Winter comes –
I see it in my face,
days grow shorter.
Light is white
Except when it’s black
– clouds are grey.
Lines, lines, lines.
Lines radiate from my eyes
– laughter lines
All photos taken on the rock shelf at Shellharbour using a Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, Wollensak Velostigmat W.A. Ser. III f/9.5 6-1/4inch lens, on Fomapan 100, and developed in a mix of Xtol(1.3)+RO9(1.160).
Over the weekend we visited Cowra and Canowindra on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. The latter is on the Belubula River which flows into the Lachlan not far downstream from Cowra. It is a prosperous grain and grape growing area when it is not otherwise in drought. Many of the fields have been ploughed ready for spring crops and welcome late autumn storms and rain.
The country beyond the great sandstone curtain in the central west is different to the world experienced on the coast. It is hot in summer and cold in winter. Hills roll out from the mountains into gently undulating slopes which gradually flatten into river flats and eventually plains where the eye can see almost forever. The dirt is a rich volcanic red.
Small ranges rise along the Lachlan River Valley, and caves hidden in their forests once were home to bushrangers. As the river travels deeper into the interior, its banks are home to old river gums and the land of the ancient Wiradjuri people with their culture once of carving trees.
Canowindra has an iconic narrow main street that winds above river flats around a small hill. There are four old hotels in the space of a few hundred yards and the remarkable Garden of Roses cafe with its stained glass windows and rows of empty tables and chairs. At one end of the main street is the small but important Age of Fishes Museum with its rare fossils from the Devonian period. Much as I am committed to landscape photography I force myself to make a few photographs within the streetscape.
We toy with the idea of moving inland where property is significantly cheaper and life slower. The people seem kind and generous, and it feels almost like an agricultural utopia. One suspects the streets are quiet on a cold Sunday morning, not because the townsfolk have gone to church, but because they are sleeping in. Beneath the surface, poverty still dwells but is concealed by the presence of tidy towns, cafes, local museums and galleries. Although time passes by many small towns, freshly painted buildings and window displays in empty shops encourage a sense of hope lighting a path to the future. Bucolic dreams always lead to existential contemplations which tantalise heart and mind as rural revelations question our urban existence near the coast.
All photos taken with Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, with Goerz Dagor 10 3/4″ and Gundlach Radar Extreme W.A. Anastigmat f16 6.5×8.5″lenses, on Fomapan 100 film, and developed in a mix of Xtol(1.3)+RO9(1.160).
Waterfall Creek meanders quietly through stands of salmon coloured angophoras, white scribbly gums and gymea lilies with their towering red flowers in spring, before dropping twice over the sandstone escarpment at National Falls to the rainforest far below.
Late in the afternoon shadows descend quickly under the escarpment, while on the plateau, by chance the sun picks out a tree or lily to highlight with its rays before falling beneath the horizon in the west.
Looking east from the edge, I imagine the early morning glow bathing the sandstone cliffs and falls, as I peer under its shining steps into the gloom.
Fading light only deepens the vertiginous illusion that I too might fall like water to the sun.
Photos taken with Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, Goerz Celor 7 inch f/4.5 (top photo) and Gundlach 5×8 Korona Anastigmat f/6.3 lenses, on Ilford Delta 100 film, and developed in RO9(1.50).
“Nothing ever happened – Not even this ”
― Jack Kerouac, Big Sur
From beneath the trees in the canyon below came the occasional sound of laughter. Through the leaves, glimpses of Bixby Creek glistened with silver beneath the deep blue sky. It didn’t really matter to me that the secret world in the canyon could not be seen. I knew this place. “Leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek towards the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of “Oh my God, we’re all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do.””
Kerouac would always fill my visions of the canyon. In the distance I could hear the crashing roar of waves and knew his words hadn’t been washed away. The bridge spans memories of isolation and feelings of hopelessness lying underneath. I felt breathless.
Inscribed in the wall at the back of the Old Monterey Gaol is a peace sign. No one ever escaped from here, except in their minds. The grille must have made the air within feel dank and lifeless. Who carved the graffitti, who suffered within?
For a little over hundred years the Old Monterey Gaol held prisoners. How long would the date 1854 carved so boldly in the lintel over the entrance remain, in contrast to the peace sign at the rear. Not all visions of isolation lead to hopelessness but sometimes we can be encouraged and reminded of peace.
Lying in my hospital bed healing, on the hill between Monterey and Carmel, I looked out at the trees and saw them come alive. In the leaves and branches I could see faces. Perhaps these were the spirits of the place, or of those who had not left yet from its dreaming. It caused me neither fear or horror, but instead peace.
From my home in the other side of the Pacific, I now yearn to look south once more towards Point Lobos and Big Sur from this place of enchantment. I had not been washed away, and my life taken on the tide.
Perhaps nothing ever really happened…not even this.
All photos taken with Chamonix o45F1 View Camera, using Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm and Goerz Dagor 10 3/4″ lenses, on Delta 100 and Aerochrome.
Early light from behind the cracks in the curtains woke me in our motel room. I jumped out of bed to see clear skies beckoning. Not a precious moment could be wasted. The forecast was good, and storms were not expected until late afternoon. We could leave Mt Shasta and reach Crater Lake before lunch.
We drove northward into Oregon on roads that were mostly deserted. The valley around Fort Klamath was silent. Here and there were empty old barns. Houses and cabins seemed to be closed for winter with driveways deep in snow. The only life I saw was a pair of fish swimming in a crystal clear stream in a world of their own.
It was not until we reached Crater Lake that we saw a few other people. I took a photo and then moved around the rim to where the views were steeper and clearer. Clouds were starting to move in from the west bringing a change. Suddenly what portended an ill wind to me hit. It was freezing cold, carrying ice particles that were hurled like many thousands of tiny spears. Melody sheltered while I finished my photo stepping gingerly not to lose my footing in the ice covered snow.
Hastening off the mountain, we soon turned east taking back roads across high desert country to Christmas Valley hoping to outrun the weather. We were glad when we got there to see the only gas station for many miles, refueled, and stocked up on a few drinks and snacks.
Nightfall came when we reached Burns. The streets were mostly devoid of traffic and people. We checked into the Silver Spur Motel on the far side of town at the end of main street. Only $44 dollars a night, free wifi, queen sized beds and most importantly, heating. The surrounding country was still covered in snow, but patches looked swampy where it had begun to melt.
We had dinner at the Mexican bar and dinner back down Nth Broadway Ave. It had a only few customers. In spite of the recent siege at Malheur, there was no evidence of law enforcement or media remaining present in the town. Most motels and restaurants were empty. The circus had left this distant place to follow other stories. It was encouraging to hear the locals checking in with each other, asking whether they were doing okay. Back at the motel I received an unwelcome email from a former employer and would spend several sleepless night worrying. I started to feel breathless and unwell.
The next morning grey clouds hung low in the sky, the light was soft with a tinge of orange on the mountains to the east. In the distance Steens Mountain stood white and resolute. Reaching the pass and vales near Stinkingwater Creek the emptiness spread out before us. We stopped briefly to admire its beauty and momentarily feel the solitude. It would be a long way to Vale with its streetscapes of murals celebrating the Oregon trail and the path taken by pioneers to distant places.
We had last crossed the Oregon trail several years ago at Montpellier in Idaho from where it is a long way down the Snake River Valley and then beside the Malheur River to Vale, and even further to Burns or Christmas Valley. On the wall outside the Vale Public Library is a mural depicting pioneers enjoying the nearby Malheur River, resting and breaking their long journey with water and pastures for their beasts. The route most certainly was tough heading west from Vale along the Malheur into the high desert. Above the library entrance there is a quote from a pioneer woman which for me captures the essence of enduring such a long lonely trail into desolation:
“I must keep writing to remember who I am.”
All photos taken with Chamonix 045F1, Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm and Goerz Dagor 10 3/4″ lenses, on Delta 100 film and developed in a mix of Xtol and RO9.
“Won’t you keep us from all harm Wonderful redwood tree” – Van Morrison
It is hard not to imagine a journey through northern California, Oregon, Monterey, the Big Sur coast, and San Francisco without considering the influence of historical and cultural topographies. There are many possible routes: from the pioneers of the Oregon trail, to the paths of Kerouac and the Beats, modernist photographers such as the Westons or Adams, and musicians of the 60’s and 70’s that celebrated these places in their lyrics, influencing our consciousness.
I hadn’t expected however that in Orgeon and northern California there would be such strong legacies and remembrances of the depression programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Friends insisted that we should travel to Mt Hood and see the Timberline lodge with its incredible architecture, artworks, and tribute to job creation at a time of such economic need.
Driving down the Oregon coast we crossed several bridges which owed their construction to the vision of FDR, and in the redwoods at Prairie Creek his influence in conservation and tree planting programs is still celebrated. The broader community effort to preserve and save the redwood forests of northern California nearly 100 years ago today seems remarkable, yet today when we visit the USA it is the parks, forests and wilderness that attract us, and motivate others to conservation elsewhere in the world.
These quiet forests, with majestic groves deep within are places of incredible beauty and peace. Walking through Stout Grove I placed my hand on a redwood, felt the bark with my palm, and acknowledged my small age next to its. We worry about the things that might make us, or our age and nations great, yet some of these trees have witnessed much of recorded human history, and many have lived since at least the invention of the printing press. Their almost infinite presence gives us hope that we can live through harm, find hope and healing.
All photos taken with Chamonix 045F1, Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm, on Delta 100 and developed in a mix of Xtol(1.3)+RO9(1.160).