I have a love-hate relationship with steam rooms; love the steam, kind of hate the room. Having been a tile setter and home renovator for a few more years than anticipated, I know what a good grout line looks like. I know what a poor one looks like too. That’s why visiting steam rooms is a strange experience to me. While I aim to be in a semi-meditative state for 20 minutes or so, my eyes promptly scan the walls to find imperfections in the grout lines. Is my glass half empty again? Yes, and I’m very aware of it, like that itchy spot on my back, always appearing with the start of the dry winter weather.


Outside, the temperature last night dropped to an unhealthy -34 degrees. Yes, Celsius that is. After a few days on ongoing clouds, nasty breezes and several inches of snow, this morning blue skies paint the mountain landscape with a soft brush. A mysterious mist hangs over parts of the slowly waking valley. For a few minutes, the scenery I observed through the window encouraged me to go outside, face the elements, and take some photographs.


Visually, I am attracted to vapour in the form of mist or fog. The spectacle that I am particularly drawn to is the mist that rises from creeks, lakes or rivers. “Steam fog” forms when cold air moves over relatively warm water. I say relative, because even in summer the water around here is frigid enough to give you an instant nipple burn. When cool air mixes with the warm moist air over the water, the moist air cools until its humidity reaches 100% and voila, fog forms. This type of fog takes on the appearance of wisps of steam rising off the surface of the water. Where I live, this phenomenon typically takes on a noticeable appearance when the temperature of the air is lower than -20 degrees Celsius.

When the temperature drops this low, the sun sits at the horizon and the wind turns silent, the world appears surreal. Parts of the creeks and river look like appealing hot springs.  Fortress sized flumes of steam dance through the orange morning light. One moment, the steamy curtains form an impermeable wall to the photographer’s eye.  Seconds later, like a curse lifted, the castle wall magically dissipates enough to get a clear view of the surroundings. Trickling sounds play a rhythmic baseline. Ravens crook and plonk from distant veiled trees, discussing the morning news. Despite the cold it’s a dreamy experience, being immersed in nature at the dawn of a spectacular blue bird day.


Mindful at -30, I’m scanning my body and breathe in deeply only to find my lungs shrink on the impact of arctic air. I’m very aware of my quickly numbing fingertips, palpitating toes and large ears poking from the narrow space between my toque and neck warmer.  I have already ceased to feel my frozen nostrils. Frost is building itself an ice palace on my eyebrows. In the middle of the numbing cold, with the battery of my camera thinking slowly, I dream myself back into the comfort of the steam room I visited only the day before.


The impermeable steam outside is not unlike clouds I encountered upon entering the room yesterday. Contrary to outside, the air temperature in the steam room was so high that I immediately sweated like a Dutch cheese in the afternoon sun. The steam was hot enough to burn the skin. The misty atmosphere kept a surprise as to how many naked people actually sat in the room, only to reveal them in full glory when the watery dust settled.  So I decided to keep my mind focused on slowly breathing, my eyes fixed on the tiles and crooked grout lines.


For some ten minutes I kept my composure, while my heart palpitated in an overly heated head. That was all I could handle. My prune-like and heat-drunk body waddled over to the showers to inspect the grout lines there. Not a bad job actually. Then off to the pool, where I aimed to swim one lap to satisfy the repetitive “you need to work out” bug in my head. I swim like a snorkeler on safari. Tiles are all I see. I end up finishing the night counting tiles, thousands of white ones and one long black line on the pool’s floor.


For some odd reason I figured I had time to shave myself this morning before braving the elements. Maybe I thought it was important to make a clean impression on the hard core outdoor enthusiasts I would encounter at these temperatures. After all that shaving effort, it turns out my face is not even visible this morning. I am currently disguised well enough to rob a bank. The shave was quick, but not clean. My razor-blade nipped me, of all places, in the nose and a steady stream of blood flowed from my nose until a ball of toilet paper finally plugged the eruption. Now, in the numbing morning cold, the cut has started bleeding again. I am smearing blood all over my gloves and camera.


My skinny office fingers are covered in specially selected thin gloves that stretch over my fingers and wrist like a second skin. The gloves are only a millimeter or 2 thick, perfect for handling camera buttons, as working a camera with thick gloves is like trying to type a text message with oven mitts on. But even with the technical blood-covered gloves from the outdoor supply store my bony tentacles inside quickly move outside of their intended comfort zone. My fingers get so numb, there’s no camera handling to be done, I might as well be typewriting on a cutting board. However, it’s a glorious middle-earth morning and I tend to make the most of it for a few more moments by attending to the shutter button with my knuckles.


“Oooooh, my god”, I cry out loud.  It’s five minutes later I find myself back in the car, defrosting all near-dead parts of my body. It takes an eternity for the car stop stuttering. Shifting gear is a smooth as smearing frozen peanut butter on a freshly baked bun. It doesn’t matter. This morning has been a good, tough and short exercise in inhabiting uninhabitable conditions. It was a useful lesson in seeing what was right there in front of me to appreciate. I drive home using my teeth and elbows. With new respect for my northern compatriots, I slide into a warm bath at home. Steam slowly fills the room. Condensation builds on the tiles. The grout lines are perfect. I finally relax.




Life on the Goat

We live in an incredibly beautiful environment. Surrounded by protected national and provincial parks, you could easily pick a different destination every day of the year and not visit the same place twice. Some people choose to do just that. To adventurous personalities there is an irresistible draw to conquer something new; setting foot on a slice of soil no other human being might have touched, or dropping down an unknown waterfall that was formerly thought to be instant suicide.


I approach things somewhat differently lately.  I’m finding out new discoveries can take place in familiar places. The coordinates on the map might not change but the seasons come and go. The natural world evolves and changes; a fact the spring floods starkly reminded us of. No doubt being an adrenaline-fueled adventurer would soothe my ever demanding ego, but my current physical limitations perfectly match my desire to be more present and appreciative rather than always looking for change. It is as if the universe has a way of presenting you with what you need to learn.


For me personally, there are a handful of cherished places I return to on a regular basis. Goat pond is one such place.  Even though Goat pond (“The Goat” as I call it) is surrounded by mountains, forest and wetland, at first glance it cannot match postcard-pretty cousins such as Moraine, Peyto or Emerald lake. No turquoise waters, no lazy chairs and cappuccinos, no cute ground squirrels begging to be photographed. One person might look at the Goat and see an artificially controlled lake with a dam and a dusty road along one shore. Another person might see a jewel of a lake with many secrets and surprises. The choice, as always, is in the eye of the beholder.


goat-pond-paddle2Close to the dam “The Goat” doesn’t look all that appealing, but hidden at the back of the lake is a marshy area, shallow enough to get your kayak occasionally stuck on pebbles and rocks. A field of tree stumps line the shallows of the lake on one side. On cloudy days they look like the tombstones of a cemetery, reminding us of former forested days. Ironically, nature has made itself a beautiful home here. An osprey nest sits precariously on an old telephone pole, a beaver dam decorates one of the two quaint islands. A common loon commonly hangs out in the deeper parts of the lake.  In late summer moose frequently visit the shallows in search of refreshments and aquatic plants.


The lake can be rippled and breezy, feeling cold on the hands and feet. But as if the power to a blowing fan is abruptly being turned off, the wind often dies in the evening. As the sun sets in the early evening behind guarding mountain peaks, a shadow casts over the lake. As a photographer it is easy to get discouraged by the lack of light. It is tempting to leave early. However, in the shadow, with the wind dying, the lake turns into a real beauty. Cars stop driving by, nature comes alive and the water’s surface transforms into a perfect mirror. Only then I start to hear the water cascading from the mountain walls. Only then I hear my kayak slice softly through the water. Only then I notice my own breath and heartbeat.


I often paddle alone. But occasionally my friend Graeme joins me. He has come to appreciate the pond. Graeme is built like a brick wall. His Scottish face shows evidence of boxing: boneless nose, some crooked teeth. His legs portray years of football. His biceps are twice the size of mine. His hands are clearly those of a plumber, big and weathered enough to shovel coal into an engine. If it comes to a pub fight, Graeme is the guy you want to have on your side. Still, he is a good-looking gentle giant. Though he appears hard as rock, I also know he is soft as an M&M on the inside. He likes solitude and time to reflect. He sometimes goes missing for days.


graeme-on-goat-pond-3-low-rEven though I am the one exploring and chasing the concept of mindfulness, on the water Graeme seems come closer to grasping the practice of being in the present. He just floats in his kayak, his paddle never seems to touch the water. My camera, like my ego, is always reminding me that it wants to be acknowledged and utilized. Driven by potential photographic opportunities I circumnavigate the lake only to find Graeme in the same spot. Like a lifeless doll stuffed in a kayak, he is staring into the distance. I wonder what he is looking at. Perhaps I should take a photo of it. A faint current has moved the tip of his kayak in a couple circles. Sometimes he observes an osprey perched in the top of a tree on the shore. At other times he seems to listen to the call of the loon echoing off the vertical mountain walls. He is obviously in la-la land. When I ask him what he thinks about, he doesn’t know. All he says is “wow, beautiful”. I envy his ability just to let things be.


Today is another stunning summer evening out on The Goat. The lake appeared rippled and moody for the first hour. Wildlife seemed to have other plans tonight. It was oddly quiet. But in the last half hour the lake has settled into her formidable mirror look again. Some far away forest fire smoke lingers on the horizon. The sky has turned to a warm inviting pink. A bald eagle has appeared out of nowhere. It graciously circles the lake, no doubt keeping a keen eye on the numerous sucker fish it supports.


Graeme-eagle-1-low-resI’ve been here enough times to know no bald eagles nest here, so I’m happily surprised to see this lonely visitor gracing us with its presence. It’s the surprise appearances that make me come back to this place time after time. The eagle has settled on an old tree stump, merely a foot above the water. Graeme and I slowly float towards it. Graeme is in a much better position than me, simply because of my frantic search for photos and his ability to just sit there. Once no paddles are used anymore, our kayaks settle into a silent speed. We coast slowly towards the wonderful creature. Graeme is on the best course. Like a floating feather being softly blown, the lake magically stirs him almost within touching distance of the eagle. The bird is plucking away at a fish. You can smell the meat, hear the ripping of the flesh. It’s a beautiful raw spectacle and Graeme is right in the middle of it. The lake has pushed me behind a tree, partially obscuring my view. Great things come to those who are patient, my mind reminds me.


I love this lake. Not just for it’s convenient proximity to town. Not just for its mountain magnificence. Not just for its wildlife. It’s a secret gem that only reveals itself to those with patience. Sometimes a place just wins you over. There are no obvious explanations. Maybe it’s a solitude I experience here, yet so comfortably close to the road and home, the safety of civilization within arm’s reach. Even though this lake is visited by a handful paddlers of the sit-down and stand-up kind, there is a faint feeling that this lake is mine. It is part of me. Next year it might be different; change is both natural and inevitable. My heart might get stolen by another place. So while it lasts I’ll take it all in: the splendour,  the friendship and the subtle lessons.




A Murky View

Keeping your photography gear clean is an art. So they say. To me personally it feels more like a task, like washing windows or meticulously folding laundry.  I treat my camera like I treat our rust-infested car or garage full of toys and tools. I use them because they are meant to be used. My photo gear gets thrown in the dirt when I switch lenses in a hurry. I prefer sturdy gear that doesn’t crack open after a day on the slopes or a rainy day in the bottom of a kayak.


As a result of my (perhaps careless) nature, my photo gear is prone to wear and tear on a regular basis. And I am not even talking about backpacks accidently rolling down mountains and tripods falling into creeks. Filthy water drops get magnetically drawn to my lenses like flies to a cow pie. Dust always lurks in the corners of the sensor. And since not too ago I now wear grease-covered glasses too. All added up, you could say my photographic view of the world is often not crystal clear.


In life in general, what I see through my viewfinder is not any different.  My window to the world is sometimes clouded, obscured by dirt I have kicked up myself: my attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. Recently, after a period of gray and clouded thoughts my window got downright dirty. My picture of the world, the world we live in, was murky to say the least. My focus was on a long list of troublesome developments, especially the numerous examples of greed and ignorance destroying our world at a staggering pace. Once noticed this muck on the lens was hard to keep out of my line of sight. I tried hard to wipe it off and start the day with a crystal clear view, but like a magnet the dirt always returned in days to come.


On days like that I feel uneasy, seeing the glass so half empty, my mind so filled to the rim with this uncomfortable awareness, at times unable to shift into an attitude that is soft and forgiving. I tried positive thinking, avoiding the news, distracting myself with a shopping cart of spiritual practices to be more present. Some days it works wonders. On other days they feel like band-aid solutions to something larger that has opened my eyes. Every now and then, in order to shift my perceptions, I need to see some real hope in action, experience true selflessness, capture the stories, digest and write about them.


Recently our small mountain town and pretty much all of southern Alberta got hit by floods. Torrential rains battered mountain slopes forcing statistically impossible volumes of water through under-sized culverts, dormant creek beds and onto comfortably-grown flood plains. The raging water bread-knifed its way through layer-cakes of stone and gravel. Highway asphalt peeled off like old paint from a prairie barn. For a short while our small town turned into a disaster zone. It exposed people to a short-lived but intensive spell of anxiety, uncertainty and isolation.


Then, in the weeks to follow, it offered an opportunity for connection, compassion and selflessness. Neighbours reached out, opened their otherwise locked doors to strangers. Volunteers worked countless hours to repair and clean up mud-logged houses and inundated basements. Community efforts popped up like flowers after spring rain. Unsung heroes and new leaders rose to the occasion and mobilized a wonderful force of nature I had already written off: us humans.


aster-floodThe event offered me an opportunity to see my narrow world anew. It forced me to change lenses and widen my perspective on hope for the world. It was exactly what I needed. It flooded me and washed away the rigid foundation around my hostage-held heart. My half empty glass quickly filled with floodwater. Now, seven weeks after the unexpected event the murky water has settled. I am left with some dirt and a column of crystal clear water. The combination will offer me some choice in days to come; to stir the dirt back up or leave myself with a clearer view of the world.

Properly Exposed

It’s been five weeks or so since my camera took the plunge and my backpack went frolicking down a mountain slope. The damage is assessed. Expectations were low. Miraculously, after adding rice to the camera and slow cooking the concoction in a sunbaked car for days, the flat-lined camera surprisingly spit out the moisture and starting showing vital signs again. After doing my ABC’s (checking Airways, Breathing, Circulation), I found out the camera is still usable, although somewhat beaten up, much like my own body. The submerged lens just came out of the intensive care and surgery was successful. So you could say I was lucky. Still, my photography took a small dent this month. The timing is interesting to say the least.


Like a backpack tumbling down a mountain, life sometimes takes you on a sudden rollercoaster. It accelerates for no apparent reason. It turns upside down and leaves you stranded in a completely new environment, leaving you clueless as to how you actually got there. My last couple of weeks were a bit like that. I look up to the sky with a questionable look on my face. Call it the universe, god, or whoever runs the grand show up there and down here, he sure has an interesting sense of humor.


otello-tunnels-BW-logoAs I mentioned in my first blog, I’m a sucker for the word authenticity; to be real, sincere and full of integrity. I am not a textbook example portraying this character trait, but it is something that I strive towards. While my dominant mind tries to judge everything around me, including my own photography, my heart often softens the view like a filter on a lens.  The result coming out of my mouth is often a cocktail of my true self and what my mind has decided people want to hear. For a long time I’ve been longing to put this blended, tiring behaviour to bed, by finding my own authentic voice and getting comfortable with it.


The first blog about four months ago was an encouraging start. I felt inspired to write more in the days to come.  I kept very private matters such as health and personal life to myself. There were enough stories to spread, inspiring insights to share, funny tales to tell. Everyone would go “Wow” at my photos.  I was encouraged and motivated. The great feeling lasted a short while. Then life just went back to being life. My new voice retreated back to a familiar sound. One thing I forgot was that the big word authenticity also meant sharing the not so hilarious days; the days I wrestle in the shit that life sometimes stirs up.


The term exposure came to mind. Exposure is one of the first topics covered in any beginner’s photography course. In very general terms, under-expose a photo, it will be too dark. Over-expose it and it will be too light. The trick is to shine enough light on the subject that you want to stand out. You could say the picture of my personal life has not been properly exposed. My personal story remains predominantly in the dark, hesitant to step forward into the light.


My quest for health is now entering its eighth year.  It is too colossal of a topic in my life not to be addressed in my writing. I typically share my story with close friends and family, but don’t hang my laundry to dry at someone’s birthday party, nor do I splatter my food choices and emotions on the Facebook wall. Instead, I usually take lots of Pepto-Bismol and try really hard to digest my food as well as my thoughts. Not sure this is a much better approach.


In the last few weeks photography outings were scarce, short and close to home. With a brain fogged up in a low hanging cloud, writing takes more effort than usual. My body frequently forces me on the couch or in bed. With a bit of effort I meet with a close friend over tea. The luminous hours of the day, when the sun breaks through the mist, are limited to a few that I want to make count. I’ve been here a hundred times before. And a hundred times I’ve hidden it from the world.


tunnel-mtn-shot-2-logoSo once again I am aiming to adjust the tone of my voice and the contents of my writing. I’m cautiously learning to be open about where I am at and who I really am, not just open about the aspiring photographer or educator in me. You could say I’m experimenting to find the proper exposure in the big picture.


Therefore, I have decided to more consciously introduce another topic in my writing. It’s a reflection on getting comfortable with being exposed to the elements of this entity called life. It’s about taking the insights and gifts that show up on your path when you’re forced to slow down and sharing them with the world.


I am committed to making this new aspect of my writing constructive, inspiring, funny, and most of all real. I still have to find a proper broadcast channel, a second blog, a book perhaps. Filling twenty more journals is not going to cut it. I will keep you posted on what lies beyond the next bend in the river. At the same time the photography blog will continue as it is a great medium to reveal and make sense of life, nature and us in the middle.

How to embrace a lemon

On my photography outings I often try to adopt a mindful approach. I say try, because I regularly fail like a chicken trying to lay a perfectly round egg. The last week was not any different. My head was full of good intentions; to take some time to relax, not judge the outcome and let the photography process unfold organically -whatever that means. The result was slightly different than anticipated. Sometimes when you’re looking to savour a juice peach, life hands you a lemon.


A few days back, a sunny spring day, was a good day to go exploring, find something new, and shift creativity from neutral into first gear. I’m on a ridge overlooking the Bow Valley. The ridge is exposed to the southern sun. As I walk I feel the heat of the early season sun linger in pockets around me. I sit down in a hotspot and let the world around me unfold. Inspiration will come, I think. If not, it is pleasant relaxing my eyes on the distant mountain panorama. I sit down and focus on my breathing. Deep breath in, long breath out. It’s the start of my long-intended and long-anticipated meditation sessions in the wilderness.


After a minute I get bored. It’s a common pattern. My mind wanders off, thinking about a stealthy cougar approaching, ticks crawling up my legs or amazing photography opportunities waiting just around the next bend. To sit down and stop my mind from going in circles often turns out to be a real challenge.


triangular-crocus-logoToday is no different. I’m happy to be out in nature. My body is calm, but my mind is restless. I pride myself on the intention of just sitting and being.  “Here’s a high five to myself for even trying”, I think. My eyes are already scanning the area around me for a photo subject. I soon discover a flower that peaks my interest. The sun sits high in the sky, so I use my backpack to create some shadow on the flower. The backpack is shaped awkwardly- a flat back and round front. It’s not unlike my own waist these days. The pack does not easily stay in place on this moderate slope, so I wiggle it into a juniper bush. Finally it sticks. I lean forward on knees and elbows and start the interactive game between camera, flower and elements.


Suddenly the light is back on. The backpack rolled over like a helpless beetle. I don’t care and keep going. “Thump”, the backpack makes a sound again. Now I look up. Only a meter away the backpack has taken another tumble downhill. With my camera in hand I sit up and observe. The backpack flips once again, gently limping down the hill, taking a quick breather after every somersault. “The next juniper bush will grab it”, I tell my dog. Wrong. The pack’s round front leaps gracefully over the bush. “Thump, thump, thump”, the backpack is now gaining momentum. My world stops for a moment while I witness the pack transform from a leaping gazelle into a cartwheeling rock. It seems to be enjoying itself. My lenses inside the bag have come along for the joy ride to the valley floor.


Deep breath in, long breath out. To my own surprise I don’t respond; I just watch in awe. My thoughts have come to a four-way stop as my backpack shamelessly runs the traffic light. Like a Buddhist monk I sit and watch. Ten seconds of mindfulness. The backpack has by now disappeared into the trees some fifty meters below. As in a sudden awakening, I jump back on my feet and start running down the ridge with my camera in hand. Soon I stumble, plummet and tumble headfirst through numerous juniper bushes. Acknowledging my camera survived the first beating,  I get up again and navigate the steeper part of the slope with a lot more awareness. In the trees on the valley floor I find my pack. The lenses, packed in soft, foamy cushions, are shaken but not stirred. No damage at first sight.


My lenses have taken a beating, but two days later I’m outside again, drifting through the woods with no particular plan other than to test the lenses. My dog Charm is again by my side. I’m surprisingly calm today. The rushing sound of a creek pulls us in. The sun plays with rays of sparkling white water as it rushes over a log. I find a nice angle and set up a tripod along the creek, aiming to take a long exposure shot. The shore is rocky, covered with soft, slippery sphagnum moss. Charm finds a soft green pillow and wallows in the sunlight. I set the exposure time on my camera to thirty seconds, press the shutter button, step back and let the camera do its job. I relax, sit down and continue where I left off a few days ago. I am relaxing my muscles, smelling the woods, feeling the sun on my skin. Deep breath in, long breath out. I can’t believe I am actually doing it.


creek-camera-logo“Plunk” I hear next to me. I look up. The camera and tripod have disappeared. All that remains are a rock and rushing creek. I can’t believe it. The tripod fell over and landed in a dark deep pool. I can’t even see the camera. Like the episode on the ridge a few days back, I am left stunned for a few seconds that seem like eternity. Deep breath in, long breath out. I am no doubt living in the present. Mind is empty, hollow, vacant. Then, as if a spark hits fuel, my brain starts racing again. “Do I untie my shoes, jump into the creek, scream, just give up?”, I rush from thought to thought.  I decide to reach into the pool with both arms and blindly feel my way to what appears to be my gear. I lift up the dripping mess. “There goes my photography for a while”, I say out loud. My dog looks at me from her mossy bed and silently acknowledges this newly acquired wisdom.


For a while I sit on the moist moss and lick my wounds. The camera is water logged and lifeless. The lens is saturated with milky muck. It’s too late for CPR, defibrillation or surgery. Even though frustration is dripping from my face, I realize life has once again handed me perfect little exercise in remaining calm and trusting a good outcome.


Deep breath in, long breath out. The universe obviously has other plans for me this week. I decide to embrace more writing this week. Perhaps I’ll buy a lottery ticket. Don’t things often turn out for the best after life appears to go tumbling down a mountain? As I walk back home, I promise myself to apply what I heard on the radio the day before. What do you do when life hands you a lemon? You take a huge bite out of it, knowing lemon is good for you.





Focus on Crocus

After a long Canadian winter, I generally look forward to the first signs of Spring. Here in the Rocky Mountains, we typically have to wait until April to witness the first flowers popping up on sunny south facing slopes. As the sun rises higher and higher above the mountain ranges, the snow melts quickly in sunbaked spots while underexposed slopes still cling to layers of snow and ice. The landscape slowly morphs into something new, a transition I have now witnessed many times before. My mind predicts the changes of the season in detail; first this, then that. But this year I am committed to silencing my mind for at least a short while and embrace a concept that is called “Beginner’s mind”.


The practice of adopting a Beginner’s Mind starts with taking all your judgments, beliefs, opinions and locking them up in a closet where we can easily access them later again. It’s about investigating something new with curiosity, excitement and wonder, even if we have investigated it before. It’s about recognizing that our great intellectual mind serves a purpose, but also distorts and hides things from our view. I decided to experiment with this concept while wandering the local trails, with camera in hand of course.


The exercise I’ve given myself is centered around one flower, the Prairie Crocus. If my locked up mind serves me well, it is the first flower to make an appearance on the local mountain slopes. For a week now, I’ve been keeping an eye out for the first one to appear on the sunny slopes directly behind our house. Even though the objective is to discover the flower as if it was presented to me for the first time, my competitive mind is determined to make a game out of the search.


After a few days of scanning the slopes, today, on April’s Fool’s day, I found one brave lonely fellow. It is an unusual teaser of a hot day, as if the weather gods are playing a joke on us, knowing the rest of the week will bring the usual temperamental Spring weather with rain and snow storms. I am surprised to find one small crocus brilliantly reaching for the sun this early in the season. It is not safely tucked in between other plants to hide from a merciless world. No, this flower is committed, wide open and unlike me, living non-stop in the moment. As if in a love affair with the life giving sun, it was not shy about erecting triumphantly in this morning’s sun. Once opened, it’s sunny yellow core and soft lavender colored sepals drew my eyes in. The first insects and butterflies dart around it as if they found a formidable treat. Over the course of the coming weeks, more of this flower’s relatives will no doubt come out of hibernation, having no choice but to be lured by the irresistible heat beckoning from above.


As I photograph the flower, I am trying hard to the silence my lively mind and discover it again for the first time. This prairie crocus is not big, it measures only 4 inches. It has an unusually large head compared to its body. Unlike babies, I figure this flower is not really going to grow out of its odd proportions. I swerve back from preconceived notions and judgments to new discovery. The flower is covered with an army of tiny white hairs. To a macro photographer the hairs are perhaps the most fascinating part of the plant. Water drops balance on top of the woolly threads, refusing to disperse into smaller drops. The round bubbles make up their own mini universe and reflect the world surrounding the flower, including the photographer, in an amusing distorted manner.


I decide to revisit this gorgeous hairy monster in the days to come, through rain and snow, discovering it in detail with a child’s curiosity. In our rushed, mind-dominated society it is easy not to care about the short lifespan of this flower, but I’m curious to observe it from day to day. It is a liberating feeling to let go of the imprisoning  attitude of “I know” and to embrace “I don’t know”. To be curious and to welcome what is presented to you in the moment can be refreshing to say the least. Even though I have taken lots of photographs of this flower species in previous seasons, I am determined to explore it again and discover something new. Since the Crocus is the sole flower brave enough to populate our fragile slopes and face our moody weather for several weeks, my mind has surprisingly agreed to go along with this approach.




Mind’s eye opener

Things aren’t always as they seem. You can look at a painting and see one thing, and it will be all you see until someone points out something you never noticed before.  There are artists who specialize in deception and optical illusions, giving paintings surreal 3D effects or letting images spin while they really don’t move at all. I find it fascinating. On a smaller scale, pretty much in the backyard of our home I witness optical illusions too, hidden treasures in photos and landscape scenes. Faces hidden in rocks, old wise men disguised in trees. I don’t go purposely looking for them, but sometimes an image surprises me and makes me wonder what else I have missed.


My curiosity about the “invisible” world didn’t show up overnight. I started with a simple well-known logo that was highlighted in an educational video while I worked at The Banff Centre. image fedexThe FedEx logo is something we all encounter on the buses driving around town and nothing seems out of the ordinary. Five letters, F.E.D.E.X, that is it. That is until someone pointed out to me there’s an arrow between the last E and X. Not a huge revelation by any means. What is huge, is that the arrow is all I see now, on every package, on every van and even in Tom Hank’s Castaway. Whoever pointed it out to me, thanks very much, but not really.


It was an interesting discovery that kind of faded into the background until I recently took a photo that brought the whole experience back to light. A close-up of some ice crystals on a frozen creek seemed a nice enough macro shot, but while observing my mosaic of photos at home, all I noticed was a glaring eye staring at me, like father winter was keep a close eye on me.

Despite the image being composed of some feathered crystals called hoar frost, all I see, time after time, is the eye. My brain is relentless and stubborn. It loves the route it just discovered and is determined not to veer off for a while. I wonder if it’s the same route as the FedEx van drives every day.


The big revelation lies in the question what else I have missed in life. What crosses my path every day and haven’t I noticed? What is it my mind chooses to see and what is it, even right smack in front of me, my brain chooses to ignore or label as something it has already encountered a thousand times?


On many occasions I tried to change habits or behaviors that didn’t serve me, tried to flick the destiny switch in my life. I decorated the kitchen cupboards and walls of our house with fluorescent sticky notes, reminding me of my newly intended behaviors, encouraged by the common concept that it only takes 3 weeks to make a new behavior your own. As I often found, the new behaviors didn’t last. Like the supposedly sticky notes, they eventually stopped sticking.


What if changing a behavior was as easy as seeing the arrow, seeing the eye in the snow and never going back to the old routine. What if an eye opener constructed a new freeway in our brain, like a freshly paved autobahn that whole of Germany has been waiting to use. Can one experience, one encounter with another human being, blast you into a permanent new awareness, cause the bridge to old behavior to crumble behind you, disappear into the vast open space of underutilized gray matter? I do not have the answer, but it sure is an interesting question.

Let it flow

To write or not to write?. The question has been on my mind a lot. As it turns out, it isn’t really the right question to ask myself. The right question is “What to write?”  Cause something is longing to come out.


I recently took part in a writing course in which we were taught to start every day with a freewrite. A freewrite consists of spilling your thoughts and emotions into a notebook, keeping your pen glued to the paper for at least five minutes. It’s a warm up tool to dissolving road blocks on your way to free flowing prose. I thought it was useful. So that’s how I started my blog, with a freewrite.  I let words and sentences flow like a babbling brook, which soon turned to a swollen river. Then I deleted the first 3 paragraphs.


When I investigated a few photography blogs online, I found lots of talented people residing in cyberspace. And even closer to home- in the Canadian Rocky Mountains – there’s a photographer hiding behind every tree, rock or furry animal. It is not uncommon to visit Vermillion Lakes near Banff at sunrise and find yourself surrounded by a dozen tripods and two legged owners.


Though I have sworn on occasion at the sight of a busload of camera owners, it’s all fine really. It turns out that –except from Banff Avenue- there’s lot of space here in the mountains.  In addition, we all look at life from a different angle. What we have in common is a desire to get out there, immerse ourselves in nature and capture its beauty. With a bit of luck we walk away with a picture that speaks partly of a natural scene, but more often than not also portrays a bit of the capturer’s character, life and experiences.


This blog will not be about the aperture settings on my camera or carefully calculated shutter speeds. There are many great blogs for that. To hide my true self behind equipment details and technical ladida would no doubt be fairly safe choice, but would not feel -to use one of my favorite words- “authentic” to me. There’s another story to be told that inspires me more, like a spring that longs to be flowing. It’s about exploring life and the natural world that surrounds us. It’s about sharing  and making sense of the sometimes challenging, sometimes downright funny experiences on our path. In this blog photography is the medium, wilderness the playground, life the subject. Hope you join me.