Sunday, April 29, 2012

Early Ferry.

And a grey mist on the sea's face
And a grey dawn breaking.

For much of the year, through the winter months, the 6:15 AM sailing of our Fulford ferry is made in darkness, rain and rough waves, but now in April when we depart from the dock the first loom of dawn filters through heavy clouds onto a calm sea. Mt Maxwell`s steep south facing slope shows part of  herself, a black triangle exposed between layers of soft grey cloud, and I clamber out of the van to add this view to my growing collection of Maxwell photos. I adjust the camera to underexpose so the scene will truly report as dark and the result is far from being a 'good' photograph. Dark, a little shaky, and out of focus it never-the-less is an accurate capture of the moment, the mood, and this makes this a good image for me.

 The ferry is up to speed now as we head out of the harbour and its passage through the air creates a biting wind, but I am caught up in the mood by now and find some more variations: the contrast between the yellow ferry lights and the blue-grey of the sea and hills, the lemony streak of dawn beneath the cloud layer to the east, the twinkle of the ferry terminal lights back down the wake and spreading wave pattern. I have my cap tucked under my arm to prevent it blowing away as I climb the stairs to the upper deck. What a splendid time to be alive in this cool grey dawn.

By the time we approach the Swartz Bay terminal the dawn is leaping into day and it is high time I returned to my vehicle. I do have in my camera a record of this half -hour long voyage from darkness to day but more importantly the process of making these images, of being present through this transition with my photography senses set on receive, has been a great way to start the day. Now, is there any more hot coffee in that thermos?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The practice of photography.

Yesterday I arrived at Burgoyne Bay just as the morning sun was lighting Mount Maxwell in dramatic relief of light and shadow. Last visit here, I walked the farm fields down towards the bay and almost got captured by dense thorny bushes by ‘bushwacking’ off the path. Today I will hike the other way, out to a rocky point along the steep slopes of the mountain. This is a familiar walk in the shadow of Mount Maxwell. Steep slopes stretch up through trees trunks and enormous boulders. At the beginning of the trail I slide downslope to peer into the tops and trunks of fir and arbutus trees that overhang the rocky beach.  Through this screen I can see the red railed wharf and the anchored boats of the ‘alternate fleet’ across the bay; the floating homes of sea gypsies. Look, one even has a wood stove spouting smoke into the still cold air.

I climb steadily higher along the slope until the sea shines far below and then the trail begins to drop back to the shore again:  shadowy tree trunks and no sounds but my own breath and footfalls.  Once out on the rocky point the sun has crested the mountain slope behind me and the landscape is now open to the sky and populated by Garry oak.  Mossy bedrock, an old long-gone homestead`s` patches of daffodils and down the final slope I step onto the startlingly fresh-washed white granite point. The sun slants through the trees and side lights this very old rock so that every line and wrinkle stands out amid stripes of bright light. Here is a world of information:  of line, texture and form right before my eyes inviting me to observe closely. This moment is changing even as I take the photograph, this light, this angle, this rock of ages. This is an act of paying attention through the practice of photography.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sacred Headwaters. The Swamp.

Beaver Swamp,-  the sacred headwaters?
I found it interesting to put those two titles together. ‘Sacred Headwaters’ is the title of Wade Davis` beautiful and passionate book about a landscape in northern British Columbia that is threatened by ‘development’ interests backed by our provincial and federal governments. It is the headwaters of three major rivers and is considered sacred by Native Indians who know this to be their aboriginal land, never compromised by treaty.  ‘The Swamp’ is almost a put down word for useless land, and is the very kind of place that has suffered from being drained for farmland, or used as a dump by our industrial society. The swamp I am writing about is just down Beaver Point Road, the headwaters of two streams that drain the height of land on the peninsula where we live on Saltspring Island.  These are our own swampy sacred headwaters, small and insignificant in the larger scheme of things. Or are they?

This swamp beside the road is a tangled mass of vegetation and pools of water, trees growing packed close together on the higher humps, rushes and reeds and deadfalls criss-crossing everywhere. Imagine, all that lumber going to waste, all those farm fields unrealized, those crops ungarnered.  Useless, and yet beautiful, and full of life lived outside the yoke of humankind. But of course this swamp does have functions that extend far beyond its narrow borders; it captures winter run off, stores it in its tangled heart and releases it slowly through the dry summer season.  Vegetation far removed from here grows tall because of it, a high watertable, down-stream as far as the sea on both coasts, even helps the wells of houses and the lives of countless creatures, both wild and domestic. It is a valuable resource after all.

That word ‘Resource’ though; there is something wrong with our cultural perspective. How does this resonate with ‘Sacred headwaters’? We tend to make the mistake of thinking that ‘Sacred Earth’ is the special cultural preserve of the original inhabitants of North America and those individual representatives we can name; Black Elk, Chief Seattle, Chief Dan George, among many others. What we do not have within the perspective of our resource based industrial economy is an understanding that theirs is the default position of peoples around the world and back through time to the beginning of human beings.  We are the strange ones. ‘Sacred’ is a useful way of understanding our relationship with our selves, because the land, this swamp, wildness itself, is intimately connected to our individual lives and to our survival as a species.

If we thing ‘Resource’ in relation to our environment we place it in a subservient position, to serve our needs. Even in a provincial or national park, as a ‘Recreational Resource ’it is there to serve our need for pleasure or rejuvination. In the Headwaters region that Wade Davis writes about, mining companies are digging up the mountains and filling lakes with toxic tailings all in the name of ‘the greater good’; which is presented as employment and tax revenue that will support services for you and I who live many miles away from this serious and beautiful land. Native groups oppose this desecration of the land.  Cynically, those in power in the larger culture think of this as a tactic to wring greater wealth from some legal settlement; how far apart these word views are and how mutually incomprehensible.

When I walk down the road on this late winter morning the sun gleams fitfully between the clouds and when I reach the swamp, ( let`s give it a name, ‘Beaver Swamp’), the tangled mass of roadside bushes is marked with some pink survey tape. An ominous beginning, this little pink slash amid the grey and green, and at my feet in the mud are old liquor bottles and fast-food waste paper. Beaver Swamp is right on line as waste land waiting to be modified by someone with a chain saw and heavy machinery because any protective laws relating to it are always subject to alteration if ‘resource development’ should come first.  I step closer across a bridge of rotting log, away from the road and am inside the swamp`s embrace. Mossy logs, clear water reflecting a brief flash of blue sky, reeds, a glimpse of a forest bird and tangled complexities of undergrowth. A lone paper cup is adrift in this suddenly cleaner place.  A small, wild place, protected by nothing much more than difficulty of access and an assumption that there is nothing here worth knowing: chuck your garbage in the ditch, move on.
What I have done here is to move away from one word view and into another; just by stepping into the margins of this natural place I have moved into relationship with it, into a sacred relationship. Framing this world in photographs and in my mind is a form of prayer. When I kneel on the soggy earth to catch the first sprout of a skunk cabbage I am bringing myself down from the 'heights' of humankind and experiencing humility;  I`m participating in an age old act of humanity in these sacred headwaters. ‘From whom all blessings flow’ is a reality, here, not far from the Beaver Point Road.