Friday, December 28, 2018

The West Coast (Trial) Trail

West Coast Trail - Tsusiat Falls
The West Coast Trail runs along the southern length of Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  It was originally set up, not for tourists, but rather for survivors of ship wrecks.  The waters off the coast are a myriad of hull lashing rock and coral formations waiting to tear the bottom out of any boat which dares to trespass.  Back then ships would encroach upon the area's reefs unknowingly to their fate.  Those who did not perish in the water or from the jagged rocks along the shoreline died in the thick forests.  The trail was meant to give them some degree of hope.
I have done the trial, err, I mean trail, twice; once in 1997 and again in 2013.  It is around 75 kilometers long; it will take the adventurer 5 days to do 15 km per day.  That doesn't sound like a lot, does it?  I mean, those of you who do 10,000 steps a day do 8 km - and doubling that shouldn't be too difficult.  However, you forget that you have 25 kilograms of weight on your back, get to sleep in a tent at night, and have serious vertical obstacles to overcome.  Then there are the bugs and the fact that you have to pump your own drinking water to avoid getting giardia (beaver fever).  And did I mention the lack of toilets or the risk of torrential rainfall?
The first time I did it we were in a group of about 8 or so.  I was a spry young fellow then and felt it would be a walk in the park.  Well, it was a walk in the park, but they build parks much tougher than you would guess.  My knees were shot, I was covered with mosquito bites, and I developed an impressive case of impetigo.  But I was successful and celebrated my victory the way a zombie might rejoice over some obscene conquest.
Not having learned my lesson the first time, 16 years later I decided to try it again.  Once again there was a group of us, some from the first quest and a few new ones, including my own son and daughter.  Clearly my near demise from that first journey did not cause any alarm - the desire for glory could not be dissuaded.  No, the pursuit of valor and honor would go forth.
So the bunch of us headed out to the WCT - woefully cunning trials.  The first day saw us do 12 km and we camped at a wonderful beach.  It was so great and we were so tired that we decided to hang around a second day to lick our wounds and celebrate our meager success by playing a few rounds of cards.  The following day, number three now, took us another 13 km and we finally came to Tsusiat Falls, where I took the above photo.  Something was different though from before.
Being 16 years older did not make me any wiser, but it certainly made me more prone to the hazards nature threw at me.  It turns out I was not the only one suffering from the trials put upon us by the trail; most of us had felt sudden urge to call a cab and get a ride back to civilization.  So, we hung around for another full day and vanquished boredom by throttling fellow hikers at cards.  Then we made a decision.
We had just done 25 km of 75, taken 4 days, and had the hardest part of the trail yet to challenge.  So we would retreat to where we started.  After all it would mean we spent 6 days or so hiking 50 km which in itself was nothing to sneer at.  Some of us (my kids mostly) wanted to go on, but that meant breaking up the group.  To me the trip was really about being with people - it wasn't the destination that was important, it was the journey - and so we headed out together.  Two days later, with lighter packs and hearts, we arrived from where we started.  Defeated yet still victorious, we held our heads high as we shuffled off home.  We did not complete the West Coast Trail, but we did survive the West Coast Trial, and in the process made some memories that will last forever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Vermilion lakes, Banff

Beautiful Vermilion Lake, Banff, Alberta
There are lots of different ways to see the world.  Most of us, in North America anyway, do it through the window of a car, either as a passenger or a driver.  Sometimes we will walk a bit, although it often entails leaving the car to visit some place briefly then getting right back in again.  We came, we saw, we left.  I know this because it is the way I often travel.  It is always enjoyable, but I have to tell you there is much more to the world that what you can see by car.
I love the outdoors, although my body is as such that I can't love it quite the way I used to.  Still though, if you really want to get to experience something intimately rather than through the typical drop and leave method familiar to so many of us, you have to get out of your comfort zone.  It means spending time, energy, and resources in the attempt to have a close encounter of the bird kind (and other living things too).  It not just about the land, its also about what is upon, above, and in it.
The above photo I shot a couple of years ago while visiting Banff.  We were there for a week or so and I brought along my kayaks.  Kayaking is just another way to explore the planet, but it gets you close and personal to nature unlike strolling along a paved path.  It is one of the reasons I go kayaking; I can go places and see things few others have been able to.  But it is not the only way to explore.
Whether your explorations take place on a trail, in a canoe, or from a car, they all have one marvelous thing in common; you get out of the house and spend some time admiring what a great country we have.  If, you happen to be away from Canada, then you can appreciate what a great planet we are here to enjoy.  I want to encourage you, plan to go and explore your country / planet.  Yes, it all takes time, energy, and resources, but you will have experience something which electronic media cannot possibly give; an awareness and a connection, deep and personal, to this great place called Earth.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Life in Samoa

Home in a Samoan village
Home is where you live; it is where your friends and family are.  It is where you lay your head at night and where you eat breakfast in the morning.  Most of all, home is where your heart is - it is part of who you are.
The above shot is of a home in a traditional Samoan village.  If you were close enough you would find no glass in the windows.  The door has no lock, and the welcome mat is out.  It is a place you can visit with no fear and people will greet you with warmth and a smile.
While visiting this little enclave of tradition; a bastion bearing beauty and benevolence towards outsiders, we were thrilled to see the children playing.  There were no playgrounds or organized activities.  There was no electronics to mesmerize them or adults to control them.  They were free spirits; curious but polite. 
Their parents were busy with looking after the things adults do; but were themselves welcoming and helpful towards each other and ourselves.  It was a community, and it was home.
Home means something different to us all, but in the end it is a safe place where we are welcome.  Here, everybody was home.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.

A must see in New Zealand - Biblo's hobbit hole.
While in New Zealand we went to a small town called Matamata.  For some strange reason they seem to repeat the name of a place quite frequently frequently.  Oops; now they have me doing it.  Anyways, while there we booked a tour to go see the movie set for Lord of the Rings
Apparently it was first built out of polystyrene for the original series then disassembled when filming was complete.  The place became a site for pilgrimages for the devoted and, even though nothing was left except four facades, was a huge hit.  When they filmed The Hobbit they decided to go all out and build the thing out of real materials that had lasting value.  They did it to code, there are hidden retaining walls, and it is spectacular.
The tour is not cheap; you cannot get access to the area without a guide, and it is hard to photograph anything without there being people in the shot.  The best plan is to book a media tour first thing in the morning when the light is young and there is no one about.  I did not inquire about the price for such privileged access, but I imagine even Bilbo would have a hard time paying for it out of his troll hoard. 
The Green Dragon was also very impressive; a fully functional pub with striking features.  It's not the place you would venture off to for a half-pint, or even a full one if you had the inclination, as it is part of the set and has equally restrictive access.  I really liked the dragon carving above the bar; it was probably 20 feet wide and 3 feet high and had a decidedly green tinge to it.  It was carved into the wood with significant relief.  Every detail of the place was given great thought.
Overall I have to say that it was worth the price and limited access.  I suggest planning it for a day when the weather is good.  Our visit was non-negotiable time wise and we had modest weather for most of the tour.  The skies opened up near the end, fortunately the pub gave us refuge from the elements, and we all shared a brew in high spirits.  Cheers!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hitachi tree at Monaloa park, Hawaii

Hitachi tree - notice the person in front.  
Normally you find that a tree is taller than it is wide.  Not the Hitachi tree, which was photographed in Hawaii in Monaloa park.  What is even more amazing is that, if you look carefully, you can see my wife standing underneath it just off to the left of the trunk.  That is one big tree.
The park itself was nice, although as a biological garden it did not have the range of plants I was hoping for.  The main draw for the park is the trees, which in their own right are very impressive.  I understand that the park has a lot of Japanese visitors who come specifically because of the tree itself.  I can understand their attraction.
We normally associate height with greatness in trees; think of the amazing redwoods or cedars which elicit awe in those who have witnessed them.  The Hitachi itself does not come close to their towering presence, but its width is unbeatable.
This is a tree that can provide shade.  Its branches stretch wide over the ground supporting great weight yet not sagging under its own bulk.  A cedar or redwood could not manage such a tremendous feat.  Although they are impressive in their own right, the Hitachi towers over them not in height, but in majesty.

USS Missouri

USS Missouri
Today we traveled to the USS Missouri - a battleship built near the end of the second world war and currently on display at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  I have wanted to see this ship for a very long time, partly because I like ships of this type and era but also because of its fame.  I was not disappointed.
We were fortunate because there was not a large group of visitors present; we were able to move easily about the ship and I could photograph with few tourists congesting the view.  As I traveled about I was overcome with emotion; my throat chocked up and my eyes became very watery.  I guess I was overwhelmed by the history, the symbolism, and the immensity of where I was and what I was seeing.
One of my favourite photos is from the bridge where, in the near distance, you can see the memorial for the USS Arizona.  Over 1000 sailors still entombed there, her turret wells just beneath the surface of the water.  The Missouri itself suffered from one Kami Kazi attack.  What I loved in this though was how the WWII sailors treated the remains of the pilot.  His body was given a proper burial at sea with respect given to the life he gave.  There was no hate.  An astonishing ship, an astonishing legacy, with a lot of wonderful stories.  You owe it to yourself to visit.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Is there a mountain in Vancouver?

Who knew there was a mountain in the middle of Vancouver?

What kind of sorcery is this, that a mountain - a volcano in fact - would rise out of the center of Vancouver, British Columbia?  There are a few hills there, some of them, like the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, are modestly impressive.  None of them, however, are that impressive.   What is going on.

The first thought that may come to mind is that the image has been altered - Photoshoped as it were, a vagrant added merely for effect.  Not so, no significant alterations were made, other than the normal post shot processing that takes place to convert a raw file into a usable image.   Why is it then, that the tallest building there seems only slightly shorter than the behemoth in the background?  If it is a mountain, with snow capped features and glaciers grinding down the flanks, why is it not larger.

The answer is three fold.  The mountain in the background is Mount Baker, and it happens to be about 105 km or so southeast of Vancouver as the crow flies.  That's approximately 65 miles.  While Vancouver starts out at sea level, the dormant volcano peaks out at 3286 meters, or 10,781 feet above that same starting point.  The reason it is so large in the background is because I was shooting with a very long telephoto lens at the time and caused an effect associated with telephoto lenses called compression.

Compression happens when perspective is altered through the use of a lens with a focal length longer than 50 mm (as defined by a regular full frame DSLR or  an SLR film camera),  The longer the focal length, the greater the compression.  The nature of the effect is to bring things in the background up so that they seem closer than what they do to the eye.  Normally Mount Baker appears as a blip in Vancouver's skyline.

The second reason has to do with the curvature of the earth.  The farther something is away from us, in any direction, the less of it you will see because it becomes hidden by the curving earth.  At 105 km away, approximately 800 m of the total height of Mount Baker is hidden.  Now that is only about 25% of the total distance, but if it were on a totally flat (ie. not curved) plain it would be that much higher to the eye. 

Finally there is the angle of inclination.  Trigonometry tells us that at any given angle, the farther the run is (along the x axis) the greater the rise will be (along the y axis).  As we get closer to the city, the building will rise in height relative to the mountain; conversely it will shrink as we get further away.  At some point, with the right position, the top of the building would converge exactly with the top of our extinct volcano.  That would mean moving northeast to line the two up.

From the perspective of someone wanting to get an interesting photograph however, I like how the mountain frames the background and how the city's skyline is offset by it.  The cargo ship in the foreground is a nice touch.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

In need of repair - Old cannery at Birch Bay, Washington

In need of repair - an old fishing boat at a historic cannery.
What makes one photo work while another doesn't quite hit the mark?  If you shoot twenty pictures of a scene from various points of view, why are some better than others?  These are important questions when capturing and reviewing images.  It turns out there are a myriad of reasons.

I have a dozen shots of this life size diorama, each one sharing the same elements.  The boat, the building, the sky, the land, and a bit of the sea.  Yet it was this one in particular that stood out.  I have a 16x20 inch print matted and framed in my foyer that always catches the visitors' eyes.

Any photo will tell a story.  The vignette here is of someone's boat; having endured years of service it was finally cast aground after some final catastrophe.  Yet it brought the fishermen home, faithful in its endeavor to reunite them with their families.  Although it would never float again, it wasn't broken down, hauled away, or burnt because it still held some meaning for those who knew about her legacy.  After all, if they survived, why shouldn't she?

The story though is only part of the picture (excuse the pun).  The image itself stands on its own.  There are several components of which makes it work.  An important aspect is the relationship between the foreground and background.  Each plays a key role in conveying their visual sentiments.  Proportions are immensely influential with over or under sized aspects making or breaking the scene.  The vessel, the subject of the vignette, has character in its own right; it lies along the bottom third of the image with a range of details and shades to be visually pleasing.  The background gives context to the foreground.  The strong lines both vertically and horizontally grabbing attention, but not too much or too little.

I think it is the roof and its shadow that really effect appeal though, with their lines pointing to some unseen convergence with the direction of the beleaguered boat.  The blue sky frames the scene in, with the grass and building itself completing the effect.  But, really, at the end, I just like the shot.  Maybe that is all it comes down to.