The winds have been blowing off & mostly on for more than a week. When we had measurable rain a while back I allowed myself a bit too much optimism, at least as regards the drought.
Now that optimism is being blown away and that’s a lousy feeling. The only benefit of Santa Anas this time of year are cloudless, scrubbed-blue skies and fantastic visibility. Even though the winds were less intense today, the skies were still quite clear.
My valley to valley hike is front of mind. I’ve been looking for a map that shows all of the fire roads in Los Angeles and Ventura counties but I haven’t found one so far. I made a trip to REI today since they have a good selection of maps and guides on hand but they didn’t have what I needed. There was an interesting trail map of Conejo to the ocean that should have easily covered the entire relevant area except that the folks at NatGeo decided to plop the map’s legend right over the west end of the valley, where it meets up with Palo Comado. Oh well. What do those folks know?
This is iPhone pano looking northish (those are homes in Bell Canyon on the left).
This is a nastyish hil climb I use to inaugurate my legs and lungs every time I use the Victory Trailhead. From the middle to the top you actually ascend on toes. It’s possible to descend it but if it happens to rain again this hill will be impassable both up and down. The photo doesn’t do it justice; it’s damn steep.
No hike is complete without a refreshment and today I promised myself a blood orange IPA from the pizza and beer tavern at the intersection of Victory & Valley Circle. Somehow I’ve managed to miss the name of the brewery both times I’ve enjoyed it there. That fact gives me a good excuse to drop in for another pint someday soon.
Tonight’s writing soundtrack is He’s Fine from The Secret Sisters 2017 record You Don’t Own Me Anymore. It’s far and away the best song on the record; clean, simple and bound to no genre or time. It’s fantastic.
Like I said, this has been a quick trip. Maybe too quick when you think about the numbers of miles to & fro but you know what they say about beggars.
Our Sunday started out slowly with breakfast at Cafe Bernardo’s-Pavillions. There are a couple others Bernardo’s in the chain but this location is my favorite, especially when it comes to their fantastic pancakes. Today’s were sublime; tender, good buttermilk flavor, not over or undercooked and the perfect thickness. I got by with one cake but I would have been able to devour four if self-preservation hadn’t gotten the better of me.
Later, we took a ride out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, in the same park as the Ancil Hoffman golf course I mentioned yesterday.
The nature center has a number of trails that meander along and around the American River. As on the golf course there are deer everywhere as well as wild turkeys. The air was just crisp enough to keep a jacket on even with the sun out.
Afterwards, I noticed a brewery in nearby Rancho Cordova that I wanted to check out called Fort Rock. Everything was just a little disappointing. It was too loud (the 49ers were playing Dallas), the tap list was a little blah as was the strip mall ish location. I tried the Lights Out IPA. It was Ok but far from soul-stirring. Maybe I was expecting too much or maybe the relentless din from the TVs and the football fans tweaked my tastebuds. I hate to scratch a brewery off the list after trying only one beer but I may have to in this case.
Ah, but dinner! Dinner was at Obo. Now why the hell can’t I have an Obo in Los Angeles? It’s Italian and it’s fantastic. I went all in with spaghetti & meat balls and it was good as it was last summer, the winter before that and so on. They also have a full bar, a small but well-curated tap list, and a $10 rye old fashioned.
Are you kidding me?
We were celebrating a birthday (not mine) so I had two old fashioneds and the three of us split a slice of cheesecake, chocolate mousse and a chocolate-dipped cupcake that took a ride home with the lucky birthday boy.
It’s HGTV again tonight as we wind down but least it’s Home Town and not the drivel I subjected myself to last night. Nope, I didn’t come up with any ideas for my next book. Maybe tomorrow. I’m not even any more relaxed than when we left Los Angeles but at least we had us some fun and were blessed with good company and a wonderful host.
Tomorrow will be 388 easy miles and a return to reality. I can’t say I’m looking forward to either but I’m glad we made the trip.
“Hi Paul…… I certainly have fond memories of when we worked together with Roger M. While I find your daily invasions annoying… I can’t stop …your writing is addictive…you have turned me onto a few great artists as well… All the best my friend!”
The writer was a friend and business associate of mine from way back when. How far is way back? I’m pretty sure the last time we were in the same room year year began with the number 19.
Yup, way back when.
Bobby was in town, after CES I think, and we went out to share a couple cocktails after dinner since he was staying somewhere in Pasadena. At some point he made a comment about how little green there was in SoCal. Having spent my share of time in the midwest and a little on the east coast I knew he was right. But still, what he said took me back a little. Not enough green?
Winter is not exactly SoCal’s colorful season. A few weeks or so from now this canyon may have some color to it, if we luck out with rainfall. It was a fascinating coincidence for me to hike this gray canyon the same day that I heard from Bobby and recalled his comment about our lack of green.
Even in relatively wet years the green comes quickly and leaves even faster. It’s just something we get used to. Who knows? Maybe we treasure the little bits of green we get all the more?
I can remember being on this fire road only a few weeks earlier. The short season grasses were as green as rye and flooded onto the fire road itself. By late February, when this photo was taken, those grasses were already well into retreat. At least the oak leaves bring a little green to the scene.
We’re off to Sacramento this weekend. I think they’ve been getting some rain and I know the Sierra snowpack is off to a good start. Still, I’m not looking forward to seeing much in the way of green.
Maybe someday I’ll get back to upstate New York and Bobby can show me what green really looks like. I would enjoy that but mostly I would enjoy the chance to spend time with him. I miss Bobby and all the other good guys from the high end game. Those were interesting days and the good guys, like Bobby, were some of the best guys ever.
By the way, even though I’m on vacation for a few days, the blog is not. I’ll be writing on my iPhone (always a joy) so my posts won’t be long but since there are 365 days this year I’m writing 365 posts.
Plus, how could I miss out on a chance to annoy an old friend?
Wait, I almost forgot about today’s writing soundtrack. It’s the 2020 release of Brian & Roger Eno’s Mixing Colours. It’s gratifying that folks like the Eno brothers can still create this kind of atmospheric music with such freshness and style after all these years.
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…