It had been a fairly stressful work week, where I was mainly glued to my office chair. Sure, I was able to get out and run a few errands, attend a meeting, but it was one of rare weeks where work - and things about work - consumed most of my thinking, and not always in a positive fashion. So, by the weekend, I was in critical need of some "me time". And in my case, me time generally means me and my camera.
I wanted to go somewhere new, but not too far away. Checking the Toronto Parks web site, I found Rouge Beach Park, part of the Rouge National Urban Park. This location met my criteria, so I grabbed my camera bag and headed out.
Even though it is officially spring, it didn't feel like it; 0 degrees C and a brisk wind joined me. Toronto Parks seemed to agree, and hadn't yet unlocked the gates to the main parking lot, so I was forced to walk from the overflow parking area to get into the park itself. This wasn't a bad thing; it gave me a chance to really appreciate the lovely boardwalk and observation area that looks onto the wetlands of the Rouge River. And it gave me time to slow down my thinking; to stop simply looking and start seeing. Noticing things like the canoe launch point for the river, the calls of red winged blackbirds, ice-lymed fence stumps and tree trunks where they met with the water line, and - unfortunately - far too much litter.
During this walk to the beach, I took no photos. Didn't even take my camera out of my bag. Despite the fact I had an overwhelming urge to - well - make pictures, I guess my brain knew it was pointless to begin right away.
Life's a Beach
When I arrived at the beach area about 15 or 20 minutes later, I just stopped and took it in. To my left, the mouth of the Rouge River, further in the distance east (although perhaps not far enough) was the Pickering Nuclear Power Plant. To my right, the shore of Lake Ontario, stretching as far as I could see.
Initially, I was at a loss as to where to start. The urge to shoot hadn't diminished, but I didn't yet have the focus needed to start isolating parts of the scene in front of me. I wandered around a bit, then decided to hit the beach itself and get a closer look at the huge timbers that had washed up on the shore.
One thing that surprised me was the vast amount of driftwood that had found its way to this beach. Obviously, in the next few weeks, the city will be cleaning up a lot of this, as Rouge Beach is also a public swimming area, but at the moment, the shore was strewn with pieces of wood, large and small.
One of the first photos I took on this day is the the image below. This was the point where my mind stop flitting from one thing to another from the past week; the point where my own mental driftwood started to beach itself, letting me concentrate on what was in front of me.
Driftwood was everywhere on the beach, some of it making natural benches.
Rust and Ruin
Just off the beach, beside the paved walkway that runs along the park, was a small, non-descript cinder-block building. The odd part about this concrete box was the wrought-iron gate at the back of the building. It caught my eye from a distance, and became the subject of a few more images, foscusng on shapes, patterns and decay. The rust was bleeding out through several layers of paint and it was clear the gate had not seen any maintenance for more than a couple years. The walls of the building though, had caught the attention of at least one spray-paint artist. I enjoyed contrasting the newer clean lines of the artwork on the wall, with the once clean lines of the old, neglected iron work.
Taking the Curve
The manmade, scalloped shoreline, designed to reduce erosion from water action, provided excellent opportunities to work with curved lines. The mixture of river rock and water-worn clay brick, encircling the rich blues of the lake, make for an interesting contrast in both textture and color.
Zen and the Art of Rock Photography
On a milder day, the rock beach would have provided me hours of photographic options. Even just studying the area for the short time that I did, it was somewhat mesmerizing. There were subtle color variations, textures, accidental patterns. The more I looked, the more I saw. I settled on two main compositions, varying focal length for slightly different effects. My stress levels diminished noticeably as I focused on the this field of stone.
What struck me about this area was the one lone clay brick remnant amidst all the grey and some pale pink. I thought one of these photos would make excellent wallpaper for my desktop. But after downloading the shots, the contrast was not nearly as apparent. The red brick did not stand out as I felt it would. The mind does some pretty impressive things and I'm amazed sometimes how our visual interest can be piqued and amplified, just because our attention is grabbed by the scene.
To bring the vision I had in my mind, I used Lightroom to desaturate all the stone save for the red brick. I added additional Vibrance to the red brick to help it pop.
The Long Walk Home
Making my way back to the car, I was in a different frame of mind. I'd been out for almost 2 hours and my brain was in full photo mode. So this time, when I stopped near the shore of the river, I could see what I wanted to capture. The wind was brisk and the horsetail grass was being whipped around. A long shutter speed (1/15 second)  gave me just the image I wanted. 
A faster shutterspeed and some custom processing in Lightroom (the Zen didn't stay at the beach) produced a powerful b/w image with stark contrast and a film-like feel.
The boardwalk gives visitors a wonderful view of the wetlands at the mouth of the Rouge river and is much nicer than walking in the parking lot.
Images like this were totally missed on my way into the park. Thanks to the time spent shooting by the water and the change in the light. this inverted tree trunk stood out to me on the return walk.
I'm not much of a wildlife photographer, but this red winged blackbird perched on this cattail for so long, I had time to set up my camera and make about a half dozen frames before he flew away.
Wrap Up
I've said this before in other projects, but it bears repeating; for me, photography is not just a hobby, or a calling - it's also therapy. It can help me to relax like no other activity I know. When I look through that lens, I am focused on my vision, not my turmoil. That said, the mood I'm in definitely has an impact on the types of images I capture (and also at times, in the processing of those images). I'm sure many photographers, hobbyists and professionals alike, would agree that creating images is a form of therapy, too. Oddly enough, the photography I did as a full time professional was hardly therapeautic. It was, well, work.
This brief escape from everyday life did wonders for me. The quiet time on the beach gave me a chance to reflect on the week. I had the opportunity to just let things sort and settle in my mind and created the added bonus of making some good images. 
Thank you for walking with me. :-)

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