Dogsled Races in Haliburton Highlands

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Dogsled races are a surefire memory trigger to my early childhood.

Growing up in Montreal in the 1960s, my family developed a very close friendship with Roberto & Jovita Gill, Spanish expats originally from the Basque country in northern Spain, who then lived in the Laurentians near Saint Sauveur. That region of the province of Quebec, wasn’t as well connected to Montreal as it is today, and not owning a car, we would often travel by bus to spend weekends or extended visits, be it in summer or winter.

As children seldom are, I wasn’t aware at the time, of just how profoundly the experiences we were introduced to, would shape my outlook on life. Rural Quebec, at that time, was very isolated and in many ways very rustic, but for young children, our connection to La Ferme and surrounding mountains, streams and fields, was an intimate and wonderful playground and education. Free-range children to the core.

When we weren’t exploring the natural world we were helping with chores, tending to the vegetable garden, feeding the livestock, mucking out stalls or collecting eggs from the chicken coop. I’m eternally grateful for the introduction we received, to where our food comes from, the labour involved, and the care and respect for the animals and everything that sustains us all.

Now, while we were running around outside, the woman folk were preparing wonderful meals, indoors, and the men were doing most of the heavy work outdoors. That’s just the way it was. However, we still have Super 8 film of all the men and woman gathering the hay behind a horse-drawn mower and wielding pitch forks as they loaded the golden harvest on to the back of the farm truck.

Lucky for us, the horses weren’t strictly beasts of burden. I learned to ride a horse before I ever rode a bicycle and like so much learned in childhood, it’s like… well falling off a bike. One never forgets how and it feels so natural.

Along with the mixed farm operation that Roberto and Jovita looked after, they also raised dogs. They had a contract with the Montreal Police Department to supply them with German Sheppards, and they also raised and raced Siberian Huskies.

Farm operations may have slowed down as the temperatures dropped, but for us, it simply signalled the beginning of an idyllic winter wonderland. I got my first pair of skiis when I was two, and since the skidoo wasn’t introduced until 1960, snow also meant harnessing the Huskies. Once there was a solid covering of snow on the ground, it wasn’t unusual for Roberto to meet our bus, where the farm-lane met the paved road, with a team of Huskies pulling a long sleigh. He’d load our baggage up, and anyone too short to clear the snow, and head back to the farm house.

All these images are etched in my mind and even the suggestion of a sight, sound or smell will trigger memories so vivid I’m taken right back. All these years later, I still look for any opportunity to attend Dogsled Races, and for anyone that hasn’t experienced a Derby, add it to your bucket list.You will never see a happier gathering of animals. The howling and jumping will put a smile on even the most winter weary spectator.

 

La Ferme is responsible for my connection to the natural world and my unbridled desire to share the Way I See everything, through my photographs.

 

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This Collection of photographs was produced at the Annual Haliburton Highlands Dog Sled Derby.

Is Time A Demon Or A Gift?

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Is time a demon or a gift? Few amongst us hasn’t lamented the passage of time, and it’s something which weighs increasingly heavy as we age.

It was the summer of 1984 and I was working for the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) out of Cochrane, Ontario, as a Fish & Wildlife Technologist. My contract involved working in the field, in a remote location, inaccessible by road, with one co-worker whom I’d just met, collecting Lake Sturgeon population data on the Mattagami River. A pattern of Ten-On, Four-Off was repeated over a four-month period that summer, and both the experiences and natural beauty of our working environment, were priceless.

Reminds me of the old Monty Python Flying Circus routine “A Minute Passed“.

For those ten days, time stood virtually still. A simple routine that involved completing a series of tasks, and then time was our own. No pressing deadlines, no telephones, no meetings. The weather being our only external concern. I’ll grant, that those were pre-tablet and internet days, but we didn’t even have electricity in the cabin where we were staying, and the only form of communication with the outside world was a battery-powered Two-Way Radio. We would check-in at the same time every morning, to confirm with our Radio Dispatcher that we hadn’t run afoul of any large mammals, and otherwise, the only man made sound was that which we were responsible for. I read and wrote so much that summer.

Fast forward thirty years and like most of you, I’m frightened by how fast time seems to pass by. Why is that? The apparent speed with which time passes, not the fright.

Driving at 100 km / hour… ahhmmm! I often find myself coming to the realization that I’ve travelled hundreds if not thousands of kilometres in my car, and seen nothing but asphalt, concrete and flashing lights. I’ve driven back and forth to jobs, run errands and visited friend’s homes, but I haven’t gone anywhere, I haven’t done anything of worth. I believe that that sense of not having accomplished anything and time rushing by, are linked.

It’s not even a matter of doing too much, it’s more so that we keep looking for ways to do less. We rationalize that if we purchase this gizmo or streamline that process, we’ll have more free time to relax, and then time won’t feel to be in such short supply. We say we’ll read more, but we don’t. We promise to spend more time sitting in conversation with friends, but we don’t… we text! We fill that hard-earned free time with distractions that demand very little direct participation by us, and consequently we have nothing to show, only to further exacerbate the feeling that time is passing us by.

I’m not suggesting that we need to be constantly making stuff or conquering another white-water run, but there’s a difference between relaxing and lethargy. “Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” is a phrase originally attributed to Marthe Troly-Curtin, in her novel Phrynette Married, and most recently popularized by John Lennon. It speaks to being aware of how we spend our time, and forces us to consider how we choose to while away our days.

What is so exhausting about baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch, be it by yourself or in the fellowship of… great company We can’t converse while we measure out the flour We can’t share stories while we clean up, in anticipation of tasting the fruits of our labours How did thawing the store bought cookie dough, strengthen our relationships or stash away any dearly held memories What, if anything, did we learn about each other?

As read on a Hospital Cork Board, yup this is old, “The most tiring thing to do is nothing, because you can never stop to take a rest.”

Enjoyment is in the doing. The less effort we invest in ANYTHING, the less satisfaction we derive from the consumption. The lower the sense of accomplishment, the poorer our legacy.Squandering opportunities to positively impact the lives of others, only accelerates the sensation that time is whizzing past us.

I’m fortunate to have discovered an antidote to the question of a legacy and the relentless passage of time. Like many artists, I find it relatively easy to put all the outside pressures into perspective. I spend as much time as possible with my children, I read, I write, I DO. My camera allows me to gather and share a photographic legacy now, while I’m here to enjoy the reactions, and later to provide documentary evidence of my place in time.

Back on the Mattagami River, I’ll confess that as we approached the end of our ten days in the field, I did become anxious for the variety of faces and distractions that even Cochrane would afford and considered time to be a demon. However, after a few days back in town, I craved for the rustic surroundings of our little cabin and considered time to be a gift.

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This Collection of photographs is part of an ongoing project.

A Dozen of My Personal Favourite Photographs From 2014

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I’m not big on New Years resolutions. I don’t believe that I should wait until one day of the year to make promises to myself, let alone anyone else. It’s by making and keeping promises that we build and maintain relationships, and promises aren’t just those that start with “I promise…”, either. Promises can be implicit as well as explicit and must be offered up on an ongoing basis, to sustain any type of relationship. Waiting for one specific day to make promises of love or friendship, strikes of insincerity, and on the heals of Family Day and Valentine’s Day, that should resonate with many of us.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to make a big deal of Birthdays, Anniversaries and Parents’ Days, I just think we should take every opportunity to tell those close to us, how much they matter in our lives.

I am, on the other hand, big on Lists: To Do Lists, Grocery lists, Gift Lists, Movie Wish Lists… the list goes on. I use to keep a list of Books and Authors I want to read, in a notebook. That paper list was eventually transcribed in to the computer and a few years ago, along came GoodReads a great online site where you can, not only generate a Wish List of books you want to read, but you can also add your own short critique to what you’ve read, and share it with your friends.

The really great thing about this user generated data base, is that you too can receive book recommendations from your friends and, thereby, be exposed to authors and titles, you may not have otherwise considered. The awful thing about the site, because you know there has do be a downside, is that… there just aren’t enough hours in the day to fit in as much reading as I’d like. Especially not when adding to the list, all the work related reading that I need to do, linked to Marketing, changes in my Imaging Software, evolution of my Website… and the list goes on.

There is however, one list that I’ve put off sharing, long enough. That is, A Dozen Of My Favourite Photographs from my Wanderings and Walkabouts in 2014. I’ve pulled these images for a variety of reasons. Some, like the candid Environmental Portrait of Evert Houston at Balzac in the Distillery District, was very spontaneous and obviously joyful.

Where as, The Sled Dogs, what can I say, I come by my love of Dog Sled Races naturally, from my childhood in the Laurentians of Quebec. These were held at the Annual Haliburton Highlands Dogsled Derby in Ontario and draw teams and visitors from far and wide.

A neighbourhood that is undergoing some wonderful revitalization, and that’s primarily from new pedestrian friendly businesses, not from demolitions, is the Junction.GREAT little restaurants like Cut The Cheese and local beer at the Indie Ale House.

As I wander the streets, I keep my eyes open for subjects that feed into ongoing projects, like the Benches, pull on my heart strings like yet another closed business or tickle my funny bone like the pylons. I hope you too can see yourself in these photographs and inspire you to keep your eyes open.

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This Collection of Photographs was produced in Ontario, Canada, over the course of a year.

What More Can I Do?

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There are two kinds of people: those that grumble “Haven’t I done enough?” and those that question, “What more can I do?”

In early December 2014, I was invited to photograph a group of young adults… OK I have trouble writing that description, because this group of people although chronologically youngerrrr…. than me, demonstrate the maturity and self awareness that should be envied by many, twice and thrice their ages.

The Ontario Council for International Cooperation (OCIC), annually accepts nominations for Global-Changemaker Youth-Ambassador Awards, and recognizes a select group of nominees, at a reception to mark International Development Week. The 2015 event was held on February 3rd, in the Rotunda of Metro Hall in Toronto, and showcased a photographic exhibit by Allan Lissner Transformations: Stories of Partnership, Resilience and Positive Change in Peru. This collaborative photojournalism project is intended to increase dialogue, and further understanding of International Partnerships that address complex global challenges. You will find all the details describing this exhibit and where you can view it, at http://ocic.on.ca/transformations2015

OK, enough with all the hard facts, what I really need to get off my chest is how inspiring these opportunities are to me.

As a photographer I have had the great privilege of witnessing, contributing to, and participating in several great causes. Whether it was accompanying a plane-full of children participating in a Sunshine Foundation sponsored-trip to Disney World, my work for CUSO International or now meeting this great group of young people, I’m inspired to contemplate the potential we all have for doing good. It’s not enough to say we’re good people because we do no harm – and indifference counts as harm – but to actually apply the natural talents, which we all posses, to make a positive difference in the quality-of-life, of others. Investing time and applying creative problem-solving in the Non-Profit sector, benefits all of us.

By being curious and aware of the needs of The Other, we help to improve the standard of living of those less fortunate, where ever they may be and regardless of gender. Improving health and basic education standards, unleashes the human potential by helping to reduce crime and allows all of us to focus on opportunities, beforehand, out of reach. Hope is priceless and the dividends are immeasurable.

Volunteering isn’t something we do because we have time to spare, we do it because someone has to stretch out a helping hand. Ask yourself, “If not me , then who? If not now, then when?”

My personal congratulations to all the inspiring and very worthy 2015Global-Changemaker Youth-Ambassador Awards, recipients for demonstrating a willingness to put their passionate words into actions.

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This Collection of Environmental Portraits was produced prior to the Awards Presentations.

Curiosity Fed The Photographer

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As newborns, everything, and I mean everything is novel. We’ve never seen a face before, or heard a rattle and we’ve certainly never distinguished between red or blue or yellow. Instinctively, we find sounds as well as facial expressions, to be either pleasant or not. For the first ten to twelve years of our lives, we are, by nature, curious, and it is that curiosity, which in large part, describes childhood. Unfortunately, as innate as curiosity is, during our early childhood, parents also play a significant role in encouraging or discouraging our sense of adventure, our sense of curiosity.

Reasonably, a child can’t be familiar with anything that they aren’t introduced to. If as parents we limit our children’s food choices or allow them to pick and choose, then they will likely become picky eaters. Shun physical activity and complain about the weather, and our children will probably develop negative attitudes in that regard too, based on the only examples they’ve been exposed to.

If on the other hand, we cook from scratch and introduce new ingredients, while involving our children in the process, then they will likely develop a curious and healthy relationship with food. Focus on introducing experiences that don’t involve an Entrance Fee and they will tend toward expanding their own repertoire, and trust me, invite you to participate as well. Expose children to a wide palette of artistic expression and they will value, support and defend the arts.

Not to be confused with naivety, curiosity is what keeps us soulfully young. Most of us who have experienced the struggles and challenges of mere mortals, and spent even a passing moment considering human behaviour, are keenly aware of the fact that chronological age is no guarantor of higher level thinking, much less emotional maturity. Likewise, chronological age does not preclude one from being adventurous and childlike, not to be confused with childish.

Just as the phrase “mature beyond their years” describes one who is unusually wise at a chronologically young age, so does “young at heart” describe one who, despite their grey hair, has retained the curiosity of a spring lamb. Curiosity is the nut, the fruit that brings life to every day events and experiences.

We’ve all met that person that lights up a room as they walk in, despite not knowing anyone. Call it charisma or call it charm, but very close to the surface you will find a sincere curiosity. Sure, be aware of false prophets, but many, if not most of us, recognize sincerity when exposed to it. We can see it in the other’s eyes while they listen, or not. We can hear it in their voice, as they share an embarrassing anecdote, or in how they peel back our guard with their thoughtful questions.

I don’t know who first said it, but “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” is a phrase that I first read, over twenty years ago, in Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, and that I truly believe holds true. Some may argue that it just isn’t so, because one may be messy at home but not at work, to which I would counter, take away all the artificial supports, take responsibility for all aspects of your work environment, and then we’ll talk. If you’re curious, you’re curious, regardless of your sparing partner, regardless of the topic and certainly regardless of any self-serving motivation.

Sincere curiosity can’t be disguised by shallow posturing, anymore than by wrinkles and receding hair-lines. All things being equal, a sharp mind is the product of a curious mind. Refrain from reading, at any age, and remove, perhaps the most important avenue to new ideas. Avoid solving problems, and deny yourself the satisfaction of discovering a hidden talent. Ignore those chronologically younger or older than yourself, and suffer the consequences of ignorance.

It may come more naturally to some, than to others, but there’s no denying that curiosity is critical to remaining physically, intellectually and emotionally active. In the words of Pablo Picasso “Youth has no age.” and since we were all curious once, we can be again. Now, I’m off to walk the streets on this cold January day to poke my camera around another, unfamiliar corner and, who knows, produce some memorable Street Photography.

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These photographs were produced in downtown Toronto