Month: September 2014

Spanish-Mexican colonial heritage in San Diego and Riverside counties

The San Luis Rey Mission, in Oceanside, Calif., was founded in 1798, when Spain still claimed all of California and much of the American West. Today it offers a retreat center and a peaceful setting to contemplate a different era. The old church is filled with what I consider to be classic American Baroque paintings of the passion of Christ, reminding me a lot of similar ones I saw in Cuzco, Peru–lots of pain, lots of intensity. That was also visible in the bronze life-size statues in the courtyard. It is one of many missions on the West Coast, and called “Rey,” or king, because of its size.

Further northeast, in Riverside County, sits the Santa Rosa Plateau, which still contains original adobe structures granted to the last Mexican governor of California. The ecological preserve offers miles of beautiful trails through Oak meadows, providing sanctuary for wildlife like coyotes, mountain lions, and badgers. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

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Sellwood neighborhood, first impressions

One of the golden rules of photography I learned years ago was to immediately take pictures when you see something fresh and your mind is open to new ideas and perspectives, not deadened by familiarity and routine. I have always taken my best pictures usually the first days or hours of arriving in a new place, because I am receptive and attuned. So this morning, I did a stroll in my new neighborhood, Sellwood, in southeast Portland. I do not want to make any comments yet, since it is all fresh. But there is a certain degree of “hipness” that permeates the air, and I generally do not like that subjective word. Sellwood is what it is, and it is now home, and here is how it looks with a GoPro fisheye lens, with some added contrast for effect.

Who is in charge, the piles or me?

It is always unpleasant to realize when we are no longer the true masters of our destiny. Ceding our freedom to things, and their entanglements, is a struggle for most of us in lands of affluence. I confronted this struggle intensely this week. Many wise folk say, simplify your life, reduce your belongings, and takes steps to being more free. I think that is the correct path. Doing this is clearly not. (Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Kurdish men, in Kars, Turkey

When I was in Turkey in 2001, I travelled widely in Kurdish regions of eastern Turkey. It was tense then, and remains tense now. The Kurds are one of the victims of the Versailles Peace Treaty that ended World War I, and they were left without a homeland after the colonial powers carved up nation states in the Mideast. Kurds found themselves residents of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and to this day, issues associated with these decisions impact current events daily, if not hourly. This week, more than a 130,000 Kurds fled from Islamic extremists in Syria into Turkey, which has nearly 1 million Syrian refugees. The Kurds, who have fought a civil war against Turkey for years, now may find themselves to be Turkey’s best ally in the latest realignment of interests in this volatile region. What is true one day, may not be true the next day. The Kurds’ old saying remains, the Kurds’ only friends are the mountains. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

A long-promised gift, portraits in the park

I made a deal with a friend and former grad school classmate to do a photo shoot as a gift, and we finally connected. We had fun. Taking portraits is a really wonderful way to spend quality time with people. You share stories. You connect in meaningful ways. You laugh. You joke. Sometimes you talk about the not-so-happy things too. This was one of the first pictures I snapped, and I loved the result. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Fall moose in urban Anchorage

During the six years I lived in Anchorage, moose were still a common sight on the multi-use trails, in many parks, and even in neighborhoods. I even saw a few wandering downtown, right outside my office window. Anchorage actually provided a haven for them, because hunters were not allowed to kill them in the city limits and there was likely less predation, as resident wolves were hunted and trapped with passionate intensity by so-called “trophy” shooters and bears preferred mostly to stay outside the city.

These four fall moose were in the yard next to my house, about 15 miles from the nearest true wilderness. They likely were the urban moose who spent time traveling around town, particularly during the fall (avoiding the hunt in the nearby Chugach State Park). Looks like we had one male and three females, but can’t tell about one of the juveniles.

Sometimes when I run in Seattle’s Discovery Park, I think I will see them, but then I realize it is my mind playing tricks on me, and I laugh how silly that thought is outside of Alaska. These photos fall into the “point and shoot” category with the handheld consumer-gade Canon I have used for years. (Click on each photograph to see a larger pictures on separate picture pages.)

Fall in the Chugach Mountains

Let’s be clear. I will say that fall in Alaska is as good as it gets for autumn colors. I still cannot believe the colors of red blueberry bushes on the hillsides, birch trees firing up the forest canopy, and the orange and red underbrush. I took all of these pictures in Fort Richardson and Chugach State Park, both just outside of Anchorage. (Chugach State Park is more spectacular than most National Parks in this country by a country mile, if you ask me.) I do not miss the winter at this stage of my life, as of today, but I do miss the fall, all days of my life. See more of my photos of Alaska on my Alaska photo gallery. (Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The ruins of the Sumela Monastery

The Sumela Monastery is among the most magnificent Christian monasteries I have visited in the Near East, and there is a lot of competition for magnificence in this great category of monastic facilities. The monastery is located in beautiful mountain foothills, a short bus ride from the major Black Sea Turkish port Trabzon. Two Athenian monks during in the fourth century had visions and founded the monastery on the cliff’s face. It was run by Greek Orthodox clergy until 1923, having received special dispensation from Ottoman rulers because of the place’s sacred status.

During the violent period of ethnic cleansing following the war between Greece and Turkey after World War I, which saw up to 2 million Turks and Greeks change borders, the monastery was abandoned. I could not find an accurate account upon first look of who actually was responsible for the defacing of what should be a World Heritage site, but the ancient facility provides a good example of cultural devastation, particularly along religious lines. (For details on what happened to many Christian sites in Turkey following the creation of the modern Republic of Turkey, I would recommend reading William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain, in which he talks about the upheavals in Turkey during this time and later.) I strongly recommend anyone in Turkey take time to visit this very special place. You cannot help but feel something other-worldly here. I did, despite the obvious damage done to the ancient art and buildings.

Recently, Turkey’s government has allowed a few Greek Orthodox services at the monastery. That is a great sign of reconciliation and progress, I believe, between Christians and Moslems in this great country, Turkey.

University City seen through my GoPro

I grew up in University City, Mo., a municipality due west of St. Louis. Its roots date to the turn of the 20th century. Today about 35,000 people call it home. It has undergone a lot of changes over the years, but during that time the Loop area has remained the community’s heart and soul. One can find former synagogues converted to cultural facilities, beautiful stone churches, my now-abandonned elementary school, eateries, shops, the world-famous Blueberry Hill club and restaurant, and the St. Louis Walk of Fame–stars with the names of famous St. Louis area residents cast into the cement.

University City also is home to a good chunk of one of the nation’s wealthiest private universities, Washington University in St. Louis, with assets valued at more than $9 billion. As a 501(c)(3) corporation or non-profit, the school pays no property taxes to University City, and is engaged in a development strategy to acquire and develop property in University City and the surrounding area. Washington University recently completed a beautiful student housing facility and store in the heart of the Loop that provides a strong anchor of stability. This also has created friction in the past. The school remains the bedrock that provides the wealth to the area, and which draws many people who want to live and settle in the community. It is the penultimate golden goose that makes the place a beacon to the world.

Finally, University City is home to many houses of worship, including Bethel Lutheran Church, where I attended with my family until I was 18 years old. This church is famous because of its role in a divisive controversy that split faculty at the nearby Concordia Seminary, pitting conservatives against progressives and leading to the departure of faculty that were in the Bethel circle. Today it is an ELCA Lutheran church, and I always have great affection for the beautiful building and the good people who I got to know there.

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The crown cultural jewel of St. Louis

The portico on the entrance to the St. Louis Art Museum reads “dedicated to art and free to all.” That is a simple, elegant, and powerful mission statement. It remains free to this day. The structure, designed after the Roman Baths of Caracalla, was built for the 1904 World’s Fair. The museum contains some great treasures, including classic American oil paintings from the 1800s (think George Caleb Bingham and his Raftsman Playing Cards), a large collection of paintings by Expressionist painter Max Beckman, a superb gallery of Polynesian art, a dizzying array of West African art, and so much more. A lot of money from a lot of rich people has enabled this institution to amass this collection.

I always visit the building during my trips to see family there. No trip to St. Louis is complete without standing under the statue of Louis IX, for whom French settlers named this once great American city. Here are four views of the entrance to the museum and the statue any St. Louisan knows. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)