Wednesday, January 30, 2008


All that is noble is in itself of a quiet nature, and appears to sleep until it is aroused and summoned forth by contrast.
~ Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

The wind is howling outside my window this morning. The above-freezing temperatures of the past couple of days are dropping rapidly and local television stations are alerting us to the dangers of an impending flash freeze as the mercury plummets over the course of the next hour or two. I'm grateful to be indoors today. The cats are contentedly licking their coats after enjoying their usual breakfast while my son is sleeping soundly in his bed. I'm also glad that he remembered to bring the trash can and recycle bins in after yesterday's collection, so that none of the plastic containers clattering around on the street are mine. The stillness and warmth of my home contrasts with the teetering trees as they try to steady themselves to unyielding gusts outside. The contrast is startling, and I find myself looking for and finding it in the otherwise random photos below. Please remember to click on the images for a larger view.

The fiery orange of winter's dusk ignites the sky behind the tree's black silhouettes.

Plant pods offer up a bit of colour and contrast against the grey winter day.

Amber tones help to warm and soften these otherwise stark and prickly burrs. Click the image for a better view.

More barbs - softened in an out of focus blur. The wire fence is illuminated by the camera's flash against the darkness of nearby trees.

Despite having just raised his head out from under the water, the mallard's downy feathers always appear dry.

Frank found this unlikely treasure while walking in a wooded area featured in most of the photos seen here.

Opposites attract - the rough, stark inanimate cherub and the smooth, warm, sentient devil. ;)

In full colour versus black and white.

"Peace, love, unity, respect." Ironically, this message was disrespectfully spray-painted on the walkway of a local park.

“There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.”

~ Herman Melville - Moby Dick

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Wee-Ooo, Wee-Ooo (I Thought You Were My Friend)

It's still my hope that Benny, Frank's Jack Russell Terrier and my cat Skittles will learn to get along one day. It's not that Benny doesn't like him - he just wants to play! It's not that Skitty is afraid of him - he just wants him to go away! Now!

Do you think they have a hope of ever getting along?

If you can't open a Quicktime movie, you can see an even poorer quality of this clip on YouTube.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Winter's Night

A significant snowfall earlier this month gave me the opportunity to snap some photos around the park at night.

The sky was still overcast, and so without the flash, the only available light was from occasional street lamps along the path, and their reflection off of the snow. The amber lights cast a subtle golden hue over their surroundings which appear more intense to the camera's eye. The low lighting and absence of tripod also explains the hazy images and mottled appearance.

The night was quiet. The snow-laden branches muffled most of the sounds, including that of an excited Jack Russel Terrier straining on his leash to relocate familiar smells, now disguised by the snowfall. You can see a fuzzy Benny at the bottom of the photo if you click to enlarge it.

The yellow tones become more apparent as we neared the path's lamps.

The dock is one of two spots where we'll typically feed bread to the ducks. Benny, on the bottom right, knows he'll luck out and get a few clumsily dropped pieces. You'd think it was steak the way he gobbles them up.

The snow clings to the branches and helps light the way along the path.

A flash-lit shot, taken as we near a bend in the path.

Benny patiently waits for me to snap yet another shot.

No more yellow. I cheated with this image by desaturating the colour and repainting it with a blue hue, in Photoshop.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Art of Observation

My older son, Jeffrey is a quiet observer. He notes things mentally - some of which he shares but most of which I believe he keeps inside his head. It isn't that he doesn't talk or express his interests - he'll do that quite gladly and in great detail on topics that occupy his fancy. But he has always been a private sort, and expressing his worries or doubts won't happen as readily as his excitement about everyday events. But he always observes.

Another one of his qualities is his steel trap-like memory. I can't remember where he gets that!

One of the bonus aspects of having an observant mind and a good memory is that he notes and recalls what people say in passing, and so he also has a tendency to give good gifts. Last year, I probably only casually remarked about how I had to borrow some of my neghbour's freezer space the previous summer, when we were buying back ribs on sale, in order to stock up for our summer Ribfest. Sure enough, that winter, my son played Santa and presented me with a chest freezer to keep in my basement. It's been wonderful to have that extra storage space, and this past summer, we we didn't need to rely on others to store the multiple packs of ribs.

Several of his gifts, both large and small, have been exactly what I've needed or wanted, and this year was no exception. Earlier this year, my printer died. In truth, it had never been all that healthy from the beginning. Jeffrey noticed that the splotchy text and red-tinged photos did not enhance his brother's school projects, or anything else. He observed and remembered, and presented me with a nifty new printer this past holiday season. It's working well. The colours are accurate, the print time is swift and I can finally buy separate ink cartridges for each of the colours that run out, as opposed to having to replace all colours when just one of them expires.

Jeffrey gave us another smaller, but wonderful gift this year. He knew that I had recently bought a bird feeder and was enjoying watching and photographing the birds that came to feast upon the seed within. The brightly-wrapped package revealed a suet basket and several cakes of suet to help attract different varieties of birds. It took some time until the winged critters found their way over to the basket though.

The first time I hung the loaded basket from a tree branch, it met with a quick demise. Strong winds wreaked havoc with the bird feeder, turning it askew which resulted in its entire contents being dumped on the snow, where a growth of weed and wild grass will probably emerge next summer. The basket was nowhere to be seen the next morning. Only a small length of the chain remained on the branch where it hung the day before. My guess was that the fallen item had been located by my neighbour's dog Raven, who has a penchant for gobbling up the bird seed that she encounters beneath the feeder several times a day. Later that day, my suspicions were confirmed when Benny trotted back from his early morning visit to Raven's yard, proudly carrying the empty suet basket in his mouth like a trophy.

Frank took to securing the basket with his second favourite fastener of choice (duct tape being the first, of course). He used twist ties to fortify the chain and to tighten the clasp, rendering it virtually impregnable to anything other than the birds which were meant to feed from it. And there it sat for a full week before it began to see some action.

On Saturday, a Downy Woodpecker landed in the tree, close to the basket. After flitting around for a bit, he decided to land on the basket and feast on the suet inside. I snapped a few pictures, but was unhappy about how they turned out. The day was dull and the images could not pick up enough light to adequately show off the markings of this small bird, and it was just out of range to make use of the flash.

A little later, I discovered that the Downy is not a particularly timid bird, and when he returned multiple times during the course of the day, I decided to edge my way closer to him, while he continued to peck away at his treat. He scarcely gave me a sideways glance as I slowly opened the double glass doors and eased myself onto its threshold. One more step in his direction, and click! I got the image I'd been hoping for.

I have Jeffrey's power of observation to thank for that.

This art of observation also comes in pretty handy when listening to and watching for birds. I hope you enjoy the photo of the Downy Woodpecker and the others that are posted below. Please click on the images to see them enlarged.

This beautiful little guy dined at the suet basket on and off, pretty much all day. Occasionally he'd try his luck on various tree branches but kept returning for a sure thing. His red cap tells us that it's a male.

Yesterday was clear and sping-like which prompted me to take a walk. I snapped this little sparrow sitting in a bush along the pathway of a nearby park.

After a fresh snowfall a couple of weeks ago, this sparrow landed on my backyard plum tree to wait his turn at the feeder.

A mourning dove and sparrow pick their way though seeds which were tossed on the table-top café.

This fluffy starling perches upon a snowy branch watching as others peck and feed.

The blue jays have become accustomed to expecting their morning peanuts, and I often hear them calling for them long before I'm ready to top up the feeder, and toss out some peanuts for squirrels and jays alike.

Benny watches intently as various birds and squirrels dine comfortably knowing that he's behind a closed door.

Three long seconds later, Benny tires of this bird-watching hobby and considers chasing a cat instead.

In a few days, I'll post some semi-recent shots taken at the park on a snowy night.

Monday, January 7, 2008

One Branch of the Family Tree

I don't know how someone can live beyond the half-century mark and have a simple realization strike for the very first time, but it recently occurred to me that my aunts from both sides of my family have all been blood relatives. I've never really had an aunt that married into the family.

There's no real significance to that sudden insight, except that it got me thinking about my maternal family. I wish I could remember more about my mother's siblings than I do, but what I do recall, evokes a rush of nostalgic warmth.

My mother had one brother, Bill and only during Mom's later years did I learn that he had been married briefly - the reason for such brevity was never made known to me. Neither was this would-be aunt.

Uncle Bill made his home in Toronto, and we lived in Montreal, so our paths didn't cross frequently. I do remember him as a large man with a booming voice. He spoke quickly and abruptly, with a touch of drama in his voice, but always with kindness. When he would visit, he'd always bring identical gifts for my sister and me. I can remember a set of four ball point pens which were fashioned to look like fountain pens. They came with a holder, and they each had different coloured inks - blue, red, green and black (which wrote more like purple). I treasured those pens and displayed them in my room long after the ink dried up.

Uncle Bill died in 1971, from lung cancer, as his father did 25 years earlier. It's no wonder my mother never so much as touched a cigarette to her lips, and I can only imagine how dismayed she felt when I began smoking in my teens (though I quit in my twenties). My younger son Alex's middle name is William, named after my dear Uncle Bill.

Auntie Sybil was Mom's oldest sister and she too lived in Toronto. She was an outspoken, but warm woman whom I recall was plagued with allergies. She reacted violently to gluten and perfumes among many other irritants, but that never stopped her from sampling a belt or two of something potent fortifying. Mom never drank, so it was amusing to me to witness her sister's antics while enjoying a drink. I suppose it helped her to relax and allowed her to loosen both her collar and her lips. I can remember watching her dance across our kitchen, while Mom shot her some warning looks to guard her mouth in front of us kids. This is not to suggest that she indulged frequently. Though I was young, I'm quite certain that she only drank on special occasions, and her visits to see us were among them.

She always made a point of spending time with me (which might also explain the drinks). She'd tirelessly listen to my latest, favourite song over and over again, and agree that it was the best sound ever. She was a smart, comical woman and when I remember her with my mind's eye, I can envision her grin and a set of eyes that revealed her wonderful sense of humour. She succumbed to cancer in 1980's.

Everyone has a favourite aunt, and on my mother's side, Auntie Pearl was mine. She was a sweet, soft-spoken, kind lady. Somewhat on the plump side, her round face revealed a warm, loving smile.

She was my Montreal aunt, and from the time I was very young, I loved being in her company. We spent most of my early childhood summers at a cottage, at Ste. Agathe, in the Laurentian mountains north of the city. Occasionally Auntie Pearl and her family rented a nearby cottage for at least part of the season. Sometimes our families would merge for a day drive ("are we there yet?"), or we'd get together in the evening to play a game called OKO. It was played with cards, which somehow combined poker and bingo.

Other times, it would be just Auntie Pearl and me, and we'd have long talks about TV shows while we brightened the pages of a colouring book with her Crayolas, and munched on fruit-flavoured marshmallows. She always made sure that she had a package of each for special occasions, such as my visits.

In truth, those might have been the only few times we spent together during the summers up north, but I remember them like they were commonplace. I dearly cherish the memories of this tender-hearted woman. Breast cancer took her life in 1968, a few years before her only grandchild (who now has children of her own ) was born - a great loss for both of them.

A few cousins remain, scattered between Montreal and Toronto. I exchange occasional emails and phone calls with one cousin (Pearl's only child), but time has a way of passing quickly and I can't remember the last time we did in fact catch up.

I think I'll go remedy that right now.

Below are a few tree-related photos that I've taken recently. Just like family, trees take root, mature, give new life, nurture, offer shelter and provide perspective. And they endure.

There are some beautiful old cedars that reside near Frank's home. This one provides a place to rest and to meditate the surrounding beauty.

This tree appears to me to have a bit of a theatrical flair. Can you see its green eye-shadow?

These trees seem to grow toward, and reach out to one another - like family.

Fresh-falling snow fluffs up the stark, empty branches of the plum tree in my back yard.

In the park near my home, a wary squirrel climbs to safety and watches me from a snow-covered branch.

This oak leaf clung heroically to its branch until just after the snowfall.

A miniature icicle forms from the roughly-scarred bark of a tree.

Nearby, an icy branch is lodged in the frozen lake.

Friday, January 4, 2008

There's No Business Like Snow Business

It snowed on New Year's Day, and once the party drinks from the previous night cleared from my brain, I was out and about with my camera. Here are a few photos of the fluffy, white stuff. These were all taken in the nearby park.

A glance down between the snow-covered branches allows a small peek at the lake below.

Upon a hill, looking down at the partiely-frozen lake, you can see where the ice ends abruptly.

There are two willows at opposite ends of the lake. This is the younger one and its willowy branches are still sporting fall colours.

A male cardinal out-brightens a comparatively drab sparrow in front of, and to the left of him.

A park bench wait for someone to clear off the snow and sit for a bit. It wasn't me.

Frosty branches bear the weight of the fluffy snow.

Down the path and headed for home.

I'll post some more in a few days. In the meantime, you can see more winter (and autumn) photos over at Frank's blog.