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A housebound escape

This doesn’t have anything to do with reading.

Even though reading is the best escape I can take without leaving the house.

No, this is about losing myself on my laptop in a way that doesn’t involve writing.

I’ve been learning how to use Photoshop, trying to get better at this art called photography. Back in May, I spent a day on the Palouse with a helluva photographer named Chip Phillips. He taught me about exposure bracketing and left me with a video that teaches how to merge two or more frames for a high-dynamic range photo (HDR).

Yeah, yeah … if you’ve ever seen me rant on Twitter about bad HDR photography, you’re shaking your head. No, really, click that link and see how bad it can get.

Hence my nervousness when I asked a new, local friend to show me how she does it. I can watch all the videos in the world but, unless someone is doing it step by step in front of me while I write those steps down, I don’t quite absorb it.

Like a good book.

She helped me create the above photo that Chip helped me take.

A lunch escape

My friend taught me photo-editing software has gotten so much better at helping us create HDR that it’s fairly easy.

Sure, tell that to my dog-tired eyes after I spent five hours working on one image yesterday, starting over twice.

spokane bridge autumn

The learning has inspired me to get out more often with my camera, hauling my gear to the office and heading out to beautiful spots nearby.

Rainy day

Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world?

Cheesy, I know. I catch myself singing it to Bella all the time.

Because she’s gorgeous.

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Autumn in the Okanogan

This is my favourite time of year for shooting.

I’m always excited by the bright reds, yellows and oranges against a brilliant blue sky.

Since I moved back to B.C. temporarily, I’ve passed by this lake countless times, en route to Spokane or Omak to visit My American. We spent last weekend in Omak with Bella, our seven-month-old Maremma sheepdog.

The lake again caught my eye on a day trip to Oroville. It was surrounded by trees losing their leafy green colour and the water was so calm, it could have been mistaken for a mirror.

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The patience to go long

I’ve never had a good tripod.

Our American has one he never uses. So you know what I did. That’s right, I heisted it.

I’ve freehanded waterfalls but never quite got the practice I need to get long exposure right.

Sunset skies always had a bit of shake to them.

With sturdy tripod and remote shutter release in hand, I set out to masterattempt long-exposure photography.

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Happy anniversary!

It’s been nine years.

Almost a decade since this idiot hairbag came into my life.

And I say that with love.

On the May long weekend in 2004, I made the drive from Calgary to Carstairs to pick up a homeless dog. He was the abandoned child of a pending divorce, a marriage that wasn’t ending amicably.

He was stressed. I was nervous to be taking on the task of caring for another being.

I bought the wrong food. Or he was just so stubborn that he refused to eat.

It took us a while to bond. This is our first picture together, taken in Fall 2004, and I think you can see we were still learning to trust each other.

Shep the Maremma sheepdog and That Angela

Our first family picture

Two years later, I realized he was changing my lifestyle.

I wanted to do fun stuff with him, like explore and hike and see wonderful mountains and lakes.

So, I trade in my beautiful red Mustang and bought my truck.

This is his first time in the truck.

Maremma sheepdog in his truck

In my truck

The two of us, in our little truck, have traveled many miles together.

We’ve covered most of southern Alberta, seen a lot of B.C. and wound our way through Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Maremma sheepdog

At the Drumheller hoodoos

Maremma sheepdog at Koocanusa Lake

At Koocanusa Lake, Montana

Maremma sheepdog in autumn grass

At Big Hill Springs

In late 2010, we added a third member to the family. Our American is one of those shy guys who appreciates his privacy, so his name and face rarely show up on my social media profiles. Our little family made a cross-country trek last summer and Shep dipped his nose in the Atlantic Ocean.

He wasn’t a fan of salt water, growling at it every time he tried to take a big gulp. After a few times, though, he learned his lesson and just laid in the water, letting the waves run over him.

Shep and I make many trips to Spokane and now we’ve started to explore this area, getting to know its history, landmarks and scenery.

Maremma sheepdog on a highway

En route to Spokane … highly skilled driver, do not try this at home

Our little truck is soon due to roll past 200,000 kilometres (stay tuned for that sentimental post!) and Shep is heading into his twilight years.

Last week, he was assessed with Stage 2, possibly 3, arthritis in his hips. This is no shock when you have an extra large breed dog who’s 10 years old. It adds some stress and some worry … and some expensive medication to keep him moving and happy.

But if he’s ready to move on from this lifetime, I sure don’t see it in his eyes.

Besides, we haven’t seen Oregon or the Pacific Ocean together.

Is that trip in our near future? Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, we’re spending the U.S. Memorial Day weekend at a campground in Idaho. Hopefully, we’ll have lots of cool pictures to share next week.

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A walk along the river

It was time to get out of the house.

Entrepreneurship can bring with it a serious case of cabin fever. Sure, I got out of the house on Wednesday for coffee with a friend.

But nothing compares to a walk in the fresh air with my best pal, Shep.

We jumped in the truck and made a beeline for the river. There’s a little parking spot along Schubert Drive, with a gazebo and a dedication plaque to Catherine O’Hare Schubert, the only woman among the Overlanders of 1862. The Overlanders were 150 Ontario settlers who trekked across Western Canada for new homes and the lure of gold.

An Irish lass by birth, Catherine took her three children with her and gave birth to her fourth, a baby girl, only hours after arriving in Kamloops.

Cedar totems at park in Kamloops

The little park is also home to the above cedar poles. A work from Great Britain’s Giles Kent, they’re “Carved Cedar Poles” and they come from the Okanagan Thompson Sculpture Symposium of 2008.

We walked along the Rivers Trail, soaking in the view of Mount Paul and Moutn Peter on the other side of the South Thompson River.

And the Dome Hills:

Bench overlooking South Thompson River

I wanted to get the train tracks next to the Halston Bridge near Batchelor Heights. I’ve ridden through there on my bike several times and thought, “Man, I bet that would look good on my DSLR.” But it seemed a little far for old man Shep to walk, so we hopped back in the truck and went a little farther down the road.

The river was calm on the surface, a perfect opportunity to capture the bridge with a reflection in the water. I would have only been happier if a train had gone through.

Train bridge over South Thompson River

And just when I thought it was time to go home, I saw just up ahead the surest sign of spring you can get in Kamloops. In Calgary, it’s the Prairie crocus. In these parts, it’s the cherry blossom:

Cherry blossoms

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s a cherry tree. I’m no botanist. If I’m wrong, let me know!

Until our next escape …

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Where’s the gold?

What do you plan on doing in Oroville?

No U.S. border guard asks this question without an eyebrow raised and a hint of surprise in his voice.

Most people who cross the 49th parallel at Osoyoos-Oroville are bound for other places … Spokane, Seattle and beyond. For me and my American, however, it’s our halfway point.

There really isn’t much to the town. It lies at the south end of Osoyoos Lake and has a population of about 1,600. Everywhere in town is closed for dinner by 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and the brewery we keep wanting to visit is never open.

The Hometown, which is halfway along the main drag and right across the street from our motel, serves a fantastic prime rib dinner. We get out of there with a beer and a glass of wine for about 45 bucks. Cheapest prime rib ever.

And there’s the chocolate they sell at the front desk.

There’s always more than meets the eye to every small town, whether it’s the history or a fantastic meal.

Oroville, the town of gold, was founded in the 1850s by prospectors looking for chunks of the miraculous metal. When the hills dried up, some stayed behind.

The weather and summer time fun, like swimming, fishing and quadding, started to liven things up 10 years ago, according to Wikipedia. Developers started building condos and hopes were high for Oroville.

But the recession hit and everything stopped in its tracks.

Me, I wrangle my boys into a day of driving. Shep doesn’t need as much convincing. My American gets onside when he realizes he can find new spots to cast his line.

Like Palmer Lake.

Oroville 013

Or the Simalkameen River that wound along next to the Loomis-Oroville Road.

Oroville 045

We stopped to take pictures at the foot of Chopaka Mountain:

Oroville 028

And spied some hoodoos carved into the hills.

Oroville 057

And then I found my gold: the little town of Nighthawk.

It was a booming mine town at the turn of the century, complete with hotels and a burlesque house. The Vacation Planner map I picked up at the motel, dated 2010-11, says it’s a registered ghost town and the original school house, a mining office and the old mill still stand.

Trouble is, there’s a sign that says everything sits on private property.

According to a web search, others have gotten pictures of the existing buildings. It may beg a return and maybe try to find a resident for a friendly chat.

You can bet your ass that will happen.

In the meantime, this old house is in my collection:

Oroville 037

Until next time, Nighthawk.

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More than a feeling

Yes, I drive around the country poking my head into and taking pictures of abandoned houses.

They have fascinated me since I was a kid. And I’ll never forget my first one. An old house stood next to Columbus Field where we had track and field training. It was probably my brother Kevin who hid behind a door, jumped out and yelled BAH, scaring the living crap out of me.

Then there was the old farmhouse on the Antigonish Landing. We’d jog out to Brown’s Mountain and explore the old dilapidated home. One of our coaches, Dave, pretended he was going to fall through the floor … and then he almost did.

Now I find myself in the Old West, where men mined the land for coal and tilled the field for crops.

The coal mines have been stripped dry and many of those crop fields now lie fallow, long since left behind by their residents.

Leaving me with a gold mine for my camera and my curiosity.

I wander the properties, turning the keys left in the ignition of old cars and trucks, wondering what I’d do if the engine ever turned over.

Poking my head into the houses, wondering why that table was left behind.

Touching the ovens tossed into the field, wondering why they couldn’t bake anymore pies.

I struggle to imagine what possessed a person or family to leave behind their homes. Did they simply drop everything and leave for a life of greater convenience in the big city? Were they forced out by foreclosures and the banks never found anyone to buy the property? Did they run away in the middle of the night, in fear of something?

It was cold on Sunday when we hit the road for the Badlands.

And when we spied an abandoned home from Highway 575 near Drumheller, I felt a weird chill. It was the kind of house that gave me shivers, not the least bit welcoming or warm.

I gingerly made my way around the property, always keeping an eye on the house. Its windows, the glass long since shattered away, and the door formed a large dark face of a gaping mouth and eyes.

It  was watching me with every step I took. Every press of the shutter release. Every breath.

I made my way around to the back of the house where Jack had found some rusty cans on the ground. He was bent over, trying to find the right angle, the right light.

I looked at the door. Though my guts were telling me to stay outside, I took a step into the house.

I felt a sudden chill.

The kind of chill that goes right into your bones. But there was no wind. Just a sudden drop in temperature.

I turned and went back outside.

Jack was standing by now, a confused look on his face. He said “that’s weird, my camera just adjusted to f95 on its own.”

Um … hey, Jack, there is no such thing as f95.

“I know.”

OK, waddaya say we get out of here?

We left.

I caught the house in the corner of my eye as we headed back to the highway. It gave me another chill.

I picked up my phone and launched my Dolphin browser. It seems to be extremely rare but other Nikon D300s owners have seen f95 in their EXIF data. Jack reset the camera and all was fine.

Was it merely a coincidence?

Was there a wind I didn’t notice?

Did the tiny little computer in Jack’s camera decide to shake things up on its own?

Or was it all more than a feeling?

Do you believe in ghosts?

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It’s a big world

I haven’t been posting enough pictures.

I shot this at Edworthy Park on Saturday with my new Tamron 10-20. I’m lovin’ this wide-angle lens and how the results make me feel so tiny in this great big world.

Click the pic to see the original size.

 

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Buzzing about

~ Shot at Johnson Lake, September 4, 2011