When you wish upon a stone: days 851 — 870

Thoughts on Iceland

I’ve just finished recovering from the second big trip of my adult life, this time to the land of ice! Ten days with my parents, first in Akureyri and then in Reykjavik. Iceland is… special. Terribly young in many ways, yet with a history and culture that stretches over a millenium. Black sand deserts and lava flow deserts, stark mountains, glaciers and waterfalls and steam vents, that’s Iceland.

I’d taken a few strolls through Reykjavik via Google Maps, so I didn’t expect the same cool architecture I found in Brussels or Amsterdam. Everything’s super young; the oldest building may be the Prime Minister’s residence / office which is… late 18th century, I think? Almost everything else I’ve seen is much more recent. Still, though it mostly feels very suburban, Reykjavik does have a certain charm. Won’t find anything like Brussel’s frilly neo-gothic cathedrals, they’re too Lutheran for that, but can you honestly tell me Hallgrímskirkja isn’t cool? Clean lines, a geometric columnar design apparently inspired by basalt stacks, and an equally clean interior. Yeah, the lapsed Catholic in me wants excess and pomp and, like, flying buttresses and stained glass roses, but I could definitely get used to this.

Iceland also has a lot of lovely public art, though some of it understandably goes over my head. For example, I’m not sure what to make of Sigling in Akureyri. This statue of Thor in Vík is much more straightforward, as is this memorial to a semi-mythical Viking settler. In Reykjavik someone deconstructed a Viking longship down to its very bones—the repeating three-pronged element is likely a nod to the Helm of Awe, a symbol I’ve seen all over the place in gift shops, and only now got around to googling its name.

But really, it’s Iceland’s natural wonders we came to see, and oh baby were there a lot of them! Waterfalls like Goðafoss, Dettifoss, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Systrafoss and Gullfoss. Jökulsarlón, aka “Glacier Lagoon”, a lagoon filled with little icebergs we got to see up close; the Diamond Beach, just downstream from it. Cliffs covered in screeching birds. Scraggly forests. 11PM sunsets.

Some locals aren’t happy. Iceland has built a lot of infrastructure in the last few decades, but a lot of it seems to be just for the benefit of tourists. And they’re coming in in droves, sometimes with little respect for local cultures, knowledge of what’s where, how to get around, and how not to harm ecologically sensitive environments. A good example would be those hundreds of folks in big-ass cruise ships that may go whale watching but otherwise don’t contribute to local economies. This is the best of bad situations, I hear; after the financial crisis 10 years ago, Iceland could have actually sold off some of its land, but chose to sell off views of it, and the tourism industry massively took off. So it could be worse, but not everybody’s happy about turning Iceland into The Iceland Experience™.

Unlike my other trip two years ago, I brought home very few souvenirs. A photography book (The Selection / Úrvalið, by Einar Falur Ingólfsson), a fridge magnet, a novella (Gunnar Gunnarsson’s classic The Good Shepherd, aka Advent), and… two smooth little black stones; one I took from Reynisfjara, one from Djúpalónssandur. Actually I might have taken it right after I took that kelp photo. I’d originally taken two stones from Reynisfjara, but I gave one to some trolls. No, not the kind that live on the internet and yell at people, the kind that live in stony wilderness and help people. Hey, even if my wish doesn’t come true, at least I’ll have a connection to Iceland—and I may swing by in the future, to see how the trolls are doing.

All things spiky and slimy and beautiful: days 833 — 850

The other day, myself and a couple other members of the dev team visited the Vancouver Aquarium to discuss a web design project. When we were done, they took us on a quick behind-the-scenes tour, then let us loose in the public exhibit.

We saw beautiful jellyfish! in whiteand sort of dark redand purple stripes!

We saw various connected feeding tanks for these jellyfish. Apparently they have different dietary needs depending on their age, and each tank has different kinds of nutrients.

We saw a big tank full of sea monkeys, dense enough to form a dark green slurry. Sea monkeys aren’t especially interesting in themselves, but they are food for a lot of critters, so there you go.

We saw lumpsuckers! I honestly had never heard of these critters until just that morning, and they’re… kind of cute? I mean, we’ve got a pug in the office, so I definitely get the appeal. Not exactly sure how special they are, ecologically speaking. The Aquarium calls it “underrated” and “a fish-nerd-favourite”, so I don’t know. Let’s just say every fish is special and leave it at that.

I captioned this photo “Find the seahorse”, but then someone pointed out there were three seahorses in the picture! The really obvious one, centre right. Another just to the right of that, in the shade of the branchy things. And another, just below the centre of the picture, coiled around another branchy thing. Wow. I mean, seriously, good job with the camouflage, dudes.

And then there are butterflies. Or, almost. Soon, though. There were about a hundred pupae on this little rack, carefully watched by a some volunteers, with a couple just in the process of emerging. I’d never stopped to wonder where the butterflies at the Aquarium came from, and we I know!

But you don’t have to go to the Aquarium to enjoy the wonders of the natural world! There’s stuff happening right here in the city, like pigeons trying to make like the birds and the bees. No joke, this is actually really interesting! It sort of reminds me of all the birds of paradise’s crazy-ass displays, but even relatively drab birds with no sexual dimorphism do what they can with what they have.

Or maybe I totally misread the situation, and that pigeon was drunk or something.

In closing, here’s some little creepy crawly I saw on Burrard Bridge just after taking my Sunset Beach photo. What is that? An earwig? I’ll admit, I’m not as jazzed about it as e.g. the jellyfish, but it’s still kind of neat. And it’s all part the tapestry of life in the big city.

Plant daddy: days 816 — 832

The end of the beginning

Hat tip to Adam Ellis for the title

Cherry blossoms season is over, and that’s okay. In the last few weeks I took the time to take many, many photos.

By Burrard Station.

At Britannia Centre, before Friday night vball.

On the Drive, before taking a show of Hot Brown Honey.

At Chilco and Georgia, the spot where I shot my 100th photo, way back in 2017. I wanted to wait and do a proper 2 year anniversary of not just this beautiful shot, but also the rebirth of this blogging thingy. But I didn’t know what the weather would be like, how many blossoms would be left by April 10 in this not-very-warm weather.

(Turns out the weather on April 10 was good, and I considered going back again, but nah.)

And at Coopers’ Park, after a little stroll to scope out new photo opportunities for my work’s new location. I went again the following Sunday, this time doing much more in-depth recon, and going home by way of the south False Creek seawall. Hadn’t done that in a long time, and it was gorgeous. The northern sky turned dark and dramatic, and I realised: I’ll be able to do this every day. I will have so many more amazing photo opportunities in this commute, all around the most beautiful part of Vancouver. Can’t wait!

So, no more springtime-type flowers. Trees that used to be pink and white are all turning green.

Green like my windowsill.

Okay, so this isn’t some random let’s-celebrate-sunlight-and-a-new-season thing (though that’s part of it); it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Whenever anyone asks me if I’ve got pets, I invariably say (1) my apartment building doesn’t allow pets, and then (2) I couldn’t even take care of a houseplant, so I don’t feel up to caring for an animal.

Except that I didn’t even know that for sure, because I’ve never had a houseplant, and eventually I realised this was a lot of pointless negative self-talk. Who knows, right? So I decided to dip a toe in this whole green thumb thing, and got myself a few super-low-maintenance plants. Still alive after two weeks, go me!

And speaking of celebrating sunlight, day 832 was a very special day. Because on that day the towers were shining right on me. Now I feel we’ve caught up to the hour we lost on March 10. Nowhere to go but up.

Pink or off pink: days 798 — 815

Shoot for the moon

I took my first cherry blossom picture on March 10. The weather still being pretty cold-ish then, there weren’t many flowers out—still, I knew it was only a matter of time. And I was right: blossoms on Beach Avenue, crocuses by the seawall, big camelias on Thurlow Street, delicate little flowers in the West End, clustered blossoms by Sunset Beach just waiting to hatch, and already-hatched blossoms dramatically backlit by the setting sun.

The rest of that March 10 walk was spent not on floral photography, but architectural. My work is moving this summer—not too far, close to Cambie / Broadway Station, but that’s far enough that it would be inconvenient to walk, especially in bad weather. And especially after going to the gym, which I still want to do in the morning. Evening gym does not suit me.

Still, I wanted to keep my options open, so I scouted ahead for good walking / cycling routes. I’ve never even gone biking along the Seawall! Like, ever. I had a bike when I lived in Burnaby many years ago, then put it in storage when I moved to PoCo, and it’s still in storage. I should sell it for scrap and get a new one. Or try those Mobi bikes, see how they feel. I’ll go faster, and I’ll still be free to take pictures of the towers and the upside down towers.

But in the meantime, yikes the transition from “sunlight just kissing the tops of the towers” to “nautical twilight, bitches” was rough. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad, but I don’t know if it was really worth it.

Still, as the sun kept rising earlier and earlier, I got to see all sorts of different colours on my outings. Pink and pinkish-gold, followed by a bit of bi pride. And weird thought: I wonder how much of that pink is really pink, and how much is just a somewhat lighter blue that my eye sees as pink? I honestly don’t know. I’m trying to find a metaphor about blue masculinity, and how any deviation therefrom looks pink by default.

A fun little thought, but I don’t want to overanalyse things too much. This shot of the setting full moon, slashed with a wisp of cloud, so reminiscent of the eyeball-slashing bit in Un chien andalou, is an omen against such overanalysing. Won’t be seeing any more morning moonsets for a while, though. By the time ol’ Luna’s in sync with my photos again the sun will be well up. I’m glad I got these two moonsets.

I think it’s all about persistence… or as Taking Our Places calls it, “showing up,” which has different connotations and which I’m going to use from now on. Keep going, be patient, and you never know what treasures you’ll find. It’s showing up that let my team play better than we ever had at Queen Vicki, and me in particular be a decent captain. First time I did it for a big tournament but things turned out all right, even the scorekeeping which I didn’t expect I’d have to do, and I seriously panicked at first, because even though I’m certified it was my first time running the very, very complicated charts.

I know I still have a long way to go, but here’s the bottom line: I think I leveled up this weekend, and that happened because I kept showing up and built up enough experience points. I’ve still got a long way to go; in particular, I need to keep improving my skills in order to make it back in Competitive next year. Or even Advanced? Hey, why not. Might as well shoot for the moon!

Catching the sun: days 783 — 797

Right place right time

In two weeks we went from deep blue clouds to sunlight just kissing the tops of the towers. Not too long before that it was really and truly dark.

Things have changed, is what I’m saying. I’ve finally reached the point that I’ve been shooting for all along: stabilise my photo-taking time at around 7:00, and let the sun catch up to me.

It’s beautiful. I think my favourite days were last week, just as the sun peeked above the horizon. Check out the blue and pink and gold sky, and the tiniest bit of pink on the Vancouver Island mountains!

But still, somehow it’s a bit anticlimactic. What happens now? Do I keep taking 7 o’clock photos? I feel that’s no mystery anymore, especially with the time change this weekend. I’ve already seen what early-morning-but-not-dawn Sunset Beach looks like. Or maybe I could keep following the sun the whole year round, shooting at five freaking oh six in the morning on June 20th?

Or… something else, something I haven’t thought of yet? As I wrote earlier, there are no rules, I can do whatever the hell I want! And what the hell, I’ve been feeling a bit run-down lately, and this bug I’ve been dragging might be affecting my artistic vision. 7:00 is a good time for now. Besides, I don’t know what Sunset Beach will look like. Different skies, different tides, different ferries at the dock; this fixed place, this fixed time, it’ll always be moving and changing. I knew that, I guess I just needed some reminding.

So you know what? I won’t be bummed about missing sunrises. Instead I’ll be happy I caught them, even just for a few days; happy, too, that I made myself work for it. And when the sun goes away again, I’ll still be here waiting for its return.

Black and white and blue: days 765 — 782

Keeping it cool and civil

There’s this thing called “civil twilight”: the 30–40 minutes just before sunrise or after sunset when the Sun’s centre is 6 degrees or less below the horizon. If the weather’s good there’s quite a bit of light around to get things done without artificial illumination. Civil twilight in the morning is when lights turn off, and likewise in the evening when they turn on. Hence the name, I guess?

Fun fact: I don’t know how the city sets this up, but it looks like the lights on Granville Bridge are more generous than on Burrard Bridge, staying on later and turning on earlier. I’ve witnessed both these facts this morning (while taking my photo) and last night (while strolling to the Storm Crow). Are they on timers? I figure they have to be since light sensors would be really unreliable in these parts. Maybe Granville Bridge gets more light because it’s a major commuting route?

So my day 765 photo, about 30 minutes before sunrise, was probably just at the edge of civil twilight. You can see there’s some light, though I think the eastern sky was a bit overcast, and the following day was much lighter. And as I expected, my shooting time’s stabilised while the sunrise has crept in, day by day. Look at this latest photo! Twelve minutes or so before official sunrise, and a while more before we see actual direct sunlight and the vamps have to go into hiding. Way back when it took about five minutes for the sun to clear the bridge, but now it’s rising way further north, behind those towers.

(Gawd, look at me being all observant about the natural world and stuff!)

Speaking of natural world, we’ve had some wild weather in the last couple weeks. Snow, snow, and more snow. It’s pretty, for sure, and I got to use the heavy hiking shoes I bought for Iceland (next Maaaaaaay) but… this wasn’t what I signed up for, y’know? And I wasn’t the only one tired of it, either.

Those February 11 posts look unreal with the greyscale, but I promise they are 100% unfiltered. Grey skies, grey herons, white snow, dark trees, black crows, it was all a weird alien wonderland. One time, very early on, I used a black-and-white filter to give my photo a bit of punch. Not here though!

That was during the day. Go out early enough and the world becomes blue and black. But with a bit of luck, you may get all three together.

And then the snow started melting for real on Sunday. A few bits are still there, in corners and shadows. The forecast is calling for more snow, but I refuse to believe it. For now we’re back to a regular Vancouver winter, with good, honest rain.

My latest Sunset Beach photo is special, being the first one I’ve corrected for perspective. It’s something that’s been nagging away at me for weeks: at the angle I’m shooting, it’s impossible to get the horizon and the buildings nicely aligned and orthogonal. Either the closest buildings are slanting a bit to the right, or the far left horizon is not that horizontal. What’s the solution, besides lowering myself from the bridge? Installing a more advanced photo editor so I can fix my photo. I hesitated to do it because I’m not a believer in post-processing (it’s waaay too common on IG and it seems it’s the heavily-processed shots that get amplified), and… well, I’d never done this before on a phone and was afraid of fucking it up. But I was tired of not liking my photos as much as I wanted to, and it didn’t matter if it was just me nitpicking at myself, I wanted to do something about it!

So there we go. I know the lines are still not quite straight; I just did the tiniest smidge of correction as I get used to this new software. But it looks way better, and that’s a relief. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn PhotoShop next?

I make the rules around here: days 756 — 764

Choices!

There’s really only one rule for this challenge: I have to take and post a photo every day, any time between midnight and midnight, to my IG account. No themes or anything, and no saving up photos. Simple! But because I couldn’t not overthink things, if I posted more than one photo in a day only one of them was the official daily pic, numbered and labeled with the #dailypic hashtag. All the others were just… y’know… extra. All they got was a caption.

Over the next year and a bit I changed the numbering and hashtagging to make it (a) simpler, (b) more consistent (all my photos are equally special!), and (c) make it clear how far I’ve come. Today is not day 34 of 2019, thank you very much! It’s day 764! The 1000th day is just around the corner!

And now some more changes with this new year, a couple more… rules, I guess? Rules that are pushing me to get up earlier on weekdays, so I can get more done in the morning, get a nice workout in, and get to work at a reasonable hour. And they’re working, and they’re good for me. But after I took a photo early Saturday morning, and again the following Saturday, even earlier, I realised this was totally not sustainable and I was probably going overboard.

I think deep down I worried that if I slipped once with my Sunset Beach project, I’d drop the whole thing and never pick it up again. But as the Good Book says, non sum qualis eram, so I let myself break the pattern last Sunday and my gawd what a relief that was. I could allow myself to sleep in again! And everything turned out fine because I was up bright and early Monday morning.

The lesson for me is: remember what the rules are for. And remember that nothing’s set in stone; if they don’t work, I can just change them. I have the power, not just to choose the terms of this challenge, but to follow through with those decisions.

So last Friday we set the milestone at 7:13 AM. Little bit blurry, and I’m a little surprised it took 1/8sec exposure, but never mind. We’re most of the way to my goal of 7:00. Maybe I’ll go beyond that? After all the Y opens at 5:30, so…

There were a few days when it was nothing but Sunset Beach. But then I got THE MOTHER OF ALL SUNRISES—made me late to the gym but I knew I couldn’t let this beauty go—and the next day I went on a little walk into Gastown. It’s been a while since I did that, and it felt nice. The world isn’t all sunrises and beaches, it’s also gritty urban stuff. And though I felt a bit under the weather, and the weather itself turned colder, I took a little walk on the Seawall and enjoyed terrible movies. And slept it again.

It snowed on and off today. Tomorrow, I’ll be up again ere break of day to see how much snow is left on Sunset Beach, that should be fun.

Tides and persistence: days 744 — 755

Tides come in, tides go out

Monday the 14th was when I started my daily Sunset Beach photo thing for real. It’s been a great experience in all respects: I get some gorgeous photos, plus accountability with a solid record of my photo times. In the last 2 weeks I’ve knocked about 15 minutes off my shooting time. Who would have thought I could take one thing in my life and use it to improve another thing? What a crazy world we live in!

It hasn’t been 100% smooth, though. For one, I need to go to bed earlier. For another, I need to not dawdle so much in the morning. But after literally years of fighting against bad habits and never making lasting progress, I feel I’m on my way!

I’m reading a book recommended to me, Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path To Truly Growing up. It’s good stuff, talking about various Buddhist virtues that even atheists like me can put in practice in their everyday life. One of those virtues is persistence: putting in the work every day, walking the path step by step, focusing on the journey and holding no expectations about the end result. I realise now this is what I’ve been doing for the last two years with my photography. Day by day I polished my skills but I didn’t try to plan anything—I definitely didn’t plan on taking daily Sunset Beach photos again, but there you go. Still, it’s all paying off now.

All these photos are absolutely fascinating. Tides match lunar days, right? And lunar days are a bit longer than solar days, which is why on January 23rd that little spit of rocks at the end of the closest chunk of beach was aaaaaalmost completely submerged at 7:39, while a day later more of it was visible, with highest tides coming apparently at 8:30.

The other thing that gets me about these photos? How much positive feedback they’ve gotten on Instagram. Most of them received at least one comment—a thumbs up or a bunch of heart emojis or something—and that’s new and frankly bewildering. I get that it’s a gorgeous vista, that’s why I chose it, but is that the whole story? Or maybe I should just hush my little overanalysing brain and self-doubts and enjoy this ride while it lasts?

Yes, I think that’s what I will do.

It’s not just Sunset Beach, though. Feast your eyes on a cyberpunk street downtown! A really grainy super wolf blood moon! Chairs in the rain! And a closer look at the king tides which… is still totally Sunset Beach. Ehh, whatever. I like the place.

Morning light: days 738 — 743

Greeting the sun

I got up earlier on Monday, taking this lovely shot of Sunset Beach before heading out to the gym, and then decided to keep it up for at least a week.

Tuesday, it was Beach Avenue. Wednesday I switched to the east side of the bridge and took a fantastic shot of traffic in the rain. Thursday I captured the seawall and the other side of Beach Avenue. Then more of the skyline on Friday.

Saturday the weather cleared up, so I took the time to look up when the sun rises at this time of year (shortly after 8:00AM FYI) and headed out to shoot the sunrise. It was fucking gorgeous! I took tons of photos and posted five… but in hindsight I think I would only have posted this one, taken at 8:06. It shows the wibbly blob of the soon-to-be-visible sun, and it’s got more skyline, which is nice. I need to edit! A small number of photos can have a greater impact than a large number of too-similar photos. Well, live and learn.

And on Sunday, another gorgeous sunrise, followed by a gorgeous foggy sunset.

So there we are. Verdict? I like it, and I want to keep it up! Taking photos in the early morning means less pressure on me to find something else later. Not to mention, it’s getting me out of the apartment earlier. Who knew it could work that way? All I needed was to find the right motivator.

Ten years ago, shortly after moving downtown, I started taking a bunch of photos of Sunset Beach at around the same time, from around the same vantage point. It was pretty irregular, and I kept it up on and off over the next 2 years. It was a really interesting exercise in seeing how this bit of Vancouver changed day by day: the tides, the foliage, the weather, the snow, all of it. I loved it. I’d like to start it up again, though I know it won’t work the same on Instagram. Maybe I could have a special hashtag? Or put them in stories, which I’ve never used before? And if I take a photo of Sunset Beach every morning, will I be less likely to seek out other photos the rest of the day? Will my feed skew too hard to Sunset Beach?

Or maybe I’m overthinking this. All I know is, I’ll be up early tomorrow to snap a picture from the same vantage point as tonight. After that, we’ll take it day by day.

Leveling up: days 731 — 737

Where’s my spice weasel?

The year started out normally: after a party in Montreal with my brother and his friends, I take the bus back to Ottawa. And as also seems to be the norm, I go on the 17 instead of the 417. More direct on paper, but it’s a smaller highway and goes through more small towns so it ends up being a bit slower.

Very picturesque towns, as you can see. I took a few photos of the same trip last year, but didn’t get a window seat until Hawkesbury. And I was on the left (south-facing) side, so there was a bit of sun in my eye, and I didn’t get to see the pretty little churches, scenic shots of the Ottawa River, and assorted abstract-ish shots of blue sky and snow or blue sky, ice and concrete.

Not to mention the urban shots: railroads (one of the several suburban lines) and hella constructions and some moody… thing which makes a statement—though don’t ask me exactly what statement— and the very first photo of the year: a brokenly symmetrical view of the Langelier station exit. The first photo has to make an impression, right? And I’m very, very happy with it. In fact, I love all the photos I took that day, from the Metro to my brother’s cat. The year’s off to a good start.

And kept on being good at YOW airport… the flight was not so great, though. Well, those ten turbulence-free minutes between Regina and Calgary were okay.

I’ve missed Vancouver, I really have. Ottawa just doesn’t feel right anymore. Downtown is kind of claustrophobic… but then I’m not being fair. I was just in the business / Parliament section that day. If I’d visited, say, Rideau Street, or the Market, it would have looked a lot more like Gastown or Library Square. I mean, Ottawa isn’t all civil servants.

And then… changing things up: making a better space for creativity in my bedroom / office, which involves getting rid of my old desk and getting a new one, on which I’m typing this. It’s nice, I get to gaze out the window and let the view inspire me. The view is mostly the building across the street, but there are still a couple trees, so there you go.

Changing more things up: I got up a bit earlier than usual on Monday and took a photo of Sunset Beach from Burrard Bridge. I’ve seen this before, of course, but in the pre-dawn light? Maybe not. It’s different. It’s new. And that’s what I need right now.

Because don’t get me wrong: 2 years and change of daily photos is a great accomplishment. I am super proud of myself for that. But now I want to take it to the next level. 638 days I started blogging again, and it’s been a great experience. What else can I do? How can I build on what I have?

I don’t have answers, just a nagging frustration. And a nagging fear that whatever I still have in store I either won’t be up for it or I’ve missed my chance. But that’s the thing about the future: two years ago I never dreamed I’d be blogging again at a nice standing desk, still doing this photo challenge, and 18 months into a really awesome job.

You never know, and that’s the joy of it.