Category Archives: On the Road

Craters of the Moon

The first sign is a change in temperature. Everything gets cooler. The sun is still too bright to actually see any change. Then the lava fields fell into shade. I came to this place because I imagined an eerie scene … a magical assortment of light seen only once in a lifetime. In my mind, I saw threads of sunlight winding their way around the moon and tumbling softly onto cinder-strewn, frozen lava, sparking majestic features into an unearthly light.

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Shatter Cones

Instead it just got dark.

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Lost in the landscape

Something subtle, deep and primitive in me rejoiced to see the light return. The embrace of the sun, once again warming up the earth, was a gentle contrast to the raw power of the earth that burst these burnt fields into being.

I was struck by my reaction. As a photographer, approaching this eclipse, I was all about the light. However, my first sense of the event was a chill. The light seemed the same but the world grew colder. As the moon blocked more of the sun, the change in temperature became vital. It couldn’t stay that way. The world had become unsustainable.

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Path through the lava fields

Almost as quickly, the sunlight began to return … warming my chilling bones and reassuring my subconscious self. I could distinguish shapes in the landscape again. The world was coming back.

I can imagine Egyptian Priests, back in the day, used such occasions to instill the fear of God. Would have worked on me. These days, it’s a subtle reminder. This universe is a system. Everything depends on everything else. It’s far too easy to take sunlight for granted.

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Crater

 

 

Coming and Going

I like arriving. And I like leaving. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter what I do in-between. An end and a beginning. Enjoy something … and let it go.

It has taken me a life-time to understand this. One needs that long to truly see that nothing stays the same. To me, this is why some of us feel more in accord with nature when we’re on the road. It’s not any particular place. It’s the process.

This is why I like the beach. It is in motion. Constantly.

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Ocean Shores

And why I like mountain lakes. They are the opposite of that.

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Picture Lake and Mt. Shuksan

I have spent almost a year now, hanging around with fellow travelers. We all agree that having a destination in mind is important. Once one has a goal, pieces fall into place around it.  We also, as a group, have learned that being too attached to that goal can lead to missing out on the serendipity … unexpected experiences along the way.

On the road, I have become more familiar with these larger rhythms. I am more in touch with nature. I can recognize patterns in the sky. I can feel the wind rising in the trees. I can tell when rain is in the way. And I feel more in touch with people, now that I don’t have to be around them all the time.

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Horseshoe Bay

I just finished my first big wave – a trip to the Northwest and British Columbia. Did not take as long as I thought it would. Gas is expensive in B.C. and my free pass was to National parks, not Provincial parks … where most of the action is. I am back in Washington, I still have half the summer, so what to do next?

I have decided to head for the going-to-the-sky highway in Glacier National park. RV’s are not allowed on it, but I’ll figure something out. There is a shuttle. Then I will head south, through Wyoming to Colorado. Ian Muir (he will fly out from England) and I plan to photograph the 50th Aspen Ruggerfest.

Currently, this is the future I imagine. It will organize my next couple of months. There is a little fear and a little joy in knowing that it won’t go exactly that way.

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Wilderness

I am back in the USA after two weeks on the road in British Columbia. I spent a week winding between intimidating mountains and savage ravines on the mainland and feeling small. Coquihalla RiverA part of the landscape. Nothing more. Bigger things have been going on here. Summer sunlight shoots across the forests, lighting up the green and blue in the rushing rivers. It all says, “Was here before you, puny human. Will be here long after you’re gone.”Bridal Veil Falls

The second week, I went with my friend Glen and his wife Cheryl to Bamfield, on the western side of Vancouver Island. There, at Harbourside Lodge, we hooked up with Jonathan, resident guide to the Pacific Reserve. Dawn trollingI have known Glen since high school. He is also a fishing guide, as well as a professional gambler. He makes a living playing tournament Texas Hold’em. Fishing is not really my thing but I caught a couple of king salmon. Glen and Jon caught a couple of 50-pound halibut. I spent most of the time looking for photos.Out on the water

We were out on the water, about 50 yards off the shore of one of the islands, when Jon reached over the side facing away from the shore to release a small pink salmon. Immediately, an eagle overflew us, having spied the fish from the shore. Amazing. So the guys threw out a couple of fish and I managed to get a picture.Eagle fishing

With time to reflect, out on the water, it struck me that fishing and gambling are similar. Expertise makes a big difference, but there are no assurances. In both cases, the player tries to get on the right side of the odds. In both cases, the thrill would be gone if the win were a certainty. The experience of beating the odds can be addicting for people who like that sort of thing.  Most of us are content to ‘take a flyer’ only once in a while. Lurking in the background is the unconscious knowledge that’s reality is all about probability.

Photography, for me, can be like that. I walk for miles along a beach or on a forest trail. I do what I can to improve the odds – location, time of day, the right lens, but ultimately it’s not all up to me. The universe has to cooperate.Dawn Water Skier

We human beings don’t really want the future to be certain. Somehow we feel that would be leaving something out. Something that could have been, something we haven’t seen or thought of yet. Intuitively, we are aware that the future is an open question. We want to keep the world the same and we don’t.Cultus Lake

We need to experience the wilderness. It is a re-set. We need to be reminded that the world we carry in our heads is no more than that. There is a bigger picture.

Blog from the Bardo

I am lying on my bed, wrapped up in a multi-colored Indian blanket I had before my kids were born and a blue blanket with a big ‘C’ given to me by UCLA 50 years ago. I am watching the last blast of rain blow across Little Diamond lake. It came in suddenly and is already leaving, like an giant steam engine thundering through the station.

Diamond Lake smallI am at Little Diamond lake is just south of the Canadian border, north of Spokane, feeling the distance from what is familiar – a market down the street, a gas station around the corner, local news on TV. Up here in the wilderness, I am a long way from everything I am used to.

The days are long. The mind wanders. Memories fade. Plans fall apart and it doesn’t matter. Being here now has a feel to it. A description of it is always too late. It is stillness that appears to be moving.

In Tibetan tradition, a ‘bardo’ is the state of existence between two lives on earth, when consciousness is not connected to a body, but still held to the ground. The present moment – the now – is a continuous bardo, always suspended between the past and the future. If you stop reading this, look up … and then go back to reading, you have created a bardo. If a departing spirit is wrapped up in unfinished business, it drifts in The Big Bardo (between lives). For many, it is a little bardo getting from breakfast to lunch, let alone the whole day. ‘Bardos’ are the valleys between the peaks in the wave. In this case, it is the place between what I was and what I will be.

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Last year, I left everything behind in San Jose. Not just my family, but all the stuff, with which I was familiar. I disposed of memories like old medals and trophies, clothes I never wore, a pile of old magazines for which I had photographed the cover, hundreds of books and a collection of old furniture. Signs of a previous life. Now, everything I own fits into my 20 year-old Tioga. That was the beginning of this particular bardo, the start of life on the road.

Another feature of this experience is that the end is unknown. If it were known, you would already be there mentally and you wouldn’t really be disconnected. In the same way, if you haven’t let go, then you’re not really on the journey yet. That experience – letting go of all you know, not knowing what comes next, is pure movement. There is nothing to hold on to. There is only being alive.

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As I write this, it is a couple of days later. I am back in the Columbia Gorge, basking in an early morning breeze blowing down the river into my little RV. Waiting out the weather as I creep up the coast.

So often, uncertainty is not resolved in the direction we thought was our way. That is why so many people avoid bardos when they see them coming. People like me, those who like life on the road, will face the uncertainty in order to experience something new. Often, for me, it’s been when I have nothing left to lose … as the song goes.

Butterfly and flower smallBee and flower 1 smallI made it to Mt. Vernon. The sun is flooding through the trees and warming everything up. Here, there are no magnificent vistas to photograph, no dramatic coming and going of the light or rushing rivers bursting through the green. So I settled down and looked around me. Seems like I’m slowing down as I move further north. Looking closer at things. I wonder if that means I am getting somewhere.

I moved again. To Birch Bay. From here, that somewhere looks like Canada.

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Two Sides to Everything

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Crescent Bar on the Columbia River

It’s early in the season in the Northwest, so the countryside is not crowded. That’s good. But the weather hasn’t cleared up yet. That’s bad … for a potentially leaky roof. It’s a longer rhythm up here in the Northwest. The sun appears at 5:00 am and sticks around for 16 hours. Not only is there more rain, there’s more light. No wonder everything grows so green. I dashed from the North Oregon Coast, just ahead of the rain, and landed at Crescent Bar on the Columbia River. From there, I rode Alice over the spine of Washington, across the Cascade mountains. We stopped for a breather at Ponderosa Peak.

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The view from Ponderosa Peak

After crossing Washington State, I camped out at La Connor, near Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. Fifty years ago, as a freshman at UCLA, travelling with the rugby team, we took the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was at sunrise. I was standing on the bow … the sharp light in the sky folding in and out of the clouds, the wind whipping off the water … I have never forgotten.

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The San Juan Islands

This time I took a ferry out to Friday Harbor, as far as I can go without crossing to Canada.

Boats are clearly a way of life in the San Juan Islands. The ferries carry hundreds of cars and trucks between the islands every day. The main cabin of the ferry has jigsaw puzzles laid out on some tables, so that shifts of passengers can work on them, taking for granted the spectacular display of the world around them.

The Puget Sound is beautiful here at La Connor. It is an Indian reservation. ‘Lone Tree’ is an ancient Douglas fir, broken in a storm 3 years ago, that has stood watch over the Swinomish lands for generations, guiding those who navigated this part of the bay.

This experience is the opposite of a city, like Los Angeles, where I lived as a young man. Richard Feynman, the eminent scientist, liked to say that there is always another way to see anything and that being able to see things in another way was important to understanding the universe. As a boy, in Darwin, I hung out at the beach all the time and set my schedule by the tides. Then I went to school in the city and forgot all about it.

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Lone Tree at dawn

Here, at the edge of Puget Sound, I can see the flow change direction again. I don’t see how the native tribe could not believe that they belonged to Nature and owed everything to her. Back then, what happened, happened. There were no contradictions. There was nothing to worry about. They were home.

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Lone Tree at dusk

 

Doing nothing, once again

Hanging out with new friends at a camp is fun, but it isn’t long before I get restless. It’s all in my mind. I know. But now that I have spent some quality time alone, I am aware of how much energy I put into dealing with the imagined expectations of others. Am I talking enough? Did I say too much? And so on. The expectations that I project on others bump and bruise the way I see the world. Expectations are not things. They don’t have an existence on their own. (I tell myself).

Doing nothing, once again

I am sure that the other person does have expectations of some kind. We all do. Expectations are impossible to avoid. I was surprised how all those expectations rose up in my mind, while I was with the others. Didn’t really focus on them. Just aware. Like the tumbling of a dryer in the background, expectations swirling around. I notice because I have put so much time into avoiding them, generally. Now I am on the road, answering only to myself. I have a chance to take on the tangle and discover which expectations belong to me.

Sand and a bubble smallIt seems almost too obvious to say, but this road trip is a journey inward as well as outward. I relate it to the latest scientific descriptions of reality. Life is a particle when it’s looked at and a wave when it’s left alone. When I am operating with the bits and pieces of this world, getting from here to there, dealing with this and that … it’s all about particles … things and straight lines – everything in its time and place.

When I am doing nothing, going nowhere, I experience only waves. There’s nothing at the top and bottom of a wave. Like the swing of a pendulum, the sweep of a deep breath or the steady beating of my heart. Waves come and go, always in motion. And for there to be any awareness of motion, there must be stillness, every now and then.Water Circle small

The freedom of life on the road is that when the ‘particles’ get to be too much, we can jump back into the ‘waves’ with renewed appreciation.

Spider web smallA moment spent doing absolutely nothing at all is like the zero in mathematics – a point around which everything can spread out and make sense. This is how nothing is something.

I am feeling that pulse now. I have had enough of the Grey Days, the fog that shrouds the Oregon coast. Soaking everything in sight. Time to get back into the sun by moving East. That wasn’t my plan. But that’s the thing about expectations. They can change at the drop of a hat … or at the sign of rain.

The edge of the ocean is the place to be though, when the sun is out. All the elements in one place. On Grey Days, for which the Oregon coast is well-known, the light and the lines are all mashed together and there is nothing to notice. Having had some sunny days, I know what I am missing. Tomorrow, I expect to be in Washington.

Sitting still. Doing nothing. Remembering the light.

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Waiting for the Light

Every photographer knows the feeling. “If only the light were over here, or over there”. Of course, it is hardly ever just so. The landscape scatters the sunlight all over the place. Standing in the shadow, anticipating the arrival of a flood of photons, is always a guess at best. What is certain is that the light will shift with the swing of the planets. What is dark will be light, eventually. It will rarely be exactly what I expected.  It is always more or less, but it wouldn’t be at all, if I hadn’t waited.

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Eel River

This is early morning by the Eel River. I was waiting for the sunlight to reach the water, when I realized just how much time I spend waiting for the Earth to rotate, so I can have the light where I want it to be.

At first, it’s a guess as to where the light will be. How else do you capture the freshness of a morning? Like capturing sports action, by the time you see it, it is too late. Fortunately, as the world turns, there is always another chance, if you have the time. There will be another day for the light to be in the right place.

The value of the light is that it disappears, every day. No wonder, in the old days, we worshipped the coming and going of the sun.

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Rogue river by Humbug Mountain

I love how the light softens as I travel north. In the Southern desert, the sunshine is savage. There, I can almost hear the sharp light tearing at the landscape. Even the invisible wind can have an edge to it. Among the redwoods, the light wanders in quietly, slipping silently between the massive trees and sliding along the glassy rivers. There are no horizons in the forest. Waiting for the light can be a challenge. It doesn’t just jump at you, as it does down south. The sun’s rays fall, like a light rain, in between a hundred shades of green.  In the desert, the light arrives suddenly and bounces off the landscape. In the forest, the light, like inspiration, shows up in its own good time.

It only took me nine months to discover that I can use my smartphone as a wireless Internet connection to my laptop. With Verizon’s unlimited plan, this seems to be the way to go on the road. Makes me wonder what else lies along my path that will take me a long time to discover. What else am I waiting for? What else will I see when the fog lifts?Fog iin trees

I was watching the sun burn away the morning mist over the Klamath river this morning and I felt a sense of moving forward into an unknown life and an awareness of losing threads of the life I have been holding onto.

A zen master might say there is no going back, but it seems to me that sometimes that’s all I do. Often, I am ‘waiting’ for something in memory or trying to imagine something that has yet to take shape. Life on the road is a cure for that. Esp. on America West Coast. Moving through this magnificent landscape, nothing is like it was yesterday.  And the blessing is that there is no telling about tomorrow.

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Somewhere in the forest

In between yesterday and tomorrow is right now. Now is still and quiet. Now has nowhere to go. Now has no history. In the here and now, there is no waiting. Ironically, for life on the road, here and now is where the real treasures are to be found