Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Port: London's Lake Erie resort

Port Stanley habour is used by commercial fishers and recreational boaters.
Port Stanley is a fine, little harbour south of London on Lake Erie. At one time, The Port was a major shipping harbour but today it is mainly a commercial fishing and recreational port. I bought my second sailboat from a fellow who docked his boat in Kettle Creek just above where the large creek empties into the harbour.

Today being the Sunday before the August 1st holiday, the Port and adjacent beach were busier than usual. Last year I got caught in heavy traffic heading for the beach.

This year I parked some distance away and walked until I found a spot to shoot some quick stuff from some distance. My old car doesn't do well in stop 'n go traffic on a hot summer day.

At one time London had a direct railway connection to The Port but the London and Port Stanley Railway was allowed to fold some decades ago. Today some remnants of the tracks are used by a local group of railroad keeners who run Port Stanley Terminal Rail from The Port to the southern edge of St. Thomas, the town midway between London and Lake Erie.

Today one must drive to get to Port Stanley. The road is direct and it only takes about half an hour by car. It can be done by bike if you've got the time and the energy. At my age, I have neither.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Colourful beetle and spider

"Get your camera!" My wife saw the neatest, little beetle crawling on a piece of stainless steel in our backyard and she wanted a picture; Even more, she wanted to know what this colourful, metallic little beetle was.

According to the Internet, the beetle pictured above is a chrysochus auratus or dogbane beetle. It is beautiful in its iridescent shell and common right across the United States and southern Canada. I read that it prefers milk weed and dogbane for dinner. This makes sense as we have a field with lots of milkweed and dogbane right across the court from where I live in London, Ontario.

While shooting the little beetle, another little fellow showed up eager to pose for a picture. This was a spider with the green abdomen and striped yellow/brown legs.

A search of the Internet failed to turn-up a likely candidate for naming this beautiful little critter.

My guess, and it is just that, is that this is a hunting spider out on the prowl. I don't imagine it ever spins a proper web.

If anyone has a suggestion as to this little spider's correct name, I'd be interested in hearing form you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

English Morgans in Canada's London

An umbrella serves as a quick, temporary tonneau cover.
Back in the '50s and '60s Morgan roadsters were sold in two places in Canada: Windsor, Ontario and Burnaby, British Columbia. Today they are not sold at all, at least not in Canada, at least not new. A dispute between the Canadian government and Morgan Motors has kept the unique, little roadsters from being imported into the country for decades.

My Morgan is well down towards the end of the line.
After more than a century the Morgan automobile company is still building cars in Malvern Link, England. There is still a Morgan dealer in Canada — located a little north of Toronto in Bolton, Ontario. CMC Enterprises, run by Martin and Steve Beer, may not sell new cars but they do a damn fine job of keeping old ones, decades old, reliably on the road.

My British racing green Morgan Plus 4 is one of about half a dozen Morgans in London, Ontario. Because of their past availability, Morgans seems to be concentrated even today in Canada in Southwestern Ontario and southern British Columbia.

Sunday my wife and I took our Morgan north to Durham, Ontario where we linked up with about a half dozen other Morgan owners to tour a llama ranch and later tour a small, craft brewery in Neustadt.

There are quite a number of llama ranches in Ontario and from the spiel given by the owners of the ranch visited Sunday raising llamas is good business.

The owners have three farms devoted to llamas. Mostly they sell the wool sheared from the South American beasts but sometimes they sell the odd one to another farmer to use as a guard animal.

Llamas will protect a herd of sheep from coyote predation, for instance. The docile looking animals can be quite fiesty when pushed and they don't take any pushing from coyotes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Flowers, not grass

My day lilies are doing nicely this year. It make me think that I should follow the lead of some of my neighbours — put in flowers and other decorative plants and rip up my front yard grass.

I envision a pavement stone walkway curving around the front yard with lots of hostas filling in the open spaces — at least, in the early years.

Flowers are so inviting. I mean who stops to smell the grass?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heat wave rolls over London

Yesterday a record fell that had stood since 1918. Yesterday the high in London hit 36.4°C. I believe that's pushing 98°F on the old scale.

Fiona, at not quite two, insisted on going outside, running smack into a wall of heat. I filled her little, blue wading pool, dumped her bath toys in the water and let the naive little thing head outside to play. Damn, but it was hot!

Playing it safe, I sat on the grass beside the pool. Every now and then I took some cool, pool water and splashed it over my head and face. I would drip some on my bare arms.

Fiona watched and exclaimed, "Gaga!" Then, imitating me, she'd do the same. We sat together enjoying the fiercely hot day, our heads dripping wet.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blackfriars and Londonlicious

Roulade of Basa
Some years ago, the Blackfriars Bistro opened as a very small neighbourhood restaurant. Today it is still a very small restaurant but its fame has spread across the city. Staying small and staying true to its original vision has been a successful business plan for the little, niche restaurant.

After being hospitalized in California last summer with a serious heart problem, traveling outside of the country is now on hold. I have discovered getting travel insurance is almost impossible.

My wife and I are spending our time, and our money, enjoying London, Ontario. Luckily, London is a fine city offering lots of stuff both for residents and visitors alike.

Roasted Chicken Supreme
At one point, both my wife and I lived just west of the downtown core in a neighbourhood bordering the Thames River. When a small, neighbourhood restaurant changed hands and moved upscale — The Blackfriars Bistro was born. We both loved it immediately.

Today we live in what many call the suburbs. Yet, we are only about a ten minute drive to the Blackfriars. Yesterday we celebrated a birthday with a visit to our old haunt. The dinner was as good as expected plus a little bonus — we benefited from the annual Londonlicious event.

Londonlicious is a local restaurant festival featuring almost 30 local eateries all offering a $25, three-course, prix fixe menu. The menu offered by the Blackfriars can be found here.

Last year my wife and I traveled across the States to the California coast in my old Morgan. This year we are enjoying a staycation in London. Our Londonlicious meal would have been a delight if we had encountered it anywhere on our six thousand mile route last year. It was doubly delightful enjoying it right here in town.

Double Vanilla Bean Champagne Sorbet

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Flowers: One of the wonders of summer

Forgive the easy shots of lilies but they are beautiful and they are part of summer in London, Ontario.

I don't have a green thumb, or a green anything for that matter. When it comes to lilies, I buy 'em; I plant 'em; I enjoy 'em. Now, you can enjoy 'em, too.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

London raptor

It's call was loud and raspy and impossible not to notice. Walkers stopped walking; Joggers stopped jogging. It didn't take long to spot the source: A large, noisy hawk perched on a high limb overlooking the park.

The hawk's call attracted this photographer.
Hawks are common in the London, Ontario suburb in which I live. The Ingersoll glacial moraine runs right through Byron. The high ridge of land has rather steep approaches and raptors hover in the strong updrafts.

The open fields in the subdivision are well populated with mice. Those with homes bordering the fields hate those mice but the raptors love 'em.

During the fall migration, half a dozen large raptors of assorted species can often be sighted hovering in the steady updrafts seeking a quick meal, while literally hundreds of birds pass overhead possibly on their way to Hawk's Cliff near Port Stanley on the north shore of Lake Erie.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Blooming lotus

Years ago I studied hatha yoga in Toronto while going to film school. When I saw this young woman sitting quietly in a version of the yoga lotus position, it brought back memories. I used to sit with my feet resting on the tops of my thighs, and no cushion. It's a position known as the padma-asana.

This woman was clearly waiting for others. I chatted with her briefly and learned she was from the merged Lotus Centre/Shangrila Yoga on Mount Pleasant Avenue in west central London.

Briefly, and I must stress briefly, I thought, "Hey, I should take up yoga again." Yes, I'm a dreamer.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Great Blue in Thames River

I'm not all that knowledgeable about birds, but I believe this is a great blue heron in the Thames River beside Springbank Park in London, Ontario. According to my Peterson Field Guide, adult great blues may attain a height of up to four feet, with the white about their heads another telltale marker. This sure looks like a great blue to me.

More than a decade ago there was a push on to have the Thames, the second largest river system in Southwestern Ontario, declared one of Canada's heritage rivers. In August, 2000, the river formally joined the ranks of Canadian heritage rivers.

The North Branch of the Thames flows into the Thames River at the forks at the western edge of the city core. Despite being surrounded by a city of hundreds of thousands, if one canoes or kayaks down the Thames, the varied wildlife sighted makes the river run seem almost like a wilderness adventure — this is especially true if you're a city boy.

And I am still a city boy at heart, even if I am in my 60s and retired. I shot this "wilderness" picture a short distance from my suburban London home.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

PhotoCamp London 2011

My shot of Queen Anne's Lace inspired by watching Ms. Mary Lou Roberts.
Today PhotoCamp London 2011 was held at the Convergence Centre on the grounds of the UWO Research Park in North London. Local photographer James Wilkinson deserves to receive a lot of praise for his part in putting together the very successful day.

The morning ended with a PhotoWalk.
One part of the day involved a PhotoWalk around the centre's grounds. I noticed a lady, Mary Lou Roberts, getting down on her knees to take shots of Queen Anne's Lace from the underneath looking up. What a fine idea!

It turns out that Ms. Roberts took a some photography instruction from a fellow with whom I once worked — Dave Chidley. Chidley is one of the finest newspaper shooters in Canada. He taught his students that if one isn't getting their knees dirty they aren't finding enough different angles. It's a good rule.

The afternoon photo shoot had two professional models.
The afternoon offered a photo shoot with a couple of professional models.

I felt out of my league shooting with my simple  cameras — my Fuji FinePix HS10 bridge camera and my point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot S90.

DSLRs and long lenses were the order of the day. We learned that all lenses have an f/stop at which they perform best. The info can be found on the Internet using Google.

The leader of the walk, James Wilkinson, said he was shooting at f/4.0 with his portrait length lens. This gave him reduced depth of field to make the models pop from the page. Also, f/4.0 was the sharpest setting with his particular lens.

The models had photo-perfect bodies.
I must say the models were both good and very professional but I, as a former news shooter, prefer less structured, more natural, poses. I felt the late Peter Gowland would have been comfortable shooting the poses taken by the young woman model — especially those she took after stripping down to her bikini.

I'm a still photographer but my background is in film. I have a degree in filmmaking from Ryerson in Toronto. I found the talks on shooting video the high point of the day. I found myself fully in agreement with the advice delivered at the morning panel discussion.

Edward Platero told us: "Embrace the limitations of the camera." Man, is he right. Chris Hachey added: You must get "the best you can with what you've got."

This is good advice for still photographers as well as videographers.

Chris Hachey
The enthusiasm for the art of shooting video was quite evident at the morning discussion. I loved it when Chris Hachey said:

"You'll never stop learning."

Addendum: At PhotoCamp I learned there's a lot of experimenting being done with Canon DSLRs being used to shoot video. For instance, a season final of House was shot using a Canon 5D Mark II. Amazing! If you're interested in seeing a short shot with a Canon DSLR check out this post on Rockin' On: The Blog

My best shot of the young model was taken before the shoot.

Thank you LHSC!

There was a time when I thought of flowers, I thought of full blooms. I wanted peak action. No buds and no wilted petals. Just gorgeous flowers in their prime.

Then I experienced Sheila's art. Sheila, at the time, was painting flowers. She didn't narrow her focus to just blooms, the climax of the story. No, she captured the whole tale from bud to bloom to fading away forever.

Now, I see flower art entirely differently.

And now I see life a little differently — and it's not just because of flowers. You see, today I visited the London Health Sciences Centre and a doctor there informed me that I have arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). I now know why I've had the heart problems that have plagued me this past year.

A friend once said I was one of the luckiest guys they had ever met. I'm beginning to believe my friend. Having a rare, genetic heart disorder is not lucky but living in London, Ontario is. The excellent hospital here in London, and the absolutely wonderful doctors and nurses who didn't stop looking when the reason for my heart problem proved elusive, gave me a future.

Thanks to my ICD, I no longer fear sudden death syndrome. And my meds are keeping my weird heart beat patterns at bay.

I may still be wilting, aren't we all, but I no longer fear that I am a day lily. Thank you LHSC!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


When I saw today's shot, the word "joy" immediately came to mind. For me, this picture conveys an enthusiastic love for life.

Letting dogs run free just anywhere in the city is against a London bylaw. There are off-leash parks for that purpose. Still, one often sees dogs running after balls in city parks. My granddaughter laughs with loud delight whenever she gets a chance to watch one of these dogs in action.

One time the pooch in question, hearing Fiona, brought the ball right to the little toddler, dropping it at her feet. The dog brought more than a ball to Fiona, the dog brought her "joy".

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Market may be on the market

This is the Covent Garden Market in downtown London, Ontario. A market has stood on this site for more than a hundred years.

There is little point in writing a lot about the market as the above link will take you to a fine slide show detailing the market's history. When watching the slide show, note the size of the crowds and the great number of cars in some of these old photos.

Contrary to what some would have us believe, walking wasn't always the way to get around, even in the distant past. 80 years ago parking spaces for all the cars was already an issue under discussion. And before cars circled the market and clogged the area, horse drawn carriages filled much of the open space.

Today there is talk of the city selling the market. Times are tough, they say. Time to make a tough decision. Maybe the tough decision is to hold onto the market and the site.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reclaimed gravel pit

When I moved to my home in suburban Byron on the edge of London, Ontario, there was a huge gravel pit immediately across from my home. The pit was actually closed, no more gravel was being excavated, and the pit was now going through a process of reclamation.

My wife and I were warned that we might have to put up with dust from the closed pit for twenty years. Reclaiming a gravel pit requires a lot of fill and dumping that fill creates a lot of dust.

Well London grew faster than estimated and new construction creates a massive amount of fill. The old pit disappeared quickly. It was gone in just a few years. The steep cliffs of the pit were sloped and a beautiful park took shape, complete with a baseball diamond and a children's play area.

Watching these boys ascending one of the wildflower covered slopes, it's hard to believe that just more than a decade ago this was the steep, sandy home for hundreds of cliff swallows.

It is funny to contemplate but sometimes I wonder if my home, sitting on a mound of gravel and fine sand hundreds of feet deep, will be torn down someday in the future in order to get at the gravel underneath. It is not unknown for homes to be demolished to extract the valuable aggregate on which they sit.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Back from extinction

Sighted behind a London home flapping in the summer breeze.
The clothesline was a dying feature of Canadian urban live. In some suburbs long clotheslines were banned. If one felt driven to hang wet laundry outside, exposing all to the neighbourhood, a circular, rotating line was the only type allowed.

Three years ago all this changed when Premier Dalton McGuinty lifted the ban on outdoor clotheslines by overruling the common suburban bylaw. McGuinty said the move was aimed at curbing the use of energy-sucking clothes dryers, which burn up to six per cent of Ontario's power.

In explaining the change, McGuinty said:
"There's a whole generation of kids growing up today who think a clothesline is a wrestling move."

Hmmm. I guess there's was a whole generation, mine, who thought a wrestling move was a way to dry laundry.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A storm rolls over the city

Minutes before the storm hit, this was the sunset.
I cannot recall the last time an electrical storm frightened me. The one that rolled over London, Ontario tonight was scary. The bolts of lightning hit so close to my home, I live on a hill overlooking the city, that the thunder had not just sound but real fury. My windows rattled and the pens on my desk trembled.

The sky was thick with storms all day.
I wish I could have gotten a picture but the lightning came and went very quickly. The rumble of thunder is now distant and growing weaker by the minute.

By eleven tonight all storms should be past and tomorrow I will drive my Morgan to Burlington with the top of the old roadster stored on the shelf behind the seat.

Tomorrow morning should be a day not for umbrellas but for sunblock. But by late afternoon it might be time for another thunder storm. That's common summer weather in Southwestern Ontario.