A Legacy of Smoke and Fire

This was not the scene I had been looking forward to photographing during my first visit to Glacier National Park, while on a road-trip ranging from the deserts of Arizona, up the coast of California, and inland through incredible terrain to reach these dramatic mountains; I had been anticipating lush green forest and beautiful valleys framed by the sharp outlines of enormous ancient peaks, with an excess of crisp late-summer sunlight and photographic opportunities.

The scale of the landscape did not disappoint, but as we packed up our tent and camping gear from a forested campsite on the valley floor, readying for a scenic drive up Going-to-the-Sun Road, the acrid smoke of nearby wildfires began to settle through the trees. The sunlight had the burnt orange hue now well-known across the North American West as fires ravage huge swaths of wilderness. Still, the park rangers indicated the road was open, and as it was our primary route to our next campsite we set out on a surreal, smokey, sobering drive.

As Going-to-the-Sun Road led us up from the valley, the smoke could be seen rising in great grey plumes and settling across ridge-lines, creeping downslope, and filling the sky between mountains. Quickly the views became vast – glacier-carved, rugged, rocky slopes with the clearly defined striations of an ancient geologic prehistory, swaths of green forest punctuated by the first brilliant yellow leaves of fall, and across it all a blanket of heavy, shifting blue smoke.

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My eyes stung as we descended through Logan Pass and the air became increasingly more difficult to breath. My husband had fond memories of a lovely forested trail just off the main road, with a tumbling creek passing beneath an arched bridge, and as we watched for likely candidates, the road crossed into a stark landscape of recently-burnt forest.

We found the spot, easily accessed at Baring Creek, and decimated by fire in 2015; surrounded by skeletal trees and scorched rocky ground, set against smokey mountains, the creek ran clear and fast, but there was otherwise an eerie stillness to the scene. No rustling of wind through leafy trees, no birdsong, and an unsettling sense that the danger of active wildfires were only a few ridge-lines away.

Having lived most of my life in California, fire season and its consequences are not new to me. I often observe recent fire scarring in familiar landscapes, and have nearly always see a shift in the species that take hold once vegetation starts to return. Seeing a forest in this state of blackened, skeletal remains was new to me – it is unclear whether the trees will ever recover, or if what was once a verdant forested mountain slope may now be destined to become a rocky, scrub-covered slope as the decaying trees eventually fall.

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Much of our recent trip was shaped by fire; we could not take our planned route up the coast of Oregon due to evacuation orders along the highway, and even our inland detour was so choked with smoke that visibility became severely compromised and the sun disappeared in a cloud of orange-brown haze. We were lucky to drive along the Columbia River Gorge before it became a fiery inferno, and I am now wishing we hadn’t been on such a tight schedule and could have stopped to enjoy more of the old-growth forest before a carelessly-started wildfire stripped the landscape of green trees.

Even after leaving Glacier National Park and crossing through badlands to the open plains of Saskatchewan, we were greeted with news of fires further north in the province, and the smoke has been impacting us at home.

Fire is a necessary element in many ecosystems, but decades of overly aggressive wilderness fire suppression combined with extensive drought has made fire conditions exceptionally combustible. With time, many of these places will recover and life will return, but in so many instances the landscape will be irrevocably changed. I look forward to returning to Glacier National Park, Montana, to see how the landscape changes with the seasons, and hopefully I will be able to document the next phase of recovery from wildfires in this beautiful place.

Glacier National Park, summer
Smoke fills the sky between mountains and drifts through a canyon at Glacier National Park, Montana as viewed from Going-to-the-Sun Road

A full set of images from Glacier National Park can be found at www.apkphotography.com

Lost in the Details | Venice, Italy

Italy is all texture and patina, and in summer the city of Venice is rich with seemingly endless variety; every detail and architectural style basking in the luminous reflected light of warm sun on water.

While I only had a few days to explore Venice, the number of photos I captured there far outnumbered all other locations I visited in Italy. Around every corner was a striking new visual surprise, a glimpse through history, and an invitation to keep walking just a little further…

Accommodations were in a historic palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal, and the rich textures of age and time could be found throughout the halls. From ornate plasterwork and window details to the high-water mark of the historic 1966 flood, carved into the stone door frame.

On one day’s wander toward the university district, I came across a quiet courtyard and art gallery on the campus of the Università Ca’ Foscari; exquisite venetian glass windows and beautiful architecture were a welcome quiet escape from the bustle and heat of the summer crowds just outside the university gates.

Textural brick and stone, plaster, faded paint and layers of patina, all mixed with the cascading light and shadow of winding, narrow passages. Enjoying these details required an acceptance that I would get lost somewhere in the streets of Venice, and it quickly became one of my favourite feelings as I relinquished all sense of direction and simply soaked up the sights.

And on and on…for weeks after visiting Venice, Italy for the first time, I dreamt of being happily lost there, following the winding streets past softly-hued pink and yellow brick walls and ornate, elegant cathedral windows. Find more sun-splashed piazzas, shimmering canals, and Venetian details in my gallery of Venice, Italy images.

My first impressions and more beautiful scenes from Venice, Italy can be found in my blog archives, Venice, Italy : Love at First Light.

Winter escapism | Bright and bold Barbados

This January morning, I am sitting at my kitchen table, watching the deep midwinter pre-dawn gloom just outside. Cars hiss along the street in icy darkness, their headlights illuminating canyons of piled snow. It is 7:29am and there is still no sign of the sun.

Being from California where gardens never stop growing, I am particularly drawn to the quiet, dormant beauty of this season in Western Canada; the stillness and insular peace of a snowbound prairie horizon is more comforting than I expected. When the wind whips down from the North, the cold air carries drifting curtains of snow, and even the trees appear to shiver.

However, while I genuinely enjoy these philosophical moments of winter from a cozy indoor perspective, it has also become my habit to use the short days and dark hours to escape into editing colourful photos from warmer places and times. I’ve started 2019 off with a dip into last year’s visit to Barbados…

This was my first trip to a truly tropical climate since living in Hawaii over a decade ago. Immediately, the vivid blue hues of the water and the unabashed lushness of the plant life were a tremendous relief after a few months of monochrome winter weather.

Gentle sea breezes filtered through curtains of palm fronds and the constant soft movement of clouds and waves were hypnotic and soothing. Looking at these photos, I can almost feel the calming warmth of this slice of Caribbean paradise…

If you need a little more warm weather and colourful, tropical escapism, this batch of scenic details and many more have been added to my Barbados Scenery & Flowers gallery.

Descent, architectural detail | San Francisco, California

Wandering the streets of San Francisco with a camera has always been a rewarding experience; along with being an interesting, often picturesque urban environment, there is endless opportunity for the unexpected.

This is a favourite image from my archives, captured on a relaxed summer afternoon of city exploration. I had never ventured far into one of the commercial complexes near the Embarcadero Plaza, and was wandering through the network of bridges and walkways that linked shops and restaurants in a canyon of office buildings and hotels. At one crossing of paths, I noticed a stairway leading down to the level below, and paused to admire the echo of form, texture, and tone in the large fern that grew in the curve of the stairs.

Architectural urban detail, a woman walks down a spiral staircase in downtown San Francisco

While composing the frame and trying to balance shapes and leading lines, a woman walked down the stairs, and as she reached the bottom I captured a single frame. I had not planned on the human element, but I love how it adds a sense of motion to an otherwise static scene. In black and white, the texture and tone of the mosaic floors and fern become more cohesive, and the spiralling, circular structures of concrete, plant, railing and tile frame and compliment each other, tying it all together.

This image is included in my Black and White Prints collection, and offers both architectural interest and a timeless moment full of details that invite reflection.

Forest fog | Big Sur, California


Mysterious, dark, quiet; a grove of trees in the coastal mountains of Big Sur, full of mist and morning light. I’d arrived at the campsite after dark, chasing the sunset down the winding curves of Highway 1 and setting-up camp as stars appeared overhead. During the night, fog gathered along cliffs and settled into valleys, and I woke to find the forest shrouded in soft layers of light.

Camping on the California coast is often a damp, chilly affair, and this day was no exception. The warmth of a small fire, the coziness of a sleeping bag and a book, the sound of the nearby ocean all helped to pass the time. 

Trees become ghostly figures as evening fog creeps into the coastal woods of Big Sur

As the sun settled again to the west, the early evening light filtered into the deeper, shadowy corners of the forest grove and campground, and I was able to capture this layered scene full of contrasts and soft tonality. The branches of the trees lend a sense of enclosed space; a cathedral of organic shapes and windows of light. Of all of my Big Sur experiences this moment  remains one of my favourites, full of the restorative, meditative mood I found present in that particular time and place.

This elegant, peaceful scene is available as a fine art print in my Black & White Prints collection. To see more Big Sur Photography, visit my Big Sur, California collection.

Monarch Butterfly Migration

During the warm sunny days of October, the trees of Big Sur and Pacific Grove welcome visitors who have traveled great distances to reach clusters of trees along the central California coast; monarch butterflies, with their flashing bold orange and black wings flitting from tree to tree bring an extra bit of magic to an already beautiful place.

 

Seeing one butterfly alone is a beautiful sight, but as the monarch butterflies congregate on mossy branches and in the boughs of cypress and eucalyptus trees, their gathering numbers create a stunning, delicate and lively tapestry of colour and movement.

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October is my favourite time of year to camp in Big Sur; one morning as the sun warmed the campsite I sat contemplating the beautiful light and quiet forest, a small group of monarch butterflies flitted through the lower branches overhead, dancing through patches of sunlight as they fed and rested. As their movement is rather unpredictable, I waited patiently as they moved in and out of focus and finally managed to capture the image below of a single butterfly in flight.

Over the years I have visited the spots known for congregations of migrating monarchs, and I have gathered all of my monarch butterfly photographs into one gallery, with many Monarch Butterfly Migration images available for licensing and as fine art prints.

Love at First Light | Venice, Italy

Arriving in Venice, Italy is no small task; by plane, train, or car, one must reach the edges of a more familiar modern landscape, and then step onto a boat that will draw one into a world both foreign and familiar. I was immediately entranced by the narrow passages, absence of cars, and sunlight cascading past crumbling walls, illuminating colours and textures that could only exist in a floating ancient city miraculously moored in a marshy, shimmering lagoon.

Everything you have heard about Venice is true. It is romantic, multi-faceted and incomparable. It can also be crowded – there is one other way to arrive in Venice, and that is on a cruise ship – as I work my way through a few other batches of photos from my Italian adventures, I will have some specific observations to offer about that particular mode of travel and the impact it has on these magical places.

I managed to avoid the masses of summer tourists simply by committing to a daily routine of picking a direction, and getting lost in the winding streets of the city. Around every corner interesting architecture, delicious food, and more inviting avenues awaited.

Off-the-beaten-path, grittier scenes could be found, although overall Venice is remarkably tidy, with clean streets and canals. Graffiti is a part of the urban Italian landscape, as it is all over the world, and in some instances it offered unique photographic opportunities.

Staying in a palazzo on the Grand Canal afforded me central access to many different districts of the city, and even within a short distance from the palazzo gates, the variety of cafes, restaurants, shops and sights was abundant. In the evening, the canal glittered with golden light as boats plied romantic sunset waters; I could have sat by the ornate windows and watched the passing gondolas for hours.

From a photographic perspective, Venice is astounding, and of the hundreds of images captured over the course of three days there, I still have many more to edit. See more of my photos from Venice, Italy here, where fine art prints and licensing are also available.

I will be sharing more images and thoughts on this special city, as it was such a remarkable and photogenic experience. I am already thinking about my next visit to Venice, and would love to hear in the comments if you have ever visited and what you might recommend I explore when I return!

Transitional Light | Manitoba, Canada

Spring and autumn are rich with photographic inspiration, contrasted in blooming flowers and fresh growth or colourful falling leaves. However, my favourite aspect of these two transitional seasons is the same for both; a shift in the light, imbued with a sense of fleeting, golden time. It never fails to take my breath away, especially as summer slips into fall, and as the sun passes across the sky each day, a little lower in autumn or a little higher in spring, it casts a mood unique to these phases of declination.

These particular photos were captured in the early spring, just before sunset as the warm sunlight filtered through the cool shadows of a forest still waking from winter. I was drawn to the contrast between the bluish tone of the tree trunks and bright bursts of yellow-green leaves caught in the evening glow. Even though this is a springtime scene, it struck an autumnal, contemplative note as I stood in the fading light, trying to capture a sense of the transitional light and layers shifting before my eyes.

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These images are available as fine art prints in my Riding Mountain, Manitoba gallery – as some of the images are unconventionally cropped, please contact me directly for custom sizing options.

Pukekura Park | New Plymouth, New Zealand

Over the years travelling has taught me a few important lessons; I will always pack more than I end up needing, the journey is usually just as remarkable as the destination, and never, ever pass up the chance to spend a few hours in a local botanical garden.

Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, on the west coast of the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s northern island, is a lush jungle of foliage and water. I visited on a quiet Saturday morning in April, and enjoyed wandering the paths as they looped around lakes, past a waterfall, and across the beautiful red Poet’s Bridge, which dates back to 1884.

In some sections of the park, it is easy to forget that one is actually in a bustling small city; the size of the trees and depth of the fern-filled groves were captivating and invited leisurely exploration.

Emerging from a trail through one of these dense forests, a large lily-covered pond is revealed where bright blue Australasian swamphens foraged across the lily pads.

Displayed on the water is a sculpture titled ‘Aotearoa’ by Michael Smithers; Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand, meaning “land of the long white cloud”. A few days after visiting the gardens, while driving south to Wellington from New Plymouth, I saw the namesake beautiful rolling white line of clouds stretch across the landscape.

View more photos from my Pukekura Park, New Zealand experience in my archives, with selected images available for prints and licensing.

Fano, Italy

Where the landscape of pastoral, rolling hills and fortified villages perched on small craggy peaks meets the Adriatic Sea, the ancient city of Fano offers a unique Italian experience, far from the throngs of summer tourists who tour the country.

Charming, narrow, cobblestone streets? Check. Quiet neighbourhoods and bustling market squares? Check. Colourful details, textural walls, doors full of character and the occasional friendly dog in a window? Check.

The first historical mention of Fano dates to 49 BC, when Julius Caeser ruled the region. By 2 AD a wall and large arch had been constructed around the city, which can still be seen today at the main entrance to the older downtown district.

Wandering the streets it is easy to get lost, but taking note of some of the distinctive churches throughout the city can offer useful waypoints. Cafes offer sunny nooks for enjoying an afternoon espresso and around every corner is another arched passage, revealing more colourful buildings and the sort of elegant patina that Italy is known for.

With so much to see in and near Fano, Italy, this city and its history could fill the better part of an Italian vacation. I enjoyed how easily one could find quiet places to explore between the layers of old and new. While many Italians know Fano for its beaches and holiday atmosphere along the waterfront, if one ventures toward the heart of this ancient place, there are many beautiful, meditative moments to be discovered.

See the full set of my photos from Fano, Italy in the APK Photography archives, prints and licensing available.

North Point, Barbados

At the northern end of the island of Barbados, dramatic cliffs overlook the waters where the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. Creating huge swells and smashing waves swept by powerful winds, with a backdrop plateau of limestone boulders and lush green plants, this is a wild and dramatic place.

The colour of the water is a stunning shade of aqua blue, and the swirling surf is mesmerizing. Some people venture out along the cliffs overlooking the churning surf, and nearby a restaurant serving local flavours offers a scenic spot to sit and take it all in.

There are paths winding along the edge, past blowholes and interesting ancient rocks bearing the marks of fossilized coral. There is even access to the caves below, famed for their populations of sea anemones.

This is a lovely day-excursion when visiting Barbados, and a welcome break from the more crowded urban areas. Even when it seems many people are headed down the path to the cliffs, once there, the space to explore allows one to quietly enjoy the wild, beautiful scenery in peace. Just watch your step, those blowholes are deep!

Find more of this stunning spot and other locations around Barbados, in my archives.

Summer Prairie Skies

The sky is bigger on the prairie, and the sunsets some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen; constantly shifting weather, swirling clouds, and a golden hour that lasts forever…

Living Skies of Saskatchewan, sunset
A stunning summer sunset fills the sky above the open Saskatchewan landscape

As I spend more time travelling across Saskatchewan and Manitoba my library of spectacularly surreal sunsets will continue to grow – find them all in my Land of the Living Skies gallery – prints and licensing available.