Sunday, December 11, 2016

December Rising

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There was already a car full of photographers waiting at the closed gate, so I pulled in behind them and rolled down my windows before shutting off the engine. I listened to a Clarence Gatemouth Brown song, then ZZ Ward, before a ranger showed up to unlock the gate at 7 o'clock on the dot. A third car had pulled in behind me, and we all fired up our engines. 

Sunrise was going to be at 7:16, so I was in kind of a rush, but I believe the folks in front of me had never been to Mt. Tam before. They were driving very hesitantly, as if looking for good sunrise views on the way up the winding road. They pulled to the side of the road at the first opportunity with a wide enough shoulder, at which point I flew past them to try to get up onto Serpentine Power Point in time for the show, which of course starts well before the sun breaks the horizon. 

I've been laid up with a cold all week, but I chugged as best I could up the hill to reach my planned vantage point. I could see, however, that I wasn't going to make it, so I made do with a couple of frames along the way. I've never shot from that first vantage point before, and I kind of like it. I'd been trying to reach the view in the third and final shot, but you can see that the color in the clouds had almost completely faded by then. It was very windy and quite chilly, and I wished I'd brought gloves. 

I've always liked the view up this little side creek near the first bridge you cross on the way down the Cataract Trail from Rock Spring. The ravine is dry most of the year, so it's a little bit special to see it running with water. But just because I liked it doesn't mean I saw a photo opportunity, and I probably kept on walking for years before I finally set up the shot on the left back in 2012. Things change of course, and the same creek now has a recently toppled Douglas fir cutting across it. I believe the fir fell fairly recently, maybe last spring. 

Both frames were shot with the same 50mm lens, by the way. The 2012 version has a more compressed perspective because the lens was on a different camera. On the D300, which is what I had back then, the 50mm lens acts like a 75mm lens.

There were several of these guys growing under some small Doug fir trees, so I assumed they were slippery jacks. I still thought they were slippery jacks even after I took the picture and walked away. It was only when I got the image up on my screen that I noticed something fishy: gills! 

I wanted to experiment more with this technique for making an image appear more dreamlike, but only certain subjects are conducive to it, and this was the only one I tried this morning. It's basically just two images sandwiched together, with the opacity slider dragged down a bit on the top layer. I put the sharp image on top. The base layer is the same frame, but shot out of focus and wide open, like so:

I didn't think I had the energy or even the desire to hike down to the waterfalls. I wasn't sure I had enough energy even to climb the hill next to the trail, but I eventually mosied on up with a plan to make a short loop back to the car. As I stood in a small flat clearing where I suspect deer and possibly other animals have bedded down on occasion, I looked with appreciation upon these moss-bedecked bay laurel trunks, as well as that big slab of bark behind me in the picture. That's when it dawned on me that all the trunks were part of one tree! The original main trunk must have been huge before it fell away and decomposed. This bay laurel has probably spent most of its life with Coast Miwok being the only people for miles around. 

As I was poking around looking for interesting fungi I spotted this mossy tree trunk and adjacent rock, with a nice little declivity between the two. I'd also been noticing a scattering of fallen oak leaves that still retained some color. So I gathered up the colorful leaves in a small area around the base of the tree and placed them in the declivity. 

I put on a pair of glasses and looked over the surface of this whole toppled fir tree that's maybe thirty feet long, just to find this one little section that I wanted to photograph. I made this image at 1/3 lifesize, and it's a focus stack of 20 frames. I have never figured out how to avoid those halo effects that often show up around the red tips of the British soldier lichens.

Colors, shapes, textures. These Lactarius mushrooms were everywhere. They smelled okay, at least as far as I could judge with a stuffed-up nose, but I don't think they were candy caps.

At first I thought I knew what this was. And then I wasn't so sure. I photographed it, and then I harvested it to see if it had a volva, the sac-like structure typically found at the base of mushrooms in the Amanita genus. But there was no sac! I'd forgotten my pocket knife, so I dug under the mushroom with my index finger to pull it up. The base of the stalk was quite ordinary. Could this be a Stropharia? A Psathyrella?

At home I looked through Desjardin's California Mushrooms with no luck. Ditto for Arora's Mushrooms Demystified. I gave up, ate lunch and took a shower. On the inside of the bathroom door, we have a poster with lots of different mushrooms pictured on it. One of them was the mushroom I had photographed!

It was a death cap after all. I must have broken off the stalk and left the volva underground, something I've never done before. Mushroom-foragers warn against making this very mistake. Not that I planned to collect this for the table, but we do have superficially similar-looking edible coccora on Mt. Tam--a tasty amanita, not a deadly one. 

At least, I hear they're tasty. I've never risked trying one myself....

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