Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Dichotomy of Life

cover photo from the portfolio I created for my application to NSCAD University
I am thrilled. I am scared. I am ready.

Recently, I had to write a one page essay and those were the words I ended with. Those words could be applied to any kind of new challenge in our lives, don't you think?  No matter what new activity or project or life experience, I believe that a lot of people would agree to having mixed feelings. 

Excitement about the opportunity. Wow, I can't believe this is happening to me! 

Fear about the unknown. I don't know all the answers or if I can do this!

Ready to try. I might be ready to dive in, or sometimes drag my feet, but I'm willing to give it a go.

Not many things are all good, or all bad. Usually joy and frustration go together hand in hand, joined on this path of life we all walk along. It's the dichotomy that makes things interesting for us, albeit sometimes it's hard to see why we have to take the bad along with the good.

A baby taking his first steps will be nervous about letting go and standing upright instead of crawling, but he'll feel the excitement of his achievements and glory in the praise of his loved ones. Even one step is a huge success.

A teenager trying to decide on what path she'll take after high school will be nervous about making her choices, but she'll feel excited about all her opportunities.

A young couple will discover they are about to start a family and will be thrilled about becoming parents, but perhaps nervous about all the responsibility.

And life goes on. We face new challenges, some small and some large. We take one step forward and two steps back. We cry and we laugh and we carry on.

The fear factor can be applied to our hobbies as well. I've been taking photographs for many years, and joined a local photo club about eight years ago. Enjoying my own images and sharing them with other people are two completely different things. Entering photographs into club competitions can be intimidating, but it's important to receive unbiased feedback in order to grow our skills. Online "likes" from family and friends on facebook are good ego boosters, but they don't count as constructive suggestions on how to grow and improve. Competitions, instructional courses, and juried exhibitions are all ways that photographers and other hobbyists can increase their skills.

Last year, I stepped out of my comfort zone and started participating in different photography and writing challenges. I submitted an article to a magazine, and I wasn't accepted. But the editor checked out my photographs and I ended up having one of my images published. My images were turned down for a book compilation, but accepted for a gallery exhibit in Dartmouth. I have written a short story and submitted it to the CBC Non Fiction Literary Competition. I won't know the results until later this year, but I consider it a mark in my personal success column because I actually hit the "send" button once it was completed. I sent it off into the world instead of keeping it to myself, and that's a big achievement for me. Sometimes it's difficult to overcome a fear of failure, but the biggest reward is knowing that we have tried.
pictured with my granddaughter on Portfolio Day at NSCAD University
Four years ago, I attended a tour of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) University with my son who was considering going to art school. I was so excited about the tour that I went to an art supply store to purchase a sketch book before we headed home. As it so often happens, I got sidetracked by life. A few weeks ago, I took another tour of NSCAD, this time with my granddaughter who is future planning for decisions she'll be making a couple of years from now. I spent the tour envisioning myself as one of the young people planning for a future. I got home and started wondering, why exactly was I lamenting not being young with a future ahead of me? I am not young, but I have a future and I still have dreams. I talked to my husband, put together a portfolio, and sent in my application.

I received a phone call and I've been accepted as an art student at NSCAD. I'm 55 years old and am going back to school. Even retired people need something to focus on. And that brings me back to the opening lines for this article:

I am thrilled. I am scared. I am ready.

Published in the South Shore Breaker -  March 22, 2017. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hummer of a painting

In this internet age, people are introduced into our lives in unexpected ways. I "met" Helen a few months ago when she stumbled across my blog while researching the high tides in Nova Scotia. We corresponded many times and she seems like a kindred spirit. Helen has created a beautiful painting based on a photo I posted four years ago. She asked for permission first - which is rare these days! I've had people use my photographs and inspirational writing without permission and without credit. But that's a different story.

Here is my photograph, with Helen's painting below . She did a beautiful job!

My photograph from 2012

hummingbird painting by Helen Eaton - WordWeaverArt Etsy Shop

You can read a blog post about her painting here: Word Weaver Art Blog

You can view and/or purchase her painting here: WordWeaverArt Etsy Store

To quote one of my husband's favourite movies "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." (from Casablanca)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How does your garden grow?

One day in January, my husband arrived home with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Once I picked myself up from the floor, I asked what the occasion was. He knows I like flowers, he said, so he bought me some. Twenty five years together, and I dont need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of times I received a bouquet of flowers from him. Not on our anniversary. Not on Valentines Day. Never. So, miracles do happen.

He thought he picked roses when he pointed them out at the shop, but it was actually a bouquet of carnations. They were beautiful, and lasted for weeks.

On a cold winter day, fun can be had by photographing flowers taken from a bouquet of roses. Well, it was actually a bouquet of carnations but my husband thought he bought me roses.
Nova Scotia winters are fickle. Snow one day, and rain the next, sometimes its difficult to know how to dress for an outside jaunt. Until the mid February snow dump, we had a relatively easy winter. A week of constant shoveling and school and store closures quickly put that thought to bed.

At this time of year, even if there are piles of snow on the ground, there may be a far off whiff of spring that we catch on the winter winds now and then. Our minds start yearning for new growth and warmth. You may have noticed the shift to non winter thoughts on social media, where people are sharing photos of their gardens from last year and images from seed catalogues. Maybe, if you
re like me, you have some artistic friends who have been sharing snippets of paintings of lush flower gardens or still life photos of blossoms in vases.

I am no exception, and my thoughts turn to planning for this year
s garden. Even a person without a green thumb can learn to garden. I have killed almost every house plant I have ever owned, but over the years I have learned about gardening through trial and error.
Even someone without a green thumb like me can grow an amaryllis to bring some spring like cheer to the home during a long winter.
My first efforts were at our home in rural Ontario, when we thought we lived in the "country" but actually were just living on a 2 acre lot in a subdivision on the outskirts of a small town. I grew tomatoes. I grew asparagus that we never got to eat because our dogs kept eating all the spears before we could cut them. I grew spaghetti squash before we were squash eaters. What was I thinking? We ended up with dozens of squash that we didnt even eat and gave them away to anyone we could.

Gardening got serious for me when we moved to a twenty acre piece of property in rural Nova Scotia. Our yard was a hay field that came right up to the house. My husband mowed, and I planted. First, I made a tiny five foot flower garden planted with perennials we moved from Ontario in my VW Beetle. Then we planted a flowering crabapple tree in memory of my dad.

My flower garden expanded every year that followed, and vegetable gardens were created, despite my promises to my husband that I would stop increasing my gardening work load. Expansion was inevitable, and my husband jokingly referred to my efforts as "enhancements" since we were not "expanding". Shrubs and flower gardens surrounded three sides of the house. The backyard garden grew from five feet square in the first year to over a quarter of an acre by the time we moved. Oh, and did I mention the 13 foot long fish pond we created?

But now we live in the town of Bridgewater with a yard full of sod that is slowly being taken over by shrubs and flowers. Gardening was my first priority after unpacking essentials when we moved. Boxes and boxes were stacked in the garage, lower on my "to do" list than getting plants into the ground. This summer the "enhancements" will continue.

We planted a few trees last summer. The required flowering crabapple tree that always makes me think of my childhood home. A mountain ash that I have wanted for almost twenty years but never planted before. And a french silk lilac, a reminder of the first home we owned together. We may be at our limit for shrubs, but I
ve learned never to say never when it comes to investing in more bones for the gardens.

Vegetables will be limited in our small space. I planted asparagus last year, so that should be ready in another year from now if the dogs don
t get to it first. Tomatoes are always a staple for me, and Ill continue my battle with whatever critter took a bite from all my tomatoes last year. Maybe Ill grow beans again, but it seems a lot easier on my knees to head to the farmers markets rather than picking my own.

New for me this year will be a cutting garden. I plan to grow a variety of annual flowers that I can cut and bring inside. Fresh flowers indoors are always a good thing to focus on, no matter what time of year it is. And if I have my own cutting garden, my husband won
t need to buy me roses once every twenty five years.

Friday, February 17, 2017


We all have our little obsessions. My current obsession with photography is playing with photos and combinations, namely feathers and birds. I don't think I have it quite right yet, but the root of my idea is to create images that use feathers to represent trees. Here's what I have so far (keep in mind that I am just learning how to combine multiple photos into one image). 

Same feather and bird images as above, but with an photo of ice used as the background

I'm trying to create a feeling of release and/or freedom. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Anticipation - It's Worth The Wait (snowy owls)

Published in the South Shore Breaker - February 8, 2017
Female Snowy Owl visits the lighthouse
Unlike our local owl populations that are nocturnal, snowy owls hunt during the day and prefer rodents. They prefer open land with tall perches.
If you are a certain age, you may remember the ketchup commercials from the 1970s that play the song "Anticipation" in the background. An announcer ends the commercials with the words "the taste thats worth the wait". 
I dont remember what I did last week, but I do remember commercials from forty years ago. I wonder what that says about me?

In any case, its true. Some things are worth the wait.

When I was very young, maybe 10 or 11, I was anxiously waiting for my birthday to arrive. I decided to sneak around the house to try to find my presents. I was successful, and found a small stash of unwrapped gifts under a bed in a spare room. I immediately felt guilty about snooping, but that wasnt the worst part. My birthday arrived and I had no surprises, I knew everything ahead of time. That was the worst birthday I ever had and I havent tried to sneak a peak to this day. 
One year, my yet to be husband wanted me to shake my wrapped Christmas present and guess what it was. The memory of my childhood birthday was still vivid after all those years, and I refused to play the guessing game. But he wore me down, and soon had me shaking the box and speculate. Well, I guessed golfing shoes and he said I was way off base. Relieved, because I wasnt a golfer by any means, I said that was good because the last thing I wanted was a pair of golf shoes. 
You can see where this is going, right? You guessed it, on Christmas morning I unwrapped the box and found a pair of golf shoes. I have to admit that they did come in handy the couple of times that I golfed. I finally donated them to a golf club to use for young golfers who couldnt afford their own equipment, so some good did come out of that gift. 
A childs anticipation of Christmas. Looking forward to a long awaited vacation. The thought of a decadent dessert after weeks of dieting. Winter imaginings of gardening in the spring. There are countless things where the anticipation is worth the wait.

I talked to a photographer during an exhibit in Lunenburg a few years back. He told me that it took him years to create the image that was displayed. I scoffed at the idea at the time, but now I understand that it actually can take years to capture an image that you have imagined. Waiting for the right conditions and circumstances can take a while if you are setting up a particular shot.
Adult male Snowy Owls are usually pure white, while females are darker with barred feathers.
Several years ago Nova Scotia was visited by an uncommon number of snowy owls. In January 2014, there was what biologists call an "irruption year" for the snowy owl in Nova Scotia. It seemed that snowy owls were extending their territory to the south during our winter months, and we were benefiting from increased sightings. And photographers were benefiting as well. Unlike our local owl populations that are nocturnal, snowy owls hunt during the day.

Baccaro Point is one of the local spots for snowy owl sightings in the winter, and we have been traveling down there for several years trying to find one. Every year unsuccessful, I viewed the online postings of snowy owl photos with envy. Even if you are a non-birder, these beautiful large white owls are something to see.

This year, on the third week of January, we tried again. Traveling a couple of hours in the car is always good for listening to music and talking about things we wouldnt take the time to discuss while sitting at home and the time passes quickly. After a lunch in Clyde River, we continued on to the lighthouse at Baccaro Point.

We hadnt even come to a complete stop when my husband spotted an owl sitting on a rock by the shore. I stared at it in disbelief. Three years of searching, and now one was sitting in plain sight! I jumped out of the car and started unpacking my camera, but only managed to snatch a few quick photos as it flew off before I could set up my equipment. A man in a truck stopped and told us that this owl was different than one he had seen in the same location a few days earlier.

Spirits soaring, I walked in the direction the owl had flown. I decided that nature photography is a two person sport, as my husband and his binoculars seemed to become the official owl spotter on our team. The second owl we found was sitting on the radar station, just under the "ball" at the top of the tower. Pure white, which I later found out meant that it was a male, he was content to sit for quite some time. He may have first appeared to be lethargic, but the constant moving his head from side to side revealed he was actually quite actively watching what was going on in his surroundings.
Found year round in the Arctic, Snowy Owls extended their territory during the winter months in recent years, and Nova Scotians have been benefiting from increased sightings.
I thought they were larger than bald eagles, but when I got home I did a little research and discovered that snowy owls are only about half the weight of the average bald eagle, and their wing span is approximately two and a half feet shorter.

Not too many people would be thrilled by spending three hours trudging back and forth across the barrens in freezing temperatures while lugging heavy equipment, but it was truly a magical experience for me, and a day that far surpassed my anticipation. It really was worth the wait, and something good to focus on.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Use It Or Lose It - photographing eagles

crows and eagles in Sheffield Mills
"Use it or lose it" is a commonly used phrase that Ive heard many times over the years. I never gave much thought to the origins of the meaning, but it gets applied to my life on a frequent basis these days.

For decades the term has been used to describe the best way to deal with the issues that come with aging. If we keep exercising (or maybe for some of us, if we actually start exercising) then we keep in shape. Likewise, if we keep exercising our brain, we continue to think better. 
Ive never been good at exercising, which is one reason that its great to be a dog owner. At a certain time of day, my dogs can guilt me into going for a walk by simply coming and sitting and giving me "the look". If the look doesnt work, pawing my leg usually gets my attention. Their joy is my reward. How can I grumble about our four kilometre walk when I see how happy it makes them? Although I have to admit, I dont feel the joy while Im bundling up in my winter coat, boots, hat, scarf, and whatever else I can think of to block those icy winds. But I do feel wonderful when were actually out and on the go. 
As for keeping my brain active, thats becoming an important routine as well. Reading the newspaper is a vital, and these days somewhat emotionally painful, as I try to reason whats going on in the world. My daily sudoku is a fun way to get my brain going. To my dismay, I have started to realize that the books I read are not as complex as they used to be.
Words seem to be escaping me a lot of times now, and conversations can be a little embarrassing. Sometimes names dont come to me quickly. "Hi, you" doesnt seem like an appropriate greeting to someone that Ive known for years when their name doesnt pop to mind. I used to get extremely embarrassed about forgetting words when I was talking with someone, but now I laugh it off and blame my aging brain.

"Old age isnt for sissies" has been attributed to Bob Hope, but apparently Bette Davis quipped that line. And if you have to ask who Bob and Bette were, then you dont fall into the definition of old yet.

Worst of all is that sometimes now I have to re-learn things that Ive learned before, and sometimes not too long ago.
I took this photo several years ago, and it won second prize in the Nature category of a provincial photo contest
There is a wonderful event in Sheffield Mills every year that bird watchers and nature photographers love to attend. The Eagle Watch falls over two weekends - the last weekend in January and the first weekend in February. Local farmers throw their chicken carcasses onto a field, the eagles get a free lunch, and photographers record the show. Visitors come to the site from all over Nova Scotia and far beyond. In the past, we have met people from Newfoundland, Quebec, and various places in the States.

I dont like to fight the crowds on the official weekends, so my husband and I head out during the weeks before the big event. We have missed a few years, and felt that it was time to get back into the habit so we headed over to the valley during the second week of January. We picked a good day. It was raining lightly and I had the field to myself. Were not early risers, so we never arrive when the feeding frenzy is happening. But there are lots of photo opportunities despite this.

It was when I was fumbling with my equipment and having trouble following the eagles in flight with my lens that the expression "use it or lose it" popped into my mind. I hadn
t quite lost it, but my action photography skills had certainly got rusty.

Patience is not my greatest skill, but I took a deep breath and calmed myself down. There were dozens of eagles in the trees lining the fields, and as I worked with my camera I became aware of what was happening around me. The eagles were "talking" to each other with unique calls and the sounds were coming from all directions. I started to get into the moment, relax and my memory snatched enough recall to get my hands and eyes moving fast enough to capture some action.

this eagle chose his meal to go - there is a chicken carcass in his talons - taken in 2013 when my skills weren't as rusty
Purists will tell you that capturing images from this event is not real nature photography. That same argument can be applied to animals in wildlife parks, and zoos, and even our backyard bird feeders. Regardless of how you feel about staged nature watching opportunities, this is an experience that everyone should enjoy at least once, even if they are not photographers.

The majesty of these birds is unequaled in my mind. And to see so many of them together is absolutely amazing. Fair warning to those who attend - bring your binoculars if you are a spectator and your longest lens if you are a photographer. The first year we attended, the eagles were just distant specks in the trees. The best time to go is early in the morning, when the feeding frenzy is in full throttle and you can see the eagles in action, as well as the brave crows and seagulls who will attempt to steal food from them.

if you arrive early in the morning, you'll see the feeding frenzy that occurs when the chicken carcasses are thrown on the field - taken in 2013
Its quite an adventure, and on the two event weekends there is a festival type atmosphere in the crowds. Watching nature in action is always something good to focus on, regardless of whether we're photographers, adventurers, or lovers of life.