Misadventures in the Canadian Rockies with a side of Punk Rock

Ha Ling

July 08, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

The clock read 10:43 pm as I set my alarm to ring at midnight, a mere hour and seventeen minutes to fall asleep and wake up again. "Photography is a stupid hobby" I muttered to myself, and shut off the bedside lamp. Instantaneously, the "It's 12:30, you're late, you should probably skip the shower" alarm rang and I bolted out of bed before I had the chance to protest.  Not this time Llisa. Not this time.

Approximately 30 minutes prior, at the ringing of the first alarm, I had somehow convinced myself that I was definitely awake and was only going to rest my eyes for a few minutes before getting out of bed. I had accomplished this by placing my left foot on the ground and promptly falling asleep. The memories of the incident are hazy, but the outcome was clear - I had fallen for the oldest line in the book. The morning's objective was to be in the mountains and well above tree line before the sun rose, I did some mental math to calculate sunrise minus drive and hiking time and decided to ignore the alarm clock for a second time that morning. Despite the warning on the alarm clock to skip the shower, I turned on the bathtub faucet and stepped in to the tub. I figured cleaning the dirt off could only help a person become more aerodynamic, and I could use all the help I could get now that I was behind schedule. 

The familiar drive from Calgary to Canmore, punctuated by dots of light on the horizon from approaching cars, was made more interesting by making up the life story of the occupants.  What kind of crazy person would be out driving at this time of day, I wondered as I daydreamed my way West. In a flash, I pulled in to the trail head parking lot.  The drive had flown by, yet somehow, I was still 30 minutes behind schedule. 

Normally, my pre-dawn-pre-hike routine starts by cracking the door of the truck open an inch to let some reality in, followed by the talking into or out of what I have planned, carefully weighing pros (sunrise photos) and cons (might miss the sunrise and this will be a waste of time, death) The culmination of the talk can end one of two ways, either the door is flung open and a pair of hiking boots hit the ground, or the door is carefully shut, ignition key turned and I retreat feeling a little bit sheepish. On this day however, the schedule was too tight for pep talks, and my boots hit the ground before I had a chance to properly consider my options.

Having hiked the Ha Ling trail once before, in the daytime, two years ago, with a horde of fellow hikers, I was fairly confident in my ability to hike it again, in the dark, alone.  I reached the obvious monument marking the beginning of the trail with ease and I commended myself on my excellent route finding abilities as I stepped into the forest. The glow of my headlamp illuminated the gnarled tree roots exposed by thousands of boots, and I picked my way over every tripping hazard, slowly forging upward. Occasionally, I would find myself in a grove of bushes, and once, I found myself with toes toward a rather intimidating cliff overlooking the valley.  Each time I would use my superior deduction and route finding skills to figure out that wasn't part of the trail, turn myself one hundred eighty degrees, and follow my flashlight towards a safer, more easily travelled path.  My underwear was clean, but it wasn't emergency room clean and I wouldn't want to embarrass my mother like that. Not today Llisa. Not today.

If there's one thing I have learned about hiking over the past few years, it's the importance of pace. My own pace is an embarrassing rate at which to travel. It's not unlike an octogenarian's epic journey toward the bathroom light at 2 o'clock in the morning. I move forward a mere six inches at a time, my feet barely crossing in front of each other, at turtle speed. I'm painfully aware that I look like I might keel over and die at any second, but oddly enough, with my old man mountain shuffle I can now complete hikes in a fraction of the time they used to take me, without getting too tired.  It's doubly satisfying to shamble past hikers who previously left me in their dust on their numerous breaks, but that is a daytime hiker's game and there was nothing on this trail to race except the quickly approaching dawn.

It could have been my old man mountain shuffle that brought me above treeline well ahead of schedule, or perhaps it was my freshly shorn legs and lusciously shampooed hair cutting down on wind resistance. I set my camera bag down right in the middle of the saddle between Ha Ling and Miner's Peak, not only before sunrise, but with enough time to spare to change into some warmer clothes, brew a cup of instant coffee and settle in for the show. The wind howled high above Canmore, and I teetered around with my tripod for stability, bracing myself against the force.  I found a little bit of shelter behind a boulder and observed tiny specks of hikers far in the distance, giving scale to the immense rock walls below them. I silently saluted their insomniac insanity, and snapped a photo.  

As the sun rose in the East, it lit up the mountain underneath my feet in an orange glow and I marvelled in every direction. The warmth of my blue speckled enamel coffee mug touched my lips and I drank it all in, both the coffee and views.   The camera was poised and ready, but I ignored it for a moment in order to fully appreciate the scene unfolding before me as the clouds turned a brilliant pink and the first rays of sun touched my face.  I always thought it was a shame that more people don't put the extra effort in to witness the sun rise, but as I stood there beaming back at the sun, I didn't mind the lack of company. Maybe photography wasn't such a stupid hobby after all. 


A Dirty Mind

April 18, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

The landscape of my psyche could probably be best compared to a dive bar bathroom. Unapologetically messy, a little bit dark and littered with tips about where to go for a good time.  Unfortunately, just like the scribbled notes written on the wall of a bathroom stall inside a dive bar, there's also a lot of half formed ideas and misinformation thrown into the mix. This misinformation occasionally makes it a bit difficult to decipher where I should actually go for a good time, and where I should go if I just want to wind up feeling kind of dirty and wholly unrewarded.

Of course, I'm talking about landscape photography locations.  Rather than poorly translated phone numbers scribbled on to napkins, there are notes strewn around my house with tales of mountain faces, lakes and other assorted neat looking things to point a camera at. But just like a randomized ten digit number, not all of those scraps of paper are a sure thing. In fact, lately I've been striking out seemingly every time I head for the door, a real dry spell despite my penchant for coming home soaking wet after standing around in various pools of water.

Maybe it's the weather, maybe it's bad timing, the wrong location or some cruel combination of the three. Maybe it's the camera gear or heaven forbid that human located behind the lens.

Maybe my standards have risen beyond my capabilities for the time being. It happens from time to time, a necessary part of growing, but damn if it doesn't start to get a little bit discouraging after a while.

Whatever the issue, it's made for some long, cold, boring photo shoots these last few months.

Just the other morning, I spent nearly two hours fidgeting in a muddy puddle along the side of the highway waiting for the sun to rise. I rearranged rocks along the side of the ditch. I shuffled my feet, sometimes dancing to poorly hummed music, but more often silently to stay warm. I pointlessly narrated every lens change, every filter change every shuffle of the tripod to my audience of birds. I knelt down in the mud and stirred all the ice in the puddle with a stick until it was broken up into tiny little pieces. At one point, I even spent a few minutes imitating the initial wash cycle of an old top loading clothes washer, twisting my torso back and forth with rubber arms and letting inertia wrap them around my body. Limp, spaghetti arms flailing from side to side to side to side to side. Still, the sun would not show itself. 

If you're getting into photography so you can tell your friends about the glamorous life you lead,  you have two options: Don't get into landscape photography, or lie.


Notice how the puddle is ice free?  I did that with only a small stick and a great deal of time.

The most common way for me to pass time while I wait for an unavoidably anticlimactic rising of the sun has been to pull a second camera out of the bag with my squeaky old telephoto lens, and kill time zoomed in to 200mm.  It's how I have accidentally produced the beginning of a new series which I desperately hope not to have to continue working on, but know that it's continued progression as a body of work is as inevitable as cloudy mornings in the Rockies.  The series is yet to be named, partially because I'm afraid if I name the images my discontent with the conditions under which they were made will shine through, and partially because despite all that I still like them. Besides, at the end of the day I don't really mind standing in a drainage ditch for hours on end, because time spent doing what you love, is still time well spent, and even if all I'm doing is flailing my arms from side to side -  I still have a camera in my hands. 

 

 


The Distortion 10 Year Party

February 14, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

The team at Calgary's haven for live music, Distortion (affectionately known throughout it's four locations simply as "The D") recently celebrated their 10th anniversary of entrepreneurship.  I've attended many shows at the club in it's current location as well as the Distillery locations in the decade before.  Like most of the family that frequents the space, the memories we've made over the past ten years are cherished.  For myself, I played some of my first gigs on bass at it's 5th Avenue location, got married in the Ballroom location and photographed my first wedding at the third location.  Most importantly, and a common theme among it's patrons, I made lifelong friends under it's roof. 

The party to celebrate those ten years of memories was, considering the venue, appropriately chaotic.  With performances from some of the city's best long time running bands, reunion shows, freak shows, dancing girls and more, I came home bruised and grinning from being in the mosh pit like I was 20 years old again.  With a beer in one hand and a camera in the other, I tried my best to balance documenting the night and toasting those who have spent the last ten years not only building up a business, but tirelessly cultivating a community in the process.

Here's to another 10 years Distortion.

 


Sleeklens Review -

February 08, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I'll be the first to admit, I suck at editing photos.

I'm impatient, slow to learn new techniques and generally an old fashioned curmudgeon when it comes to editing photos. I don't like to go too crazy in Photoshop on an image, partially because it's kind of boring to sit around on a computer, but also because I spent a bunch of money on camera filters to get things right in camera (And then watched them bounce 100 feet down a cliff face. Thanks Mt. Yamnuska)  So when Sleeklens recently got in touch with me and offered to send over a sample of their Adventure Landscape photoshop actions to review for them, I was a bit hesitant to say "yes."  However, I am a HUGE fan of free things, and so I found myself with a new toy to play with and a review to write.

I've never used Photoshop actions before and I was a bit relieved when Sleeklens also provided some foolproof youtube instructions on how to get started along with their loot. I watched a few seconds to get the basic idea because I'm impatient and then with barely enough knowledge to be dangerous, hunkered down to dig out some photos to edit.  

I chose a recent image from Marble Canyon to play with, having edited my own version the day before and coming up with the photo below, I wanted to see how these Sleeklens actions compared to my normal workflow. I wasn't expecting much, but I was basing my entire opinion of the workflow on their brand name Sleeklens. The name kind of rolls off the tongue, it sounds smooth, and cool and maybe a little bit like a guy who uses too much pomade in his hair. I was intrigued, slightly uncomfortable and I may have accidentally agreed to a second date. I don't know....

What have I gotten myself into? 


Above: My own edit, the old fashioned way with luminosity masks the way Ansel Adams intended!

I chose a similar photo and brought it in to Photoshop for basic raw adjustments as I normally would do:


Oh yeah. To hell with highlights, give me some more of that clarity slider baby.

And then took some time to deal with my dust spots.  
A lot of time.
So.
Much.
Dust.
This isn't even the worst image I have for dust either.
Who the hell shoots at F16? Fricken idiots, that's who...
This dust business is out of control.
What the hell.
I digress....

Finally, I added a few Photoshop actions to finish the image up. You can see the ones I used on the right side of the screen cap, below,  although I found myself  bringing the opacity of each action way way down.  The basic adjustments the actions are set to are, in my opinion, overpowered.  I prefer to keep things at least semi realistic and it was easy to get completely out of control. I hope I managed to keep the final image within believable range.

I did really enjoy choosing the "Enhance" actions, likely because of my odd internal monologue repeating "Enhance" in a robot voice any time I clicked the play button and then giggling madly to myself when it actually worked. 

"Enhance!"
"Enhance!" 
"Enhance!"

Final image: Sleeklens workflow. Enhanced.
 
I will admit, the weather in my area certainly has played a part in how thoroughly I have been "researching" these new Photoshop actions, a foot of new snow and temperatures hovering just above -30C have me happily committed to my desk for the foreseeable future.  Had this review been written in the summertime, I likely would have played around with them for a photo or two and then hastily declared the actions to be not for me, not for my workflow and left it at that.  Many of the actions are over the top. They're gaudy if you don't take advantage of masking them in properly or substantially lowering the opacity of the layer. Often,  I found them to be generally inappropriate for the image. But like anything in Photoshop, the advantages come along with an adjustment and learning period. I know, whoever thought I would be learning at my age?.  But with time to kill, I had some time to learn how to use them, and found that once you can find out where they fit in to your own process, they are quite useful.  You just need to set aside the time to learn when and where to use them.


I decided I would see just how far I was willing to push things and it quickly escalated

Start off slow, I'm only enhancing what was already there. Maybelline style.

Maybe I'll push it a bit further, see if anyone will notice....


Fuck it.  Let's create  a golden hour at mid afternoon because we can.  (The original photo was vastly different, taken in mid day light and converted to black and white)
 

That's when my inner Jeff Goldblum shut me down.
Just because I can, doesn't mean I should.

 

As it turns out, you can do quite a bit with this little set of Sleeklens Photoshop actions. Given my grumpy old lady stance on editing photos, I don't think they're the be all and end all of photo editing, but that's totally fine. It's good practice to start with a solid image worth putting time into, and not rely on Photoshop to go on a recovery mission. The images I edited that I thought sucked to begin with, still sucked after throwing some Sleeklens actions at them. Garbage in, garbage out.  

I would like to see these actions improved upon in the future with more options for using layers and layer masks, I like to have a safety net to fall back on when I'm editing and a lot of the processes tend to have you working on the background layer which makes me cringe and hit undo a lot. Even as they are now I'll likely be adding them to my arsenal of "Photoshop things that I know how to do" in the future, it's nice to have a new little tool in the kit, and they are useful tools if you take the time to learn how to use them.
 

 


Another Trip Around the Sun

January 31, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I recently spent the weekend nestled in a cabin in the mountains between Banff and Lake Louise to celebrate another trip around the sun.  I could have happily stayed out there forever, but Creepy-dog was a bit concerned that we lived there now, and spent every night crying to go home.  Sleep deprived, I was determined to make the most of my time and set my alarms to make sure I didn't miss out on any good light to point a camera at.  As I sat at the kitchen table in the dark at 6 am, nursing a precious cup of coffee and calculating how long I could nap before the sun rose, I was painfully aware that only a few years ago the annual celebration would have seen me awake from dusk to dawn with only a fraction of the effort and only self inflicted pain. I finished my coffee, scrutinized the dark circles under my eyes, grabbed my camera bag and hobbled out the door, wondering if the local wolf pack would accept a cute new member by the name of Creepy.

The week before,  I had unsuccessfully scouted a location near Lake Louise for a potential sunrise photo, losing a pair of hiking poles in the process.  After trudging through the snow for a few hours, I determined that the best views were in fact, at the trail head parking lot.   Fortunately the scouting trip wasn't a complete waste of time, I had noticed a far more accessible location earlier in the day, and upon returning a week later, made it my first stop for sunrise.  



As hundreds of vehicles whizzed by, I slowly waded through open channels of the Bow River and quickly tuned out the sounds of the Trans Canada Highway. 

I kicked myself for choosing an East facing range to focus on with such an explosive sunrise behind me, but just as I suspected, the first light of the day lit up the peaks of the Massive Range to the West in a brilliant display of alpenglow. I tried my best to steady the tripod on mounds of ice over the open water, failing often but occasionally succeeding.  


After the sun rose, I met up with Mr. Bastard and Creepy for a quick little hike in to one of the quiet hidden gems in Banff National Park,  Silverton Falls. Located under a kilometre from the road, by 10 am I was in bed for my first nap of the day. 

Later, we drove up to Johnstons Canyon and upon seeing the chaos in the parking lot, decided the lesser known Marble Canyon in nearby Kootenay National Park was a much more desirable afternoon stroll.  

Mr. Bastard struggled up some of the trail at Marble Canyon while I lagged behind him, bragging about my grippy yak-traxed hiking boots and breezing up the snow packed hills. Unfortunately, my grippy boots couldn't save me when, to the delight of Mr. Bastard, I fell into a snow covered hole and did a dramatic slow motion face plant into the snow. I shut up about my boots after that...

(Mr. Bastard would like to state for the record, that despite his non-grippy boots, he didn't fall, not even once)

Bastard family portrait, me coated in a fresh coat of snow after a less than graceful moment

I decided the area would be my next sunrise destination, and early next morning I yak-traxed my way up the trail again and set up my camera and tripod on a bridge overlooking the canyon.  The stillness of a cold winter dawn enveloped me and everything in sight. Feeling very alone but not wanting to miss out on a potential photo, I fidgeted nervously as I waited for the sun to rise. Fiddling with the camera, re-positioning the tripod and cursing at the one tree in the frame that I couldn't cut out.


Suddenly, I heard a peculiar squeaking sound and my heart leapt in to my throat.  It's the middle of winter! What could possibly squeak out here? My mind settled on the most logical conclusion.

WOLVES.

My eyes darted nervously as I gripped my bear spray, looking for the squeaking pack of ravenous wolves.  They must be famished if they can only muster out such a pathetic squeak.  My hands trembled as I started to move my camera gear back towards the bag to pack and make a hasty exit.  The tripod legs brushed against the bridge railing, squeaking as they folded in.  With solid evidence refuting my hypothesis about a pack of ravenous squeaking wolves now laid before me, I still required a few deep breaths to calm the nerves and steady the camera.

"It's only the tripod" I muttered to myself.
I yelled out "IT'S ONLY THE TRIPOD!" injecting a little bit of humanity into the stillness of the morning.
I felt better, and with the sun rising, there was no more time for silly fears.  
I snapped a few photos of the composition I had decided on the day before, but noticing the light on the mountains in the distance further down the highway I abandoned my post and sprinted down the trail.



Only a few kilometres down the road, it became clear that I was going to miss out on the light I was chasing, and turned the truck around to head for home. Feeling a bit dejected, I pulled into a little rest stop to try to salvage some scenery and early morning atmosphere while I still could. I waded through thigh deep snow, using the squeaky legged tripod to keep me upright. It wasn't long before I found a little pocket of photographic goodness.  I smiled as I knelt down in a pool of open water among the snowdrifts, snapped a photo and vowed to return before I had even left.


 


2016 Favourite Moments

December 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

 

My first photography outing of 2016 was on the coldest day of the winter, I’d left the house without a clue where to go and had been aimlessly driving around the city for hours, feeling completely uninspired. For me, trying to capture a photo I’m happy with before having at least a location in mind is usually a recipe for disaster. With the sunrise only minutes away, the morning’s effort to crawl out of bed, go out in frigid temperatures and commit the rest of the day to exhaustion was soon to be a massive waste of time. On track for disaster, something finally clicked and I had the idea I’d been waiting for. 
I sped over to Nose Hill Park and paid a visit to a tree that I’ve been photographing since I was but a wee fledgling landscape photographer. I’d never put in a decent amount of effort at that particular location, and with minutes to spare before dawn I was able to compose a photograph that I’m still really happy with. When the sun peeped over the horizon and set the frosty tree ablaze, I knew it was going to be a good start to the year.

LuminosityLuminosity

 

Red Rock Coulee has been on my radar for ages, my birthday gift to myself this year was a luxurious car camping trip in the middle of January where I spoiled myself with a $4 pack of cheese strings and some warm premade caesars. I had to cut my trip short due to a winter storm, which made me really want to see the place in the summer. 6 months later I returned for another attempt at seeing a nice sunrise, instead I got more than I bargained for when I woke to find myself in the path of a wild prairie storm. Being completely alone on the prairies, surrounded by lightning was an unforgettable experience, although a tad bit nerve wracking.

RodneyRodney

 

Lake Agnes is high on the list of favourite places of mine. I love to visit in the early hours of the morning before the sun and the crowds arrive. However one of the highlights of my year was spending a night above the lake during the summer solstice to watch the sun go down and wait for the stars come out. Even better was the leisurely downhill hike for sunrise.

Fairy Tale in Lake AgnesFairy Tale in Lake Agnes

 

When we made the decision to wander down Highway 22 early in the New Year, our plan was to pick random roads heading West to see what we could find for a nice Saturday afternoon drive. We found some lovely areas tucked away in the South West corner of Alberta, but eventually we also found some trouble.

The deeper we got into the mountains, the more snow we found and eventually we were driving in some ruts in the hard packed snow. Twenty kilometres away from anything, out of cell range, on a steep mountain road with a cliff on one side, the hard packed snow gave way. The jeep sunk. We were stuck. We had unknowingly ended up driving the jeep on a snowmobile trail.

With darkness falling quickly we debated what to do. Do we stay the night and walk out in the morning? Do we try to keep on going and try to make it to the next town? Could we get the jeep turned around without going over the cliff? Though we had supplies packed in case we had to spend the night, our adrenaline was through the roof and our normally hyper Creepy-dog cowered in the back seat of the jeep.

With the help of some shovels and some rather tense manoeuvring, we managed to dig our way out and get turned around. This is the triumphant Mr. Bastard and Rambo (the jeep) posing in a freezing cold wind tunnel shortly after returning to solid ground. It may not have resulted in the best photos, but it was definitely a memorable moment for us in 2016.

 

It’s not often I get to hang out with my little brother, it’s even less often I can convince someone to wake up at 3 am and start walking up a mountain with me but I got to do both at the same time with a sunrise hike up Abbott Ridge in Glacier National Park. The opportunity to watch the sun peek over Mt Sir Donald while sipping a cup of hot chocolate with my little brother ranks as one of my favourite moments this year.

Mt Sir DonaldMt Sir Donald

My most memorable moment of 2016 - Rawson Lake at Sunrise

I have attempted to get here for sunrise on multiple occasions in the past few years and failed, most of the time due to the fact that I find hiking 4 km alone in the dark more than a little terrifying. Rawson Lake seemed to be the unattainable location and I had built the place up in my head a little bit. A dangerous thing to do, as I could have been setting myself up for a major disappointment.
However, this fall, after sitting at the trail head two weekends in a row trying to convince myself to leave the safety of the truck I finally made it. As I approached the lake in the moments before dawn and saw the head wall gleaming through the trees, the beauty of the scene left me breathless and the only words I could mutter into the silence was a hushed "wow"
I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise and the nice feeling of having achieved a goal before hearing (probably imagining) an animal in the trees behind me and took that as my cue to leave.

 

A Very Rawson MorningA Very Rawson Morning A Super Rawson MorningA Super Rawson Morning

 

Happy New Year everyone, thanks for following along.


Nate Trash's Birthday Show

December 07, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Select photos of World Class White Trash, Bogue Brigade and Snakepit at Nate Trash's birthday party.
Distortion, Calgary, AB 
All rights reserved, for licensing requests please use the contact form



Press Gang CD Release

October 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Select photos from the Press Gang CD Release party  with Pelican Death Squad, The Foul English, Electric Revival & The Press Gang

October 29, 2016
Distortion, Calgary, AB 

 

Pelican Death Squad
 

 

The Foul English with their brand of "Dadcore" punk.

 

I love photographing The Electric Revival, not only because of the awesome music but for Dan's hair.  Just once, I wanted to get a photo of Dan's hair whips with his face visible and I was able to get quite a few shots I liked. 

The Press Gang, home from a very successful cross Canada tour. It was great to hear the new Album from start to finish and to finally have the new cd in my hands. You can get your own copy here


Chester Lake

October 26, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Tossing and turning until well after midnight, I can't say I was all that surprised that I slept through my 2 am alarm clock, still, I was a bit disappointed in myself.  Mr. Bastard had gone to Saskatoon the day before and I was looking forward to spending the day in the mountains.  I dragged myself out of bed, 7 am, too damn early for a Saturday and yet still too late to catch any of the good light.  These weekends go by so fast, I feel guilty when I waste a perfectly good opportunity to go photograph things.  I slunk toward the kitchen, warmed a cup of day old coffee in the microwave and then collapsed onto the couch.  I didn't quite feel sick, but I sure didn't feel well either. A mere flight of stairs had already felt like too much effort and I decided I would need to formulate a new plan that was a bit more gentle on the body than the intensive two day sunrise chasing photo frenzy I had hoped for.

I mulled over my options. I'd heard about something similar to the sunrise phenomenon that might also afford good photographic opportunities, and then it dawned on me. 

Sunset.

Of course!
It had all the qualifications I was looking for: golden light, reasonable hours of operation and I could even make up for the missed sunrise.  I did some calculations in my head, sunset at 6:30 pm minus one hour fifty four minutes driving and 5 km hiking equals I have to leave the house at 2:30 pm. So I left promptly at 2:30 and arrived at the trail head deep in the mountains two hours later, already six minutes behind schedule.  Sunset, with it's reasonable hours,  had one drawback as I grumbled about the amount of traffic I'd encountered.  I wasted no time and began lacing up my boots when I noticed a peculiar sound emanating from the rear of the jeep.

 

ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssshit.

 

The tire was losing air at a rapid rate and I didn't have a spare.

 

I dug around in the jeep for a pen and scrap piece of paper and scribbled out some instructions and a phone number. 

Mikey

Flat tire

Chester Lake Trail head

No Rush

 

Maybe sunset with its reasonable hours, wasn’t so bad, I thought, as a young couple wandered out of the forest right on cue. “Excuse me” I asked “Are you returning to civilisation?”  The couple stared at me. I remembered we were in a parking lot, in the woods and the parking lot was nearly deserted. I tried to smile and curled my mouth upwards in the least axe murdery way I could. “Civilisation, are you headed to town? I have a flat tire, can you text my husband for me?” The couple inspected my flat tire with pitying looks and readily took the piece of paper I scribbled on. Mikey was on his way home from Saskatoon last I’d heard, it would be  a few hours before he got my message. I thanked the couple and then started up the trail.

The whole sunset business had quickly gained another point, hiking alone in the day light is significantly less terrifying than hiking in the dark and I marvelled at the scenery around me. Birds chirped in the trees and I welcomed the sound rather than freezing in terror wondering what that noise was. The mountains soon appeared over the tops of the trees as I gained elevation and I resisted the urge to stop and photograph them, I knew that the view would keep getting better if I kept on. I reached the meadows before the lake as the sky began to glow a brilliant gold, and that’s when I noticed the bear in the distance.


I stopped dead in my tracks. The bear stopped grazing and turned towards me. We stared at each other across the meadows, sizing up the situation, frozen, neither of us quite sure what to do.  My heart beat at a million miles a minute, its times like this I hate hiking alone.  I debated with myself. Should I leave? Should I keep going?  I’m safe now, but what if it wanders closer to the trail while I’m at the lake?  I clutched the bear spray in my hand, my eyes darting between the golden light and the bear, between certain photographic opportunities and possible maybe certain death.  It was a tough choice until I noticed a gleam of white reflecting in the sun. Antlers.  It was only a moose-bear, more commonly known as a moose that only looks like a bear from far away to the paranoid hiker.  I relaxed a little bit and scurried towards the lake.

Moose-bears, flat tires and traffic notwithstanding, I had timed the trip a little bit too perfectly. Driving time and hiking time were well accounted for, and I arrived at sunset as I had planned.  What I forgot to account for was the absolute chaos that broke out once I arrived at the lake. Layers I had shed on the way needed to be put back on, right side out. The boots came off and then had to be put back on and re-laced.  My camera bodies had no batteries, no memory cards and no lenses attached and the assembly was a little difficult with my cold fingers. My tripod, nearly frozen shut, required coaxing to open and then there was the issue of a composition.

 I’ve grown accustomed to having some sort of a plan in place when I take photos, but having never laid eyes on Chester Lake before I had no idea what to expect. I had no plan for this place and it showed. I ran across a bridge with my gear in tow and immediately negated having used the bridge at all when I splashed into the outflow creek, nearly slipping on the algae covered rocks.  I set up a camera squarely in the middle of the creek and then promptly decided to switch lenses for each camera. I juggled all the gear precariously, somehow rescuing the leaning camera laden tripod without spilling an armload of lenses into the water. My backpack laid in the snow nearby vomited assorted accessories. I was uneasy about being alone, but entirely pleased that I had the place to myself.  Chaos doesn’t like an audience.

Finally, after a multitude of lens changes and filter swaps, I got into a system and snapped long exposures with one camera while using the other camera to shoot some telephoto photos in the opposite direction.  I finished one last long exposure and, seeing the swath of sunlight bathing the mountain face in a pastel pink wash, decided I’d need yet another lens swap and a slightly different composition for that particular shot.  I stuffed as much of the gear into the backpack, shouldered the tripod and carefully tiptoed across the creek once more.  I sprinted up the bank of the creek, threw the backpack in another pile of snow, plunked down the tripod, swapped lenses, readjusted the composition, removed a filter, readied the camera to take a photo, placed another filter back on and pressed the shutter just in time to see the last of the light leave the mountain face.

I missed it.

I bloody missed it.

I couldn’t believe it.

I stared around me in disbelief half expecting the sunlight to reappear but it was gone. 

I shook my head at the thought of coming all this way just to miss out by mere seconds.  I snapped a consolation photo and surly stuffed my gear into the backpack. I checked the time, sunset was definitely over and I’d been barely been at the lake for fifteen minutes.  It seems absurd to put in so much effort only to turn around fifteen minutes later.  At least I’d been shooting with two separate cameras, so it was sort of like I was there for half an hour.  By my calculations, I would have just enough time to hike back to the trail head and cook a bit of dinner before Mr. Bastard came to help deal with the flat tire.  I stepped back onto the trail in the quickly darkening forest and hurried back towards civilisation. Once back at the immobilized jeep with a pot of snow and oatmeal slowly turning into dinner on the stove,  I studied the back of my camera screen. I felt like a fisherman coming home with the catch of the day and raving about the one that got away. 

 

 


Mice

October 20, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Vermin.

I couldn't have been any older than 16 years old by the time I decided that I would instate a lifelong objection to mice and mice related critters which I have deemed to be "gross" or "icky" This lifelong objection shall include, but not be limited to rats, voles, deer mice, field mice, shrews and packrats. Critters related to mice but classified as "cute" or "awwwww" shall not be included in the lifelong objection. 

One dark winter evening, I had entered our dog run after dinner to feed our dogs and refresh their water.  The only light shone from the bulb used to heat the dog house, but I'd performed the chore hundreds of times before and didn't need the light to know where everything was.  I could make my way from the house into the carport and through the gate to the pen with my eyes closed.  The evening I began my lifelong objection to mice, I refreshed the water bowls and went to grab some food for the pups, they wriggled with anticipation as I reached for the 10 gallon bucket high on the shelf above me.



I don't know what happened next, it all happened so quickly and I've been relatively successful at blocking the entire episode from my mind.

Did I reach inside the bucket for the scoop first, or had I clumsily knocked the bucket over before I knew what was inside?
Was my hand, clasped around the scoop, still shoulder deep in the bucket? Or perhaps it was the action of recoiling in horror that caused it to tip towards me.
When the contents of the bucket spilled over me, were the mice satiated from the dog food they had gorged on and happy to be free? Were they upset about losing such a wonderful food source? Had they been planning the ambush all along?
I may never know how that bucket of mice felt about being poured all over me, but I do know what 100 sets of tiny little claws feel like, and I know I don’t like mice.

 

 

But the thrill of the camera poised and ready just before dawn can make a girl do strange things. Brave things.

Standing in the farmer’s field early one morning, the countdown to the moment of sunrise in its final minutes. Prairie morning chattering in surround sound.  Early birds chirping loudly as they fly startlingly close to my head in search of the worm they were promised. Wind picks up and rustles golden wheat fields as the first light of the day warms the cool night air.  A peculiar scratching noise in the grass at my feet. What was that? I looked down and noticed the field mice ducking in and out of view between blades of grass. Was it the mice that made that squeaking noise? I think it might have come from me.

"GO AWAY!" I yelled. "SHOO!" Yeah. I shooed the mice away like an irate Disney princess, but the critters continued to rush around my feet, apparently un-phased by my yelling. I shuffled around nervously and stomped my feet as menacingly as I could but the mice laughed in the face of danger and defiantly bumped into my shoes. A mere three layers of rubber, leather and socks were all that protected me from their… touching.   I shuddered at the thought of their tiny little feet touching mine and briefly considered yelling out “FEE FI FO FUM” to remind them of the giant in their midst but thought that might have been a bit cliché.

 

Despite my best efforts at scaring them away, the mice were not vacating the premises, and continued along with their morning activities.  Right on cue, the sun began it’s grand entrance onto the stage. 

I turned my attention to the task at hand and tried to line up a composition but needed to get a bit lower to make it work.

I tried to get lower to the ground without bending my knees, keeping as much of my body above the grass as possible in case the mice jumped.  The composition needed to be just a little bit lower still.  I bent at the waist and teetered unsteadily, craning my neck to see into the viewfinder. I needed to be just a little bit lower still, and the sun was not waiting around for me to figure out how to do that without touching the ground.

I reluctantly bent a knee.  The left one. Slightly at first but as the photo came into view the knee began creeping towards the ground until finally it landed with a soft thud.  The right knee followed suit and my face, glued to the viewfinder was soon at grass level. The danger zone, but I was already too immersed in the camera to notice.  It wasn’t long before I was scurrying around in the grass on all fours like the very mice I had been avoiding. Once the sun was up and I clicked out of photographer mode, I realized what I had been doing without fear of mice for close to an hour. I briefly considered lifting the lifelong objection, until I arrived back at home to find some telltale little pellets on my kitchen floor.

Vermin.

 

 

 

 


Not so Fearless

October 04, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

One of the ways I like to scout out locations for sunrise photos is Google maps, and I've had a pin set on Rawson Lake for years. The picturesque, mountain bound lake is situated at the bottom of a big rock wall with enough open space to the East to promise some excellent morning light. My absolute favourite kind of location.  So why did it take me so long to get there?

I've used every excuse in the book to mask the fact that ultimately, I was just scared to go there alone.
"There's been a Mama Grizzly bear in the area"

"I can't convince anyone to wake up at 2 am and go hiking with me"
"I slept in" 
"The bridge is out" 
"This other spot is guaranteed to be good, why risk the unknown?" 
And most recently, "Is it really, truly, actually worth doing in a snowstorm?" 

Not that I've ever let a snowstorm stop me in the past, but at least the excuse worked out in my favour.  

I arrived at the trailhead for Rawson Lake promptly at 5:30 am to find that a wall of snow had formed seemingly out of spite along the trail I planned to walk.  I sat there, willing away the clouds and sipping my coffee.  I geared up for the hike anyway but then returned to my seat inside the truck. I perched there studying the clouds and sipping my coffee. I drove away towards the highway only to turn around 5 kilometres later and return to the trailhead.  I sat in my truck sipping coffee and contemplating the clouds.  I drove away again only to return for a final round of shaking my fist at the clouds and sipping my coffee.

Somewhat relieved, I gave up Plan A in favour for Plan B.
The continuation of the snowstorm at Plan B lead me to opt for Plan C.

Plan C was abandoned after only a single photo when the potential of Plan D was realised.
Half a tank of gas later I arrived at the conveniently located roadside Spray Lake just before the sun arrived.
In the end, the choice was a good one and I watched as sunlight flirted with the wall of clouds I had left over an hour before. But it was as if I was being rewarded for my flakiness.

Still, I had been so close to finally seeing a sunrise at Rawson Lake that nothing else would suffice in its place.

It wasn't a week later that I found myself at the trailhead. 

Again.

Determined not to make any more excuses.  

Like, for real this time.

The weather conditions were perfect, the bridge was in place, I had just enough time to make it to the lake before the sun and I supplemented two cans of bear spray in lieu of courage and hiking companions.

I set off into the woods, wielding camera lenses and yelling my battle cry of "boats! Boats! BOATS!" into the darkness.  Steadily I climbed, not daring to take a rest lest my fortitude relied on inertia.  The promise of light tumbling down the sheer rock face kept me moving until the mountain appeared through a break in the trees and I froze in place, breathless.  A hint of dawn illuminated the cliff in front of me, it's imposing beauty doubled by the calm reflective waters of the lake. High up a dusting of snow and clouds swirled  in an ethereal dance and for a moment I forgot every problem, every excuse and every fear I had. 

 


Lake Windermere

September 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

It didn't take long for rumour to spread  Moments after our arrival we heard the sordid details from some friends in the campsite next to us.  Allegedly, at 5 o'clock that morning, the campers across the road had woken to the sound of a mother black bear and her two cubs sniffing around their tent and digging into a bag of potato chips.  We surveyed the camp site from a distance, noting the items left on the picnic table and concluding the campers definitely had not learned any lessons about bear safety.  But then attention turned to the campground itself and it's lack of bear proof garbage containers. Maybe bear sightings were such a rare occurrence in the area that I could just push the idea of bears roaming wild in the streets at 5 o'clock in the morning out of my head.  More likely however, that the place was known as one of the best buffets in town among the local wildlife.

We were staying in a resort like campground on Lake Windermere for the weekend to celebrate the impending marriage of two friends, but with me being the kind of friend who shows up to a party with a disembodied head in the back of her truck, I was able to sneak away to partake in some photography with my little pal Deadgar. Unfortunately the time for me to sneak away happened to coincide with the bear laden pre-dawn hour of 5 am.

My pal DeadgarMy pal Deadgar

Above:  Deadgar 

I woke with a start to the shaking of our holiday trailer. The clock read 5 am, the same time of day the bear had been sighted, could it be back and trying to get into my trailer? Do bears have internal clocks that wake them up so they grudgingly get out of bed to go foraging every morning? Did the trailer even actually move, or did I?  I laid in bed for a while pondering my sanity and decided that I was somewhere on the scale between "I like to wake up at 5 am to take pictures" and "I'm okay, I just have vertigo" I got out of bed and peeked out the door, it was dark but as far as I could tell there were no life threatening dangers between me and the bathroom across the campground. I gathered supplies for my morning shower, a can of bear spray in one hand and flashlight in the other.  As an afterthought, I also packed some soap and threw a towel around my neck before setting out for the daily pilgrimage to the bathroom. 

I silently made my way through the dark campground, tip toeing past rows of tents and their peacefully snoring occupants. I opted to forego my usual tactic of yelling out "boats! Boats! BOATS!" to scare away bears in lieu of being a courteous fellow camper.  The sounds faded to silence as I approached the yellow light cast from the bathroom windows. I reached the bottom stair to the building and as I took a step upwards something snorfled underneath my feet.  I jumped up the next four stairs, flung open the door stumbled inside and crashed into a wall. I fumbled around in the dark, did the door push or pull? PUSH OR PULL?  It was pull. I violently pulled the door closed and turned the lock. Then I unlocked it in case someone had to pee. Then debated leaving the outside door unlocked but locking the door to just the women's side but eventually reached a decision to just leave both doors unlocked because whatever the hell had just snorfled at me obviously couldn't open doors very well if it was sleeping underneath a set of stairs. 

This day was not off to a good start. 

I showered, and after a few deep breaths to lower my heart rate, stepped outside to take stock of the situation. The space between the stairs was no bigger than a foot wide and using my superior reasoning skills I deduced the snorfling creature living underneath said stairs would have to be quite small to fit and therefore couldn't be too detrimental to my health.  With newfound confidence, I traded in my soap and towel for camera gear and cup of coffee and meandered my way to the beach.  

I switched back and forth between a wide lens and a telephoto, pointed my camera every which way and ended up feeling a little bit like the bears decided not to leave anything that was just right for Goldilocks. If I looked one way, I was dissatisfied with the view, another direction had too many campers in the frame, another direction yet held promise but the light wasn't interesting.  Nothing was good enough. Finally, I decided to try another tactic altogether and hauled my camera gear, coffee and a disembodied head (Deadgar) up a hill.  Below me, tents and campers sprawled out in as far as I could see, but if I kept the camera pointed in a particular direction, it was just right.   

A Matter of PerspectiveA Matter of Perspective