Day 31 – Airports and Flags

airport

(NOTE: It looks like I started this project a day early because it’s October 30 and I’m doing Day 31. Guess I was really eager to get started.)

This is the Fredericton airport. It’s not big but it’s still a portal into the world outside this sleepy little place. I’ve passed through the doors of this place into Chicago, Toronto and Miami. There were other places, but these three have something in common: They’re my three favorite cities to run at night.

Running along the Miami Beach boardwalk at night is like running through a vortex of pure energy with the ocean crashing along the beach creating all those bubbly little negative ions that tickle your brain cells into relaxation and creativity. I went swimming there one day, in the daytime. I had the ocean all to myself and wondered why all those people on the beach weren’t in the water. It occurred to me that it was November and maybe for Floridians it was too cold, whereas for me it was a balmy summer day. In November.

After swimming around for a half hour or so I swam back to the beach, dried off and packed my beach stuff into my backpack and headed back to the hotel. I was stopped by a couple of women when I reached the boardwalk and one of them asked me if I’d seen the flags. “What flags?” I said, trying to sound intelligently confused. She explained that the red and blue flags along the beach were warnings of dangerous aquatic life (i.e., sharks) and riptides that would carry me into the ocean a wash me up on a beach somewhere in Portugal.

Drank a lot of beer that night.

I went for a run in downtown Toronto one night shortly after 9/11. I ran a couple of miles from my hotel to the CN Tower so that I could slap it and say, “Don’t you go getting blown up.” Times haven’t changed much, have they?

As I approached the base of the tower, I saw two armed guards at the base of some stairs not too far from where I was. And they saw me. In fact, they were keeping a close eye on me. They were to my right, watching me and I thought, “Screw you two. I’m gonna slap that tower.”

About twenty feet from the tower’s base, I took my metal water container from its pouch on my waist. I glanced over at the guards and noticed that one of them was taking his gun out of its holster. I was having a hard time getting my head around this and wondering if I could run fast enough to dodge bullets. But I kept running, I slapped the tower, stopped an drank some Gatorade. I looked over at the two guards and saw one of them restraining the trigger arm of the one I’d seen drawing his gun.

On my run back, I ran right past them and said, “Thanks,” to the one who stopped the other one from shooting me. Things like that didn’t happen when I was a kid in Toronto.

Of all the cities I’ve ever visited, Chicago is my favorite to run in at night. You never run out of skyscrapers and lights. And there are areas where the buildings don’t block the view of other buildings. It’s like looking into mammoth bowl of light.

The last time I was there I was on a trade mission with businesses and government people from New Brunswick looking to build relationships with businesses in Chicago. Some of the government workers pulled their heads out of their Blackberries long enough tell me that I was crazy to run at night in Chicago.

“You’ll get mugged.”

“You’ll get murdered.”

“You’ll disappear and never be seen again.”

And they buried their heads back into their Blueberries.

That night I went for my longest run ever in Chicago. I even ran into areas that I probably shouldn’t have gone within a mile of.

But I didn’t get murdered. I didn’t get mugged. And I didn’t disappear.

Lesson learned: Always keep an eye out for the flags, but don’t let imaginary flags bring you down.

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Day 30 – Taking Pictures in Traffic. In the Dark.

So…I’m walking out of the beer store with a bottle of wine. Well…the beer and wine store…and liquor store…with a bottle of wine. And I already have my picture for today, a picture of pipes and ventilators and all this written stuff about sewers and power lines and what’s going on underneath those manhole covers. I’ve seen people dance on those, not suspecting for a moment what nameless horrors they might be awakening.

Now, where was I?

Walking out of the booze store with a bottle of wine. And I see something. Something beautiful. Been seeing a lot of that since my satori. (Hey…if you’re feeling down and life’s not making much sense…hop in a Jimmy and drive around places you haven’t seen in a while. Works for me.) So I think…no, Biff, you already have your picture for today…sewers…pipes…mean stuff. But, hey, my camera’s in my car. And my tripod. So I rush over to my car and there’s goddam truck parked on top of it…but I can still get into my trunk. Cool.

A few minutes later, I’ve got my camera set up right about where cars have to drive around me, but I’m wearing a white sweater so I’m blocking out the cars. Oh yeah…did I mention…it’s dark. I’m taking pictures at slow shutter speeds using my remote release totally unaware of the van driving right at me until he has to swerve at the last minute and I wave to the driver in gratitude for not damaging my beautiful camera.

This guy walks up to me and asks what I’m seeing that’s so important that I’m standing in traffic outside a booze store to get the shot. I mumble a bunch of gibberish about the light, the branches and other shit I can’t remember because I’m what’s really in this shot that I have such a hard on to capture.

When I get home…safely…un-run over…I stick the card in the card port and let Lighthouse open the files.

And I’m so fucking disappointed. Yeah, I wrote “fucking.” First time in the project. But that’s exactly how I felt. I think I swore at God for misleading me. So…I stared at the best of the images wondering what the hell it was that gave me that hard on.

And then I blew the image up, just on a hunch, and there it was. I cropped the picture down to it.

And once again…I saw beauty.

Lesson learned: Always wear a white sweater when you’re taking pictures in the dark. In a traffic lane. Outside a booze store. In the dark.

Night

Day 29 – You Can’t Poison a Boat

Right after I returned from a trip to Florence, I sold my motorcycle and bought art supplies. Florence can have the affect on you. But that’s a story for another time. All three lines of it.

I was living in Germany at the time and returned to Canada a few months after visiting Florence. First thing I did when I got back was to drop out of high school and enroll in a correspondence course in art through the Washington School of Art. I did really well on every assignment, but something seemed wrong. I sent them a piece that I knew was crap…that I’d deliberately made crap and got my highest mark ever.

I dropped out of the program.

Years later, I found that piece and thought…hmm…not so bad really. It was two dancers and, thoroughly blurred, but the rhythm of their movement was there. But I’d already dropped out of the program. So I burned the piece and went on to university to study English literature.

Wish I hadn’t done that.

But when I dropped out of high school, I was drawing and painting like crazy, filling sketch pads and canvases. And my favorite spot to go was a marina, where I’d sketch boats and trees and there was one stand of trees I especially liked and I tried to capture it in pencil, ink and water color, but I never quite got it right.

Just over a year ago, I came back to that stand of trees…with a camera. It was autumn and the trees were bare and, honestly, I don’t I could have arrived at a better time. Those bare trunks and branches were like a symphony of visual rhythm. And the symphony was echoed by its reflection in the water. I took pictures of it in the fall, throughout the winter and into the spring. I wanted to get this magical stand of trees all year round. However…

Did I mention marina?

Marinas have boats. Big ones. Big ones that block the view of beautiful stands of trees. All summer long. I thought about setting them on fire, but the flames might have damaged the trees. I didn’t have dynamite. Again, though, collateral damage. And I don’t know how to poison a boat. As much as I thought about it.

I have a picture of that stand of trees for sale at a the M&T Deli. I thought, take pictures of it in the fall. That’s when it’s the most amazing. And for as long as I’m in Freddie Beach that’s what I’m going to do.

And here’s the one I took today.

Lesson learned: You can’t poison a boat. I know this.

Stand of Trees

Day 28 – So Much Beauty…just waiting

The colors are going away, drifting off into those late autumn hours of rain, wind and cold. Each day, the trees have fewer leaves and all that fire in the trees is falling to the ground, leaf by leaf. Let’s see if I can put this poetically.

“No,”said the fox. “Please, Biff, don’t do that to us.”

“Fox,” I reply, “Isn’t it time for your intravenous?”

Aw…the fox doesn’t like me anymore. Maybe I don’t have to watch him smile anymore.

So here it is…poetry… and the intricate structure of naked branches are like veins of the earth rupturing into the sky.

That structure.

Those veins.

Naked trees.

I get chills.

I write lousy poetry.

OK, fox…you were right. Stop pouting and come back here and help me write this blog.

“Biff…if you ever mention my intravenous again…I’m leaving your blog.”

OK, fox. Don’t get your diaper so wound…I mean…don’t get your panties so wound up.”

“Tightrope, Biff, tightrope.”

OK, let’s talk about today. I was on my lunch hour, driving, drinking coffee, no idea what I was going to photograph. So I took the road into Lincoln because I got some good stuff there yesterday. But, there was one other place I’ve crossed paths with before and wanted to capture. So I drove there.

It’s a place where a stream flows into a marshy area almost like a horizontal roller coaster. It’s like a story unfolding. And that’s what nature is…a story unfolding. Around here, the story has four parts…summer, fall, winter and spring. Life, color, death and re-birth.

And the color.

I think…the closer you get to death…the more you appreciate the color. And color is so full of sound, texture, aroma and the beautiful sight of life.

These are things we’re taught to ignore. We’re taught to conform to the norm. We’re taught to average out so that we’re not noticed…so that we fit into a mould that was never of our making.

Fox, are you with me on this?

“Yeah, Biff…with you all the way on this.”

Hey, you two reading my blog…go into the woods. Leave your cell phones at home. Park your car half a mile from where you’re going into the woods. Get into the woods and close your eyes. Close them longer than you’ve ever closed them before. Forget everything…the job, the next payment, the relationship, the feeling of emptiness…and just feel the woods around you. Then, open your eyes and see the beauty.

It’s there. You haven’t lost it. It’s been there all the time…waiting for you.

Lesson learned: There can be color in black and white. No shit.

Day 28 1 Day 28 2 Day 28 3 Day 28 Day 1

Day 27 – Getting It Right

There’s a place on the old highway between Fredericton and Oromocto that I’ve passed for years and thought…someday I’ll take a picture of that.

Years.

And no picture. Well, today I changed that. I was supposed to take pictures of a metal band but the weather put the kibosh on that. I wanted to use one of those images for today’s blog posting. So there I was, all photo digitalized and no where to click.

Sad photographer wept while holding camera lovingly in hand, saying, “What, oh what, am I going to do with you today?”

To which the camera replied, “Think, Biff, think.”

To which I replied, “Wait a minute! You mean…?”

“That’s it, Biff. It’s time. Go there. Take me with you. Let’s do some kick ass picture taking.”

Twenty minutes later I was standing by the side of the road gazing over a slice of pure New Brunswick beauty. To my right I could hear people singing in a wooden church with cars parked all around it. To my left the fox nodded his head approvingly. I wish he hadn’t been smiling though. Fox smiles are anything but pretty. All those sharp teeth.

I walked around a bit, checking out the landscape, trying to find the best angle, and I found a place leading into the field in front of me and walked into it. It was like walking into a picture with field after field rolling into a distant tree line. It was overcast, but the sky gave the autumn colors a kind of muted grandeur.

I shot off a few pics in different locations and thought, “That’s it. Got it. Going home to see these on the big screen.”

The camera said, “Maybe you should hang around a little longer, Biff and try some different settings. I have a feeling something’s wrong.”

“No, Camera,” I said. “Got what I need. Time to go home.”

The fox shook his head disapprovingly.

Back home, I uploaded the images to Lightroom and said…

shit.

I wasn’t paying attention to my shutter speed. It was too slow. I had nothing but crap. Fuzzy crap.

But, listen, both of you…I was very brave about it. I didn’t cry or swear or curse the day I was born. I said, “Camera…you were right and I was wrong. Let’s go back there and get it right this time.” And there was something in those images that made me think about the shots I really wanted to get.

My camera smiled. Another thing you don’t ever want to see.

Back at the location, I walked into the field and…nothing. Whatever I’d seen in those fuzzy low shutter speed images wasn’t there. I looked around and couldn’t see it. It wasn’t there anymore. Or was it? I looked again at the scene I was shooting and realized that it probably was one of those places that look good when you’re there, but might not make a good picture.

So I looked back toward the road, and remembered. I’d taken an initial shot of the fields from the roadside, with some leaves in the foreground. I went back to the roadside and started scouting. And there it was…all along the roadside. Autumn leaves, bushes and branches. And I had my ultra wide angle lens on the camera.

Most of the fauna was in a deep ditch. A steep deep ditch. With water in it. Got my feet wet again. But got up close and personal with the fauna. Close and personal with my ultra lens.

And today I’m posting three images. It’s my blog and I can do that.

Lesson learned: Listen to the back of your head. Listen to sage advice from your camera and the fox…but look ever look at them when they’re smiling.

Lincoln-4 Lincoln-3 Lincoln

Day 26 – Leaves and Blank Mind

Leaves

I went for a run this morning. It was overcast with the occasional brush of light rain. Kind of a noir morning, the kind that breeds either introspection or a blank mind. This was a blank mind noir morning, and I ran through three puddles instead of around them, getting my feet thoroughly wet, but I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Even when there’re no puddles around.

And I almost ran over a car. Sorry poor little senior lady with the red hat for scaring the hell out of you. But next time…stop at the pedestrian crossing. There might be people with blank minds out for a run.

Blank mind is like a sky with no definition…the kind of sky hovering over my head. A portal leading into release from thought. And who needs to think on a Saturday morning under a noir sky?

When you’re running, it’s zen in motion. And I was running, puddles and all. And pretty much ignoring everything. Including my route. I usually run down the street I live on, but today I took a different route, not even realizing it until I came to a small barely leafed tree and I stopped dead, seeing something so beautiful that it actually made my heart pound. I walked around slowly under it, seeing it from different angles and marveling at the stark simplicity and vibrant color.

It was as though the leaves and branches were in a state of blank mind and floating in a place of no definition. But not running into puddles or scaring the hell out of old women.

Just being.

And this was my challenge for today. I finished the half block of my run, got my camera and went back to that tree, praying every step of the way that nothing had changed, that the tree would still be there, that it would still be in a state of blank mind, that the sky wouldn’t suddenly turn an un-noirish blue.

I wasn’t going back there to capture a picture, I was going back to capture a beautiful feeling. And I think this time I got it right.

Day 25 – Marilyn Mazerolle (A Portrait)

Marilyn

I love this woman.

And if either of you have met her…you love her too. I have never met such a free spirit. A human being with the child inside so much alive and so fascinated with everything around her. She was a hippie. Yes…a hippie.

And she’s an amazing artist. Just look at the color and beauty around her. This is her work. She’s the heart and soul of the Fredericton Arts Building (which is fast becoming that again). Her color permeates the building with her paintings on the walls, in the washrooms, in the halls…and her studio…her studio. It’s like walking into the definition of color. The essence of that which tickles the eye.

For a while the building was inundated by ironing boards that she’d painted and hung up everywhere…even the washrooms.

Ironing boards.

How cool is that?

I think I finally got Marilyn right. A picture I can put on my photography website…which I’m really picky about to the point where I have to take pictures of people I’ve captured so many times…but never got it right.

But this is Marilyn. This is who and what she is. An artist. A beautiful human being. And still a hippie.

I love this woman.

And if you haven’t met her…visit her at 384 Queen Street. If she’s not there. Come back another time. And keep coming back. When you finally meet her…I guarantee…you’ll love her.