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.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Walking through the distant past

Ebbing tide in the Booth Canal

The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe- Love that ,not man apart from that.     Robinson Jeffers.

The walking group has zigzagged down the wooded slopes near Vesuvius and are now beginning a walk along the beach towards Booth Canal, that long muddy tidal channel that fills part of the low valley that overlays the fault line separating the middle from the northern part of Saltspring Island. We are walking on thin, straight lines of almost vertically tilted shale beds which are themselves littered with sandstone and granite boulders. How interesting, but like most of our landforms, how complicated to understand let alone explain to non-geological walkers.

The Booth Canal

The foreign rocks and gravel are easiest to explain as remnants from glacial times or as sandstone from higher up falling down the steep slopes as the cliffs eroded. The sandstones are beautifully sea-sculpted in their turn and in some are the swirling marks from their own genesis on wave-marked ancient beaches. It is impossible to truly grasp how ancient all this for a species like our own that has lived for such a blink of geological time.

A sandstone boulder sit atop the beds of shale.

And those lines of shale we prance so blithely over and which formed originally in muddy layers beneath a sea many miles away from their present place of residence. How did horizontal layers get tilted up like this? What forces crumpled them up like layers of cardboard pushed from both ends? Possibly one need only look to the collision of island bits that formed the Booth Canal valley, but then nearly all of our province has been formed from stray bits and pieces of islands, and Vancouver Island, the Strait of Georgia and the Coast Mountains are a larger series of similar humps and hollows, layers of twisted and eroded rock.

We stop for lunch.

Its a lovely day for a walk, the sun is breaking through and huge cumulus clouds tower up into the blue above us, but we stop once more at a cliff face which shows the tilted rock beds off beautifully. And 'beautiful' is an appropriate response that can live comfortably alongside all this rock history. Too much geology and too little love can skew our minds. What we instinctively feel with our hearts will serve us well along with the science of the world.

We chatter about our lives. An essential part of these walks.

Where shale met Sandstone years ago and their love keeps them together still.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Viking voyages. Lief Erikson and the Wonder-shore

Many years ago I read a Nevil Shute book- 'An old Captivity'- that stuck in my mind. It involved Lief Ericson's voyage along a northern coast of the Americas before Columbus made his more famous crossing. The idea of a vast unexplored landscape and a viking ship sailing down the coast of what is now Labrador or Newfoundland really appealed to me. Having had the experience more recently of sailing into unknown territory ( to me, at least) and having new islands and coastlines hoist themselves above the horizon by the dawn's early light, I can revisit this old story and step even deeper into the feeling that Shute evoked and use that feeling to picture it.
More recent archaeology has shown that the Vikings were active traders along the arctic coast *and also travelled along the coast of and attempted to settle in Newfoundland at L'Anse aux Meadows. What appealed to me was the image of the ship sailing south along the 'wonder-shore' as named in the Icelandic Eriksaga.

They sailed away from land; then to the Vestribygd and to Bjarneyjar [the Bear Islands]. Thence they sailed away from Bjarneyjar with northerly winds. They were out at sea two half-days. Then they came to land, and rowed along it in boats, and explored it, and found there flat stones, many and so great that two men might well lie on them stretched on their backs with heel to heel. Polar-foxes were there in abundance. This land they gave name to, and called it Helluland [stone-land].
Then they sailed with northerly winds two half-days, and there was then land before them, and on it a great forest and many wild beasts. An island lay in the south-east off the land, and they found bears thereon, and called the island Bjarney [Bear Island]; but the mainland, where the forest was, they called Markland [forest-land]. Then, when two half-days were passed, they saw land, and sailed under it. There was a cape to which they came. They cruised along the land, leaving it on the starboard side. There was a harbourless coast-land, and long sandy strands. They went to the land in boats, and found the keel of a ship, and called the place Kjalarnes [Keelness]. They gave also name to the strands, calling them Furdustrandir [wonder-shore], because it was tedious to sail by them. Then the coast became indented with creeks, and they directed their ships along the shore. Wikipedia
I began a painting with no subject in mind at first but it soon formed into a long lonely beach which  brought the viking voyages to mind. To add a ship nosed into the shore was an obvious thing to do. Perhaps it was wrecked in the breakers and the keel was later found by Lief. What happened to that stranded crew? Did they wander off into a vast land and disappear? Imagine!

* Nat. Geo. Nov. 2012

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Is Colour photography naturally better than old fashioned monochrome ( black and white, mostly)

In the early days of photography this was not a question, monochrome was the only way, but it was not long until hand tinting came along to make the images more 'life-like'. Still and all there have been many great images made that have taken full advantage of black and white. Imagine Edward Weston in colour, or look at the difference between what Ansel Adams was able to achieve in his darkroom versus his uninspired lab-printed colour landscapes. Some of us see the world best in terms of its monochromatic potential.

Colour produces the closest imitation of the original subject matter and we can related easily and unthinkingly to a photograph of it. For many that is the supreme advantage of photography - it shows the world as we see it. Many would judge a painting by the same standards. Art in general then, by this measure, seems at its best to be a replication of reality, except that we have this nagging little thought that this cannot be true. 'We like what we know and know what we like' would seem good, obvious and so democratic, but if so how is it that many photographers refuse to supply simple two dimensional replications with a tool so well suited for doing just that? What are we trying so hard to communicate?

A monochrome photograph is a step away from a faithful rendition. We miss the familiar clues that colour provides. For those who seek a reasonable facsimile of reality however, it is still possible to recognize a subject even though we have to work a little harder. It is the thought that the viewer might benefit in some way from puzzling over an image that takes us closer to the 'art' part of photography. It turns out that we enjoy a visual challenge, take satisfaction from engaging with original forms of perception. We like wandering into new ways of thought. It turns out that behind every image lies an idea, great or small, and that is what we are really engaging with once we get past the original surface presentation.

In this series I have photographed colour images, but through my own personal colour-challenged way of seeing the world. While I do see colour it has no unquestioned pride of place over tone or texture, line or contrast. I like to find subjects that have some pattern or visual challenge and the colour should have a job to do and not simply spread itself lazily around. Whether the scene works best in colour or black and white is open for consideration so I have also created here monochrome versions to explore what works best. For me, one is not automatically better than the other, it depends on how well it communicates.