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Across France by Train

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Train Station, Chamonix, France

Train Station, Chamonix, France

Great travel writers like Graham Greene and Agatha Christie wrote of long train journeys.

Greene’s Stamboul Train (1932) told the intersecting stories of carefully crafted characters traveling from France to Constantinople. (This book was also published with the title Orient Express.)

The mystery of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express(1934)  unfolded and was solved (by Hercule Poirot) as the train made the journey in the opposite direction. Actually it was stuck in a snowdrift during the most suspenseful part, but it was headed toward France.

Train travel is ready-made for interesting stories. A group of people who would not know each other under other circumstances spend time together enclosed in small rooms traveling across vast distances.  Proximity provides opportunity for introductions and there is time for interaction. It is natural to get to know your neighbors even when language is a barrier. So if you are creating fiction it is a great way to mix people together to produce any kind of drama, intrigue, or romance.

For most people though, train travel is routine and uneventful. Modern train travel in Europe is comfortable and clean. There is much more room for you and your luggage than on a plane. Trains are usually on time and they are more affordable. It is relaxing to sit back and watch the countryside roll by. The scenery is interesting although you do also see the back sides of buildings and lots of graffiti that you would not normally see if you were walking around a town. On high speed trains you are only able to see flashed glimpses down streets of the villages that you pass through. But there is no worry about rental car damage or driving stress. And you can get up and walk around whenever you want to-no fasten seat belt sign!

Our longest train trip so far was a full day journey from southern France deep into the Alps. The distance was not great, but because of the route we followed it involved five different trains and transected many different kinds of terrain. We were traveling with our daughters which made it an enjoyable and memorable adventure. We started early in the morning on a local train from Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean to Nice. The next train stopped in Marseille for an engine change to convert to a high speed configuration. We stayed on the train during this work and learned about the engine change from the French couple across the aisle from us. The longest segment was to Lyon but as we flew through the countryside we enjoyed snacks from the food service in the next car. There weren’t any mysteries or secret agents on our train (that we knew of) but it was a great time together. From Lyon we traveled to Annecy at the edge of the Alps. As we stood on the platform waiting for the next train I could feel the anticipation building. I love traveling by train in the Alps. Our next train took us through beautiful mountain villages and provided huge and beautiful vistas on our way to St. Gervais les Bains. Now we were really in the mountains. And finally the last train took  us to my favorite alpine village – Chamonix.

Chamonix was the home of the first winter Olympics and is at the base of Mont Blanc. It is surrounded by intimidating extreme rock and ice and exquisite mountain scenery. The village is beautifully maintained and is filled with classic stone buildings, colorful shutters, and hanging flower baskets. It is a climbing and skiing center, but you can also take the cable cars to the summits for sight-seeing and hiking. I have written about Chamonix in other postings in this blog so if you are interested you can enter Chamonix in the search box above and see other photos and read more about it.

Now even though we didn’t have any mysteries on our long train ride we did have a little intrigue when we tried to leave Chamonix. On our departure morning we rolled our luggage up through the village to the train station. All four of us had packed into one small backpack and one rolling carry-on each, so we were pretty mobile. When we reached the station it was deserted. We had our passes so we didn’t have to worry about buying tickets, which was a good thing since there was nobody working at the station. Eventually we found a sign on an office door which included the words “Grève Nationale”. We figured that that meant a national strike, but we weren’t sure if it meant all trains were cancelled or how long the strike would be.

We waited for our train to Geneva but the appointed departure time passed and there was no train in sight. We talked to a few other passengers who were trying to figure out how to get to Geneva also. We finally decided that we would have to take a bus later in the afternoon if no trains arrived, IF the buses were running.

We stayed close to the station just to make sure we didn’t miss an opportunity. We were getting a little frustrated as the time approached for the next scheduled train to Geneva. But a few minutes before the departure time a train rolled into the station, the train number was correct and it was on time. So we got on, found seats, stored our luggage overhead and left the station on time. It was as if nothing had happened and we were never given an explanation. There was a national strike, except for when there wasn’t. In our experience this was the only train that was significantly late or cancelled.

When we got to Geneva the train stopped at the French-Swiss border. Everyone was asked to disembark and were told this was the end of the line. We had made a reservation at a hotel by the main train station, but this train didn’t go there. So we had to buy a local tram ticket to get across town. Our hotel was a block from the station as advertised, but we didn’t know the other train stopped at the border on the outskirts of town miles from the main station. But that is the adventure of travel. If we had known more French we would have probably been more aware of what was going on.

We thoroughly enjoy train travel despite these two little episodes. Most of our experiences have been trouble-free and very relaxing. The European transportation system integrates airports, national trains, local trains, city trams, subways, buses, and ferries across lakes. Most of the time they are connected or are only separated by short walks and if you pack light it is easy to change from one mode to another.

You don’t need to have mysteries or espionage to make train travel memorable. But they sure make for good reading. Happy trails!

Sunny Side Street

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Rochefort-en-Terre, France

Rochefort-en-Terre, France

After days of gray drizzle on the coast the inland hills were bathed in afternoon sunshine.

The picturesque medieval village of Rochefort-en-Terre, France is perfect for strolling or sitting on a café terrasse.

We had driven from Pénestin on the southern coast of Brittany (France) across the Vilaine River and through rolling farmland to reach Rochefort-en-Terre. The clouds slowly opened up and eventually the village was in full sunshine. The village has been restored for tourism but was not too busy in September.

We had seen several buildings being worked on in Tréguier the week before so we knew how much work it takes to refurbish the stone and mortar. Workers used sand-blasting, chisels, and an assortment of power tools to clean the stone and replace the surface mortar. Day after day they worked up on scaffolding and inched along the building. In Rochefort-en-Terre the buildings are all restored and the cobblestone streets have been repaired. Hanging flower baskets and colorful shutters accented all the buildings.

The hotel in this photo looked sunny and inviting. The shutters were wide open to air out the rooms and there was even a little shade on the bench out front. This lane was paved but most of the town’s streets are still cobblestones.

We explored and I photographed along several side streets. The sun gained enough force to lead us to shade. We found a shady vine-covered courtyard and stepped inside to sit and rest for awhile. It was a  salon de thé so in order to enjoy a glass of wine we were forced to order food, but it wasn’t so bad to eat the delicious apple tort with our wine. (A salon de thé (teahouse) can not serve wine without a food purchase.) We were the only customers at first but eventually two regulars came in and we were treated to lively conversations and a friendly dog who the owners knew very well, probably from daily visits. This is also where we learned about the small doorways at street level in most of the old stone homes. These were the coal chutes which are no longer used. The courtyard was a very pleasant place to spend some time on a sunny afternoon.

The stone villages and cathedrals of Brittany are very photogenic, especially Rochefort-en-Terre. I have a feeling we will return to Brittany. It is rural and the people are friendly. There are more photos of Brittany in my France gallery. Follow the Photography link above.

Inside or on the Terrasse

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Eating on the Terrasse, Paris

Eating on the Terrasse, Paris

A warm evening in Paris. The air is filled with the sounds of conversation, the subtle ringing of glasses, and the clatter of dishes.

As you walk by another restaurant the hostess tries to get your attention and a cook calls for a waiter. The smells are enticing. The menu looks promising, but also produces anxiety. The language is still a challenge.

Walking along the busy narrow streets you pass many restaurants. Each one presents itself along the sidewalk. A colorful awning and crisp white tablecloths. A neatly lettered menu board and a warm greeting in French and maybe also English. The busiest places don’t need someone on the sidewalk to call you in, you have to wait to be noticed and seated.

The first decision is whether to eat inside or on the terrasse. Eating outside on a warm evening is pleasant and provides  people watching entertainment and the street musicians are close at hand to serenade. But you are also on display and you are a ready audience for street vendors. It is also the smoking section. But perhaps that has changed with new laws.

You make your choices and hopefully get what you thought you were asking for, but regardless it is reliably tasty. After a long dinner, coffee and dessert you are ready to walk on. Now you are free to ignore the invitations of the restaurants that you pass. You are just looking now but perhaps planning for tomorrow night.

The neighborhood in this photograph is on Rue Saint-Séverin near Boulevard Saint-Michel. There are many restaurants, perhaps too many. It takes on a carnival atmosphere on a busy summer night as crowds stroll along past the pleas of the restaurant hosts and tourist shop owners. But it is located very near the river so it is central for walking most of downtown Paris.

There are more photos of Paris in my France gallery. Follow the Photography link above.


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'Work', Still Life, Sculpture by Annie Howell

'Work', Still Life, Head Sculpture by Annie Howell

Day after day, week after week, during our working life we look forward to Friday.

Except for those who don’t have Saturday and Sunday off, but they designate another day to be their ‘Friday’.

We work faithfully each day, sometimes absorbed and fulfilled, sometimes frustrated by the tedium. We want our work to have meaning and accomplish something.

If you are reading this on a Monday, let me be the first to say, “Friday is just a few days away!”  If you are reading this on any other weekday, you are probably already thinking about Friday.

I am writing this on a Friday. This week I worked quite a bit on still life photography. I have many new images that I will review and perhaps exhibit. My wife has sculpted another group of clay heads for the Driftwood Dancer figures that she makes. Her sculptures are beautiful and have that eerie ‘a little too lifelike’ feeling. I arrange these clay heads in a darkened photo enclosure along with a variety of props. She has lots of miniature things for her artwork, so I use those in my still life photos. It is easy to become absorbed in ideas for these posed photographs and at times I am sure that I got maybe a little too creative.

As I have said before in this blog, still life photography is a good way to learn more about the camera and other equipment. I experimented with exposure, composition, and lighting. The photo enclosure was black and sat on a table to make it convenient to use a tripod standing on the floor next to the table. The black background lets me underexpose the image and makes the heads appear to be floating. The fabric on the base of the enclosure had some silver sparkle woven into it, and I used a variety of lighting effects to make it sparkle without adding enough light to reveal the fabric of the enclosure.

Perhaps you can see some red sparkle in the bottom of  this photograph. It depends on how you have your monitor adjusted. The device is labeled Daily and Weekly, if you can read that. Again, it depends on your monitor. (The variety of monitors and how they are adjusted makes it challenging for photographic websites and blogs.)

This photograph is dedicated to TGIF for all of us. I will call it ‘Work’. It is supposed to suggest the obligation that we have to work each day, each week, and on and on. I selected a sculpted head that looks like an old man to add wear and fatigue. The chain connects him to the endless cycle, driven mechanically by the work machine.

This mechanical gadget was given to me by a work friend. I have no idea what it is for. It had a tag on it that said that it was  last cleaned in 1966.

It will be interesting to exhibit these still life photos in the months ahead. They are very different than the travel photos that I usually exhibit but I like the variety.

Forest of Community

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Community Forest, Arcata, California, U.S.A.

Within the Community Forest of Arcata, California there is a small park. It is a park where trees have been cleared rather than planted.


The Arcata Community Forest is dominated by coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens(Lamb. ex D. Don) Endl.).  Some of the redwoods are quite large and in some areas the canopy is closed. Very little light gets down to the forest floor which is generally covered with ferns.


So if you want a place for children to play and for people to have picnics or just relax for a while, it is best to select a small area for clearing and for planting grass. This is different than many municipal parks where trees are planted and carefully nurtured.


The land that makes up this forest has been used for many things by many people. It furnished game and fish for the Wiyot people until the 1850’s. Most of the area was logged in the 1880’s. It was then used for grazing and other things until the city purchased the land over several decades.


It became the first municipally-owned  forest in California in 1955 and served primarily as the city water supply watershed until 1963. Since that time it has been managed for wildlife habitat, sustainable timber harvesting, education, but primarily as a recreation area. Small very low impact timber harvests help pay for the maintenance of the forest land and the trails.




Trail Yield Sign

There are more than 10 miles (16 km) of named trails in the 793 acre (321 hectare) forest. These trails are used for running, walking, horse riding, and mountain biking. The area is hilly and provides challenging terrain, but the trails are treasured by the community. The Community Forest is adjacent to several neighborhoods and to Humboldt State University, so it is convenient for many residents to access the trails. They are a great place for a tough workout, a leisurely stroll, or for quiet contemplation. These forestlands and the trails are important defining characteristics of the City of Arcata.


The City of Arcata owns another forest of over 1,440 acres (583 hectares) called the Jacoby Creek Forest. But the Arcata Community Forest is the one that residents know the best.






See you in the forest!

Some information came from:

Travel Mode

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Pacific Ocean, Mexico

Pacific Ocean, Mexico

Travel is infrequent or rare for most of us. How we go about it is a highly individual choice, and an important one.

Of course we can choose different modes for different occasions.

Do you prefer to travel with a group with the itinerary planned and arranged by a knowledgeable guide, or do you consider planning and routing to be part of the adventure? Do you like to be independent and travel with just one or a few companions, or do you like to meet new people as part of a group? Is local knowledge of places and languages a service that you want as part of a package, or do you want to research out places and strive to learn new languages? Do you prefer to travel by plane, boat, train, car, bike, horse, bus, or by foot?

Do you want to relax and get away from figuring things out,  just rest? Or do you want to learn and think about culture and history? Are you striving for recovery or knowledge?  Perhaps you travel in order to be with distant family or friends.

Most travel is a blend of these and other goals. Whoever determines what the blend is, determines the travel mode. Some people feel very strongly about these issues, others just want to get away and go along for the ride.

Feel free to comment by pushing the ‘Start Discussion’ link below.

This photo was taken on a cruise ship to Mexico. I have only been on a cruise ship once. I enjoyed the early mornings before dawn and right after. There was a running track on the top deck. It was short but it was good to get some air. My favorite time for photographing was also before there were people out on the decks.

This particular cruise ship had nine levels and held MANY people. There was onboard gambling and constant food service. These comforts and diversions are very important parts of what you pay for and are prized by most customers.

This photograph shows an early morning deck with a cloudy ocean view. On the left side of the photo you can see through the windows into one of the restaurants. It was ready for upcoming breakfast rush thanks to the crew who worked hard while we slept.

Since most of our travel is for photographic work my wife and I prefer to arrange our own itineraries and we don’t travel with a group. I need to have control of the locations, hotels, method of travel, and timing etc. My work would really not be possible if I was part of a tour group traveling by bus or cruise ship. I saw lots of happy people on this cruise ship, however, and I know that it is a favored mode of travel for some.

I found the library on this ship. It was a great place to read and look out at the seemingly endless ocean. It was deserted most of the time. Good thing there were options for many different interests. Most of the time you could find quiet, out-of-way spots. Of course, that would be boring to some people. What is your favorite travel mode?

California Beaches: What’s Your Image?

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Agate Beach, Humboldt County, California, USA

Agate Beach, Humboldt County, California, USA

When you think of California beaches what images do you see?

Crowds, bikinis, surfers, smog, traffic jams, heat, noise, fun, in-line skaters, muscle builders, palm trees, sand, or what?

The far northern California beaches have the surfers, the fun, the sand, but the rest? Not so much.

On beaches like Agate Beach shown in this photograph you can spend hours walking, beach-combing, looking for rocks, enjoying the scenery, or just sitting listening to the waves wash across the coarse sand, without dealing with crowds.

This isn’t a beach where you can drive up and walk onto the sand. You have to work to get there down a trail and stairs.

In the summer the coastal areas of northern California are often foggy and cloudy, at least in the morning. So sunny times are to be celebrated. Several days may pass between sightings of the sun.

These beaches don’t have some of the ‘attractions’ of southern California beaches, or the vendors of Mexican beaches, or the seemingly endless volleyball and soccer matches of Copacabana, or the charms of the Côte d’Azur of France, or the ancient wind-swept stone villages of Brittany, or even the shells  and high-rises of Florida.

But when northern Californians have time they can enjoy dramatic and quiet beaches and find that there are very few other people out on the beach. Like other rural coastal areas it is hard to make a living in these small towns. And like tough Breton farmers, fishermen, and shop-keepers they find a way. They find a way to enjoy these beaches when they can. They don’t miss the ‘amenities’.

Forest Fireworks and Neighbors

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Ponderosa Pine in Bloom, Bend, Oregon, USA

Ponderosa Pine in Bloom, Bend, Oregon, USA

Ahhh, summertime, and the livin’  is  careless.

We want to get away from our daily routine and see some new country. We need some air. We need some space.

After we make all the arrangements at home and pack up all those necessities for our trip we make the journey.

We won’t have very long to explore. We want to focus on fun and diversion.

Will we be as responsible and thoughtful at the vacation place as we are at home? Or is that contradictory to ‘having fun’? Will the people who live there grow tired of obnoxious vacationers or will they know us as temporary neighbors? Neighbors who take part in the community events and help clean up and keep things safe, as if it was our neighborhood.

It is fire season. As the inland heat builds thunderheads and spawns lightning the wildlands are under threat. These are the places where we sometimes go for diversion, for beauty, for air, for space. Will we add to the threat through careless fun-seeking? Will we enjoy the show the forest puts on, will we notice? Will we keep it safe so that it can carry on for the rest of the year when we are not there? Will our momentary diversion destroy what we came to see because of an unattended campfire or fireworks? Every year somebody does something stupid and causes destruction in these places. Will it be me this year?

Pardon me if this sounds preachy or sanctimonious. I think it is worth reminding myself and ourselves to make careful choices and to be responsible neighbors.

This photo of a blooming Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa C. Lawson) looks like a fireworks burst in the sky, to me. Maybe that takes some imagination. I had never seen these red flowers on a Ponderosa before. (The reference I consulted says they have yellow flowers. Perhaps I have mis-identified it. Yes trees have flowers!) And I spent many years working in forests with Ponderosa in them. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in the spring. My Father-in-Law, Jim Bennett, spotted this tree  in Bend, Oregon. We were having a family reunion and only had a few days to visit that area. It was a great family time. I also spent quite a bit of time photographing at the edge of the Deschutes River. But I didn’t really get to know the area very well. It was just a brief glimpse at one time of year.

One of my frustrations with vacations and travel is that I never really get to know the place I am visiting. There just isn’t enough time. And since our travel is now focused on photographic work I want to spend more time at these places and learn the rhythm and culture. But the expenses add up and there are things to take care of and other work to do at home.

When we travel we try to rent a house for a week or so when possible. Maybe a month would be better. That would still just be a snapshot and it is so difficult to do. But renting a house and meeting the owners has been a good way for us to be introduced to a community. Even a stay of several days at a hotel as a base camp for a larger area lets you get to know some local people a little better than changing hotels more often.

Having time to walk around the area day after day and see the routines and the variety of weather gives a better picture of what the place is like. It also gives you a better chance of being there for market day! And it provides a better background for photographing an area. You find the out-of-the-way interesting spots. You meet people and see how they live and find out what is important to them. All of these experiences help you photograph the character of a place. You get a sense of the place. A sense of place is what I strive for in my photographs.

By spending at least a few days in a place you meet some local people several times. It is human nature for them to assess your character, if they aren’t too busy. They can tell very quickly if you are a careless tourist or a responsible neighbor.

Desert Primordial

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Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Strange rock formation suggestive … of art or science? Where does all this sand come from?

Millions of acres of sand, farther than the eye can see. To the horizon and beyond. Moved by water and wind.

Then moved again or buried by later deposits. Time passes.

Vegetation struggling to find water and nutrients, growing roots further into the slowly weathering soils. Chemical weathering of the mineral grains is slow in these dry conditions. It’s just a pile of quartz, feldspar, mica, hornblende, and other minerals. Very few nutrients in suspension for the roots to capture.

The exposed rock disintegrates. The granitoid rocks decompose into their original individual mineral grains. Chemical weathering is aided by physical weathering-wetting and drying, freezing and thawing, warming and cooling-driving expansion and contraction forcing the rock apart. Rock beneath the surface continues to weather slowly increasing the depth of the sandy material.

So in that sense the rock formations are suggestive of science and formative processes. They suggest the birth of the desert. But they are also interesting and suggestive in an artistic sense.

Both male and female forms are present. Together, resting comfortably in the sand that they created.

Some people are a little uncomfortable with this image when they first look at it. But it is more complicated than it first appears to be. And people tend to be drawn to it as if to make sure what they are seeing. Then they see more.

Maybe there are only a few people who see the desert soil formation aspect of this image. When I talk to people about my photographs it is always interesting what they see and what portion of the image they key in on.

I have a photograph of an old chateau in France with a small shady courtyard in the foreground. On that morning when I took that photo I did not know there was someone else taking photographs there also. That person appears in my photo in the shade by a tree and is very difficult to see. But when I was displaying that photograph another photographer walked up and looked at the photo and said that that person by the tree was what they saw first and what they thought was the most interesting part of the photograph.

We recently visited the exhibit of impressionist painters at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. You enter with a group at an assigned time and are gently pushed through by your group. Three times I went back before being pushed out the exit, against the flow, to look at several paintings. On that day Renoir’s painting ‘The Swing’ held my attention. It is a famous painting of a woman on a swing in a long white dress with a line of blue bows down the front. She is in dappled shade and is surrounded by several people. Apparently it was an act of painting heresy at the time because it was impressionistic. The more I looked, the more I saw, and the more I imagined about the setting. (The exhibit ‘Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces of the Musée d’Orsay’ continues through September 6, 2010. Another exhibit featuring Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and others begins September 25.)

Probably all art is more complicated than it appears to be at first glance. I have learned that it is very rewarding when someone takes the time to look carefully at one of my photographs or even think about all of the aspects of the image.

When people look at this photograph, only a few will imagine what it was like to be there, how quiet it was, how hot it was,  what scent of desert shrubs was carried in the warm evening air, how soft the sand was to walk on, or how the scattered sand sounded as it ground beneath your shoes when you walked on the rock. This small enclosed rocky basin was a short ways from a scenic stop inside Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southern California, USA. But it was a separate world.

There are more Mojave Desert photos in my California gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

Mothers’ Vigil

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Memorial Vigil, Tréguier, France

Memorial Vigil, Tréguier, France

A cold wind snapping the French flag in the predawn darkness.

A harsh spotlight keeping the attention on the vigil. Do not forget.

Quiet, deserted cobblestone streets. The sound of the flag, its cord hitting the flagpole, and the rustling of the bushes are the only distractions.

War is failure. War is loss.

Like our own American memorials this solitary statue calls attention to sacrifice and loss, to duty, to service, to honor, to failure.

Failure of leadership, failure of greed for power and wealth, failure of values, failure on so many levels. A defensive response is required when attacked, as France was in this case, but it is still wider  human failure. So much waste, so much loss. Perhaps strength can prevent the trap of greed from producing these failures. It hasn’t so far. Humanity still chooses these follies. As if, this time, there will be a different outcome.

This singular mother represents all mothers who waited in vain for their children to return to their villages from duty during World War I. This memorial is in the Breton village of Tréguier.

I recently read ‘Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort’ (1915) by Edith Wharton. It was written in the first year of WWI and reflected an optimistic view of heroic young men behaving honorably in defense of their homeland against invasion. Edith was a famous writer by then and lived in Paris at the time. She was given unique access to the front lines for reporting and observation. She traveled with an ambulance crew and was given tours of front line trenches and fortifications. There was an eerie detached touristic tone to the descriptions. She described Paris in 1914 which had returned to near-normalcy after mobilization had sent most men to defend against the aggression. In that first year she was able to view the war and its battles from nearby overviews. She acknowledged and described the loss and destruction. But still it was prior to the worst protracted horrors of mud and poison gas and butchery.

And in the villages mothers waited. Men had left their mountain valleys or farms for the first time in their lives to serve their country. The outside world was new to them. Many never returned. I hope your sons and daughters are safe today.

As I stood by my tripod photographing this scene I thought about the mystery and futility and terror that people waiting in little villages like this must have felt.

It was still dark when the first car came up the hill from the river into the village. I could hear the little diesel engine as it approached and then the headlights came through the nearby opening in the ancient fortification wall and flashed onto the scene. The medieval stone wall told of previous conflicts. The car passed and continued into the old town section of shops. Another day was starting. Decisions were to be made here, and in all other towns. They have consequences.

Winter in Rio

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Pão de Açucar and Praia Vermelha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Pão de Açucar and Praia Vermelha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

It is now the heart of summer in the northern hemisphere and the heart of winter in the southern. But winter can feel like summer.

If you have harsh winters you may long for winters that look like the beach in this photo.

The beaches of Rio de Janeiro are normally sunny and warm throughout the year. Although as I write this they are having a cold snap.

This photograph was taken in the month of July so this is as ‘wintry’ as you would expect Rio to be. Typical winter daily high temperatures are around 75 degrees F (24 C).

This is a view over Praia Vermelha to Pão de Açucar, commonly known as Sugarloaf, although that may not be an accurate translation of the original name. Praia Vermelha or Red Beach was a quiet, uncrowded place when we were there. Sugarloaf is one of several massive granitic peaks that surround Rio.

There is a cable car that goes to the summit of Sugarloaf. It is barely visible in this photo as it arrives at the terminal. It is a two part cable car. The first part ends at Urca Mountain where there are some information displays, tourist facilities, and vendors. The second part spans over forest and exposed rock to reach Sugarloaf.

The cable car began operation in 1912. I find it an interesting coincidence that 1912 was also when a train began operating through a four mile tunnel through the Eiger and Mönch (in the Swiss Alps) to Jungfraujoch, the highest train station in Europe. There must have a flurry of engineering dreams at the beginning of the 20th century. Tourism and sight-seeing drove some amazaing projects. Shortly after the construction began on the train to Jungfraujoch in 1898, a cable car was planned for the Aiguille du Midi (near Mont Blanc) in 1905. But the construction of that lift was not completed until 1927.

It was a warm evening when we rode the cable car on Sugarloaf. We stopped at Urca Mountain and enjoyed the view over Rio. It was our first day in Rio and we were exhausted from travel and hungry. We had flown overnight with a surreal early morning stop in São Paulo. As we walked around Urca Mountain we came across an empanada vendor. To be honest we weren’t sure if we could trust these small pastries that may have been sitting out all day under the heat lamps. But it turned out that the flaky crust filled with cheese and chicken was so good we ordered another. Maybe it was our condition, but they sure hit the spot.

This photo was taken nearby in the middle of the day. There were several fisherman working in the bay out of small boats. On some days the air is not this clear and visibility is reduced. Praia Vermelha is a little out of the main tourist crush. And the restaurant overlooking the beach is a great place for lunch. Food is purchased buffet style and sold by weight.

We enjoyed Rio, especially walking along Copacabana and Ipanema beaches on Sunday morning when the road is closed to cars. We also had a great dinner at a samba club downtown and were impressed with the energy of the dancers. Our friend in Rio took good care of us and the people were friendly, although you do have to be careful especially at night, like most big cities.

If you enjoy soft warm sand and gentle waves, Rio is a great bet.

Their Entire World

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Tidepool, Le Diben, Brittany, France

Tidepool, Le Diben, Brittany, France

At low tide this small tidepool is a world apart.

The attached  organisms have the small, sandy basin to themselves again. The sprinkling of shells  on the rock are exposed to air between tides.

This jointed granite is on the famous Pink Granite Coast of northern Brittany. Sometimes the joints in the rock form regular rectangular shapes like this tidepool, but most of the time they are more abstract.

The coarse sand at the bottom of the tidepool settled out of the wave wash. The fine white sand lining the sides may have blown in at low tide to coat the sides as the water receded, like bathtub rings.

This tidepool is shaped like a window and gives us a view into a small world where these organisms spend their entire lives.

The gently sloping Breton shore exposes vast stretches of this granite at low tide. There is a nearly endless variety of sizes, shapes, and depths of tide pools.

Then as the tide flow returns each of these separate worlds rejoins the Atlantic Ocean and become just an irregularity on the bottom.

Virtual Mt. Bachelor

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Perspective View of Mt. Bachelor, Bend, Oregon, USA

Perspective View of Mt. Bachelor, Bend, Oregon, USA

Artistic data. An oxymoron?

Do you have to be a mathematician or a statistician to think that data can have artistic value? Or a geographer?

What artistic expression is possible if you blend a beautiful aerial photograph with elevation data? Is it art or is it cartography? When does cartography become art?

I think it depends largely on the intention. A map can portray information without having artistic appeal. Conversely art can contain information. Would you display it for navigation or because it is visually compelling? Is it less appealing if you sneak in some data or use data to form the image?

The image above was created using a high resolution aerial photograph combined with elevation data. The aerial photograph was taken from an airplane from about 20,000 feet (6100 meters) and has more detail than most images taken from imaging satellites which orbit hundreds of miles above the Earth.

The elevation data store values for altitude above sea level. In this case the data are a grid of cells stored in computer files. Each square cell represents an area of 10 meters (32.8 feet) on a side. The grid cells are like pixels in a digital photograph, that is, each one stores information, but in this case it is elevation information instead of color.

The photo and the elevation data are combined using a computer geographic information system (GIS). The elevation data are used to calculate a terrain surface. Then the photo is ‘draped’ over that surface so it appears to be 3-dimensional, like a relief map. Using the GIS software the surface can be tilted and rotated for viewing.

This perspective view of Mt. Bachelor and the Cascade Lakes vicinity near Bend, Oregon, USA, is from the north looking south. The overall surface is tilted up so that it is downhill from south to north.

The elevation data were also used to calculate elevation contour lines, like on a topographic map. In this case the custom contours have an interval of 200 feet (61 meters). They add information about the terrain.

Some of the Cascade Lakes are distinctly green, probably from algae bloom. The aerial photograph is a combination (mosaic) of several individual photos. They were taken on June 26, 2009.

The intention of this image is to show the beauty of the area surrounding the Mt. Bachelor volcano and the lakes. This is a popular recreation area. The trails through the forest on the mountain are developed ski runs. I think that if you enjoy exploring this stunning area a view like this is augmented with the additional information. The image has the value of a map because the distortions of aerial photographs have been removed and the features are in their correct positions. It has the beauty of a photograph. And the elevation data allow you to interpret the terrain.

In this case I think that the data have contributed to the beauty and created an artistic composition. Not everyone will agree. But, as they say, “the beauty of data is in the eye of the beholder.”

I can create custom relief-enhanced aerial photographs like this for most areas of the USA. Please contact me if you have an interest in a custom view of your area. You can find out more by following the Maps link above. I hope you enjoyed this virtual view of Mt. Bachelor.

Watch for Rocks

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Granitoid Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Granitoid Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

“Plan to equip yourself with good brouges as the land is craggy.”

Terrain like this Mojave Desert photo is what came to mind when I read this advice. But this shoe guidance was included in the reservation confirmation information from a ‘riad’ in Fez, Morocco. (A riad is a traditional Moroccan guest house.) The streets in the old town section of Fez must be rough. But they certainly aren’t as rough as this jumble of boulders in Joshua Tree National Park.

I am making arrangements for my next photo excursion. This fall we will tour Andelucìa in southern Spain. Then I will continue on to Morocco and finish the trip in The Dolomites of northern Italy. There are a lot of details to figure out and planning to do because I am selecting the photographic subjects in general as I choose the locations. It is fun and interesting to organize the trips. I try to read as much as time allows. I research online and with guidebooks, non-fiction, fiction, movies, and friends.

I am reading The Alhambra by Washington Irving. His account of traveling to Granada, Spain and living within The Alhambra was a prime inspiration for (American author) Edith Wharton’s father to take his family there, which formed a life-long love of travel for young Edith. She was a tremendous travel writer herself and is the author whose work I am currently working my way through. The Irving book is background for understanding Wharton. But I will return to Irving later.

I look forward to learning about the intersection of cultures in Cordoba, Granada, Fez, Casablanca etc. Then the Dolomites will provide a dramatic difference with stunning alpine scenery. And I will have to go over the summit and look around in Austria as long as I am so close.

I spent this last weekend in Bend, Oregon at the Bend Summerfest. There were thousands of people out in the central Oregon sunshine enjoying the art and music festival. I had a booth and got to talk with many people about my photographs. The Bend Summerfest jury awarded me the Best of Show award which was quite a shock. It was great to visit the Cascades, especially with such perfect summer weather. The sky was such a vivid blue and contrasted strongly with the expanses of forest covering the volcanic landscapes. I guess it is striking to me in comparison to the gray skies we have here on summer mornings. I am looking forward to visiting that area again next month for the 1st Annual Sunriver Art Festival.

Electric Transportation, Alps Style

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Electric Train Between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, Jungfrau in Background

Electric Train Between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland, Jungfrau in Background

Does your image of electric transportation look like a tiny light weight car that can only drive around town?

Do you imagine it powering over mountain passes and up precipitous cliffs? In the Swiss Alps transportation is provided by a network of electric trains and cablecars. They serve mountain commuters, tourists gaping at the alpine scenery, and carry supplies to small car-free mountain villages.

When you get to Lauterbrunnen and want to go higher into to the Bernese Oberland it is time to find the car park and get on an electric train or a cablecar. The village of Wengen is served by the Wengernalpbahn which continues on through Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald. The train climbs the canyon wall via switchbacks to reach Wengen. Safety requires the electrified railcar to be at the bottom of the train. So when it reaches the pass at Kleine Scheidegg you have switch trains to one that is configured with the powered car at the other end (now the downhill end) for the descent into Grindelwald beside the wall of the towering Eiger. They do have the capability to turn the train around at Kleine Scheidegg also.

The Wengernalpbahn is the longest continuous cogwheel railway on Earth. As you can see in the upper photo the trains are equipped with photovoltaic panels on the roof to generate electricity while traveling.

If you want to ascend the other side of the valley you get on the cablecar up to Grütschalp then transfer to an electric train to reach Winteregg, Mürren, and Gimmelwald.

Wengernalpbahn Electric Cogwheel Train, Switzerland

Wengernalpbahn Electric Cogwheel Train, Switzerland

The trains and cablecars are also used to take supplies to the high mountain villages. Freight wagons are added to the trains when needed. The Grütschalp cablecar system has the capability to carry freight which is then transferred to the freight wagon.

For a roaming photographer these trains are a valuable asset. They not only provide transportation to striking scenery, but also they are absolutely punctual. Several times while walking near the railway I stopped and composed photographs knowing the train was about to arrive into the scene. I carried the schedule and estimated arrival times between stations and got into position in time for the train to make its reliable appearance around a bend or through a forest opening.

The entire area surrounding Lauterbrunnen is amazing and unique. There are more photos in Switzerland gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

Fading Heat

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Evening Vista, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Evening Vista, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

The beaches of Los Angeles are bathed in yellowing light as the evening sun shines through the haze euphemistically known there as the  ‘marine layer’.  Traffic is crawling as the freeways are filled with frustrated commuters. Angry horn blasts, sirens, and road construction equipment add background chaos. Air conditioners are overloading the electric grid. It is a typical August day in southern California.

There is an oasis of quiet  nearby. About 150  miles (240 km) to the east out in the Mojave Desert is Joshua Tree National Park. The drive for them takes between 2.5 and 4.5 hours, depending on traffic. I can only imagine the annoyance of the traffic snarl that causes that 4.5 hour drive.

Joshua Tree National Park is not only a refuge from crowds, but also a place of weird rock formations, tenacious vegetation, resourceful adapted wildlife, and impressively long vistas. And quiet. The namesake Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia Engelm.) is a freak.

The exposed granitoid rocks crumble in the dry heat. Joints in the rock predetermine the shapes that emerge. And within these blocks the rock decomposes to individual mineral sand grains.

If you find an elevated vantage point you can watch the shadows creep across miles of desert into the distance. The evening light changes color there also. It must be augmented by some of the escaped ‘marine layer’.

The contrast of bright illumination and deep shadows adds interest and definition to the terrain. The very warm wind moving through the vegetation makes the only sounds. It is a place to watch, listen, and think.

There are more Mojave Desert photos in my California gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

Travel Thoughts

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Simple Travel Excitement

Simple Travel Excitement

Dreaming about travel. Savoring travel. Remembering travel.

Decent and kind people who you don’t share a common language with. Unexpected challenges. A smile. Patience. A comfortable seat at the window on a long train ride deep into the Alps. Curiosity with rewards. Quiet narrow country roads. Wind rustling the leaves of trees along a river whose name you can’t pronounce. Sheep bells in the Pyrénées. A muddy river in spring flood flowing out of a Mexican jungle. Birds with impossible colors.

Menus, mysterious and stressful. The enjoyment of getting what you thought were ordering and discovering that it is so much better than you dared imagine. How do they make it taste so good? Not sure exactly what was in that, but wow. A walk along the beach after sunset in the safety of rural Brittany.

Villages with two names. Road signs. Changing trains, reading the departure board, making the next train with only seven minutes between arrival and departure, trains that are on time, deciphering conductor announcements. Returning the rental car without damage, whew. Base jumpers landing in wildflowers at the base of the canyon wall. Hundreds of football and volleyball games mixed in with the Sunday crowds stretching for miles on Copacabana Beach. Soft white sand, gentle waves, warm humid air. The music of Portuguese or French or … conversations.

Glaciers, waterfalls, stone houses, slate roofs, startling soaring cathedrals, ancient art, life-like sculptures, bigger than life, lines for tickets, listening to animated but unknown languages on the Eiffel Tower observation deck. Watching out for pick pockets and keeping a hand on your luggage in the train station. Trying to tell the taxi driver the location of your hotel. Favelas and community refuse burning piles. Riding the bus to the beach. Riding the tram to the Mediterranean. Riding the bus from the airport, bleary-eyed, tired, disoriented, not understanding the conversations around you.

The Metro stations. Long walks across Paris. TGV. Beach vendors trying to sell horrible looking fish on a stick. Authentic fajitas in a beach restaurant. Traveling by cable car and electric train in the Bernese Oberland. Walking up the hill from the train station through the village to your hotel. Learning about Austria and The Netherlands from the hotel staff. Trying to figure out the street map in Nantes. Failing. Trying the hard cider of Brittany, but not the ‘moules et frits’. Sorry.

Looking down through three floors from a balcony watching samba dancers on a crowded floor. Watching (in person) the televised sheep-shearing contest during the celebration of the return of the sheep from the high mountain pastures in Luz-Saint-Saveur. Seeing the streets lined with piles of plastic wine cups the next morning. The marching group with giant bells on their backs. The brass band marching through town and into a living room and playing inside a tiny stone house. Running for cover from a downpour in Rennes and finding shelter in a brasserie with other storm refugees. Seeing the evil but intact German blockhouses built on the rocky shoreline of Brittany.

Arriving at the Swiss border at Geneva on the train from Chamonix and finding out we had to get off and find our way to another station  across town. The end of the line. Looking in vain for art in Geneva, but stumbling onto a choir performance inside the cathedral. Discovering that those white kitchen garbage bags that we packed fit perfectly over our rolling luggage while waiting in the rain for the ferry across Lac Léman. The banners and flags in Bern during the Euro 2008 football competition. The fiddle player and guitarist standing in the bank doorway below our hotel window waiting for customers to emerge with refreshed funding. Their three songs never got tiresome. The organ grinder and his cat who played there in the mornings. Far Breton breakfast treat and espresso. And all that new music and those weird movies.

Trying for a record-breaking long café lunch in Paris but only making it to 52 minutes. Must learn to savor more. An awkward semi-French/semi-English conversation with the family who owned the Gite that we rented at the beach in Brittany. We and they understood each other enough to know that we liked each other and had a lot in common. They had a loving family with two daughters and had a sense of humor. They were kind to us and tried to help us feel at home. We did.

History, geography, literature, art, and humanity are all enriched with travel. They are given context and life. Days are filled with planning and anticipation, then adventure and new experience, then memories and a new outlook and broader view of the world where you are-because of the world that you saw, the people, and the culture that made sense to the families you met. Their culture may be different but they built it because of their history and resources. It works for them.

The challenges of travel encourage growth and reflection. I know that is not an original thought. But it sums up how I am feeling today. I have reduced my travel and use a bicycle for local transportation. But when I do travel I intend to learn as much as I can. I look forward to the next trip with excitement. Although, I probably wouldn’t have the nerve to wear the propeller beany cap.

The End of Night, Seattle

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Morning Sky, Night on the Street, Seattle, USA

Morning Sky, Night on the Street, Seattle, USA

There is an in-between time when it is no longer night but it is not quite daytime either. The dawn is usually a gradual linear event, progressing from dark to light, sometimes enhanced with colors.

In general I don’t photograph sunrise or sunset skies. It has been done to death, and it doesn’t interest me. Also I think taking a picture of the light source isn’t as interesting as taking a picture of what the light is shining on. It is like looking into the flashlight in the dark, rather than what the flashlight is pointing at. The low angle ‘golden’ light of dawn or sunset changes the appearance of everything that it shines on. It creates interest from the shifted colors and from the long shadows. Photographers talk about this light a lot.

But I couldn’t help taking this photograph. The low intensity sunrise colors of the sky are beautiful, especially the blue contrasting with the orange and pink clouds, but I also think it is a two part scene. That is what caught my attention.

The sky and upper floors of the high rise buildings are in dawn light. But at street level it is dark.

This corner newspaper store advertises in bright lights the news that people will read during the day ahead. The passing cars still use their lights to see. The pavement is definitely still in the dark, except for the bright clouds and lights reflecting off of the edge of a manhole cover. The street lights and awning lights are still needed by people walking to work. It is still night on the street.

But if you were in an upper floor apartment/office you could see out over downtown Seattle to the horizons. It would be daytime, mostly. If you took the elevator to the street you would emerge into night again.

This in-between time is short-lived, but interesting.

I was in Seattle to photograph street scenes and the famous Pike Street Market. I hadn’t realized that the sky was turning pink and orange. I had been facing the other way toward the entrance to the market and photographing at street level as the vendors set up their stands. They were night scenes.

I was surprised when I looked over my shoulder and saw that it was daytime in the ‘upper part’ of Seattle already.

Between the Bell and the Art

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Market Street National Bank, Philadelphia

Market Street National Bank, Philadelphia

An old bank building looming over an even older city hall. Maybe a metaphor about influence, or maybe not.

The composition was not intended as a metaphor. They were just interesting buildings viewed up through a tree-covered plaza.

I was walking from the Liberty Bell exhibit in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA toward the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is a long walk with views of the old business district. Some of the streets are very wide, tree-lined boulevards with beautiful old homes. It is a great walk with an unexpected prize at the end.

I enjoyed the Philadelphia Museum of Art very much, although I had not really known very much about it and didn’t know what to expect, except for the long exterior stairway of Rocky movie fame. I will write about it more in another posting.

This photo was taken next to the Philadelphia City Hall. The tall building in the back is the Market Street National Bank. It was built in 1930 but was converted to a hotel in 2000.

The small protruding balcony in the upper left must have been part of a great office suite. Now it would be an interesting hotel room.

Tidy Swiss Porch

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Wengen, Switzerland

Wengen, Switzerland

Sitting on your porch you can see Jungfrau.

On warm summer evenings you watch the alpenglow on the glaciers and listen to waterfalls, bird songs, and wind in the trees. Perhaps you sip tea and relax with a world class view of the Bernese Oberland.

Your beautiful home faces the craggy summits of the Swiss Alps. You live in the picturesque ski village of Wengen high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Tourists flock to your narrow streets during winter and summer. Every home is on display for people walking through the village. Your small front yard is made up of paving stone. Everything is carefully tended. The handmade lace curtains and the bright flowers accent your home.

In the early morning or evening or long quiet spring afternoons you have a chance to sit and enjoy the spectacular view. Perhaps a friend will walk by returning from a long walk in the mountains above the village. For a little while your yard is yours to enjoy. There are no tourists trying to take photos of your house. You have some privacy again.

But then the train arrives from Lauterbrunnen and soon a few people will make the walk up the hill through the village. And once again your home is on display. Thank you.




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