Monday, December 11, 2017

Nanny State

Saskatoon sunset

A while ago "Trail Closed" signs appeared on the lower unofficial dirt trail along the river. That's my walking route to work, so I ignored the signs and kept taking the trail. Judging by the packed snow on the trail, I wasn't far from the only one.

It always annoys me when they attempt to close these unofficial trails. The city or Meewasin (I'm never sure who does what) didn't build the trails (I suspect they were animal trails originally.) They didn't open the trails and they do little to maintain them.

It annoys me even more when they "close" them for no reason. I never did figure out why the signs were there. There didn't appear to be any construction or washouts which were the usual excuses. Perhaps something had been going on and they just forgot to remove the signs after they were done (common).

It does make me happy to see that I'm not the only one that objects to these attempts to control the wild trails. When there was a landslide on the East side of the river there was a long term battle between the closers (the "stop its" as my father called them) and the trail users. When signs didn't work, they put up fences. When people went around, they put up more fences. When people knocked down the fence, they put up stronger fences. People still knocked them down. What was so wrong about people walking around the trail damage? Or was it just the control freaks don't like being ignored?

Bureaucracies, no matter how well meaning, like to control things. They probably view it as protecting people. Of course, recipients, like me, see it as meddling attempts at control.

Out on my run, I encountered new signs: "Natural area closed. Beavers active. Danger of falling trees." Again, like most people, I ignored the signs and continued on down the trail.

The beavers have been fairly active. But there are always beavers along the river. You never know where they will decide to feed. And the activity was mostly in the fall when they were presumably stocking up for winter. I haven't seen much signs of recent activity. Of course, bureaucracies move very slowly, this is probably a response to what occurred two months ago.

Our culture is afraid of nature. That's partly because we are so disconnected from it. I think it's also because we can't stand the thought that we're not in control, that we're not the top dog. We (humans) think we are the supreme beings, in charge of everything. We don't want to admit that we are never going to be in charge of nature. There's no doubt that we can mess it up, chop down the forests, plow up the prairies, poison the oceans, etc. But being able to destroy does not imply control. A bull can destroy a china shop, that doesn't make him in charge.

Our culture is also obsessed with eliminating risk. But no matter how much we think we can remove risk, it is always there. You could have a heart attack. The brakes in your car could fail. The brakes in the oncoming car could fail and hit you. You could slip on a patch of ice. We cannot put up a sign for every possible risk. Nor would doing so eliminate all the risks.

For the people who don't ignore the signs, all you're accomplishing is making them even more afraid of nature. Less likely to care about protecting it, and more likely to want to turn it into a playground. Next thing you know we'll have to "do something" about the "beaver problem". A euphemism for more attacks on nature.

If you walk in a forest, there is a chance that a tree could fall. If you see that beavers have been chewing on the trees, then you can probably guess that there's a very slightly higher chance of a tree falling. Do we need to "close" a forest because there is a chance of a tree falling? If you really want to be a nanny state, then go ahead and put up your signs saying "Slightly higher danger of tree falling due to beaver activity." I wouldn't recommend standing among the trees in a windstorm, but that's regardless of whether the beavers have been around.

Of course, another reason for these signs is that we're also a culture that doesn't like to take responsibility for anything. If a dead tree falls on us because we stood under it in a wind storm, then we need someone to blame, preferably to sue. Because we're sure as heck not going to admit we did something stupid and paid the price. We sue MacDonalds because the coffee is hot. Really? On the one hand we think we're masters of the universe, on the other hand it's not our fault if we can't remember that coffee is hot? There is no limit to the extremes we will go to blame someone else for our bad luck or stupidity. And thus, we need those signs to supposedly limit liability, even though that's probably useless.

Realistically, what are the odds of a tree falling on you? I've never heard of it happening other than in a windstorm. But every year people get hit by lightning while they're golfing. They don't "close" the golf courses (except maybe during a storm). People get in car accidents all the time, but we don't "close" the roads. Realistically, I'm pretty sure I'm safer on the trail, even with the dastardly beavers, than I am walking and crossing icy streets, contending with drivers late for work with a phone in one hand and a coffee in the other.

let it snow

Monday, December 04, 2017

Print of the Week

Chromodoris marislae (nudibranch)

This is from our recent diving around Loreto, Baja, Mexico. It's one of the nudibranchs (sea slugs) that I photographed. (see Slugs and Worms). My underwater shots are seldom sharp enough to make large prints but this one isn't bad.

I often do more editing of photos prior to printing. This time I ended up rotating it to look more normal. Here's the previous version in the correct orientation i.e. it was on a wall.

Chromodoris marislae (nudibranch)

It was fairly deep and in the back of a recess in the wall, so there wasn't much light. I have an underwater flash (aka strobe) but I am terrible at using it. People get great results with flashes, so I know the problem is me. Part of the problem is that I don't go diving that much, so I don't have a chance to gain the necessary skills. This trip I pretty much gave up and quit trying to use it.

The flash is on a flexible arm so you can move it around, but that means you're never quite sure if it's pointing correctly. Plus I can never seem to get the exposure correct. A flash doesn't help with focusing in the dark so it also has a focusing light. Towards the end of the trip I found I had more success using just the focusing light (and not the flash), which is what I did for this photo. At least with a light you can see where you're aiming, and the camera can get the automatic exposure right. So for my next trip I'm looking for a constant light (like an underwater flashlight). They're not as powerful as flashes, but fine for closeups, which is what I mostly take.

Part of what made me choose one of my underwater photos is that I've been revisiting a set of underwater photography books by Richard Salas. He has so many amazing photographs that are so much better than mine. Definitely inspiration to keep working at it.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Population is Number One Priority

When I read that headline I thought, "Great! Finally people are recognizing that the overflowing human population is destroying our finite planet."

Of course, when I read further I discovered that the number one priority was actually population growth (according to a Saskatchewan politician). The city of Saskatoon is no better, hell bent on raising its population. Why can't we focus on "better" instead of "more" and "bigger"?

I should have known better. Our civilization is based on the impossible dream of never ending growth. It amounts to the biggest pyramid scheme ever. And we know what happens to pyramid schemes, in the end they inevitably collapse.

Even most environmentalist are afraid to raise the subject of limiting or, god forbid, reducing the population. Some people will try to argue that it's not population that is the problem, it's consumption. I've never quite figured how that helps. So we can keep growing the population (for a little longer) if more of us (or preferably "them") live in poverty. But isn't the average standard of living also rising? It seems to me that convincing people to lower their standard of living is even harder than convincing them to have less children.

One of the sad statistics I came across recently was that people that describe themselves as "environmentally friendly" have higher rates of consumption - because they tend to be people with a higher standard of living. Economists may be happy to hear that higher income means higher consumption, but it's not helping the planet. Of course, economists don't care about the planet, it's an "externality". Would they think the same if it was their house they were burning down? Oh, I forgot, it is their house they're burning down.

Even sadder, I'm guilty of it just like everyone else. I buy too many cameras and computers. I travel too much. I try, but it's hard to escape the culture you're embedded in.

It's one thing if humans destroy themselves, but unfortunately, we're doing our best to drag the whole planetary ecosystem down with us.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Squirrel

I was sitting on the couch playing with a new lens I picked up this morning when I looked up and saw a squirrel in the tree outside our front window. Perfect chance to test out the lens!

squirrel in the yard

It's unusual (for me at least) to see squirrels in Saskatoon. I wasn't too surprised to see it though, because the neighbors had mentioned seeing one around our bird feeder. This one didn't actually mange to get to the feeder while I was watching, but I might have to move it further away from the trunk to be safe! He/she was moderately cooperative - not letting me get too close, but not running away.

squirrel in the yard

Although I was shooting upwards into the tree, I was far enough back that the angle was reasonable and the shots don't look too far off eye-level. I had a little trouble with exposure due to shooting against the bright sky. I tried exposure compensation first, which is what I'd normally use, but in this case I found using center weighted metering gave me the best results.

squirrel in the yard

The lens is the new Tamron 18-400. On my Nikon 7200 that's the 35mm equivalent of 28-600mm. Previously I was using the Nikon 18-300 but I really liked the idea of getting a little more reach. And the Tamron is also better at shooting macro. Amazingly the Tamron does this with a lens that is more or less the same size. (Slightly longer but thinner.) This kind of lens really fits my opportunistic style of photography. One minute I might be photographing a bird, the next a landscape, and the next a tiny insect. It's perfect for travel where you don't want to carry a bunch of big lenses.

A super-zoom lens like this (22x) is always a compromise. It's not the brightest or sharpest compared to non-zoom prime lenses. So I was curious to see how my shots of the squirrel would turn out. It was a cloudy day and the squirrel was in the shadow of the branches, not ideal conditions. And as usual for me, it was handheld. But the eyes are sharp enough to see the trees reflected in them, and you can count the whiskers. I was pretty happy with the results. (Click on the photos to view larger.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Print of the Week

poison dart frog

A poison dart frog at the Loveland Aquarium near Salt Lake City, Utah from last January. I love their bright colors - you don't see too many bright blue animals. Of course, that's to warn predators that it's poisonous.

One of the things I like about making large prints is that it encourages you to look at details that you might not see otherwise. Until now I hadn't noticed that there was an insect (soon to be frog food) on the top of the rock, which explained why it was in that position.

Aquariums and zoos are a mixed blessing for photography. On one hand you are obviously much more likely to see animals than you would in the wild. On the other hand, you have bars and fences, dirty glass and reflections, crowds of people, and artificial and unnatural settings and backgrounds. Not to mention the uneasiness over the whole idea of captive animals. Hopefully they inspire people to value nature a little more.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Saturday Morning

coffee beans

I grind the beans, enjoying the aroma and the physicality of the hand grinder. The espresso trickles out, dark and rich. The milk steams noisily.

I turn on the stereo. (Does anyone even call it that anymore?) I put on Ages Past, a group of local kids, guitar and percussion. It’s the right rhythms and melodies to accompany my mood this morning. Their only album is short but the repetition is a comforting familiarity.

I pick up a couple of books I’m currently slowly savoring, Stephen Legault’s Earth and Sky about the Rocky Mountain Front, and Trevor Herriot and Branimir Gjetvaj’s new Islands of Grass. They are full of wonderful photographs, mostly landscapes, which I love but seldom photograph myself, finding them difficult to capture well.

I sip the coffee and enjoy the complex flavors. Interesting how we enjoy coffee and wine, both complex acquired tastes.

Outside in the cold and snow the nuthatches are out and about, creeping along the tree trunk and branches and taking advantage of the bird feeder. A red headed house finch also stops by, brightening the day.

Both books are saddening. Despite the wonders of nature and landscape that they depict, they are also about how it’s disappearing at the hands of humans. It's tempting to be sad. I hold no illusions - humans will trash this planet, the only question is how quickly. Hell, the coffee I'm enjoying is a part of that destruction - forest cut down to grow it, oil used to transport it. But take that train of thought to its logical conclusion and the best thing you could do for the planet is to leave it. I turn my thoughts away and go back to enjoying the coffee and the books.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Foggy Winter Sunrise

With temperatures around -20c and the river still open, there was lots of fog yesterday morning on the way to work. The combination of fog and frost and sunrise color were too much to resist. I had a better camera with me but my iPhone was easier to stick in my pocket so that's what I used. I only had big mitts so I had to take photos quickly with bare hands, before they got too cold.

foggy winter sunrise

foggy winter sunrise

foggy winter sunrise