Monday, November 28, 2016

Thematic Photographic 391 - Repetitive

Insecurity
Woodbridge, ON
November 2016
For as long as I can remember, I've looked for stories in the shadows, the places where no one else would willingly look. I don't fully understand why, but I suspect it has something to do with discovering stuff no one else saw. Or thought of. Or bothered with.

I recall when I was a kid, wandering down dim, empty hospital corridors long past bedtime and thinking I was the only person on the planet who was watching the airplanes fly over the city from This Very Spot. Or who got to ride the elevators for hours without getting caught. It was an environment rich in unconventional stimuli, and as visiting parents left for home and an institutional quiet slowly settled on the kids who were left behind in the pediatric ward for the night, I waited carefully for the moment when I could slip my six-year-old self unnoticed out of bed and onto the brilliantly waxed floors just outside the door to my room, ready to explore this enormous collection of buildings, not so much afraid of the uncertainty as excited at the possibilities.

If only I could do the same today, but with a camera.

Which is probably why, no matter where I find myself, I like to take little time-outs from whatever I'm doing to point my lens at things that normally wouldn't merit a photo, much less a few paragraphs of writing. Like these lockers at a bowling alley. The place was packed, with boisterous groups of people enjoying a curiously addictive night of flinging a heavy ball down a slickly waxed wooden lane and hoping against hope that it would knock down a bunch of pins. It was a happy place, with skilled players easily mixing with the morons like me who could barely keep their balls out of the gutters.

And yet my eye kept wandering to the badly lit room way down in a forgotten corner stuffed floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall with the square lockers you see here. No one used them for the entire time we were there, which made me wonder if anyone ever came here. I was reminded of similarly forlorn lockers I'd seen at other bowling alleys rather far away, and couldn't shake the feeling that I needed a picture to remember the moment.

Your turn: Take a picture that reflects, supports or otherwise evokes this week's theme, repetitive. Share it on your blog, website, social media presence or wherever you wish, then pop back here and leave a comment letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy, and feel free to post again through the week if the spirit moves you. Additional instructions on how Thematic works may be found here. But whether you're a veteran or a newbie, all that matters is that you enjoy the journey. Happy shooting!

On the enormous power of small gestures

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
Leo Buscaglia
So over to you: What will you do today to make that small - rather, not-so-small - different in someone's life?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thematic Photographic 390 - Out for a walk

No parking here
London, ON
November 2016
This week's Thematic theme, Out for a walk, is a little different than our usual theme. It doesn't describe what appears in front of the lens. Rather, it revolves around when we take the shot. And if it's a picture you took while out for a walk, then I'm hoping you'll share it here.

This particular scene presented itself to me as I walked back to my car late Friday night. It struck me as unbearably sad-looking, a lost relic of another time. Automation is increasingly rendering these forlorn structures obsolete, but for some reason the booths themselves remain in place, the sight of an actual human parking attendant inside an increasing rarity.

I shot a few quick pics before continuing on my way, wary of the inebriated bar-hoppers staggering down the street nearby. I woke up the next morning to news there had been a shooting barely two blocks away from where I took this picture. Maybe it's just as well that real-live human beings no longer work here.

Your turn: Shoot something you've taken while out for a walk, then post it to your blog or website (or Facebook, or Tumblr, or wherever...) then pop over here and leave a comment to let everyone know where to find it. Check back through the week to see what everyone else is up to, and be sure to follow other participants' links home to share in the fun of it all. If you're new to the Thematic thing, head over here for the rules, such as they are. And please accept my sincere thanks for making this such a special touchpoint every week.

On Andy Rooney and the average dog

"The average dog is a nicer person than the average person."
Andy Rooney
I miss Mr. Rooney's 60 Minutes segments largely because the man himself always managed to take the most mundane observations of daily life and turn them into pointed assessments of the human condition. He always made us look inward, and I wish the world had more creative types like him.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Thematic Photographic 389 - Drink up

An occasional, less-than-healthy treat
Laval, QC
October 2016
Everyone's hometown comes with its own set of culinary baggage, a seemingly random assortment of dishes that instantly make you feel at home and give ex-pats something to complain about when they're far from where they grew up.

It's rare that a defining dish is particularly healthy, and Montreal's buffet of iconic foods and drinks is no different. From smoked meat to bagels-lox-and-cream cheese, it's no wonder this city is a mecca not only for native foodies, but for the cardiologists who'll need to treat them afterward.

As I now live in a place that seemingly has no local flavours to call its own, every trip back to Montreal is an excuse to indulge, if only for a few days, in the tastes that defined our upbringing and continue to make this place special.

This explains my little freakout when I realized the otherwise forgettable food court restaurant we had stopped at in the megamall near our old neighborhood served black cherry. Now, carbonated drinks aren't really my thing - not especially good for you, and the fizz is more than a little annoying - but black cherry seems to live in its own unique little world, and as weird as it sounds, I'll make an exception whenever I can find some.

Which isn't often, because it's one of those highly regionalized flavors that's almost impossible to find if you don't happen to live in the right region. Well, this was the right region, and I pounced on the opportunity when I saw it beneath the glass.

Of course, a little impromptu shooting session was called for. I'm so damn predictable.

Your turn: Take a pic - or many pics - reflective of this week's theme, Drink Up, then share on your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to keep the fun going, and repeat through the week if inspiration strikes again. For more background on how Thematic works, click here.

Take the long way home

Alone in the woods
London, ON
November 2016
It's been a better-than-average biking season this year. The weather and other circumstances allowed me to spend more than my fair share of time spinning the pedals through the countryside around London, and I got in lots of commuting miles - oops, kilometres - shuttling the pink wondermachine to and from the office and various studios.

On this late November afternoon, I left the office and pointed my front wheel toward the setting sun. I could have taken the direct route, instead. But looping wide before turning for home seemed like the right thing to do on this perfect day. As I cruised west on the Springbank Park section of London's bike path network, the leaves crunching in a near-musical cadence under my tires, the textures of the fallen branches and other autumn leftovers gently making their presence known through the handlebars, I idly wondered how many more moments like this I'd have before the winter closed in. Not a whole lot, if history is any indicator.

So I pulled over and snapped a few pictures - not because they're particularly spectacular (thanks to the fading light, they aren't) but because I wanted to have something to look back on as inspiration for those long winter days when the world is covered in white and grey and the bikes are tucked safely in the basement.

I don't ride through the winter. I suppose I could haul out the beater bike with its big, knobby tires. Or I could get a fat-bike and keep rolling all year long. As dedicated to cycling as I've always been, though, I'm not that dedicated. Snow and ice don't strike me as particularly conducive to safe riding. Every time I see a cyclist emerge from the Dante-esque fog of a lake-effect blizzard, I quietly wish him or her safe passage and smile at the gumption it must take to saddle up in these conditions. But I also do the math in my head, the calculations that conclude, for me. at least, that the possibility of an accident in marginal conditions simply doesn't justify it.

Which explains why I've been more pensive than usual of late. I drink in each ride, trying to remember what it feels like to be out there, because any one of them could be the last of the season. I've been lucky so far, but that luck will soon run out. And when it does, I'll have these pixels to look at, to hold my attention, to inspire me until the sun returns in a few months and whispers that it's time to roll out once more.

Your turn: How do photos inspire you?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On kindness and Sandra Boynton

"True kindness is not a superficial and occasional thing - it is profound and essential, and requires vigilance."
Sandra Boynton
Sandra Boynton has been my favorite children's author since before we even had kids. If you haven't bounced around the room to Barnyard Dance or done emphatic farm animal impressions to Moo, Baa, La La La! then you've missed out on one of the elemental joys of literary life.

While she is a multitalented author whose work on the surface seems to be aimed at kids, it's the underlying message in everything she does that seems to grab adults, too, as she sears herself into their permanent memories.

And so it is that I woke up this morning to news that today, November 13, 2016, is World Kindness Day. We all know what kind of week this planet has had, and what kinds of weeks, months and years lay ahead. So her words stopped me dead in my tracks as I idly scrolled through my feeds on my iPad over breakfast.

They're words to live by, today and every day, and I hope they, too, go on to become permanent memories for us all.

Your turn: How do you share kindness?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump can't hold a candle to this tree

Like many others, I've spent much of this week processing the results of Tuesday's U.S. presidential election. Never mind that I'm Canadian and this technically isn't my thing. The reality is it's everyone's thing no matter where we live, and the ripples of a seismic socio-cultural-political shift like the one we're now witnessing know no borders.

So if I'm a little subdued over the next little while, I hope you'll understand.

In the meantime, I found this tree. Or rather, this photo of a tree that I shot last week. I've been staring at it for a while, not because it's a particularly unique tree - it isn't. Rather, it's the story of time, and the fact that this tree's timeline differs from ours somewhat radically.

I'm going to guess this tree's been around for a half-century, give or take. I'm also going to guess that many of the much taller trees that surround it are well into the three-figured range.

They were here well before Tuesday, and hopefully they'll be here well after it, as well.

I have nothing more profound to add on top of that, but I can't shake the feeling that a closer appreciation of this tree's lifespan and life trajectory might help put Tuesday's events into a more digestible historical perspective. Time has a funny way of changing the way we see things, doesn't it?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On democracy and dictatorship

"Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they've told you what you think it is you want to hear."
Alan Coren

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

On democracy and getting what we deserve

"Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."
George Bernard Shaw

President Trump, some technology, and my dog

I'm addicted to screens
London, ON
November 2016
I'm sitting here in my darkened living room, my face lit only by the glow of the array of screens you see in the photo above. I call this my command centre, and I've been using this pile of technology on my dining room table for going on 8 hours as I live-update the social media feeds for work* (and sneak in some of my own social messaging, too.)

Like we did during the debates, election night here in Levyland was a family affair. The kids watched the coverage on the big TV, and of course were glued to their smartphones as they live-Snapchatted, Instagrammed and WhatsApped the proceedings with each other and their friends. This is what engagement looks like in 2016, and it was a joy to watch.

The dog figured prominently, as he always does, with the kids routinely stopping what they were doing to pick him up, cuddle him, speak to him, and otherwise breathe in his dogness. At one point, I tweeted a moment that he triggered by simply walking over to me.

Eventually, my wife and kids headed up to bed, while the dog curled himself into a ball on the couch, where he remains. Every once in a while, I find myself staring over at him as he not-so-quietly snores through another dog-dream.

As jarring as tonight's results have been to so many people on so many levels - and let's be clear, the world just became a less predictable, more frightening place - I keep looking over to him.

I'm not entirely sure why, but it brings me comfort. Because, just as I noted earlier this evening, he has no idea what's going on in the big bad world.

When I walked him through the wet, leafy neighbourhood earlier this eve, I could almost feel the electricity in the air. History-making days have a tendency to do that: Things slow down, feel quieter, more resonant. Small details present themselves, almost asking to be mentally recorded in psychological high-def.

Yet to the happy schnauzer bouncing himself through the piles of wet leaves, none of that mattered. As he followed his nose from one tree trunk to another, it must have seemed like any other night. He was simply happy to be outside, happy to be exploring his neighbourhood, happy to simply be.

Tomorrow morning, some people will wake up feeling it's the dawn of a new political era, while others will feel it's the dawn of a new dark age. Frasier will wake up and as he always does after he shakes off the cobwebs of another good night's sleep, look for his humans and squish himself into wherever we happen to be. He'll bark beside the pantry door until we feed him, then paw the patio door until we let him out to explore the yard. In short, just another day for him.

Maybe I should look through the world through his eyes. Maybe it's overly simplistic of me to even think along these lines. But when the world zigs instead of zags, I can't imagine navigating whatever comes next without this little guy firmly ensconced in the very centre of our family.

Your turn: Where do you seek comfort?

--
* Here's where to find the social media accounts where all this ended up:

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

On Honest Abe's thoughts on elections

"Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters."
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 07, 2016

Thematic Photographic 388 - Abstract

Life in all its forms
London, ON
November 2016
Not everything we see around us is real. Or perhaps it's real, but we don't see it as it originally was.

Consider this: Light moves at around 186,000 miles per second, so what we see is actually what it looked like at some point in the incredibly recent past. And as the light zips through space to where we're standing, it goes through any number of filters - air, pollution, radiated heat, that bottle of half-finished apple juice - that play all sorts of games with the original perspective.

And once it hits your eyes, the fun is just beginning. Because how your brain processes it adds another layer of uniqueness to the proceedings. Given the physical, biological, chemical and mental processes involved in seeing things and understanding what we're seeing, it's a wonder we can make out anything at all.

So when I saw this reflected scene in the slowly flowing waters of London's Thames River, I thought about all the tiny machinations of the universe that brought that scene, that intangible, fleeting two-dimensional representation, to the very spot where I happened to be standing.

Although I probably could have spent hours mulling it over, I instead metered and composed the shot, then squeezed off the shutter. Sometimes, it pays to think less and shoot more.

Your turn: Take a pic that supports this week's theme, Abstract. Share it on your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy. Tweet it out using the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag, and feel free to return through the week: multiples are always welcome. For more info on how Thematic works, click here. Enjoy, and thanks!

Shooting the magic mushroom

Mushroom on the forest floor
London, ON
November 2016
The scene: I'm wandering the Sifton Bog boardwalk with our daughter, looking for fleeting glimpses of autumn color before they disappear for good. There isn't much to be had in this otherwise remarkable place, the once-brilliant leaves now lying in a brownish mess on the floor of the swampy land on either side of us.

The narrow boardwalk at first annoys me - no room for people to squeeze by, and I'm always worried about toppling into the bog on either side - but then I slowly realize it was likely by design, to force strangers to slow down, acknowledge each other not in silent disconnectedness, but in polite discussion with new friends we meet along the way.

Dahlia spots a circular patch of red beside a tree. A mushroom. She leans in for a closer look, careful to avoid stepping onto the sensitive forest floor. As she hovers over her find, an elderly couple approaches from the other way and the lady - she was very much a lady, with a kind, deliberate lilt to her voice - asks what Dahlia's looking at. She explains, and both she and her husband crack huge smiles at this small discovery.

This lovely lady in the black wool coat and hand-knitted hat explains how her fading eyesight makes it difficult to make things out anymore. Still, she doesn't want to miss a thing, and asks Dahlia what she sees, and whether she's getting any good pictures of it.

The woman then asks Dahlia if she'd mind taking a picture of it for her. Of course, she says. So the lady removes an iPhone from her coat pocket and hands it to our daughter.

I stand quietly back and watch my daughter carefully and kindly interact with these very sweet people. I want to explain to them just how accomplished a photographer she is, but I resist the urge to play Proud Dad just this once. She's doing just fine on her own.

She gets down on the boardwalk and deftly composes and shoots a few pictures before handing her back her phone. It wasn't what the both of them said, but how they said it, that made me realize how profoundly touched this couple was that a complete stranger would take pictures for them.

You remember many things as a parent. This moment has just been added to the list.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Wondering what ducks think about

One thoughtful bird
London, ON
November 2016
The day dawned bright and warm yesterday, the kind of day that makes you double-check the calendar before leaving the house because certainly we shouldn't be wearing shorts in November.

Our daughter, who now studies photography in college and has become a master of light in her own right, had been wanting to take one last autumn-color-themed photowalk with me for a few weeks now. After some unexpected road-tripping derailed our plans, we thought we had missed the best of the season by the time we found some common open time yesterday.

We were wrong.

I originally posted this picture to Facebook (here) and Instagram (here), but somewhere along the way the technical gremlins stripped it down to a pixellated mess that looked more Kodak Brownie than Nikon. I'm thinking it has something to do with the fact that I shared it out of Flickr (here's the original), so I probably have some technical tweaking to do before I try a direct-upload again.

Software/web service gremlins aside, it was an amazing day to be out on the trail. We explored London's Sifton Bog and Springbank Park, shooting as much as we could before the sun dipped below the treeline. While I spent most of the time watching her do her optical thing, I managed to capture a few pixels along the way.

At one point, we met this rather large duck - at least we THOUGHT it was a duck - and he (she? I'm no duck expert, aside from making a really good duck call when those "Windows Department" scammers call, but I digress) seemed to be posing for us.

I'm thrilled with the pics we brought home (I've shared the full album here), but I'm even more thankful that I got to spend some quiet time together with our daughter. It's a simple thing, really, but when you think of it, the simple things matter more than anything else.

Our next photowalk likely won't be filled with autumn colors, but that's never the point, anyway. It almost doesn't matter what we shoot, as long as we take the time to get out there. I hope you get the chance to do the same.

Your turn: Tell us about a time you took the time to smell the proverbial roses.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Chasing the sun home

See you tomorrow
London, ON
November 2016
We're in the waning days of biking season, where blankets of wet leaves coat the bike paths and sing a not-so-subtle song under your tires that you'd better slow down and enjoy the view.

At the same time, earlier sunsets mean less time to get home before darkness settles in and accident rates skyrocket. No more carefree extended rides after work: These days, on days that aren't grey with torrential autumn rains and high winds, we simply point the bike home and ride with even greater care and focus.

So I didn't really have a lot of time to play with the other night as I rolled home. I was already pushing the timeline, as I had left the office a bit late (what else is new?) and I had rather stupidly decided to take the longer way home. I figured I'm running out of days to enjoy this particular stretch of riverside bike path, so why not?

I'm like that. Occasionally impetuous. Because I don't want to miss one last chance to drink in a moment. Even if it means fighting a darkening sky later on.

As I approached the lovely pedestrian bridge that marks the path's midway point, I noticed a bunch of people just hanging around with their phones and cameras. Time be damned, I stopped to be among them. Because how many sunsets do we get in a lifetime, anyway?

I lingered for a bit. I took this picture, as well as a few others. I tried to remember what it felt like to stand on this welcoming structure, in this welcoming place. By the time I rolled into my neighborhood a half-hour later, the street lights were on. I thought about the silliness of being late because a sunset beckoned, then dismissed the thought as I wondered about days spent never looking at the sun at all.

I'll be back on my bike today, and already I hope the sky puts on a similar show on the way home. I can't imagine what it must feel like to miss out on moments like these.

Your turn: Do you ever throw your schedule off in the pursuit of an otherwise trivial moment? Why is it worth it to you?

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Do you celebrate a birthday after someone dies?

Today's my dad's birthday. Or it would have been, as he passed away just over 7 years ago. Whenever November 2nd rolls around, I often wonder what an appropriate response to the day might be. Do I mark the occasion in some way? Or do I simply let it slip past without a mention?

Lots of questions, and I honestly have no answers. I don't know what's considered right or not right, and I've learned since we first got that awful call that there's no right or not right in the entire grieving process. Everyone navigates it differently, and we all do whatever we feel we need to do to get through it.

Mind you, you're never really through it, either. It pops back into your head at the most unexpected of times. It irrevocably changes the direction of our lives - sometimes subtly, sometimes more obviously. This isn't in and of itself a negative thing. It just is. Another wave in the ocean of life, if you will, and it's up to us to just ride the thing and see where it takes us.

Maybe after 7 years I should stop fretting over whether I'm doing the "right" thing and just be glad that I'm still here, and still have the capacity, to wonder about these things at all. Maybe "celebrate" needs a new definition, one that extends beyond the narrow-band view of birthday cake and candles, to something a little more reflective of a life well lived. If the day brings me a good memory or two - and it has - then perhaps I should simply close my eyes for a bit and enjoy it for what it is. Everything else is a distraction.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Thematic Photographic 387 - Where I Shop

Our old stomping grounds
Dollard-des-Ormeaux, QC
October 2016
This is Yagel Bagel. It's the bakery at the edge of the neighbourhood where we used to live. Our son was two years-old when we sold the house and pointed the car west, so it hasn't been a part of our reality in a very long time. But memory is a funny thing in its ability to pull you back no matter how many years have slipped into history.

I remember walking the munchkin here in his stroller for bagels on Sunday morning. Heck, it's where I picked up a danish - a chocolate babka - on little man's first drive home from the hospital. Our house was just a few blocks thataway, and I have no words to describe what it felt like to open the door on a cold winter's morning. Indeed, on this morning as my wife and I prepared for the long drive back to London, returning here for some last-minute fixins that Ontarians will never fully appreciate seemed like the right thing to do. And it still felt like home.

Your turn: Pick or take a photo that reflects this week's theme, Where I Shop, and post it to your blog (or website, or Facebook page or Twitter or wherever else you like to hang out.) Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it, then pop over to other participants to share in the fun. Repeat as often as you wish, as this theme will be live for the next week. For more background on how Thematic works, please click here. And if at all possible, don't get yourself kicked out of the store :)

On knowing the limits of technology

"You cannot get into space by building a faster airplane."
Dr. John Sviokla

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Where I get screwed but good

Losing. Air. Quickly.
London, ON
September 2016
Thematic. Disposable. Here.
I ride my bike to work for a whole lot of reasons, primarily because I believe it's healthier for me and, for the most part, more fun than taking the car. It also helps me bypass the guilt I tend to feel when I decide to drive. Sure, if it's raining, snowing or the all-dominant daily schedule otherwise obviates my taking the bike, I feel perfectly justified in grabbing the keys. But if weather and schedule are both clear, I feel like I'm ripping the planet off if I don't pedal in.

So on a brilliantly sunny morning not all that long ago (okay, it was September, and I'm ridiculously behind in getting my drafts posted online), I found myself cruising down the first hill barely two blocks from my house as I settled into an easy spin into the office. As I've done countless times this season, I coasted the bike through the traffic light-controlled four-lane intersection at the bottom of the hill, popped onto the bike path that parallels the sidewalk and spun my legs up to speed.

A few hundred metres further on, something didn't feel right. The rear end of the bike felt a little soft, and I could feel a clicking sound coming from the back wheel. Uh oh. I pulled over and looked down to this sight: A large screw stuck right into the tire. Thankfully the tire itself was still holding some air. Figuring I had a few minutes of grace left before the thing completely deflated, I turned the pink wondermachine around and headed for home.

A flat tire isn't a big deal in the pantheon of life. Unless you're descending a mountain at 70+ km/h and suffer a blowout, you'll likely live to tell the tale. At low speed and close to home, this one turned out to be a relatively low-consequence event, and one that was easily resolved.

So I tossed the bike into the back of my car and headed for the office. Later in the day, I popped into the bike shop near work and had a delightful conversation with another customer who recognized my bike by the year I bought it. While the mechanic fixed my boo-boo, the three of us discussed the challenges of commuting, and the why we still do it despite the risks. Before long, we said our goodbyes as they both helped me wheel my bike back through the creaky wooden door at the front of the shop.

As I tucked the bike back into the garage that evening, I realized how lucky I am - that a chance encounter with a sharp object gave me the opportunity to appreciate just how passionate London's cycling community is, and how lucky I am to be a part of it. Something to keep in mind tomorrow morning as I load up the bike again and set off on my morning ride.

Maybe I was meant to ride over that screw after all.