One of the happiest photo-shoot happenstances

For the last two days I’ve been writing about my experiences photographing the town I have been staying in. Earlier in the summer I had offered to let the town’s marketing department look at my photos to see if they could use any. This kept me on my toes trying to find the most flattering places to photograph – things that would draw people to this not-so-run-of-the-mill, actually-quite-attractive lumber town.

One Sunday evening, in order to quickly kill as many birds as possible, I organised for a group of friends to meet out at a campsite next to Ten-Mile Lake, one of the provincial parks north of town.

The plan was to take photos of a young family camping next to the lake at sunset. Unfortunately, none of the campsites had an actual view of the lake. I took a shot of them enjoying a campfire together, which I shared in yesterday’s blogpost. All the other friends stood out of sight behind me until I was done, before joining them to barbecue wieners and roast marshmallows on our prop fire.

But to get the shot I wanted, with the lake in the shot, I had to pitch the tent right on the edge of the road. Several of my long-suffering friends then gathered arms-full of leaves, and scattered them on the road to camouflage the tar.

“Ok, one more handful here,” I would instruct. “And a bit thicker there.”

This was the result on the road. Pretty well fabricated, I think:

But that wasn’t the happy happenstance to which the title refers.

I had been hoping to take photos of someone walking his or her dog down a leafy path, as well as of a fisherman in the sunset. But most of my friends were completely useless to me, as they brought neither a dog nor a rod, and seemed to be there only for the fellowship and food around the campfire!

Pffffft! Really!

The campsite had just closed for the season but the managers were there with their children, tying up a few loose ends. (They do that here – close all the provincial campsites as soon as it starts getting cold, and then re-open on the 1st of May the following year.) I told them of my predicament, and they immediately offered to help.

“One of our kids can walk our dog, if you like,” suggested the mom. “We have seven. I’m sure I could find one who wouldn’t mind!”

I wasn’t worried about finding a willing child. The dog, on the other hand, had not stopped barking from the minute I arrived, and was straining to take a bite of my buttocks … if only it could get loose. But fortunately, once it was on a leash and enjoying some exercise, its whole demeanour softened.

And then I found out that the first kid who had volunteered had a twin.

“Ooooooh! Why don’t we shoot the two walking the dog together?” I suggested excitedly.

And again, the couple seemed as excited as I did about it. While the mom went off to brush twin number two’s hair and get her dressed in a similar outfit to number one, I took a few photos of their younger brother, who was desperate to be part of the action.

And then was the turn of the twins, who were very willing models.

Their response to everything I asked – whether to look at each other while walking, to start again from further back, to run, or to stroke the dog – was a broad smile and an “of course!”

When we were done, and walking back to their place, I really pushed my luck.

“So, uh, you wouldn’t happen to have a fishing rod and another kid who would like to pretend to be fishing would you?” I asked the dad.

It turns out they did have one of both. But no reel or fishing line. We weren’t trying to catch a fish after all though – only a photograph. Here it is:

I thanked them all profusely and emailed them the photos a few days later.

“Thank you so much,” responded the dad. “The kids feel like celebrities.”

But I should have got in the last word. Because this was the happiest of photo-shoot happenstances. Because it brought me such pleasure to see those I was shooting as excited about the creative experience as I was. Because I loved seeing the dog walkers’ glee at having been asked to be involved. (Even the dog seemed to be smiling.)

“Thank you, mom and dad with seven kids. Thank you for lending me four of them for the serendipitous shoot, with an all-round happy vibe.”

Another crazy little roundtrip or two!

Occasionally I write purely for myself – just to remember parts of this trip through western Canuckistan that will mean little to you, but which I may need to remember one day when my memory starts to go.

This is one such post. (Obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be explaining all that.)

Last week the same friend who asked me to drop some spare parts for him in a town 375km from here, and then drive straight back, asked if I would do another little roundtrip to check out some equipment in a town 550km south (this time). Just a few weeks ago I picked up a skid steer in a trip that took me something like 15 hours, and I really didn’t want to experience that again!

But fortunately I knew someone who lived on a farm not too far from where I needed to be, and so I broke the trip into two, much more manageable, days and got to enjoy the sights and smells of a real working farm too! I reported back that the stuff I had gone to look at seemed just fine, and such a good friend am I that I drove back a few days later to pick it up, when asked.

But I did demand a limitless supply of snacks as payment. I have my needs.

These are some of the views and other little things from my two round-trip outings, that added 2,300km to the approximately 14,000km that I’ve already driven since arriving in Canuckistan in June.

About dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, sheep and a lone alpaca

Last month saw me on a farm in far northern Alberta, learning about harvesting and how to hunt geese. Yesterday, I found myself on a farm in the North Okanagan region of Canuckistan.

A misty, chilly morning greeted us as we made our way to the barns to feed the chickens, dogs, barn cats and the sheep, and then to take some of the sheep out to pasture. The farm borders the Shuswap River, which meant the mist hung around until at least 11am. But I wasn’t complaining – it made for some pretty moody photos!

You will notice one sheep that doesn’t look like a sheep. That’s the guard alpaca that helps herd them and protects them from small predators like dogs and foxes.

You learn something new every day!

The time I forgot where I was meant to be going but got there anyway

So, yesterday I was talking about my trip from Edmonton (in Alberta) to Quesnel (in British Columbia) and how Jasper National Park had waylaid me. But I got back on track as soon as I left the park, and sped into B.C. on a mission to get home.

Have you ever met one of those people who gets distracted by every little thing? They will be engrossed in a weighty conversation and then be like, “oooh, look, a kitten,” and walk off to play with it, as if the discussion had been a trivial, irrelevant waste of time.

Well, that was me: focussed on my destination for all of half an hour and the first beautiful mountain that came along had me turning off the main road and down a gravel road to see if I could get a better angle from which to photograph its dashing ruggedness in the mid-day sunlight.

My “kitten” was Mount Robson, at the gateway to the Rockies.

At the end of the road I discovered a chock-full parking lot, and a trail heading towards the mountain. Forgetting that I had a destination to reach, and that said destination was still 400km away, I decided to hike up the trail to see if I could get an even better view of the mountain.

Funnily enough, on reaching Kinney Lake’s southern shore, 4.5km up the trail, I discovered that Mount Robson was nowhere to be seen, hidden in the clouds and behind a minor hillock. One does get to enjoy Whitehorn Mountain at the far end of the lake; reflected splendidly in Kinney’s glacier-fed iridescent blue-green waters.

Hoping to get a better view of the mountain I had come to see, I kept walking to the campsite on the north shore of the lake – a further 2.5km. But alas, the clouds had rolled in lower and Mount Robson was completely obscured.

Finally remembering that I was meant to be driving somewhere, I took a few photos of the lake, turned and hurried back down the trail to my car. In total, the 14km roundtrip took me about 2 hours and 20 minutes.

I had the wrong shoes, no trail mix or water, but the detour to stretch my legs was all most worth it! And, of course, I had nothing to worry about. I still made it to my final destination before dark, with thirty minutes to spare…

Harvesting, whatever it takes!

Winter came way earlier than normal in Alberta this year. By the time I got north to Fort Vermilion they had had snow for a few days and were wondering how they were going to get all their fields harvested. Apparently one can only harvest mostly-dry crops, although they do have a grain dryer to deal with excess moisture before it goes into the “bins”.

But fortunately the snow only lasted a few days before moving south. The weather never warmed up, but at least it was sunny and dry! On the day I drove to Northwest Territories, I got home to the farm at 9pm. From there the women and I went to get free ice creams at the local ice cream parlour which was closing for the season. It was sub-zero outside, but in my universe it’s never too cold for ice cream! At 10pm we drove out to the field where the boys were harvesting, to give them moral support and so I could try to take a few photos. (I think they were harvesting barley on that particular evening.)

They finally called it a night at around 11.30pm, and we were home by midnight to have supper. This is apparently normal in harvesting season – supper happens whenever everyone gets back from the fields. That time of night is apparently also perfect for watching ludicrous YouTube videos like “Guy on a Buffalo” – when everything is funny, even if it isn’t.

My head hit my pillow at 1.30am. A couple of minutes later I received a message from one of the boys who was driving home: “The northern lights are out. You should go and shoot them!”

But there was no way I was going to struggle with all those layers of clothing for a few common northern lights! And I was way too warm under the covers. I switched my phone to “Do Not Disturb,” turned over and went to sleep.

Here are a few harvesting photos. Just so that you can share in the vibe of it all.

A wee roadtrip to see a waterfall or two

So, the whole Simpson clan and I were sitting around the dining room table for supper, when one of them suggested that I visit the impressive Alexandra and Louise Falls.

“Sounds good,” said I. “I like waterfalls. How far are they?”

“Oh, not far,” he replied. “Just across the border in the Northwest Territories.

I’d never been further north than their dining room table, let alone to Northwest Territories. It sounded like a perfect adventure.

“While you are there you need to pop over to see the new bridge across the Mackenzie River at Fort Providence,” added pa Simpson helpfully.

“Sounds cool,” said I. “How much further than the falls is that?”

“Oh, not far,” he replied.

“And then, seeing as you will be up there already, you really should go to Hay River, a cute little town on Great Slave Lake. It’s got fishing boats and beautiful beaches,” chimed in the youngest son.

“And I assume it’s not far either,” I asked cynically?

Once I started actually researching the trip I discovered that Alexandra and Louise Falls were approximately 350km north from the Simpson dining room table; 75km into Northwest Territories from Alberta but only 2km apart from each other. Hay River is 50km from the falls, and Fort Providence is a further 180km from there. The family was going to be busy harvesting, teaching horse riding and running regular errands the following day, and so I decided to embark on the trip despite how long it would take – but without the Fort Providence detour. After all, a bridge is a bridge is a bridge, except if you catch it in just the right light.

The following morning ma Simpson packed me a travel lunch, including a bag of “Zoute Drop” salted dutch liquorice and a flask of rooibos tea, for what turned out to be my 860km, 11-odd-hour round trip.

Rather than bore you with all the conversations I had with myself as I whizzed past endless kilometres of trees, I’ll leave you with a few photos. After all, as Terry Pratchett was quoted as saying, “Of course I’m sane. When trees start talking to me, I don’t talk back.”

A friend from Edmonton asked me once I was halfway through why I had bothered going because the waterfalls didn’t seem to warrant the effort.

My answer was simple: “Because I can.”

Perhaps Terry Pratchett said it better and simpler than I could though: “… all this travelling and seeing things is fine but there’s also a lot of fun to be had in having been. You know, sticking all your pictures in a book and remembering things … Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

“Bear with me,” she said. “I’m sure we will see one soon.”

The farming Simpsons tried to help me to see as many cool things as possible while with them for 4 nights last week. One evening ma Simpson offered to take me out to Prairie Point, a joint wildlife / farming area across the Peace River from their place. I was told they had seen something like 9 bears in the same oats field while farming it a few years before. The area was just teeming with wildlife and the perfect spot for me to photograph beasts I’d never managed to shoot before.

We went out at 6pm, nattering about the past and the present and how to live and how to drive on dirt roads and how Steven, one of her sons, rolled a pick-up on the gravel driveway leading in to the point.

As we were admiring the red and yellow Autumn colours lining the road, “pop” went something under the hood, followed by a loud wacka-wacka-wacka-wacka thud. Not knowing whether the engine was going to leap out from under the hood or whether a rock had just punctured the exhaust, we stopped immediately, investigated, were none the wiser and so turned around and headed for the nearest farmstead. From there we called one of her sons to come and pick us up. Of course ma Simpson knew the farm’s family; she drank tea and visited, while I jumped in the rescue truck with her boy and his wife when they arrived.

I thought we would just hook up the crippled pick-up and tow it home but off we bulleted down the road in a cloud of dust – direction Prairie Point.

“Where are we going?” I asked obtusely.

“Well, we aren’t going to let a broken down vehicle stop you from seeing bears and such,” I was told emphatically.

On we drove in the gathering dusk. We did see a blurry moose in the road some way ahead of us, and an even more blurry black dot of a juvenile bear as we came around the corner of a field of oats. But that was it.

We drove back to the stricken vehicle in the dark, collected ma Simpson and towed the pick-up home.

“Don’t worry,” consoled the wife, “we’ll come back tomorrow evening. We are sure to see more bears then!”

And we did. Return the following evening. What we didn’t, was see any bears. In fact, one measly squirrel was it. We saw plenty of tracks and we could clearly see where the bears had rolled in the oats field to enjoy a snack. But the bears themselves were as scarce as vegans at a goose hunt.

Sure, I may have seen no wildlife, but nature put on a wild Autumn show for us. That and the company were well worth the drive out to Prairie Point.

Crying fowl: A city slicker goes goose hunting

It’s -6°C outside.

Up at 5.30am, I pull on old uncle Jim’s threadbare long johns, then my jeans and finally padded camo pants. On top it’s four layers, including camo too. Two pairs of socks, including a stretched pair granny Simpson knitted many years prior, should be enough. Gumboots and a toque (beanie) complete my outfit.

Hot chocolate in a thermos, check. Camera gear, check.

5.45am and we’re in the pick-up truck heading to the field of peas we’d scouted out the previous evening. Heater and radio, belting country and western songs, are on full blast. I peel off a few layers of clothing.

We arrive at the field. It’s -11°C now. I quickly pull all my layers back on. I’m thankful for the hot chocolate but rue not wearing insulated boots or bringing gloves. The metal of my camera freezes my fingers.

We pick a spot in a frosty hollow and place dozens of goose decoys in a V towards the river. The layout blinds (the things we will hide in) go at the tip of the V. The pick-up is stashed behind a hedgerow and we lie down in our blinds to wait. One of our party blows his goose call kazoo. And we wait.

And then we hear the beating of hundreds of wings as multiple wedges of geese fly overhead. They honk. We honk back. We urge the geese to come down to join our gaggle of decoys. But few do. We shoot several stragglers, but not enough, judging by the boys’ with guns mopey looks.

I get mood shots but none of geese exploding in a hail of bullets. Which is probably a good thing. We pack up and head to the only diner in town for breakfast and too much coffee. The four dead geese are cleaned and turned into jerky and a stew for lunch.

It’s tough, but tasty. One of the brothers picks out three pieces of shot from his stew. I find none. Secretly, I’m disappointed.

The next morning we head out again, but to different cropland. This time I bring gloves and insulated boots. Wise call. It seems colder this time around; mist blanketing the trees either side of the killing field.

The boys debate whether it would have been better to have used “willow” blinds rather than the layout ones we had brought, but no consensus is reached. I take more mood shots and a few of the boys with guns and some geese being shot. But most of the geese just fly right by. A few land in the field just out of shooting range to taunt us.

All the downed geese are donated to the local “First Nations” band. We go home for breakfast where we talk about the hunt and debate whether it’s worth trying in the evening next time. But fortunately for the geese there won’t be a next time for me.

To the Beaver’s brook in black and white

I’m trying to take in as much of this area as possible in my last few days here. On a cloudy day this week I drove down to the Beavermouth Creek out along the Quesnel Hydraulic Road. (That was where I saw and shot the fox.) And, what with it being overcast, the photos just work better in black and white. All except the last few at Dragon Lake, which I passed on the way home in the perfect light.

Throwback Thursday: The Milky Way, Zombie Cows and a lost bit of photographic gear

It’s still Thursday where I am, so I guess I get to do a Throwback Thursday! This one relates to something that happened two years ago, that impacted on me today. Back then I was going out a lot at night to shoot. This one particular evening at the end of September 2014 saw me drive out along the Quesnel Hydraulic Road on an inky, crisp, cloudless night – the moon having set hours before.

Nikon Wireless Remote Control. About 2″ long and under 1″ wide.

First, I wandered into a field sporting a single tree and several irate and all-too-aggressive fiery-eyed bovines. (You try shining a flashlight into their eyes and see what happens.)

I saw some of the brightest shooting stars ever and then, at some point, lost my camera remote while outrunning a mad cow, vaulting a barbed-wire fence, or simply loading my camera gear back into the car at the end of the shoot.

These were the photos I shot that night:

Shooting star (looking north)
Shooting star (looking north)
Silhouetted tree
Silhouetted tree
Shedding some light on the subject
Shedding some light on the subject
Milky. Way!
Milky. Way!
Tractor, rudely awoken from its slumber
Tractor, rudely awoken from its slumber

But how does it relate to today, you may ask? Well, I took a drive out there again this afternoon, and stopped to take a photo of the same tree in the same field with (who knows if they are the same) cows. It wasn’t nearly as impressive in the daylight! As I was about to get back into my car, I thought how funny it would be to find my remote after all this time.

I looked at the spot I would have come through the fence, looked in the field a bit, and then, lo and behold, saw it lying at the edge of the main road – a dusty grey rectangle with faded Nikon logo.

Sadly, it doesn’t actually work anymore, but how’s that for cool anyway – finding it after all this time?

Field of cows today, October 6, 2016.
Field of cows today, October 6, 2016.
And one shot from today, on my way back to town on Hydraulic Road
And one shot from today, on my way back to town on Hydraulic Road

Definitely the road less travelled, in this case

Yesterday I wrote about my journey between Edmonton and Prince George, and the fact that I took several back roads, service roads and dirt roads – all in order to see more than just the highway. It started with a small lake at daybreak just before Jasper National Park, and ended with a detour to the mall in Prince for a coffee. But that wasn’t worth shooting.

Cruising Canuckistan on the Tete Jaune

The Yellowhead Highway (Tete Jaune in French, if you wondered where the title of the post came from) runs east-west from British Columbia, through Alberta, then Saskatchewan and into Winnipeg, Manitoba – a total of around 2,960km. I have travelled the portion from Prince George, BC to Edmonton, Alberta, three times now. It is, undoubtedly one of my favourite highways, and one that I can seldom speed along because of the countless photo opportunities it presents.

Earlier this week I drove west, leaving Edmonton at 5.30am, and eventually arriving home at 6pm – an 870km, 13½ hour journey. The first part of the drive – almost into Jasper National Park was dark and cloudy, so no photo opportunities there, but at my first sight of the Athabasca River, the mist cleared, and the sun broke through the clouds.

The rest of my trip involved many little side roads and stops to enjoy the scenery just off the highway. One of the longer detours took me up to Medicine Lake, but not as far as Maligne Lake, which I have visited twice before. Although I have done this trip a few times, I tried to shoot things from different perspectives and to take a few roads I’ve never taken before.

One thing I am more convinced about than ever is that one should enjoy the journey, and should take the detours when the opportunities arise, or when something catches one’s eye. Several places I’d visited before were now closed, or off-limits, like the abandoned homes from this trip, and the ancient forest outside Prince George, so I’m pleased I got to experience them previously.

Today I will feature photos I took while travelling on the Yellowhead itself (as well as the short diversion to Medicine Lake). Tomorrow I will share other photos taken off the beaten-track on my journey home.


Love YEG, through my eyes

My previous blog was a repost from my friend Helen who, like me, enjoys photography. Unlike me, she doesn’t get to go shooting as often as she would like (what with a very energetic toddler in the home). Last week we went for a little adventure in town, with said toddler along for the ride in his stroller. She shot a few things and I shot others, including the two of them exploring their city. I love how different people may walk the same streets but see things completely differently. Admittedly, I did get to explore more than her, as she sat in the car with a sleeping toddler after a few hours of walking.

Another friend sent me a text soon after I reblogged Helen’s post asking where my photos were. So, here they are: a little slice of Edmonton through my eyes.

A post about decaying stuff and cute ankle biters

One minute it was summer and then, the next, it wasn’t, when the weather changed on the first of the month – with more rain and a chill in the air at dawn. With that, the trees started turning those golden hues that I knew I would see if I stayed here long enough. It’s still the beginning of Autumn, but already nature is dressing herself up for many more of my photo shoots.

Last week I was chatting to a friend at supper, where he told me about a spot close to their house – next to the river, with a bunch of dumped, decaying cars and crumbling cabins. I made plans to go and see them, and to take photos of their family while we were about it.

I am learning to love doing family photo shoots – and this was one of the easiest ones yet. I also enjoy shooting old vehicles and abandoned places – imagining the lives that were lived there once upon a time. In this case, it looked as if people hadn’t lived in that patch next to the Fraser River for a few decades at least. Now, all it was good for was as a pasture for cows, a place for the kids to explore, and the perfect spot for an informal, colourful photo-shoot.

This spot was one of the most eccentric characters I’ve got to shoot yet.

(Click on thumbnails to start the photo gallery.)