Last light, Stone Steps © Robert Sommers 2023

Thursday, April 30, 2015

St Dominics Preview

Chance to breathe

I haven't written in a while. My mind is actually pretty full. There is a lot I could write right now and a lot that can also be left unsaid. I guess I will have to feel my way through. See what sticks. Thanks to everybody for the wonderful cards and condolences. Thank you Melanie for planting 25 trees in Lake Tahoe in my father's honor.

It has been a whir the last few weeks. Little time to process, I was thrown into two shows, first Del Mar and then up to Hillsborough in San Francisco. Life and the mortgages go on.

Probably a good thing, I reckon, to get on with life and not necessarily dwell, although I suppose that is okay to do too. Not like anybody ever gives you a manual for these sorts of things.

Shows went well, I was very lucky. Bought and sold some very lovely things, pictures of which I think I will post if I get the time.

Shared some nice time with quite a lot of people, lots of old friends. Many of my customers are getting older too, like I am, we are all mostly dealing with the same crap. Shared some lovely meals, wish I felt like going there now and describing them but I don't. A very expensive Indian meal at My Spice that didn't quite work although the company was top shelf.

I had a positively awful stay at a motel that I obtained gratis from Hotels.com, the Stone Villa in San Mateo. Get what you pay for. Filthy "deluxe" breakfast room, replete with sad looking loaves of white kirkland bread strewn about the trash and spilled milk that littered both the counter and floor, a protruding but well hidden platform on a bed that reached out and bit me on the leg, probably leaving a permanent gash.

Switched to the airport Westin. Rest of the trip was hunk dory.

Typically after a show to San Francisco I head out to Clovis to see my father but that is no longer in the cards. My buddy Vlad Smythe and his lovely wife Natasha, the former and I enjoying a forty year friendship, invited me to spend the night with them in Monterey and then the next day Vlad and I ventured down to Big Sur to spend a day relaxing and taking it all in. His suggestion. Off the gerbil wheel for a moment. My buddy took the day off, which I really appreciate.

Vlad and I were born months apart the same year, we have in many ways led a parallel life, definitely had the same influences, watched all the same dumb commercials and television shows, his dad was an ABC muckety muck.

We both loved Fred MacMurray in Follow me boys, Car 54, East Side kids. Both watched Wonderama and Metromedia.

Were at the same baseball game when Willie Mays hit the ball out of the park on his second at bat when he went back to play for the mets at the end of his career. Both played the guitar and loved the beautiful dulcet sounds of one Jerry Garcia.

Vlad is an archivist, creator of one of the most amazing music libraries in our world, he has a very discerning eye and ear.

We rekindled our friendship about 20 years ago and I got to watch their kids grow up, both of whom I love. Love them all, one of the many friendships in my life that have only gotten stronger with time.

Natasha told me that one of her peeves is people that say heighth, she says that there is no such word. Too tired to check, I will believe her. She is a teacher, after all. Beautiful and gracious.

I brought my old camera with me down the coast. Tough to take a bad shot in these parts, almost too easy, like shooting big game at the zoo.

I hate making perfect picture postcards so I flattened a couple of these like the lovely early 20th Century woodcuts that I like to buy and sell. Take flack from the photographers but from where I come from everything is fair game.

I started as a fine art painter, turned graphic artist, one stroke letterer and sign painter. Had to stop when I lost a good portion of my bladder and left kidney and had to take pictures to get my compositional rocks off. But the painter still lurks and is dying to emerge one day, hopefully soon. Health be damned, I need a fucking brush in my hand.

We hiked around Point Lobos, an absolutely perfect day and then headed down to the beach at Pfeiffer, Vlad knowing the exact unmarked road on which to drive down on.

It has been so long since Leslie and I had been up here, forgot how gorgeous it was.

I have used the time after my father's death in an interesting way. In the immediate aftermath, I called up one or two people that I had hurt in recent years and apologized, including Kerry. I take responsibility for overreacting and being an asshole sometimes and in some cases, had been totally out of line. The intensity of a close relative passing gave me the strength to make amends and try to reset the table personally. But enough heavy shit.

Vlad and I went to Ventana and had lunch. Charcuterie and a nice salmon salad. I think I had a coke. Vlad went to the men's room and I looked at the bar. What the fuck. Ordered a Jameson. Things sort of rolled along from there.

River Inn for bloody marys. Then another place for the same, where we were treated to a large blue whale on her journey north with child in tow.

I was starting to get hammered at this point but in a very nice way. Just a great, magic day with a pal. Wish that I could have shared the experience with my wife. We desperately need a vacation together, deserve one anyway. Need Kauai.

Who doesn't?

We ended up having beers at a locals hang in Monterey, eating sand dabs and calamari and drinking beer. My pal said it was about time I loosened up and took my panties off. Got to get down once in a while. Got home fast the next day, escaped traffic and the radar.

I got to go. A friend says that a hawk nest has collapsed and we may need to try to save the baby. Any volunteers?

Finishing up, drove to Los Angeles yesterday, did all  kinds of business, than back to Carlsbad, not home until ten. I have been and am just killing it and am looking forward to a chance to breathe. Going to do my best to take my time putting my shop back together. Going to chill out.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I posted this extraordinary story a few years ago but think of it often and thought I should repost.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

It's a chick!

Yesterday was for the birds. Quick pack and turnaround, ready to hit the road again. When I left the valley in the morning I noticed that we had a new resident, a baby red tailed hawk.

I left work early and went back to the hawk nest with the long lens, just back from the shop. Still, unfortunately, not long enough.

The mother was gone but I noticed the father hanging around, now missing a feather. A vulture swooped too close to the nest and daddy shooed it off.

I was talking to the neighbors later and Steph asked me if there might not be two, last year we only saw one as well in the beginning. Looking at the photos this morning, she was right. Two maybe three eyass, or hawk babies.

I am glad that there are multiple babies. Always more fun growing up when you have somebody to play with.

I plan on renting a 600mm upon my return and getting better pictures of these little guys this year. I want to try out the Tamron 150-600 and the Sigma Contemporary 150-600mm anyway and this will give me an excuse. Will keep you posted.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ku'u Home O Kahalu'u

Jerry Santos

The Spades

Last Roundup

I am busy, a bit scattered, largely unable to write. I did want to take note of a couple things before they completely fall away from memory.

My favorite moment of the year involved one Dr. Patrick Moore, the gadfly, climate change denier and apologist for Roundup™ who said that the stuff was actually so safe that you could drink it. At which point, the interviewer said, "Well drink it"and the guy stormed off, saying that he wasn't an idiot...

I just read an interview with Roger Ailes that was pretty good. I loathe Fox News but the piece does humanize and flesh him out a bit. I hate Fox News the same way I hate MSNBC. Both news organizations serve a population too ignorant to sort the wheat from the chaff and form their own opinions.

I am so glad that I was brought up in the age of newscasters like Huntley/Brinkley, Cronkite and Sevareid. Journalists that mostly called things right down the middle.

Now we merely pick the news source that most easily reinforces our saintly preconceptions and the other side are of course damnable and evil. The days of the middle of the road tableau, e.g. Newsweek and Time are over, have no place in the brave new world, now supplanted by slanted rags like Townhall and the Daily Kos. I, for one, think it is a shame.

Sort of funny that master tactician and West Point graduate Mike Krzyzewski is challenging Barack Obama's strategy and tactics in dealing with terrorism. Coach K, an Army Captain, said Obama's statement about not putting boots on the ground against ISIS was a bad strategy in a game theory sense.
“I know it’s upsetting to many of you when you hear ‘no boots on the ground.’ It upsets me too, because that’s like saying I’m not going to play two of my best players,” he said in his speech accepting the 2014 George Catlett Marshall Award, AUSA’s highest honor. “Because that’s what you are trained to do. And for decades and decades, the fact that we are a free country and we don’t play home games here is a result of having boots on the ground. That’s the problem.”
After a round of applause, Krzyzewski explained why Obama’s public announcement that he won’t use ground troops against ISIS was just bad coaching – because it allows the other team to stop preparing for it and gives them added confidence.
“It’s about letting your opponent know we are going to use our best players. And whether we use them or not, that’s up to the coach. You never tell your opponent you are not going to use [them], like I’m not going to play Grant Hill, J.J. Redick, -Christian] Laettner,” he said, rattling off the names of some of his biggest stars at Duke.
The former Olympic coach then turned the metaphor to international play, comparing Obama’s words to saying, “‘Hey Spain, I’m not going to start Lebron [James] and Kobe [Bryant] tonight.’ I don’t think you do that. Now how much I play them? Let the guy try to figure out how much I’m going to play them.”
Hard to argue with the coach.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Soul Kitchen

More feathered friends

I have this strange affinity for blue herons, don't ask me why. I hadn't yet looked at all of my shots from Santee Lakes, missed a few of these and they aren't all bad.

This of course is Buddy, a resident of East County, orphaned last year when his father Billy was strangled in left over fishing line that a careless person had probably discarded on the shore.

If you look closely, Buddy is now dragging his own bundle of monofilament. What a shame.

Take care, Buddy!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Watch this space

I'm driving home on our high and narrow, dusty and bumpy, canyon road and I stop at the red tailed hawk's nest in the tall sycamore yesterday afternoon.

Expectant mama is sitting on her clutch, nothing much is happening, no baby heads pop up or anything and next thing I know she swoops, takes off out of the nest.

I snap a few shots, miss her while panning but after a second to adjust I see that she has landed on a telephone pole nearby with something in her sharp talons.

I have the 70-300mm nikkor zoom on my Nikon D7200, the longest lens in the quiver at present while the 50-500mm Bigma is in the shop. It had better be up to the job.

I think that it is a rabbit or squirrel, normal meals that I often see these raptors eat but it's a sort of weird shape. Oh shit, she has a huge snake. She has the head pinned with a talon and she is eating it alive while it coils up and changes shape.

At first I think its a rattlesnake but later realize it isn't when I start processing the pictures this morning. You will have to forgive me, I was an approximate football field away.

I was shooting on a monopod, moving very quietly, very carefully and cautiously and taking it all in.

Of course the mother is now used to me, I have been taking her picture daily for over two months and I am no longer a major threat.

Been shooting a combination of RAW and jpeg fine while I wait for Adobe to catch up with Nikon.

The RAW images should be much better and I will be able to hopefully fix a few minor errors after the NEF processing.

Extraordinary. never seen anything like it. Eating huge strips of live snake flesh. Mama hawk is ripping this poor snake to shreds.

I take pictures from several angles, walk right under the pole and continue to shoot for what I estimate is over 45 minutes.

I am bracketing and changing crop modes as well as iso, taking my time and trying to get it right. At some point the snake loses its head.

Not sure how sharp this particular lens is at the distance, not a professional piece of glass, we will see.

The experience was amazing, you could hear the snake bang repeatedly against the crossbeam from 100 yards away.

I think she is going to fly away with it but I don't get to see that this time. I love seeing birds flying with snakes and it has been a while. Feel like I am trapped in the Mexican flag when that happens.

Out of the corner of my eye I see that we now have a visitor. Another hawk shows up out of nowhere.

The new bird seizes the snake, mother gets pissed and puts on a large wing display in order to intimidate the intruder.

They get into a little tangle and the interloper ultimately backs off. Mother takes possession. Hawk number two soon flies into the safety of a nearby tree.

Mother chases it out of the area. "And stay out."
Don't mess with a mother to be.

I shot a whole card worth of pictures, had to dump some to make room for more shots. Got the new hawk flying, very excited to see how these shots turn out.

I watched as mother sailed back to her eggs, very pleased with myself and ready to pack it up, a rather amazing afternoon of photography and witnessing animal behavior.

About fifty yards further there is a very mature but diminutive rattler in the middle of the road. all very cool. I took a lot of pictures yesterday, many that I am very happy with. So many that it is hard to figure out which ones to post.

You Don't Miss Your Water

Gene Clark - I'm Your Toy


I keep finding more pictures. Many readers probably don't know that I have lived on one ranch or another for the last 35 years. This is a very special horse to me, my late arabian gelding Jasper. I bought Jasper at an auction as a yearling and raised him for 27 years. He bolted free across the back of the auction hall and people were scared that he was a nutcase and I picked him up at the time for a song. He was a nutcase but that was okay, I was too.

Galan led by Margaret Rich
Abu Farwa at the Kellogg Ranch
Jasper was from Green Acres Arabians in Temecula, the son of their stud Galan and grandson of the great Polish arab sire Abu Farwa who was much acclaimed and won a lot of horse races in Europe.

Out of the Crabbet line, Jasper was a chestnut and had a great butt, a quarter horse behind on an arab and a very beautiful head. Very intelligent. Too intelligent and he could hold a grudge for years.

Buzz on Darius
I had Jasper's brother Darius for a while, a gray and we would take some serious trail rides. These horses don't start getting started until about the seven mile mark and there were few that could keep up with these particular equines in terms of endurance.

He died from colic, sand and stones in the gut. Liked to pull his hay out of the feeder and eat it on the ground. What are you going to do?

Jasper was broke and trained by an old Minnesotan in Valley Center named Hugo Mueller. Sort of a Monte Foreman devotee. Old school, the original horse whisperer. The horse threw me once and Hugo angrily said he never wanted to see that happen again. It didn't, although he once landed on my calf crossing a creek in Elfin Forest, blew up like a watermelon.

The saddle was made by the late Gary McClintock, a legend in these parts. Very lightweight, 14 lb. Visalia stock saddle style, high cantle, suede seat. My dad was an amateur leather smith as a young man and helped me and Gary design the zuni pattern on the saddle. It was gorgeous, sold it to my ex wife when I was broke. Stupidest thing I ever did.

I favored an english bridle. Used a double twisted wire bit at first to get his attention, reduced to a egg butt or d ring snaffle when things got cool. Used to be able to ride all over out here. Places people would never dream of today.

He was a good horse, too smart but a good horse. Liked to get scratched behind his ears. A wonderful canter and gallup. Fingertip, you couldn't see anything move when it was all working. But you have to ride several days a week for that kind of relationship and if you have to go back to work, everything goes to hell and they become expensive lawn furniture.

Jasper, he was a good horse. I miss blowing into his nose, I miss his smell. Sucks not having a horse.