Posts Tagged ‘California’

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 5

February 19th, 2022

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs of Drylands: The Deserts of North America by Philip Hyde, Part Five

Continued from the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 4.”

Canyonlands From the White Rim, Monument Basin, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, 1982 by Philip Hyde. (Click to see large.)

Drylands: The Deserts of North America with photographs and text by Philip Hyde” came out of nearly 60 years of exploring and defending western North American wilderness with special emphasis on the five deserts of the continent. Yolla Bolly Press, which also packaged “Mountain Light” by Galen Rowell and other well-known landscape photography titles, donated its archive to Stanford University, where the Drylands manuscript archive resides in the Stanford University Archives at the Green Library. “Drylands” is now out of print, but can be found used at various online booksellers by searching, “Drylands Philip Hyde.”

Blog articles in this series consist of the original text of the book, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America.” Parts 1, 3 and 4 contain the opening section of the book called, “The Five Deserts of North America,” by Philip Hyde, which is like a preface, but is not titled as such. The Introduction by the well-known naturalist, David Rains Wallace, discusses the evolution, adaptation, migration and other mysteries of both the flora and fauna of North America’s deserts. The blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2,” tells the story of the making of the book. The following blog post continues the text with Part One: The Painted Desert. Drylands contains no chapters, only the sections described above plus one section for each desert: Part One—The Painted Desert, Part Two—The Great Basin Desert, Part Three—The Mojave Desert, Part Four—The Sonoran Desert, Part Five—The Chihuahuan Desert, a Photographer’s Afterword, List of Photographs, Bibliography, and Index. For a defining explanation of the boundaries and characteristics of each desert, see the book, or the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts of North America 4.”

Part One: The Painted Desert

The Painted Desert is a country of soaring cliffs, great buttes, labyrinthine canyons, high plateaus and mesas, beautifully sculpted rock, and, in some of its more open precincts where softer sediments lie on the surface, lovely varicolored hills. It was probably those hills that first inspired the name, but the whole landscape seems painted, and sometimes even the clouds that float above pick up and reflect the color of the land below.

The country sometimes goes by other names: Plateau Province, Canyonlands, Four Corners Country, Indian Country. This colorful landscape occupies southeastern Utah, extending to the Wyoming border along Utah’s eastern edge, and includes part of western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, and northern Arizona.

The centerpiece of this landscape filled with marvels is the complex drainage system of the Colorado River and its tributaries—the Little Colorado, the San Juan, and the Green. The scenic climax is the Grand Canyon of the Colorado on the western edge of the Painted Desert. Some of the oldest rocks on earth lie exposed at the bottom of this vast meandering trench that the Colorado River has cut through the rising Kaibab Plateau.

Since I live in California, I enter this country from the west—through Nevada, across the Great Basin, and into Utah. Over the years my travels in Utah have given me a very special feeling for that state and its colorful land of sediments. The actual state border is an insignificant place, but crossing it always seems to evoke a mood of anticipation and jubilance. It began, I suppose, with the first crossing, when I was eleven. My family and I were on a journey by car from California to New York and had made the long transit across the Great Basin. At Panaca, Nevada, we left pavement to take the little dirt road that went to Cedar City. It was afternoon, and a summer storm was gathering. On current maps the distance between Panaca and Modena, the first town we came to in Utah, is about thirty miles, but my memory says it was several hours, increasingly punctuated by thunder and lightning. The storm came ever closer, until the interval between blinding flash and deafening roar was imperceptible. We must have been somewhere near the Utah state line when it started to rain, the pelting drops adding their crescendo to the din. I remember fearing that lightning would strike the car. And I remember great relief as the lights of Modena came into view, and we found a room and trooped upstairs to its haven. In the brilliant sunshine of the following days, we experienced the wonders of Bryce Canyon’s fairyland and looked from the North Rim into the great abyss of the Grand Canyon.

Memories of that trip were reawakened some years later, in the waning months of World War II, while I was waiting to be “separated” from the service. I discovered the post library and its fine collection of American Guide Series—Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon. As I pored over the guides, the idea of a grand celebration of liberation began to take shape: I would seek out all the parks and wild places in the West I could find. I though I had first thought of it as a summer’s trip, I couldn’t be satisfied with just a summer, and the plan I’d made turned into a blueprint for my life work.

Sometime during those weeks in the post library at Maxwell Field, I wrote to Ansel Adams for advice on training in photography. Back from Ansel came the news that he was starting a school in my native San Francisco. After a detour to the University of California at Berkeley, where I found my wife, Ardis, I enrolled in Ansel’s school, which was part of the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). I spent the next three years acquiring the tools I needed to become a photographer. Then Ardis and I began seeking out those wild places.

In 1951, the Sierra Club commissioned me to photograph Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. A controversy was brewing over two dams the Bureau of Reclamation wanted to build on the Green River in the heart of the monument. The plan would flood the choicest, most scenic areas in Dinosaur’s canyons. Dinosaur was then a little-known place, and my job was to find out what was there and to bring back photographs of it.

Continued in the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts of North America 6.”

Dixie Fire Update on Philip Hyde Studio and Archive, Hyde Home and David Leland Hyde’s Safety

November 25th, 2021

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

The Dixie Fire, Philip Hyde Historical Wilderness Photography Archive and David Leland Hyde

The Hyde Home and Photography Studio Has Just Survived the Largest Single Incident Wildfire in Known California History

The Fire Threatened Three Times Over Three Months

Hand Line Below the House After Dixie Fire, Rough Rock, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2021 by David Leland Hyde. Many thanks to the Inyo Hotshots from Bishop, California for all the excellent work they did on my property. During “Round 1” they cut one hand line and more than 40 days later when Grizzly Ridge became the biggest threat during “Round 3,” the Alhambra Fire Department from Orange County cut another hand line closer to the house. (Click to View Large.)

The Dixie Fire dangerously threatened the Hyde family home, named Rough Rock in 1957, and the Philip Hyde Studio, here in Old Mormon Canyon near Genesee, on three separate occasions over three months of hell. Once the Dixie Fire approached after combining with the Fly Fire into a raging wind-driven firestorm. It came whipping up Mt. Hough and into the Montgomery Creek watershed where fire crews somehow held it at Mt. Hough Road about two miles from home where I could see the gigantic flames towering high above the trees.

The second time the Dixie Fire came to get me, it first made national news by blowing through the beloved town of Greenville like a tornado and on across Indian Head, Keddie Ridge, Keddie Point, North Arm, through the Moonlight Fire Scar, changed direction with the north and west winds, jumped the five lane fire line on Beardsley Grade, roared down the Hosselkus Creek drainage into Genesee and down Hinchman Ravine into Genesee Woods, spotted onto Mt. Jura north of me and backed down Mt. Jura, finally burning one third of my property, everything north of Genesee Road, stopping 100 feet from my front door.

The third time, during a north wind in August, Dixie Fire spotted miles south onto Grizzly Ridge and began to once more threaten American Valley neighborhoods including Chandler Road, East Quincy, Greenhorn Ranch and on out east toward Portola, Lake Davis and eventually US Highway 395. The fire in my neighborhood ranged back and forth across Grizzly Ridge for over two months with spot fires all over the mountain face. One time it spotted as close as half a mile up Indian Creek from my home. Hotshot crews somehow miraculously put that spot out before it spotted again, or took off like many of the other spot fires on the Dixie fire. The east side of the fire raced off and scorched most of Canyon Dam, skirted around Lake Almanor, Chester, Westwood and into Lassen Volcanic National Park and beyond all the way to Old Station. The fire burned through the Chips, Moonlight, Walker Fire and many other fire footprints and many homes in the Feather River Canyon including most in the towns of Storrie, Richbar, Twain and Belden, but firefighters saved the bar and restaurant.

Finally 100 Percent Contained After 104 Days

I wrote the first draft of this blog post on October 25, 2021, the day firefighters finally got the fire 100 percent contained, a long 104 days after it started July 13 way down at the bottom of the Feather River Canyon off Dixie Road in Butte County near where the Camp Fire started in 2018. Within one month of origin, the Dixie Fire became California’s largest single fire incident in history. Fire repair and cleanup crews are still working now in mid November. One of the last areas to be contained was Grizzly Ridge above my house. Just weeks before the end of October, the Incident Management Team finally colored the fire map containment lines black from Grizzly Ridge up to Grizzly Peak near the Devil’s Punchbowl, for the first time since the Grizzly Spot Fire started in mid August.

When I first heard of the Dixie Fire and that it had triggered evacuations at Bucks Lake, in the Bucks Lake Wilderness, at Storrie, Twain and Rock Creek down the Feather River Canyon and in Meadow Valley, a bedroom community of Quincy, I looked it up on Inciweb, as I had previous fires in our area like the Bear Fire or North Complex and others. Inciweb did not even list the Dixie Fire. Under Dixie Fire, Inciweb showed a wildfire called the Dixie Fire in Idaho, which started before the California Dixie Fire and burned almost untended for nearly as long in remote terrain, much as our fire did for the first week or more.

I have been writing about my experiences during the fire and learning about other people’s harrowing Dixie Fire stories. The fire started small and remained small for days and even weeks, burning in rugged, remote terrain. Some decisions made by fire management are questionable. I will make some future blog posts on these topics here on Landscape Photography Blogger, but my experiences, observations and the stories of others will most probably find their way into print in one form or another. For now, I have pasted below some of my more informative Facebook updates, a few of the most poignant comments and my replies.

Facebook Post July 22, 2021, 10:12 pm (Three duplicate posts)

Mandatory evacuations for Taylorsville, Crescent Mills, Greenville, parts of Quincy, Meadow Valley, Butterfly Valley and in Genesee we are on evacuation warning as a result of being in the path of the Dixie Fire and spot fires off of it.

My Comment Not sure why this keeps saying I am requesting help. I’m working to get packed and get the house and grounds ready to leave. That’s all. Everyone is doing their own around here. We neighbors are all in touch though.

My Replies to Friend’s Comments Being here is not particularly safe, but it is necessary and a longer story than most would expect as to why. Plus, a ton of work to do… Was behind on raking, clearing gutters, etc. Just trying to be less of a target if the fire does sweep through big.

As my neighbor’s son, a fire fighter for BLM in Utah, said recently, “They don’t really seem to have a plan on this fire.”

We just got back long distance and internet. Everyone who has lived here more than 20 years is still here. Things are a bit better, but the fires are still advancing more slowly. I do have a backup plan to leave. Thank you all for caring.

The area he describes in this video as steep and dangerous terrain with rolling stumps and falling dead trees, on the very tip of the farthest NE point of the fire, is 2-3 miles from my house. If they don’t hold it there, the next fire line will be beyond my home and about 30 other neighbors. [Video subsequently taken down showing the USFS Incident Commander doing a chalk talk about how dangerous containing the fire is in the steep terrain above my home.]

A Friend’s Comment The anxiety alone must be profound. Take good care, David.

My Reply Traumatic. Your empathy helps though.

A Friend’s Comment Do you have a place to go buddy? You can come to stay here for a bit if need be.

My Reply Thanks man. Really appreciate that. Probably will go to Reno, but not sure yet. May not leave at all. If I do, I will go at the very last minute, long after most have evacuated.

A Friend’s Comment Stay safe. Things are just things. Your Life is what is of value.

My Reply There’s a lot more at stake here at my home and in the Philip Hyde Studio than mere things. Still, your point stands.

Fire Damaged Trees on Hyde Property Above Genesee Road After Dixie Fire, Mormon Canyon, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2021 by David Leland Hyde. This burned during “Round 2,” when Dixie backed down Mt. Jura. It was close to the hottest part of the fire at Rough Rock. The tree trunks are blackened up 30-50 feet. There was one area nearby with no needles or leaves left on the trees, where the fire crowned, torched and scorched down to the bare base soil. However, most of the 5-6 acres that burned on Hyde land was fortunately a ground fire thanks to low wind, diligent fire fighters and decades of forest thinning on most of the gentler slopes north of Genesee Road. The steepest terrain was the least thinned and even though the fire moved downhill, these areas burned with the highest severity, including significant crowning and torching. (Click to View Large)

A Friend’s Comment Don’t wait too long. We went through packing up and leaving our place on Kelly Ridge during the Camp Fire and again last year during the Bear Fire which burned right down to the waters edge across lake Oroville from our house. Many people were stuck in traffic trying to escape the Camp Fire and road options up your way are not plentiful.

My Reply Thank you. We are not on Evacuation Order currently. My neighborhood is on Evacuation WARNING so far. Genesee Road was bumper to bumper traffic headed out toward Antelope Lake and beyond, but today there is very little traffic as Taylorsville, Crescent Mills and Greenville have already evacuated.

Friend’s Reply Good. I understand what you are saying but we were 160 miles from the house when the warning came out last year and it went mandatory before I could drive there. They would not let me back in to take prints off the walls. Just saying.

My Reply Terrible. I have a neighbor and friend in North Arm here who left home to get a few supplies and groceries… The evacuation went mandatory while he was gone. They would not let him back in to get anything out of his house. It burned and he lost ALL of his negatives, hard drives, prints, everything. A 40 year career all gone because of certain rules about mandatory evacuation that apparently cannot be changed even to save the photographs from a long career that included museum shows, permanent collections, major press, widespread acclaim, and so on. Seems very strange. I realize they cannot just let everyone run all over the place constantly and keep going back and forth or it would be chaos during mandatory evacuations, but there has to be some way to make exceptions. There needs to be better access and support for people who work from home and have their entire livelihoods at stake.

Friend’s Reply That is terrible. I think I might have run that roadblock.

My Reply It’s inconsistent. Sometimes they are really cool and lenient and other times they are very strict. It doesn’t always correlate to how threatening the fire is either.

My Later Comment We just got long distance and internet back. Everyone who has lived here more than 20 years is still here. Things are a bit better, but the fires are still advancing more slowly. I do have a backup plan to leave. Thank you all for caring.

Facebook Post July 26, 2021, 6:03 pm (Post of photograph of the fire)

The videos of the aftermath of the beautiful little village of Indian Falls really turn the stomach. I think it hits you harder when you know the place and the people well.

Facebook Post July 27, 2021, 10:34 pm

Email update just sent to family: Rained for 15 minutes today and 3 minutes yesterday. Cleared off slightly after rain. Saw sun for first time in 6 days. Smoke thinner overall. High today was still only 70 F. Low 62. A locally raised friend, who works for Cal Fire, said they have solid dozer line all around the fire on this NE side 2-3 miles from my house with hose laid and it’s looking good. No sight, glow or smell of flames. Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s Deputies patrolling our Road, one every 5-10 minutes, watching for spot fires to allow all engines to be on the fire. I am nearly done with raking and have soaked ground 200+ feet out with trees wet up 20+ feet all around the house. Need to repair a roof leak tomorrow. Then I can put sprinklers on top. Keep fingers crossed, prayers going up, rain dances rolling and whatever else you believe in, please keep it up. St. Francis is here and working.

My Reply to a Friend’s Comment So far so good. Terrible shame about the beautiful little village of Indian Falls though. I believe everyone survived, but 8 out of 31 homes, or something like that, were completely destroyed. It aint over yet. It is a very big fire and only 2.5 miles from Rough Rock and several hundred other residences, not to mention just a little further away from Crescent Mills, Greenville, Meadow Valley and even Quincy, our county seat. Quincy is fortunate to be upwind from the closest part of the blaze and have much better fire line in between.

My Reply to Another Comment Improving every day. Fire crews are here protecting homes. They emphasize they are doing contingency work. There is no immediate danger, but we are on the leading edge of one of the largest wildfires in California history. My house is 2 miles from the fire line and the fire behind it is still slopping over and not fully “contained.”

Facebook Post July 28, 2021, 11:10 am

Much cooler and crisp this morning. Even though a veil of smoke still hangs in the air, faint traces of blue sky can be seen for the first time in many days behind the emerging mountaintop lit by a faint sun. Sky blue never looked so beautiful before, but with the sun out, the fire heat can increase too. I am staying alert and continuing to work my preparation plan.

My Reply to a Friend’s Comment Whew. I’m sore, exhausted, bruised and filthy. I’m gonna shower and hit the hay.

A Friend’s Comment You are a better man/person than I, I would probably be hitting the bottle! Yes do rest up and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

My Reply I might do that later if I have any energy left. There is a long way to go on this. Not time to celebrate yet, or even drown ourselves in our woes. No rest for the wicked. I’m still working, still raking, up on the roof working on a major leak so I can, or the fire fighters can put a lot of water on my roof without me taking a big shower inside.

A Friend’s Comment How do they alert you when it is so close?

My Reply No cell service here at the house. We do alerts around here the old fashioned way – community networking by phone right now mainly, email or internet when available. Or, like this afternoon, an engine crew pulled up and put a fire hose around my house and said it was mainly precautionary just in case. The fire has been at more or less the same acreage for 2-3 days and has good line around it. They are just afraid parts of it could kick up again because there are still tons of hot fuels inside the perimeter. They continue to take extra care because this is the largest wildfire in Calif. history and we are on the leading edge.

A Friend’s Comment How’s it going David?

My Reply Exhausted from raking and moving sprinklers. Sigh.

Facebook Post July 30, 2021, 3:49 pm

Yesterday evening’s dry lightning caused 1,800 acres of new spot fires around Indian Valley overnight and this morning. Hottest part of entire Dixie Fire is bordering Indian Valley on Mt. Hough and parts of Arlington Road. Flames along road, but they have saved the tree canopy. Fire is moving mainly on the ground from the ridge top down.

A Friend’s Comment I heard just now of a new fire by Greenville.

My Reply Yes, I heard that too. Besides dry lightning yesterday evening, we have high NE winds now, blowing the opposite way of the fire, forcing it back into it’s own footprint. Crazy weather, most of it probably caused by the fire itself. (I will need to verify to be sure, but I believe that new fire was near Round Valley Lake. This was also the day the Evans Fire started on the flank of Mt. Evans above North Arm. When the Evans Fire combined with the Dixie Fire about a week later, it became a fire tornado that destroyed more than a handful of homes on Diamond Mountain Road and North Arm Road. This same day a number of other devastating fires started around Northern California. Meanwhile, there were areas of slight rain over the Dixie Fire and winds calmed. It rained for 15 minutes here at Rough Rock.)

Facebook Post August 2, 2021 8:56 am

It’s still a bit smokey in the afternoon, but this morning we have blue skies over the fire.

A Friend’s Comment Do you have to evacuate?

My Reply We’ve been in and out of Mandatory Evacuation status twice so far. Skies are getting bluer all the time, but the main fire still has smoke plumes and hot spots. Greenville has been on Mandatory evacuation all along, but we went to a Warning day before yesterday. (We found out later that Greenville was also downgraded to an Evacuation Warning that day, only to go back to Mandatory late the next day when the wind took off again. Most of the town burned two days later in the afternoon of August 4. Many people ironically had brought belongings back when they returned after the first Mandatory Evac was lifted, only to have to leave quickly without them on the second Mandatory notice.)

Facebook Post August 5, 2021, 12:39 pm

The fire kicked up a great deal yesterday with 40 MPH SW winds. Reports are Greenville is nearly all burned. Crescent Mills is under immediate threat and Taylorsville is back on Mandatory Evacuation. I am in Quincy for prescriptions, groceries and internet. Headed back home with my neighbor now.

A Friend’s Comment We came back and left again. Smoke was horrific.

My Reply It is. Really, really bad. Worst I’ve ever seen. Tuesday and Wednesday were the worst yet on this fire. A Friend’s Comment I heard about Greenville on the news at noon and crossed fingers and toes then started praying for you and your neighbors. My Reply Thanks and blessings. Friend’s Reply It just brought tears to my eyes to see your response in real time. How are you and where are you, did your home fare well?

My Reply All is well so far. Tensions are rising again locally as the fire backs toward Taylorsville.

A Friend’s Comment David…be safe! I’m monitoring on the aerial the Olsen Barn! The firefighters put a line around it too. Sigh. We don’t need anymore loss this fire season!

My Reply Great news. Our group leader may have more info too. I hear he is doing a lot on North Valley Road near Greenville to help neighbors.

Looking South Across Greenville from Main Street After Dixie Fire, Indian Valley, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2021 by David Leland Hyde. (Click to View Large)

A Friend’s Comment Be safe David there is no way this monster can be fought with a garden hose…Greenville is leveled.

My Reply Totally agree. The fight is in the preparation. That said, I’m not going to stand up against a firestorm. Whether I run or fight will all depend on the shape the fire is in if it approaches. I have already heard enough stories from friends and firefighters who tried to save homes. Our local TFD guys said they’ve already seen sights way worse than anything else in 40 and 50 year careers on fires.

Friend’s Reply And the wind can come up big at any moment. Best just to leave. My Reply Depends on your background and how much is at stake. A Friend’s Comment This gets harder to believe all the time. Or am I dreaming? Well David, you´re more important than a building, so keep your distance.

My Reply As you probably know, it aint just the building. There’s a little matter of world-renowned historically significant original film, which of course is just a “thing” too, in the big scheme.

A Friend’s Comment Heard about Greenville – how close are you to it? My Reply Greenville was on the other side of Indian Valley, 12 miles away. I went to Kindergarten and 7-9th grades there and have many deep ties and close friends. The fire is closer than that now. Friend’s Reply Is situation close to you any better? keep hearing Dixie still only around 30% contained but not sure which direction it is spreading.

My Reply It seems to keep spreading in all directions, more or less, backing against the wind, as well as going with the changing wind, which has been from the SW most of the time, but also from SE, NE, NW and North for a few days recently. The weather reports are all over the map, plus the fire is making its own weather as well. Yesterday evening there was a very strange hot NW wind passing through my property, clearly straight off the fire.

Facebook Post August 13, 2021, 12:36 pm

Finally made it back to civilization in Quincy. Been without power, phones, internet and even without a vehicle for two days, but I am fast on a bicycle, haha, not so haha. Just got my Minivan back. The tragedy just gets worse. More homes and land of friends, and friends of friends, burning. More heartbreak. Surreal. There are a few bright spots of people whose homes miraculously were spared too. Heard the town of Westwood in Northern California was severely threatened last night, but due to great fire defense, still stands. The wind has been more or less calm with a few heavy gusts in Indian Valley the last two days. The fire is backing down toward Taylorsville, burning slower in the Moonlight Fire footprint. Heard some of the past burns often have brush 10-15 feet tall, which makes them faster, but not as intense as forest. Taylorsville, Genesee, Crescent Mills all now on Warning, downgraded from Mandatory Evacuation.

A Friend’s Comment Thank you for the update!

My Reply Thank you for feeding me text updates when I had only a few other sources. Luckily we have a strong community in Genesee too. You rock. Always helping people.

Friend’s Reply I only wish I could do more.

My Reply No doubt. Everything is so spread out and disconnected. Amazing how the fire crews avoid chaos and still are as effective as expected in the face of 100-200 foot flames.

A Friend’s Comment That has to be so terribly stressful seeing that which you know and loved burn. Sorry for all of your friends too. Glad you are safe. We have been wondering how you are and we have been watching the fire. Stay safe David.

My Reply Thank you so much. Appreciate your support. It is very strange when things that have been the same for 100 or more years suddenly disappear.

A Friend’s Comment Thanks for the update!

My Reply Your aunt and uncle have been key to my staying informed and getting back and forth to Quincy and back a few important times lately. They have been keeping their neighbor’s gardens and pets in Genesee Woods watered too. They are more and more like your grandma every day looking after everyone.

A Friend’s Comment Glad to see your update. Been wondering how you were doing. Continued good luck to you!

My Reply Thanks. The situation is getting tense again as the fire backs toward T’ville. Aaaarrrrggg.

Friend’s Reply I have checked maps several times – and thinking of your area always brings back fond memories of a long ago visit there to see your dad – 1986 I think! Hoping the best for you.

My Reply Mom and Dad were great hosts and gave quite a tour of the studio and gardens and Mom made great meals. Great you’ve seen the place. Hope you can come visit again when this all settles down if and when I am still here.

Friend’s Reply Would love to do that and trust you will still be there!

Burned Slope Below devastated Town of Indian Falls After Dixie Fire, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2021 by David Leland Hyde. (Click to View Large)

Another Friend’s Comment I’m glAd you are ok!

My Reply Thank you. For the time-being. Dark days for many others. Staying strong though. Taylorsville is a town full of survivalist preppers, lol, to say the least.

Another Friend’s Comment Yeah. It’s awful.

My Reply You know better than I do. You lost a lot more in that other infamous homewrecking fire.

Another Friend’s Comment That was then, this is now. All of Genesee valley on mandatory evacuation alert with imminent threat. My sister in-law’s house in Greenville was burnt to a crisp last week, along with several other family and friend’s houses. Hope you, David Leland Hyde , and everyone around there is ok.

A Friend’s Reply So sorry for your sister & neighbors.

My Reply Very sorry to hear this sad news. My heart goes out to your sister-in-law. I too have had many good friends lose everything, or almost everything. Terrible.

Facebook Post September 14, 2021, 8:46 am

Events of the last month sure prove the adage not to believe everything you see on the news or in social media. Amazing how a few added phrases taken out of context can spin the meaning, severity and intent of a situation… and there are generally a large number of people lurking around to make snap judgements about an event they know nothing about too.

This last post refers to a legal situation that arose at my home during the fire. I cannot comment here or discuss the event due to possible future action. However, I can say that the matter has been fully resolved for now, unless I pursue the privacy and civil rights issues. I will follow-up in future blog posts about various Bill of Rights, evacuation and disaster laws, forest management, fire management, climate and California wildfires, personal Dixie Fire stories and other controversies that came to a head during the Dixie Fire.

Friend’s Recent Twitter Comment An absolutely emotional roller coaster. Hoping it gets better going forward.

My Reply It was a wild time. I think I have trauma. However, I am very fortunate and grateful it turned out as well as it did. Very fortunate indeed. So many others lost so much more.

Genesee Valley Ranch Agreement Brings Major Publishing Credits

December 28th, 2020

Forbes Magazine, Food & Wine and Others Publish David Leland Hyde Photographs With Articles About the Genesee Valley Ranch

Ranch Manager Connecting With Wagyu Cows, Winter, Genesee Valley Ranch, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde. A print of this photograph appeared in the exhibition, “Agriculture West and Midwest” at the Plumas County Museum. It has also been the most widely used photograph in articles and other PR efforts on behalf of the ranch. Special thanks to Ranch Manager Michele Haskins and to the Palmaz Family. (Click 3X to See Large.)

Living in the Lost Sierra Northern California paradise that I do, I am fortunate to be surrounded by forests and mountain valleys where agriculture operates on a small scale. Here ranchers raise cattle and other livestock nearly all grass fed, the meat produced is “all natural” by default, and ranchers and farmers use zero to far fewer pesticides and other poisons, GMO or growth hormones such as rBGH and rbST.

This does not mean mountain valley living and agriculture are idyllic by any means, as many of the benefits mentioned above make the business more challenging in many ways, especially on small ranches in remote areas. In addition, profitable enterprises here not only have all the challenges found elsewhere, but must deal with the difficulties of cold, snowy winters, long and distant supply chains, sometimes unreliable food supplies, rugged terrain, inclement weather and far away veterinarian services.

Agrarian entrepreneurs in the mountains must innovate or die. As a result, here in Northeastern California, farms and ranches have developed and combined different approaches than used anywhere else in the world. For example: many of our producers are involved in a combination of farm-to-table and more traditional distribution models.

Many Plumas and Sierra County ranchers winter their cattle at lower elevations, often in the San Joaquin Valley or Sacramento Valley. This requires unusual partnerships and lease arrangements.

Surprisingly, with more people getting out of agriculture than into it, the Palmaz Family, known for the Palmaz Heart Stent, invented by Julio Palmaz, and Palmaz Vineyards in Napa, among other enterprises, in 2016 purchased Genesee Valley Ranch, just a few miles up the road from my home. The Genesee Valley Ranch was first homesteaded as the Hosselkus Ranch. The Hosselkus Ranch was historically significant to the area during the California Gold Rush as a stage stop and way station for travelers across the Sierra to the Central Valley and the rest of the California Gold Country. It was a cattle ranch predominantly, but also raised other livestock such as goats and hogs. The ranch changed hands a number of times after the original Hosselkus family owned it. Charles Clay and his family owned the ranch for most of the second half of the 20th Century, with Paul Neff purchasing it in 1992. It has been leased to cattle grazing off and on, but not run as a cattle ranch since the 1800s.

Cousins of the Napa Palmaz Family have been in ranching in South America since the 1940s. Julio Palmaz’ son Christian Gastón Palmaz said as a family they had always seen ranching as a healthy happy way to live. Christian remembers his time on ranches as a boy as some of his fondest memories. As a family they wanted a place to get away to and wanted to get back into ranching, but to do it differently than most commercial spreads and more like other small operations in the High Sierra. More importantly, Palmaz Vineyards had become known for sustainable and ecologically friendly practices at the Winery in Napa. The family wanted to continue that tradition by raising organic grass-fed and grass-finished beef, followed by potential diversification into other organic livestock and crops. In researching cattle breeds, they ran across Japanese Wagyu, a.k.a. Kobe Beef Cattle. One main advantage to Wagyu cows is that they are hearty and do well in cold and snow. This means the Genesee Valley Ranch does not have to send cows out to winter elsewhere. Wagyu is just catching on in the US. So far it is more popular in the Rocky Mountain States and in the Midwest. As of yet there are still few purveyors on the West Coast.

Besides the Wagyu Beef, Genesee Valley Ranch Manager, Michele Haskins, has a five-year rollout plan for a community gardens and a diversity of farm animals and other “natural” interdependencies and intercropping that will help fend off disease and other pests naturally. The Genesee Store, right on the ranch property, has now been completely converted into a full-service fine dining restaurant, with a state of the art kitchen, bathrooms, ADA access and other amenities. The Genesee Store serves Genesee Valley Ranch Grass Fed Beef, the main ingredient of many items on the menu. Ranch plans also include renovating the barns, creamery, stables and other outbuildings. Eventually they hope to make cheese at the Genesee Valley Ranch to be sold at the Palmaz Vineyards in Napa.

Genesee Valley Ranch is evolving to be just as high tech as the winery, which hosts the world’s first sustainable high tech wine cave with zero water waste. GVR uses aerial infrared technology to monitor pastures to move the cattle around thereby evenly grazing the native grasses and naturally keeping pests such as Star Thistle at bay. Meanwhile, the ranch hires local experts, cowhands and restaurant staff. Despite this focus on helping the local economy, directly benefiting local workers and letting local emergency EMTs and EVAC Helicopters land and take off at the GVR helipad in emergencies, a small handful of people in Genesee opposed the Palmaz use of their helicopter to travel to and from the ranch and to do their infrared pasture mapping. This minor dust up has all been resolved now. If you want to read more about it, you can do that elsewhere. I wrote a defense of the family myself in the local paper and in Plumas News. By far, the majority of people in Plumas County and in Genesee itself support the Palmaz Family and their cattle ranching outfit.

After I professed my support of the ranch and the family’s organic approach, the family invited me out to the big ranch house for more than one meal. Christian Palmaz and I went to lunch at Young’s Market in Taylorsville and other local hangouts as well. At one of our fun meet ups, I showed Christian my raw files that I had just photographed of the ranch. He was impressed. He also read and shared with the rest of his family one of my articles about my father Philip Hyde and his conservation photography that helped make many of the national parks of the West. Julio Palmaz sent me a photograph of himself reading Drylands: The Deserts of North America by Philip Hyde. How fun and cool is that? Meanwhile, when Christian saw my raw files and read my article about Dad, he said he wanted me to photograph for the ranch. He also wanted to acquire a license to use my previous landscape photographs of the area. I have been photographing Genesee since 2009. I was more than happy to have my images put to use for a good cause. Little did I know what a win it would be for my career, as well as for the ranch. The Palmaz marketing staff put my photographs up on the Genesee Store, Club Brasas Food and Wine Society and Genesee Valley Ranch websites. They also often use my images in other outreach and in articles in the mainstream press.

Genesee Valley Ranch has now been written up in a good number of national magazines and my photographs have been the main visual compliment to the articles. Forbes Magazine did a beautiful feature you can read online called, “How Tech Developed for a Vineyard Is Helping This Grass-Fed Cattle Ranch Grow,” by Bridget Shirvell. Two of my photographs appear in the piece, one as the header image. Foodie magazine favorite Food & Wine did an article headed with my photograph of the ranch manager connecting to the Wagyu cows (see above). Food & Wine appropriately titled the feature, “The Cattle at This Zen California Ranch Basically Run the Joint: Genesee Valley Ranch Takes Every Possible Step to be Extremely Respectful of Their Cows,” by Kristy Mucci. Southbay Magazine’s feature article, “Raising the Steaks” cannot be found online, but write-ups about it appear on the Palmaz Vineyards Blog, Genesee Valley Ranch Blog, Club Brasas Blog and on Moontide Media online. The luxury lifestyle magazine, Iconic Life, recently ran an article titled, “A Choice Cut: The Best of American Wagyu Beef,” by Laura Baddish. Iconic Life used five of my photographs of Genesee Valley and the Genesee Store. Golden State magazine also used four of my photographs in their article, “In the Hills That Sparked the Gold Rush, Genesee Valley Ranch Is Raising a Special Breed of Cattle.”

At the Genesee Store, when it opens inside again after the Covid-19 pandemic settles down, you can also view my landscape photographs of the ranch on slow rotation on a giant closed circuit TV while you enjoy their choice prime cuts of organic beef and other delicious natural and organic fare in sight of the mountains and green pastures where the Wagyu roam. Stop in some time at 7201 Genesee Road and have a bite or currently get a meal to go. You will be very glad you did. Call the store for hours and reservations at 530-280-0300. During the pandemic you can get curbside takeout and take and bake as well by calling or visiting Geneseestore.com.

Lessons in Composition From “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years” at De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco Art Museums

December 3rd, 2020

Art Show Review: Lessons in Composition

From “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years”

De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco Art Museums

Are You Rehashing Reductive Rules?

Indian Rhubarb and Reflections, Spanish Creek, Fall, Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click 3X to enlarge.) A few people have said this photograph looks like a Monet painting. I do not make photographs to look like paintings intentionally, but if one does, so be it. I like abstract subjects and photograph them whenever possible. Paul Strand’s straight negatives were not altered in any way, but many of them were abstract and their subjects unrecognizable, though they were straight out of the camera.

Everything you have learned about composition is wrong. Most “tips” in workshops and on photoblogs are either purposely or by default overly simplistic, unnecessary and even melodramatic as presented by some teachers today. Many of the “secrets” like “never split the frame with a vertical” or “with the horizon,” “use leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the image” and so on, are reductive and often broken by the masters of painting, photography and other visual arts.

Today a painter or photographer starting out may turn to books or more often magazines or blogs to learn craft and technique. Contemporary art publications, online schools and forums, especially in landscape photography, teach composition as a series of logical, “left-brain” methods and techniques. They discuss the merits and limitations of the rule of thirds and drop nuggets of wisdom about foreground interest, emphasizing the subject, eliminating non-essential distractions, sweeping the edges of the frame, simplifying the image, filling the frame, finding background contrast and on and on. Some blogs have devoted large portions of content to discussions on how well participants have applied these techniques to various example photographs. Others get into dissecting and analyzing “composition conundrums faced by landscape photographers,” as one popular blog post said.

All of these serve a purpose and act as a starting point, providing some value in the early stages of learning photography. Beyond that however, if you pack all of this stuff, rattling around in your mind, out into the field and consciously attempt to apply it while making images, it will be like hauling a backpack full of rocks. It will provide little in the way of nourishment or comfort, will slow you down and more often than not result in dead, unimaginative photographs.

Many teachers today, besides presenting formulaic material, follow each other around to the same locations that have been on the landscape photography bucket list for generations. Fifty to seventy years ago, many of these scenes were fresh, but today most landscape photographers are missing one of the obviously lesser known fundamentals of seeing: great art is not necessarily about the subject. The pervasive mentality is that to make a name in landscape photography you must pursue certain views and certain types of scenes. This often sends new camera owners on a far-flung tour, with little thought other than, “I can do it too, or maybe even better if I am lucky to have dramatic light or weather.” Some photographers get hooked on travel and years later are still jet setting all over the world, when they could just as easily find great photographs closer to home, use less petroleum and develop a deeper connection to the culture and land. No wonder most of what we see online and across the industry is starting to look the same.

Throughout the history of art, examples abound of the greatest works breaking the rules of composition, while at the same time maintaining a sense of equilibrium and balance or dynamic off-balance that grabs the viewer’s attention and holds it. Which brings us to the next logical question: How did the masters learn to make successful art without enslaving themselves to rote techniques and guidelines? There are probably as many possible answers as artists, though there are also common patterns among renowned artists.

Straight Photography, Pictorialism and Photography as an Art

Abstraction, Porch Shadow, 1915 by Paul Strand. Paul Strand’s negatives were straight, not post-processed in any way, but many were abstract and their subjects unrecognizable. (Click Twice to See Large)

Like today, in the early 20th Century, until about 1930, clichés proliferated. Technique and gimmick-heavy Pictorialism ruled the day because many thought making photographs look otherworldly, unreal or like paintings was the best way to get photography recognized as an art. It did not work then and is still questionable now. What did more than anything else to establish photography as a fine art was the crisp, fresh, precision craft only possible with a camera, as made by Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and many of their students and kindred spirits such as my father Philip Hyde, William Garnett, Brett Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Minor White, Dick Arentz, Al Weber, Dave Bohne and those still living from the same lineage such as John Sexton, Bob Kolbrenner, Jack Dykinga, Charles Cramer, Carr Clifton and a few others.

During the heyday of straight photography, galleries, museums, auction houses and the art establishment had the most interest in photography. Today, the exposure of landscape photography is expanding in certain types of magazines and in tourist galleries in some of the world’s most popular destinations, but the art establishment has left behind contemporary landscapes, especially in color. Galleries, museums and other fine art venues look down on the genre with disdain. This does not have to be.

Attempting to attain dynamic balance in your work through following someone else’s tips, will mainly bring derivative results, whereas through ongoing immersion in a variety of genres and by studying the masters in many disciplines, you can develop an innate sense of what works and what does not. There are no shortcuts to mastery in art and no short list of 10 secrets will take you where in-depth study can. When Ansel Adams founded the world’s first college level photography program to teach creative photography as a profession at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Arts Institute, he and lead instructor Minor White and the other organizers required students to take a well-rounded set of electives from many of the other art departments at the school including music, ceramics, sculpture and others.

My father applied to the program and at first his application was misplaced and delayed a year. In response, another mentor and guest lecturer at CSFA, Edward Weston, suggested that since Dad had the G.I. Bill paying his tuition anyway, he might as well take some elective art classes at UC Berkeley while he was waiting to start photography school. Dad signed up for Interior Design, painting and calligraphy. His professor for calligraphy turned out to be the eminent Japanese painter Chiura Obata, who had recently been released from the World War II Japanese concentration camp at Manzanar on the East Side of the Sierra. Learning from Obata turned out to be an unforgettable experience that deeply influenced the way Dad saw any given subject. Through the example and influence of his mentors, both at UC Berkeley and CSFA, Dad became a student of a wide range of types of art. He often explained to his students in turn that Ansel Adams and Minor White hardly talked about composition, at least not in terms of quantified rules, but in the context of the relationships, forms and arrangements found in many forms of art and photography.

Before Impressionism Became Impressionism

The great Impressionist Claude Monet broke more of the rules of composition more often than almost anyone else, while producing a completely new kind of art that still soothes, calms and delights the world. During his early career, when he struggled to keep his family from starving, Monet had already begun to make the innovations that would shake up the art establishment.

Monet enjoyed early success when the Paris Salón accepted his first submission, but many rejections followed. He had to rely on his parents and others to survive, while despite his clear mastery of technique, critics labeled him and the group of painters he associated with revolutionaries and troublemakers. In time he would reinvent how textures were applied, develop new brush styles, specialize in portraying the effects of light like no other painter before him and play a central role in the development of Impressionism.

Monet’s departures from tradition were vividly evident in two contemporary exhibitions of his paintings that toured before the Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic began. “Monet: The Early Years” and “Monet: The Late Years,” curated by George T.M. Shackelford of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and originated there in partnership with San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums. Both shows toured nationally and made a stop in San Francisco at the De Young Legion of Honor Museum.

Fountain and Sunburst, de Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click Twice to See Large)

My friend Ronald Schmidt and I saw “Monet: The Early Years” at the Legion of Honor. Mr. Schmidt was my 8th Grade English teacher, but moved to San Francisco years ago and became a member of many of the best museums. He invited me to see both Monet shows, but because unfortunately I never made it to see “Monet: The Late Years,” I will refer to online and book reproductions of the paintings. These paintings from Monet’s later career will also be the most accessible in some ways, though they also most dramatically break the mold of art before Monet. Having pored over picture books as a boy and become partial to the Impressionists, I was enthused to see “Monet: The Early Years,” because while both shows promised to include paintings I had not seen before, the first exhibition would tell the story of how the French master got started, long before he became one of the founders of the movement that became Impressionism.

The Legion of Honor Museum: American Home of Great European Art

Driving far up through the San Francisco neighborhoods intertwined with trees made for a dramatic build-up to seeing the show and the museum. After negotiating the curvy road through the dark woods, we emerged to see the California Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum gleaming a blinding white in the afternoon sun atop the highest point in San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. From the Legion of Honor grounds we looked out over sweeping views of The City, the Marin Headlands across San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Arriving at the parking lot, we stepped out of the car and stared at the light patterns on the water of the aquamarine pool while illuminated spray from the fountain danced in the late sunlight and immediately changed our Monet frame of mind into a visceral real-world experience. During a long, surreal moment, I felt almost as if time had collapsed and I merged with the world of the Impressionists. Perhaps it seems a bit presumptuous to say that on some level I almost felt as though I was channeling Monet when I suddenly reached back into the car, grabbed my camera and made a burst of images. I also followed the light across the road to photograph the museum entrance draped in dramatic and shapely shadows. The tall gate and partially shaded courtyard contrasted with brightly lit people walking in and out with illuminated halos. Moving into the courtyard I captured a few couples in various poses and caught details of columns and shadows, but once inside the building there were only cool, stark white walls until we reached the entrance to the Monet Exhibit on the main floor.

Front Gate From Front Door, De Young Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

The Legion of Honor is a smaller replica of the Louvre Museum in Paris. The grounds, courtyard and interior of the Legion of Honor are permanent home to over 70 Rodin statues. As you walk up toward the front gate, you enter another world far away from the bustle of the surrounding city. Architect George Applegarth’s massive columns support a colonnade that surrounds the courtyard. Just inside the front gate, you are greeted by one of the original casts of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Behind this powerful statue rises a low glass pyramid, reminiscent of I.M. Pei’s installation at the Louvre. See also Greatest Hits of European Art on the Hills of San Francisco. Once inside the museum, you find yourself in a large central space with galleries extending in all four directions. The Legion of Honor is the perfect setting for two exhibitions of one of Europe’s most celebrated Impressionists.

At the entrance of “Monet: The Early Years,” my friend Ron and I were greeted initially by a large wall text. The first painting could be seen beyond the wall text. The text ran from ceiling down to the floor, all in white block letters on a white background:

INTRODUCTION

Before his success, before there was even the term “Impressionism,” Claude Monet labored to define his style and promote himself as an artist. Two forces drove him: his will to be a painter and his desire to become critically and commercially successful. During his early career, Monet struggled to provide food and shelter for himself and his family while creating innovations that would turn the art world upside down.

Just past this text wall, one of Monet’s most ambitious early paintings, “Luncheon on the Grass,” dominated another large wall straight ahead. The label identified it as, “Claude Monet, ‘Luncheon on the Grass, Central Panel’, 1865–66. Oil on canvas, 97 X 85 inches. Musée d’Orsay, Paris” It was too large to contain in a photograph, but I had already tucked my camera away anyway, so as not to be distracted from viewing the paintings while inside the show. The picnic scene splashed across the whole wall and looked almost as though you could walk into it, with bright figures as large and vivid as life sitting in front of a dark, primeval forest. The figure of Monet’s first wife, Camille, who appears more than any other character in Monet’s early paintings, in “Luncheon on the Grass” gestures toward the viewer with an empty plate, as if to invite us to sit down and join the group enjoying their wine and refreshments.

Monet Effortlessly Broke the Rules of Composition and Worked Hard to Capture the Light and Mood

Luncheon on the Grass, 1865-1866, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

The first three or four paintings were innovations in breaking the rules of composition, as it turns out so also were most of the works in the exhibition. More panels told the stories of Monet’s early painting life. Camille and the other figures in the various paintings were revealed not by detail, but by Monet’s stunning observation of detail and light, as well as a stark precision of emotion and feeling. Even though Monet’s painting style left out many details, the mood and time of day in the scenes gleamed in whites and other suggested, subtle textures. Because the shapes, colors and subjects stood out well and captured the eye, the arrangements of the figures and other subjects could be random, unusual and striking.

In ‘Luncheon on the Grass,’ it is almost as though Monet shifted the frame up and to the left. Part of this shifting and imbalance of the whole composition was exacerbated by the fact that this was only the central panel of the painting, the others having mildewed in Monet’s landlord’s basement while being held as collateral for rent, but the composition would have been skewed anyway. We see only part of the dress and arm of one lady on the left, while large areas of white space and extra forest greenery open up on the right. The picnic blanket is cut off at the bottom, but yet the open, less defined forest soars far above the heads of the figures at the top.

Beach at Trouville, 1870, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

“The Beach at Trouville” cuts off interesting right side features such as the stairways and buildings in favor of showing more of the open beach, ocean and the expanse of sky, which is the largest feature of the piece. In the painting, ‘Hyde Park,’ Monet slices off a quarter of his right side tree, while including significant open space to the right of the vista. If anything, rather than creating dynamic balance and following the rules of composition, in much of his early work, Monet purposely built his images out of symmetry, but not out of balance or equilibrium. His interest seems to be in disrupting our sensibilities, not in working with them.

Monet, perhaps better than any other artist ever, mastered the portrayal of mood in settings and people. Besides choosing lighter or darker tones, his ability to see and capture the effects of light on objects and scenes and his use of great expanses of sky, though often detrimental to perfect composition, enabled him to visually show the feeling of any given place. In this sense, form, subject and the arrangement of objects within the frame, were subordinate to and less important than the emotions he wanted to elicit. Examples abound in his early and late work.

Hyde Park, 1871, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

In the paintings exhibited in “Monet: The Early Years,” for example, we can compare the somber hues in “Hyde Park” to the bright, white dominated, yet also colorful scene in “The Beach at Trouville.”

Monet also used composition to indicate what was important in a painting. For example, in “The Cradle” the baby and cradle occupied the center and were depicted in bright, colorful and white tones, while Camille sitting at the baby’s side was only a little over halfway in the frame and outlined in dark olives, grays and blacks.

The Green Wave, 1866, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

In “The Green Wave,” the top third of the mast and sails of the sailboat are out of the frame. Very little space is allowed for a large sailing ship in the distance and another boat also sailing on the same Green Wave. On the other hand, a large, open space of the ocean in the foreground dominates the painting. The sailboats are not the subject of the piece, the ocean and the wave are. Cutting off the top of the sailboat and devoting over one third of the entire painting to the nearly unvaried green wave also make the creations of man small in the face of nature, another theme of the painting. “La Grenouillére,” on the surface is a painting of the lively swimming hole on the Seine in Paris. The exhibition text explained the painting:

La Grenouillére, 1869, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

“Monet’s “La Grenouillére,” portraying a popular bathing spot on the Seine, carefully captured in color brushstrokes the effects of light, rendering a feeling of pleasure. The men and women sit leisurely at the café, converse under the central tree, partake in swimming, and prepare for a boat ride out on the sun-drenched water. Yet the true subject of this painting is perhaps the river itself. While the activity of the figures is evoked through quick, energetic dashes of the brush, Monet lavished attention on the water, its multiple colors, its reflections, and its depths.”

Monet continued to break with convention in his later work, but not to the extent he did as a young master, until the last 10 years of his life. Robert Taylor described “Monet: The Early Years” in the San Jose Mercury News as a “stunning, exuberant show of nearly 60 paintings, a revelation for art lovers who think they’ve already seen everything Monet has to offer… They haven’t seen the radical Monet, the experimental Monet, the artist whose bold, dramatic paintings are in high contrast to the placid, familiar garden settings.” Read more, “Monet, The Early Years Sheds Surprising Light on Painter.”

Shakelford, the curator of the show said, “He was taking what Gustave Courbet had done with realism and pushing it forward. He was using bigger brushstrokes. His seascapes are pretty daring, pretty tough-minded.” Yet Shakelford said as viewers move through the exhibition, “we bring people around to the Monet they expected: lovely, lighter, optimistic.”

Over and over in Monet’s early paintings he not only placed objects and people in the very center of the picture, a supposed composition “no-no,” but he also gave them extra emphasis with line and color, which further accentuated their central prominence in the work. The “imperfect” compositions serve another function as well. Because nature was most often his primary subject, imbalance within the frame helped to convey the imperfections in nature, while also showing how perfect nature is anyway, even in its imperfection, just like Monet’s paintings.

Every painting in “Monet: The Early Years” broke at least one of the rules mentioned here. Some of Monet’s creations broke all of the rules. Monet’s work and that of many of the other impressionists, cubists, modernists and postmodernists are good resources for studying why compositions that break the rules often have more impact than those that conform.

Japanese Bridge, 1899, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

A good number of Monet’s later paintings are also two-thirds or three-quarters sky, or one other element, perhaps a hay field, or a beach. He often split the horizon, placed objects directly in the center or ignored other popular aesthetic preferences. What is going on here? Perhaps if your subject matter and the light on it are depicted well enough, you don’t need the “rules of composition.” That is, if you show other attributes of genius in your work, a dissonance of composition or other departures from standard practice may be possible or even desirable.

Monet Takes Abstraction Further

“Monet: The Late Years,” turned out to be laden with departures as well. The San Francisco Weekly described the show as, “An exhibit of Claude Monet’s final 13 years that included paintings of water lilies that were never publicly viewed during the Impressionist master’s lifetime.” Read more, “The Color of Monet: Get Ready for De Young’s Blockbuster Show.” Monet’s last major metamorphosis came about late in life while he painted his own estate in Giverney, France. With the help of hired gardeners, Monet kept his gardens and water features in idyllic condition. At the same time, his own eyesight began to fade. These factors combined to manifest as greater and greater abstraction in his paintings. He was mourning the death of his second wife, Alice, in 1911 and his son, Jean, in 1914. Cataracts threatened to eliminate his sight completely, just as some of the battles of World War I backed the French army almost up to his doorstep. His paintings became more and more of an escape into an unreal world. The SFist said, “Things get downright psychadelic by the 1920s, when Monet was blind in one eye and had only 10 percent sight left in the other,” in the review, “6 Things to Know Before Going to the deYoung’s ‘Monet: The Late Years’ Exhibit.”

Japanese Bridge, 1899, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

Shakelford, the curator, argued that Monet’s late paintings were nothing less than the beginnings of Modern Art. Abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Ellsworth Kelly cited Monet as an inspiration. Kelly said that Monet’s late work changed him when he saw two of the paintings in Switzerland. Indeed, Monet’s “The Japanese Bridge,” one of his most abstract late paintings came as a loan from Switzerland’s Kunstmuseum Basel.

Many of his later paintings, though abstract, remained attractive to collectors because of their pleasing colors, but paintings from Monet’s last decade, made as his eyesight faded, were even more subtle and less striking. They were so subtle, there was no market for them. It took until many years later, after Impressionism took the world by storm, in most cases long after the painters themselves were gone, for some of the more obscure paintings by Monet and the others to be recognized as great and valued with the rest of the Impressionist canon. Unusual compositions in Monet’s early work did not turn off the art establishment nearly as much as the breaking of other conventions in art.

Japanese Bridge, 1918, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

We could deconstruct Monet paintings until the cows come home to eat haystacks, but regardless of the explanations, what he did in his creations worked, even if in some cases, his paintings did not please the sensibilities of the time, they brought a new awareness and eventually changed how people viewed art and how people made art. Rather than characterizing composition as merely another technique, or attainment through a series of formulas, Monet remade it. Likewise in photography, Edward Weston advised aspiring photographers that composition is merely the strongest way of seeing. Adams, Weston and the other members of Group f.64 reinvented photography by eliminating rules, not by adding to them. We don’t learn to be great artists by studying formulas or memorizing techniques, but through deep observation of our subjects, perhaps by seeing them as deeply as Monet did with failing eyesight, or as profoundly as Edward Weston did. Weston said, “To photograph a rock make it look like a rock, but be more than a rock.” We learn from how great artists before us depicted the subjects we wish to depict, even if this means, seeing beyond what is being depicted. This is perhaps why dying people wish to view Monet paintings one last time before they go. There is more in them than we readily see, perhaps a glimpse of the light beyond that Monet himself could see better near the end. We take ideas from great art and try them in our own work and ultimately in our lives. One idea works, another is a flop today, but next month, next year, or someday, perhaps an idea works in a new situation.

Japanese Bridge, 1924, Claude Monet. (Click 3X to enlarge.)

Artists whose photography or paintings endure give us a transcendent experience. Walking through “Monet: The Early Years,” my friend Ron and I discussed feeling exhilarated and awakened by the spirit of Monet’s paintings and the force of his creativity. Being in the presence of his artwork, we experienced his psyche and took a bit of it home. I can say without doubt that Monet’s paintings changed me, just as they did Ellsworth Kelly. Seeing any great artist’s creations gathered and isolated to bring out their full impact gives us a metaphysical and tangible experience, a momentary sense of another’s life. We left refreshed and re-energized, determined and full of insight. We were enriched by our exposure to excellence and by seeking it over the rehash of mundane technique.

Ardis Hyde’s Garden 1: Digging Stumps, Beginner’s Luck and Mom’s Green Thumb

November 5th, 2020

Ardis Hyde’s Garden One

Feature Blog Post

Gardening Background From the Sierra Nevada to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Back

What Ardis Hyde Left Behind

Fall Color, Japanese Maples and Other Ornamental Trees, Ardis Hyde’s Garden, 2017 by David Leland Hyde. (To view large click image.)

My mother, Ardis Hyde, was a self-trained naturalist, botanist, kindergarten teacher, neighborhood garden buying club organizer, Audubon birder, food preserver, cook and green thumb gardening enthusiast, teacher and networker.

She not only grew a bountiful vegetable garden every year, she and my father, pioneer conservation Photographer Philip Hyde, left to me here surrounding our home called Rough Rock, an ornamental tree and shrub garden including Forsythia, Butterfly Bushes, Lilac, Snowball and many others. Her a 120-foot-long rock-wall-edged raised bed flower garden still blooms every year from February to October. I also inherited her three plum trees, an apple orchard with four apple trees, a raspberry patch, parsley, sage, lavender, chives, rhubarb, Indian Rhubarb, oregano, a few volunteer strawberry plants, concord grapes, green grapes, a mountain stream fed lawn, and a garden shed full of garden tools, pots, peat moss, hummus, and other supplies. Now almost two decades after her passing, her Clematis bush still blooms bright white in the fall, followed by a dazzling array of fall leaf color displayed by Japanese Maples, Big Leaf Maples, several types of dogwood, aspens and of course the native California Black Oaks.

Growing Up Digging Out Stumps and Hauling Manure

When I was a boy starting at about age 11, one of my main jobs in her garden was to dig out stumps the old fashioned way by hand using a pick, shovel, mattock, various sizes of hoes, crowbars and often one or two Come-Alongs at the end just for good measure. Read more about various influence that got me started in gardening: Living the Good Life 5: Agricultural Influences.

My other garden job was to go to various ranches nearby in Indian Valley or American Valley and clean out horse stalls, or piles of old manure, hay, sand or dirt and shovel and pitchfork them into our old ‘52 Chevy pickup that Dad originally bought from Brett Weston. Read more about Mom and Dad’s road trips and adventures in our old Chevy truck before it was old in this blog series starting with Covered Wagon Journal 1.

When I was about 10, Mom helped me organize and plant my own little garden about seven feet square. I am still looking through Mom’s Home Logs to try to find her description of us making that garden together. I will update this post or write another in this series when I find it.

Beginner’s Luck in New Mexico With Help From Mom, a Good Neighbor and Kokopelli

After my own first garden, I continued to help Mom with her gardening, but never grew another plot myself until almost two decades later. In 1995 not far from my place near Pecos, New Mexico, my friend and neighbor Michael Kaczor, an expert gardener, had an impressive extra large yard full of plants of all kinds and more quality produce than I had ever seen. He had sunflowers 15 feet tall, zucchini two feet long and strawberry plants with berries nearly as big as apples. After watching him cultivate hundreds of pounds of produce a year, with his encouragement, I decided to try to raise my own harvest.

We had an abundance of sunshine at that latitude in “The Land of Enchantment.” With the Southwest sun as a given, many times Michael emphasized that soil was the most important factor in gardening success. One day he stopped by my place and after walking around my yard for about three minutes he said, “You have even better soil than I did before I started.” I was lucky to live about 100 feet from a small stream in a meadow. “You are right in the bottomland,” he exclaimed. “You really need to grow a garden here and see what happens.”

He taught me a number of other key gardening secrets and tricks that I will go into in posts to come in this series as I share more about that garden and why it was an example of massive beginner’s luck, mainly due to circumstances, location, hard work, good advice, a little luck and the good medicine brought to me by living where the natives had lived and thrived. Not to mention that there was an ancient, unmarked Native American, possibly even Anasazi burial grounds several hundred yards away and the previous owner’s metal sculpture of the mythic humpbacked flute player fertility deity Kokopelli left on site.

From Butterflies to an Interview With Mom and a Caretaker’s Garden For My Father and Me in 2003

During that time I also consulted my mother often about various details of gardening. One time I was visiting my parents back home at Rough Rock in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of far Northeastern California and I got an idea to write an article about butterfly gardening, which was one of my mother’s specialties. She agreed to sit down with me and do an interview on tape about how to attract butterflies with various flowering plants. It turned out to be a delightful audio track of us discussing her favorite subject, but we wandered around over so many diverse subjects, I did not get enough about butterflies to write an article. She passed on only about six months later. I probably could have read up on butterfly gardening enough to at least write a short piece, but it all suddenly felt very personal and raw. Even though the article was a loss, the interview was one of my gains of a lifetime. It still inspires me as a delightful keepsake that I play from time to time to remember her by. Looking back, I wish I had made a whole cabinet full of tapes of her. Read more about how my parents were part of the 1950s Back to the Land Movement: Living the Good Life 2: From City to Mountain Paradise.

Between my mother’s talents and skills and those from New Mexico, I longed to get back into horticulture again myself. However, it was not until 2003, when I moved back home to Rough Rock in the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains to be the primary caregiver and cook for my father, that I had a chance to resurrect Ardis Hyde’s Garden. It took a lot of time and work, which took me away from the critical task of watching over my 80 plus year old Dad, who had lost his eyesight to Macular Degeneration not long before. He was pretty down after losing the two loves of his life: photography and mom. He kept saying he was ready to die and wanted to wander out into the woods to do so like the Native Americans used to do. However, he did manage to stick around for four years, which were the most challenging, yet rewarding years of my life. Raising a garden at the same time was difficult, but I’m glad I did it at least that one year because it was not until 17 years later, this spring in 2020 that I replanted the raised beds I had built in 2003. In upcoming blog posts in this series, I will share my latest gardening adventures with the idea of helping people learn and remember with me, not just about gardening, but also about putting food by, storing, preserving and rebuilding the rest of my parents’ system for food independence, health resilience, self-reliance and harmony with nature. For more on self-reliance, see the blog article, Living The Good Life 3: The Change of Seasons, Self-Reliance, Money and Freedom. The kind of skills largely forgotten or overlooked in our contemporary culture. Knowledge that we and the planet are in great need of now for survival and long-term abundance. For more on how to survive the next 20 years: Art, Earth and Ethics 1 – The Abuse of Nature and Our Future.

Golden Decade Students of Ansel Adams Vintage Prints Exhibited at Bolinas Museum

February 22nd, 2020

Golden Decade Students of Ansel Adams Show Vintage Contact Prints for the First Time Ever at the Bolinas Museum

January 25 – March 22, 2020

Apologies for the short notice, but this show is well worth going to if you are going anywhere. At least there will not be a crowd. Use your own judgment and be safe.

Sunken Wrecked Car Body, Tidal Pool, Sausalito, Marin County, California, 1948 by Philip Hyde. This photograph is in the Bolinas Museum show. (Click to enlarge.)

All of Ansel Adams’ students at the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute, learned to make darkroom silver prints and to fine tune their print enlargements by first printing 5X7 and 4X5 contact prints. Ansel Adams also produced contact prints, as did returning guest luminaries Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, and Imogen Cunningham, as well as lead instructor Minor White and others.

Early students in the photography program, the first of it’s kind to teach creative photography as a profession, included my father Philip Hyde, Pirkle Jones, Ruth-Marion Baruch, Gerald Ratto, David Johnson, Bill Heick, Benjamen Chinn, Cameron Macauley, Stan Zrnich, Charles Wong, Ira Latour, and others. Not all of these mentioned are featured in the Bolinas Museum show, but a number of the student’s vintage contact prints in the exhibition have never been shown before. This is largely due to a knowledgeable curator, Jennifer O’Keeffe, who now teaches history of photography at San Francisco Art Institute, presumably in the same department Adams founded.

Contact prints are the closest representation of what the photographer sees, pointed out O’Keefe to the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook. Dad used to say a contact print is the positive image of the original negative with no enlargement. Datebook, SF Gate, rarely writes about art shows, unless the artist is internationally known, historically significant or creates something else unusual. Of all the students at the California School of Fine Arts from the first decade, that is, what is now called the Golden Decade, only about 10 are still living. They are all over 90. There are six still doing well and living in the Bay Area. Philip Hyde passed on in 2006 at age 84. He was born in San Francisco and lived in other Bay Area cities with his family as a boy and on his own including San Rafael, Berkeley, Daily City and elsewhere in Northern California before living out his years in the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains in a wilderness home he built.

Hyde teamed up with many other Bay Area conservationists including David Brower, Ken Brower, Ansel Adams, Martin Litton, Dave Bohn, Tris Coffin and photographers Edward Weston, Brett Weston, Cole Weston, Wynn Bullock, William Garnett, Richard Norgaard, Ed Cooper and others to produce the Exhibit Format Series for Sierra Club Books. The Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series spearheaded many of the campaigns that made our Western national parks. One Bay Area Landmark close to Bolinas on the Marin County Coast is Point Reyes National Seashore. Philip Hyde’s book, Island in Time: The Point Reyes Peninsula with text by Harold Gilliam, landed on the desk of every member of Congress and other Washington leaders, while sales of the second edition raised the funds necessary to buy up the remaining ranches on Point Reyes to keep them out of the hands of developers.

Philip Hyde, in the process of working on wilderness campaigns all over the West often supported local conservation organizations like Friends of the Three Sisters Wilderness in Eugene, Oregon, The Seattle Mountaineers and others, not to mention many national organizations as well, including the Wilderness Society, National Audubon, the Izaak Walton League and many others.

To support grassroots mobilization efforts, Philip Hyde sent his early silver prints, sometimes for display, sometimes as press prints. Over more than 60 years of full-time photography for conservation, he made hundreds of thousands of silver prints total, but this broke down to only about six or less of each image. During photography school, he made two to four contact prints of each photograph he printed. From those he got a sense of what he wanted to emphasize in each photograph when he dodged, burned and worked up larger prints. He usually made 8X10s next, then 10X13s, 11X14s, 16X20s, 20X24s and 40X50s. Fewer and fewer images made the cut to print at the larger and largest sizes. Hyde also had a 10½ foot X 14 foot sink. He made 10X14 foot darkroom silver prints in it for the Oakland Museum Natural Sciences Wing, one of the earliest exhibitions of it’s kind with giant murals behind the displays. The Oakland Museum only this last decade finally replaced these displays.

Philip Hyde has always been known for bringing an artist’s training and sensibilities to documentary photography. Some of his early black and white photographs show the influence of his mentors Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, but as Hyde’s career developed, he became a mentor himself through his books and teaching workshops. Philip Hyde led the first Ansel Adams Color Workshop and many others. His work became a model: lifestyle, methods and images. Many Americans today do not necessarily know Philip Hyde’s name, but they have usually seen his iconic Western landscapes. Hyde’s classic views, which in some cases he either photographed first or popularized the most through his large format nature books, have become bucket list photograph locations for social media adventurers and part of the lexicon for landscape photography.

Many of Hyde’s classmates have attained similar levels of recognition. A number of the names above participated in the famous Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Pirkle Jones, Gerald Ratto, David Johnson, Ira Latour, Bill Heick and others have all had nationally acclaimed shows in major museums and galleries, have published books and been written about by the most eminent magazines and newspapers. After the self-published version of the book, The Golden Decade: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts came out in 2010 numerous prominent museums and galleries exhibited the Golden Decade photographers. The shows were popular and well attended. For example, at the Golden Decade Exhibition at Smith Andersen North over 500 people showed up for the opening. More recently after Steidl published the book, there were more gallery and museum shows, as well as book signings with the photographers and editors Ken Ball and Victoria Whyte-Ball, daughter of Don Whyte. See Bolinas Museum Golden Decade Show for more details.

Bolinas Museum

48 Wharf Road
Post Office Box 450
Bolinas, California 94924

415-868-0330

Main Gallery:

THE GOLDEN DECADE: Photography at the California School of Fine Arts, 1945-1955

January 25 – March 22, 2020

Museum Hours:
Friday 1 – 5 PM
Saturday 12 – 5 PM
Sunday 12 – 5 PM

Office Hours:
Tuesday – Friday 9 AM – 5 PM

Drylands: The Deserts of North America 4

February 12th, 2020

Excerpts From The Text And Photographs of Drylands: The Deserts of North America by Philip Hyde, Part Four

Continued from the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 3.”

Chinle Shales, Chinle Formation, Circle Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah, 1982 by Philip Hyde from Drylands: The Deserts of North America.

Drylands: The Deserts of North America with photographs and text by Philip Hyde came out of nearly 60 years of exploring and defending western North American wilderness with special emphasis on the five deserts of the continent. Yolla Bolly Press, which also packaged Mountain Light by Galen Rowell and other well-known landscape photography titles, recently donated its archive to Stanford University, where Drylands can be visited. Drylands is now out of print, but can be found at various online booksellers including here at the Amazon used booksellers.

The second blog article in this series, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 2,” tells the story of the making of the book. The first blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 1,” contained the beginning of the first chapter of the text of Drylands itself, while “Drylands: The Deserts Of North America 3,” continued the text up to the beginning of this post.

 

For the purposes of this book, the larger desert area of the North American continent is divided into five major regions, the general locations and boundaries of which are described below in the order in which they appear in the book.

The Painted Desert Occupies the drier, southerly portions of what geologists refer to as the Plateau Province, the region from the western edge of the Rocky Mountains to the eastern edge of the Great Basin, extending from southern Wyoming to northern Arizona, and including portions of southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. It is characterized by plateaus and deep canyons made up primarily of sedimentary rocks lying horizontally. The flora and fauna of the Painted Desert are most like those of the Great Basin Desert, and, in fact, some biologists believe the Painted Desert should be considered only a southeastern extension of the Great Basin. However, the Painted Desert cannot be considered hydrologically a part of the Great Basin. One of the major river systems of the West, the Colorado, drains nearly all of the Painted Desert area to the sea. Nor is there much similarity between the landforms of the Painted Desert and those of the Great Basin. With this book’s emphasis on the individual characteristics of each area of desert and the focus on the landscape in each, it is important to make those distinctions.

For the same reasons, I am including as parts of the Painted Desert two areas often left out of it or sometimes included in the Great Basin: Dinosaur National Monument and Grand Canyon National Park, both of which have, for our purposes, closer affinities to the Painted Desert.

The Great Basin Desert is the northernmost and largest of the areas in the North American desert. A large part of it is contiguous with the Great Basin, which, as its name implies, is a region closed hydrologically, that is, with no exterior drainage to the sea. The Great Basin Desert occupies most of Nevada; the western part of Utah to the Wasatch Front; small parts of Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon; and several small border areas of eastern California. Because of its northern location, it has great extremes of climate. The large family of cactuses found in most deserts is nearly absent. It is sometimes called the Sagebrush Desert. The characteristic terrain of the Great Basin Desert consists largely of mountain “islands” surrounded by large valleys without exterior drainage. Many of these basins contain extensive dry-lake bottoms, or playas, and a few hold remnant lakes that are descendants of once vast lakes of the Pleistocene period.

The Mojave Desert adjoins the western side of the Great Basin Desert to the south. It occupies east-central and much of southern California and extends through southern Nevada as far as Utah. The high desert in the northern part of this region gives way in the south to drier, lower, more open country. The Mojave is enclosed on the west and south by mountains, and on the east shades into the Painted Desert along part of the latter’s western boundary. Geologists draw its northern boundary along the Garlock Fault, which runs across most of the Mojave in a general west-to-east direction. For our purposes, however, Edmund Jaeger’s boundary, well north of Death Valley, is more suitable. Like the Great Basin Desert, the Mojave is part of what geologists refer to as the Basin and Range Province. Its terrain is made up of closed basins without exterior drainage.

The Sonoran Desert is perhaps most notable for its variety of xerophilic (adopted to sparse moisture) plants. Flatter, drier, and lower in elevation than its northern desert neighbors, it is named for, and covers much of, the Mexican state of Sonora. It also includes southwestern Arizona, extreme southern California, and nearly all of the Baja California peninsula.

The Chihuahuan Desert is named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua, and nearly three-quarters of it lies in Mexico. It includes a third of Chihuahua, parts of the states of Coahuila, Durango, a bit of Nuevo León, and a small area in Zacatecas. It also extends across the international boundary into westernmost Texas and southern New Mexico. The Chihuahuan Desert is the driest and most open of ther North American deserts, though like the others it includes many mountain ranges. It lies on a great intermountain plateau between Mexico’s two major mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre Occidental and the Sierra Madre Oriental. Except for the area drained by the Rio Grande and its major tributary, the Río Conchos, the large basins of the Chihuahuan are without drainage.

Continued in the blog post, “Drylands: The Deserts of North America 5.”

Top 20 Photographs of 2019 – Year-End-Retrospective

December 27th, 2019

Top 20 Photographs of 2019

Year-End-Retrospective

This year I focused more on marketing and PR than making new photographs, which is starting to pay off some. Solid publishing credits through my licensing agreement with Genesee Valley Ranch and the Genesee Store included several images of mine appearing in an article for Forbes Magazine and others in a feature for Food and Wine Magazine.

In the decade from 2010 to 2019, I made the most photographs in 2015, the fewest photographs in 2010 and the second fewest in 2019. In my opinion and according to others as well, in 2019 I still made as many portfolio quality images. My goal is to continue this trend of decreasing the quantity and amount of time invested, while maintaining quality. Besides publicity, press relations, print sales and other marketing, I am focusing more energy on longer writing projects. I also need to develop and place more major museum exhibitions of the work of my father, pioneer conservation photographer Philip Hyde.

I ventured out to photograph only twice in early 2019 during the winter. One of the rare photo sessions was during a storm clearing when the power went out at home in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Spring found me out a few more times, looking for green pastures, snow-capped peaks and traditionally grass-fed, hay-supplemented cows raised on year-around zestful mountain valley living and small ranches. The cattle in our neck of the woods in the Lost Sierra tend to fatten up after the leaner, colder days end. I made a set of images in June for possible real estate marketing of the Hanley-Openshaw Ranch off of Deadfall Lane in Indian Valley near my home in the upper Indian Creek watershed, part of the Feather River Region, also known as the Lost Sierra at the farthest eastern edge of the California Gold Country. For some time I had wanted to regain access to this beautiful piece of ranch or farmland with spectacular views of Grizzly Ridge and Grizzly Peak from its spring green pastures along Indian Creek.

I have been going to the annual Taylorsville Silver Buckle Rodeo off and on my whole life and have attended a few other rodeos. However, I never photographed a rodeo until 2017. The Taylorsville Silver Buckle Rodeo only allowed one photographer for many years, but an opportunity opened up that allowed a number of us to bring in our cameras for the action in 2019. Rodeo Queen Emma Kingdon asked me to capture her two ceremonial rides in the rodeo. Quick note to animal activists: in my experience, ranchers, cowboys, cowgirls and other cattlemen care for their animals very well, much better than anyone without the same close ties to the land and to making a living from it.

After the rodeo, I walked down to “the river,” the local nickname for Indian Creek. People of all ages, especially teenagers, after the rodeo customarily ride horses bareback into the shallow water on a quiet stretch of the creek that extends about half a mile upstream from the Taylorsville Bridge. There I met a lady who was building a website for her neuroscience-based therapy business. We agreed on a trade for photographs for her online platform. It was a fun fashion-style photo shoot, but the images were perhaps a bit too contrasty for web branding purposes, though I feel they may be good samples for a potential future fashion portfolio.

Other photo excursions took me back to Sierra Valley several times to track down a number of the historic ranches I could not get to in other visits. Sierra Valley is the largest mountain valley over 5,000 feet in elevation in the world. I also revisited Greenhorn Creek near Quincy, California for the first time since 2012. One of the highlights of my lighter year in photography was capturing the Middle Fork of the Feather River for the first time.

My photographs below are all single-exposure, single-image capture with no bracketing, no HDR and no blends. I use Photoshop CC as my digital darkroom to develop and print my photographs with similar aesthetics to traditional film photographers. I do dramatically change some images, most of which are readily recognizable as altered from “reality.” I do the usual dodging and burning, also known as lightening and darkening. I control contrast, as well as shadow and highlight intensity, vibrance and saturation, making subtle shifts that bring out the natural attributes inherent in the scene. I only remove or move objects within the frame if they are small distractions with only a small effect on the overall integrity of the photograph. For many decades photographs have been considered one of the truest ways of re-creating a “real-life” scene. I chose not to risk breaking the public’s trust and expectation that photographs represent “reality.” However, I do enjoy approaching that line and playing with it. I also am starting to make art that goes on traditional photography. Stay tuned. 🙂

Blog Project Posts From Years Past:

Best Photographs of 2018

Best Photographs of 2017

Favorite Photographs of 2016

My Favorite Photographs of 2015

Best Photographs of 2014

Best Photographs of 2013

My 12 “Greatest Hits” of 2012

Best Photos of 2011

My Favorite Photos of 2010

Grizzly Peak From Stampfli Lane, Indian Valley, Winter, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde. (Click Image Twice to See Large)

Sunlight Through Clouds, Mt. Hough, Wagyu Cattle, Genesee Valley, Spring, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Indian Creek and Grizzly Peak at Hanley-Openshaw Ranch, Indian Valley, Spring, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Four Cows and Indian Head, Indian Valley, Winter, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Barbed Wire Fence, Three Posts and Reflections Detail, Snowmelt Fields, Sierra Valley, Winter, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Chet, Angela and Cattle Herd in Pouring Rain, Hanley-Openshaw Ranch, Indian Valley, Spring, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

“Wrangler,” July 4 Taylorsville Silver Buckle Rodeo, Taylorsville, California by David Leland Hyde.

Daniella With Flag Shawl, July 4 Taylorsville Silver Buckle Rodeo, Taylorsville, California by David Leland Hyde.

Two Generations Feeding Cows, South Side T. Dotta Ranch, Sierra Valley, Winter, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Bronco Bucking off Cowboy Blur, July 4 Taylorsville Silver Buckle Rodeo, Taylorsville, California by David Leland Hyde.

Sunset, Hay Harvest, Deadfall Lane, Indian Head in Distance, Indian Valley, Summer, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Two Main Barns From the South, Van Vleck VV Bar Ranch, Fall, Sierra Valley, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Sierra Wave Cloud Over Hosselkus Creek, Genesee Valley and Kettle Rock, Spring, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Fly Fisherman at Riffle on Middle Fork, Feather River, Fall, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Grasses, Shadows, Cliff Reflections, Middle Fork, Feather River, Fall, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Yellow Indian Rhubarb and Mossy Boulders, Greenhorn Creek, Fall, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Frozen Stream, C.C. Guidici East Barn, Hyde Van, Sierra Valley, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Old Wagons, Main Barn, Granary, Dellera M. Guidici Ranch, Beckwourth Peak Across Sierra Valley, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by David Leland Hyde.

Grace and Beef Steer, Plumas-Sierra Junior Livestock Auction, Plumas County Fair, Quincy, California by David Leland Hyde.

Rodeo Queen Emma Kingdon Prepping Tack, July 4 Taylorsville Silver Buckle Rodeo, Taylorsville, California by David Leland Hyde.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: A Photographer’s Life by Jack Dykinga

July 30th, 2019

Book Review of Jack Dykinga’s “A Photographer’s Life: A Journey From Pulitzer Prize Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer”

How Jack Dykinga Changed

Cover of “A Photographer’s Life” by Jack Dykinga.

From time to time, we hear of a near death experience dramatically changing a life. The NDE may instigate profound insights, strengthen intuition or lead to stardom through development of a previously undiscovered skill. Jack Dykinga, before his hospital death and return, already had the tenacity, good fortune and talent to win a Pulitzer Prize in Photojournalism, leave the newsroom and jump into nature photography, become an admired workshop leader, and co-found two of the most acclaimed organizations for outdoor photographers: the International League of Conservation Photographers and the North American Nature Photography Association.

Dykinga had also previously covered Civil Rights in the tumultuous 1960s, climbed Mt. Rainier in lethal whiteout conditions, photographed wildlife and remote wilderness all over the world and been handed a large check to explore his home Sonoran Desert. In his new autobiography and retrospective with hundreds of his best photographs: A Photographer’s Life: A Journey From Pulitzer Prize Winning Photojournalist to Celebrated Nature Photographer, Jack Dykinga described life as “a series of portals where we enter one way and emerge totally transformed.” He had been changed a number of times. He had “done it all” in his field. There was not much else to be gleaned from a near death experience, or was there?

Lying in the St. Joseph’s Hospital transplant surgery unit after transferring from the Mayo Clinic Emergency Room, in the aftermath of a race against time for a lung transplant while going in and out of consciousness, Dykinga reflected on his life before these complications. “I had always been competitive” and “eager to earn and accept accolades that reinforced my ego.” Having lived with fierce independence, he observed that his fragile life was completely dependent on others. He had been leading a photo trip in the Grand Canyon when his lungs gave out. His wife, daughter and other family had put their own needs on hold to look after him. While in the hospital, an army of medical professionals, doctors, assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, X-ray techs, lab techs, physical therapists and cleaning staff all had a hand in making sure he stayed alive.

This sense of gratitude and appreciation extended out to the people who filled all of his days: the muses, guides and mentors who sometimes subtly, sometimes suddenly changed his point of view and made him the man he had become. He realized that his creativity incorporated many people’s influences and that the changes others brought about in his life were often reflected in the images he made.

A Propitious Start in Photojournalism and the Transition to Color Landscape Photography

At 20 Dykinga became the youngest staff photographer at the Chicago Tribune. From then through today, in my opinion he has been one of the best at juxtaposing light and dark. Perhaps Carr Clifton, William Neill, Charles Cramer, Lewis Kemper and only a few other landscape photographers do light and dark as well.

The color landscapes in A Photographer’s Life sing and zip with strong shapes and color. I feel some are high on the list of best landscape photographs ever made. That said, I would recommend that anyone taking the study of photography seriously not miss the book’s text for any reason. It may be one of the best for learning how to learn the art.

Beginning with his high school interest in photography, Dykinga shows us his world through his mentors and advisors. The book is a string of fascinating glimpses into who helped Dykinga accomplish so much. His senior year in high school he won the National Newspaper Snapshot Award, sponsored by Look Magazine, National Geographic and the Chicago Daily News. This encouraged him to deepen his pursuit photography. After his battles with dyslexia in high school, St. Procopius College, a small Benedictine all-male school took an interest in Dykinga and inspired in him “excitement in learning.” Their attentive approach to teaching was “exactly what I needed,” Dykinga wrote. He soon made the Dean’s List and started his newspaper career.

“Contract Buyers League, Chicago, Illinois,” 1970 by Jack Dykinga.

His long background in photojournalism contributed to making Dykinga a good storyteller. He moves fluidly and with brevity through each story of his fascinating life carrying a camera on the streets of Chicago during the upheavals of the 1960s. Reading his text you get a visceral sense of his gut-wrenching failures and his uplifting successes. The pressure, chaos and competition that Dykinga learned to excel in during in the 1960s, led him to take on landscape photography with a stronger will and diligence than most ever apply to the genre.

From covering the race riots in Chicago to earning a Pulitzer Prize by exposing the conditions in mental hospitals, to climbing 14,411 Mt. Rainier in Washington in a whiteout with extra low temperatures and high winds, Dykinga weaves his tale and shares his accompanying master works.

He began at the Chicago Tribune as the youngest staff photographer ever. At the Tribune he quickly learned the pluses and minuses of large and medium format because the paper had a rule that required either 4×5 or 2 ¼ cameras. He spent nights chasing crime and civil rights demonstrations. When the Tribune editors came down on him and heated arguments ensued for using a 35mm camera at night, he moved over to the Chicago Sun times whose editors supported his use of the smaller cameras. Switching papers was a potentially risky move when he was supporting a young wife and looking to start a family. However, it soon proved to be a successful new direction, as his work continued to improve and shine. His 35mm cameras were “unobtrusive, versatile and portable. With their fast lenses and high ISO, I could photograph in available light, which was essential to record the news without the extraneous distraction of a flash.”

Dykinga’s mentor at the Chicago Sun Times, Ralph “Frosty” Frost brought in many new gifted image makers that complimented an already talented staff. Dykinga learned from, collaborated with and competed against these associates and their rivals at the three other newspapers in town. They were young, tenacious and willing to do anything for a story. Sometimes they had to, as in one instance Dykinga describes of how he and a newsroom buddy photographed and then outran a rock and brick throwing mob when the two photo reporters became separated from police protection.

An Earlier Profound Brush With Death and Nature

“Boojum Silhouetted at Sunset, Baja California, Mexico” by Jack Dykinga.

Chuck Scott taught Dykinga a great deal from afar as his competition back at the Tribune, but he in time hired Dykinga to return and join him back at the paper where the young photojournalist had started. By then Dykinga worked on in-depth features including one out of town project that he pitched, to attend the Rainier Mountaineering School in Washington himself, train and climb the mountain himself. Once on the slopes of Rainer, he and his party came face to face with life-threatening weather. Dykinga explains in his text that it was hard to get anyone to understand later, but the experience on the remote cascade peak changed him forever. He had a first-hand encounter with the “profundity and power of nature.”

Dykinga’s interest in wilderness only deepened after his time on Mt. Rainier. He took a leave of absence from photojournalism. One excursion he made during this time took him to Tucson, Arizona, where his wife was meanwhile also looking to go to graduate school. At this point in A Photographer’s Life, Dykinga placed a 12-page section of his black and white newspaper images from the riots, protests and tumult on the streets of Chicago, not to mention a number of photographs from the series exposing the conditions in mental hospitals that earned him the Pulitzer Prize. Some people might see this group of black and white city images as out of place right after the telling of the Mt. Rainier story. However, in my view, it further drives home the point in stark reality that there was something to get away from in Chicago, as well as something to escape to in the West. It makes for good contrast and counterpoint.

“I Want to Be Like Philip Hyde”

Around this time, Dykinga read a Backpacker Article about the lifestyle and approach to photography of Philip Hyde. This sealed his decision to leave Chicago and move to Tucson, although at the time he was still committed to photojournalism. He began to see the masses of images going by as much the same. Meanwhile, “…visual reporting on the environment was non-existent…” Hyde was paving the way and establishing the need at various markets.

I began to feel that the health of the planet was the most important issue of our time. With Adams and Hyde’s works as my guide… I came to see the rate of destruction of wild places as a forecast of our extinction.

At first the plan was to visit Tucson for his leave of absence, but as soon as Dykinga discovered that he could work at the Arizona Daily Star, leaving Chicago permanently became a realistic possibility. He shares with us how his move seemed to fall into place. His hope and expectations were high that he could get into conservation photography and thus live and travel more closely aligned with nature the way Hyde did. Eventually he would meet and become friends and travel with Hyde. Hyde was the “closest thing I had to a mentor in nature photography.”

An Angel Investor, the Sonoran Desert and the Making of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

“Sycamore Leaves in Cave Creek, Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona” by Jack Dykinga.

The Arizona Daily Star turned out to be more than an interim step though as Dykinga set about rebuilding the photo department. He gathered an all-star staff, most of the members of which later went on to leadership roles at major publications. In time, however, he saw more and more the limitations and biases inherent in newspapers, which are advertising funded and driven. Around the time he became most disillusioned with journalism, Ginger Harmon, the manager of a remote Nature Conservancy preserve in the mountains east of Tucson, offered him a way out by funding him to travel and photograph the area for the creation of his dream book, The Sonoran Desert, published in 1992 by Abrams, New York.

Seeking flower and cactus images for the book, Dykinga ran across Park Ranger Caroline Wilson, daughter of Bates Wilson who was instrumental in the formation of Arches National Park and the protection of other national park lands in the Southwest US. When Caroline Wilson introduced Jack Dykinga to Philip Hyde, they hit it off right away, having first sampled Mexican food together and later traveling and photographing wilderness in Arizona, Baja and Mainland Mexico together and with other photographers of note including Tom Bell and others.

Phil had a quiet grace and understated humor. He was a great listener. Here was a man who didn’t need to brag or posture. Phil was a legend. His advocacy for the land, combined with a more subtle approach to making images made him special.

Dykinga’s stories capture the essence of Hyde “to a ‘T’.” Both with and without Hyde, Dykinga continued to travel the arid lands of the Southwest working on additional projects. Abrams committed to produce two more books: Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau (1996) and Desert: The Mojave and Death Valley (1999). Dykinga has a total of seven books to his credit overall to date. His traveling companion, writer and collaborator from Arizona Highways, Chuck Bowden, wrote the texts in the Edward Abbey tradition. He and Dykinga modeled their work together on these volumes after the famous Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series, initiated by Ansel Adams, Nancy Newhall and David Brower in the 1960s and 1970s, for which Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde became the primary illustrators when the books transitioned to color photography.

We were following a tried and true environmentalist’s tactic, initiated by David Brower, to produce the Sierra Club’s powerful large format series that documented an area while calling for its protection.

They even got Robert Redford to write an introduction to Stone Canyons of the Colorado Plateau. Stone Canyons struck a chord with Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Interior and former Arizona governor, Harold M. Ickes, Bill Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, whose father, Harold L. Ickes had originally proposed Escalante National Park before World War II, and with President Clinton himself. Culminating many years of work by other conservationists beginning with the Sierra Club publication of Slickrock (1973) by Edward Abbey and Philip Hyde, President Clinton established Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on his last day in office in 1996.

Emotion, Psyche, Art, Photography and Landscape

“Saguaro Cactus, Sonoran Desert National Monument, South Maricopa Mountains Wilderness, Arizona” by Jack Dykinga.

While recounting Dykinga’s life events, A Photographer’s Life lays bare the real world lessons they taught him. For anyone who loves the West, or loves the natural scene anywhere for that matter, A Photographer’s Life packs a lot more than technique or the how-to’s into it’s pages as Dykinga lays open his soul, cuts deep into his own psyche and dissects his own emotional makeup for our benefit. This is rare in a large format photography book, or any other kind of book today.

Dykinga not only organizes the book to give tribute to those who helped him develop, he mentions these influences as they came to mind while image making. Besides his chapters on each significant mentor, he sprinkles in sections on the making of various photographs. At one point in the text when he describes photographing the details of an agave plant and visually compressing the scene “to emphasize the contrasting colors,” he speaks of “walking on a trail blazed by Philip Hyde.” His reflections are on “…moments when passing bits of advice reemerge years later in the work we create.”

When he transitioned to color landscape photography, Dykinga’s work literally and figuratively blossomed. He became known for his images of cactus and other blooming drylands plants. A Photographer’s Life includes Jack Dykinga classics such as “Saguaro Cactus in Bloom,” “Rhododendron in Redwoods,” “Boojum Silhouetted at Sunset,” “Sandhill Cranes at Dawn, Bosque del Apache,” but it also treats us to more subtle or unusual images that could not be made by anyone else.

Dykinga shows us something different from what we typically see with two images of Saguaro in the snow. His open and stark compositions with a lot of extra space around items of interest give us the emotional equivalents of the desert. Often, as in his Silhouettes of Saguaro and of Boojum in Baja, he distills the image down to its simplest elements, or photographs simple subjects to start out with. While Dykinga’s small cactus details, Baja rock outcroppings and the silhouettes show the Hyde influence, they are graphically as good or better and more eye catching. Dykinga certainly did his own version of subtle well too.

“Monument Valley, Totem, Yei Bi Chey with Tumbleweed’s Wind Pattern Foreground” by Jack Dykinga.

Perhaps one of the most unusual images of Monument Valley ever made, but simultaneously telling of the place, is Dykinga’s winter landscape near-far with the tumbleweed isolated and alone in the foreground and mist-enshrouded monuments in the distance. Now and then Dykinga presents us with a documentary image of an area, no less beautiful, but certainly rooted in place. In contrast to this and the cactus, sand and desert rock, some of Dykinga’s best work happens when he experiments with water—using various exposures and focal lengths to go toward expressionism and impressionism. All in all, A Photographer’s Life, is a review of Dykinga’s mastery and range. Budding landscape artists take heed.

Currently there is a major exhibition of Jack Dykinga’s Grand Canyon prints from June 18 to September 14, 2019 at the Etherton Gallery in Tucson, Arizona. If you are near Arizona or not, it is worth making the trip to attend: Jack Dykinga – Grand Canyon National Park, 1919 – 2019.

Forgetting Winter

April 10th, 2019

Elusive Memories, Snowfall, Weather and Climate at home in the Sierra of Northern California

Mt. Hough From North Arm of Indian Valley, Northern Sierra, California, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. In this image, the snowline from the most recent storm can be seen clearly at about 5,000 feet in elevation. The top of Mt. Hough, the giant rock outcropping jutting out of the right middle, is just over 7,000 feet and the top of Arlington Ridge in the left middle of the whole mountain, is 7,232. (Click image to see large.)

Plumas County, where I am writing from, is the transition zone between the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain Ranges. Here the Sierra is much lower in elevation overall. Here we also have much more volcanic activity, defunct volcanoes, hot springs, geothermal vents and old lava flows weaving in among the Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir Forests growing out of the Sierra granite terrain.

In our milder Northern Sierra Nevada, most mountain peaks are 6,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation, unlike the High Sierra farther south, where the peaks range from 11,000 to 14,000 feet. Most people in the Feather River Region live in the mountain valleys, usually ranging between 3,000 and 5,000 in elevation. By the time you drive two hours south to Lake Tahoe, you find the high elevation terrain traditionally associated with the Sierra, accompanied by much heavier snowfall.

Bear in mind that the surface level of Lake Tahoe stays around 6,225 feet. This means that most of the tops of our mountains are at about the same elevation as the base level of the peaks in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Many of the winter snowstorms that dump the heaviest in the Tahoe area bring us nothing but rain. Some years most of the Sierra receives heavy snowfall, while we do not. A smaller number of years it is vice versa. Consequently, we do not follow the various long-range forecasts all that closely, as they do not always apply.

This year was different though. We heard from many sources about the coming long, heavy and cold winter. Most of my neighbors braced themselves by getting in extra wood and supplies, putting on snow tires and updating vehicle maintenance, though we all remained skeptical. The weather itself did not seem to care whether we were skeptical, or whether the predictions were dire, either one. Winter came on very gradually and much the same as it has arrived most of the last 15 years. Our contemporary pattern for at least 15 years has been a little rain in October with Halloween being unseasonably warm and essentially an extension of what we used to call Indian Summer.

Following the current pattern, this season we received a little more rain in November, several flurries of snow that were just enough to stick in the first week of December and finally about one foot in one storm shortly after. This brought on hopes of a White Christmas, as well as fears we might be buried by then. However, it warmed up and dried out again for most of the month until it clouded up and threatened either rain or snow just before the big holiday. It snowed just after the Winter Solstice, just a skiff, which we thought might last long enough to give us a White Christmas, but the only weather that lasted beyond the holidays was the cold, which after all finally showed up with enough mojo to provide ice skating on the local pond during the weeks on either side of New Year’s Day.

Toward the end of the first week of 2019, weather reports had people talking again. The big snows were coming, weather experts said. Most of us went ahead with what we were already doing in disbelief. Then about January 5th or so, it snowed a foot in one night. We had seen this before, but then it snowed about a foot the next night. Here we go, or not? The weather skipped a few days just for dramatic effect and then snowed a foot again, then again and again, not necessarily every day, but frequently enough for everyone to know this was already a series of storms more like we used to get. It was possibly the beginning of an old-fashioned winter, much as expected by long-range forecasters.

Since the winter of 2011, we have not had more than a foot of snow on the ground at one time. Before that 2002 was the last heavy winter where we had more than one foot at a time. Also, besides 2002 and 2011, I do not remember the last time snow stayed on the ground more than a week at a time. From the beginning of the New Millennium and probably earlier, onward to today, the snow melted quickly, even in mid-winter. Long, cold, snowy winters require different skills and different thinking than snows that always melt in a few days. They require different patterns of grocery shopping, woodbin filling and snow shoveling.

When I was a boy, I remember us getting six feet of snow in one storm more than once. It happened in 1968 when I was three years old, as well as one or two other times. Dad made photographs of me at age three in a red snowsuit sliding down piles of snow he had shoveled in the driveway that were taller than the 12 foot flat roof of the house. Once in the late 1970s, it snowed four feet on April 1st. This event we forever after called the April Fool’s snow. I also remember the snow sticking for months in the dead of winter. Most years, the snows started in October and even sometimes in September. Many winters we had snow on the ground continuously all season. Once the snow had been on the ground a while, lasting right through temporary warm spells, it usually melted a little each day that was warm enough to get above freezing temperatures, then refroze at night. The deeper the snow and the greater the range between nighttime lows and daytime highs, the bigger the icicles grew that hung from the eves, the deck railings, water drains and spouts and any other horizontal surface close enough to the house to thaw out temporarily by day. I remember Dad photographing the largest icicles that grew up to six or more feet long. Usually, the icicles never got a chance to grow that long though because he either followed along after his photographing with a shovel and knocked them down, or just knocked them down without photographing.

Dad had a rule that I followed when I took over the snow shoveling duties: always shovel all the snow off the decks every day, if at all possible. If you do not do this and the snow piles up in subsequent storms, the bottom layer of snow, or whatever portions of it you did not shovel, turns to ice. Considering we have thousands of square feet of decks, clearing them after every snowfall is not necessarily an easy or even convenient task.

I left home to go away to boarding school at age 15 in 1980 and never came back for longer than a few weeks on vacations and holidays until 2002 when Mom passed on. After moving back home to be Dad’s primary caregiver in 2002, I became lazy about shoveling snow. The average winter temperatures were warmer and cold spells lasted for less time. After any storm of less than a few inches, I hardly shoveled, if at all. This was rarely a problem since the snow tended to melt long before more snow fell. If a storm did drop more snow before the previous accumulation melted, it never mattered much, either because it would all either melt or it stayed just warm enough to keep the bottom layer from turning to ice. In the last few decades, much less ice has formed in general. Shoveling off the front walkway between the house and driveway has recently tended to keep ice from building up there. In the “old days,” that same walkway usually turned to ice even if shoveled off. Typically more snow would fall and turn to ice before it could be shoveled.

With so many mild winters in a row, I forgot about these nuances of snow conditions and the differences between heavy snow years and light ones. This year in early January, I still doubted we would have much snow when the first series of storms hit. I shoveled a path around the inside edge of the decks next to the house, the usual first shoveling pass, but left over a foot of snow on most of the decks. I was busy and needed to get back to work rather than spending an entire day shoveling. I also neglected to use the shovel to cut the snow back off the edge of the roof in the front of the house, where melting snow usually dripped to form ice on the front walkway.

As more and more storms came through, I began to realize this was a more serious error than it had been even back in my youth. As snow usually does, it compacted down over time and soon I had about 18 inches of close to solid ice on my decks. The sheer weight of this could cause damage to the deck, but the longer it stayed, the harder it would be to remove and more snow kept arriving all the time. It took me about five days of shoveling over four hours a day to get all of the decks cleared. I also spent many hours chipping, scraping and chopping away at the ice on the front walkway.

I began to realize that what happened with my snow management in the microcosm was the same thing that had happened to mankind in relation to climate change in the macrocosm. Winter had changed from what it was 20 years ago and I had forgotten what it was like to have to remove the ice from the front walk, or how critical it was to get it off the decks right away. I had been lulled into shoveling complacence, had forgotten how we used to go about it and what the consequences were of neglect. I marveled how soon I had forgotten and felt happy to be chipping and pounding away at the ice again. All was well. Then I remembered that all is not well.

When someone in a room with a dimmer switch gradually turned down does not notice how much darker the room is than before, one of the main reasons they do not notice is inaccurate or wishfully driven memory. Here in the Northern Sierra, we are generally ok with winter being less harsh. It means less work and less hardship. It makes life in the winter easier. In a dimming room, we may be happy with the room darker. Memory is an elusive critter and what it consists of is often distorted by what we want or what we like. This means that one of the main reasons we do not notice the room is darker is that we do not remember how bright it was. We do not notice or remember that the first spring flowers, snowdrops, daffodils and lupine, have been blooming steadily earlier every decade. We tend to delight in signs of spring coming earlier, even though when we pause and reflect, we know something is systemically wrong with Mother Nature. We also do not notice or remember when we have no specific markers for comparison. The particular muscle memory I have of pounding away at ice with a shovel, when I performed the act again many years later, made me realize I did not even miss doing this task. I did not ever think, “Wow, I haven’t had to chip ice off the front walkway for 20 years.” The memory was gone and with it, the awareness of any of it ever having happened.

Without the marker or any other specific records or information, I could easily have forgotten how much winter has changed. My mother’s home logs and father’s weather records kept for over 40 years tell us that in the mid-1960s the snowdrops bloomed in the second week of April. Going through the logs, over the years the bloom dates gradually shifted until, by the time I moved back home here in 2002, the snowdrops came out at the beginning of March. The last couple of years it has moved to the end of February. Thanks to logbooks and records we can circumvent our own mistaken memories. Thanks to science, we do not have to rely on our own often mistaken faculties, but we can rely on measurements and solid data.