Sunday, March 26, 2017

Tenacity Required

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I figured the walk up to Morse Falls would be tricky after a stormy season that brought so many mud slides and toppled trees--even closing access to parts of the mountain--and I was not wrong. The waterfall is a short hike from Highway 1 north of Stinson Beach, but there's no maintained trail. The usual trailhead was still flooded by the creek, so I took an alternate route. A faint trail through the spring grass told me someone had chosen the same route before me, and not just people, as I surmised when I came upon a bedding area with three obvious deer lays pushed down in the grass. I walked through, hoping I wasn't picking up any ticks.

I went up in February last year. The route was much easier to follow then, but it was nowhere near as green.


I hadn't gone very far up the trail before I encountered this fallen canyon maple tree. Note the new green leaves and dangling flower catkins. Tenacious tree. Judging by the weathered look of the wood where branches had been sawed off, I believe the tree was probably there last year. I'm sure it had no leaves though, so I guess I didn't pay much attention to it.

Hiking up the canyon, I placed my feet as carefully as I could to avoid brushing up against poison oak and poison hemlock, but my tingling legs told me I'd tangled with some unseen stinging nettle. They are still tingling as I type up this blog post five hours later. The route had taken me through lots of wet grass and other low plants, over fallen logs and under fallen trees, and even up the middle of the creek at a point where the old route had been wiped out. The very last section of the trail had also slid away and become a maze of branches from a fallen tree, hard to wrangle through with a backpack and tripod.

I was glad to see when I reached the falls that my tenacity had paid off. Lots of water was flowing over the falls, and the bigleaf maple that keeps the waterfall company was nicely covered with moss and ferns. I had been disappointed last year because the moss was sparse due to the prolonged drought. 

I shot a few photos, only 37 frames, about the limit of a roll of film, before hiking back out to the car. I'd planned to drive north and go up the mountain via Bolinas-Fairfax Road, but the gate was locked. I turned around and soon turned into a pull-out to look at an osprey that was perched on the top of a telephone pole. I wanted to observe the osprey as the tide came in, but I felt extremely antsy--itchy, actually--so I reluctantly got back on the road. Then I noticed another odd sensation. My face felt like it had been shot full of novocaine. I tried to whistle but couldn't do it. My face looked very red in the rearview mirror. The chest congestion I'd been feeling due to a cold got worse. 

I realized I was having some kind of allergic reaction, and I thought back to my hike. Could bare legs brushing up against poison hemlock do this? I wanted to do more photography, but I was too uncomfortable. By the time I got home I realized my torso was covered with scarlet patches and hives. A hot shower felt great, and as I was toweling off I felt the telltale bump of a tick on the back of my leg, just below my right butt cheek. I pulled off the tick, and my wife gave me some Benadryl which seems to have relieved most of the redness and itching. I do tend to get bad reactions to tick bites, but a couple of these symptoms--a numb face and mild respiratory distress--were a first. Now my wife thinks I should carry an EpiPen in my camera bag. Maybe she's right.

All during the hike I was thinking about my friend David Sumner, who passed away yesterday afternoon after tenaciously battling leukemia for nearly ten years. Dave once worked for Galen Rowell, but he wasn't a nature photographer. He was once an anthropologist who studied signs left by indigenous people who lived in the desert, but I could never convince him to create a book of his photography for the sake of posterity. I'm lucky to have a few of his prints hanging in my home. He collected a little art and photography himself, but what he loved to collect more than anything, I believe, was friends. He had a million of 'em, and we all miss him terribly.

I've been reading about and seeing pictures of this year's brilliant wildflower blooms in the southern deserts near where Dave grew up, but I haven't felt like driving all the way down there to see them, feeling content to ramble around Mt. Tam and Pt. Reyes. I've always been inspired by Dave's love of photography--he used digital cameras at times but was devoted to film--especially as the leukemia made him less able to go out and explore the visual possibilities of places away from home. If he was unable to get out and about, he found brilliant images in his own home, always aware of the way the light filtered through the windows, the way a simple piece of furniture, a fork on the counter top, or even half-filled cup of coffee could evoke a transcendent emotion.

Dave was an erudite man, a storehouse of knowledge on many subjects beyond his love of photography, and he was charismatic and outgoing, always eager to bandy ideas with people. But he took a different approach to his photography and once told me he was attracted to the quiet places of the world. I always appreciated that subtlety, that ability to compose an image the way a poet composes a haiku, making art from the quotidian, from the magical realms of ordinary life.

I miss you, Dave. 

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"Beer & Gear" Gathering at Dave and Anna's Place

Dave with his wife, Anna, on the Ocean Beach Esplanade

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