Thursday, 3 December 2015


I know people in the prairies don't consider 7 degrees and overcast as winter weather, however for a Victoria-ite, this is it.  The drab darkness, the promise of rain, and the fact that our 1940s home is drafty and cold. We insulated the basement ceiling 10 years ago, had storm windows installed 2 years later, and finally, had insulation pumped into our exterior walls- though very little could be stuffed in- and still the floor and interior walls feel cold.

Signs of Winter at our house: #1-hand-knit wool socks are de rigueur  #2-Brian wears his long-sleeved cosy fleecy indoors  # 3- baths are an evening necessity, not because we are particularly dirty, but rather so that we can warm up.

Layered in sweaters, I'm invariably too warm when I go to a friend's newer home or condo, and sometimes even when I venture outside.

Brian says it's just 20 days to mid-winter's day, the winter solstice,  after which we begin the slow return to summer.  The optimist.

Me, I worry that I won't be able to take my camera outside in the rain.
And that it's dark by 4 o'clock.
And, as my camera setting is permanently 'no flash', I guess I'll need to read the on-line manual to find out how to change that.

The leaves in their many guises are all but gone, so now I wish for deep, clinging fog and frosty beaches.  Heavy clouds and piercing rays of sunlight. Reflections and shadows. Thankful for warm socks and gum boots and the wonderful photo gloves Jean knit for me. 

Denying the onset of December, we are still printing the leaves of my summertime canna lilies; Patrice patient as I bring to her a USB 'stick' loaded with the images I like most.  From these 40 or 50 we choose 2 or 3 to print.  (this wonderful  photographer buddy has long ago given up asking me to bring only 5 selections!)

I know there are millions of images waiting to be captured. And, I know too, that even if the day starts wet, and my errands seem dull, I should always have my camera with me. Coming back later rarely works.

The amazing frosted leaves I saw on the tennis courts at Stadacona Park had been cleared away the following day. The canna lily bed that I had climbed into one autumn morning had been dug over and the soil simply mounded by the time I returned the next week.

I have learned to take hundreds of photographs when an image excites me.  When I am in awe, almost breathless. When I shout 'WOW'. Or, conversely, when a blanket of calmness envelopes me and I see into my subject.  When I know I am reaching  a deeper place.

So winter, I guess I'm ready.

Friday, 13 November 2015

it's raining....'s pouring

which means no early morning camera-walk through the lanes and into new neighbourhoods.

When the winter rains began last year, I took a series of photographs in our downstairs bathroom; our white linen shower curtain, black and white tiled floor and  reflections in our full-length mirror.  At that time, I was struggling with the exhaustion often associated with  fibro myalgia and my camera was the vehicle that kept me engaged. (29 March 2015

Photographing curtains and sofa cushions and walking down our lane and back again was something I could do.

Now, taking pictures is not only what I can do,  it has become something I must do!

I find another, deeper way of seeing when I am with my camera. I am aware of the dirty corner of concrete where fallen leaves collect, the geometric line of an overhanging roof and its shadow, reflections gathered in puddles and in store-front windows.

Yesterday I stayed with a single tree for 45 minutes.  Silently moving and leaning and touching the leaves, I took more than 100 photographs.  I have always believed that I couldn't meditate, but it was only the cushion and the sitting still that I couldn't seem to manage.  No one had said that photography could quiet my mind without the Zafu

David duChemin, self-described  'photographer nomad author', talks about what he considers 'two of the most significant keys to creativity' - curiosity and constraints.

My present constraint involves patterning.   I see patterns everywhere: in the layering of leaves on the huge weeping beech down the street and on a tree's shadow cast upon a painted wall, standing beside its living partner.  I see the designs sunlight casts upon the corrugated siding of a commercial building, and the streaks of light squeezing through the slates of a window blind.

Observing is not enough, however.  I wish my photographs to show not only what I see, but also how I see it.  To be a reflection of who I truly am.

I am learning to notice when I take a series of pictures that, while well-designed and technically good, do not show my inner self.  They feel aloof.  While I don't delete them yet,  it is hardly likely that I will print them.

The rain has stopped.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


While eating lunch today, I started reading the sep/oct 2015 edition of  Victoria's Lifestyle Magazine. The editor's column was titled 'THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING" and she began with this sentence 'I bought a sofa on impulse a few weeks ago. It's one of those luxuriously cushy models with ornate wooden legs that would be perfectly at home in the drawing room of a Southern antebellum mansion.'

She realizes immediately that she had made ' a massive mistake' as the couch was so huge that all of her existing furniture looked tiny. As well, it was ill-matched to her contemporary pieces.

Did she return the sofa?  One assumes so.  However, she continues:  'Much to my husband's confusion (and annoyance, I'm sure), I opted to keep this piece of furniture and change everything else to suit it......Who changes their entire home and creates such upheaval to accommodate one sofa?'

WHAT!?  Even with its jocular style, this article spells E X C E S S all over it.

At this point, I lost my appetite.

Earlier this morning, I had read a Facebook posting by Rev Al of the Dandelion Society.

Hi Face book friends! You would not think that it is only 7 days until the Federal election, and yet no one would think that I would have to beg for sleeping bags, for the homeless. I gave away 100 sleeping bags in this last three weeks and I need your help. You can drop them off at Rain Coast Business Address: 1027 Pandora Ave, Victoria, BC V8V 3P6

The mission of this Society, as it appears on their website, is : 'The Victoria Dandelion Society is committed to supporting our street family, one person at a time. We offer unconditional love to all who come our way and advocate for the voiceless, restoring hope in the places most affected by physical and relational poverty.'

Avodah, the Social Action Group under the wing of Congregation Emanu-El, has just purchased 96 sleeping bags to donate to The Dandelion Society.  We received a generous grant that made this purchase possible, and clearly, the need will continue throughout the year.

I am only guessing, but I believe that this magnificent couch might have translated into about 300 people in our Victoria community having a warm place to sleep.  And the purchasing of all the new furniture...I won't even guess.

Remember, a sleeping bag may be the only home a street person has.

Friday, 25 September 2015


Last evening, a friend and I were looking at photographs I had taken a week ago in Tofino.  First we looked at some of my favorites, those that I had flagged on my iPhoto program, and then we wandered through others, pausing to look as they caught our special attention.

Another person's seeing allows me to look more deeply into the images they have chosen- to appreciate what they have noticed, that I may have overlooked, and sometimes to understand the different ways in which we perceive beauty.

Joan asked me about my writing; what my process was.  Did I write it first on paper, in rough?  Did I sit comfortably on the couch in the living room?  Did I plan/have a specific idea of what I wanted to write?

No, none of the above.

I just start writing on the computer, typing my way, with only one finger.  I read it out-loud, again and again, to hear the cadence and my choice of words.  I am generally surprised by the trail these words take; by the circuitous route of my thoughts.

A few weeks ago I read Like Normal People  a beautiful book written by Karen Bender. Beginning in the mid 20s, it is a story about a mother, Ella, her daughters, Lena and Vivien and her granddaughter, Shelley.

It is particularly focused on the intense and often controlling relationship between Ella and Lena, her intellectually disabled first offspring.   Ella's caring and her almost undivided attention towards Lena, both encompass her life and give her life purpose.

The story unfolds through layered flashbacks in the space of one day in 1978, when Ella is now elderly and her mind has begun to wander.

 'Ella looked out the window and tried to imagine a future without herself.  The world would not need her any more than it had needed her before she was born.'  She envisioned  these three women sitting together, having lunch without her, 'stealing their lives beyond her.'  How then would she belong to them?

She wanted to come along too.

Her only recourse was to sit straight and clasp her hands like a person who was strong and independent.  To banish thoughts of her death.

David Suzuki, in Letters To My Grandchildren, muses about our existence in a different manner.  He recognizes that our individual existence is transitory.  We come into this world and we disappear from it...where did we come from? ..and where do we go?  He talks about people's attempts through time to live on, at least in people's memory: monuments built, art and music and literature created.  He talks too of religions making promises of something greater beyond this life.

For Suzuki, all life is a miracle and death a critical necessity.  As a geneticist, he argues that 'without death, there can be no change, no evolution,'  and continues that 'evolution is necessary to adapt to the constantly changing conditions of Earth.'

This intellectual understanding does not necessarily bring a comfortable acceptance of death.  Suzuki tells his grandchildren that he doesn't think about it much except 'to know that we're all going to go through it and that it will be a very lonely trip.'

Near the book's conclusion, before addressing each grandchild individually, David Suzuki talks to them as a family.  I believe this wisdom he shares is meant to embrace all of us, the universal family.

'When any of us is on our deathbed and reflects on the things that make us proud and happy, I am sure it will not be power or stuff, money or fame; it will be about people and the kind of world and values we leave behind.  I hope that at the end of my life, I will be like Dad- in no pain, with no fear of death, and with a mind that is still active.  I want you all to be there, not so you can grieve for me, but so I can tell you I did the best I could for your future.  I'm just one person, and I couldn't expect to save the future, but I'm like the hummingbird in the South American indigenous story, the one who carried a drop of water in its beak to put on a forest fire.  He did this over and over even though all the other animals laughed at him and said it wouldn't make any difference.  He kept trying because, as he said, "I'm doing the best I can." '

click on any photograph to get a larger image

Sunday, 20 September 2015

a photographer's dream

Tofino is a photographer's dream

       capturing landscapes on South Chesterman
                                           just before their disappearance with the tide

finely crushed shells decorate the sand

anemones cluster, forming abstract designs 

the colour and detail captivated me

I had never before seen them elongated

                  the fog enhances the morning's beauty 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

beat! beat! beat!

I'm sitting at the computer after a lovely birthday celebration at a friend's house. To me, B seems young at only 53, though he says he feels a huge difference from even 5 years ago.

A neighbour who has recently celebrated her 93rd year, says she can't remember when she was 80.

There is a beat! beat! beat! from across the road.  WHAT IS THIS?!  Oh, yes, our neighbours' son is half-way grown up now; he walks up the street with 'girls' on either side.  He used to go each Saturday, early, to the Oak Bay yard/dump with his dad, where he claimed all the electronics, no longer working, from the giveaway table.  Our old stereo lives in his room, with cumbersome, but excellent oversized speakers.

So, why am I surprised to hear loud, thumping music from across the street?  How has he grown to be a teenager while I seem not to have noticed the change?  His parents look the same.  Or do they?  And me?  If I'm not getting older, why do I keep making my garden smaller?  Why do I attempt to cover the circles under my eyes and add highlights to my greying hair?

And perhaps an obvious example of my aging self is that I fully, totally intended to write this blog entry about Tofino!  Brian and I returned last evening from 4 1/2 glorious days there.  I took 845 photographs.


Monday, 17 August 2015

the printer and me

I started writing this entry several days ago when I found myself at a walk-in clinic without a book.  The receptionist kindly gave me a sheet of paper and a clip board.

I began: this has been a humbling four weeks. Having taken thousands of photographs since buying my camera in the new year, I have a large selection from which to choose; hundreds that I had considered material to print, and to print large.  Well, the lesson began on our first printing day.

A poppy head that Patrice and I had considered outstanding, was far less so when printed.  Small sunbursts, hardly a distraction when viewed on the computer screen, became irritatingly obvious on the 81/2 x 11 print.

One down.

Later that day, I looked through the innumerable sedums I had photographed in our front garden.

A great many of them had droplets of water resting on their succulent 'leaves', as the result of our sprinkler system.  In shades of purple, ranging from red purple to a colour closer to blue, and areas that seemed translucent in shades of yellow, many of these  photographs still held me captive. The shapes of the droplets, often appearing suspended, were beautiful as well.

                                  click on any picture to see a larger image

An emotional joy to view on the screen, I concluded, though not the perfect collection to print.
                      (see the entry of May 23 to see more sedum photographs)
Two down.

Feeling discouraged, I transported myself back in time to the early mornings and to the evenings at dusk when I had immersed myself in the gardens, looking through my camera's macro lens.  In that moment of recollection, the peace, the joy and the sense of wonder returned.  It wasn't about the particular photographs I had captured, the so-called gems, it was rather the meditative calmness I had felt while in the garden that was the gem, my authentic self revealed.

At the time of this doctor's office draft, Patrice and I had had three additional printing sessions.  I noticed that I had discounted most of my 'flower' photographs as being too calendar-greeting-card-like, and that I was searching for images that reflected my artist's eye. Perhaps a different way of seeing, or an image that might tell a story. Photographs that reveal something hidden or that evoke an emotional response.

I realized that I had, until then, been choosing 'safe', thinking finished product, thinking  paper costs.

This past Friday I chose fun.  I chose delight.  I chose abstract. I went and bought 50 more sheets of photographic paper and said to hell with ink costs.

  And, I am delighted with five new prints!

(none are shown on this blog entry)


Sunday, 26 July 2015


I went to the Arthritis Centre last week to see Carol, the woman who guided the 9 week course on fibromyalgia that I attended.  Living with chronic fatigue, her love is wind surfing in Maui and teaching agility training with dogs.  Me?  I much prefer cats to dogs. I am guided primarily by my eyes as I walk barefoot on South Chesterman Beach, gathering shells and taking photographs, keeping far from cresting waves.  In spite of our differing loves, and perhaps because of them, she has been a valuable resource; the combination of social work skills and a wonderful sense of humour suits me perfectly.  

The last time we met, we did the pillow dance: Carol shifting her tall frame with a pillow behind her back, high and then low, on her lap and then discarded all together, as all 4 feet and nearly 11 inches of me seemed to mirror her pantomime.  While the chairs remained uncomfortable, the laughter seemed to help.

But I digress. 

I was early, so I glanced at the books in the hallway. You Are Not Your Illness  by Linda Noble Topf, drew my attention.  Initially it was the title and then, as I wandered through the pages, it became the quotations.  I have always, it seems, been drawn to quotations, writing them down on scrapes of paper or into notebooks and sharing them with friends.  Now, however, I have another reason.  Our daughter, Hilary, sells small posters on Etsy (Raincity Prints) where she uses her wonderful sense of design to transform quotations into art. 

As I glanced through the book the following day,  the 'wonderful art of receiving' made me stop and read that section.  I find it way easier to give, whether it be time, a gift/present or a compliment. Receiving generally brings a blush to my cheeks.  The author says that when she watches her cats she sees that the act of receiving and accepting has its own special powers. She continues that we discover this when we are the neediest, and that 'it is usually because we have not allowed ourselves to receive rather than because nobody has given.'

Linda Noble Topf writes: 'Devote three full days to just receiving what others give, no matter how great or small the act may seem.  Give nothing in return beyond a simple thank you.' She followed her own advice, and continues by saying that she has given special attention to how she received the various gifts.  She lists them.  Three examples are: the letter carrier brought her mail directly to the house, rather than leaving it in her box by the street.  Someone visiting, complimented her on her hair. Her husband came behind her and surprised her with a kiss.

In a few cases, the non-deserving voice (that many of us know so well) made itself known. 'I'm not worthy of the attention' is one phrase that the author uses. However, with mindful attention, she found her heart opening and, when this happened, she knew clearly the pleasure in the giving that her friends and acquaintances had felt.  This pleasure was increased because they saw how much their gifts had meant to her.

As I write this blog entry, I now realize why I spent the two opening paragraphs talking about Carol.  It is a  written 'thank you.'  While I have thanked her after each of our three sessions together, it is only now that I am fully aware of the enormity of her giving. Time. Listening. Compassion. Humour. Acceptance. I had thought that I might give her one of my photographs as a thank you.  Now, however, I will say a simple 'thank you' and accept her generous gift to me.

Monday, 13 July 2015

learning curve

Last week, my daughter Sat-Sung, posted this timely quote on my Facebook page:

The spirit of Vincent Van Gogh must have known that our Epson printer was to be delivered today.  While my printer-mate, Patrice, thinks it might be too soon to actually print any of our images, my Aries moon urges me to go for it!  Let's see how they look.

How do the colours translate from computer screen to rag paper? Which images are the most exciting/evocative/serene?

 Does my photograph of a poppy pod impart a sense of wonder at its natural symmetry? Does its beauty extend beyond a drying seed head to something more universal?

Printing photographs seems much more precious to me than applying paint to a canvas or board, as I did for so many years. Acrylic paint is relatively inexpensive. Gesso can cover an unsuccessful work, allowing for a fresh start. Framing isn't always necessary and my finished work is simply stacked vertically.

                                        verbena bonariensis

While photographs cost nothing while their digital images remain on the computer,  the printer, with it costly inks,  and the framing, together greatly increase the cost of photographic art.

While taking pictures, I am emotionally involved, contemplating my subject's essence, capturing an experience, a moment in time.

                                          thalicrtum delavayi

I notice, however, that I am taking a more intellectual approach as I begin selecting images to print: balance, colour, composition, mood and light and, finally, what will look best translated onto paper.  I have taken over 10,000 photographs since the new year- perhaps I will print twenty.

Patrice and I just spoke again on the phone, where I reassured us both- paper is just paper, ink is just ink- remember to have fun !

                    last evening I saw a snail perched on top of a poppy head