Path to Pebble Beach

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The Pebble Beach ProAm golf tournament was played last weekend, and as I watched the scenes of the course from the sky, and the ubiquitous shots of Stillwater Cove, I thought about how absolutely lucky I am to personally know and to personally be connected with this magnificent place.

My in-laws have a house in Carmel-by-the-Sea, three blocks from the ocean, and about as many from the beach access to this rocky path which leads onto the Pebble Beach Golf Links.  Specifically, this path leads to the fairway of the sixth hole, and you can just make out the trees on the horizon to the left of the path that mark the seventeenth green.  The scenery is rugged and stunning.  This path is about five miles from the Lone Cypress, and about a mile from the center of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

I came to California when I was ten, but the California I knew was the Kemper Campbell Ranch in the highlands of the Mojave Desert (Victorville, to be specific).  My great-aunt and her family had a ranch in the middle of the desert, through which the Mojave River flowed and gave startling contrast between the lush fields where the cows roamed and the hot, sun-baked sand and ancient petroglyph-covered rock outcroppings that I characteristically climbed with great zeal (and moderate aplomb).  My mom’s cousin, Scott, for whom I was named lived out there, as did her cousin, the famous historical romance writer Celeste De Blasis.

Even at ten, I knew I wanted to write, and so meeting Celeste was incredible for a young, naive boy, who had only written a couple of short stories at the time, but who knew he wanted to write more once he had a command of the language.  (Yes, I did think in these terms at that time.  I have never claimed to be a normal kid.)  Celeste passed away in 2001, just before I graduated high school, and just as I was beginning my first novel.  I wish that I had gotten to know her better and to have been able to trade war stories about writer’s block or overcoming the crippling fear of the blank page.  (To me, as a writer, there is nothing more intimidating than a crisp, empty journal.)

So the Californias I know are as unique as can be.  One is dominated by water, and one is defined by the lack thereof.  I have not been back to the Kemper Campbell Ranch in twenty years, but I have my own Kemper now, and perhaps someday when we travel out to Carmel, we’ll make a sojourn into the desert so that he can climb the rocks that grow ever taller in my memory to this day.

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Jellyfish #4

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This photo of a Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia Labiata) was taken on a past trip to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium just outside of Carmel, California.  The invertebrate room at the aquarium is huge, and must contain thousands of jellyfish of every shape, size, and color.

Instead of long, trailing tentacles, moon jellies have a short, fine fringe (cilia) that sweeps food toward the mucous layer on the edges of the bells. Prey is stored in pouches until the oral arms pick it up and begin to digest it. The coloration of a moon jelly often changes depending on its diet. If the jelly feeds extensively on crustaceans, it turns pink or lavender. An orange tint hints that a jelly’s been feeding on brine shrimp.  Found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters (as well as the Monterrey Bay itself and up and down the California coast), moon jellies feed in quiet bays and harbors. Although moon jellies have a sting, they pose little threat to humans.

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Cypress Sunset

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I have observed many sunsets in California over the past three years.  The view west from my in-laws’ house peeks through the greenery to a patch of ocean and sky.  There was nothing particularly special about this night’s sunset.  The sky was a bit hazy, which somewhat amplified the corona, but there were no pinks or purples to speak of just above the horizon, as I had seen on a number of occasions.  Still, I managed to wrestle myself away from the others and stroll down to the path that runs along the ocean on Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea.  I took a number of shots of the setting sun, but this one, framed by two yin and yang Monterey cypresses, was my favorite of the lot.

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Crash

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The Pacific intrigues me like no other body of water.  Having grown up minutes from the Atlantic Ocean, I am accustomed to what I always considered crashing waves.  I remember the muscle memory as a child of being tossed and rolled in the waves after a visit to the beach lasting for hours after we arrived back home.  The sheer strength of the Pacific dulls these memories somewhat, and forces me to reconsider the awe of my childhood fascination with the placid Atlantic.

This photograph was taken amongst the rocks in Carmel Bay.  Although the crash of the waves in this photograph is impressive, the highest swells and tallest sprays seemed to come the moment I turned my camera off after waiting for the next great wave to roll in.  Kemper joined me on this trek down to the water’s edge, but he was more interested in throwing pebbles to the tide pools than the august waves and cacophony of them extinguishing themselves on the rocks.  Perhaps he is jaded, having grown up with the Pacific, or perhaps he is simply a child, whose attention is drawn more by his controlling of nature than nature’s control over the elements.

The morning layer was thick when I dragged him from bed to amble down to the coastline, and the colors were muted.  The deep dark shades of the wet rocks and the brilliant white of the salt spray were perfect contrasts, and so my inclination to monochrome most of my photographs was well founded in this one.   Although I am taking more photographs with Kemper in them, which capture his growth and my fondness of him journeying with me as I did with my father, I had not yet begun this practice when I captured this wave against the rocks of Carmel Bay.  When we return, hopefully soon, to California, I will rectify this shortcoming.  Perhaps he is old enough now to appreciate the power of the Pacific, but more likely, he will return to his old pursuits of watching his ripples in the tide pools as I wait for the great wave.

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Fire in the Highlands / Smoke on the Water

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In classical mythology, Eurus and Apeliotes, interchangeably, were the gods of the easterly winds, though Eurus was favored by the poets such as Homer and later Ovid.  Homer, in naming the Anemoi (the winds) noted that Poseidon was the master of the winds, and after the blinding of his son Polyphemus (and Odysseus’ subsequent boasting), “Poseidon massed the clouds, clutched his trident and churned the ocean up; he roused all the blasts of all the Anemoi and swathed earth and sea alike in clouds; down from the sky rushed the dark.  Eurus, the east wind, and Notus, the south wind, clashed together, stormy Zephyrus, the west wind, and sky-born billow-driving Boreas, the north wind.”  Ovid, placing the Anemoi’s parent Aeolus at their charge, noted that “Fierce as Aeolus is, far harsher than his own sons, surely, something comes from a life with savage winds; his temper is like that of his subjects.  It is Notus and Zephyrus, and Sithonian Boreas, over whom he rules, and over the pinions, wanton Eurus.  He rules the winds.”

This photograph was taken on Spanish Beach just off of  17 Mile Drive in Monterey, California, near Pebble Beach.  The natural sepia tone of the photograph is derived not through the use of any filters or post-processing, but from the thick, cloying smoke that hung in the air from the raging Soberanes Fire then burning through the highlands south of Carmel, California.  As I mentioned in my post of the Lone Cypress, taken at the same time as this, I was off-put at first by the way the photograph turned out.  I have numerous panoramas of the coastline of Carmel, strewn with stones and shattered boulders, and this photograph offered nothing new.  Further, the smoke bled any detail from the scene.  I boosted the detail with post-processing software, but eventually I came back to the unedited version, finding a certain nostalgia with the memory of the smoke, poured out to sea by Zephryus, the west wind, and then wafted back to shore laconically by Eurus, the wanton east wind.  What is not captured in the photograph is the utter, lifeless silence of the coastline, aside from the ever-present sluice of the capped waves on the rocks.  The shore, always buoyed to life by crows and sparrows of every type, was abandoned in the smoke.  Perhaps the birds knew better to seek higher ground to the west, where the smoke had not yet permeated.

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Kemper

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How my son has changed in the brief time since I took this candid portrait of him sitting on the parapets of his appropriated, improvised stone castle on the beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California…  This is my favorite picture of him at this age, then just four, and now about to turn six at the end of January.  I took a number of shots with him looking the camera dead to rights, but something, perhaps a wanton setter or retriever frolicking in the surf, caught his eye, and the shutter released at just the right moment to capture him as I see him often, wondering at the world, a younger version of me–for better or worse.

I have a distinct sense that he will eclipse me with photography.  His sensibilities and sensitivities are beyond his years, and he is patient and kind.  He is gregarious, unlike me, and perhaps he will be more comfortable approaching a stranger for a portrait.  Above all, he is curious.  He has not yet ceased to find awe in the smallest things, which it took me years and a good macro lens to rediscover from the bowers of my childhood.  We are going to North Carolina just after Christmas and for the New Year, and I will bring my old camera and kit lenses to see what he will be able to find through them.  His attention span is limited, but his wonder of nature will, I think, balance the scales appropriately…or it could be a quick introduction to a skill for which his maturity is not yet prepared.

Like the rock in this photograph, which he gravitated towards as if he were a satellite, he has a favorite stone perch in North Carolina, though it is not a castle there, but the great jutting precipice in the Lion King movie from which Simba was introduced to the kingdom.  The Lion King rock is on the property of a family friend where we stay, along the drive to the upper cabin, and scarcely will the wheels have stopped their revolutions before he is unbuckled and hastening towards it.  Perhaps this year he will be able to climb it by himself, a feat he has yet to master.  If so, I fear we will see little of him that first day.  I was like him as a child, happy to be within myself amongst nature and my own thoughts on any manner of subjects.  Perhaps this year, I will send him out with a camera in hand to find what he finds interesting or beautiful.  Photography has been a window into my psyche, and perhaps it will give me an even better view into his.

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The Lone Cypress

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I often wonder how this iconic tree took root.  For those who don’t immediately recognize the scene, this is the “Lone Cypress” off the coast of Monterey, California.  This photograph was taken during the height of the Soberanes Fire southwest of here in the valleys just off the coast of Carmel and Big Sur.  Although likely surpassed by the recent Woolsey Fire, the Soberanes was the costliest wildfire in the history of California.  It coated everything in a thin layer of ash, and the smoke that hung thickly, almost unctuously in the air made shots of the coastline nigh impossible.  This photograph was taken towards the tail end of the trip, as the fire was winding down, and still the haze bled the details from the shot.

When the sun managed to pour through the thick air, the sky took on a burnt, sepia tone, which made every picture I took look like I had applied a strong filter to it.  The tree is at least 250 years old, and for the last 65 or so has been held in place by strong metal cables.  When I saw the cables in person, I thought that it was a supremely arrogant act by man to forestall the inevitable cycle of nature for the sake of Japanese tourists (and me) making a pilgrimage to gaze through chain-linked fence to snap an awkward photograph of the icon sitting on its outcropping, engirded as it is by a brick and mortar parapet.  But still, we come en masse, ogling the tree with a misplaced reverence.  When this one dies, as it will, it will be replaced with a fellow that I am certain is already being grown for its stead, like a Cardinal waiting in quiet for the Pope to abdicate.

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