Monthly Archives: January 2008


You would not recognize us if you saw
us now, a year along and tattered, worn
down by survivor’s tasks, bereaved and cold.
You were the thread that sutured us. You were
the flaxen chain that bound us, each bright link
now sundered, planets once in your orbit
cast out, careering in the void. You once
sat at our hearth, refulgent. Now I pull
bright golden hair from the upholstery
as we contest its ownership. This is
the fate of all loves: casting lots to fix
the destiny of joint possessions, things
once wholly yours. A year on, we discuss
which one of us should keep them when I go.


The bridge across the Gate awash in rain. Victoria’s Requiem is playing, the chorus’ major sixths ascending the tall towers, pinnacles of refined sorrow and they carry my heart with them. I cross the Californian aorta, the main way from the Californian heart, the Bay of San Francisco and it beats still, but faintly.

Each year brings with it rain, and rain freshens the rivers that at last flow out the Gate, and the salmon hold until the water tastes right to them. There were millions of them, not long ago, and I have talked to men who remembered watching salmon harvested with pitchforks. From the ocean they came, the Californian sacrament, leering monsters from the deep set on wriggling their way past the mouth of the creek I live on, up through the Delta and the Valley, to fling themselves onto the cobble bars of Sierra Nevada rivers, food for grizzlies and condors and people. They sacrificed their lives so their young might live, and smolts tumbled down the streams each year into the Delta.

There were three runs each year, or four, depending on how you count them, great pulses of Chinook into the rivers for their young to tumble down in turn.

Thousands of miles of spawning beds reached by the Gate, a watery hand with a hundred fingers, and one by one we chopped those fingers off. The dams went in. Snowmelt languished in dull reservoirs, and downstream the winter and spring run chinook staggered. Those runs are a historical curiosity now. The spring run on the San Joaquin River is extinct: the San Joaquin’s slack, piss-river tributaries are, below their respective dams, far too warm for spawning in spring. The Sacramento spring run and the Winter runs on both branches of the Central Valley watershed are not far behind. It is the fall run of Chinook that has survived so far to keep Central California a salmon country. That run is a fraction of its historic size, but still a quarter million fish a year.

But not this year. The fall run of Chinook into the Central Valley has collapsed.

I cross the opening of a dead heart, and Tomás Luis de Victoria’s grief a half-millennium old is near too much to bear. They have fallen, there below me, kept from the mountains we have so betrayed. Oh, my mountains. Unto you all flesh once came, dug redds in streambeds, mixed milt and egg with meltwater, brought life out of the gravel. They are falling now, the last of them. The bay constricted and intoxicated, salmon smolts sucked by millions into turbines, their water shipped to the desert to grow cotton, billion-dollar concrete aqueducts running past rivers dry in summer, fish curling in the sun on the bottoms.

Dies irae, dies illa, solvet saeclum in favilla. The soul of California’s land and water and we are losing them. Dona eis requiem.


Nature photography

I’ve been poring over the photo catalog the last 48 hours or so, seeing images I’d forgotten, cast back into times I’d left.

Some of the images that say the most to me are the ones I might have thrown away, were I a purist. A blurred glimpse of butterfly speeding across the field of vision as I struggled to follow it with the long lens, the Mojave sun backlighting it into incomprehensibility. Feedlots in evening glow, blurred as I aimed, steadied, and shot one-handed, my other hand on the wheel at 80 mph. A perfect Calochortus with a thick blade of grass in front of it, out of focus.

Elk in a fenced-in side yard, spools and fallen chain link underfoot.

Among the best, in terms of composition: a puma seen from behind, relaxing. To call it a “nature photo” might cause some disagreement. It’s a zoo puma, and while shooting photos of captive animals still requires talent and skill, it’s a lot easier than photographing animals out running around. And on the outside of the zoo walls, when you do find animals, they’re far more likely to be doing something worth documenting. But try getting a shot like the one of that zoo puma, in the wild, with a 50 mm lens. And when you try, be sure to turn the camera’s shutter sound setting to “off.”

The important thing is to be honest about where you caught the image. If it’s a parking lot raven, don’t pretend you stalked a less-habituated gal out in the roadless desert. A few years back, a nature magazine caught hell for splicing a few extra zebras into their herd for their cover photo without saying so. If you’re pretending at documentation, be honest. That kind of purism is mere ethical behavior.

But some nature photo purism is just misguided. It’s not even all that pure…

Continue reading

Notes from the world of arts

Note the first: Prints for sale

On consideration of some of the response I got in the Marketing Survey, I have found a contractor with whom I have entrusted my photos. Looks like they’ll do a good job of printing them. You can have them ship you prints ranging from card size to 12” by 18”. (That’s as large as RedBubble will go with images from my measly eight megapixel Canon, which inspires me with some confidence toward their attitude toward quality control. Of course, if someone has a ten megapixel or greater digital camera lying around unused they feel like lending me, we could go up to 16” by 24”.)

Prints are available in laminated, matted, canvas or framed form. I set my markup so that I get about a third of what you spend, which seems reasonable. I’d like to make some cash, sure, but I also don’t want to keep things out of reach of my more penurious readers. At this markup, cards are about five bucks and prints start at 21 or so.

And thanks to commenter Kay for the lead to RedBubble. Looks like an active, interesting community of artists there. I think we need to coax Carl to set up shop over there, don’t you?

Note the second: Autography

The Theriomorph is spearheading a new collaborative arts project, Autography. From her description:

Self portraiture can be uncomfortable.

It requires a level gaze directed inward with the goal of communicating something to others.

This can be a vulnerable thing: in trying to capture a transient moment or a larger life, a story is exposed.

This blog is about those stories; ambiguous, personal, and universal.

Instructions for participants can be found at the project blog.

Note the third: annoying promotional teaser

Be sure to watch this space for a potentially exciting Zeke-related announcement. Tell your friends.

CRN marketing survey

Death Valley, January 2005

In comments on a recent post, evil fizz asks:

Chris, do you offer prints of your work?

This is something I’ve been considering for a while, as I do have a few images people have asked about, some of which actually work in print as opposed to the far more blur-forgiving online display mode.

So I’ve been looking around at the print-selling options available online, and have narrowed the possibilities down a bit. I kinda like the features this regrettably flash-heavy site offers, for instance. Looks like I could offer prints for sale by paying about 30 bucks a month in rent, more or less. Looks like the going market rate for an 8 by 10 generally runs about the same, or a little less. If I sold a print or two a month I’d break even. Seems doable.

But before I pursue it further, due diligence requires a bit of market research. Hence this focus group. Help me come to some sort of resolution, won’t you? You can register your point of view in the poll below. Feel free to enlarge upon it in comments.

Icterus parisorum

Scott’s oriole is one of the birds most often mentioned in the context of Joshua tree forests, and I spent about eight years in Joshua tree forests not seeing them. First one I ever saw was in 2005, a ways down inside the Grand Canyon a couple hundred miles from the nearest Joshua tree, and I didn’t see them in the J trees until one night in April 2006, on my way home from visiting Kat in Prescott, which would turn out to be my last night in the Joshua trees for more than a year. That night, there were dozens of them. Had they been absent before, for some reason? Had I just not seen them, though they were all around? That’s always possible for a fledgling birder like myself. Seeing that one in the Canyon may have provided me with the search image I had needed. I’ve been wondering about that since.

But today I found I was just looking in the wrong place.