Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cowboy Tendencies

Old corrals evoke a sense of the west like few other things.  They're icons of a rough, tumble and self-reliant life on the American frontier.  In lots of ways that man against the elements sensibility still lingers in today’s western life.  And I do I believe that every boy wants to be a cowboy.  It's been true with me since my first pair of boots from Porter’s Western Store in the Santa Rita Hotel in downtown Tucson.  The year would have been 1951 if memory serves.  The smell of saddle leather ranks right up there with corrals, Wranglers and trophy buckles in stirring the cowpoke within.

Corrals like any subject can be photographed from infinite perspectives.  Sometimes, though rarely in my case since I'm such a purist, a little experimentation is in order. Here are a panorama and three other images all of which were made from two to five vertical photographs that have been stitched together.  The intent is to render more detail and acuity without the noise that can occur in very large prints made from smaller files.  My friend Terry Thompson is a master of the process and I claim no authorship of the technique.  
The corral in question resides just off Highway 285 near its junction with the road to Carson.  The ramshackle affair with its Sangre de Cristo backdrop speaks to the vast and epic place that is northern New Mexico.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Playing Games

From shortly after World War Two till 1975 Fort Ord was the main basic training center for Army recruits in the western United Sates.  In 1990 it was closed and morphed into a state university, several housing developments and a strip mall with an REI.  Its easternmost acres became Laguna Seca Raceway.  At the time it was the largest army post to suffer the indignity of being shuttered.

Basic Training was a rite of passage for thousands of young men including this feckless fellow.  The Army or at least the Army Reserve version of same was a reprieve from a rocky first year of college in which my budding career as a folk singer and established career as a beer drinker kept my eye far from the academic ball.  And that puts it mildly.
Anyway, Basic is a mythic hurdle for the callow and immature.  Just entering the presumed depths of hell makes a boy’s knees quiver. In reality, it was easy if you played the game of playing soldier and Basic was a lot like play.  I really got into those manly forced marches, shooting Expert with a WW ll era M1 and the wearing tailored and starched fatigues that had other trainees saluting me until they got close enough to see there were no bars on my lapels.  Even got a bid to go to OSC (Officer Candidate School), heaven forbid.  I can see it now, shave tail Second Lieutenent Steve Immel leading a squad of grunts in some rice paddy in Viet Nam.   Or much, much worse.

Ted Newman, another folkie from Phoenix, was also at Fort Ord.  Ted, who was a couple of years older, had enjoyed a minor hit in 1959 called “Plaything.”  Nick Todd, Pat Boone’s younger brother, also covered the tune on Dot Records.   “Plaything that’s all I was to you.  Some tricks.  Your little game is through.  Right now, stop knockin' at my door?  I'm not your plaything anymore.”  Pure poetry.

Ted and his Martin held court on Carmel's Main Beach every Sunday and I followed suit; a Beach Blanket movie without Annette and Frankie.  I don’t know if Ted was authorized to leave the post.   I know I wasn't but, hey, the south gate was unmanned.

Ted became an Army helicopter pilot and an elementary school teacher in Gilbert, Arizona and Nick became a social worker.   I opened forty restaurants over forty years.  That's forty opening nights.  I win.
On the flip side the vacant hulks of the old barracks take a mournful turn.  They proffer an aching postmortem for the fort and for the youthful energy that filled these spaces half a century ago.  The murals from that era and the graffiti from this one compete for our attention.  Abandoned and empty, the derelict halls echo with the voices of raucous young soldiers and the billows of smoke that accompanied them.  The words "Smoke 'em if you've got 'em." punctuated every idle moment in this man's Army in the summer of 1960.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Moss Landing

The Salinas River enters the Pacific just below Moss Landing.  I have the faintest recollection of being there in the mid-forties and seem to recall that its icy waters were a mecca for sport fishing.  Today its home to 300 humans and 500 boats, larger even than Monterey itself.   A former whaling port, the harbor now docks vessels fishing for King Salmon, Halibut, Albacore, Black Cod and Red Snapper.

In the seventies Moss Landing had descended into an abyss of pollution fueled by failed septic systems, a paucity of infrastructure and nasty effluent from the natural gas powered electric generator that dominates the skyline.   Several lawsuits and many millions of dollars of public dollars later the tiny village has recaptured some of its earlier glory.  A marine research facility operated by Cal State University and Monterey’s famed aquarium debuted the weekend after my visit.  One hopes that the new laboratory signals a return of the pristine shore and waters of my childhood.
Empty beaches offer serenity with a dollop of melancholy especially in fog or overcast skies as it was this day.  I shared Salinas Beach State Park with a solitary walker and driftwood sculpture from Mother Nature’s damp studio.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

As the face of the moon

When I hear Zabriskie Point two thoughts spring to mind.  One, of course, is the famed Death Valley landmark and the other is Michelangelo Antonioni’s failed 1970 film of the same name.  The photogenic locale endures as a photographic magnet and Antonioni’s panned 1970 paean to sixties counter culture endures as a cult classic replete with dialogue by Sam Shepard and music by Jerry Garcia, the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.  In it Harrison Ford had an uncredited role as a jailed student protester.   The movie ending five minute slow motion explosion fantasy with Pink Floyd’s Careful with the Ax beneath the bombast is worth the trip.  Pun intended.

Zabriskie Point is part of the Amargosa Range and of the Furnace Creek formation in eastern Death Valley.   It’s described as badlands which I take to mean dry, inhospitable and desperate.  In other words beautiful.  From the main vista point spreads a 360 degree view of otherworldly tucks, folds and creases of rock and of the desert floor stretching to the Black Mountains in the distance.  Zabriskie is often portrayed abstractly with the convolutions in the rock photographed without the context of the broader landscape.  And as with other iconic locales producing a transcendent image is a result of some skill and more luck.

Zabriskie Point is a Soviet code for a location on the moon and couldn't be a more apt for this barren moonscape.  But it was actually named for Christian Zabriskie the general manager of Pacific Coast Borax Company whose twenty-mule teams transported the borax from its Death Valley mines.  Anybody remember Death Valley Days from early television?  Who was its host?