Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Trip to Ancient Egypt via Seattle

Last May I was in Seattle and saw the ads for the upcoming exhibit of some of the treasures from King Tut's tomb as well as other artifacts from ancient Egypt. It sounded interesting at the time, but it wasn't until a month or so later that it occurred to me that I should take advantage of this opportunity. Talk about a delayed reaction! My parents recently moved to the Portland area and they were also interested in going, which was good because their car is an automatic transmission and for anyone who has visited Seattle you know that driving a stick shift on some of those hills in downtown is not for the faint of heart. We started off early in the morning to avoid all the football fans going up for the Ducks/Cougars game. All tickets are for a scheduled time during the day and our time slot was 11:30. Every 15 minutes the staff would let another wave of people into the exhibit. After we had parked and walked around a bit, we still had about 45 minutes to wait before we could go in. We wandered over to the tropical butterfly house, not sure if you had to have tickets for that or not, but figured it would be easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Inside was an 80-degree tropical garden with fluttering butterflies everywhere you looked. They seemed to pose for photos before heading off to the next destination. It was pure photographic heaven because whenever I try to get butterfly pictures in the "wild" it is so frustrating as they go meandering off across a busy street or into someone's backyard.
Finally, it was 11:30 and we were ready to go inside. All the visitors were herded into a room to watch a short clip on Egypt and then they turned us loose into the 10 galleries. There was about 100 of us and there were still people from the previous time slot in the first gallery.  The photo on the left is of the first statue we saw as we entered the doors. I didn't take pictures of all the names of the pharaohs because I knew I'd have a hard time remembering which name went with which picture. There were familiar names, such as Hapshepsut, Nofret, and Ramses as well as others I'd not heard of. Probably my favorite piece was the  statue of King Tut. The statue ends just above the knees but was at one time 17 feet tall and was one of a pair. It seemed to be displayed at its original height and the two statues must have been very impressive when they were first erected. Even though it's now broken in places, this surviving statue is still quite remarkable. Across the room from Tut was his father Akhenaten. He had the most distinctive face of all the statues. I was impressed that they all looked different and very lifelike. The eyes really did almost follow you around the room. The jewelry was amazing. Several of the earrings absolutely made my ears hurt they were so large and heavy looking. The necklaces looked a bit more manageable, that is if you didn't mind walking around stooped over. They certainly weren't something you would forget to take off before going to sleep, for a jog, or a swim in the Nile with the crocodiles.

The lighting inside was less than ideal for pictures and I almost laughed as I tried to figure out what buttons I was punching on the audio guide. It would have been helpful if they glowed like a cell phone keypad. But maybe the idea of 75 or so glowing listening guides would have ruined the atmosphere. In  between galleries, huge black and white pictures from the original discovery were hanging on the wall. It helped to give viewers an idea of what it must have been like to have discovered such a remarkable treasure. 

Once we were back outside and in view of the Space Needle, I felt like I'd just been in a time warp. That was even more apparent when looking overhead as a plane flew by pulling a long banner with a marriage proposal on it. Somehow, I don't think they proposed like that in Tut's day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

You Have to Start Somewhere

In the past year or so, I've decided I finally know what I want to be when I grow up, a real (as in paid) photographer. I realize I'm a little late in figuring this out, but better now than in 10 years. With that said, I am currently still in the I-support-my-hobby stage as opposed to the other way around. But maybe things are changing. Last Friday, I was able to leave work (as in, a paying job) a little early and head up to Vancouver, Washington for a Scottish Country Dance class. I always get there a little early and usually stroll around the neighborhoods looking for anything of interest. In this particular neighborhood there is an elderly couple that maintains a large garden across the street from their house. I don't know their names, but there was a sign at one point at the garden's entrance that said "Bev's Flowers." I've only seen the man out taking care of the flowers so I'm not sure who Bev is exactly, but I'll just call him Mr. Bev for this story. What I don't know I can make up, right? At the garden's entrance is a small stand, and during the summer it holds fresh-cut bouquets. There is a small cup nearby for people to pay for their flowers. At different times of the growing season he also sells tomatoes and raspberries. I use the word "sells" loosely because everything is based on the honor system.

I first met Mr. Bev last July and wasn't sure he would remember me. As I walked into the garden, I could see him methodically watering the dahlias. When he saw me, he greeted me like an old friend, and we were soon discussing the flowers, weather, and what the coming winter might be like. He then asked about my pictures. He said he would be interested in seeing some of them. Maybe the flowers are like his children, since parents always like to see pictures of their kids. I told him that if he liked I would have some prints made and bring them up the next time I had a chance. He said he would like that and maybe we could work out a swap, but in the meantime I could take some of the tomatoes. "Now remember" he said, "anyone can take a picture of a flower, but I can get that out of a catalog. I want to see your artsiest pictures." With that thought, I went to work. It wasn't exactly what I had in mind for my first paid photo shoot, but then again I do love fresh summer raspberries.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Weekend Music for the Eyes and Ears

This past weekend was my second trip to Ft. Worden State Park near Port Townsend, Washington (which is nestled on the edge of Puget Sound). The Scottish Country Dance group in Seattle holds their annual workshop and ball at the fort, and dancers from the U.S., Canada, and even Australia, arrive on Friday afternoon ready for a weekend of dancing fun. The group I travel with stays in Officers Row, which is like stepping back in time and always makes my modern apartment look rather shabby in comparison.

The dancing of course is the main draw, but there's a tiny part of me that loves the photo stalking opportunities almost as much. Construction on the fort began in the late 1890s. Ft. Worden, along with two other nearby forts, once guarded the entrance to Puget Sound. The picture above on the left was taken from a hill on the north end of the fort overlooking the parade grounds and Officers Row to the south.  Obviously this place is just running over with pictures to be taken. My goal this year was to capture the sunrise. The main obstacle was getting out of bed early after an evening of dancing that didn't end until after midnight. But since sunrises are more memorable than dreams, I set my alarm for 6:30 and tried to fall asleep as quickly as possible. When I woke up and looked out the window, the sky was beginning to lighten and I was afraid I had once again misread the sunrise table and blown my chance. I grabbed shoes, jacket, and camera and squeakily went down stairs (I'm convinced they made those stairs creaky on purpose so no officers tried to leave unnoticed at night).

Once out the door, I limped across the parade ground (we danced a lot on Friday night) and was crestfallen (I love that word!) to see what looked like the sun coming up out of the midst of the most beautiful clouds I can ever remember seeing. But after a moment, I could tell it was merely the old fashioned street light glowing in the distance. Breathing a sigh of relief, and with my foot now in a happier mood, I ran across the parade grounds to the top of the small bluff that overlooks the beach. The sun was still some time from arriving, but that didn't prevent what was like a symphony for the eyes from playing out before me. As the sun made its way up, the range of mountains was silhouetted against the morning sky and the ferry boats and various other small crafts made their way across the golden path that started to spread across the water. At that point, I decided the pilots of those boats had the best job in the world (probably not the case from November to late spring) and I hope they were able to enjoy it. After about half an hour, the symphony was over and it was time to return to the happy reality of dancing. Walking back to Officers Row, I spotted four or five deer meandering across the parade grounds. They have little to no fear of humans. One doe (I assume it was a doe because of the lack of antlers) was busy snacking on the growth around a small tree. A jogger was approaching and she seemingly took no notice of him but continued to happily munch away.

There's one more landmark of Ft. Worden I'd like to mention before I finish this post: Alexander's Castle. It's called a castle but it's more like a half castle. Built in the 1880s, it's the oldest building on the park grounds. It was built by the Reverend John Alexander and was designed to resemble the castle structures in his native Scotland. According to legend, he built it for a prospective bride, but when he returned to Scotland he found that she had married someone else. He returned to the U.S. and lived in the castle alone. All I can say is, that bride sure missed out on a lot of beautiful sunrises.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

September Daze

Yesterday morning started off relatively early (well, for a Saturday) at 6:30ish. The sun is getting closer to rising over the peak of Mt. Hood and my goal is to capture it on film. What does one say now that we no longer use film? Capturing an image on SD card just doesn't have the same ring. Either way, the effect is the same. Less than a mile from my house is a fairly unobstructed view of Mt. Hood (if you stand on the curb at just the right spot) and even though the sun hasn't made it to the pinnacle yet, it's still a gorgeous view. Of course, I can't take just one shot so I have about 20 that look mostly like the picture at left. You never know when you might need a spare sunrise picture of Mt. Hood, and I want to be prepared. After a quick breakfast and the seasonal pumpkin spice cappuccino, it was time to head off in the general direction of the hills of northwest Portland. My aunt used to have a sign on her desk that said "indecision is the key to flexibility." That sums up a lot of my Saturday outings. I usually have a general idea of where I'm going but if I see something interesting, the plans can change in a moment. Such was the case as I was heading up a hill above Burnside. A parking spot was handy and I figured I could walk to the spot I had planned on parking in as well as I could drive there. After making sure there weren't any "no parking" signs hiding in the underbrush, I headed up the hill and toward one of the residential entrances to Forest Park. Soon I had gone from beautiful homes and flowers to the shady paths of the forest. After taking a right turn downhill, I was on my way to NW Cornell St. and, for me, uncharted territory. There was a group of walkers behind me and I must confess to a Gandalf-like voice echoing in my ears "You shall not pass!" as I sped up, determined that no one would outwalk me. I'm sure that's something I'll outgrow, well, maybe.

Once I reached NW Cornell, there was some consultation of the GPS, not to mention another walker, and then I continued along the road heading for another section of the Wildwood trail. I soon found it and was once again deep in the forest. There was a small trickle of water running in the creek and it was very peaceful as I crunched along the trail. I passed several intersections with other trails but continued on the same path. After awhile, I came upon a map with a very helpful "you are here" star. The only problem was there were two dotted lines radiating from the star showing two possible locations of where you actually were. Knowing what side of NW Cornell you were on was crucial. Fortunately, I did know so it wasn't difficult to figure out where I was and where the trail headed. At the next trail intersection, I headed out of the park and back into civilization. This part of northwest Portland is alive with Craftsman style homes and it almost feels as if you step out of the forest and into another era. I love the multi-colored stair railings that abound all over Portland.   Although, you do get some odd looks when people see you taking pictures of staircases. Then again, the motto here is "keep Portland weird" so I don't know why I should worry about a few sideways glances.

After about seven miles or so, I was back to my car and ready to head home. There was a short intermission from the day's fun for mundane chores like getting the oil in my car changed and vacuuming, one of my truly favorite pastimes, before I could go play photographer again. After seeing all the clouds build up in the afternoon sky, I thought there might be a chance for a nice sunset so I headed down to the lake in downtown Lake Oswego, to see what might come along. I love it when I'm not disappointed. There wasn't quite the color I had hoped for, but the clouds put on a spectacular show. At times, they almost resembled something from a Renaissance style fresco. There were a few boats still on the water, but overall there was a feeling of evening calm as the sun slowly sank behind the trees. The ducks also seemed to be enjoying it as they practiced their takeoffs and landings or calmly paddled past people eating a late dinner on the patio of a local restaurant. As far as weather goes, the Pacific Northwest is known mostly for its rainy interludes, but when it comes to an Indian Summer, this place is hard to beat.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Moon Also Rises

Don't tell Ernest Hemingway, but the moon can put on its own show when it rises. The problem is, most people are watching the sun set or their computer/T.V screen when it happens. Such was almost the case last week for me and my dad. After over 40 years (I won't be too specific) of living in New Mexico, my folks finally joined me here in the Northwest. Dad is also a photography fanatic, I mean, hobbyist, and he and I have often gone on hikes or day trips to photograph whatever we come across. Our styles are different, but we both enjoy finding the unusual in different aspects of ordinary life. And you have to admit, the moon is about as ordinary as it gets. After all, it's not like we don't know what it looks like, right?

Last Friday was slightly unusual in that it marked the occurrence of a blue moon, usually defined as the second full moon in the same month. But for those of us in the southwest Portland suburbs, it was more than that. Not far from where I live there are several places where Mt. Hood can be clearly seen. This is more  unusual than it sounds when you consider how many trees there are to try to see through, over, and around. Dad and I drove up to the highest point in the neighborhood with the intention of watching the sunset and then waiting around for the moon to rise in the hopes of getting a few shots of Mt. Hood and the moon. I had hurriedly glanced at a moon rising chart online before jumping in the car (sometimes this photography stuff is rather last minute) and I thought it said the moon rise would be about 10 minutes after sunset.

There were several other people in the little park located at just under 1,000 feet elevation. It's a common place for families to walk to on clear evenings to look at the stars or watch the sun go down (after all, we can only see it about three to four months out of the year, but I digress). Dad and I took a few shots during the beginnings of the sunset but were rather disappointed in the lack of color. All of  a sudden, we heard a woman behind us say, "Is that the moon?" We both turned around in time to see the beginnings of a sliver of a disk appearing on the left side of Mt. Hood. It was rather like a school of fish locking on the bait target as the entire group in the park turned and watched the thin sliver turn into a large creamy ball seemingly rolling up the side of the mountain until it was resting on the top. I was mildly surprised that our little group of new best friends didn't break out in applause after it was over. Later on, one of the men made the comment about Neil Armstrong being laid to rest that day. None of us could think of a more fitting tribute than to watch the full moon rising. When we turned to leave, dad and I realized that the sunset had gone on quietly behind us. It had gone down at almost the same time as the moon came up, but this time all eyes were on the moon, and we weren't disappointed.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Not All who wander are Lost

This title popped into my head and I didn't even realize, until checking on Google, that it appears in The Lord of the Rings, just like last week's entry. Speaking of wandering, maybe I should get back on topic. Yesterday's adventure (well, for me since I didn't know where I was headed, just what the destination was), started in southwest Portland. I went through the local farmers market on the Portland State University campus and took pictures of some of the musicians and the colorful displays of fruits and veggies (although some of the musicians are colorful too, but in a different way). There was every kind of fruit, vegetable, meat and cheese imaginable (including organic goat cheese, which begs the question does organic goat cheese come from organic goats and what is an organic goat?). From there, it's up Mill Terrace to the Vista Bridge and into the Arlington Heights neighborhoods. Both the MacLeay and Wildwood trail systems have access from several residential areas. Almost any dead end street you encounter is actually a mini-trail head onto either of these connecting trails. One of the things I like about Portland is you can go from bustling city and skyline to quiet forest trail in about 30 minutes of steady walking. Soon, all you can hear is the muffled road noise far below and even that goes away if you listen more to the crunch of your steps on the path. At this point, I looked at my GPS and could tell I was either on the wrong path or had wandered into another city. Figuring it was the former I went to Plan B. Suffice it to say I didn't go the way I intended to get to where I wanted to go, but I did get there. Pittock Mansion was the first stop and after picking up the trail again from there, I continued on, crossed Burnside, and picked up the trail again. Now this is where the lost part comes in (that last bit was just some wandering). The paved roads along here are hopelessly curvy and with the trees all around, it is often difficult to tell which direction you're going, much less which direction you should go. I was headed for the rose garden and wanted to get there by a different route than usual, and I succeeded. I came across a sign that said the rose garden was up ahead. When the road curved, I realized I had been to this spot in the road before but had never gotten there quite this way. It was at that point I realized the only way you ever really learn your way around a place is to get lost in it and then go back after you figure out where you got lost. One of my favorite lines is, "I've been lost here before." And because I'm having absolute fits with the pictures, they are below in no particular order where they can do no damage to the text wrapping.