Sunday, July 31, 2016

End O' July

* * *

I just finished reading The Invention of Nature -- Alexander von Humboldt's New World, by Andrea Wulf, and I so enjoyed reading about this interesting naturalist that I also just picked up Humboldt's Cosmos by Gerard Helferich. Cosmos was the name of Humboldt's 5-volume magnum opus on the world of nature. He finished the first two volumes in 1847 but decided there was more work to do and wrote two more volumes before he died in 1859 at the age of 89 (the fifth volume was published posthumously). The San Francisco Public Library has a copy of Cosmos that can be viewed only in the library, and one of these days I'll have to make the pilgrimage.

Humboldt's work and ideas inspired many scientists, artists and other interesting people of his day, from Charles Darwin and Louis Agassiz to Frederic Edwin Church and George Catlin to Henry Thoreau and John Muir. He was greatly interested in America's new, free republic and was a friend of Thomas Jefferson (whom he admonished against slavery). If, like me, you've never really heard much about Humboldt -- whom King Friedrich Wilhelm IV dubbed "the greatest man since the Deluge" -- blame may go in part to World War I and the ensuing fear and loathing of everything German. Some 2,000 Germans, including 29 members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, were sent to internment camps, and numerous German-owned businesses -- including woolen mills worth $70 million -- were seized.

I've been wondering what inspiration I can take from Humboldt's life, whether I could apply anything to my jaunts to Mt. Tam and other nearby locales. The way he looked at the world as a whole of interrelated parts was an inspiration to many, as were his exotic adventures in South America.

I still remember when Mt. Tamalpais seemed exotic to me, and I wouldn't mind getting that feeling again, if possible. There are many other places I'd like to explore, and I hope to have the ability to do so someday, but for the next few years I'm going to be content with photographing close to home. Even Humboldt had to spend many years -- decades, even -- simply making a living when he'd rather have been exploring.

Today I ventured out once again on the Matt Davis Trail. The grasses were still tall and bowed across the path, but this time the fog was much lower and the grass was dry as tinder. I didn't get wet at all, and it was actually quite sunny and warm. I was glad to have gotten out early, before the heat and bugs would become a nuisance. I wasn't sure I was actually still going to be interested in the backlit thistles that I enjoyed seeing when I recently hiked past here without my camera, but they were okay, if nothing to get too excited about, and I enjoyed the hike in any case.

This is a view down one of the ravines along the trail. I had to descend just a bit to get an unobstructed view. There was a second ravine I wanted to explore, even steeper, but I was too lazy to climb down into it. I find that I sometimes want the perspective of a longer lens, but holding that lens horizontally doesn't give me as much vertical coverage as I want, as was the case from this viewpoint using a 105mm lens. The solution (when there is little or no wind) is to hold the camera vertically and shoot several frames across the field to be stitched together as a panorama.

Getting back to the car I picked up my trail camera (where the water hole likely dried up two weeks ago; see my previous post), then drove down toward Stinson Beach to see if I could catch any fog beams. I was lucky to find a pull-out where the beams were coming through the forest canopy near a patch of showy flowers.

* * *

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bear Cam

* * *

"All the truly living, at least once, are born again."
--Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Beautiful Struggle

The live web cams from Brooks Falls are mesmerizing.

A sockeye salmon swims up from Bristol Bay to spawn in the Brooks River, a short run of water that drains Brooks Lake into NakNek Lake, but it's caught by a grizzly bear and never gets past the falls. Padding through the water with the determined fish still flapping its tail from between its teeth, the griz reaches an island of sand and pebbles. The bear sets down the salmon and, keeping one paw on its head, strips off sheets of skin and chews off chunks of flesh, tossing the pieces into its mouth to be swallowed.

The fish kicks in silence. The bear bites again. Skin peels off, the body of the fish is ripped apart by unstoppable jaws, but it somehow continues to flop on the ground under that giant paw. Even if the salmon somehow escaped at this point, what good would it do? Its drive to spawn is so powerful that even half-eaten, its will to press on upriver is undiminished.

The mercy of death finally comes to the salmon, and the bear turns back into the rushing river to catch its next meal. One of its cubs, still too green to catch its own fish, walks to the small pile of remains and eats what's left while attending gulls swoop in, hoping some little piece will float their way.

The bear feeds on the salmon without mercy. It is easier to see things from the bear's perspective than from the salmon's. To watch from the salmon's perspective is too awful to contemplate. We want to turn away, turn off our empathy before the fact of the salmon's violent death sinks in too far, becomes indelible. But to become among the truly living, we have to surrender to the larger story and experience what we thought was too awful to bear. If we can set just one foot through that door, we will see that it wasn't too awful to bear. Indeed, we will enter a new world, rich with possibility.

* * *

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Summer Fog

* * *

I started hiking this morning on a thin dirt trail on the windward side of Bolinas Ridge. Visibility was probably around 100 feet, and the trail was covered by a golden-brown archway of knee- to hip-high grasses -- all of them heavily burdened with dew. My legs, shorts, and shoes and socks became completely soaked in very short order, and I had a long way to go. I stopped to take stock while a cold wind blew and reluctantly decided that to continue, to insist on reaching my intended destination, was untenable.

I was glad I hadn't brought my wife up to hike the route I did last week -- Pantoll to Stinson Beach via the Matt Davis Trail, then back up via Steep Ravine. It was foggy last week, but it was a relatively dry fog, with no dew-soaked grass or dripping forests. In fact, the morning light had been beautiful at a particular point along the trail, and my plan this morning had been to hike out to the same spot with my camera.

I've been taking a bit of a break from blogging and other online activities and have been making a few prints to better enjoy the fruit of my labor. I've made a few 8x12 and 16x24 metal prints, four 24x36 glossy prints mounted on gator board, and a 20x80 glossy panorama that I simply tacked to the wall. They all look great, if I do say so myself.

Something weird has been going on with the blog since around the beginning of summer. I'm not a stat-hound or anything, but I've noticed over the years that I tend to get around 30-50 pageviews a day. All of a sudden I'm getting 1,000 to 1,200 pageviews a day, and it's been going on like this for weeks.

Lots of bicyclists on the mountain this morning, and they were getting a nice little soaking as they passed beneath the redwoods on Bolinas Ridge. Reminded me that the Tour de France riders are about to climb into Switzerland. My camera and I got pretty soaked while I made a few compositions in the rainy forest. I headed home with my shoes and socks still soaked, about four hours after they first got that way.

* * *