What Luck!

Do you know that feeling of joy mixed with luck when you drop the lid to something on the floor and it lands messy side up? Photography can produce that response too. Lately, an osprey is the source of those emotions for me. First time I spotted it was a few months back, while on a bike ride, on the beach path. Approaching the pier where I turn around to head back, I noticed a hulk on top of a light pole. It seemed larger than a seagull and piqued my inner birder.

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I approached the pier and stumbled upon a lifeguard talking with a group, who seemed as interested as I, about the bird. In this makeshift class I learned the bird in question was an osprey (also known as a sea hawk by the way). The lifeguard also mentioned seeing it fishing at times from his vantage point of the tower on the pier. The prospect of this natural phenomenon occurring right on these shores, in this city, in front of my eyes was thrilling. I watched it for a while, but it didn’t go fishing that day. I was regretting my decision to leave my DSLR at home but thinking of the mantra I have heard uttered so many times – the best camera is the one you have with you – I pulled out my phone to capture this sighting.

Fast forward a few months, same ride, with my DSLR this time. I see the same sized hulk on the pole again. Could it be? Yes, it is! An osprey!

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Marveling at my luck at finding the osprey while having my bigger camera in tow, I wait and watch the bird as intently as the bird focuses on the water.

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Suddenly it swoops from its perch and dives towards the surf.

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Jackpot! It arose with a fish in its talons. My luck at being on that pier for that exact moment elicits awe and giddiness. If only the osprey could know its impact by simply going about its daily life.

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It flew out of sight, continuing on past oblivious surfers.

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The next week, same ride, carrying DSLR with a bigger zoom lens this time, I spot it. The osprey is back again!

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It is a sunny day this time and the light coupled with the zoom lens provided the opportunity to capture more details in the eyes and feathers. I think it spotted me.

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The osprey’s presence brings people together in unexpected and pleasant ways. Seems as though pointing your camera towards the sky grabs the attention of others. Many have taken to asking questions and we end up swapping stories of our neighborhood birds. This day, it hung around for a bit staring at the water and preening before flying off into the distance swooping towards the water without catching anything.

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Sometimes we get caught up in our routines; returning to the same locations doing the same things, and there is comfort in that, but it can also feel monotonous. If we take time for awareness, we might notice that even the same places are different from day to day: the lighting, the people, the animals are some of the elements that combine and interact to create a freshness. If you keep an eye out, inspiration can strike at any moment. You may be lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time, or maybe you always were and just didn’t notice it.

Sending thoughts and prayers to all impacted by the wildfires in California and gratitude  for the firefighters and first responders.

Stay safe,

Susan

 

Slip me some skin

By Catherine Keefe

Skin is the sole
thin veil between
where I stop
and you begin

baby

This sole thin skin is all
that keeps me
from melting into you

Slip me some –
Give me some –
You are under
my skin.

Be soft today.

My grandchild’s face is the inspiration for Day #3 of The August Break photography challenge prompt, “Skin.” Follow #augustbreak15 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr for more images.

~ Catherine

 

 

“…out of doors is made up of air…”

gulls By Catherine Keefe

“…and a painting is always a flat surface, a painting has no air, the air is replaced by a flat surface and anything in a painting that imitates air is illustration and not art.” Gertrude Stein was rather firm in her opinion about the artistic effort of rendering air in her book, Paris France.  What bravado then, for me to attempt to photograph “air,” the Day 2 prompt for The August Break.

But then, I always like a challenge. I try the seemingly impossible in photography, “capture air,” or in writing when I take on Helen of Troy’s persona in my poetry manuscript.  Undertaking the difficult thing is the call of an artist. Gertrude Stein also wrote, “One of the pleasantest things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.”

We seek that exhilarating moment when we capture the flash of life as art in momentary perfection. Usually the daily miracle comes by showing up and paying attention.

What you can’t see in my image of California Gulls on Laguna Beach is the little boy, just out of left frame, running down the beach in bright red trunks, flapping his arms in agitation at this flock that moments earlier descended on his towel and pilfered his bag of Cheetos. As the boy began running, I pulled out my camera to focus on the gulls.

Every day gives up its sparks if we show up to pay attention. One certain miracle of a summer Sunday is having enough time to spend outside. Put down your device, and go outside now! Chase birds, or chase your daily miracle. Chase your dream, or your lover, or your child.

Breathe.

Gulp great mouthfuls of air.

You are alive.
~Catherine

ps. If you want to hear one sound of California summer, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology California Gull Call audio here. For more “Air” images search #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

I could give a fig

figs

By Catherine Keefe

Breakfast.

California figs.

Figs are technically flowers, not fruit.

I eat flowers for breakfast.

California grows 90% of the world’s figs. This year there was enough water to grow these delicacies. Endangered by drought? Maybe. But today, there are figs. Rejoice!

And read a morsel of fig poetry by the indominatable Edna St. Vincent Millay.

First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

For more “Breakfast” images, check out The August Break, 2015 project inspired by Susannah Conway, a photographer we greatly admire over here at Backyard Sisters.  You can follow the month-long photo challenge to “Live inside each moment,” by checking #augustbreak2015 on Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr.

Happy August! ~Catherine

Images Out a Window

northern california coast, big surRiding shotgun on a cross-country car trip provides the opportunity for being a witness to  a lot of scenery. I will ride with my camera on my lap gazing out the window when something will strike me. Depending on your time limits and companions’ patience, your chances of pulling over and taking a shot may be limited. I quickly learned, yelling “pull over so I can get a shot of that ____,” too many times will result in a loud groan response. Other times it’s just not feasible to pull over. So, instead of forcing another stop on begrudging backseat passengers or passing up on some of the shots I wanted, I will roll down the window and make them on the fly.

field of sunflowersIt’s not easy and many times they don’t turn out, so if it’s a subject I care strongly about capturing I will insist on pulling over. But, to me it’s worth taking that shot for the memory of a trip and re-visiting the road when at home.

hay rolls in fieldsThe novelty of the open spaces and rolling fields of the interior of the country inspires a sense of wonder in this shore girl.

farm house in fieldThese picturesque fields seem to go on forever.

rolling corn fields AmericaWhen we do stop and explore an area further, a through-a-window shooting opportunity can still be present.

South Dakota Chief Crazy Horse MonumentThe Chief Crazy Horse monument visit was such an opportunity for me. The statue of the Chief inside the museum with the view of the mountain project outside, through a nicely cleaned window, grabbed my imagination.

When shooting out the window of a moving car, a fast shutter speed is required to capture the scene without getting camera blur from the movement of the car. Steadying your camera against either your body or on the edge of the open window helps as well. The key thing is to have your camera in your lap and ready to go.

Always glad to be on the road,

~ Susan

Mardis Gras – Hoorah

By Susan Greene
It’s March and that means a not only a new month but a new literary theme to investigate here at backyard sisters. Imagery is our term of exploration this month. Photography is imagery – thank-you Catherine. Since today is Mardis Gras, I decided to make some images of items associated with this day’s merrymaking.

Mardis Gras masksMardis Gras means fat Tuesday in French and is traditionally the day before Ash Wednesday. Many use it as a day to “live it up” before the somber season of Lent. The city of New Orleans, Louisiana is known for its Mardis Gras festivities – parades, parties and balls are all celebrated and have been since the early 1700’s.

Mardi Gras maskMasks are worn by many to all of these celebrations.

Mardis Gras maskThe wearing of masks as a part of the celebration is believed to be rooted in ritual. In the beginning they allowed the wearers from all classes to mingle and join in the revelry free of societal constraints. This anonymity undoubtedly is a contributing factor in the raucous behavior so often associated with Mardi Gras.

Mardis Gras maskStrings of colorful beads are also identified with the festivities.

Mardi Gras beads in flightThey are tossed from the floats to the cheering crowds lining the parade routes.

tossing Mardi Gras beadsThe spectators jostling to catch as many as possible.

Mardi Gras beads in air The king cake is another of the Mardi Gras traditions.

king cakeTraditionally, it is a ring of braided dough filled with a cinnamon and sugar filling, although now other fillings are used as well. A tiny plastic baby is  baked into the cake.  It is frosted and covered with colorful sugars of the Mardi Gras colors – green, purple and gold. Tradition has it that the person who receives the piece of cake with the baby in it is asked to host the next king cake party – which are held regularly throughout the Mardi Gras season or Carnival, which runs from January 6th,or Epiphany, to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Having never been to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, I can’t speak of these things from experience but would like to one day. I won’t let that stop me from joining in spirit.  If you would like to read further about Mardi Gras and its history, traditions and activities, this site is a treasure trove of information.

In true Mardi Gras fashion, live it up, for tomorrow we fast.

~ Susan

Self portraits on a path to voice

By Susan Greene

As I was pondering our theme of voice this month, I came across this self portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

It’s not often I turn the lens on myself. So I decided to give it a go. The photo of Cartier-Bresson captured my eye with his use of three different views of himself and his involvement both working and pausing to look out the window. My kitchen window is the same sort of set-up for me. I have spent countless hours standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window while washing dishes or twirling around doing the kitchen dance of food prep, throwing dirty dishes in the sink and washing fruits and vegetables while preparing and cleaning up meals. For many years, I was the privileged observer of my children’s games and make-believe worlds. As they grew and ventured from our immediate backyard – their backyards expanding into the larger world, I started noticing the sometimes quiet other times flurried rhythm of the birds, trees and flowers in the yard.

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Thinking of the backyard days of my children triggered thoughts of my own backyard days and the pure joy of playing outside. It has been quite awhile since I have done that.

self portrait backyard activityFor a time, I was transported to the backyard play of my youth, able to tap into the carefree times of romping in the backyard. The difficulty of running back and forth from inside the house to the outside counting down the seconds to shutter release trying to capture a jump at just the right moment then back in to check the result was a small price to pay.

In the Accidental Creative, author and speaker Todd Henry poses “ten questions that will help you find your voice.” One of the ten: as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?  I think we can benefit from re-examining our younger selves to clarify our future selves and hopefully this will lead us to creative outlets for expressing our voices.

~ Susan