Clashing Beauty

Whenever I photograph birds, I try to avoid any human structures in the frame, even houses from a far distance, but that’s not possible all the time. Sometimes, the juxtaposition of human society and nature can be seen aesthetically, and not as a clash.

These pelicans are like dancing musical notes flying into the sky.

A steel and concrete bridge could be a major obstruction to natural beauty, but it’s there because a river runs through it:

A sunset is still a sunset, even from the parking lot of a Costco. This is the first Costco opened on First Nation land in North America. Located in the Tsuu T’ina Nation bordering the southwest boundary of Calgary, Alberta, not too far from the Pond. A sunset is still a sunset no matter where you see it.


That voice from 1992 LA still rings true: we need to get along, human and nature, human and human. Signage in that Costco is bilingual, English and the Dene language (Northern Athabaskan) of the Tsuu T’ina Nation. We’re used to bilingualism in Canada, but this is the first time I see an Indigenous language posted together with English.

A needed directional pointer for things to come, not to stop but to press forward to accommodate multiplicity and live in harmony. That too, is a form of beauty.

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Birds, Buds, and Social Distancing

Haven’t been to the Pond for weeks. For one thing, March and even April we were still having snow, too early for spring birding. Another reason is the provincial park where the Pond is had been closed due to Covid-19.

It reopens this week and I take the first opportunity to head over there with my camera. The woods are lovely, teeming with life, cacophony of bird songs and goose calls. The deciduous trees are still bare, but buds are bursting out.

What a joy to meet my avian friends. May is a busy time for migratory birds to come back and nest. Social distancing is no problem. They make sure I stay away at least 30 ft. Hence, these blurry photos even with my 300mm tele lens.

First arrival is usually the American Robin. Here’s one relaxing among the buds:

Robin

Delighted to find the Yellow-rumped Warbler:

Yellow Rump Warbler

Warbler

Here’s another one. But when I get home and upload the photos, I see this one has a yellow throat, different from the one above with the white throat:

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Upon some digging, I learn that the white-throated one is called the Myrtle Warbler of the East and far north, and the yellow-throated one the Audubon’s Warbler from the West. Two different species of Yellow-rumped Warblers that meet at a small locale here in Western Canada. Right here at the Pond is where I’m fortunate to see both of them. Here’s a map showing their distribution.

A “Where’s Waldo the Warbler” puzzle for you: Where's Waldo the WarblerAnswer: Right in the centre of the photo.

By the water, a Northern Flicker:Northern Flicker
In another locale, the House Finch:House Finch 1

And from a much farther distance, another life staying close to its home. It has to be much bigger than a bird for me to see it among this environs from so far away:DSC_0714
And that’s my neighbour keeping the social distance, yet so amazingly close. An excited “hello,” my heart shouted, for this is the first time we meet:DSC_0716

No, it’s not a deer.

 

 

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A Visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario

Whenever I’m in Toronto, the AGO is a must-see. Over the Christmas holidays I had the chance to catch the last few days of an awesome exhibition there: Early Rubens, plus some impressive works from other artists.

I use the word ‘awesome’ not casually, I mean exactly as the word is originally intended. Flemish Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens’s (1577-1640) paintings are huge, depicting Biblical characters and narratives in epic scale. On a wall I read this Rubens quote:

I confess that I am by natural instinct better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities. Everyone according to his gifts; my talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size or diversified in subject, has ever surpassed my courage.   –  Peter Paul Rubens, Letter dated 1621

Glad he mentioned ‘Everyone according to his gifts’, or else those who are afraid of heights would never be able to score any artistic achievement.

Anyway, this one in particular haunted me, The Massacre of the Innocents, around 1611-1612. Mothers try desperately to protect their sons against muscular men:

Massacre of the Innocents

Those entangled, near-naked bodies are men following an order from King Herod to kill all babies under the age of two after hearing that the King of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph took their baby son Jesus and fled to Egypt to escape a ruler’s jealous rage and his desperate cling to power. Yes, Jesus and his parents were migrants, one of the early political refugees escaping from a ruthless government.

Fast forward several centuries to 1903, and in contrast to the massive scale of human tragedy of the above painting, I was drawn to this very quiet, seemingly simple painting of a mother giving a bowl of soup to her child. The mother looks unwell and seems to give away what she needs to her child. This poignant and sparse scene entitled The Soup is Pablo Picasso’s social statement of poverty and homelessness:

Pablo Piccaso The Soup

A more relaxed social scene. This painting from the 19th C. French landscape painter Eugène Boudin, Beach Near Trouville, linked my thoughts to a movie scene right away. Boudin’s work is dated 1864, that’s around the same period as Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women. Boudin depicts Parisian high society mingling on the beach town of Trouville. Notice the women’s dresses:

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My mental association was naturally the Greta Gerwig directed Little Women beach picnic scene. I couldn’t help but compare their formal attires even at the beach and the actual chairs they sat on in Boudin’s painting with the beach scene in Little Women, so free and casual (not displayed in AGO):

Beach Scene in Greta Gerwig's Little Women

Don’t you want to fly a kite with the March sisters on that sandy beach?

From the historic to the futuristic, the iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) has invented visions of infinity with her experimental installations for three decades. Her work was exhibited at the AGO in 2017 and now the Gallery has a permanent set up Kusama called The Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever. I had to reserve a time slot ahead for my visit. At my appointed time, which was another hour later, I still had to wait in line to go into the room.

It’s a room of silver spheres suspended from the ceiling and arranged on the floor set against mirrors. A person standing in the room will see seemingly infinite reflections:

Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room

Here’s the image of one silver ball in the middle of the room. I didn’t do any colour changes, so just interesting to see what looked to me was a silver ball came out green in the photo:

One silver ball

You can actually see me taking the picture. What does this all mean? According to Kusama, the room gives a person a sense of infinity and limitlessness.

Only two visitors were allowed inside the room at one time. And how long could we spend in there? One minute. A staff with a timer in hand monitored the flow of visitors. When our time was up, she knocked on the closed door for us to go out and another two would go in. Call it a visual oxymoron if you will: A one-minute taste of infinity. O the limits of our human experiences.

 

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Alex Colville and the Movies

Bernini’s Corpus and Modern Movies

My review of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women

 

 

 

We all need intermissions

… in between movies. Get out of the dark chamber. Off the snack-littered couch. Watch the large screen Nature has to offer.

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Nothing is ‘just a sparrow’. Or, just some rocks. Here’s the true colour of the water in Lake Louise, Alberta. The famous, majestic lake you’ve probably seen on postcards or travel websites, but here you get to see the tiny sparrow by the Lake:

Sparrow.jpg

Blurry? Yes, so’s Monet’s paintings.

After a few days of rain, yesterday’s sunlight brought me out to the river. My heart leapt up when I saw these Pelicans preening in the morning sun:

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500 Pelicans

Makes me think of Degas’ ballerinas:

degas

Blurry? You wouldn’t mind a bit, I bet.

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Summertime… and the feeding is easy

No matter where you stand in the food chain, in the summer woods, everywhere you turn is a ready picnic, nature’s smorgasbord. Just look at all these flies:

Appetizers.jpg

Yummy appetizers for the Yellow Warbler:

The Hungry Warbler

Or this succulent fruit. I’m sure the bee knows he’s an item on the smorgasbord too.

to eat or not to eat.jpg

But for the moment, indulge:

bee.jpg

Not so lucky for this dragonfly, securely locked in the beaks of a Song Sparrow:

Song Sparrow lunch.jpg

Robins are clean eaters, they swallow berries whole:

Robin

But not the Goldfinch:

American Goldfinch messy eater.jpg

Eat to your heart’s content, no need for etiquette here:

Messy eater.jpg

This baby Oriole in its high chair waiting for lunch. Be patient, junior, mommy’s coming:

Feeding 1.jpg

Feeding 2

Feeding 3.jpg

Take it easy, my Deer friend. I wouldn’t want to do the Heimlich Maneuver on you:

Deer friend.jpg

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What’s your summer smorgasbord like?

Spring Baby

They’ve come back, the Great Horned Owl couple.  Their perennial arrival to nest is as predictable as the grass turning green and the leaves bursting out from the bare branches. They even check into the same abode.

After a long wait since April, I finally got to see the new addition last week. This time, an only child.

Here’s baby peeking out to feast on the sights and sounds of spring:

Baby in nest

A close-up of this spring baby:

Baby close-up.jpg

Mom or Dad is always watching close by, here basking in the evening sun:

At dusk

Yesterday, it’s baby’s day out. Where’s Waldo?

Where's Waldo?.jpg

Look up, there he is, at the top of the tree trunk:

Camouflage.jpg

Trying out wings:

Wing.jpg

and showing off a downy coat:

Downy.jpg

As always, Mom is nearby, ever watchful:

Keeping watch.jpg

Posing for all the nature paparazzi below, here it is, the feat of turning your head 180º:

head turned.jpg

Enjoy while you can, soon you’ll be an empty nester, too soon.

 

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Wintry but not bleak

Extreme cold warnings greeted the New Year in Toronto. A record low temperature was recorded on January 5, a frigid -23C (that’s -9.4F). I’m happy to say that I was there to experience such a newsworthy occasion during my stay over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Here are photos I took on that very day, January 5, 2018, witnessing an awesome sunrise over Lake Ontario. Wintry but not bleak:

Sunrise

Sunrise over Lk Ontario Jan 5.jpg

 

Inside it’s always warm. And on a cold day, looking out the window can be a meditative respite:

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Artist and writer William Kurelek (1927-1977) knew how to find pleasure in the cold. Why of course, he was born in Alberta, and spent his childhood years on the prairies:

Kurelek

 

As well, Shelley’s positivism is always a boost for me. No need to wait for the groundhog. “O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

No matter what the weather, it can still be it a worthwhile year.

 

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Golden Fall

Two years ago around this time, I drove across four New England states searching for fall foliage. Red was the colour I was looking for. It may surprise you, we don’t have red here in Alberta, no real Maples here. We might have some red from certain trees or shrubs, but not on a large scale as in Eastern Canada.

But what we have is gold, different shades of gold. Red can make the landscape more adorable, but gold is purity. Here’s the scenery in the past two days by the Bow River in my usual birding sites:

The Bow

Trees by the Bow

Trees 2

The scenes of a golden fall near the Pond, where layers of autumn foliage and evergreens make up the ripples of a boreal forest:

Golden fall

Golden.jpg

Golden 1

Golden 6.jpg

Golden 7.jpg

Even the path under my feet is golden:

Golden Path.jpg

I know, nothing gold can stay. Even as I type, a Winter Storm Warning is in effect. We’ll have snow overnight, and “Hazardous winter conditions are expected”.  So when this post is up on Monday, all the gold will likely be white, which makes these photos all the more precious. They could be the last of the fall memories of 2017.

But then again, if we can have winter in the fall, we can have summer in December. At least, that’s what I’m dreaming of…

***

Related Posts on Ripple:

My New England Road Trip Starts Here

 

The Last Days of Summer

It has been noted that the drive from Lake Louise in Banff National Park up the Icefields Parkway north to Jasper National Park is the most beautiful drive in the world. I spend a couple of our remaining summer days driving that scenic route and immerse in the other-worldly environs of pristine Jasper National Park.

The cold rain and wet snow in sections of the road remind me that, yes, autumn is at hand. But once I reach the boundary of Jasper National Park, I throw away any seasonal distinction. Wether it’s summer or autumn is immaterial. What’s captivating is the present. Here are some glorious sights of Jasper National Park.

The mysterious, clouds shrouded Medicine Lake in the morning light:

Clourds Shrouded Medicine Lake.jpg

Hurricanes hit Texas and Florida, here we’ve been affected by the wild fires from B.C. all summer. At the shore of Medicine Lake I feel the effects:

Wild Fire effect

But the natural beauty remains. The charred remnants of trees along the edge of the lake would become rich organic matter spurring new growths.

burned trees.jpg

A short 30 mins. drive from Medicine Lake is the picturesque Maligne Lake, serene and reflective:

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For those who must do something to seize the moment, there are canoes for rent and scenic cruises:

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Before reaching the townsite of Jasper, the 93 Icefields Parkway leads to Athabasca Falls, where one can witness the power of Nature in an aesthetic mode. Who had turned the mighty torrents into Nature’s sculptors, carving quartzite and limestones into magnificent art installations?

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Nature's Sculptor.jpg

 

Hardened Ripples.jpg

 

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The Gorge.jpg

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In the Jasper townsite, even the man-made locomotive matches the scenery in the evening light. Like a watercourse streaming through the landscape, The Rocky Mountaineer passenger train passes through Vancouver and across the Rocky Mountains into Alberta’s Banff and Jasper National Parks.

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Even a cargo CN train exudes poetry. I credit it to the spirit of the environs:

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Just like the animals preparing for winter, I’m gathering visual memories to feed the cold months ahead.

 

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Other Travel Posts on Ripple Effects:

New England Foliage Road Trip

Day Trip to Cambridge

Establishing Shot: A Visit to Toronto

 

 

 

 

 

August at the Pond

Our summer is short. After a few weeks of record high temperatures, as August arrives, I can feel the cooler air creeping in.

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At the Pond, August brings a harvest of berries and edible delights for the birds:

DSC_0158

 

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Here are some of the guests relishing Nature’s feast.

Forget about worms, these succulent fruits are tastier. The young Robin learns fast:

The Robin

The American Goldfinch, bending over forward:

Bend over forward

The Cedar Waxwing knows her etiquettes, always graceful and poised:

 

Wax Wing

 

Among them all, I must say my favourite is the Yellow Warbler. They are not fond of berries, but there are lots to eat around here. I’m most grateful for their taste. Here’s why: Mosquitoes eat me; warblers eat mosquitoes. Simple as that.

Warbler

Warbler 1

Warbler 3.jpg

What more, it’s no simple feat to sing with a mosquito in your mouth:

Still sing.jpg

In a few weeks, the Warblers will be gone, and I’ll be capturing scenes of Autumn. Yes, that soon. But for now, I’ll feast on summer sights. So, eat to your heart’s content, my Warbler friend.

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A Movie to Celebrate Canada Day

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!

To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and pay tribute to the Canadian spirit, I’d like to recommend the movie Maudie, about the folk art painter Maud Lewis (1903-1970). Born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Maud lived with her brother Charles in their family house until he sold it. In the movie, Maud overhears Charles telling their Aunt Ida he will pay her to accommodate and look after Maud in her home.

Maudie

Born with a small frame, disfigured facial features and deformed fingers, Maud suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis as an adult. Such handicaps however do not cripple Maud’s sanguine spirit and fierce independence. While staying at her Aunt’s place, she answers an ad for a housekeeper posted on the bulletin board of the local store. She jumps at the opportunity as she sees it as a way to move out of her Aunt’s and strive for her own independence.

The house that needs a housekeeper is home to Everett Lewis, a fish peddler in the village of Marshalltown, on Nova Scotia’s northwestern shore. Everett’s abode is a cramped, one-room hut with no running water or electricity. With her arthritic hands Maud cleans the floorboards and tends to Everett’s daily needs, cooking on the wood stove and bearing with Everett’s demeaning outbursts. The rule of the house is, he first, then his dogs, his chickens, and lastly, Maud.

Does Maud feel defeated? Well sure, but just temporarily. Her resilient and cheerful spirit can move even a mountain of a misanthrope. Not long after, she and Everett got married. “A pair of odd socks,” she says of their seemingly incompatible personalities. We hear it often nowadays, “diversity is strength”. The Lewis’s household is evidence to that.

And of course, there’s the economic factor.

Maud turns Everett’s dingy house into a pleasant abode. She begins to paint on every surface: the walls, windows, door, stove, washbasin with lively flowers, birds, and whatever she sees in nature. She also picks up small, discarded wood boards to paint scenery and snowscapes. Not long after, a sign “Paintings for Sale” is placed outside their tiny house to diversify the household economy.

Deer painting

Maud is one successful entrepreneur. Her folksy paintings soon draw the attention of passers by; the cheerfully decorated little house on the wayside soon becomes a stop for designated shopping and repeat customers, a point of interest for visitors. Later, it becomes a converging site for news crews and journalists. Each piece of board painting is sold for about five to six dollars, a card, 10 cent. Everett is the finance minister and holds the purse strings.

The movie presents Maud’s story with beautiful and absorbing cinematography. The pace is slow, allowing viewers to immerse in the outwardly harsh life of Maud’s, in contrast to her vibrant spirit and life-affirming talents. A tiny window is a frame of the world outside. The last part of the film comes to a sad note as Maud succumbs to illness of the lungs.

Now, to the making of the movie. The subject is Canadian, Maud Lewis is very much a Canadian folk art icon, her works are in the collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. The filming location is Newfoundland and Labrador. But note this: the movie is helmed by Irish director Aisling Walsh (BAFTA nom Fingersmith, 2005), Maud is played by the English actor Sally Hawkins (Oscar nom Blue Jasmine, 2013), Everett is played by American actor Ethan Hawke (Oscar nom Boyhood, 2014). If I were a protectionist ruler, I wouldn’t have let them come in to make it.

But then again, this is Canada, eh?

 

~ ~ ~ 1/2 RIPPLES

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Séraphine and the wrought-iron chair 

 

 

 

 

Owl Babies’ Day Out

It has been three weeks since I last posted about a first sign of spring: Grizzly bear coming out of hibernation. Now, spring is in full force. Another sure sign in my neck of the woods is Great Horned Owlets out to enjoy the sunshine.

First, let me play a little ‘Where’s Waldo’ with you. Can you find the owls in this photo? How many do you see?

DSC_0613

The obvious ones are on the top branch, mom on the right with her baby, and in the lower, closer to the trunk, another owlet.

Some are just born to be more independent. Take a closer look at this cool, furry owl baby perching on her own branch. Seeing me eagerly snapping her photo, she sits still for me, giving me a big smile even:

Doll

 

She reminds me of those Ukrainian dolls.

Furry

But don’t think she’s all innocent and vulnerable, look at her claws:

Claws

And to the mother and the other baby in the upper branch, again, they know how to please us nature paparazzi, just by being themselves:

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Babe & Mom.jpg

And here, a little action for us, Mom preening her baby. The term of endearment is instinct:

Mom preening baby

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I can hear the baby say: “Thanks Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!”

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