What would life be like if we could thrive only for a few weeks each year?
If, for the rest of the year, we had to lie dormant in dryness and heat, exposed to wind and relentless rodents that assume everything that’s not rock or sand is edible?
We would do our best to make these few weeks count. All our prickly defenses would make place for a display of attraction.
The pictures here were taken early 2001 in the Joshua Tree National Park, at the peak of the wildflower season. All these plants are strangers to me, as I am a stranger to their home, the desert.
It was still good to be a guest, because even the most alien forms of life can teach us something.
Persistence, in this case.
“West” has meant different things at different times. It (still) signifies a cultural attitude of possession: This planet is ours, we can transform it at will.
It has also signified exploration, and transcending imagined limits.
Settling at such a limit point signifies an attitude, the willingness to accept being a Stranger in a Strange Land.
Esthetics here is necessarily a potpourri of ideas and cultures that do not create a harmonious whole by itself.
The unifying theme is elsewhere.
Every attempt to create one’s own little human space here is humbled by the vastness of the world around us.
That we are allowed to be here, too, is a form of grace.
This is an unusual post, marking arrivals and departures.
Even worse, the sea creatures on display appear to have nothing to do with that theme. Let me explain. One of the arrivals is that of my daughter arriving at the critical age of 18, and one of the departures is hers to college in California. This provides a first link: The pictures are from the Monterey Aquarium, which we visited last year.
When I see these astonishing creatures, I am inevitably reminded of Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, a rare example of an adaptation that works independently and as well in its own way as the source, here Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life. The departure I will associate with this is that of the composer of the wondrous film score, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who left us last year, too early.
Arrival and departure sound like beginning and end, joy and sadness. This is treacherous, because each departure is a departure to a new arrival elsewhere. Arrival and departure are like a single contraction of one of these jellyfish. What you perceive depends of where you are: inside or outside.
More important than arrival and departure are the stories that are framed in between, the mysterious creatures that propel our lives forward or bring it to a halt.
I am looking forward to hear more.
One of the more iconic mountains of northern California is Mount Shasta, a volcano a little above 14,000 feet, or 4,321m to be precise and metric. I fell in love with it on a flight from San Francisco to Eugene in Oregon in March 1994. A few weeks later, a had the opportunity to climb it. This was in late April, and means this is a Spring climb with lots of snow and potentially bad weather.
I have relatively few pictures from this trip, one of the first is the one above, already from the summit. We are a group of about 12, all from CHAOS, led by our intrepid Norwegian Øyvind. Just before we went off, he had confessed that the recorded mountain weather forecast at the local ranger station promised a weather that they considered on the light side for those training for Denali.
We started on a Friday afternoon in heavy snow and went up to Lake Helen, the standard ascent, using snow shoes. The lake was invisible and frozen, so we pitched tents. While we waited for an hour until our chefs had the potatoes cooked, we practiced breaking falls using an ice axe. That was fun, despite the snow.
The next morning was pristine. We were above the clouds and anxious to get going. All of us reached Desperation Point, where you realize that you are not on the summit yet. But you can see it, and it looks like a brutal vertical rock face. This scared a few of us to turn back. Don’t. There is a surprisingly easy way around that takes you safely and quickly to the summit.
The way back took forever. We ended up in the clouds, and when we reached Helen Lake, it was vert heavily snowing. We packed all our gear and triple checked that everybody was there, and went down in the dark, reaching the cars by 2am in the morning. Unforgettable.
I have written about Yosemite in winter before, using a mixture of pictures from various trips. The first picture on that page is actually the last one I took on a snow showing overnighter to North Dome. In the summer, this is an overcrowded day hike up from along Yosemite Falls with nice views of Half Dome.
We not only had plenty of snow but also a thunderstorm over night. You won’t get these clouds in the summer.
As soon as you are out of the valley, the hike is a pleasant up and down, even with snow shoes.
I think the little hump down below is North Dome. The tracks are ours – there was nobody else.
I am ready for winter, obviously.
After the modest ferns from last week, let’s indulge. One of the places to be is the Fern Canyon in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which lies, alas, in Northern California.
Most people who make it into the coastal redwoods that far north don’t bother to take the windy detour to that state park and trail head. Here is what they miss.
The vertical walls of the short canyon are packed with ferns.
Their gentle motion is impossible to capture in a photograph.
At some places, they appear to float before a darker background.
After seeing this, you will keep dreaming of a house with walls like this.
Even though Berkeley is lush enough by itself (in 1993 at least), it has its little parks like People’s Park or the Rose Garden. I happened to live right below the Rose Garden and could, like the occasional deer or burglar, just hop over the little wall.
One of my (these days somewhat neglected) hobbies is to take stereo images, and the gorgeous roses were patient victims. All these pictures were taken hand-held, and they are supposed to be viewed cross-eyed, i.e. the image for the left eye is on the right.
The rule of thumb for taking stereo images handheld was to choose a landmark point at the center, take a picture, take a step to the left, recenter, and take a second picture. This works very well for average street scenes without moving objects, like MacArthur Station below.
Our brain is more than happy to ignore little inconsistencies. If you do that with flowers, you will of course end up taking an entirely different picture. So you have to scale down and move just a centimeter to the left. This is still pretty wide and gives these flowers the appearance of rather large objects. You can do the opposite by taking images from a plane and wait 10 seconds between the shots. This will give the stereo image the appearance of a toy landscape. I’ll dig out an example when we come back from Mexico (early 1994, that was).
Finally for today, a stereo image of Hermann Karcher, also from 1993, thinking about Helicoids.