01 October 2006



The first of October. The afternoon darkens; grey cloud thickens, saying rain soon. But it’s still warm out here on the verandah, still calm. The firstMallard of October, and this morning I heard the first pipiwharauroa. In the East, cloud begins to melt into a misty veil of rain over distant hills. A blackbird sings a gentle song from the sycamore and another answers from lower down, perhaps in the apple, perhaps the manuka. A tui too: warbles and clucks punctuating melodic phrases.

The rain veil spreads. Two putangitangi fly, silent and synchronised, across that sky, South to North, upvalley. In the same moment a swallow darts and flickers over the paddock, flying directly away from me, more a quick movement than substance. Receding, flickering its way into the oblivion of the encroaching rain. As the putangitangi fly North and the swallow East, a small flight of finches scatters South and alights in the top of the sycamore. The moment lasts no more than a handful of seconds but seems to contain the meaning of a lifetime. I look up into the sky, above the rain, where the cloud seems uncertain whether to close and thicken or break to let the light shine through. It resembles something William Blake might have painted—dark, immanent, potent, full of symbolism. The first of October.

The first rain begins to tap on the verandah roof.


Rainwalking, Pohangina River

I used to hate the rain
the miserable drip and
Duckling dreaming
gradual seep the drum
on the hut
s iron roof
with the river rising
all the time uncountable
crossings still to go

Now on my own making
whatever time I like
s just another part
of being out here
the silence expands
in this taptaptap this
leafsplatter the dull gleam
of riverbed boulders

Anyone else would wreck it
I hope the other world
long gone tucked behind
warm walls with the radio on
leaving me with the cold the
mist thunder in the gorge rain falling -
anyone else would wreck it

but I remember the colour
of the sea and find myself

Photos (click them if you want a larger image):
1. Mallard. Williams Park, Days Bay, near Eastbourne, Wellington harbour.
2. Image based on a mallard duckling (loc. cit.), with significant post-processing.
3. Shoreline at Burdan's Gate, Point Arthur, Wellington harbour.

Photos and words © 2006 Pete McGregor


butuki said...

What an absolute delight to find another post by you waiting when I clicked your link! This time it was the last photo, of the shoreline, that held me. That photo is moving. The sheet of water carries the light just right so that a viewer can sense the grabbing of the tideline at the crumbling rocks. More and more I want to visit and live in such places that you wander.

I have had the opposote reaction to rain over the years. I used to positively love walking in the rain and listening to it drumming on the roof. These days it almost hurts to listen to it because it reminds me too much of what I miss. So when it rains now I often feel a kind of shortness of breath, an inability to breath it in. I used to live in western Oregon in the States, where it rains all the time, sometimes a month or two straight, without let up. Most of the people I knew at the time complained about the wetness and greyness all the time, but I always loved it. Rain falling in a landscape that accepts it is like sunshine; it creates the world in which it exists.

herhimnbryn said...

Ah 'rainwalking' and 'leafsplatter'. perfect, just perfect. Odd you should mention 'the first of October', it's an important date for me! Even though I now live in Oz, October is STILL autumn in the UK for me...which can be little confusing as summer is just around the corner here!
The Mallard image is so clear. it's colours echoing your description of the portent of rain. However, he looks as though he is prepared to cope with any stormy weather.
Thanks P. for a thoughtful post once again.

butuki said...

Pete, I've been meaning to ask about your Photoshop sharpening techniques. Post production is probably the the difficult part of working on my photos and even though I've been studying sharpening for close to five years now, I still haven't got it to where I want it yet. Would you have any links or pointers you could direct me to for learning how you go about getting such sharp photos? (I do realize the importance of using a tripod... but that's not always an option when alpine climbing). In particular how do you avoid the halo artifacts when sharpening? I'd much appreciate your advice.

robin andrea said...

When I was young and an avid sun-worshipper the rain was something that had to be endured, a silent test of will to not go mad until the sun would return. Now I long for it to pour down. Here in the pacific northwest we're in a drought. Every synonym for dry applies. The top layer of soil looks split like skin on an animal long dead, dessicated. The sound of rain on every surface is a welcomed thing. In the beginning, it doesn't even hit the ground for all the trees it must pass first on the way.

Beautiful photographs, Pete, as always.

chuck said...

Massive clouds, birds in flight, BLAKE references, and reflections on solitude: it is all here...and more.

The words form a landscape...and suggest a yet vaster landscape.

pohanginapete said...

Butuki, thanks for your generous comments. And, if you do intend visiting Aotearoa, please let me know. As for the post processing, your query has started me thinking about writing a post on the topic. In the meantime, however, (I'm not exactly a prolific blogger...), here are a few pointers, which you probably already know. I use Photoshop Elements 3; I can't afford the full version of Photoshop, and I'd need very good reasons to be bothered with it, particularly with Photoshop Lightroom being developed (although I probably won't be able to afford that either, when it moves from beta to commercial release).

First, I almost always leave sharpening until I've completed everything else, including — and most importantly — resizing the image to its final dimensions and resolution. Second, I'm conservative with the radius setting, usually leaving it at 0.2 with the amount set to 250 and threshold at zero. Often I'll apply the unsharp mask twice, sometimes more; sometimes I'll just set the amount to 500 and sharpen once. There are many ways of achieving very similar results, but in my experience the radius setting is the most important of the three to get right. For people portraits the conventional wisdom is to increase the threshold value to avoid sharpening blemishes, but I've never found it necessary, nor useful.

If the subject has long thin lines, like some grasses or corrugated iron, sharpening small images is very difficult because of anti-aliasing contrasts — if you sharpen even slightly too much, those long, thin lines will look like a line of steps. All I can suggest is to experiment, watching closely and being prepared to accept that the final sharpening will be a compromise.

Haloes are most obvious where there's a sharp division between areas of markedly different contrast — the usual example is where the sky meets the land. To avoid this, I'll sometimes mask the sky, taking the mask below the ridgeline and feathering the mask extensively, then sharpening only the unmasked area. Clouds seldom need sharpening, anyway — they seldom have razor sharp edges!

Of the useful sites I've come across, The Luminous Landscape is good for information about sharpening. The information's a little scattered, but well worth the searching. A very good summary can be found in Arthur Morris' Birds As Art Bulletin #118. I used this information as a starting point, and it has several links to more detailed information.

I'm sure others achieve just as good or better results using approaches other than mine, but so far I don't know any better. It takes practice. However, from what I've seen of your photos, you seem to be processing at a high standard already. More importantly, you have a wonderful eye — of course, that doesn't surprise me at all.

HHnB, thankyou also. To me, the different months all have their own 'feel', but October seems to have a particularly strong personality. Slightly strange, slightly otherworldly. It usually makes me restless.

Robin, your descriptions bring back memories. One of the things I notice most about rain after drought is the smell of it; the marvellous, strong scent as the first drops arrive. Thanks :^)

Chuck — I feel as if I've at least partly succeeded when what I've written suggests more than it says. “Landscape” — that's an apt and complimentary metaphor. Thankyou :^)

MB said...

I can feel the vast grey heave of the sea in that photo! It's beautiful. This post is evocative and corresponds well to the mood of the day here. I'm struck by the familiarities I keep seeing in your posts, even though I'm landlocked and half a world a way. Perhaps that has to do with the rich way you communicate.

Mary said...

I love the rain, the feel of it, and the effect it has on the land. When we have very hot dry summers - as has been the case for the past few years - I get uneasy. The rain we have had on and off for the past few weeks has been like a blessing ...

And I too think that seascape photograph is wonderful. I am particularly struck by the pinkish glow on the right which is reflected in water.

polona said...

pete, your words paint such vivid images, and your photographs speak volumes!

i used to hate rain, too, but have learned to accept it, and now i often find inspiration in it...

Dave said...

I like this poem a lot.

butuki said...

Not sure why the first time I replied didn't go through... Anyway, trying again:

Thanks, Pete, for the tips. Some of the ideas are new to me, like about masking the clouds to filter out the halos on terrain edges. I'm going to give your ideas a try. I'm looking forward to reading your essay on sharpening. I'm always looking for new ways to improve my photography.

I, too, am stymied by the exhorbitant prices of software like PhotoShop, Illustrator (which I need for my work), and InDesign (which I also need for work, but haven't been able to drum up enough money for yet). I find it frustrating that some of these programs have become de facto tools for use in everyday applications, and yet the prices are so high that the average person cannot afford them, and there are few high quality alternatives. PhotoShop Elements is good, but I like the added capabilities that PhotoShop CS2 has. I'm using CS1 right now, which is fine. I used to use Fireworks from Macromedia, but ever since Adobe bought Macromedia up all likely competition has been eliminated.

I also want to get more serious about hand-drawn animation and want to buy Mirage, a digital cell animation application. But, oh, the price! I guess there are great advantages to being unemployed for just this little bit longer!

About your comment about not being a prolific blogger. Actually I prefer blogs that don't post every day, because it gives me time to process longer post and think about them. Your posts always make me stop to think and come up with hopefully meaningful responses. Like the subjects your write about the slow blogging style fits your words perfectly.

KiwiSoupGirl said...

Just beautiful....! I am having trouble describing my reactions, quite honestly - but the pictures (drawn by you in my mind) are even sharper than the lovely photographs you have so carefully tended. Your poem gave me a real "grab" - felt rather than read. Gratitude at being able to share your writing and talent is total!

Rain - I love it at night on the roof and, I confess, I find it dreary during daylight hours. I am besotted with thunderstorms, however, especially if it brings HEAVY rain and the smell of ozone following the lightning strikes. Now THAT'S what I call mother nature saying "HELLO!" :-) Yep, kinda weird, but I'm happy to accept the label.

Again, Pete, thank you!

pohanginapete said...

MB: That idea about finding familiar aspects to new places intrigues me. I wrote about it on the old blog, and will mention it in an upcoming post. I'm glad you've reminded me. Thanks.

Mary: Yes, too much of any weather can be disconcerting, particularly if it's out of the ordinary; however, some kinds of unusual weather can be exhilarating (as KiwiSoupGirl notes about wild storms). As for the pinkish glow in the photo: I didn't pay much attention until I realised it's not the sunset (which is reflected in the water on the left). In fact, I'm pretty sure it's mostly the lights of Petone and Lower Hutt just warming up and lighting the low cloud. For me, it balances the colour on the left. I don't recall whether I was consciously aware of it or not — it was a marvellous time, and I was completely caught up in what I was doing. :^D

Polona: Thankyou; I appreciate those thoughts. :^D

Dave: Cheers, glad you like it. It's a little scary to think it's almost 10 years old now...

Butuki, I think Ray Jardine's attitude towards lightweight backpacking has a much wider application: “If I need it and don't have it, then I don't need it.” I think you're right, too, about less frequent blogs allowing more time to think and respond appropriately.

KSG: Thanks! That's a nice compliment about the poem: “...felt rather than read”. I wish I could achieve that more often... :^)

butuki said...

You're into the philosophy of ultralight backpacking, too?!?! Man, we have a lot in common! What are you doing living all the way down there where the toilet drains in the wrong direction?

Actually I'm making a serious effort to incorporate the whole idea of living as lightly as possible into all aspects of my life. Just like the first time I stepped out into the mountains with just a tarp and knew that that was all I had to protect myself, the idea of letting go of so many things and so many preconceptions is very hard to shake for your daily life. BUt once you do, you truly can move more freely and easily. But I feel like I have so much more to learn...

pohanginapete said...

Butuki, I've only just started trying out the lightweight backpacking philosophy. I tested it a couple of weekends ago on a trip in the Ruahine with friends; I wore running shoes, took a smaller, lighter sleeping bag, and squeezed everything into a smaller, lighter pack. It worked beautifully, and the only disadvantage I noticed was being blown off my feet more regularly when we were crossing the Ngamoko Range in bad conditions — less weight = less ballast!

The key, I think, is attitude: the ability to be comfortable and contented regardless of circumstances. If you can achieve that, the requirements for remaining safe are minimal.

Of course, I'm never likely to achieve the astonishingly tiny pack weights of many ultralight trampers (backpackers) — on that Ruahine trip I was carrying almost 3 kg of camera gear :^D

butuki said...

Pete, take a look at these two books to learn more:

"Lightweight Backpacking & Camping: A Field Guide to Wilderness Hiking Equipment, Technique, and Style", edited by Ryan Jordan (perhaps the new guru of very lightweight tramping)

"Hammock Camping: The Complete Guide to Greater Comfort, Convenience, and Freedom", by Ed Speer (the guru of hammock camping)

Both books take Jardin's ideas a step further and a bit more realistically (and scientifically for Jordan's book). Recently I've started hammock camping and it definitely has dome advantages over traditional ground camping. You can pitch your camp just about anywhere (even where there are no trees) and don't have to worry about uneven ground or even water. I'm not sure if being in a hammock quite agrees with me yet, but I'm hoping that I can get used to it.

I've been making my own equipment for about three years now, with quite a few hammocks, tarps, and a tent under my belt. At the moment I am designing a system which uses a hammock as both a hammock and bivy, a narrow top quilt as a thin quilt and tunic (instead of an insulated jacket), an underquilt for under the hammock and as a regular, down-filled quilt for when on the ground (combined with the tunic/top quilt to make a warmer sleeping system), and a backpack harness system which holds a dry sack as the main pack body and acts as the leg area sleeping mat when on the ground, while the dry sack doubles as a gear hammock to hold my gear when hanging and as a ground sheet when on the ground. Sounds really complicated, but it's really quite light and simple. AND everything is something that I've made myself. Three years ago I never thought I could sew, now I can't stop!

I know exactly what you mean about camera equipment. It is always a dilemma, because I really can't stand all that extra weight. Since I'm so low on funds these days I simply can't afford a new lens for my DSLR, so I'm limited to the one lens I have... and I've found it allows me to be more creative and to concentrate less on the equipment and more on what I am looking at. Of course, that also means I can't get bird shots... something I dearly miss.

Have you considered digiscoping? You use a compact digital camera in conjuction with a field scope. The magnifications you can get are astounding (think 1,000 to 3,000 mm!). I don't own a field scope so it is moot for me, but just thought I'd mention it. Another thing I'd like to try one day is fitting an endoscope to a compact digital camera so that I can get super high depths of field and do some really great macro work where there is no limitation from the plane of focus.

Oops...I got started... better withdraw and let the feathers settle.

pohanginapete said...

Butuki, thanks for those references and ideas. Here in NZ there's a commercially made shelter which is a sort of combined hammock, tarp, and bivvy bag; it seems to work very well, with the only negative comment I've heard being a suggestion that it can be colder than a tent (not surprising, I suppose, and easily rectified if you can find somewhere to plug in your electric blanket...)

Yes, it's the specialist photography that makes things awkward. Digiscoping is not an option for me — I don't have, and don't want to buy, a scope. Magnification is great up to a point, but huge magnifications come with other costs. So, for the foreseeable future, I'll stick within the constraints of my current equipment.

Check back here soon — I have news ;^)