Reflecting on reflections in a pond on an autumn morning

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 1, 2015

An early autumn journey from Cochrane to Airdrie along Highway 567 invited me to re-engage my imagination in the spirit of the renowned Canadian nature photographer, the late Courtney Milne, who said, “I am acutely aware of the water as it inhales light, and exhales an array of color.”  Photo by Warren Harbeck
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What more can I say in praise of the lingering autumn we’re experiencing in our area this year?

I thought I’d said enough in last week’s column. But your gracious responses have strongly suggested there’s a lot more that can be said. Typical of your kind comments are words like “Beautiful!” “Lovely!” “Awesome!” and “Heavenly!”

There were some, however, who viewed the season in a more somber mood. Autumn is such a reminder of our mortality, they lamented.

But is autumn’s beauty necessarily in tension with our all-too-brief mortal journey?

Perhaps I’ll just leave it to one of our local ponds to provide its reflection. Here’s where water offers its own special wisdom, and for this insight I must give credit to an acclaimed photographer of reflection, the late Courtney Milne.

It was just five years ago that the Canadian nature photographer died of cancer. During his final years, Courtney spent long hours beside his pool contemplating its reflections. He shared his photographs of the reflections in his e-series, “The Pool of Possibilities.” (See my column for Aug. 19, 2009.)

About those intentional hours at poolside, Courtney wrote: “I am acutely aware of the water as it inhales light, and exhales an array of color.”

Indeed, he was experiencing what Thomas Moore, author of The Care of the Soul, paid tribute to Courtney for as one who personified “the bond between beauty and spirituality.” Courtney himself, like his reflection pool, became a master at inhaling light and exhaling an array of colours, even in death.

Which brings me to a photo I took last Friday morning while Mary Anna and I were driving from Cochrane to Airdrie along Highway 567. On the north side of the road not far from the Big Hill Springs turnoff, a pond provided an example of Courtney’s wisdom.

Its calm water reflected leaves, born as tiny green buds only months earlier, now glorious in an array of golden hues that bore redemptive witness to the beautiful legacy of mortality.

The pond, embraced by autumn, invited us to reflect on the inspiration those dying leaves offered. Are we, too, inhaling the light around us and exhaling beauty for the Greater Journey?

AS A FOOTNOTE to the above, I’d like to draw attention to a recent article on reflection by our Toronto-based linguist/writer/photographer son, James Harbeck. “Reflection” is his Sept. 20, 2015, instalment in his popular web series, Word Tasting Notes. Illustrated with a photo he took of the CN Tower reflected in a pool of rainwater, the essay considers the kinds of cameras he uses, and in particular, SLRs (single lens reflex cameras), and calls us to lives of reflection and perspective.


© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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