Zen and the art of lawn maintenance


Some of my best ideas come when I’m avoiding work. The lawn is a perfect example. Instead of mowing, I stuck my homemade macro lens on the camera and started stalking in the long grass.

now what

My own interest in this tiny world happened accidentally. I found that a cheap viewer I had for looking at old 35mm slides would fit over my digital camera’s lens. With it I could get close, ridiculously close to things. Cool, I thought. I wonder what’s lurking in the hayfield that used to be my back yard?

on a limb

As it turned out, there was a lot more going on down there than I thought! My first surprise wasn’t that there were bugs. Everybody expects to see bugs in their lawn, but the variety! And the most delicate little flowers, overshadowed by the petunias and peonies.

little blue

Even the dreaded dandelion, uncovered a world of delicate structure.


Some of my “discoveries” were comical. From ungainly looking critters stuck at the top of a blade of grass,to a colourful caterpillar, in his “happy place”.

happy place

It certainly made me look more closely at what was happening, literally at my own doorstep. For instance each of these little spiders was about the size of a rice grain. Getting in close, then only colouring one spider, produced one of my favourite shots, an individual among many.


The big guns of the garden usually draw all the admiration from neighbors, but the amazing little blossoms and creatures I found were what drew my interest. And they quickly disappear when you’re contemplating the lawn from the seat of the Yard Master.





To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

-William Blake





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Part of the photo-essay on my father I’m calling ‘Glimpses’. I found a box of broken pocket watches. He worked in an industrial setting, where you can’t wear wristwatches or anything that can catch in machinery. Mum assured me these watches were well and truly “broken”, as they had tried to get them fixed years ago.

It makes you wonder why he kept them. But then he grew up in a different world. You didn’t throw anything away, not if you might need it, or parts of it, someday. Even if there was no WAY you’ld ever need it….

I admit I’ve got a touch of the pack-rat in me. Photography gives me an excuse to collect these little things, these glimpses.  I call them my “prop’s” and hide them in the studio.  What will I do once I’m done with the pictures?  Throw them away?  Seems a shame, maybe I should just store them…

The fine mechanism of a pocket watch provides an interesting subject, and gives me insight into a man I loved but never really understood.


Memory and the sense of numbers


mums sunrise

My mum has decided to move into the nearby town, closer to my youngest sister, closer to amenities. She had commited herself to a winter in the old house to see if she could make it. She spent two, but it’s a lot of house and a lot of work for one person.

So I’ve been helping out, running down on weekends to clean out the garage, fix things that need fixing, break things that need breaking. My biggest project was cleaning out the last repository of dad’s memory. The garage that he built from a torn down house across the road. When he built it I made sure there was a room for me in the upstairs. I blocked all the places light could sneak in and made window blinds from garbage bags. It was my darkroom and there I first learned to develop film and print. But it had been abandoned by me years ago, and had become a parking lot for boxes of things that were really garbage but hadn’t faced that reality yet.

Last weekend was the last time I would see the old house. After I finished cleaning out the garage I walked the logging roads I used to explore as a child. They were there, but changed. Other logging roads had cropped up and aged since my excursions years ago. It was the same and different, an alternate reality. Losing that didn’t really affect me. It was like forgetting a dream when you wake up.

The house, well, both parents smoked and I don’t. I grew up in the house but can’t spend a lot of time in it, I get squinty-eyed and raspy. No great loss there in my subconscious.

What struck me was the phone number. For over 30 years the same seven digits were my connection to home, to my parents, then to just my mum. Driving home I realised in another week those numbers, burned into my brain like the menu on an old bank-machine, wouldn’t work any more. There was a brief sense of panic, looming loss. Suddenly it came home to me. There is no going back.

Plagiarism and the sense of smell

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This started as a comment to bloglily about a memory (malformed as it turned out) of something written that she had enjoyed. It involved smell and was a powerful memory. I responded with this:

Scent is so evocative, it really dredges up memories. The smell of roses always reminds me of my paternal grandmother’s house, lilac’s of my maternal grandma’s.

I remember noticing when I was in California, hiking up the Devil’s Post Pile (I think that’s what it was called) and thinking how ‘alien’ the place smelled. Like someone opened potpouri in the other room. For me home is the smell of salt air and pine.

As for correctly remembering things from books, some of my more creative work has come from getting something I remembered completely and utterly WRONG! It’s like I have a copper-tube memory that ferments everything put in it. Apple juice in, cider out. Vinegar if I’m having a bad day!

It’s such a fine line sometimes between creativity and ‘copying’. I myself have had a few creative moments that were the result of an attempt to copy something but getting it wrong! I suppose I would be in trouble if I had a better memory ;-).

What does plagiarism, the sense of smell and creativity have in common? If you read the last post, you saw me whining about the uber-academic discourse regarding creativity from the wikipedia entry. One thing struck me though, creativity is all about connections, especially “off-side” ones. The connections come from our conscious and sub-conscious ‘muck’ that is the great holographic mish-mash of memory. Smell is such a powerful trigger for memory and connection, but so difficult to quantifiy that I think it is always at work making those off-side connections. You don’t sit at a coffee-bar with your friends and talk about the smell of the library yesterday (“I found the mold a bit off, and the BO was giving it a tart edge”). But the smell of coffee triggers all sorts of connections with me. Especially in the morning. Especially right now.

Something to smell:

geranium 2

PS: I know it looks like a rose, but it’s actually a closeup of a bud from our geranium.



I made the mistake of Googling the word “creativity” just now, my thinking being that the links that come up would encourage the spark that made me choose this subject in the first place.  I clicked the wikipedia definition and encountered a very dry and academic discourse which went on at great lengths to compartmentalise the creative process, from history through to the current research in neurology.

I certainly felt my creativity being sapped just glancing through it.  This is my favourite passage:

Thus, highly-creative individuals may be endowed with brains that are capable of storing extensive specialized knowledge in their temporoparietal cortex, be capable of frontal-mediated divergent thinking, and have a special ability to modulate the frontal lobelocus coeruleus (norepinephrine) system, such that during creative innovation cerebral levels of norepinephrine diminish, leading to the discovery of novel orderly relations.

Here is my contribution to the theory of creativity.




What is it that makes us want to parade our thoughts or images or writing out into the big bad world? I’m not a “people” person, but I’ve got a streak of exhibitionism. I like to put my stuff out and get reactions. I prefer the good ones but even the bad ones mean I’ve engaged someone. Drawn them out of their 9-to-5 world and made them think, or pissed them off, or excited them, or shown them something mysterious that tweaks the imagination.

But why bother? Are we looking for validation from others? Is the malfunctioning social part of the brain still trying to engage in whatever way possible (short of, you know, going out and meeting people)?

Sometimes I question the sanity of spending time each night working on an image and posting it to see the reaction of friends and strangers. I mean, yeah it’s like having your own free focus-group and gives you insight into what people might like if you frame it up and exhibit it. But does it get me any closer to what I want to be as a photographer?

This feels too much like one of those conversations a super-hero has with himself in a comic book, as he’s fighting the bad guy. The bad guy is a distraction to the important work of self-analysis, but who is he? Where’s my bad guy?

Anyway, here’s a picture. One of my favourites from the pond last winter.

old man


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The storm took away the mast, sails, punctured the hull and filled her with water. The hapless photographer stuck with his craft until the end, then launched the life raft. Now the only land for hundreds of miles (and not shown on his charts, of course) is just visible in the setting sun. The currents are taking him away from it, where else can he go? Time to paddle!

Details: Well, the basic background was generated on the computer. Sea, islands and gloomy sky. On that I layered a seascape I took off of Prospect, Nova Scotia and modified its perspective to match the computer generated one. I played with the opacity and used “multiply” to join them. The sky I took from here in Debert and joined that layer to the computer generated one using “burn”.
I had a lot of fun when I was creating this series on epz. For that matter it’s never actually ended, since I started with the last shot and am still working my way towards it. There is a certain freedom knowing how it ends. The fun really is in the journey there!

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