Plants: Wild Mint

I thought people might find it interesting to see some of the plants I regularly come across while hiking. This is wild mint. It is usually found in damp or swampy areas. Sometimes I smell it before I see it but it is especially potent when you pick a leaf and crunch it up under your nose. It is sometimes hard to see from a distance because it is usually shorter than the reeds or grass surrounding it. You can identify it by the smell, but to make sure it’s actually mint, check that it has a squarish stem and the leaves are on opposite sides of the stem. It makes a very nice tea!

Taken near Crimson Lake, AB
40mm, f2.8, 1/60 of a second


I grew up on an acreage in northern Saskatchewan. We had a massive yard and a massive garden, I think partly because we were not wealthy and the garden provided much of our food, but also because my parents loved plants and trees. Many of our plants were your average garden plants — potatoes, carrots, beets, broccoli, tomatoes, beans, squash, peas, etc. I had to do what felt like a lot of gardening as I was growing up, and I remember not really liking it (as any kid is likely feel about chores). But I also have a lot of fond memories of the sun-warmed dirt between my toes, of throwing the sun-greened potatoes at the aspen trees growing around the garden, and of eating the fresh fruit and veggies right off the plants.

We also planted trees. At first they were mostly fruit trees that we’d expect to produce, like a few varieties of apples, chokecherries, cranberries, and whatever would grow in that harsh climate. Over time though that expanded to more challenging trees like plums or more decorative trees that were just for the beauty of being. We got a Swedish Nut Pine, we tried varieties of maple. All of us kids also learned about all the trees in the woods around us. We knew where all the stands of birch were (there weren’t many) and the one little group of balsam fir was a highlight that we built a little trail to. We would climb the jack pines and find the perfect white spruce or black spruce for a Christmas tree. I learned to love trees.

I’ve tried to increase my knowledge of trees over the years, but I haven’t done well. Living in the city with the pressures of jobs and bustle of life it’s hard to keep up with that sort of thing. Last month in BC I went on a few hikes with interpretive signs that taught me a bit more about Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, and Red Cedar. But one tree stood out to me more that anything else: the Arbutus menziesii, commonly known as Arbutus (ar-‘byoo-tus). They have a striking bare yellow trunk sometimes covered with curling red to purple bark. They’re a broadleafed evergreen — even in late October there were flowers on some, and bright red fruit on others. They often have twisting gnarled trunks with clusters of leaves at the top. They are a beautiful tree. But they’re often overpowered by the cedar forests they’re growing in. They tend to be here or there on the warm south-facing rocky slopes where the forest isn’t too thick and they have a chance. I never saw forests of Arbutus.

I guess this is a post for my parents, who I thought of a lot as I was searching for these trees. I was thinking they would enjoy planting a small forest of Arbutus. Not that it’s practical or makes any sense at all, but I think they’d like these trees. They seem like they’d be a bit of a challenge to grow, and would pay off in beauty. Maybe they could even get them to grow out in Manitoba, although I’m pretty sure the winter would kill them.

One thing I really wanted to accomplish in BC was to get a photo that did justice to the Arbutus tree. I’m not sure I succeeded, but I gave it a good shot.

Alpine Crocuses

60mm, f2.8, 1/1250 of a second

The first day in Crowsnest Pass I climbed McGillivray Ridge, thinking it would be an easy re-introduction to hiking up mountains again since it’s been a while. Turns out the I need to climb a lot more mountains! It’s only 600m elevation gain, but I was pretty tired by the time I got to the top. Maybe the problem is that I always haul a lot of camera gear along, and I eschew hiking poles in favour of having a camera in my hand. Despite being a very warm sunny day at the bottom, by the time I got to the top I was wearing two jackets and a touque and I wished I had mittens along. I didn’t see anyone else the whole time though, so it’s a great hike for getting away from the crowds.

The crocuses near the top were spectacular. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen crocuses this purple. And they were everywhere. I got a chance to give my new Olympus 60mm Macro a good workout and I’m super impressed with that lens. Focusing is really fast for a macro lens, and it’s extremely sharp. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have a manual focus switch on the lens. But for being 1/5 of the weight of my Sigma macro and giving me similarly impressive results, I’m really happy.

60mm, f2.8, 1/1250 of a second

Edmonton Folk Fest

I’m not doing many shows this summer – in fact only one. I’ve had to narrow them down, but the one I’ve managed to keep is Folk Fest, which I’m super excited about! It’s always a great time, with lots of amazing music and friendly people. And I’ve got lots of new stuff this year. So if you’re one of the lucky ones who managed to get tickets, I’ll see you there!

17mm, f5.6, 1/200 of a second
Taken in Bellis Natural Area

Wild Asters

150mm, f2.8, 1/1250 of a second

150mm, f2.8, 1/640 of a second

Interesting Macro Fact of the Day:
These pictures were taken a few seconds apart at the same iso, aperture, and in the same lighting conditions. So why the different shutter speeds? Macro lenses, when they start focusing really close are actually a lot darker than the aperture suggests. If we measured the amount of light coming into this lens when it’s focused really close, it is probably about half the light (around an f4 value), even though the aperture blades haven’t moved from their open position. This happens with all macro lenses.

Little Unnoticed Events

As the Saskatchewan River flooded last week it covered this little Verbena flower. For a bit the flower would stand up tall, and then a little wave would catch it and surface tension would hold it down for a little bit. Then as a larger wave would come along, the trough of the wave would be too low to hold it down, and the little flower would pop back up.

Taken with a Canon 5d, Sigma 150 macro at f2.8, 1/200 of a second.

Dogbane Explorations

Below are a series of photos exploring a field of Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium). These are all taken from the same place, at the same time of day. As I’m taking photos, I often move from the literal – capturing a scene as one would usually see it (hopefully with a pleasing composition) and move towards the abstract. Often what I’m after is the abstract photo, but sometimes the original, more traditional landscape is the one that wins out when I’m evaluating them afterwards. It often takes me months to discover if I’m happy with a photo or not. And blogging them is part of this process. I blog photos that I initially think are pretty good, and the ones I’m still happy with in a couple months will likely go in my portfolio.

Marsh Marigold

Caltha palustris in the buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family.

I got quite wet on this hike. Mostly my boots got soaked, but taking pictures like this also requires wet knees (and sometimes elbows). There are days I wish my camera had live view.

Sunny Flowers for a Rainy Day

Crocuses and Yellow Avalanche Lilies in Waterton National Park.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the gallery opening on Thursday night and today! It was great to talk with all of you. If you missed it, the show will continue into July.

The Daffodil Gallery is at 10412 124 Street. Gallery hours are 10:30am to 5:00pm Tuesday – Saturday.

Harebells and Forest Lanscapes

In the interests of geographical diversity, today’s photo is from Morden, MB. I went for a great hike with my family around Lake Minnewasta this past summer. For those who have not been here, the park is very nice for people who like the resorty villages, but the trail is absolutely beautiful. These are harebells (Campanula rotundifolia — as opposed to the hairy flowers like this which are bluebells) against a lichen covered tree trunk.

As I was getting this photo ready for the post today I kept having problems. I like the photo – the complimentary purple and orange, the contrasting textures, the brightness of the flowers. But something didn’t feel quite right. I kept on going back and trying to edit it differently. I think I finally figured out my problem with it, which can’t be fixed with processing – there’s no clear focal point. The eye has so many places to go, but there’s no clear line to follow, no one point to rest at. I was going to scrap the whole post and start again, but I thought you might be interested in my thoughts and processes on how I reject photos I’ve taken.

And now, in the interests of posting a photo I’m actually happy with, here’s one from the same hike.