“Sometimes we find our inherent selves in youth. It is a recognition of something that at first is small within us, that we will grow into somehow” The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje

I was struck by these thoughts. They have woven themselves into me,  and they have pressed up against a barrier on the way out.

I am seeing a small girl standing on the tailgate of truck. (Is that right? Did we have a truck at that time? I do remember being high up.)  She is standing with a brown rectangular box in her hands. A camera. Her first. As I remember this I am watching my younger self. One of those third person memories, where you are separate from the girl you are looking at, but you are also in her, and are her. Those memories can’t always be trusted. They are both real and not real. They ripple with distortion.

As you are protectively watching her, she glances over her shoulder, as if for reinforcement. As though you are her buttress. And you know that you are.

She is marking time. No. She is stopping time. Marking changes.

click. that click seems so quiet. a pause. these images she is making are just whispers in time. there are people here in the landscape, but is that what she is trying to hold on to?

Something tangible will remain. It will be a small paper square with a white border. The surface glossy. The white border is appropriate because it is a landscape of snow.  White, grey and cold.  On the cusp of a warmer  season. (those people; what do they look like now?)

You can almost smell the plasticity of the brown box. The smell of the film. The acrid odour of a just-burned flashbulb. It is powerful, that  particular sense. A sense that can send you back into a memory as fast as a swirling twister. One quick spiraling breath and you are there. Fleetingly. But in that snippet of time you remember that sensation.

The power of pausing time. Shaping images.

click. it is a quiet place this marking of moments. are they shaped to her favour? if the memories can’t be trusted, can the images? are they too, manipulated by time? it doesn’t matter. she is fond of the layers that time settles on these moments, she is easily pulled into the riddles.  click. exhale.  she is still lost in this visual space.  still at times, glancing over her shoulder. i am watching her, still.

© Karen McRae, 2012


We’ve been having bits of rain today. It is a sweet relief for a parched land with cracking earth, wilting trees and low rivers. The mudflats stretch on and on like a low tide.
I rarely insert myself into the landscape but today I felt part of it.

Ottawa River

All images © Karen McRae


I was beside the river a couple of days ago and glimpsed dark slipping movements out of the corner of my eye. The observer was being observed. A few moments later I was almost face to face with this little mink. Just an arm’s length away. We are, apparently, mutually curious creatures.

The mink slipped away into a crevice. “Come”, I said gently. And briefly, it returned.

I am always a little awed by these fleeting brushes with nature.

Of course some wild things are easily coaxed to your hand…
Ground squirrels in the British Columbia mountains. Someone has been ignoring the “Do not feed the wildlife” signs; they were very comfortable posing in front of the camera.

Our backyard chipmunk. Simultaneously bold and skittish.

And the birds. It’s hard to describe the feeling of an almost weightless chickadee perched so gently on your fingertips. A bit blissful.

All images © Karen McRae