Category Archives: Adventure

Stack ’em Up

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Balconies of the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki (Honolulu, HI)
Maui (1534 of 664)2119
Balconies of the Moana Surfrider on Waikiki (Honolulu, HI)

An photo essay on vertical growth, stacking them up as high as we can…

Modern architecture. Shapes, geometry, symmetry, colours, lines of the city: a photographer’s candy store… From far and up close, we never lack for something to look at, to compose, to photograph. But soon enough it all starts to look the same, and losing sight of the forest for the trees becomes inevitable. The wide angle lens is never wide enough. Density and vertical expansion create vertigo. Noise, traffic, crowds moving at a dizzying pace; who has time to slow down? Who even knows to stop, take a breath, look around? We’re too busy.

Thankfully, a little distance provides a welcome relief from the constant din, from the incessant assault on the senses, numbing really. But to stack them up we must, to fit more and more of us in that same sought-after space. Growth is inevitable and must be embraced. Faster, faster, we go… Slower, slower, we get… but where?

Nature, beauty, solitude are my refuge. Where sounds and sights abound, senses are filled, yet where I can find a place just for me. Just to be… To discover… Thankful. Undisturbed. Quiet. Even just for a moment.

The stars are still visible in the lightening sky when I set off for a hike. Passed the floating bridge, I step off the trail into the wild prairie tall grass, shiny with giant drops of dew, and venture closer to the water. The white puffs my breath creates mirror the fog rising from the surface of the lake. The air is still. A bird chirps in the distance. A beaver slaps its tail in the water and swims off, only a few feet from me. A lonely merganser emerges from the fog, drifting. Deepening golden hues announce the imminent sunrise and the clouds shuffle over for a better view. A log—one half on land, the other submerged—provides the only seat I need for this show, just for me…

The sun has climbed high by the time I wake from my hypnotic trance, dazed, awed, enchanted, filled with joy, happy. The camper awakes to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and a smile. Morning. Unstacked. Life is good.

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Sunrise on Lake Metigoshe, North Dakota

Solstice (Fr)

Note: This is the French version of a story I posted a few months ago, in English, here.

Un récit…

Le manuscrit terminé, je m’affairais à la mise en pages avec tous ses détails techniques et visuels, et toutes ses photos. Et cette photo qui m’achalait ; je pouvais faire mieux. J’en étais persuadé chaque fois que je la regardais. Ce passage du manuscrit, de sa vie, méritait mieux.

En noir et blanc, les rails se perdent vers l’ouest, sous ce pont chétif, vers un horizon fade. Les fenêtres noircies de la gare lui donnent un air abandonné.

En couleur, son toit à lucarnes qui ne finit plus surplombe portes et fenêtres qui ressemblent à de grands yeux, chacun avec sa paupière blanche.

L’idée de me rendre à Portage la Prairie, à moto, pour prendre une meilleure photo, me sembla de mise en cette magnifique journée, la deuxième plus longue de l’année. J’invitai mon ami Grégoire à se joindre à moi.

À l’heure convenue, comme toujours, on décolle. Grégoire me suit. J’ai rarement réussi à le convaincre de mener. C’est le début d’une longue danse. On a suivi ce chemin cent fois ; familier mais toujours étranger. Tout semble nouveau… chaque fois.

Les courbes s’enfilent longeant la rivière Assiniboine qu’on n’aperçoit que rarement. On la devine. On la sent tout près. Les champs nous accueillent. Des milliers de fleurs jaunes se joignent au vert à perte de vue. Le soleil descend vers l’horizon alors que le ciel prend des couleurs orangées, roses, jaunes, mauves, pourpres et grises. Les ombres s’allongent. Quel spectacle !

La route dégage une odeur de goudron frais qui nous colle aux narines longtemps après avoir croisé la fin du pavé neuf.

L’arôme de terre cultivée, celui du foin fraîchement coupé, et l’odeur de la rivière flottent dans l’air. Il y a quelques semaines à peine, on sentait les lilas. Il faudra endurer un autre hiver avant de les sentir à nouveau. Et ici, l’hiver dure une éternité. Je blague. Il ne dure que sept mois.

On gagne Portage la Prairie et la gare du CN en moins d’une heure. Je signale à Grégoire de s’arrêter sur l’accotement tout près du passage à niveau. Je tire mon appareil-photo de son sac et me dirige vers les rails. Je m’arrête, ému. Des larmes brouillent ma vue. Je visite cet endroit pour la première fois mais je le connais.

Gabriel, le personnage principal de mon livre, y était passé jadis, étant petit garçon, autiste, dépaysé, perdu. Âgé de sept ans, il avait suivi ce chemin de fer enneigé en direction de Winnipeg, le seul endroit qu’il avait nommé « foyer », mais où il n’habitait plus. Après une visite à la gare, son groupe était retourné à l’institut en autobus, sans remarquer l’absence de Gabriel. Un étranger l’a retrouvé six heures plus tard, par hasard, à six kilomètres d’ici. Il n’aurait pas survécu la nuit. De toutes les pages de sa vie, cette anecdote m’a le plus marqué…

Deux voies ferrées s’étendent vers l’est et se rejoignent à l’horizon. Où frottent les roues du train, l’acier des rails est bleu, reflétant cet immense ciel des prairies ; tout le reste n’est que rouille. On ne distingue plus les traverses à vingt mètres parmi les pierres enduites d’huile. L’herbe masque cette cicatrice tant bien que mal.

Vers l’ouest, les rails sont argentés, éblouissants de lumière, liquides ; on dirait du mercure.

Une fois mes photos captées, Grégoire et moi rembarquons pour nous rendre à la gare, tout près. C’est là que je lui explique ce qu’on vient y faire. Il comprend tout de suite.

Et voici que les cloches se mettent à sonner au passage à niveau. La barrière descend. On voit approcher les phares du train : deux yeux et un nez brillants. Le Via Rail Canada No 6451 entre en gare.

« Le Transcontinental à destination de Vancouver. All aboaaaaaaard ! »

Le train ne s’arrête pas ici. Ses quatre wagons-dômes me rappellent un voyage entrepris avec mes parents et ma sœur à l’âge de sept ans, moi aussi. Alors que le train accélère, le reflet des rayons du soleil sur ses côtés polis m’éblouit. Le train s’éloigne et disparaît, mais son bourdonnement persiste.

Notre mission terminée, on fait le plein, on prend un café et on reprend le chemin de la maison. Le soleil touche presque l’horizon. Plus tôt que je ne l’avais prévu. Il fera noir avant de joindre Winnipeg. Allons.

On suit la Transcanadienne cette fois-ci. On laisse la route de campagne se perdre plus au nord. À cent dix kilomètres à l’heure, les moustiques et autres bestioles se précipitent vers mon phare avant et viennent s’écraser sur ma visière et mon pare-brise. On file.

Comme le crépuscule laisse sa place à la noirceur, un certain effroi s’empare de moi. J’ai l’impression de m’être trop éloigné sur le lac et bientôt je n’apercevrai plus la berge. On dépasse des automobiles, des camions, des autobus. Le phare de Grégoire, toujours visible dans mon rétroviseur de droite, me rassure. On se croirait dans une course contre la montre, contre le soleil, contre la noirceur, contre la vie.

À quelques kilomètres à l’ouest de Winnipeg, j’ajuste mes lunettes et je remonte ma visière que les moustiques ont barbouillée. Je signale à Grégoire, indiquant mon intention de laisser l’autoroute et d’emprunter le chemin de campagne qui nous mènera au bercail. Un autre spectacle, très bref celui-là, allait commencer. Je ne le verrais pas mais j’en serais l’acteur principal. Grégoire, lui, serait aux premières loges.

Nous avions à peine parcouru un kilomètre sur ce nouveau chemin lorsque, dans une courbe, tout devînt une question d’instinct.

Une force invisible s’empare de mon guidon, le secoue violemment, et me projette au sol. Agrippé aux poignées, je glisse sur la chaussée, étendu sur le dos, et ma moto m’écrase la jambe. Je lâche les poignées et poursuis ma glissade. Pendant ce qui m’a semblé une éternité, j’étais ailleurs. Le temps, figé. Je glisse dans le noir, vers l’infini, sans jamais m’arrêter.

Et soudain, j’ouvre les yeux ; la lueur du crépuscule avait cédé sa place à une noirceur d’encre et des milliers d’étoiles brillaient dans ce ciel de campagne. L’effroi m’avait quitté.

Immobile. Couché sur le dos, tout se calma ; les bottes dans l’eau, le cul dans la boue et la tête dans l’herbe. Je fis l’inventaire : ma tête intacte grâce à mon casque, un coude égratigné et une douleur au genou gauche là où le réservoir à essence m’était tombé dessus. Je regarde vers la chaussée et j’aperçois la moto de Grégoire couchée sur le côté, phare et clignotants allumés, tandis qu’il prend ses jambes à son cou en ma direction. Il avait tout vu !

S’attendant au pire, quelle joie eut Grégoire de me voir assis, en vie.

« Bouge pas ! Bouge pas ! »

Je le rassure. Je me lève. Lui, il redresse sa moto et revient. Quelques passants s’approchent pour s’enquérir de ma condition. « Chanceux ! » qu’ils disent. Deux agents accourent. Je suis déjà sur pieds.

« Tout va bien monsieur l’agent. »

Une biche avait bondi du fossé et je la frappai de plein fouet dans le pare-brise. Elle culbuta au-dessus de moi et s’affaissa au milieu de la chaussée. Morte. Comme je tombais quelques mètres plus loin, ma moto, une fois libérée, se redressa sur ses deux roues, descendit vers le fossé et le traversa pour aller se poser doucement sur la pente opposée. Quant à moi, j’avais continué ma glissade quelque vingt mètres plus loin, vers le fond du fossé.

On a démarré la moto et on l’a sortie du fossé. Une fois stationnée tout près, je constate les dommages tout en retirant la boue et les quenouilles du châssis. Pare-brise craqué, réservoir cabossé, pédale de frein tordue. À mon grand étonnement, ma caméra, qui était rangée dans son sac sur le siège arrière, a résisté à l’impact.

On s’entend pour reprendre notre chemin, prudemment, moi sur ma moto et Grégoire sur la sienne. J’enfonce le démarreur comme je l’avais fait une heure auparavant ; le ronronnement du moteur me soulage. Malgré les éraflures, mon casque semble intact, tout comme mes gants et mes bottes. Je ne peux en dire autant de mon veston en charpie. Avant de monter, je m’approche du chevreuil, que je vois dans toute sa beauté pour la première fois. Ses yeux brillent et son gros nez noir reluit.

« Désolé. C’était toi ou moi. »

Je remarque les poils de chevreuil coincés sur mon pare-brise : une sorte de trophée. Je rentre à la maison.

Il faut croire que la deuxième plus longue journée de l’année ne le fut pas assez…

deer

Gliding the Road to Hana

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Driving, not gliding, is the term most used when referring to the 617 curves and 59 one-lane bridges of the Hana Highway between Kahului and Hana, a little jewel of Hawaiian history nestled on the easter coast of Maui. But gliding we did, aboard the Hana Ho 12-passenger luxury van, thanks to our master tour guide and driver, Walter, of Valley Isle Excursions. For the 12-hour loop around the base of Haleakala, Walter made us laugh, taught us about Maui history and geology, pointed out botanical facts, served us lunch, gave us plenty of time (you can’t take that much time if you want to get back before dark) to see and experience Maui’s unique beauty, and returned all twelve of us back in time for dinner and another magnificent sunset.

The way to Hana takes us through the town Pai’a with its numerous little art shops and eateries. According to Walter, Willie Nelson—Uncle Willie they call him here—fell in love with Pai’a; “he may just be sitting on the barstool next to you at Charley’s, if you stop in…” This first section of the drive winds through valleys and meadows (yes, there are cows, chickens, and roosters on Maui!) and offers expansive views of the rugged lava coastline dotted with sandy beaches. We soon encounter the first of many curves and climbs; the landscape changes to a lush tropical rainforest, with dense bamboo, koa (only grows in Hawaii), rainbow-bark eucalyptus, papaya, plumeria (with its bare branches, but beautiful and heavenly-scented flowers), towering Cook pines—solitary or in small clumps, skinny, they resemble green fishbone skeletons—and banyan trees. According to Walter, “Our parents couldn’t tell us to go play in traffic (no roads, no traffic back then), instead they sent us to play in the banyan tree. If you grew up with a banyan tree in the backyard, life was good.

Hidden in the midst of the forest are a number of beautiful falls: roadside stops provide ready access to some of them, others require hiking to reach them, and a few we only saw quickly as Walter pointed them out as we drove by. Carved in the rocks by thousands of years of erosion, nested among deep greens and colourful flowers, their beauty provides a sense of calm and serenity… The road moves a little further inland as we approach Hana, the landscape transforms into a more ordered collection where human influence is evident: sugar cane and macadamia nut plantations (Jim Nabors, a.k.a. Gomer Pyle, still operates a MacNut farm here), and ranches. But a surprise left turn takes us to Waianapanapa State Park. There, we walk on a black sand beach, which felt like nothing my toes had ever experienced. The coarse grains of graphite-like sand don’t stick to your feet and instead provide a dreamy pedicure as you walk in and out of the surf; almost like walking in a tub of tiny steel shot (I imagine). I would later find out from Walter that black sand is created when 2,500C lava supercools almost instantly from the outside in, as it hits the (relatively) cold Pacific waters, forming lava glass, which quickly shatters into millions of tiny black particles that become black sand.

 

We leave Hana in our rearview mirror after a typical Hawaiian lunch and a stroll in colourful botanical gardens. Lush tropical rainforest gives way to a more arid steppe-like terrain; greens have been replaced by yellows and browns. Trees that had been so thick and tall now give way to shorter and drier ones along with shrubs. We stop by Charles Lindbergh’s grave on Kipahulu Point where one can read the following inscription: “…If I take the wings in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea…” We eventually reach what Walter had warned us about, a few miles stretch of the Hana Highway he referred to as “the full body massage,” a stark contrast from the first-class blacktop we’ve been following most of the way, a bumpy ride reminiscent of home, hui! We eventually head east again through Maui’s up-country with towns named Keokea, Kula (and drive by Oprah’s ranch) and Pukalani. I make a mental note to later visit close-by Makawao, just because I love the name.

What a day, immersed in beauty, awe, and history. Life is good.

Solstice (Eng)

A true story…

After finishing the manuscript, I was busy dealing with the book’s layout and its technical and visual details, and all the pictures. Especially this one photograph, which bugged me; I could do better. I knew it every time I set eyes on it. That passage in the manuscript, in his life, deserved better.

On the black and white version, the tracks disappear in the west, under this rickety bridge, toward a pale horizon. The darkened windows of the train station make it look abandoned. In colour, the endless roofline with its dormers overlooking windows and doors that look like wide eyes, each with its white eyelid.

A motorbike ride to Portage la Prairie, to snap a better picture, seemed most appropriate on this beautiful summer day, the second longest of the year. I called my buddy Greg and asked him to join me.

At the agreed-upon time, as always, we ride. Greg follows me. I have only rarely convinced him to lead. A long dance begins. We have followed this road a hundred times; familiar but always a stranger. Everything seems new… every time.

One curve follows another along the Assiniboine River that we seldom see through the trees. We imagine it. We feel it, nearby. Farmers’ fields greet us. Thousands of yellow flowers mix to the deep greens as far as the eye can see. The sun almost touches the horizon as the sky takes on pastel hues of orange, pink, yellow, mauve, purple and gray. Shadows stretch out. What a show!

An odour of fresh tar rises from the road and sticks to our nostrils long after we reach the end of the new pavement.

The distinct aroma of cultivated soil, of freshly cut hay, and the smell of the river float in the prairie air. We could smell lilacs only a few weeks before. We will have to endure another winter before smelling them again. And winter lasts an eternity here. Just kidding. It only lasts seven months.

We make it to Portage la Prairie and the CN train station in less than an hour. I signal Greg and stop on the shoulder close to the railway crossing. I pull out my camera from its bag and walk toward the tracks. I stop, emotional. Tears fill my eyes. I visit this exact spot for the first time yet I know it well.

Gabriel, the main character of my book, walked on this very spot many years ago, as a little boy, autistic, frightened, lost. At seven years old, he followed the snow-covered railway on the way to Winnipeg, the only place he ever called “home” but where he no longer lived. His group had returned to the institution without noticing Gabriel was not on the bus, after a visit to the train station. A stranger found him six hours later, a pure coincidence, six kilometers from here. He would not have made it through the night. Of all the pages of his life, these left the deepest mark on me…

Two tracks stretch to the east and meet on the horizon. Where the train’s wheels rub, the steel rail is blue, reflecting the endless prairie sky; the rest is nothing but rust. I cannot make out the railroad ties among the oil-soaked stones twenty meters away. Prairie grass masks this scar with difficulty.

To the west, the rails are silvery, dazzling with light, liquid; somewhat like mercury.

Once my photoshoot completed, Greg and I straddle our rides and cover the short distance to the train station. I tell him why we are here. He understands, instantly.

The bells start ringing at the nearby crossing. The barrier descends. We can see the train’s bright headlights: two eyes and a nose. Via Rail Canada No. 6451 rolls in the station.

“The Transcontinental, destination: Vancouver. All aboaaaaaard!”

The train does not stop here. Its four dome cars remind me of a trip I took with my parents and my sister when I, too, was seven years old. As the train speeds up, the sun’s rays reflect on the shiny sides, blinding me. The train moves away and eventually disappears, but its rumbling continues.

Once our mission accomplished, we fill up, stop for a quick coffee, and head for home. The sun almost touches the horizon. Sooner than I had expected. It will be dark before we reach Winnipeg. Let’s go.

We follow the Trans-Canada Highway this time. The windy country road we took earlier loses itself to the north. At one hundred and ten kilometers an hour, mosquitoes and other bugs rush toward my headlight and splatter on my visor and my windshield. We’re flying.

A strange feeling takes hold of me as sunset slowly gives way to darkness. Fear. Foreboding. I feel as if I strayed too far on the lake and soon I will lose sight of the shore. We pass cars, trucks, and buses. Greg’s headlights, still visible in my rear-view mirror, reassure me. This seems like a race against the clock, against the sun, against darkness, against life.

A few kilometers before Winnipeg, I adjust my goggles and raise my mosquito-blotched visor. I activate my turn signal, letting Greg know that I will leave the highway and take the quieter country road that will take us home. The curtain was about to rise on another show, very brief this time. I would not see it, yet I would be its principal protagonist. As for Greg, he would occupy a front-row seat.

We had barely covered a kilometer on this new road when, in a curve, everything became purely a matter of instinct.

An invisible force grips my handlebars, shakes them violently, and throws me to the ground. Still holding the handles, I slide on the pavement, flat on my back, as my motorbike bounces on my leg. I let go the handles and continue my slide. During what seemed like an eternity, I was somewhere else, above all this. Time, still. I slide in the dark, to infinity, without ever stopping.

But I did stop. Suddenly, I open my eyes; the faint light of dusk gave way to an inky darkness and a thousand stars twinkle in this country sky. The strange feeling has vanished.

Motionless. Lying on my back, all seemed surprisingly peaceful: my boots in the water, my ass in the mud and my head in the grass. Time to perform a quick inventory check: my head unhurt—thanks to my helmet—a scratched elbow, and pain in my left knee where the Magna’s gas tank had bounced twice. I look back toward the road and see Greg’s Harley lying on its side, headlight shining and hazards flashing. He is running. He has seen the whole thing!

Fearing the worst, what elation Greg felt when he saw me sitting, alive.

“Don’t move! Don’t move!” he begs.

I reassure him. I stand. He returns to his bike, picks it up off the road, rests it on its kickstand, and returns. A few passers-by stop to inquire about my condition. “Lucky!” they say. Two policemen approach quickly. I am already up.

“Everything is fine, officer.”

A deer had jumped out of the ditch, its head and shoulder contacting my windshield. The deer cart-wheeled above me and landed in the middle of the road. Dead. As I was sliding a few meters away, my bike, once I let it go, got back on its two wheels and continued down through the ditch and up the other side. My slide ended another twenty meters further, in the ditch.

Greg got on my bike, started it, and with a little help made it out of the ditch onto a nearby driveway. I gave it a quick once-over, taking stock of the damage as I pulled the bulrushes and the mud from the frame. Cracked windshield, dented gas tank, twisted brake pedal. Much to my astonishment, my camera, which was stored in its bag on the sissy bar, had made it through the whole thing, unscathed.

After some deliberation, we agree to continue our ride home, carefully, me on my bike and Greg on his. I push the starter’s red button as I had done an hour before; the rumbling of the engine soothes me. Despite the scratches, my helmet seems functional, as do my gloves and boots. No so for my shredded jacket. Before climbing on, I let the motor warm up and make my way to the deer, which I see in all its beauty for the first time. Its eyes sparkle and its big black nose shines.

“Sorry buddy. It was you or me.”

I notice the deer hair sticking from a crack at the bottom of the windshield: a kind of trophy. Let’s go home.

I guess the second longest day of the year was not long enough…

deer

Dusk to Dawn

lake-superior-44-of-50Copper-coloured Skies and Crashing Waves

I took these two photographs on the eastern shore of Lake Superior, at Agawa Bay a few weeks ago. The first at sunset, after a particularly violent storm raged for several hours, with high winds and heavy rainfall. The second on the following morning.
I have a special affection for the lake—Gitchee Gumee they call it—and its power…

How Long

The fury of the late afternoon storm hangs on
Reluctantly giving way to more peaceful conditions.
Not calm. Not yet.

Waves continue their pounding
Polishing millions of coloured pebbles
Shaping the shore mercilessly
As the sun sinks below the horizon.

Exhausted, I lay my head on the pillow
A lullaby, the west wind in the tall pines.
The surf softens, its energy waning.
With the rhythm of your heartbeat, sleep comes.

Morning arrives, your music still fills my ears
Drawn to the edge, I shiver. My breath hangs in the air.
Calm and serenity returned, but for how long?

lake-superior-19-of-32Mist shrouds Agawa Bay at sunrise

Swallowed by the Ocean

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Surf’s thunderous crashes, deafening
Crests lit by waning rays, shimmering
You ventured ever further, terrified
Stood, fell, emerged, froze, petrified

Held your breath, closed your eyes
Disappeared, an instant
You were gone, a moment
Lost, an eternity

On the sand, the wave died at my feet
On the edge, gold sliver, incomplete
We both watched with emotion
The sun sink in the ocean.

Camping at Creekside

There always has to be a first, to everything. Camping is no different. The first camping trip of the year, even if only for one night within an hour of home, qualifies. Last week, with technical difficulties (I will spare you the details), I made my way to Creekside Campground, a few kilometres east of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Camping at Creekside was not a first; I camped there back in 1983 when it was called Norquay Beach Provincial Campground… and I still remember how cold the water was. I stayed out of the water this time.
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Camping in May is usually a most enjoyable experience: no bugs, blossoms fill the air with their fragrances, nature awakes, plenty of birds to see. The perfume from the blooming Alberta dwarf lilacs in my backyard fill my senses as I write this post.Blossoms_ 008

Despite a few thundershowers, I was able to take long walks around the park and explore the trails. Creekside did not disappoint. In fact, quite to the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised with all I saw. Orioles sang away, perched on a branch. An elusive rose-breasted grosbeak saluted me with its loud, melodious, and complex whistling—a beautiful song. Other smaller treetop dwelling birds teased me with their shrill tweet-tweet, fleeting but never to sit still long enough for a photograph. I glanced at a yellow warbler and snapped only a quick shot before he was off. The list goes on: red-winged blackbird, robin, grackle, purple martin and tree swallow, raven, Swainson’s thrush, chickadee, gray kingbird, sparrow…

The beach proved to be a sought-after location for sandpipers, plovers, killdeer, ducks, and Canada geese. Mind where you step on the sand! Killdeers warned the wandering trekker with their loud shrieks and their frenzied scurrying. Nests dotted the beach where tufts of grass grew. I spotted a great egret across the creek, its white reflection on the greenish water surface a sure giveaway. Eventually it flew away, seeking more tranquil waters. Around the bend, a great blue heron sent my heart racing—maybe my approaching footsteps sent its heart racing too—as it took off from the reeds, revealing an impressive wingspan of gray and indigo, dangling two long legs.

Other than the gentleman who greeted me on arrival, I only met two others: I’ll call them the campground crew. They approached on their John Deere Gator as I strolled with my camera hanging from my neck. First impressions being of the utmost importance, they each sported a broad grin, genuinely happy to stop and say hi. Although definitely of a certain age, these were not two grumpy old men. The driver told me of the large painted turtle population, in a thick down-under accent, and then tried to scare me with a story of sixty year old snapping turtles “This big!” up along the creek. His partner in the right seat nodded with the same broad smile, as if to say “He’s not kidding, you know.” I knew. I never made it far enough to encounter the elder snapping turtle, but I never doubted for a moment that it lurked there, somewhere around the bend…

My morning walk supported the crew’s claim concerning the painted turtles. I had only seen a couple the previous day, my noisy footsteps sending the majority plopping into the pond’s murky waters. This time, I tiptoed off the gravel onto the grass, eager to sneak up on whatever might be waiting for me. The sun’s warmth had beckoned an entire lot, warming themselves on the logs strewn creekside. It seems they were only too happy to pose. I stared in amazement at their numbers; the old men had spoken the truth. Here were more than twenty painted turtles, looking like a bad traffic jam, heads to tails (bumper to bumper), on the two or three logs that lay half-submerged only a few feet from the shore. What a sight. I sat in the grass and watched with great curiosity and wonder; the turtles I think observed me more with indifference.

The rain began to fall softly just after I had packed up, just in time to make my way up the road toward the gate. I slowed as I neared the turtle rendez-vous; the logs were empty. Maybe turtles don’t like the rain… But Canada geese don’t mind it. A pair of geese watched their eager brood paddle along, raindrops rolling off their downy coat. I pulled the camera from my bag which sat on the passenger seat and snapped a few shots through the open passenger window.

A most enjoyable 24-hour camping trip, which only made me long for the next one.

 

New York, New York

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I spent a week in New York City in the middle of April, taking little bites from the Big Apple. I had been there once before, in July 2008, on a zoom-zoom visit with my two favourite ladies. Back then, we stayed in a fine hotel on East 64th, and took big bites; no time to waste. This time, we rented an AirBnB apartment in the East Village, took our time, and allowed the City to wrap itself around us. New York can do this very quickly.

I was a tourist—I surely looked like one—but never felt out of place. I soon realized that nobody pays too much (any?) attention, at least not in the areas I frequented. Everybody blends in, at least that is how I felt, free to take my camera with me wherever I went, free to wear whatever I felt like wearing. So I did! Loved it!

We walked until our feet ached…then we walked some more; that’s how I remember my first visit as well. It seems we only looked for a subway station when absolutely necessary, as a last resort, afraid to miss something on the surface while we whizzed by underground. We took the subway (and the bus) from the East Village to LaGuardia Airport on our last day. Daring. Again, something that seemed adventurous to my wife and I—a little out there maybe—proved to be a common occurrence for everyone else around us.

I love the New York architecture. There is nothing quite like it: an eclectic potpourri of cultures. The old and the new, the grandiose and the subtle, where brick and limestone meet steel and glass, where it seems every square inch of land is occupied, yet another structure emerges. So many contrasting epithets to describe it: bold, dingy, trendy, old-fashioned, artistic, practical, opulent, economical, functional, ornate, colourful, drab, bright, dark…

Born in a small town close to Montreal, and living in a relatively small city (compared to New York), I still find crowds a little intimidating, but very interesting. New York never disappoints from that perspective. A bit of a statistician, I choose three broad categories to  describe people I saw (on weekdays): going somewhere in a hurry, standing still, and tourists. Early on weekends, two new categories emerge and often combine: out for a jog/stroll, and walking the dog. While strolling in Central Park, a young jogger with bright pink runners approached me, handed me a small camera, and asked me to take a picture of her, pointing at the lake and the buildings she wanted in the background. She smiled, thanked me, and as she jogged away I added a new subset to my categories: people not from here, who live here, and who post/send photos to friends and family.

The trees lining the path had provided some protection from the elements, but as the rain intensified, we set out to find shelter. Eventually we made our way into The Met. What an experience! So much to see in so many galleries on four floors. One better leave a trail of breadcrumbs to avoid walking in circles, and to ultimately find the way out. I could not remember ever seeing such a collection of art and historical artifacts: pottery and coins, statues and paintings, furniture and sculptures… I don’t think a week would have been sufficient to take in all that the museum had to offer. Three hours left me a little dizzy, my sponge full, art saturated. Nevertheless, my visit to The Met made a lasting impression.

One World Trade Center also provided an unforgettable experience of a different kind. At 1,776 feet, the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere, the tower dominates the Manhattan landscape. Standing by the reflecting pools of the National September 11 Memorial, frozen in time, the waterfalls brought a flood of emotions and left me speechless. We then decided to make our way up to the Observatory; not for the faint of heart, the 60-second ride (that’s almost 30 feet per second) excites the senses. In a flash, we emerged at the top only to realize that the motto See Forever is very fitting. The view was absolutely breathtaking! The light-and-shadow combinations from the sun sinking towards the Jersey horizon and the clouds created an ever-changing panorama. Two hours flew by and soon we made our way back to the ground, the elevator ride virtually taking us away from the building, only to bring us back in a rush through glass and steel columns, just before the doors opened.

Back home and a few weeks removed, our visit to the City that never sleeps almost feels like a distant dream…

Here is a small sample of the hundreds of photographs I took, from the East Village to Central Park, the Guggenheim to the Met, Battery Park to Bryant Park, World Trade Centre to Empire State Building, and back. By foot or by subway, we criss-crossed Manhattan and wore out our soles, and truly enjoyed a week in the Big Apple.

Training Wheels

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To be the proud owner of a new bicycle—one’s first brand new bike—sparks feelings that had been unknown up to now. Few events  will evoke such an overwhelming sense of freedom for a child. I still recall my first bike was a plain red CCM, equipped with a wire basket, that my mom had purchased with Gold Star stamps (an early incarnation of today’s more sophisticated customer loyalty traps, uh, I mean programs).

My first two-wheeler! Actually, it had four wheels when we were first acquainted. You’ll surely remember the two small wheels added to the rear axle to provide stability to the vehicle, and confidence to its rider… Their sound seemed sharper and louder than any fire truck or ambulance siren and thanks to them, your friends could hear you coming for miles. The bugle announcing the charge of the cavalry: “Look! Here he comes with his baby wheels,” usually followed by much pointing and jeering. The noise created by those two metallic discs rolling on the pavement, each with its own rubber outer belt designed to dampen the sounds, was deafening. They seemed to have been a design engineer’s mean way of inflicting deep shame to new young riders. At the time, I was convinced that the geometry was totally wrong: why would the two training wheels never touch the ground simultaneously? I figured it out soon enough.

Not surprisingly, young riders quickly learned to do without training wheels. A matter of pride and survival. A rider old or capable enough to do away with a tricycle soon learned that one more wheel simply would not do—not for long anyway. I soon learned to use my dad’s crescent wrench to loosen the bolts and remove these rackety accessories, although I had not mastered the tool sufficiently to avoid scraping my knuckles on the spokes as I tightened them back. Never mind, I was free! I could now join the two-wheeled “biker” patrol. Time to make a different kind of noise.

Soon, a much sought-after roar replaced the clatter of the training wheels. We fastened hockey and baseball cards, and even attached inflated balloons, to the bicycle’s forks using clothes pins in such a manner as to contact the spokes when the wheel turned. Children proved their imagination and capacity to innovate, replacing wet, mushy, worn-out cards with colorful waterproof pieces of plastic. What elation to feel like a rebel; what joy to ride in formation up and down our normally quiet street and around the neighborhood, rumbling, from street to street. Neighbors heard us coming. Our rolling thunder sowed panic and fear in the hearts of the kind folks who asked only for a little peace and quiet as they enjoyed their afternoon tea on the balcony. We were ready to conquer the world. Well, seriously, not really. We were just being kids.

Today, I chuckle at the thought of using my hockey and baseball cards to such an end. Surely I never used my Montreal Canadiens or Expos cards for my bicycle’s noise mechanism, but more likely doubles and triples of players from teams I did not care for.

Take those training wheels off and ride!