Month: July 2015

Flying by Falcon, Rocking with Rose

Travelling in Japan is all about the trains — well, except for those annoying mountain-hiking parts. The whole country is a train-spotter’s paradise, with prizes including the almost obscenely streamlined Hayabusa, one of the fastest shinkansen (“bullet trains”) in Japan… ..within which I sped yesterday from Tokyo to Aomori in the extreme north of the main island of Honshu, and the Hamanasu… ..at the opposite end of the train-technology spectrum, which rocked and rollicked through the night, beneath the Tsugaru Strait to emerge onto vast Hokkaido, Japan’s second-largest island. Even the names are cool. Hayabusa means peregrine falcon, and Hamanasu is the Japanese rose, Rosa rugosa,a name which captures its rambling, exuberant energy, even if it’s not especially macho name for a train. I’m typing this aboard the final phase of my Daisetsuzan-bound railway odyssey (there’s still a bus to go after that), a Super Kamui Limited Express from Sapporo to Asahikawa. A quick check suggests that kamui translates as “divine or powerful”. This seems like a favourable omen before my upcoming excursion. That ride aboard the falcon …

Good Things Come in Eighty-Eights: My Latest & Greatest Japanese Odyssey

Konnichiwa from Nippon, folks! I’m tapping this on my laptop, via some sweet Japanese wifi technology, from a table in my favourite Starbucks, right next to the park in Kichijoji, Tokyo. I got in to Narita last night on a half-empty flight via Cairns, and crashed in an airport hotel room smaller than my bedroom at home. Dinner was omu rice, some inari zushi, a “steam cake” and a big-ass can of Sapporo beer, in one hit checking four favourite konbini (convenience store) culinary delights on my to-eat list. I’m here for 88 days — nope, not in this Starbucks; that would be excessive. In Japan, I mean. I wanted to make the most of my 90-day tourist visa, and I’m covering a fair bit of ground, old and new, revisiting some favourite old haunts and walking some new paths. Let me backtrack, briefly. My American plans have been put on hold for some personal and legal reasons I won’t go into here. It was a rough year, and I hit rock bottom for several months. …

Leader of the Pack

“Hey, little dudes! How’s it goin’?” My magpie welcoming party always assembles the same way: one sharp-eyed individual — The same one each time? Who can say? — leaves its fellows, takes to the air, and swoops low over the grass to bank and land with breathtaking pizzaz just in front of me: By the time its relatives have spied my approach and joined the party, the first arrival has usually burst into that ecstatic warble that is such a familiar presence in the Australian landscape, rural and urban, beginning before dawn and continuing at irregular intervals till the sun goes down or even later: The tribe takes up position. There are always at least a dozen, usually several more, and several of these will herald my return with an infectious and oft-repeated eruption of glorious song, puffing out their chests till they seem set to explode, tilting back their heads, pointing their formidable beaks at the sky as they sing. It’s the largest group I’ve ever observed — “our” magpies at home form a tight family …

The Truth About Flathead Lies

The tide was low, the air crisp and a winter sunrise was stirring the embers beyond Moreton Island as I approached the mouth to Cabbage Tree Creek. A lone fisherman in waders stood near the jetty, knee deep in salt water and presumably somewhat deeper in concentration: The cruising pelicans I’d hoped to encounter were absent; I walked out onto the jetty and introduced myself to another photographer I’d seen ambling around the headland on several equally sublime mornings, an air-traffic controller called Mike who was getting in some shooting before driving to work and an undoubtedly less tranquil scene. Mike enjoyed a cigarette while we chatted about cameras and lenses and travel. The fisherman had moved a little further downstream when next I noticed him. Mike commented about the gorgeous colours reflected in the creek surface; we fired off a few shots and I went back down the bank to get closer — “zooming with the feet” as we zoom-less users of prime lenses like to put it: Mike and I weren’t the only …

Waiting for the Sun

It took more than the usual fortitude to head out the door into the pre-dawn blackness yesterday. For days the weather reports had forecast our first dose of indubitably “wintry” weather: a “polar [or Antarctic] vortex” was bulldozing its way north, with rumours of rare snow in far-southeastern Queensland and (for Queenslanders) a daunting maximum temperature of 15C (59F). It wasn’t the cold that I dreaded, but the accompanying severe winds. Although I hoped they’d whip up some photogenically frothy waves on the high tide coinciding with sunrise, their immediate effect was to dust my eyeballs with swirling grit, and I had to wear sunglasses in the dark till I left my street and cut across the park towards Cabbage Tree Creek. The creek mouth was a disappointment. Although the conditions had left the area agreeably deserted, there was no more froth on the waves than atop your standard morning latte, and I decided to climb the road to the crest of Shorncliffe. I’d been meaning to photograph the pier reconstruction project from above with the …