Friday, December 31, 2010

Favorite Photos of 2010

Okay...another new tradition. Each year I will publish (or perhaps re-publish) some of my favorite images of the past year. What makes them my favorite? A couple of key things: the images need to be unusual, technically good and pleasing to the eye. The image should also convey some message or meaning for something I did or a place I travelled over the past year. It may also be whimsy on my part. It is also a sort of "Year in Review" for me.

This is a Wood Duck, taken in the spring at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Gardens in SE Portland. Apparently there are only a few places one can see these ducks, and this was one of my first expeditions with my new telephoto lens (Nikkor 70 -200mm f2.8 for you photogeeks)

Another bird shot. This is a Great Blue Heron that I had to stalk for quite some time before he/she allowed me to get close enough for this image. Apparently the prospect of a meal overcame a fear of me, and I was able to get a photo in flight with a snake in it's mouth. Late spring of 2010, near Vancouver Lake.

In April I went to Oklahoma for a business trip. This is oil fact, this is perhaps one of the original oil patches since it's close to Texas. This of course is an oil well pump, also called a "pump jack" or a "nodding donkey" (thank you, Wikipedia). These are scattered throughout the countryside, next to the highway or nestled in the midst of wheatfields. At any given time I could see dozens as I drove to my destination (Anadarko, which also happens to be the name of a large oil company). There is some whimsy in this photo as well...I grew up in oil country when my father worked for Royal Dutch Shell, so seeing one of these elicited some memories for me.

This is Oklahoma City's memorial to the 168 who died (including 19 children) at the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building bombing that occurred in 1995. There are two arches like the one in the distance, separated by a reflecting pool. One bears the time immediately before the bomb went off (9:01) and the other one moment after (9:03). On the right one can see chair sculptures that represent those who died. Seeing the smaller chairs representing the children who were in the daycare and who perished was particularly moving for me.

Each year, near Woodburn (which is about an hour south of Portland) there is a tulip festival where one almost feels one is in Holland. There are acres upon acres of brightly colored tulips of any color imaginable. This is a dark purple one, taken while almost laying in the mud.

I love birds. Spring especially brings opportunities for delightful images such as these goslings pecking away on a lawn near my office in SE Portland.

We occasionally like to escape the city and visit the Oregon Coast. This is a seabird posing for me at the aviary at the Oregon Coast Aquarium near Newport, Oregon.

Also in Newport, one can wander along the old waterfront area and see sea lions and seals who have taken up residence on various rocks, floats and docks. These two are vying for a good sunny spot...I guess. Maybe it's a mating ritual? We didn't wait to find out.

During the Portland Rose Festival in June, one can watch Dragon Boat Races on the Willamette River. This is as close as I could get, even with a good telephoto lens...but I love the colors of the boats and the intricacies of the carvings. The person sitting on the head leans forward as the boat races to a bouy to grab the flag. First one to grab of course is the winner.

This is perhaps my favorite photo of 2010. I chased this monarch butterfly from flower to flower to capture this image. Taken while we were in New York visiting our son and his girlfriend in July. We were in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, near their home. You can see more of our trip at my other blog:

I'll call this one "Ladybug on an Artichoke", taken in our garden at our house. (Both this photo and the butterfly in the previous shot were taken with my antiquated (pre-digital) Nikkor 28-105mm zoom lens. Not bad for a 18 year old piece of glass, eh?)

This is an old, abandoned hydroelectric powerhouse in central Oregon, south of The Dalles and around 2 hours from Portland. I think this was originally built around 1910 and ceased production in 1960 when the big The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River was completed. Pictured is the remains of a turbine and generator on the right, and a governor in the center. Over the years weather and vandals have stripped most of the smaller pieces leaving just the hulks. Portions of the roof have fallen or blown away, allowing the light to come in as you can see in the photo.

These last two images were taken on one of our explorations...part of a series entitled Off the Beaten Path. This is an old gas pump at an abandoned gas station along the highway in central Oregon.

An old McCormick Deering tractor, part of the detritus of a vanishing rural life in central Oregon. This was taken in the town of Shaniko, which used to be a center for sheep ranching but became a ghost town in the middle of the last century. Recently there have been efforts to restore the hotel and some of the businesses but the economy has taken its toll and this once-thriving town may yet again slide into a ghost of a former life.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What is Christmas?

Our family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, with a dinner, opening gifts and playing a game of cards. If the time works out we may attend a midnight Mass or service, but after a day of preparation and perhaps work, staying up so late may not work. All in all our tradition is pretty…well, traditional.

And speaking of tradition, one that has crept in and now seems to dominate our western culture is the commercialism that encourages us to buy, buy and buy more. Perhaps the most opulent example (and in my opinion the most offensive) is the commercial of the luxury car tied up with a red bow in the driveway, with the person standing beside it squealing with unrestrained joy. Spare me!

This morning’s Oregonian featured an article about how some spend their Christmases in less traditional manners, perhaps due to circumstances in their lives. We cannot forget how this recession has adversely affected the lives of many families and individuals, who have seen successful businesses slip away, homes fall into foreclosure and families separated. It may not even be the economy. One’s circumstances can also be due to choices one has made in one’s life. One’s choice of how to spend Christmas may also be a reflection of how one’s own life has been changed. Here is a link to that article:

I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. Her name is Kristin, and she is pictured with her dog Boo. Cute, huh? This was taken at our annual 4th of July party.

Of late she has been spending time volunteering in a homeless shelter in SE Portland, serving food to those less fortunate, and Christmas Eve day was no different for her. I have known Kristin through some hard times. I won’t go into her story, other than to say it is a remarkable one and to see her in this place is truly a blessing. Her Christmas present to me was a very simple one, a framed photo of Boo (and one I did not take!). What was and is important to her now is to share of herself with people most of us never encounter.

It was the simplicity of the gift, and the choice of her actions that moved me, and caused me to reflect on what Christmas really is. It is so very easy to get caught up in the frenzy of the holidays and to stress about finding the "perfect gift" for those in our circle of family and friends. Yet the best part is spending time with those who are around us. It isn’t about buying things and doing our part in keeping the economy going…no, it’s about sharing ourselves and especially with those less fortunate than us.

This, my friends, is Christmas and brings us closer to the manger scene…where a couple were forced to resort to sleeping in a stable rather than a warm room and bed. May we all enjoy the true peace and joy that comes with the simplicity of the season.

Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Farmers Market in December

Long after most other farmers markets have folded up their tents, stowed away supplies for the winter and look ahead for next year's first fruits, the site of the Montavilla Farmers Market still bustles with farmers and customers, anxious for what is fresh and local. may say? This is December, and we should be packing the malls with Christmas shopping, our eyes filled with visions of sugar plums and such things! Well, it appears there is still a hardy cadre of consumers who love to interact with those who supply our sustenance, namely the farmers and dairy folk and bakers and those who produce the most delicious sausage. Once again the empty lot at the corner of SE 76th and Stark was abuzz with tents, trucks and tables filled with fruit, vegetables and all manner of produce.

I love this farmers market! It is apparent we will not be deterred by seasons or weather in our pursuit of all things fresh. Despite the rain and wind (albeit temperatures were in the high 50' your heart out, Minnesota), more than 130 people came.

Just to prove how hardy we are, we will even eat ice December...outdoors! And we will enjoy it as well.

Most vendors set up a tent but a few offered their stuff out of the back of their truck.

Yes, it is an abbreviated market, on select Sundays through the winter months and only between 11 AM and 1 PM. There are only a few vendors still selling this late...just a fraction of what is offered in the summer. Despite that, it's fun to see the trucks and vans parked and tents covering the tables.

Luckily the mild temperatures allowed fingers to work those tiny keyboards as Market volunteers helped with questions, trading tokens or even offering a free loaner bag in which to carry stuff home.

What makes a market complete but pooches accompanying their charges as most walk to the market. Isn't that what makes this a true part of the community?

I am still pleasantly surprised at the bounty offered, even this late in the year. So many varieties of apples and pears... to stands with onions and potatoes, complete with a coating of dirt from the ground in which they grew. How much closer can one get to the source of our food, without actually driving to the farm?

One really knows one has arrived when one is offered not just a simple button but a choice we can proudly wear on our lapel...or coat...or hat. Yes we indeed support our local farmers.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Walk in the Woods

Every once in a while we need to take a walk in the woods. I do, primarily because my spiritual and emotional batteries get charged when I commune with nature...or perhaps its communing with Creation? Regardless of how one wishes to spiritualize it, I benefit greatly during such escapes from our urban world.

One such retreat is the Tualatin Hills Nature Park, located near the intersection of SW Murray Boulevard and TV Highway. Even during the dismal time of late fall, one can find a restorative interlude in suburban Beaverton, not far from downtown Portland.

There are trails that wander through a moss-draped wonderland...

...or alongside a wetland with waterfowl blithely eating, unafraid of those of us passing by.

If one is patient and observant, one can even spot the creature from which Beaverton received its name...and yes, that is indeed a beaver paddling away.

With all the recent rains many of the fallen vegetation become breeding ground for all manner of fungal growth. The ones above are either oyster mushrroms or wood-ear fungus.

These are honey-fungus mushrooms growing on the trunk of a tree.

All the photos are taken with my 70-200mm (f2.8) telephoto zoom, which was the only lens I carried that day...hence few overall views during my little walk. However, each of us sees something different and thus may take an entirely new perspective. I have attached a link for any of you interested in seeing this gem of a park yourself.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Winter Market

We all associate a farmers market as a summertime activity, or perhaps in the Fall when many produce items ripen and are harvested. I would venture that most of us would not think of November as a time when one could wander down to select produce...or anything for that matter.

Au contraire, mon ami! (and yes, that is all the French I know). Although the last consecutive market day for the Montavilla Farmers Market was in October, one special market day was still to be had on the weekend before Thanksgiving. What better opportunity for fresh local produce for a holiday that celebrates the bountiful harvest?

One comment that was repeated often during the November market day was...BRRRRR!!! We woke to sunshine for the morning set-up, but the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped as the day wore on, and there were a few snowflakes reported in the late afternoon. Nevertheless, the crowds came and the vendors sold their produce, in time for the Thanksgiving feasts.

The happy people at the market information tent.


...and fruit were in abundance. were smiling faces

The cold weather brought out not only the vendors and the customers, but our hearts were warmed by lovely music as well.

These are celery roots. I was told by Kathryn Yeomans, the Montavilla Market Chef that these are delicious. Stay tuned for the recipe. (remember another thing - I'm a writer and a photographer...not a cook or a foodie)

Bearing in mind that I am an urban-type of guy, I think of a carrot as being imagine my surprise at this rainbow collage of colorful carrots. (and yes, "rainbow carrots" are what these are called. Who would've thought?)

Even Kathryn our market demonstration chef was bundled for the weather, as she prepares for her demonstration of the day.

Thank goodness for the heat of the stove.

One new program the Market did this year is called "Everybody Eats". In order to improve access to healthy food for all people regardless of income, the Market made available $1,200 worth of tokens to 48 families who otherwise may not be able to have fresh local produce for Thanksgiving meals. The program was in partnership with St Vincent de Paul.

After all...isn't that what being thankful is all about? You can read more about the Montavilla Farmers Market and Everybody Eats at this link:

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Circle of Life...

First of all, the photos in this entry are not mine. They are taken by a friend when she was at the Oregon Coast some time ago. I normally don't post others' photographs, but these are particularly poignant and struck a chord with me, for a number of reasons that will become apparent. I also thought they are very good photographs. She gave me permission to show her photos, as well as sharing her thoughts that were included in an email to me.

"Unfortunately this seal is dying from sort of disease. It was posted to not touch sea lions or seals dying on the beach... I so... so wanted to put its head in my lap and tell it I was sorry he was dying ... I didn't know what to do... but I felt it so deep and it was dying without reason... I felt so helpless... but I guess in life ... in my own life I feel this too.. " (Joan)

The word "poignant" means evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret. I think it is a particularly appropriate word, especially the "keenly felt" part when one witnesses the dying of another creature, as is the case here. Yet it is nature, with all of her harshness set in the midst of the beauty around...and also inescapable. Our bearing witness to it inevitably causes us to consider the world around us, and our place in it.

You see...what is especially poignant is that my friend Joan has cancer. I don't know her prognosis. Her particular type is rare and not much is known about it. However, what is striking to me is her attitude...wanting to comfort the seal in his final reassure him that he has meaning.


Perhaps that is what she is seeking? Isn't that what we all keenly desire?

Rain or Shine

A friend was recently surprised to hear that our local farmers market (The Montavilla Farmers Market) was still open, in windy and rainy October.

"What is left to harvest?" he said, and I have to admit I was surprised at what is still available. Notice that I use the present tense..."is". Now, I have to admit that the weather is markedly different in October than it was in August, for my last blog entry about the market banquet, as the following photos will attest. What you will also find, however, is that there is still much bounty to be found at the market.

During one of the many downpours one can experience an urban market phenomenon - the tent waterfall. It seems that the rain collects in the low points of the canopies, only to be coaxed over the edge into a cascade of water during a sudden gust of wind...and sometimes down the back of one's jacket. Not pleasant!

Fruit is still plentiful, such as this wide array of apples.

Fennel and lettuce...

...and baskets of vegetables, to numerous to name.

The photos above bear testimony to how much is still available...and as much as I love Brussels Sprouts, I never knew how tall those stalks can get.

Isn't it funny how kids are naturally attracted to water...and mud puddles?

Gretchen Jackson, the Market's manager takes a break to eat from Thai Mama's delicious of the few remaining eateries at the market. Yes, sadly the lemonade stand is gone, though remarkably the ice cream lady was still there! The caramel apples were amazing. Kitchen Dances and the Wild Wild West Barbecue are also still open.

Even the musicians held fast against the rain and wind, serenading the shoppers with song and twang. (I may be wrong, but I heard the guy on the right is backup guitarist for ZZ Top.)

Oh...and the day was not without a casualty. A gust of wind blew down a tent and buckled one of the legs. So the score at the end of the day was Weather: 1, Market: 0, though the real winners are those of us in the community who can still find fresh local produce, and the opportunity to hang with some pretty cool people.
Better hurry, though! Only open one more day in October, and then only open on the Sunday before Thanksgiving...and that's it for the season. (Stay tuned for the abbreviated version later)