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Kids & Photography

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

In my last post, I mentioned that Jackson Frishman and I managed to get our kids (two boys, ages 5 and 9) out for a short backpack in the Sierra last week. Backpacking with kids has its challenges and rewards, and I wrote about a few of them when my son was much younger. He’s 9 now, and can carry his own backpack (with a few small things in it), and asks often to go hiking, camping, or backpacking. Although I haven’t been able to get out with him as much as I’d like, this trip seemed fun and appropriately timed.

A couple of things I noticed on this trip were that it was great for him to have another kid to hike with. Having someone who hikes on your own level is motivating for anyone, especially little people. Additionally, having things to distract the boys was essential. Jackson had a deep pocket of jelly beans for them, and I packed a book in for my son so he could unwind after the hike, as well as a root beer for an after dinner treat. Finally, a good night’s sleep is essential. Although he was tired and–admittedly–a bit grouchy after our hike into our campsite, my son was a different kid after a solid rest.

Perhaps more than anything, finding a way to share the experience is the most important part of engaging kids outdoors. On this trip, my son asked if he could take some photos with my camera. I was happy he wanted to try, so I metered for him, but let him compose and expose his own images. When we got home, I saw that one image was one I would have liked to claim for my own! I edited it, and posted it below. So, really I’m just bragging about my kiddo here, and am happy he’s taken an interest in a form of self-expression. Make sure to foster this in your own kids, no matter how it shows up.

photograph of snow, the flanks of University Peak, and matlock lake at sunset, in the john muir wilderness of california's sierra nevada mountains

a nine year old boy wearing a down jacket takes a photo with camera and tripod at a lake in the sierra nevada mountains of california

Fire in the sky

Friday, August 18th, 2017

“The agent by which fire was first brought down to earth and made available to mortal man was lightning. To this source every hearth owes its flames.” – Lucretius, De Rerum Natura


The sky has long been a source of wonder for humankind. Colorful sunrises and sets, stargazing, and of course events like eclipses are all things that evoke awe and inspiration. People in certain parts of the United States are gearing up for the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21. Personally, I’ll be driving across northern Arizona during the eclipse. I intend only to pull over and enjoy what will be about 75% occlusion as the moon passes between Earth and the sun.

While the solar eclipse will be the capstone of summer for many, the season–to me–is sadly becoming defined less by swimming pools and barbecues and more by wildland fires. Currently, there are 56 large fires burning in the United States; 55 of them are in the West. This is a particularly bad year for fires, but over the past few summers my own wilderness exploration has depended heavily on where smoke is not obscuring the views. Despite what Lucretius opined in his first century poem De Rerum Natura, most wildland fires today are human-caused. Only a small percentage are caused by lightning.

Earlier this week, Jackson Frishman and I managed to get our boys out for a short overnight backpack in the John Muir Wilderness. Smoke from several fires burning in the Sierra Nevada obscured views in the Owens Valley, but as we hiked up, the air seemed to clear. A few clouds in the sky made a colorful sunset seem promising.

photo of grass along the edge of matlock lake and university peak with late day light in the john muir wilderness of california

Indeed, as the sun went down, the sky started to light up. I was using a polarizing filter to help reduce glare on the lake we were camped by. As sunset got nearer, I noticed a very strange effect on the images I was making. What I can only conclude was “invisible” smoke in the upper atmosphere was showing up in my polarized images, intermingling with the pink clouds. The result, I think, is unique and pretty (despite its cause).

photo of a colorful sunset at Matlock Lake in the John Muir Wilderness, California

If you are going outdoors with family and friends next week to view the eclipse, I wish you luck. I also hope smoke does not obscure your view. Please make sure to not add to the smoke by being very careful with any fires you make.

Making Peace

Monday, December 7th, 2015

I normally try to not let politics mingle with my photography, mostly because I’m not that political of a person. However, last week’s shootings in California hit a little too close to home, and today I’m feeling the weight of it all.

Today, I’m thinking about this image, which I made back in 2010 in the cemetery at Manzanar National Historic Site. If you’ve spent any time in the eastern Sierra, you’ve surely driven by, maybe even stopped. Manzanar was one of the internment camps that the U.S. government established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to house Japanese-American citizens. These internment camps were the result of the mass hysteria of not knowing who the enemy might be as the U.S. entered World War II.

Upon reflection, our view of Japanese-Americans was painted with the broad brushstrokes of fear–an entire ethnic group was characterized based on the actions of a government across the Pacific.

It’s been a rough month, with the Paris bombings, various attacks elsewhere, capped off by the largest mass shooting seen in the U.S. in two years. Of course no reasonable person wants to see these things happen, but at the same time, we struggle for someone to “blame”–perhaps knowing we can pin the blame on someone, or something, helps ease the sting a little bit, helps us make sense of it.

In making peace with these senseless deaths, history seems to be repeating itself, and many people are once again painting an entire religion with broad brushstrokes, based on the actions of a few. The growing hysteria and now-cyclical rhetoric is no doubt fueled by ongoing debates between presidential candidates, social media, and the conflation of this discussion with that of gun control.

I’ve only stopped at Manzanar once–it’s all I could handle. While the visitor center presents the role of internment camps in our history as best it can, there’s a certain melancholy that seems to have transcended the buildings and gardens, which are now gone. There’s the memory of good people being ripped from their homes and sent to places they didn’t want to go, simply because of their ethnicity. This was a low point in our country’s history; although it can’t be undone, it should be cause for serious self-reflection. The violence we face today is not a Muslim problem, a Christian problem, or an atheist problem. It’s a problem of angry people doing awful things. Stopping those awful things from happening is the topic of another blog post, which I’m not qualified to write.  However, if we are to move forward as a country and search out solutions, we can’t do it divided, scared of one another, labeling one another–it simply won’t work.

Okay, now that that’s off my chest, the year is wrapping up and I’m thinking about my “best of” blog post. I’ve had a varied, but productive year, and look forward to sharing some of those images soon.  Thanks for reading.

Manzanar cemetary, with Mt. Williamson

2014 year in review

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

“Walking takes longer… than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed.” — Edward Abbey


In several ways, 2014 was a journey for me, and I am grateful much of it was taken on foot.  With a couple of exceptions, my favorite images this year were made on hiking or backpacking trips.  In June, Jackson Frishman and I had a great trip through the Ansel Adams wilderness and another friend and I spent a wonderful week in August in the John Muir wilderness.  Both trips were highlights of my year, not just for the photography and scenery but also for the company.

Now that 2015 is upon us, the journey continues.  I’m looking forward to seeing where life takes me this year, and I hope you find yourself on happy trails in your own travels.

See some of my other favorite images from years past: 2011 | 2012 | 2013

Fog races over a hilltop at dawn

Foggy Giant Forest

Sunset in the Golden Trout Wilderness

Bentonite Hill Layers, northern New Mexico

Sunset over Minaret Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness California

Iceberg Lake, John Muir Wilderness

Granite Park sunset, Sierra Nevada, California

Pacific Ocean sunrise

Mojave Desert storm light

A Golden Idea

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

“There is growing awareness of the beauty of country … a sincere desire to keep some of it for all time. People are beginning to value highly the fact that a river runs unimpeded for a distance… They are beginning to obtain deep satisfaction from the fact that a herd of elk may be observed in back country, on ancestral ranges, where the Indians once hunted them. They are beginning to seek the healing relaxation that is possible in wild country. In short, they want it.”  — Olaus J. Murie


Today is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.  If you follow the same online circles as I do, you’ve seen the coverage, the essays, the photo contests, etc.  Indeed, setting aside land to be protected  and remain–in the words of the act’s primary author, Howard Zahniser–“untrammeled by man,” is a noble notion and its golden anniversary is one worth celebrating, despite the criticism the idea has received by wilderness deconstructionists.

Looking through my photography from 2014 as well as through the years, I’m struck by how many times I’ve found myself in a designated wilderness making images.  This certainly hasn’t been intentional but I realize how much the landscapes protected by this legislation have impacted me.  Making images has been incidental to the the feeling of being…home…I’ve found in these wild places.  Our wild landscapes deserve our respect, protection, and our rabid defense if some of it is to remain intact.

One of the highlights of my summer was a trip into the Ansel Adams wilderness with my good friend Jackson Frishman.  One day, as I complained about writer’s block on my blog, Jackson gently reminded me that sometimes you don’t need to write a lot–the images can speak for themselves.  I’m not sure I have a lot to say about wilderness that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll take Jackson’s advice here and just show some recent images, made in celebration of wilderness.

Ansel Adams Wilderness reflections

 

John Muir Wilderness sunrise

The Preservation of Us

Monday, July 15th, 2013

“Dammit!”

I never thought I’d roll an ankle so badly that it would bring me off my feet, but as I hit the ground after slipping from the curb, I let out a cry of both frustration and pain, certain I’d broken a bone.  Suddenly my typical Saturday morning run had become anything but, as I sat there trying to figure out if I could move myself or not.  In an instant, visions of every single hike and backpacking trip I had been planning for the summer ahead flashed through my mind, and suddenly vanished.

“Maybe it isn’t that bad,” I thought to myself as I got to my feet and started to limp towards home.  “Maybe I can get it to loosen up if I walk for a while.”  It sort of worked–in my stubbornness, I ended up running nearly 5 miles home, but as soon as I took my shoe off, my ankle swelled to the size of a softball.  “That’s no good…I really should go to the emergency room.”

Fortunately there was no break, just a sprained ankle.  As I left the emergency room, I wanted to ask, “So, how long until I can go backpacking?”  I decided that this wasn’t the most intelligent question a person on crutches should be asking, so I kept it to myself.


I’ve been rereading Jack Turner’s The Abstract Wild over the last few weeks; I read it for the first time right after high school and it is one of the few books I have revisited more than once.  Everywhere you look today there is literature about why this wilderness and that wilderness should be protected and preserved.  Turner’s book focuses on the experience of the wilderness rather than the wilderness itself.  How do we interact with wild places?  He asks, and answers, in very clear terms why we need wilderness, and what it comes down to has nothing to do with the place itself.  It’s the experience.  We need wild places for our own well being.  I think this is the wildness that Thoreau referred to in his now famous quote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

In many ways, I find myself living a life I did not always intend on having.  It’s not that I don’t want my family or my home or my job, or that I am trying to run from adult responsibilities.  However, I am a worrier by nature, and in the rush, rush, RUSH of everyday life, I find it increasingly absurd that I worry about things which I have no control over.

In wildness is the preservation of the world.  Those words echo through my head because I realize that while some people may feel anxiety over going into the backcountry (you know…survival and all that), my worried mind becomes calm.   The longer I am away and the further from roads I go, the more quieted I become.  Wilderness makes me kinder, gentler, sweeter.  This must be a coveted quality: no other place I can think of, and only a select handful of special people in my life have ever had that affect on me.

So it was that as I sat there that morning with my ankle throbbing in pain that I saw my precious trips to the wilderness slipping away.  The nearest trip was only 15 days away–a much anticipated backpacking trip into the High Sierra with an old friend.


Over the next few days, I was largely immobile. My crutches frustrated me, my foot bruised worse, and I just did not see how a backpacking trip would happen.  I spoke on the phone with my friend who, understandably, had reservations about heading into the backcountry with someone who could get reinjured very easily.  We decided to go on a “test hike” four days before our scheduled departure.  In the days leading up to that test hike, I rested as much as possible (despite what my overactive brain was telling me to do), and I began to heal noticeably each day.  While I still had to be very careful where I placed my feet, I managed to get through a 6 mile test hike with no problems.  We cautiously agreed that the Sierra trip was on.

Four days and 45 miles later, with the help of an amazingly solid ankle brace, hiking poles, and the patience of my friend, I finished our trip with zero pain or discomfort.  I joked with another friend before leaving that the backcountry always seems to “heal” me, and while I am pretty sure the backcountry had nothing directly to do with this, I was active, careful, and in a positive state of mind–all of which are ingredients for a properly functioning immune system.

I’ve said before that the wilderness is where I go to heal, both figuratively, and now literally as well.  However, what strikes me more than anything was my state of mind on my drive home.  With so much weighing me down before leaving, I felt remarkably free of burdens, worries, or fears.  I think this happens somewhat naturally when we boil life down to its essentials:

wake up,

make food,

walk,

make food,

go to sleep,

repeat.

Yes, we need wilderness, but we must interact with it as if our lives depend on it.  Because they do.  Talk about putting things into perspective.

In wildness is the preservation of us.

Fin Dome at Sunrise, Kings Canyon National Park

 

All That Glitters

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

With kids, practicality often wins out over idealism.  When I camp, I would much rather be completely alone on a sage flat or next to a small mountain lake than in a campground choked with campfire smoke, people on cell phones, and car alarms gone wild.  However, with a 4-year-old, having a flush toilet and running water is sometimes just…well…easier.

So we found recently found ourselves in said campground on an end-of-summer trip to the Sierra Nevada.  I had plans to photograph a few locations nearby that I scouted earlier in the summer and was excited to be back in the Range of Light.  But, pulling into our campground, I was distracted by a large group of my favorite tree–aspen–on the hillside above our campground.

It will be a month or so before photographers descend by the hundreds on the eastern Sierra, but I didn’t really care that these trees weren’t yet showing their golden set of leaves.  Aspen groves have a distinct smell; something about the trees, the grass, and the leaves on the ground gives a very unique and comforting fragrance.    After dinner on our first night, my wife and son went to bed early so I walked alone for a long time, enjoying the different “sections” of the grove–interspersed with sagebrush–each one idiosyncratic, each one with its own personality.   I made some images, trying to capture the temperament of the trees, whether they were twisted and weather-beaten, or growing straight and true towards the sky.  Visiting this grove felt almost like visiting an old friend.

Vertical pan blur of aspen trees (Populus tremuloides)

Aspen Grove I, September 2012

As I wandered further from my campsite, I thought about how the eastern Sierra is crawling with photographers year-round, yet I did not see another set of tripod legs or hear any clicks of the shutter anywhere around me.  Again, in about a month, that won’t be the case here.  “Why are these poor trees ignored for most of the year,” I wondered to myself.

Then I thought that perhaps this is the gift these trees have given me.  If for only one night, I can stand among them, or lay in the grass watching the stars overhead and be completely alone–completely welcomed by the calm and the silence–even if I do have to camp in a “real” campsite.

There is refuge here, and I’m not talking about refuge from a few rogue campers.  There is refuge for the soul.

Stars over an aspen grove in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Aspen Grove II, September 2012

Revisiting the White Mountains

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Just a few posts ago, I mentioned how I spent several summers working in the White Mountains of eastern California when I was in graduate school.  The Whites are an interesting mountain range.  Comprising the eastern border of the Owens Valley, they are certainly imposing, with California’s 3rd highest peak (White Mountain Peak, 14,252′) as well the highest point in Nevada (Boundary Peak, 13,147′), but despite their prominence, the Whites are visited far less than the nearby Sierra Nevada.

The Sierra is a relatively wet mountain range, receiving anywhere from 20-80 inches of precipitation a year (for the arid west, that’s wet).  The Whites, in the rain shadow of the Sierra, stand in stark contrast, fully embodying the characteristics of the Basin and Range province, to which they are included–dry, windy, desolate, and strikingly beautiful.

Detail of a bristlecone pine trunk

In the Details, July 2012

I have always loved the Whites, primarily because the lower elevations remind me of my home in northwestern New Mexico: piñon-juniper scrubland and sagebrush dominate the landscape, giving way to primarily lower-growing sage above about 8,000 feet.  Deer, coyotes, wild horses, pika, and marmots are common here.  However, the real draw–accounting for the bulk of visitation–is the presence of the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva).  With the exception of organisms that self-replicate (clones), bristlecones are the longest-living organisms on earth.  One tree in the Whites, Methuselah, is estimated to be 4,500 years old.   If the Whites have a persona of incredibly difficult growing conditions, then the bristlecones fit that quite well.  Their gnarled trunks and otherworldly shapes are a favorite of photographers.

Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) and summer storm clouds

Weathering the Storm, July 2012


After nearly seven years away, I recently returned to the White Mountains.  Walking around in the ancient bristlecone pine forest is an act of humility.  Before leaving on my recent trip, a friend and I had a conversation about life and the value of living in the moment.  This conversation was heavy on my mind as summer storm clouds moved through the Whites at sunset, giving these grand trees an equally grand backdrop.

Of all things on earth, these trees have given their best shot at living forever, and even they can’t quite do it.  Once they die, the dry air preserves them leaving funky skeletons on several hillsides.  What advice would they give, after 4,500 years, to someone just starting out?  Would it be to live in the moment, to not let the little things get you down, and to hold close the things in life that make you deeply happy?

I’m anthropormorphizing a little bit more here than my contract allows, so I’ll stop.  Suffice it to say, I think that’s pretty good advice.

Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) and storm clouds, California

The Sentinel, July 2012

We spent one night at 11,000′ in the bristlecones, and I was reminded of a few things that have kept the White Mountains on my mind all these years:

  1. Yes, it can snow in July in California.  Even if only for a few minutes.
  2. The White Mountains are the only place I’ve ever experienced altitude sickness (manifested by trouble sleeping).  I attribute it to the dry air.
  3. The warm-toned trunks of the bristlecones contrast very nicely with stormy skies.
  4. Everyone should experience quiet like the Whites afford once in their lifetime.
  5. Everyone should experience a night sky like the Whites afford once in their lifetime.

From a photographic point of view, I find it amazing that several images can come out of one place in a short amount of time.  This is probably due to luck, inspiration, and visualization, but I have been updating my portfolios with new images and have added several from the White Mountains.  Please visit my Mountains and Intimate Perspectives portfolios to see these and other new images.


It’s funny how some places can be a huge part of our lives, exit for several years, and then re-enter.  I guess they never really leave us.

Sunset in the Patriarch Grove of Bristlecone Pines

Pastel sunset, July 2012

Finding John Muir

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

This morning, I saw the trailer for a new documentary on the John Muir Trail, “Mile…Mile and a Half.”  It looks like it will be worth a look when it comes out, and I hope I’m able to see it on the big screen.

In 2010, a friend and I hiked approximately the last 1/3 of the JMT, from Devil’s Postpile National Monument to Yosemite Valley.  The scenery is spectacular, showcasing some of the finest peaks in the High Sierra.  Of course, we passed the classic views of the Ritter Range, like Banner Peak, as well as the outstanding Yosemite high country.  The Cathedral Range in Yosemite was among my favorite scenery of the whole trip–the rugged Echo Peaks and Mathes Crest are beautiful.

Our plan was to hike the rest of the JMT, but my friend’s bad knee has pretty much taken him out of the game.  I am now thinking of ways to complete the trail, possibly even by doing it from the beginning in classic through-hike fashion.  There’s something really special about getting in rhythm with the mountain range, and creating your own adventure.

Check out the trailer, which I’ve embedded below.  Hopefully it inspires you to find your own adventure.

MILE…MILE & A HALF (trailer) from The Muir Project on Vimeo.

Season’s Greetings!

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

The end of another year is upon us, and I stand in awe of how quickly time flies.  Hopefully your holiday season is filled with happiness and satisfaction when you look back on 2011.  Our house is filled with family right now, and a 3-year-old who is very excited about having Grandma and Grandpa here for a visit, so I’ll probably be pretty quiet on the blog until after the new year.  Looking back, though, I am very grateful for this blog, because of all the repeated visitors who have become good friends, and the new visitors, who I hope will become friends in 2012.

Some posts on this blog generated some great discussion in 2011:

To end 2011 on a very happy note, I received word the other day that one of my images (below) was accepted to Yosemite Renaissance 27, a juried exhibit that will be on display in Yosemite Valley from February 24-May 6.  Mine was one of 48 pieces selected for the exhibit out of almost 700 entries–I’m very proud and happy to have my work displayed in this exhibit.

Reflection of a mountain peak in the John Muir Wilderness, California

High Sierra Reflection, September 2010

I sincerely hope you have a great holiday season, and a wonderful start to 2012!  I am looking forward to seeing where the new year takes us…