Filming Worlds Apart

An interview with filmmaker-photographer Jason Van Bruggen

Jason van Bruggen is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker based in Canada. His lens has previously captured an incredible Adventure Canada journey through the Northwest Passage. We are thrilled to share Jason’s latest cinematic poem featuring AC staffer and author-explorer James Raffan, and caught up with him to ask some questions about his craft.


Adventure Canada: Jason, what draws you to the wilderness as a filmmaker?

Jason Van Bruggen: Our wilderness is an endlessly fascinating subject to me. Not only for its beauty, but also for the opportunities it provides us in terms of learning and reflection. As we enter an age of scarcity and climate change, these opportunities become more precarious. As a visual artist, I have a role to play in conserving wild places and encouraging an appreciation for them in others. Not only for their visual interest but for their profound importance. My passion for wilderness locations is decades old and predates my current role as a filmmaker and photographer. My current career choice was informed by a passion for wild places rather than the other way around. A fascination with intrepid travel has spanned my whole life. Growing up, I spent my summers on unsupported canoe trips in the Canadian backcountry, which is probably at the root of it. I have worked in the most remote and austere locations on the planet ranging from the Tibetan Himalaya to the deserts of Iraq, and spent time wandering around in well over a hundred countries. Wilderness travel and exploration have been profoundly formative and continue to provide me with boundless inspiration.

AC: What extra considerations does a filmmaker have to make when shooting in remote locations like the Arctic? How did you prepare? What is the hardest part about shooting in cold weather?

JVB: There are many, many additional considerations that go into shooting in remote locations, especially when travelling with a sophisticated equipment package. Preparation involves fastidious attention to detail, starting with the planning stages. You need to be ready for contingency, for equipment failure (total or partial) and have backups of all the essentials. The hardest parts about shooting in cold weather are pretty obvious—keeping yourself warm, keeping your batteries warm, and keeping your equipment running are always crucial.  

AC: Is there anything in particular that makes a shooting location special? What do you look for when gathering footage?

JVB: The light. The fleeting point of confluence at which light, topography, and activity all meet is what yields magic.

AC: Wildlife is notoriously hard to shoot. Is there anything you take into consideration to help get the perfect shot?

JVB: First off, I don’t think I have gotten the perfect shot. In my view, the best way to capture wildlife is to research where you might find the fauna you are looking for, identify a target location, and then spend time there. I prefer to wait in one place and get to know it intimately; this allows me to develop an understanding of where the best opportunities exist. This enables me to find the best light and, hopefully, understand the habits and interests of the animals I am shooting. Observing animals candidly, without disturbing them, is always the most rewarding. That being said, you can do everything right and walk away without a single shot. It’s a crap-shoot like that, especially in landscapes as vast and changeable as the Arctic.

AC: What was the most challenging shot in this most recent project?

JVB: Many individual shots had their challenges, but I think the most delicate part of this project was trying to strike a balance between a number of competing priorities. At the end of the day, this is a piece to promote Arctic travel on behalf of Adventure Canada. It is also a portrait of a friend of mine, and one that I wanted to make candid without being overly revealing. Like many of the stories that I imagine and film, I wanted this to be honest and to steer away from a clichéed interpretation of the North, exploration, and wilderness travel.

AC: Part of what makes your northern films and images so striking is the haunting, subdued palate. Can you comment on how you achieve such a vivid representation of local colour?

JVB: I try and represent on film what I feel when I am in the North. The Arctic, as it lives in my memory, is not an overtly colourful place. It is an eerily beautiful place, though. I see a great deal of photography which feels like it stretches the boundaries of credible human experience in the Arctic. While there are flashes of brilliant colour on many of my Arctic voyages, my emotional memory of the Arctic on most days is reflected in my colour treatment of both still and moving images.

AC: How would you describe the experience of working with Adventure Canada?

JVB: I love these guys. It’s a family-run business with tremendous purchase in the communities we visit and huge respect for the part of the world in which they travel. Those relationships have taken decades to build, and aren’t something that can be bought. The resource staff aboard the AC vessels keep coming back, year after year, for the same reasons that I do—we get to work with great people in amazing places.

AC: What is your dream shoot? Somewhere you haven’t been, and always wanted to?

JVB: Tough question. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a lot , and get to a lot of ‘bucket list’ destinations. I want to continue to explore the most compelling and hard to get to pieces of wilderness in Canada, and around the world. If I had to narrow it down, I would say all of National Parks in Canada that I haven’t been to yet.

AC: Thanks very much, Jason!

JVB: Thank you!


Jason’s work is focussed on depicting North American wilderness, including the Far North in a manner that is authentic and narrative—building new interpretations of these landscapes. Favouring travel that brings him in direct contact with the frontier and those who inhabit it, Jason’s immersive work seeks to explore these emerging landscapes and capture the vulnerability of the ecosystems and the people who live within them, illuminating a tension between the strength and fragility of the region; the age-old resolve to survive, and the current intention to thrive in places where scarcity fosters incredible ingenuity, resilience, and hospitality. Visit his portfolio online for more information.

All photos courtesy of Jason Van Bruggen.

Impressions of Labrador

A guest post by Lisa Moore

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In the sand, bear paws.

Noses of the Zodiacs scrudging into the sand. Haul. Wet ropes, lean back, heels sliding on wet pebbles, tug the Zodiac up snug.  Slap down the bright yellow wooden step. Swinging legs over the side, walking poles, knapsack, step. Step on the block. Step into the water and feel the tug on your rubber boot. Water rushing up over the top of the wooden step, swirling  away in all directions, smooth pebbles tumbling end over end, everything stirred up underfoot. Stab the walking stick, lapping kelp, up, up, on the beach. Bright GoreTex jackets, red, aqua, mosquito net hats, hiss of radios, MJ, MJ, Jason. Jason, MJ.

The resettled Moravian/Inuit community of Ramah—bear paw. Some of them still filled with water. Claw scrapes on stone. The bear had just rambled through. Haunch and rippling muscle/chunks of hunger and force, but gone. The print a cup surging with water, gleaming in the sun.

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Partridge eggs. Hold back the alder branches. Can you see them? Speckled. See them? I can’t see them. There. The mother just flew. Where? There, the mother.

On the ridge overlooking the beach the bear monitors are just fluorescent orange flecks on the grey stone. They were far away but I could hear them checking in with each other on the radios.

The fjord last night. But impossible to capture the intensity, the depth. Cracks running through the mountains, the black dykes, old molten lava, rust, caramel, cream, brown, black, white splotches of snow, the green like an old rug worn in places, the light slicing through. Light slashing up the mountains. Clouds bunched like grapes, like marbles, like bowling balls. Still blue up there. Blue as a GoreTex jacket. I wish you could see this. I miss you. How can I tell you about this? You would love this. There was no wind. It was still. A black bear just a dot.  A moving dot on skyward straining granite. 

I felt tears lifting up inside me. Like the water rushing around the yellow block by the Zodiac, swirling all directions around my rubber boot, and tugging on my ankles, my leg, this answer in my body to beauty all mingled up and confused with you would love this and I miss you and my god, my god, what is this, the tears are disorienting, salt water—what is this? This is wordless. This is big. This is still. This is forever. This is infinity. This is a fork in the fjord. This is which way do we go? Do we ever go back? Can one go back from this? This is every path ever taken. Never taken. This is giving up, giving over. This is smallness. This is a blasting apart of the inner things. This is we are together, aren’t we? We are in this together. This is missing you and wishing you could see. This is a bunch of people on a deck, on all the decks, nosing in, deep and deeper. This is nowhere. This is the only place. 

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The rocks are cinema and the light is unrequited. The light is, don’t mess with me. The light is, you have never seen anything like this light. You will never see it again. Okay, this is vast. The light is a love affair. The light is going. The light is pink now. The light makes creases and folds in the mountains. The light fingers through. The lit up caves and the lit up faces of the people on the deck. The light is a last hurrah. The pink of inner things. The pink of new things, like the cry of a grandchild, like don’t stop, please don’t stop. This is the pink of the fresh salmon pulled from the water this afternoon and cut up with a pocket knife, and dip/flicked in the ocean on the side of the Zodiac and we ate in raw like religion, like a gift.

On the beach this morning Michelle told us about sod houses. The windows were made of seal intestine, translucent. Just imagine in a snowstorm. Just imagine a child born. The frame might have been wood or whale bone. This is so long ago. The ghosts are translucent. The ghosts are windows made of brass. They sang in four voices. They covered houses in cured skins, and then sods, and when there was a fall of snow, the sod house was very warm. 

The floor of the house might have been slate or wood. Now it has collapsed and grasses overgrown. Let’s not walk over it. Let’s leave it alone. There would have been a cold trap built in the entrance. A depression in the earth into which the cold would sink. But keep your eyes on the water, because bears can approach from there. Swimming sometimes as much as eight miles. Keep your eyes on the land. Be alert. I wish you could have seen. What a fjord that was last night. The way the light slashed across the uppermost blade of mountain. The way it faded. Or lasted. Went dark. Bellowed like a trumpet in the dining room. Looked all sultry and come thither, crooked its finger, said the truth. Flipped a coin, told a joke; the light was a pole dancer a circus, a dream with monsters and empty streets and everything was wet. Everything it touched turned to gold.

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I was talking with another writer on the deck about how hard it is to write. We laughed about ‘hard’ work. Because it isn’t coal mining after all. It’s pure pleasure. It is one-hundred voltage thrill. But it is hard. That’s what we said. And we said of course it wasn’t hard. Nobody twisting your arm to write. What is the difference between intense pleasure and pain. What is the difference between desire and discipline? If we follow this fjord forever where will we end up.

In the sod houses they had soap stone lamps with a wick made of woven beach grass burning in seal oil. The idea of that tiny flame, the halo it must throw out, in the midst of these  mountains,standing up in the dark. I hear Maria, on the radio, say she has spotted a white beluga. Mathew James, Mathew James, Maria, she says. And he answers: Maria, Maria, Mathew James. The hiss and clutches of sound bursting out of the radios. Maria, Mathew James. It is still very early in the morning.

The truth is I got up at five to write. I stumbled out onto the deck, almost blinded by the morning sun. Did it ever go to bed? Did it get tiny like that little flame in a sod hut, maybe a hundred and fifty years ago, glowing through the intestine of a seal? A line of radiant mist on the horizon. Pure white, where it touched the earth. Burning upward. On the hill in Ramah this morning, a little graveyard. Grey stone, half devoured by the grass, sunken, almost gone, splotches of orange lichen and the dates softened by the rain. It’s only ten thirty in the morning, but I feel like I have experienced a century since that mist on the deck burned away. I cannot wait to see you. I have a lot to tell.    

Arctic Photo Tips from a Pro: Guest Post from Michelle Valberg

MichelleValbergD4S5471.105926Nikon Canada Ambassador Michelle Valberg has been travelling with Adventure Canada for years, and her incredible photography plays a large role in helping us tell our story through exciting trip logs, brochures, and around the web. In addition to the successful photography business she runs in Ottawa, Michelle is the founder of the non-profit Project North, an organization dedicated to supporting northern communities with donated sporting equipment. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, the London Tribune, MORE magazine, Canadian Geographic, and In Style. She has self-published four books, including Arctic Kaleidoscopeand has been exhibited at the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Ottawa Hospital, the Wall Space Gallery, and the Trinity Art Gallery.

A mainstay of Adventure Canada’s expeditions aboard the Ocean Endeavour, Michelle delights in being out on deck and on the land, capturing the wide world around her through an ever-present lens. In anticipation of our 2016 sailing season—and in light of Adventure Canada’s new partnership with Nikon Canada—we caught up with Michelle to ask her a few questions about Arctic photography, to help our guests make the most of their expeditions to the far north.


Adventure Canada: What is the best technique for photographers to best capture the scale of the Arctic landscape?

Michelle Valberg:  For the vast and stunning Arctic landscapes, I suggest using a wide-angle lens.Buchun Gulf 812830

Ideally, a focal length between 14–28mm; I use a NIKKOR 14–24mm for most landscapes I shoot. You can also photograph a panoramic image which tells of an even greater story with a very wide perspective—one that might represent more of how it felt to be there.

Pay attention to the rule of thirds, and where you place the horizon line. Avoid placing the horizon line in the centre of the frame to achieve better composition and interest to your viewer.

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AC: Is there a specific recommendation you have for photographers seeking incredible wildlife shots?

MV: In contrast to the landscapes, a longer lens is very useful for wildlife photography. Most often than not, you aren’t that close to your subjects and it is great to have a longer reach. For versatility I like to use the NIKKOR 80–400mm or 200–500mm. Both are incredibly sharp lenses.

If possible, shoot in the early morning or late day; don’t be in your cabin at prime shooting times! In these magic hours, light angles are lower and create more texture and interest in your image. Shadows and contrast are increased, and, typically, you get more wildlife activity (since it is feeding time). Play with front, back, and side lighting to see how you can photograph your subjects in different ways. Most importantly, watch and change your camera settings to get better results.

Narwal tail 7948Pay close attention to your background and positioning of your subject when photographing wildlife. Experiment with different foregrounds for landscapes. Change your vantage point often while in the same shooting area. Composition can make or break your image, and it is critical to creating and capturing that first-class photograph. Look for ways you can capture motion—whether with a bird in flight or a waterfall. Maybe you want to create a sense of motion with water. Remember your tripod and change your shutter speeds to achieve different affects.

Finally, watching animal behaviour and anticipating their next move can help you get better results. An animal can change the tilt of its head ever so slightly and take your image from good to fantastic. Watch a bird’s wing position, or how an animal walks or swims. Above all be patient—very patient!

King Eiders 0292AC: What’s the biggest mistake you see amateurs make in the field? How can they correct this?

MV: I find that many people don’t shoot enough!  SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT—and don’t stop shooting until you have your ultimate image. Always carry a lot of memory cards so you don’t have to worry about how many images you can take. The beauty of nature is all around, and you don’t have to go far to photograph it. Photograph in your backyard, a park or on a trail; pay close attention to your ISO, shutter, and aperture and experiment, practice, and continue to learn. Try to be unique with your approach and creativity so your images stand out and command your viewer’s attention.

AC: Do you have any tips for shooting from a moving ship? How about from a Zodiac?Icy Arm Polar Bears _D4S2599

MV: With the continued improvement and development of today’s cameras, you can shoot at much higher ISO settings that any of us probably thought was possible. Since you are shooting on a moving ship or Zodiac—and perhaps with a longer lens—you need a faster shutter speed (at least 1/250 second). If you start with a higher ISO setting, it will give you the ability to shoot at a faster shutter speed. I would also recommend setting your camera to shutter priority so you can choose your shutter speed. Stay steady and be aware of your fellow passengers. When you see a polar bear, it is hard to contain your excitement!

AC: What’s your favourite memory of shooting with Adventure Canada? Do any wildlife encounters or expedition stops stand out?

MV: There are so many favourites or special memories—too many to name! Every trip I have taken with AC is outstanding and gifts me with amazing and precious moments.


Join Michelle in 2016 aboard our Newfoundland Circumnavigation, and the Heart of the Arctic Nikon expedition!

MYACWhat does Canadian adventure mean to you? Photographers who answer this question through the #MyAdventureCanada photo contest could win passage aboard Heart of the Arctic 2016 (where they can hone their skills in the field with Michelle), as well as gear from Nikon Canada!

All photos by Michelle Valberg

My First Adventure

I grew up canoeing in Algonquin Park. I’m used to sleeping under the stars and battling hordes of insects; I’m no stranger to the raw power of a thunderstorm or the perfect moments of stillness at the day’s end. I have shot rapids and portaged thousands of kilometres with a boat on my head and a song on my lips; I have fished for my supper and stared down moose in the deepest of swamps.

But nothing prepared me for Greenland and Labrador.

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Nothing prepared me for the Greenlandic fjords, their grey-blue waters and ice-capped, soaring peaks that slipped in and out of low wisps of cloud. Nothing prepared me for the playful seal that dogged our progress, nor the profound calm as winter approached the continent.

Davis Strait

Nothing prepared me for crossing the Davis Strait in storm-tossed seas; desperately clinging to my bunk (and my sanity) and waiting for my Scopolomine patches to kick in. And then, once they did: screaming into the wind from the observation deck, laughing as the bow of the Sea Adventurer smashed through the waves, hurling spray hundreds of feet into the air. The sound was like a thunderclap.

Torngat

Nothing prepared me for the glasslike waters and towering summits of the Torngat Mountains, the panoply of colour and might that lay quiet and daunting on the Labrador coast. The sunshine that day was like something out of a fairy tale. Nothing prepared me for our brush with the polar bear that morning, watching agape as he tore great hunks of flesh from a seal carcass.

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Nothing prepared me for driving a Zodiac in gale-force winds during our arrival at Hebron, the abandoned Moravian mission. The waves crashed over me in salty tumult, my hands numb inside the bricklayer’s gloves I’d borrowed off a friend. But we made it. I made it.

Nothing prepared me for the thrill of diving into the 3°C waters off Labrador’s coast, waters deemed too warm by our Expedition Leader, who compensated for this setback by tossing a few trays of ice cubes into the drink.

Polar swim

Kiddos, Nain

Nothing prepared me for the smiling faces of the children in Nain, the celebration at the school as we descended on the community en masse and equipped them with the gear for two complete hockey teams. They followed us back down to the docks, laughing and singing. Some of them hopped in our Zodiacs and rode around the harbour, hooting and hollering.

Nothing prepared me for the soft grass and undulating dunes of Byron Bay, or the majestic shoreline of Castle Island, or the perfect moments on deck when the sunrise would play against the ship just so. Nothing prepared me for the northern lights that pulled us from our bunks late one night, to shiver in raincoats and pyjamas and look up in wonder.

Henley Harbour

Byron BayDawn

Nothing prepared me for the warm welcome at Conche, the steam rising from our soaked overclothes as we inhaled plates of the freshest cod in Canada. As we ate elbow-to-elbow at tables of grinning Newfoundlanders beneath garlands of crepe paper, the guitar picked up, and then the accordion, and then someone started to dance. Black clouds and wind muttered and grumbled outside.

Fogo bell

Nothing prepared me for the unsurpassed hospitality of the town of Fogo, where I played a hundred-and-fifty-year-old pump organ, climbed into the belfry of a church, shouted from one of the corners of the flat earth, and ran along a coastline wild and heedless of man and all the more perfect for it.

Nothing prepared me for the stillness that would take hold of our hearts on the last morning as the Sea Adventurer made her way up the narrows and into St. John’s harbour, nor the song that would waft across the breeze.

St. John's

Nothing prepared me for the hundred-odd strangers who had come together in two short weeks to share in something marvellous, something inexplicable, something powerful.

I have been searching for a long time for a way to bring together my love for the wilderness with my love of the written word, and with Adventure Canada I have done just that. I would like to thank everyone aboard Greenland & Wild Labrador 2014 for making me feel welcome, for trusting in the new guy (my Zodiac was always the cool Zodiac, thank you), for experiencing this sublime corner of the world with me. There is no shortage of wonder to be sought, and the adventure is just beginning.

Saglek

—Mike Strizic

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Sable Island: where fantasies come true

Goldilocks!

Goldilocks, a Sable Island beauty


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I spent a memorable few hours alone on an island with an enchanting platinum blonde today.

We first set eyes on each other as she was having her lunch – nibbling on some exotic greens.
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I asked her if I could make some portraits and she just gave me a look of nonchalance which I took to be a sign of permission. Once in a while she would cast me a gaze. I was left in a state of infatuation and fascination, wondering how long she had lived on the island and if she had family nearby or on the mainland.
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It looked like her flowing mane had been tinted by a professional. She hoofed it along the dunes and I was thrilled to join her observing from a respectful distance (60 feet as per Park rules).

I was intent on capturing her essence with my camera when a massive male appendage suddenly telescoped and drooped almost to the ground. 
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She was a he… a well endowed stallion with a stunning feminine mane! I was dumbfounded by this profound moment of biological reality.

Shortly after, we met up with a band of horses which seemed to be his band or harem as I like to think.

Sable- Mike Beedell (8)

Horses seek naturally occurring fresh water on Sable Island


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We parted company as I was drawn to the sight of a mare and frisky colt on a distant dune. A band of fog was moving in from the southwest and before long I was bathed in dense fog. As I dropped into a valley I came upon a band of horses in the mist, munching and crunching in harmony.
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Tiny little purple shoots were poking out of the sand and the horses focused on cropping these off but they seemed to be eating a fair bit of sand with every nibble.

The fog ebbed and flowed like a river, swirling & eddying in different directions. The light was diffused by the mist but it allowed me to make beautiful monochromatic images of the horses engrossed in their intense browsing.

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Fog provides fascinating photographic opportunities on Sable Island

These equine spirits disappeared in the mists and for a time I was left utterly alone with my thoughts, the perpetual pounding of the Atlantic waves in the distance. I lay down in the warm sand and curled up in a ball and went to sleep. Walking in the loose sand for many kilometers with 40 pounds of camera gear on my back had inspired a well deserved nap.
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When I awoke I was chilled by a breeze but bathed in beautiful light. The wind had blown away the fog and the sun was dropping quickly. I never did find that mare and colt who had melded into the labyrinth of dunes. I saw instead the exciting opportunity to get silhouettes of the horses on the high sand dune ridges.

Horses in silhouette

Horses in silhouette

It seemed that late in the day many horses would be drawn to the top of the dunes with these incredible views. So I ascended the dunes and waited for the right light to illuminate these hardy beasts.
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After an intense half-hour of shooting I watched a red ball of fire being extinguished by the sea and I began the long trek back to park headquarters along North Beach. As twilight engulfed me I heard moaning and sighing. This was the sound of masses of Grey Seals on the beach pulling themselves from the sea.

Sable Island sunsets are magnificent

Sable Island sunsets are magnificent

I walked for about an hour and a half (4 km) and I was flanked by a solid  line of seals, ten or more abreast for my entire walk back to the main camp. I estimate I encountered several thousand seals of the variety sometimes known as horsehead seals. This was the most memorable pinniped walk I have ever done in my life.

Sable- Mike Beedell (11)

Gray seals, also known as horsehead seals, loll on Sable Island

I had walked among the members of the largest Grey Seal colony on the planet! A perfect coda to a day of fantasies on mystical Sable Island.

Life and death among the dunes of Sable Island

Sable Island's iconic horses live with freedom - and challenge

Sable Island’s iconic horses live with freedom – and challenge


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I am at 43 55′ 59N & 60 01′ 40 W standing on the beach, mezmerized by the pounding surf and in a state of bliss on Sable Island.
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With my feet planted firmly in the wet shifting sands I am about 300 kms off the Nova Scotia coast -nearing the edge of Canadas’ territorial waters. There are ten humans on this island paradise, hundreds of horses, hundreds of Ipswich sparrows, 50,0000-plus very smelly Grey seals and one tree.
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Grey seals vie with horses for 'handsomest mammal' on Sable Island

Grey seals vie with horses for ‘handsomest mammal’ on Sable Island

I have already spent time with this gnarly little tree ( a pine) reaching an epic height of 3 feet. Its top had been broken off & its branches were broken & bruised from abrasive sand-blasting all winter. I did not know it was the only tree on Sable & so initially did not give it the respect and reverence it deserved.

A rare bird in a lone tree: the Ipswich Sparrow

A rare bird in a lone tree: the Ipswich Sparrow


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I was initially drawn to this wee pine on a quest for the rare and endangered Ipswich Sparrow. I could hear one warbling and calling for a mate. I found him perched atop this one tree, broadcasting his whereabouts to all that could hear him.
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I took out my powerful 500mm Nikon lens and made some wonderful portraits of this wee little fluff-ball who had recently flown all the way from Florida to the one and only nesting ground in the world of his ilk.
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Fortunately the wind was in the right direction for me to hear his romantic overtones—for the powerful winds here can suck the words out of your mouth and cast them out to sea, never to be heard again by another living creature.

Sable Island is like a stretched crescent moon which is oriented east – west. The upturned crescent faces north and catches the force of the north winds that lambaste it regularly.

Huge dunes rise hundreds of feet on the north side and taper off to broad expanses of flat beach on the south side.

Sable Island's spectacular dunes change constantly

Sable Island’s spectacular dunes change constantly

The island is roughly 48kms long; at its widest it is roughly 1.75 km across. But below the waves it extends for its entire length again on the east & west points, so that Sable Island measures some 160 kms in its entirety.

It is a shape-shifting entity that transforms every day, as the wind blows and the seas pound at its shores. Sable Island also sculpts and transforms all those who have been here since people first set foot here in the early 1500’s.

Today I witnessed the challenges for animals that live amid the “dunsescape” called Sable. For some creatures, depending on the season there is a life and death struggle to survive.

As I walked the beach yearning to know Sable as best I can in the short week that I am here, I began to feel its remote qualities. Although I flew in a few days ago during a window of good weather
you can never be sure of getting here when you planned. Nor can you plan on getting out when you would like ! I have been shrouded in fog for a lot of my time so far. Sable may be up for a fog award – it receives over 100 days of fog a year.

So this is not the place to go when you are in a hurry to get elsewhere. Only specialized twin engine planes can land on the beach strip which also changes day to day, often being obliterated by the waves crashing in from the surf surge from the south.

I counted 50 horses today on my peregrinations about the island. There were a few one-year-olds and many mature horses that looked in rough shape after a long, cold winter. I spent time at a distance observing their body language and photographing their behaviour then moved a little closer and sat down to keep a low profile. They are very accepting of me, and intent on feeding themselves on the fresh green shoots that are shyly poking their heads out of the sand for the first time in eight months.

As I crested a dune I came upon a motley looking band of horses; some were looking quite healthy and others were showing their ribs through their skin. Some were lame and others had misshapen hooves and limped along like injured war-horses from First World War battles.

But then a black stallion crested a ridge and the sight took my breath away. He stood atop a dune with the ocean in the background, his mane and tail blowing in the wind.
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This regal creature on that ridge looking out to sea epitomized a powerful sense of freedom for me—but shortly thereafter, a more sombre reality set in as I began to find carcasses of horses that had not made it through the winter. The first body I found was partially subsumed by the shifting sands. This was a young horse and it appeared almost freeze-dried from the incessant winds.

Dead-Horse

Mike inspects the remains of a victim of the winter of 2014

It was also close to a pond where it would have been searching for water before it died. As I made my way through the dunes I found more bodies—all from last winter, for they were not yet decomposed. So it was with a heavy heart that I returned to Station Main ( Parks Headquarters) pondering the freedom that these horses have along with the challenges & starvation they face as every winter approaches.
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A frolicsome foal is a sight to lift the spirits

A frolicsome foal is a sight to lift the spirits

My spirits were uplifted, however by the sight of a young foal prancing about with its gangly, klutzy legs looking like a drunken marionette—while mother munched away contentedly. My day ended as a spectacular sun plummeted into the sea.

Tomorrow I would go and find this frolicksome foal and document and celebrate this new life that had just recently been born to Sable Island.

Sable Island: a photographer’s dream come true

View from remote, beautiful Sable Island

Sable Island: where every view is an ocean view


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As a guide, resource person and photographer for Adventure Canada I have had the joy of exploring many stunning parts of the world with participants who yearn for what I call “deep travel experiences”.

Sable Island has been beckoning to me for decades and it is a thrill to have Sable as our newest National Park to be protected for perpetuity – not only for Canadians but all humankind. For many months I have been in a standby mode with Parks Canada ready to jump when there was a window of possibility to reach the island.
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Finally, on April 30th, we took off from Halifax in our 1973 Islander STOL aircraft for the flight to Sable. I was in the co-pilot seat with Ted, our veteran pilot, who does a lot of over-ocean flying.
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Selfie: Sable Island bound

Selfie: Sable Island bound

I was wearing my life jacket but Ted was not wearing his. I love a confident pilot. Three other passengers were headed to the island to do technical work for Parks Canada on infrastructure projects. After an hour and a half we dove through the clouds, and Sable came into view.
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A colony of seals appears as tiny dots on West Spit

A colony of seals appears as tiny dots on West Spit

Before we landed Ted flew us over West Spit and I could not believe my eyes. As I looked at the coamers roaring into the beach, Ted said “Here come the seals!” There were tens of thousands of seals basking on the beach. The biggest colony of Grey Seals in the world (estimated at 50,000 pinnipeds) make Sable their home. We flew up the length of Sable, then banked sharply near Lake Wallace, and I could see the Parks buildings below me. As we prepared to land, I could see a vehicle with a wind-sock attached to its bumper on a massive expanse of wet sand. We dropped out of the sky and Ted laid us down gently, using about 600 feet of runway.
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As we stepped out of the aircraft the cold wind bit into us but we were warmly greeted by Aaron and Brent, Parks officials on the island. We jumped in a jeep annd were whisked off to our abode where we would stay for the next week.
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Members of the world's largest colony of Grey seals

Members of the world’s largest colony of Gray seals

I grabbed my camera gear and headed for the beach on a quest to see the multitude of seals. As I crested cautiously over a dune a potent smell assailed my nostrils. There in front of me, about 200 feet away was the largest group I had ever seen in my life at close range! Hundreds and hundreds all snuggled in together enjoying a very flatulent day at the beach. There were black ones, brown ones, fat ones and little ones all enjoying each other’s company. There were more coming out of the water to join the Grey seal throngs.

Greetings from a baby seal

Greetings from a baby seal

Suddenly I heard a snort near me, and I looked over to see a sand covered baby Grey seal just 20 feet away! He had been sleeping, and was camouflaged by the sand that had blown over him. I quickly made some portraits of him and then moved away to give him a bit of space.

Wild horses speckled the dunescapes too, so I pointed my Nikons in their direction next. A young colt lay nearby. He reminded me of some ancient horse drawings I had seen of pre-ice age creatures. He was wearing his thick winter coat which was more like fur than hair.
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Sable Island horse looking well despite a long winter

Sable Island horse looking well despite a long winter

Chunks of his winter coat were falling off, and he looked very healthy but others I saw were in rough shape —their ribs sticking through from a rugged existence and very cold winter. One fellow with a dreadlock mane nibbled away at the first shoots of the year. It will still be a month until the really nutritious grasses and sedges provide good volumes of food for these hardy equines.
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Seals are unconcerned by respectful human visitors

Seals are unconcerned by respectful human visitors

I scurried about with a sense of urgency to capture the essence of this place on this glorious sunny, windy day because I know weather here changes in an instant. Before I knew it the sun was going down. I had only been on the island for 8 hours but I was exhausted, sated and elated at absorbing and documenting this magical place.
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As I drifted off to sleep with my plans for tomorrow I thought of the island as a sentinel of sand dunes, guarding the coast of Nova Scotia.

Sable Island offers magnificent sunsets

Sable Island offers magnificent sunsets- fodder for a photographer’s dreams

Inspired by wilderness: Scott Forsyth

Scott Forsyth

Inspired by wilderness – including scenes glimpsed aboard his trips with Adventure Canada – photographic artist Scott Forsyth is turning heads with his stunning images.

Scott was named Alberta’s 2014 Photographic Artist of the Year at the recent Professional Photographer’s Association Awards Gala. He also won Best in Class award for both Fine Art and Pictorial photographic work.

Ken Murphy of Calgary, Alberta is Scott’s newest fan. Ken bought raffle tickets in support of the Arctic Eider Society at our Calgary screening of People of a Feather, and went home with a beautiful framed print, generously donated by Scott. The image was taken on an Adventure Canada trip to Labrador.

A portion of the proceeds from sales of Scott’s prints will go to Royal Canadian Geographic Society and to Nature Conservancy of Canada.

If you’re heading to NYC you can catch Scott’s work in the upcoming exhibit Sensorial Perspectives at the Agora Gallery in Chelsea – or click through to view gorgeous full-colour images on the gallery’s website. Congratulations Scott!

Nature's Spectacle Giclee Print 24" x 34

Nature’s Spectacle
Giclee Print
24″ x 34

Picture-perfect Passage

The crow's nest was the perfect place to capture movement around ice.

Gregory Coyes’ perch was the perfect place to shoot icebergs.

Travelling aboard the Sea Adventurer to Greenland and the Canadian Arctic is a documentarian’s dream come true. Cameras are everywhere on our trips, of course, but other, less common methods of capturing the moment were in evidence too on our recent trip Into the Northwest Passage: an old fashioned sketch book, a hi-tech remote controlled video helicopter, and a newfangled audio recorder all played their parts.

Here are a few documents of documentarians in action, capturing aspects of their amazing Arctic experience—a picture-perfect Passage.

Staff archeologist Lisa Rankin in Sisimiut, Greenland

Staff archeologist Lisa Rankin in Sisimiut, Greenland

Bill Freedman had a scientist's love for the natural world.

Bill Freedman had a scientist’s love for the natural world.

Musician Charles Spearin gathers found sounds in Greenland

Musician Charles Spearin gathers found sounds in Greenland

Shooting for a Chinese reality show, near Uummannuuq, Greenland.

Shooting for a Chinese reality show, near Uummannuuq, Greenland.

The ice off Karrat Island, Greenland was a wonder.

The ice off Karrat Island, Greenland was a wonder.

A sketchbook captures impressions a camera may miss.

A sketchbook captures impressions a camera may miss.

Noah Richler with Resolute Bay bulletin board

Noah Richler wanted to remember the Resolute Bay bulletin board

Filmmaker John Houston is pretty handy with a camera, too.

Filmmaker John Houston is pretty handy with a camera, too.

How do you do justice to a 16km2 tabular ice floe in Baffin Bay?

How do you do justice to a 16km2 tabular ice floe in Baffin Bay?

The ill-fated remote controlled helicopter videocam was brilliant while it lasted.

The ill-fated remote controlled helicopter videocam was brilliant while it lasted.

Former HBC post, Dundas Harbour, Devon Island

Former Japanese governor Akiko Domoto at HBC post, Dundas Harbour, Devon Island

Supply cupboard, Dundas Harbour HBC post

Supply cupboard, Dundas Harbour HBC post

Barney Bentall gets creative with his camera

Barney Bentall gets creative with his camera

Searching for musk oxen, Croker Bay, Nunavut

Searching for musk oxen, Croker Bay, Nunavut

At the foot of Executioner's Cliffs, Icy Arm, Nunavut

At the foot of Executioner’s Cliffs, Icy Arm, Nunavut

Ice off Greenland was endlessly fascinating.

Ice off Greenland was endlessly fascinating.

National Geographic's Bruce Bi documenting a drum dance

National Geographic’s Bruce Bi documents Lynda Brown & Lamech Kadloo’s drum dance

One of the great photogenic plants: Arctic cotton.

One of the great photogenic plants: Arctic cotton.

Icebergs are nature's own abstract sculptures.

Icebergs are nature’s own abstract sculptures.

Galapagos reflections

Alejandra_Ribera

Scottish-Argentine-Canadian songstress Alejandra Ribera joined our trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands as an entertainer for the first time this spring. Joining at the last minute, Alejandra rose to the occasion like a veteran!

Here are Alejandra’s reflections on an incredible experience, and a selection of her stunning photos.

I couldn’t have painted it. As I sift through the photos taken during our trip to the Galapagos I can’t help but shake my head and wonder – how it is possible we could have experienced such rare beauty .. and in such a condensed time frame?

frigate

You would think we would have had to camp out for months on end to witness a dance between courting blue-footed boobies, the bobbing heads of playful sea lion pups who nudged our feet at the edge of the Zodiac, a serene owl, a meditative iguana stretched out under a cactus tree sprouting from charcoal-black lava rock.

cactus

It seemed to defy logic that any life could thrive so gracefully in a place that at first appeared barren. Talking about this trip to friends since I’ve come home has made me feel a bit like a religious witness. I’m trying to describe something that is indescribable.

sea lion

I am deeply grateful that I was lucky enough to live this trip with an group of fellow travellers who were equally awestruck and humbled at the magnitude of the beauty. This group was so welcoming and enthusiastic. Playing for them was an absolute delight. I remember at one point thinking “We’ve walked through a lava cave together. Well I’ve never done that with an audience before! A couple of us even snorkelled past the same hammer-head shark this afternoon!”

It was the most unique performance experience I’ve ever had … not excluding trying to stand up-right whilst singing on a boat rocking back and forth! The Galapagos have changed me. The guides led us with us with care. They shared their passion and expertise ensuring that our experience would not just be one of wonder but discernment, greater understanding and true appreciation for the environment we inhabited those 9 days.

sunrise

Thank you for this trip of a lifetime. I look forward to one day sharing the songs this experience inspired.

Seasons of the Torngats with Mike Beedell

Seasons of the Torngats cropTorngat Mountains National Park is among Adventure Canada’s favourite destinations. This Inuit homeland in Labrador is a virtually untouched wilderness, one that includes Canada’s highest peaks east of the Rockies.

Photographer Mike Beedell has travelled extensively with Adventure Canada from our earliest days, producing stunning images of the spectacular North.

On Monday, May 6, Mike will present a series of images from his travels in the Torngats in an exclusive Adventure Canada presentation at Toronto’s Pangaea Restaurant. Book your dinner through Adventure Canada and enjoy a complimentary after-dinner presentation from Mike Beedell.

Seasons of the Torngats
With Royal Canadian Geographical Society Photographer Mike Beedell

Pangaea Restaurant
1221 Bay Street (at Bloor)
Toronto
Monday, May 7, 2013 6 PM

Seating is limited; reservations required. Call Judy at 905-271-4000 x232 to reserve.

This summer, Mike Beedell is leading two Adventure Canada trips to the Torngats:
Heli-hiking, July 26-August 3 and Base Camp Safari, August 2-August 10.