With the pandemic entering its second year, local nature trails are appreciated more than ever as a safe space for exercise and de-stress.
Photographer Sara Harley of Bridgewater captures the essence of such trails and the forest of visuals they offer - which are often overlooked - in her exhibit Trailings, appearing at the Margaret Hennigar Library in Bridgewater until May 31.
"What I tried to capture with this Trailings exhibit were the sort of intimate details, you know close-ups of landscapes. Photographers call them intimate landscapes. It's details many people might overlook, but I find fascinating, and I find much more interesting than, you know, a pretty landscape," Harley explained to LighthouseNOW in a phone interview.
The project began long before the pandemic started, and spanned more than 18 months, according to Harley. Nonetheless she describes it as a personal exploration of the relationship between trail walking and mental health.
"Over the past couple of years, I began to realize how submersing myself in the natural world impacted my state of mind, and this connection became the inspiration behind my project. It seems that the world is in agreement - recent studies have shown that walking in nature is the answer to the COVID-19 pandemic blues," Harley further explained in an email.
Hailing from Ontario, Harley has been passionate about Nova Scotia since she was "five or six" and came to the province on holiday with her parents. A former bank manager in Ontario, she went on to become a successful entrepreneur in that province. The natural-food dog biscuit company she subsequently owned and operated for 10 years won her Ontario's most innovative local business award in 2002.
She sold the business 13 years ago and she and her husband retired to Nova Scotia, first settling in Upper Branch before moving to Bridgewater about five and a half years ago.
After her husband had a serious stroke in 2017, and was in hospital for a number of months, when she wasn't with him she took to walking and photographing the local trails as a form of relaxation. She began experimenting with the images with digital programs.
"I just needed something to occupy my mind," Harley said of her self-training on the computer.
"It was just a life-changing time in many ways, but also for my art it was also sort of a watershed year for me. And that's when I started in this kind of work," said Harley, who is a member and past president of the Bridgewater Photographic Society.
"It's a whole different niche," she says of the digitally manipulated photographs, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. "Because photographers don't think of your work as photography and artists don't consider your work as art."
Since the library has been a meeting place for the photographic society, when she went to hold her first solo exhibit in January, 2018, she chose the library as the venue. "That was my comfort zone," said Harley.
She has also had an exhibit at the Dart Gallery in Dartmouth, a celebration of birds called Flight of Fancy.
To detail the Trailings project, Harley created a 32 page booklet which is available to view online at:
Hard copies are available for viewing at the library.
In November, when Harley knew she was going to be putting on an exhibit, she decided she wanted some public input. So she posted postcards around different trails in Bridgewater prompting members of the public to email her with either photographs or thoughts they had about the trails.
She's included these in a comments book at the exhibit, and they're also in the online magazine.
"It was neat. A lot of people connect with our trails," she said.
As for what's next for her, Harley suggests she hopes to find a new home for her Trailings series once the exhibit at the library finishes, "to continue to raise awareness about the connection between nature and mental health."