A rainy evening, 1922

Well, not really. But close.

I took a few days off this week and used a couple of them to visit Prince Edward County in Eastern Ontario. Although the early fall weather wasn't the greatest, the mini-trip gave us some time to see more of this region that is rapidly building a reputation as a wine-producing centre and destination for economic development.

The town of Picton is the largest community in the county and many of its buildings shows their small-town Ontario origins. The Regent Theatre, opened in February 1922, is one such building. Here it is in all its glory on a rainy evening:

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Learning, one portrait at a time

Over the last few years I've tried to include more people in my pictures. I've always taken shots of my children, but that's different. Everyone does that. 

Portraits, however, are a different ballgame. They make me nervous because I am not yet comfortable posing people for pictures that they have to like. So, I have a choice: I can continue to feel awkward or I can practise, learn and grow in confidence.

This weekend I practised with my wife, Jackie, who was looking for a new headshot. And we're both pleased with the results. She likes the colour and I like the black and white. See what you think.

In the meantime, I'll keep practising. 

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Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 56mm lens

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Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 56mm lens

At the sheepdog trials—windy and wonderful

It's not often that I get to attend a sheepdog trial. Ok, let's be more accurate: I had never been to see sheepdogs put through their paces before this summer. But mid-way into our house exchange with a couple from Kirkmichael, Perthshire, we learned that the Strathardle Sheepdog Trial was being held in nearby Enochdhu.

This was not our first trip to Scotland, so we were open to doing more local things off the usual tourist trails and weren't looking to spend a lot of time in the bigger centres. A sheepdog trial promised to tick all the boxes. And it did.

Watching the shepherds and dogs work together was a wonderful experience. I was surprised at the intelligence of the dogs, the lack of intelligence of the sheep, and the unbroken chain of shouted and whistled communication—even when it broke down. Done well, herding sheep with a dog is a delight to watch.

The shearing competition was probably more fun for the audience and judges than it was for the sheep (some of which were clearly nicked), but you have to admire the strength and skill of the men and women who make a quick and clean job of it. There may not be a lot of room for sentimentality in farm life, but a deft hand is to be respected.

These were clearly real contests, not demos put on with a wink for tourists (apart from a family from Belgium, we were the only tourists there). The competitors obviously knew each other and seemed to be on on friendly terms, but they were all there to win in their categories, from beginner to old hand. The sky threatened and the wind never let the refreshments tent have an easy minute, but the roll and sausage was hot and the whisky was welcome.

All in all, a glorious afternoon out in Highland Perthshire.

All pictures taken with the Fujifilm X-E1 and 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses.

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RRS Discovery in Dundee

After the colours of fall it's time for a return to some black and white... and time to clear some of the backlog from our trip to Scotland this summer!

One of the sights we had the chance to visit was the RRS Discovery at Discovery Point in Dundee.

RRS Discovery was the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Designed for Antarctic research, it was launched as a Royal Research Ship (RRS) in 1901. Its first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic, known as the Discovery Expedition. It is now the centrepiece of visitor attraction in its home, Dundee.
[source: Wikipedia, accessed 16 October 2016]

Visiting the restored ship in dry dock is a fascinating trip to a not-so-distant time when the poles were being explored in masted ships by men outfitted with gear and clothing woefully inadequate for the climate. Scott, Shackleton and their crews were truly brave and hardy souls, and some of them paid for their courage and determination with their lives.

The sharp lines and textures of the ship (as well as the bland, grey skies) cried out for a monochrome treatment, so that's what you see here.

All pictures taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 18-55mm lens.

Inside fall

I live two steps from Gatineau Park, a region renowned for its natural beauty -- especially when the leaves change colour in the fall. All the same, I've grown tired of taking the same pictures autumn after autumn. This year I wanted to do something a bit different, so I aimed for something less literal. Instead of simply taking pictures of beautiful trees and leaves, I wanted a more abstract effect that would give a sense of the play of fall colours on the senses. These pictures are my attempt at doing just that.

All shots taken with the Fujifilm X-E1 and 35mm, 56mm or 55-200mm lenses

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Sunset in Tadoussac

My youngest son recently had a day off school, so we decided to make a long weekend of it in Tadoussac, Quebec on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Tadoussac is about 700km from where we live so it made for a lot of driving over the three days.

And it was well worth it. Situated at the meeting of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence Rivers, Tadoussac is probably best known as that starting point for whale-watching tours in the St. Lawrence Estuary. The town is touristy but not overly so and the whales (Fin, Minke and Beluga) and seals did not disappoint. The three hours we spent in an open zodiac with fresh air and brilliant sun on a surprisingly smooth river were wonderful. We couldn't have asked for a better late-September afternoon and everything we'd heard about the magnificent marine mammals of the estuary was true.

But the evenings surprised me. The lingering sunsets in Tadoussac's harbour are beautiful and the long stretch of rocky coastline seems tailor-made for landscape photography. (And although I've been casting furtive glances at the new Fujifilm XPro2, my X-E1 continues to deliver results that please me.)

This is just a little of what I saw. I hope you experience some of the enjoyment that I did.

Trip to Iceland: Day 4

Day 4 presented the opportunity to visit Iceland's "Golden Circle"—Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss—three places of natural and historical interest in close proximity to one another and not too far from Reykjavik. The great advantage of having a car is that you can visit sites at your own pace, rather than being hustled around places of great mystery and beauty at a clip.

Visiting Geysir, from which all other geysers are named, is like walking across the earthen cover of a pot of water on the boil: a novel experience. It's fascinating to see Strokkur spout and the constant hint of sulphurous odours reminds you that you are indeed standing over a subterranean kettle that has bubbled day and night for millennia.

Seeing and photographing Gullfoss had been high on my list of things to do in Iceland since I first became aware of the beautiful waterfall with the optical illusion right-angled drop. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to get any decent light on the falls. It's a fantastic sight but it was never going to translate into anything memorable on my sensor without the all-important late-afternoon sunlight.

And why were we late in getting to Gullfoss? Because we couldn't tear ourselves away from Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park. I have never visited a more magical setting. Where else on earth can you stand with one foot on the American tectonic plate and the other on the Eurasian—remembering all the while that the two are separating? Where else can you gaze into crystal waters and see deep into cracks in the earth's surface? Where else can you walk in the footsteps of the people who established the world's first parliament on the site—over 1,000 years ago?

I don't believe in elves and trolls, but I can see why Iceland's earliest inhabitants did: they lived in a land of legendary scale and wild beauty.

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Trip to Iceland: Day 2

The pictures below from Day 2 of my trip to Iceland were all taken during a road trip from Reykjavik to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, northwest of the capital. Very quickly it became evident that Iceland is a stunningly beautiful country and it was a real challenge not to stop the car every five minutes for another breathtaking vista. Canada also has more than its share of ruggedly beautiful coastline, mountains and natural wonders, but not in such a compressed space. Canadians are accustomed to driving great distances to see landmarks, but Iceland presents travellers with a fresh spectacular sight at every other bend in the road—it just doesn't seem fair, somehow!

This area around Snæfellsjökull—which Wikipedia tells me is "a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit"—is wild and home to mysterious crevices and caves. Little wonder that Jules Verne chose it as the entry point for his Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I didn't make it all the way to the centre, but I did manage to visit a lava cave (Vatnshellir) that took me 35m below the surface of the earth. That was far enough.

As always, the wind didn't spare us for a second and the rain, when it came on and off, was frequently horizontal. Given all the fury in the elements and landscape, I couldn't quite bring myself to process Day 2's pictures in colour: they called out for black and white. Here are just a few.

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 1

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 1

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 3

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 3

On Snæfellsnesvegur 1

On Snæfellsnesvegur 1

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 1

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 1

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 3

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 3

Lóndrangar basalt cliffs

Lóndrangar basalt cliffs

Rauðfeldsgjá

Rauðfeldsgjá

The view from the tower (black and white)

A large part of the enjoyment of travel is the chance to see different things. But when you're visiting a place that you know relatively well, the enjoyment often comes from seeing things differently.

That was the case for me when I visited Toronto recently with my younger son. Although I haven't lived there in a long time and the city has changed a lot, it's still a familiar setting for me so it was time to find a different vantage point. Off to the CN Tower we went while the sun was low in the sky, to make sure we'd have some nice sidelight. The Tower is a great location to take in a 360-degree panorama of the GTA, what's left of Toronto's lakefront and an expanse of Lake Ontario.

As great as the view is, however, actually shooting from inside the structure is not easy. (And even if I were ready to do the EdgeWalk around the outside, carrying a camera is prohibited.) You are either behind thick glass windows that are not very clean or heavy wire mesh that makes a clear shot impossible. I decided to go with a longer lens to minimize the impact of dirty streaks and wires. The 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms helped with framing shots carefully and I was surprised by how well the images held up through the glare and dirt.

See for yourself. I'll post some colour shots next time.


Chillin' in Ottawa with the 18-55mm

Although the calendar says that spring arrived over two weeks ago, the Ottawa Valley has decided to ignore the good news. Instead, we're still being treated to below-zero temperatures, brisk winds and snow on the ground.

In spite of all this -- or perhaps because of it -- I decided that I needed to break out of the house over the Easter weekend and spend some quality time with my camera. A couple of hours walking around Ottawa's Sparks Street Pedestrian Mall and Parliament Hill should do the trick and, if I got too cold, I could always duck into a coffee shop. (It's nice to see Sparks Street gradually shedding its dead-zone mode but it's still got a long way to go, especially on the weekend.)

I started out with the 35mm f/1.4 on my Fujifilm X-E1 but realized soon enough that I like the flexibility of 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 zoom for walking around. It's somewhat heavier, but it balances well and I like the flexibility it gives me for framing a scene. The sun was brilliant against a deep blue sky, so I didn't get the chance to see what difference the recent firmware upgrade has made to the lens' OIS performance. Perhaps I'll do that in the next post.

For now, here are a few shots from a chilly weekend in Canada's capital with my favourite all-purpose lens and Fujifilm's own red-filtered black and white goodness.

A Happy Easter to all.

Steel and stone.

Steel and stone.

The beauty of Parliament Hill.

The beauty of Parliament Hill.

Saluting George Brown.

Saluting George Brown.

My turn (to shoot this photographic cliché).

My turn (to shoot this photographic cliché).

Architectural history.

Architectural history.

Happy 2015!

Well, another year has come and gone. But before 2014 was quite done my family and I enjoyed ourselves at Ottawa's Hogmanay night ("Hogmanay" is a Scots word used for New Year festivities). This is the third time that the Scottish Society of Ottawa has hosted the event and it seems to get better each year. The first two years were held outside Ottawa City Hall; a lot of fun the first time, but temperatures below -20C were enough to chill some of the enthusiasm.

This year the do moved inside the Aberdeen Pavilion, the only large-scale exhibition building in Canada surviving from the 19th century, and was a big hit. There was food for sale, activities for the kids, and a range of beer and (especially) whiskies for the adults. The big draw, though, was the free music provided by the likes of the Glengarry Pipe Band, Ecosse and Glass Tiger.

I took along my camera to take some shots of the bands in action. Although the Fujinon 55-200mm hunted a bit for focus on my X-E1, I still had a pretty good success rate at high ISOs (3200 and 6400, to be precise).

A few pictures for your viewing pleasure and my best wishes to you for 2015.

End of the season

I started my last post by saying that I sometimes have a hard time finding subjects to photograph close to home. And I ended my last post with a commitment to shoot whatever was in front of me.

What was in front of me this morning was a forlorn harbour for pleasure craft, now closed for the season. I had about 45 minutes to kill while waiting to pick up my son, so I decided to spend it at the Aylmer Marina. With the temperature below freezing and a brisk breeze coming off the Ottawa River, it was not a day for shooting postcards. Still, my commitment in mind, I decided that I'd work with what I had. Besides, I hadn't taken my X-E1 out of the bag for a few weeks so it was high time to give the little guy some exercise, along with my 14mm f/2.8 and 56mm f/1.2 Fujinon lenses.

Given the surroundings and the weather, I thought I might as well emphasize the bleakness of the setting by shooting BW-R JPEGs in square format. I was happy with the results I got and was able to get back to the car before I lost the sensation in my fingers. (My photo gloves are great on cold, dry days, but the damp wind seemed to get the better of them -- and me).

All told, off to a good start on my "imagine globally, shoot locally" mission.

Imagine globally... shoot locally

I sometimes have a hard time finding subjects to photograph close to home. I hear it's fairly common, though: it's easy to get inspired on holiday when every corner brings new sights and fresh experiences. Who doesn't come home without a ton of images to process or get developed?

After the holiday, it can be a different story. You've seen all the local "sights," such as they are, a hundred times or more and they just don't excite your imagination. Over time your little neighbourhood or town can seem a bit dull.

So, what's to be done? After all, we can't all live in the visual smorgasbords of London, Paris or New York. (And perhaps Londoners, Parisians and New Yorkers get bored, too.)

This year, my response will be to discipline my imagination. If William Eggleston could spend a large chunk of his career documenting the everyday in Memphis, I should be able to find interesting subjects in Canada's National Capital Region.

And if I can't find them, I'll make them up. And if there are people nearby, I'll shoot portraits. If there is scenery nearby, I'll shoot landscapes. If there is an event or festival nearby, I'll shoot crowds and movement and noise. If there is colour, texture or pattern nearby, I'll shoot that. If the weather is lousy, I'll shoot atmosphere and mood. And if what's in front of me is common and mundane, I'll shoot it like a tourist. If there's nothing in front of me, I'll dream something up.

After all, the things that catch my attention when I'm on holiday are always part of someone else's daily routine. The boulangerie that attracted me in Lagnieu, France is just the place where the locals buy their bread -- the only thing out of the ordinary was my state of mind. So my motto for this year will be: imagine globally... shoot locally!

In that spirit, I offer this selection of images that I took in our town while scouting out locations for the recent Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. I've brought my imagination back from holiday and will apply it in new ways here at home.

Let me know if you decide to do the same.

Monochrome marina

Monochrome marina

Too long in the tub

Too long in the tub

Symmes Inn

Symmes Inn

Picket line

Picket line

Cenotaph

Cenotaph

Elephant tracks

Elephant tracks

Baltimore and meetings out of the Blue (Angels)

I've taken a lot of pictures over the last few months, but I just haven't had the time to review, process or upload them. Between our family vacation and additional recent travel, there are a lot of shots in the queue!

I happened to be in Baltimore on business while the city was celebrating the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key writing "The Star Spangled Banner." It was an open-air party, so the Inner Harbor was full of tall ships, dignitaries and sailors in their dress whites. Having a couple of hours to kill before my train left for Washington, I headed down to the harbor and found that the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels had decided to put on a show just for me (several thousand other people watched, too).

I'm posting these few shots ahead of the others in my lengthy queue because I learned two lessons while taking them:

  1. The Fujifilm X-E1 and the Fujinon 55-200mm zoom are capable of creating high-quality images, but they are NOT designed for following fast action. I know a lot of people have written on this topic, but it's not until you try following and focusing on jet fighters performing aerobatic moves that you realize just how ill-suited this equipment is for that particular task. It was a frustrating exercise but, fortunately, most of my favourite subjects don't move quite so fast.
     
  2. More importantly, I probably need to be more open to meeting new people. A family beside me -- grandfather, father and two young boys -- was also watching the Blue Angels and we got to talking. Far from distracting me, they added to my enjoyment of the afternoon as we tried to track the planes, joked about how tricky it was, and chatted back and forth about Canada and the U.S.

I'm making no claims that these are great images. But I'm posting them here as a souvenir of an enjoyable afternoon in good company.

Les Rencontres d'Arles

For me, one of the highlights of our family vacation has been the chance to visit the annual photographic festival in Arles, France. While other gatherings are usually connected to photographic gear and business, Les Rencontres ("meetings" or "encounters" in English) are purely concerned with showing and celebrating photography as art. Founded by Arles-born photographer Lucien Clergue in 1970, the festival has blossomed and now receives some 100,000 visitors each summer.

With just a day to take in the showings that are scattered in different venues around the centre of Old Arles, I didn't manage to visit them all. I did see enough to make me thoroughly glad that we had added the town to our trip.

A few thoughts on the show, offered in no specific order...

First, I was most impressed by the absence of reference to technical details or specific pieces of gear. The point of the exhibitions was very much the artist's vision, not whether a Leica was involved, whether f/5.6 was optimum, whether the shadows were a little muddy, or whether analog / digital is superior. I found this a refreshing approach and a relief from many of the pointless discussions I've seen online. Just vision. Period.

I was also impressed by the importance of story in so many of the showings. In some cases, the story was explicitly connected to the artist's vision and conceived in advance.  In other cases, the story seems to have emerged less consciously over time as the artist returned to familiar themes, subjects or approaches. Perhaps "story" is sometimes the cumulative effect of a lifetime's work rather than a pre-conceived plan. In the case of one artist, Zhang Huan, the story he tells is communicated through a sequence of layers of calligraphy on his own face.

It was a pleasure to view images from several periods of Lucien Clergue's own photography and to appreciate how rich a body of work he built through studies of subjects available to him locally: patterns in wet sand, marshlands and nudes on the beach. 

David Bailey's retrospective was a treat, starting with 1960's UK fashion, celebrity and family. I enjoyed his larger format portraits and was reminded by many of the shots just how beautiful an effect film grain can produce.

A wonderful exhibit on "Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality" contained images from Richard Avedon, Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander, and Bernd and Hillary Becher (among others). This exhibit was held in the "Espace Van Gogh,"  the former hospital in Arles where the painter recovered -- and painted -- after cutting off a portion of his ear in 1889. The curated series illustrated over and over the variety (and sometimes beauty) to be found in "like" things: political figures, plant forms, members of early 20th-century German society, 1950s industrial installations, and the hairstyles of Nigerian women.

The W.M. Hunt Collection, however, provided a counterpoint to what I've just said about beauty-in-similarity. Hunt viewed the passion for collecting as foolish and seems to have gone out of his way to prove his point. Over a period of decades he collected large photographs of groups of people at conventions, fairs and events. Frequently panoramic in scope, the combined effect of the dozens of images in three rooms is the loss of the individual. The scenes of large "happenings" are so crushingly repetitive -- groups are sometimes organized into geometric forms by the photographer -- that there is little special about any of the people pictured. All those individuals have indeed been captured in a picture. Captured and assimilated. 

The "Trepat Collection" was an interesting demonstration of a collaboration between a wealthy Spanish industrialist and a number of avant garde artists. His success in manufacturing and marketing agricultural machinery allowed him to commission works by the likes of Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and Walker Evans to help create a distinctive brand for his company. 

Other exhibits, such as the impressively large-scale collages by Vik Muniz demonstrated that photographs as artefacts can themselves be reworked to create new images. Others again, such as the work of Mazaccio and Drowilal, undermine celebrity, advertising and sentimentality in our image-soaked society. Denis Rouvre's presentation ("Identity, Intimate Territories") of low-key projected portraits with narration by the subject reminded me that, far from being an issue for the French alone, multiple identities are a fact of life for all of us in a globalized world of migrants. 

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and I was only sorry that it couldn't have been longer. It was long enough to inspire me, though, and encourage me to work more carefully on my own photography. Less gear, more story. More vision. More "rencontres"!

 

All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 14mm and 18-55mm lenses. JPEGs tweaked with Snapseed on an iPad. 

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Source: http://

Getting medieval

One of the advantages of historical sites in some parts of France is that they escaped the heavy bombardments of the First and Second World Wars. In many parts of Europe it can be hard to find a site that isn't a total reconstruction. The beautiful Cloth Hall in Ypres, for example, was entirely rebuilt from rubble. And the buildings in many "medieval" town centres in Germany are often, for obvious reasons, no more than 60 or 70 years old.

So it was particularly refreshing to come across the beautifully-preserved medieval town of Pérouges in the Rhônes-Alpes region of France. Although a centre of the linen trade for centuries, the walled town was progressively abandoned as the Industrial Revolution favoured larger cities, such as Lyon. No bombardment, no war (at least not since a siege in the 15th Century, I believe), just a wave of economic and societal change.

It was also refreshing to see new life in the little town, which now enjoys the benefit of a small museum and the presence of some 80 inhabitants, many of whom seem to be involved in running restaurants, galleries and workshops. All of this has been done without resorting to the plague of Disneyfication: parking is a mere 2 Euros, there is no fee to enter the town and access to the museum is reasonably-priced. You can explore Pérouges to your heart's content for pocket change.

And explore I did. Un gros merci aux citoyens de Pérouges !

(All images are JPEGs from a Fujifilm X-E1, processed with Snapseed on an iPad.)

 

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A walk in Wakefield

Some weeks back my wife and I had the chance to spend a couple of hours walking around Wakefield, a small village on the Gatineau River about 30 or 40 minutes from our place. It was a lazy afternoon so we had no particular plan for our time... and I think the pictures I took reflect that.

Top down. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 200, 1/3,500 sec at f/1.4.

Cast critters. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 200, 1/70 sec at f/1.4.

Post pre-modern. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 400, 1/34 sec at f/1.4.

Wakefield Inn. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/40 sec at f/22.

Wakefield Inn 2. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/110 sec at f/8.

Deck. Chair. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/420 sec at f/2.8.

Canada Place

I'm behind with the posts, so I'll be putting up a few with relatively little comment. The following shots are details of the beautiful sail-like roof of Canada Place at Burrard Inlet in Vancouver.

I continue to be impressed with the quality of the Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens. It seems very sharp and the Image Stabilization is very, very good. I'll need to post some handheld shots later on to show just how good the stabilization is—these were all taken at a distance at relatively high shutter speeds.

Sails —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/5.0 at 1/1400 sec. ISO800.

Sails—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/5.0 at 1/1400 sec. ISO800.

Between the sails —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/420 sec. ISO400.

Between the sails—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/420 sec. ISO400.

Rigging —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/250 sec. ISO400.

Rigging—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/250 sec. ISO400.

Life springs forth in monochrome

After a longer- and colder-than-usual winter in the Ottawa Valley, spring has finally been making itself felt over the last week. Although most Canadians get a little misty at the beauty of a fresh blanket of snow, this year's blanket overstayed its welcome and left us itchy for a change of season. Enough!

With the melting of a winter's-worth of snow comes the chance to see a powerful display of nature in rivers and creeks swollen many times their normal size. The creek in our yard is one such place, but I decided to wander a little farther afield to take in the impressive sights of the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers in full spate. The images that appear below were taken on two successive days on the Rideau River at Hog's Back Falls in Ottawa, Ontario and on the Ottawa River near the Deschênes Rapids in Aylmer, Quebec.

Spring is the season of new life and colour that bursts forth from wet soil. And those pictures will come. But the first pictures of spring can ably show in shades of grey the sheer power of water and land as they stretch and shake off the death of the old.

Where there is life, there is hope.