Nature

One of my personal favorites

 

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Last year, I shared a series of photos I took at Pacific City, one of the best surfing beaches in Oregon. I captured this one on a sunny, calm morning of May 19, 2017. It is a beautiful place when the conditions are right. The sea stack provides a iconic backdrop for surfers navigating the waves.

I just turned this shot into a cloth print and have it hanging on my living room wall. It makes me smile and brings me back to that perfect morning when the waves, wind and tide were just right.

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Two of my favorite parks in the world: Forest Park

 

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By pure coincidence, I have lived in two great cities with two great parks named Forest Park. Both are national treasures. Both make both their home cities livable. Both parks improve residents’ quality of life by incalculable measures. They also are loved dearly by their communities. And both are incredible places to go for a long run.

I grew up in University City, next to St. Louis and its storied Forest Park. The 1,300-acre park is home to the free and world-class St. Louis Zoo and the free and the world-class St. Louis Art Museum. It has a public golf course, lagoons, and a fabulous running and biking trail that navigates its edge for about six and half miles. Nearly everyone who lives in the St. Louis area visits the park because it has something for everyone. The City of St. Louis reports the park gets 12 million (that’s right, 12 million) visitors a year! During every trip I take back to University City to see my family, I come here to run, walk, and enjoy its cultural treasures.

I now live in Portland. That city’s premier park also is called Forest Park. Unlike its cousin in St. Louis, Forest Park in Portland is a wooded natural area comprising 5,100 wooded acres. According to the City of Portland, the park boasts 112 bird and 62 mammal species. It features the 30-mile Wildwood Trail and a 12-mile long closed and dirt service road called Leif Erikson Drive. Together, they make for one of the best places for trail running and hiking near any major U.S. city. I have literally done hundreds of miles of trail running here since I moved back to Portland in 2014.

As a runner who has run in parks and on trails throughout the world, these two parks rank as some of my favorite places. If I could have access to no national park or wild place the rest of my life and only had one of these parks to enjoy, I think I could die a happy person.

If you are in either city, visit either park. Both have conservancies that now provide a lot of the back-end financing and volunteer work to keep the parks accessible year-round. Remember, it costs money to run a park and they deserve your support.

Winter’s icy clutch has come

 

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The arrival of the winter solstice yesterday made me think about winter, in its most raw, powerful form.

I used to live in a wintry place, Anchorage, Alaska. I spent six years there, meaning six winters. One measures a true year in winters in Alaska. I first feared the cold, and then embraced it after I took up skate skiing. Soon, I found myself skiing almost every day of the winter season on Anchorage’s miles of multi-use trails and its world-class ski trails in Kincaid Park and on the Anchorage Hillside.

In 2008, the winter was particularly nasty. We had a stretch of days below -10 F for almost two weeks. I was sidelined with a bad running injury, and I was unable to exercise like I normally did. The hoarfrost was both beautiful and terrifying, because it signified how dangerous the elements were. To this day I don’t know how the ravens, moose, lynx, stellar jays, owls, foxes, wolves, and other local critters survived such conditions, with no respite from mother nature.

I did love my walks, and I used my period of convalescence to document the icy beauty of the Anchorage area, including some festivals where ice sculptures were installed in a downtown park that was turned into an ice skating rink. It was so cold that year, qualifying heats for the U.S. National Cross Country Ski Team were cancelled at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park because of the potential harm the cold could have to the athletes.

So, on our first day of winter, in the northern hemisphere, I say, all hail winter. May your icy clutch be gentle and memorable.

December on the Oregon Coast

 

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Last weekend I headed to the Oregon Coast, not quite sure if the 8- to 10-foot waves would allow for a surfing dip in the ocean. My trip took me to Nahalem Bay by Manzanita, Oswald West State Park and Cannon Beach.

Oswald West always astounds me. Surrounded by steep coastal bluffs and a coastal rain forest, the snug bay is among the most visited surfing beaches in Oregon. On this day, the ocean was a frothing brew of crashing waves. Even then, I spotted three to four fearless surfers on short boards navigating the mini water towers and dropping down without fear.

I decided I had to get in myself. Further up the road, I parked near the Needles, a sand bar near Cannon Beach’s famed Haystack Rock. To my surprise, I was able to catch some foamy rides that ended surprisingly well as they hit the shore.

The ocean’s beauty seems more raw on these days. Humans feel more powerless. I felt tiny on my small board, bobbing like a fishing lure. A juvenile harbor seal swam circles around me, curious about why I was in its habitat on such a tempestuous day.

Testing my new tool, the Panasonic Lumix DC ZS70

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For many years, most of the pictures I have taken were with my point-and-shoot camera, a Canon. After nearly 10 years with my current point-and-shoot, it was time to retire it. I researched the market and settled on a Panasonic Lumix DC ZS70. It got good grades from online reviewers. The price range worked for me. It also features a Leica lens.

So far, I like it. I thought the panning feature wasn’t tack-sharp, at least without a tripod. The close-ups seem sharp. I thought the 4K video was surprisingly crisp, even on the maximum zoom setting of 720mm (the lens is a 24–720 mm equivalent). The zoom shots, which I do not expect to have great quality, turned out more detailed than I was expecting in my first tests. I plan to use this on my day trips surfing on the Oregon Coast, where I can’t afford to leave expensive gear alone in the car or risk break-ins.

One downside is the raw format file feature isn’t readable with my older version of Lightroom. I’m not going to upgrade my operating system just yet to fix this.

At this point in my life taking pictures, I gravitate more toward visual storytelling than image perfection. You can tell a good story with medium and even low-quality equipment. What matters is your talent, less so having the most expensive glass and brand on the market.

For the record, my favorite camera equipment I use is a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and a 24mm Leica lens. (Here is a sample of how my images look with it.)

These test shots were all taken on Nov. 17, 2017, near my home in Southeast Portland.

Surf so fine at Seaside

 

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Today was one of those perfect days for surfing on the Oregon coast that only seem to come every other month. The forecast at Seaside, Oregon for Saturday (Nov. 11, 2017) called for a high tide at 6:56 a.m., waves two to four feet high, and calm conditions, with sets spaced about every 10 seconds. For surfers in Oregon, this is damn close to paradise.

Seaside is a beautiful spot to surf at high tide under such conditions, when the wind is not coming from the northwest. The natural cove creates some beautiful breaks. Thankfully, the ocean provided lovely set after lovely set.

When I arrived around 7:15 a.m. there were already a dozen surfers in the water. By the time I was in for an hour, I counted 40 surfers. It is a rare sight to see that many surfers in any surfing beach in Oregon.

I discarded what my body told me to do, which was to stay out and let my injured shoulder heal.

I may have set myself back another month with my existing surfing injury. Who knows. Given we may not have surf this good until April, I do not think I had a choice. In the end, I caught more than 20 waves, all with little effort. My shoulder, however, it did not like what it was feeling when I finished. Oy vey, tomorrow I will have regrets.

As for the shark warning earlier in the week, in Pacific City, about an hour south, no one seemed too worried. Great whites are usually out there, whether we see them or not.

The new normal: fire everywhere in the Northwest

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This week, the majestic Columbia River Gorge experienced an unprecedented fire that spread to more than 40,000 acres in less than five days. Residents and experts in this region were stunned by the still-unfolding disaster in what should be a fire resistant and lush region.

The blaze was reportedly intentionally ignited by some teens on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, when temperatures were in the upper 90s. The group reportedly threw fireworks into the Eagle River Trail area, setting off a blaze that literally exploded in 48 hours, moving more than 13 miles and shutting down Interstate 84, a major transportation corridor, and threatening the primary drinking water source (Bull Run Reservoir) for more than 1 million people in the Portland area.

The blaze is one of many in the region. Nearly 170,000 acres are ablaze at the Chetco Bar Fire, near Brookings, Oregon. Fires have scorched more than a million acres in Montana. Many experts are pointing to climate change and drying conditions as the main driver for the now frightening new normal.

I have not had a chance to observe the wrath of the fire near my Portland home, because it is still an active conflagration, and the firefighters need to keep gawkers out. I will go in once it is safe.

In light of what has happened this summer, I decide to dig up some pictures I took of the devastating Carlton Complex Firs in the Methow Valley area, in Washington state, in 2014. Seeing what fire can do to communities and landscapes is a sobering experience. I expect the worse is still yet to come, if that is even possible.

 

The arch druids of North America: California’s redwoods

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In early August, I briefly visited northern California, coming south from Oregon on Highway 101. Though the goal of my trip was to explore surfing spots on the southern Oregon coast, I tacked onto my road trip a stop in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, outside of Crescent City, California.

The park is home to some of the remaining groves of redwoods left in the world. According to the state park’s website, the park “contains seven percent of all the old-growth redwoods left in the world.” The website also describes the reserve as “pure, primeval majesty.” I could not agree more.

The redwood species in the park (Sequoia sempervirens) can only be found in coastal ecological zones from southern Oregon to Monterey, California. These are the tallest standing trees on the planet.

Of course California transportation planners in their unbridled vanity plowed a road through the majestic forest, Highway 199, from Crescent City to Hiouchi. I drove that and parked my car to marvel at the ancient organisms that towered above me. There are natural trails found at a stop on this road, and they take a visitor on some lovely walking trails that capture the magic of a redwood forest ecosystem.

I had not felt so humbled by nature in a long time. I could almost feel the forest alive with some spirit force, even if that is not a sensory event grounded in empirical science.

If you visit, there are some camping sites off of Highway 101 and in the park itself, and in Hiouchi and the nearby national forest. Take some time here, unlike me. I only spent a few hours, but those were some of the best hours I spent in a long time. For those who want to try photography, a sturdy tripod is a necessity. All of these shots were at least one-second exposures.

Above all, enjoy your stay and respect the special place when you come.

Sunshine and surf on the Oregon Coast

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With temperatures hitting nearly 100 fahrenheit in Portland on Saturday, June 24, 2017, you can bet everyone packed their bags and sunscreen and headed to the Oregon Coast. I joined them, but before most people were awake.

For the second day in a row I awoke well before daylight. This day, however, the surf conditions lived up to the forecast. That forecast said glass on the ocean, 1.5-foot waves, and mild wind. A day earlier, the waves were choppy and I did not drive out at 4:30 a.m. as I had planned.

Surfing is about many things. It is about understanding waves and weather. You must figure out prevailing winds, and how they impact waves at specific spots. Is the wind blocked by a point or jetty? Is a storm passing offshore, leading to bigger, rougher waves in greater frequency? What about the tide and the beach? Some beaches are bets at high tide, others at low tide.

My new board is a 9-foot Bill Stewart longboard, made for smaller waves.

Seaside, where I surf the most often, is a high tide beach. Low tide is usually in the morning, which meant I would arrive at low tide. Still, with baby waves, that meant ride-able conditions with my new 9-foot Bill Stewart longboard (an LSP).

My trip this past Saturday was its second outing. It had a trip the previous weekend at Otter Rock, where I was hammered by 6-foot waves that slammed me and the board hard into the sandbar, and I flew over the top of my board all too frequently. Today I could pop up and get longer runs, sometime catching the face of the waves for about 15 excellent rides over a nearly four-and-a-half-hour outing.

I’d say the waves were about two to three feet in height, and bigger in some sets. Despite sore ribs and a sore shoulder, I stayed in as the low tide was turning to high tide. My last three rides were really lovely. I outlasted most of the riders. Three shifts came and went during my trip. I still managed to get sunburned with a thick layer of zinc oxide.

On my last ride in I passed by a Japanese-American paddle boarder, wearing a blue wetsuit and with a blue SUP. She smiled, her hair still dry, and headed out. I would have like to asked her name.

After I got to shore and changed, I pulled out my camera and took some photos of her. She was the best rider out that day. The A-Team one can find at Seaside must have been at a different beach that day or didn’t want to bother themselves with rookie waves. After Seaside I dashed to nearby Cannon Beach to see what the Needles looked like. They looked better. I should have gone there.

I also decided before I rode my last wave of the day to name my new board “Sunshine.” Today, in the sun, it caught its first waves. We need sunshine a little more often on the Oregon Coast. My other board, a 7’6″ funboard is named “Trickster,” in honor of the coyote and raven I saw on its first day out. Both are good and appropriate names.

 

 

Foxgloves finally arrive

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We have had a wetter and cooler spring this year. That means the beautiful foxglove flower arrived late. I passed by this same spot last year, in May, when it was blooming last year. I repeated the shot. It is such an amazing plant. I love seeing them on roadsides and in scrubby, rocky soil. They are tough hombres as flowering plants go. They have toxins, but also pharmaceutical properties that have been harvested by the for-profit pharma sector. Nature is generous with beauty and medicinal plants. So I give thanks to the foxglove and nature.