Friday, January 31, 2014

1969

 
I was a young 21 years old and I had made a snap decision to leave my life behind and move to the north, to seek fame and fortune. I had just experienced the most amazing summer with the MGB I had purchased earlier that spring. Life was one big party and I had no care for the future. I had a wonderful girlfriend that I had to leave behind, but other than that, there was nothing holding me back. The phone call came on a Thursday evening, that there was a job waiting for me in the Crown Zellerbach Pulp and Paper Mill at Ocean Falls BC, if I wanted it, and three days later I was on my way.
In the photo above, taken at the Vancouver docks, I am sitting behind the wheel, the last time I would be seen with my beloved sports car, and beside me is my good friend Norm, who would drive the car back to my hometown to be sold. It was sold, eventually, and I got enough to pay the repair bill for an accident I had the previous month.
As I look at the photo, I am not so much impressed with the car and the youthfulness we exude, but I am taken aback by the amount of time that has transpired since this photo was taken.  Norm just recently lost his 34 year old daughter. I just spent the afternoon with my five year old grandson. Can you read any of that on our faces as we sit all cocky and proud in the car with the top down?
 
How fortunate for us that we cannot see our lives laid out before us in the beginning, exposing both joys and sorrow, revealing the ravages of age, and hinting at both victories and defeats that are part of everyone's life. I am sure we would be frightened off and not jump onto the boat, like I did, and change my future from one of carefree irresponsibility to one of accountability and productivity.
I do not have regrets and it is pointless to second guess decisions that were made. Instead, I get out the old photos every so often, in an attempt to get back the old feelings. These feelings are important as we age for they help to keep us young, at least in spirit.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Garlic and Other Things

 
It is not news to anyone that we live in the age of information. This is a good thing, overall, but recently a saying has arisen, 'TMI' which means "too much information". You will hear this when someone reveals some intimate details about their health or other very personal information.
I am going so far as to say that this is starting to apply, for me, for almost everything else too. We are all familiar with 'the most recent studies suggest that', only to realise that the most recent study totally refutes the last study on the same subject. I am sure you recall the butter vs. margarine debate, the egg and cholesterol controversy, the 8 glasses of water vs. over hydration theory, and many others, too numerous to mention.
We find this in politics also. The burn the garbage vs. put it in the landfill dilemma, is Harper the best or the worst Prime minister ever, do we pay down national debt or do deficit financing to fund programs, and on and on.
No matter what the issue, when one goes to Google for information and research, one will find contradicting articles, studies, and opinions on virtually every subject. Where is the truth in all of this? And are we seeking truth or are we trying to simply bolster our own already firmly held conviction on the matter. I find myself doing the latter all to often.
This, of course, makes the researcher skeptical about the information he or she is receiving. Take the latest two studies on the efficacy of Vitamin  D, Vitamin C, Echinacea, and Garlic, and their supposed positive effect on health issues such as colds and other common human ailments. The studies say that there is little or no value in taking these supplements. Because I beg to differ, I am suspect of these so called studies. Who is behind them and what is their agenda? The drug companies? Just saying.
As for the four substances mentioned above, I can only go by what they have done for me. I have nothing to say about Echinacea, but as for Vitamin D: My mild skin condition is held in check by the sun light I expose myself to, and D in supplement form in the winter months. I know this for a proven fact through trial and error. Vitamin C and garlic: C taken with raw garlic cloves, early enough in the first stage of a cold, there is either a cure or at worst, the symptoms are very mild and will last only three or four days as opposed to seven to ten days. But, that is just me. It may or may not work for you.
Am I skeptical when I read the latest studies on home cold remedies? You bet. But no more so than when I read any other study, poll, or news report about anything. Everyone has an agenda these days, but I will think for myself, thank you very much.
 
**For only US$29.95 I will send you my own formula of Vit C/garlic combination in easy to take capsule form, as a preventative or to nip that coming cold in the bud. Shipping and handling included.
 
Just kidding. I have no agenda on this blog other than to vent. If you are na├»ve enough to send me money, you will simply be improving the lifestyle of this new 'senior'. The 'package' will be lost in the mail, I guarantee.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Wonderful World of Digital Photography

 
It has been about 5 months since my photography hobby has been totally revitalized. As a hobbyist, I was always looking for the perfect composition and the perfect light. Professionals do this on a regular basis but us amateurs are mostly hit and miss.
 
Then I discovered a few basics that all pros take advantage of and it is a whole new ballgame. I could go into quite a bit of detail here, and I might lose some of you, but suffice it to say that two things I now do that I never did before is shoot RAW files instead of JPEGS (this is an option in all DSLR's) and I 'develop' my photos in Adobe Lightroom, a photo editing software program that is phenomenal. I have provided an example of 'before' and 'after' on this post.
The above photo is taken in difficult lighting because the sunrise is backlighting the scene, except for the foreground which is vastly under-exposed. A RAW file records much more information than a JPEG and also turns off the camera's internal software that adjusts all elements of the photo according to factory pre-sets.
 
 

 
Lightroom allows the photographer to draw out of the photo what he actually saw at the time the shutter snapped. I made at least 15 adjustments to the photo and it ended up being just like I remembered it, and not what my camera thought it should be. This allows for ultimate creativity and eliminates the frustration of taking photos that just do not do the scene justice.
Now, all I concern myself with is composition and sharp focus. Within reason, lighting can always be corrected.
I cannot help but think of the Biblical creation account every time I develop a new photo. "And then there was light"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Sad Story

 
At the recommendation of some friends, we went to see the movie "Philomena" on Saturday evening. All I knew about the story was that it is based on true events and that it is about an aging woman looking for her son who she gave up for adoption when she was but a teen.
As the story unfolded, I was quite drawn in to both the characters and the events as they unfolded. She recruits a journalist to help her track down her son and what they discover is not only very interesting but shocking.
 The journey starts at the convent where she was taken in as a pregnant teen and had to give four years of service (slavery) in return for having the use of their hospital and having a place to raise her son, although she only saw him one hour a day. They come to a dead end as it seems all the records were destroyed in a fire a number of years back. Pursuing another lead, they go to the USA and there they discover who adopted him and what he became, and what became of him. It is here that the revelations get very interesting and actually take them back to Ireland where it all began.
My senses of justice, anger, and revenge were boiling by the end of the story. I was so conflicted when I saw Philomena forgive the unforgivable where I would have stood up and fought for justice and retribution.
Therein lies a dilemma for a Christian. When do you forgive and turn the other cheek, and when do you fight for justice and make those who did bad things in the name of Christianity be held accountable.
I must admit that I lost some sleep over this movie. Had it been a work of fiction, I could have let it go, but it is not fiction and similar injustices are still be perpetrated today. I feel frustrated and helpless. Philomena's journalist had to let it go, and maybe I should too.
4 1/2 stars 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflecting

 
I was going for my walk at the park a few days ago when I bumped into a couple that I have not seen for while, but I know very well. When I first started my business, they contracted me to do a lot of work in their beautiful home. I was there for a long time and got to know them well.
I had some challenges doing some things I had never done before and soon I was over budget. But because I have always protected my reputation that way, I stuck to my original quote and ended up making about $3.00 per hour, small for even those times. They wanted to pay me more, but I insisted and what resulted was a life long customer. I have worked for them many times since and we have become friends.
Back then, Sue (not her real name) was a beautiful young mom with three smart kids and a very successful husband. To that point, theirs was the most expensive house I had ever worked in. After a huge financial setback with some bad investments, they downsized to an older townhouse and have been there since.
It has been 5 years since I worked for them and when I met them they told be that they were considering giving me a call for some re-decorating. We chatted for a while and then I asked how their health was. (That is what we do at my age :)
They both turned somber at that point and then told me that they were just that day waiting for a call from the cancer clinic. Sue was diagnosed with liver and bowel cancer a few weeks ago and now she has this 'challenge' ahead of her. What a great attitude they both had, and I told them that I would be praying for her. They appreciated that very much and told me that they had a large support network.
I continued on my walk, and prayed. And I got to thinking. I looked down at my body, still relatively strong and healthy and gave great thanks, but at the same time realised that at any minute something similar could happen to me. Our bodies are dust, on their voyage to the tomb. It is inevitable. But getting cancer is like having a transmission in an old car, on a long trip, ready to fail. When it does, drastic measures need to be taken and it is costly.
And, the journey may not continue because of it. To get to the end of the trip burning a bit of oil, having a few cracks in the windshield, and having bald tires is one thing. A broken transmission is quit another thing. It is unexpected and usually means the demise of an older vehicle.
 
Cancer is horrendous! It is a bit of a lottery and forces one to make potentially lethal decisions. I hate cancer. I hate what it does to people, even when it does not kill them. I hate the industry that has sprung up around it with all its dishonesty, fear mongering, and misinformation. I hate how the cure is often so much worse than the disease. I hate all the unknowns surrounding it. It is straight from the devil himself and as such, will one day be damned to hell, where it belongs. 
And I pray for Sue.   

Friday, January 24, 2014

Most Popular Western Ever

 
Having read Zane Grey's 'The Last Trail', I thought I would try another western novel and chose this one because it was his best seller and one of the most popular western novels of all time and probably shaped all western books and movies made since its publication.
The plot, story line, and characters are intricate and slowly woven together to make a very satisfying story. That is not to say that there is not fast paced action. There is and as it unfolds, more of the back story is revealed.
I found this book particularly fascinating because I have been on location among the red rock canyons of Utah. And what is Utah without Mormons. They are central to the theme of this story.
 
The basic plot line regards Jane Withersteen, a wealthy Mormon spinster who is promised to a Mormon leader, a man she despises. She is continually torn between her strong Mormon faith and her very independent nature. The two cannot be reconciled if she is to be subservient to a polygamist. She is a generous and kind woman to both Mormons and 'gentiles', and it is the gentiles who come to her rescue when she is forced by her church leaders to relent or be ruined as one of the most wealthy cattle ranchers in the state. 
There are numerous characters in this story who are connected, but this fact is slowly revealed through masterful plot twists.
I lost two days of my vacation immersed in the wild west, full of hidden canyons, cattle rustlers, gun slinging, and horsemanship. Every time I looked up from my book, I was truly surprised to see palm trees instead of red cliffs. 
A rare 5 stars
  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Last of the Birds

 
As a small boy growing up in Saskatchewan, I spent a lot of time out in the bush among the swamps and Willow thickets a mile or two from our town. The bulrushes there were filled with Red Winged Blackbirds and their call haunts me to this day.

 
There is a large flock of them at Reifel park and their song brought me back to my childhood every time I heard it. I think they are beautiful birds. The red is not easily distinguished unless they are flying or they are trying to intimidate and be aggressive as the one in the above photo.  

 
Were it not for the suet feeder, I would never have been able to get so close to these shy birds.


 
An observation tower in the bird refuge.

 
And then there are the Sand Cranes. These birds are very tame and actually followed us down the trails until they realised we were saving our seeds for some other birds.







 
Bird feathers are fascinating. Click to see large.

 
Crane knees.

 
Their mouths are always muddy from foraging in the swampy ground.


 
And where there is bird seed, there are squirrels.

 
What an experience to be so close to a 'wild' bird.

 
One of my better photos of the day. These Spotted Towhees are not only shy, but they move very quickly and never sit still.


 
I walked behind this Heron for ten yards before he got nervous and flew off.

 
And my favourite, the colourful Wood Duck. God's handiwork is almost over the top and humorous with these birds. The detail is incredible and although these again are very shy birds, a little bird seed brought them to within a few feet of us.
 
Come Spring, I plan to go back and take photos of the thousands of ducklings that will be hatched by then. I can hardly wait! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Love the Birds

 
Black Capped Chickadee

 
Great Blue Heron


 
Hooded Merganser

 
Mallard ... male

 
Mr. and Mrs. Wood Duck

 
No. 1 son with Pigeon

 
Pin Tail Duck

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hand Feeding

 
I have tried many times over the years to get a good photograph of a Great Blue Heron but I have been hampered by their shyness and the lack of a powerful telephoto lens. At Reifel Bird Sanctuary, the rules change.

 
Not all, but a good number of the birds are permanent residents of this refuge and are used to the many people that come through the park with cameras and bags of bird seed, available at the visitor center.

 
This makes for some really great close-ups and a great experience when the birds feed out of your hand.  


 
Even these Sand Cranes with their rapier like beaks have a gentle touch and very precisely peck at one grain at a time.

 
I suppose that the only downside to doing something like this is getting pooped on. We got lucky and made a clean getaway.



Monday, January 20, 2014

Amazon Adventure

 
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote and published this novel in 1912. It follows a style similar to "Tarzan" and "King Solomon's Mines", two books which I have recently read and reviewed. This story is the inspiration for the "Jurassic Park" movie of more recent fame. I was taken with Doyle's ability to write adventure when in one of his Sherlock Holmes stories he tells the tale of an adventurer in Utah in the mid 1800's. I thought I might like a whole book of this type of writing.  
 
The story follows the exploits of Professor Challenger, a zoologist, and three associates who travel to the Amazon basin in search of an isolated plateau which is reported to contain dinosaurs and an ancient civilization. The adventure is spectacular and hair raising and is actually inspired by a challenge to a young man by a beautiful young lady who is only attracted to a man who is brave and seeks adventure.
Finding the location was difficult and isolated enough, but getting up the steep cliffs that isolated it was another story. Once up, their means of getting down are sabotaged and it appears for while that they will die up there. Their stay on the plateau is filled with fantastic adventures and sights. How will they be credible when and if they ever return to London? Will the young lady be satisfied with her new adventurous young man? These are the burning questions and you will have to read the book to find out.
It is an easy read and keeps the reader's attention well, if you like wild adventure and fantasy. It is an old classic and worth the read.
3 1/2 stars

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bird Sanctuary

 
Spent the day at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner last week. What a great experience. I do not have more than a 200mm zoom lens for my Nikon, but still got some good shots as the birds are fairly used to humans and let you get quite close. A bit of birdseed did not hurt either. The 4 amigos above followed us for quite some time after we hand fed them most of our seed mix.

 
An American Widgeon, a soft spoken and gentle water fowl.

 
Black-capped Chickadees are most difficult to photograph. Their movements are jerky and they do not sit still for more than a second or two.


 
Sand Hill Crane portrait. He was a good subject, not moving quickly and holding still for the camera.

 
The Black-capped Chickadee, on the other hand, darts about so quickly that it is rare to capture a sharp photo.

 
We must have seen a dozen or more of these magnificent Great Blue Herons. I got so close to one I could reach out and touch it, but then it flew away.

 
These Sand Hill Cranes flying in formation reminded me of an air show event.
Each of the four seasons presents a new opportunity and different birds, I will be going back here again.
More photos to come.