Birds, Bees, lots of Flowers, and Trees I

Listening to: Le Sacre du Printemp (The Rights of Spring), Igor Stravinsky. This ballet music actually caused riots in the concert hall when first performed. It dragged the music world into modernism, just as Picasso did for painting. In the US it was Photographer Edward Steiglitz (later to marry Georgia O’Keefe) to bring Modernism to the American consciousness at the Armory Show. There was a segment on “Radio Lab” a couple of years ago about the riot incident at the first performance of the music.

Reading: Narrative of the Coronado Expedition, Pedro de Castaneda de Najera. English translation by George P. Hammond, 1940. Finished today.

Part 1 of 2

Living in a city/town of enough people, even if in a rural area, you won’t see nature cycling. Blinded by the day to day, her ordinary progression is hidden in all but the trees and clouds. If you are lucky enough to see spring flowers, they were probably nursery raised and potted for a seasonal maintenance contract. What you don’t get to see is tiny life working its way through the surface of the soil merely hours after a light rain. You don’t see the grasses grow from 1 or 2 inches height one day to 4 or 5 inches the next, and you don’t see the buds appear at the twig tips of the trees. Their obviousness isn’t apparent until the blossoms and leaves begin to crowd the hollows created by the previous year’s leaf fall.

I began my galavant in January and having spent the first 8 weeks in an area of mostly Creosote, some unidentified flora, and a few cacti, I wasn’t really treated to any bits-o-the-bloom there until early March when there was a short, light rain. The rain wasn’t more than a friendly wet dusting of the earth with obese drops. It was never enough of a rain to require formal rainwear, but was sufficient to dampen the earth without mudding. The clouds sped away as fast as they had come, both events bracketed by warm sunshine and a breeze. An hour after the clouds set off to the north-west, an anomaly, the ground had dried and even the odor of rain in the ground had evaporated.

Ocotillo in Bloom

Ocotillo in Bloom, Senator Wash. Imperial Dam, CA.

IMG_2890.jpgTwo days later I wanted to explore another camping area run by BLM on the Senator Wash Reservoir. The area was hilly and choked with more Creosote and unidentified flora. Taking a “long-cut” out of the wash I chanced on an Ocotillo, in bloom. I would occasionally find an Ocotillo alone on the side of a ridge. But they had all been in the thorny annoyance stage with no active buds or blossoms.

Ocotillo are not a cacti but a woody shrub. Their stalks can be almost chartreuse in color, and during a wet period will grow leaves at the base of the thorns. I was able to see this up close in the week I spent in the Sonora Desert without a camera. I will likely spend time in the Sonora this coming winter. Regardless, close inspection of an Ocotillo earns you sharp rewards.

One of my interests in the Ocotillo blossoms was as a food source. The dried blossoms can be infused into a tea. I later read that the blossoms will excrete glucose which crystalizes as a sweet clear nodule on the blossoms, these I didn’t see. The blossoms may be eaten directly or stored for later. I read of no medicinal use. I did try eating a blossom, it was mild but uneventful.

This past week I have spent time at the Lee Metcalf national Wildlife Refuge, near Stevensville, MT. While hunting for the not-so-illusive golden dragonfly below I noted a couple of small clear drops hanging off what I believe was Bunch Wheat Grass buds along one of the paths. Recalling the Ocotillo, and me being me, I tasted it. My guess is it was glucose, quite sweet and sticky. I knew that glucose was a byproduct of photosynthesis but I didn’t imagine it being excreted by the grasses. To get any quantity would be a chore, I only saw it on a couple flower heads.

Two Bugs and Five Petals.

Two Bugs and Five Petals in Violet, Silver Creek Preserve, Picabo, ID

I am interested in all food sources that the land serves up, I have been sampling as I go. It is an extension of my interest in what knowledge disappeared when the Spanish and other Europeans systematically de-cultured the Americas. Spaniards, some conquistadors (Bernal Dias del Castillo, Pedro de Cieza de Leon), did write about their experiences or the process of conquest from a first party ethnographic view. Many of these authors (in translation and available at archive.org) give the reader glimpses of how the aboriginals (American Indians) lived and what they could accomplish without the benefit of iron and gunpowder. The problem is that most of the authors never looked into the how and why of Indian practices, so we are left with no knowledge of processes and procedures. As a result academics and amateurs have struggled to learn what is known today as “Ancient” or “Traditional Skills.” The question left over is, “What is it that we don’t know? “

Two Bugs Boinking.

Two Bugs Boinking, Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID.

There have been flowers blooming everywhere I have been. Many of them are almost undetectable they are so small. Most of the blossoms in the desert have been from ground shrubs growing close to the surface up to maybe 4 feet high. The large majority of these had blossoms that were tiny, less than ¼ inch in size, think Babies Breath. On some shrubs the leaves are covered in fine fuzz. The fuzz helps retain moisture by creating a thermal blanket, cooling the leaves in the hot climates. Others had very thick and spongy leaves, similar to a succulent, though the skin on the leaves was quite tough almost leathery.

The coloration of the plant life in the deserts was mostly muted, subdued tones of greys, greens, yellows, browns, red, and blacks. The only bright colors were blossoms. The most brilliant were the Claret Cup Cactus (Kingcup cactus, Mojave Mound Cactus). With their yellow stigma on the pistil and multiple anther on the stamen.

Purple flowers at White Sands

Possible member of the Geranium family growing in the gypsum sands of White Sands national Monument.

Black & White

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, April 2018

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, April 2018

Aside from my “Alternate Evolution” series, posting in the future, I was strictly Black and White in the analog photography days for my creative work. Silver nitrate layers on film were the magic that produced a latent image on film which chemical processing converted into visible negative images of the scene photographed.

Since the early 2000’s few people work with it. The ease of digital and auto exposure in the software opened up the somewhat closed world of photography to mass consumption. With film it was imperative that the photographer understood the arcane technology of f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO/ASA film speed ratings, reciprocity affect, inverse square law, and highlight to shadow ratios, etc.

A generation later, only a few people hang on to, and a few have rediscovered the fun of film. Of those who do, a few still use the large format cameras and wet processing. The cost of a new high density large format digital sensor is still prohibitive, even for even the prosumer, when paired with a digital quality lens. View cameras and enlargers are still around and I would imagine the price for used equipment is high on the camera side and low on the enlarger side. I couldn’t give mine away and it went to the dump along with 3 El-Nikkor lenses and an Aristo Cold Light head.

I admire those with the dedication of sticking with film and have spent many hours lugging a heavy Bogen tripod and a Toyo D45M around the landscape. I then spent days in dark rooms striving to mold the image on the photographic paper into the image I held in my mind as I released the shutter. I just can’t abide the chemicals after spending over 20 years around the processors and darkrooms. I walked into an old fashioned camera store a couple of years ago (yes, there are still a few in existence). I gagged and was somewhat held back by the smell of the fix from their printing area. They had a small but successful lab processing c-prints and c-41 film. They carried B&W paper and chemicals translating to a higher number of people still doing it by hand than I would have imagined, for a rural town of about 100,000.

Black and White vision (or pre-visualization as it was taught by Ansel Adams) was a skill one had to develop over time to get the desired results. Additionally, dark room skills needed to be developed to produce fine quality prints. Of course there were those who just shipped everything off to the photo lab, but most serious photographers wouldn’t let someone else process their film or make their prints. It was too personal a process.

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The Kettle – Bodie, CA. Example of an image from 4X5 film.

In the digital era we have the two S’s, sensors and software. I use Lightroom and have an older version Photoshop CS, seldom used. Today’s software is more powerful, and with more options, than most people are able to master. It took me a couple of years to get to where I could convert a color image to a B&W image in a way that pleased me. The image of Canyon de Chelly, above, is an example of a successful conversion.

In the past month I have visited three National Parks or Monuments as well as a Navajo Park (Monument Valley). Where most people are spending only enough time to drive to each of the attractions for 5 – 10 minutes, I am spending 3 – 10 days at each park and often hours at certain locations. I am out most every day shooting at least for 3 – 5 hours. At times the weather doesn’t co-operate, like at Canyonlands National Park, where it was blowing gusts, and dusts, up to 30 knots. This is apparently part of the normal spring weather. The undersides of my eyelids told me the dust was fine enough to crawl into my lenses and camera bodies, so the equipment stayed inside the Gadget.

Here, uncorrected, is a jpg of the RAW image of what I photographed at Green River Overlook in Canyonlands NP some days ago. On my first visit to the outlook there were at least 20 people walking around taking selfies on smart phones and a couple people with DSLR cameras and nice lenses. I was one of two people equipped with a tripod.

As I looked through the viewfinder I thought, “Well that’s nice…” somewhat underwhelmed. Then I noticed the White Rim Sandstone that shows along the edge of the drop offs. This is the 17th of 22 layers of the local geology that the river, and therefore incidental erosion, have carved out on the way to its present depth. The White Rim Sandstone layer is only about fifty feet thick but is extremely resistant to wear. This creates a Mesa layer with softer materials above and hard sandstone below fashioning the sheer walls you can see.

The white sandstone rim (actually called White Rim Sandstone – WR) reflects more light than the other materials, and with the sun in front and just off to the right of my camera’s view not only did I have a nice contrast between the rim and the rest of the scene, but the backlight meant that all the landforms facing me would be in shadow. Backlit shadows create the illusion of contrast and texture on the flat viewing surface of the photo. Add the few clouds in the sky, and the haze, and I felt it was a candidate for a good B&W image.

Later, I imported the images for the day and went immediately to the shot above. I tried 3 or 4 times to make it work in B&W but it just wouldn’t satisfy, so I moved on. I had another “detail” abstract image to work on that did come out to my satisfaction.

The next day was a “go to town” day to get connectivity and take care of personal business: taxes, insurance, hardware store, taxes, new boots, food, taxes, and to just look around Moab. I did purchase a great little horse hair hat band. The leather one on my hat was sweat soaked and when it dried it left round white salt spots where the band was stitched to the hat. They looked like demon eyes and I needed something a bit friendlier.

That night I opened Lightroom and the whole of the prior days shooting was there, but only in thumbnail and preview resolution. “The file named “X” is offline or missing,” showed on every frame. I immediately checked the disks using the filename, then searched by date. Gone. Plus, I had already formatted the memory card. Truly gone. Two days later I reshoot an image of a rock face from Deadhorse Point (the abstract detail shot) and then wait until the same time of day as before to go back to Green River Overlook, about 5:30 PM.

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Jpg of the uncorrected RAW image.

Wow, what a difference. The wind was up a bit and sand was blowing across the canyons off in the far mid-distance on the right. Clouds were dropping virga in the upper left. To top it all, there was a well-defined set of cumulus clouds. I took advantage of the conditions and made a number of different framings and exposures.

After dinner I dared to import the new images. As a caution I rebooted before I wiped the memory card, all the images were still present. I went to work. It took me about 15 minutes to come up with a final on the image, so I exported and moved on. After working on a few others from that day it was getting late but I took another look at the Green River Overlook shot. Yeah, nope, it just wasn’t right. I spent the next 45 minutes fine tuning with brushes on the cliff areas in the lower half, the graduated filter on the upper half of the background, a lot of local contrast and exposure adjustments, tweaking the color layers in B&W, and playing with the tone curve and brightness. I hoped to emphasize the 1500 foot (500 Meter) drop from where the camera is to the WS layer and the additional 1500 foot drop to the water of the Green River. I concentrated on atmosphere, the feeling of depth, detail, and tonal balance. Now it was perfect and I sent it to my export folder.

Green River Overlook, Canyonlands National Park, Islands in the Sky unit. April 2018

I don’t compare images with the other people regardless of their camera quality. Their plans normally prohibit it, usually including family commitments and other destinations over the short term. In addition, I don’t think most people are attempting to be creative with their photography, even those with DSLR’s and high end lenses. You can tell this by watching for a few minutes. If they just point and shoot, and spend only a few quick minutes at a site, they are only taking snapshots. Last, few would care what I shoot, so there is little to learn.

This is something I would have put on my walls back when I actually printed my own images. This image proves the beauty that can be extracted from an image when you extract its color.

Burros and Dead Coyotes.

There are a couple of roads that lead out of the back end of the Imperial LTVA. One goes west toward the Picacho Wilderness area. The other has a sign stating Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, so I head toward it. The map shows wildlife sanctuaries along the nearly 90 mile stretch of the Colorado River between the Imperial Dam and the I-10 crossing at Blyth. About 5 miles out I cross a ridge onto a flat. As I am coming down the grade I see something that appears foreign to its place about ½ mile away. I am moving slowly due to the rough road and keep an eye on it as I pull even to it. At this point even though I am within about 300 yards it looks like a life sized stuffed zebra standing in the flat. It hasn’t moved so I suspect it could be a decoy. But why? Looking at the tracks in the road the only thing to pass this way in the past day or two was a motorcycle and I don’t see track leading toward where the “Zebra” is.

The

The “Zebra” burro.

I slow to a stop and get out to take photos. I am convinced it has to be a burro, their prints are all over the washes and I can occasionally hear them in the early morning, but it still hasn’t moved. I take a few slow steps toward it and I hear a sort of grunt. It has to be from the burro but the noise came from the north and the burro is to my west. Looking to the north I see another burro dead still on a rise in front of some bushes in a gully. I make some tsk noises and this time the burro to the west grunts.The “Zebra” Burro. I walk slowly to the west, but at about a 20 degree north of where the animal is. I also keep my head facing the same direction I am walking and avoid turning my head in its direction. Once I get to about 250 yards from the animal it begins to walk away from me. I stop and whistle. It stops and turns around. I manage to get another 25 yards on it before it turns and walks away again. By now the second burro is also moving, parallel to its friend along a small rise.

The second burro.

The second burro.

I keep trying to gain ground on the original burro so it is larger in the telephoto lens on my camera. Even at full magnification it is extremely small in the frame. The burro keeps its distance and then fades behind the end of a small ridge and out of sight. The second burro has disappeared into a wash. I learn that they must have tremendous eye sight and probably great hearing because they spotted me before I spotted them at a half mile distance.

Both animals looked quite healthy, I saw no ribs sticking through the skin. Both were mostly reddish grey with white on the belly. the second burro is a bit darker grey.

I went back to the truck and continued on, seeing no other animals. A spur road turned toward the river and then came across a rise where I could see a resort on the Arizona side of the river. There were a couple of boats making their way through a labyrinth of channels leading to a “lake” and up river. One boat was your typical bass fishing boat. The other was a sort of tour boat with about 10 people aboard. The spur then turned north to a dead-end right at the water.

As I pull into the dirt parking area I see a bare patch of ground rising between the masses of thin bamboo that lines the river. On bare ground leading into the interior desert lies a dead coyote. I know it is dead because it is lying with its hind end high and its nose lowest on the small rise. It is in a beautiful winter coat, creamy white belly with grey and golden tips on the guard hairs. The coat is full, fluffy and luxurious.

I get out and walk up to it and wonder how long ago it died. At first there were no visible signs but as I walk around to the belly side I can see some entrails just barely showing under the fur of its left side. It has been gut shot and left to die. There were no flies or other bugs working on it so I felt it was a fresh kill. I used a stick to try to turn it over but the animal was too heavy. I then used my boot to try to turn it over by a leg. The leg was stiff, as was the body, and it would have rolled easily but when I saw it was in rigor I let it back down. This led me to believe the animal was probably shot within 4-8 hours of my arrival at around 10AM. Rigor Mortis begins to set in a human between 8 and 12 hours at room temperatures. Heat will accelerate the process. My estimate is based upon a smaller organism and a hot morning. Had it been longer, for instance overnight, the body would have bloated.

The dead coyote.

The dead coyote.

I had seriously considered relieving the animal of its gorgeous coat until I saw the entrails. That would have meant a gaping hole in the pelt. As I was leaving I thought of taking the tail. That would be easy and there would be no tanning needed. Then I remembered I was in California and didn’t have a hunting license. To harvest any part of any animal, game or otherwise, you need to have a hunting license. Even on road kill.

In my opinion it was a wanton, wasteful kill. This animal was performing it’s role within it’s niche in Nature. There are no farms, ranches or other sources of human interactions within 5 miles of the location on the California side. If the animal could make it across to the Arizona side it would have to navigate a maze of channels, cattails, bamboo, reeds, and a long swim.

That was such a beautiful coat.

The Journey Begins

The date is a lie. The cake is a lie.

The journey began on January 20, 2018 at about 1:30 PM.

Everything is either trashed or given away. What remains takes up less than 1/3 of a 10X10 storage unit. These things are targeted to give to certain people or bequeathed to someone. Whittling down your belongings after 60+ years of collection was actually quite liberating. The first run to the disposal facility was the hardest. It took an hour to toss everything out of the truck because I kept vacillating on toss or keep. It all got tossed. The second trip took 20 minutes to empty the truck. NO vacillation, cutthroat clearance, everything is free to the facility floor.

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Aside from the items in the storage, everything I own in the world is either in a bank or a somewhat customized 6X12 foot V-Nose cargo trailer. I have given it the name “Gadget”. The tow vehicle is still unnamed after 12 years, it is just the “truck.” The capitalization in the names does not indicate status of importance. That is a moving target depending on where I am sitting at the moment.

A Flat White (wow, I got 3 hugs leaving there), gas, and I’m gone. Bye-bye Redding. Parting is no sorrow.

As I pull onto the I-5 ramp I feel as though my entrails are being dragged out of the back of the truck – nagging doubt. Oddly, the road in front of me seems to be filling my body with new ones – faith and hope.

I am not prone to demonstrative behavior, but I let out a long throat burning roar and a smile.