Nov- Dec 2018

Unless otherwise credited, all photographs are © David Ritchie and may not be used without my permission.

Dec 31  On this last day of the year Wilson took me for a long farm perimeter patrol. On a neighbour’s farm, a combine was busy harvesting corn. A very long year for many farmers, a very trying year for most people.

Farmers face so many challenges: the ever high risks of weather, pests and pestilence, market forces and prices, mechanical and mental mayhem.

It is a wonder that there are enough willing to take all those risks and still feed the world. They must be the most eternally optimistic people on earth. We are fortunate and I am grateful for their commitment. I like to eat.

And yet, I read comments from city folk about farming that is negative, cynical and degrading:

“Oh yeah, poor farmer, look at that big tractor he’s got.”

“Farmers are greedy; food is too expensive.”

” They shouldn’t be allowed to drive that equipment on the road, it slows me down.”


“Wrecked my bike yesterday.” What does that statement suggest to you? It didn’t happen, but if it had, I would expect my bike to look like the photos of my Norton before restoration: totally destroyed. Ditto if it were a car, tow it to the scrap yard.

Not so in the US. I read the opening line (“wrecked my bike”) on a bike forum and followed up the story to find out it was a minor collision- replace the gear shift and a brake lever. That’s hardly a wreck.

We say a “crash” or the erroneously worded “accident.”

There are no accidents, each event has a cause, but it’s still more accurate than “I was in a wreck yesterday. Rode my bike home with a bent fender and handlebar. Scuffed a bit of paint, too.”

That’s no wreck.

Dec 22  Free, but no takers. For over a month I have been trying to give away a pristine collection-  42 volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica, Outline of Knowledge, Micro & Macropedia plus more.

Kijiji sent a few people my way but the results were poor. One lady’s emails became increasingly difficult to decipher, to the point where they were gibberish. Another supposedly wanted them but ultimately didn’t show up.

A third wanted me to ship them. Right, I’m giving these away for free and you expect me to get cartons, pack up the stack of books and ship them to you. Perhaps I should drive them there (200+ km) and set them up for you too, maybe read some to your kids?

Used bookstores, charities, reading resource places, the MCC, libraries: no interest. I visited an Amish friend who publishes their newsletter and has a library for the community: thanks, but we have two collections of encyclopedias.

Books are simply not of much value to the majority. I repeatedly heard (and expected to hear) the same refrain: Google. Yes, I’ve heard of it.

However, many homes cannot afford internet or may not even have a computer. That is why the library computers are so busy after school and weekends. The very helpful ladies at the library are going to do what they can to find the collection a home. Private schools etc.

I cannot imagine tearing off the hardcovers and recycling them, but my book collection is currently overspilling and I need the shelves the encyclopedias occupy. Any takers? Free!

Dec17  Quotes from Peacekeeping, a novel by Mischa Berlinski:

“The Devil’s motorcycle never breaks down.”  (Haitian proverb)

“I have found honesty remarkably successful in my line of work. It’s so rarely employed that it stuns everyone.” (a diplomat)

Dec 11  My scanner is repaired! It cost more to repair than it cost when new but less than the cost of the replacement model. I virtually have a new scanner but without the aggravation of learning new software. Plus, I am not contributing to the enormous problem of e-waste, other than the parts that were replaced, which I can only hope the service people dispose of responsibly.

To celebrate I got back into my archive of b&w negatives. I am presently at the files from 1985. I scan an entire page of negs in their original Clear-File archival sleeves, sort of a rough contact page. Record the file numbers of each page. Tedious, but necessary. I usually scan 25- 30 rolls at a session.

Then I edit the results, creating a list of the negs that I want to use. Selected negatives are scanned at high resolution then imported into Photoshop where the real work begins.

Here is the first image I selected, from a 1985 project for Martial Arts Canada, a club with history, founded by Jim Summers.

MartialArts1.jpg         Bruce Shaver 1985

Bruce Shaver is a highly-skilled martial artist and gentleman. The image reminds me of the multi-armed figure Shiva. I particularly like his eyes in the photo. Intense.

Technical details: Tri-X 35mm film, developed in D-76. Taken in the loft of a barn in total darkness against a seamless black backdrop. I rented a strobe light from a theatrical outfit, tested the output at different speeds and then worked with the camera on a tripod. I opened the shutter for a time exposure, gave a cue to Bruce, turned on the strobe and Bruce did a Kata. Close shutter and shut off strobe.

Bruce was extremely patient working with me. After four rolls of film I knew I had some good images, but those were pre-digital days, no instant image to check. Analog film, manual shutter and aperture setting. The gratification happened when the image appeared in the developer tray. It felt like magic in those days. I miss that a lot.

Dec 8  Eagles became a topic of discussion on a forum I participate in. Being a motorcycle forum, the topic was in the Off Topic Discussions section. It is interesting to read the views of motorcyclists on subjects other than motorcycling.

I added my two dollars (inflation) worth to the discussion, beginning with a link to a story about the world’s largest gathering of eagles in BC.

The reason for the crowd gathering is an abundance of easily accessible, dead or dying, spawned-out salmon.

The Bald Eagle’s appearance, size, and flight have created an icon in the USA, representing a fearless, majestic hunter. Harley Davidson, currency, politicians, the military, NRA, boy scouts, wacko fringe groups, and belt-buckle makers- they all use the eagle’s image. Usually gripping a vicious snake in its talons, along with an appropriate moto or logo.

Skilled as eagles are at snatching prey, they are opportunistic carrion eaters whenever possible. Dead salmon don’t flee. I witnessed two bald eagles feasting on roadkill last year on the shoulder of a side road. They didn’t even bother to lift off as I drove slowly by. Even vultures do a casual lazy flight before returning to the feast.

Invariably during the discussion, several ex and current pilots compared bird flight to flying in aircraft. One retired pilot said that the only time he experienced anything even remotely close to bird flight, was with a hang glider.

Eagles are cool, we have some bald eagles that nest around here, but what I like to watch are hawks. We have some amazing battles between sharp-shinned hawks and the crows that nest in the mature tall spruce trees in front of my house. Hawks are such fast and agile acrobatic fliers.

Crows are also quite agile fliers when chasing/being chased. I have witnessed a crow twisting upside-down in flight while evading a hawk attack.

Last year I saw an epic battle that lasted for a good half hour. A Sharp-shinned was determined to kill/harass the crows and the crows were equally determined to do the same in return, defending their young. Suddenly another hawk, almost identical to the sharpie but larger, entered the battle. A Coopers hawk.

A three-way battle ensued and it was a delight to watch. It attacked the sharpie and the crows. The crows did some fancy evasive flying and gave no quarter. The battle ended with the Coopers hawk chasing the Sharp-shin away, with the crows in close pursuit chasing the pair of them.

On a different occasion during spring nesting time, I saw a crow being chased by a blackbird which in return was being chased by a smaller songbird.

Another time when a redtail hawk attacked a pair of crows in the spruce trees, the crows made a call that sounded different from their usual guttural calls. Within minutes a half dozen crows came flying to the rescue from all directions and soon had the redtail flying for its life. It had to climb almost vertically to great heights evade the crows. Even so, the crows were at an extreme elevation before giving up.

Another raptor cool to watch are northern harriers- they glide silently a few feet above the fields, back and forth in a covering pattern. Kestrels that can hover in place over a suspected target, usually small prey like mice etc are entertaining.

Further down this page, I wrote a small review of an art show by Paul Brunelle. I purchased two small oil paintings on panel-mounted canvas. Here they are framed. The photos do not quite do the art justice, they are rich in colour and texture.

SpringwaterFramed.jpgSpringwater Forest 2017 by Paul Brunelle   Painted plein air (on location) from a kayak.

CrowRiverFramed.jpgCrow River, Algonquin Park by Paul Brunelle 2018

Both paintings served as studies for larger canvasses. The larger  Crow River can be seen here.  A wider-view version is presently in progress. I’m quite pleased to have these on my wall. Memories of both locations add to my enjoyment of the artist’s interpretation.

Nov 26 European menus prior to the 16th century must have been not only lacking the sophistication credited today but boring. Yes, Marco Polo brought back “spices” from the Orient, but they were unlikely on the commoner’s table. Salt was a big deal back then.

The western hemisphere was a bonanza for those early seafarers and explorers- images of ships hauling loads of fur, gold, silver, fish and timber come to mind.

Those familiar resources aside, the ‘new world’ introduced Euros to another new world of food.

A shortlist* includes corn, potato, tomato, bell pepper, chilli pepper, vanilla, beans, pumpkin, cassava root, avocado, peanut, pecan, cashew, pineapple, blueberry, sunflower, wild rice, cacao (chocolate), gourds, and squash.

Imagine how the Euro diet expanded with only the first five foods on that list. Then consider how the potato alone affected European history. The way agriculture changed to provide for the new market.

Indigenous people showed the cure for scurvy, plus quinine for malaria, aspirin from willow bark and numerous other medicinal plant sources.

No credits or royalties were issued to natives on the subsequent sales of patent medicines. So the natives pulled a Steve Jobs sales pitch,

“And there’s just one more thing that we have for you, Chris. Tobacco- you’re gonna love it!”

Nov 18  What’s wrong with this picture? From an AP news release:

“Vintage First World War fighter plane crashes in Texas

FREDERICKSBURG, Texas — Two people were killed when a vintage First World War fighter plane crashed…..”

Ok, so we know that it was a First World War fighter because we’ve been told that twice.

The next sentence reads “The First World War P-51D Mustang fighter crashed at…”

Now we’ve been told three times. But hold on: Mustang? WW1?

Next, we read “The Mustang was first built by North American Aviation in 1940 and was used by the U.S. military in World War II and the Korean War.”

Amazing, time travel is possible! So why didn’t those Mustangs kick that pesky Red Baron’s ass in WW1?

Nov 13  Over a week ago I noticed that the large message sign in front of a civic building had a spelling error- ‘visible’ was incorrectly spelt ‘visable.’ I emailed the head of the department to notify him- spelling errors on civic signs reflect badly on government.

The bureaucrat didn’t bother to reply, and the sign remains unchanged. I guess he thinks it’s more important to run around town in his fancy dress uniform while driving a gleaming pickup truck bought with tax dollars.

Last year, while in the midst of a battle over a new library, I sent several emails to the mayor and each councillor. Only one councillor replied.  I was ignored by the rest, including the do-nothing mayor.

What is with the arrogance of elected representatives and bureaucrats?

Nov 27  Follow up. After three weeks of no replies, I sent another letter. Here is the reply I received:

“Your first email went to my junk file and I only seen (sic) it last week. I am sorry that a spelling error has caused you so much grief.”

Wow, nice grammar there, boss. You must be very busy if a week is not time enough to respond. And why did my second email not end up in the junk mailbox too? Not that I’m accusing him of lying.

The sign remains unchanged. These are our leaders?

The charging transformer on my iPad docking/charging station has quit working. Made in China, of course, and no spare parts available either- buy a new one, sucker, and add to the mountains of e-waste on our planet.

The brand name on the label reads “Golden Profit Electronics.” Perfect.

Nov 12  Newspapers have faced incredible challenges and changes in the past decade. The new ‘model’ of newspapers is an online, paperless subscription.

When was the last time you bought a daily newspaper? I only buy the local weekly paper. It’s well written, has insightful editorials and a crossword puzzle.

Rant. If newspapers want to entice readers to purchase a subscription to the digital edition, then they better step up their free online offerings. Obviously not edited nor proofread, but don’t they at least use spell/grammar check?

But the most irritating thing is repetition. The main page where the stories are listed has both a headline and the first sentence repeating the headline.

Here is an example. I’ll probably get sued for using it.

Railworks Coalition asks for exemption from property taxes

The Railworks Coalition is asking council to support it in its mission to get an exemption from municipal property taxes.
Now we know from the headline, plus the sub-lead-in sentence what they’re asking for.
Click on the headline link to read the story and not only are the same headline and lead-in sentence repeated, but the same message also appears in the photo cut line.
That’s five times that the reader sees the same message, before reading a word of copy.

Doesn’t inspire me to subscribe if they think I need the set-up of the story repeated five times.

Artist Paul Brunelle had a show of his recent paintings this past weekend. It has been interesting to watch his artistic evolution through the years. His exploration into clay sculpting produced some incredibly realistic birds, with superb attention to detail. The life-like poses stage the birds in interesting ways.

Painted in oils on both smaller panel-mounted canvas and also on larger canvases, his subjects are largely landscapes and still life, with pencil and charcoal portraits in the mix, along with some very strong scenes from Nepal- the colour, subject character and motion of “New Years Parade in Nepal” drew me in. There is no photo of the finished canvas on his blog, but it is a large,  moving, exciting painting.

The panels and canvasses of views in Springwater, a Carolinian forest and conservation area, depict many moods and atmospheres.

A fine show by a talented artist.

Nov 5   Vivian Maier, photographer extraordinaire. If you don’t know her name it’s not surprising. Until 2007 she was unknown to the photographic world. A nanny by trade, a street/documentary photographer by inclination. Her work in New York and Chicago compares favourably with the grandfather of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Intensely private, Vivian hid her photos from the world, a body of work encompassing over 100,000 negatives and slides. Imagine, over five decades of photographing and never sharing an image, keeping it hidden from the world.

In 2007 a storage locker of her archive was auctioned off due to non-payment of rent.

I saw the Maier show in Hamilton recently and it is excellent. The b&w prints are well printed on silver halide paper, nicely grouped and spaced. A good interpretation of Maier’s work, hand printed in a darkroom.

Interesting comparing the gallery prints with the same images in the book Vivian Maier Street Photographer. The book version images are warm brown and of slightly higher contrast than the neutral toned exhibit prints. Both are top drawer products, just a different interpretation of master street photographer Vivian Maier’s images.

A reader writes about a butterfly trapped inside their house:

  “…the discussion moved on from there to the life cycle of a butterfly. Then this morning to my delight, your ‘rant’ provided ample clarification and captured the magic of the four stages.

If I were still teaching I would invite you to my classroom to tell your tale and show your photos to my students. For sure they would be intrigued and enjoy their science lesson. ”

Thanks for the feedback, always appreciated but if I were a guest teacher I would likely scare the crap out of those kids. Imagine: a cranky old man berating them, “Put that damn screen down, get the hell outdoors and look around!”

Not that I feel old (it’s only a state of mind until you look in the mirror!) but I was reminded of this:

A little old man shuffled into an ice cream parlour and pulled himself slowly, painfully, up onto a stool. After catching his breath, he ordered a banana split.

The waitress asked kindly, ‘Crushed nuts?’

‘No,’ he replied, ‘Arthritis.’

Nov 1   Al Purdy was an iconic Canadian who, like many others, is largely unknown. I only learned about Purdy’s hard-hitting poetry through the music of Bruce Cockburn on his fine album Bone on Bone.  When I heard some of Purdy’s verses quoted I was compelled to read more. He had a rough and tumble life including riding the rails (hopping freight trains) across Canada, a journey he describes in his book of memoirs  Reaching For The Beaufort Sea.

At The Quinte Hotel is a fine piece of Canadiana and gives a glimpse of the rascal Purdy often was. No shrinking violet, wimpy poet, Purdy was known to cause some trouble and would not back down from a fight. That is a not unusual characteristic in poets. The very entertaining film Barfly with Mickey Rourke is said to be a not-so-subtle nod to another pugilistic poet, Charles Bukowsky.

I like writers with some gritty life experiences, it resonates and produces something a reader can chew on. Barroom free form vs formalist rhyme and meter poetry.

Why have so many artists- writers, musicians, painters- lived tragic self- destructive lives?  That is a question that really cannot be answered, but there is no denying the power of their works.

“Al Purdy is one of Canada’s greatest poets,” said Toronto Mayor David Miller at the unveiling of the Purdy statue. Another ‘greatest Canadian’ that most Canadians never heard of. Had you known about him before reading this?

A friend of a poet once said, “Because of his death, this country should have two minutes of pandemonium.” Perfect.

More rants, essays & observations at:

July- Sept 2018

April-June 2018

Feb- March 2018

July- Sept 2018