Holiday traditions vary widely around the world. Midwinter holidays bring brightness, warmth, and celebrations to make up for the long nights and stormy weather. Through the long sweep of history many religions have established celebrations based on their beliefs. It is a season of significance and renewal.
Of course, ‘midwinter’ holidays is a term that applies to one hemisphere at a time. December celebrations in the northern hemisphere are dramatically different than the December ‘midsummer’ celebrations in the southern hemisphere. Since this blog is read by people in many countries with many traditions I will acknowledge that this posting is about only a narrow slice of holiday traditions.
I look forward to Christmas season. It is a time of togetherness for our family. A peaceful, warm, bright interlude. We have a chance to slow down and step aside from our daily tasks and stresses. We can put our roles away and just do things together. I hope that your traditions bring you that kind of fulfillment and happiness.
The Christmas tree in this photo is in the main lobby of Jacoby’s Storehouse in Arcata, California, USA. It is a building filled with shops and great restaurants. They find a tree that reaches the ceiling and then decorate it extravagantly. Lights and ornaments cover the entire interior of this historic building. For many years it has been a central location for celebration within our community.
This building is in the heart of redwood country in northern California. It played a pivotal role in the excitement and frenzy of the gold rush in the middle of the 19th century. It is a four story brick building and was built as a fire-resistant safe place to store supplies for the miners and loggers. The supplies were brought on ships from San Francisco, almost 300 miles to the south. It was a dangerous and wild trip.
When the ships came into Humboldt Bay they navigated through deep channels to the north end of the bay where Arcata is. A pier had been constructed 2 miles out into the bay to the end of the shipping channel. The first railroad in California operated between Jacoby’s Storehouse and the end of that pier. The supplies were transferred from the ships onto the railroad cars and then transported to the Storehouse. Pack mule trains were organized in the town’s central plaza in front of the Storehouse. The loaded mules made the demanding trip inland over the coastal mountain ridges to the gold bearing river bars that were teaming with wealth seekers.
The Arcata Plaza is now a meeting place for the community, no mules allowed. Festivals and farmer’s markets are held there now. Jacoby’s Storehouse still plays an important role in Arcata. It is a gathering place for relaxation and dining where families, neighbors, and friends meet.
The plaza is also important for young people in Arcata. They gather there for celebration and reunions. People who grew up in Arcata and have moved away usually spend some time there whenever they visit. Many memories.
So to all those Arcatans who live elsewhere now, but still feel some emotion when somebody says, “Go Tigers” this photo is for you. Where’s YOUR Santa?
Safe travels and I hope that you can be with people that you love for the holidays!
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.
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’.
Official Kinetic Officials, Arcata, California, USA
A human-pedaled giant silver lobster, a fire truck with a fire-belching hookah, a taco truck with a band, and dozens of outlandish, welded monstrosities, all of which had to navigate 42 miles of roadway, sand dunes, water crossings, and fiendish rules in front of inglorious officials and thousands of spectators.
Just another festival on the Arcata Plaza.
Even though there were some cranky people who resented the farmer’s market being relocated, most people were dazzled by the absurd performances of otherwise normal citizens.
The Kinetic Grand Championship is complete for another year!
The upper photo shows officials officially checking off the official checklist for vehicle safety and many kinetically important rules. Bribes were flowing.
Kinetic Sculptures Engulfed By Fans
The middle photo shows the throngs of spectators trying to see all of the sculptures up-close. Several of the sculptures are visible above the crowds. They are bigger than life!
The bottom photo shows the race underway as they took several laps around the Arcata Plaza before exiting the safety of town in search of ultimate glory or profound shame. Those may sound like opposite results but they were all in the eye of the beholder. In other words, if they weren’t caught cheating they may have achieved glory but they would be ashamed if their fellow competitors thought they had completed the race without some creative route navigation, propulsion augmentation, or equipment enhancements along the way.
The Kinetic Grand Championship 2010
It is just the way that spring is supposed to be celebrated!!
Three days of human-powered, all terrain, endurance silliness.
There are a few so-called Kinetic Sculpture Races around the world. But the original one was held in Humboldt County, California, USA in 1969. It is now called The Kinetic Grand Championship.
It is a three day 42 mile (67 km) race on roads, beaches, sand dunes (Deadman’s Drop), bay and river crossings, and slippery slopes. The contraptions are human-powered, usually by peddaling. Elaborate and highly suspect propulsion systems involve chains and gears welded into a nightmare of breakdown potential. Some entries deserve to be called sculptures because of their exotic artistic structure and elegant engineering. Others are really humorous because nobody in their right mind would expect the thing to work.
And there you have the essence of the silliness. There is honor in being absurd and eccentric. The impractical imagination and naive energy required to enter some of these contraptions is truly exquisite.
If you just had to pedal down the road that would be easy. But the skinny tires for efficient road cycling are horrible on the beach and the dunes. And the sturdy structure required to withstand Deadman’s Drop (a ridiculous plunge down the back side of a tall dune into very soft sand) can add enough weight to sink your dreams into Humboldt Bay when you go in the water. So you also need to be able to deploy significant floatation. And everything has to be on-board and carried with you for the entire race, including toothbrushes and teddy bear.
The race starts with the noon whistle on the Plaza in downtown Arcata. The contraptions line up on one side of the road and the pilots and crew are on the other and with the whistle the Le Mans start is underway. After several laps around the plaza to the delight of thousands of cheering fans they head out via farm roads toward the beach and three days of voluntary pain and shame. And some few will gain wonderful glory.
With a silly race there has to be silly awards and silly rules. There are. According to the official website: “…when Hobart Brown started the Kinetic Sculpture Race 40 years ago, he lost the race he created! Now one of the most coveted awards is the “Mediocre Award.”
Other awards include “The Golden Dinosaur,” which is the first sculpture to break down after the start line, “The Golden Flipper,” for the best flip of a sculpture in sand and water, and “Poor Pitiful Me.” Racers can also “Ace” the race, which means they race the entire course for 42 miles without pushing or ”getting caught” cheating. Each award is handmade by a local artist!”
The race starts tomorrow and is now held on the weekend of the US holiday of Memorial Day. My wife and I met at the Kinetic Sculpture Race in 1980. We have seen the start of most of the races since that time.
As you can imagine it is a photogenic event. I will be there using my ladder again for a vantage point over the crowds.
Are you in any of the Google Street View images which can be viewed by anyone with a computer and an Internet connection? They are tagged on the aerial images so you can link into a collection of panoramic street images.
Have you ever seen one of those funny cars/vans driving by with the contraption on top? You might be in one of the photos.
We noticed one driving down the street when we were sitting in a café in Paris near Luxembourg Garden. We weren’t out in the terrace section so I am sure we do not appear in the images.
Besides the Street Views, Google Earth has made aerial imagery available to all. The aerial views are the main part of Google Earth. The aerial views are satellite images taken from 100’s of miles above the earth, so the resolution is not as good as a photograph taken from a plane, but the extent of the coverage is impressive. Some scenes are better than others because of color balance, resolution, seasonal differences etc. But when you find an area with the Street View images it can be very helpful to zoom in from the overhead view and look around on a street where you want to visit or where you have been.
But I want to talk about aerial photography, not satellite images or street view photos. Aerial photography has progressed greatly over the last several decades. Aerial photographs have been used for mapping, resource management, military operations, and community planning since the 1940’s. The cameras used film originally so the paper prints required specialized equipment and processes in order to correct the scenes for terrain and camera distortions (See the post ‘Is That Where That Is?’ in this blog).
Eureka, California, U.S.A.
The upper photograph is an enhanced aerial photograph of Eureka, California, USA. It has higher resolution and more detail than images available through online viewers such as Google Earth.
The U.S. has a nationally coordinated program to collect aerial photographs to cover the entire nation. The contracted planes fly in planned flight lines at about 20,000 feet, but turbulence causes additional distortions as the planes rise or fall or tilt as they fly along. (Of course, you can also hire a company to take custom aerial photos for a specific area, but the main idea of the national program is to provide public domain imagery of similar quality for the entire nation.)
Today the cameras are digital and are connected to global positioning systems on the airplane. So processing the images is efficient using dedicated software. After the distortions are taken out of the images and they are georeferenced (located on the earth’s surface) they are accurate scaled maps, not just pictures. Then they can be displayed with other kinds of map information in a computer program called a geographic information system (GIS). You can also display the image on a 3-D surface and tilt it and spin it for additional insights.
Drawing Contour Lines, Manual Stereo Plotter
One of the most important uses of aerial photographs was the creation of topographic maps to show terrain and elevations. The machine in the lower photograph is a manual stereo plotter. Two overlapping aerial photographs were viewed by the operator through specialized optics. Since the view of the overlapping area was taken from different angles from the plane as it flew along, this view tricks the eyes into seeing in 3-D. The pair of overlapping photographs were referred to as a stereo pair, like having stereo speakers giving two sources for audio. The operator used this machine to follow the terrain surface in the 3-D view of the aerial photos and plot elevation contours on a paper map. The contour lines were tediously plotted one at a time. Later these contour maps were used to generate the first digital elevation models which are computer files that record elevation at regular spacings so a computer can interpret the surface.
The upper photograph was ‘enhanced’ by adding a computer-created ‘hill shading’ file to simulate a 3-D terrain surface. This is done using semi-transparent layers in a GIS. In areas with more terrain this effect is more dramatic.
Other souvenir maps are available there also. Please contact me if you would like to have a custom map made for your area. The map would be made using the 1 meter resolution existing public domain imagery for the U.S. The high resolution, archival print could be up to about two feet wide and five or six feet long. These are suitable for framing and make a great conversation item or display in an office.
Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California, USA
We have this great little university town, and a garbage dump, and wastewater, and marshland.
We are right on Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Flyway.
What can we do with these elements? And while we are at it, can we provide recreation and wildlife habitat?
So many things in life are about choices. More than 30 years ago the people of Arcata, California, USA chose well. They decided not to enlarge the garbage dump next to the bay. Instead they capped it. They aggressively supported recycling and waste reduction for decades before it became universally apparent that it was a good municipal policy for cost reduction and resource utilization. Then they re-established the former freshwater marshes and integrated the function of the marshes with the last stages of the wastewater treatment system. They created a wildlife sanctuary and recreational trails. Today the former dump and the current wastewater treatment facilities are frequently used recreational areas and host many bird watchers. They are actually treasured by the residents. Here is how the City of Arcata website describes the marsh area:
“The marsh restoration was integrated with several other projects such as the salmon aquaculture project and the alternative waste water treatment project. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary was dedicated July 4, 1981.
The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the City of Arcata’s innovative wastewater treatment facility. The sanctuary is 307 acres, including freshwater marshes, salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats, brackish marsh, approximately five miles of walking and biking trails and an Interpretive Center. By integrating conventional wastewater treatment with the natural processes of constructed wetlands, Arcata has succeeded in turning wastewater into a resource.
Located at the north end of Humboldt Bay, the sanctuary is situated along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for thousands of birds that breed in the far north and winter in California, Mexico and Central and South America. These wetlands provide homes and migratory resting places for over 270 species of birds. With seventy-three species here year-round along with numerous species of plants, mammals, insects and amphibians, there’s always something to see.” ( http://www.cityofarcata.org/departments/environmental-services/water-wastewater/wildlife-sanctuary )
I was given an assignment to provide photographs of the local area to the Arcata Chamber of Commerce for a Visitor and Relocation Guide booklet. I had many local photos already but there were important scenes missing. It was winter and we had had a long spell of rainy, cloudy, foggy weather. The deadline was approaching and the light was terrible for photography. Then one beautiful Sunday it cleared. I followed the highlights of the sun all day. I photographed what it shone on; aiming west in the morning, working the shady community redwood forest at mid-day, and aiming east toward town as the setting sun shone on Arcata.
This photo is from the marsh looking northeast toward downtown and Humboldt State University on the hill. Dark clouds moved in above the community forest and provided a nice background for the sun spotlighting Arcata. I stood at the top of a ladder for three hours as the clouds moved overhead. The light varied dramatically and the water surface changed with the winds. A large snowy egret had landed in the dry cattails on the little island in the foreground. I was hoping that he would fly low over the water and be reflected in the marsh pond. But I guess he was resting and the sun set before he moved again. Sometimes chance elements come together unexpectedly, but other times your plans for a composition don’t work out. It was a beautiful evening at the marsh so I had no real complaints. This is the cover photo on the Visitors Guide.
Bird Researcher, Coast Range, northern California, USA
Each spring hundreds of people migrate to the northern coast of California. They come to see migrating and resident birds. They also gather for camaraderie, art, education, and fun.
The event is called Godwit Days, California’s North Coast Spring Bird Migration Festival.
The event is held in Arcata, California, USA.
Participants can spend up to a week going on field trips, with the main events happening over a weekend. These field trips provide easy walking tours of ancient redwood forests, grasslands, coastal marshes, rocky shores, and high elevation forests. Participants can also take kayak tours and other boat trips in coastal waterways and bays. There are over 100 field trips. There are also workshops, lectures, and opportunities to view huge birds of prey up close and visit an operational bird banding and research facility.
Whatever your impression of bird watchers is, the range of ages and interests of Godwit Days participants defies stereotyping. The things they seem to have in common is an enjoyment of the outdoors and learning about birds and the natural systems that they thrive in.
This is the second year that I have volunteered to take photographs of the event to provide promotional photos for Godwit Days. This year I was assigned a high elevation forest field trip, a field sketching workshop with local illustrator and artist Gary Bloomfield, and a shorebird field trip to local restored marshlands.
This photo is from the high elevation forest field trip. The tour travels about 40 miles inland to the Coast Range. By ‘high elevation’ they mean 1200-1800 meters (4000-6000 feet). Most of the other field tours are near sea level so it is a relative term. On this field trip participants heard or saw about 30 different bird species, even though the birds were still mostly at lower elevations or had not arrived yet from their winter homes to the south.
Each of my assignments was interesting and fun. The field guides were very informative and provided a fun atmosphere. And I got to see and learn about things in my own ‘backyard’ that I haven’t seen before.
This event is a good way to learn about the birds and habitats of the north coast of California and the clouds of spring migratory birds that travel through the area. You can learn more about it at: http://www.godwitdays.com/
No strolling beach vendors, no high-rise hotels, and no traffic. Just the beach. And agates!
The edge of a continent without the commercialism. The Pacific washing soft sedimentary deposits. The slow immense pressure of the subducting Gorda tectonic plate pushing under the North American plate lifting up more material for the beach. Deep under this beach the Gorda plate is pushing from left to right.
This is Agate Beach in Patrick’s Point State Park near Trinidad, California, USA. A long, steep trail leads a few people down to this long stretch of sand. At the far north end of this beach is Big Lagoon, where a narrow spit separates the Pacific from a freshwater lagoon. The soft sedimentary deposits that form the bluffs do produce many water-rounded pebbles, some of which are collected as agates. I prefer to collect small, perfectly rounded white pebbles. I keep them in a shallow glass bowl like a rock garden. Time passes surprisingly quickly when you are absorbed in sorting through sand and pebbles. It is easy for your thoughts to drift. There are no intrusions. In the background you hear only the wave wash and the gulls.
I am a person that prefers mountains, but my wonderful wife is a beach person. I have learned to enjoy beaches thanks to her. We have walked together on beaches in France, Brazil, Switzerland (lake), Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Maryland, and Hawaii. We try to balance our mountain time with beach time and city time. There are interesting scenes to photograph in all these locations which helps me build a varied collection of photos. I try to show you that variety on this blog. Photo: 1/500 s at f/5.6.
If your image of California is of freeways, smog, congestion, and crowded beaches that’s fine with us.
Even though most of California is rural, that is not its media image. We often, only half-jokingly, say that the north coast of California is rainy, foggy, gray, cold, and miserable-you would hate it. That is our selfish way to keep the crowds down. In truth, it does have that kind of weather, but some people love it. The small towns and uncrowded forests and beaches are a bonus.
It takes a particular kind of person who lives with purpose, and is willing to strive for enjoyment, to thrive on the far northern coast of California. The Hollywood weather and easy access to every imaginable store and service of southern California, or even the San Francisco Bay Area, are thankfully distant. It is OK with us if we are lumped in with the crowded parts of California in the minds of people in surrounding states. We continue to savor the beauty of the redwood forests, the mountains, the rivers, and the beaches.
Economically, it is a difficult area. Tourism is important. So there are those people who are forced to admit that we have sunny days. Right along the coast the summer temperatures are moderated by the cool marine breezes and morning fog. (OK, sometimes the fog stays for days, but….) People from the hot, crowded parts of California seek shelter in campgrounds and coastal motels. But they are well-advised to bring a coat.
It is still possible to have a memorable family beach cookout and not see any other people on the beach. It is one of our favorite summer activities. Several times each summer we have potlucks with family and friends. We stay to watch the sunset before fording the coastal stream and climbing the long, steep, crumbling steps back to the car. That is the ‘striving for enjoyment’ part.
The reward is a beautiful deserted beach like the one in this photograph. Photo: 1/350 s at f/2.2.
OK maybe I enjoy maps more than most, but there is something very compelling about aerial photographs.
In this case the aerial photograph is not only beautiful, but it is also scale accurate and terrain corrected. That means that the distortions that occur in all aerial photographs have been taken out by computer corrections.
The position and size of features in the middle of an uncorrected aerial photograph are close to reality because the camera is looking straight down at them. But the features near the edges are shifted and distorted because the camera is looking at those locations from the side. This is especially true in areas with hills and mountains. Mountains on the edge of an uncorrected aerial photograph appear closer to the middle than they are.
And even the best digital aerial cameras still introduce mechanical and lens distortions. These cameras are calibrated using accurate ground measurements and each individual camera has a computer file that is used to remove the minor distortions introduced by the camera itself.
Aerial photographs that are collected for mapping are standardized. The airplane flies in controlled paths called flight lines. The exact location of the center point of each photograph is recorded using a global positioning system and an onboard computer. After the photographs are corrected for terrain and camera distortions many individual digital photographs can be mosaicked together to create a large single photograph for a county, for example.
These are accurate maps not just photographs. Streets, houses, mountains, beaches and other features are the correct size for the scale and are in the correct location.
This aerial photograph is of the vicinity near Trinidad, California, USA. This area on the northern coast of California is covered with beautiful redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests. The beaches are dramatic, scenic, and usually empty. The water is cool, but there are hardy surfers and kayakers who have it to themselves. Trinidad is a former whaling station and has a protected harbor.
I enhanced this aerial photograph with a semi-transparent hillshading map layer which provides a slight 3-D effect. There are also a few labels for named beaches and offshore rocks.
The value of a custom map like this is that they provide an artistic view of a location. They are printed on photographic paper with archival inks. In a frame they provide a unique and interesting display. Just be ready to clean the glass. People naturally put their fingers on them to ask, “Is that where that is?” And they love to look for their house.
You can view more custom maps, or find out how we can work together to create a custom map for you by clicking the Maps link above.
I gave myself an assignment to cover the local county fair.
A fair is a very visual event. The workers at the carnival trying to entice customers onto rides or into games; the livestock auction; the vendors; the performers; the people; and the horse races, are all interesting.
I had never stood at trackside at a horse race before. I walked around the track from the entrance so that the grandstand was in the background of the photos and in the sunlight. There were shadows across the track in front of me, but I wanted to get the horses as they emerged into the sunlight with the shadows behind them.
I photographed several races. There was anticipation and excitement as the horses came down the straightaway in front of the stands. Each time I tried to be prepared as they came around the corner. I set up the composition and practiced panning before they got there. Each time I was shocked at how fast they were going. They went by in a flash. If you have not stood next to the railing at a horse race it is hard to imagine the pounding of the hooves, the adrenaline, and the chaos of the dirt storm that the back horses and riders are covered with. They run the entire race in a shower of dirt clods and dust from the front horses. The riders wear goggles. They duck behind the head of the horse for aerodynamics, but probably also for shelter. I don’t know how the debris affects the horses.
I chose this photograph because the lead rider is just entering the spotlight of the sun. He is very calm and relaxed. In contrast the riders behind him appear to be frantically fighting to find speed and move ahead. Photo: 1/1250 s at f/4 (2009)
You can visit my online galleries to view more of my portfolio. Click the Photography link above.