Sunday, October 21, 2012

Looking back, looking ahead

Six and a half years is a long haul in blogging years. That's how long I've been doing this. It's time to pause and take stock.

I've seen too many blogs announce their end this way, so I'll clarify, right at the beginning: I'm not quitting. Not taking a break or a breather. Just checking my roadmap, that's all.

History: the Past.

I started the blog elsewhere, on Delphi, on May 1, 2006, and moved to Blogger in December, 8 months later. I've written 2176 blog posts here, 69 on Delphi, making 2245 in all, just under one a day. (I'm sort of amazed at these numbers, little by little, how they do add up!)

When I started to blog, I was recently retired, weary from long battles in public life, and a lifetime of caring for family, from children to grandchildren to parents. It was good to just sit quietly and -- but no: impossible! I got a bike and started cycling with Laurie; we went on long hikes; we visited the dry BC interior; we devised the Shoreline Project, a plan to, in easy stages, walk around the shore of the whole Lower Mainland. We didn't make it, but we've covered most of Delta and Surrey, anyhow.

Blogging about it all was almost inevitable; so many delights just had to be shared.

I had no camera. Laurie was using an old, crochety film camera. We had to get the photos developed, select some to have transferred to a CD, then copy them again to my computer. It took weeks, sometimes. The first site, Delphi, didn't handle photos well. I switched to Blogger, bought myself a cheap point and shoot and began to teach myself how to use it. And hack it; I made my own lens for macro shots. Not good, but an improvement on nothing. (I'm still using it, rebuilt for the current camera. It needs an overhaul.)

The cameras opened a new world to me. What my eyes couldn't distinguish, the camera did, and I could blow up the photos and discover completely unsuspected lives and relationships. I knew very little about what I was seeing; we'd spend hours poring over guide books and my Invertebrates textbook. I mis-identified things on the blog, and was corrected by amazing, generous people around the world.

Thank you!

Gold dust!

I discovered BugGuide, and Google Search, Wikipedia, and G. Maps. I met (online) a busy community of people as enthusiastic about the creepy crawlies as I am; we joined in Carnivals like I and the Bird, Carnival of the Blue, Circus of the Spineless, and so on. What fun!

I brought home a broken intertidal worm and tried to keep it alive in sea water. It died, but by then I was half set up with a marine invertebrates aquarium. I blogged about that. And about our trips, and the housesitting, and the spiders and chickadees at home. Everything became blog fodder.

Somehow everything seems more meaningful when it is shared.

So no, I'm not quitting blogging until they pry my computer from my clammy hands. I'm having far too much fun to give it up.

And we come to The Present.

Why the need to stop and take stock at this point?

Our situation has changed. We aren't as mobile as we once were. We no longer hike up steep hills, or scramble over boulders. We're not as flexible; we don't often change our route on the spur of the moment. We tend to follow old, established patterns.

It's simple; we're getting older. I turned 70 this July. Laurie is in his 80s. He has always been much more active than I, but the last year has been hard on him, and now we seek out easy walking sites and short paths. We stay on manicured trails more, come home earlier.

We were in a car accident two years ago. (Hit and run driver, not my fault, no obvious severe damage.) Laurie's balance hasn't been right since then, and he has suffered several falls, mostly on the beach. He fell off a ladder in the garden a couple of weeks ago, onto his back, and now can barely get around. He will; he's improving slowly, but every setback leaves its mark afterwards.

It was age (retirement) that set me free to explore, now it's age that starts to cross choices off our lists.

I come from a long-lived family. Dad was still putting in a full day at the computer, every day, at 92. My grandmother, Mom's mom, was playing the piano at 99. I don't plan on closing up shop for a long time yet. But yes, I will be slowing down.

I get yellow line fever. Driving home, I feel the urge to just keep going, take the highway north, see where it leads me today. Or I pass a local road and think, “We've never been down that way; should I detour?” And sometimes we do just that. (See Woodhus Creek). But not as often as we used to.

So our circle has shrunk. No matter. Nature is infinite. There is as much to see at the end of our noses as on the horizon. We won't be bored.

The road runs north. Laurie, Thunder Bay viewpoint, Sunshine Coast.

While our space contracts, I'm also aware that time has, too. I have a few projects I want to do, and have been putting them off until later; I can't do that. Time's a-wasting. I've got a website to clean up and revise. My grandkids are asking for more of my stories. There's a book (fiction) that I got halfway through writing, hit a dry spell, and never picked up again. It natters at me in the back of my mind; it wants to be written. It's about time I blocked off the daily hours it will take and get it done.

Then there's this: it's not only we that are changing; so is the world around us. In the past couple of years, I have noticed a depopulation of our community of bugs and birds. Cross spiders no longer festoon all the hedges in July; this year I saw fewer than a dozen, not for want of looking. Moths are a rare treat. So are crane flies and cabbage whites. The bushtits showed up this week at my suet feeder; not enough of them to cover one side. I haven't seen a varied thrush in ages. Where have they gone? And why?

I think I know. All the “waste” spaces, the green lands, the remnants of old forests and farms in our area are turning into construction sites, noisy with machinery, silent when they shut down for the afternoon or weekend. No sleepy bird bedtime songs, no crow arguments; the trees have gone.

On our road to Boundary Bay beach, the new highway towers over the delta, great mountains of sand and gravel, access roads, bridges and cloverleafs, huge cement blocks lined up across prime farm land, well above it, as if preparing for the coming sea level rise. The farms may be swamped, but that causeway will go to the loading docks willy-nilly.

I have been trying not to rant. Focus on the positive, I tell myself. Celebrate the beauties we have before they're gone for good! Create an oasis where at least some can ride out the storms.

But it gets to me. And maybe I should be ranting, at least sometimes.

Sometimes I feel like giving up. Blogging, gardening, feeding birds, studying, crab watching -- what's the point? It will all be gone, and too soon. I shake off the feeling and go do something useful. But there remains a residual malaise, an ache I don't know where.

Rainy day, Mud Bay

Writing this out has changed how I see it. It may be that the difficulties in our life right now have made me more prone to discouragement.

And Ma Nature has tricks up her sleeve. I've been looking at Julie Zickefoose's photos of abandoned barns. Beautiful they were in their prime, bustling with activity, gleaming with red barn paint. More beautiful now, as the wood has aged and taken on depth, the grass and vines softening the contours, birds and other small creatures finding a hospitable corner there. Do what we will, the world will continue to be glorious.

Bull kelp, Miracle Beach

So: the Future.

We don't beachcomb under two meters of water. When the tide comes in, we come in with it. And when our energy wanes, well, we cope with that, too. Fretting's useless.

And I have things I want to do, things within my reach. That writing, for one. And if we're not spending as much time on the road, I think I can work it into my days. Better, I'll note here that I will do it, and I'll count on you to crack the whip occasionally.

I think it's time to upgrade my camera from a point and shoot to a camera body and a macro lens and an off-camera flash, at least. It's a big expense, and entails a steep learning curve. And just deciding which camera scares me; what if I choose the wrong one for me? But -- spider eyes! Bees' knees! Those tiny, so very beautiful white flies! Oh, joy and wonder!

About my intertidal beasties, the hermits and crabs, the anemones and worms; I will continue to feed and care for them, talk to them, and try to learn their habits and choices.

The world's critters, big and small, are our cousins, some distant, some close. I am more aware of this with every hour I spend watching them. They might not look anything like us (but they do; they have eyes and legs and mouths, or at least an intake and an outlet; and a way of sensing the world; their bodies are made up of the same materials as ours)  but they act with purpose, as we do, and they have similar needs and impulses.

We learn to communicate with cats and dogs , chimps and dolphins, horses and goats, and they respond in ways we can understand. Something in our mental workings is like theirs. Some call it consciousness. Or intelligence. As good a word as any for such a nebulous concept.

How far down* does this intelligence go? My hermit crabs exhibit curiosity; so, unmistakably, does a jumping spider. The shore crabs see me coming and wave, whether as a threat or just acknowledgement of my presence, I don't know. But it is communication.

I can't determine this. I can't even comprehend it. But I want to continue to explore the question, especially with the animals I have close by. So I'll be spending more hours staring into the aquarium and watching the bird bath and feeder. And, of course, blogging about it.

And,I think I will give myself permission to rant, occasionally.

Some things never change. I still have a spider in a glass house on my desk. (Laurie's latest gift; even leaning on his cane, in pain, he chased it around the bathroom with his pill bottle. And he doesn't really like spiders. I do love that guy!) I still drop everything to clamber on a table to see a moth above the door. I still talk to the chickadees; I'm sure they understand the friendliness, if not the words. And I still want to share what brings me joy. I'll keep on blogging.

Big Blue, 2010. Pagurus granosimanus.

*Down: only in terms of size. Not value, or complexity; we don't know enough to measure those. If they even can be.


  1. Just briefly: the Nikon D3100 is a great entry-level SLR you might want to consider. My macro lens is 85mm ; for what you do you might want to go bigger(or whatever the appropriate adjective is). Charley Eiseman - the bug guy - see what he uses. His buggy close ups are out of this world.

  2. Never think that what you do here will be gone soon. You don't even know how many lives you touch in the blogging world. Thank you for deciding to keep on going. I, for one, love your work.

  3. ceratina5:59 pm

    I'm glad you're going to keep blogging. I've only been lurking about a year, but I'm slowly trying to catch up on all of your other posts.

    For a camera, look into the Olympus OM-D E-M5, in the mirrorless micro-4/3 system. It's expensive, but the body and one of the kit lenses, the 12-50mm (24-100 full frame equivalent), is rainproof. Outdoor photography season can extend all year with no fuss. The 12-50mm lens has a quite good macro mode. It's about 1/2x, which gives you a minimum view area of about 34mm x 26mm. 16 MP, so you can crop a lot. Good in low light. Very light to handle compared to dslrs, and the image stabilization is outstanding. Stabilization is in the body, so any lens you attach, even old manual lenses, are stabilized. Video is good, and fully stabilized. One drawback is the poor user interface, but there are tutorials around to help set things up the way you like.

    Until this summer, I used canon (20d then 50d), and mostly got the em5 to replace my dying point and shoot. I hoped it would be light enough to carry all the time, even though not in a pocket. The canon gear was too heavy to carry far or often, so even after years, I never really got comfortable with it. The em5 has worked out so well that I may never use the canon stuff again.

    You can get by just fine for a long while with nothing but the em5 + 12-50 kit, about U$1300 (I know, ouch!) It's easy to cobble up a light-pipe/diffuser to the included tiny (rainproof) flash so it can be used for macro.

    If/when you want to branch out, the lens selection is already decent and getting better all the time. Olympus has just released a 60mm rainproof 1x macro lens that's getting rave reviews. And if that still isn't enough magnification, extension tubes are available, either cheap manual ones (calculate/guess/trial & error the exposure), or somewhat expensive fully automatic. All of the olympus flashes have built in remote control, which is a lot more convenient than messing with cables.

    Whatever you get, shoot raw + jpeg, if you don't want to deal with raw to begin with. Once you get settled in, you'll regret not having raws for the earlier shots. Raw means not only much greater exposure adjustment range, but never having to fuss with white balance while shooting. (Except video, for which raw is still for corporations.) For software, whatever comes with the camera will do well enough to start, though you may eventually want to get something more sophisticated.

    Happy shopping, and shooting!

  4. Feel free to rant. You're certainly qualified to do so.

    Your discoveries and photographs are always enjoyable, and your research into your critters is how your site got indexed by Google, and eventually became part of my blog stream.

    Critters will always be around. Too small for most humans to notice, and too numerous for us to exterminate, which makes them all the more interesting to study and share with the rest of us.

  5. Thanks for the encouragement, people! It really helps.

    Sarah and Ceratina; I've been reading reviews on the Olympus OM tonight; it looks good. I like that it's resistant to rain and dust. Sand is always a problem on the beach. My last Olympus got a sand grain right inside the lens; impossible to get out, always in the way.

    In the morning I'll start researching the Nikon. My present camera is a little Nikon, and does a good job, for a point and shoot. Not as good at macros as the sandy Olympus, though.

    And I've bookmarked Charley Eiseman's blog.

    Thanks for the tips!

  6. Ah yes, the wonders of the small world. SO amazing one has to share. I admire your tenacity in rooting out the information about those discoveries, the "family" backgrounds so to speak. Since D died I've not been adventuring, well hardly at all. Oh do I miss it. The wonders! But i can still keep up through your blog.

    As me Mither says, this getting old is for the birds! Not the golden years at all - but the rusty years.

  7. Susannah, congratulations on keeping a blog timely, interesting and "real." I always enjoying reading your posts - even the spider ones. ;-)

    Documenting the world around us, all of its positive and negative changes, is so important and you do a wonderful job presenting that info.

    For what it's worth, I use a Nikon D3100 and love it.

    Looking forward to more fabulous posts from you!

  8. ceratina3:31 pm

    Some further thoughts:

    When you buy an interchangeable lens camera, you're buying into the whole system. Make sure that there are lenses/flashes available for all of the things you want to do. Third party accessories, including lenses and flashes, are typically available, but they aren't direct clones, and may or may not have lower prices or trade offs.

    Is there a photography club anywhere within reach of you? You might get to meet a wide range of hardware in person, as well as finding a bunch of teachers.

    If not, you can rent cameras and lenses, which would give you a good idea of whether your top choices are a good match, especially physically. If a camera is awkward to hold, you won't use it as much no matter how good it is on paper. I've never rented stuff, but Lens Rentals and Borrow Lenses have good reputations, or if there's still a real camera store within reach, a few of them still do their own rentals. Renting is quite expensive, but if you have no other way to get some hands on experience before the big purchase, you might be able to count it as education.

  9. Thanks, Cabin Girl.

    I've researched the Nikon D3100, and contacted London Drugs for more info; they gave me a couple more suggestions to consider.

    The Nikon with two lenses fits nicely into my budget. The Olympus is a bit more, but has the option of a wireless off-camera flash.

    Decisions, decisions! I'll mull it over for a while, then probably make up my mind almost on the fly, the way I usually do. It works for me.

  10. Ceratina; my daughter and her husband are professional photographers, and he used to lead the local photography club where we were at the time.

    They use Olympus, and I have "inherited" some of their old lenses and a couple of on-camera flashes, as well as an old camera body that is too slow and too limited even for occasional use.

    So at least one flash and the big zoom lens would work with an Olympus body, but neither would do for macros.

    I've used Canon before. So-so.

    One of my neighbours is a professional photographer, too. I'd ask him for advice, but he runs to the high-end equipment. His latest lens cost him $4000.

  11. Wonderful blog about where you were at four years ago. I realize much has changed since then. I'm thankful you have kept your sense of discovery and willingness to share your finds. I suspect your passion has helped you carry on ... a good point for all of us to remember. ..... You and I are about the same age and we are both helplessly in love with nature.

  12. Thanks for bringing me back to this. It was good to be reminded of those times. Difficult, and yet so good in retrospect.


If your comment is on a post older than a week, it will be held for moderation. Sorry about that, but spammers seem to love old posts!

Also, I have word verification on, because I found out that not only do I get spam without it, but it gets passed on to anyone commenting in that thread. Not cool!