Friday, December 28, 2012

Big Snow

garden table with new snow
We awoke yesterday to a big fresh snowfall, the first in almost two years around here. Freshly fallen snow is transformative, not only of the landscape but also of the mind. It awakens a younger me, the Simon that used to spend hours playing outdoors making tunnels and forts as a boy in Ottawa. And the changed and simplified appearance of everything blanketed in snow inevitably encourages the artist in me to grab my camera and get out to enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Hobo of Spencer Gorge

This week I hiked into Spencer Gorge to meet Marty, the resident hobo.  Marty,  a self-declared hobo, who collects bottles and cans for a living around Dundas Ontario, camps out at his "Cuddy Shack" deep in the woods.

I helped him carry wood and water up from the stream as he told me about the wildlife he observes, and the historical artifacts he has found. He even found a body once.

The view is beautiful, the shack is warm and the Christmas tree outside is decorated. Merry Christmas Marty! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Neighbourhood Fox

There's a new hunter in our neighbourhood, a bold and handsome red fox. He trotted past my studio window twice last week, and yesterday I spotted him from my car.

So I followed him as he wandered across the lawns and streets, using my cellphone camera to snap a few quick shots. What he was looking for I have no idea. But I have noticed that there haven't been any rabbits around here for awhile!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter Birding

Tufted Titmouse

I went birding along the Niagara River last Sunday, my first attempt at 'winter birding', with a group of birding experts who knew their birds well, particularly the unusual gulls who gather there.

While I did spot a few rare gulls such as the all-white Iceland Gull, a first for me, I had more luck - and fun - photographing the winter birds in the local woodland parks. Another first was the Winter Wren, an uncommon and secretive bird that lives by woodland streams.

But the most beautiful bird of the day was the Tufted Titmouse, a relative of the Chickadee, that was quite amenable to posing for my camera!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sounds of the Season

The Blind Boys of Alabama perform in the Glenn Gould Studio
Last Friday I made my way down to the CBC Broadcasting Centre in Toronto for the annual Sounds of the Season food drive and live radio broadcast. I dropped off my contribution of non-perishable food items for local food banks and then found a seat in the Glenn Gould Studio theatre just as The Blind Boys of Alabama were doing their sound check. These living legends still know how to rock the house with their gospel music!

The food drive is still accepting donations at the CBC or online, so please consider supporting the cause.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The view from my room at the Caravanserai Cave Hotel in Goreme

As a side trip to my visit to Findhorn, I spent 3 days hiking through the valleys of Cappadocia Turkey, a region I thought might make for interesting stereo photography.  So glad I went! 

Ancient abodes in Pigeon Valley
An early Christian crypt

Since at least 1300 BCE, people have carved dwellings in the surrounding hills and hoodoos, here called castles and fairy chimneys.

Whole underground cities, complete with churches, stables, wells and ventilation shafts have been carved in the soft rock, laid down over millennia as volcanic ash.

As well as providing safe sanctuary from marauding armies, these abodes were warm in the winter and cool in the summer!

I took a hike through the euphemistically named Love Valley
Up, Up, Way Up!

A highlight for me was a balloon ride where we rose through the clouds to emerge into bright sunlight, with a view of a distant snow-capped volcano.

The air was actually warmer above the clouds than below!

I wrote an account of my ride with Butterfly Balloons on TripAdvisor.

I wanted photos of Turkish people and they wanted photos of me!
The Turkish people were wonderful hosts, always gracious and willing to accommodate a traveller's needs and make helpful suggestions. Two Turkish men offered me a ride to Avenos, a pottery-making town, where I wandered the markets, snapped lots of people pictures, and visited a school of traditional Turkish carpet making.

A 3D cross-view of carpet-weaving students in Avenos

Wendy, Xiaoyong and Josie Chai

One of the wonderful things about traveling is the chance to make new friends; people with whom you share a special moment in time but might never meet again. Wendy, Xiaoyong and their daughter Josie shared their car with me and were great models for my landscape photography. Such a delightful family! I do hope we meet again some day.

3D cross-view of Love Valley

Capstones on the fairy chimneys around Urgup
Cappadocia is a place that should be on everyone's bucket list. And if you ever want a guide/companion to go with, just let me know!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Findhorn's 50th Anniversary Reunion

The Nature Sanctuary
Having lived at the Findhorn Foundation in the 1970's, it was a pleasure to return in November for a week-long reunion with friends I haven't seen in years, and also make some new ones. Findhorn has grown and changed over the years; it's now an eco-village for sustainable living that continues to be inspired by its spiritual roots.
Gathering for a Findhorn Family photo
It was emotionally intense to be reunited so suddenly with so many for such a short period of time. 
Someone said it was like going to heaven without having to die!
Putting rhubarb to bed in Cullerne Gardens
Each morning we worked together in the kitchen, in the gardens, or in the wild areas just like old times. 
Work is Love in Action!
Cutting carrots in the community kitchen while preparing lunch for 210 hungry people
Lesha's Tikki Bar party
In the evenings we attended sharings (skits and musical performances in the Universal Hall), informal gatherings of old friends, or went to bed early, exhausted by jet lag and the excitement of it all!
Entrance to the Universal Hall

Findhorn was founded in 1962 by Peter and Eileen Caddy and their friend Dorothy Maclean of Guelph Ontario (seated left with Peter & Eileen's son Jonathon).

I first met Dorothy in 1975 when we both lived in the San Francisco Bay area. When Ellen and I mention that we where thinking of going Findhorn, she warned us that it wasn't all about communicating with nature spirits; that there was hard work involved; and that sometimes couples' relationships didn't withstand the intensity of the place!

Dorothy and the Caddy children blow out the candles on the 50th Birthday cake

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Early morning on the Graben, one of the city's most famous streets
Last Saturday I spent the day in Vienna en-route to see Heather in Amsterdam and attend the 50th Anniversary Findhorn Reunion in Scotland.
Hofburg Palace, winter home of the Emperor
Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the grand architecture and statuary reflect its imperial past.

Statue of composer Johann Strauss
 I bought a ticket to the Spanish Riding School's performance of riders and Lipizzaner stallions in the Hofburg Palace.  At 440 years old, it's the oldest riding school in the world!

A visit to Vienna wouldn't be complete without a stop at a traditional Viennese Café, complete with large displays of pastries, small strong cups of coffee and an ample supply newspapers to browse.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pine Siskins

A flock of unusual birds arrived at our backyard feeder a few days ago. Mottled brown with a touch of yellow on their wings, I learned from a Wild Birds Unlimited newsletter that they're called Pine Siskins, a type of finch that usually lives much farther north in the boreal pine forests of Canada.

The siskins monopolized the oil seed feeder all afternoon much to the chagrin of the nuthatches and chickadees who usually have the feeder to themselves!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Maid of the Mist

cousin Sandy

I took a ride on the Maid of the Mist this week with my cousin Sandy Lawson, visiting from Ireland.

Being engulfed by the mighty roar and incessant spray of Horseshoe Falls is a humbling experience, a thrill I won't soon forget!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The End of Growth Tour

I went to hear David Suzuki and Jeff Rubin speak at Hope House in Guelph on Tuesday night. As a person who is deeply concerned about the future of our world - the diminishing ability of our land, sea and air to sustain life as we know it - I wanted to hear about signs of change, something that would make me feel a bit more optimistic about the future.

Instead I came away with the sense that a huge crisis is looming, that the human desire for ever-improving life-styles and maximized short-term profits is going to be the undoing of the Earth's delicate balance, and our unsustainable way of life.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Black Widow Spider

While putting out the garbage this evening, I noticed a rather large black spider in one of the garbage cans. A black widow! It had the tell-tale red marking on its abdomen. But in Ontario? Apparently they inhabit temperate regions around the world, including southern Ontario.

She is now safely housed in a bug container. So now what? I don't like killing spiders but I can't just let her go. Suggestions welcome.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Autumn Activities

Rattlesnake Point
This is one of my favourite times of the year to be out with my camera exploring the beauty of the fall season. Sometimes a little patience is in order as the winds roll across the landscape, rustling the leaves and opening the clouds to briefly let a little extra sunlight illuminate the scene.
a student captures some of the magic of autumn with her camera (3D parallel view)
My nature photography students are never short of interesting subjects to photograph at this time of year: colourful leaves, emerging mushrooms, dying flowers - they all provide a rich but fleeting palette of opportunities to work with.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Hawk Cliff

 a bird-bander releases an immature red tail hawk at Hawk Cliff
It's migration time once again for all the birds that are heading south after a long summer in Canada. One of the best places to see migrating hawks at this time of year is Hawk Cliff, just east of Port Stanley, on Lake Erie.

Hawks and eagles like to glide on the rising air of thermals but because there are no thermals over bodies of water, they bunch together into huge groupings called kettles, along the north shore of Lake Erie. Looking up with a pair of binoculars I saw hundreds of broad-winged hawks circling together. A magnificent sight!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Jian Ghomeshi

Jian & Gail
Gail & I went to hear Jian Ghomeshi introduce his first book at the Eden Mils Writer's Festival yesterday. The book 1982 is an autobiographical account of his coming of age as a 14 year old Persian David-Bowie-wannabe in suburban Toronto. It's full of the wit and wisdom that you'd expect from this celebrated radio personality.  After chatting with Jian, I must say that he is every bit as warm and personable as he seems on the radio each morning.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nuit Blanche

As part of the Guelph Jazz Festival, I attended the all night celebration called Nuit Blanche on Saturday. From dusk to dawn there were over 70 free music, dance and art events to attend!
Trash Theatre's gnomes encounter The Shuffle Demons in St. George's Square
As could be expected, some events were mesmerizingly beautiful, some were hilarious, and some were a little strange and puzzling. Despite my initial enthusiasm, I only survived to a little past 2 AM before I had to find my pillow for the night, with visions of gnomes & demons dancing in my head!
The Ondine Chorus in Old Quebec Street

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


ferry across the Saguenay fiord

After a short ferry ride, we arrived in the the village of Tadoussac today.  It's a whale-watching destination at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers.
From the observation deck of the old lighthouse we saw minke, beluga and humpback whales!

 The local churches around here are eye-catching. The one with the red roof, built in 1647, is reputedly the oldest wooden church in North America.


Monday, August 20, 2012


 The Charlevoix region of Quebec, sitting on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, provides a wealth of stunning landscape views for a traveling guy like me, who gets excited by such things.
A half hour drive takes you up into the Laurentians with their sheer cliffs (highest east of the Rockies) and boreal forests or taiga, usually found much further north.