Moon over the valley

Not that this is becoming an obsession or anything, but I’ve been waiting for
a full moon to see what kind of shot I could get … little did I realize that
the moon takes this position in the western sky only at absurdly early hours
of the morning. This morning I got up about 4:10 a.m. and the first thing I
wondered was: how’s that moon gonna look? So far I haven’t quite figured out
how to get the best settings on my camera; this is a 10-second time exposure.
The moon had set before I finished fiddling with all the settings. But it’ll
do till the next full moon.


A fatal turn down the road

When we first came up the hill to our new place, we were fascinated and amused by these signs saying “Marsh Rd. Closed” because some enterprising delinquents had painted “Dead Bodies Found!” across them.

Some enterprising do-gooders tried to clean up the signs but you can still see the “ND!” at the end of this one.

I asked the landlord what was up with those signs, and he said, “oh, some murder 20 years ago — a body got dumped back there.”

Lately I’ve been passing the sign on my morning walks, and going about a mile and a half down Marsh Road.

The road is quiet and scenic, with hardly any traffic. Hard to believe anything ontoward could’ve happened out here.

That’s the Calaveras Reservoir off in the distance. I’m basically down at valley floor level here.

By now you’re thinking, “get to the good stuff, what about the murder?”

OK, if you’ve seen the movie “River’s Edge” you already know about it: Co-stars Crispin Glover and Keanu Reeves are pals of this spooky, twisted teenager who flips out, raping and killing a teen-age girl and dumping her body out in the countryside. What made the movie really disturbing is what happened next: The killer goes back to his school and brags to all his friends about how he killed this girl, and he takes his friends out to view the corpse in the woods somewhere.

All this really happened, except it wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest — it was in Milpitas, the town right down the road from us. Some guy at the local high school raped and killed a teen-aged girl and dumped her body in a ravine on Marsh Road.

Here’s one of the ravines I walk past. There are lots of ravines out here so I doubt it’s anywhere near the fatal spot.

The guy who killed her really did go back to school and brag to his pals that he had done the deed, and had brought some of them out here to look at the body. It lay there for several days before it occurred to somebody to call the cops, who stopped a carload of local high school students on their way up to view the body. I suspect the perp will remain incarcerated for a very long time.

As for Marsh Road, it became a notorious party hangout for local teenagers. Sometimes things got out of hand and the locals complained.

My understanding is that a car fire — here’s the burnt spot — was the final straw: county authorities declared the road closed to the public and put in this gate so that only authorized vehicles can pass.

So that’s the story of the Marsh Road murder.

A few flowers

Melissa asked me to take some pictures of her flowerbed for the folks back
home, so I popped off a few shots Sunday afternoon.

Lately I’ve been trying to show more discipline in choosing which photos to
post. I get a few notes saying "please post more!" and I’m grateful
for the encouragement and indulgence. Nevertheless, every minute here is a minute
away from your favorite "Everybody Loves Raymond" reruns. That’s a
lot to ask of anyone. And besides, the pros take dozens of rolls of film and
distill them to a single shot for publication. I don’t need to be that brutal,
but the least I could do is emulate people who know what they’re doing.

Anyway, these are the pics I winnowed from the dozen I shot.

Looking straight down from our porch on Melissa’s flowerbed. I like to try
shooting at odd angles, but most of my results are too wacked-out.

Something I learned early after moving here: getting the hills in the background
almost always makes the picture prettier.

A box of marigolds.

Another wacky-angle attempt.

Green tomatoes. Soon we’ll be swimming in fat, juicy red ones. Melissa put
these in planters because months of sun and wind (and no rain) have made the
soil nearby impervious just about anything this side of a laser-guided bomb.
Shovel blades just ricochet off this dirt.

So, those are today’s pics. Now get back in front of your television where
you belong.

Pictures and weighty thoughts

OK, a sunset is a photographic cliché, I admit it. But all I had to
do was step out on the porch and click. This is one of the better ones we’ve
had so far.

Oh, and I have progress to report: 15 pounds burned off since I made up my
mind to get off my ass.

It started about six months ago, after I got back from the ACES conference.
I’d been blogging like a fiend for about eight months at that point, and the
workouts had become as scarce as cool breezes in Baghdad. It got to the point
where I was either buying all new Levi’s or getting on the Stairmaster and working
my way back into the ones I own already.

I burned off the first 10 over the spring, and figured I’d burn some more on
the hills in the neighborhood in our new place. Things weren’t going too well
for the first month or so — lots of walking for distance (nine miles one day!);
lots of sunburn and sore feet, but not much feel-the-burn. Then I started really
working the hills a few weeks ago (I actively hated the concept of gravity for
a while there) and the change was astounding: I lost five pounds in two weeks.

I wrote about climbing Mission Peak, which I climbed from its base in Fremont
the Saturday before last. You also can hike to from a park down the road from
us. Here’s a picture I took on that trail last Saturday.

That’s the southern limit of the San Francisco Bay just above the center of
the picture. This is about three quarters of the way up, if I recall it right.
I didn’t make it back over to Mission Peak — it was still a mile or so up the
trail when I turned back after a two-hour hike.

This week I’ve been walking down the hill from our place a little bit further
every day. We’re near the top of the ridge and it’s about five miles down to
civilization and flatness, so when I’m in really good shape I hope to be able
to walk to the bottom and back, a 10 mile round-trip with half of it uphill.
Check back next summer for that one.

Here’s a shot from this morning’s walk; we had sunshine (vs. peasoup fog) for
the first time in over a week, which provoked my inner shutterbug.

Last Saturday’s walk got me almost o the top of that hill over there. I turned
back because I was dead tired and there was a guy coming the other way, so I
figured it’d be nice to have somebody to chat with on the way back down. It
was. (People are always cool on the trial.)

So this morning I’m ambling down the hill and what do I see but this long-legged
waterbird next to a little pond: Just after I noticed the bird and squeezed
off a shot, the dogs on the property noticed me; their barking alarmed the bird,
who flew off.

A good day is when the birds do something interesting when your finger’s on
the camera shutter release.

And now, a few more Great Trees of California entries.

This must be where the phrase "get bent" originated from.

Or maybe from here.

More like a shrub, but the colors are nice.

Finally, more local mildlife.

Mama and baby. A year from now the little guy’s luck is going to change dramatically,
I expect. Those Quarter Pounders with Cheese gotta come from somewhere.

These goats look like they’re all from the same tribe. Whatever the horse thinks
of this, he isn’t saying.

Stuff I saw last week

I need an excuse to post something but nothing particularly interesting happened
in the past week, though I can share a few more pictures.

Last Sunday I drove down the road to Ed Levin County Park, which is one of
the top hang-gliding sites in the Bay Area. Some mornings I’m going into work
and I see pickup trucks with long narrow bundles bound to their roof racks heading
up to the park — they’re going gliding. I think: wow, how visual is the sight
of a lone pilot floating on the breeze? A photo op for sure. One problem: The
fliers are too far away to get really good images. These are the best I came
up with.

This guy was flying right over my head on his way in for a landing. He’s shouting
a greeting to his buddies down below, one of those things that can happen because
these manmade birds have no motors.

Here’s the guy’s flying partner getting ready to park his glider.

A close-up of his glider. They can cost up to $3,000, he told me. Lessons can
cost another grand. They won’t let you fly at this park without certification
from the U.S. Hang-Gliding Association, which trains people to fly gliders.
Makes sense to take their lessons, because the real experts on soaring — hawks,
eagles, buzzards, etc. — aren’t sharing their trade secrets. I mean, sure,
you could hire a falcon to teach you to fly; just hide the hamsters when he
comes to collect the bill.

OK, next up are pictures I took on my morning walk the other day. Our hill’s
been fogged in every morning, which creates some interesting scenes as the sun
burns off the mist.

This is right outside the front gate. Looked up, thought, "cool,"
took a picture. I like the easy ones.

One of our neighbors is a peacock. If you ever visit this neighborhood and
wonder who’s whipping their child to within an inch of his life, don’t worry:
it’s just this one (or maybe a pal) wailing at the top of his lungs. Looks like this one’s tail
feathers have been trimmed, but even so, a peacock is a wonder to behold. We
just wish they’d quiet down a bit.

Saw these deer in front of this old wrecked house on a nearby hill. I see deer
every morning, so it hardly seems newsworthy anymore. But they are pretty doggone

Another for my Cool Trees of California file. It’s all uphill to the house
from here, which means I’m a sweaty mess by the time I get home.

Walking the walk

I walked 8.5 miles yesterday. Afterward, my feet persuaded me they much prefer
the 5-mile variety of nature walk.

It takes almost three hours to go that far … about 3 miles an hour with
a few small rest breaks. Plenty of time to think about things, like how before
the advent of steam engines and railroads, no human had ever gone faster than a horse
or strong wind could carry him. On foot with no assistance beyond a tailwind,
I can relate to the notion of people walking from Jefferson, Missouri, to Oregon
in the 1840s. The trip Melissa and I took in four days in the summer of ’99
took six months two centuries ago.

Of course, there must be pictures of the sights along the way.

California has great trees. Giant sequoia redwoods get all the press, but a
big fat shadetree like this one on top of a hill has its moments. Seems like
there oughta be a philosopher sitting under it, imagining the solution to world
peace or something. (Of course the bird droppings might provide an insight of
their own; makes me wonder what really hit Isaac Newton: say you’ve discovered
gravity and you want to tell the world: do you tell ’em the most likely possibility
— sparrow doo-doo — or clean it up and invent an apple encounter?)

This is about three miles into my walk — the halfway point if I’ve got a lick
of sense. Nothing like the rumble of a Harley to wake up everything for a half-mile.
I’ve always bought into the Harley mythology — man, machine and the freedom
of the open road — but I’m changed by the experience of having one pass within
10 feet of me, the V-twin engine replacing the sound of breeze and songbirds.
Everybody should experience the thrill of acceleration that only a motorcycle
can provide, the sensation of bending into a curve and hitting the gas. I recommend
they do it in New Mexico. (This rider, to his credit, was trying to keep the
beast as quiet as possible, which is to say, buffalo-stampede level.).

San Jose is off in the distance. Too bad they don’t have camera filters that
can see though smog.

We get about two cars an hour along this road — it’s refreshing to see that
one of them is a mail truck. Not exactly the gloom of night up here, but at
least somebody’s taking care of business rather than taking in the view.

More trees. These hills are dotted with little springs, which aren’t all that
hard to find. All you have to do is go looking for some trees.

Wish I could get more pictures of the birds up here. They all fly away long
before I get a chance to get ’em in the frame. This one forgot its caution long
enough for me to squeeze off one shot. If only I’d have waited another second:
when it flew away it revealed amazing blue-and-white plumage. Some days I see
vultures … one morning I swear they were stalking me. You know, large mammal
walking alone, a carrion eater assumes its a straggler from the herd left to
fend for itself. I look up in a tree and see three or four birds with huge wingspans
fly onto the top branches, then take off and start circling. Glad I had a strong
heartbeat and a water supply.

Hawks and other raptors are constantly floating on the thermals — casting
these big shadows that move across the ground at uncanny speed. Sometimes the
shadow will darken the kitchen floor if the window’s open and the angle’s just
right. Takes a little getting used to.

So I’m walking along and hear this buzzing noise … no bees or hornets nearby,
then I realize: powerlines. You sorta need something like this amid so much
beauty to remind what makes it possible to live in places like this without
the elements and predators killing us off.

It looks brown and dead but these hillsides are very much alive. Little ground
squirrels are constantly darting about — too quickly for my slow reflexes to
get one in the picture. Also lots of little lizards, and of course many more

One of these wildflowers has a bee crawling around on it, I promise.

I post cow pictures at the slightest provocation. I liked this old gal because
she had horns — at least with this species you can see the darn things.

This immense Angus bull didn’t care much for me taking his picture. First he
snorted at me, then bellowed at me, then started scraping his left rear hoof
along the ground, just like bulls do just before they charge — at least in
all the bullfight movies I’ve seen. I moved along at that point, sensing trouble
if he’d seen the same movies.

This is how you can tell you’re in the country: if the trees form a tunnel
over the road.

Passing bicyclists always make me wonder if I should get me some wheels. Riding
a bike is fine if you have the scenery memorized, I suppose, but every walk
I take is a little different. I saw a coyote the other day that I’d have never
seen on a bike. On foot I can hear cars coming from a half-mile away so there’s
plenty of time to switch to the safest side of the road (I give cars all the
room I can because it seems idiotic not to). It’s true that you can can see
a lot more scenery because a bike is about three times faster than walking,
but you miss a lot at that speed.

The things you see along the road: This is the rubber exterior of a car’s bumper.
Right behind a guardrail, which is probably what separated it from the car it
was previously attached to.

This is one of the reservoirs that ensures people in San Francisco have drinking
water. One thing I learned from a book about the construction of the Transcontinental
Railroad was that the Sierra mountain passes to the northeast of us are some
of the snowiest places on earth — so snowy that the builders of the railroad
had to erect awnings over the rails through the mountains to keep the railway
clear. Otherwise the winter blizzards would make the railway impassable every
few days. It’s the same weather phenomenon that made life hell for the Donner
Party. When all that snow melts, it pours down into rivers and valleys on the
California side of the range, where clever engineers have built dams, aqueducts
and reservoirs to catch as much of it as possible. If not for that snow, nobody’d
be able to live here. Another reason to like snow, so long as it’s a hundred
miles away.

Even with my New Balance shoes, my socks made of synthetic fibers, my hat
built in a Malaysian sweatshop, I can’t help thinking that when I’m out there
walking I’m doing something humans have always done. People have not always
flown in airplanes or driven cars, but as long as they’ve been able to stand
up straight, they’ve been walking (and their feet have resented it). For some
reason that makes it seem worth doing.

Horses in burqas


Actually there’s probably a more accurate term for the hoods these horses are wearing … but the principle’s the same: they see through a screen.

These, however, are not designed to protect the females’ chastity or help the men avoid temptation. They just keep the flies out of their owners’ eyes.

Valley by night


Tonight I did some fiddling with my digicam’s settings, figured out how to do a time exposure and took this shot of Silicon Valley. It’s a three-second exposure using the cam’s shutter-priority setting. I let it rest on the handrail of the landing on our stairs outside, and used the delayed-release timer to get this effect.

I may fiddle some more to figure out how to get some of the grain out of it. But for now it’s pretty cool.

That’s Yo-SEHM-a-tee

"It’s humbling."

That’s Tilly, summing up the immensity of the sights at Yosemite National Park.

Here’s Dad and Til in the Yosemite Valley.

Dad puts his chin back in place. The jaw-dropping splendor of the place can
be a bit mind-boggling at first. And second, and third. (It still boggles mine
after my fourth visit to the place.) That’s the famous Half Dome back behind
him. Used to be a whole dome till a combination of earthquakes and glaceriers
broke it in two. The idea of forces being powerful enough to break mountains
in half is another of the humbling things about Yosemite.

This is the first time I’ve been here early enough in the year to see the waterfalls
flowing powerfully. We’ve gone up three times in the fall, when the snowmelt
has nearly dried up so the waterfalls are more like waterstumbles.

Here’s an angle on El Capitan that I hadn’t seen before. Note the cloud bank
moving across the sky… it looked like a storm was brewing in the valley; turned
out we did see a few sprinkles, but nothing that’d cause Donner Partyesque difficulties.

Dad gaping in wonder again. You could strain your neck if you’re not careful.

Now we’re on a bus to see the Giant Sequoia Redwoods at Mariposa Grove.

Dad walked into the frame while I was shooting the base of this giant redwood,
creating a priceless image.

Dad and Til pass the roots of a fallen giant. It’s really bigger than you can

This is about half of it.

There’s nothing small about a trip to Yosemite. It’s four hours over, four
hours back, and four hours in the park if you day-trip from Silicon Valley.
The park’s a hundred miles across and you end up spending half your day on the
road (but what a road!). Really takes three days to get a sense of the place,
and that’s before you step foot on a hiking trail.

Coming here provides a perspective the place of a single species — us — in
the grand scheme of things. Trees living here now were saplings before Jesus
was born. Lord knows how long those rock formations have been there … hundreds
of millions of years, probably. New brush is filling up hillsides burnt black
in fires a few years ago. In 50 years a whole new forest will be there.

This morning, the thought of humanity’s self-inflicted insanity makes me wanna
scream: people, chill out. Sit down on a rock, stare at a mountainside for an
hour and get over yourselves.