Category Archives: photography

Pursuing Truth and Beauty


When I saw this cactus in Green Valley Arizona, south of Tucson and near the Mexican border I thought it might be the most beautiful cactus I had ever seen. I was on a church yard, so I thought I could walk and photograph it without fear of being shot.


When I first retired I said I wanted to stop spending my time in order to make a living and feed my family, I wanted now to pursue “truth and beauty” as John Keats said. I have done that. And it has been great fun.

When I went to university, in my first English literature course, taught by Jack Woodbury, one of the best professors I ever had, the first poet we studied was John Keats. English poet. He published only 54 poems before he died at the age of 25.  That is 54 more than I have published. And many of them were great poems.

John Keats was an English Romantic poet, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and others. His poems had been in publication for less than four years when in 1821 he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Talk about brief beauty!


One of the poems we read was “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”  This might have been the 3rd or 4th poem I studied in university. The poem describes an urn with an image of  a young shepherd pursuing a beautiful young woman who he wants to kiss. But of course, in the image he never catches her. She is forever, a “still unravished bride of quietness.” She never speaks. Their love is never consummated, but their love never turns stale either. It is a love that never withers. The shepherd is also a piper whose song is never heard.  But this too is fine. As Keats says in the poem, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”

The last two lines of that poem go as follows:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


There has been much critical debate about what those words mean. Many, including me, have puzzled over the meaning of those words. I think they make sense in the context of the whole poem. In a way it is a summation of the poet’s thinking expressed by the previous 48 lines.

By beauty I think he means beauty in a wide sense. Beauty basically is art. And art is true or it is not art. So beauty is truth and truth is beauty. Some cactuses bloom only for a day. What a dreadful pity.

So a beautiful cactus flower, caught in a silent moment by a camera, is a work of art (beauty)  that never withers. It  is an eternal thing of beauty. If is it good, it is good forever.  It never changes. That is truth which also is truth forever.



Ephemeral Beauty


The first time I saw one of these gems, called the Argentine Giant Cactus I was told they bloomed for only 1 day.  I was stunned. How could such beauty be so brief? We heard this on the way out of the Phoenix Botancial Garden a few years ago. And they were blooming right now!  Of course, we had no option but to return back to see them. And they were indeed stunning. And the next day the flowers were gone!


In one respect we were very lucky in the weird year.  The cactuses were blooming about 2 weeks later than they normally do.  As a result, in a normal year where we leave for home on the last day of March, we would have seen very few cactuses blooming. That would have been disastrous. As it was, since we left April 15th this year, we got to see a lot cactuses in bloom. Not as many as we would have liked, but disaster was avoided. I did not have to pitch myself off a building.


One disadvantage of looking at cultivated cacti was I often did not know what kind of cacti they were.  I have some knowledge about wild cactuses but even less of the exotic ones


I always say I am an orchid guy.and it is true, I am an orchid guy. But I must admit cacti are pretty good too. Sometimes it is cruel how short of time we get to enjoy such beauty. And if you miss it, you must wait a year to redeem yourself.

Harris Hawks: Hawks of the South



In the US Harris Hawks can be found from Arizona to Texas, but not farther north. They can be found as far south as South America.

It has a long tail and a relatively small head.  Harris’s hawks can live up to 15 or 20 years old. The Harris’s hawk is usually between 18-24 inches in body length and has a wingspan of 3-4 feet yet only weighs from 1&1/2 pounds to 2 & ½ pounds.

Some of the Harris Hawks nest in spring but some females lay a second or even a third clutch whether or not their first breeding attempt fails. As a result, in Arizona eggs have been recorded in each month of the year.  This is possible because they nest in the southwest USA and farther south. This would not be so easy in Manitoba.

Young Harris Hawks sometimes play with each other by chasing insects or jumping on stick in imitation of the prey they capture.

Like most hawks, the female Harris hawks are larger than their male counterparts.  males. Sometimes these hawks practice a behavior known as “back-standing” where several birds stand on top of each other.


Crested Caracara



I have been to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum many times, but this year we saw a new species the Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway). This  bird is a fairly recent immigrant to Arizona that flew in over Trump’s vaunted wall. Actually, it arrived before the wall, but the wall would not have bothered it.

This bird is very rare in the United States, but it has been expanding its range into the southern United. So far it has only reached a few of the most southerly states.

It was a treat to see this magnificent bird up close.

It is a falcon but looks a little like a vulture. It acts a bit like a vulture too usually dining on carcases or otherwise immobile prey that it locates by soaring or cruising over pastureland or grassland. Sometimes it can be found in a group of vultures participating in a feast.

It is easy to recognize this bird as it stands tall on yellow-orange legs with a sharp black cap set off against a white neck and yellow-orange face


The Crested Caracara is a bird of open country and reaches only a few states in the southern U.S. It flies low on flat wings, and routinely walks on the ground.




A silent hunter



The Great Horned owls fly extremely quietly to avoid giving themselves away to their prey. I learned this personally and directly when I was at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum one came up from behind me and flew right over my head and I never heard it. It was so close I could have touched it. I did hear excited people gasping near to me and I did not why until it had flown by . It was so close I could have touched it. I pretended to be brave. It gave me a personal feeling of what it must be like to be a prey of such a magnificent raptor. It was thrilling.

These owls have very good low-light eyesight, and hearing that allows them to spot prey in difficult circumstances. I don’t think they saw an old fat guy like me as prey.

These owls don’t actually have horns. They have tufts near the ears that gives them their names. They also have deep yellow eyes

They will eat a great variety of prey including large insects, reptiles, amphibians, other birds, and small mammals such as skunks and jackrabbits. I don’t know about you but I have no intent to add skunk to my diet.

The Great Horned Owl is a generalist raptor that captures a very wide range of prey, including reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and birds and can be found throughout the U.S. and even Canada in many different all habitats.

Owls do not build their own nests; because they lay eggs earlier in the year than most other species, they use old raven and hawk nests to raise their young. As a result, in Manitoba I have managed to see them early in the year where their young must battle the cold.

 These owls sometimes fall prey to Golden eagles or Northern goshawks.

Today was the first time I managed to capture a photo of these magnificent birds in flight. It was a great experience for which I was very grateful .


Great Horned Owl




At the Arizona- Sonoran Desert Museum I saw a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) can close its feet with 500 psi (pounds per square inch). I have seen these before in Manitoba but never this close. This was a treat.

The average human exerts- squeezing as hard as 80-150 psi. However, the story that owls will eat your dogs/cats is an mainly an urban legend because an owl cannot lift more than its own body weight of (2-3 lbs).

These owls are found around North America, and owls are found throughout urban areas. Many people fear they will attack their pet cats.  While we don’t like to say it ‘never’ happens, it certainly doesn’t happen with frequency. Owls will dive at cats, dogs and even people if they have a nest in the area, sometimes misconstrued as a hunting attempt.


The Great Horned Owl is a generalist raptor that captures a very wide range of prey, including reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and birds and can be found throughout the U.S. and even Canada in many different all habitats. Today was the first time I managed to capture a photo of these magnificent birds in flight

These owls are found around North America, and owls are found throughout urban areas. Many people fear they will attack their pet cats.  While no one should  say it ‘never’ happens, it certainly doesn’t happen with frequency. Owls will dive at cats, dogs and even people if they have a nest in the area, sometimes misconstrued as a hunting attempt.


Sonoran Desert Museum Tucson


This is a Great Horned Owl which I saw in Tucson Arizona this winter.

In Arizona this past winter, we went to one of my favorite places in Arizona, the Arizona- Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson Arizona. The word “museum” however is very misleading. You have to put all of your preconceptions about what a museum is on the shelf. This place is very different.  As they say here, “this is a place to turn your idea of museum inside out.”

It is almost entirely outdoors and consists of a 98-acre zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history museum, publisher, and art gallery that was founded in 1952 and is located west of Tucson adjacent to the Saguaro National Park and closely integrated with it. It  features 2 miles of walking paths through a 21 acres of desert landscape. It is a place of wonder. If you want to learn about the Sonoran Desert this is a great place to start as it contains much of the flora and fauna of that special North American desert.

My favorite part of this museum is the Live Raptor display that is held each winter. Here you get to see a variety of desert flying raptors flying in the wide open spaces. The birds are actually free to fly away and sometimes do exactly that. They don’t usually fly away because they know if they show a bit of patience people will place food for them in the surrounding shrubs, cacti and other plants. Why would you leave this place if food in convenient bite-sized chunks will soon be available? This food is place on shrubs close to where the people stand with cameras at the ready.

I have tried a number of times to get photos of raptors in flight and failed each time until this year. This year I was thrilled with my results. I have will show more of my photos in future posts.

The Museum  contains only birds that can be found in the Sonoran Desert.  The birds are completely untethered and without any jesses (leg straps) and mainly even without bracelets. A narrator tells the story of each specie on display that day including their habits, diets, hunting strategies, behaviors, and fun facts that I usually end up forgetting because I get to wrapped up in the raptor display. But that’s me.

The thing that is most surprising about this place is how close the raptors come to us. It turned out today that as far as the raptors were concerned, I was the centre of attention. A number of times they swooped right over my head. I could have touched them were I not such a smart guy (big chicken) who knew better than to touch them in flight. A few times I missed a great shot of a bird because I was too close to photograph it with my zoom lens.

This was a sensational day!

A Flower Child arrives in Heaven




When I was a young lad going to University, it was the time of hippies and flower children. I always considered myself as on the fringes of this group. The term we liked to refer to ourselves was “freaks.”  But I always liked the expression “flower children.”  It called to mind these crazy kids at the Kent State  University Vietnam War Protest, and other places, who stood in front of the national guard members that were pointing their rifles at them and they smiled at the guards and placed flowers in the barrels of the gun.  How crazy is that?   Much to my surprise I actually became a flower child of sorts many years later when as an adult of sorts I became interested in wildflowers. I remember my mother was amazed. How could this happen?  Well, my answer to her was, “How could it not happen?” What is there not to like about wildflowers?

It was a very windy day, so I gave up on trying to freeze images of flowering blowing in the breeze.

One afternoon this winter in Arizona Christiane and I went for a jaunt on Red Mountain Road and Saguaro Lake and then headed south to complete a loop to Busch Highway and then Usery Pass Road.  We saw many wildflowers along the way. But we were really shocked at Usery Pass Road  where there was a long line of cars parked beside the road. What was happening we wondered? It was the wildflower children going crazy photographing flowers. My sport has been turned over to the rabble! And there was good reason for that. The flowers were outstanding.


There was a traffic jam of sorts in the countryside where we saw these wild flowers. Everyone, it seemed wanted to see these gems. Who can blame them?


Grueling Inquest


Sometimes truth does not come in clear images.  The impressionist painters of the late 19th century realized that, and I found their images captivating.  Some of you may have noticed that some of my photos are not clear either. That is not an accident.  I have been using a technique called “the Orton effect” after the man who invented it. The technique involves combining 2 identical images into one. The first one is clear, but over exposed. So it is very light. Then I take a second image of the same subject and blur it deliberately. When combined the images sometimes are stunning. Sometimes you have no idea what the result will be when the images are combined. Sometimes the results are duds. When combined however, sometimes the images seem magical what you see the two images coming together in the computer.


A few years ago I was at photographic workshop with a photographer by the name of Andre Gallant who produced a book called Dream Scapes. He is a master of the technique.  I am a poor elementary student.  His images were deeply compelling to me, but he admitted, as must I, that the technique is not for everyone. After all, why would one deliberately blur a sharp image? That is a good question? Why did the impressionists do that?


Julian Falconer, in the film Spirit to Soar, together with the Grand Chief Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Alvin Fiddler fought for an inquest into the deaths of the 7 young indigenous people in Thunder Bay for years.  Finally, one was announced in 2008, but only for one of the 7 students.  The inquest was for Reggie Bushie and it was finally called in 2015. According to CBC reporter Jodi Porter,

“there was a roomful of lawyers there and their only job was to protect and cover-up and they were the ones who got to call [witnesses]…There wasn’t healing in it. It was traumatizing. It was awful to sit there every day. And no one from Thunder Bay bothered to show up.”


While the Inquest was being held another indigenous body was pulled from the river. “The gruelling inquest”, according to Talaga, “lasted for 9 months and came up with 145 recommendations including building high schools for every community that needs one. And improving safety for Thunder Bay rivers.

I wonder if anyone cared about that. The film did not say. It left a lot of questions unanswered.

In the same way, combining images can leave a lot of questions unanswered. But aren’t questions more important than answers? I don’t want to give up on truth, but sometimes I want to experience it from a fresh perspective.

Steinbach Manitoba to Thunder Bay Ontario: A perfect storm of beauty and darkness



I was thinking about an autumn trip for weeks. Maybe months. I am an admitted travel slut who has not travelled for more than 2 years. I was a-hankering. Bigly.

Autumn is my favourite time of the year to travel.   My original idea was a trip to the east coast of North America perhaps for 4 or 5 weeks.  It is astoundingly beautiful there in the fall. I don’t know if any other place in the world has such a beautiful autumn.

But malign forces were at work.  Other matters kept encroaching on the available time.  First, I got sick. Then Christiane got sick. A few work-related matters and cottage repair issues interfered. How can work interfere with  the life of a retired person?  Available time was shrinking. Malign forces remember.

Then I down -graded my plans to a trip around Lake Superior. It is a spectacular place.  This would still be good.  Michigan is considered by many the best place in North America to see fall colours. But every state and the province of Ontario around it are spectacular. The boreal forest of Canada and the US are magnificent.  I could hardly wait.

Then even that puny trip encountered obstacles.  Malign forces again.  For a while I thought I would not go at all. Then after I recovered from a cold, which I passed on to Christiane, who was not impressed, I decided to abandon all reason and light out for the territories as Huck Finn would say. I went on my own for a very short jaunt as far into the Superior region as I could get, before I would have to turn around and get back in time for duties that were calling.  Isn’t a short jaunt better than nothing?  I thought so. Chris was happy to have me leave (imagine that).

As a result of these forces my superior tour turned into a puny inferior tour.  But I tried to make the most of it. I thought I did that. Parts of the story are truly amazing. These are the parts for which I can’t claim credit, but I think they are worth the trip and I hope some faithful readers of my blog follow me on this journey of discovery. It was far more than pretty pictures. I came for pictures; I found truth. A dark truth.