Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar: Blog https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog en-us (C) Bryan Aptekar [email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:26:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:26:00 GMT https://www.portlandvagabond.com/img/s/v-12/u22356937-o504048971-50.jpg Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar: Blog https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog 103 120 Sharing the Love - My photos earned a little love https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2019/3/sharing-the-love I'm happy to share that a few of my images from last year's artist residency in Venice were recognized in the One Day in Venezia juried photo competition. One of my favorite morning shots of runners and their reflections was selected during their monthly competition.  Early morning momentsA day in the life of Venice, Italy.

Then my shot of what felt like a Sunday drive with the family, but on the water as that's life in Venice.  This one was recognized with a special prize. Family timeFamily timeA day in the life of Venice, Italy.











Thanks! I am so excited to have my photos recognized like this. That's a first! It all just makes me want to be there now.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) dawn early light golden hour Italy Juried Photo Competition morning One Day in Venezia reflections running Sunday Drives sunrise sweeping Venezia Venice https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2019/3/sharing-the-love Sun, 24 Mar 2019 21:26:07 GMT
People travel for many reasons; or, my roommate's evil plot to turn me into a cat person https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2019/3/people-travel-for-lots-of-reasons-or-the-evil-plot-to-turn-me-into-a-cat-person This is a short tale (a cat tail?) of how my roommate and best friend, Barb, used her travel plans to Morocco in a dastardly way to turn me into a cat person.  Yeah, yeah, amazing cultural experience, first time to Africa. Trip of a lifetime. (At least I hope. She’s there as I write this.)  I still say it was a plot, so I share this story as a warning. She left me in charge of Nova, her cat… our cat… whatever. It’s evolving.

So, let me start this tale by saying I love cats and dogs. I had a dog as a kid, but I wasn’t really up to the responsibility then. I’m still probably not. I do love them, but more to the point, I’m allergic to both, so even though Barb is a cat person, and has brought wonderful cats into our lives, I’ve avoided becoming a cat person. I don’t want to become a crazy cat guy. Become a James Bond villain. And seriously, everyone knows the internet runs on cat videos (well, that and porn).  I don’t want to contribute content to that (well, either really).  I’m not going to be a cat person.  Not me. I’m not cat person.

Years ago, my neighbor’s cat took a liking to me by delivering me dead birds.  Naturally I reached out to my cat people, as I needed advice on helping this little one understand I liked the birds alive. I didn’t have a clue how to deal with that. I’m not a cat person. 

But I live with a cat now. I take allergy shots; for several years since one our snowpocalypses drove Barb’s outdoor kitties indoors. There were three. Now, several years on, little Nova has joined our one-cat home, and it was my first time through the whole adoption thing. I was there when Nova joined our home.  And she likes me, which is a real upgrade for me. Let’s just say our last cat was a one-woman cat (but I miss you Fang!)

So, now Barb is off on her journey, and little Nova is using me like a yoga mat. I’m digging it. She’s digging it. I’m getting her to drool. I mean – who knew? Cats drool. She’s happy. The drool is her tell.  I’m scratching her head, thinking up nick names. Drooler. Drool Monster. Droolster. Novster. 

Nova in blissNova in blissLittle Nova is a drooler. We don’t want to embarrass her with “drool” in the name. So Novster it is. She purrs her agreement. It’ll be our little secret, the drool part. I’m scratching her behind the ear, she’s purring. And drooling. And then … Like a self-satisfied St. Bernard, she shakes her slobbery self, sending kitty goobers everywhere.  A great a glob of kitty spit lands right near my eye. Holy crap. I’m allergic. That stuffs like poison to me.  Spit in the eye – the worst. 

That’ll be bad, I need to avoid that. What are we going to do about this Novster? Hmm?  We’ll have to figure out a way. And when we do. I’ll be like one of those fugu sushi chefs. The one’s who can slice the poisonous pufferfish close to the nasty bits without killing folks. They are masters. I will be a master. A master who deliver the joy and avoid the poison bits. A master…

That’s when the light bulb moment happened. Barb’s evil plot to convert me to a cat person. Crap. It may be working.

I ponder this as I wait for Novster to finish cleaning herself and get off my lap.  Wait, did I just do that? Double crap. It worked. I am cat person now… No videos I promise. Sorry, there may be photos. 

So, Barb’s devious plan to visit Morocco has worked. Eventually, I came up to my cat-free room, swapped out of my fur-covered shirt, washed my poison hands, and I set down to share this warning. Travel can be used for evil. Beware.

Oh, and Barb rode a camel today and is having a blast.


[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) cat cat allergies cat person cats crazy cat person drool evil plot evil plots why travel https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2019/3/people-travel-for-lots-of-reasons-or-the-evil-plot-to-turn-me-into-a-cat-person Sun, 24 Mar 2019 20:23:43 GMT
New photo toys and a new year's wish... https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2016/12/new-photo-toys Sometimes a photo doesn't quite look the way things did in the field, for whatever reason.  Back lighting, glare, or even operator error (could be?). Or an image comes out a bit flat. There are so many toys that one can use to tweak an image to show what you really saw, or what you want to show the world- from filters and flashes to post-production toys.  In the world of post-production, I have learned much (and have much yet to learn) from local photographer, instructor and author Mark Fitzgerald, whose book Zen of Post Production is a great read.  I've enjoyed several of his classes on how to use Adobe Lightroom for everything from batch processing and key word tagging for handling masses of photos to specific detail work in photo editing. For any of you Portland-local folks, he teaches at Newspace Center for Photography.  

Recently, I've also discovered, and appreciated a new tool for use within the Adobe Lightroom environment - from Sleeklens. They have a range of presets and brushes for various types of photographs (landscapes, portraits, etc.) which make editing more easy, particularly for folks like me who are not power Lightroom users.  (I wish I was taking more photos and doing this stuff daily, but I'm not.)  Having some preset edits to work with makes photo post-production less overwhelming for me. 

Here's an example of a before and after from one of my favorite fall photos - one of my local downtown parks, the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland.

The day I took this photo was alive with color, but with the direct sun (a treat in Portland!), some of the colors were washed out in my photo.  Using Lightroom, with some of the Sleeklens presets, I was able to make the image look more like the scene I was seeing.  It makes me long for the glory days of fall!  I'm having fun with this new toy this holiday season.  

My new years wish for you - may you all find some new toys that keep you and your passion alive in the coming year.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Around Oregon Around Portland Lightroom Portland Sleeklens South Park Blocks Teddy Roosevelt statue autumn colors enhanced fall fall color fall colors new years wish park park benches south park blocks statues https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2016/12/new-photo-toys Sat, 24 Dec 2016 00:29:47 GMT
Meeting Mike https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2014/6/meeting-mike We all feel we march to our own drummer. Yet some of us have drummers in an entirely different band. That's how I felt meeting Mike, on a recent trip to the Eastern Sierras. I love traveling, exploring the world, but Mike's approach is in a different league from my style.

After finishing an amazing dinner of BBQ spareribs at the must-visit Mobil gas station restaurant (yes, really) in the town of Lee Vining, California, I drove up to get a view of Mono Lake from the terrace above the gas station. There sat a site which many of my friends would drool over - a classic '60's VW Van, converted for serious life on the road.  

Home on the RoadHome on the Road

Given the time, and my desire to get down to the lake for sunset, I took in the view and hoped that it might be there next day, as the sun was setting quickly. Rushing down to the lake for sunset photos was well worth it. (More photos from my trip to the Eastern Sierras coming soon!)

Pastel Sunset on Mono LakePastel Sunset on Mono LakeThe sunset on Mono Lake the night before summer solstice, 2014. The colors were magical, yet subtle. The tufa on the western side of the lake are visible in the foreground.
I was super excited the next day when I returned to find the VW Van once again parked on the bluff overlooking the lake. This time I went up to say hi, and had the pleasure of meeting Mike. I would guess that Mike was in his 60s, and from the sound of things, he's been on the road exploring the world for the bulk of his years.  
He is clearly used to casual visitors, as he's got some conversation-starting photos posted on his door to prompt some stories (or just answer some of the questions he undoubtedly gets often). He's traveled as far north as the Arctic Circle (see the top image on the left of his van entrance), as far south as Panama, if I recall correctly. Interestingly, though he's been on the road for so many years he doesn't stray east of the Rockies much at all. (Perhaps this is because there aren't as many National Forests in which one can camp for free.  He was a big fan of USFS lands).
This particular van has been his home on the road for the past 15 or more years, but the stories he shared go back to the 1970's so he's clearly been exploring for some time. This home on the road has as many customized improvements as any fix-it aficionado would have made to their brick and mortar home. Note the bubble-shaped skylight and vent, the solar panel on the front roof (to supplement the power for the fridge, which is also battery and propane powered), and countless comforts designed within reach inside. 
Welcome wagonWelcome wagonThis is the view that Mike shows to the world, as he's kicking back in his home on wheels. Photos on the inside of his door show some of his farthest flung destinations.
I was particularly impressed with the curved metal heat deflector over the stove, to prevent fires and direct heat out the top vent (not really visible in this image).
Mike's got various mementos from places and people he's met along the way, like the wooden hiking stick from one of his trips to Alaska you can see standing upright next to the spare tire.  That prompted some stories about places to which we have both been. It sounds like I missed him by a year in Alaska, as he was up there in 1995, a year after me. He has a story about bikers with a private enclave above the Arctic Circle that made me glad he survived to tell the tale. We talked about some international destinations and his upcoming visit to New Mexico.  I shared my photo cards - he picked the one with the path in the woods of Forest Park (here in my hometown of Portland, Oregon) and it's now in a place of honor next to his mirror (just below the bubble vent inside).
Meeting Mike was a fun reminder that we each lead our own path in life, and find what makes us happy (if we're lucky). After a nice visit, Mike had to go - he was walking down to the Mobil station to catch the World Cup game between Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. With luck, he'll stop by for a visit in Portland next spring. 
[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Bryan Aptekar California Eastern Sierras High Desert Lakes Lee Vining Meeting Mike Mono Lake Sierras Summer Transportation VW Van Whoa Nellie Deli different drummer road trip sunset travel travel stories https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2014/6/meeting-mike Mon, 30 Jun 2014 01:19:26 GMT
My first exhibit! https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2014/3/my-first-exhibit  

Wholesome Blends show (3.14)Wholesome Blends show (3.14)Some of the photos from my exhibit at Wholesome Blends Coffee Shop.

Edge of the Road Beauty

From around the globe to my neighborhood here in Portland, I seek out places that stir my heart, calm my spirit, or inspire me to learn more.  In order to take make my images more approachable, so others may find these same places of inspiration, I look for what I call edge of the road beauty. 


In this exhibit, I share with you images from some of those places. Stop by for a little inspiration for your own explorations.



Wholesome Blends Coffee Shop

4615 NE Sandy Blvd., Portland, OR


On Display:

Mary 7th - April 2nd, 2014


Open Hours:

6 am - 5:30 pm (daily)


[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Banff Canada Forest Park Hiroshima Iceland Japan Jokulsarlon Portland Snow Monkeys St. Johns Bridge https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2014/3/my-first-exhibit Mon, 24 Mar 2014 01:14:00 GMT
Remembrance for Nan https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2013/6/Remembrance-for-Nan Today at my workplace, we learned that we lost a dear friend over the weekend.   Her loss has many of us stunned, saddened, and realizing how deeply her gentle spirit and easy smile influenced us for the better.   It’s left me speechless.  So, rather than words, I offer a few photos I recently took in our beautiful rose garden here in Portland’s Washington Park as a remembrance of her.  Nan, these are for you.

Rose Garden.June.9.2013. -106

This rose’s delicate beauty speaks to me of the light that Nan brought to those in her everyday life.


Bathing in the delicate daily dawn’s light.


Rose at sunrise

A remembrance rose for Nan.


[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Around Oregon Around Portland Flowers HomePage Portland Portland Parks Remembrance Roses Washington Park friends sunrise https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2013/6/Remembrance-for-Nan Mon, 17 Jun 2013 21:10:10 GMT
Skating St. Ignatius (saves lives) https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2012/7/Skating-St-Ignatius-saves-lives One day at Camera Camp (otherwise known as an RMSP Workshop), we visited the little town of St. Ignatius on the Flathead Indian Reservation.  Our main goal for this field trip was to visit and photograph the St. Ignatius Mission.  As the church is rather small, we broke into two groups, so we could limit our impact inside.

I was in the group to go inside second, so I wandered over to the nearby skatepark to shoot some photos, while waiting.  It was amazing.  The kids there were happy to let us shoot them skating, and they ended up doing tricks for their audience, which we loved.  I shot several hundred photos (love my new Nikon D7000 camera, with 6 frames per second) in my short time there.  These kids were truly inspiring. 

Hamming it up for my camera? Maybe. He was demonstrating his new hat-between-the-legs trick.

And it wasn’t until putting this post together that I learned that this skatepark itself is an inspiration, and is saving lives.  More after the jump…




The more experienced skaters encouraged the newbies as they practiced their tricks.  All were impressive.

This guy was top dog in the skatepark the day I was there. He made everything look easy.

Could you look more relaxed doing this?

After finishing his trick, this guy stood around and encouraged others, before heading back around for another run. It was nice to see.

 And the newbies were fearless – or at least brave in pursuit of getting better.

“Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” This little guy was still learning how to land, but he sure got big air.

This guy nailed his landing.

This guy was also pretty amazing.

It wasn’t until writing this post that I dug up the history of this skatepark.  The foster mom I spoke with when I was taking photos told me that it had been built recently, after much fundraising and support by the community.   Cool.  It was built by Dreamland, one of the big names in skatepark development.  Also cool. 

But the story of why it became a rallying point for the community and got constructed at all is both tragic and an inspiration.  The must-read full story is here, on Skate Ignatius’ website, but in short, it was in response to the tragic loss of several young boys who drank themselves to death.  It sounds like it was thanks to the action of one Kristie Nerby (a local resident), who picked up the torch to create a positive recreational outlet for kids in St. Ignatius that this skatepark made it’s way to reality.  I never thought I’d think it, but in this context, skating saves lives.

And why not – there’s definitely joy here.


Happiness on landing his latest trick.

And it puts the one image that I took and liked from inside the Mission in perspective.  While these candles were certainly someone elses prayers, I’ll think of them as a memory of the young boys who didn’t have this skatepark to find their joy.

Prayer candles

I take inspiration from Ms. Nerbie, who I’ve never met and only just read about.  And from these kids who push themselves to try new things.





[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Camera Camp! Featured https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2012/7/Skating-St-Ignatius-saves-lives Mon, 30 Jul 2012 21:38:35 GMT
Travel to the Past https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2012/7/Travel-to-the-Past As any of you who check my blog regularly, you’ll have noted that I don’t post too regularly. I’m hoping that’s going to change, as I’ve taken a great leap forward in both skill and inspiration, thanks to my week at “camera camp” as a friend at work called my long-awaited week away. (Looking at you Nancy!)

Actually, I spent the week at a Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP) workshop. In short, I loved it. We covered a lot of technical ground, but more importantly we went out and shot photos after each lesson and then had helpful critiques of our work.  Another unexpected treat was coming away with a whole new batch of friends.  (More calendars to print!)  I miss them already (particularly my field trip buddies, Shelley and Darryl).  Collectively, there was so much talent in the room. Seeing how everyone came away from the same shoot with such different images was both refreshing and reassuring. 

Anyhow, let’s travel back in time a bit, shall we? For one of our assignments, we traveled to Garnet Ghost Town, about a little over an hour outside of Missoula Montana (where we had camera camp), to practice some of our new skills.  For this assignment, we were challenged (and believe me – it was a challenge!) to take a series of photos of one thing.  We each interpreted this a bit differently, but I have to say that the beauty of what everyone captured was simply amazing.

After poking around the grounds, with a number of small log cabins, dry cellars, outhouses, and other buildings you’d have found in a mining town circa 1898, I landed in the backroom of the 2nd floor of what used to be a hotel.

As if through the haze of time, this long-abandoned room shared some of its stories.

More after the jump…
It took me a while to warm up to this assignment.  As many of us struggle with, I let some self-doubt creep in, and thought I had no ideas for what to do in this room.  But I spent time, I relaxed, as Tony (our amazing instructor) encouraged me to do, and I just enjoyed playing around.  (Tony has been with RMSP for a decade or more, but he also has his own company, for those photo geeks out there who might appreciate supportive critique.  I can’t say enough good about him.)

So, here is how this old hotel room spoke to me.  


More textures

Some faces of the past?

Seriously playing around now.

This was already cracked before I took my picture in it. I swear.

I seem to have not really thought through when Tony told me that the past number of times he’d been in this room, there had been a bird in there.  I didn’t see one, and I really didn’t take note of many bird droppings.  So, after taking a bunch of shots of these old boots, I got down on the floor to take some more.  This last one was my favorite. (You were right Tony.)  I quite like it.  Even if I did risk hanta virus or worse. 

Boots eye view. Or would that be birds eye view?

I did explore more than this room.  I spent a good bit of time on my second set of images, which I pretty much thought were crap.  Still, I practiced a number of things, including patience.  Funny – given my past as a educator, and some of the crazy folks I have to deal with in my day job, I sort of thought I had a lot of patience.  This assignment taught me I could use more.  Perhaps its the context.  One of the things I hope to hold onto from this week’s work, is to take my time with shooting.

Here’s one last shot from the ghost town that I really liked.  Another photographer in my workshop, Natalie, whose work is amazing, was also inspired by this trunk.  She took a series of shots of an old briefcase on a table in some room in the town that were simply gorgeous.  If she posts them somewhere, I’ll be sure to link to them.

A trunk in one of the outbuildings in camp.

So – I guess the lesson from the past is, if you listen, it will speak to you.  If you have patience.

Here’s wishing you patience in your lives.



[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Camera Camp Camera Camp! Featured Garet Ghost Town Montana RMSP https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2012/7/Travel-to-the-Past Sat, 28 Jul 2012 21:46:16 GMT
Barn-Spotting https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2012/1/Barn-Spotting OK – it’s been painfully long since I last posted.  But what a treat to return to.  I had the pleasure of exploring the NE corner of Oregon – the Wallowas – back in August and it was just beautiful.

A quiet morning outside of Joseph, Oregon


Another treat to see on an early morning walk.

The Wallowas are a beautiful mountain range overlooking high, dry farmland.  The mountains encompass a Forest Service wilderness area, with all the adventure that comes with such rugged and remote places.   There’s great food, music and less rugged activities than backcountry trekking, for those not interested in that.

For me, I enjoyed barn-spotting as a new sport.

This barn reminds me of Wimpy from Popeye.


I loved the shape of this barn.


Just another barn that invites one to drive the back roads.

Whatever your pleasure, this remote corner of Oregon is a treat to visit.  Put it on your list!



[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Around Oregon Featured Wallowas barns clouds farm country farms rural sunrise https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2012/1/Barn-Spotting Sun, 08 Jan 2012 13:38:40 GMT
A second day of good work https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/6/A-second-day-of-good-work I stink.   Truly.  I stink of dead fish and squid and who knows what festering ick lived in the piles of debris in the driveway and drainage ditch in front of the house we worked at today. I pity whoever sits next to me on the plane home tomorrow.  I can only hope it’s one of my fellow Flight Friends who will understand, as I’ve washed my hands a half dozen times, I’ve showered, and still my hands stink of fish.  And I couldn’t care less.


Taking photos of our accomplishment during a rest break. That entire wet spot covering the ground was several feet deep in muck, consisting of everything from dead fish to soaked tatami mats, all stirred up in sea water and silt.

The details of our work project today, while incredibly relevant to those of us who did it, are probably not that exciting for others to hear.   (Though I was on such a high from the experience, I’m sure I seemed like a crazed babbling person sharing my stories with those I sat with when the half full bus from a different work project picked us up at the end of the day.)  More after the jump…

As Amy from Mercy Corps said at our Farewell Dinner this evening, the work we did today at our work site – where we essentially cleaned out one woman’s front yard of muck and debris, allows her to now get on with her reclaiming her life.  That’s a nice gift to give someone, and it was well received.

And that’s how I have to look at it, because it’s just so devastating to think about all that was lost, and all that lies ahead, for all the other homes with debris in their front yards up and down the coast.  There’s so much yet to be done.


Little victories can often be the happiest. Here we were celebrating our success at hauling a large tree from the ditch in the front yard we were working in. We brought all the debris two blocks down the street, to the local park, which currently serves as the interim debris dump, before larger equipment comes to remove it (I assume).

Progress is made, one day at a time, one group of volunteers at a time.  Our group was graciously accommodated by a variety of local NGOs into the rotation of local Japanese volunteers who have been sharing in the task of supporting the survivors of this tragedy, and helping them start over.

The others in my bus today realized the next step in that process for many as they helped unload all the furniture and stuff from rice cookers to linens needed to fill the small units that will be the temporary homes for families moving out of the shelters.  Still others visited the scenic islands of Matsushima, considered one of the iconic “three views of Japan”, an area suffering greatly from the complete drop-off of tourism since March 11th.  Their presence on the boat tours and at a local temple were apparently a major emotional (not to mention economic) boost for them.   A few others from Pendleton visited those in Minamisoma, their sister-city near the Fukushima plants.

This trip, this journey, has been so many different things to the 90 or so folks who participated, and clearly meaningful to those who we’ve met along the way.   I’m not done figuring out all that it has meant to me.  But I do know I am not bothered by the stink, while I figure it out.

The name of our group, above the door on our bus.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Flight of Friendship Japan friends recovery tsunami; https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/6/A-second-day-of-good-work Fri, 03 Jun 2011 07:39:45 GMT
A day of good work https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/6/A-day-of-good-work We visited to the town of Ishinomaki today.   After a quick web-search as I drafted this post, I see that it was where one of the two Americans known to have died in the tsunami was found.  She’d been a teacher in several of the school’s in this town, perhaps the one we worked at today.  I’ve no idea.

We drove through the town, which was full of recovery activity, on our way to our work site for the day.  The roads had been cleared (mostly), new power lines were being strung up, a few new homes were under construction.  And yet, debris still littered the town.  Cars piled on top of one another, sat untouched.  Houses you could see clear through the ground floor to the other side, though piled high with debris.  As we drove home at the end of the day, we noticed the sea wall to the  east, blocking the view of the ocean itself.  Strangely, parts of the town seemed to have not been damaged at all.

A mural on the gym wall, at the school where we did our clean up project, shows the bay just across the road from the school. We had lunch in the gym.


Paintings by the kids of this school also lined the walls of the gym. I was struck by how every image related to the ocean.

Our work site was an elementary school, a distance out of town, over a set of hills not unlike driving from one Oregon coast town to the next, with views of oyster beds in the bay below.  Fixes to the earthquake damage of the roads was underway as we drove by.   At the bottom of one of the little hills, within easy view of the water, across from a beach littered with more debris, the trailer from a semi-truck, the roof of a home, a jumble of power poles and several boats, we pulled into the clear parking lot of a two story elementary school.

More after the jump…

Our project for the day was to clear the debris behind the school, that littered the creek out back.  This beautiful forest, of what I think were Japanese Cedar trees, and reminded me strongly of my days teaching outdoor school in the redwoods of San Mateo County, California, was the site these students do their outdoor school experience – right out their back door.

A before (top) and after shot of the pile of debris that was across the creek from the trail down to the road. A volunteer crew of close to 30 people moved this entire pile from one side of the creek to the other, in the afternoon. The debris was passed bucket brigade style across the creek, then hauled by hand or wheel barrow down to a dump pile near the road.

Another group of volunteers, from a Tokyo business that is letting groups of 10 of their staff at a time go north to help out, were already at work when we arrived.  After a short safety briefing, some shuffling of deciding of gear, we all jumped in and started hauling stuff.  It was a football field’s length or so down the dirt road at the side of the creek, to where we brought the debris, and separated it as much as possible into piles. Plastic baskets, wheelbarrows and everyone’s sizable shoulders moved likely a ton of debris down to the main road for collection at some later date.  Up the creek, across the creek, even in the creek, folks pulled out everything from oil drums to sheet metal to lunch boxes.  Personal items were set aside for others to look through later, but there were precious few of those.


Separated piles of debris at the edge of the main road, ready for pick up. We certainly didn't move all of this during our work day - but we added a good bit to the pile with our efforts. Across the street from this pile ready for removal was several hundred yards to the water, with piles of debris as yet untouched.

One of the things that struck me during the day – probably a sign of my naivete, or simply not having thought about how it would work until being here to do it – was that so much of the debris left by the tsunami up and down the coast and miles inland has to be collected by hand.  I had a vision of bulldozers just shoving everything into dump trucks and hauling it away.  But that’s not realistic.  Certainly in early days after the tsunami, they’d have wanted to have looked for survivors, so no bulldozing.  At some point, I would guess the roads that have been cleared were bulldozed, but beyond that, in homes, schools, the forests, the only way to get things out of there is by hand.

I have to give big props to those organizing our trip – Azumano Travel and the Dozono family, as things don’t get much harder than this.  We’re a diverse and interesting bunch, those of us on this trip, and while we had the pleasure of breaking into small groups for the first time, giving us the chance to get to know one another better – it’s no easy task keeping things running smoothly with uncertain and changing conditions, responding to different people’s needs and challenges, all while trying to ensure we remain as sensitive to the purpose of our journey and the delicacy with which we should treat those we encounter on our experience.  (I think it was the Ambassador who said that to the Japanese the entire disaster zone is hallowed ground, like where the World Trade Centers in NYC stood is to Americans.  Part of our trip we were tourists, but not here. )  Thanks to those leading us, at least for my small group, things went remarkably well today.

I’m sure there’s more to share, but it’s late, and we start again early tomorrow.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Flight of Friendship Japan tsunami; https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/6/A-day-of-good-work Thu, 02 Jun 2011 06:40:51 GMT
Heading out… https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/6/Heading-out During yesterday’s bus ride from Tokyo to Sendai, we made several stops. We made bathroom stops along the way, where a few of us were asked where we were headed and why we were here. When they heard, they bowed and thanked those who told them (several folks among us speak Japanese). There were other groups going north to do volunteer work as well. We saw a prison crew in their caged vans, a bus load or two of Tokyo Police, and several delivery trucks with aid and produce on the road.

Once in Sendai, the local Sendai TV station hosted us, to share with us the progress and work they entire region has been doing to recover. We also visited a local temple to hear more about the volunteer efforts of others, their involvement, and their thanks. This had been arranged by a few in our group, through their local connections, and several within our group spoke. A local Portland couple (part of a larger band) who are along to provide healing through music (and helped us rehearse some songs on the bus ride north) shared an amazing rendition of Imagine.

So this morning, I head to Ishinomaki with a group of 14 others, as we all go off in little groups to work with four different NGOs doing work in the region, and offer our help. I didn’t sleep much last night. Go figure?! It’s hard to know how to prepare oneself for something like this. It makes me appreciate those whose life is spent supporting those in disasters and war torn areas, like those at Mercy Corps, Doctors without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross/Crescents of the world…

More later…

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Flight of Friendship Japan https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/6/Heading-out Wed, 01 Jun 2011 15:32:20 GMT
Setting the Stage… https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/5/Setting-the-Stage I met my hero today.   Several of them, in fact.  I was brought to tears several times by the stories they shared of their experiences helping tsunami and quake survivors in the villages of NE Japan.   Each of the four speakers at our Embassy briefing today has played a part in the collective response to the triple tragedy of March 11th.   The Ambassador himself, the gentleman who heads US-AID (Agency for International Development) in Japan, the Director of the Tokyo American Center, who volunteered through All Hands, and the Naval Commander who became my new hero for the day.


Sho Dozono thanking my hero, Commander Freeman after his briefing.

I didn’t have any expectations about the briefing before we went to it this morning.  (More after the jump…)

I may be one of the only folks in our group of about 80 folks whose only tie to Japan is a few really fun vacations.   So many others seem to have spent time living here, growing up here, hosting Japanese exchange students, doing business in Japan, or with family ties here.  All of which I say because I think they understood more clearly than I how meaningful this group of Americans visiting Japan (the first organized tourist group to come to Japan since March 11th) really means to the  Japanese.

The reporting on international news has scared folks off. (Apparently it’s scared off many expats who lived here as well, as one foreigner shares.) Hence, one of the big aims of this trip is to highlight that Japan is not only safe to visit, but desperate for it. Our local tour guide through the city shared that she’d had 70 cancellations since March 11th – and our tour was her first since then.  And Tokyo is several hundred kilometers from the nuclear reactors that are in such trouble.

But the biggest reason – at least for me personally – for this trip was to provide direct personal help in some way to those in need.  Tricky stuff that, as we’re only here for a few days, many of us don’t speak Japanese, and the needs are complicated, unique to each village, and evolving.  Still, those organizing this trip have made connections with several NGOs and we’ll be helping out as we can for a few days in four or five different locations.

The stories each of the four speakers shared set the stage for our trip to these sites.   From the big picture to the specific needs of individuals they encountered they told of the immensity of the challenges and accomplishments of the past few months.

So  – why was the Commander a hero to me? It wasn’t the stories of the massive mobilization of military resources he helped coordinate in collaboration with the Japanese Self Defense Force, though their efforts have become the stuff of legends locally.

I’m going to get these stories wrong – as I wasn’t taking notes (and how could I when I teared up so often), but it seems he personally took on the needs of several villages that he’s been returning to frequently, and is figuring out ways to fulfill those needs.  With the help of his family and his connections, he’s helped mobilize food collection and shipments of canned vegetables and fruit, to supplement where fresh produce can’t stay fresh between shipments.  He’s helped collect school supplies for schools in need, from academic materials to simple clocks for the classrooms – all of which were gone.   He’s recently tracked down and will deliver brooms used in sweeping the ashes of the dead following cremation, an item in short supply.

I’ve heard it before, but it became so tangible today – that one person can make a difference.  One person who takes action, when needed.   So friends, prepare yourselves to help when I return.  I’m hoping to learn what’s on people’s lists of needs, and planning to help get things delivered.

The other hard part about today, that set the stage for the visit, was the personal stories of the survivors.   We heard several, as shared to our speakers by individuals they encountered.     One shared a story of one of four surviving teachers from a local elementary school who recently committed suicide.  He’d felt responsible for the loss of 10 of his colleagues and I’d swear he said hundreds of kids, 80% of the students in their school – all swept away by the tsunami, when they couldn’t get to high ground quick enough.   It’s just hard to comprehend.

Through their sharing today, they pointed out that above all other things, the biggest help we can provide won’t be the actual mucking out buildings or moving folks into their new homes, but just caring, listening, being supportive of the people we encounter.  On some level, I knew that before coming here, but it’s a much starker reality now.

So the stage is set.  We head to Sendai tomorrow.

This is our group, in the lobby of the Fuji TV station, which has strong ties to Oregon and the Dozono family, dating back to a TV show about Oregon produced 20 some years ago. They hosted us for an incredibly gracious lunch, and some heartfelt appreciation for us coming on this trip.


[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Flight of Friendship Heroes Japan friends https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/5/Setting-the-Stage Tue, 31 May 2011 07:32:03 GMT
Time to lend a hand https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/5/Time-to-lend-a-hand Since my visit to Japan back in Feb. 2011, when what is now being called the Arab Spring began, it seems that each week or two a new natural or human-made disaster has occurred.  Even as I write this, the Mississippi is wreaking its slow havoc on the American heartland.

Even the strongest among us needs support. The graceful trees of Kenrokuen Gardens in Kanazawa are supported from all directions.


I was hit particularly hard by the triple tragedy that occurred in Japan on March 11th, having recently returned from such a powerful and positive experience there.  So, when I heard that the organizers of the Flight of Friendship to NYC after 9-11, to New Orleans after Katrina, and to Thailand after the tsunami, were planning a similar trip to Japan, I had to join in.  Though this trip has many goals, I am going in the hopes that it provides a morale boost for those who survived the tragedy.  We’ll be visiting Sendai for a few days, to lend a hand, and let them know they have not been forgotten by the world, even if they’re not on the front pages anymore.  Stay tuned for posts from the trip.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Flight of Friendship HomePage Japan Kanazawa Kenrokuen Gardens https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/5/Time-to-lend-a-hand Fri, 20 May 2011 21:50:19 GMT
A prayer for Japan https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/3/A-prayer-for-Japan Words can’t express the sadness I share with the world for the people of Japan as they struggle to comprehend and respond to the series of disasters of the past few days.  A tragedy like this reminds us all we are of one family.

A prayer candle I lit in remembrance of the rather tragic family story retold at the Karukayadô hall in Koyasan. Let this candle now serve double duty, for that family, and today for those lost in the recent tragedy, their families and friends.


[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Featured Japan https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/3/A-prayer-for-Japan Mon, 14 Mar 2011 18:50:48 GMT
Fun with public amenities https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/2/Fun-with-public-amenities Now for something totally different.   Some time ago, a friend shared some of his snaps of a series of manhole covers/utility vault lids that he saw while traveling.   They were totally fun, and made me take note of something I often completely ignore.

As I’ve been poking around Japan, I’ve been paying more some attention to various features in the public space, that I thought would be fun to share.  (This post’s for you, Joe.)


This utility vault cover was in color. How cool is that? The design is featuring one of the elements in Kanazawa's historic garden, considered one of the top three gardens in the country. Understandably something to be proud of, so no surprise it "made the cover" so to speak...

More after the jump…

Even the small hot spring village of Shibu Onsen, about an hour outside of Nagano, gets in on enshrining their civic pride in public spaces.  Shibu Onsen has the benefit of being downstream from many natural hot springs that pour out of the mountains (and also serve as home to Snow Monkeys).   They also have amazingly narrow, cute streets.


A student heading home from school. Note the snow on the roofs, but none on the street.

I was told that the several of the local streets have hot spring water pipes running under them, so folks don’t have to shovel or plow.  The radiant heat keeps them snow free all winter.  There also seemed to be public spigots around town, as I saw folks collecting the hot water from constantly flowing, steaming spigots with buckets and pouring it over icy spots to melt them.  In any case, here’s their local entry in the sewer lid department…


I've no idea what this says, but it looks like a happy camper plunged in a hot spring, eh? Appropriate for a village that features a set of 9 public hot springs (onsens), each reportedly addressing different ailments.

Now up to Kushiro, home of the Red-Crowned Cranes (featured in an earlier post) …

This lid was from Kushiro, gateway to the national wetlands that are home to the Red-Crowned Cranes.

It’s not just sewer lids that caught my eye.  Kushiro in particular had a number of other amenities that I thought were of note…


I gather this is some type of kingfisher, but I'm not sure why this "street ornament" existed, beyond offering people something pretty on the ground to look at. I saw many of these ornaments at various intersections in Kushiro. Being a bird nerd, I loved them.

Another Kushiro "street ornament". I've no idea what it says, but it looks like wildflowers to me. As most sidewalks were covered in snow/ice when I was there, having these few ornaments melted out and visible was quite a treat.

One more for the bird fans in the crowd, also from Kushiro…


This lovely stained glass image (again, cranes = Kushiro) was over one of the downtown bus stops.

Lastly, I’m pulling this one out of the archives, from when I was in Japan some  years ago – because it struck me even then as a totally creative way to hid above ground utility vaults.


I forget where this is exactly (Takayama?) but how cool is that? You see the samurai sculpture, not the utility vault under it. Genius.

Food for thought, particularly if any of you out there design public utility type things…


[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Japan Kanazawa Kushiro Manhole covers Shibu onsen birds cranes lids onsen utility vault https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/2/Fun-with-public-amenities Sat, 19 Feb 2011 05:22:18 GMT
Choices https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/2/Choices I suppose it’s one of those things you learn in kindergarten – that life’s full of choices.  But choices are funny things, at least for me.  Some take up major amounts of my thoughts, even simple choices.  I can angst over whether to buy a can of smoked oysters or not, for much longer than is reasonable to admit.  (It’s best not to go shopping with me, if you’re in a hurry.)  And others, are rather simple.  Like my choice to focus my time and money on my vacation ethic, rather than fixing up things in the house or the like.

I’ve made what I think is a wise choice to not name this post Lens Envy, though this photo gives a sense of what I’m talking about.

Lens envy!

As I was thinking about this – my next blog post from what has been a magical and meaningful trip for me this past few weeks – that title popped into my head.  Consider the scene – late afternoon out the back of this lovely cafe at Tsurumidai, a part of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park, a vast wetland famous for the amazing Red Crowned Cranes.

The Tancho, or Japanese Red-Crowned Crane. A quite lovely bird, and loud too. (At least during mating season, which is winter.)

Continued after the jump…

The day had been so bright I needed sunglasses – truly.  I asked if they had some at the cafe, but no luck.  The sun reflecting off the snow was so intense my eyes hurt.  I spent several hours with my hands up to my eyes making owl eyes or binoculars with my fists, to limit the sun.  It worked, even if I did look a bit like a goofball.  I can live with that.

Anyhow, back to the sunset story and choices.  The field behind this cafe is flanked by a river, so the cranes fly back and forth from there to the feeding ground across the street from the cafe.

Crane cruising through. This one's headed towards the river. They're so graceful to watch fly.

The cranes were thought extinct due to hunting, when a small flock of 20 or so were discovered in the early 1900s.  They’ve been fed by the locals who share their grain with the birds, even in the slim years, to help bring this population back.  There are around 1500 or so now.  Choices.


This little old lady wouldn't put up with any cr*p. Feisty kids throwing snowballs - a few words from her and it was over. I'm not sure if she's a ranger or what, but she ruled the roost, and kept busloads of us tourists in line.

The view from the back of this cafe is remarkable.  Not only do they have a charming garden, but from the garden there are views of Mt. Oakan-dake, as well as the smaller Mt. Meakan-dake.  With the cranes flying in small groups back and forth, I figured the opportunity would be great for a cool shot of the cranes, the mountains, the sunset…


Cranes flying across the fields in front of Mt. Oakan-dake. Pretty special.

But of course I was not alone in thinking this.  Enter big lens guys…  Instant lens envy on my part.  At least at first.

I spent much of the next day thinking about this.   No question, with a lens as fancy as those, I could get a cool close up of a crane’s nostril.  Or who knows what.  Those lenses are so big they mount to the tripod, and the camera just hangs on by the threads.  My camera, by comparison, mounts to the tripod, and the lens hangs on by its threads.  (My tripod probably wouldn’t be up to the weight of those lenses.)

But as I stood there looking at their gigando lenses, all I could think was – how do they carry that around Japan.  I’m carrying all my gear.  No rented car.  No sherpa.  Just me.   Choices…

I’d left this last week of my trip a bit open, so I could see what drew me to visit, and what advice I got from folks along the way.  After my sunny day with the cranes, I trekked to the north side of the island, to Abashiri, to see the drift ice.

A view from the Aurora icebreaker boat. Check out the ice-wake.

Apparently as the Amur River, which runs between China and Russia and drains some huge part of Asia, spills into the ocean, the mix of fresh and salt water causes funny things to happen.  Among them, drift ice.  This stuff gets shoved south, into the waiting arm of northern Hokkaido, which looks a bit like a crab claw, pincers open.  Abashiri is the lucky recipient of major drift ice each winter. It was pretty amazing.  I took a long walk along the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk (or the sea wall, really) to check out the drift ice.

An eagle flying off its perch of the frozen-over seawall, with Sea of Okhotsk in the background.

It’s clearly a big deal here.  Ships are pulled ashore for the winter…


A bunch of what I assume are fishing boats, on shore for the winter. The woman walking in front of them was collecting seaweed a different place along the shore. We had a rather amusing drawing/gesture/conversation as I tried to figure how she'd made it down there. She was scared I didn't realize the snow was deep, and that just past the sand I was gathering for a friend the ice was not solid. I appreciated her caution. It worked out well for all. I really need to learn more Japanese.

… and much of the tourism focus is centered on the ice.   (The prison did not draw me, though it’s apparently as famous here as Alcatraz is in the US.)

Icebreaker sightseeing trips. Fun for the whole family. I loved it.

Still, as cool as the ice was (no pun intended) I was drawn to return to see the cranes some more.   So, another lovely train ride south brought me back to Kushiro, where I awoke to a completely different scene.  Snow.  There’s been snow here in Hokkaido pretty much everywhere I’ve been.  But this was the first time it was actually snowing.  Nice.  Very nice.  It made for a completely different experience at the same place.


Cranes flying in front of a forest dusted with fresh snow.

I was glad I made the choice to return to Tsurumidai for a second day with the cranes.  The big smile I got from the cafe owner when I walked back in was a nice treat too.

And as I mulled over how to share my photos of the cranes, I veered away from the tongue in cheek title I’d had in mind, to this more serious one, for a few reasons.  On one level, it really was about the trade-offs that choices force us to make – as the  mega-lens would have for me.  And the choices made by the Japanese people to help bring back a species from the brink of extinction.

But it’s also about the luxury so many of us have to be able to make choices in our lives, for ourselves, our families, our future.  For my time here in Japan has been at the same time as the historic upheaval in the Middle East, with Mubarak stepping down from power in Egypt after 30 years, and others in the region acting on their desires for choices in their lives.  It’s hard not to be moved by all that is happening there, and be thankful at the same time.

Lastly, for much of this trip I’ve been reading an amazing coming-of age story set in a fictitious invasion of Australia, the Tomorrow series, by John Marsden.  (Thanks Sarah for putting me onto this series!)  Nothing I have ever read has so personalized  war for me, and its impact on children, on everyone.  And as engaging as it’s been, it’s a pretty intense read.  So this too has had me in a more thoughtful mood.

So – I guess to wrap things up, I’m thankful for the lens (and the life) I’ve got.  I’m happy with my life’s choices.  I’m thankful that they allow me to take a look at different corners of the globe, and share my experiences with others.


Strings of origami paper cranes, hung as wishes on a fence post in the cemetery in Koyasan. Consider this my origami offering of a wish that everyone has the freedom to make meaningful choices in their own lives.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Abashiri Japan Koyasan Kushiro Sea of Okhotsk Winter birds choices coastline cranes drift ice lens https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/2/Choices Fri, 18 Feb 2011 08:42:59 GMT
The Light Path https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/2/The-Light-Path “You’ll know it when you see it,” was what I’d heard.  And it was true.  From the train station in Otaru, I was on a mission to get to the canals in the old warehouse district, as that’s where I understood the floating globes with candles in them would be.  Certainly they would be a site to behold, and with my second mission being fresh sushi, I was anxious to get to the globes, to hasten my visit to a sushi bar.  (This was after all just an evening’s venture from Sapporo.  I had a train to catch home before too late.)

The canal in Otaru, all lit up, with a cast of thousands appreciating it.

Of course, my Japanese is pretty minimal.  I didn’t even know how to apologize when my luggage fell over on the subway and knocked some poor guy in the knee, when I first got here.   (I’ve learned since then.)  So, I was going with what I’d read – heading for the canals.  But half way down the main street to the canals, a path cut off to the right, and with it the throngs of people who had left the train with me.    Indeed – I saw it.  I knew it.  I’d found it.   The light path.

Fun with the camera...

(More after the jump…)

Deep in the dark of winter when the night’s are long, the snow drifts deep, and the days until spring seem too many, the folks in the town of Otaru have made lemonade from lemons.  Perhaps I should say they’ve made Lemon Drops, as what they’ve created is rather intoxicating.  Along this side street, or alley for all I could tell, dug into the piles of snow deeper in places than I am tall (not saying much – I know), the good folks of Otaru had planted… candles.  Hundreds and hundreds of candles.

Of course, this is just before Valentine's Day. There were many nooks for folks to take couple's photos.

Just a playful snow sculpture.

In the words of whoever said it, if you build it, they will come.  By the trainload people were coming to see the candles…

A little snow cabin, with a candlelight hearth.

A gathering of snowfolk.

with displays for kids…

Simple, but fun...

and kids at heart…

I think that this one might be my favorite from the entire journey. Sweet and simple.

with displays strung from the trees…

A close up of one of the globe candles strung from a tree branch.

and simply laid out on the ground.

I loved these hollowed out ice lanterns. They were everywhere all over town, not just on this path.

It was hard not to smile as I came around each corner, curious to see what was next.  I was struck by two things while walking through this garden of light: the sights and sounds of joy from all the kids who were there with me exploring…

Who hasn't ever wondered at seeing their own breath in the cold night air?

and the thought that creating this magical trek that inspired such joy was so easy, and a conscious choice on someone’s part.   I salute whoever that was.  It’s hard not to find a lesson in there somewhere.

A child gazes into the candlelight. This was a row of candles at a midway point in the trail, which continued after a road crossing.

It was one of the members of the local Toastmasters group in Sapporo who had told me I’d know it when I saw it.  I just hadn’t realized what she meant at the time.   I’d been a guest at their club a few nights previously.  It was a speech contest night, so I got to hear several different folks share their thoughts – in English – that night.  (I’m so impressed with anyone who makes a point of giving speeches, let alone in a language not their first.) I heard about the decline of the ski industry, some thoughts on keeping one’s humanity in a world of technology, one take on the recent news of fight-fixing in the sumo wrestling world, and Sada San share her story on a recent night visit to Otaru, which inspired this evening’s activity.

Later I looked up what this lighting thing was called.  The first place I saw called it the Snow Gleaming Path.  That sounded a bit off to me, so I kept looking.  I then found it called the Otaru Snow Light Path.  I like it.

I find this name a bit prophetic, as I learned today that about the time I was touring this magical place, a good friend’s mother passed away.   A deeply religious woman and one who loved little kids, I’m pretty comfortable that Myra would have delighted in the kids squealing as they explored this winter wonderland.  I think she’d also appreciate the idea of a path of light.

So, this post is for all who have lost someone they love, in whatever way.  May we all find a path of light filled with the laughter of children along the way.

People wrote their wishes on paper cups, put candles in them, and left them along the way. Insert your wish here...

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Japan Otaru candle light path tribute https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/2/The-Light-Path Sun, 13 Feb 2011 05:41:42 GMT
A day of bliss – Visiting the Snow Monkeys https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/1/A-day-of-bliss-Visiting-the-Snow-Monkeys

Me visiting the snow monkeys outside of Shibu Onsen.

Bliss is about all I can say about this first day of February, 2011.    Our amazing hosts at Matsuya Ryokan (a Japanese Guesthouse) took me and several others up to the trail head that leads to what I call the monkey pools.  A walk through a lovely forest…

Afternoon light on the mountains across from the trail leading up to the monkey pools.

… leads to a spot on the Yokuyu River where hot springs (onsen) are channeled to some pools placed her specifically for the snow monkeys. It’s about an hour so into the mountains from Nagano, Japan, where the 1998 winter Olympics were held.

Ok – let’s just get this out of the way upfront: the “Snow Monkeys”  of Jigokudani Yaenkoen are not exactly wild.   But they’re not exactly tame either.   They are fed by humans (the rangers in this National Park) and they hang out in the pools created for them  – but that’s because they started invading hot spring pools that humans were using in the nearby onsen villages back in the 1960s.   It was either make them a place of their own, or forever ‘suffer’ their invasion.   (Continued after the jump.)

It's simply impossible not to be charmed by these guys

While they are indifferent about humans, they are very much wild animals.  In my rather amazing day watching these creatures interact, I saw parenting, cuddling, preening, fighting for dominance, bullying, and even a bit of sex.  (Yes, really.)  It’s apparently breeding season in the winter here.  Go figure.

I saw this guy bully several other monkeys. At one point, he threw a baby out of his way. The crowd of humans was not pleased.

But mostly a visit to this corner of Joshin-etsu Kogen National Park is just plain fun.  It brings out the kid in everyone.  It’s just amazing to watch these monkeys indulge in the hot springs, even when faced with hundreds of cameras pushed into their faces all day long.  While I did get some great close ups, I mostly used my long lens to get the shots.

A close up

Still, I wouldn’t feel too upset about the impacts by humans on the monkeys.  There was a ranger present monitoring things, when he wasn’t reading his book.  I think he’s there more to make sure people don’t get hurt by the monkeys than the other way around.   Some little ones literally ran across my feet when they were playing, hiding behind my legs as they chased one another.

This little guy climbed up on my tripod, which I'd left along the fence for much of the day. He was playing around with other youngsters, when he got distracted, and climbed up for a look.

The same little guy chewing on the handles as he climbed up my tripod.


There are more fun photos of this amazing day, over at my Zenfolio gallery, and more photos of Japan will be up soon.  Meanwhile, I wish you a day of bliss, in whatever form you find it.

~ Bryan

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Hot Springs Japan Joshin-etsu Kogen National Park Snow Monkeys Winter https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2011/1/A-day-of-bliss-Visiting-the-Snow-Monkeys Tue, 01 Feb 2011 05:50:22 GMT
Scotland Revisited – Neolithic Stones https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2010/9/Scotland-Revisited-Neolithic-Stones One of the things that is such a draw for me are the neolithic sites sprinkled around Orkney.   No other human-built structures I’ve visited has had me wondering about those who built them as much as the stone ruins of Scotland.  They’re simply magical.

Stones of the Ring of Brodgar at sunset

There are neolithic sites here spread around but without a doubt, the Ring of Brodgar is my favorite.  Each stone is unique and interesting to look at on its own. Their textures, shapes,  and silhouettes are all intriguing.   More after the break…

I love the texture of this stone

I imagine seeing fossilized leaves in this stone

You get a feel for the setting with this image, with the Loch of Harray in the distance

That's me and my friend Susie in front of one of the stones

While each stone is interesting on its own, as a whole the Ring is even more fascinating.  It represents an amazing amount of work on the part of people some 4500 years ago who had the spare time and motivation to haul literally tonnes of rock from all corners of Orkney, stand them up in the ground, and then dig a 10 meter wide, 6 meter deep trench around the entire thing.  The diameter is that of a football field.  The work to do all this would have taken teams of people months if not years.  And we don’t know why they did it…

The setting sun at Brodgar was one of the memories I needed to relive on this recent trip to Orkney

It’s simply magical.  And luckily the Ring of Brodgar, along with several other stunning sites in the area, was included in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage List.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Neolithic sites Orkney Ring of Brodgar Scotland Standing Stones clouds sunset https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2010/9/Scotland-Revisited-Neolithic-Stones Sat, 04 Sep 2010 15:17:59 GMT
Quiet Day on the Bay https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2010/2/Quiet-Day-on-the-Bay So how did YOU spend Valentine’s Day?

I spent it happily birding with a friend, and snapping a few photos of the stillness on Tillamook Bay.   In the morning, the clouds were very dramatic.  It made for some really striking photos.

The day was perfect.  Overcast, occasionally spitting rain, but for the most part, still and dry.   On the water, we saw Loons, Goldeneyes, and several other fun waterfowl (though I didn’t have my telephoto lens, so not photos to share of the birds…  I know, I’ll learn.)  A pair of Golden Eagles perched in the trees across the water in the above photo, before moving on in search of food.

It seemed that around every corner there was another striking view.

The water in the afternoon was really high, reaching all the way to the edge of the road, where in the past I’d seen wide mudflats (good for a different sort of bird.   This brought the birds in close.  At one point my friend and I were stumped by a duck we couldn’t identify – red bill, brownish back, a bit larger than other waterfowl, and remarkably still.  It was bouncing up and down with the water, but not diving, or preening or much of anything…  Finally we figured out it was a decoy.  (Can you tell I’m blushing?)

One other feature of the Bay that I found fascinating, was the relics of some dock pilings.  They were full of interesting forms and shadows.  The knots in the wood left interesting spikes sticking out, reminiscent of birds beaks.   I liked this shot, as the blue sky was such a cheerier look than the ominous gray of the same morning.

All in all, it was a really nice day, birding, shooting and hanging out with a friend.

I hope your Valentine’s Day was a good one too.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Around Oregon Tillamook Bay clouds docks https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2010/2/Quiet-Day-on-the-Bay Mon, 15 Feb 2010 20:52:09 GMT
Chilly days in Portland https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/12/Chilly-days-in-Portland For those of you not living here in Portland, we’ve got a pretty mild climate.  We get rain in the winter, with the occasional cold snap.  Maybe snow or freezing rain every third winter or so.  (Last winter’s Snowpocalypse, as my friend Sarah called it, does not count.)  But right now, along with much of the country, we’re going through a pretty harsh cold snap.

However (this is not a weather report) one of the great things about this particular cold snap has been how clear and beautiful it’s been.


On a clear day in Portland, the mountain is out.  When we say that locally it means Mt. Hood is visible.  (In fact, there are three volcanic peaks that one can see on a good day from Portland – Mt. Hood to the west, Mt. Saint Helens to the north, and Mt. Adams farther to the east in Washington State.  But I digress.)

The other afternoon rushing from one meeting to the next, atop one of my favorite local parking garages I snapped this photo of the lovely Mt. Hood with the Hawthorne Bridge in the foreground.   Mt. Hood was radiant with its new blanket of snow.  Such a treat.

Can you just feel the crisp breeze blowing across the Willamette River here?

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Around Portland Hawthorne Hawthorne Bridge Mt. Hood Portland Willamette River https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/12/Chilly-days-in-Portland Thu, 10 Dec 2009 20:39:16 GMT
Fabulous Fall! https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/10/Fabulous-Fall Harvest time along the Fruit Loop

Harvest time along the Fruit Loop

I don’t like to say that any one season is my favorite, but I have to say that this particular fall has been especially beautiful.  I’ve been taking advantage of the fall colors to go out and practice my photography.   So recently I spent a wet weekend day driving the Fruit Loop with a new photography buddy, Brian. (Check out some of his stellar work here.)   For the uninitiated, the Fruit Loop is a 35 mile circuit through orchards, wineries, farms and fabulous fall colors starting in Hood River, Oregon.   (Read on after the break…) It makes for a great day trip or an overnight.   Brian and I spent much time practicing technique while watching the friendly folks at Wyeast Vinyards finish harvesting their last batch of grapes before the fall rains spoil what was left on their vines.

Separating the bad from the good, in order to make the really good.

Separating the bad from the good, in order to make the really good.

For more than an hour we watched as bins of grapes were separated, stemmed, and set to early fermentation.

Brian was a great mentor, sharing tips, tricks, lenses and even his camera, to help me learn.   One of my favorite tips was about the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, a group that offers a range of photography classes for all skill levels.   I’ve already got their catalog in hand and am looking forward to my first weekend workshop with them.  Brian also introduced me to Zenfolio, which is where I’m hosting my photos. Here’s a link to my Zenfolio page, which has more of my work.

A classic farm scene along the Fruit Loop.

A classic farm scene along the Fruit Loop.

It was so beautiful that I went back again the day after, to enjoy the farms, the fresh fruit, and some of the treats to be had along the way.

Rainbow over the welcoming party at the Draper Girls Country Farm

Rainbow over the welcoming party at the Draper Girls Country Farm

Abundance defined

Abundance defined

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Around Portland Fall Fruit Loop Winery apples friends fruit vinyard https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/10/Fabulous-Fall Sun, 25 Oct 2009 20:36:05 GMT
Sneak Preview… https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/9/Sneak-Preview There’s all kinds of travel and all kinds of places to travel to. For me, one of the more fun ways to travel is to just head down a side road and see where it takes me. I’m also really fond of places with cliffs and birds.

When I took off on a trip to Ireland last spring, what I was most looking forward to doing was finding cliffs to go hang out on and take photos. I stayed in B&Bs mostly, which were really more like B&B&Ls as they fed me so much I was able to pack a small lunch of toast and jam for myself to eat while sitting on the bluffs somewhere.

Anyhow, I’m working on a special project that I’m really excited about (beyond this blog, which I’m also very excited about.)

Here’s a sneak peek at a part of my project.

Stay tuned…

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Ireland birds coastline https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/9/Sneak-Preview Tue, 15 Sep 2009 08:10:22 GMT
Fun with Flowers! https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/9/Fun-with-Flowers I’m not really a gardener, as any of my friends could tell you.  But I do love flowers.  Years ago, during my Park Ranger days, I would lead folks on guided walks looking at wildflowers in the the meadows of the sub-alpine (at Olympic National Park) and the tundra (at Denali National Park), which I loved.  But gardening – not my thing.  That was until recently when I went to the Dahlia Festival in Canby recently.  WOW!

I always thought of dahlias as looking like this:

My image of what a dahlia is

My image of what a dahlia looks like

Something with firm flower heads made up of tight little coiled tunnels that catch the rain.   Beautiful, but I thought that was pretty much it, in a variety of colors.  Well, not being a gardener I was delighted to discover that they range from delicate and graceful to huge and gaudy, and everything in between.

Who knew a dahlia could look like this?

Who knew a dahlia could look like this?


They are in fact, quite varied.   They can be formal…

This one reminds me of a kid standing tall for a family photo on prom night

This one reminds me of a kid standing tall for a family photo on prom night

Or elegant…

With its curled petals, this one looks almost modest

With it's curled petals, this one looks almost modest

Or whimsical…

You can see the range of colors in the field behind this one

You can see the range of colors in the field behind this one

Or downright artsy…


This looks like a swirl of paint on a palette

I see the swirls on a painter's palette on this one

Or even rather plain…

And yet their all lovely.

It was hard to not stop and take photos every ten feet.  My friends Josh and Sarah (originally from Canby, where this festival is held every year) were very patient with me.

Josh and Sarah

Josh and Sarah

I must admit, the naturalist in me crept out, watching all the bees and their kin feasting on the flowers.   After enjoying the flowers for the first part of our tour, I shifted gears and started focusing on the bees enjoying the flowers.  How could I not?   Here are a few of my favorites…

I really like the flower from this angle where you can see the bracts underneath


I love the dusting of pollen knocked off by the bees on this one


With so many colors and curls, I think this one might be my favorite


I may have gone a bit crazy taking pictures, but I couldn’t help myself.  Flowers, bees, amazing colors.  It was just too cool.  Sarah and Josh took some action shots of me taking photos and posted them in their blog.  Sarah also taught the class where I learned how to blog.  It was part of the Summer of Making at the groovy Pacific Northwest College of Art.  So it’s thanks to her that this blog exists.   Thanks Sarah!

After we wandered the fields for several hours, we made our way to dahlia central – the buzzing hub of dahlia activity where one could buy fresh cut flowers, go into their underground barn to see fancy arrangements, and peruse the catalogs to order bulbs for one’s own garden.  There was food too.  It was in the food line that I took this last shot.

A clown clearly enjoying her break.  From what, Im not sure?

A clown clearly enjoying her break. From what, I'm not sure?

My visit to the dahlia fields might have been enough to inspire me to do some gardening.  We’ll see.  But whether it does or not, I’ll absolutely be back to the Dahlia Festival next year for certain.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Around Portland Dahlias Flowers friends https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/9/Fun-with-Flowers Sat, 12 Sep 2009 23:30:19 GMT
Lovely Loop Head https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/9/Lovely-Loop-Head There are some places you visit where you just feel good, like it’s a place to stay for a while, where things are right, somehow.  The little village of Kilbaha was one of those places for me.  Not only is it near Loop Head, which I had heard was a ‘must see’ if I wanted to enjoy amazing cliffs with birds and random beauty.


Crashing waves under the Bridges of Ross

Crashing waves erode tunnels through the cliffs

It’s also got one of the most comfortable places to stay I’ve ever experienced.  This was more a feeling I got from the welcome by strangers than plush accommodation.  I stayed at the Lighthouse Inn, which  fit my image of a traditional Irish Inn, a pub downstairs with rooms upstairs, but they were friendlier than one could imagine. 

After a week on the road, I needed to do a bit of laundry.  Sheepishly I asked if I might pay to use their machines.  They wouldn’t hear of it – they just showed me the laundry room, out back from the pub, and told me to have at it.  Later, when I was asking about how to get out to the cliffs, one of the folks at the bar offered up the owner to drop me off at the Head, so I could enjoy the walk back.  She happily agreed, and so a plan was born.

This pub wasn’t just where salty fisherman types came for a pint after their day’s work, but it was really the living room for several families in town.   Each night there were families gathered for the evening – the parents drinking, eating, and watching sports on the television, while the kids played pool nearby.  The kids switched the channel to watch Disney’s Hanna Montana each night at 7pm.  Not my impression of a pub.  It was better.

The Inn is one of a few buildings that make up the village of Kilbaha .  (I love that the name of this little village sounds like kielbasa!)

A dinghy moored in Kilbaha Cove

A dinghy moored in Kilbaha Cove

My room was directly over the entry to the pub.  It was directly across the street from the seawall at the edge of the Cove.  I could see the water from my bed and hear the fascinating sound of the rounded cobbles rolling over each other as the waves lapped across them.

View from my room at the Lighthouse Inn

View from my room at the Lighthouse Inn

In the morning, the tide had gone out, revealing an amazing landscape of tidepools.    I explored these for hours before heading out to the end of Loop Head for my cliff walk.

Snails in the tidepools of Kilbaha Cove

Snails in the tidepools of Kilbaha Cove

Loop Head itself was an amazing place to explore and photograph.  The birds, the geology, the sunset  – all were amazing, and so un-crowded (though admittedly I was there in late May before summer had kicked into full swing.)  As I walked the cliff line from the lighthouse along the northern side of the peninsula, I watched Kittiwakes by the hundreds gathering wads of mud and straw from a seep at the cliff’s edge then fly past me back to where I presume they were building their nests just off-shore of the lighthouse.

Kittiwakes gathering mud for their nests

Kittiwakes gathering mud for their nests

Further down the coast, other birds were nesting in the cliff’s nooks, high above the crashing waves.   The waves were crashing so hard, that fluffs of sea foam blew up to the cliff tops like cotton candy.

Nesting kittiwakes and razorbills

Nesting kittiwakes and razorbills

After a nice walk back to the Inn, and a fabulous bowl of steamed mussels and fresh bread for dinner, I returned to the lighthouse at the end of Loop Head to watch a spectacular sunset.

Sunset off the Loop Head Lighthouse

Sunset off the Loop Head Lighthouse

I was joined by a friendly Italian couple and one other photographer to watch the sun slide into the horizon.  The end of a perfect day.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Ireland Kilbaha Cove Lighthouse Inn birds sunset https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/9/Lovely-Loop-Head Sat, 05 Sep 2009 20:52:04 GMT
Fall tumbles down the mountains https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/8/Fall-tumbles-down-the-mountains

Here’s a photo from a trip I took several years ago.  At the time it was my first switch to digital, with a Nikon CoolPix 4600 – a small point and shoot digital.  I’ll share more photos from here, later.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo of the fall colors at Daisetsuzan National Park, which is worth the trek.  In fact, for many Japanese, it is a regular tradition for fall.   To go up the mountain one rides a ski lift part of the way up the mountain, then hikes the final several hundred meters to the top.   When I did this, I was in my late 30s – you’d think I’d be relatively fit.  I thought so.  But seniors more than double my age were passing me on the trail, and enjoying their lunch when I arrived at the top, huffing and puffing.

The view, however, as you can see, was worth the effort.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Japan https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/8/Fall-tumbles-down-the-mountains Wed, 05 Aug 2009 18:32:44 GMT
End of the day at edge of the world https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/8/End-of-the-day-at-edge-of-the-world Sunset near Loop Head Lighthouse, west coast of Ireland

Sunset near Loop Head Lighthouse, west coast of Ireland

A fulmar taking one more cruise across the setting sun, before returning to roost on the cliffs below Loop Head Lighthouse.  This part of Ireland is just one peninsula after the other, with cliffs facing west into the endless Atlantic.  A great place for a walk in the wind.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Ireland birds coastline sunset https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/8/End-of-the-day-at-edge-of-the-world Mon, 03 Aug 2009 23:12:21 GMT
A new day at Lake Daniells https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/8/A-new-day-at-Lake-Daniells

Quiet morning on Lake Daniells

This was taken on a nice quiet morning after a day spent painting the nearby Manson Nicholls Memorial Hut, a back country hut near Lewis Pass on the South Island of New Zealand.  It’s a good day walk into Lake Daniells for families and those who have simple ambitions when hiking, as it’s a pretty flat walk into the Lake.

[email protected] (Edge of the Road Beauty ~ Photography by Bryan Aptekar) Lake Daniells New Zealand docks lakes https://www.portlandvagabond.com/blog/2009/8/A-new-day-at-Lake-Daniells Mon, 03 Aug 2009 23:05:32 GMT