A couple of days ago I visited my favorite copse of ocotillos at sunrise, when I realized they were going to be partly in shadow for a while I started goofing around with self-portraits. The jacket is a holdover from my time in Portland where I was frequently a pedestrian, I have a small army of jackets and hoodies in bright orange to make me more visible. On this morning it was a little cool and windy so I put up the hood of my wool hoody to take the chill off. I have a wool cap on underneath, I’ve never liked the cold but after a couple of years in the desert I’ve lost any tolerance of it. The mask didn’t go unappreciated not just for a little warmth, and not just because I didn’t need to smile for the camera, but because it hid the tears streaming down my cheeks from being up so early.
I can’t tell the story of the Sonoran Desert, only my time in it. I’d love to revisit this shot when the ocotillos leaf out or bloom but this is their normal state, bare arms soaring into blue skies, and I hope in some sense it shows how beautiful the desert is even when it’s not trying to be spectacular.
For this shot I put myself at the edge of the large flat boulder, the plants are growing between this one and the next, so I could be as close as possible to the same plane as the two ocotillos in front to give some context as to their size. All of which is to say no optical tricks, they get pretty big.
Some people were flabbergasted, knowing how much I loved the rain of the Pacific Northwest, that I was willing to give life in Arizona a try. I knew it would take an attitude adjustment on my part not just to deal with the heat but with the relentless sun. It’s not that I never went hiking on sunny days in Oregon but in those glorious forests the sun was more of an abstract than a reality, so it was mostly a concern up above treeline or out on the coast. The other morning I got up early as there was a specific tree near Balanced Rock I wanted to photograph in the shade and I knew Granite Mountain would block the rising sun for a little while, giving me time to try out different compositions. Though I made a beeline to the area even from a distance I could see Balanced Rock was already bathed in sunlight. I checked and double-checked and triple-checked my watch and was so confused I turned back to the rising sun to understand my mistake and could but laugh as I realized at this time of year the sun peeked through a dip in the southern end of the mountain, lighting this area earlier than on my other visits. The next weekend I returned for this shot when the sun first cleared the mountain, a little paean to how little I understand and how eager I am to learn.
Saturday morning for the first time in two months I had enough energy to get up early for a hike in the desert. With the sun rising and the moon about to bid good day I used a gently sloping boulder abutting the trail to add my shadow to the desert’s own, a little nod to my deep appreciation at being back.
I stood at sunrise beside one of my favorite saguaros, here with the top of the sun just tipping over the mountains and starting to bathe the desert in its red light. I don’t often remember to take self-portraits, especially not during such beautiful light that lasts literal seconds, but the composition was so close to what I was taking anyway that I couldn’t resist a quick one as a celebration of being back in this amazing place. Since I’ve had to go into work throughout the pandemic I stayed off the trails at first until the process of transmission was better understood, and now try to avoid the popular trails and wear a mask if it gets crowded (it wasn’t at this early hour, I slipped it on for the picture). This mask is from Tom Bihn, they are easy to slip on and off and quite comfortable to boot (plus they donate one for every one you buy). There’s also a free pattern if you want to make them yourself.
The backpack is from Tom Bihn as well (it’s the Guide’s Pack), it’s been on somewhere around 170 hikes with me in the desert the past couple of years, at this time of year mostly just loaded with a safety kit, medicine, trekking poles, snacks, and gobs and gobs and gobs of Gatorade. In late May this early in the morning there is just enough cool air left in the desert for long sleeves but the time is rapidly approaching when even I switch to short sleeves.
A quick self-portrait at Pinnacle Peak Park.
I had to laugh when I looked at this self-portrait from fourteen years ago at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, judging by the youth in my face I initially assumed it must be older than it was. I’m a little envious of him, a little for his youth, but especially because he was on the other side of a move. My wife had changed jobs a couple years prior and we moved to Portland, I’m not sure why I went back to my old stomping grounds on this day but it was one of the rare times I’d visit the refuge again. I must have sensed that I wouldn’t be coming back often, both due to the distance and new favorite parks to the north, since I took the time for a self-portrait on the trail. As I recall this was the first park I visited in Oregon, but either way I spent a lot of time here when we lived nearby.
I believe the job search will be over soon, I’ll say more when I know for sure, but I will be glad to be moving on to the next phase, which will be moving. Of the two opportunities I’m considering (one is an offer, one is an upcoming interview) both require a move, either to California or Arizona. Not that I’m looking forward to moving, getting the house ready to sell, figuring out where to rent or buy in the new city, and actually packing and moving, but rather that I’m looking forward to being on the other side.
Moving the pets will be a challenge. Ellie had a health scare yesterday, while I was waiting on a phone call about the job offer I noticed she couldn’t stop panting and was really restless, so when I got off the phone we were off to the vet. X-rays and blood tests didn’t show anything surprising but the vet noticed she was sensitive around her back and stomach so she’s on extra painkillers for now that also keep her somewhat sedate and if she doesn’t improve will have to go in for more tests. She just had her yearly checkup a couple of weeks ago so we’re not sure what is going on.
Sam and Trixie also had their checkups recently but this time, when I put her in the carrier, Trixie began slamming her body against the sides of the carrier and howled like a banshee the entire way there and back, even upsetting the normally docile Sam. The move will require a two or three day drive, so …
Some say he was in the redwoods. Others say he was only there in spirit. His car was definitely there, but some say he was testing a new self-driving car feature for Subaru, where your car goes on fun vacations and sends back pictures while you stay home and work.
I spent the second-to-last day of my Christmas break at Ridgefield, arriving before sunrise and leaving after sunset. The bald eagles had been pretty active and the sunny day brought out many visitors to admire them, so late in the afternoon I parked a ways away so I could watch the day end in a more peaceful and relaxed state. When I saw the setting sun cast a shadow of my little Subaru on a frozen Rest Lake, I couldn’t resist a self-portrait as an homage to a picture I had taken almost exactly a year earlier (but around the bend and at sunrise instead of sunset).
But it was even more of a nod to the recurring nightmare I used to have, of me visiting Ridgefield and driving my car into the lake, as the angle of the sun made the the car look like it was submerged. Thankfully I haven’t had the dream in a while so I was in a rather whimsical mood when I took the picture.
The white birds on the distant part of the lake are tundra swans, most are sitting on the ice, but there was a small section of open water where a large number of ducks and geese had concentrated. This is also one of the last places I photographed coyotes (these pictures from January 2012 were taken near this spot).
Submerged also describes how I’ve felt most of the past couple of months, as a hectic work schedule had me working many nights and weekends. Thankfully things are returning to normal as the stress had worn me down, but I was able to not work for our three day holiday weekend and spent the days drifting in and out of sleep as my body and mind began to recover.
The last day of the year got off to a cold but sunny start. I stopped at Rest Lake when I came across this great blue heron sitting beside the frozen channel and then sat listening to the cackling geese and tundra swans in the lake behind it. I couldn’t resist a self-portrait when the rising sun created a perfect shadow of my little Crosstrek on the bank.