Sunday, September 15, 2013

Laurel Dell

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Fitting our time well and giving pause to our thoughts is Thoreau's admonition and despairing cry: "Most men, it seems to me, do not care for nature and would sell their share in all her beauty for a given sum. Thank God men have not yet learned to fly so they can lay waste the sky as well as the earth." Lines like these could not be illustrated, but they made me realize that illustration was not all I wanted to do. I hoped to be able to complement in feeling and spirit Thoreau's thinking one hundred years ago, and to show the peril we face even more today by our ever faster destruction of life not our own.
-- Eliot Porter, from the preface to In Wildness is the Preservation of the World, 1962

It has come to this -- that the lover of art is one, and the lover of nature another, though true art is but the expression of our love of nature. It is monstrous when one cares but little about trees and much about Corinthian columns, and yet this is exceedingly common.
-- Henry David Thoreau (from Porter's book), 1857

The Eliot Porter book quoted above is said to be the first book of color nature photography that was accepted by the art establishment (you know who you are). Before his book of scenes from New England forests came along in the company of Thoreau's then-100-year-old words, only black-and-white photography was considered artistic.


The book was the first of many for Porter, but this one is said to be his best. I got it from the library because I've been disappointed before by the print quality in color photography books from that long ago. Like Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter was a master printer who used the painstaking "dye transfer" process to make his prints. Unfortunately, the reproductions in this 50-year-old book don't do justice to his craft, but the book does at least give the flavor of Porter's style.

In order to catch the sunrise this morning I had to park the Jeep across the street from Bootjack, then pedal my bike up to Rock Spring and hike the last section which is closed to bikes. I got a bit of a late start -- it was already 6:20 when I started the bike leg -- and just made it. It was 56 degrees and windy, but even wearing just shorts and a t-shirt I was sweating from the flurry of exertion. By 7:00 a.m. (when the gate opens) it was all over, and I packed up for the trip back down to the truck.

There had been no morning fog in my neighborhood back in San Francisco despite waking up to wet streets every day for the last week. I'd been counting on fog for my sunrise shot and almost took some time to fix a real breakfast and go up to Mt. Tam a little later than usual -- or maybe not at all -- when I saw how clear the sky was. But as usual, I'm glad I decided to go. 

I got off my bike to fire off a few frames looking into the forest.

I finally got back to the Jeep, loaded my bike, and drove back up to Rock Spring to poke around a bit. I just got a relatively inexpensive Moultrie camera trap rig and was looking for someplace to set it up. A little after 8 o'clock, the ranger came up and opened the West Ridgecrest gate, and I slipped in right behind him to drive to my next stop, where I was greeted with a clear view over the Pacific.

This is what remains of the pet cemetery I reported on with my very first post. Whatever was buried in the shallow grave is gone.

It would have been nothing for a coyote to have dug it up, though it wouldn't have been much work for just about any critter that took an interest: coyotes can dig holes deep enough to sleep in. I was excited to see this good-looking chap, my first coyote of the blog-year.

I'd been telling myself to go down to Laurel Dell for a couple of weeks, so today I finally hiked down there. I had no idea what I might find -- it's still way too early to hope for migrating songbirds -- but I was thinking about Eliot Porter wandering around the New England woods, so I imagined he was along for company, and I just kept my eyes open for possibilities.

I finally abandoned my old 200mm Micro-Nikkor, the old Ai-S model. Though inexpensive to buy, it was never really sharp enough to suit me, and on the D800 it's what you might call a soft-focus lens. I find the 105mm AF-D to be a good, sharp stand-in. It's smaller and lighter than the pricey AF-D 200mm and easy to use on a focusing rail. 

As bright and nutritious as rose hips are, I wonder why critters haven't eaten them all by now.

Once I reached the bottom of the hill I decided to mosey down along the creekbed. I was surprised to find some small stones that someone had balanced to create little rock sculptures. I've been surprised quite a few times when I had the illusion that no one goes where I go, and I always enjoy the surprise as long as it's in the form of artwork or a track in the dirt as opposed to a plastic bottle or a clump of toilet paper.

Having just read the Eliot Porter book, I felt inspired to look for subjects and compositions in places I don't often explore.

Intimate landscapes. Anyone can appreciate a dramatic sunrise, but most of life takes place between the dramatic scenes. An excellent gift that anyone can acquire is to learn to appreciate the "haiku moments," the everyday fare that can touch our hearts and give a deeper sense of meaning to our lives than we get by simply accomplishing tasks. I once put together a booklet of "haiku photography," and a few of the haikus were published in Marin Magazine.

Even when the water's no longer flowing, a creek is a good place to be.

It was around 9:45 when I looked at my watch, feeling like a cloak of fatigue had been draped over my shoulder. I didn't actually make it to Laurel Dell proper, even though I was just a stone's throw away, but that's okay. I'll save it for another day....

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