Sunday, August 31, 2014

The roads less traveled....

One of the biggest enjoyments that I've had while taking my photographic trips, was discovering the highways that took me to the places that I photographed.  Often, the highways themselves became the highlights of the trip.  And since many of the trips I took were with my dad, who had traveled those highways himself with his parents and with our family, several of these highways and roads carried with them wonderful stories.  For example, the road going north out of Grants, New Mexico up to Cortez, Colorado - highway 491 - was the road his parents took in 1922, coming from Colorado to California.  My dad told us stories of how his father, driving their Ford Model T, had to back up one particularly steep hill, since, in the Model T, reverse had better torque than 1st gear.  And sure enough, as my dad and I drove up that road 70 years later, he pointed that very hill out to me.  

There were other stories associated with other roads, and as I have traveled, I too have found roads to evoke memories and emotional responses.  And often, both in my memory and visually, I "return" to these roads, because they are either roads that elicit a sense of peace, or they are roads that bring back my own fond memories.  And so here are my "Top 5" roads (and these are in no specific order):

Jalama Beach Road, Santa Barbara County, California - I "discovered" this road on one of my yearly Central California Coast drives, and every time I go up there (which has been a while), I make sure I take this road.  It's 20 or so miles of 2-lane paved road that takes you to Jalama Beach, a wonderful, open stretch of beach where you can surf, fish, and camp.  But it's the drive through the ranch land, with the open pastures and California oaks that make this drive so pleasant. Recently I found a YouTube video of some motorcyclists taking the road from the beach to Highway 1, and I just sat there, transfixed, as the pastures and the oaks whizzed by.  Of all the roads on my list, this one is closest to home and easiest to get to.  

Coastal Drive, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Klamath, California - this was a road that my dad and I "discovered" on a trip that we took all around California in 1989. As we were heading up towards Crescent City at the Oregon/California border, we found this drive, and immediately were greeted by old oaks dripping with Spanish moss.  Eventually you end up on road that drives along the edge of the cliffs over the beaches.  This road takes you through stands of alders and oaks, with pine trees mixed in.  I returned to this road in 1998, and photographed the image that I have here, taken just after the setting sun peeked out from under some clouds.   

Million Dollar Highway, from Cortez, Colorado, to Telluride, Colorado - this road in particular has strong memories for me, since my dad was born in the small town of Dolores, which is along the highway and about 20 miles north of Cortez.  The last time I was there in 1997, the cabin where my dad was born was still there.  As you head north from Cortez you're greeted by several high peaks - the "14's" as they are called, because many peaks are over 14,000 feet in elevation.  But for me, the road was where dad and I discovered a small stand of aspen trees that still had their leaves on them, even after a recent snow had knocked all other aspen trees leaves to the ground.  We called this one spot "the Magic Place", and I plan to return there soon to disperse some of my dad's ashes.  

Highway 128, from Highway 70, Utah, to Moab, Utah - this road was another "discovered"
by my dad and I on our last full trip together in 1994.  We had come from Colorado, having stayed overnight in Grand Junction, and were coming down highway 128 to head towards Moab.  The beauty of this road is that it hugs the Colorado River for a ways, and you find yourself in these wonderful valleys carved by that ever-flowing river. We stopped along there as the afternoon waned, and took some photographs before heading into Moab for our hotel.  Often I return to this road because it is not traveled by the tourists, but by the local ranchers and others who are heading to the magnificent Cathedral Valley.  

Santa Rosa Creek Road, from Cambria, California, to highway 41 - this road, more than any other, has a draw for me, and any time I am on the Central Coast of California, I MUST take this road.  Back in 1969, my family rented a motorhome, and we drove this road through the beautiful ranching country that it services.  This is not a highway, but a road - in some cases it's single lane, rough pavement.  But it takes you up to the crest of the Santa Lucia range behind Cambria and then back to highway 41, which can take you back to Highway 1 to the west, or Paso Robles to the east.  I have taken this road again with my dad, and by myself.  But it was on this road that I proposed to my wife, on an area carved out by a switchback. You can see that switchback here, on the right side of the image.

There are so many other roads that I have traveled, many with my dad, and many on my own.  I think of the road through Santa Margarita, just north of San Luis Obispo, that takes you east to the vast Carrizo Plains.  Or the wonderful highway 12, going from Bryce Canyon National Park east through the Escalante Wilderness area, Boulder, and then over towards Capital Reef National Park in Utah.  There's the wonderful stretch of highway 89 from Shasta, California, all the way down through Carson Pass and Monitor Pass, where you eventually come out on highway 395 north of Walker, California.  All these roads mean so much to me both personally and photographically.  And I must return to them, not only in my memory, but in reality.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why slow is good....

I am a believer that sometimes, slow is good.  Now, that might run into some people's perception of me, that I tend to like to do things quickly.  But I am more drawn to things that are slow, like a meal cooked in a slow cooker, or a movie or TV show that has a long and well-constructed storyline.  I don't need that instant gratification all the time.  And when it comes to two things in my life, slow is particularly sought out.  
One of the "slow" areas of my life is photography. For many photographers in the digital age, the advent of digital SLRs, with small screens on the camera back to help you see what you just took, and all the capabilities of post-production image manipulation, allow for quickness in taking and disseminating images. And while that can be attractive, for me, photography was always a slow process.  It's not quick for me. 

This past week I attended a meeting of other landscape photographers. Other than the host/instructor, I was the only "film" person there, and he took advantage of me being there to have me explain why I shoot film, and why I shoot with a large-format camera.  And while I felt slightly out of place among all digital photographers (save the instructor), I now feel the urge to take that camera of mine and return to the field, and start doing that imagery again.  

One of the reasons why I like to shoot large format is that it is slow and deliberate work, and has to be thought out and planned.  You don't just raise the camera to your face and "snap" the image, or look at the back of your DSLR and say you don't like it, and delete it.  Large format photography is the art and skill of taking a strong emotional response to the subject - be it a landscape, or a city scene, or a still life, or a person modeling for you - and trying to take ALL of what you see and feel and distill it to a 4x5" negative or transparency.  There are steps that have to be taken to get that one shot: pre visualizing either by mentally composing the scene in your mind or having a card with a rectangular opening to so you can see how that image will look; setting up the camera, selecting the lens, and maybe adding a filter to the lens to enhance the scene; checking and rechecking the exposure with a spot light meter; focusing under the dark cloth (or focusing cloth) against the ground glass image, which is upside-down and inverted; finally, after all that, you mentally go "does this image capture what I am feeling?" Often you say no, and you break the camera down, without taking the photograph.  That is the discipline of this art: trying to capture something big onto something small and still retain the emotion.  It is a slow process, but in being slow, it requires you to think, to be contemplative and thoughtful, not just random.  And that I why I love it so much.

It's kind of like fishing, which is a slow process, particularly if you fly-fish, and have to select a fly that mimics the catch.  Fishing takes time, takes patience, takes skill, takes selective gear and tackle, but in the end is rewarding. And it's slow: if you're fishing with bait from the shore, you can wait a very long time for a bite. Even fishing from a boat requires patience.  But as with the photography, it is very rewarding.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I have my doubts....

I can say that I am going through a period of doubts. Now, I'm not doubting myself or my work - in fact, I feel good about what I'm doing at work, and feel that I'm making progress.  If I had any self-doubt, it would be with my ability to get other singers to understand my vision in creating a choir that would do the kind of sacred classics that I love and want to do for a small church that has no choir

No, my doubts go deep.  For you see, they are doubts about my faith.  Growing up in a faith-centered home, I was "fed" scripture, believing it to be all true: the Garden of Eden; Adam and Eve; the Great Flood; Tower of Babel.  I had no doubt in my mind back then, and even up to my college years, in the validity of stories in the Bible - specifically the Old Testament stories. But then a couple of decades ago I realized that the story of Creation and therefore Adam and Eve were myth, and most recently, I have begun to doubt the validity of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt, and therefore, their escape from Egypt.  I have questioned why were the Hebrews the "Chosen People"?  Why did Jesus come to THEM?  And if I doubt the validity of Genesis, feeling it is mythological, then how do I account for sin?  And therefore, why did Jesus come to save us from sin?  

Now, recently I posted that I believe Jesus was and is who he said he was and is: the Son of God, and in the broader sense of the Trinity, God.  I believe that Jesus was a historical person, and the evidence of the fledgling church indicates that not only was he historical, he was EXACTLY as he said and preached.  Dying on the cross, and being resurrected were fact, not fiction.  There's too much historical evidence of an early church, plus when you evaluate human behavioral evidence, it is too strong to deny that those early Christians believed strongly in a resurrected Christ, and were willing to die and be tortured for that belief.  For them, the resurrection was not the event on Sunday morning, but the entire time Jesus continued to be with them. There may be those who discount those occurrences and try to logically explain those events as hallucinations, or psychotic episodes, which fly in the face of known psychological patterns.  You can't have 500 people hallucinating about the exact same thing at the same time.  

But even with that core truth, it's like having a building that is collapsing.  I feel as if I'm in the elevator shaft or stairwell, while the rest of the facade and floors crumble around me.  

And yet, this morning, in church, I came to the realization that all these questions really are not relevant to the Truth that I do believe in: God is, well, God.  I cannot explain him.  I cannot fathom the depths of his being. And all these questions are really dealing on trivia or peripheral items that really have little to do with God. They are all about man and his attempt to explain God, or anthropomorphize God (turning him into a more human god and therefore, more understandable).  Perhaps the authors of the Old Testament were attempting to explain something the could not. And frankly, we still can't.  And, to be honest, I PREFER a God that is mysterious, that has not revealed himself to us.  

But I still have my doubts, and still feel the need to ask and to probe.  So, I hope that those of you who read my blog will maybe join me in this journey.  Maybe we'll discover something wonderful together.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The world stopped laughing.....

Tonight, social media is abuzz with the news of Robin Williams' death, which has been preliminarily reported as being a suicide.  I've seen many posts on Facebook from my friends, many of whom are in shock and tears that he was not only gone, but gone by his own choice.  The words depression and substance abuse are being tossed around, which to me, is so unnecessary and cruel, since we really don't know what his mind or his psyche was like at the time.  All we know is that he's gone.  
I too am sad.  I didn't really watch "Mork & Mindy" that much, but began to enjoy Williams' frenetic and improvisational comedy with an album that came out in the mid-80's called "Reality, what a concept".  It was vulgar, rude, rapid-paced, and highly intelligent.  And that's what I liked about Williams' comedy: he referenced social topics, religious topics, historical fact, current events, celebrities - nothing was immune as fodder for his creative mind.  And he could change topics quickly, and you could SEE how his mind worked and shifted gears.  During his taping of a show in San Francisco, he took a small red hand towel and wiped down his face, and made a comment about it being a bull-fighting cape that someone had tossed into the dryer.  All of a sudden he changed, sounding like an irate Spanish matador, yelling "what happened to the fucking cape!  You put in the dryer!  I told you not to put the fucking cape in the dryer.  If I use it now the bull will just look at it and go 'no way, Jose.'"  To see him shift from doing one thing to coming up with a hilarious bit was like watching someone take a jet aircraft moving at 200 mph in one direction, and, without making a wide turn, head back into the other direction.  He was brilliant.

And I enjoyed him as a dramatic actor, in such films as "Fisher King", "Awakenings", and "Dead Poet's Society".  I felt he was a much better dramatic actor than a comedian.  His comedies, and even his standup, seemed to be forced sometimes.  

But as I sit here writing this, I find myself thinking of suicide.  I've known a few folk that have chosen to take their lives.  I've known some very close friends who lost more than one loved one to that choice.  And it is a choice.  Granted, there are those who take their lives because their mind is so unbalanced, so messed up, that it isn't a choice as much as there are voices convincing them to do it.  But there are those to whom there IS another way, and yet they feel that the only choice - the only ANSWER - is to end it.  

And here's where I find it difficult to comprehend suicide.  Now, what I am about to say may sound extremely naive, since I do not battle the type of depression or moodiness that many do.  I do not have voices in my head that are trying to get me to do something to harm myself.  So, really, I do not come to this as an authority.  And yet, I believe there IS someone who is the ultimate authority.  And when I think of how He walked among those whom today we would categorize as schizoid, or paranoid, or both, or bipolar, or sociopaths, or whatever form of mental illness that can push people to end their lives.  He walked among them, loved them, and healed them.  It sounds so simple, and yet I know it isn't.  It isn't just as simple as saying the simple words "you know, take Jesus into your heart, and he will heal your mental illness."  That truly IS naive.  But if someone truly wishes to find a way out of their hole, their despair, their fears and loneliness, I truly believe that seeking help from someone who is qualified, but also does the help with the thoughtfulness and love of God, can help people get out of that hole they're in.  Again, this may sound very naive, but I believe it.  

Goodbye, Robin.  We will miss you very, very much.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Dude, where'd you get all the fish!??!?!?

I will confess that I do listen to our pastor's sermons, which are usually short, and to the point.  And this past Sunday was no exception - well, except that my mind DID wander as he spoke.  But my mind wandered onto a topic that was related to the Gospel lesson that morning.  The lesson was Matthew 14:13-21, which is the account of Jesus feeding the 5000 (which was really MORE than 5000, since they didn't count women or children - just men.  It was a very patriarchal society.)

The Gospel account of this in Matthew shares that Jesus was moved (maybe deeply saddened) at the death of John the Baptist, who was beheaded by Herod the King.  After all, John was a cousin, and the one who baptised Jesus in the Jordan River.  I am sure that they not only shared a closeness that cousins sometimes share, but a closeness in the spiritual sense as well.  But as Jesus is about to retreat to a quiet place where he could reflect, he saw the multitude of people around him.  The Gospel says he felt compassion for them, and a few sentences later, he suggested that the disciples feed the people.  Of course, the disciples made some comments about how little food they had, and urged that Jesus send everyone to the local village to get food.

But Jesus says that it was not necessary to send the people away, to which the disciples told him that all they had was five loaves of bread, and two fish.  And, in one of his greatest miracles, Jesus took that meager fare, and fed well over 5000 people with it.  Now, during pastor's sermon, he emphasised the mystical nature of the miracle, the numerology of the 12 baskets that remained indicating the 12 tribes of Israel, how the 5 loaves and the 2 fish equalled the number 7, which is a very powerful "God" number, as in 7 days God created the earth, so on and so on.

But to me, I thought of something different.  I thought of the physiology of feeding these people, and how important it was to do so.  And I thought of the countless times in the Gospels that Jesus says to feed the poor.  And I thought of how both myself and my kids, when we're hungry, we cannot function correctly, or pay attention, or control our behavior, as well as we can when we are not hungry.  It was then I realized a vital truth:  Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, because God knows that our souls, which hunger and thirst for Him, cannot take the eternal nourishment until we have taken the nourishment of the body.  We MUST feed the poor, not just because Jesus told us to, but because unless we do, those to whom need the message of God's Grace will be less receptive, even reject the message, until their body is satisfied.  That was a humbling realization.  And it was one that I realized is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing I can do as a Follower of Christ.  I must feed the poor.  

Many times I see those on the street with signs, asking for money since they are homeless and hungry.  And in our society, we find that we cannot extend a level of trust to them, simply because we are afraid of them possibly being mentally ill.  We don't extend to them the Love that Jesus himself would have us extend.  I'll admit, that is tough.  And I have driven by those people, feeling guilt for not offering them a meal or shower at our home, simply because we don't  know if they are mentally ill or not.  

But regardless of that, there are still ways to feed the poor.  Our church has an active food pantry, that does give out food to those who ask for it.  And Orange County has a large food bank.  And you can contribute to these places at whatever level you wish, be it a donation, or volunteering, or both.  But I have decided that I will start to feed the poor, beginning with donating to our church's food pantry and the Second Harvest Food Bank, which is on the former El Toro Marine Base in Irvine.  

I won't be passing out baskets of fish and bread, but in my heart, I know I will be feeding those who need to be fed with bread before they are fed with the Bread of Life.