Moon over the Yosemite Valley

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Man at swap meet, Long Beach

Bonzo Dog Band

Have to tip the cap to Neil Innes, who passed in late December due to a heart attack. Innes, a musician, writer and actor, was an alumni of the Bonzo Dog Band, Monty Python, Rutles and the Idiot Bastard band. Leslie and I have been fans of the dog band for a long while, first experienced while once hunting tigers out in India.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Stepping out

Leslie was coming in on a late flight from Dallas last night and I was hungry and had time to kill while I was awaiting her arrival. I headed towards Convoy to find some nice asian food. We have a fairly tight group of go to restaurants we enjoy like Spicy City, Jasmine and Dumpling Inn. I wanted something different tonight.

I did a Yelp search and found that the new hot spot in town is called Shan Xi Magic Kitchen. Hand ripped biang biang noodles, other tempting treats, but a long waiting list.  It was located south of Balboa and I rarely if ever venture that direction. Looked for it but couldn't exactly find it. Oh well. I tried.

I decided to go back to familiar territory and try another place that was new to me, Tastypot. Not to sound like a total noob but I have never had real taiwanese hotpot before and the place has been getting really good reviews. What can I tell you, we live in the sticks...

It is located next to Spicy City and it is tough for my wife to stray from her favorite when it is that close. We almost ate there but she didn't like something about the smell. I did some research and found out that one of their dishes is called stinky tofu and figured that was the reason for her olfactory reluctance. And we wanted to wait for cold weather before hot soup.

Last night was perfect. I didn't have a problem with the smell and it was cold out.

The menu for the national chain lists twelve different soups.

I decided on #2, the lamb hot soup. Filled with napa, vermicelli, lamb, enoki mushrooms, imitation crab, meatball, fishcake, pork blood rice cake, kamaboku, fried tofu skin, clams, sour mustard, brown beech mushroom, tofu and cilantro.

Just to let you know, kamaboko is cured surimi, a pureed whitefish concoction. Napa is a chinese cabbage grown near Beijing.

I ordered my dish without the imitation crab, which both of us eschew. You can order at a requested spice level, I chose medium. There were three condiment jars on the table, a chili oil, a soy product and something else. Different than I am used to, I mixed the three.

My hot pot came boiling to the table. I dug in. They forgot to pull the imitation crab, but no big, it is not off putting.

You eat with a ladle and chopsticks. It was delicious although they are a bit chintzy on the meat. From time a server would show up with a tall thermos of soup broth and pour when you felt it was necessary.

Needed a lot of ice cold water to ease the chili oil, which I went slightly overboard on. My tongue was a little numb. Still it was wonderful.

My wife and I have been together for thirty years. When a significant other is away you can try the restaurants that they have no interest in. I am glad I went and look forward to returning, hopefully with her.

I have a crummy cell phone camera so excuse the shots. One day I might get a decent one.

The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the pork blood cake. I left it in the bowl, amongst the clam shells.

I finished my meal and asked the affable waiter how I did?

"Wonderful," he said. "You killed it."

Any locals around who want to give it another go, just call. Would also like to try the beef, the cheesy milk and the szechuan style.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Long Beach Portraits

I got up at two in the morning Sunday night and drove the van up to Long Beach Veterans Stadium to do the swap meet. Gates opened at 5:30 and I used one of Warmboe's regular spaces.

I do the swap meet two or three times a year. Great place to buy, get rid of crap, great cast of characters.

My plan this time was not to even set up for a couple hours. I am in a shopping mode.

Found a nice painting, a pretty 19th century native american beaded purse and some excellent modernist wood carvings.

I also cleared out some stuff I was tired of looking at in the shop, irrespective of what I may have paid for it initially. It was time and nice to see it go.

Business was fairly steady and I got to see a lot of old friends, Leslie and I cutting our baby teeth out on the pavement at places like Long Beach.

It was hot out and I didn't bring the tent, thought I would rough it without my spouse, who is in Dallas and due home tonight. Baked a little in the heat. Serves me right.

I have been taking pictures at Long Beach for pretty much as long as I remember. I left the camera in the bag all morning and finally said screw it, lets take some snapshots. A lot of great visuals got by my lens, uncaptured and I needed to fix that.

Long Beach is one of the best places in the world for people watching. Not a lot of normal joes, if you know what I mean?

More like people who dance to the beat of a different drum, slightly off the 4/4 beat. All day long, an endless parade.

I took a lot of shots and space necessitates that I post them small so I ask you to please click on one and it will allow you to see the whole lot in a large format slideshow if you desire.

I asked everybody if I could take their picture. About 80% of the people said yes. Most people are good about it, comfortable in their own skin.

I call this crowd the modern stone age family. As I said, not a lot of normals. Some, but mostly a bit more on an eccentric orbit. Buyers and sellers.

My friend lena wasn't that thrilled with the pictures I took at her house recently. Said that for a great photographer they were pretty crappy. She is right. I like more candid work, it is easier than always having to make people look good all the time.

I hope that you enjoy the shots!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Flowers on the wall

Red shouldered hawk

I scoped out the second birds' nest at B's this morning. Wanted to get a baseline shot as it is still growing.

It was empty. Later one of its makers obligingly flew into a nearby tree.

Nice squacky red shouldered hawk.

It will be nice to have shots from both species this year.

The tree is farther away than the one in my valley.

If I set up my tripod and put the prime lens on, I should be able to grab a decent picture.

We shall see.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Chinese People Try Jewish Food for the First Time

Xiamon, my favorite polyglot, brings Chinese friends to the 2nd Avenue Deli.

Time to nest

archive shot - © Robert Sommers 2020
The valley is getting a lot more hawkish of late. I have a caterwauling coopers hawk regularly buzzing my feeder and creating havoc amongst the poor doves in my front yard.

The shriek of a Coopers is high pitched and has an unmatched decibel level compared to the other buteos.

Red tailed and red shouldered hawks are more visible around the valley too. The birds sense the advent of spring and they are getting ready. Time to nest.

Long time readers know that I spent eight years regularly photographing a red tailed nest perched on a high sycamore in my valley.

I literally took tens of thousands of shots. Two years ago the huge nest collapsed in a heavy wind and under its own weight and I was frankly despondent.

Yesterday I was driving out of the valley on the high canyon road when I noticed a new nest being built in another nearby sycamore, only one with an even closer vantage to the road. When I came back in later that evening I took a picture. The amount of work that the hawks put in and accomplished in a single day was astounding.

One has to wonder how these animals get so proficient at engineering, where they acquire the innate know how for such elegant and sturdy nest building?

It was a nice slow and gentle rain last night. Leslie is visiting her brother in Dallas. I woke up from my solitary slumber to the Coopers carrying on.

As I backed the car down the driveway I noticed the mother and father hawks to be in another sycamore across the river that I could see from the end of my driveway.

An early morning low light shot with the slow lens but you get the idea. I will be better prepared in the future.

Got another call from a fellow Santa Margarita Valley dweller about a new hawk nest being built on his property a little west of me that I also have an invitation to shoot.

Should be a bang up spring. And falcon babies just a few months away too.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Mother River

We are so lucky to live in a beautiful river valley.

It was an exquisite sunset last night. 

Driving home on the narrow canyon road I had to stop the car and take a look back at the setting sun reflecting on the Santa Margarita River below.

The river banks are thick with sycamore, oak, sumac, toyon and manzanita. A couple of washingtonia palms and eucalyptus invaders are thrown in for good measure.

I am extraordinarily grateful for the thirty years I have lived on its bank.


Dave from Japan is always sending very cool stuff. How do you like these apples?

Or a new riff on birds in flight?

Jonathan in Santa Fe sent some cool underwater pics.

A retrospective room at Redfern's gallery showing John Fillmore's incredible artwork. Of course, they never invited John to attend.

Richard Neumann in Thailand recommends The Alcoholic Republic.

A car lost its brakes and rammed into Mike Reardon's home one night last week.

Wicki sends a picture of Leslie, Jennifer and I catching the sunset at the Self Realization Fellowship. Had a nice dinner at Q'ero afterwards.

Hudgins sends over a video on the MAGA church.

Why I hated algebra.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Pecking away

The men from the power company showed up with a lift to check out our power pole the other day. It turns out that we have the last wooden pole in the entire river valley.

Which is fine with us, in fact we would like to keep it that way. Because our woodpeckers just wouldn't cotton to no metal pole.

They told Leslie that there is a little hole on top of the pole and that the whole thing should probably be replaced.

Sure there is a little damage to the very top of the pole, but the pole is structurally sound. I would sorely miss my acorn woodpeckers.

Wooden pole has served us well for the last thirty years, suspect it is good for at least another thirty, not that we have much of a say in the matter.

I'm sure that the power company could not give a damn about the birds. Where will they go?

The hunter casts his net high above the Merced River

Icy bridge

Had the funny phone call from my friend, "Mr. Moneyshot." Knew it was coming, like clockwork or the swallows at Capistrano.

Why didn't you let the moon get farther from the rock on the tunnel view? (Because it got high in the sky and the sky got dark.)

Why so many trees in your foreground? (Because that is where they grow.)

A couple of your shots are good. (Gee, thank you. Send me a couple shots of your recent work, how about I critique you for a change?)

I can write it a thousand times and say it until I am blue in the face, I do it my way, you are free to do it yours. It gets lost on some people.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Bridalveil Falls view across the Merced


So after I ate my expensive breakfast at the Ahwanee I was walking back to my car and somebody had posted a photocopy on a sign that read "If you walk to Mirror Lake from here it is only a mile, if you take the shuttle it is still a mile."

Hot damn I thought, a good samaritan. I will do just that. So I take the trail and walk about two miles and then see a sign that says Mirror Lake 1.7 miles.

Oh well, maybe it was a practical joke, I didn't care. I can take a joke. A walk would do me good, sore ankle and all.

At some point I came across a logging crew in the forest. There were flagmen and I was waved through. A few minutes later I heard one of the loudest noises I have ever heard.

They felled a large redwood not three hundred yards from me. The crash when it hit the forest floor was indescribable. I felt the shockwave come up through the soles of my feet.

I have been on the other end of a Katyusha rocket fired from Lebanon and it was comparable if not louder.

As a sensory experience it rocked my world, definitely unbelievable. Not sure how much a two hundred foot redwood of this kind of massive girth weighs but it had to be hundreds of tons.

When I was a kid in Idyllwild I was once caught out in a storm and had a tree come down about a hundred yards from me but it was nowhere this big. Still very scary. A peak sensory experience.

I once saw the aftermath of a giant crane falling down off Friars Rd. in Mission Valley. It fell on the 163 Highway and fell on the back of a pickup truck like a cat catching a mouse's tail. Always wondered if the occupants survived?

I did everything wrong on my walk. I had a down jacket but no waterproof windbreaker, which I left in the car.

I had six thousand dollars worth of camera and lens around my neck with essentially no protection. Of course I had the perfect plastic camera wrap, back in the car.

I did a lot of hiking as a youth in Idyllwild, I should know better. Barely enough water, no windbreaker, no ankle brace.

The reality is that the weather can and does change dramatically in these high elevations. I was really dumb but I managed to get lucky and dodge my idiocy.

Mirror Lake was frozen and a bit underwhelming. Great walk nonetheless.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Another reflected half dome

The road to Glacier Point is of course closed this time of year. I have taken some nice shots from there in the past and look forward to returning soon. Would love to catch the firefalls one day if I have time.

Darkened view

Hello in there

Miwok Journal

Facing mortality questions actually can be a spiritual and enriching experience, or at least it historically has been for me.

Besides the obvious soul reckoning and personal accounting you get to do something that Casteñeda called "stopping the world."

Did you ever read "Journey to Ixtlan?" Stopping the world is the prerequisite to "seeing," at least for a sorcerer in training, not that I have that particular proclivity.

In more mundane terms a serious illness gives us the opportunity to take a big timeout.

That I did this week, taking several days to hike, think, read and capture an occasional image in my own select company.

Away from texts, emails, phone calls, blogs, messages, politics, newspapers, work, responsibility, life reduced to its most essential pleasures.

I think that solitude is a very important gift to human beings, especially for those of us in relationships or who work around large groups of people. And doing it in nature is doubly rewarding.

Gives us a chance to remember who we are. Cancer gave me that opportunity. You are allowed to get off the treadmill for a second. February 19th, I should get the final word on the matter.

I took about 735 pictures of the park this week. I thought that I took many more but I was wrong.

Some of them are okay, some not so good. People always ask me if I got good shots? I don't know, I never know. Will take a while to process.

What you may think is the cat's meow may be completely lost on me and vice versa. Art, as you know, is completely subjective.

Your bag may be Thomas Kinkade, it might be that Rembrandt fellow, who am I to judge?

Bill Olson has pointed out repeatedly that in blind tests, viewers tended to pick highly saturated and contrasty photography work.

But dentists will also tell you that all that candy will hurt your teeth.

So do you pander to the mean or do you please yourself, if you favor a lighter hand on occasion?

I tend towards the latter but still absorb some guff. "Too bad you didn't get a money shot," that kind of crap. But you can't please everybody, especially with all of our multiple frames of reference.

Approximately four million people visit Yosemite every year. They all have cameras. And they are all, for practical purposes, taking the same shots.

As you know, the rocks don't move much, perhaps ever so slightly. So the "Money Shot" is an ephemeral thing, it requires technical skill, luck and favorable conditions.

You see, blue skies are the bane of the landscape photographer. Clouds add structure and bad weather lends drama.

I got to the park Tuesday afternoon, right before sunset. Shot the near full moon on the picture on top. Skies were clear.
Ditto Wednesday.

I was staying in Oakurst. It was an hour in and out of the park. Tuesday night, the fog was thick and the driving back was hard.

I made another management decision. I decided I couldn't take the drive anymore. I got a Thursday reservation at the Yellowstone Lodge, almost twice the money but worth it.

If luck was in store and the weather did what it was supposed to, I would get a bunch of snow and get to shoot some great shots Friday. I would stay one day longer than I had planned.

I drove in Thursday morning and the snow was certainly coming down. Very heavy near Fish Camp, Bass Lake and Badger Pass. Knew it was just a matter of time before I put on the new set of chains.

Alas, it was not to be. Although we had an occasional light flurry, nothing seemed to stick much and I would just have to make do. Wasn't it Yogi Berra who once said, "You take what they give ya?"

One hundred grams of celery root contains no vitamins except for 2 mg of Vitamin C. For minerals it contains 47mg. of calcium, 71 mg. of phosphorous and 0.8mg of iron. It would take a lot of celery root to make a battleship. Richard Brautigan - A Confederate General from Big Sur.
I am reading Brautigan again, after over forty years. I forgot how brilliant he is, every line. Brautigan has sort of been relegated to the dustbin of literary history but he deserves better. Stands with the immortals for me. His rhythm is like Gertrude Stein in a way. God, to write like that...Too bad he plathed in the end but it seems to be the way these types tend to want to go.

I was reading Brautigan while I was eating my expensive breakfast at the Ahwanee Hotel. This is Miguel, he will be filling your water, I'm Jessie, I will be handing you your knife and fork and Imelda here will be diffidently taking your order for your overpriced omelette and pretending to care. Twenty four dollar ham and cheese omelette and if you want toast too, it's extra. We can negotiate for the butter and jam later.

Apparently this week it was dysentery, no charge but I luckily managed to escape with my gastro intestinal system intact.

Anyway a little bit older intellectual type couple was sitting nearby and I tried not to snoop too much or at least not make it so noticeable. He was reading the paper but she wanted to talk about the public reception to Tom Steyer versus Michael Bloomberg and the number of individual steps they thought they might take that day, all which would be duly recorded on one apple device or another.

I tried to imagine what they did for a living and I pegged her for an English lit prof and he as an associate City Manager in some tony San Francisco suburb. Definitely more genteel than a duo like Leslie and I but a thick pallor of mundane banality hung over their conversation like a central California tule fog.

And I once again thanked the gods for allowing me to live a relatively abnormal life with a wonderful and also slightly irregular spouse who I could live, love and laugh with without paying too close attention to the way others conceived their earthly mission.

I am an explorer. I always want to see what is beyond the next bend. Leslie is of the same mind. We travel without reservations, maps or preconceptions, preferring to spar and deal with whatever comes down the pike.

Not to brag too much but other photographers I have shot with say they have a hard time keeping up with me. I guess that I border on the obsessive. They liken me to a Nazi camp director in my brutal coercion and ardor.

Strangely, most people merely want to enjoy themselves and have a good time.

I work very hard when I am on the road shooting. Up before sunrise, down long after dark. I push. Dusk and dawn is where it is at, midday is for suckers.

I met a photographer who told me he got up at noon this trip and I had to smile, nice guy that he was.

I had one near catastrophe. I was fiddling with my tripod on the banks of the river and I hear a loud pecking noise. Two ravens were having a real go at my windshield. When I got closer I realized that they had pulled the rubber out of my windshield wipers.

I tried to put the rubber back in but was limited with few available tools. A nice, stay at home dad, sailing instructor from Winters took pity on me and took out his oversized swiss army knife and found the suitable instrument to put me back on the road to windshield wiping.

I did a little research and found that the crow/raven windshield wiper thing is an old familiar corvid shtick, but still no one really knows why? I am sure Castañeda would have a thought or two on the matter.

A day later, upon leaving Fresno, I was surprised to find out that they had decimated the rear wiper too, hope the moonroof seal is still extant.

My ankle and right heel has been sore for several weeks, I have no idea why? I had meant to get an ankle brace but never quite got around to it.

I hiked about five miles a day up there on my bad sticks. Now everything hurts, which kind of feels good. Balances the other pain out, if that makes any sense.

Felt so good to be expanding my lungs on vigorous walks in 25º weather.

I had trax type crampons and particularly enjoyed walking in the fields and watching the fog rise up out of the icy meadows in the early dawn hour.

Saw a lot of deer this trip, coyote, two eagles, a couple hawks. Bear purportedly sleeping.

Do you want to know one of the smartest things I have done recently? I got tired of having cameras with big lenses roll around on the floor of my car (had a friend lose a couple thousand dollar lens this way.)

So I bought a cat bed at CVS for six dollars. The plush little beds with the rolled sides. Sits behind my seat. The camera fits in perfectly and never gets hurt.

Some of my photographer friends like to process their work in their hotel rooms on their laptops. Nothing wrong with that. However I personally never look at my output until it goes on my desktop.
Well, maybe a glance at the back screen or two but no manipulation.

You see I think photographs are like stroganoff. Always better a few days later, they ripen a little in the camera. Prefer my work gets a little seasoning.

I endeavor to be a good and competent artist, certainly have no illusions of being the best. If you don't have occasional failures, you obviously aren't pushing hard enough.

I was a neurotic artist from day one, never easy for me to accept criticism. I sketched from an early age, had somewhat of a precocious talent. Was suspended from the third grade for three days when the teacher found some nude female studies I had drawn in the cubby under my chair. Well done, if I remember.

A year or two later we had to make a diorama. I could draw but I wasn't too crafty, my parents were usually drunk or fighting and not exactly the type to help with home projects, like most of the other kids'. I got a cardboard box and fashioned a mountain scene, saran wrap glued down to simulate a waterfall. Very crude to say the least.

The class saw my project and burst out laughing hysterically. I don't blame them, it was plainly pitiful. I stood at the head of the class and listened to the guffaws, then started crying and tore the sodden thing up into tiny little bits right there in front of them in a sad mad rage.

It got worse as I got older. I wouldn't even let people go through my sketchbooks by themselves, I would have to turn every page for them.

Somehow, somewhere along the way I had decided that it was about process more than pleasing people. Practically speaking that meant that my drawing could be incredibly uneven, interspersing masterpieces with dreadful garbage. I even had a college professor accuse me of stealing work once because he couldn't conceive of my being capable of the quality of a final project.

And that was a problem of being a painter, I was only as good as my last work and I was highly self critical. And the emotional roller coaster was debilitating. Of course many artists have no such compunctions and are happy to put pretty much anything out there.

I miss painting but I am just not emotionally cut out for it. As for my photography, as Sinatra once crooned, I demand the freedom to do it my way and you are free to do it your way. I still don't take criticism or suggestions real well.

One of the great things about Yosemite is that no two days are alike. No two sunsets are alike. I look forward to returning soon. I never get tired of receiving its many gifts.

I have a bunch of photographs to go through. It will be interesting to see what I have captured. I look forward to sharing with you.

Did some night photography as well. Here are a couple views of  Orion and the moon over the Yosemite Valley.

I was thinking about something while I was driving, by the way, the new car was absolutely great. I was thinking about how important it is to stay in your lane. I think that is something that the people in AA preach, sweep your side of the road, stay in your lane and don't take any one else's inventory. Jargon but true. I think of the times I have stepped over the line and it wasn't always pretty. Need to take care of your own stuff.

After I left Yosemite at midday Friday I drove to Fresno to see my stepmother, my stepsister, her husband and kid. Had a nice dinner and watched the young man play the drums in the garage. Ears still bleeding. Teacher says he has real talent. I wouldn't know.