Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pay it Forward

Pay it Forward

Time for a story. Let me preface it by, (1) it wasn't my fault, (2) the photos in this part are not mine, and (3) those who know me know that I've been writing creatively for many years (to wit, this Blog!) and the Great Canadian Novel is eventually going to come out, if I live that long! Enjoy.

"Trailer-hitch" Larry and I were looking for snowy owls to shoot. With cameras, dear reader, not guns. We could have gone to the Barrie area where we know there are some because this guy Len baits them with store-bought mice and charges tourist wannabe photographers an arm and a leg to photograph them close up. But it's more satisfying to find them in the wild. We've seen them in the Glenarm area before, him more than me because he can actually see out of his eyes. His nickname hearkens back to last year when an old beat-up Toyota sitting behind us, held together with duct tape and baling wire, suddenly sprouted a 2" hole in his front grill, exactly the size of Larry's trailer hitch ball. Come to think of it, we were snowy owl hunting that time too, with Dr. Ron...

This time it was just me and Larry. I was driving because I figured we'd have a better chance if Larry was the spotter. Amazing how he sees stuff. Kathy's got that talent too, but if a moose walked into my front yard and started grazing on the raspberry bushes right in front of my window, I probably wouldn't see him. I always kid Fred about how many deer he sees when driving up here in Haliburton, even when were going to the same meeting, I never see one and he posts dashcam video by the time I get home. I never see one, they're probably there but I just don't spot them.

I'd say, "Hey, Larry, look. A bird just flew over".

He'd say, "yup it was an immature male merganser and it looks like something is wrong with the second toe on his right foot".
"What kind of tracks are those?"
"Looks like a coyote tracking a flock of wild turkeys. Not chasing them, the tracks are too close together so he wasn't running".
I hate Larry.

"Snowys nest along this fenceline", Larry says. "They hunker down under the roots of those fallen trees. Sometimes you'll see them sitting on the ground in the field, or on a fencepost where they can spot prey".

Sure they do, Larry. White birds with camouflaged black patterns sitting in the snow 100 yards away under broken black branches. Don't get me wrong, I've seen Snowy owls. Sitting on top of a hydro pole or on the roof of a barn or church or house. But only when someone says, "hey, look! There's a snowy owl!".

He saw 10 bald eagles and a herd of deer at the landfill the other day. Not just a story — I talked to the guy who works there. I said, "Larry told me he saw 10 eagles and a bunch of deer".


Did I tell you I hate Larry?

Anyway, Trailer-hitch and I are driving the back roads south of Glenarm, looking for snowys. We come to an intersection, and lo and behold, an Amish buggy crosses our path. That I can see: it's big and black and there's a horse towing it and it has one of those dayglo orange triangles on the back to warn motorists. Google will tell you the difference between "Amish" and "Mennonite". The former are more strict and eschew modern tools, like cars and machinery. Go ahead, look it up. I'd recently seen a great picture featuring one and thought I'd like to try to get a shot, so I turned the corner to follow them. That's where the trouble began.

Picture one of those big old highway snowplow trucks, where the blade extends out wider than the truck itself, especially on the right side, where they drive down a highway lane and clear the lane and the shoulder too at the same time. Now picture what happens when he turns a corner: the plow blade clears a beautiful swath around the inside of the corner so it looks just like a nice, flat, cleared road. But underneath that smooth surface is... a ditch. That's what i figure happened, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. I turned the corner. First inkling of a problem was Larry saying, "uh-oh" and the second was this tilting feeling.

Sometimes stuff happens in slow motion and you know there's nothing you can do about it. It's like if you're a motorcycle rider and you get off the bike and forget to put the sidestand down. Or you're making a u-turn on the crest of a hill and you come to a stop mid-turn with the bike leaning too far over and you KNOW what's about to happen. I'll leave you to guess why I chose these examples.

So we come to a stop. I look at Larry. He looks at me. I try to put it in reverse and use the 4WD. But I know. And he knows. And he says, "looks like I'm going to have to climb out the window or crawl out your side". And I can't get out either because I'm using my legs to hold the door from falling closed and can't get enough leverage to lift myself out of the seat. Probably also has something to do with me being 'short for my weight' and in great shape if I were 100 years old. Hey, round IS a shape... I tell Larry to push on my back. He does and I fall out of the tilted car. He crawls after me.

We ain't going nowhere. I knew I hadn't damaged anything but we're stuck. And I had let my CAA membership lapse, so my first thought was, "this ain't gonna be cheap". Neither one of us is a Canadian Winter newbie: we both have thick winter coats, hats, gloves, boots. I was actually in full camo because, well hunting clothes are made to be warm, dry and more importantly, to fit people in great shape like me.

Larry says, "I think I saw a tractor at that farm back there. Let's try them before calling a tow". We went traipsing off down the road and sure enough, there's a huge John Deere in the farmyard, only problem is: nobody home. "Let's try the farm where we saw the buggy turn in. Bound to be someone there".

We walk into the farmyard, trying to look needy and contrite. There were about 3 men there; the closest one a young lad I'd guess in his late teens or early 20's, clean shaven, red face from working out in the cold, a second man somewhat older, with a dark and straggly beard and the third your stereotypical Amish elder with a long grey unkempt beard and a lined face that has obviously seen many harsh winters. All three were dressed in rough farm clothing with rubber boots, heavy pants and dark, sturdy coats. All of them wore variations of those kind of hats that they've probably had for years, weathered and hard-worn the kind of thing Yuppies look for in high end stores and would pay hundreds of dollars for in a heartbeat.

There was also a sledge in the yard, with a team of two large, sturdy draught horses hitched to it. The kind you'd see in a beer commercial but without the hairy Clydesdale hoofs. We explained our situation, and stepped out in the road to point out my vehicle clearly captured by the false promise of smooth hard snow. Someone said, "well let's get to 'er". They said they had towed another hapless motorist out of the ditch across from the farm entrance, and someone mentioned that a snowplow had gotten stuck in the same spot we were in a couple of years earlier. 

They all came out to help! Picture by Larry

Suddenly, there weren't just 3 of them. We turned around and started walking back to the car, accompanied by probably 10 more men. The horses and sledge quickly overtook us and on the sledge were perhaps another half dozen men and a couple of young boys. Everyone had those great hats! By the time we got to the car, the sledge was parked, men were unhitching the horses and a couple of them were crawling under the car trying to figure out where to attach a chain. The only visible hooks were on the front, so it was decided to pull it out that way. Subaru, by the way, has hidden places where tow hooks can be attached, we learned later and there were hooks in the spare tire compartment. I know... read the f'in manual!

The whole family came.  The big guy in the middle came out of that F-150, I think. Now that I look at this picture, I guess they didn't ALL have those great hats. I'll bet they do, but it's winter... Picture by Larry

These folks didn't mess around. I realized this was going to happen like, right now. So I dived into the car to start the engine and take the transmission out of Park. I didn't make it! Those huge, living, one horsepower creatures had already started effortlessly pulling my car out, locked wheels and all! I managed to get it into drive eventually, and a few seconds later, I was safely stopped in the middle of the road. 30 seconds later, the horses were hitched back up to the sledge, they had turned around and everyone had piled on board for the ride back to the farm.

That has to be more than one horsepower! Picture by Larry 

They pulled me out like it was nothing! Even before I got it out of Park. Picture compliments of Sam Tallman from Haliburton. She was in that black F150 that came to help. That's Trailer Hitch Larry

I got out and shook hands with 3 or 4 of them, as many as I could get to. I went to the elder gentleman and thanked him profusely and I asked if there were some other way I could express my appreciation. He looked at me and said, "No thank you. Pay it forward." 

And off they went, horses chuffing and the sledge grating on the road surface, chains jangling and a silent score of unassuming heroes getting back to their chores. Back in the car, we thought about how "help thy neighbour" is a lost concept in the world we live in, but not in their world. It's like that in Newfoundland too, that's one reason I love the place so much.

And off we went, to a nearby rural bakery for a 'slice' and a coffee. We bought pies to take home. We messed up making change paying for them and I ended up giving them $10 too much. That's OK, they needed it more than me. 

Homeward Bound! Picture by Larry 

I will. Pay it forward.

Ice Fishing is a "Thing"

Tourist season in the Highlands is of course in the summer. The population increases by an order of magnitude, the likelihood of meeting another car on the road is actually higher than that of encountering a deer. Then comes the fall; after the leaves are down people batten down the hatches and prepare for the onslaught of winter. But among them are those who spend their time figuratively sharpening their fishing rods and getting ready to wander out on the ice in search of finny food. And there are actually people who come up here in order to sit out on the ice, braving the wintry chill or in heated huts, in the off-chance that some frigid fish might swim by and grab a wriggling minnow. The Inns and B&B's actually have customers in the winter!

Of course that presumes that they actually go out there to fish. When I've visited ice fishing huts in the past, one can attain a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.8 just by breathing. But these people are obsessive about getting out there. To the point where, well, all their brain cells have fizzled and died.

Listen. It was +7°C and raining last week. Obviously the ice was thick enough for him to get out there (he's about 150m away from shore) and that's surface water you're seeing but just behind him is fast flowing water from the 12-Mile Lake dam which NEVER freezes, and he's fishing through an opening in the ice. A candidate for the Darwin Awards. I drove by an hour later and the red hut was there but he wasn't.

I got to thinking what would happen if he fell in? All I would be able to do would be to dial 9-1-1 and watch as he drowned. That's all anyone could do. Folks, let's not be stupid out there. 

Now when it gets colder, and there's a foot of solid ice out there, it's another story. This is on 12-Mile Lake opposite me — half a dozen huts are out there now.  I haven't been out to visit yet but I should be able to this weekend. 

Algonquin Park

I do go there a lot. Some days you don't see anything interesting to photograph but a day in the Park is better than a day at home (or in the office) ANY time. Dr. Ron and a group of people were up for the weekend, staying in a beautiful cabin (OK, "house". 'way bigger than mine!) in Dwight. I had a commitment for Sunday, so I just came up to visit for the day on Saturday, and Amin came with me. 

My "Sunday" commitment was to go to Toronto and pick up that 200-400 f/4 Nikon lens I told you about last week. Got it! Yahoo!

Ron has one of these lenses. He's a good friend and he let me use it for the day before parting with all my shekels for the one I was buying. With the usual caveat, "you drop it, you own it". Actually, I took it to mean, "you SCRATCH it, you own it". I was really careful!

It is an AWESOME lens. Here's the very first shot I took with it:

Dr. Ron. Straight out of camera, not even cropped. Wide open at f/4. I love it.  

One of the first stops we made to photograph was along Hwy 60 — the cycle of warm, wet and cold has created outstanding frozen water cascades along the rock surfaces on the roadside. The colour variations in the ice are beautiful, a watercolour painter would kill for that effect. As near as I can figure it out: thin ice structures are basically white, while the thick ones have more colour. If the water has dragged bits of earth down with it, there's a yellowish-brown tinge. But once that has cleared, new water dripping down will take on a blue or green cast due to trapped gasses or the way ice crystals refract light. Icebergs display similar characteristics but even more pronounced. 

I enhanced this painted image to illustrate the colour variations 

Luba Citrin trying to decide what to shoot.  Choices are almost infinite, from sweeping wide angles to textured surfaces and details, down to plants trapped in the ice or even macro shots. 

Here's a sequence of three shots I did of a lonely alderberry twig trapped in the ice.  I still don't know how to crop it! 

Then I decided to turn it into an impressionist image using both the Seven Styles Watercolour action (which doesn't work perfectly in the latest 2018 Photoshop, have to work on that) and finishing it with Topaz Studio, starting with the Impasto preset in Impression and modifying from there.

This should make a dandy canvas print. My walls are getting full, though! 

There's a canvas print supplier I've been working with who is offering incredibly discounted prices. I can happily sell stretched, wrapped canvas images up to 24 x 36 inches at surprisingly low prices. This is a time-limited offer, anyone interested should contact me ASAP. If you are a subscriber to this blog you will have received more detail (see below)

We stopped at the Visitor Centre to shoot birds at the big feeders around back. I was motivated to test that borrowed 200-400mm lens and I gave it a good workout. Literally: I did not pull out the tripod and gimbal mount so I shot handheld, albeit braced on the balcony railing. I've had tendonitis in my left wrist ever since! 9 pounds doesn't sound that heavy but when it's jutting out cantilevered from the camera...

Here's a female white-winged crossbill shot with the 400mm. Cropped a bit... and I got lucky with the sun on the bird and the dark background.  

This is a goldfinch in its winter plumage, puffed out to insulate itself against the biting cold (it was -22°C and who knows what the windchill was!). This was at 650mm because I had mounted the 1.7x converter for a few shots. I love the bokeh of the background in this shot, wide open at approximately f/6.7 (1/1000k sec, ISO 450). I edited two versions of this shot, the other one with added clarity and detail and sharpening done in Studio but this one is only basic Lightroom edits, so this is what came out of the camera. Or the lens.

La pièce de résistance. This is an immature male red crossbill. I had no idea they were so colourful! This shot has earned more "likes" on Facebook than any other picture I've put up. Originally I said that I didn't see what the front of the bird looked like, until I went through my images and found a couple of others, which I had initially rejected for focus and other reasons.

If you follow this blog (click the Newsletter icon at top right), you will have received a heads-up email with one of those frontal pictures included. I always include a picture that I haven't posted anywhere else. 

Two final comments before we close for today: 

  • Kudo's to Subaru who, as my readers already know, replaced my engine because it burned too much oil, even though I had over 200,000 km on the car. I did end up paying for some service — my oil pan was leaking and my rad had a crack in it, and I needed new brakes all around — but now I have a car I can continue driving for much longer. Eddie and the crew at Minden Subaru are the best, and
  • I really am seriously considering Newfoundland for the entire summer. If you want to come to Newfoundland, I'm planning to rent a 2-bedroom place so that some of my photographer or artist friends can visit. I'll guide them to some of the best spots and I've already been in touch with one or more of the premier photographers on the Rock to provide guiding services as well. But it's time to start looking at who might be coming and when; you need to get in touch with me if you'd like to talk about it.

— 30 —

No comments:

Post a Comment