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Little Wildernesses

Monday, May 21st, 2012

As the urban/rural boundary has blurred over the years, I’ve come to see that growing up in the city had its rewards. The inner-city life has adventures all its own, but I was also lucky to have grown up in the city when I did, when there was still some open space around – untended little wild spots, overgrown orchards, vast open fields that seemed to stretch forever without a building, dense arbors in urban parks where we could hide securely from school and cops.

-Ernest Atencio

Open space was a huge part of my childhood.  Every day after school, my friends and I would gather at the vacant lot near our houses, building jumps for our bicycles that were destined to break at least a few bones (although somehow they never did).  We went home only when our parents came looking for us.

For those few hours after school each day the city we lived in seemed to melt away, and we could pretend to take our bikes to anyplace in the world we wanted.

As we grew older, we ventured further from our neighborhood, eventually making our way out to the piñon-juniper woodland that surrounded my hometown in northwestern New Mexico.  There, we encountered coyotes, deer, as well as mysterious noises in the bushes that were probably nothing more than a deer mouse scurrying around, however it was enough to stir the remnants of an overactive childhood imagination.

So it was that my formative years were not spent in ‘wild’ wilderness necessarily, but it was wild enough to spark my curiosity, to make me want to see more wild places, and to instill in me a sense of adventure and stewardship.  It was in those pygmy forests of the Four Corners that my lifelong relationship with wilderness was born.

“Without any remaining wilderness we are committed wholly, without chance for even momentary reflection and rest, to a headlong drive into our technological termite-life, the Brave New World of a completely man-controlled environment.” writes Wallace Stegner in his ever-poignant Wilderness Letter.

Stegner continues, “We need wilderness preserved–as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds–because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed. The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it. It is good for us when we are young, because of the incomparable sanity it can bring briefly, as vacation and rest, into our insane lives. It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there–important, that is, simply as an idea.”

Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

What Stegner is saying is that every one of us needs wilderness.  I worked for several summers doing biological data collection in the White Mountains of eastern California.  One summer a volunteer in our lab came to the field with me for the first time; he grew up and spent almost his entire life in Los Angeles.


The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

The Barcroft Plateau, White Mountains, California

After leaving the pavement, he said to me, “I didn’t know there were any dirt roads in the U.S.”  That day, things I naïvely thought were commonplace appeared as a whole new world to him: deer, hawks, wild horses, violent but brief thunderstorms, and views that stretch on forever transformed his perception of the world before my eyes.

This is the wellspring of my hope.  Everyone perceives “wilderness” differently, and we have all been introduced to it in different ways.  We all have our own personal reasons to fight for its protection.  Yet, we need it, according to Stegner, for our spiritual health.

Our spiritual health.

Perhaps it is something rooted deeply in our evolutionary past, but wilderness is healing, a place of solace and comfort.  As far as efforts to protect wilderness go, we as a people have unity in our diverse perceptions of wild places.  Some wildernesses are little, some are big, but they are all equally valuable.

I wonder what those piñon-juniper forests of my youth would look like today, seen through older eyes.  I know at least some of it has gone away to make space for homes.  However, selfishly, I like to think they remain a place of hope, sanity, imagination, and peace.  Who knows, maybe some kids are building their own bike jumps there right now.  That may not be such a bad thing.

When it comes to things I care deeply for, words sometimes fail me.  I make photographs that (I hope) express my emotions for wild places.

What experiences formed your relationship with wild places?  Where are the places you seek comfort?

A small child in the outdoors

My son, 2 years old (photo by Brent Deschamp)

Dumpster Diving

Friday, February 18th, 2011

/dump’-ster di:’-ving/ -n 1. The practice of searching through dumpsters for discarded, but still usable, goods such as food or clothes.  2.  The practice of searching through one’s hard drive for RAW files that have not been processed before.

Its raining today, and I’ve got a 3-year-old in tow.  Definitely not a day that’s conducive to be outside for serious photography.  We’ve all been in this position before, when we’re dying to get out, but life just seems to get in the way.  What to do?  One thing I like to do is “dumpster dive”–go through my hard drive and revisit images that did not quite seem to make the cut before.

There are multiple reasons to dig through the rubbish of past shoots.  Perhaps your post-processing skills have improved since you captured the RAW file, or you have new inspiration of how to process the image.  Or simply, your tastes have changed, and something that didn’t appeal before is suddenly more attractive.

I processed this image a while ago, from a visit to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in December.  I loved the scene of sun peeking out from behind this oak tree, but never could quite get the processing right.  After coming back to the image a couple of months later, I was able to shed some new light on the processing problem.  Now, its one of my favorites from this lovely wilderness area.

Do you have images that benefitted from an initial cast-off and subsequent revisiting?  Please share links in the comments section!

Oak tree and sunburst at the Santa Rosa Plateau ecological reserve near temecula california

Sunburst, December 2010

Chocolate and flowers, reinvented

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner; its a perfect day to reconnect and to remind each other what you mean to one another.

One of the most popular gifts on Valentine’s Day is chocolate and flowers.  These are both a tried and true tradition on February 14, however, despite the giver’s best intentions, neither gift will last for very long.  This year, I suggest you put a new twist on the traditional chocolate and flowers, and give my Chocolate Lily print to your loved one.

Chocolate Lilies

Chocolate Lilies, April 2009

Chocolate lilies are a widespread but relatively uncommon plant in several places along the Pacific coast.  I photographed these flowers last spring at one of their strongholds, the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, in the southern Santa Ana Mountains, near Murrieta California.

From now through February 14, I’m offering this print at a 30% discount.  All other floral photography is 20% off.

And, if you’re wondering, my wife already has this print hanging in our house.

Moonrise over the oaks

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

On Sunday, we went for a quick hike at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve near Temecula CA.  Driving off the reserve at sunset, I came across this scene, pulled the car over, got my camera out and snapped a few quick shots before the sun dipped behind the hills, leaving the oaks in the shade.  I chose a vertical panorama presentation, because I wanted to draw attention to the moon rising.

Moonrise over the oaks, Temecula, CA, November 2009

Santa Rosa Plateau, part 3

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

A vernal pool is a seasonal pool that fills up during the winter rains, and dries out slowly over spring and summer, not refilling until the following winter.  In California, Riverside County has 14 vernal pools; 13 are protected within the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve.  When I think of this place, I think of its crown jewel–the vernal pools.

The third, and final, image I have in the Plateau’s annual art show this year is of the vernal pools:

Vernal Pools, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, 2009

Fairy shrimp, frogs, toads, snakes, and migrating waterfowl are just a small group of animals that call the pools home, but also rely on them to breed.

The show begins tonight, and runs through September 20.

Santa Rosa Plateau, part 2

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Yesterday I blogged about the Santa Rosa Plateau, and shared some poppies.  Today’s photo is of another flower, only a much rarer one: the chocolate lily:

Chocolate lilies, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, 2009

This is an uncommon lily, and the Santa Rosa Plateau is just about the southern tip of its range.  Each spring, people start hiking the plateau in hopes of finding blooming lilies.  Because of its dark appearance, it has earned the nickname “Cleopatra of the Fritillaries”.

I really like this shot, not only because of the composition and lighting (I love the soft backlighting and highlighting on the edges of the blooms), but also because we found these lilies after a hot day of hiking, and it felt good to sit in the shade of an oak tree, enjoying the day. 

Santa Rosa Plateau, part 1

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

This week is shaping up to be very busy for Alpenglow Images.  In the past I’ve entered photos in online contests, but have never shown a photo in real life, save for the ones we have hanging in our house, or ones I’ve given as gifts.  This week, I’m in two shows, which is very exciting.

Tonight, I’m participating in my first Riverside Arts Walk in downtown Riverside, and will be showing 13 photos.  Tomorrow, I’ll try to post an update with photos.  If you’re in Riverside tonight, I’d love to have you come by; my photos will be in the Life Arts Center, studio 39 (map).

The other show I’m participating in is at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, near Temecula, California.  The show is one of their annual fundraisers, and this year’s theme is “A Quarter Century of Conservation and Inspiration,” to celebrate their 25th anniversary.  The Plateau is one of our favorite places to hike, because it provides a quick escape on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and it is very unique ecologically.  Fifty-nine “sensitive” species call the Plateau home, and it house one of the best preserved bunchgrass prairie ecosystems in California.  

I have three photos in this year’s show.  The first one I want to share with you are California’s state flower: the California poppy.

California poppies, Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, 2009

The show runs from this Saturday, August 8 through September 20.