I have gone to the National Gallery, one of my favourite places, on most of my visits to Ottawa. The interior is a beautiful space, and despite its size, creates an intimate experience with art. My visits have luckily not been at busy times, and the exhibitions so numerous that each visit is a combination of new experiences and reacquaintances with some favourite works. And sharing the experience this time with Jennifer made this visit even more special.
At the top of the order was the Forty Part Motet in the Rideau Chapel. This historic Sacred Heart convent chapel, with a rare Tudor-style fan-vaulted ceiling, was completely reassembled within the National Gallery, and is a perfect venue for the Motet. The Motet is a collection of 40 speakers arranged around the chapel, each recording the voice of a single choir member. Walking among the speakers feels and sounds as if you are wandering through a choir, pausing to hear each voice singing. The music itself has a spacial architecture. The effect is magical, and the music beautiful.
One criticism of the Gallery is the lack of daylight-balanced lighting. It’s really noticeable on a cloudy day (as it was) and made white balance correction a processing nightmare. I gave up on a Rothko painting and created an interesting black and white instead (see the slideshow above).
On September 28, Jennifer and I hiked from Moraine Lake in Banff National Park to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. Larch Valley was in full Fall colour and an absolute delight. After a picnic lunch, we hiked further along a narrow and steep switchback trail to Sentinel Pass, the highest point on a major trail in the Canadian Rockies. From the pass, one has a commanding view of Larch Valley and the Ten Peaks in one direction, and Paradise Valley in the other. The panoramic view at the top, high above the tree line, was worth the considerable effort to get up there.
Jennifer and I left Alberta on Aug 15, heading south to see the total eclipse of the sun in the Idaho desert. We left early because we knew that good camping locations might be hard to find and/or extortionately expensive.
We eventually found an isolated spot, surrounded by desert, just off Hwy 33 on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. BLM land is generally free to camp on (for up to 14 days). We knew a small camping community would form around us in the next few days as we waited for the eclipse. Besides enjoying our quiet surroundings in the middle of “nowhere”, we visited the St Anthony Sand Dunes and hiked up and around the rim of Menan Butte, an extinct volcanic cone. We could see our trailer in the distance, alone in the desert below.
The day before the eclipse, we went on a cycling excursion with a few people who had set up camp next to us. We cycled to Menan and then around the butte. Soon after our return, a knock on the door and orders to get ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Panic as we smelled smoke. A wildfire was threatening what had become a tight-knit community. Some left and returned later. We got ready to pull out, but hoped we would not have to leave. We watched as firefighters worked to contain and put out the fire, which they eventally accomplished.
August 21 dawned clear (as every day there had been) and promised a great view of the eclipse. Jen and I in turn climbed onto our trailer roof for some panoramic pictures. Great excitement as the moment of totality approached (see my short video on YouTube). The light had dimmed; everything was still; and the air had cooled dramatically. In the moments leading to totality, you could actually see the moon’s shadow overtake the surrounding landscape. Looking around in the darkness, you could see twilight in all directions. The umbra had not yet reached the distant Grand Teton Mountains. Everybody present was experiencing something like a moment of spiritual ecstasy. I took some time to taken in the awesomeness of the scene.
I then ran to my Nikon D800, which I had set up on a tripod earlier, to grab some 300mm telephoto shots of the eclipse. No filters were required during totality. And then after the blast of intense light that forms the diamond ring effect, it was over, a little over two minutes after totality had started. In our “afterglow”, we sat around and shared our thoughts. We glanced from time to time at the waning partial eclipse with our funky eclipse glasses. After sharing contact information, we cleaned up, broke camp, said our goodbyes, and headed out. Only then, as we soon sat in a 7-mile-long traffic lineup, did we get a sense of how many eclipse-gazers had come to the area.
Jennifer and I have been wandering in the desert for the last forty days and forty nights, first in the Mojave in California, and for most of January, the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. We have visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Saguaro National Park, and the Sonoran National Monument, which is literally out the back door of our RV park here at Gila Bend. One beautiful feature of the desert is our ability to wander in any direction our hearts desire. You don’t have to go very far before you are completely alone in a vastness that defies words. And it is stunningly beautiful.
The most common plant here is the creosote bush (see the second image in the slideshow). Though completely unphotogenic, they are interconnected underground and may live longer than anything else on earth. One is believed to be more than 10,000 years old. Much more photogenic are the many varieties of cactus, so it’s no surprise this post is mainly about my take on cacti.
For my final post of 2016 – a year on the road for Jennifer and me – some images of Kelso Dunes in what is now Mojave National Monument, which we visited before Christmas. We arrived after several windy days and made “first tracks” on some 700-ft high dunes. It was enchanting.