For reasons unknown to me, I have not been able to upload any pictures since the Supermoon. Last month, we watched the Moonrise from Twin Peaks but we went to Corona Heights, lower and north of Twin Peaks. Because we were lower, I thought the moon would come up slightly later but, because it was the evening of New Year’s Day the San Francisco skyline was not as lite up. The crowd, however, was local.
I got a new camera the other day and I am having a harder time, than I expected, adjusting to it; physically, mentally, and, most surprisingly, emotionally. Physically, the camera is much smaller than my antique Canon 5D – which is why I bought it in the first place- and there is not as much real estate on which to put dials so it takes two steps to get to many things I want, like exposure compensation, and my fingers don’t fall on the dials the way I would like. The zoom ring is manual on both cameras but they zoom by rotating the lens in opposite directions. I know that but I don’t remember it when I am looking through the viewfinder. But all of that fades in comparison to the emotional adjustment. Carrying a full-frame SLR around, especially with a tripod, puts one in the Serious Photographer League. Now there are no more head nods from other Serious Photographers and we pass on the trail in Yosemite. That was unexpected and bothers me more than I liked to admit.
The upside is that it is a way more capable tool.
I went to Yosemite Valley, for the day, a couple of days ago. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed, because I wasn’t, it was a lovely, warm spring day and the Valley was Yosemite Valley at its best; majestic, serene, lots of water, and the dogwoods were blooming. It just wasn’t surprising. I’ve been reading alot of geology lately, about the Farallon Plate diving – or, subducting if you prefer – under the North American Plate and pushing mountains up all the way to the Rockies, and I’ve started to visualizing the change taking place in an relatable time. But, in real life, the change is taking place so slowly that we can’t see it – although we do feel it occasionally – and this Yosemite is the same Yosemite I first saw as a child in 1948, even if I don’t remember much of it.
About twenty years later, I first saw El Capitan – El Cap – as a sentient being and it hasn’t moved one inch from my first picture. And the best places to photograph El Cap haven’t changed either, the meadow where you can watch the climbers, looking down valley from another meadow across the river, the aptly named El Capitan View turnout, or the Tunnel View turn out. The pictures below, right and bottom, were taken on a trip to The Valley with Michele’s cousin, Marion Kaplan, during the Rim Fire when the sky was full of smoke and the valley somber, and the upper left on a drive through The Valley, late in the day, shuttling a car from the west side to the east side of the Sierras. The sky has changed but the walls have not. When I raise my camera to take a picture, I am struck by how many times I have taken the same pictures, most of them now sitting in Kodak Carousels in storage somewhere. That is not to say that, today, now, The Valley isn’t still screaming Take my picture!; it is. It still is one of the most stunning places I have ever been, even when it was smoked in, looking and feeling like Mordor. But it does raise the question, What is the point of taking pictures of Yosemite? I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that the only reasonable answer is To get a Selfie. Really, think about it. There are already hundreds of millions of pictures of Yosemite and the world probably does not need another one, but maybe, just maybe, the world needs a picture of us, either indirectly by showing our own interpretation of a place, or directly with a portrait. Either way, the picture is witness to our visit to The Valley, something to bring to show and tell. This day, when I got to Yosemite, they told me that Glacier Point had just opened for the season and, since that is one of my favorite view spots, I went there first. I was amazed at the volume of water in Merced and Nevada Falls…
and I could almost hear Yosemite Falls across the valley, it was just like old times. It was 59° at Glacier Point – which is amazingly warm in the sun at 7200+ feet – there was still snow on the ground, and, more importantly, the view has not changed in the last sixty years, so I went back down into warmth of the The Valley. One picture that I did want to repeat is of the boardwalk across the road from the Yosemite Valley Chapel and across the valley from Yosemite Falls. As an aside, now that I am walking around Yosemite, I remember two things that have changed during my memory. One is that there used to be a great view of the church, with Half Dome in the background, from the meadow next to the church, now trees – which I understand the Park Service planted – have grown up to block the view. The other is that Mirror Lake is now a meadow most of the time. End aside. Once I got to the boardwalk, the natural thing seemed to just walk across The Valley to Yosemite Falls, to hear its powerful roar and feel the mist. To simply let The Yosemite Valley of the Merced entrance me.
When we left Fresno last Thursday, the Volkswagen still wasn’t repaired. Or, more accurately, they repaired the water pump only to find out that the radiator had started to leak and they would need until Monday to fix it. Since we had an Enterprise rental car – with unlimited mileage – for a week and Los Angeles was only about 425 miles out of the way, I decided to run down to Los Angeles to see the Frank Gehry show at the L A County Museum. To keep costs down, I was going to camp at the Carrizo Plain north of Los Angeles and go into town in the morning. Courtney Gonzalez volunteered to come along for company if we could take the time to visit her niece.
Driving south on 101 and the 58, California looked dry and the Golden Hills were a parched dun. As we got close to where we were going to camp – camp is way too grandiose, all we really planned on doing was throwing our bags down on a flat spot with a view – we saw a tarantula crossing the road, then another one, then several more, then lots more. It was a tarantula migration! and we were in the middle of it. Courtney said, We don’t have a tent and I don’t want to sleep out with tarantulas crawling over me in the dark. I didn’t either but I was still in denial, thinking we would soon enter a tarantula free zone in which we could sleep without worries. We didn’t. As an aside, I haven’t seen a tarantula, in the wild, since the fall of 1981 when I was moving into my Portola Valley home. That fall, I saw three; two near my home and one on a back road to Mt. Hamilton. In the thirty four tarantula-free years since, I would sometimes wonder at the oddness of that year of seeing tarantulas crossing the road and how it must have been a once in a lifetime event. Now Courtney and I were seeing hundreds and it turns out that this is an annual event. It is not a migration but late September to early October – in dry grassland areas – the males go hunting for girlfriends. Tarantulas live from six to twelve years, mate once near the end of their life and – presumably – die happy (sometimes, but not usually, the girlfriend will kill the male after mating). End aside.
Discretion being the better part of valor, we opted out of spending the night on the Carrizo Plain. Instead we wandered around for a while and then drove back to Civilization in the fading light. Fortunately, the late afternoon light was golden and I did get lots of pictures.
A couple of days ago, I went for a walk in a reclaimed section of the San Francisco Bay shore. It is a very strange place, and I mean that in the best possible way. It is almost flat – because it is the very bottom of the alluvial fans coming out of the mountains around the Bay – and many of the remains, of what used to be there, are still there and they don’t fit any classical notion of beauty.
Historically, we have not valued the coastline of our Bay. Most of it has been ignored except for that used for some sort of nasty work. In this case, the nasty work was harvesting salt and using the marshes along the shore as a place to run heavy-duty electrical transmission lines. Five miles north is the port of Redwood City, built to ship the cut redwood needed for the Victorians of San Francisco. The cut redwood that had been hauled down from the hills of neighboring Woodside and my home town of Portola Valley.
As an aside and a comforting sign that Nature Always Bats Last, some of the children of those redwoods have grown high and dense enough to block out view of the Bay. End aside.
Five miles north of the Port of Redwood City are the housing tracks of Redwood Shores and then Foster City, with their thousands of houses facing away from the Bay in one last act of indifference. Now the salt harvesting area – what we used to call The Salt Flats, when I was a kid – are being returned to Nature, a job that is not as easy as it might, at first, sound. This section used to belong to Cargill Inc., and it was turned to The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project which describes itself as the largest tidal wetland restoration project on the West Coast which when complete…will restore 15,100 acres of industrial salt ponds to a rich mosaic of tidal wetlands and other habitats.
I am proud to say that Senator Dianne Feinstein was a chief motivator and backer and now everybody is getting on board (including the State Coastal Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Resources Legacy Fund, and the East Bay Regional Park District). This area of ex-salt-flats is now called the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay Wildlife Refuge.
Don Edwards was a friend of my father’s and he was instrumental in getting me my first real Job. I had just turned sixteen and, in those days, a teenage boy – as I remember it – was expected to work during the summer. The problem was that most of the available work were pretend jobs that didn’t pay very much. The good paying jobs required joining a Union and that was not very easy for a privileged, white, teenager still in school. My dad knew Don Edwards through the Democratic Party and he – Edwards – was able to pull some strings to get me in the Laborer’s Union and additional strings to get me a job with Charles Harney Construction which was building the section of Bayshore Highway between Marsh Road in Menlo Park to University in Palo Alto (Highway 101 was El Camino then and Bayshore was a bypass).
Like a typical privileged teenager – OK, maybe not typical but typical for me and my type – I was both eager to accept the gains of that privilege and felt slightly guilty, which I probably expressed with disgruntlement, that I hadn’t earned the job and was taking it away from somebody who really needed it, which was why the Union made it difficult in the first place. But the money was great and the guilt was assuaged by my being given every shit job for the first month. The second month, I moved up to the position of SLOW Sign Holder and would have had a great view of the Bay if I had cared.