A Vortex of Inspiration in the Depths of Winter

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There are those who wake up each morning bathed in a glorious sunrise…steam rising off the hot springs outside their door as they gaze across the sky, admiring a rising sun and the beauty of nature.  A beauty whose only rival is the one they have laying across their chest as they rest in bed.

If this is you, then this post will likely not be of interest…

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Instead, as the holiday season winds down and the bleak side of winter seeps in, this post is for those who feel the dark, deep cold of the season beginning to weigh on their spirit.

This post is for the person jogging down a mountain in twilight, hoping to make it to the car before the sky really opens up with snow and freezing rain…

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While luck is on their side, as they make it to the car right before the sky opens, it is a short-lived moment of elation as they find out that once again “someone” left the dome light on in the car prior to the hike… and the only thing colder than the car battery is their sinking heart looking forward to a cold night before help arrives.

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These are the moments that tend to define the depths of winter.  Early winter has the excitement of a change of seasons: the feeling of the first crisp chill in the air, the beauty of the first snowfall and perhaps a dark-haired girl in a sweater with eyes twinkling as she takes a sip of her coffee.

Yuanfen- Us Dancing

But then through the rush of the holiday season, reality begins to set in: the first snowfall is accompanied with closed roads and slush.  The crisp chill in the air is soon accompanied by a weekend cold, and the girl with the twinkling eyes…well, she keeps things fresh enough to make the winter blues worthwhile.

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To most, the dead of winter is defined by crappy weather and long periods of time stuck indoors.  And while we remain trapped inside our hellish cells of purgatory, just outside our doors the Whooper Swans are living it up.  Frolicking and almost taunting us as they swim, soar and romance as we lay tucked up inside our homes.

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Winter brings a strange mix.

While the winter landscape is incredible, the weather does not make it easy to jump out of bed and run around outside and enjoy the great scenes of sunshine and smiles.   Instead, we are faced with the joyless scene of the grey & blues of winter.

However, when inspiration strikes and we brave the wind and cold, we can shed the blues and get a spark of summer in the dead of winter.

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This spark of summer in the dead of winter is what we need to search for as February looms ahead.  As after the initial thrill of a new winter season wears off, we are tested.  The abundance of patience in which we start the season with vanishes quickly during the holiday season, leaving us with a sense of dread.

As we slowly drive each other crazy with our pacing and longing for warm, sunny days…ahead is the worst month of the year.

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We can either hide our heads and suffer, succumbing to the cold and curse it in our misery, or simply shake off the chills and celebrate winter.  A cup of Irish coffee, compatible friends and a great view from a frosted window looking out into the bleak, frozen glory of wintertime is a good start.

Somewhere there will be an opportunity to get out and enjoy what winter can offer.  With Chinese New Year just ahead and signaling a close to the holiday season, I look forward to venturing out and making a watery splash to the great Year of the Horse.

Cheers to all!

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NOTE: These photos were taken in Hokkaido, Japan between Lake Mashuko and Rausu.  As luck would have it, we had every type of weather making for a great shooting environment.  One of the best days was getting out to shoot in blizzard conditions as we were stranded with road closures (below photo is of John Shaw, one of the world’s best wildlife photographers).

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162 Comments on “A Vortex of Inspiration in the Depths of Winter

  1. These photos are breathtaking, but I am not envious of your weather conditions. I feel like such a wimp for complaining about our “cold” weather.

    • Thanks Beka, I too prefer warmer weather but every now and then I love what winter can bring. Cheers.

    • Thanks, it was a kick shooting in the blizzard. Wouldn’t mind a bit of the Netherlands spring right now.

  2. Wonderful post Randall, I loved it (as, I hope, did the girl with the laughing eyes). Almost (but definitely not quite) makes me yearn for a blizzard – but we don’t have those down here, which is a major reason that I moved here in the first place! Love the Whooper swans but my favorite is your final shot of John.

    • Thank you Tina, I feel the same. Being in a blizzard is a great experience to have…but I’d rather have sunshine 🙂 The photo of John is the perfect reminder of the fun that can be had in a storm. Cheers!

  3. These are swooningly beautiful, Randall. I confess that I am a lover of winter but it does tend to overstay its welcome. I think the changing of the seasons gives us a lot of beauty to go looking for. A reason to leave the house!

    • I’m with you Karen, winter is incredible…but come February, I’m ready for spring. Changing of the season always creates a little more excitement. Thank you.

  4. I love that last shot. Although you can tell he’s taking a photograph, it also looks like he’s praying. The whole composition is so beautiful and reverent – I even love how the tree on the right seems to curve in a way that reflects the photographer kneeling in the snow. This photo just really speaks to me on so many levels. 🙂

    • Thank you…I really like how the last photo worked for you. It is one of my favorite shots. Cheers!

  5. Holy Cow..Wonderful photos. Randy your really good at this…..I find myself looking for your next post. Keep them coming. Hope all is well.

    • Hey Kevin, very happy you like the photos ~ it’s great getting out to shoot when I can. I’m back in Seattle for awhile…small game this weekend 🙂

      • My money is on the Hawks….I hope they make it happen. The City will go wild if they can pull it off. Cheers.

  6. I’m a summer kind of person. But deep down there is a very dark and broody part of me, and so I thoroughly enjoyed your images. The birds do make winter look so serene and pristine. Definitely agree with you that the start of winter, change of seasons, heralds excitement. For me, the excitement usually fades on the second day of winter – I shiver like there’s no tomorrow and can’t wait for warmer weather. This year though, when winter comes around in Melbourne in June I might do some traveling around the state and see “winter” for itself. It never really snows here 🙂

    • I think that is very true Mabel, there is a dark and broody part in me as well and winter is the perfect time to let it come out. The excitement of new seasons always gets me up…I love the change of seasons. However, with both summer and winter, I get tired of them about halfway through and get a little impatient.

      Look forward to hearing about your foray into a Melbourne winter come June…have a cup of coffee, throw on a sweater and you will be set for the chills of winter 🙂

  7. In a way, you seem to outdo yourself with each post. In your words and spectacular photos, I find myself reflecting on attitude, perspective and intention. Such focus is invigorating. Thanks for creating the space in which to pause and Happy Chinese New Year, Randall.

    • February is the perfect month to reflect… Thanks for the kind words; it is invigorating to combine photography with writing. It is an exercise that allows me a bit to pause and reflect (much like your posts and work). Look forward to a great ’14.

  8. I have to agree with Eric, Randall… These shots are stunning — way beyond stunning, actually — and I love the thoughts you shared. Although you know that I would actually LOVE some winter weather right now, I realize that too much of it can get old quickly. It really is about perspective and intention — all of life is. Thank you for the reminder today.

    By the way, how were you out with John Shaw? And you’re back in Seattle? You really *are* a world traveler!

    • Thanks Jess. I figured the snow & weather would be exactly what you are missing… 🙂

      It is funny that with both summer and winter, halfway through each season I am ready for a change (spring and fall simply rule…). Yes, back in Seattle now ~ hope to be here for a couple of months.

      • My frustration is that we haven’t really had a winter here. It feels like spring right now, and while other people are already begging for spring and summer, I am dreading them. That is… Unless we see a very unexpected change in weather soon, *or* I move to the Bay Area, where the summers are a lot cooler. We’ll see.

        So glad you’re back in Seattle for a while. Looking forward to more of your amazing pics of the city and surrounding area!

      • Hopefully you will get some rain…I always root for a wet February for all the west coast. SF/Bay area would be perfect, one of my favorite places in the world.

    • Thanks Chillbrook…nothing like a little turn in weather to create some nice photo ops, as you well know.

  9. Absolutely loved this post. Winter is my favorite season – silhouettes of bare trees, long shadows, air bubbles on frozen ponds, sunlight dancing along icy edges. Vancouver has sorry excuses for winter – rain, rain and more rain, every so often the sun comes out and we can see our snow covered mountains. I make a point of travelling to Saskatchewan in the dead of winter – my family thinks I’m visiting them, they don’t know I’m there for winter.I’m like a child on Christmas Eve when I see ice fog rise from the river valley, the moment I wake up, I run to the window, practically squealing ooh’s and aah’s I get so mad because I always miss an honest to goodness blizzard by a few days. 🙂

    • Saskatchewan in winter…now that would be an incredible place to be: ice fog from the river valley, say no more. The cold/white/frost is what I love about winter. Extreme weather does excite me (blizzard, typhoons, thunderstorms), and I know it has the complete opposite affect on people (and for good reason), so I always have to temper my excitement at those moments. Thank you for your comments.

      • We were in Havana as a named tropical storm passed over the city. Our hotel in the heart of “old Havana” had the pool on the roof.Hotel staff ordered guests to leave – I had no intention of going back to my room. Rain and wind – surpassing anything I’ve experienced – paled in comparison to the funnel clouds dropping out of the sky. Lightning strikes and sideways rain almost as impressive as the grin on my face. I was literally dragged off the roof deck – sulking all the way to my room, arriving at the window just in time to witness a strike of lightning on the building next door. The electricity in the air, travelled up my arm from metal frames on my glasses. Every hair on my body, standing at attention. It was SO COOL! 🙂

      • Wow, those are the moments I love as well! Dangerous, and cause a lot of people grief, but still…so powerful and thus beautiful 🙂

  10. Randall, these photos are magnificent. You truly do capture beauty in a blizzard.

    Love your words in between, your story. Truly quality post. Just beautiful.

    • Thank you Noeleen, one of the best things I like about photography is the creation of stories & thoughts I have while shooting. A little bit of an escape from the world, which I think you understand that can happen when writing. Wish you well.

  11. Hey Randy 🙂 What a beautiful post to start the year with. I love looking at things through your eyes,head..they do go hand in hand,lol
    These photographs are simply beautiful!
    I always say your narrative breathes even more depth to your shots. I happen to love winter, yes, I do. You are right though, just as February looms, the change is exciting for me. As the saying goes, too much of anything….Oh well, you know where I’m going with this,lol

    I love every frame here, but my absolute favorite is the last one. Anyone so driven to brave the elements, just to do what he loves,is proof the soul and body human is extraordinarily made 🙂 .

    • Thanks Dotta, and again I think we see things through the same lens… I love winter very much, but halfway through I am ready to move on to spring! What you say about the last photo is beautiful…when doing something you love, and you believe in, the feeling can be overwhelming and nothing really bothers you as you’re in your own world. I think with you and your writing (and new novel ‘Adaora’) you can relate. Cheers!

  12. What should I say? Just stunning work. I would like to mark each picture in this collection with a LIKE.

    Last image really shows what it takes to get such great images, but your efforts are not wasted….

    Have a great day.

    • The last image is one of my favorites…as while it was an environment people seldom consider venturing into, it is also just the type of environment that sometimes can bring great surprises and joy. Thanks Sreejith

  13. So beautiful. And — long overdue! — I started following you via email today. I don’t want to miss any of your breathtaking posts. Thanks.

    • Thanks Ann, appreciate your comments & views so much… I did enjoy my holiday break quite a bit. Here’s to a great ’14.

  14. What beautiful photos and words. I always shiver through the coldness of the winter, even though I am human, bundle up in clothes, hot drinks and sits next to the fireplace, so I always marvel at how wildlife has their bodies adapted to withstanding the weather. Just the thought of the birds floating on the icy water and flying around freezing temperatures is a wonder. I love how you began the post. Who is your dark haired girl? 😉 And have you had your car better down all night?.. A cup of Irish coffee sounds great, can I join in?

    • Thanks Sofia. Agree, winter always brings a good shiver or two no matter what…one of the reasons I like it when it arrives. Ha, ha, the dark-haired girl is more inspirational, a nice girl in Spain with whom I hope to one day share a cup of Irish coffee with 🙂

  15. I understand the advantages of getting out in the winter wilderness to experience these stunning scenes (amazing pictures) but you make the beauty across my chest and the dark haired girl with the twinkling eyes so inviting. Maybe I’m better off losing myself with her than in the wilderness?

  16. Thank you for sharing this article quite interesting and, hopefully true happiness rays began to warm our hearts, when we can share it with sincerity. Greetings from Gede Prama 🙂

  17. Absolutely gifted! I LOVE your work!!! I am an amateur at photography, as much as I love it, but you are the real deal! Wow!!

    • Thank you for the wonderful words, and since we are amateurs we can enjoy getting out and when a great shot come around we appreciate it all the more. Cheers!

  18. This is the most beautiful original post I have seen in the longest time! You are soooo inspiring and you so make the winter feel like a fairytale, with good and bad characters hehe (I admit I do struggle in winter but force myself to go outside. Had the best two meditations under my favorite tree last week – which made my frozen behind feel better 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing your photography with us xox

    • Thank you, winter is magic…can be quiet and peaceful, perfect for your meditation. However, I am ready for a little spring sun about now.

  19. I would love to know how you take most of your pictures. Do you drive and day hike, car camp or backpack or a combination of all three? Do you just wait around for the right shot or take whatever strikes you at the moment? Am curious because your pictures are so incredibly beautiful. I am full of admiration.

    • Thanks Malcom, while I do a little of all three, I most enjoy a hike to an area and then wait around for the shot (especially the lighting with landscapes)… a great way for me to relax.

  20. These pictures are outstanding. I can really feel the cold. My favourites are the first one and the one with the swans in flight. Beautiful light in both of them, although very different.

    • Thanks Otto. It felt good to be in the cold, as like the birds I had on my down jacket… I think that is why winter & photography appeals to me, the different lighting (and difficulties with glare/snow). Cheers!

  21. I’d have expected to see your name as author of “Winged migration”…your photography have the same visceral, strong effect.

    • Wing Migration is one of my all-time favorites… fantastic comment 🙂 Thank you very much.

  22. Simply an outstanding set of images. The majority of winter wildlife shots that I’ve seen from Hokkaido over the years have been of cranes, not swans, so this post has been something of a revelation. I enjoyed the commentary about winter as well.

  23. What an incredible set of images, Randall. You’ve captured the swans’ energy and grace simultaneously. Nature’s winter beauty almost has me wanting to return to a snowy environment… but not quite. 🙂 I’m curious what kind of lens you used?

    • Thanks Tricia. I used a Canon 70-300mm DO lens and 24-105mm. Did not have my 70-200m or 24-70 )my two favorites), but these were fun to shoot with great range.

  24. Every photograph had me in “awe”. Love your writing. I too am looking “forward to venturing out and making a watery splash to the great Year of the Horse.” It’s gonna be a great one!

    • Thank you very much, and I think the New Year has already gotten off to a great start, just got to keep it up now. Cheers!

  25. Wow…these are all such beautiful shots…

  26. These pictures are incredible, you always surprise me with your posts. What a raw talent you have, my friend. I especially love the one where the swans are dancing together 🙂

    • Thank you Yael, the swans dancing was such a great scene…about a 5 minute courtship dance, very cool.

  27. Fascinating! All these photographs, the grace of the intuited movement, and beauty of coloring, are touching. They bring, along with a great narrative, a sense of harmony that enables us to be at peace with oneself and the world. In this image-driven age, wildlife photographers carry a heavy responsibility. They can influence other people life in uncountable senses.

    • Thank you, while pictures are worth a thousand words I always like to write a few more…hopefully without influencing the feeling any photo may bring to the viewer.

  28. I am mesmerized by your photography and your prose. You have truly found your calling in this life. And thank god, you followed it; otherwise, the rest of us would have been greatly deprived from these brief interludes with amazement! What a joy to see the world through your eyes, going places most of us will never see!

    Thank you for visiting my blog! I am indeed honored.

    • Thank you, there is not a better remedy for understanding life from a different perspective than behind a lens and in prose. Cheers ~

  29. Dalo,

    Thank you for “Liking” the post “Alone. Not Lonely”. Streets Of Our World. on my photography blog http://www.throughharoldslens.com.

    On behalf of the Through Harold’s Lens Creative Team, my trusty sidekick Mr. SLR Nikon, his brother Mr. Pen Pal and myself, we truly appreciate your enjoyment.

    We hope you continue to join us on our journeys.  

    Best Regards,

  30. Dalo, an absolutely series of images. Wow!!! Your talent is a gift, and you have another gift for having the sturdiness to weather the weather to bring those of us in warm weather climates around the world a taste of the other side. Thanks. Best, Harold

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