Wednesday, 19 January 2022

January 2022 - Celebrating the Joys of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

 Celebrating the Joys of the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney


Ah, January...that month of the year when I whine about the utter relentlessness of winter. I’m pretty much a ‘glass half-full’ kind of guy, so I can usually talk myself out of a funk. And whining certainly helps. After all, I’ve been doing this winter survival thing for 75 years. 


Which is why I find that extravagant displays of colour are so restorative and joyful at this time of year. The old Eaton’s stores – remember them? – knew that what Canadians desperately craved in the winter was a reassurance that there really was life beyond snow shovelling and slush. Their annual “Uncrate The Sun!” sales events were inspired. To walk into the flagship Eaton’s store on Queen Street in Toronto and see all the colourful decorations and sun-themed displays was absolutely restorative, especially when I was wearing sloshing galoshes, a heavy Hudson’s Bay parka, a hair-flattening ugly toque, and bulky gloves. Blessedly, Bill’s wondrous quilts have the same vibrant healing qualities for me. 


Amongst my other winter coping strategies are grandchildren’s smiles. And Basset Hound cuddles. And model train magazines. And photography. And writing. And reading. And walking. And having a host of delicious projects to work on. And, of course, living with Bill. My list is impressive.


However, for three years – in 2017, 2018, and 2019 – my favourite coping strategy was planning our wintertime escapes to Australia. For those three glorious years, we left winter behind and let Air Canada gently deposit us in Australia’s glorious warmth and hospitality. Alas, we’ve not been able to do it in 2020, 2021, or 2022. But what I have been able to do is to look over the thousands of photographs I made on our trips. One of my favourite places to photograph was the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney in the heart of that breathtaking city. I have curated a selection of twelve photographs in the hope that you will find them as healing and joyful as I do. Enjoy uncrating the sun!

Saturday, 18 December 2021

December, 2021 Blog Entry - Gratitude for the Prince Edward County Photography Club

 As I put 2021 into perspective, I am left with conflicting emotions. 

This year has been filled with miracles, starting with Bill’s liver transplant in July and his marvellous recovery. Making Bill’s transplant possible was the remarkable generosity of his daughter, Kate, who was his liver donor. Her recovery has been equally marvellous. 


At the same time, this year has seen grief and loss. Too many relatives and friends have died, with little public way to mourn them. Our Tayler family picnic next August will be missing four dear souls.


And while I am immensely grateful for my three COVID vaccine doses – not to mention Bill’s three – I know that the distribution of the vaccines around the planet has been tragically flawed and inequitable. 


During the pandemic, as one sage observed, we have not all been in the same boat. We have all been in the same storm, but we have been in wildly different boats.


There is no way to square these contradictions. At the end of the day, I muddle through the best I can.


An important part of muddling through for me has been the daily invocation of gratitude – profound, humbling gratitude – for both the ordinary and the extraordinary blessings in my life.


One of those blessings is the Prince Edward County Photography Club. The club membership comprises a wide range of talented people, each possessing a love of photography. Although we have not met in person for almost two years, the Club has continued to offer monthly theme challenges and activities to keep our cameras clicking and our minds engaged. The monthly cycle of projects and deadlines has been most helpful in keeping me organized and focused on the world beyond my navel. Instead of stagnating during the pandemic, my photography skills have sharpened. My gratitude for the club and its activities runs deep.


With that in mind, I want to dedicate this month’s blog entry to the Prince Edward County Photography Club. I’ve posted twelve photos below – one per month – that I have submitted in response to club themes and activities. I hope you enjoy looking at them.


Until next month, have a gracious solstice, a merry Christmas, a happy holiday, and a healthy new year. And stay safe.

January Theme: Black & White Photography
VIA Station, Belleville
Check a variation of this image 
in the November photo below.

February Theme: Shades of White
County Traders, Bloomfield

March Theme: Colourful Abstractions
Variations on the Underside of the Grand Staircase 
of the Sydney Opera House

April Field Trip: H. R. Frank Conservation Area, 
north of Belleville 
New growth in the wetlands

May Field Trip: Sheffield Conservation Area,
north of Napanee
Purple Cadillac in a nearby field

June Theme: Macro Magic
Detail of a Mark Armstrong glass pear, Wellington

July Theme: Taking Flight
Gulls at Point Peter

August Theme: Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer
The Yorkville Rock, Toronto

September Theme: Geometrically Speaking
Outdoor Bar, Tucker's Corners, near Belleville

October Theme: Autumn Glory
View from Prince Edward County's Millennium Trail,
Between Wellington and Bloomfield

November Theme: Studio Magic
Using Photoshop, I transformed the January photo by adding to the background "Conquering Doubt", a painting by Callen Schaub (Art Gallery of Ontario)

December Theme: Anything Goes!
I combined a 2019 Iowa Monarch Butterfly photo with a 2019 photo of runners exercising in Hyde Park, Sydney, Australia.

Monday, 15 November 2021

Lest I Forget...

 Lest I Forget...

One of the things I’ve noticed about getting older is that I think about the past a lot more than I used to. It’s not a nostalgic wish to return to the past or to relive it, but an active engagement with my own past. For instance, the recent death of the Tayler family matriarch, my 101-year-old Aunt Jeanne, has led to hours of poring over family photos. In particular, the discovery of a 1955 aerial view of my family’s Wellington-area farm (where I lived as a child) has opened the floodgate of memories. I plan to feature these photos in a future blog post. I’m not sure how I became official ‘keeper of the family photos’, but every family needs one.


For this blog post, however, I’m focusing on Remembrance Day and my annual rite of observance. When I was a child, attending Remembrance Day services was in my family DNA. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, military service was a tradition in my family, especially on my father’s side. November 11th was always observed with dignity and solemnity. As a Cub Scout and later a Boy Scout, I attended the Remembrance Day services at the Wellington War Memorial in uniform – and was proud of it. By osmosis, I came to appreciate my family’s involvement in both World Wars. In World War One, my Grandfather Tayler served in the Forestry Battalion of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment in northern France. In World War Two, my Uncle Mel died off the coast of Sierra Leone in a bomber crash; my father served in the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, performing duties with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Québec because a back injury prevented him from shipping overseas; my Aunt Jeanne served in the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF); and Uncle Homer, my mother’s brother, was a Spitfire pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in England.


So each year on November 11th, the family ghosts beckon me to bundle up, no matter how miserable the weather, and get myself to the closest cenotaph to pay my respects. It’s an annual rite of gratitude. 


It is not, however, an automatic or unthinking response. I have little time for the ‘My country, right or wrong’ crowd or for those who glorify war in the name of macho camaraderie. Such mindless bravado nauseates me. What I do respect, however, is the willingness of ordinary people to put their lives at risk in the service of their country. It infuriates me when military leaders use these people to bolster their own egos and careers. And it especially infuriates me when governments don’t actively support members of the armed services when they return home. Their physical and psychological suffering can be immense. They deserve better than a token pat on the back once a year. 


So, when I attend a Remembrance Day service, I’m not there to glorify war or indulge in jingoism. I’m there to say ‘thank you’ to the people who stepped forward when needed, especially the precious members of my own family.


The photos:

I made the two photos above on November 11 this year at the Picton Remembrance Day service. The first features the carved name of my Uncle, Melvin Tayler, on the commemorative altar at the Picton Cenotaph. The red maple leaf is a photo I made while walking home from the service. The photos below come from a moving visit that Bill and I made to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra on March 25, 2019.


Thank you for reading this post.


Until next month, stay safe.

Eternal Flame, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Indigenous soldier, Private Alfred Coombs (centre), 60th Australian Battalion, training with his mates in England, 1916.
Unknown Photographer

Myra Harvey (centre) and other family members, Hyde Park, Sydney, await arrival of returning troops, 1919.
Unknown Photographer.

Driver Charles Eldridge (front, in shirt) with other recently released Australian Prisoners of War outside Singapore's infamous Changi Gaol, 1945.
Unknown Photographer.

Melvin Tayler's name is among the armed service members from Wellington who died in World War Two. It appears on the commemorative altar in front of the Picton Cenotaph. Uncle Mel was a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, serving with the Royal Air Force 95 Squadron. He died when the bomber he was navigating crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone, on November 28, 1942. His gravestone is in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Freetown. 

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

A Tribute to Jeanne Hamel

Jeanne Hamel

June 17, 1920 – September 27, 2021


We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

Housed as they are in the same body.

From “We Shake With Joy”

by Mary Oliver, from Evidence (1990)


My blog post this month is focused on Jeanne Hamel – my fabulous Aunt Jeanne – who died peacefully late last month in Scarborough at the age of 101.


Imagine that – 101 years old and living a vibrant, engaged life right up to the end. In an August phone call with me, she had gleefully described her strategy for not getting any more speeding tickets on Toronto’s busy Highway 404. (“I stick to the centre lane because it’s harder to nab me there!”)


Although this blog post is primarily about Aunt Jeanne, it is also about me. From my earliest memories, Aunt Jeanne has been a radiant part of my life. After my parents died in the late 1990s, she took over as my mother figure. I am feeling her death as keenly as I did their deaths.


Aunt Jeanne, aka Rachel Jeanne Hamel, was the youngest child of Norah and Garnet Tayler. She was born in 1920 on the Tayler family farm – now owned by the Sztuke family and called Mink Island Farm – on the shores of West Lake in Prince Edward County near Wellington. (See the gallery of Mink Island Farm photos at the end.) Aunt Jeanne’s older brother, Melvin, was born in 1913. He died in 1942 when the bomber he was navigating crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Her middle sibling, Douglas (my father), was born in 1916 and died in 1997.


From Aunt Jeanne’s recollections, she led a happy rural childhood, actively engaged with the farm’s chicken hatchery, garden, and field crops. The entire family was involved in the life of the Wellington Methodist Church (later Wellington United Church after church union in 1925). The family farm included most of the island – Mink Island – across the lake from the farm, so she had many adventures rowing and swimming to the island, as well as camping there. Her brothers teased her mercilessly (her word) – and “I loved almost every minute of it.”


For her entire life, she had a sharp, inquisitive mind. After completing high school, she attended the Macdonald Institute in Guelph, graduating with a diploma in home economics at the beginning of World War Two. (The Macdonald Institute became part of the newly formed University of Guelph in 1964.) Following the family tradition of military service, she joined the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and became part of a precision marching squad that toured Canada to raise money for War Bonds. It was when she was stationed at RCAF Base Mountain View (in Prince Edward County) that she met her future husband, Will Hamel. They married after the war and lived in Wellington, not far from the family farm. They had one child, my delightful cousin Norah, and moved to Scarborough in 1961. Aunt Jeanne became actively involved in Knob Hill United Church, where she met Ruth Ledsham, the woman who became her dearest friend for sixty years. 


It was with Ruth that Aunt Jeanne drove across Canada several times to explore the natural beauty and wilderness of our country, especially after Uncle Will’s death in 1997. Together, they walked long sections of the Trans-Canada Trail. They even spent a week in England, after Aunt Jeanne – an inveterate free contest enthusiast – had won a week’s vacation in London. Sadly, Ruth died recently, a month before Aunt Jeanne’s death. They remained travelling companions to the end...and beyond.


Aunt Jeanne was always a ‘doer’ – she just jumped into her community and got involved. She ran Cub Scout packs, taught swimming and skating, volunteered with Community Living in Scarborough, and generally made herself useful. (“Because that’s what you do!”) When she and Uncle Will bought a condo near the Scarborough Bluffs in the mid-1970s, she joined West Hill United Church, where she remained a much-beloved member until her death.


One of the great gifts that West Hill United Church gave her was an avid and informed interest in Progressive Christianity. Under the inspired leadership of West Hill’s dynamic minister, Gretta Vosper, Aunt Jeanne and the entire congregation embarked on a far-reaching (and, for some, controversial) re-evaluation of what it meant to be Christian and what it meant to be church. It was in this process that Aunt Jeanne became a devotee of the American Episcopal theologian John Shelby Spong. I recall many satisfying and challenging discussions with Aunt Jeanne about Spong’s books, his critique of Christian orthodoxies, and his honouring of lesbian, gay, and queer people. She derived impish delight in upsetting traditional Christian complacency, taking to heart the advice of the early 20th century American journalist Finley Peter Dunne “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.” 


She developed a strong conviction that you could not be both Christian and complacent at the same time.


Aunt Jeanne was one of the first people in my family to whom I came out in 1983. Her unconditional love and encouragement – way, way beyond mere acceptance – were important in my early days as an openly gay man. As in so many other things, she gave me strength and courage. When my first husband, Spencer, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2011, she gave me a safe space for bashing through my grief, anger, and tears. When Spencer decided to have an assisted death in Switzerland in 2012, she was fully supportive. And when I met my future second husband, Bill, in  2013, Aunt Jeanne was once again enormously supportive. I’ll never forget what she said to me after she met Bill for the first time: “You’ve been through enough, Larry. HE’S the one! Grab him!” And I did.


A singularly important part of my relationship with Aunt Jeanne was our Sunday morning telephone calls. And it was all because of my dad. After I moved to Toronto in 1984, I began phoning dad in Picton on Sunday mornings just to check in and to stay connected. For the next thirteen years, until he died in 1997, the tradition of talking with dad on Sunday mornings took root in my life. Soon after he died, Aunt Jeanne drew me aside one day and said, “Look, you’re going to miss talking with your dad on Sunday mornings. Why don’t you start calling me instead?” And thus began a tradition that lasted 24 years. Wherever I was in the world on a Sunday morning, I would phone Aunt Jeanne, at precisely 8:05 am Toronto time, and we would talk for at least an hour, often longer. By my estimate, we talked for about 1300 hours in total – yet we never seemed to run out of things to say. She took particular delight when I phoned her from the cabin that Bill and I rented in Tasmania’s Huon Valley – where it was almost midnight – and I would set up the phone so she could hear the soft nighttime chorus of the Tasmanian bush. 


My logical mind knew that these Sunday morning calls with Aunt Jeanne couldn’t go on forever. After all, when you’re 101 years old, at some point time catches up with you. But her death took my breath away and leaves an Aunt-Jeanne-sized hole in my life. 


How I miss those Sunday morning calls. And how I miss Aunt Jeanne.


Thank you for reading this tribute to Aunt Jeanne. I hope you enjoy the photos of the former Tayler family farm. I recorded most of them on July 29, 2019, while happily wandering the farm with my camera. The exceptions are the last two photos, which I made on September 19, 2020, on the occasion of the memorial celebration for the life of Peter Sztuke at Mink Island Farm.


I will finish up this post the same way I began – with a quotation from the poet Mary Oliver.


...I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

From “The Summer Day”

by Mary Oliver, from House of Light (1990)


Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Navigating Ambiguity


“We live the given life, and not the planned.”

- Wendell Berry

This Day/Collected & New Sabbath Poems

(Counterpoint Press, 2013, Page 150, “III/Ye must be born again.”)


Dear Readers,


It has been almost a year since I stopped posting weekly updates to this blog. Last September, my husband, Bill, and I had just moved back to Prince Edward County and, while I was exhilarated about being back home in The County, my energy for writing blog posts had dried up. I had been posting regularly since 2016 and had simply run out of ideas. Instead of being a delight, the blog had become a drain. So – I decided to take a few weeks off, which morphed into a few months, which morphed into a year. 


And such a year it has been.


First, there was the COVID rollercoaster that we’ve all experienced. 


Then Bill had significant health challenges. It started with the removal of his gall bladder on Christmas Eve in Belleville and galloped along with a diagnosis of liver cancer in January. The culmination was a miraculous liver transplant in Toronto at the end of July. (With eternally grateful thanks to Kate, Bill’s daughter, for donating part of her liver to save his life.) Both of them are making excellent progress and are healing beautifully. 


Finally, in late August I celebrated my 75th birthday. Woohoo! I’m now three-quarters of a century old! (My dear 101-year-old Aunt Jeanne put this milestone into perspective by saying that I still had a long way to go...) To celebrate my birthday, I treated myself to a new SONY a7III camera. My previous camera, with many thousands of photos under its shutter, was simply wearing out. 


So now, a year later, I’ve decided to start posting to my blog again. Instead of weekly posts, however, I’m planning to post monthly. I want to keep the experience fresh and creative and not post merely for the sake of posting.


The current plan (subject to the usual caveats, asterisks, and advice from Doctor Tam) is to feature one of my photos per post and reflect on its circumstances and impact. At the end of each post, I’ll include a gallery of my recent photos.


Navigating Ambiguity


This month’s photo is entitled “Covert Hands”. Using my new camera, I recorded it near Old City Hall on Bay Street in Toronto on Thursday, September 2, 2021. Bill and I were walking down Bay Street towards Union Station to catch a VIA train home after Bill’s early morning appointment at the Toronto General Hospital Transplant Unit. As soon as I saw this park bench scene, I knew I had to photograph it. I made six photos, getting closer with each photo. In the first five photos, this person’s hands were not visible. Only as I clicked the shutter for the last one did the hands suddenly appear. A second later, they just as quickly disappeared. Bill and I then continued walking down Bay Street – I never did see the person’s face. The whole episode took maybe fifteen seconds.


I love the photo...and I have no idea about what is happening. 


Which brings me to navigating ambiguity. 


I have often said that some of my favourite photographs are ambiguous and have no clear storyline. You can project onto them an infinity of scenarios, all of them simultaneously valid and wildly inaccurate. There are no privileged interpretations – just a glorious multitude of possibilities. The very nature of ambiguity is that you don’t know for sure about something – all you have is your intuition, aka, your gut instincts.


I struggle with ambiguity, despite my appreciation of it in photographs. Where ambiguity gnaws away at me is when I worry about my health or the health of my loved ones. Or about grandchildren. Or about finances. Or about the planet. Or about my carefully conceived plans that suddenly go sideways. 


From my privileged position as a well-resourced white man, these anxieties pale when compared to the harsh realities faced by many on our planet. But they are my anxieties, and to me they are real, and they do keep me up at night. And what is most worrisome is that they can be neither resolved quickly nor easily. 


When my worrying mind threatens to overwhelm me, I have to gently but firmly nudge it back to the present, count my blessings, vow never to become complacent about my life, and then – forgive the cliché – simply get on with things. 


As the gifted American poet Wendell Berry says, “We live the given life, not the planned.”


When I look at this photo, I see ambiguity: joyfullness and challenge; blessings and burdens; security and flux. Just like life.


To be continued.


Thank you for reading this post. I hope you find it engaging and that you enjoy the photos that follow. 


Until next time.




Photo Gallery

In front of Toronto City Hall,
1 September 2021

House on Curtis Street, Picton
2 September 2021

Wellington Market
4 September 2021

Connon's Nursery, Bayside
4 September 2021

Connon's Nursery, Bayside
4 September 2021

Long Point/Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory
6 September 2021

Long Point/Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory,
6 September 2021

Buchanan Avenue, Picton
7September 2021

Twig (4 cm) brought into our home by Otis, our long-haired miniature Dachshund, 
9 September 2021

Larry Tayler Photography

Picton, Ontario