Niagara on the Lake Abstracts – Spring Impressions

One of my current projects is to create abstract photographs of my hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. With abstract photographs, we try to reflect the mood or emotions or qualities of a place. Each Tuesday, I’ll present a new image from the project.
 
PeachTrees
 
This is the moment we locals have been waiting for. After a long, cold winter the fruit trees are blossoming – peach trees above, as well as apricots, plums, and pears.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is one part of the Niagara Peninsula – surrounded on three sides by Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and the Niagara River. The land is divided by the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO world biosphere reserve which helps moderate the climate.

Consequently, this area is in the top 5% of agricultural land in Canada. It is also called The Niagara Fruit Belt. Today, it is mostly known for grapes and wine, but many fruits grow well here.

We celebrate the growing season with a strawberry festival in June, cherry festival in July, peach festival in August, and the grape and wine festival in September. Apples follow. Roadside farm stands dot the landscape throughout the spring, summer, and fall.

The photograph above – an impressionistic look at peach trees blossoming using intentional blur – was taken just last week. Such “reliable joy” as my friend Liz would say.

Map of the Niagara Region
 

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist town, stepped in history. It’s surrounded on two sides by water – Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. The world famous Niagara Falls are twenty miles down the road.

It has a world class theatre series called the Shaw Festival, which draws thousands from April through November.

This town was the first capital of Canada and one of the major battlegrounds for the War of 1812. You can see re-enactments at Fort George. The U.S. counterpart, Fort Niagara, can be seen across the river.

This is one of the best agricultural areas in all of Canada, known for its fruit – grapes especially, and is now home to more than 100 wineries.


 

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Niagara-on-the-Lake Abstracts – Window Reflections

One of my current projects is to create abstract photographs of my hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. With abstract photographs, we try to reflect the mood or emotions or qualities of a place. Each Tuesday, I’ll present a new image from the project.
 

Store Window Reflections

 
WindowAbstract
 
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a small and quaint tourist town. The shopping area is small, occupying about six blocks of Queen Street. From April through November, it is always filled with people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world.

Last year, I became enthralled with store window reflections. They compressed the 360 degree shopping experience into a 2D frame. It’s a different way of seeing and photographing.

Many of these images are not abstract in that they contain recognizable objects, but a few are. I hope they give some feeling of this “busy” area of town.
 
HudsonsBay
 
More on Window Reflections

Playing with Window Reflections
Flickr Album of Window Reflections
 

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist town, stepped in history. It’s surrounded on two sides by water – Lake Ontario and the Niagara River. The world famous Niagara Falls are twenty miles down the road.

It has a world class theatre series called the Shaw Festival, which draws thousands from April through November.

This town was the first capital of Canada and one of the major battlegrounds for the War of 1812. You can see re-enactments at Fort George. The U.S. counterpart, Fort Niagara, can be seen across the river.

This is one of the best agricultural areas in all of Canada, known for its fruit – grapes especially, and is now home to more than 100 wineries.


 

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The Generosity of Trees

Blossoming

Profusion of pink
Stops me at once in my tracks
What a love is that?

I photograph trees – a lot – in all seasons. We can learn a lot from trees – about generosity, strength, perseverance, and even abandon. They’re a vital part of the ecosystem.

In our interconnected world, what we do to our trees affects our water, air, other species and us. Trees breathe in carbon dioxide to keep us safe, and breathe out life-giving oxygen.
 

Trees are generous.

 
It would probably be enough if they provided beauty (which they do), but they do so much more.

* Provide shade and protection for hundreds of species.

* Help clean our air and stabilize temperature.

* Act as a noise barrier.

* Their roots keep the ground stable and prevent soil and water runoff.

* Some provide nutritious food such as fruit, nuts, seeds, or oils.

* A decaying tree still provides essential nutrients for other species. Nothing from a tree goes to waste.

In this post, I share what William McDonough says about how cherry trees inspired cradle-to-cradle design.
 

Amazing, isn’t it? We simply cannot live without trees.

 
Humans and other species have a relationship with trees of mutualism – a relationship between two species of organisms in which both benefit from the association.

We are each reflected in the other. But, are we keeping our end of the bargain?
 
TreeReflections
 

Deforestation has become a major issue in many parts of the world.

 
Locally, deforestation can lead to flooding and then drought due to water runoff. Soil erosion affects the quality of agriculture. Another impact of deforestation is species loss, since trees provide habitat for hundreds of species.

And, of course, deforestation leads to a huge release of carbon, affecting our climate.

The release of so much carbon can lead to climate change and rising sea levels, resulting in the loss of coral reefs and fish, loss of livelihoods and an increase in tropical diseases, resulting in environmental refugees. Conflicts over wildlife and water are possible.

Source: This in-depth article on Local and National Consequences of deforestation.
 

What Can We Do?

 

 

* Spend time outside amongst the trees. Fall in love with them. Photograph them.

* Learn more about the impacts of deforestation (at the links below).

* Support restoration of damaged ecosystems.

* Plant trees.

* Support the establishment of parks to protect forests and wildlife.

* Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment.

* Learn more about what trees symbolize; what they have to teach us.


 
I photographed this tree (actually two trees that look like one) for an entire year. Sadly, they no longer exist.
 

 

Learn More about Trees

 
* ACT (Alliance for Community Trees) is a U.S. organization solely focused on the needs of nonprofit and community organizations engaged in urban forest protection. Together, ACT’s national network of members have planted and cared for 7.8 million trees with help from 450,000 volunteers. We can combat global warming and clean our air with every tree we plant.

* The Green World Campaign has a bold agenda: Turn degraded lands green again. Raise the living standards of the rural poor. Combat climate change. Create holistic ways to work for the health of our shared biosphere and the harmony of our global village.

* Taking Root is a film that tells the story of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy -a movement for which this charismatic woman became an iconic inspiration.

Wangari Maathai is founder of The Greenbelt Movement. She was the 2004 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.
 

Books on Trees to Share With Children

 
* The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

This children’s book is a controversial classic for all ages. Why controversial? Well, there are two ways of looking at the book.

1. It is a story of unconditional love between a boy and a tree. The tree is always there for the boy even when it is cut down.

2. The tree is always there for the boy, always giving of itself while the boy takes and does not give back.

I believe that it offers a powerful lesson. Why is the boy often sad and in trouble? The tree is just there doing its thing and available to the boy. I know trees are not happy or sad but, in this case, the tree accepts its fate without judgment while the boy never seems to figure that out.

No matter which way you look at it, it will spark a conversation.

* The Lorax (book and movie) by Dr. Seuss was published in 1971 and still rings true today. Another classic for all ages to spark a conversation. Here’s an excerpt:

I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I’ve come here to celebrate Earth Day, so please
Come join me and help spread the message I bring.
Be a friend to the trees and to each living thing.

The Once-ler, now remorseful, tells the story of his greedy past. He cuts down trees and uses up resources to sell products. The Lorax is the character who speaks up for the trees (“for the trees have no tongues”) but it does not help. Finally, there is almost nothing left but all hope is not lost.

This book was published in 1971 and still rings true today. Another classic for all ages to spark a conversation.
 

What do trees mean to you?

 

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Why do you photograph?

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All of my creation is an effort to weave a web of connection with the world. I am always weaving it because it was once broken. ~ Anais Nin, Winter 1942 via Lisa Congdon and Brain Pickings

In our visual journaling workshop, Sally Drew (my co-facilitator) posed the following questions to the group, which I’m going to try to answer for myself in this post.

I believe that these questions are important and should be revisited regularly. Why? Because life is too short to waste. There are so many choices in every moment. If we want to make the most of our time here, then it’s important to understand the motivations behind what we choose to do.

As someone with a passion for photography, I take a lot of pictures. My camera is my constant companion. Why?
 

Why do I take photographs?

 
It turns out that I asked myself this question back in 2012 and tried to answer it in this post. At that time, I said,

“When I experience a connection with something just as it is, it becomes more than a subject. It reveals something universal that resonates deep inside. It is magical. It changes me and the way I see. It opens me up just a little bit more to the world and how everything (including me) belongs.”

The main reason I photograph is to connect or to fully experience the connection that is already there. That connection transforms me. And then, I want to share it with others so that they can see it and be transformed too.

This connection gets lost sometimes when I’m in my head, thinking about the past or future. Anais Nin’s quote above describes this well for me.

I’m a visual person. Images are how I remember. When I did my first 365 day project in 2007, I found that I remembered so much more than usual from that year. I was thinking in pictures so I even remembered more clearly events that I’d not photographed.

Photography brings me into the moment. It helps me to distill the essence of that moment within the frame. I experience it with all of my senses, not just my sight.

Photography helps me to identify what’s most important in the moment – what exactly is resonating and how can I express that in a photograph?
 

Why am I drawn to my camera as a companion?

 
My mission in life is to fully experience and embrace life with my whole self – mind, body, and heart. I’ve found that my camera helps me to do this.

While sometimes the camera can serve to distance ourselves from the world (and it’s important to know when this is happening), it can also help us to be more courageous (visit new places, meet new people) and connect in new ways.

When I have my camera with me, it’s a constant reminder to be here now. When a moment arises where I feel that connection, the photograph becomes a way to honour the moment.
 

Why do I feel that I don’t know enough to love the photographs I’m taking?

 
Over the past few years, I’ve learned to love most of my own photographs, and to share them, without worrying about how they’ll be received (okay, maybe not all the time, but I’m getting better). I know that what resonates with me will not resonate with everyone, or even anyone.

Sometimes we don’t know enough and it shows in our photographs. When that happens, many of us get down on ourselves and look to external sources. We think that more knowledge or better tools will fill the gap.

Learning how to use our camera and learning the elements of composition and design are important skills to have. What we need most of all, though, is practice (lots of it), self-compassion, and self-awareness.

We need to examine those photographs that we don’t love and reflect on what drew us to them in the first place. We need to ask ourselves what works and what doesn’t and how we could have better expressed what we saw.

By slowing down (pause, focus) and taking the time to connect to ourselves and express what’s inside, we will quite naturally love our photographs, even when they’re not perfect.
 

I hope you’ll take the time to answer these questions for yourself.

 

p.s. My workshops, ironically, are an external source. However, the main purpose of these workshops is to provide the structure and the space for you to learn to trust yourself, discover what you have to share, and then put that out in the world.

The onine visual journaling workshop is now in session, but we’ll be offering a one day in-person workshop on this subject in Burlington, Ontario on Saturday, July 18th. Burlington is a half hour drive west of Toronto.

If you’re interested and live in the area (or will be in the area), please learn more here.


 

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Writing about Photographs through the Senses

* Inspired by the post, How to Unlock all Five Senses in your Writing from The Write Practice.
 
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On one of the first spring-like days of 2015, I went to a park downtown, sat at a picnic table and wrote from the perspective of all my senses before taking the photograph above, which I called Magnificent Tree Shadow.

“The key to unlocking the five senses is the question behind it. The question of why you are seeing, hearing, tasting, hearing, or feeling something. Once you’ve established the sense, ask the question, What does this mean?”

Sight – What did I see? What did I not see? Describe the details.

Brand new picnic tables, puddle remnants from the rain in the previous days, bright sunshine, this magnificent tree shadow, grass still brown and yellow but starting to green, cemetery in the distance, people walking along Queen Street and in the park, children playing, the bandshell, St. Mark’s Church, parked cars, blue sky, no clouds, muddy spots, the Moffatt Inn, a white house, little wind.

Taste – Use metaphor that unlocks emotions and memories.

It was a taste of spring, bringing back memories of ice cream and iced coffee from Balzac’s, two of my favourite things.

Smell – All of them, good and bad.

Fresh air, car fumes, lake water.

Sound – Use onomatopoeia. Describe all sounds, external and internal.

Motorcycles revving, car horns honking, people talking, kids squealing with delight, motors humming, swings squeaking, slight breeze, stillness within, mind and heart taking it all in.

Touch – Use temperature and texture.

Warmth on the skin, coolness in the breeze, smooth wood on the new table, soft earth beneath my feet, hair  blowing like feathers on my face.

How did this exercise affect my experience and the taking of the photograph?

I wouldn’t have seen the shadow as I did unless I sat down where I did. Working with my senses helped me to experience and inhabit the moment completely.

It was a taste of spring
Bright sunshine, puddle remnants, warm breeze
Children shrieking, people walking and talking,
Motorcycles revving, swings swaying,
I stopped and sat,
Felt the soft ground beneath my feet
And that’s when I saw
The magnificent shadow

 

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How Habits are Related to Expectations

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Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has come out with a new book called Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives.

On this website, I talk a lot about developing contemplative habits, especially through photography. I’ve written about the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Habits like curiosity, openness, and humility are much more abstract than losing ten pounds.

Rubin’s book intrigues me because she discovered that how we develop a habit depends on how we handle expectations in general. She examined the existing books on habits and came up with four very different ways (or tendencies) that people respond to expectations. Knowing which of the four tendencies you lean towards determines how you should go about creating a habit.
 

The four tendencies: upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels.

 
insta_Upholder* Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations. They don’t need deadlines or supervision; they keep themselves on track.

* Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if it’s justified, so that it becomes an inner expectation. Questioners want to know why a task should be done this way—and whether it should be done at all.

* Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. They need deadlines, late fees, supervision, and accountability partners.

* Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They want to do a task their own way.

Via Habits Downloads. You can take the quiz here to determine which tendency you lean towards.

I am without doubt an upholder. I work best if guided by inner expectations. I don’t really like outer expectations at all, but if I agree to do something, then I will follow through.

What intrigues me is how we can apply this kind of knowledge to developing contemplative habits. For example, if we want to be more curious, how do we do it?
 

In my online workshop, Adventures in Seeing, I suggest the following.

 
1. Ask questions.

Remember your school days – who, what, when, where, why? Look at a person, thing, situation happening now in your life and ask those questions. Did you uncover anything new by looking at it from different angles? Act like a 3 year old again and drive someone crazy with your questions. They just might be flattered by your interest.

2. Don’t make assumptions.

This is one of The Four Agreements from Don Miguel Ruiz’s famous book and it has saved me on many occasions. When you notice an assumption, clarify it by asking questions. Dig deeper and uncover details you might have missed.

3. Notice your motives and reactions.

Get curious about yourself. You will get to know yourself better and not deny the parts of you that don’t always do the right thing. On the flip side, you’ll see your positive qualities as well. One of the greatest things I’ve learned is that I can’t label myself as kind, generous, peaceful, etc. I am kind (but sometimes I’m not). I am generous (but sometimes I’m not).

4. Notice your judgments and replace them with curiosity.

Take note of your judgments. How are they limiting your world? Notice especially when you are labeling something as good, bad, boring, ugly, uninteresting. Ask yourself why you consider it that way. Chances are there is no good reason.
 

How would upholders, questioners, obligers, and rebels work best with these practices?

 
For me, an upholder, I could set myself a goal of asking one good question a day, or learn one new subject or skill every week. I could write down my judgments as I notice them, and then write about how they are limiting me. As an upholder, setting an internal goal works best.

Questioners are already curious. So, maybe they don’t need to work on this habit as much as others or perhaps they could notice when their questions are actually judgments.

Obligers prefer to have external expectations so they might sign up for a course, like Adventures in Seeing, where there are structured assignments for developing curiosity. Or, they could have an accountability partner, with whom they could share what they’ve learned by being curious, or what their judgments are.

Rebels will question why curiosity even needs to be developed. They could read a book on curiosity or take a look at scientific research on curiosity and then decide for themselves.

If you take the quiz (or know immediately which type you are), please tell us in the comments which tendency you lean towards and how you best develop the curiosity habit.

I’ll be looking at the other habits as well with regard to these tendencies in future posts.
 
My Favourite Curiosity Links

* Lauren Bacon teaches how to ask the right questions.
* Todd Kashdan’s TED Talk on Becoming a Mad Scientist with your Life.
* The Ecstasy of Curiosity from Jason Silva at Shots of Awe

Also, my book recommendations on contemplative habits.

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