needed firewood. I sighted up the trunk to judge which direction it could best be felled, started my chainsaw and notched a V cut on that side and then proceeded carefully with the backcut, driving in wedges as the cut deepened. Dead trees are always a little unpredictable, the leverage weight of living branches a hundred feet up is gone, the interior may be rotten, and if so the all important final hinge of wood that will control the direction of fall may be compromised. I drove the wedges deeper, levering the tree top farther and farther in the direction of fall and eventually gravity took over and, as I grabbed my saw and ran for cover, the mighty trunk crashed to the ground. Dead brittle branches flew through the air, the upper section shattered, - a mighty crash!

But that first part of the fall, so easily missed during my get away, is always the most expressive; as the thin wooden hinge is torn apart it screams, the tree screams as it begins its crash to earth. Silly eh? Its just a tree! But when I see the stump again months later it is the jagged ‘screamer’ that still speaks to me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The play of light.

I have been wandering the beach, trails and fields of the Burgoyne valley for two hours when I arrive at the old abandoned barn and it is still only 10 am. The sunlight streams through the fir branches and plays on the vertical planks of the end wall creating a dappled pattern of light and shadows of branches. It is a photograph not to be missed, not for its perfect beauty alone but because I suddenly have an idea, or perhaps intuition would be a better word. I make the picture and then scurry around to the entrance of the barn, step in and peer at the back of the same wall, the planks I have just pictured from outside. A negative image of dark planks, and through the cracks are bright spots of light shining in a regular pattern. This is my version of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy pulls aside the screen. That reality in light and shadow patterns on the other side of the screen of planks has been squeezed through small holes and now show as dots of light.

How to express in a photograph the intuition that I am feeling. I need a long exposure, small aperture and a place to brace my camera. I step forward into the projected pattern, rest the lens on the top of a cross plank, press the shutter, and then twist the lens barrel in steps while waggling the camera body. I check to find a complex interwoven dancing web of fine lines on the LCD camera screen. I take several more variations while I am at it, but it is the first take I like the best when I have a better look on the computer screen. Those dots of light, bits of energy, are dancing a wonderfully co-ordinated, orchestrated ballet. A theoretical visualization of the light that has streamed through the plank filter. Or should I say Planck filter after Max Planck the man who along with Einstein opened the door to Quantum mechanics, - the theory of the vagrant small bits of energy that underlie all that we view as reality.

Oh, I know my intellectual understanding of physics is of the “Twinkle, twinkle little star.”, and “What goes up must come down.” variety but what I have intuited today and created a visual image of may not be so far wrong after all. We all can sense the deeper reality that contains everything, whether we experience it directly through our senses, through science, religion, or the arts. Through my camera`s lens I have experienced beauty on the face of the barn and seen it also as an amazingly co-ordinated dance. The play of light.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Open to the sky.

Along the rocky shores of Ruckle Park I am taking different kinds of photographs today, ones that reflect the cool wind and choppy ocean. A way of seeing the world I learned while on long perilous voyages across the Pacific: the natural world of which I am but a peripheral player to the main action, - the rush of wind and crash of waves on rock over immense spreads of time and space. A lonely business, if it were not for a sense of participating in something transcendental.

The black, rocky shore is exposed right down to the low tide line where the sea surges hopefully at the land, but I am not risking a soaking. Up here at the transitional high tide line is close enough today. So what am I to find in this jumble of rock that is meaningful? A kind of sea grass grows in the cracks, matted and flattened and so I use it as a foreground contrast to the complex interlocking rocky forms.... I make a leap of association and see the grass as a kind of pubic hair in a complex of black limbs. There is a relationship between these raw and impersonal elements. A photo doesn`t get much more personal than this! Or does it?

With my mind now tuned, I step carefully down slope to the low tide line  where a giant boulder has been split in half. The rising water swirls within the crack, and I take another photo before my ‘nice’ mind can blank out what I have seen. It is a crack that replicates the most basic parts of female genitalia, yawning wide and open to the sky. What is happening today could simply be normal male preoccupations that get buried in more refined thought some of the time, but I am inclined to think that it is the elemental quality of the day meeting the basic forms of rock that has brought this understanding to the surface of my mind.

I wonder if this was recognized as a sacred site by the First Nations peoples who would not have been shy of recognizing this fertility image of mother nature? Did they see a large figure lying with her legs spread along this rocky shore, - part ocean, part land, open to the sky?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Building a life #25 The killer whale ( Orca)

Each evening after supper Heather takes two of the girls in turn, fishing just off Arbutus Point. Where the reef juts out into the channel is a big kelp bed and just beyond it the fishermen can lower their cod jigs down to the rocky bottom. “Here fishy fishy,” they sing, as the sun sinks lower over the blue mountains of Saltspring Island. Gwyn and her friend Carolyn are excited to be out in the canoe with Heather, the expert food gatherer. Jig jig, jig, jig. Suddenly, right beside them in the middle of the kelp bed an enormous fin rises out of the water. A magical presence between them and the shore! A gasp of breath and then it rolls smoothly back below the surface. The ripples of its passage brush the canoe.

“Wow girls! Did you see that?” Isn`t that exciting?” says Heather. Lets see if he will come back!

“NO, NO!” say the girls as they quickly wind in their lines. “Time to go ashore. We are certain of that!”