Quick Sketches

A tall leaning cactus sits in front of pink clouds at sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7581.arw

After taking the previous woodpecker picture I looked at the skies and thought I might be able to frame one of my favorite saguaros against the pink clouds of sunset. The problem was the saguaro was on the opposite side of the hill and to get to it I had to drop back down past the basketball courts and go up the other side of the trail. A part of me wanted to call it a night as the light was not likely to last that long but a part of me decided to try it, and that part won out and had me arriving just as the pink skies began to fade. I took a quick shot of the fading beauty, of the battered old giant with broken arms that sheltered so many birds during its long life, of the day fading into night.

Orange clouds above the city and mountains at sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7580.arw

On the way over I took a quick shot in a different direction of the orange clouds above the city and mountains of Scottsdale. I wanted to include more of the city, and could have if I climbed the hill, but I couldn’t do that and get to the saguaro, choices had to be made. And that’s just fine, the purpose of these sketches is to remind me in years to come of how fortunate we were that when the time came to leave the home we didn’t want to leave, we ended up in another land of wonders. And maybe to become actual sketches as I’d like to learn to draw (and maybe paint), but for now the camera will do.

My 2020 Lexus UX 250h hatchback just past sunset in the parking lot of George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7584.arw

With the light truly gone I made the short trip back to the parking lot where my hatchback awaited for the short drive home. It’s been everything I hoped for, a lovely little commuter car that is also easy to drive to the local trailheads and which has made the intense summers so much more tolerable (dare I say enjoyable? A part of me misses the summer).


An environmental portrait of a phainopepla perched in a tree at sunset on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 26, 2020. Original: _RAC8869.arw

Since we moved to Arizona I’ve been fascinated by the moment when light first sweeps across the desert or, as in this case, the light suddenly falls away. There was a particular cactus I wanted to photograph at last light but I was delayed watching a sparrow and a family of hawks. I had to laugh as I hurried down the wide trail, seeing something I wanted to photograph and the light disappearing before I could get the camera to my eye. I was able to get this environmental portrait of a phainopepla before the light disappeared from all but the mountains, a shot that pokes gentle fun at my misunderstanding of what the desert here was like, thinking it was just sand and an occasional cactus. But also a show of gratitude that I researched the area when an opportunity appeared here at the last minute, and for a park dense with vegetation and wildlife that drew me in and didn’t let go.

Open Late

After sunset the sky is covered with pink and blue clouds as my 2020 Lexus UX 250h waits in the parking lot at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

Even though Cavalliere Park is the closest to us I didn’t initially think I would visit as my favorite trailhead lies further up the street with a diversity of trails beckoning. But my mind changed when I discovered the small multi-use park has an advantage the other local parks don’t have: you can stay through sunset (and even later). Probably not something I’ll take advantage of during the high heat of summer but on this winter evening it let me photograph some birds in the last light of the day. I took this quick picture of the car as the light was rapidly fading, I was always happy to see my Subaru after a long day at work or a tiring trek on the trails and thankfully I quickly came to feel the same way about the Lexus.

Goodbye Sun, Goodbye Snow

Our dog Ellie at sunset in the snow at Irving Park

Ellie watches the last rays of the setting sun from a snow-covered hill in Irving Park. I thought this Sunday afternoon walk was going to be our last walk together in the snow after a week of walking in the white as I was back at work on Monday, but I stayed home on Tuesday when temperatures didn’t warm as quickly as predicted and a possible ice storm was approaching. Thankfully the ice just missed us but Ellie and I had one more long walk in the snow that morning before the great thaw started in the evening.

I treasure every moment with this sweet pup.

The Submerged Crosstrek

The shadow of my Subaru Crosstrek falls on a frozen Rest Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

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.

House on the Lake

Orange reflections on the surface of Bull Lake

On December 30th I was at Ridgefield photographing a heron and egret as the sun began to set. They were both down in a channel slightly below the road so they fell into shadow before the surrounding area. I drove to the start of Bull Lake and watched a bufflehead diving for food until he too was no longer lit by the setting sun. I was about to call it a day when I noticed one section of the lake was a brilliant orange, a reflection from a house high on the hill above the refuge that was still lit by the rays of the sun.

I decided to use the reflections to play around with some abstracts, starting with a completely de-focused image, but got no further as when I went to adjust the focus the colors faded. When I looked up I saw that even the hills were no longer lit so I drove the short distance to the parking lot and packed up my gear and headed home. I was sick on New Year’s Eve and didn’t head out, so this inadvertently ended up being my last picture of 2015.

This Used to be Goodbye

A view of Mount St. Helens near sunset

It used to be when I left the River S Unit at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and started my trek home, I’d round the bend and get this lovely view of Mount St. Helens. Early in 2004 I stopped to take a picture of the volcano with the foothills coated in snow, as they were just starting to convert a meadow into a subdivision and I knew the view wouldn’t last.

A large number of new subdivisions have gone in since as the sleepy little town transforms into a bedroom community for Vancouver and Portland. I’ve often thought about how wonderful it would be to live in one of those houses, to be able to roll out of bed near sunrise and be right at the refuge, but I wouldn’t seriously consider moving there — the refuge is on the other side of the Columbia from where I work and the commute would be soul-crushing.