Why this blog?

To understand why this blog was created and where it got its name, start here

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Immortal Piano


I stumbled upon a shop called The Immortal Piano during my daily walk last week.

I was intrigued. Rows and rows of old fashioned upright pianos - some showing beautiful lines and workmanship; others opened, guts spilling out, tools arrayed awaiting action. It was a half hour before opening time, but the lights were on and the plastic sign in the window said "Open, please come in." So I did.

The owner of the shop came forward as I approached, camera in hand. Her name is Martha Taylor and she calls herself the Queen of Dead Pianos. She graciously responded to my questions, explaining how she'd rescued 500 vintage upright pianos bound for the dump. That was 22 years ago in Oakland, California. She knew nothing about pianos, but just couldn't let them die. And so began an accidental career rebuilding and reselling vintage uprights. She later moved to Portland and opened a shop on SE Belmont. She now employs two young women with small hands and a lot of patience for the restoration labor of love.


I felt a special affinity with the vintage pianos because one had a special place in our home in Boulder. Inherited from Charlie's Aunt Mary, it was appreciated but seldom played - until my niece Kylie started taking piano lessons several years ago and needed a piano. Now Aunt Mary's piano gets a lot of love in its new home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ugly sweaters in Portland

Another reason to like Portland: "Yarn-bombing" - dressing the city's statues in Christmas sweaters. Besides bringing smiles to downtown shoppers, the tradition also serves as a winter clothing drive to collect items for the homeless.

 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Laurelhurst Park

I am fortunate to live near a beautiful park that includes lovely walkways, a small lake, and a vast and varied collection of huge trees. I try to walk there almost every day and love watching the changing seasons.

The leaves have mostly fallen now, but the scenery is still interesting - especially for someone who grew up in arid Colorado. I can't get over the variety of moss and lichen: it's everywhere!
 
There are also a few characters whom I often see in the park. There's the guy who practices his tuba
And the homeless guy with his two cats
And the creature who lives in the bark of this tree!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Changing colors

What a difference a week makes! The last time I went to the Japanese Garden, on a gray rainy day, it was packed with photographers all clustered around the iconic Japanese maples which were showing off their exquisite autumn colors.

With bright blue skies forecast for yesterday, I thought I would return to catch the difference in light. This time, the park was practically deserted. Cold temperatures and high winds had drastically altered last week's colors.

Here's the maple with the mushroom from last week:

And the same tree with same mushroom this week:

The bridge last week:
And this week:
I saw only one other photographer. He was hunched over his tripod set low to the ground. He kept looking at his watch, camera remote in hand. Intrigued, I asked what he was doing and he explained that he was shooting a long exposure to capture the swirling leaves in the pond.
I looked more closely. I hadn't noticed how the leaves were moving.

If you just take an ordinary photo, the waterfall and pond look like this:
But after quick lesson from the more experienced photographer, I reset the ISO, the aperture, and the exposure and I captured the movement of the leaves!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Photography

f/stop, ISO, aperture, white balance, bracketing, bokeh, histogram, RAW+JPEG, HDR, stacking . . . And the list goes on; jargon that rolls off the tongues of my fellow photo club members. Meanwhile, I just want to take pretty pictures.

I'm slowly picking up some tips and tricks by watching others, reading books, looking at lots of photos and asking questions. And this weekend I attended a meeting of the Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest. Check out the some of the winning photos submitted there. I learned some new techniques for making sharper photos and was anxious to try out these techniques on Sunday morning at Portland's Japanese Garden. I thought I'd get there early to take advantage of the members-only hours from 8-10 AM. Apparently, I wasn't the only person to have this idea, despite the rain.
It's true that the Japanese maples offer exquisite shapes and colors. And I was thrilled to notice one special tree that had a mushroom growing out of its trunk. Can you see it growing on the left side of the trunk in the center of the photo below?

However, as I learned last night at my local photo club, it's not enough to capture the image in the field; you also have to be a master of post-processing on the computer. Winning photos have typically been carefully massaged to remove imperfections and to add highlights, often with add-on enhancement software and very clever use of  special effects. I have a lot to learn in this domain, and my photos were judged merely average.

So in the meantime, I'll continue taking photos for my personal pleasure and to send you, my indulgent readers, a record of my travels. After all,  for me, photography is not about ISO, aperture or bracketing. And it's not about lenses, filters, tripods and post-processing. It is about seeing and feeling. Telling a story. Being outdoors in the fresh air and noticing the effect of sunlight on raindrops. It is acknowledging the ineluctability of change, the recognition of mortality, and an attempt to be fully alive in the present moment. And if I happen to capture ephemera on film, so much the better.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Drawing mushrooms


The schedule for our weekend mycology camp included a session Friday evening entitled “Drawing Mushrooms.”

For me, “drawing” falls into the category of “things I am not good at.” I haven’t picked up a pencil and tried to draw since the 5th grade. I remember sitting uncomfortably in art class, fingers feeling stiff and uncooperative, unused to holding chalk or crayon, charcoal or water colors. Furthermore, I sat next to Ron Bustamante whose pencil drawing of a Log Cabin Maple Syrup bottle  captured the three dimensional volume with intricate shadows and contours of its multifaceted sides - while my rendition of the same object was flat and distorted. Ron could also reveal a classmate’s face and within minutes you knew exactly who it was. My attempts at drawing the human form rarely advanced beyond geometric forms representing general body proportions: a circle for a head, trapezoid for a torso, rectangles for arms and legs.

I knew then that I had no talent. So why bother? And I have rarely tried drawing since.

Friday’s assignment: Stop and pick up a mushroom specimen to bring with you to camp. Taking a detour to check out a waterfall off of Highway 101, I spotted a clump of small, bright, yellow/orange mushrooms clinging to dead branches near the trail. I was captivated by their color and form. These look simple enough to draw - even for me.

I wasn’t very enthusiastic about being reminded of my weakness in the drawing department, but had nothing better to do on Friday evening. So I joined about 40 of my cohorts at long tables. I put the clump of mushrooms down on my sheet of drawing paper, ready to begin, when the instructor came by and recommended that I draw just one of the mushrooms. The whole clump, while more interesting, would be too difficult she counseled.

As I pulled one mushroom away from the clump, a little brown twig came away with it and fell onto the white paper. After a minute or two, the “twig” came alive and began to move – standing up on tiny hind legs as if looking around at its surroundings. It then put its “head” down and crept forward on three sets of skinny legs at one end of its body. It surprised me by drawing its diminutive body up into an arch and then extending forward. I was captivated. "Oh, it’s just an inchworm, nothing special" my neighbor said. I gently tried to move it to the side so that I could proceed with my drawing when it  immediately stiffened up, inert. Did I kill it? But no, after “playing dead” for a minute, it came alive again and continued its exploration of my drawing paper.

In the meantime, my drawing started to take shape as I started with rudimentary rectangles to outline the proportions of the mushroom.  I had to look really closely: What were the proportions of the cap to the stem? Was the stipe (stem) long or short; skinny, or fat and bulbous? And the cap – is it rounded or pointed or convex, slimy to the touch or even fuzzy? There is tremendous variation in gills when you look closely. What color are they? Are they flat like blades or spongy or tooth-like? Does the mushroom have spots or scales, warts, cups, or veils? I began to understand the meaning of the exercise; not as art, but as practice in discernment. 

I became absorbed in my mushroom drawing, trying not to look at my neighbor’s image which had much more complex volume and color than mine. I am still aware of my limitations as an artist, but it did help my powers of observation and identification. Hypholoma fasciculare - it’s a poisonous mushroom! I’ll remember it the next time I see it in the woods.
And my little inchworm? One moment he (or she?) was happily eating his way through a tasty mushroom dinner when he was suddenly kidnapped - awaking to find himself under a blinding white interrogation light and repeatedly knocked about by an enormous giant. . . .

I finally had pity on him and released him back into the wild beyond the cabin back door. I tried to find a welcoming mushroom home for him, but fear that it will take him a very long time to travel the twenty miles back to his home and family - one inch at a time. :-( My only hope is that he will find enough to eat so that he can spend the winter in a warm cocoon - ready to fly back home next summer on his new fuzzy moth wings. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cedar Creek Grist Mill

My Sunday photo expedition took me across the Columbia River into southwest Washington. My first stop was Cedar Creek Grist Mill, a working museum, showing visitors the inside workings of a grist mill originally built in 1876.
 My next stop was a ride on the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad

 Going through the tunnel was spooky!