Winter Ice

Ice Formation (by StarbuckGuy)

Unlike many of the eastern states of the US, we’ve had a dry winter. Very little snow, but plenty of cold weather. While this has robbed us of “winter wonderland” shots, it has provided the next best thing: ice.

I like shooting ice. In ice patterns I discover crystalline abstracts or jigsaw puzzle chunks that make photogenic forms.

What keeps me interested is that ice patterns change, often dramatically, overnight. Every day I walk to the harbour, the ice has a different look, a different personality. The overnight weather, combined with currents under the ice, rearrange the extent of the ice cover as well as its shapes.

I like ice shooting best on overcast days when there’s enough light for modelling, without too large a dynamic range. In this light ice presents subtle dark and light patterns, which can later be accentuated in post processing, or left as is.

On bright days the challenge is finding just the right angle to backlight ice crystals and floes without blowing important highlights.

We’ve had a few light snowfalls — dustings of fresh snow on the ice surfaces. It’s then that the hidden life of the harbour emerges. Duck prints, goose prints, mink tracks, even squirrel tracks appear on the surface. Sometimes you see skid marks where a goose or duck has come in for a landing and slid to a stop. Occasionally you see a wingbeat impression where one of the waterfowl took flight.

The ice forms, melts, and reforms, according to overnight temperatures. At this point, late in the winter when the sun is getting stronger during the day and the temperatures more moderate overnight, the ice begins its annual retreat. At the winter’s coldest, the river ice extended out to the mouth of the harbour, into Lake Ontario.

Today it has retreated up river to the north of the auto traffic bridge. As the weather fluctuates, it will retreat and advance, but gradually lose its hold until it breaks apart into chunks of ice floes that are carried downstream by the current. These too provide good shooting, especially when you nab one with riders aboard, such as ducks or pigeons. Bird rafting.

Like all local photographers, I look forward to spring, with plants, flowers, insects, and green parks, but winter doesn’t rob us of photo opportunities. While not as exciting as living things, ice offers a kind of photographic purity — the shooting of shapes, light, and shadow. Or, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “ice is nice, and will suffice.”

Ice Formation (by StarbuckGuy)

There are additional ice shots in my Flicker Winter Set.


Snow (by StarbuckGuy)

Finally, some snow to brighten a dry winter. It’s been cold — cold enough to form a respectable layer of ice on the river — but snow has been rare.

It’s disorienting. Seasonal weather is what binds us to the year’s cycles. When there’s no snow in Ontario (in this southern part of it), and there are heavy snowstorms in Washington, DC, and Richmond, VA, it feels wrong. If it happens once in the winter, it can be passed off as an oddity. When it happens three times, and your friend in Richmond jokes about moving north where the winters are mild, it’s spooky.

And so today’s snow, wet and sticky though it be, is reaffirming, or in that new modernism, validating.

Kids of all ages yearn for snow because they know snow’s secret: snow is for playing in. While adults shovel driveways and curse the driving conditions, and weather men measure snow’s depth, kids are busy. Making snow angels, snowmen, trying out the sled on the hill in the park, throwing snowballs. If nature hadn’t intended us to throw snowballs, why does snow pack into such perfect balls for throwing?

And you wonder, what does any of this have to do with climate change? Maybe a lot, maybe nothing. Climate Study 101 tells us that weather and climate are different. Weather is capricious, uneven. It sometimes has small cycles of a few years, even decades, that become warmer, colder, drier, wetter. Climate is about long-term patterns. Trends and history that can only be measured statistically.

And that’s why climate science is rife with argument and disagreement. Argument and disagreement, of course, are the crucible of scientific advancement. You have to defend your hypothesis, strengthen it, convince your peers, and even abandon it, if the evidence changes. But if your hypothesis stands the test of peer review, and of time, you’ve moved closer to truth of things.

While climatology has advanced enormously over the decades as more data filters in, climatologists will be the first to tell you that predicting climate change is difficult, uncertain work. No honest climate scientist can say, “this is definitely what’s going to happen.” Instead, they say “evidence for climate change, collected from a wide range of data sources, suggests the climate is warming, and that this warming trend correlates to an increase in greenhouse gases that enter the atmosphere primarily through human activity, in the form of automotive and industrial exhaust, and the general burning of fossil fuels.”

When a majority of climate scientists who have examined each other’s statistical studies find themselves in accord on the basics of climate change, and what this might mean for the future of humankind’s tenure on the planet, they find various ways to getting this message to the public, and to decision makers.

Unfortunately, climate scientists, like any group of people, have members who are opportunists — who take advantage of the shift in awareness of climate issues to try for additional grant money and positions of influence. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it makes them vulnerable to, sometimes justifiable, criticism.

While I don’t presume to know if climate change is as drastic and concerning as some climatologists would have us believe, there is one recent development that bids me pause.

In the US, the Republican Party, which in my mind is synonymous with the Religious Right, has begun attacking climate scientists with the fervor they normally reserve for abortion clinics and the teaching of evolution. They are launching well-funded smear tactics, the kind they use in political campaigns, against climatologists, or those who represent them, in positions of authority.

They are working hard at discrediting climate studies, attacking the statistics, and citing other scientists, most of whom are not climate scientists, who question the stats.

What is most telling in this, is that they present no fresh alternative studies, no fresh alternative data that tells a different story about climate change. It’s always ad hominem, ad statisticum.

I’m not a tree hugger or a whole-earth advocate, but when I see this type of attack against the interpretation of the data, yet see confirming evidence that the polar ice at both poles is melting, I don’t think any amount of smear tactics will make the evidence change.

So, on the whole, until I see something scientifically different, I think the climate is changing, warming. Will it have drastic effects? Maybe yes, maybe no. If it changes unabated, then probably yes. The problem is, we don’t know enough about climate change to know if the earth itself has balancing methods and cycles that might deal with it. If it does, the balancing cycles might be measured in geologic, not human time. It would be prudent to accept what appears to be solid, peer-reviewed, evidence that global climate change is upon us.

In some old, and wise, words, “As ye sew, so shall ye reap.” I don’t know about you, but I’m working on shrinking my carbon footprint and will support any of my government’s efforts to do this on a large scale. I rather like living on this planet, and I desire future generations to it as well.

The issues are too important to be obscured by special-interest snow jobs.

Privately Printing a Journal

Reflections 2009

Journalling is an exploration. An attempt every day to slip into a mindstream of passing thoughts, ideas, events, memories, and feelings. It’s mindfulness of the flow of consciousness and netting a few fish from the stream. It’s looking below the surface and finding both wonderful and disturbing things. Here be dragons. Here be visions. Here be here.

A year’s worth of daily journalling amounts to a lot of recorded events, hopes, disappointments, and occasional victories. It’s fascinating to look back on the previous year and dip into moments of then which become relived moments of now.

Looking at scribbles in a notebook or browsing through text files doesn’t have the same quality of experience as holding and reading from a book, so it occurred to me that since I already had all the text files for the year, it would be fun to print them in book form — a private printing of a few copies for my family and me.

I’d used before and knew that this could be done if the book were prepared as a PDF or Postscript file. Choosing which tool to use to prepare the file was the first step. After looking at various options, I chose LyX and LaTeX because of the beauty of the typesetting. They’re also free.

I’d previously used them in Linux and was a little surprised to find that they worked so well on a Mac. The procedure is to first install MacTex, then the Mac version of LyX. This combination installs all the tools you need to typeset files.

I chose to print my 2009 journal in 6×9-inch format with perfect binding. Using the “child document” feature of LyX, I edited each month as a separate .lyx file, bringing them together in a master document. LaTeX offers a variety of book styles. I used Memoir.

I gave each month a quick edit for things like typos that escaped the spell checkers, missing words, and I occasionally rewrote a particularly awkward passage. For the most part, though, the entries were printed just as they were written.

When I had edited all twelve months, I output a Postscript file and uploaded it to Lulu. Then, using a pre-existing Lulu template, I created the cover, using my photo montage of a swan, an enlarged moon, and a textured background as the cover illustration.

The total cost, to me, was under $15 a copy, so I ordered three. Shipping to Canada was a bit of a stinger, as always, which is why I ordered three copies at the same time.

About three weeks later the books cleared customs and arrived in the mail. It was a special moment to see a year’s work printed as a book. It felt good in the hand. It looked good on the shelf. It encouraged me to keep journalling.

Due to time constraints, I didn’t index my 2009 journal, but because I intend to print 2010 in the same way, I’ll edit and index each 2010 month as I proceed through the year.

Privately printing my journal is one of the best morale boosters I’ve ever experienced. If you’re a writer, nothing gives you the same rush as seeing your rambles printed as a book.