Archive for January, 2009

Winter walk.

Monday, January 12th, 2009

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JANUARY 12, 2009

Yesterday another seven inches of snow fell, and I cursed it as I shoveled it off my car and driveway. But today, when I left to photograph an assignment at a dental office in Portland, the sun was beaming down, it was a tolerable 27 degrees out, and best of all, there was not a trace of wind. I couldn’t wait to get back from the photo shoot so I could break out my snowshoes for the first time this winter.

I headed to my favorite spot — the nature sanctuary just down the road from my home — and snapped a picture of the long shadow cast by my figure as I entered the trail head. I heard a black-capped chickadee behind me making its distinctive call — “chick a dee dee dee dee.”  I saw several crows perched on the tops of trees, cawing to each other as they gathered before finding their roosting spot for the night. And there were at least two dozen robins flitting through the shrubs, feeding on berries, their orange breasts standing out in colorful contrast to the white snow and black twigs. I couldn’t get close enough with my point and shoot camera to make a good image of them, but it was delightful to watch them.

Many times I’ve bemoaned being laid off from my full time job and having to struggle to make it as a freelance photographer, but the sheer joy I felt today in not being tied to a 9 to 5 job, in being able to take advantage of a beautiful day, in walking over the fresh carpet of snow without another soul in sight, made me feel that I’m in the right place, that I’m lucky, and that if I can just hang in a while longer, everything will turn out alright. 

Wondrous waterways.

Monday, January 5th, 2009

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JANUARY 5, 2009

It could almost look like the surface of the moon, but the patch of open water glowing with a slight pinkish yellow tinge from the setting sun unmasks the disguise worn by the Scarborough Marsh. I stopped by the marsh on my way home to see if I could find any ducks close enough to the road to photograph. I wanted to share my story today of a great bird watching experience, and wanted a photo of ducks to go along with it. Alas, none were close enough to be captured by my longest lens; nor were the two spectacular birds I saw earlier in the afternoon in Westbrook.

I had spent the morning volunteering at Maine Audubon in Falmouth. A call came in from an avid birder to let the staff naturalist, Eric, know that the tufted duck Eric had spotted yesterday in Westbrook had moved farther up the river, above the falls by the mill. The caller, Lloyd, also noted that a wood duck could still be found among the mallards below the falls. So what’s so special about a couple of ducks? Well, wood ducks are normal summer residents in Maine, but in the winter they go to warmer climes, and aren’t usually seen north of New Jersey. I had only ever seen this striking bird in photographs and had long wanted to catch a glimpse of one in nature. The tufted duck is an even greater rarity. It breeds in northern Eurasia and is an uncommon visitor to North America. There have only ever been five or fewer documented sightings of this bird in Maine.

When my shift ended, I drove to Portland to make a site visit for a photo shoot I’ll be doing next week and then headed out to Westbrook, binoculars in hand. As I walked along the path by the river below the falls, a car pulled alongside me. The driver asked if I had seen the tufted duck. I told him about the report of its new location and said I was going to see if I could spot the wood duck first. The car headed up to the other side of the river as I continued down the path. Hmmm … I only see gulls — ah, there are the mallards — a ton of them. I began scanning them with the binoculars. Mallard, mallard, mallard — I’ll never spot the wood duck — who even knows if it’s still here? Then all of a sudden, I spy a beak that looks different. I focus in and see this very beautiful bird — multi-colored, multi-patterned — what a spectacular creature! After drinking him in for a while, I headed upriver. I found the occupants of the car standing on a snow bank overlooking the river above the falls. As they helped me climb up the slippery mound, they told me they had come down from Waterville, about 70 miles away, for a chance to see the tufted duck. They had found it swimming with a group of four ring-necked ducks and had trained their spotting scope on it. What a lucky break for me! The scope is a more powerful viewing instrument than my binoculars are, so I was able to get a great view of this rare bird.

I almost burst into song — “What a day this has been, what a rare mood I’m in …” It’s those small, unexpected delights that have a way of making us forget our troubles, to be grateful for the day at hand, and to look forward to what the next new day may hold.

Shapes and shadows.

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

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JANUARY 3, 2009

The winter sun in Maine casts long shadows, even when it’s not that late in the day. I captured this view of an old mill building in Biddeford that I’ve driven past many times, but never taken the time to observe. When I was experimenting with angles to take the photo, I found a plaque on the façade that commemorated a stone fort that was built there in the 1600’s to protect settlers from the Native Americans. History has shown, I think, that in the balance, it was the natives who needed protection from the settlers.

Red sky at night.

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

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JANUARY 2, 2009

One thing that made me feel better today was that at the end of the gloomy, gray afternoon, a break came in the cloud cover as the sun was setting, revealing a band of rosy pink light. It was only there for a few minutes. I pulled into a restaurant parking lot to photography stalks of phragmites in the Scarborough Marsh silhouetted against the sky. By the time I fired off a few dozen shots, the light had dimmed, and I was swallowed up in winter’s darkness.

Low price. Costly sale.

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

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JANUARY 2, 2009

I’ve wondered from time to time at what price I’d be willing to sell out my principles. I’d like to think I can’t be bought, but I sold out today. You see, ever since the Exxon Valdez incident, where the tanker fouled miles of the Alaska shoreline, I’ve refused to buy gas from an Exxon station because I felt the company behaved irresponsibly in the wake of the accident. When Mobil merged with Exxon, it became included in my boycott. Not, of course, that my actions have ever had any impact on the company. Exxon/Mobil repeatedly rakes in obscene profits. It has just been a matter of principle for me.

Today, however, when I was out running errands, the dashboard warning light came on, reminding me I was low on fuel. I made a mental note to stop at my regular station on my way home. As I drove through South Portland, a sign stood out from all the others on Route 1. It was a Mobil station, offering regular gas at $1.57 per gallon. My usual station’s price was $1.71. Now if it had only been three or four cents lower, I would have willingly snubbed Mobil and driven on by. But 14 cents a gallon less — well, that turned out to be enough for me to abandon my boycott. If I were in a stable financial situation, it would have been easier for me to adhere to my principles, but as it is, a dollar saved here or there adds up and makes a difference in whether I can afford to keep paying my bills. I feel sad, I feel guilty. I wonder what other compromises I’ll have to make along the way in order to survive.