Central Park, New York

New York is legendary. The thing of thousands of stories. Central Park is …well…central to many of these stories. Police dramas where unsuspecting joggers get murdered or raped on one of the winding pathways to romances like When Harry Met Sally. A quick search of the internet throws up several web pages that give you a list of movies made in Central Park. Have a look here for a start. http://www.centralparktoursnyc.com/central-park-movie/

Since being in New York I have visited the Park a lot. My lodging location helps, I’m just across the road. (Thanks again RJB!!) The pace of my morning jog has been slowed right down as I have stopped to take photos of early morning reflections in the ponds and the reservoir.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a picnic on Sheep’s Meadow and indulged in some serious people watching. On this, the first hot sunny day of spring, puffer jackets were replaced by bare chested men playing spike ball (see this video – I had never seen it before https://youtu.be/jdRKqguEbas)

The blossoms trees had blossomed and the bees were a-buzzing. Clusters of daffodils, jonquils and crocus had survived the previous week’s snow to brighten things up.

The less active, lay around on the grass reading or sleeping.

To think only five days ago the flowers were buried by snow.

I can see why this enormous Park is labelled New Yorker’s front yard. It’s a place to play and relax. A place to meet a place to zone out. A place to remember green.

A very public proposal

There I was minding my own business sitting on the basalt steps at the Pebble Beach between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges waiting for sunset and along comes a man and woman carrying a double sized white rocking chair. They plonked it down and started rocking in the last rays of sun before it dipped behind the skyscrapers.

The sign on the fence said “No pets or furniture can be brought into the park.” When I first saw that sign I thought “goodness who would bring furniture” but obviously it’s a thing.

Next along comes the Photography Tour Group. They set up their forest of tripods in front of the rocking chair. The rocking chair people moved their chair to one of the lower steps, but to the side of the camera group. At first I thought they were together but no, just there at the same time.

As I watched the wedding parties and engagement photo shoots all looking for a divine sunset to silhouette the bridge and provide a perfect back drop, I forgot the chair people.

My attention came back to the them when I saw the original couple slink off away and leave the chair empty. It was soon taken up by another man and woman who sat there chatting, when all of a sudden, he got down on one knee with a ring. The camera club turned in unison and quickly adjusted their focal lengths. At first, the girl looked a bit confused. She seemed oblivious to the hoard of people watching them. Then tears, hugs and kisses. Many, many kisses. She had obviously said yes. The crowd all around burst into spontaneous applause and cheers.

The couple suddenly became aware that they were the centre of attention. More tears, more hugs.

The original chair carriers appeared out of the crowd. There was backslapping and thank you’s from the groom-to-be and “Did you now about this??” from the bride.

It was obvious then that the man had planned this very carefully with his friends. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the camera club to be there but in the end they had better photos than the friend who had tried to take shots from a distance, so emails where exchanged. These photos are a re-enactment. They decided they needed some more photos of their own so turned the chair around and did it again. A bit of over-acting, but still very touching.

The tear-jerking moment for me though was when the girl called her Mum to let her know. You could see (and hear) her waiting for mum to pick up and the call going through to a message bank. She looked so disappointed. Then seconds later mum calls back. More tears!

Floods of happy tears.

There was no spectacular sunset that day. It ended up very overcast and cold, but I felt a little warmer for watching this bit of love. I wish this happy couple lots of luck and hope that the groom stays as thoughtful for the rest of their marriage.

Pintrest towns.

Coastal Maine is why they invented Pinterest. So the inhabitants could show off their impossibly gorgeous weatherboard homes with the cute (non-Christmas) wreaths on the doors and the American flags fluttering in the breeze. I have not stopped to take many photos because if I did, I would be here until Christmas (Christmas 2020 that is!!) Despite that I will always carry the images in my heart. The contrast shutters against the (usually) pastel boards with the occasional white on dark blue or black boards to spice things up.

On my journey from New York to Kittery and onwards to Bar Harbor, Google maps directed me to take the interstate highways, which while fast, did not give any interesting vistas so I chose the ‘avoid motorways and tollways’ options when asking for directions. A T-mobile SIM card gave me good GPS coverage all the way. A three hour sprint at 110 kph became a five hour stroll through towns that can only be described as quaint. White church steeples, 1880-style brick and tile shop fronts with the occasional verdigris copper detail.

Rugged, craggy beaches with moraine rocks are in stark contrast to the squeaky smooth sandy beaches of home. Layer on layer of whole shells rather than smashed, tiny pieces of mollusc homes confirm the more peaceful waves which wash up on the blackened gritty sand.

White gulls outweigh their Australian counterparts by at least 2 kilos and share the beach with ducks, geese and turns.

The humans are bundled up in coats and scarfs not bikinis and boardies and it’s hard to imagine that it could ever warm up enough to warrant the beach-wear in the now closed shop windows.

“Closed for the Season” rang out from nearly every establishment. I guess with snow still lying in dirty patches on the ground and while spring may have officially arrived on the calendar, there are still at least a few weeks till its warm enough to abandon the winter woolies.

Portsmouth, one of the oldest towns in the US is so far, the star. Ogunquit and Old Orchard Beach may perhaps be splendid holiday destinations in summer but they don’t show their best side in winter. At least not for someone who has golden sandy beaches in walking distance to home. Nonetheless, coastal landscapes and fishing towns will always lift my spirit, perhaps they will do the same for you,

Hunting deer.

One of my work colleagues, Zac, is a hunter. In July 2017, I interviewed Zac to write a story I wanted to enter into a non-fiction writing competition. I wrote 3000 words and added in some photos of him butchering one of his kills. Not as gruesome as it sounds. It was just the hind leg that had been hanging up for a while in a big fridge. No blood. No guts.

The thesis of my story was that while most people are OK with fishing, not as many people are OK with hunting and hunters. I explored the fear of guns, the access to guns by non-hunters for crime or self-harm, animal welfare and our complicated relationship with killing animals for food. I contrasted factory-style meat production with the concept of ethical hunting.

Zac told me that he gets very polarised responses when he tells people about his hobby. He has been threatened when seeking permission from property owners to enter their land to hunt. On the other hand, some landowners are very keen to get rid of the Rusa deer that graze on their land.

Rusa Deer have become a big problem in the Illawarra region, as well as elsewhere in Australia. They are causing havoc in the Royal National Park, north of Wollongong and have been linked to several fatal car accidents along the Southern Freeway when they wander onto the verge.

There is some dispute between hunters, environmentalists and the local council about whether their numbers are increasing or whether they have just been pushed into a smaller range due to the residential development of the hinterland areas. Either way, their presence has become more obvious.

Deer are only part of the problem of introduced species in Australia. The coming of Europeans brought with them foxes, deer, rabbits, horses, water buffalo, mice, rats, cats, dogs, pigs, camels, goats, cane toads, carp, weeds of all sorts, honey bees, wasps etc etc etc.

These introduced species have had a disastrous impact on Australian ecosystems, already fragile due to the relatively harsh climate in parts and the long-isolated nature of our island home. Our little herbivorous animals were no match for the superior hunting skills of cats and foxes. Plants are trampled and watercourses sullied. In the absence of predators for the ferals, native species extinction has been an inevitable consequence.

There have been attempts to control these pest species, rabbits in particular, through diseases such as Myxomatosis and Calicivirus with limited success. Baiting is another less than perfect control method. Biological controls and sterilisation programs are costly and unlikely to work for all species.

Killing pest animals and using them as food would seem a good solution to the problem especially for the likes of deer, goats, rabbits and pigs as they are already items on the menu. This option, however, is not likely to occur any time soon.

Many people link hunting to rabid gun owners shooting anything that moves. We think hunting is cruel and that the animal will suffer. From the conversation I had with Zac, I don’t think this is always the case. He described that ethical hunters will only take a shot if they are certain they will have a good clean kill. That is if they can be sure they will hit the major artery in the neck which will lead to a quick death.

Zac spends as much time behind the camera as the rifle and he posts videos to his own YouTube channel. As with most things, there are some hunters who break the rules and act like idiots and give all hunters a bad name.

Australians, in general, are confused about hunting. This confusion rests I think, in our sanitised vision of meat production. Very few of us have been to an abattoir and witnessed sheep or cattle being killed and prepared for sale. We are happy to buy our meat in plastic trays but not happy with those who have the desire to harvest their own. If we eat meat We must be prepared to admit that an animal has died. Surely, killing an animal who has lived its life in freedom in the wild is better than killing one trapped in a shed? Where are the ethics in that? Our objection should then not be against hunters but against the industrialisation of meat production which turns animals into widgets.

On the other hand, would there be a market for these animals? In New South Wales it is illegal for hunters to sell the animals they kill for human consumption. They can give it away or consume it themselves but not sell it. I can understand some of the reasoning behind this in terms of public health and safety. Hunters may be able to kill the beasts but are they able to butcher, store and distribute meat safely and without risk of microbial contamination? Perhaps not, but a regulated and managed program of “harvesting” of wild caught game using licensed and trained hunters who deliver their carcasses to a central processing plant could work. It sounds a bit like commercial fishing, doesn’t it? No-one owns the fish. They are “wild”. They just get caught and brought to the fish markets. As consumers, we are even prepared to pay extra for ‘wild-caught’ fish.

The catch for feral mammals, however, is that if the industry became successful it would be self-limiting over time because beasts would be killed at a greater rate than they could breed. This would be the ultimate goal, to eradicate them from our fragile bushland and limit further native species extinction.

I am not sure where I stand. I don’t think I could kill a deer, but I have eaten venison and I do eat other meat. I have gone fishing then killed and eaten my catches. I am not sure what the difference is. Perhaps I am just fish-ist.

The moose and the birch trees

A photographer on a road trip needs two things: a trigger brake foot and the courage to pull over even if the verge is tiny and there is a line of cars behind you. Forget the “Baby on Board” sign. Warning: Photographer – Frequent Stopping is what’s required.  In flashing lights!

I had been driving along Bow Valley Parkway, in Banff National Park, Alberta, for only a short time when another photo-worthy vista caught my eye.

Craggy mountains covered in a punctured shroud of mist that allowed the black and white striations typical of the Rockies to be just visible in the background and stark, nearly naked birch trees standing in tall rows in the mid-distance and then the patchy white snow interrupted by straggly grass in the foreground.

It had caught my eye because of the high key contrasts. The white trunks with black lesions where branches emerged echoing the black and white of the peaks behind.  All the trees were about the same height and girth and all had a black tide mark about 2 metres up the trunk.

I began to wonder why they would all have this blackened trunk to the same height? Was it the result of a fire? I discounted that idea – the whole trunk would be black; the lower limbs would be burnt. Hypothesis #2 – snow? Maybe this was how deep last winter’s snow fall had been. Perhaps being encased in snow sends the white bark black? This seemed like a reasonable explanation to me so, inner scientist satisfied, I began to snap away all the while imagining how this contrasting collage would look after I had “Snapseeded” it. The white snow, the black footed trees, white trunks against the black and white striped slopes in HDR and high structure – this was a winning shot for sure!

After a few minutes zooming in and out, changing my point of view and switching angles, another car pulled up next to mine. I looked without looking. Maybe they were just swapping drivers. Maybe they needed to get something from the back of the car. My photographer’s territorial hackles began to rise.

This was my frame!

Get yourself your own shot!

My personal space, already violated by the car, was further assaulted when a guy got out with a bigger camera – a longer lens –  a man with a Canon!

This guy was a shot-parasite! The type who sees someone else taking a photo and thinks “Oh I wonder what they are taking?  I will cash in on their scouting ability and steal their shot with my f2.8 ultra-fast bit of glass!”

Hummph! I thought patting my Lumix tenderly, “It’s not how big it is buster! It’s what you do with it that counts!

His travelling companion stayed in the car; a bored look on her face. My original displeasure vanished and turned to smugness. As a photographer travelling solo, I didn’t have to worry about apologising for the constant stops to take yet another picture of another snow-covered tree that looked exactly same as the last five snow-covered trees. Trying to explain “good light” to those who can’t imagine through the lens is close to impossible – they never understand.

We clicked away taking a few shots; me feeling a little uneasy. I had done the hard yards to get to this black and white frenzy of contrasts! I had already had a short hike along a trail to the Johnson Canyon Lower Falls, slipping and sliding along a treacherous board walk dizzyingly close to a deep ravine! I had already risked my life and limb on a slippy-slidey road! This girl from Oz was not used to snow and I spent an hour or so driving through slush thinking I was going to die, wondering should I have chains on my wheels and trying to remember what that driving instructor had told me to do 40 years ago if I ever got into a skid.

My inner adult triumphed. I relaxed and smiled. Mr Canon and I began to talk. He agreed the contrast was great. We enjoyed the quiet beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

I quipped “all we need now is a great big moose with huge antlers to emerge from between the trees and stand majestically before us while bellowing a warning”. He like that idea. “Did you see a moose already?”  he asked; hopefully. I contemplated saying yes. We laughed and then we waited…as if thinking it would make it happen. We stopped shooting. Would the moose come? An elk would do. Heck! A little deer would be enough! I looked one way standing on my tippy toes searching for a tell-tale rustling of grass. He scanned the short horizon intent on finding something – anything.

A small noise distracted us both.  I am sure I heard breaking glass. Perhaps it was the cold air shattering. The woman in the car had finally gotten out to hurry the man along. I had forgotten about her. The disturbance ended our waiting – that shared moment of magic vanished. I got back into my car and drove on. I stopped a kilometre down the road at another impossibly emerald lake where the snow was still lying on the ground making it look like a scrap of old carpet – threadbare and patchy. I wondered if he had stayed and waited for the moose.

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In the end, I was disappointed with the shot. I guess after the interaction with Mr Canon I expected it to be different. Bigger. Grander. It was one of those times when the camera cannot see what the eye feels. It does not see the stillness, it does not smell the crisp, pine scent. It does not hear the crunch of the snow under your boots. It does not feel the cold air filling your lungs and it does not share a brief moment with a stranger waiting for a moose to appear.