Saturday, February 28, 2015

Travels with Father- our trip to Sequoia, Kings and Yosemite

One of my longtime goals has been to share the stories about the travels I did with my father. I wrote an introduction back in November of 2013, and you can read that here. So today, as I sit waiting for the rain, inspired by the desire to share, allow me to tell you about the first trip we had together in 1985.

Travels with Father – 1985, Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon and Yosemite

I had never been on a vacation. Frankly, I hadn’t deserved one as of yet. A series of part-time jobs since I was 17 never earned the time to have a vacation. But, as I became gainfully employed in 1983 at both a full time job and a part time job, I finally gained the perk of having a vacation. But I really had no clue as to where I wanted to go. So, once again, I had to count on dad to help make the decision. 

Dad had been retired for eight years, and had spent all of his retirement time in landscaping the yard, building a studio on the end of the house, helping the church with the construction of the new sanctuary, and building his art business. He and mom had traveled to see my brothers at their schools in New York and Arizona.  For their 25th anniversary in 1977 they went to Hawaii. But dad and I had not taken a trip yet ourselves. And I had no idea on really HOW to plan a vacation. So, I asked him to help. 

Dad pulled out maps, and we discussed options: recreate the trip the family took in 1969; maybe New Mexico where he had gone with his parents in the 60’s. Finally, I decided that I wanted to go someplace that I’d only heard of and never seen:  Sequoia National Park. Since I had a full week, we planned a trip to there, then to nearby King’s Canyon, and then finish off with a couple of days in Yosemite. Since my wedding photography schedule kept me busy through September, the first week of October was determined as the time to go. Little did I know that the first week of October would be the best time to take a vacation. It still is my favorite time to be out and seeing things. We planned the trip to include stops on the way up and back to see his cousin in Visalia. I was looking forward to this for many reasons: the chance to drive on mountain roads; the chance to take photographs of my own choosing, not what a client would want; and finally, to actually take time off, a novel concept. I also anticipated time with dad. Getting one-on-one time with him, as well as exploring new things with him. 

Dad was a true Renaissance man. He was very well educated in many subjects. He had majored in both art and photography in college, and minored in physics. He was very well read, and kept a stack of National Geographics on his nightstand always. He believed that education did not stop when schooling was complete. But education to him had a broad definition. It included life education. It included learning from experience. It included learning from the environment around you. In being a true artist both with pen and camera, he was attentive to photographic composition. Yet he never allowed the rules of creating images to interfere with the actual creative process. Subsequently, his photographs were examples of excellent photographic composition, blended with the depth of feeling that was present in his emotional response to the landscape. Dad used the entire photographic frame to tell his story. There was both an economy in his photographs, and richness in depth and beauty. His was a truly balanced approach.  It was this imagery that I had grown up seeing, and would recognize later was the greatest influence upon my own photography.

Jean Lally and dad - cousins. Image by John Prothero
So, it was the beginning of the trip. I cannot recall what day we left, possibly a Saturday. But I do recall that on our first day we traveled to Visalia to visit and stay with his cousin, Jean Lally. Jean was, without a doubt, his favorite cousin. She had wonderful wit, and was very warm. We had visited her as a family on past occasions, so we were very familiar with her and the other family members on this side of dad’s family. We arrived at Jean’s in the mid-afternoon, and were concerned that we might awaken her (Jean was a cancer survivor, but still needed to take daily naps.) As it turned out, she was not home. But she had left the front door unlocked, and a note inviting us in. We did go in, and it was not long before she arrived home. That afternoon was filled with laughter as Jean and dad visited, catching up on old times and family stories. That evening we had dinner with her and some other cousins at a local Chinese restaurant. 

Sequoias, Fog, image by Cliff Prothero
The next morning was, in my mind, the real start of the trip.  We breakfasted with Jean, and then continued east out of Visalia into Sequoia National Park.  The day was foggy as we drove through Three Rivers, filled up on gas and some food, and then into the park.  The fog added an otherworldly look to the drive, and I recall being concerned that we’d end up with inclement weather.  Our first stop upon entering the park was the Visitor’s Center.  As with all Visitor’s Centers, it was very informative, and had both the geographic history of the park along with examples of the flora and fauna.  I was amazed at a large stuffed owl that they had displayed there.  It reminded me of our days in Glendale, occasionally hearing barn owls that lived in the foothills.  After visiting for a bit, we continued east along the General’s Highway and up into the park.  The road was twisty and narrow as it climbed the western face of the Sierra Nevada.  My ’82 Honda Accord was well-suited to this kind of road, and I enjoyed the drive from that standpoint, as well as the beauty of where we were.  The fog stayed with us all the way to the top of the mountain.  We reached the village where we were to stay that night, and attempted to check in.  We were too early, our cabin not being ready until after 3 PM.  So, we chose to explore, first having lunch out of the back of the car – one of many over the next few years.  To this day, I have memories of many of our roadside lunch stops, and the odd looks we got from other drivers as they zoomed by us while we ate our sandwiches or apples.  Lunches with dad were always simple affairs.  We packed meats, sodas, Ritz crackers, and ALWAYS apples.  Occasionally we’d treat ourselves to cookies.  Since we’d often have been driving for a few hours, we’d stand, and walk around.  They were often quiet times too, as we’d both still be in a reflective mood from the drive.

After our al fresco lunch, we continued exploring by driving out to Morro Rock. The fog which had accompanied us on our journey up from Three Rivers was clustered around the trees, but it was clear at the large, granite outcropping. But it was at Morro Rock where our view of the eastern Sierra was not fog enshrouded, and the magnificent backcountry spread before us.  It was glorious. I had never seen such magnificent beauty. I declined to climb the face of Morro Rock (which could be done by taking a carved-out trail with a single handrail) due to my fear of heights. The sun was out now, and we left Morro Rock and spent the rest of the afternoon going to Zumwalt Meadow, and the Giant Grove.
The Giant Grove, image by Cliff Prothero
I was in awe of the trees – the magnificent, large, impressive sequoias. These were huge trees, with massively thick trunks.  It was the first time I recall being in awe of the power and beauty of nature, and it would not be the last time for me. After our afternoon of exploration we returned to the village and got our cabin. Later we had an early supper, and retired to the cabin. That night as we went to sleep we heard the sounds of thunder and saw the flashes of lightning, followed by rain. But it wasn’t only the lightning and thunder that kept me awake: dad snored. Loudly. We had always joked as a family about his snoring, taking our first cassette tape recorder into my parent’s room as he slept to record his “wood sawing”, but he emphatically (and with great humor) denied it. But I was now forced to find a way to plug my ears in that small cabin so I could sleep. I had brought ear plugs along, anticipating this, and I put them in, which blocked his snoring and the sounds of lightning.

The next morning yielded a wonderful sight: snow. It had snowed the night
Snow! Image by Cliff Prothero
before, maybe 2”. It was not that much and it had already begun to melt. But to me it was a wonderful sight. We peeked out the windows at the ground squirrels maneuvering through the snow between the cabins. We went to breakfast, and then loaded up to go to our next stop. I had to take a bowl that we’d brought along to clear the snow off the windshield. I also discovered that the struts that held up the liftgate on my Accord were not very strong when it gets cold. Many times, during subsequent trips, we had liftgates and tailgates that would drop on us when we were in cold areas. We did a second visit to the Giant Grove, photographing the red-barked trees frosted in snow. It was then up the General’s Highway, which was clear of snow. Our drive was beautiful, and quite lonely. We rarely came upon a car at all on the drive between Giant Forest and Grant Grove. But there was still snow all around, and it was a beautiful sight. By late morning we were at Grant Grove in King’s Canyon National Park. There was a little snow here as well, but it was obvious that the weather was too warm for snow to stay. We again found ourselves too early to get into our cabins, so we drove down into King’s Canyon itself. 

The road into King’s clings to the sheer cliff face. It had only been 4 years since I’d been in an accident, and I still was slightly unsure on roads such as this. But I drove slowly, used the transmission to keep my speed in check, and still managed to see the sights around me. 

Kings Canyon, image by Cliff Prothero
King’s Canyon is like Yosemite in that it was glacially carved. However, King’s is deeper than its nearby cousin, and in some ways more dramatic. It is in some places very narrow, and does not offer the accommodations that one is used to in Yosemite. It is therefore much more “wild” in its feel and appearance. And for me, it was breathtaking. We spent the afternoon there, and had another lunch outdoors. We were lower in elevation than the surrounding forest, so there was no snow. But it was brisk. After an afternoon exploring we returned to Grant Grove, and explored in the grove of giant trees near the village. Snow was still abundant.

Our cabin was wonderful. Just rustic enough to feel “ourdoorsy”, but not so rustic that it wasn’t comfortable. A common, thin wall to another cabin adjoined it, and I recall that the floor sloped downhill a little. There was no TV, so I began to read the books that I had brought. We went for an early supper, and retired early for the evening. 

The next morning we left the park, heading west to Fresno on our trip to go north to Yosemite. The Sierra foothills were dry and bare after being in the lush sequoia forests. We continued north towards Yosemite, taking a side trip to Bass Lake, and having lunch at the location where I had gone camping with the church youth groups. We had our first experience with yellow jackets, a recurring pest on most of our trips. We reached Yosemite in the afternoon, and found our cabin in the main village. I had not been to Yosemite in years, and never in the fall. It was different, and very magical. It was quiet, crisp and cool. Dad and I took this time to just sit and relax, and I found myself a place to sit
Enjoying the view, image by Cliff Prothero
outside of our cabin that offered and unfettered view of Yosemite falls. We spent the next couple of days exploring the park, going up to Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, and just enjoying the serene, grand beauty of the Valley.  We took hikes along the Merced River, stopped at the base of El Capitan, and photographed along the trial to Bridalveil Falls.  It is here that I began to see things, and made efforts to photograph the details, not just the grand landscapes. 

I found myself looking down a lot, looking at leaves and shapes. And I found myself thinking of the photographer whose work made Yosemite so famous – Ansel Adams. Little did I know then how much his work would influence me in the future. Our dinner that night was in the lavish cafeteria, returning to our rustic cabin to read and turn in early. 

Aunt Nell and dad, image by John Prothero
Soon, it was time for us to go home, and on our return drive we stopped to see dad’s aunt Nell, a grand lady who lived in a home in Fresno. After a visit with her we continued to Visalia for another night’s stop with Jean. And then home.

In retrospect, the first trip was a trip of discovery for me, on so many levels. Discovering the freedom of photography as I saw images around me; the freedom of the open road; the freedom if being in nature; and finally, the true journey that I wish to write about – the journey taken with my father as we went from father and son, to close friends.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What would Walt have done?

This coming July is the 60th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland.  Frankly, I'm not looking forward to it.  Living less than a mile from The Park, and driving through the resort area daily as I must, I'm sure that there's going to be events around the anniversary that will bring increased traffic or closed roads, and I'm sure that as we get closer to the date itself, there will be 4 AM live feeds to the east coast news channels.  No, I'm not looking forward to it.

My history with The Park (as I like to call it) is based on family.  When I was younger, and we lived in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles, we'd make a trip to Disneyland every few years.  It was a special event, and we'd try to squeeze as much into the day as we could.  This was back in the day of general admission and tickets.  My brothers and I all had our idea of which E-ticket ride we wanted to take.  Growing up, I loved the old Mine Train ride, and the Submarine ride.  

When Lorrie and I started to date, we bought passes, which were VERY reasonable at $180/pass for admission to Disneyland (California Adventure debuted a year or so later).  We'd go there sometimes to take a ride with Justin, who was around 5 years old at the time, or we'd go there for a dinner at New Orleans Square, and then come home.  At that time, entry was around $60, so for us, the passes, and the rate we used them, paid for themselves quickly.  Lorrie, having grown up in this area, had a much more active involvement in The Park, having attended there for years with her family.  And it was Lorrie who started pointing out things to me that made me think "Wow.  Would Walt have allowed this?", or, as my blog title states, "What would Walt have done?"

Lorrie would point out things like paint peeling off the various fixtures, or the bars that guide you through a queue for a ride.  Or the sheet of plywood that was used to cover a hole in a bridge.  Or how the horses on the Fantasyland Carousel are all white, when at one time, they were each a unique color.  Or just things that didn't work.  And she'd say how much this stuff would have been paid attention to under the Disney family.  And I had friends who told me that the new California Adventure was very little like the concepts that had been shared with them when they were Disney Company employees. California Adventure had many more rides and attractions originally planned (like that section of street between the Grizzly Rapid Run area and the Monterey Wharf area that has NOTHING in it - it's just building facades), but they didn't want to put the money out up front to make it special.  That section of The Park floundered for years with only California Soarin' and California Screamin' pulling people in.  We'd go in there, take those two rides, and then go back to Disneyland.  It wasn't until they added Cars Land a couple of years ago that attendance in that part of The Park has soared.  And with it, prices to get in have soared as well, putting them out of reach of most families.  

It was during that time I started to think about what Walt would have done.  Walt saw Disneyland
differently, and I truly believe that the corporate structure and profit have driven decisions since the Disney family has either relinquished control or died off.  Walt wanted it to be a place for everyone, and it was that way for decades.  I don't think he would have added the 2nd gate, and if he had, he would have done it right to begin with.  One thing he didn't like was the very thing that exists in Paradise Pier - the Coney Island feel.  I'm sure that he would have either needed a great deal of convincing to add that, or would have said no from the start.  But the details that Lorrie points out that are gone would have bothered him, and would have been important to correct.  Granted, I didn't know him personally, and most of those who did are either gone, or very old.  But we have enough documentation of his personality and drive to guess that he would not be pleased at the way things are run now, and I just wish we had someone with Walt's attentiveness running The Park.  

It would become a Magic Kingdom again if we did.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Something passed on....

This morning in church we did something we rarely do - we used the hymn book.  Usually, the hymns are printed in the bulletin. However, our pastor decided to change the opening hymn, and even jokingly said that we'd need to dust off the hymnbook in front of us and open to hymn #89.  And as I opened the hymnbook, I saw a wonderful inscription: 

25 Feb. 1979
To John - 

With all m y thanks for your 
support during our years together at
Mt Calvary.

May God's blessings go with you!

Pastor Jim 

For some reason, that touched me.  Granted, having the salutation of the inscription the same as my name drew me in.  But more than that, it spoke to me of things that we pass on, particularly something like books, or in this case, a hymnbook.

I have a hymnbook that once belonged to my grandmother. It's beat up, with the binding torn in spots, and the pages are yellowed with time. But it was hers, and it was that same hymnbook that my mother used to sing to me when I was a child.  That simple, plain hymnbook holds great value to me, just as that hymnbook that I sang from today held value for another person named John.

Things that are passed down to us often mean more than something we get for ourselves, like a new smart phone or new shoes.  We might have a coat that belonged to a grandparent, or a casserole dish that was used by our moms to make our favorite comfort food.  In addition to that hymnbook, we have cameras that belonged to my grandparents and my dad.  The cameras indicate a shared passion between them and both my wife and I - all of us touched by the interest to capture images as we see them and respond to them.

I'm sure that for this John, way back in 1979, this brand new hymnal and its inscription meant something to him. Just as something that we hold dear from a parent, grandparent, or dear friend means something to us.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Abstract Nature of Jesus

As Christians, we take for granted that our faith assumes that Jesus Christ actually existed, as laid out for us in the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and as written by Paul in his letters to the churches.  After all, the Church existed in 1st century Palestine, and spread throughout the "world" that time, basically the Roman world.  And for centuries, Christians believed that a Jewish historian, Josephus, chronicled not just the beginning of the early Church, but the actual existence of Jesus.  His references to Jesus make no mention of Jesus' divinity, in fact, they are mere side-mentions of some other activities happening at that time.  Josephus also comments about John the Baptist.  We also know that the main Roman personalities mentioned in the Gospels, such as Pontius Pilate, did exist.  So, historically, there is good evidence that Jesus did exist. 

However, I read something lately that calls some of Josephus' work into question, and whether his writings are accurate, and so therefore, that the person of Jesus found in historical and objective documents actually did not exist.  

But for me, I find that when we spend too much time trying to find out whether Jesus existed historically, we end up making far less of a case for His existence.  But when we look at the Gospels in the abstract, the "evidence" is far more compelling, and it becomes easier (not the best choice of words) to believe that Jesus did exist.  Here are some of those abstract reasons why I believe.

At church today, our lesson was taken from Mark's brief and hurried Gospel.  Chapter 1, verse 34, read as follows:

And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons, and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

Our pastor's sermon was titled "Shhh...don't tell", based on this lesson.  And for me, this verse, as well as others when Jesus tells His disciples not to tell anyone who he was, is revelatory.  Our pastor pointed out that since most Jews expected the Messiah to be a deliverer from Roman bondage and occupation, Jesus, being the Messiah to save us from the bondage of sin, would not be understood too well.  So, he's telling them to keep it under their hats, even going so far as telling the demons He cast out from people not to say anything.  I find this very compelling because Jesus is focusing the Messianic message on what is really important.  I would suggest that if this had been false, or if the person of Jesus was fictional, He actually would or could have been a Messiah to free the Jews from Roman occupation.  

That ties into a second event in the Gospels.  In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus outlines His eventual suffering, to which Peter (and I've always thought Peter must've been hated by the others due to his loud mouth and constant "brown-nosing" Jesus) admonishes Christ, saying that it cannot happen, to which Christ says the well-known rebuke "Get behind me, Satan".  Again, we have a Messiah not of political freedom, but a Messiah of spiritual freedom.  

Finally, another abstract of Christ is the characters themselves.  Look at the people surrounding him: the aforementioned brown-nosing and arrogant Simon Peter; the conniving Judas; John, who as Jesus' favorite may have taken advantage of that; Mary Magdalene and her obsessive-compulsive sister Martha, who felt it was better to have the work done than to spend time with Jesus.  We see him with lepers, adulterers, prostitutes, even the dead. Jesus does not hang out with the successful - in fact, His tongue is sharpest against what we'd call the establishment.  And that speaks to me of the veracity of the Gospels - you could NOT have made it up!  

I find that for me, thinking of Jesus in the abstract helps me believe in Him in the concrete.  It is the flaws of the Gospels and the individuals that populate them, and the book of Acts, which gives me no doubt in the actual existence of Jesus.  

Soli deo Gloria