The Beat Goes On

“I think it’s largely the conundrum of being human that makes us keep making. I think it has something to do with revision—how, not only is the world in constant revision, but each of us is, as well. Each new experience at some level becomes a part of that lens through which we see—as in understand—the world we pass through.”

Carl Phillips, The Art of Daring

Ahh, conundrums. We are all conundrummers, trying to keep with the beat, even as the tune changes. Forgetting that we make the beat even as we struggle with it; that the tune is not written until we hum it; the story is not told until we tell it.

The word re-vise might suggest getting another grip on things; re-vision is seeing things differently. For, as the quote above says, we may need to get a new grip on our lens (which itself is now new, and ever-changing) to see through it properly.

Well, it all makes sense to me… but then it is midnight, and many things make sense at midnight that don’t fare into the dawn.

 

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Lilting

I was feeling like I had nothing to say, other than just that: Nothing to say. No new photos.

It’s been a hard month. Little wandering time; little chance to feel a carefree lilt.

I thought that if I had no new photos to share, I could look back through some older ones and maybe get inspired to share some shots and find a few words.

The computer kept freezing. Reboot, find the folders of photos again, freeze.

Okay, maybe it’s all right to not even post at all. The sky, even a blue one, doesn’t fall down just because I skip a deadline.

But then there it was: my missing lilt, showing up in branch, pavement, tree.

That bit of grace and gracefulness I look for. It’s all around. You just have to notice it.

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Flits and Fits and Flotsam

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Sometimes it is hard to get the things you want. (Didn’t the Stones do a song about that?) Twice I went out specifically to photograph wildflowers and saw so little, or saw such little ones, or the wind was blowing so strong, or etc., etc. that I didn’t get any shots. The third time was not a charm so much as finally: the lupines were out where I expected them. But then I was feeling like I was a bit bored with how I typically photograph flowers, and what should I do about that? It felt like I would need a whole day to try looking at them differently but I didn’t have a whole day, just an hour, so I moved around and shot a little here and there.

The sun was bright (not so good for flower photography; they are actually quite reflective and the contrast is not as peaceful once photographed: the eye is fine with all that but the camera is not), and the breeze was up (also not so good for flower photography!). So at first I did some straight-on shots, but then I went with the breeze and started letting them move and tried to find some pleasing shapes within that. And I looked for shade or created some with my body. And I found some poppies, too!

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So, in bits and fits and flits of time, you make your shots or find your shots or fashion them out of sun and wind; fish them out and flesh them out; hang them up to dry and hold them up to the light. And sometimes, you get neither what you want nor what you need, but if you keep on trying you might get something worth having tried for, and it might whet your appetite to try a little more another time to come.

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Of a Certain Bent

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Most times when I’m out with a camera, I don’t have a specific subject in mind. (Close-ups of spring wildflowers would be the main exception, as I like to be prepared with the proper accessories.) Generally, I hope that I’ll see something that strikes my fancy. Well, I’ll go farther than that: I tend to prowl for subject matter, moving slowly and looking up and down and around. It’s not exactly an aerobic activity. The times when I am being more active on a longer or brisk hike (and especially if my camera is inside a case), I tend to not shoot so many pictures or spend as much time considering the scene. Having the camera out, maybe in hand or cradled in the crook of my arm, and looking with the assumption that there are things to be noticed if I keep my eyes peeled, is kind of like going on an Easter egg hunt.

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These photos are from one afternoon with a brief time allotment, all taken within a stone’s toss of one another, on an east facing hillside on the western edge of Annadel State Park. I noticed that a lot of the trees I could see all had a similar bend in the trunk, and so a mini-series was born of the moment. There seems to be something inherently satisfying to humans (and for these purposes I will agree to be included among them, but don’t hold me to it indefinitely) about collecting like items, whether it’s stamps and coins or figurines or flowers in the garden or photographic views of faces or… bent tree trunks.

And speaking of wildflowers, I am overdue to go photograph more of those…

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Intersect of Light and Time

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Every Tuesday, I drive past Nicasio Reservoir in West Marin County on my way to do deliveries in the Point Reyes area. It’s been awhile since I stopped to make any photographs there; often it’s dark or fogged-in, or I have too little time to spare. But last week all the conditions were right: I had some time I could afford to spend and dawn was coming on strong.

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I parked the truck in the big brown dirt turnout and approached, frame by frame, a tree at the waterside, eventually coming to rest in front of a few teasel standing between me and the sunrise. I had hoped for a moody, misty scene, but got clear skies. I’m not complaining, though.

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These shots were made with my infra red DSLR sporting a Holga lens (just a curved piece of cheap plastic), and my (job-provided) iPhone camera. It was a nice way to start the day. Or I should say the dayLIGHT, as I had already been up since 3 a.m.!

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Missing: January

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The new year has been laying low. I haven’t written “2015” by mistake on anything yet, which is odd. Didn’t it used to take more effort to become accustomed to another year passing? I am thinking of pasting some “missing” posters on a wall for long lost January.

I don’t usually make new years resolutions. I tend to save those kinds of things for my birthday, my personal new year. And even then, I have a tendency to look backward more than look forward. The future is going to be coming up soon enough, whereas the past gets hazy in the receding distance. “Caution: Objects in Hindsight Mirror May Be Farther Away Than They Appeared Last Time You Looked.”

My type of resolutions, as few and as unachieved as they have been, can be boiled down over the years to a stew whose predominant flavor is best described as “Don’t F*** It Up.” And other than a pinch of variety (that traditional spice of life), a scant, nay, a liberal shake of salt for the wounds is all I add. Of course, I love dessert, so I always save room for a fat slice of humble pie. With whupped cream. Yum!

It’s no wonder that, like a kid at a big to-do, I often prefer to just crawl under the table and watch everyone’s knees and shoes go by and eavesdrop on what the grown-ups are saying and try to make some sense out of it. It’s amazing what you can piece together that way. It’s equally amazing how mixed up you can get by misunderstanding what you hear. But in that regard, it’s not really that much different than if you sat up at the table with everyone. Riiiight?

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As for photography, it’s been slow going. The days are getting longer but not long enough, quick enough, for me to squeeze in a park visit, and a skip along the trail, after work. Errands and appointments keep intruding into my off days. If any photos accompany this post, hopefully it means I squeezed in a squidge of time, just to get it done. Up on the north coast, there are flowers appearing in the few sunny days we have just had after some good-for-the-drought (or should that be good-for-us, but bad-for-the-drought, looking at it from the drought’s viewpoint?) rains thus far. But I am going to be fairly bummed (bummed, unfairly?) if spring gets sprung and I don’t get a shutterload of flower shots…

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(Okay, I have strong doubts about getting any shots today, getting them onto the computer, getting them into the blog, or even getting back to the blog. So I opened up an old photo folder, and came across some shots of “nothing happening” which seem to fit the mood of this post. You can tell the photo above is not current, as the pavement is dry and the sun is strong.)

I admit this is a rather lackluster blog post, but that only builds up anticipation for the next one. Riiiight?

Exactly How It Is

 

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I will forego the usual end-of-year lamentations for time passing too swiftly, and instead continue to live in this year, this day, this moment, as though this is all there is. Which, as we all know but so often fail to appreciate, is exactly how it is.

This morning (I write this on Monday, in a cafe) on my way out for the day (it is my day off, and my writing class is on semester break), my wife asked me to drop off a bag of give-away at a thrift store. The closest one is a Goodwill, and is near to the cafe where I like to write. So I went to the store, dropped off the bag, and went inside to look around: you never know what you will find.

I tried on, and passed on, a pair of rubber-footed insulated boots. Too loose and some lacing cleats were missing. Found a light green ventilated shirt, size M. That’s always a try-on, as most mediums fit me in the body but are too short in the sleeve. I unslung one arm from my jacket and pulled on a shirt sleeve. Not too short, so that’s a keeper. I won’t use it till next summer, of course, but I like to be prepared. Being so skinny, I’ve always heated up, and cooled off, quickly. I remember my 3rd grade teacher being kind of shocked when I peeled off my shirt after doing the second of five laps around the blacktop foursquare area as discipline for talking while in line. Even now I keep multiple shirts, vests, and jackets in my car and work truck. I must be part cold-blooded lizard or something. But I digress…

No camera bags on the shelves to tempt me, so on to the bookshelves!

A copy of a book my daughter wants, good. A thick book of poetry, The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems, by Californian Robert Haas, Poet Laureate of the United States 1995-97. I drive through Olema every Tuesday on my Pt. Reyes area delivery route. So that’s another keeper. Then, to my delight, a book I’d seen only once, years ago, and forgotten about. One of those books too big to speed-read through at the bookstore, and too pricey for me to buy new. “Part manifesto, part artist’s portfolio, and part technical manual” says the inside flap of Julianne Kost’s Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking. Happy Monday!

By this time I was getting hungry and had not yet decided whether to walk and shoot photos first, or sit and write. But my stomach overruled my feet and eyes, so here I sit. As I went to look for a seat, I saw Daniella, a photographer who used to work as a chef at a cafe I deliver to. She’s one of those Superwomen who does lots of things and does them well. One of those things is going through the California Naturalist programs offered throughout the state, to train “citizen-scientists” who can get involved in their local geography as volunteers, docents, etc. As I recall, her class project involved studying bears in the Willow Creek watershed, an area I use to ride horseback in and never, ever, gave thought to having bears living within. Having grown up in a time de-populated of cougars and bears, I tend to forget that they have returned to so many places. Silly me, and bravo to the bears! (And cougars, and coyotes, and all the four-leggeds that the two-leggeds tried to kill off.)

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It being the end of the month, this blog takes priority over my other writing, but just in the last couple of days I had ideas, or opening lines, come to me for stories. I wrote down the lines or idea-words on pieces of scratch paper and tucked them into the book I am mostly-reading right now, M Train by Patti Smith. (I say “mostly-reading” because I read a lot of books at the same time, but usually there is one that rises to the top and becomes the front runner. Although it depends on my mood and location as to what I pick up at any given moment; I keep books in my car, in my work bag, alongside my bed, in boxes, bags, and shelves… don’t you? But I digress…) Now, I had read some reviews of M Train (some loved it, some did not) and put it on hold at the library. I’m something like #125 in the queue. But, aha! The library now has a section called “Your Lucky Day” that contains copies of new, popular books available only to walk-in patrons. And there it was when I went to the library the other day. I am liking it: lots of writing about writing while drinking coffee in cafes at favorite tables. And living in the moment, and memories of travels, and things that — I don’t know — might be fiction but are delivered in the same matter-of-fact tone as the reporting of mundane activities like watching TV detective shows or feeding the cats. The first sentence, the first paragraph, of the book is: “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.”

Well, it’s on to my free coffee refill. The bear claw is finished (I just realized how appropriate that pastry was to the writing this morning — I like that!) and Daniella has left without saying goodbye (but her hello was warm enough, whereas the pastry was only room-temperature.) Now, where should I go today?

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Vista Thista, Mista

I traveled south a couple of weeks ago, to East San Diego County, for my “Second” Mom’s 90th birthday party. This is my best friend’s mom, Betty Swift. I lived with their family for a few years after high school and, I am glad and thankful to say, the whole family adopted me. I don’t think I left them much choice; I was too hard to shoo away.

Any time I go back to the southland, I aim for arriving at a certain vista point overlooking the desert when it’s late at night and no one is around. I sleep in the car and awake to a gorgeous eye-stretching view of I don’t know how many miles and how many rows of desert mountains fading off into lighter shades of blue. The wind zips up the mountainside, crows shoot by like runaway kites — no need for them to flap a wing — and your own worries look mighty small in the overall scheme of things which, from the perspective at this angle, is more vast than you can easily imagine.

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But no need to imagine: just look and look and look, and begin to feel at peace. Well, okay, maybe imagine yourself as a crow: open your wings, do nothing, and let the wind carry you on its way.

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After the sunrise, I went hiking in my old heart-of-hearts West Mesa, laying in the middle of the meadow, ready to be taken then and there if the Creator wanted me back… like Chief Dan George as Old Lodgeskins in Little Big Man… but here I am, so I guess I have to keep on trucking on. Although I don’t expect to make it to 90!

I met my blood-sister and her family for talk and dinner, then drove out to the ranch and was able to surprise Betty with my arrival, even though I had tried to get word to her that I was coming down.

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Betty Swift, December 2009

At her party the next day, when celebratory champagne toasts were made in Betty’s honor, and she was asked to say a few words — to share some wisdom of 90 years — she made the most of the six words she said:

“Be optimistic! … and don’t vote Republican!”

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Thanks, Mom, for being who you are!

 

 

 

Spirographicity

or CHANCE ENCOUNTERS

(plus a PLETHORA of PARENTHESES and a WADING AMONG WEEDS)

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As my friend Peter was guessing, I haven’t been doing much shooting lately. The weather (hot) and timing (long work days) and place (too much sun? too much wind? too much shade?) haven’t coalesced into images worth sharing. I have had some time here and there to take walks, and done some experimenting in the camera (overlapping exposures of different apertures), but nothing very moody or artistic (or interestingly documentary, for that matter) came of it.

One day, as I was walking along a trail, camera in hand, looking around at the forest, a man came slowly jogging my way. I didn’t pay him much attention and continued to scan the trees. As he closed in, I turned to give him a nod (it always seems odd to ignore people, be it on trail or city street). Baffling me, the man stopped, held his arms out and gave a sheepish shrug and said my name! It was my old friend Fred: ex-housemate and godfather to my daughter (and attending physician to her birth)! I hadn’t looked at him from the distance and had my glasses off anyway (which means I wouldn’ t have recognized my own daughter, herself) but he must have recognized me. (Brilliant deduction there, Blue.) Our paths hadn’t crossed for quite awhile.

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What I was photographing a bit before Fred came along.

Then a few weeks ago, after my Monday morning writing class, I headed to a nearby market for a cup of coffee and my path through the parking lot converged with that of Ruth, who is also in the class and was also wanting coffee. We had never had a real conversation before and decided on the spot to sit down and chat. By the time we finished our coffees and our visit, we found that we had a lot of things in common besides the class (ambling around photographing things we find interesting, being one), and though our jaws were tired from all the talk (we should have sprung for espressos, I suppose, to bolster our stamina) we were no longer strangers and well on our way to being friends.

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As with ferns, I never tire of photographing rattlesnake grass.

Another time, I was trying some compositions of dead weeds at a used-before spot in a local park one afternoon. (“Dead Weed Photography” was what my kids called my stuff years ago; some things don’t change). A few minutes later, as I was standing next to my car putting photo gear away, a woman walking by asked me what I had been photographing — a little animal? No, just some dead weeds… I’ve written about this kind of query before. I guess most folks don’t scrutinize weeds and branches and leaves, and don’t think of someone spending 5, 10, 15 minutes staring at the same unmoving vegetation.

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I liked these dark weeds amongst the lighter ones. But it was hard to isolate them and keep the various stems in focus. The sun was going down and changing the light, too…

What really surprised me, though, was that just ten minutes later, having parked in front of home, and getting out of my car, this same woman was walking past on the sidewalk, and we talked some more. And then this afternoon (a couple of weeks later), in a different town, as I was sitting in my car, prior to going into the library to write this post, I saw the same (I think) woman walk by, headed toward the library. This all seemed like too much, so I came to a cafe instead! Though if we are fated to be ongoing acquaintances then she’ll show up again.

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This was my final, and favorite, shot of the dark weeds, but very different than the initial view that drew me in. I like the spherical highlight — it reminds me of the sun, which was getting lower and lower.

Do you know that old artsy toy, the Spirograph? A set of geared rings and wheels with a series of holes perforating them. You set your pen in a hole and revolve the wheel within the ring. forming various spirals that overlap and overlap, forming complex geometric designs. I often think of our actions and motions forming looping designs like those pictures, if you could follow our paths and patterns and trajectories from above with godly eyes, each step overlapping those of others we know, have yet to know, or may never know but pass right by…

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This overlap of stems made me think of “convergence.”