Saturday, December 3, 2016

Tennessee Valley

* * *


I've been hankering for bobcats for a while, so I drove out to Tennessee Valley this morning to see if I could get lucky. I arrived to find numerous cars and school buses in the parking area and along the sides of the street, even though it was only about 7:45 in the morning. I believe the commotion was all about this race. There was much raucous cheering of encouragement at the parking lot (I believe they started near Rodeo Lagoon). I've never seen so many people running an ultra-marathon before. They all looked extremely fit and most carried backpacks full of water. My first instinct was to turn around and drive up to Mt. Tam instead, but the thought of mushroom-hunting wasn't enough to overpower my lust for bobcats.



I began my hike among the runners, one of whom commiserated about the lack of peace and quiet, but I was scanning for bobcats in the distance north and south and didn't really mind. I'm a bit of an armchair ultramarathoner and could appreciate the feat they were setting out to accomplish. I soon dropped them anyway when I took the cut-off up to the campground, and they were all long gone by the time I came back to the main trail. I saw a very sweet covey of quail next to the campground. They were gathered in a tight group just on the edge of the chaparral, feathers fluffed and standing still to soak up the warm morning sun.



I hiked all the way down to the beach and back without seeing a bobcat, coyote or even a single deer. I saw one marsh hawk gliding slowly over the chaparral as warning chirps from songbirds below popped here and there, and I saw one brush rabbit stretch its body in a brief dash to cover as I approached the tender frosty greens it had been munching, but that was about it.



All the pictures in this post are from the month of December in '07, '09, and 2010. I did a lot of photography in Tennessee Valley back in 2010-11. The place was always busy with people, but there was also lots of wildlife. It was actually a little depressing this morning to find so little wildlife action. Even six years ago I could have a slow day where I didn't see any bobcats, so I don't want to make too much of today's miserly accounting. But I would not be surprised if the years of drought since then have taken a toll on the valley's fecundity.



So I just read Sebastian Junger's book Tribe, and wanted to share some of the tidbits I liked, starting with the following:

"The !Kung were so well adapted to their environment that during times of drought, nearby farmers and cattle herders abandoned their livelihoods to join them in the bush because foraging and hunting were a more reliable source of food. The relatively relaxed pace of !Kung life--even during times of adversity--challenged long-standing ideas that modern society created a surplus of leisure time. It created exactly the opposite: a desperate cycle of work, financial obligation, and more work. The !Kung had far fewer belongings than Westerners, but their lives were under much greater personal control."

A page or so later Junger continues, "As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go up rather than down. Rather than buffering people from clinical depression, increased wealth in a society seems to foster it."



Just this morning I overheard a couple of women talking on the trail, with one telling the other in an angry or disgusted tone of voice, "I can't believe how many depressed people there are at work!" 



Junger's thesis is that being part of a tribe is so important that soldiers sometimes feel like war was better than peace, and that civilian communities who've pulled together in adversity later recall how good it felt to have banded together in common cause. Of the three books I bought before the Thanksgiving holiday, Tribe was one I finished first.



The second book I finished was Mary Oliver's collection of essays called Upstream. In her essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson, she writes of his first published book, "Nature is a text that is entirely about divinity and first purposes, a book of manners, almost, but for the inner man. It does not demean by diction or implication the life that we are most apt to call 'real,' but it presupposes the heart's spiritual awakening as the true work of our lives. That this might take place in as many ways as there are persons alive did not at all disturb Emerson, and that its occurrence was the beginning of paradise here among the temporal fields was one of his few unassailable certainties."



I'm still working on the third book, Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees. He begins the chapter called "The Mysteries of Moving Water" with a deceptively simple question: "How does water make its way up from the soil into the tree's leaves?" He discusses transpiration, capillary action and cohesion, and comes to an interesting conclusion: no one knows!



I'm also working on another book that recently arrived in the mail: Science, Order and Creativity by the physicists David Bohm and F. David Peat. I've only just begun reading it and was struck by this in the Introduction: "...by exploring natural resources in a fragmentary manner, society has brought about the destruction of forests and agricultural lands, created deserts, and even threatens the melting of the ice caps." I was struck by that because this book came out 30 years ago. "And how can science lead human beings to control themselves?" it continues. "How do scientists propose to control hatred between nations, religions, and ideologies when science itself is fundamentally limited and controlled by these very things?" They sound a little like Sebastian Junger as they continue: "And what about the growing psychological tension in a society that is so unresponsive to basic human needs that life seems, for many, to have lost its meaning?"



Unfortunately, David Bohm died in 1992, but Peat is still around. He's Canadian, though, which means almost no one in the U.S. has ever heard of him. Anyway, the book feels dated with its paperback pages having lost some of their brightness, but the content is interesting and easy for a nonscientist like myself to understand (unlike the other Bohm title I got, called The Undivided Universe!).









* * *

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lazy Days

* * *


Made my first stop at Muir Beach Sunday morning to check up on the coho action. Sill too early. Redwood Creek has cut a new channel into the ocean, just a bit south of where it was on my last visit. A couple of large swells pushed their salty way up the creek quite a distance, and I imagined a smart salmon body-surfing a head start into the creek on such a swell. Dec. 15, 2006 is the last time I saw salmon spawning in Redwood Creek, so hopefully the time is just about right, if we get more rain.



Found this strange altar in a small clearing just to the north off the Benstein Trail. There were a couple other rock placements nearby that had been dug up by animals, so I assumed there wasn't a dead pet at the center of this intact pile of stones, feathers, bones, store-bought shells, and such.











* * *

Mendo Morsels

* * *


Spent a couple of days in beautiful Mendocino where we stayed in a cabin in the redwoods a few miles up the Comptche-Ukiah Road. We had one dry day and two wet ones, so we did most of our outdoor explorations on the dry day. The ocean was producing some large swells which appeared to be taking a toll on these nearly frond-free sea palms. Love the water color though.



This has become our new favorite hang-out on the Mendo headlands. We sat facing the ocean with our feet hanging over the edge, a great scene to be a part of.



I brought three small books to read while I was up there: Tribe by Sebastian Junger, Upstream by Mary Oliver, and The Hidden Life of Trees of Peter Wohlleben. They got me thinking about the life and further adventures of this drift log, which might have started as a seedling next to a river, grown strong and tall for hundreds of years as the river chipped away at the bank, and finally toppled into the river and out to sea during a heavy storm, then to drift among the swells, bull kelp and sea otters until it came to rest on this small sandy beach at the foot of Mendocino.



We joined the teeming hordes at Glass Beach in Fort Bragg. It's kind of amazing there's anymore glass at all after years, even decades, of gleaning by collectors of sea glass. I took only pictures myself, sea glass in a mussel shell and in a small abalone shell.



There's a great photography gallery in Fort Bragg that's always worth checking out. It's kind of hidden around the back of the main drag, and we just made it before closing time after a late lunch and craft beers at North Coast Brewing Co. 

* * *

Monday, November 21, 2016

Dr. Strange

* * *



Pam and I went to see the movie Dr. Strange at the Alamo Draft House on Saturday, and it got me thinking. Always a dangerous thing.... 

I see people like Dr. Strange almost every time I drive on the freeways – arrogant idiots who endanger other people’s lives with their own recklessness. The second-best thing that can happen to someone like that is they go upside-down and on fire all by themselves. The best thing that can happen is what happened to Dr. Strange.

When Western medicine can’t give him what he wants, Dr. Strange risks everything on a desperate attempt to find someone who can fix him. He journeys to the East. He believes he has risked everything, but he can’t even risk his own arrogance. That arrogance is stripped away only when he sees for himself that there is a heretofore unknown dimension of awareness. Only now does he see how lowly his old keyhole existence actually was. Only now is he humble enough to be a student.

His last material possession is useless for its intended purpose, but it’s inscribed with magic words that will bind him to earth as he undertakes the supernatural adventure of a lifetime. He does battle with a powerful enemy, but he also has powerful allies and finds supernatural aids, including a levitation cloak and a double ring of power. His final battle is with the enemy of life itself.

We don’t have to be world-class surgeons to be self-absorbed keyhole mongers. We probably don’t have to be forced into dire straits to begin the Strange adventure. That is, we probably don’t have to go into it kicking and screaming and wanting our mommy.

Then again, maybe we do…. (Cue the evil laughter.) 

* * *

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Shooting in the Rain

* * *


The road construction is done, so Fairfax-Bolinas Road reopened on Friday, once again making it possible to drive to the Cataract Creek trailhead at Alpine Lake. It was raining pretty hard when I parked, so I sipped coffee until it let up a little. I still had to put on rain pants and jacket, plus carry an umbrella.



This shot and the one before it were done from beneath the umbrella, which I've finally gotten the hang of. It can be frustrating if you don't work more slowly and methodically than normal.



The rain finally let up, which was great because at 55 degrees it wasn't really cold enough to hike up that steep canyon wearing all that rain gear. 



When I got farther up the trail and realized I was missing a lens cap, I was pretty sure I'd dropped it around here somewhere, and as I was hiking back down the trail to look for it I met up with another hiker who'd already picked it up for me. 



Stone steps on the Cataract Trail.



After I left the waterfall area I hiked a short way along a trail up on Bolinas Ridge to look for this very mushroom. Some years they don't come up, so I was glad to find a few of these purple-stalked specimens right where I've seen them before. They look like a shorter version of the Cortinarius vanduzernsis that I've found up in Sonoma County, but I'm not sure that species grows this far south.


video

Waterfall Clip

* * *

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Holotropism

* * *


I’ve recently been reading some of the work of Ken Wilber and Stan Grof. For a long-time fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, it’s been interesting to find these guys—both still alive—who carry the torch in a world that has become darkly materialistic and where rationalism appears to be going off the rails. I became familiar with the work of Grof and Wilber a long time ago and kind of forgot about them during the last 20 or so years, but I recently rekindled my interest in connecting with their decidedly non-materialistic approaches to the ways we perceive the world. In 1967, working with Abraham Maslow and others to create a fuller picture of what it means to be human, Grof coined the term transpersonal psychology.

The need for a new kind of psychology grew in part from Grof’s work with patients under the therapeutic influence of psychedelics such as LSD. When the government outlawed the use of these substances, even by doctors, Grof found another way for patients to access the transpersonal realms for healing. He named this other way, Holotropic Breathwork. With its capital letters and legal trademark, the name kind of rubbed me the wrong way. It seemed a little pretentious and just another of the countless avenues of spiritual entrepreneurialism we see today. Not that there’s anything wrong with protecting your ideas—I’m all for copyright protections—but I did have to overcome an ingrained skepticism to learn more about it.

In trying to find out more about this weirdly named thing I found a local guy on Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork Community named Jimmy Eyerman. Looking into it a bit more, I found a podcast interview where Dr. Eyerman discusses the HB process. Although I’d read Grof’s definition of “holotropic” and had a basic understanding of the word, its meaning really sank in when I heard Dr. Eyerman talk about it. Simply put, the word means “movement toward wholeness.”

I think it sank in because I finally related the word holotropic to similar words I already knew from long-ago botany classes: phototropic (the tendency of plants to reach into the light) and geotropic (the tendency of roots to reach into the earth).



Dr. Eyerman has led something like 11,000 people on HB journeys, and in the podcast he talks about some of the experiences they’ve had. Meanwhile I’ve been reading Grof’s Psychology of the Future and getting more insight into the HB experience. As I learned more about HB, something kind of stuck in my craw—it’s temporariness. It seems that an HB experience is similar to a psychedelic experience in the sense that it can often be just that, a wild experience, a visit to a place you come back from and more or less forget about. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it seems like a half-step, like doing something inspiring on the weekend, only to feel stuck in drudgery the rest of the week.

That idea got me back to Wilber’s discussion in his book Integral Psychology of “states” versus “structures.” If I read him right, Wilber held that a goal of psychological evolution is to integrate the “states” into “structures.” Experiencing a state would be like realizing, briefly, that you had two arms. The next time you might realize you have two legs—and hopefully you didn’t forget about your arms during the interim. Eventually you realize you have a whole body, and if you play your cards right, that realization sticks, and now you have a fully realized structure to get around in.

The structure isn’t static like a building because time isn’t static. A structure in time is a process, and adjustments can be made to the structure to improve the process. Now the leap: What if holotropism, the tendency of one’s structure to reach toward wholeness, is as fundamental a process to humans as phototropism and geotropism are to plants? Why fight it?

This idea got me to thinking about the little bit of shamanic journeying I did back in the ‘90s with guys like Michael Harner. In shamanism, your drum is the horse you ride into the shamanic journey. I think writing and photography can be shaman’s drums as well, leading one into new ways of seeing the world. I see photography as being more primal than writing since images are its language, but I think rational writing can complement the primal art of seeing—and one of these days I hope to figure out how to do that.



* * *

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Season's Turning

* * *


I usually count it a good year if there are waterfalls and mushrooms at the same time the bigleaf maples are turning yellow. Some years there isn't enough rain before all the leaves have fallen and turned brown.



Looking back at some shots from November 2013, I saw that High Marsh was completely dry. My wife and I hiked past there yesterday and found it full and croaky with Pacific treefrogs.



We hiked from Rock Spring to Barth's Retreat via the Simmons Trail, then made the short connection east to Potrero Meadow to pick up the Kent Trail down to High Marsh. Dodging newts along the High Marsh Trail we eventually reached Bare Knoll where we took in the spectacular view and stopped for a snack before continuing to Cataract Falls (down considerably since my last visit), then looping back up to Rock Spring.



As we hiked past the bigleaf maples above Cataract Falls yesterday I knew I wanted to return to poke around with my camera today. I was lucky to find the West Ridgecrest gate open when I arrived at Rock Spring a little past 7 a.m., so I drove out to the parking area above Laurel Dell to save myself some hiking time.



Little or no rain in the forecast, so I figured I'd better not try to wait a week.



I don't usually go out of the city twice on a weekend, but this was a rough week. Two doses of Mt. Tam seemed like a minimum treatment to prepare me for the coming workweek, to getting back to the so-called real world, where the majority does not rule and where the most surreal politician in my life just got handed the keys to the Oval Office which I'm sure he's eager to take for a joy ride.



It's going to be an interesting cycle in the life of our country.







* * *

Monday, November 7, 2016

Integral Photography, Pt. 2

* * *


The day after I finished reading Ken Wilber’s Intergral Psychology, and despite the fact that it was a Sunday, the mail carrier brought me another book, Integral Ecology, which weighs in at about 800 pages. Obviously, the “integral” idea can be applied to different fields of endeavor, so I got to thinking about its application to photography. (Integral yoga, which started this line of thought, was an early 20th century invention of Sri Aurobindo, whose ultimate spiritual awakening occurred while he was in prison.)

The integral in photography would be the finished photograph, a structured combination of compositional elements (which includes not just things, but tonal and textural values, etc.). In nature photography, the compositional elements can be intricately diverse, and it’s the photographer’s task to unite those diverse elements into an image that works.

One of the key principles of the integral idea seems to be unifying what Wilber calls the “Big Three,” which are Aesthetics, Ethics and Science. So in the process of bringing compositional elements into focus, an integral approach to photography would combine all three. Aesthetically, we decide what to include in our composition. Ethically, we decide against harming our subject or telling a significant lie about it (no image is the thing itself, so small lies or truth-bending for the sake of aesthetics is inevitable). Scientifically, it certainly helps in nature photography to know your subject, but even more simply, it helps to know your equipment.

I'm not suggesting we try to shoehorn the practice of photography into any kind of philosophical or practical framework, but it can be interesting when a seemingly random puzzle piece actually fits the picture.

* * * 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Integral Photography

* * *


I heard a weird noise when I got out of my car in the Sunset Point parking area. I thought the radiator fan might still be running, but that didn't check out. Then I thought there was a huge bee's nest in the ground in front of the car, but that didn't pan out either. I finally looked up in the sky and there it was, a drone. I can only hope it's not the beginning of a trend up there.



Before heading up the mountain I made a quick check at Redwood Creek down near Muir Woods. The water's probably still too low to entice any salmon upstream.



I read another interesting book over the last couple of days, called Integral Psychology by Ken Wilber. I like his idea of nesting stages of growth for human consciousness, where each successive stage integrates a broader, deeper, more conscious outlook on the world. Unfortunately, like a flower that doesn't quite unfurl properly, a person's consciousness can also hit roadblocks and dissociate instead of integrate, and thereby leave some aspect of potential growth behind.



Childhood dissociations are probably fairly common and can lead to lifelong debilities and constrictions of one's true nature. The good news is those dissociated aspects can be retrieved and integrated in adulthood, even as new growth stages continue to unfold throughout one's life, offering opportunities for renewal even in old age.



So here's to getting older and expanding my consciousness, not my waistband.



I could probably have spent the whole morning doing photography in one small area. There were so many mushrooms popping up that the composition possibilities were endless.



I wondered if this fly was feeding on the spores inside the puffball since the hole that opens up to release spores is right about where the fly is.



But I think the fly was just perched, not feeding.



I ended up hiking a short loop off the Cataract Trail, following a deer trail uphill and into more woods.



It didn't rain at all, but it was quite drippy under the forest canopy, though not so bad that I needed my umbrella. I just had to be careful not to get drops on the lens.



I headed out to a magical Bolinas Ridge vista point just to take it in, then had to jog back to the car to get my camera. I don't think I'd been out that way in a long time. It was good to see a little bit of green grass starting to come in.



Out near Druid Rocks I got to thinking about Wilber's model of integral psychology and wondered if reconnecting with and integrating the lost parts of one's true nature and continuing to open up to new layers of consciousness might be reflected in someone's art. You probably can't separate the two, since you'd be growing as an artist right along with other aspects of your life. I guess we just have to keep all the channels open and the energy flowing, and see what happens. 

* * *