Up, Up and Away

When I was a child my father gave me a copy of Mark Twain’s classic, Tom Sawyer Abroad, and I read it cover to cover multiple times.  In the story, Tom and Huckleberry Finn travel across the Atlantic to Africa in a hot air balloon where they survive encounters with lions, bandits and fleas.  It’s how I learned that the flea is one of the fastest animals on earth – a concept that Huck Finn challenged ferociously –  as it has the ability to leap several hundred times the length of its body in a single bound.

Preparing for launch is hard work

Later, I read the Jules Verne novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, and became even more fascinated by this mode of transportation.  A bit more realistic than The Wizard of Oz, the characters nevertheless had to battle adversity using some very creative means – ruby slippers not an option of choice.  This was the subject of my first “oral” book report and I breezed through it with flying colors.

The South Bridge spans the Androscoggin River between Lewiston and Auburn

My first trip in a hot air balloon took place in Napa Valley and was a wedding gift from my wife, Mindy’s, siblings.  It happened on one of the clearest days of that year and once aloft just after sunrise we could see the San Francisco skyline some 30 miles away.

My second balloon ride was over the western mountains of Massachusetts and was a gift to my daughter on her 21st birthday.  Not as enamored with ballooning as her parents are, she “survived” the ordeal and celebrated with a, now legal age, champagne toast following the landing.

The Great Falls Balloon Festival has been a fixture in Lewiston-Auburn for twenty-six years and counting but this weekend’s event was plagued with poor weather conditions that forced cancellation of half of the scheduled launches.  Fortunately, I picked a good time to attend as Sunday evening’s launch featured gorgeous light.  The afternoon’s strong winds caused a bit of a delay but eventually calmed around 6:30 pm and about a dozen balloons lifted off much to the delight and roar of the crowd.  During the delay, Elvis kept the throng entertained with a Vegas-style performance.

The winds carried the balloons westward into Auburn where there are many open fields primed for a gentle landing on the city’s outskirts.  I am always impressed by balloon pilots’ ability to control their vessel – Professor Marvel notwithstanding.  I once witnessed a balloon land in the Irving Station parking lot across the street from my workplace in Auburn – the traffic on the Turnpike exit ramp coming to a complete standstill in awe of this pilot’s skills to avoid the many power lines and other obstacles.  I imagine there were a few white knuckles on that ride.

I highly recommend a ride in a hot air balloon.  It’s not cheap but well worth the money!

 

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The Grass is Always Greener . . .

Lately it seems that other photographers are capturing way better photographs than I do.  I’ve been combing the various websites that I follow and seeing an awful lot of images with a very high “wow” factor.  It has me asking myself why I’m not doing that.

I know there are many photographers out there that are more talented than me, and quite a few that have better equipment.  Talent and gear go a long way towards success as a photographer but I know there is one other common denominator that sets them apart:  they are out making photographs when the conditions are extreme or unusual – something I haven’t been doing.  Up until last week I hadn’t picked up my camera in over two months.  Seems as though one thing lead to another and then another forcing me to rattle off the litany of excuses I created for myself – work being at the top of the list.

But all that changed on August 3rd when I retired after 28 years with the company and 45 years in the industry.  I can’t use “work” as justification for my photographic idleness any more.   I’m a free man!

I kicked off my retirement with a week’s worth of fun and relaxation at a lake-house on pristine Pitcher Pond tucked away in the Camden Hills region of Maine.  Family and friends joined me for the celebration and the beds, couches and even a tent were filled to capacity for most of our stay.

The water was pleasantly warm and the kayaks, canoes and a borrowed paddle-board saw a lot of use – as did my camera.  Adding to the photographic ambiance was the fact that warm days followed by cool nights created an early morning mist that enveloped the pond in a captivating shroud.

A good portion of my photography was chronicling the aforementioned friends and family but I did spend most mornings sitting on the dock armed with camera and coffee cup awaiting the sunrise and wildlife to make their appearance.

 

There was no shortage of creatures as loons, bald eagles, herons, hawks, geese and deer all put on a spectacular show every day.  A nature preserve couldn’t have provided a better setting.

Pitcher Pond is also a dog heaven and my dog, Emmie wasn’t the only pooch having a blast.  She was as sad to leave this unspoiled place as I was.

I’ve often found the grass to be greener on the other side – literally and metaphorically. The solution is to go out there and do something about it and that’s my plan.  Look forward to more frequent Bicycle With a View posts – no excuses anymore!

As always, you can click on any photo to se a larger version.

In Honor Of . . .

Fiery sky at Mother’s Beach in Kennebunk

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to pay a visit to Mother’s Beach in Kennebunk.  It turned out to be a good choice as I was rewarded with some gorgeous early morning light this past Saturday.

Officially called Kennebunk Beach, I don’t know how the name “Mother’s” came about.  Maybe the nearby playground has something to do with it.  I can envision kids playing on the swings while mom relaxes on the beach with a Dunkin Coffee-Cool-A-Da in one hand and a good book in the other – the scent of coconut sunscreen gently carried by the sea breeze.   That scene is hopefully only a few weeks away but beach weather seemed very distant on this 37o mid-May morning.  As I got my bike out of the car upon arrival I was happy that I threw in that extra “just in case” fleece layer.  I immediately donned it.

Nearby Gooch’s Beach where George and Barbara Bush often walked their dogs

Kennebunkport is a very busy town in the summertime.  Tourists flock here for the stately inns, charming boutiques, fine restaurants and the chance to spot a former president, or two.  I didn’t see either of the Bushes – in fact, at 5:30 am this popular destination was more of a ghost town than a bustling seacoast resort.

Built in 1905, The Narragansett Condominiums was once a hotel of the same name 

Nevertheless, I felt compelled to take a ride up Ocean Avenue to Walker’s Point in honor of the late Barbara Bush who so loved this area and its residents.  I can only imagine the stories the home holds in its memory of this amiable first lady.  Fortunately, her legacy will live on through the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland.

The Bush compound at Walkers Point

On the route to the Bush compound I spotted some sure signs of spring.  Tulips were in full bloom, tree leaves were blossoming and “open for the season” proclamations were clearly visible.

 

Much to my surprise, many of the inns and hotels in town were already well occupied as evidenced by the assortment of license plates from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey in the parking lots.   No matter the temperature, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport have a lot to offer in terms of comfort and relaxation.

Let the tourist season begin!

Surfer at Gooch’s Beach

P.S. I am happy to report that Bicycle With a View now has a new set of wheels.  With the twenty year old Mongoose mountain bike showing signs of wear and corrosion due to winter riding, this lighter and sleeker bicycle will hopefully provide years of travel to photo destinations near and far.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Younger Next Year

Several readers have asked me why I haven’t posted a blog article in a while and wondered if everything is OK with me.  I’m happy to report that I am indeed well and busy working on getting younger.  Let me explain.

Several months ago a friend of mine recommended the book “Younger Next Year”.  It’s co-written by a doctor and one of his clients and it’s aimed at people like me getting ready to retire.  It outlines some steps that can be taken to reverse the aging (or more accurately the decaying) process and is a must read for anyone over age fifty.  As the authors point out, not much can be done to stop the aging process.  Hair will eventually turn gray and skin will someday take on a prune-like texture but there is something that can postpone muscle and bone decay.   Exercise.

For many years I was very active training for running events including marathons.  I also spent many hours on the bicycle participating in group and solo rides and, for nearly fifteen years, commuting 50 miles round trip to and from work by bike once a week during the summer months.  I seemed to have an endless supply of energy and motivation until one day, for reasons still unclear, the couch became a more appealing option than a long run or a lengthy bike ride.  I didn’t completely give up exercise but it was no longer a priority in my life.

The book Younger Next Year changed all that for me.  The crux of the authors’ message – and one of their cardinal rules – is to “perform serious exercise six days a week for the rest of your life”.  That sounds like a daunting task but I have faithfully followed that advice since reading the book and am already feeling “younger”.  I don’t plan to run another marathon but have embarked on a run/walk interval program that’s a little more forgiving than traditional running.  My indoor stationary bicycle was put to good use over the winter and now that the snow has finally disappeared, my outdoor bike typically hits the road at 5:00 am sharp on weekdays.  Consequently, with so much time devoted to exercise, photography was relegated to the back burner.

Of course, all work and no play make for a boring life so decided it was time to wipe the cobwebs off my camera gear, charge the batteries and choose a photo destination reachable by bike.  At the top of my short list of picturesque and inspiring places within striking distance of my home is Portland Headlight and, as tempting as simply throwing the camera in the car and driving to the lighthouse sounds, I reasoned that biking the hour or so from my residence would better embody the true spirit of Bicycle With a View.  Besides, it’s the perfect way to synergize exercise and my hobby.

Cycling in the dark is beginning to grow on me.  I’ve outfitted myself with good lights, reflective clothing and some warm socks and gloves to defend against the chilly Maine mornings.  As I become more accustomed, I realize that the solitude and lack of traffic that pre-dawn rides offer far outweigh the reduced visibility and lower temperatures I have to contend with.  Moreover, there’s a certain “je ne sais quoi” associated with encountering a runner or another cyclist at that early hour where a simple nod acknowledges the mutual admiration of our efforts to become “younger”.  Truth be told, it’s becoming addicting.

I set out for Portland Headlight at 4:00am this past Saturday and the journey was fairly uneventful.  I spotted a rollerblader shortly before 5 o’clock and my first thought was geez, that’s pretty strange but then realized I was being a pot calling the kettle black.  I noticed fewer steamy bathroom windows lit up in houses than I do on weekday mornings.  People obviously tend to take their showers later on weekend days.  Thankfully, no lions, tigers or bears (oh my!) jumped out from behind a tree as I rode the forested section of the Eastern Trail in the darkness– but the prospect crossed my mind having recently heard on the news of bears spotted in some southern Maine neighborhoods.

Friday’s cloud forecast from the National Weather Service predicted 50-60% coverage for 5:00 o’clock Saturday morning and that’s just about perfect for a dramatic sunrise sky.  To my disappointment, their calculation was considerably off the mark as there was nary a cloud overhead leaving me with rather mundane looking vistas.  Only a small cloud bank hovering at the horizon offered any hint of drama.  No award winning lighthouse photos would be made on this morning.

I took the scenic route through South Portland past two other lighthouses before jumping back on the Eastern Trail for home.  Walkers, runners and cyclist were out in full force by then as were the birds that call Scarborough Marsh their home.  I came upon a large blue heron in the water by the trailside and approached ever so quietly.  I was careful not to make any sudden movements as I retrieved my camera from the backpack when, for no apparent reason, my bicycle fell over and spooked the bird into a frenzy (I hate it when that happens!).  No award winning heron photo on this excursion but “I’ll be back”.

 

Gear Matters

The rising sun penetrates the sea smoke at Camp Ellis in Saco on a sub-zero morning

Most photography instructors will tell you that camera gear doesn’t matter and that a new lens or camera body won’t make you a better photographer.  They always cite the example that a professional photographer using entry level equipment will take better photos than a novice using top of the line gear.  I think that’s true but it certainly begs the question why professionals would dish out beaucoup bucks for high end stuff if they can just as easily take great photos with a cheap kit.  The answer to that question is that gear matters – in certain situations.

Sea smoke shrouds the rocky Camp Ellis shore

My neighbors recently returned from a three week expedition to Antarctica sponsored by National Geographic aboard the magazine’s exploration ship appropriately named “The Explorer”.   On the first day participants were greeted with wind driven, near freezing, rain as they set out to photograph the hundreds, maybe thousands of penguins gathered on shore.  Of the 130 people in the group, over thirty of them had their cameras die due to water damage.  That probably wouldn’t have happened had they been using more expensive, fully weather sealed cameras.  Whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned pro, a dead camera means no pictures – regardless of your skill level.  Gear matters in the rain.

A beached ice floe in Scarborough
The remnants of high tide in Scarborough

I like to save a buck as much as the next guy and so I often choose generic alternatives to brand name equipment when it comes to photography accessories.  I can’t see spending top dollar for seldom used non-essential items and often find that the “Acme” versions work quite well.   I also thought the same about camera batteries but Mother Nature recently proved me wrong.

Frozen seawater sculpts the beach near Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse in South Portland

This recent cold snap saw early morning temperatures plunge into the -20F range and I ventured out multiple times when the mercury dipped to at least -15F.  That’s camera battery zapping weather and I quickly learned that the cheap Chinese knock-off batteries that I purchased at bargain basement prices didn’t last nearly as long as my much older, original equipment, battery.  I use the tried and true trick of keeping a spare battery warm by sandwiching it between layers inside my clothing.  Unfortunately, accessing that battery violates a cold weather rule that states that the best way to stay warm is to not get cold.  Having to remove my heavy gloves to unzip my jacket and other layers in order to retrieve the battery, coupled with having to fiddle with the camera to swap out the dead power source, turns a relatively warm me into a cold me.   Once that happens at negative 15 degrees, it’s difficult to recover.  Gear does matter in the cold and that age-old rule of “you get what you pay for” applies here.

A ferry boat makes its way through the sea smoke as the Cousins Island power plant churns out a massive plumage
You won’t find many boats out on the water on mornings such as these

2018 is off to a brutal start, weather-wise, here in Maine.  I don’t expect to be taking my bicycle out anytime soon!  In the meantime, I’m keeping the cut-rate Chinese batteries on full-time charge at least until the groundhog signifies that spring is just around the corner.

The trees refuse to let go of the snow on these frigid mornings

 

The Right Stuff

Click on any photo to see a larger version

I like to consider myself a “location” photographer.  This genre falls under the landscape photography umbrella but includes seascapes, cityscapes and places of interest – particularly lighthouses. A few nights ago I watched a video that discussed the three prerequisites for being a successful landscape photographer – none of which is directly related to photography.  It made me pause and think about whether I have the “right stuff” and what it might take to up my game.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse

In no particular order, these requirements are:

  • Must be able to overcome the fear of darkness – Now this may seem a bit peculiar but is perfectly logical.  Many award winning landscape photographs are taken in remote places and typically around sunrise or sunset.  That means in order to get to/from this remote place one must hike up or down a mountain or traipse through the forest in total darkness and that can be a bit intimidating.  Other than occasionally riding my bicycle in the dark to or from a photo shoot, I don’t have any nighttime hiking or trekking experience.  Maybe it’s time to add that to my bucket list.  It’s in keeping with a photography axiom that states “get your camera in a different place”.
Nubble Lighthouse
  • Must have the physical strength and stamina to carry a heavy camera backpack and tripod long distances – I haven’t added much photo gear to my collection in quite a while but it seems that my camera bag is “feeling” heavier with each passing season.  Might be time to bring less stuff or regain the strength lost to the aging process.  This too supports a key photography principle: “zoom with your feet”.
East Point Sanctuary – Biddeford Pool
Old Orchard Beach
  • Must be able to tolerate adverse weather conditions – I don’t mind the cold and have photographed in sub-zero temperatures but I don’t like getting myself or my gear soaking wet.  Yet, some of the best images I’ve seen recently were taken in horrible climate – particularly in Iceland where freezing rain and hail pelted the photographer.  Not surprisingly he was the only one out there shooting, thereby subscribing to another guideline “shoot where there ain’t nobody else”.  I have Gore-Tex pants, jacket and boots so maybe it’s time to invest in some  rain/snow gear for my camera and get out there when others choose to remain indoors.
Willard Beach – South Portland
Giant Stairs Trail – Bailey Island

If I could add a fourth “must” it would be must be able to get up before the crack of dawn and function normally.  I think the pre-dawn and sunrise hours are the best moments for location photography.  Few people are out at that time, the air is often still, and the bugs are usually still asleep. Magical things happen early in the morning and I look forward to capturing more of them in 2018.  Here’s hoping that you’ll come along for the ride.

Camp Ellis Harbor
Pond Cove – Cape Elizabeth

I wish you all a very happy and healthy new year!

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse – South Portland

The Fall Guy

Click on any image to see a larger version

June is my favorite month of the year.  I love the long daylight hours and how the green vegetation coats the landscape.  October is my second favorite month.  Peak foliage is a photographer’s dream come true and I like the fact that all four major sports leagues are in action.  I particularly enjoy baseball’s World Series.

A wrong turn in Buxton led me to this scene

That’s why I was conflicted over leaving Maine in October for a three week trip to Australia and New Zealand.  Not only would I miss the height of the leaf-peeping season, for the first time since 1960 I would not get to watch one minute of the World Series – except for some video highlights via the internet and a few blurbs on Australian television.  Of course, since the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs shortly before my departure, missing the Series wasn’t all that painful.  Having to forego peak foliage time was a little more difficult to swallow.

Just off the Blue Trail in Rines Forest in Cumberland

Prepping for a three week trip didn’t leave much time for photography but I did manage to get out on the morning before we left.  Websites categorized southern Maine at about 60-70% peak color and I spent time in Buxton, Limerick and Cumberland in search of the reds, yellows and oranges that make October spectacular.

Somewhere in Limerick

The outing also offered me the opportunity to use one of my favorite photography accessories – purchased at Wal-Mart, no less: a cheap pair of rubber boots to wade into shallow waters.  If you want viewers to get a true “feel” of the scene being captured, you have to jump into the scene feet first yourself.  Waterproof boots help.

The Limerick Rapids

I may have missed peak foliage this year but I can’t complain too much.  I came back with some once in a lifetime photographs from Australia and New Zealand.  The leaves will turn color in Maine again next year and for many years thereafter.  Count on me being here.

An angler fishes the Saco River