Dirt Road

Dirt Road

Yesterday it rained. Tomorrow it will rain. Today, maybe it will rain.

Here, in the drought, a tropical summer thunderstorm is something that I have never seen in SoCal. It will be interesting to see how this affects the dryness all around. As well, having an air humidity above 0% makes for crankiness and stickiness – not something I am used to in the summertime anymore!

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A Day in the Garden

As we head toward 100 F weather this weekend, I am glad to have taken the time to head out, once again, to the local botanical garden.  It is always such a refreshing place to be – new things to see, changes to the familiar.  I went out with my Nikon Df, and a classic lens, the Nikon 105mm f2.5 AIS.

While I was there, I brought along my Nikon FM2N and a roll of Ilford HP5 to use with different filters – orange, yellow, and green – to see their effects on B&W film. Hopefully I will develop my own roll this next week! And, on the way out of the garden, I took a wonderful tumble, scraped and bruised myself quite nicely, and had a good mouthful of dirt to go along with my lost dignity. I’m quite sore!

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Dry Spring

Mr. Bee

We are in the middle of a serious, serious drought.  Water issues should have been addressed four years ago, but weren’t.  Now we are looking at shortages of water unprecedented within the state of California.  There are arguments and court rulings against tiered water usage in residential areas, and arguments that agriculture and industry should be exempted.  Aquifers are being pumped at alarming rates.  Water is becoming the scarce commodity predicted years ago.

Along the Lower Trail (1 of 1)

That said, life continues despite the drought.  This is seen in the resilience of nature.  There are flowers to be seen in the chaparral areas, even as vast swaths of dried grasses are in the fields of open space, fields that are the faded color of late summer in the middle of April.

The End of Spring

We do try to be conscientious of our water usage, but there is still the need to grow plants in pots, whether sweet-smelling alyssum, or a tomato plant for the pleasure of harvesting something we grew.  Our backyard is gone, and we are seriously considering what to do.  The front yard, for now, is status quo, though I am beginning to seriously study the replacement of various plants with native flowers and shrubs.

Waiting for Rain

The fact is humans (at least this one) need nature.  We need air and land and plants and animals and birds and bugs.  The smell of dust, bruised herbs, resinous plants is as exciting as the flight of birds…just last night, a hawk flew a few feet over our heads as we took the dogs out for a walk in the early evening.

Yellow Buds

Our spring has been exceedingly dry, but still there are plants growing and flowering, creating seeds for the next generation.  I hope my generation will figure out something to do which is constructive and adaptive to our situation, and be able to bring forth seeds for success for our future.

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Maria’s Story

Maria's Story

The world is an odd place, and the internet has made it considerably smaller, yet bigger, since I was kid.  For example – and to younger people this may sound funny – when I was in school, formal essays were turned in with perfect penmanship, without words crossed out, or application of white out.  Spelling errors were not tolerated.  Final exams were also handwritten, but with a bit of leniency because of the fact they were written on the spot.

So what is this all about?  It is about how I have learned about people I knew years ago – childhood friends, old classmates, people I have thought and wondered about.  With the internet, I can look them up.  I have learned that two of my closest childhood friends are now gone.  Others are living in towns nearby, or far away in other countries.  It is very strange for me to think that I used to wait weeks for mail to arrive from Europe, and now, an email takes seconds.

One day I came across a book while looking through Amazon, and came across a book that caught my eye:  Maria’s Story:  Lost Youth in Hitler’s Germany, by Maria Wolf Stella and Robert Stella.  The name Stella is not common, and I have only known one person by the last name of Stella – a classmate from 9th grade many, many years ago.

This turns out to be the autobiography of my classmate’s mother, and it is a really, really good story – well done, good narration.  This is a story of life under Hitler’s regime – not fiction, but fact – not as one of the persecuted under the Nazis, but what the daily population endured.

So much happened in the short time Hitler was in power.  For students of history – pre-WW2, post-WW2, the days of the Cold War and Star Wars – there are a number of appendices which provide additional historical information. Because my own father was involved in these eras and enterprises, it is something to which I can relate, and find interesting.  History written and made during my lifetime.  Beyond the appendices, I think I may have gained a bit of understanding of my own family left behind, and lost, in WW2 Europe.

Stories need to be told, written down, published, made into movies.  There are so many eras in which people lived, when times were tough, times were good, families made, adventures lived.  All over the world this goes on, every day.  My own time of the world is still evolving – but I also feel my mortality.  Perhaps this is what has been pushing me to pick up literature again – fiction, nonfiction – to feel part of the great world around me, even as I take a walk in the local parks looking for spring’s new wildflowers.

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Another Look at the Nikon 1 System

Nikon V1

When the V1 came out a few years ago, I thought it looked good; when its price dropped drastically, it looked really, really, good, and I bought one. It came with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses. Since then I have added the 6.7-13mm, 10mm, 18.5mm, 32mm, and now the 70-300mm, and the FT-1 adapter. If that says anything, it says I like the system, or else I am just overly acquisitive. (I will leave you to figure that out!)

If you are familiar with the Nikon 1 system, you know it has gone through multiple iterations, and has had numerous models in the S, J, and V series. I am not sure if the S series is still in production, but the J is now up to a J-5 being released in a few weeks. The V3 is the current version of the V series, so I cannot help but wonder if the V4 will be even more interesting.

One major gripe people have about the entire Nikon 1 series is the smallness of the sensor. It falls in the 1″ (2.5cm) category. Does it really matter? Isn’t the image produced the most important thing? To me it is. It also means knowing how a system works, and to use its strengths and limitations to the best advantage. This means using it under all sorts of situations, pushing it, controlling it, whatever.

Besides the Nikon V1, I also have a D7000, and the Df, and a number of different lenses with a different F mount, from vintage lenses from the 60s, to newer ones produced in the last couple of years. I got hooked on Nikon because a friend loaned me his D70 a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back. I also have a Nikon FM2N, which is a cool film camera, and can use lenses on it, too.

So, why another look at the Nikon 1 system? It is because it has sat on a shelf for awhile, until I started seeing work done with the 70-300mm lens (officially labeled 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 on the Nikon USA website). The lens becomes a 189-810mm lens on the Nikon 1 cameras. The distance that can be covered is phenomenal, and is very petite. A regular 70-300mm lens coupled with the FT-1 adapter works great – but is gargantuan. Because it is small, I went for it.

A lot of birders enjoy using the lens as it is easy to use handheld. Tom Stirr has done a great job demonstrating the quality of images, as can be seen in his work below.  He uses the V2 and V3, which are considerably more advanced than my V1, but you get the idea:

Using the lens handheld, I cannot complain. While it is still heavy (in my opinion lots of things are heavy, like national debt or guilt), the VR works well, and I have found for myself, setting it to normal in the camera, and coupling it with continuous shooting, has allowed me to move in closer to things or people or animals I would not otherwise be able to.

Another photographer whose work I like is Aurora Santiago, on Flickr.  You can find her work here.  She uses the V3 and 70-300mm for her birds, and other shots, too, I imagine.

I use this lens to photograph plants, distances, and finally, the other day, I met up with a friend to photograph birds at a lake in a local park. Unfortunately, the lake was fenced off as clean-up goes on, and reconstruction. So, the egrets I wanted to photograph seem to have decamped, but the geese, ducks, grebes, and pigeons were still hanging out. Waddling birds were easy to capture – they are pretty tame – but swooping flocks of pigeons were amazingly impossible to capture with panning. Floopity, whoosh! I wanted to see how the V1 and the 70-300mm worked together to produce good pictures, still and with my largely unsuccessful attempts at panning.

Below are a number of pictures I have taken recently, using the 30-110mm, the 6.7-13mm, 32mm, and the 70-300mm lenses on the V1.

I have found a few things out in using the V1/70-300mm combo. First, I need to up the iso. Next, if necessary, shorten the exposure time to 1/500 and leave the camera to do the rest. For panning, use the central focal point, and use the continual / burst mode of the camera. Bright daylight also helps. The pictures I like are not all crystal clear, but they are pleasing to my eye. Some might be a bit soft or show some blur. Again, the photo is most important.

Besides the quality of the photo, post production is also important. Some people believe and strive for every picture to be perfect in composition, exposure, and so on, before even taking it. Sorry, not so for me. For me, post means rendering a mood, or shifting colors to something I like. I am not a purist that way. To me, some photography is a crap shoot – point, shoot-shoot-shoot (like when panning) – and pray, pray, pray! And then, look and look again. What works, what does not? Analysis is important, and reassessment of what was done.

And finally, just have fun. I don’t make money off my pictures, and couldn’t care less. For me, the creative process and intellectual process are important, as is simply getting outdoors to enjoy the world around me, by myself, or with friends.

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Spring Evening

Anyone living in an arid climate longs for rain.  With the rain comes new growth and pungent smells.  Little flowers, clusters of flowers, big flowers, grasses, vines, new leaves, flowering trees.  This greenery lasts for a very short period, and then fades away to browns, beiges, and greys, and you wait for the next rainy season – if it comes – when it comes.

Josh, Puppies, Poppies

Puppies in tow, we set out for the open space around Newbury Park, in Ventura County, California.  It is part of the Santa Monica mountain range, and there are trails you can hike, up and down, to the beach.

Early Evening, ii

We got here about a little after 5 p.m. – the night of the daylight savings change – and hiking in, the sun was in our eyes. At times, the glare of the sun blinded us on the trail, and I had to shade my eyes to even see. The light through the trees was really lovely, with streaks of light through the foliage.

Grassy Hillside-2

Once through the little oak groves, we moved onto the grassy flats. In summer, the grasses are dry and brown, and while beautiful, the abundance of green, and the blooming spring flowers, is a balm for the beige-weary soul.

Poppies at Sunset

California poppies were out, in small clumps.

Wild Pea

Wild pea, too. (I always think of Mendel when I see these!)

Early Evening

To the side of the trail, rocks and lichens, along with clumps of brush and scrub. Everything in the sunset had a glow to it, as only the low angle of the sun can give.

Spring Evening

At some point, we had to turn around, or stumble home in the dark. Looking back as we began our final leg, the sun, as they say, slowly sank in the west.

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I don’t tend to photograph people, preferring the outdoors and flowers.  However, people watching is a great past time, and getting portraits, candid or otherwise, of family or strangers, shows the diversity of the world in a face.

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