Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Tag: california

San Francisco Scenes

I took these pictures with my phone when we were in San Francisco back in July. They’re just random scenes done while walking around the city. I had my real camera with me, but was (and still am) intrigued by the idea of using the phone for snapshots, especially with the odd moody renderings you can get with the Hipstamatic app. Click on them to see them full size on the image page.

You don’t have much control over anything other than composition when you shoot with a phone so there’s a certain amount of surrender involved when you’re used to having the kind of control and instant results you typically get with a DSLR. Using a phone you give that up and you even have to wait a few seconds for the image to “develop.”

It reminds me of the wonder photography held when I was just starting out, the way I went about seeing the world in whole new ways, noticing light and shadow and shape. I suppose any new tool can make something new again, but when applied to photography, it allows us to experience the whole world in unexpected ways.

Muir Woods National Monument

These photos were taken last week at Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, California, a short drive north of San Francisco. Muir Woods is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. You can click on the images to enlarge and view at a higher resolution.

Muir Woods is an old growth redwood forest. It feels like a church or a library or a little bit of both. At least until the tour buses arrive.

The coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is the tallest and among the oldest of living things.

The tallest trees at Muir come to around 250 feet, and the oldest ones are around 1200 years old.

The tallest and oldest trees at Muir Woods are relatively short and young for coastal redwoods which used to cover two million acres of coastal California and Oregon.

Most of that is gone now.



Welcome to Alcatraz

Western Gull

Western Gull Chick

Alcatraz Officers' Club

A Cell

A Window in the Dining Hall

From the Exercise Yard

Guardhouse and Sally Port

The Cell Block

Western Gull

(click any image to enlarge for higher resolution)

Donner Summit

I took this on Donner Summit near Truckee, California while there in June 2006. There’s something peaceful about this little alpine lake even if it is right off the I-80 access road.

Photography is all selection. I get in the moment, frame the shot, and everything outside the frame falls away. Usually forever.

When I return to a familiar site, those unshot surroundings are always a surprise, unknown and alien.

Bird Blogging

This is for I and the Bird

Birds have always been a source of endless fascination for me. I had parakeets when I was in high school and spent hours photographing them and watching them fly in circles around my bedroom.

Parakeets Sam and Pat

For awhile my dad was breeding canaries and finches and so no matter where I went in the house, there were birds. I suppose my love of watching birds was inherited from him.

Every place I’ve lived I set up a bird feeder and have spent hours happily watching the birds come to the feeder and doing what they do. We had a purple martin house at our old home, and I used to love sitting on the porch watching the flying lessons every spring. I always felt a little sad each July when they left.

So what’s so interesting about birds? I think it’s the wildness. There’s something about seeing wild animals that makes me just stop and stare, that reminds me that as far away from nature as I sometimes feel, it’s still there. Birds – beautiful, funny, graceful – are the wild animals that most of us see most frequently and so watching birds is something of a way to reconnect with nature without leaving our cities or even, for that matter, our homes.

Whenever I see birds while I have my camera on me as I did on our recent trip to Lake Tahoe, I always try to photograph them simply because they’re so hard to shoot. A good bird picture is an accomplishment. I don’t know how good these are, but I’m happy to have shared a space with these birds for a few moments as our separate journeys brought us all together for a few fleeting moments.

A seagull flying over Lake Tahoe (taken in Tahoe City, CA):

Seagull over Tahoe

Canadian Geese at the Tahoe City Commons:

Canadian Geese

Canadian Geese

A Stellar’s Jay at Sugar Pine Point State Park on Lake Tahoe in California:

Stellar's Jay

Birds are transitory creatures. They’re here for a while and then they move on. Whenever I see a bird, I wonder where it’s been, what it’s seen.

I get jealous.

Pictures from Tahoe: Friday

Friday was our last day in the Tahoe area. I spent the early morning drinking coffee and staring out at the mountains around Squaw Valley, trying to drink in as much of it as possible before returning to Texas:

Squaw Valley

We had to check into the airport in Reno at 12:30 so we had time to drive down to Tahoe City one more time to look at that beautiful lake:

Lake Tahoe

On our way to the airport we stopped to get a shot of the Truckee River, which is the only river that flows out of Lake Tahoe:

Truckee River

And finally we arrived in Reno to find that our flight was cancelled. We became accidental tourists, and American Airlines put us up at the Reno Hilton:

from the Reno Hilton

Spending an extra night wasn’t bad even if it was in Reno. We ate good food at the Hilton, which is a really a gigantic Vegas-style casino complex. We’re not gamblers, but we did go bowling. I hadn’t bowled in probably fifteen years, but my first shot was a strike. I forsee more bowling in our future.

The trip was fantastic, and I’m sure we’ll find a way to go back sometime. Hopefully soon.

Pictures from Tahoe: Thursday

On Thursday, we hiked at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the west shore of Lake Tahoe:

Sugar Pine Point SP

We only did one hike while we were there and so we took this one because it would get us close to the water:

Lake Tahoe

The trail was pretty easy, but we were in it more for scenery than exercise. We hiked along a beach that we had to ourselves:

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

After walking along the beach the trail veered back into the woods and led to what one guidebook described as the highest altitude lighthouse in the world. The park’s literature described it as the highest navigational aid. It was a gigantic yield sign with a light on top set in place to warn boaters of some rocks near shore. I don’t know why I was expecting a more traditional lighthouse, but we had a few good laughs about it and continued our hike:

Sugar Pine Point SP - Big Trees

As we were heading back to the trailhead, something black moved quickly across the trail about forty yards ahead. Our first thought was ‘bear’ but then we decided it must’ve been a bird. When we got around the bend we saw to other hikers who had had a clear view of our bear/bird. Turns out it was a bear, and they were trying to decide if they really did in fact want to go hiking, but seeing that we were alive, they soldiered on.

I’ve always been fascinated by bears and was hoping to see one (preferable from the car) but I feel lucky to have gotten even the most fleeting glipmpse of a bear. Especially one that didn’t have an apetite for Texan.

After hiking, we went back to Tahoe City for lunch and then paid a visit to Truckee. From there we drove up to Donner Summit to stand around in some snow since we don’t ever see any around here.

This picture was taken at the trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail that runs from Mexico all the way up to Canada:

near Donner Summit

Pictures from Tahoe: Wednesday

This is looking up at the mountains from Squaw Valley on a perfect morning:

Squaw Valley

We drove across the Sierras to Nevada City, CA to visit my uncle and aunt who have a house in the woods near there. Before lunch they took us to see the South Yuba River about a mile from their home.

This is looking up the river:

South Yuba River

This is looking down the river:

South Yuba River

When we got back to Squaw I tried my hand at glowing aspens, inspired by Ansel Adams:

Squaw Aspens

California Beer

Irish Pub in Squaw Valley
(inside an Irish pub in Squaw Valley)

In 1994, I was working on a made-for-TV movie in San Jose. On a day off, I drove up to Mountain View with one of the sound guys. We attended the Small Brewers’ Festival of California where I tried many beers including Pete’s Wicked Ale, which quickly became my favorite.

When I returned to Austin, I preached the gospel of Pete’s but it would be another year and a half before it made its way here. By the time I found it, in a 7-11 on MLK, it tasted different. I still liked it, but it wasn’t quite what I remembered. Perhaps beer tastes better in memory?

A few years ago, I mentioned it to a friend’s father who is an alcohol distributor. He claimed that all California and all European beers were skunky by the time they reach Texas and that they taste totally different (meaning fresh) closer to the source.

I don’t know if this is true or not, but when we were in California, I found that my favorite beer of all time, my comfort beer if you will – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – was not the same in the Sierra Nevada mountains as it is in the hills of central Texas.

I love Sierra Nevada for its crisp hopiness, almost IPA-like in character. It’s the cascade hops that I love, I suppose, which is why when I make beer I try to load it up with similar-tasting hops. Still, there’s nothing like a cold pint of Sierra Nevada Pale. The idea of drinking a pint of Sierra in the Sierras was too much to pass up, but imagine my surprise when I tasted it. It was like a great beer made perfect. It had greater complexity of flavor than it does here. There’s an almost floral presence in the taste, but it’s not sweet or soapy, it’s just… better.

Perhaps my friend’s dad was right. Perhaps Sierra is a bit off here in Texas, but I still like it. The test will be if I can locate a local purveyor of any of these fine beers that we tried on our trip and see if they taste as I remember them:

  • Tahoe Red Ale from the Lake Tahoe Brewing Company (whose site I can’t find) somewhere on the Nevada side. I liked this one. Reds aren’t my favorite, but it was smooth and pleasant.
  • Steelhead Extra Pale Ale from the Mad River Brewing Company in Blue Lake, CA. Truly a light pale in color. Nicely hopped, and I say the hoppier the better. This was my favorite of the beers we discovered.
  • Eye of the Hawk Select Ale by the Mendocino Brewing Company in Ukiah, CA. You can tell it’s a very alcoholic beer (8.0%) without reading the label. It’s thick, full, and strong. Reminds me of some Scottish ales. One is enough.
  • Great White Hefe-Weissen by the Lost Coast Brewing Company in Eureka, CA. I like a hefe after a hot day. It wasn’t really hot the day we tried it, but it still went down clean and smooth. Very refreshing with a wedge of lemon. Beautiful rich golden color.

We also drank Sierra Nevada Pale. Of course.

In his book River Horse, William Least Heat-Moon at one point describes reaching the west coast as coming to the end of the “Great American Beer Desert.” It’s not too deserty here in central Texas, but I do love going to California if for nothing else than to try new beers.

Pictures from Tahoe: Monday and Tuesday

This is our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe, taken from Tahoe City, CA last Monday:

Lake Tahoe

This is the view from our room in The Resort at Squaw Creek in the mountains halfway between Truckee and Tahoe City:

Squaw Valley

I took this on Tuesday morning when the sun was trying to come out, but only really made it to the upper slopes. The rest of the day was overcast and drizzly, but still beautiful.

This is from a waterfall leading into Emerald Bay on the southwestern shore of the lake:

Emerald Bay

The island – Fannette Island – is the only island in Lake Tahoe.

We didn’t stay long at Emerald Bay because rain was coming in and thunder was booming down from the mountains, so we spent most of the rest of Tuesday relaxing, playing cards and watching the clouds crash into the mountains and then billow down the slopes of the valley.

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