Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rock 2. The Granite Basement.

If I take the right-hand trail at Burgoyne Bay it leads me along the mountainside at the foot of Mt. Maxwell. Its sandstone and conglomerate cliffs are hard to see when I look up the steep slope through the trees. Below, the ocean surface at the base of the mountain glitters through the solemn ranks of tree trunks. To emphasize my littleness in this giant landscape, large boulders ( some as big as houses) rest above me. They brace their feet deeply among the roots, with their heads raised bare amid the tree tops. All is grave and silent as I walk briskly by, trying not to heed a sense of being inspected, weighed, and found wanting.

At the end of the trail I reach a more open space; grass, moss covered rocks, Garry oaks, and the ocean which flashes in the sun or darkens again as a cloud brings a quick shower. Open sky at last! I begin to photograph a world that seems more made for me and my kind. From here I can see the cliffs above the tree tops catching scarves of cloud. They are a little less threatening from this angle and I feel the oppressive atmosphere of the trail behind me dissipate. I walk down a steep bank and out onto a smooth granite point.

Granite: white and grey with little black dots, hard as hard, here, below a thousand feet of sedimentary layers. It must form the floor of the deep inlet, with only this thin layer of steep shoreline showing that it underlies all those towering cliffs. The open light has fooled me: this steep shore is older still by countless millions of years and I am a little fly that crawls upon its face for an instant and is gone. I begin to make images of this eternal place. The glacier smoothed form I stand on, the black boulder at the tide line that, like me, has come from somewhere else and will be ground down and turned to sand while the granite will gain only another wrinkle.

This feeling of insignificance, of being a mere sparkle of light, a grain in the sands of time, is hard to shake. Yet, it is my photographing and my sense of relatedness to all this that brings me through to another place of understanding. There is no judgement anywhere here, no being found wanting. The key lies in my feeling for this landscape. I feel empathy for these trees, these beetling cliffs and giant boulders. Who is to say they do not grasp that with fierce intensity. A little flash that lights them up and says “ I see you. I make your image with reverence and care. We are in relationship, you and I.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rock 1. How beautiful upon the mountain.

In the fields at Burgoyne Bay is a rock. Large, smooth and grey, surrounded by green grass, it is a glacial erratic, tumbled smooth by the ice of 10,000 years ago as it was carried from who knows where and finally deeply deposited here in the valley. Through time and erosion it has barely reached the surface again.


On a day of sun and cloud, of rushing streams and soaring eagles, I walk past, see the sun upon the rock and walk squelchingly across the sodden field to take its portrait. With its gently rounded forms I need definite directional lighting to bring it to life. To life? It is true that I tend to find personality within ‘inanimate’ nature. So much more real to relate to a world that has face, shoulders, hips and feet. This ‘transformational’ rock pulls me forward into its spell and I start to take photos. I hold the camera at ground level and line up the rock against that other great rock, the hump of Mt. Maxwell that dominates the valley, and photograph their related forms, their similarities.

Quickly, while the burst of sunlight lasts, I circle my subject finding the flanks, the buttock curves, the cloven, shadowy places. How beautiful it is. I carefully climb all four feet to its summit, balance precariously and feel the bulk of this rock that, like an iceberg, keeps its own balance by the mass that lies below the surface. Once here however, there is nothing I can include in the picture frame that, directed downwards, does not include my own wet rubber boots. Alright, I think and bend over at the waist, widen the lens and snap the universe of rock, boots and our joint projected shadow upon the field. A funny, awkward photo. “ How beautiful upon the mountain...” comes to me as I smile to see my own shadow combined with that of the rock.

But really, is this not what I have been photographing? The rock, the sunlight, and my relationship within all of this landscape. Just as winter gives way to Spring.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Walking at Beaver Point 2. Wind storm.

For the past 24 hours we have been warned of a gale approaching our coast. “ Up to and even over 100 k.” the radio warns, and we prepare for ferry cancellations and worry about some of our big trees smashing down on our roofs. I deliver Heather to the morning ferry for her day tending little Clara just as the south-eater begins to build. Back home, I complete a computer task quickly and shut it down just before the power fails. Full daylight now, and I can see the trees bending and swaying in the gusts. Bits of branches fly downwind. I listen for the nasty crash of falling trees.

I feel trapped inside the house with nothing to do but wait. This is not my best scenario and I begin to imagine what it must be like down at Beaver Point, - the wind, the waves, the rushing clouds and slashing squalls of rain. Oh boy! The wind drops. Blue sky. Quick, time to get down to the sea before the expected shift of wind to the west! It begins again with greater fury even as I walk down the road toward the point. I am acutely aware that I have no hard hat on as I walk warily through the trees with my eyes cast upward to catch the first sight of a flying branch. I`ve been hit before by even small branches and taken surprisingly hard knocks! The roar of the wind in the trees in all pervading.

I duck under the recently fallen trunk of a good sized fir tree and step out onto the great stony finger of the Point itself. Free from trees, out in the open, just the solid strength of the gale pressing against me. Leaning into it, I carry the camera protectively to keep the raindrops off that zip by sideways from the line of low wet clouds. The new set of waves are busy cancelling out the first wave pattern and slop and crash onto the rocks. Rain, sunshine, clouds, all in rapid succession. A splendid rainbow. Dark wet shores, brilliant greens. White surf and mottled white backwash. I could take photos faster if I didn`t have to wipe raindrops off the protective glass filter on the lens so often.

I retrace my steps of a week ago in reverse this time. Along the shore, around the corner and deeper into the bay . I am back into trees that top the cliffs and face into the teeth of the wind. By the time I am back under the big trees at the head of the bay there is another massive rain-squall; dark grey sky, black bending trees and the groans and crashes of pressured trunks and falling branches scarce heard above the roar of the wind. I scurry along, snapping as I go until I reach the farm buildings and sunshine again . The back of the squall cloud rushes across the fields, over the hills and out of sight. Oh boy oh boy, have I got some great photos this time. Well worth the risk!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Walking at Beaver Point. 1. Light and shadow

Beaver Point
Saltspring Island is an amalgam of three separate islands that were squished together as they were carried on the Pacific plate from farther south and smeared onto the continent of North America. All a long time ago, even in geological terms, but the island still shows this in its many deep bays and prominent headlands. Beaver Point, in Ruckle Provincial Park, is one of these headlands with Ganges and Fulford Harbours on either side. It is just down the road from where we live. A familiar place, where I worked as a Park Ranger for many years. During a recent cold snap I went walking and photographing along the rocky shores.

Cold weather for us on the coast means frigid continental air has flooded out across the strait and holds the Pacific systems at bay for a while. Brilliant sun, blue skies and a bitter north wind. Photographing in these conditions involves harsh light, reflections off the sea and black shadows. No point in trying to avoid this light, better to use it to best advantage. The camera does not have anything like the capacity that the human eye has to handle this extreme range between dark and light. I must expose for the light areas and accept dark impenetrable shadows. I must look too for elements within the landscape that will show this to advantage.
I walk past the field of sheep with their new lambs and head directly for the sea shore. Ahead, through the black silhouettes of the trees, the sun reflects off the choppy sea. All is brilliant blue and silver dancing light. While I take my photographs, it is the shadows that are calling to me. Even as one light-drenched image after another pops into the camera, - rocky shores, arbutus trunks, frozen fresh water seeps and flashing waves - , I keep stopping to make images with those powerful intrusive shadows. These are not necessarily the prettiest images, - there is something vaguely threatening about them -, but it is these that are influencing me today. My last photo as I walk the road up the hill and out of the park again is of the curve of road, with its yellow line and a small slice of grassy verge. Across the road are cast the soft shadows of tree tops. Soft, because the trees are high up and they cast out-of-focus darker grey patterns on the grey road surface. I walked through this pattern on my way down the hill an hour and a half before, but it is only now after my shadow training that I can see this subtle thing. A great photo? Well, it is almost nothing at all really, perhaps only me and another shadow specialist will grasp what is happening here, at this moment, on a cold, bright, winter`s day.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Raft people #3. Ice sailing.

 After restocking while their raft was docked in a narrow channel in the ice, the weather turned bitterly cold. The crew spent most of their time in the insulated, (a padded canvas wraparound), and heated cabin. They soon realized however that they would be frozen into the ice for a long time because the water was freezing all around them. After an immense effort using block and tackle they slid the raft up onto the rapidly thickening ice. The metal keels beneath the raft made this easier and after an uneasy night in the cabin feeling the raft stir beneath them in the blustery gale they realized that after a few more days to let the ice thicken up they could hoist sail and set off downwind, sliding on the metal blades of the keels.

The wind held, it stayed very cold, and one morning they levered the raft around to the direction they wished to travel, hoisted the bateau onto the foredeck, unfurled the sail, and...sat there. The blades had stuck to the ice. More levering and rocking and suddenly the raft began to sail. It was a mad scramble to get aboard, and the raft began to move so much faster than they had ever experienced on water. Try as they might the steering oar made scant difference to direction. They were on a fast, one way, undirected flight across the snow covered ice. Bumpy! I should say!

Far from shore, rocketing along on the slick pebbled surface, swept up in a snowstorm it was a time for the crew to be terrified at what they had initiated, or terrifically exhilarated. What lay ahead? This was once again all new waters they were sailing on. “No, Ice!” they said. As the unusual rattling voyage went on and on it eventually became normal and, as no imminent disaster loomed ahead, they became swept up in their adventure.

Far from land, hour after hour, the raft hurtled along, within the small circle of visibility in the blizzard. The lookout screamed a warning as the raft brushed against a stalk of bullrush, crashed over some leaves frozen into the ice, slowed down and finally came to rest partially tilted in a harbour of leaves. The crew were dismayed for a moment and then realized that they had made a soft landing after all and were safe from further harm. Where there were rushes there must be land nearby and running at top speed into a frozen cliff would have been a disaster. Thanks to the Gods!