Southern California is a place of slow and subtle shifts. Traffic moves slowly and the differences of our seasons can sometimes be hard to discern, especially for people from non-Mediterranean climates.
I’ve spent all my life here and can tell the different seasons by a number of different clues. I can see the how the light differs on a clear summer day and a clear day in winter. I can also smell the seasons, especially the spring & summer. As winter glides into spring I started to think about another seasonal clue.
We have no fewer than twenty different varieties of Oaks in California. Even in our vast urban and suburban sprawl, Oaks are common and for the most part venerated. We even like naming communities after them like Sherman Oaks, Thousand Oaks, Oak Park, Oak Hill and of course, Oakland.
The Santa Monica Mountains is home to scores of oaks and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy does a marvelous job of preserving the hills and valleys where the oaks thrive, often times surrounded by upscale housing developments.
I thought it would be fun to capture the transition of some of our oaks from winter to spring, from cold to warm, from brown to green.
Allow me to start with a short poem.
Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf, So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day Nothing gold can stay.
Of late, I’ve been thinking a great deal about landscape photography. It’s not just because spring is drawing closer every day. In fact, the prime motivation is the fact that after eight years of using Flickr, I’ve struck up a couple of very interesting internet friendships. It happened quite out of the blue but soon I found myself exchanging emails on subjects that had previously been confined to the hollow space between my ears. To top it off, there were actually discussions about our actual photographs; imagine that.
Of course, there was a bit of the old, does my photography matter and a touch of is photography art sorts of questions. These are old and tiresome points of discussion yet somehow they can seem (briefly) new when bandied about by hopeful folks who simply love the potential of their photography. Anyway, one of the Flickrites offered the idea of his landscape photography as a kind of visual recollective of the places he’s been. I’ll admit that I cringed slightly at this idea. I thought of the millions who had come before him and the thousands of images they recorded, the vast majority possessed with the very same humble intent and I thought to myself, what is the point of that?
Now it’s true that far too much of my own landscape photography has been similarly simplistic and banal. If you have a camera, you tend to use it. If you’re standing before beauty, you record it. But, the problem, the point of a disconnect for me anyway, is the lack of the photographer’s own collective vision and intentionality effectively mating with the images that are in front of him.
Last December, I attended an exhibition of a guy I know from a local golf course. I knew the exhibit photos were from Namibia, a place I had never been. So, obviously, I was curious about the visual elements of the landscapes of Namibia. But I was wondering if I would see something more. The photographer’s name is Ding Kalis. I’d seen some of his work online but somehow that did not fully prepare me to see the richness and depth of his Namibia photographs up close and personal. Then on a cool December night, I stood gazing at this:
I realized at that moment that one rare element of landscape photography is the ability to see something, or even imagining if something can be seen, before a scene is witnessed. Of course, Ding knew these borders, these separations, existed before he climbed into the Cessna. This scarce and precious element of landscape photography is a kind of prior recognition that can show something that is entirely common in what is likely a wholly unexpected way. The end result is that the viewer is given a gift; the gift in seeing something new, or at least in a new way. The fact that the photo was taken tens of thousands of miles away is secondary to the novelty of the photographer’s vision. This could well have been taken on the coast of southern Oregon, or here in California, and it would still stir my imagination in the same way. It’s the way Ding saw the scene that mattered, far more than the exotic nature of the location.
Here’s another one of Ding’s photographs from the same exhibit:
Again, Ding had to have had the separations, the boundaries, between these dunes keenly in his mind before he actually witnessed and captured them. This is a huge part of good landscape photography and maybe the element with the potential to nudge this kind of photography toward art. It is, as I said before, the art of prior recognition. The scene may unfold before all of us in the very same way. But, when we have the ability to see what’s there in a way we recognize a priori, or maybe even expect before we see it, we have a fleeting chance to capture something of meaning, to ourselves at least, if possibly no one else.
I liken this to a writer settling down to write some verse. For his verse to be true, he must think before he writes. He must know what he needs to say while still striving for the best mechanism to convey it using the crude code of words. I dare say he must plan before he writes if he’s to have any chance of saying something of meaning. He cannot merely react to feelings or recollections no matter how strong they live in his consciousness. He must at once look to the future and into the past to have any chance of choosing his words in a way that matters to whoever reads them. Mere recitations of recollections, in either poetry or photography, no matter how well-crafted, simply cannot be possessed of relevance.
So this is the hurdle I see for the aspiring landscape photographer (and that includes me). He must learn to see before he sees and then, confronted with the vision he wishes to capture, must strive to recognize the relationships that were in his mind before he raises his camera and releases the shutter. If not, all of what’s regarded as the good landscape of the future will be captured by drones, hovering overhead with ideal perspectives, 24 hours a day, clicking away and recording images with perfect exposure and massive dynamic range. And, all of them will mean the same thing to those who see them. Nothing.
So now spring draws nearer still and with it comes opportunity for me to capture images of meaning and relevance. I want to thank Ding for the unspoken lessons that his Namibia photographs have instilled in me. I’m not sure the results will be visible in the images I capture this year, but I am hopeful.
Note: I sent a draft of this article to Ding and he was kind enough to add some thoughts of his own. I’m pleased & grateful to give him the last word:
Ansel Adams talked about “previsualization” though for him it meant seeing the final print in your mind’s eye and exposing for the result you had foreseen.
I believe what you talk about is somewhat akin…but to achieve either, one needs to be very ready to grasp the image as it presents itself. The more time spent looking at everything, framing every scene, imagining every light, looking for connections, for graphics within an image, boundaries and how and where the edges of things are, the better prepared one is as a photographer to find ways of expressing the meaning one searches for …
…This stuff starts to sound like “arty gibberish” until one finds oneself on the Cessna.
For me, that two hour ride was one of the more intense creative moments of a lifetime. In a short two hours I captured some fifteen images that were good.
That was only possible as a distillation of everything photographic that came before. No time to think about framing the image, no way to go back the next morning and get a different light. No time really to understand, just grab the image as it flies (literally) by and hope to recognize something afterwards.
Not to stretch a metaphor too far, but, to stretch a metaphor too far…There is no time to think of all the learning and practice that go into a golf swing between teeing up a ball and hitting it, the thing needs to be instinctive…so with photography…
I was sorting through my photos on Flickr and I came across this humble snap.
It was taken just east of Independence, CA right as the sun was settling in behind the mighty Southern Sierra. For a few wonderful moments, the granite ridge lines of the mountains grew sharper with the dimming of the sun.
The moment was special. We were cruising around those old roads in a battle-scared yet trusty old jeep, just before sunset, trying to keep warm in the totally exposed cockpit. I had lost track of when the photo was taken. But, I clearly remember what I was thinking in the moments before I took the photo.
These are the good times & the great places of your life; pay attention to them and try to have more of them while they’re still within your grasp.
The fact is the photo was taken nearly a year ago. I was very surprised; it seems like yesterday. Now, over the course of the last year I have been blessed with good health, seen some lovely sights and taken a few more photographs I enjoy.
But, one of my resolutions is that I’m going to try to go more places and I’m going to try to have more moments like these and take more photographs that will live on in my memory as clearly as this one. My advice to everyone like me, those who have likely lived more days in their past than they will see in their future is simple:
I have a friend who likes to ask me what I would have liked to have done with my life. The unspoken assumption is pretty obvious; there’s no way I could be happy the way things turned out.
But the fact is I am with the way my life turned out.
My friend likes to wonder if I would have enjoyed being a full-time writer. I don’t believe I would have. I can’t imagine enjoying the grinding existence of the working writers I know. Life is more than writing for me. In fact, it’s hard for me to understand how many writers manage to squeeze in enough living to justify the amount of time and energy they devote to writing. Writing, for me anyway, is my response to some aspect of the life I’m living. Put another way, you can have a full life without writing but I don’t believe you can write anything worthwhile without living a full life.
There are other fundamental limiters to my writing and those are the honest and undeniable limits of my talent and inspiration. My inspirations simmer, they seldom boil. Also, I have many other pulls in my life and some of them also involve a kind of creativity and a smattering of inspiration. I love to golf and to hike and to take photographs. More than anything I enjoy being around the people whom I like and love. Writing much more than I already do would vacuum up precious time that could be spent actually doing other things and enjoying other people.
Today I bought new tires for my beloved Mini Cooper instead of buying a new car. I would like to be able to buy a house but the housing market rises faster than I can earn more money. I’ve been working to develop a business association with a high-end manufacturer in Sweden for the last five years. Would it have been easier to do if I had more cash on hand? Most certainly. Still, as has been better said by a million other writers before me the only thing I would truly like more of is time. In the end, it seems to me that we have a choice; we can either embrace life’s limitations or thrash against them.
By accepting those limitations, we allow ourselves to get started on some of the things we say matter to us. But, if we spend too much time thrashing about we’re likely to find our energy sapped before we even have a chance to bring our better selves to bear on projects that could be worthwhile.
Now that’s what I call wasted energy.
And so, I am truly living the dream. My health is good. My loved ones are many and nearby and the world is full of things that fascinate me. From time to times those fascinations inspire me to write. Living the dream is a choice I’m happy I made.
In the beginning, there were speakers, big speakers in the corners of a living room, and the sound was good. The problem was that having a pair of Altec Voice of the Theater speakers meant for a severe intrusion into the typical living space found in an American home. But, for the next forty or so years, we coexisted with big speakers and big amplifiers and managed to enjoy our music despite the fact that our speakers weighed as much as a golf cart.
Thank goodness for the internet.
The internet has brought us a great deal of convenience along with everything else, both wanted and unwanted. For someone who works at home as I have for most of the last thirty years the ability to get proper music off of the internet proved to be elusive until very recently.
Bluetooth audio was OK but the sound quality of even the best bluetooth speakers is still marginal. Think of the the sound of AM radio when you think of bluetooth audio. Still, Americans want it all even as their living spaces get smaller. Fortunately, WiFi gives us the potential to get a little closer to the sound we want and the Role Audio Sampan Music Box takes full advantage of WiFi’s promise. The Music Box is a 42 by 5 by 4.5 inch box that sits happily behind my Mac on my faithful (though plain) 62 and 31.5 inch Ikea work table. Its slender, stealthy black enclosure looks sharp against the light red faux veneer that Ikea does so well.
For most of my review period, I’ve used the Music Box with my new Chromecast Audio which is very cool indeed. If you’ve yet to buy one you owe it to yourself to try one. It’s a little miniature hockey-puck-shaped device that sets up in a breeze and has proven very reliable. It’s the opposite of obtrusive.
I also used the Music Box directly from my CD player as a kind of resolution reference point. Lastly, I used the Music Box directly from my trusty 64 GB iPhone 5 and an ancient iPod I have laying around. In any case, a wired connection to the Music Box is simple. You can also use a stereo mini plug on the front or traditional left and right RCAs on the back.
I wasn’t really thinking about testing the dynamic capabilities of the Music Box when I first hooked it up, but the music playing seemed to demand it so I figured I’d crank the little guy up just for fun. Wow. The Music Box can play quite loudly and without a hint of strain. The benefit of matching a speaker’s design to the 100 watt amp is clear.
Still, I ramped things down for a few hours. The Music Box had just bumped its way across the country all the way from North Carolina and it seemed wise to let it settle in before doing any careful listening.
First up was Jim Steinke’s Finland Road Song from his Playing by Heart CD (Blind Guava Music OWR 0077). This is an amazingly well recorded HDCD of some superb solo guitar music played by a little-known virtuoso. The tracks are unique for their ability to capture transient attacked without a trace of electronic artifact. Through the Music Box the sound is clear with a great sense of presence to the plucking of the guitar strings.
The Sampan Music box should not be thought of as just another desk-top speaker. Its voicing is far more sophisticated and resolving than that and on this point I think mentioning a little set up care is in order. First, even though it sounded good when I sat closer to it, I try to stay at least 3 feet away from the speaker when I am putting forth an effort to listen carefully. Second, I find that the vertical listening axis is somewhat important. A little rearward tilt makes the upper mids sound more integrated with the lower treble making voices more natural.
Speaking of vocals, one of my critical tests for the Music Box came on Call it a Loan from Jackson Browne and David Lindley’s Love is Strange record (Inside Recordings INR5111-0). A couple minutes into this track there is a brief but exceptional bit of harmony between Browne and Lindley. David Lindley is singing in full voice, which he does rarely but always to great effect. A good speaker like the Music Box can at once separate and define each voice, letting the tones and timbres stand apart, yet blend sweetly in harmony. The voices need to sound at once as one and separate and the Sampan Music Box pulls this trick off nicely.
More of the this rare brand of musical integration is heard when I play Iris DeMent’s Broad Gold from her record The Trackless Woods (Flariella Records CD-FER-1006). The first part of the track blends DeMent’s voice in its lower range and piano. With the Music Box, her voice never seems pushed forward or pulled back. The presentation is solid, stable and musical. It’s easy to forget the gear and lean back and enjoy.
The Sampan Music Box remind me of my B&W P7 headphones except that my head doesn’t get tired when I listen the music box. It has the same crisp, clear ease to its sound and superb integration. Everything is there and easily discerned. I regard both devices at once as a reviewer’s tools and wonderfully musical components anyone can enjoy.
The simple fact is that you could easily build a main system around the Sampan Music Box. In any configuration it has the capacity to come very close to the dynamic ease you’re used to hearing from traditional two-speaker stereo systems that are far larger and cost far more. There’s very little from a musical standpoint it can’t handle, and handle with ease.
If you simply want better sound in your office or den, or if you finally want to get rid of those huge Altec Voice of the Theaters your wife has been threatening you about, do yourself a favor and give the Music Box serious consideration.
No matter how you use the Sampan Music Box you will be amazed by the quality and quantity of music it can bring into a room and your life.
Let’s say it’s 2000 and Tiger Woods is charging toward the 72nd hole of the Masters. Were he to win, it would give Woods all four major professional majors in 2000. We’re not talking about some feeble Tiger Slam. No, I’m talking about all four majors in the same calendar year.
Wow. What happened?
On the 72nd, hole, the legendary par-4 finishing hole at Augusta National Tiger Woods smashed a perfect drive, just right of the fairway bunkers. But, as it bounced to a stop it skipped into a fairway divot. The announcers and Woods moaned in near-poetic unison.
Woods glowered at the ball and the divot. He cursed the golf gods. He cursed the player who created that horrid divot. He cursed his bad luck. But, more than anything he cursed the rule of golf that prevented him from taking relief from a tiny bit of missing turf in the middle of the fairway. Clearly, this was an area of the golf course that was damaged and according to the rules, ground under repair. But it wasn’t…So Woods played the ball as it sat; made bogey and missed winning the 2000 Masters by a single stroke.
Then. again in my alternate time, just a few months ago at the 2016 PGA Championship, Woods stood over a putt that would have won him his 15th major championship. Halfway to the hole was a nasty spike mark, dead in Woods’ line. Again, he stared at the mark and cursed the universe and the USGA rule that prohibits the repair of such marks. He settled over his putt and made the perfect stroke.
The ball rolled end over end, destined for the hole, right until the moment that it hit that single unrepairable spike mark.
Tiger Woods was denied another major and the legions of golf fans felt denied. Through no fault of his own, the arbitrary, senseless rules of golf had seemingly conspired to the deny the best player of our era a deserved win.
Also in this fantasy world, imagine this:
Tiger Woods saw fit to use his immense wealth and fame to coerce the USGA and the R&A to correct the silly, foolish rules that upset his path to history. The golf world would have turned against him instantly. This would not be the actions of another athlete who cheated on his wife and children. No, these would be the actions of a man who found himself at odds with the very same rules he had played under his entire professional and amateur career. His motives would be clear to everyone and so his legend would be destroyed. The same fans who could forgive his foolish and inexplicable banging of strippers and Perkins’ waitresses could never accept his effort to change the rules for the sake of his own record. Woods’ fans could accept any weakness but a surrender to the same rules that everyone plays by.
This is exactly the mistake Barbara Boxer has made in the aftermath of the hotly contested 2016 presidential election. She has seen her party and platform stung by the effect of the electoral college for the second time in less than a generation and she’s not going to stand still for it. But, the problem is that her motivation is too clearly in the interest of her party rather than her country. I think there’s a simple test to prove my belief. Boxer has been a US senator since 1992. In that time, there have been seven presidential elections but the only other time she has devoted any energy to the electoral college was in 2005 when she challenged Ohio’s electors in a futile effort to delay the re-election of George W. Bush, who had just won the popular vote over John Kerry by more than 3 million votes.
Me? I’m on the fence about the electoral college. However, I do firmly believe that Rule 16-1c (the rule that prohibits repairing a spike mark on the green) is fundamentally unfair.
At the same time, I think the rule that disallows taking relief from a fairway divot should stand. The text of Rule 13 is simple.
I spent the morning researching what it takes to move to Canada; I’m serious.
I’m so fuckin’depressed.
What gets me is that 60,000,00 people were stupid enough to elect him.
What about the supreme court?
Me? I’m not depressed, but I am disappointed. I’m disappointed that a 70 year old rich guy learned to use the internet to greater advantage than the republican and democratic parties combined. Worse, I’m disappointed that Trump’s use of the internet exploits its worst quality; that being the ability for a person to write something really shitty about someone who’s in no position to mount a contemporaneous defense.
I’m also disappointed that many of the people who supported Donald Trump don’t realize how lucky Trump is that the constitution (that old musty document they’ve never read) provided for the electoral college and that it alone circumvented the will of the people to elect Hillary Clinton, just like it did to Al Gore.
Of course, I’m also disappointed that many people are having a problem simply hoping that Trump will do a better job governing than they think he’ll do. Isn’t hope what you have left when your candidate doesn’t carry the day? Didn’t we hope back in 2008 and 2012 that those who did not support Obama could at least hope for his success, for the sake of everyone, for the sake of the country? President Obama’s efforts to do exactly that, now that the election is over, make me very proud indeed.
Pessimism serves us no better now than it ever has. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with speaking up. As John McCain said regarding some of Trump’s early appointments, “Be very vigilant, America.”
Now let’s talk about lies and the people who tell them.
For some reason, the people who elected Trump don’t seem to care that Trump doesn’t care when he lies. They like the lie that Apple will bring its jobs back to the US from China because Trump tells them to. They like the lie that Trump will deport millions by fiat and that Mexico is busy getting ready to take out its check book to pay for the wall, I mean the fence, or whatever Trump says he’s building today. They loved the idea that the election was rigged, at least when they thought their man was about to go down in defeat. They love that Trump keeps telling them that he won big, that his victory is some kind of mandate. But, surely their favorite lie is the one that holds that sometime in the not-so-distant past an uneducated doofus was guaranteed a good job at a fair wage for doing something that didn’t require a lot of knowledge or skill. As if that day ever existed.
The best of our politicians act with what is called enlightened self interest (don’t blame me; this is a term from political science. That’s right, I said science. Sorry.). This explains why a guy like Trump (and Mitt Romney back in 2012) ran on the promise of lower taxes for the rich people of this country.
Bummer. I guess that was a bad example. Lower taxes for the rich pretty much only rang the bell for the idea of self interest. I guess enlightenment is a tougher nut for politicians.
Surely Hillary Clinton was all about enlightened self interest. I mean, she likes minorities and women, doesn’t she? Crash. There went the highest glass ceiling of all. I ask one question and one question only. Had Clinton been any other State Department employee do you think she would have dodged prosecution by the justification that carrying an extra cell phone constituted an undue burden?
Not a chance.
Hillary Clinton has nearly as poor a record on the enlightenment test as Trump. She was as tone deaf to the genuinely progressive chords struck by Bernie Sanders as she was to the non-xenophobic aspects of the populism that Trump campaigned on.
Free college tuition? Sanders’ idea. Take a hard look at trade deals? Trump’s idea.
What was Hillary Clinton’s idea? To ride into the White House on the heels of Barack Obama’s 51% approval rating under the clever campaign slogan: “You like this guy? I’m just like him. Except I’m not. By the way, please ignore the way I savaged him in the 2008 primary contest. I really like him; he’s a cool dude!”
You really have to wonder what really makes Hillary Clinton tick.
So, we are now left to face the results of our living democracy. The country has elected a man who will likely enjoy being called Mr. President far more than he will like actually being our president. He spent his first interview with 60 Minutes walking back much of the feature points of his campaign. Big surprise. This is not a man who has a problem with revision. As time passes, the people who elected Trump will come face to face with a man without a single concern for their plight. Who knows? They may finally learn the difference between the truth and a lie.