I Wish I could Say I Was Surprised…

I can’t tell you how much I’d rather be out making images and writing about them… but sometimes the world gets in the way.

While still reeling from Gilroy then El Paso, we got Dayton.  I am not surprised though I am profoundly saddened by it because, to me, it reveals a total breakdown in the cultural morals, ethics, and values that I’ve been writing about for years.  And still, idiots rush to politicize the incident(s) and sometimes by giving the despicable killer precisely what they wanted: exposure and in a truly perverse way, a score card to show their achievements.  Committing mass murder has always been about body count with the murderers believing the more they can kill the more they will become famous.  They study the web for data on previous killers to learn from their mistakes and hope to better their score.  And you cretins giving them that broader exposure are doing far more to facilitate more such incidences than any stretched connection between the words of some stupid politician.

Achievements?  Have you been so hung up on one issue solutions you’ve failed to see what was in front of you?  Yes, Achievements.  Whether it is a younger school shooter or an older mass shooter, there may be all sorts of rationales thrown up on their screeds to explain and promote their actions to their simple minded social media followers, but the bottom line is they are all driven by the same level of percolating, sub-surface rage flowing from a sense of rejection, abandonment, and disrespect that started in childhood and has never been dealt with by the actual adults in their lives, much less by the people who they have looked to for solution, their parents.  And so it builds and builds… and builds.

Finally, wound tighter than a drum, some emotional critical mass has been reached just waiting for the trigger of some acceptable pretext in their own warped perspective to ignite it.  But those “causes” jumped on by the press and by political partisans are just pretexts. I understand why you partisans would jump on those because they advance your agenda.  But they are not helpful and simply are distracting us from real issues.

What the killer wanted and achieved was attention (which the press and social media morons gave to him) through which, among those of his “friends,” he achieved some immortality with his score of bodies.  But any ideological aspect was simply a pretext to allow him to finally visit his revenge and reckoning on the world at large.  IF the shooter is drawn to a given hate-filled rhetoric it is because the rage was already there and he was simply looking for reinforcement from like minded morons.

Don’t think so?  The air is filled with the pundits’ blind certainty that the El Paso shooter was fueled by white nationalism and the rage at the “invaders” of other races victimizing the poor “real” Americans.  After all, that was what he wrote, wasn’t it? Isn’t that what his literary mentor, Ragnar Redbeard, told him?  Isn’t that what the histrionic partisans would have you believe Trump told him?

But who did he kill?

Did he select and murder just those he saw as Hispanic-looking sub-human invaders? If he actually believed what he read and wrote, or even if he was truly motivated by the hated Demon in Chief  and was in anyway doing good work for the country, he would have done his best to cut down the numbers of those identifiable invaders but spared the victims of that invasion.  But that’s not what he did.  No, instead he killed or tried to kill any and everyone he came across.  The truth is the screed is a smokescreen.  He just wanted to kill, period.

The published rant of the El Paso killer was to try to explain, perhaps even to himself, why he was driven internally to do strike out and kill and also to get him noticed by the other killers on social media.  But it was, and is, no more than a cover story happily slurped up by those whose political agenda is served by it.  It is far from the whole or even real story.

The Dayton killer murdered his own sister in the process of his uncontrolled rage and rampage. And he did it in a hot tourist spot that was not even predictably filled with logical targets of any ideological war. His screed was from a different perspective promoting socialism and “the squad” but in the end it too was simply a smokescreen.   He just wanted to kill and needed an excuse.  Finding the solutions to that is a very different effort than trying to stop truly dedicated ideologues killing targeted enemies for their honest faiths.  Theology is a lot more powerful than ideology, but both are trumped by psychology and hate.

And the next one, and oh yes you can be sure there will be a next one, will be just the same.  Because while you are arguing over how to limit the chosen tools not a single effort is being made to examine and address the root causes of what turns some of humans into wanton depraved killers while the vast majority of citizens, many of whom are far better armed, trained, and better able to wreak havoc if they chose to, in fact do NOT chose to.  Their access to weapons, their skill with them, their awareness of global and domestic events, their struggles in life on all levels from emotional to economic are no less stressful.  But they are not out there killing people wholesale in mass killings.

The self-credited brilliant sociological minds posting on FB make much of the concept that these shooters are all white males and then, in the next post tell us how horrible the conditions are for the minorities in this country… and never see the connection.  For purposes of this post lets stipulate to that.  Let’s accept that minorities are the ones with the real grievances and especially against their white oppressors.  We also know that there is a high percentage of weapon ownership in those communities.  So why have they not fielded competition in the sport of mass killing if that was the real cause.  They may fight back over particular events rightly or wrongly but they do not typically go collect massive firepower and assault some bastion of so-called “white privilege” to rack up a high score.

They certainly have those from their community saying no less by way of encouragement to violence than Trump has ever done.  Farrakhan, Omar, Wright, and Sharpton, the sleazy holder of the Tawana Brawley award for astonishing hypocrisy, have all said the problem is white males and hinted or openly asserted that the world would be better without them.  And yet, where are the minority communities’ entrants into the contest for who can be the most cowardly, disgusting human being devoted to death or those, in their own minds, out to persecute them? OR where is the righteous warrior riding out a la Don Quixote, to tackle the windmill giants of oppression?  I’ve looked and I’m not seeing them.  So maybe there is a different cause…  After all if even your mother told you to jump off a cliff would you do it?  I’ll bet not.

Perhaps for another time, this does raise some very interesting points about why have the minority communities seemed to have held on to some of those values and morals better than the majority community but that is not the point here.  The point here is dealing with what we have unfolding before us: another and another and another individual who went over the top on a killing spree.  After the last blog post, in an FB post where I asserted the poster(s) were all wanting a one size fits all answer because that fit their narrative from a political ideology, I was asked, basically, “Oh yeah, what would YOU (Mr. Smarty pants) suggest we do?

I assume they thought I had another simple answer just a different one.  But I don’t because I do not think one exists. There are multiple parts to this complex issue, and, worse yet, multiple issues within the multiple parts. There are many answers and all of them will need to be addressed in a unified approach if we are to succeed.

But if we do not, as a culture and society, seriously address them ALL, if we only continue to bicker about whose approach is the right one, as if there were actually A RIGHT ONE, this carnage will simply continue.

As an example let me pass on an interesting anecdote on point.  England has one of the toughest gun restrictions that side of Chicago.  But unlike Chicago, there is no easy place to get guns and import them.  So what to do when you want to kill people?  Easy.  Use a different weapon, in this case, knives.  You’ll not see the American media talking about it since it does not fit their agenda, but Parliament has been sufficiently concerned to discuss various types of knife bans.  Unfortunately since virtually every description of a knife used in both domestic and public attacks also fits more banal kitchen utensils, a workable and enforceable law has been elusive.  If  you honestly believe that someone whose inner rage has reached the point of killing will be dissuaded by not having the easy weapon to do it readily available, you are delusional or perhaps from another universe.  Humans grew adept at killing each other long before there were any firearms.

But lets get back to the topic of finding solutions for us.  Broadly speaking we have the following areas of inquiry to search for answers (there may be more but these are ones I thought of off the top of my head):

  1. The Beginning.  How are these shooters created?  Are they just born with an evil gene or are they created and formed?  This is perhaps the most important inquiry since if we can stop them at the beginning, there is no point in going further because there would be no place to go.
  2. Before the Event. This is what is referred to as “pre-incident” and is a two part issue…
    1. What can a potential victim, which is to say all of us, do to avoid the event by recognizing and then acting on the pre-incident indicators? And,
    2. What can be done to “harden” typical target locations such as schools, government buildings, places of worship, malls and even private businesses, and now parks and open air event locations, etc. (You do realize, do you not, this now includes basically EVERYWHERE?)
  3. Surviving the Event. The shooting has started… now what? You hear gunshots close by where there should not be any gunshots.  And they are getting closer.  What can you do to give yourself better odds of being a survivor.

Regarding Issue one, I covered my views on the genesis of these killer in my book, “Making Schools Safer” as the conclusions to its discussion of school shooters.  But aren’t those school shooters different from these mass shooters?  For the most and most important parts I think they are different only in age but I think the derivation of their psyche’s and undercurrent of rage are exactly the same and initially set in motion by the same group… parents.  If you don’t believe it get and read the book then let me know if you still don’t see it.

However this is a huge area packed with individual issues to deal with that may seem unrelated.  Many of you know I’m a huge fan of “Complexity Theory” and as such am inclined to look for and see the connections between those points in the larger system.  Here are just some of them that I think have an impact on the creation of the shooters and need cultural and societal attention.

However before I list them, let me be clear, I don’t think any ONE of them accounts for any of the shootings, nor are they all in play all the time.  Just as if Guns were the definitive cause since we are awash in guns this would be a lot worse.  If video games were the only element it would be a lot worse.  But I believe in greater or lesser degrees, all of these things play into the mix of influences and need to be looked at.

  • Parenting This is THE one that I believe is an issue of far greater importance and far more commonly found in all of the shootings.  But parenting methods are the result of both philosophy and economics so even here this is not as simple as it might appear.  I personally think it significant that with a single exception mass killers are male, and that a recent study revealed that 26 of the 27 recent killers of 8 or more people, were, in the words of the study, “dad deprived.”  That doesn’t just mean that there is no father, it also covers situation where the father seems to take no interest in the child or what they are doing.  Remember the song, “Cat’s in the Cradle?”  Think it was only a song?  Bottom line is that boys who are hurt and angry are the ones most likely to hurt us.  When a kid feels abandoned, even if that makes no sense to the adult minds around them, some of them will go on an occasionally deadly campaign to get that attention.
    Does that mean that not having a father is a guarantee of creating a mass killer?  Of course not, that’s just stupid.  But it is an influence prevalent in killers and has to be added to the mix of potential influences.
  • Entertainment media that promotes the idea to formative minds that violence is an acceptable solution to problems
  • Video Gaming that, as military use indicates, is good at desensitizing our natural inhibitions against killing other humans.  The industry argues there is no direct causal link demonstrated but that’s not the point.  Causing some one to do something is not the same as desensitizing them so that when they do succumb to the urge to kill it is easier.
  • News media and social media that consistently gives these shooters precisely what they want: exposure and attention
  • Social media and the culture of anonymous/semi-anonymous ad hominem attacks on those who look and think differently basically fueling the pretext collection for the killers.
  • The political environment of unvarnished hate for those who think differently. The rhetoric from all sides successfully blocks any indications of any side being willing to really work with the other and that means that not only is the running of the country paralyzed but to our point, it increases the acceptance of hatred especially when it appears to come from the top whether that is accurate or not.  Remember (for those who read the book) the logical adult/parent’s perspective is meaningless, what counts is what do formative youth “hear” and especially what do those just looking for a pretext to act hear?
  • Weapons availability. I’m including this as a discussion point though I personally think it is a bogus point given the ocean of weapons out there and the relatively rare (historically speaking) incidents of mass shooting compared to the ability to do it.  Nevertheless, to me this issue is worthwhile as a “trade goods” issue.  I do not think guns are the problem.
    However, I understand the fear behind those who know little about them except what overwrought folks tell them yet also see no logical reason behind the obsession with scary looking guns either to own one or to ban them.  What I do know is that fear trumps logic and when fear drives legislation than all hope for sanity for law abiding gun owners will be lost so it is in our vested interest to do something to get things moving.
    Hunting and self defense has been successfully practiced for a very long time with far less scary looking gun for those frightened of guns per se.  Nevertheless I do not ever recall hearing of a home invasion carried out by a platoon of 20 or so miscreants, nor a mugging by 100 or so muggers.  Unlike police actions where hundreds of rounds may be fired, most missing the target, in actual reports of personal or home defense the situation is resolved either no shots fired or no more than 3 or 4.   For myself, a long time shooter, my own selection for home defense would not be a rifle of any configuration and though from near childhood I’ve hunted small, medium, and large game I’ve never needed more than 2 shots to bring home the meat.  So if – IF – I could be convinced that a ban on scary looking guns was not simply a foundational step on the so-called “slippery slope” to total gun bans, I’d put them on the table and say to the politicians on the other side, OK, here’s your bone, now lets see if you can deal in good faith on other issues.
    I’ve also written about my being in favor of a federal CCW program that licensed everyone to own and carry a gun following specified training and testing.  The Federal database would then be incredibly easy to query when data was needed.  Since very often illegally procured guns are used I think background checks are overrated (by the way I’ve purchased several guns over the years at gun shows and every time had to wait for a background check ) but if they could actually demonstrate efficacy in finding and stopping the occasional problem, then great.
    But we all know that a dedicated bad guy will get a gun somehow and skirt the law. And the real problem is the coordination of systems locale to locale, store to city to state to feds.  Without that cooperation and interconnection it serves no purpose to gather data one place that is unavailable to another.  And we would need standardized definitions of the condition needed to refuse the purchase.  Good luck with that one.
    One last thing, there was one “good guy with a gun” who violated the mall’s gun free policy to go in several times and rescue kids and carry them to safety.  And for the record he was African-American.  Of course the media is pretty quiet about him too since that REALLY does not fit the narrative.
  • Red Flag Laws. These sound great and in principle could be of real value. The perfect complement to put some meaning and teeth into the “See Something, Say Something” efforts.  But before I’d back a specific law I’d want to read it all to make sure all due process was in place to protect the innocent in an age when we seem, politically, have transformed into a “guilt by accusation” mode.  When we can act on the basis of what someone might have done then we have fundamentally altered the basis for our legally and naturally given rights.  I think that needs to be addressed but with great care.  I also believe these laws need to be absolutely “clean” with no riders attached to them to force a vote one way or another.
  • Mental Health Issues.  Lots of controversy here and it does make an easy scapegoat.  Mental health experts insist the connection is vague at best.  The recent Secret Service report on Mass Killings, noted that very few of the perpetrators had a current mental issue that would have been treatable or at a level to require confinement.  However, and it is a big “however,” that report  noted that nearly all of them had past mental issues and had suffered from symptoms such as depression, paranoia, etc. that had warranted observation and or treatment or medication though not all of them have availed themselves of the help.
    To add “sport” to it various jurisdictions have very different criteria for mental issues sufficient to prohibit firearms purchase.  Those need to be standardized and, much as I hate saying it, may be one of those areas needing Federal oversight.

Regarding issue number 2b, I’ve already talked about it at length in my book noted above.  In fact that book also got into the weeds on ideas being floated for “hardening” schools in various way as well as the issue of arming teachers.  As I wrote in the book and in the last blog post, I’m not a huge fan of that, but in fairness I have to admit I learned after my book was finished that in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting (which had been the catalyst for me to write the book in the first place), a major review panel consisting largely of parents of victims and survivors plus law enforcement and security experts and counselors was convened and one of the primary recommendations from their report to the governor was to train and arm teachers who were willing to do it.

Issue 3, as noted both in the book and in my last blog entry, is covered well by specialists providing approved and licensed A.L.I.C.E. and RHF training to businesses and schools.  My own school, City College, offered the A.L.I.C.E. training to faculty.  I attended and thought is was very, very informative.  Personally I think there ought to be follow ups to keep faculty up to date and practiced so when it happens they will know almost automatically what to do. I’d love to see some “advanced” classes offered that extended beyond the school facilities out into the real world.

It is issue 2b that needs a lot more training and awareness by the public in general but specifically by education and business leaders and managers to be disseminated down among students and employees.  How do we re-awaken our natural intuitions to not just see but mentally react to pre-incident indicators that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. As I said in the last post, these killers work up to this and always, always leave a trail littered with “red flags.”

When I was a kid and my uncle was teaching me to track, what I learned was that only rarely could you follow footprints until you found one with a foot still in it.  Most of the time you were on your hands and knees looking for something out of place, something unusual.  But that meant you had to learn what actually was right in the first place.

When I was in spook school the instructor gave us a metaphor based on the then popular jigsaw puzzles.  Those were killer puzzles of a gazillion pieces and an image that was an abstract painting of subtle hue changes of a basic color.  He told us to image such a puzzle that the box top showed was all blue hues but when you dumped out the pieces, there was one pink one in the pile.  What was amazing was that he had a special puzzle like that made up and when he dumped out the pieces a large number of students did not see the pink one.  Some of you have seen the video of a basketball game in which a gorilla walks through the scene and almost no one sees it… or other events. If not click on the link to see it.

In our cases in the military seeing those pink pieces had a life or death connotation to them so we were motivated to look for them, but most people go through life and never “see” them or the gorilla walking by or the broken branches or the tipped over rock… or the gun under a jacket or the heavy trench coat on a hot day.  In fact we DO see those things we just refuse to accept them through our brain’s filtering process. Sherlock Holmes said that we, “…look but do not see.” No?  Do this little experiment from YouTube.

I hate it; a civilized society ought not to ever have to learn those things.  But if I had kids I’d be training them now to see those pink pieces.  I’d be talking about it to friends and workshop participants, people I would not like to hear were victims of the next shooter.  If I were a CEO or Chancellor or President I’d be looking into inviting an expert like Gavin De Becker in to talk about it.  Bottom line, evil is always arrogant and assumes a position of self righteousness and often being smarter and better than others who deserve to be treated poorly.  And because of that it leaves very visible tracks as it moves.  We’ve got to learn to see them and act on them.

But… since we are not addressing the items in the bullet list above, there most certainly will be a next shooter.  Will you be ready? Probably not because you’ll be having too much fun blaming personalities on the other side of the political spectrum for inciting this.  What could be more divisive than that? Because when you accuse the politician you also accuse their followers and then you haven’t just created a one-person divide or one enemy, you’ve created many.

Sorry, that’s just dumb.

 

 

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See Something… Say Something — A Sad New World.

Well, this will be a departure from normal photo topics.  But once again a horrible event has happened and I’ve had people ask for my opinion, given my somewhat unusual and rambunctious past and my book  on making schools safer from school shooters.  The event was the shooting in Gilroy, CA at the annual Garlic Festival there.  Unless you were a vampire on a personal jihad, what could possibly bring one to open fire on festival goers and in the process kill kids?

As usual there is the knee jerk responses blaming the tools.  But media was oddly quiet on details about the shooter since, it turned out, he was possibly an adherent of a very strange “Might makes Right” concept that make Themistocles and Ayn Rand look like toddlers in a sandbox squabbling over a lost rattle.   On his computer were posts instructing people to read an obscure novel glorified by white supremacists: “Might Is Right,” published under the pseudonym Ragnar Redbeard (real name, Arthur Desmond).  The book, published in 1890, includes discredited principles related to social Darwinism that have been used to justify racism, slavery and colonialism.

His hero, Ragnar, was also a fervent anti-Christian and since that does not fit the media’s current political narrative, little is mentioned of it.  His own social media screeds are full of it as well as a singular hatred for Silicon Valley the spiritual home of the equipment he used to rant on about… that spiritual home.  He used a weapon (utterly mislabeled in the media) that is illegal to own in California, so those prohibitive laws proved useless.  But meanwhile the wringing hands crowd goes off on guns and right-wing extremists and racists, none of which is really applicable here.  The FBI insists that the conflicted writing collected by the young killer has not allowed them to say with certainty if any particular ideology drove the incident.  That means it could have been something very personal as it frequently is.  But even if we do not know the precise reason, we are left with the critical question of how do we stop this type of carnage?

One can argue that its occurrences are vastly over-reported, and while that is factually true, it completely misses the point: it should not be happening AT ALL.  There is really no acceptable number of mass killings that should slip under the radar of a civilized culture.  So, what can we do to try to minimize or, better yet, eliminate the occurrences?

In my book on school shooters, where most of the shooters are essentially kids themselves, I argued that our modern culture in its material quests and worship of things material by media and entertainment have created a world in which parents are overwhelmed trying to keep up, to provide the things they seem to think are important and for which the kids clamor, and in the process have created an environment where the perception of the child is one of rejection and abandonment.  It is pointless to argue from the adult perspective that the parents are doing it “for the kids” to better their lot because whether or not it is true (and I personally suspect it is not true more often) the only perspective that counts is that of the child.  Giving the kid everything they say they want, protecting them and carrying them even into semi-adulthood often simply fuels the sense of abandonment because what they REALLY want is the attention, love, respect, and guidance of the parent.  Buying them off with the latest fashion or toy is not a substitute for those things.  Following the shootings at Columbine (I was close by when that happened and was on contract with the Denver Police when that happened so got some good insight into it) it was found that one of the kids was making their pipe bombs in the family’s garage and components were found laying around.   Neither parent noticed.  Indeed they would often go on vacations and simply ask neighbors to look in on them to make sure they were OK.

And as the child gets angrier and angrier at the sense of rejection his babysitter, the TV, tells him clearly that the appropriate outlet for such abuse and its righteous rage is violence and the elimination of the sources of that anger.  We are all familiar with the concept of a kid throwing a tantrum to get attention and instead of discipline the overwhelmed parent often gives in and gives the kid what they want.  That is a life’s lesson for the young mind.  This is a simple escalation of that concept.  In order to achieve some form of recognition for their efforts they seek to generate violence in which they “win” by scoring the highest body count precisely as do many of the video games they play endlessly.  And even if killed in the process they know the news media will breathlessly and publicly tell of their successes as if singing their praises and at last, even if in death, they will finally be recognized for doing and being something special.

In short, I argued that our culture and its modern liberal parenting are manufacturing these shooters wholesale and until we address that issue, no focus on tools will have much of an effect.  The problem, of course, is that our culture will have none of that and, I predict, will continue to be unwilling to change any of it which, to me, shows that the gathering of family goodies is not and was not ever really about the kids and their needs and well-being.  At its core this is an issue of parenting and as such would require a review of issues like ethics and values and morality unlikely to take place anytime soon.

I would argue that these adult killers are simply individuals whose final straw was not loaded onto their psyches while they were still in school so their target operate in different environments.  But if we are socially unwilling to change and try to slow down the creation of these killers, what does that leave us as viable means to try to lower the incidences of mass shootings whether at school or elsewhere?

The most common idea, after banning tools, is to create workable defense mechanisms.  This was especially true regarding school shootings when all manner of hare-brained ideas were floated around for “hardening” the facilities from metal detectors at the doors to putting an officer on each floor.  My book deals with those in detail… and rejects them.  Another idea, now adopted by Utah and several local jurisdictions, as examples, is to allow teachers to be trained and armed.

This may come as an enormous surprise to people who know me, but I’m not solidly behind this idea.  I accept that in many public locations it is possible – possible – that an armed AND TRAINED citizen could stop the shooter before law enforcement arrives (statistically about 10 minutes after the call) and more innocent people are killed.  But expecting a teacher to fire on a student, even one actively killing other students, is to ask them to throw away everything holy to good teachers who put kids’ safety first and have never ever faced death in a fire fight or never, like many combat vets, seen kids set explosive traps that killed their friends and comrades.

In fact, to be fair, I know several teachers who are vets or ex cops that I’d love to know were armed but they are the rare exceptions.  Their often-unfortunate experiences allow them to see the action and throw the internal switch that changes the shooter from a kid and perhaps known student into a wanton killer that must be stopped with whatever means it takes.  Most of my colleagues, on the other hand, are nice enough individuals but the idea of them packing a weapon would scare me to death.  I’m not convinced many of them could make that transition in time to save others and perhaps even save themselves.  Returning fire while under fire is not like a range exercise, no matter how complex or “realistic.”  No range target is likely to kill the shooter if they miss or delay.

Having a bullet fired in anger go by your ears for the first time is a life altering event and the common response is to freeze, soil your undies, and thank God you are alive rather than to return deliberate well-aimed fire.  And it is even less fun if you are hit.  Unlike the westerns where an arm shot or shoulder shot was waved off as a flesh wound with a brave declaration of, “…they only winged me!” getting hit with modern ammunition can turn even a non-fatal wound into an experience with pain — from torn flesh and hydrostatic shock as internal muscles are ripped apart by the pressure wave — the likes of which few have ever known; and it will stop virtually anyone not high on some contraband substance or hardened with precious experiences, right in their tracks.  You’re not sure if you are terrified of another shot or you want to stand up and embrace a good one so it will stop the pain.

Ego driven Concealed Carry Permits aside, a real gunfight is not a place any rational human wants to be and if their training is not so constant and well honed that they can respond automatically, a phenomenon called by some, “psychotachia” will slow down their perception of the world, create very narrow tunnel vision, and overwhelm them with so much adrenaline that based on skill alone they could not predictably hit the Pentagon at ten paces with a blunderbuss.  This person is not the one you want protecting the classroom with a small gun of questionable accuracy in their shaking hands when all fine motor skills are gone.  Additionally, no one with any combat experience would want to go into an expected firefight armed only with a weapon that can be easily concealed.

Besides, simply making this type of activity an extremely hazardous occupation has little meaning to the perpetrator because most mass shooters expect to be killed in the process.  It is their lasting story and score that is important as a legacy.  Those things and the attendant fame, they believe, will live on beyond them; and until we can convince the media and the consumers of media to make them anonymous except in the most negative of ways, it will continue.  Until we quit rewarding their deadly tantrums as they wish, until we stop trying to remove negative consequences from negative behaviors and choices and get over the idea of situational ethics, it will continue unabated.

So if we as a culture will not remedy the manufacturing of shooters, and we cannot really eliminate the incidences on the spot, what is left in the meantime?  Are we helpless?  I don’t think so.  What we can do is learn what is needed to give us as individuals and groups a better chance at surviving such an event.  And it begins long before the event starts.  It begins for the potential victims with a skill set based on the acquisition of “Situational Awareness.”

Every shooter for whom we have data has, it turns out, left a clear set of preliminary indicators that they were building to some horrific act.  And all of them fell within the limits of certain required conditions (according to their own perceptions).

Every one of them!

There may have been some trigger that set them off and makes it appear almost spontaneous, but it never really is. The old cliché that you hear all the time when someone is trying to make sense of what to them is a senseless act is that the perpetrator, “just snapped.”  That is NEVER true.  Never.

That final act has been building usually over a long period of time until some final incident occurs that pushes them over the top.  What unfolds, after an analysis of every  mass or school shooter, reveals that the shooting (or bombing or knifing, etc.) is the result of long hours spent sulking and pouting over their perceived grievances and thinking about their action to make it right; planning it in their minds, studying everything they can that will help them prepare, gathering and or making their tools, often ranting their manifesto speeches in social media or to their friends (or enemies), often casing the possible locations to exact their retribution and reckoning.

What is important is this:  ALL of those steps leave tracks.

But if that is true why do we not see them?  The answer is simple… we have.  But we don’t want to believe what they tell us.  Huxley wrote that humans tend to believe what they tend to prefer.  How can that be when we all see the same things?  Well… no we don’t.  Studies have shown that we do not really see with our eyes, we see with our brain.  And the brain “sees” only a fraction of the potential sensory input available to avoid overwhelming us.  It filters the rest out.  Based on what?  Preference and a firm and desperate grip on its unique sense of what is “normal” which it will try to retain and accept contradictions to that only when some huge jolt of reality forces us to do so.

What about mental illness?  Well, in the Secret Service study of the shootings in 2018 it turns out only a very few of the killers were currently suffering any related mental illnesses.  But…  ALL of them had a history of symptoms reflecting deep issues related to mental health problems from depression to addictions. Some were evaluated but found not to have issues serious enough for treatment.  But, and what is important here, they HAD been evaluated because someone noted what was, to them aberration behavior.  Many had been treated and pronounced “cured” or put on meds which they stopped taking.  But in the end, mental illness was just one of the indicators to be fed into the mix to determine if the tracks you were following were likely leading to a shooting or not, but alone was not determinate.

In his best selling book, author and security consultant (to government, corporate, and celebrity clients) Gavin DeBecker gets deep into the weeds to give very detailed data on these conditions and indicators along with actual case histories to support his firm’s approach and conclusions.  The book is called “The Gift of Fear,” and if this subject is important to you, if you spend time in places that have historically been the types of places targeted for mass killings,  then that book and several others he has written or recommended on the subject are ones you really need to read.  But they are long and unpleasant reads because they take you into minds’ dark places most of us would prefer not to go.

However the bottom line of his and others’ studies clearly show that we all see those tracks; we all understand them on a subconscious level, we all have an internal sense or intuition that makes us apprehensive or uneasy, and justifiably so… but we ignore it and go on about our lives following our concepts of normal.

This is a blog entry not a book and there is not a reasonable amount of time here to go into detail on the indicators or conditions that spawn these incidences.  If you would like me to expand on them then let me know.  But I cannot over-emphasize this: if you spend time in schools or businesses or government offices or public events or restaurants or places of worship, etc. where these incidences have happened, sometimes more than once, and if you’d like to better your chances of survival should an incident occur near you, then this grim topic, horrible as it is to contemplate, is something you need to take seriously and inform yourself as best you can.

Our world is changing as values and ethics teaching is evaporating, as parents become more overwhelmed by work and the material world, as new media rewards bad behavior with exposure, as the entertainment media continues to glorify violence as a viable solution to problems, and as social media and video games makes us less sensitive, less sympathetic, and less empathetic to others who look or just think differently than we do, then I believe these types of incidences will continue to happen and may even escalate in frequency.

You basically have three optional ways to deal with it.

  1. You can ignore it and assume it will not happen to you so there is no point in talking about such unpleasant topics.
  2. You can be overwhelmed by it, live in fear and deep anxiety and have your life ruined by something that is still – so far – a fairly rare.
  3. You can accept the reality of this possibility and learn what you can do to better your odds of survival should it happen so you can live your life aware but not debilitated by fear.

The third option involves two areas of training.  The first is to learn to let your intuition show you warning signs and then act on them – to do as the signs say, “If you see something, say something.”  The second is to take as much training as you can get in dealing with active shooter scenarios such as the “A.L.I.C.E.” training or the “R.H.F” approach.  Learn to see the signs that let you avoid the danger as much as possible, then learn the approaches that will enhance your chances of survival if you find it happening around you.

It’s a truly sad thing that in the early part of the 21st century in the United States that we should have to even think of these things much less seriously need to prepare for them.  But we ignore that reality at our own and our loved ones’ peril.

At least that is my opinion on the subject for those that asked…

 

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FOOD DEMO FOR LIGHTING CLASS

The assignment for the Photo 200A class is food.  Specifically it is to produce a food shot that can be used as either an advertising style shot for a menu or for an editorial style shot as an illustration for an article on food related topics.  After showing a number of examples of food photography and talking generally about approaches, it was time to do a demo in the studios.  Students “volunteered” to bring the food to shoot, I asked only that all parts of the serving be kept separate until we created the shot.  I did not specify what food to bring.

What showed up was chicken with mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, etc.  So I decided to do an editorial style shot with the food in front on a barn.  I intended to do a “green screen” shot but there was too much green in the set up and props, so I used a black background so I could more easily do a luminosity mask and then modify it manually.

Here is a light plot of our set up in the studio:

lighting-diagram-with food

THe camera used was a Canon 5DIII with a 24-70 lens set to 67mm.  THe lights were set up in the following order:

  1.  First I used a medium softbox aimed straight down and placed OVER the food but slightly to the rear.  This gave nice general light and a soft forward shadow.  By itself it was flat but was only the starting place.  It created a nice reflection in the gravy on the potatoes and on the silverware.
  2. The second light was a 7″ reflector with a grid on a back light,  This added some drama and texture to the shot and started to make the elements stand out from one another. It was working but not wrapping around enough so…
  3. The next light was also a 7″ reflector aimed in from the left side to enhance the backlight (2) and bring the back and side lighting together to really enhance texture and detail.
  4.  This left the front shadows somewhat dark and lifeless so I used a 22″ beauty dish placed low and at food level then turned down low to simply add some light back into those shadows.  This could have been done as well with a nice reflector or even a softbox from the same position, but the beauty dish was handy so I used the light.
  5. Finally I notice the food looked good but the table decoration of flowers looked dull and lifeless so I added a snoot from the right side to give them some edgy life.  The snoot kept the light concentrated and off of the rest of the setting. ( It is mistakenly labelled as another #3 — my bad…)

Basically, I placed the lights, starting with the softbox and added in a counter-clockwise pattern around the set.   Except for the base softbox light and the soft fill from the beauty dish I used the harder light from the polished reflectors to better match the “feel” of the sunlight on the background shot I intended to use.

The camera shot was good but the food had needed some “shine” to it and I did not have my glycerin spray handy.  So in Photoshop I added a soft “plastic wrap” filter then using a layer mask, just allowed it to show where I wanted a sense of shine. This yielded the following shot ready for the background..

food demofrom camera

Now it was time to lay in the background.  I used a shot I had of a wonderful old barn on the road into Yosemite from Merced.  Using a luminosity mask I dropped out the black background of the camera shot to reveal the barn and here is that result.

Food demo and barn v1.jpg

Well, that works… but the barn is so interesting on its own that it seemed a little distracting so I decided to apply a lens blur to that layer to simulate a slightly shallower depth of field.  And that gave me this…

Food demo and barn v 2

Stylistically one could play with the mount of simulated Depth of Field, but generally the composited shot does convey the desired narrative.  Including talking my way through the process for the demo, the shot took a little over an hour plus about 1/2 hour of editing.

So now I’m anxious to see what the students turn in.  Oh, BTW, the chicken was delicious!!!

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SD FAIR JUDGING 2019: Part 1

YAY!  Enough about me and back to photo subjects…

April 20 saw a cadre of judges assembling for the tier 1 judging of images for the 2019 Annual International Juried Photo Exhibition at the San Diego Fair.  This year saw the second highest number of submissions EVER – well over 4,000!

The judges had a daunting task at this stage: reduce that initial pile to a little less than 1/3 the number  to then proceed to tier 2 judging where actual prints were evaluated for a final decision on what to hang overall, plus to pick a 1st through 4th in each category, a limited number of Honorable Mentions, and finally the Best of Show.   But first things first.  We assembled in the judging area for coffee and donuts, bagels, etc. were available and where calibrated monitors awaited us and our three-panel sets were  assigned categories and places.

opening greet

The judges gathered early to grab some coffee and a donut or three and catch up since many had not seen each other for a year.  Rarely is a room so packed with incredible photographic and experience as during the judging for the SD Fair.   

We really never know where the coordinator will place us so it is always fun to sometimes find yourself on a panel with other judges you’ve never worked with before.  I like meeting other photographers and photo educators and always feel I come away from these sessions actually learning a little more than I started with.    So quickly, it was time to get into the serious business of making “approve/disapprove for passing on to tier 2” evaluations of our assigned stacks of image files.  Tier 1 is conducted based on viewing on our calibrated computer monitors.

Lee panel

In this panel the judges in the foreground (l-r: Lin Craft, Dave Hinkle, Lee Peterson) are reviewing a submitted image on one of the calibrated monitors.  This is how we see the the submitted images in tier 1 judging.  In the background you can see a few of the other 3-judge panels looking at the images in the categories they were assigned.

As with each Fair for the last several years, I took notes and spoke with other judges to come up with a list of issues we saw commonly among the entrants in the hopes of both explaining some of our decisions and in providing information that will let participants improve their photography for next time or other exhibitions or contests.

Don panel

Sometimes the judges (here l-r: Craig Carlson, Dave Gatley, Don Bartletti) really get into their review and appraisals of submitted images to try to be as objective as possible in selecting the 1/3 or less of the submitted images in their categories to pass on to tier 2 judging.  The same judges will review the submitted prints at the tier 2 stage in part to see if the actual prints live up to the electronic file then to select individual submissions to ribbon awards.

This year produced a longer than usual list of recurring and sometimes maddening issues which surprised us all.  After all, after all this time of reading these critiques, of having so much new technology available and so many educational resources, we would expect things to be getting incrementally better… not incrementally worse.  As always there were enough really outstanding images to allow the staff to put together a good show for the Fair.  But the broader base of images were really fraught with issues.  So lets get right into the list.  I’ve tried to synthesize and condense two pages of notes into something more palatable for readers to absorb.

CROPPING.  Every year I hammer away at this point and yet it seems to go unheeded:  it is up to YOU to find the real photo in your photo, to eliminate EVERYTHING that does not contribute to supporting or enhancing the story of that central subject.  Over and over and over again you could see judges doing “finger” cropping of the displayed images discussing how much better and how much more acceptable the final shot would be if the photographer had started in the shooting stage to identify the purpose of the shot, the element in their view that portrayed that purpose or best told its story, then to hone in on the focal point — THE ONE FOCAL POINT) and then, if necessary used editing stage cropping to complete the deal.  Let me be as clear as I know how:

IT IS NOT, NOT, NOT THE JUDGES’ JOB TO FIND THE REAL PHOTO IN YOIR PHOTO AND JUDGED BASED ON THAT POTENTIAL INSTEAD OF THE BUSY, CONFUSING, DISTRACTING AND DILUTING COLLECTION OF ADDITIONAL VISUAL ELEMENTS YOU INCLUDED IN THE WHOLE FIELD OF VIE#W!!!!

THe good news is that you get to be the artist — the “author” of your visual story.  The bad news is that you and you alone must make the decisions about how best to tell that story.

FOCUSING:  Turn the $@%$^&@ auto-focus OFF.  And if, especially, you are doing a shot, such as, but not limited to, a macro shot, where the subject and composition demands that SOMETHING needs to be sharp, THEN FOCUS ON IT AND USE THE APPROPRIATE DEPTH OF FIELD  to include anything else that should also be presented as sharp.  Come on… this is Photo 100 stuff.

Showing a landscape where peripheral material is more or less in focus but the obvious focal point is soft is not acceptable.  Showing a flower detail where the fascinating detail in the bloom is out of focus but a petal or two somewhere else in the shot is sharp is not acceptable.  Showing a shot where it is not a complete abstract but something in it demands detail but in fact NOTHING is sharp is not acceptable whether it is a result of trying to over-extend the minimal focusing range of the lens or not being able to hold the camera steady, it is simply not acceptable in such a venue as an international juried exhibition.  If your friends think it is the coolest image they’ve ever seen then sell it to them but do not put it in front of experienced professionals and expect a good outcome.

CONCEPT Vs EXECUTION This gets us into the issue of editing and was perhaps the most frustrating and common issue outside of cropping.  Seeing a great concept ruined with sloppy or inadequate or even over-wrought execution is simply maddening for the judges.  Uncommonly mediocre images of uncommon beauty is simply maddening to see.  A great subject diminished by a bad photo is guaranteed to get experienced photographers and educators to dismiss it out of hand.   And given the power of major editing programs such a Photoshop™ and the incredible array of educational resources to learn to use them, not to mention to learn basic aesthetics and composition, there is simply no excuse for not doing it if — IF — one’s images are important to them.

Several of the judges referred to the issue as “Lightroom Dependency Syndrome.”  Despite all hype and advertising and rah-rah articles to the contrary, here is the consistent position of a room full of seasoned professionals:  If you are an event photographer (weddings, festivals, P.J., etc.) or a sports photographer — basically any photographer working in a genre where you need to do minimal editing applied to a huge number of image files — then Lightroom™ is, without a doubt, your best tool of choice.  But… But…  If your task is to wring every speck of enhancement and tweaking of a specific image – whether it concerns contrast or color or brilliance or area tweaking of any sort – then Lightroom should NOT be your final tool. It does not have the power. A good professional workman knows what the proper tool for a given job is AND how to use it.  Yes, you can hammer in a screw but it is not the proper process or tool.  You can use the handle of a screw driver to pound in a nail but it is not the proper process or tool.

Nor should you rely on the hype of the host of more-or-less automatic filters to produce the look of your submitted images.  Those represent someone ELSE’S concepts of how an image can look; being cute and clever and even “different” than normal is not inherently a viable criterion for art.  Art is NOT, NOT, NOT about narration, it is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS about interpretation.

As importantly, it is about the ARTIST’S interpretation; the artist’s efforts and abilities to infuse the final image with that artist’s emotional response to the subject. It is not about how someone else thinks your image might look good.

If you want to have your work taken as serious art in the serious art world, it is not just about what the artist sees; it is predominantly and most importantly about what the artist FEELS when they see what is in front of them.

To see a gorgeously composed landscape filled to overflowing with brilliant colors or special highlight areas or naturally dramatic chiaroscuro presented in an overly flat, crushed dynamic range is just aesthetic, artistic sacrilege.  To have a RAW file like that, where virtually every tone in the scene is captured, provides a perfect foundation stone for the final edited image.  But it should never be taken as the last word on that artist’s interpretation.  After expending the effort required to put you and your camera in some of the most stunning locations on the planet, and then not being willing to learn the tools or give the efforts required to make that final image the very best it can be, is visual blasphemy.

Few things irritated the judges more than this failure of execution of an otherwise gorgeous potential.  Over and over I would hear or think myself, “Oh please, just give me that file to work with!”

So the recommendations for photographers wanting to participate in this level of competition are that you access the many, many available educational resources available all over the place.  Real school programs such as ours at City College and other local, regional, nationally available schools; online resources such as Lynda.com and Youtube among others; printed guides by the library-full… good grief, there is no lack of resources for one to learn to properly use this new technology.

Bottom line: if all you need to create are “I was there” shots for social media or your blog, then none of this matters and you can freely embrace filters and other cutesy tools and technical automation to your heart’s content.  Good for you; you’ll have a lot of fun and you’ll get a ton of “friends” on social media telling you that your work is the greatest contribution to photography since the camera obscura.  But…

If seriously want to put your images in front of serious professionals in a juried exhibition or even in front of serious collectors in a gallery setting, you need to learn to use every possible tool out there so you present your gorgeous view or stunning concept as well as it possibly can be done at the moment.  Or…

…give serious thought to a hobby such as scrap-booking or stamp collecting.

 

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ANSWERING THE RUMOR MILL

My apologies for taking space in this blog for a non-photo but personal matter.  But rumors are swirling around that I’m back in the hospital, that the cancer has returned, that I’ve got only a few hours to live until a ghastly demise as the devil comes forth to claim his own… stuff like that.  So please indulge me for what will hopefully be the last time – at least for a while – I have to talk here about my own physical/medical condition.  Spoiler alert: rumor of my imminent demise are thankfully exaggerated… But there was a moment or two… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As most of you now know, I went in for what turned out to be surgery for colon cancer. That happened over my birthday in early February.  Then when recovered from that I started chemo treatments to make sure any residual cancer cells  from the Stage III cancer, were killed once and for all.  But as many of you know all too well, chemo treatments for cancer are often worse than the cure.  They all are poisons and toxins introduced into the body that will damage and kill ALL cells.  The plan is that they will kill the bad cells off before they have also killed enough good ones to cause permanent damage all the way up to dead.  There is no dancing around it… it is a grim and illogical, often irrational situation.

Alternatives from suggesting “Happy Thoughts” (ala Peter Pan?) to their own potions and elixirs for which they happily charge a “nominal fee” or offer free if you will subscribe to their sites or newsletter.  The web has re-invigorated the time-honored role of “Snake Oil Salesman” offering cures sold under the most scandalous pandering to a desperate person’s fears. (I hope there is a special place in Hell for those people!) For others the right chant, drum beat, powdered roots or fungi or berries or laying on of hands are subtly implied to, as they have done for “countless other sufferers” gone on to “Astonish the medical community” with cures.

Maybe.  But there is never any real, verifiable, statistical data offered or and peer reviewed articles.  I’ve even seen lists of “major medical institutions who have allegedly studied (the recommended treatment)” but upon research those institutions have no such public reports online.  More snake oil.  It was (and now is again) a crap shoot.

I had opted for “oral” chemo with the drug Xeloda, which seemed, statistically, to have far less long lasting debilitating side effects than the standard intravenous infusion approach, plus some nutritional changes.  But there were still risks.  The problem with cancer is, the problem is not just the cancer.  And in my case, something quite rare happened fairly quickly (by about 6 days into the treatment) for which there really is no good predictive model.  I rapidly developed “Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a ghastly and often deadly situation where your body reacts to the chemo by basically chemically burning your soft tissue, skin, and mucous membranes both inside and out.  If you do a web search on the syndrome you can read about it and see pictures of severe cases that are not for the faint of heart.  It is frequently fatal after destroying, by chemical burning, important organs and base functions.  It shows how powerfully your own body can turn on itself.

Soooo – it was back to the hospital where they rehydrated me via IV and helped to manage the pain which at times was, shall we say politely, significant.  With the open blisters and sores in my mouth I was on a liquid then soft diet.  That was difficult for a lifetime consummate carnivore… but not as difficult as trying to chew and swallow chunks of “real” food.

After tolerating a soft breakfast and lunch I was told by the “house doctor” that other than for this issue, my tests all showed me to be far healthier than most males of my age or even near my age and thereupon discharged with a sack filled with meds for continuing treatment of the remaining blisters and pain.  So I’m writing this from home and by the start of next week I should be back in action if not fully recovered (estimate of full recovery time from SJS (for survivors) is 6 weeks).

The elephant in the room is what now is to be done vis-à-vis any continuing chemo treatments.  It is clear that I cannot ever injest that chemical into my body again.  OK, but then what?  I’ve no interest in undergoing the IV infusion versions and all of the debilitation that almost always incurs serious debilitation that no one I’ve talked to that has undergone this has ever – EVER — fully recovered from.  So, once again, I do not know what I will do until I hear more data.  So in that sense, I’m back to where I was right after the surgery but with one of my options clearly eliminated the hard way…

I want to thank all of my friends and students who expressed concern over this.  I cannot tell you how much I have appreciated that concern.  And now,  it is my sincere hope that these issues are over and we can get back to the fun stuff – photography and related things.

 

 

 

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Mountain Idyll before the Storm

After my planned trip to Santa Fe fell through, my dear long time friend Brooke Medicine Eagle invited me to come up to a “cabin” where she was staying near Julian. In some deep inner turmoil about my impending decisions re chemo and retirement specifics from City College,  it seemed to me like breathing some clean mountain air was something that would help get my mind off of things and let them percolate to some resolutions in the background.  So I accepted.

The address is back in the surrounding country side where a labyrinth of roads form a maze of home plots, many laid out years and years ago when this area was where wealthy San Diegans build their summer and second homes so they could get away from the city.  But the post office, a few years back, decided EVERY place needed an official address so The Garmin GPS had no trouble getting me right to the entrance.

blog cabin 01

A view of the cabin from the east side looking west.  This shows how beautifully it is nestled into the surrounding environment.  Parking is up the hill to the right of the photo.

When I pulled into the driveway the first time and looked up it was not at all what I expected. To call it a “Cabin” is a massive understatement. It is an incredible mountain home wonderfully nestled in the manzanita, cedar, oak, and ponderosas.  A carefully crafted stone walkway through some flower beds took me to the front door.  Inside was a design I’d not seen in retreats since the late ’40s even including an indoor stone barbeque grill in the kitchen.  The main room was huge, lined with book shelves and with a long banquet table and a nearly walk-in sized stone fireplace complete with swinging pot hook.  A sun porch and an open deck area brought you right into the surrounding forest.  For me, this perfectly combined appealing rustic with just enough modern amenities to make for easy living.  But it got better as I stood there, taking it in.

Quiet and serene with an aura of peace and calm infusing the house and surrounding grounds, this was precisely what my troubled spirit needed. It was late afternoon when I arrived so we sat on the south-facing porch to watch the day draw to a close.  The Cuyamaca mountain range forms a ring to the west and south, and to the east somewhere through the forest would be the ocean in the far distance and San Diego.  But here, the bustle and frenetic energy of the coast was far away and completely filtered out by the trees.

Of course, in the way of the western-raised folks, we chatted all around any really personal topics at first.  I first met and dated Brooke way, way, way back at The University of Denver in the mid-1960s so we knew and were comfortable together even after all these years and, for both of us, all these miles.  The “cabin” has a large stone fireplace so after dinner we repaired to a place in front if it and continued to chat about pretty much everything imaginable from our various work issues to aliens and crop circles to the state of the world and its future.

The next morning, Brooke had scheduled some phone-based client sessions so I took advantage of the time to wander about the grounds and general area.  Whoever laid out the landscaping did an incredible job of blending the human design ideas into the natural landscape. Here and there were even benches to sit and just soak in the ambient beauty and peace.  It was quiet and serene, but actually filled with life and far from silent.

blog bench

Here is one of several benches scattered around the property to provide places to sit, meditate or just soak in the lovely surroundings.

Some crows were loudly discussing the day’s adventure nearby. A tiny bird chirped a warning at me as I got a little too close to its nest. In the forest out of sight a woodpecker’s tapping announced its search for some tasty insect larvae. Deer tracks, freshly made, dotted the area where they had come to nibble the lush (if not natural) grasses. Next to them in the soft dirt, still not baked dry from recent moisture, was a canid print that could have been a coyote or simply a neighbor’s dog wandering through.

What an idyllic place. I’ve spent much of my life growing up in the forests and mountains and find such places especially comforting and even welcoming as if old spirits looked up, recognized me, and came out to greet me again.  I confess, I was instantly so inappropriately jealous of Brooke for her access to this place where inner turmoil was gently soothed by the quiet singing of the trees in the gentle breeze. And then as that low class sentiment passed, I was grateful for her for sharing it with me.

When slapped in the face with mortality there is nothing so appealing and awe aspiring as the wonder and magic of life in all its forms. And for me, that is especially true of the new spring life like the surrounding riot of colorful blossoms that so very recently were still under a blanket of snow.

blog purple meadow

The wildflowers were everywhere, proudly announcing their return from a winter slumber and ready to brave, for them, a new year. Note the tiny white flowers mixed in among the purple ones.  I’ll have some thoughts and more photos on them a little later in this post.

blog yellow 01

I’m not a botanist or expert on such things so for the most part I had no idea what I was looking at or photographing.  But I had no trouble realizing I’d been privileged to see some spectacular displays of vibrant color including this knock your eyeballs out brilliant yellow… especially against the blaze red of that leaf.  

blog mix verticle.jpg

Here was a natural version of the wild English Gardens I’ve always loved where various types of flowers all mixed together in a perfect display of togetherness.

blog white bunch

I didn’t know it was possible, but here and there were flowers I think are beautiful but domesticated.  But they were scattered in amongst the wildflowers as if this and other clumps had escaped the too restrictive confines of their tended gardens and struck off on their own to explore the wilds surrounding them, meet the neighbors, so to speak,  and simply be free to face whatever life threw at them.  I could only think these were not youngster flowers seeking to be kept safe by the gardener’s ministrations, but older, braver, tougher plants willing to risk it all for a breath of fresh air and freedom.

Blog Small white flowers composite

Back to the little white flowers.  You may have noticed in some of the other photos, scattered all through the other flowers and fighting for space in some of the grassy areas, were these tiny little white flowers.  They were so small that even a small insect landing on them bent their heads down to the ground.  The inset shows them closer and each of those buds is under 1/8 of an inch!  Yet they are as detailed as larger cousins.   I couldn’t believe that were large enough to provide pollen for the insects and bees.  Maybe, I thought to myself, they served another even higher purpose.  When an artist produces a piece they know is good, it gives them pleasure just to look at it.  So maybe the Creator of these flowers made them just to to be able to look down upon them, smile and then laugh at a beautiful creation, well made.

For me, there is no better time to surround yourself with the story and wisdom of new life’s cycle than spring. Here, everywhere you turned or looked up or down, there was the new growth of trees and bushes and the blend of wildflowers and some domestic flowers that had courageously escaped their little caged plots and marched out into the wild and taken root.

blog manzanita

Even the Manzanita, with its incredile red bark, was in full spring bloom!

I had, when leaving the city, at the last minute decided not to take the RoadTrek even though I had loaded it for the trip; and so I drove off leaving my camera gear stowed in it at the ready.  I didn’t remember that oversight until I was almost at the cabin but then there was no going back.  All I had was my phone, an older iPhone 7 and that is what all of the images were shot with.  How frustrating it was not to have my great macro lenses and tilt-shift lenses… For a nano-second or two I thought of not taking any shots at all, but, get real, I could have more easily flown to the moon under my own power than to walk through all of this new life and not at least tried to capture some of it.

blog grey

This plant did not need to festoon itself with garish color, but settled for fine exquisite detail to catch and draw the eye,  This could be inspiration for Zuni styled “petit-point” turquoise jewelry. 

blog deck design

Even the wind-blown debris accumulating on one of the cabin’s porches could not help but arrange itself in an artistic, almost mesmerizing way reminiscent of oriental calligraphy or a pine-needle based-mandala.

Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Jurassic Park” notes that ““Life will find a way. “  These flowers have proven that to be true. They survived, despite their fragile appearance, a harsh winter wrapped safe in the blanket of their mother earth and now, with the cold and dampness and long nights beginning to give way to the warmth of summer, they are lifting their heads again and with their color as their voices, declaring to the world, “I am still here!”

Now with chemo starting next week, it will be my turn to try try to prove it true for me as well.  I can only hope to do it marginally as well.

I spent the rest of my little trek trying to glue the spirit of this place into the pages of my memory banks, to commit to memory the sound of the wind song, and the calmness in my heart of sitting among these brave new flowers marching boldly into their world.  If I can do that then I think, like these tiny and fragile and yet rugged flowers, I can come out of my own “winter” too.  Perhaps not as pretty as they are, but every bit as much alive and ready for the next adventure.

 

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Anza-Borrego Flower Hunt

At last it was Friday.  No classes, projects weren’t due for grading until the weekend, and my calendar showed no meetings or appointments were scheduled.  Local weather was very “iffy” with showers possible and generally overcast.  Boy I was tired of this gray, wet weather and, worse, had a horrible case of cabin fever.  I grabbed a cup of coffee and had just showered when the phone rang,

To my surprise and delight it was my friend and colleague, Cynthia, and even more to my surprise, she wanted to know if I’d be interested in going to see how the desert flowers were blooming after all of the rain we’d been getting.  My calendar was clear and I recall mentioning in a previous post how the Roadtrek was whimpering and feeling abandoned. in the driveway.  This wasn’t to be a camping trip but still… it was getting OUT OF TOWN!  So after seriously thinking over the idea for about .003 nanoseconds I agreed it was a great idea.

It was great to be finally getting out of town. But by the time we hit Santa Ysabel it was raining, and the sky was dark toward the desert, so we stopped for breakfast.  The sharp wind blowing down from the mountains was not friendly.  Let’s just say that it did not appear likely that we should be overly worried about suffering from heat stroke.

I love the restaurant: it serves some of the best country comfort food I know of so to steel myself for the cold I loaded up on carbs with some incredible biscuits and gravy. By the time we finished the sky had mostly cleared, the wind had died down a little, and we headed on toward Borrego Springs over the Montezuma road through Ranchito… winter home of the Yeti.

Once in the park, It was strange; everything was very green and fresh, more so than I ever recall seeing, but up high at least there were very few flowers in bloom.  In past years I’ve always found the Henderson Canyon Road to be a good place for flowers so we headed in that direction.  I’ve seen this area hip deep in a carpet of yellow daisies on good years but what greeted us was lots of green bushes and plant life but not all that many flowers.  Perhaps we were late and had missed the main bloom but at first glance it seemed to be a pretty poor showing, especially in light of all of the rain.

Roadtrek with Verbena - Mar 2019 - for blog

Though not the riot of hip deep color I have seen before, there were still pockets of flowers, mostly Verbena, that surely were hiding some good compositions.  So we hauled the van over to the road side and hiked out to take a closer look.

Nevertheless, we were able to find several isolated areas with color so we stopped to see if any images were hiding in the bush that we could sneak up on and capture.  I had loaded some serious gear on board the van, but when we arrived, I simply grabbed my trusty little Canon 120S 12 megapixel “point and shoot” to see what was there.  I had expected to then haul out the serious camera if I saw anything but ended up shooting with the little critter for everything.  All of the photographs in this post are shot with that Canon 120S (c) N. David King.

I had once been asked to give a presentation on how a photographer should be able to shoot with anything available.  And certainly, point and shoot cameras and even cell phone cameras were getting better and better.  So once out of the car looking for some compositions, It was a bit “freeing” to leave tripod and heavy stuff in the van and just dance around the shots with this camera that is almost a toy by comparison.  Fortunately, it does allow for full manual operation so that helped quite a bit.

A couple of times I almost went back for the “real” camera, but I keep preaching that the tool that really counts is the one with the hand on the shutter button so we will see how it turns out.  Here are some examples.

Borrego flowers -Mar 2019-verbena 01 for blog

The clouds were providing broken light but definitely added a little drama to the background as the patters played on the hills and desert floor alike.

Borrego flowers -Mar 2019 purple and white boquet for blog

Though the Verbena was the predominate flower in bloom, mixed in with it were other flowers to provide some contrast.

Borrego flowers -Mar 2019 -037 primrose

Here and there were these beautiful little flowers.  I thought they might be a form of Primrose but to be honest have no idea what they are.

Verbena and daisies for blog

At one spot the daisies were growing in the midst of the verbena and provided a beautiful color contrast, especially when the mix was added to the sky.

Cynthia shooting Borrego flowers for blog

I took the shot above and turned around to find Cynthia also focused in on the yellow and purple bouquets.  My blown up knees will not allow me to get up and down as easily and she can do… frustrating.  I’ll bet hers is a killer shot!

When we finished we headed over to Ocotillo Wells to check on Cynthia’s property and to grab something refreshing in the “Iron Door” bar.  Wow… if you want something out of the ordinary, this is the place for you to check out!!!  The denizens were folks that I would bet had some tales to tell.  And many would make some really interesting portraits once they trusted you enough to allow it.  But that would take time and we needed to get back to Carlee’s in Borrego Springs to rendezvous with another friend of Cynthia’s also named David.

Once we met up, he had a map from the rangers as to where the flowers were supposed to be blooming.  One area was a field on the north side of the Salton Sea Highway near the turnoff to Arroyo Salado.  Generally, this area seemed devoid of flowers but sure enough, we pulled into a parking area and there in front of us was a hillside carpeted with Verbena mixed in with some other assorted flowers.

Verbena field near Arroyo Salado for blog

Here, across from Arroyo Salado was this field of Verbena.  The little parking area was filled with cars and people also out enjoying the flowers.

The light was good so we hiked down the hill then up to the carpet of flowers.  Once on top of them it was similar to the clumps we had found near Henderson Canyon… but still worth a shot or two…

verbena Fields for blog 01

Once down among the flowers it was apparent the “Carpet” was not as dense as it appeared from up along the highway.  Nevertheless there were some clumps and from them you can see the fields of verbena in the middle ground.

verbena Fields for blog 02

The light was starting to get really good and bring out the color of the flowers and the surrounding low lying sand dunes.

After one more stop we really needed to head back since Cynthia had some work to get down later that evening and in any case the evening was firmly setting in.

verbena Fields for blog 03.jpg

Coming back over the Montezuma road the dark skies on the western horizon were laced with a beautiful salmon colored light coming from the setting sun over the far-off ocean.  It almost looked like an erupting volcano was hiding just behind the clouds.  It was at once soft and peaceful and at the same time, dramatic.  It was a visually stunning end to a perfect day of shooting.

 

 

 

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