Chasing Light

What do you do if you want to go somewhere and your family and friends don’t or can’t get away when you can? Deciding to explore the world on your own can be a daunting prospect. Thoughts of the drawbacks may cycle through your mind: having no one to rely on should problems arise, planning the trip all on your own, being a target because you are solo, table for one most of the time, or the possibility of being lonely.  The perks of doing what you want, when you want, wherever you want look attractive but will it be right for you? It takes a leap of faith to take on the challenge. As with most things — you don’t know what you don’t know. With a “you won’t know until you try it” attitude, I took that leap of faith to France a couple of years ago and in the process learned a lot. Among many memorable experiences, a long afternoon and evening taking in the changing light of Mont Saint-Michel stands out.

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At first sight, the Mont is an impressive and awe-inducing structure. Its size dwarfing the people and vehicles on the bridge. This area is known for extreme tidal fluctuations and upon my arrival the tide was out and the light muted from the gray sky.

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Boats become stranded and people walk in the silty sand, with caution, during low tides.

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I walked up to the Mont on the bridge, explored the town and toured the Abbey taking my time admiring and capturing the almost 360-degree view from the top.

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As the afternoon became evening, the sky, filled with billowy clouds, was ever-changing. The golden hour had begun. Different times of day bring a change in light to subjects. At sunrise and sunset the sun is near the horizon which creates a golden hue and casts long shadows. The hour or so leading up to and right after sunrise and sunset the light changes hue quickly: from deep blue to pink to gold in the morning and the reverse in the evening.

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The late afternoon sun added a beautiful golden tone to the walls.

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The surrounding countryside isn’t immune to the sun’s rays.

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Lost in the color changing cloud shifting metamorphosis in the sky, I suddenly became aware of the sound of rushing water: the tide, on its return, surging towards the land. Within about a half an hour, the boats are once again afloat as the gold turns to pink.

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The speed of the incoming tide creates waves.

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Captivated by this tidal phenomenon, I hadn’t noticed the darkening sky until a drop of water hit my cheek pulling my attention back to the sky. First one, then another and another and suddenly I am in the middle of a rainstorm. Luckily, I came prepared and pulled out my umbrella allowing more time enjoying the demonstration of mother nature’s extremes. During the rain, the lights on the Mont were lit, illuminating the walls.

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Slowly the golden hour/pink moment gave way to the blue hour.

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I left to grab some dinner and afterwards went back to get the full nighttime experience.

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The tide was at its high point by this time and the lights of the Mont reflecting on the water.  What a glorious sight! Contemplating my afternoon and night, I felt blessed and grateful for having taken that five-thousand-mile leap of faith putting me on the distant shore that day. Being alone allowed me the unscheduled time to linger and follow my interest. If I had waited to go or been with somebody who wasn’t willing to stay to let the moments unfold watching the light change, I would have missed out on the events that October afternoon. I never would have come to the conclusion that the Mont-Saint-Michel is a beautiful subject in all lighting.

Cheers,

Susan

 

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

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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