Plants: Wild Rose

The wild rose or prickly rose will be familiar to almost everyone who goes outside in Canada. They are the common source of pain when walking through undergrowth and the small thorns will get stuck in socks and pants for days after. But the flowers are a beautiful pink – especially brilliant when they are just buds and softening in color as they open up. When the flower is gone, a rose hip is produced. When it is ripe it turns bright red or orange. The skin of rose hips is edible and rich in vitamin C (although to me it doesn’t taste that good). It can be made into tea, jam or jelly. But don’t eat the seeds inside. They are not poisonous but have many little hairs that cause itching – if ingested the itching is usually felt on the way out.

Wild rose leaves provide a beautiful color palette in fall when they start to turn – from yellow across the spectrum through orange and red to dark purple and even a bluish green sometimes.

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

Mossy Stream

I got back from my first ever trip to the east coast a few days ago! I already want to go back, but catching up on real life is important too. I’m not finished going through the photos yet, but this one stood out to me. I’ve always loved the fairy-tale richness of mosses, mushrooms, and small streams. They’re the backdrop for a thousand story lines, and at the same time a peaceful place where nothing needs to happen.

Mossy stream early in the morning in Fundy National Park.
f11, 6 seconds

Composition Consistency

In a lot of ways these photos could not be more different. The top one was taken at Beaverhill Lake, which at this point is a big marshy field in the prairies. The bottom was taken near the Saskatchewan Glacier in the mountains. The top was taken in spring, the bottom one in fall. The top is macro, the bottom is a landscape.

But when I was developing the top one today, my mind immediately went to this bottom photo that I took four years ago. The tones of the images help to group them, but what really strikes me is the similarity of composition. Both are triangles with the base at the bottom of the photo. They both have interesting lines thrusting up at angles through the frame.

When I’m composing an image, I don’t often consciously think about what to call a composition or what photo it will be like. I’m usually trying to balance the elements in the frame once an interesting line catches my eye. After the fact, when I’m looking through my images though, I start to notice themes. In some ways I like this — consistency is good. But I also don’t want to overuse themes and become boring. It’s a constant struggle of evaluation, and I probably overthink it. But it’s something I’ve noticed and thought was kind of interesting.


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.

Photo Classes

I’m excited to announce that I’m teaching photo classes in St. Albert. What will you learn? The principles of photography necessary to get awesome photos out of your camera. You’ll also get to practice with your camera with me and Eric there to answer any questions. It should be a fun day of trying new things and learning tons. We’re looking forward to it, and hope you can make it. The first one is on April 20th. More details are on the website:

And because you’re probably expecting a photo of one sort or another, I won’t disappoint. Spring is coming, and I can’t wait till all the new greenery appears!

Taken in pouring rain near Abraham Lake. 150mm, f2.8, 1/400 of a second.

Green and Full of Life

A photo from a long time ago that I completely overlooked. Today it looked sooo good to me — in winter the grass is always greener on the other side. I’ll have to get out to the mountains and remind myself that I really do like winter…

24mm, f5.6, 1/15 of a second

Curling Bunchberry Leaf

OK, we’re briefly back to regularly scheduled programming. I headed out to Bellis Lake Natural Area yesterday for some long awaited time alone in the woods. I was expecting rain, so I was only slightly disappointed when it turned out to be a warm sunny day. Besides the hornet incident, I had a great time and can’t wait to get out again. Here’s a bunchberry (Cornus canidensis) leaf I stumbled on in a swampy area.

150mm, f4.0, 1/160 of a second.

There Will Come Soft Rains

It seems like all my favorite photos lately are taken during storms or on rainy days. Looking back through my photos from this spring, none of the photos from sunny hikes grab me, and I gravitate towards softer, rainier photos. I think water adds a dramatic element to photos (as well as stories – yes, I’m a Ray Bradbury fan) — it sets a mood.

The first photo was taken near Beaverhill Lake on a blustery day with my Sigma 150mm Macro at 1/125 of a second and f5.0. The second was at Chickakoo Lake – 1/800 of a second at f2.8.