Monday, November 24, 2014

Excitement in the Neighbourhood


Today's first two shots show a bit of excitement that occurred in the neighbourhood in the late afternoon one day last week. The dog and I were working our way home from our afternoon walk when we became aware of a lot of sirens in the vicinity. We live only a block away from a fairly major thoroughfare that often has emergency vehicles rushing from point A to point B, so I wasn't paying undue attention until a fire truck trundled down our own relatively quiet street, heading west. When I looked along the street I could see great clouds of smoke being blown by the quite strong north wind. It looked to be coming from the vicinity of the school, and was pretty much where Rony and I had been on our walk only moments before. Of course I had to grab a camera and head down to where the action was.

Shot one shows the scene from a couple of blocks away. At this point I was right beside the neighbourhood school, so I knew that wasn't what was burning. I never notice the proliferation of overhead lines in our area until I see them in a photo like this--not very attractive, but they do give the birds something to perch on. 


When we got close to the source of the fire, I realized it was the garage behind the house where our eagle and bear friends, featured on last week's blog, reside. There was a lot of smoke, and apparently had been some explosions from propane and oxygen tanks inside the garage, along with concerns about the fire causing arcing in the above-mentioned overhead power lines. By the time I was witnessing this, the fire crews had it pretty well under control. Not a good day for the garage, but better that than the house, which appeared to be undamaged.


In a less exciting vein, here is a shot I got along the grid road to the stables last week. This would look very different now as we had our first serious snowfall on the weekend and much of this would now be covered. I always appreciate the soft colours and the texture of the roadside native grasses. 
 

Jim and I went to a craft sale on the weekend in the midst of the snowfall, and ended up parking on a street with a view of the iconic Bessborough Hotel and downtown buildings from a different vantage point than the usual. The original version out of the camera looked almost like a black and white photo with very muted tones. I was playing around with it in Photoshop as I tend to do, and this is the result I got when I applied a blending filter that I don't generally use. It's kind of an odd effect, but for some reason I find it quite appealing, so this is the version you get to see. I do plan to work on some of these shots in monochrome, but that will have to wait for later.


Ice wine, anyone? Much like the brightly coloured frozen sweet pea flowers of last week's blog, the few remaining grapes on our backyard vine have retained their good looks and strong coloration. While a bit on the tart side for eating "as is", these grapes make wonderful jelly and juice. I've got a good deal going with a friend who is a fanatical picker. She gets to pick all the grapes she wants, and we get a few jars of grape jelly in exchange. Same deal goes with our sour cherries. We have more jelly most years than we can eat our way through, yet I haven't made any for years!






Monday, November 17, 2014

Back-lane wandering

It's definitely winter here now, but at mid-day most days it's still "warm" enough that I can walk my Boxer Rony if we both dress well and stay out of the wind. I've taken to walking the back alleys of our neighbourhood, which are usually more sheltered than the streets and sidewalks, and are a lot more interesting as well. We tend not to use the alleys in the summer, partly because we walk after dark to avoid heat stress for him and it's hard to see where we're going, and also because there tend to be dogs in the back yards that we go by in the warmer weather, which can be challenging on a number of fronts.  

Shot one shows a back alley shot from a couple of days ago. These lovely sweet peas seem to have freeze dried in a way that has retained, or even amplified, their strong colour. It's kind of a shock to come across something like this in an environment that is largely monochromatic and low-key these days. 


I've been working on a project doing photos for a tree guide of notable trees of Saskatoon. I thought it would be fun to add in a couple of shots of the "afterlife" of trees that are no longer with us, and I shot this one a few streets over from our house. Our neighbourhood is a hotbed of these tree trunk sculptures which are entertaining in their number and variety. As with most things, I'm sure there's a story behind the proliferation in this area, I'm just not sure what it is. 


I got this image on the way home from the stables yesterday afternoon. I particularly like the patterns the wind-blown snow makes on the surface of the ice. 


I always like the patterns the snow reveals in the stubble fields at this time of year. Horse owners around here are hoping for a lot more snow very soon as the footing in pastures and turnouts is dangerous at the moment. We had a rainfall that created ruts and uneven lumps in the horse turnouts that have now frozen solid so there is no even footing at all, and the horses have to be relatively immobile or risk damaging their feet and legs. Once we get a good snow cover there will be some give to the footing and it will be evened out, making it safe for horses to move around on. Unfortunately, it isn't a given that will we get much more snow soon, or at all, depending on what the weather gods deal out to us.



I've been working hard in my studio trying to build up stock for my next pre-Christmas sale. I took a brief reading break down on the main level of the house today, and became aware of a tremendous amount of noise coming from the front-yard bird feeder. When I got up to head back to the studio, I glanced out the front window to see the cause of the excitement in the sparrow population. This sharp-shinned hawk was hanging out next to the feeder, which really doesn't seem like a smart hunting strategy on its part. I watched it for a while and think from its behaviour that it might be a youngster from this year's hatch. It did seem a bit clumsy and clueless. These hawks are an interesting contrast in many ways to the merlins that are the other hunting species we have in the city. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

It's here----

Winter suddenly arrived with little fanfare or warning over the weekend. When I got up on Saturday morning to get ready to head out to day two of the art sale where I had a booth, the ground was covered with snow, and the streets were covered with glare ice. Since I was heading out before the city crews were out to sand the intersections, it was a careful drive for me, keeping a sharp eye out for other drivers who had either forgotten how to drive in winter (lots of them around) and/or didn't have their snow tires installed (ditto). Luckily for me I guessed right when I booked my tire rotation and my snow tires beat the ice and snow by a couple of days. I made it to the show in a timely fashion, and am pleased to report it was a stellar one for me as far as sales go. The only down side is that I am really going to have to work relentlessly in the next couple of weeks to get my stock up for the next sale in early December. That's kind of a good problem to have. 

I've been pleased to see some of my favourite bird species haunting the back yard feeder since the snow came. Yesterday morning we had magpies, blue jays and a pair of flickers all in close proximity. The magpies are definitely at the top of the feeding pyramid when it comes to intimidating other species away from the peanut supply.

Shot one shows one of the magpies (we had two this morning, possibly three) trying to get out of camera range as quickly as possible. I didn't have the shutter speed quite high enough, but I didn't get the chance for a second shot, so this will have to do. He/she had been working away at the grapes on the trellis, which I'm sure would be the bird equivalent of ice wine for tastiness in this season. 


I went down an alternate road on the way home from the barn today, in order to catch the big vista of the sky and fields. I don't remember noticing the sun halo in real life, but there it is in the photo. It was quite an overcast and gloomy day, so the light is a bit lacking in most of today's photos. 
 

While I was shooting my landscapes, I became aware of a honking sound rather close by. I looked off to my right and there was a field of Canada geese hunkered down in the stubble, getting out of the wind (it was about minus 10 C with a wicked wind) and gleaning spilled grain from the ground. Most of the geese have left the area, but as long as there is food available in fields such as this, the remaining ones won't necessarily be in a hurry to head south.


This scene is one I might as well get used to, as "monochrome landscape with ice and snow" will be the order of the day for a lot of months to come.


We have a good population of house sparrows that frequent our feeders. I prefer to think that there are two distinct tribes, the front-yard sparrows and the back-yard sparrows, but really they could all be one big group. This shot shows some of the front-yarders taking shelter in the dense greenery of whatever sort of evergreen this is by the front walk.




Monday, November 3, 2014

Show time!

This is going to be a bare bones post. I haven't been out and about much with the camera (or without it for that matter) in the past week as I am finally buckling down to studio work, trying to get ahead of Christmas stock production for the stores I supply, and finish enough work done for the two pre-Christmas sales I am doing. It's been kind of hectic, but I've always been able to work well under deadline pressure, having had decades of practise, so I'll get the job done.

Sale number one is coming up at the end of this week. Shot one shows the promo poster. To those who have attended Artisan before, note the shortened hours (no Sunday sale) and the new location. Free parking! For those who are not familiar with Artisan, I encourage you to come out. This is the "boutique" sale that is a calm and peaceful shopping experience, with a manageable number of booths to visit. Quality and variety are keynotes of this sale, with a relaxed atmosphere. Note there is also a restaurant on site. I hope to see you there. I'm in booth 15.


The remainder of today's images are some of the new photo works that will be available at the sale. If you miss out at the sale, contact me and I can provide the one you want in whatever size you prefer. I will also have a large number of one of a kind mixed media pieces. Come check it out. 








Monday, October 27, 2014

Bird spotting

Another lovely week here on the prairies, with sunshine and warm temperatures right through to the end of the weekend. Today we're under grey skies, sitting close to freezing 0C/32F and with drizzle interspersed with the occasional snowflake. However, we're supposed to be back into double digits by next weekend, so all is not yet over with our fall. I might eventually get some leaves raked if the snow holds off long enough. 

I had another go-round of the ongoing game of "tech challenge", this time with my printer, which in uncharacteristic fashion decided to go rogue on me just when I most need it. It took a good couple of days and a lot of ink for me to sort it out, but for the moment it's functioning and doing what it should. Now I need to apply myself to getting ahead of my pre-Christmas sale production while things are good.

It's been a good week for spotting birds of various sorts on my forays into the countryside. I often take the quiet "graveyard" road to the stables, as I can poke along and stop for photos as required. I had just gone past a marshy area beside the road one day last week when it registered that I had seen a great blue heron. It was still there, close to the road, when I got the car turned around and returned to the spot where he was resting, but of course by the time I focussed the camera, he was already retreating. Then a second one lifted out of the long grasses and joined him in a stately departure. Sadly, this will likely be their last year in this nice spot as the city continues to gobble up surrounding land and habitat in endless new suburbs. Makes me sad. 



On Sunday, a visiting friend and I headed out to the Pike Lake area to visit the glass show at Solar Gardens and to tour around the back roads of the area. Outward bound, we stopped at the side of the road to photograph some of the many sandhill cranes that were poking around in a field of large bales. There are a *lot* of sandhills in the area this year, many more than I've seen before.


Here's a shot of the east aspect of Solar Gardens, as seen from the entry road. I love the mix of art and nature in this shot. While I was there, I took the opportunity to top up my supply of the amazing plum chutney they carry in the tasting studio. It's beyond wonderful.


As we worked our way back from Pike Lake, we came upon a huge number of geese on a little backwater area between the lake and the nearby South Saskatchewan river. The majority of them were snow geese, with a good number of Canada geese interspersed, likely several thousand in all. The visuals of a flock like this are amazing, but the sound they make is almost more impressive.


Most of the leaves on the trees around here are now down, revealing a good crop of berries on many of the decorative varieties around the city. I'm always fond of oranges and yellows, and had to stop to get shot of these berries in the warm late afternoon light. I don't know what sort of berries they are, but the tree was thick with them and made a very striking sight.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Ahead of the game for a change----

With the continuing fabulous extended-fall weather we have enjoyed for the last month, I feel it's safe to say that winter this year will be shorter than in the past couple of years, unless it stretches out at the other end. In 2012 we had our first snow on October 20th, and in 2013 it came on October 22nd. Both, if I recall correctly, were substantial amounts of snow that stayed until the following spring. With today's highs in the 20-25 C / 68-77 F range in most of the province and the forecast for warm and sunny all week, I don't think we'll see snow in the immediate future. I've hauled out my gelding's fly sheet yet again, since there are still lots of insects making the most of the mild conditions. Flowers continue to bloom, and even my basil is still with us, although suffering from the fact that I keep forgetting to water it. All in all, it's about as nice (and long!) a fall as a person could hope for.

I've got a lot of commitments to meet, both in the form of editing photos for clients, and of getting artwork done to supply the retail outlets that carry my work and for the upcoming pre-Christmas show and sale season. I've been logging a bit more studio time than in the past few months, but the lovely weather does make it hard to buckle down and stay indoors.

Shot one today is from the "client photo" file. I finally got the editing done on a shoot I did in September. The original plans were for a June photo shoot. That was thwarted by the endless rains of the spring and early summer. Then we got into "way too hot and buggy", followed by "wait until the grass has been grazed down a bit". Sometimes these things follow their own timetable. In the end, we got the job done. This is Magnum, a fine Arab gentleman who at 28 years old (I think that's correct!) is still in splendid shape and dearly loved by his owners. 


I usually plant a tea rose in a large container by the front steps to our house. This year's rose was by no means one of the more spectacular or prolific ones, but it gets full marks for persistence. It's still flowering and producing more buds despite the late season, although as witnessed by the condition of some of its leaves, it's feeling a bit weary these days. 


On the weekend I came home from a vintage sale in the country by way of the dump road, where I like to check out the corvid population. There are still lots of crows around, and the raven population is increasing as they drift south from their northern forest summer vacations. In typical fashion, the crows didn't make it easy for me to get photos. A sizeable group of them drifted along through the tree tops ahead of me as I tried to catch up, most of them always just out of range of my zoom. I did catch a few shots from the car as I was heading home. I had a friend with me who had come along to the sale--she now knows that if I'm doing the driving, chances are she'll be high-jacked at some point along the way to stop for crow or raven photos, whether that's part of the original plan or not. Luckily she's a bird and corvid person herself, so I don't think it was too much of a hardship for her.


I had an appointment downtown one day last week, and noted how wonderful the riverbank trees were in the area where I had parked. I resolved to come back on Sunday morning when things would be quiet, in order to get some shots. When I got there on Sunday, I was astonished to discover the entire area is vastly busier on Sunday morning than on a "business" day. Parking was much harder to find, and there were people everywhere, walking, jogging, sitting on benches visiting, playing with their children, walking their dogs, you name it. Despite all the action, I was able to get the shots I wanted without too much difficulty. This tree really appeals to me with the dynamic strong sculptural shapes of the branches. I think I'll have to get some more of it once we're into winter and the leaves are all down. 


Today's final image illustrates a "you never know what you might stumble across" scenario. I was walking the dog one night last week. We took a short cut through the local park when I looked down to see this photograph lying on the sidewalk. It's a harvest scene, almost certainly from Saskatchewan, and almost certainly from the late 1800s or early 1900s. There it was, on the sidewalk, just waiting to be rescued, which I did. It was in the general vicinity of a dumpster that is used by the housing units across the street, and I can only assume it was meant to be thrown into the dumpster. It was getting too dark for me to check the inside of the dumpster to see if there were any other discarded treasures. It rained that night so it's a good thing I picked this one up, but not so good for any others that might have been in the dumpster as it is open to the air. Maybe I should head over there in the daylight and take another look, just in case.


Monday, October 13, 2014

All is well ---

It's been a good week, both weather-wise and in my computer, where after a few days of odd happenings things have been quite settled and functional for the last few days. Doubtless there is something not quite right lurking in the depths that will reappear at the least convenient moment, but for now I'm pretending all is well.

It's an interesting fall season here. Some trees are bare, some are very highly coloured, some dull and tired looking, and some still with green leaves. We haven't yet had a killing frost in our part of the city, and I have to remind myself to keep watering the flowers that are still trying hard to hold up their end of things. The temperatures have been warm/hot enough that I've had the air conditioner on in the car on a few afternoon trips home from the barn, and I've had to put the fly sheet back on my gelding as there hasn't been enough cold to knock the fly population back. Given that by October 15th we've had snow on the ground in the past two years, this is a nice change. 

Shot one shows one of the "highly coloured"options in a park a few blocks away where I have been walking the dog lately. It's finally not too hot for him to be walked in daylight hours if we go in late afternoon. Although I do like my summer walks in the dark and cool of the late evening, it is nice to be out in the daylight where I can actually see my surroundings. 


Something else I need to keep on top of with water is the front yard birdbath. The sparrows have been vigorously enjoying group baths which can empty out the birdbath pretty quickly. They do a lot of water flinging in the process. This is one of my "through the not very clean window" shots, so the quality isn't great, but I feel this captures the essence of the group experience. I do enjoy my sparrows.


Here's the harvest moon, 2014 edition. I was heading down the east alleyway at the stables when I spotted it rising large on the horizon, so I ran out to the car to get the camera and record the moment. The moon was quite pink, which doesn't show up accurately in this image. This was the moon of the eclipse night as well, but I wasn't keen enough to get up at 4 AM to check it out.


My eye is always attracted by colour, pattern and texture, all of which can be seen in this shot, taken in our back yard. This is a good example of the Japanese concept of "wabi sabi" which finds beauty in the simple, humble, transient and imperfect.


I got today's final image this afternoon at Ebon Stables, of a friend's horse having a good time in one of the big paddocks where he had a good burnout. I love doing this sort of shot, especially with such a handsome fellow as my subject matter.