Fifteen Port Townsend characters

Yesterday I blogged about my afternoon in the seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington. I shared photos I had taken of the beautiful buildings, many of which were completed in the 19th century during the town’s heyday. But no town is really a town without the people and other special “characters”.


Back in the saddle with a grin and some flare

A few months ago this 10th-grader broke her elbow on a soft motocross course. On Monday she was back on her Kawasaki KX250F dirt bike again. Sure, maybe she didn’t get as much air as before the accident and she didn’t hit the bermed corners quite as confidently as she could have, but this was her first day back in the saddle.

Monday started as a photo shoot for the school magazine, where she and a friend planned just to pose on the local motocross track. And maybe do a few slow laps. But as we shot, so her excitement at being back on her bike grew (along with her smile).

Have you ever watched a kid just having fun? It’s infectious. A teenager’s life is not easy I’m told – trying to understand one’s alien parents; trying to keep up appearances for one’s peers; trying to control emotions that are as easy to bring in line as a herd of cats. But out there on the course she didn’t care what anyone thought – she was just having fun playing.

“Can we try this next,” she would ask, before taking off to get enough speed to make her jump, or whatever.

And when she fell, she would grin and giggle, get up and try again.

“Maybe we should do one where it looks like I’m flying over another rider,” she suggested hopefully.

And hey, whatever she was willing to try, I was willing to shoot, even if it meant lying in the dirt to get the right angle. One of my cameras wasn’t as willing and jammed as I shot her flying by. Maybe it was all the dust. Maybe it was just clapped out. So, I shrugged, transferred lenses and shot with the other camera body.

As I’ve said a few times this week, it’s been my pleasure shooting people with smiles on their faces and a sparkle in their eyes; shooting people who revel in being shot as much as I enjoy doing the shooting…



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.”

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.

Two days’ worth of one-liners from a three-year-old

I’m visiting some friends in Edmonton, who I visited last in 2016. Back then their kid was this big and quite the character:

I took those photos as part of a series which you can see here. He’s now three and prattles away non-stop. Here are just a few of the things I’ve heard him say in the last couple of days: 

His mom at snack time: “Do you guys want some chips?”
Me: “No thanks, I’m good.”
Him: “I’m not good! I want chips!”

At supper while eating steak, and sitting opposite me:
Him: “I’m going to cut your face off.”
Me: “I think I will be locking my bedroom door tonight.”

Me (speaking to myself): “What’s that Simon & Garfunkel song called?”
Him: “A-B-C-D-E-F-G, H-I-J-K-LMNOP …”

His mom: “Can you count to 10 for uncle Robin?”
Him: “1, 2, …. A-B-C-D-E-F-G, H-I-J-K-LMNOP… I prefer my ABCs.”

While out for a walk with him, me carrying his bicycle and helmet because he got tired of them: “Check out my running & skipping skills!” Important things for a three-year-old to master, for sure.

After getting back from a walk:
Me: “Dude, why do you have so many shoes?”
Him: Because I neeeeed them!”

Him, asking for a fork to eat his sushi.
Me: “What kind of Chinese child are you?”
Him: “A Japanese one.”

He keeps talking about Darth Vader so I asked if he had a picture of him. “No, don’t be silly! I don’t own a camera,” he replied seriously.

While playing with his dinosaurs: “The T-rex is eating three breakfasts: a Brontosaurus, a Stegosaurus and a muffin …”

About a full-mooning & an evening of swing dancing

When it comes to swing dancing, once is never enough.

I simply love the high-energy fun the group of all ages is able to enjoy. The children of the family I have been visiting were getting ready to leave for university in dribs and drabs, as summer winds down, and insisted we go dancing one last time.

At the last minute our photographer friend asked us to pick her up too, and we dragged the 14-year-old who normally only gets up at 2pm along also. We even gave her time to change out of her pyjamas. Despite all her protestations, she had an absolute ball, and even coaxed me onto the dance floor.

Our crew dressed up especially for the outing, some more “appropriately” than others. 🙂 Everyone agreed that this was the perfect last dance.

When sorting through my photos I saw one where the dress of one of the women had flown up (as they tend to do). Most people wear shorts under their skirts or dresses, expecting them to twirl inappropriately. This particular lady, facing away from me, was wearing something particularly “slight”, if anything at all. (I really didn’t have the stomach to look too closely!) Thus the name for the blogpost. 😀 I chose, for the sake of myself and all my readers not to include that image.

Of Canuckis going bonkers for dressing up (and it’s not even close to Halloween)

These lower mainland Canuckis I find myself with are completely crazy, I tell ya! In fact, let me qualify that – they are more or less normal during the day but at night, especially around the time of the full moon, something goes gaga in their brains and they go a little bonkers.

A few evenings ago after supper, one of the youngsters was trying on her anatomy dissection goggles, when she decided she needed just the right hairstyle to go with them. This then saw the “dress up” box being brought out from where it was stored in the garage, and the rest of the dinner guests getting in on the act.

It got so raucous that it even flowed into supper time the next evening, when we had a homemade pizza-making evening with completely different guests.

Granted, most of the participants are naturalised Canuckis, hailing from Italy, South Africa and northern Alberta. They take life a little less seriously than some of the native Canuckis I’ve met here, like the spiteful couple who locked the gate to the dock we have used all summer for evening swims, refusing to allow us one last summer swim. But that’s a blogpost I won’t be writing – it would just be too toxic.

And I’m into laughter lately.


A hike to a hillock in the haze

At the start of the day, I was not expecting to load four young ladies into my car in search of a beautiful hike close to home. But when I got the call to help “babysit” a 6-year-old and 10-year-old who had been stuck at work with their mother all morning, I was more than willing to help. After all, I’m never one to shy away from a challenge!

The other two along for the ride were a photographer (who suggested we go to Minnekhada Regional Park, with a high knoll overlooking the Pitt River) and her sister. In fact, it was great that the photographer was there because I just stood off to one side while she got the others to pose, and shot them from a different angle.

Sadly, the air was still very smoky from the BC wildfires, but the hike was fun and adequately challenging for the youngest of the group, who declared that she had never done anything as difficult.

Some of my readers have complained that my blogposts are becoming monotonous – with so many about hiking and waterfalls and lakes (and the like). But I’m afraid that is my life for now, so that’s what you get!

One lesson we learnt, after everyone except me forgot to take water, was “take water” even if you think you aren’t going far. But on the way home we stopped at 7-Eleven for Cream Soda and Pepsi Slurpees, and all was okay with the world again…

A Curious Canucki Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

It just so happened that on the day we visited Barkerville (see yesterday’s post) they were celebrating something called the Chinese Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. My companions assured me they had told me it would be happening, but I knew nothing about it until we walked through Barkerville’s front gates and I saw kids earnestly making lanterns.

Apart from the lantern making, where tourists could create their own, and then parade with them just before the park closed, there were tours of Chinatown, cultural sessions, Chinese games and typical Chinese meals served.

Once it got dark, everyone who had stuck it out were treated to lion and dragon dances, music and dance solos. I’m out of words, so here are the photos.

Exploring a Cariboo gold-rush town

Eighty kilometres east of Quesnel, along BC Highway 26, lies Barkerville, the most well-known town from the Cariboo gold rush in the 1860s. The town sprung up quickly after Billy Barker (after whom the town is named) struck it rich on Williams Creek (which flows through town). The town burnt down a few years later and was rebuilt within months with better boardwalks, better buildings and wider streets.

By the mid 1860s the town had a population of around 5,000 and by the 1880s there were enough children in town for the first school to be built. But, within 40 years of it booming, as gold became more difficult to mine, and yields became more scarce, it went bust. Only a handful of miners stayed, barely eking out a living.

Most gold rush towns from this era have disappeared but in 1924 Barkerville was declared a National Historic Site of Canada, and in 1957 the government of British Columbia decided that the town should be restored and run as a tourist attraction. Since then it has operated as the Barkerville Historic Town, with anywhere between 50,000-60,000 annual visitors. It consists of 107 heritage buildings, 62 replica heritage buildings and over 200,000 authentic collection items.

Summer is an absolute hive of activity, with several activities offered to tourists daily. These include hands-on gold panning, town tours, the Theatre Royal’s productions in the Williams Creek Fire Brigade building, Anglican Church services and stage-coach rides.

Actors playing the part of town inhabitants from the 1860s can be found throughout town – from singing in the street, to serving Barkerville beer in the local pub, from drinking tea outside the local hotel to giving lessons in the schoolhouse to willing tourists. I tried to get them to break character, but to no avail. True professionals!

There really was plenty to do in town, and by the end of the day, after attending the “Mid Autumn Moon Festival” in the evening, I was exhausted. (I’ll have to do a separate blog on the festival later in the week.)

Previously I visited the town in winter, when it was all closed up and shut down, but in recent years they have expanded their repertoire and now offer winter activities too.

Here, though, are a few photos from around town last weekend, including many of the characters we encountered.

The most special of portraits

In 2013 I visited a lake south of town with some friends. It was the middle of summer, and the place was a hive of activity, but amongst the hustle and bustle I found one old man, Jerry, sitting smoking. I’ve written about him on this blog before. You may remember him.

I was told by friends that he was a cynical, cantankerous fossil. But I thought he was hilarious. Perhaps I just relate to cantankerous types. He told me that when he was younger he suffered from allergies – like to dust, and pollen. “What a coincidence,” I replied, “so do I”.

“Yes,” he said drily. “Now I’m only allergic to work and to winter.” While puffing on his newly-lit cigarette, he continued. “If I could, I’d move down to warmer climes in winter – like to California perhaps. But alas, I can’t stand cacti … and my wife is prickly enough.”


For various reasons, I didn’t return to the resort until 2016. In the meantime, I had heard that the old man had died – only a few months after I took the photos of him in 2013. On speaking to his wife, Evelyn, I discovered that he had been organising a family reunion – with the kids and grandkids travelling from as far afield as Australia. He never lived to see it, and the family reunion was a bittersweet one – at his funeral.

I told her that I had taken photos of him in 2013, and on arriving home, I immediately went in search of them on my hard drive. I had them printed and gave them to her a few weekends later. For the rest of the weekend I kept hearing from random strangers about how much Evelyn appreciated them. But the story doesn’t end there.

Late last month I once again found myself at the lake, and went to see if Evelyn was still around. She was indeed, but told me this would probably be her last year there. “It gets lonesome, I must tell you,” she sighed, as she showed off her prized flowers hanging on the balcony.

“I was married to Jerry for 50 years, much of that time spent running this place,” she explained. “And then we got divorced but still ran the place together. He had his own bedroom, and I had mine. Once must be proper, after all,” she continued.

That was a shock twist to the tale, and I never did ask her why they had separated, but I could hear the pain of her having lost Jerry in 2013, and now the thought of moving on from the home and resort she had shared with him. That night, I had a brainwave – to do a series of portraits for her to remember her last summer at the resort.

The next morning I suggested it to her. “Thank you, that would be delightful,” she beamed. “But I must warn you, I may break the camera because I’ve never taken a nice photo!”

“Do you mind if we do it at 11am,” she continued. “First I need you to help me to move a fridge.” One fridge turned into three, but true to her word, she was ready – hair brushed, clean blouse and with a fresh lick of make-up – at 11am sharp.

She had a few requests – for a photo with her flowers, one of her holding her husband’s photo, one of the hummingbirds and one with the Blue Lake island in the background. I was pleased to oblige, and threw in a few of the resort for good measure!

Evelyn on her balcony with her flowers.
… with the picture of Jerry, the island in the background.
Her home.
Her hummingbirds…
… with her favourite flowers.
“… why is my hair so white in this one?” she complained. I assured her it was just because of the sunlight on her hair.
A retired canoe still serving a purpose. 
One of the regulars, who has spent many a summer at the lake.
The resort from the island.
The island after a rainstorm.
Evening light…

Faux fur on a counterfeit child

Apparently, from some of the feedback I’ve received, the subjects of my previous blogpost – the hillbilly couple outside of town – were either way too real or not real enough.

So, today’s subject, I can guarantee, is not real at all. She is a complete figment of my camera and imagination. After all, what child enjoys riding her bicycle more than being plonked in front of a TV screen, iPad or computer game?

We have appalling, smokey air around here at the moment – with close to 500 forest fires burning throughout British Columbia at time of writing. But one thing the ash-filled air does make for is spectacular skies at sunset.

A few nights ago, the imaginary 7-year-old child told me to follow her around the block because “the light would be different along the way.” Up the hill we went, into a neighbour’s yard to see the bright red sun, and then back home – straight into the golden dappled-light of a fiery sun diving into the horizon behind the trees.

The faux child, fittingly, started with a faux fur headdress, which was ditched almost immediately and replaced with a real, sweet-smelling flower. She waited patiently for me to catch up whenever I, with wheezing lungs, lagged behind. It’s not a big block but, as she rightly suggested, the varied light as we went made for some striking photos.

Shooting real people in the Cariboo

Photography is about telling stories, right? Well, I’ve been looking for some good stories to tell for quite some time now. And then last week I went to visit a friend’s father and his wife out on a farm way outside town.

They bought the place from an elderly couple who hadn’t had the energy or health to put in any maintenance for many years, but the place now keeps them nice and busy and mostly out of trouble in their semi-retirement. When we arrived she was shelling a bucketload of peas and he was rolling a cigarette (one of many I saw him roll and smoke during my visit.) Both of them are the polar opposite of political correctness, which I love.

Their property is completely off the grid, but they have solar power, a strong-flowing spring, chickens and plenty of ginormous vegetables, which they grow in a greenhouse attached to their home. And to prepare for winter or the zombie apocalypse, she is a master of pickling, salting and other preserving goodness.  He is a carpenter, so has torn down and completely rebuilt some of the outhouses and interiors of the main house, and has several cabins, which look quite delightful if I ever desperately need a break from town life.

But I tell my stories with photos…

Real life in the Cariboo? This is about as close as it gets!



Childhood: grazed knees and mile-wide smiles

This is childhood the way I remember it, not in front of some screen but filled with adventure, fantasy, cuts, scrapes and bronzed bodies.

Last week I joined a local family and a batch of their friends at their favourite place to play, just down the road from their home. No, it’s not a playground, waterpark, trampoline park or entertainment multiplex, but a plain old gravel pit. It’s the perfect place for imaginations to run wild, to learn to fly, to pick daisies, and from which to return home with scraped knees and beaming, dust streaked faces.

Our visit was cut short when some of the kids, standing atop the highest pile of dirt, saw their dad drive by on his way home from work.

“Dad’s home,” they shrieked! “Let’s go!” And at that everyone tumbled down in a cloud of dust, piled as many as possible onto the little red cart, and ran home excitedly, the cart developing a dangerous speed wobble. There, ice lollies were waiting – perfect for washing the dust from parched throats.

(Scroll below the images, where the story continues. You can also click on the images for larger versions.)

These kids are pretty much always outside in summer.

“Can we go inside yet, mom?” one of them asked the other day. The answer was a firm “no,” at which he shrugged and went back to playing in the back yard with the chickens, or a sword, or pot lid fashioned into a shield. And then out came the watermelon, which everyone devoured before going off to find treasures that the bears had dragged out of the trash and strewn in the woods at the bottom end of the yard.

Ah, summer. Ah, childhood the way it was meant to be.