Friday, June 27, 2008

Safaris and Bedroom Slippers

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By the time we rolled into the driveway in Bear Valley, it was a little after 8:00 PM. The last thing I expected to see was a lovely doe grazing happily on the meadow grass in the field next to our driveway. She was in the field that stretches west to the far edge of our property and continues, interrupted only by a few trees, all the way past the fire station and down to Cub Lake. She was startled, but far from panicked and I had time to frantically wrest the camera from the bag at my feet, rip off the lens cap, and snap a couple of shots before she began to move away. With only the 70-200mm lens, I still couldn’t get anything resembling a prize winner type shot, still it was a pleasure to enjoy her wild beauty and get a least something with a somewhat decent exposure in the fading light. We were fascinated by the ease and composure of her exit. Even in my limited experience, I have learned the truth of the theory that a vehicle functions as a surprisingly effective blind with many wild animals. They are so accustomed to seeing vehicles by now that they will accept one in their domain with relative calm. This doe was an excellent example. She wandered off, but she was far from desperate for her life.

That was Tuesday. Wednesday morning, I slept in and was finally up and about around 7:00 AM. First thing, I shuffled into the kitchen and dutifully hit the switch on Mr. Coffee, so The Husband would have his cup of java when he rolled out. Before I could bring myself to start the oatmeal, I simply had to grab some shots of the latest wild flowers. Most of the poppies were already gone, but these latest additions were charming. I grabbed the camera with that same 200 lens because I knew the light was changing fast and headed out the west side of the house—lightweight knit pants, black fuzzy bedroom slippers and all. After simply drinking in the scene for a moment and relishing the delicious colors that stretched before me, I stepped out on the porch and began to fixate on the flowers that were the objective of this morning’s trek.

At first, I sat on the porch steps and that seemed like an ideal perch. I could brace the camera with elbows on thighs and that was a plus, since none of the muscles in my legs or arms were yet fully awake. Of course it turned out that for one reason or another, the flowers nearest the porch weren’t quite right. Somewhat reluctantly, I put the sleepy muscles to work and started out across the one hundred foot fire break The Husband had cut a couple of weeks before. I couldn’t resist wading a bit into the fast-growing grass and flowers and decided to ignore the army of fox tails I was collecting in those fuzzy slippers and socks. The article I had read just a couple of weeks before about rattlesnakes in the valley crossed my mind and I knew I had to keep an eye on the footing in front of me watching for the hundreds of gopher holes out there. Nevertheless, you know how it is: I had to find the wild flower that was waiting for me.

While I became more deeply absorbed in what was at my feet—gopher domiciles, suspicious noises or movement in the grass around me, and bright, sunny flowers right and left—I was aware of movement off to my right. I jerked my head up and found myself staring at a doe that looked back at me every bit as startled as I. I believe that the movement I had seen was her head as it popped up when she became aware of me. We stood there transfixed for a second staring at one another, neither of us wanting to be the first to move.

I finally came to life and slowly raised the camera, but of course every setting was wrong and I was terribly excited. Well what to expect? I am not exactly experienced at facing a deer at that hour of the morning. In the first shot, she was chewing and looked a bit annoyed. I thought I had botched my first chance and that that might be the end of it, but once again there was no panic on the animal’s part. I venture that my heart was pounding faster than hers was. Though alert all the time, she began to wander leisurely toward that stand of trees. Fearlessly, I plunged deeper into the treacherous bush. No, wait; I got carried aware there for a moment. I plodded awkwardly in my blasted bedroom slippers, for crying out loud, into the uncut and taller grass, which of course meant even more fox tails and almost completely invisible footing. I tried holding my breath to avoid further alarming the doe as I followed her further into the field.

After we both advanced a few yards out into the field keeping our distance from one another, she apparently became more certain that I was harmless (that’s an understatement). I could swear that at one point she yawned. Heck, she may even have chuckled. At any rate, she finally began to cross my path and walked some distance parallel to me. Pretty cocky, huh? Because our land is terraced to drop several feet in elevation (eventually the land beyond ours drops down to the level of the lake), she had no trouble staking out a spot where I could see only her face and a bit of neck above the grass. We watched each other for a bit and periodically I snapped the shutter, but mostly I enjoyed our “eye contact”. She was probably about fifty yards from me (according to The Husband’s calculations later) and thanks to the 200mm lens serving as my binoculars, I could see her face quite sharply.

Eventually, the doe became bored and then ambled off down toward the trees leaving me to trudge back through gopher territory to the house. As I sat on the porch steps plucking fox tails from the fuzzy slippers, as well as the socks and knit pants, I turned over and over in my mind the delicious surprise and vowed in the future to never set foot outside without boots. You just never know when you will find yourself on safari stalking wild creatures through dangerous terrain.

In the Bear Valley Gallery here and here, I posted cropped versions of two shots taken during Wednesday morning's safari. I purposely didn't crop the first shot above, so you can get a bit of an idea as to how close I was shooting at 200mm. I know some of you know telephoto lenses well enough to make a good guess as to how close I was with the uncropped version. I wish I did.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

One of These Days

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One of these days, I am going to get so organized that I will have several posts prepared ahead of time that I can then schedule to post while I am away. One of these days.

We needed to take care of some things at the house in Bear Valley and made a quick trip leaving Tuesday and returning last night. Of course, I had had such good intentions about scheduling posts that would go up yesterday and today. But, we all know about good intentions and how they often end. If I put it off too long, there is no recourse since we don't have Internet up there yet. (There' s lot we don't have up there—but that's another story.) Besides, the truth is even if we did have Internet, I am sometimes too busy to post during these rush-rush trips. I just have to get more organized.

One of these days.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Way Down Yonder

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The last time we spent some time in Bear Valley, we were treated two evenings in a row to a visit by some of our four-legged neighbors. On both occasions, the deer hung around the little stand of trees at the far edge of our property about a quarter mile (according to The Husband) from the house. (This deer, "way down yonder" is actually just beyond our property line.) I don't have the lens to get a good shot, but I tried my new 70-200 f4 IS lens combined with a 1.4 teleconverter and, after a bit of cropping, I managed to get this teaser.

I don't know how I long I will be able to tolerate not having a good 300mm lens that will work with that converter what with deer, coyotes, and hawks tempting me on a regular basis. A person can only tolerate that sort of pressure for so long. Right? Heck, I have even found myself fantasizing about a blind of some sort out in that field. Too many temptations.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Filling Up Hard Drives and Tracing The Lines of My Face

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I have no intention of delving deep into this topic of why some of us feel compelled to take photographs. Certainly, the subject has been examined by people far wiser, more articulate, and with decades more experience than I. Still, while I may have nothing truly fresh or original to bring to the conversation, I have been musing lately on my personal need to accumulate all these folders filled with images most of which will be seen by no one other than myself and perhaps, The Husband. Ultimately, I decided that it was useful to organize my thoughts on the subject and profit by the clarification that the exercise would likely produce.

A side note: Due to a typo (or so I thought), I misspelled the word compelled in the first sentence of this post. When I re-read my post for editing, I discovered that rather than typing compelled, I had written completed. Well, that certainly set me thinking in even more directions. Nowadays, making pictures does make me feel more complete.

At any rate, I had been thinking about how taking photographs helps me to see my world more clearly and to be more conscious of the moment. I have always appreciated the mystery and splendor of nature, but I am looking much more closely now because of time spent with a camera in hand.

It seems to me that, for one thing, there is an honoring, acknowledgment, or salute that is taking place when I snap the shutter. When I point my lens at something around me I make the statement: this matters—perhaps only to me, but still, I have now stepped forward to become the one of those who paid attention. In the giant scheme of things, my act of acknowledgment certainly makes a leaf falling of cosmic importance in comparison.

Of course what does matter is that when I point my lens at a thing, while I am connected with what I see, I am also refining my understanding of who and what I am. (Here, I am decidedly less than original.) Paul Butzi, for one, has written about this in some depth and fairly recently, if I recall, even though I don't remember all the specific articles. Moreover, just a couple of weeks ago, Andrew Ilachinski posted a wonderful article on photography as a tool for self-discovery. Andrew included this marvelous quotation that I have repeated here:

“A man sets out to draw the world.
As the years go by, he peoples a space
with images of provinces,
kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships,
islands, fishes, rooms, instruments,
stars, horses, and individuals.
A short time before he dies,
he discovers that the patient labyrinth
of lines traces the lineaments
of his own face.”- JORGE LUIS BORGES

Recently, I had a little lesson in how my paying attention connects me to a subject and causes me to become, in a way, attached to something I have photographed. On my first trip to Techachapi, California in 2004, when I had gotten my first DSLR, the Canon Rebel-D, I was quite taken with the dilapidated train station in the middle of town. Later, I learned that the old depot, having been built in the late 1800’s by the Southern Pacific railroad, was a revered part of the small town’s history and that it was on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the end of last year, we decided to retire to Bear Valley Springs which is just a few miles outside Tehachapi and I was eagerly looking forward to spending many happy hours on Tehachapi Boulevard utilizing my latest camera acquisition for further exploration of the wonderful old depot. As we began to make trips to (mostly only through) Tehachapi, I discovered that the station was barricaded due to a massive renovation that had been undertaken by community volunteers. Indeed, the fellow from whom we bought our house up there told us he was proud to be participating in the renovation. I had my fingers crossed that the town’s committee for the project hadn’t elected to improve on the structure and make it more tourist-worthy—you know bigger, better, and shinier. I confess I was a little anxious about the outcome.

And then, mid-June, we went to Bear Valley for a couple of days and when I spotted a sign proclaiming an arts and crafts fair at Central Park in Tehachapi, I convinced The Husband that he would need a break from weed whacking and we should take advantage of the opportunity to meet some folks from town. It turned out that Central Park was just off Tehachapi Boulevard and as we made our way to the fair that Sunday, I knew that our route would take us right by the depot, so I thought about checking the latest progress on the renovation.

The sight we saw took our breath away. Where the over a hundred year old building with the peeling paint and years of rich history had stood, there was only a pile of charred rubble. We both were devastated. Later that day, we learned that the building had been destroyed in a fire that had broken out in the early hours of Friday, the 13th and that by the time the fire department arrived, the building couldn’t be saved. Arson was suspected and the latest news is that fireworks were involved. It turns out the sprinkler system was to have been installed on Friday followed, within days, by the grand re-opening of the town’s pride and joy. According to the people we talked to that Sunday, the city has plans to rebuild the historic site. But, it turns out I will have to wait a long time to reacquaint myself with the delightful old Southern Pacific depot.