Last light, Stone Steps © Robert Sommers 2023

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Byrds - Cowgirl in the Sand

Gene Clark - lead vocal

Interior view, Getty Museum


Ida Red

Longhorn Snowflakes

George Hughes lynching - Sherman, Texas - 1930
Dolph Briscoe Center for American History/University of Texas at Austin

I am sure you all read the news about the school board in Texas that was instructed to present the pros and cons of the holocaust. House Bill 3979, a new Texas law, requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. Teachers couldn't find a lot of good things to say about the nazis and complained.

The author of the Senate companion bill says that it is merely a misunderstanding.

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, an East Texas Republican who wrote Senate Bill 3, denied that the law requires teachers to provide opposing views on what he called matters of “good and evil” or to get rid of books that offer only one perspective on the Holocaust. But if you read the bill, that is exactly what he has done.

These bills are designed to whitewash any mention of slavery or bigotry or sexual discrimination or subject students to any studies that might make them feel uncomfortable or "icky" about our country's history. 

Book burning in Opera Square, Berlin, May 10, 1933. Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum/National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

And now that they have hamstrung the teachers from having an honest discussion with their students regarding racial or sexual inequality they are going after the libraries to purge and denude them of offensive content that exposure to might cause students to appraise and reflect on our country's history.

A Texas state lawmaker is asking schools statewide to tell him whether they currently hold any of around 850 books on a list he has compiled, explaining that he is targeting materials that "might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex."

The inquiry by state Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican, quickly set off alarm among the books' authors and the state teachers association. The unusual request, which was first reported by the Texas Tribune, also triggered confusion in school districts over how to comply with such a wide-ranging query.
His quarry includes books by Amnesty International and Margaret Atwood. I think that both Bradbury and Orwell thought this might happen and unfortunately they were both dead on.

I have two points. One, Bryan Hughes says that the holocaust is clearly a matter of good or evil. But slavery and lynching is not, I guess, right Bryan? Or the extermination of many of our Native American tribes? Would be interesting to ask him about that. Very fine distinction, I am sure. You can mention the nazis but let's not get into the KKK.

Secondly, this. During the Trump administration, Maga-ites liked to refer to libs as snowflakes. And now that the shoe is on the other foot, they want to protect students from feeling "uneasy."

Who are the real snowflakes here?

Volunteered Slavery - Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Sunlit Oak

Vlad asked me if I was okay last night. He said that the blog has been intensely personal lately. I assured him that I was fine, which I am.

He says he likes it when I get personal but we have been friends for over forty years and wanted to make sure. Just doesn't want to see any more birds. Says he is birded out. 

Sorry, Vlad. Not quitting the birds. I hope that the intimate posts don't make any of you uncomfortable, that is not the intent. He happens to like the more political and topical stuff but when I write about that I get too angry and worked up and I limit it as much as possible.

I can go weeks without getting intimate and deep or going inside on the blog and sometimes feel like I am cheating myself and my readers so when I feel like spilling I will and this seems like such a week. 

It is actually easier to delve into such things when you are feeling good and I do.

So here goes another.

See this oak tree. It stands at the base of my towering redwood, and is now over twenty five feet tall and probably a little wider. I planted it as a 24" box sapling in 1989 with the help of my friend Tom.  Couldn't have been much more than six feet tall. From looking at it, you would think it is now a hundred years old.

At least three of my dogs are buried under it, Barfy, Max and Duke. Maybe Odin too, I don't remember.

This is my special tree, this oak.

It was 1990. My first wife had just left me and I was hurting. It was over between us and unbeknownst to me, at least until shortly before that moment in time, she had been unfaithful to me with several characters in and out of town, including one of my best friends. We were clearly done but like Stockholm syndrome, I had a tough time letting go. I was a wreck.

There used to be a metaphysical bookstore in Leucadia called Phoenix Phyre. I went to talk to a woman who worked there who was new agey and did counseling. I forget her name at this point.

The woman had a suggestion for me. She told me to go home and put my hands around a favorite tree, to close my eyes and to visualize tendrils on my feet sinking in to the earth and penetrating the planet to its molten core. Rooting myself like the stalwart oak. Claiming my turf and airspace.

I did what she described with something like this affirmation to my departed, soon to be ex wife, "I thank you for that which you have given me and I release you to the universe.  Go your way in peace. This is my home. I belong here. Beat it.

Along with burning the rest of her shit in the fireplace and lighting sage and cedar in every corner of the house to purify the fetid stench of her memory, it seemed to do the trick and I felt better about the completion of a ten year stretch, which more closely resembled a prison term at the end.

This oak is the tree I had my hands around. More than once. It still roots me to my land. It helped me get through crisis and will always be special to me.

I marvel at its beauty and how big it has grown. And appreciate its help when times were tough.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Joni Mitchell - Hejira

Rorschach test


Chief - Franz Kline - 1950

Non objective abstraction has been the rage for the last twelve or thirteen years or so now, the 1950's oeuvre finally being safe enough to be palatable for the normal American living room. So we art dealers are careful not to let a good blocky abstraction sneak by.

Rorschach test blot
Because, as opposed to representational work, they can mean whatever you want them to mean. Like Rorschach blots. 

Nary a show goes by when somebody or another doesn't ask what such a work I am showing is supposed to represent?

And I have a pat answer, delivered with a straight face. "Well, obviously you can see, it's my parents fighting."

In Palm Springs last month, a tall patron had the perfect repartee for me. He said he saw an unreasonable father. I cracked up.

Sounds like we have all been in analysis. Or should be.

Patty Griffin - Ohio

Old Fallbrook

My friend Jack loves Fallbrook history, as I do. I saw him roaming the street the other day, checking out the buildings with keen interest and asked him what was up?

Jack confided to me that he bought a collection of old photos and negatives of Fallbrook online recently. Included were two pictures of my block that as far as I know, nobody alive today has ever seen before, circa 1918. Fellows pitching horseshoes. He was trying to line things up and make sense of them.

© Jack Janzen

Evidently, at one time either my building or the lot next to my building was home to the town's horseshoe pit. It was news to me.

Also note the old gas pump in front of the Mercantile store. The cornice on the top of the Mercantile can still be seen on the back of my roof today. I thought that the small store with the awning was Mrs. Barkow's building, but I don't believe so now after analyzing this more carefully.

I know my building was moved off the corner around that time and it probably now stands where the lot is, which would make the other building the location where Sage Yoga now stands next door to me. So the Blue Heron Gallery and Caravan now are situated smack dab on the old horseshoe pit. Cool.

Here is another view from the photographic trove, a look through the horseshoe pit to the west down Alvarado towards the old post office.

© Jack Janzen

Here is Jack's note to me:

Hi Robert,

Here are some images for you to ponder.  The two b/w photos are from a cache of images from 1918.  They are two different directional shots of horseshoe players in the vacant lot North of the Mercantile.  This is the lot where the Mercantile building was moved to and where your store is today.  The hand-drawn map is by Babes Reader from 1980.  These are her recollections of the buildings on Main.  The oldest are in red.  Next to “Nothing” it is written in pencil, “Horse Shoe Court”.

Here are the copies of Mrs. Reader's map, which I believe is on the wall at the historical society. The oldest notation is in red. My building says, nothing (horseshoe pit), then Safeway 1927, Reader's 1941 and then Fallbrook Camera, (which was owned by Bill Ahrend's dad.)
Now I have been in town for a relatively short forty two years and this is the first I have heard of a horse shoe court on my property. How cool is that? And look at the tall trees and stumps in the shots. Could the large living tree to the left be the same one that used to grow through Clementine's ceiling?

I have seen early pictures of the Safeway and if memory serves, it was pretty big, it not only was housed in my building but also in the building to the south, now owned by Ron Wylie.

I wish that some of the gray beards were still around, people like Clemmons and Port, who could make sense of this. Speaking of Port, Levy Clothing, so Mike was not the first landsman in town? Hmmm.

The person I know that has been here the longest is Mike Breining, I think he was born here around 1932, but he is practically if not totally blind these days and I haven't seen him out in a couple years. If any old Fallbrookians would like to offer comments and help and shed some light I would love to hear from you.

One thing to consider when looking at these pictures is how far off the ground the foundations stood. It is important to remember that the building of Vail Dam in 1930 radically restricted the water that flowed in the Santa Margarita, I have heard by as much as 30%.

There were at least three major floods on record that inundated much of the town. I can remember how much water flowed in the 1993 flood, the water going several feet up the side of the building that houses BP Battery and the heightened elevations make sense to me for 1918, a major flood occurring in the following year.

Please feel free to send this out. I hope that I have an opportunity to see the balance of Jack's fine collection. Jack graciously allowed me to post these. Please do not reprint them without his permission or use them commercially without his approval.

Edge of your feather

Expecting the worst

Like many of us, I had a tough childhood. My parents were divorced when I was four and they both married subsequent spouses that were abusive and in my mother's case, violently so. 

My mother was nuts, for all her brilliance, and had substance issues and a selfish dose of narcissistic personality disorder to boot.

My father was very wealthy but it made no difference because he failed to pay child support. 

My mother was perpetually broke, sometimes things got very tight and we were constantly running from creditors and back towards her failed relationships with a string of equally broken men. We children were like collateral roadkill.

It all became too much in 1970 and I moved back to California from New York, but could only make it living in the house with my father and the evil stepmother for one year and headed back east. 

I was working from the age of twelve and was essentially independent from the age of thirteen on, much like my wife, and moved out of the house at seventeen.

I mention this woeful preamble once again because I believe that early trauma has seriously shaped my behavior as an adult and I think that such wounds never really heal. You never want to be subject to that much chaos and mishegas so you do your best to build fortifications. 

I have written before about the author Dr. Paul Brenner, who wrote the book Seeing Your Life Through New Eyes: Insights to Freedom from Your Past. Brenner says that we build up chainmail to protect us from these types of childhood emotional injuries and many of us carry it on our backs our whole life. I know I do. And it gets heavy. Unfortunately, that which protects us in our childhood can become an impediment when we reach adulthood and it is no longer really necessary to lug around. 

One of my personal bugaboos is the fear that the wolves are always nipping at my ankles, propelling me forward, no matter how comfortable I may actually be in reality (whatever that is.) Fear has always been a motivator for me and it is probably not very healthy for me. The sky is too often falling. But it is what moves me onward. And it gets hard sometimes to take a break.

Disaster is always a quick step away in my psyche, and I understand why because I saw our life and safety crumble so many times when I was a kid. You can draw a line in the sand and move forward and I certainly did, but the institutional memories tend to get burnt into your DNA. So I pretend and the irrational fear I conceptualize keeps me out of the poorhouse, or so I convince myself anyway. You never really feel totally secure.

And so I was very interested the other day when I saw this video on YouTube, Catastrophizing, How to Stop Making Yourself Depressed and Anxious. This woman puts a name to my affliction.

I can relate to what this woman is saying and think that these skills she mentions in cognitive rewiring can prove helpful to me and perhaps for you, if you are unlucky enough to share my propensity for this innate response of fear and pessimism.

Here's to healthier and happier. As she says, get a good night's rest, accept uncertainty, embrace acceptable risk and build up your emotional muscles.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Blues Run The Game

Today's Headlines


Sunbreak, Monument Valley

Adobe has launched a powerful and fairly radical upgrade to its Lightroom program. There are some new masking tools, some that depend on AI and other new features that will take a long time for me to learn how to utilize. 

Since I am a power user of the product, I had to download and dive in this morning at the risk of not completing some work that is piling up on my desk. Here is a before and after utilizing the new selection tools. As you can see, I can open up the shadows and shine a lot of light on my subject. Vaporized the car too.

The question is, how much? Darkness and shadow has its own virtue and place in the landscape. I do like how the rising sun seemingly bore a hole in the canyon ridge in this shot.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021


Salt and Light

Trust no one unless you have eaten much salt with him. Marcus Cicero

I am not a religious man but I try to live a life based on moral and ethical principles. Like most of us, occasionally I fail.  I am a big believer in following the golden rule and treating others as you would wish to be treated. 

I don't follow any particular religion, spiritual or dogmatic theory, preferring to utilize whatever feels right to me from various sources around our world. Sort of a Swiss army knife strategy. Works pretty well for me. I'm not a Christian but that doesn't mean that I don't believe Jesus didn't have some very important things to say.

The First Christian Church in Fallbrook, which is not located on church row, has what I think are the best signs in town, year in and year out. Sometimes funny, always worth considering. I snapped the picture above this morning, it sort of threw me.

Be Salt and Light.

Now what did that mean? I had never heard of such a thing. Be a light yes, but salt? 

Being a lover of language I decided to do some research. The Not Salty N Lit was easy, salty being a current word in vogue to denote crass and snarky demeanor and lit I guess means drunk or stoned. 

Let me ask Merriam Websters. Yes, it does mean intoxicated but can also mean excellent in the new street vernacular. 

Back to the Old Testament:

Leviticus 2:13 : "And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt."

So salt has an early meaning of being a symbol of a covenant with G-D and was to be included in a grain offering. Ezekiel 16:4 alludes to the fact that newborn babies were rubbed with salt in a religious rite in biblical times.

I have read the bible umpteen times, the new testament at least seven and I don't recall the phrase or aphorism Be Salt and Light. So what does it really mean?

First we have to look to two verses from the book of Matthew NIV. 

Matthew 5:13-16

Salt and Light

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Okay, you're the salt of the earth. I get that. But it is not totally tangential to being salt. Could there be more? Here is an answer from a Christian website on the subject:

Jesus used the concepts of salt and light a number of different times to refer to the role of His followers in the world. One example is found in Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Salt had two purposes in the Middle East of the first century. Because of the lack of refrigeration, salt was used to preserve food, especially meat, which would quickly spoil in the desert environment. Believers in Christ are preservatives to the world, preserving it from the evil inherent in the society of ungodly men whose unredeemed natures are corrupted by sin (Psalm 14:3; Romans 8:8).

Second, salt was used then, as now, as a flavor enhancer. In the same way that salt enhances the flavor of the food it seasons, the followers of Christ stand out as those who “enhance” the flavor of life in this world. Christians, living under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in obedience to Christ, will inevitably influence the world for good, as salt has a positive influence on the flavor of the food it seasons. Where there is strife, we are to be peacemakers; where there is sorrow, we are to be the ministers of Christ, binding up wounds, and where there is hatred, we are to exemplify the love of God in Christ, returning good for evil (Luke 6:35).

Interesting. Christ as preservative and flavor enhancer. I think it is helpful to remember that two thousand years ago the value of salt was equal to gold and realize the immense value it had, both as a preservative and seasoning.

We see another mention of salt in Luke 14:34-35:
Salt Without Taste Is Worthless
34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
I hope I am not making too much out of this and getting too religiously doctrinaire, I just found it intriguing in both a human, literary and spiritual sense. And it is good advice for a snarky and occasionally salty guy like me, preserve, don't attack.

Let yourself be open and life will be easier. A spoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. A spoon of salt in a lake is almost unnoticed. Buddha

You shall find out how salt is the taste of another man's bread, and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs.

"Do you know a cure for me?" Why yes," he said, "I know a cure for everything. Salt water." Salt water?" I asked him. Yes," he said, "in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea".
Isak Dineson

Salt is born of the purest parents: the sun and the sea.

To disbelieve in marriage is easy: to love a married woman is easy; but to betray a comrade, to be disloyal to a host, to break the covenant of bread and salt, is impossible.
George Bernard Shaw

Monday, October 25, 2021

Get Off My Back Woman

Bird Break

I had to drop off a loved one at the airport in Ontario this morning for an early flight. 

I decided to check out my favorite bird spot on the way home and try to grab some shots before the noontime rain was supposed to start.

It hasn't been all that great up there lately but you have to keep checking in as the cool season is fast approaching and things can turn on a dime. Never know what awaits you in nature, that is what makes it both exciting and challenging.

I pulled in to the San Jacinto Wildlife Area and noticed that the red tailed hawks were seemingly every where, planted on many of the trees and telephone poles on the way in. Good sign. 

It was after eight but with the weather and time of year, still pretty dark out.

I drove in past the duck ponds and onto the main loop and almost immediately noticed a lovely peregrine falcon perched in the darkness of one of my favorite trees. Excellent.

You know how much I love falcons and this girl was a beauty, even in the dark shadows of the morning.

I had the fast 400mm on the camera, there was no sense piddling around with the slow 600 in this dim light.

And it was perfect for the job.

Don't know why I am so attracted to raptors but birds of prey definitely turn me on! Soon after I drove by this lovely kestrel, the smallest of the raptor family.

I drove the loop and over to the Walker Ponds. I saw a juvenile bald eagle and this gorgeous red tailed female, which was huge.

I drove back to the main part of the Wildlife Area and made another couple loops. There are times I will do this five or six times in a visit. Never know what will pop up.

I caught the graceful female northern harrier making its slow swoops over the grassland and ponds.

Always a visual thrill.

There were a lot of crows out today and many ravens, far more than I can remember seeing.

Not a lot of shorebirds, nothing that killed me. Dowitchers, Lbbs.

I did see a mess of coots of course and red winged blackbirds.

Caught my eponymous namesake.

And this merlin, a rare catch for me. Haven't managed to grab a picture of one for a long time. No kite today but I am happy nonetheless.

Merlins are bigger than Kestrels and smaller than Cooper's. 

Did manage to take some shots of a red shouldered hawk but they were not really good enough to post. 

800th of a second was not fast enough in this meager light.

I parked at the trailhead and put the smaller lens on the camera, the 600mm zoom is so much lighter than the prime lens. I wanted to take a hike around the loop. 

First thing I did was rustle the coots up into a light boil on the pond.

The weather was getting darker and more ominous, I headed back to the car. Saw and smelled a dead skunk, saw lots of scat, no wild cats this time. Darn.

I drove back to Walker a second time. Caught a huge flock of yellow headed blackbirds, biggest murder I have ever seen.

I love to watch these beautiful creatures. This place is my favorite office. By far. I worked yesterday, I deserve a little time off, right?

Midwest has tons of these guys. We aren't so fortunate out here. I am going to enjoy them.

Actually somewhat similar to the weaver bird of South Africa although the personalities are entirely different.

I had some work to do today and took my leave. A light rain started soon thereafter.

Timing is everything. I will be back.

If you like (or dislike) the pictures, feel free to rate them on ebird.