Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I have seen the seals

I have returned from CA, where I had adventures. DP had invited me to join her and her parents on the coast for the weekend before Thanksgiving, then had to change her plans, leaving me alone in California for the first day of our trip. Rather than change my own plane ticket I decided I would just take a day to explore by myself. So I rented a car and drove out to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, from which you can see the famous bridge and the city of San Francisco as well.

This is the thing: San Francisco is a white city. Just that so many of the buildings have light-colored edifices. I don't know why. It is like a town on a hill in Greece or Yemen. Sometimes you go to a place not realizing you expected something different until you see that it's not what you didn't know you expected.

There is some high-caliber shipping traffic out there, which is fun to watch.

I stayed till after dark.

I had made very special sleeping arrangements. Two years ago a thing happened that I don't think I ever blogged about, which was that I was one of the year's lucky recipients of the Udall Scholarship for leadership in environmental studies. The Udall Foundation flies all the winners out to a resort in Tucson each year for a convention, at which a primary activity is networking, with each other, past winners, and policy-makers.

Me, on right, and the group I went camping with after the convention

Networking remains a primary activity for Udall alumni, who keep in touch through an online mailing list and other means. So it is through the Udall network that I met Bret, who offered me a bed in his student co-op at Berkeley.

In this large building near campus some 30 grad students were housed, and when I arrived they were all gathered in the dining room drinking and having so many conversations at such a decibel level that I can practically see the noise streaming out of this picture as I look at it now.

I stayed up too late talking with the students and of course it made me powerfully wish I was also a grad student at Berkeley, or at least a grad student, although I am sure in my wistfulness I am missing something important and non-romantic about being a grad student, possibly related to having to do work. But I enjoyed my stay there very much. The co-op was very interesting.

A room where people can give/get free stuff... click to read the labels on the boxes.

Physics Today.

Here is a sheet where people buy and sell their weekly chores.

The next morning I walked around Berkeley, which was very nice. My calling a place "very nice" usually means I liked the plant life and the architecture. The plants were weirdly lush and exotic to my East Coast eyes, and the architecture seemed to be mid-century, the sort of stuff that has character but not so much it makes you mumble, "What were they thinking back then?"

The bulletin boards on campus were a weird kind of art form. I don't know what exactly was going on here. Whoever was putting up any kind of flier seemed compelled to tile it across the face of the board at regular intervals, perhaps in the hope that if someone didn't want to read their flier, they might want to read the identical copy 2 inches over to the right. The effect was something like the intentional repetition of pattern in a sheet of wallpaper.

Then I went back to the airport to greet DP's arrival, and she showed me the house where she had grown up in Berkeley, which I couldn't really believe existed.

It had redwoods in the front yard, kiwi and lemon trees, and a view of the ocean, among other niceties. It was as if people had cobbled together all the nicest things you could have in a house and a yard, but which couldn't actually be together without causing a rift in the universe, or possibly exponentially expanding property values, but there they were. But soon we left there for the 3-hour drive up the coast to Sea Ranch, where we spent the next few days.

Sea Ranch is a planned community occupying a former ranch above the cliffs of the Northern CA coastline. It was very quiet.

The house we stayed in was very large, with many bedrooms, a fireplace and hot tub. It was very close to the beach.

DP and I went for walks along the shore, where we saw many things.

These are some kind of rotting Kelp Thing. For some reason, upon seeing them, the first thing out of DP's mouth was "We should fight with these!"

This was possibly the most disgusting thing I have ever done in my life. But there were also many other things to look at on the beach that were not rotting.

Sea anemones

A sea star

I have no idea what these are.

Here are some ichnofossils, probably burrows, lacing the rocks making up the cliffs over the beach.

A heron

Banana slug

The seals. When I saw the seals, I actually shrieked like a little girl. I have never done that before in my life, ever, not even as an actual little girl. I was so excited and happy. For four years I worked at an aquarium that had captive seals, and every day I would hear visitors talk about how you could see seals from the CT and RI coastline, but I never managed to see any wild ones. Ever. But now I have seen them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

3. Job

Rose in an October snowstorm, Denver

I owe most of the very stressful periods in my life either partly or wholly to my own overactive mind, my worries. But a year ago was by far the most stressful period I've ever had to deal with that was actually and truly precipitated by outside circumstances. 11 months ago today, I wrote this blog post, in which I detailed my rescue from acute homelessness, when my carefree road trip of last fall was cut short by the demise of my old Corolla. That misfortune ate up most of my savings and left me in a city where I had nowhere to sleep, no transportation, no income, and 2 acquaintances.

People ask me why I chose to live in Denver and this was why, it was by default, because I needed to start again from nothing, where I was. In that other post, titled, "Two down," I listed these four goals:

1. Home
2. Car
3. Job
4. Relationship

My current car, which is not, in fact, the car I bought a year ago (which car only lasted a few months)

Much of my story for the past year is the same story being lived by many Americans right now. I spent half the year unemployed. Of the period I was employed, half was at an 8-hour-a-week job, and half was at a full-time but temporary internship with no benefits. It is an incredibly grinding and confidence-destroying thing to be out of work for months on end. I thought somehow I'd be immune. I'd never had much job security even before the recession, and had no expectations. But something about applying for a hundred jobs without getting a single interview had me so low I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror, as they say.

The Capitol building in Denver, sunset

But anyway. I got a job last month, a real job, in my field, with good pay and benefits, and there is not very much to say about the job. I am doing geology at a computer. There are no stories in it. But many of the preoccupations of my previous life have disappeared. I am ready to trade in my old, poverty-driven worries (How can I afford to get my pneumonia treated? How long can I drive a car that only has 3 cylinders firing?) for new, middle-class worries.

I don't know what middle-class people worry about. How can I afford to go to France? Should I put this money in my 401(k) or my IRA? This is what I imagine.

And then there is #4. I go about dating the same way I go about everything. That is, I do not sit back and wait or hope that things will work out, but set aside time for it, and put thought and care into it. As if it were schoolwork, or job hunting, or a backpacking trip. It is not in my nature to not put effort into something I want.

Speaking of nature. Me, taken by Kris

I get out and meet people, I try new things, I talk to strangers. I eat healthy and stay fit and organize parties. If if I have achieved nothing else, at least now I can boast of having a large circle of friends, and of being able to approach attractive women in bars without choking on anxiety. I have been on so many dates now that I've forgotten more women than I can remember. (Er. I hope none of them are reading this.) But I am firmly and unmistakably single and have been so for a very long time. My friends say they admire me for not falling into the first thing that comes along. I couldn't do that if I wanted to, and admiration is not on my list of things I crave, right now, but it's nice of them.

And there you go. No stories to tell right now, but I will be on the California coast with DP before the holidays, and I am looking forward to the geology as much as anything else. The rest of this post is photos I have taken in the past couple months with the new camera.

This is my roommate, Abby, at her flag football game. I had a roommate Jess, who moved to Fort Collins to go to school. So now I have a new roommate named Abby.

Some mountains that are a half-hour drive from my home

Kris, camping

Rocky Mountain National Park, where DP and I went to see some elk


There was a snowstorm here a couple weeks ago that was the most beautiful snowstorm I have ever seen. The snow piled onto all the telephone wires and tree branches narrowly and very high like ribbons on edge, and was undisturbed by melting or wind all day.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A C750-UZ top 40

So, my camera has basically died. The Olympus C-750 Ultra Zoom that I got something like ten years ago. All of the pictures of mine you have seen on this blog were taken with this 4 megapixel camera from the turn of the century.

It still takes pictures, but I can't change it from the Auto setting, and there's that crack in the middle of the lens that often made it look like people had a holy light shining out of their crotch.

So I have bought a new camera. But in memory of the years of wonderful pictures that the old camera brought me, I have compiled this list of the top 40 photos I took with it. Obviously this is somewhat arbitrary, and I wish it was worth the trouble to get other people to vote on what the top 40 really are, because I have very particular tastes and I'm probably keeping from you lots of photos that normal people would like very much but I don't. However, here are the photos. Please click on any you wish for a larger version.

A dewy-winged cicada on top of a trash container somewhere in the Midwest. Possibly the only photo I have of anything in the Midwest.

Chimney Rock, near my geology field camp in Shell, WY.

An upright piece of petrified wood in the wilderness, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

A cleft in the rock in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ.

Me with guitar.

A shot from Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park, MT.

A figure is dwarfed by the walls of the Great Wash, Capitol Reef National Park, UT.

Lots of little turtles for sale at a street fair, New London, CT.

Driving through the north part of Zion National Park, UT.

Backpacking in the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Sledding in Groton, CT.

White Sands National Monument in NM.

View from Sun Point, Glacier National Park, MT.

Collared lizard with spider on its chin, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Morning glory on my balcony, New London, CT.

Canoer, Lake Ogontz, NH.

Cattle graze under the Bighorn Mountains, WY.

Sunset in the badlands, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Candlestick Mesa, Canyonlands National Park, UT.

The Needles, Canyonlands National Park, UT.

A friend's pet crayfish.

Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

Snails on a rock, Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Charles at Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park, WY.

A poppy outside my apartment, New London, CT.

Heading to work, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Jess and friends, Green Mountain, CO.

Mountain biking in Sedona, AZ.

White Sands National Monument, NM.

Me and some other field camp students, Wind River Mountains, WY.

Sunset in the badlands, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

A clay head I made that is about 1 inch long.

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ.

Sunset at Chiricahua National Monument, AZ.

Midday in the badlands, Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.

Sunset at Ocean Beach Park, New London, CT.

The Rattlesnake. Dinosaur National Monument, UT.

A beluga whale up close, Mystic Aquarium, CT.

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, MT.

Friends' shadows, Arches National Park, UT.

There are some interesting trends in these photos. One is location--I have broken down the locations of the 40 photos by state, below:

AZ: 11
CO: 2
CT: 8
MT: 3
NH: 1
NM: 2
OH: 1
PR: 1
RI: 1
UT: 6
WY: 4

Obviously, Arizona and Connecticut are the most beautiful states. Actually, I consider Utah the most beautiful state, but Petrified Forest National Park (AZ) is one of my favorite places on the planet, and I'm sure this has some correlation to the number of photos. As for Connecticut, I did live there for longer than anywhere else (yet).

Indoor photos: 3
Outdoor photos: 37

Not sure there's anything special about that. Perhaps 37 out of 40 of everyone's best photos are taken outdoors.

Outdoor photos taken in the morning: 3
Midday: 16
Evening: 18
Night: 0

It's hard not to take a good picture in late afternoon or evening light. But I think when I'm on vacation I'm more likely to be out and about during midday than anything else, so that accounts for all the midday ones.

Photos taken at home: 10
While traveling: 30

Despite the fact that for the past few years I've spent, I dunno, "only" 1/3 of the year traveling or otherwise away from home, 3/4 of my good pictures are from those periods. Part of that may be that I'm more likely to be carrying my camera when I'm traveling, but, plainly put, the nicest things to photograph tend to be "out there," not close to home.

Photos without people: 31
Photos with people: 9
Portraits: 0

I know I've taken at least one portrait, which was actually pretty good, but in general it's not something that even occurs to me. Taking pictures of people! People exist to provide a sense of scale in landscapes.

I think about what makes pictures good and I think about how so many of the nice pictures I've taken could have been taken by anybody. Were probably taken by other people who happened to be there at the same time as me. This photo, say, required the least amount of skill:

There's nothing special about the light, the weather... or even, from a particular point of view, the scenery, which probably looked like this on and off all summer. Thousands of people probably have this same exact photo. The only element of skill is that I made sure the horizon was (sort of) horizontal. It is very pretty, though, all the same.

Most of the nice photos I have incorporate a small element of skill in them, though, I suppose, in that I chose to take them between the hours of 5 and 9 PM when it's hard to take a bad picture of anything remotely pretty. Sometimes I even waited until the shadows of clouds were artfully arranged. And I guess I make some decisions about how to frame the photo--what to include in or exclude from the frame--and how to crop it later.

And then there are the photos in which I just got very lucky about what I stumbled on, like the snails, the lizard, the snake. In a way, anybody could have taken those too. But I suppose not everybody chooses to hike the backcountry of national parks or wander for hours along a deserted Puerto Rican beach.

But the only photos I really consider to have taken skill are the few that incorporate all those elements--light, framing, being in the right place at the right time--and also having seen a photo opportunity that was not completely obvious to everyone there. So of all the photos above I think the last one was, perhaps, the only one that really required skill.

Unique among all the moments I've captured above, this one was gone after only a second. (Even The Rattlesnake stuck around for a few minutes!)

Anyone can take amazing photos without an ounce of skill, if you follow three rules:

1. Have a camera that is at least pretty good quality and represents colors pretty accurately.
2. Put the time and money into traveling to see amazing things, things that make you say "wow" before you even remember you have a camera.
3. Take photos of these things in the low-angle light of morning or evening.

That's all you need. Obviously really great photographers often get stunning pictures without needing to follow rules 2 and 3. But they have skill. We may not!

But, my readers, I am curious: out of all the photos presented today, which is your favorite?