Saturday, October 8, 2016


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I haven't been around the north side of Mt. Tam in a long time. Fairfax-Bolinas Road remains closed and gated just past Azalea Hill. I was told by a lady driving out of the closed area that Caltrans hopes to be able to reopen the road in a month. Apparently there was a big washout, and lots of new retaining walls are going in.

It was still dark, just before dawn when I got out there. As the night turned to day I enjoyed all the birds coming to life: a golden-crowned sparrow down from the Sierra was whistling "ho hum" from an oak tree, with a California towhee kicking around in the leaves underneath it and flickers squeaking to each other from the tree tops. A covey of quail was companion-calling along the trail, and resident white-crowned sparrows chipped back-and-forth in the coyote brush.

I'd planned to go to the Lily Pond, but since I couldn't drive there I just wandered around Azalea Hill. I was mulling over the topic of "awareness" -- in part because I got doored for the first time in my life while I was biking home from work last Tuesday. Riding along Market Street near Civic Center there was a guy who appeared to be obliviously standing on the edge of the curb to my right, with something slung over his back that was protruding into the bike lane. Just as I nudged left to give him room I was instantly faced with a car door being swung open right in my path, impossible to avoid.

I usually see the bad Uber drivers (who don't pull over to the curb) and their knuckle-headed fares (who blindly open doors into bike lanes, often while spacing out on their phones), but this time my attention had been drawn to the guy on the right, so I didn't see the car stop to my left. 

Awareness is always important, whether on the streets of San Francisco or out in nature, and of course when doing nature photography. I don't know who said it first, but I love Gary Crabbe's teaching that goes something like this: don't include anything in your picture that you don't want. It basically means to compose very carefully, to look closely at the entire frame, from the middle bits where your attention is mainly focused, to the edges that often escape our attention until we view the image at home.

The French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes wrote that all we are is awareness: "I think, therefore I am."

To me, the next question is, "What is the nature of that awareness?" Why does it love life? Why does it dream? What if so-called inanimate objects experience awareness? How can I increase my own awareness, and how can increased awareness improve not just my photography but my life? Awareness is paying attention. If we always direct our attention toward a small circle of objects or ideas, we will miss all the action going on outside that circle. If we see the world only as objects we can touch, we miss all the action going on in our inner lives.

It's always good to get out and make some photographs, even if I'm not feeling particularly inspired, even if I have no idea what I want to shoot. To state the obvious, if I want to be a photographer, I have to go out and take pictures! I need to stay in shape, keep my hands familiar with my camera, my mind familiar with the technical know-how to execute the images I want to make. Also, I find that just being out in nature is its own reward--the scent of the grass, the open spaces, working my legs up a dirt trail, listening to the birds, spotting a mandala of coyotes (I like to think of groupings of four as mandalas)--even if I don't get a particularly good image out of it.

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  1. I am glad to hear that you are okay after your run-in with a car while on your bike. Very scary.

    Those coyotes look fat and happy for this time of year. Good for them! Great photos and text, as always.

    Karla in CA.

  2. Last month, my knee was pinned between bumpers by a friend's neighbor who backed into me with his car. My first impression was electric cars are extraordinarily heavy - this was a surprise!

    Have you ever tried stopping a ton of metal from running into you and crushing you like a tin can? Erg. My 120+ lb. frame could not keep it from crushing me.

    Because his car was electric, I could not hear him coming from behind me. I furiously banged on his trunk and screamed "Stop!" until he took notice.

    Given my accident a few years ago, I'm now very scared of bikes and cars.

    Maybe you'll find the following informative:

    1. Damn, Katie. I'm so sorry to hear about your experience! You are the second person to show me that article! I posted it to the SF Bike Coalition FB page too. Electric cars scare me too. They can be right behind me, running silent and deadly. And unfortunately, even e-car drivers can be road-raging knuckleheads. Stay safe out there!

    2. John, I hope your body is feeling alright after getting doored while on a bicycle.

      After my bike accident with a grade 2 shoulder separation and a gnarled knee (apparently I have pretty strong bones, according to my orthopedists, to not get a collarbone break or a patella break), I still find hiking with a backpack to be extremely painful and my knee likes to pop when the weather changes.

      You make a good point in that in order to be a true nature photographer, you need to stay in shape... minus some injuries.

      Best wishes to you!

      ps - I googled and electric cars are indeed much heavier nowadays than the 1980's gas models where 2 adults could easily pick them up.