Sunny Revelations

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

There is nothing like travel to rejuvenate the soul. There are uplifting little notes, even when you are quite convinced your soul is fresh as a daisy at the outset.

I had the great fortune to start 2016 “on the road”. Well, in the air, but you get the idea. My year started with the opportunity to present some research some colleagues and I have been working on at a conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s not everyday my work takes me somewhere sunny so it was a bit of a treat. Given the location, I decided to take a few vacation days and stay for a while past the end of the conference.

If you have never been to Hawaii, I would recommend adding it to your list of future destinations. There is something about the “Aloha” spirit that is light, friendly, and laid back. Everything from the forgiving approach to lost tourists making terrible decisions in rental cars, to cheerful business owners happily offering local tips and stories, makes a visitor feel welcome.

Waikiki enjoys a great sunrise as the sun peeks up from behind the Diamond Head Crater, and spectacular sunsets as the sun sinks in the west. One of the things I enjoyed about both the sunrises and the sunsets were the crowds that would gather to share them together. I didn’t really discover this until a few days into my trip, though, as I fell a little into “hermit-work-mode” and completely failed to get out and enjoy the tropical paradise before and after the conference hours each day. It wasn’t that I was unhappy or distressed in any way, it was just a special blend of laziness with a disappointing lack of appreciation for my surroundings. I think the work aspect of the trip messed with my location appreciation sensors!

Eventually it dawned on me that I’m responsible for creating my own experience and enjoyment, so after ditching the briefcase and grabbing the camera bag one evening, I headed down to the beach to see what I could find.

As I ventured past the pools and restaurants, the beach and a big breakwater came into view. That was when I saw the guy.

connected

All around him was activity, surfers heading in and out of the water, vacationers finding view points for the imminent sunset, people walking, talking, sitting, soaking it all in. If this guy had just paused to check something quickly on his phone, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him at all. After all, I had just checked my phone to confirm the exact sunset and sunrise times for my location. He caught my eye because he stood motionless for a good 15 minutes, watching something on his phone, there on the breakwater, surrounded by the crashing surf in front of a colouring sky.  Granted, he could have been dictating the cure for cancer that had just suddenly come to him, or doing some other meaningful and important task on his phone, but as I watched him I saw my own behaviours from the past days and it was the kick in the ass I needed. This guy launched me into adventure mode, I’m grateful for that!

For the rest of my time in Hawaii I made sure I witnessed every sunset, and most sunrises. Each one was majestic and good for the soul.

Hawaii sunset 2
There is no shortage of places to experience sunsets on Oahu. The smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves rolling in, and the dramatic skies combine to make a special kind of magic.

On the first free day my colleague, her daughter, and I got up before dawn and ventured out to Pearl Harbor. If you get there before the gates open in the morning, they waive the entrance fee for the first 100 or so people. An adult admission is $65USD, so the savings for the 3 of us made it worth getting up early. If you are in Honolulu, I’d recommend visiting Pearl Harbor. As well as being a moving memorial to the lives lost on December 7, 1941, it is an interesting and well presented account of the events that led up to the attack, and the attack itself.

In addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, the battleship USS Missouri is, as my brother eloquently states, “an imposing piece of kit”.

USSmissouri-battleship-pearlharbor-warship
The USS Missouri is an impressive sight. If you feel compelled you can purchase a tour to check her out. If you are more like me, a bit of a tightwad, and would rather just read up on her history, you can do that here.

My last 3 and a half days on O’ahu were vacation days. In addition to the early visit to Pearl Harbor, we also took a drive around the island. It was the first of 2, I also did the drive myself the next day. Driving around the island is another activity I would highly recommend. There are amazing viewpoints, interesting sites, nice parks, and neat little places to stop for food. One of the places I was particularly interested in visiting was Haleiwa on the north end of the island. Haleiwa is just adjacent to one of the most popular spots for viewing sea turtles. Apparently they come up out the water and hang out on the sand. I say “apparently” because despite 2 visits to Turtle Beach (you can see why I may have got my hopes up), there was nary a turtle to be seen. It turns out the surf was particularly high, and turtles are no more enthusiastic than humans to be pummelled into the reef and rocks so they had sought out calmer seas. Oh well, a good reason to return some other time, and the surf that chased off the turtles was sort of fun to watch as well.

Sunset wave
The surf pounding the rugged shoreline was not only an awe-inspiring sight, but was also a powerful sound track. I spent hours just sitting watching the waves crash in.

I also spotted, from shore, a humpback whale playing in the surf, slapping his tail and generally putting on a show. That display inspired me to sign up for a whale watching tour that ended with a similar result to my visit to Turtle Beach. We saw several blows from humpbacks, but not the actual whales. I guess technically that means I saw a substantial amount of whale snot, but the whales themselves were a bit coy. Nonetheless, it’s always fun to get out on the water, so I enjoyed the morning.

On my last full day before heading home, I decided to hang back for the sunset. Every other evening I sought out an unobstructed view of the sinking sun. On the last evening I was more enchanted by all the other folks who were out for the same reason I was, to feel the magic.

Waikiki sunset
I enjoyed the way a small crowd would assemble in the early morning hours for sunrise, and here in the evening for the sunset. It was a light, friendly atmosphere, everyone there for the same reason. Connectedness among strangers.

It was exactly the experience I would have crafted in my mind if these things could be planned. It was in the same location that I first saw the fellow on his cell phone days before. I did take a few minutes to thank that guy in my mind for giving me the nudge I needed to get out and create a fulfilling experience for myself as the week played out.

I enjoyed my visit to O’ahu, and will definitely return one day. There are many places I want to return to to see another day, in another way, and so many places I didn’t get a chance to visit on the first pass. Until that day, I wonder where the next adventure will reveal itself?

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So There IS Life Before Dawn. Who Knew?

I’m not a morning person. There is nothing better than a warm bed in the morning, and really, I do believe it’s medically unsafe to pursue any cognitive or physical activity until at least the second cup of coffee. Despite these truths, I somehow found myself getting up at 5:00am on 2 consecutive days, without safe caffeine levels, to go photograph foggy sunrises. Here is how that happened.

As I have mentioned before, when you let people know you have an interest in photography, you begin to discover all the other people who have the same interest. One of those people is one of my colleagues, who spied an amazing scene of fog and first light as she drove over the Pitt River Bridge on her way into work one morning. Of course that led to the plan of being on the bridge the next morning with our cameras for sunrise to see if we could capture the scene. So up at 5:00am I get to meet my colleague on the bridge. She brought me coffee, bless her. We assessed the views from the bridge, then set up our tripods closer to the east end of the bridge.

Nature did not disappoint. From our vantage point on the bridge, we watched the herons fish for their breakfast, the ducks do duck-like things, and a beaver swim along the bank, getting out of the water from time to time to harass the heron (yes, there was an altercation between the beaver and a heron!). That was all before sun up.

Just before sunrise there was a lot of activity on the river, between the herons, the ducks, and even a beaver that seemed to like to antagonize the herons! The rove of pilings adds to the pleasing lines in this low light shot.
Just before sunrise there was a lot of activity on the river, between the herons, the ducks, and even a beaver that seemed to like to antagonize the herons! The row of pilings adds to the pleasing lines in this low light shot.

As we got closer to sunrise, the light and the fog were constantly changing, giving us a chance to play with various settings. I had never really gotten creative with the white balance before, but after trying it out, I sort of liked the mood the purply tones set in this broader shot of the landscape:

The fog was continually lifting, shifting, and settling back in over the river. This was a moment it looked like it might be dispersing, but then it rolled back in.
The fog was continually lifting, shifting, and settling back in over the river. This was a moment it looked like it might be dispersing, but then it rolled back in.

After a few hours, the morning had to be cut short, as I had to get myself in to work. Later in the day I posted a shot from the morning’s session on Instagram, and was surprised to hear that at the time we were taking the shot above, the very talented Ian McDonald was lumbering around the riverbank you see in the right of the shot! He too had noticed the scene as he drove over the bridge, and being the committed photographer he is, he had his camera with him so he headed down to the riverbank. This realization led to the plan to return to the riverbank with Ian the next morning for a different perspective of the river at dawn.

I’m grateful that Ian reminded me to wear boots, I may not have pieced that logic together myself at 5:00am. There is a trail along the river, but to get down to the water you must work your way through some rather tall, wet grass and vines, and some boggy ground. There may even come a time when you want to stand in the water for a shot, waterproof boots were a very good idea! We weren’t the only folks down by the river at that time of day, there were a few folks walking their dogs, and a couple of guys hunting ducks.

Fortunately there is lots of room for everyone, and after Ian gave me a brief tutorial on how to get a little more out of my camera in low light, we set off to capture the scenes in our own ways.

To practice my low light settings, I asked Ian to carry on down the trail to a bench in the distance. It was good practice adjusting the shutter speed as he moved deeper into the fog.
To practice my low light settings, I asked Ian to carry on down the trail to a bench in the distance. It was good practice adjusting the shutter speed as he moved deeper into the fog.

As the sun rose, the fog behaved quite differently on this morning than it had the previous morning. There weren’t the same rays of sun catching the fog, and the light was quite different, creating whole new scenes to shoot.

Here is a whole new perspective on the pilings from the previous day's shots. The river was so still, after I waded in as far as my boots would allow and waited for my ripples to settle, I loved the peace and calm of his shot.
Here is a new perspective on the pilings from the previous day’s shots. The river was so still, after I waded in as far as my boots would allow and waited for the ripples to settle, I loved the peace and calm of this shot.

Another awesome feature of the riverbank was the vast expanse of dewy spiderwebs in the foliage beside the river. The sun catching on the dew drops was beautiful. I would SO much rather enjoy spiderwebs in that lovely setting, than the snares the spiders set up outside my door every night.  I have to leave my house waving my arms around like a startled ninja most mornings to get through the booby traps. Inversely, the webs on the riverbank caused a sense of calm and wonder, especially as the sun came up and the light caught them.

The light was great and the dew on the webs caught it nicely. I have always loved the symmetry and design of sider webs, they are quite beautiful.
The light was great and the dew on the webs caught it nicely. I have always loved the symmetry and design of sider webs, they are quite beautiful.

Once the sun was fully up and the dew was drying off the leaves and webs, it was time to head home. On our way back out along the trail we noticed the duck hunters were still giving it their best effort (from what we saw, the ducks were relatively safe!) on the riverbank.

These two fellows were visiting as much as hunting, and undoubtably enjoying the same peaceful reflections we were as the sun came out in full force for the day.
These two fellows were visiting as much as hunting, and undoubtably enjoying the same peaceful reflections we were as the sun came out in full force for the day.

I cannot say I’ve converted to being a morning person, getting up this morning was just as much of a production as usual. I did have to concede to my dad (the ultimate morning guy), however, that there is a certain charm to the pre-dawn hours on the days I’m brave enough to haul my sad self out of bed at that time. I’m also grateful to my colleague who first spied the potential from her drive across the bridge, that started the chain reaction of a couple of fun morning adventures!