Archive for June, 2010

Sea of Joy

I started singing that great old Blind Faith song while out today at a local Audubon conservation center.  Meadows and fields just get to me I guess.  Especially on a perfect summer day.  Gorgeous flowers.  Soft wind.  Bright sun.  Puffy clouds.  A feeling of simple joy and well-being suffused my being.  It was pretty great so I send it along to you –

Black eyed susans and other wildflowers in the sun

Lily of the Valley – Part 7

Yep, it’s been a while.  Sick of this yet?  I am and I’m not.  The plants are at a point of non-interestingness.  At least that’s what I thought.  You see I had no idea they actually make fruit.  I knew they propagated themselves by the rhizome system, but didn’t think too much about this.  Turns out that colonies consisting of a single clone don’t set fruit which contain seeds as pretty much all fruit does.  Eventually these little green berries turn an orangey-red.  I really hope they hang on to do so; a few have already disappeared.  Anyway, here are the images –

Cute, but I don't think they're edible. (OM 90mm only)

This berry has since disappeared. (ZD 12-60mm SWD zoom)

Stems without berries far outnumber the ones with and those are withered and dry now.

Bygones (eek, I can't remember which lens this is)

So that’s how things are in the Lily of the Valley patch.  I’ll be watching for ripening berries & withering leaves.

Big Sur in Bloom

Back to California we go.

This time Big Sur.  I’ve been through Big Sur before on the famous US1 highway that hugs the Pacific coastline.  We even stayed at the impossibly posh Post Ranch Inn a few years ago and got to take one of the hotel Lexus convertibles out.  Very cool.  But it was March and clearly May is the best time to visit.  I think California must have about 1,000,000 wildflowers per square foot or something and almost all of them bloom in May.  It’s an explosion; a riot of color that really has to be seen to be believed.  I tried my best to capture it, but in person is so much better.  Highly recommended.

This first shot is heading toward the ocean on a little road that shoots off of the 46 and connects with US1…I forget what it’s called, but we had to stop and gawk.  The water in the middle ground is Whale Rock Reservoir.  The water in the background is the Pacific.  You can see the dam holding the water in the distance, too.  Spectacular.

Down to the Waterline (Whale Rock Reservoir)

Hills along the 46 near Big Sur

On the day we drove by the reservoir we were heading to the beach for a bit, but we planned to hike in Big Sur in the next couple of days.  Originally we wanted to hit Garrapata State Park, but due to miles and miles of construction on US1 the access was off limits unless we wanted to walk miles through construction zones to get there.  We were bummed, but went to the Andrew Molera State Park instead.

Our first stop was a quick walk to the beach where the Big Sur River meets the ocean –

Entering into Peace (Big Sur River)

At the End of Our Day (Big Sur River)

The view from up on the headland is spectacular.  I love how there’s one guy on the beach in that second shot – it shows the scale really well.  Later on tons of people arrived and the shots would have been ruined, so I’m glad we went here before heading up to the hills.

The Long Goodbye (Big Sur River)

Headland in Big Sur

If you take a look at the 1st black and white river photo up there, you can see a pointed hill almost exactly in the middle of the background.  Not the highest one, but the one just to the right of it.  We decided to climb that – it’s the East Molera Trail.

Mystery Hiker on the East Molera Trail

It takes a few miles to get to the 1600 foot summit or so and the trails are pretty steep and covered in large loose rocks so going down was sort of nightmarish for me with my wonky ankles.  You can see the trail zig-zagging up the hill.  But oh the view.  It was worth it.

Big Sur in Bloom

Lupines and other wild flowers burst into bloom at Big Sur

As we neared the top, I looked back the way we had come.  Way down was the ocean and the jutting headland where I took the pictures of the Big Sur river emptying into the Pacific (it’s there on the left).  Pretty cool.  Below us, hawks and vultures danced and soared in the thermals.

Looking back at the headland and US1

And even the moon seemed to dip low and appreciate the view –

California Moon

Spine Trials

This post is going in another direction for a moment; a slightly more personal one.  Yes there will be pictures, but there almost weren’t any.

As long as I can remember I’ve had a bad back.  Both upper and lower.  In the upper back my rhomboids (muscles that help to articulate the scapula) spasm for no reason.  Once they did it so hard and so long that they started to disarticulate ribs from my spine.  When they’re on the rampage it’s painful to breathe (out more than in).  No amount of relaxing or massage gets them to stand down, just muscle relaxers.  My lower spine has been a mess, too and has been changing and progressing noticeably in the last couple years.  It used to be that once a week or so my low back would get sore and then go back to normal.  Sometimes it would go “out” and really throw me down for a while.  Again, I don’t have to do anything for this to occur; it just happens (once I was walking up a hill in the snow – that’s it – walking).  Last year my back started to hurt all the time.  Nothing crippling, but loading the dishwasher or shoveling the cat boxes aggravated it for hours afterward when it would fall back into its usual persistent ache.   I also started to experience symptoms of sciatica – pain shooting through the hips and down the legs.  Not all the time, but it reared its ugly head once in a while.   Joy.

About three weeks ago my lumbar spine reached a new plateau of pain.  It was like the aggravated periods from before only all the time.  That was the new norm.  It hurts to do anything and daily doses of ibuprofen were necessary.  Yeah, as if my liver wasn’t already taking a beating.  Then late last week it kicked up a notch into really uncomfortable, can’t sit, can’t stand, can’t walk vigorously, ‘holy shit this is distracting’ pain.  I took a muscle relaxer at bedtime and woke up much better, but over the course of the day it went right back to the new level of somewhat debilitating and restrictive pain.

On Monday the 21st came the watershed.  I tried to go for my usual 5-mile walk and could only do 2.  Things went downhill fast.  My beloved Eames lounge chair was uncomfortable.  The guy at the oil change place had to repeat things because I was too distracted by my back to really concentrate.  I wished for an automatic for the first time ever because raising my leg to put in the clutch was dreadful.  For the first time, lying down did not relieve the pain. It hurt so much and was so agonizing I took a leftover oxycodone (half) and a muscle relaxer at the same time.  I just laid on my back where I fell onto the bed; I couldn’t raise my head, arms or shift my torso without piercing pain.  When I tried feeding the cat I was literally knocked off my feet from the intensity of the spasm and nearly fell on the floor – my husband came to my rescue and found me clinging to the tabletop for dear life, tears streaming down my face.

So what the hell does this tale of woe have to do with photography?  Well since none of the doctors who have X-rayed, done MRIs and physical exams could point to a reason for the pain, I figured I just had to live with increasing debilitation and would eventually lose the ability to walk or get around well.  No more photography.  No more hiking.  No more sports car.  No more motorcycle.  No more skiing.  No more sex.  No more life.  It wasn’t just the pain that made me cry.

Unexpectedly and without explanation the cycle has broken.  The narcotic and the muscle relaxer are the only new elements to the show and I only took the combination one time – Monday night.  My back while still twinge-y (especially the upper right now…it’s tight) it is no longer an absolute misery.  I kept expecting it to grow worse yesterday as it usually does, but it didn’t.  It stayed at a fairly low and familiarly manageable level of discomfort.  I went out with a very light kit and did some walking and even took some photographs.

On March the Saint - the backs of pitcher plant flowers

Yearning - partridgeberry flower finds the sun

Nothing made me scream and I didn’t even have to take any ibuprofen.  I don’t think it will last, but this is the most pain-free I’ve been in years.  It made me really relish my time yesterday and how easy everything seemed.  The clutch wasn’t an issue.  Bending and twisting were uncomfortable, but not really painful (I didn’t push it though).   Today I’m taking it easy to see if I can prolong this wonderful state.  Wish me luck.

California wine country

Mid-coast California is one of our favorite vacation spots.  My husband and I have been there a half-dozen times or so over the last 15 years.  Ever since our first week in Monterey, we’ve felt the pull of this spectacular part of the country.

Monterey itself is a neat little town with lots of great restaurants and of course, the aquarium.  Whenever I’m there I think I spend most of my time in front of the octopus tanks.  They fascinate me.  Lately we’ve been staying at the new Intercontinental Hotel right on Cannery Row and I think that will become our new Monterey address.  From there we can walk to the Whaling Station or the Sardine Factory and there’s a good little breakfast spot not far away either.

The view from the balcony to the courtyard @ the Intercontinental

And we can get in our 5-6 miles straight down to Pacific Grove and back.  At night the sea lions hang out on the pier and blast you with sleepy snorts if you get too close.  Oh and it’s just as gorgeous a view at night as during the day –

Monterey Pier

Usually we head to some of our favorite wineries for some tasting.  This means heading down Salinas valley all the way to Soledad.  101 runs straight through miles and miles of farmland, but River Road is where the wineries are.


View from Hahn tasting deck down to Salinas valley

Wrath winery tasting room

From here we drove down to Paso Robles to see more of our favorite wine makers and do some tasting.  Paso Robles is a really beautiful region full of hills, grape vines, oak trees and flowers.  The name means Oak Pass and it’s not called that for nothing.  If you’re into Rhone varietals you really need to go there.  Denner, Linne Calodo, Booker, Terry Hoage, Four Vines are some of the best.

A rainstorm breaks over Paso Robles

Clouds and wildflowers in Paso Robles

Wildflowers of Paso Robles

Typically in May the rain has stopped in both Salinas valley and Paso Robles, but a freak storm system blew in while we were there, making for some unusual scenery.  It didn’t last though and the next day blue skies returned, but with some cool puffy clouds just to make things interesting.

Oaks of Paso Robles

Vineyards of Paso Robles

On the second morning of our stay in P.R., we drove down the 46 to US1 on the coast.  The explosion of wildflowers was amazing as were the seascapes and beaches….but that’s for another post.

Woman v. Nature

I will share more California pictures, but first some from a recent and not-too-successful trip into the woods.  Yes, I did get some usable photos, but was nearly driven insane and carried off by deer and horse flies.  Dammit why do they ruin everything?  Bug repellent in any form is useless against their onslaught.  Vicious little bastards spoiled my fun.  I found this gorgeous fern display, complete with a young orb weaver spider and could only get one good image –

The Venetian (OM 90mm f2)

It was crazy.  Between each step like taking the tripod out of its sleeve, mounting the lens, mounting the tripod etc, I had to dance around and wave my hat like a mental patient just so I could get maybe 20 seconds of peace.  Plus I was sweating profusely and it was running into my eyes.  Stingy!  This is the only frame I have like this because the flies were so relentless it was just impossible to concentrate or really start to ‘see’ the compositional possibilities.  No way I could take the time to photograph the spider.  I have a few handheld frames, but none worth a damn.  Bah!

I decided to head back to the car, muttering aloud to myself that I was giving in, are you happy now, nature?  I give up.  Back to the car I go.  You beat me.  All the time waving my hat and trying to get enough footspeed to outrun the flesh eating flies.  Looking at the map, I decided to retrace my steps as it was probably shorter than taking the trail that basically formed a loop with the one I came out on.  I didn’t really want to hike back on the dirt road, but thought it would be easiest.  Then I realized that another trail would take me by my favorite little pond and probably wouldn’t add any time to my trip.  I was temporarily fly-free and chanced it.  A little way in and I found a good boulder overlooking the pond where I could see almost all of it.  The flies even stayed away long enough for me to switch lenses again –

Charging Station (ZD 12-60mm f2.8-4)

Of course I forgot my polarizer, but thought I could try anyway.  I was there so what the hell.  Amazingly the flies stayed away and I actually could stop to have a snack and some water.  Sure, the ants noticed and wanted their tribute, but they didn’t really bother me.  I could hear some other folks on the trail now.  They went right by me and didn’t see me on my rocky perch.  Eventually I followed them up the trail and split off onto another one at the edge of the boulder field.  Then what to my wondrous eyes should appear?  Why Hemlock Varnish Shelf, my dear.

Hemlock Varnish Shelf (ZD 12-60mm f2.8-4)

I think I actually said ‘wow’ out loud.  These things are huge.  Like dinner plate huge.  And they really are that colorful and shiny.  Varnished is right.  The whole log was host to a troop of them.  They must grow really fast, too since I don’t think they could over-winter and stay so fresh looking.  It was cool and the flies stayed away.  My snack and water had revived me and I felt relaxed and comfortable photographing these huge mushrooms.

So I’m glad I stuck with it and decided to chance the trail instead of the road.  I would have missed a good opportunity to shoot my favorite little pond (and check the progress of the beaver dam – it’s been shored up and is even more effective than last fall when I think it got a bit bedraggled) and find some mushrooms I’d never seen before.  Take that nature, I win!

History in NH – Part 2

As a member of the 13 original Colonies, New Hampshire doesn’t get much press.  What with being next to Massachusetts, host of so many dramatic events in the birth of the nation, it’s not much to wonder at.  But how much of what we hear is just spin?  According to some folks, a lot.  And they are bitter about it.  Why should “Plymouth Rock” get all the attention?  Just because Massachusetts gobbled up the majority of the usable coastline?  Just because the Pilgrims claimed to be fleeing religious persecution?  Just because they got a theme park?  Just because George Washington needed a myth with which to bind the nation together after the American Revolution?  Probably because of all those things and more.

Still, New Hampshire’s early European history goes back just as far, but is imbued with a bit less “look at me” and a bit more practicality.  Just like everyone else who came here early it was for money.  Even the hallowed Mayflower Pilgrims were largely motivated by cash.  Overcrowding, over plundering, social inequality, religious nuttery and disease really made Europe an unlivable cesspool if you weren’t aristocracy, so it’s no wonder people felt they had little to lose by making the dangerous Atlantic crossing.

David Thompson was one such gambler.  Oh and his pregnant wife, too.  Oddly to us today, they chose to leave another child behind with relatives.  Hedging their bet I suppose.  Eventually David came to what would become New Hampshire.  The areas now known as the Isles of Shoals, Portsmouth harbor, Ordione Point and the Piscataqua river.  He and his fellow gamblers came here to fish and they were successful, building a fort and a plantation; fixing the official “settled” date as 1623.  There is shadowy evidence that Thompson was going for land grants and making other deals here as early as 1619 though, and was in communication with the captain of the Mayflower, possibly giving him advice as to safe harbors along the Massachusetts coast.  Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of this early activity remaining to be seen.  One such place is this cemetery with its oddly non-shaped stones –

Ordione Point Cemetery c. 1619

Since no one has actually dug one up, there’s no real evidence these are graves at all.  Sure, the Ordione family eventually buried some of their people here in the 19th century, but there are no carved stones earlier than that even though the family had been living in this area for generations before.  Probably they are buried in Portsmouth, site of the Strawbery Banke plantation.

I find the stones to be a bit to regularly spaced and placed to be random.  Plus, why else would the family start burying other people here if it weren’t already a burial ground?

Longview of primitive stones at Ordione Point Cemetery

Here’s the roughest of the carved stones you can see in the distance in the first two of the photos above.  I really loved the light on this one and how it brought up the crude carving.

Roughly carved grave stone in Oridione Point Cemetery

So why doesn’t this area get more press?  I have no idea.  The monument to David Thomson and the early settlers used to be here at the cemetery, but was moved to the more accessible and popular Ordione State Park across the street.  It was originally erected at Strawbery Banke, but was moved to the cemetery in 1955.  No one visited.  No one does now.  But it is beautifully maintained and cared for none-the-less.

The trails here lead to a salt marsh area that was once farmed by (presumably) the Ordione family and an example of a staddle remains.  It was where the hay was piled until the ground froze enough for carts to be pulled into the marsh to take it away.  The posts had to be high enough to keep the hay dry during high tide.

What's a staddle?

Through the marsh runs Seavey creek and it’s truly a beautiful area.  There are two viewing platforms with many informational plaques, but the place seems unused and deserted.  Several blowdowns across the trails have not been cleared and a once accessible Ordione family well is now blocked.

NH Salt Marsh preserve

In a way, I prefer it like this.  It means there’s a spot of great beauty and peace that I can enjoy in reliable solitude.  But it also means no one else gets to do the same unless they go a fair bit out of their way to do it.


Sometimes you get lucky.

I went into the woods today for the first time in weeks and had been walking barely 10 minutes when I found this –

Soliloquy (OM 35mm f2 legacy lens)

I couldn’t believe it.  How did this beech leaf just stand up like that?  As if it were spotlit on stage and about to give a speech.  Funny huh?  I’d just started to look around and notice details and there it was.

Now, another thing that’s kind of spooky is that I’d pulled over and stopped far short of where I usually park on this particular road.  It’s unmaintained, but I’ve driven it in worse conditions with no problem.  I have no idea why I did it.  There was no logical thought process, I just stopped.  For some reason though I parked at a junction with a couple of trails that I didn’t plan to actually hike, but ended up on anyway.  If I’d driven all the way in, I would have run over this little leaf and blown a perfect opportunity.


Overcoming Laziness

Even when I’m not on vacation I can’t get excited about getting out of bed before the sun comes up.  As a photographer I know I should and not doing so is somewhere between stupid and insane.  So why would I drag my ass out of bed before 7 on vacation?

For this –

Symmetry in a vineyard

and this –


There are a few more in the SmugMug gallery, but you get the idea.

I didn’t start out at this location.  We went what we thought was a good spot based on talking to tasting room folks.  Keep in mind that it was full dark when we got there so imagine our surprise when what we thought were rows of vine trellises turned out to be just rows of dirt.  Yeah, that’s photogenic.  Luckily my brain was sort of turning over at that point and I remembered a winery we’d visited the day before and the road leading up to it.  It was hilly.  It might even be facing in the right direction.  Better still it was close.  Nothing like racing the Earth’s rotation for a photo.

So we headed over.  By now there was a  little light and we could at least tell that the field was planted.  Oh and joy there are even trees.  Even though I couldn’t get as close as I wanted without trespassing, I think things came out pretty well.  I hoped for a better sky, but the subject really is the vines and how they light up so spectacularly, so it didn’t really matter in the end.  Better than rows of dirt.