*

*
Late afternoon, Yosemite Valley

Sunday, January 12, 2020

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 47 mg. of calcium, 71 mg. of phosphorous and 0.8 mg 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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good article thanks for sharing thoughts and photos. Sent to daughter a photographer

Ken Seals said...

Thanks for the great story. I'm glad you had such a productive trip! Some excellent work.

island guy said...

Love the diss of the hotel dining room. Aramak (?) is disgracing the legendary lodges it now sucks the grandeur out of....

Seeing Yosemite through your lens, with the adoring hordes removed is a real treat.

Blue Heron said...

I actually think Aramark has been an improvement. We got the proper names back. I bought a mexican popsicle for $1.19 that I pay $1.49 for here. When I pointed that out, the cashier said they weren't trying to exploit anybody. I hated the last company, seems much better to me now, hope they get the food problem identified and sorted out.

island guy said...

I was probably thinking of the prior concessionaires.

Blue Heron said...

Xanterra was terrible.

Penny said...

Robert, Thanks for sharing. Love all the photos and commentary. This was a good trip for you.