Biker-barrister argues for beauty with views from the road

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 14, 2017

“There is much beauty at the side of the road if you keep your eyes open,” Cochrane lawyer Greg Axelson says in his book, Near the Ditch. Photos by Gregory Axelson

Lawyers aren’t usually short on words, but for one Cochrane lawyer, there are encounters with beauty along life’s highways that have actually left him speechless. Fortunately, while motorcycling the length and breadth of our land, Greg Axelson has had his smartphone with him and has photographed scenes that words cannot begin to describe, in any case. He is sharing some of those scenes in his just-published book, Near the Ditch: Views from the Road.

The barrister has biked about 300,000 km since 2004, he says. The 42 full-page photos dazzle the imagination with scenes such as a rustic shoreline in the Maritimes, a serene lakeside in B.C., an abandoned house in Texas, and several vibrant views of the canyon country in the American Southwest, my personal favourites.

“I am drawn to simple scenes,” Greg says. “These radiate stories that sometimes seem familiar.” Without taking his butt off his bike, he has been rewarded with the insight that “there is much beauty at the side of the road if you keep your eyes open and try to see it.”

And what kinds of bikes transported him to the sides of such roads? His sleek 2004 sport-touring Honda ST1300 took him on 115,000 km of his treks. But he’s also travelled on a 1999 Honda Valkyrie Interstate, a 2005 Harley Springer, 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and a few others.

Then, of course, there’s that pressing question: What camera did he use to get these magnificent photos? The biggest, fanciest, most expensive one on the market? Far from it! He used a pretty basic 2004 Apple iPhone 4S, with only an eight-megapixel camera and no image stabilization! (Compare that to the just-released iPhone X, with dual stabilized lenses, 12 megapixel resolution, state-of-the-art processor – and twice the price.)

After all, it’s less about the camera than the photographer behind the camera, as Greg argues convincingly with these images.

He has also proven the wisdom his travelling-companion daughter Emily shared with me five years ago about the power of image over words. In her poem that I featured in my column for April 18, 2012, she reminisces: “When I think of happiness, / I think of paintings / that look like photographs ….”

Greg has also reaffirmed the outlook in Satchmo’s hit song, What a Wonderful World – a song he was moved by in the film, Good Morning, Vietnam! He drew my attention to it and it quickly became the unofficial theme song for these columns: “I see trees of green, red roses too / I see them bloom for me and you / And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

Yes, what a wonderful world! But so much of today’s world seems to be racing into the ditch of self-destruction instead of pausing near the ditch and embracing the beauty. Perhaps a quote from the Russian writer Dostoevksy is one more reason I appreciate Greg’s book so much: “The world will be saved by beauty.”

The first printing of Greg’s book sold out in a matter of days. But he tells me that, if enough interest is shown, he’ll consider a second printing, $30.00 per copy, proceeds going to the Calgary Prostate Cancer Centre. He can be reached at


© 2017 Warren Harbeck

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