The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Banner photo. Dad having a cold one. North Africa? Italy?

Hey dad. When you were a youth, did you ever wonder what kind of father you might be? You were at loose ends during most of your twenties. Did you even entertain the prospect of fatherhood?

You had a lot of time to run those thoughts around in your head. You were 36 when I was born. Mom was 30.

You couldn’t have realized it at the time, but when I was born you’d already lived nearly half your life, the final few years tormented by dementia. Knowing you, hell knowing anybody with a thimbleful of reason, if you’d been aware of what was coming down your street you’d have likely figured out a way to check out early, before the demon came a knockin’. I know I would’ve.

You came from Toole, Utah, a mining town that would’ve rested in the shadow of Salt Lake City, except that when you were born, in 1917, there wasn’t enough of Salt Lake City to cast a shadow.

By your late twenties, Salt Lake City was the biggest thing you’d ever seen and the furthest you’d been from Toole was Coeur d’alene, Idaho, where you did a stint with the Civilian Conservation Corps.

That all changed in 1944, when you joined the millions of men who shipped out, either west to the Pacific, or east to Europe to fight the last of the “good wars.”

Your wartime journey took you through Chicago, New York, London, North Africa, and the boot of Italy. The war was winding down in Rome when you arrived and met your future bride. I can only imagine your wide eyed culture shock.

It seems implausible, a young man, green as grass, from a desert mining town hooking up with a Roman girl.

There were times, many times, when the two of you seemed mismatched. It strikes me that maybe you met at a time in your lives when you saw yourselves without prospects and just settled. Continue reading

Anne Sandler hosts this week’s Lens Artists Challenge and has chosen the topic, Local Vistas.

I live in Hercules, California, between a range of hills (and the rest of America) to the east and San Francisco to the west.

Hercules is what you might call bland suburbia. Strip malls, tract housing and a city council’s yearning to be something other than a bedroom community.

That said, there’s much to be found by taking just a short drive.

At sunrise, the East Bay Hills might be adorned with eddies of morning fog.

San Francisco is about thirty minutes away on a good day – okay, a REALLY good day.

On the way you pass by Emeryville and its little marina. I’m a long time distance runner and my favorite boat is berthed here – Endurance.

The drive into The City goes past the busy Port of Oakland which handles 99% of the containers that move through Northern California. On average, 2.5 million containers pass through the port every year.

Parks and trails in the area afford interesting views of the bay and the port operations.

A stack of containers at the Port of Oakland

Cranes at the port resemble something out of War of the Worlds

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While browsing through blog rolls a wave washed over me. Debbie Smythe’s One Word Sunday and the subject, “Wave.”

I have hundreds of photos of waves so the most difficult part of the challenge was to cull the archives to find a handful of photos for this topic.

I’ve always lived within a short drive of the ocean and for a time I took the ocean and the waves for granted. That changed with the pandemic. During the winter months, a wide open lonely beach was one of the safest places to be. I visited the beaches of San Mateo County, California almost weekly.

It was a good opportunity to experiment with slow shutter speeds and a tripod.

It’s during the winter months when the wave action in California is at its peak.

Rockaway Beach, California


Rockaway Beach, California

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Monthly Monochrome: Reviving a once a month short venture into the world of monochrome photography.
(Tragic events in mid-May superseded publication of this piece)

When we think of monochrome, what first comes to mind?
Black and white – of course.

Stands to reason since that’s what we usually see represented as monochrome.

Monochrome can actually occur in any color, but the key is that the image must display one single color or different shades of a single color.

I used to dismiss monochrome as a relic, a curiosity. And then I tried to imagine the works of Ansel Adams in color. Beautiful I’m sure but lacking in the drama conjured by his monochrome photographs.

To be brutally honest with myself, my dismissal of monochrome was actually avoidance, because I’ve always felt it to be a daunting medium.

Color photography renders the world as everyone sees it. Monochrome renders the world as one’s artistic eye and imagination presents it. To put it a bit more bluntly, when presenting the world in monochrome, you’re hanging your artistic butt out for all to see.

Last month I took my Grandson Jackson on a long promised night tour of the prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.

I saw this as a good opportunity to shoot in color and process into black and white. What could be a better subject to render in black and white than a crumbling, spooky prison?  And better still, at nighttime.

Guardhouse as seen from the tour boat.

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America touts itself as being a civilized nation. Americans boast about being pro-life and congratulate themselves on valuing children.

And yet, America is killing its children. The word is filicide, and it’s defined as “the killing of one’s son or daughter.” This is America, a nation killing its own sons and daughters. America murdered nineteen of its children at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. To be clear, the killing was carried out by one eighteen year old with an assault rifle. The rifle was the instrument that the killer used to carry out America’s mandate. The killer was simply acting at the behest of American denial, inaction and love of guns.

It doesn’t stop at killing children. Most mass shooters don’t discriminate by age. Some might discriminate by race, color or creed, but make no mistake, it seems that everyone is in someone’s gun sight.

National suicide – one mass shooting at a time. Don’t think of it as simply lives lost. America is immolating whatever shreds remain of its soul, its decency.

It was only ten days between the mass murder in Buffalo and the carnage at Uvalde.

Ten days between massacres. Ten days of renewed pleas for sensible, fair legislation regarding guns and ten days of excuses, deflection, thoughts, prayers and push back from the depraved, soulless people who beatify firearms as if they’re calves of gold.

Here I am writing about guns. Again.

Why should I write about guns? Again.

Who the hell knows. Just another scream in the wilderness.

When the next mass shooting occurs, and it will, I don’t know if I’ll do a gun post. I don’t know if I’ll ever write about guns again.

What’s the point?

Ninety percent of Americans want background checks and yet the politicians who are whores of the gun lobby are holding up any legislation.

What’s the point?

In Texas, if you’re eighteen, you can’t buy a beer but you can buy a killing machine. I can’t be the only one who sees the absurdity of that.

What’s the point?

In many states you have to jump through some reasonable hoops to buy a car. Not so much when it comes to a gun.

What’s the point?

I don’t have nearly the bully pulpit of the legislators who’ve prostituted their souls. You know, like Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz, who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from the National Rifle Association, came up with his own solution just hours after the Uvalde massacre. “We know from past experience that the most effective tool for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement on the campus,” Cruz said in an interview on MSNBC. “Inevitably, when there’s a murder of this kind, you see politicians try to politicize it. You see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” Cruz added. “That doesn’t work.”

Ted Cruz and people like him see absolutely no problem with turning schools into armed citadels. He actually suggests these things with a straight face.

Why stop there? Let’s include churches, movie theaters, indoor and outdoor concerts, supermarkets, department stores, parks, public bathrooms, stadiums, farmer’s markets, gyms, night clubs, restaurants, every Starbuck’s in America and the fucking Chuck E. Cheese over at the local strip mall. Chuck E. himself can pack heat. Continue reading

Prior to 2015, it had probably been more than thirty years since I’d seen my cousin. When I was a kid we used to see each other nearly every other summer. Either her family; her parents, two older brothers and little sister would visit us in the San Francisco Bay Area or we, my mom and dad, with me in tow, would visit them in Salt Lake City

Her brother and I, the second son were about the same age and we played when we were little, and hung out, as the saying goes, when we were older. She was the awkward tag along, wanting to join but getting shooed off like an annoying stray.

While much is blurred by years, there are a few things that stand out.

The time her family visited and we all went out to the beach, when she saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, her thrill of wading into the chilly giant water.

She had an undying love of animals, particularly horses. She used to collect little plastic toy horse statues.

One year, when I was nineteen or thereabouts, I joined her family and another family for a summer camping trip. It was a two car caravan. I was in the lead car and the car she was in had fallen miles behind. We came to an intersection in some now nameless town where a horse had been run over by a truck. The poor beast was still alive, but trapped between the wheels. It was a sight that every now and then returns to trouble me.

Almost immediately our concern turned towards my cousin. The scene, horrifying for us, would be traumatizing for her. My recollection is that the two drivers communicated via CB radio and the car she was riding in detoured around the scene, sparing her the sight.

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Sometime this summer, a leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito will be finalized and what many thought as unthinkable will shortly come to pass; Roe v Wade will be overturned.

Many who support choice feel blindsided. But should we?

I was exchanging texts with a friend about random things, nothing serious, when she went off course and texted me the breaking news of the leaked opinion.

I was stunned.

And then – I wasn’t.

Of course Roe would be overturned. Overturning Roe would be consistent with every heinousness we’ve witnessed over the past seven or so years.

It was the ending that many on the pro-choice side knew was coming and yet shocked when the news broke. We all suspected that it was on the horizon. We just didn’t realize that the horizon was so damn close. Going into the boxing match you know you’re going to be hit but you still find yourself stunned when the first punch lands.

We’ve always known that the “religious” right and the Roman Catholic Church were never going to throw up the white flag on this issue – never -ever. We’ve seen the machinations and mischiefs, the challenges, the laws passed and then overturned and we’ve watched it all for fifty years. Certainly we had another fifty years.

And then Donald Trump happened. After seven years of Trump  as chief barker of his carnival of the damned I suppose that we were lulled to sleep. Every outrage, no matter how big or how small became business as usual. Alternative facts, name calling, kowtowing to dictators, weekly golf outings, covering up a Saudi murder and all the daily bullshit just became commonplace. Every morning I would wake up expecting some kind of fuckery, cuss about it, issue the usual,”oh well,” and go about my day.

After the election we hoped for some relief but it was in the end, a false hope. The phantasm that won’t be exorcised still haunts the nation. He’s like Jason Voorhees, he just keeps coming back.

Probably most damaging though are the three landmines that Trump planted during his administration; Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett.

But the whole story began long ago, before Trump mattered to anyone but Trump.

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This week’s Lens Artist Photo Challenge, hosted by Tina Schell of Travels and Trifles, is all about the Rule of Thirds, a theory of composition which divides a photo or a painting into horizontal and vertical thirds, forming a grid of nine equal segments (Picture the opening credits of The Brady Bunch or a typical Zoom meeting).

The rule suggests (stress, suggests) that the central point of interest is not placed centrally but off towards a side or corner, optimally where grid points intersect.

But for one exception, I’ve not really paid attention to the Rule of Thirds when actually composing a shot. That exception is when I’m shooting sports or some kind of action which, for me, demands that the photo shows some space for the movement, whatever that movement is, to go to.

In the photo below Javier Lopez is winding up to throw a pitch. The scene asks for a big section of space for the pitch to be delivered through.

Likewise, the hockey players should have someplace to skate to,       

the surfer some water to surf towards,         

and the wave a place to break.

The “empty” space in front helps to convey the feel of action taking place.    Continue reading

September 23rd, 2021, driving southbound in Eastern Iowa. Off to my left is the Mississippi River and somewhere deep in the river bottom is an imaginary line, the boundary between Iowa and the Badger State, Wisconsin.

I’m on U.S 52, a winding highway that puts the lie to the notion that Iowa is tedium; flat as old beer, and with as much pizzazz as soggy white bread. The story has it that the Hawkeye State is nothing but cornfields and hicks, and if you took out the grain elevators, barns, silos and homey farmhouses, the whole thing would be featureless. That’s the version pushed by high brows on the right and left coasts.

From my motel in Lansing to the Field of Dreams baseball park in Dyersville, it’s a seventy-two mile drive, most of it snuggled up to the big river’s western shore. This seventy two miles is a mere hyphen in America’s longest scenic byway, the Great River Road. The complete journey begins at Itasca State Park in Minnesota, and ends three thousand miles later at the Gulf of Mexico, passing through ten states while following the course of the most celebrated of America’s grand rivers.

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This week, on her site PHOTOGRAPHIAS, Sofia focuses on the unfocused or, more formally termed, bokeh.

Bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to blur which serves to enhance the subject of a photo (as opposed to motion blur as one might see in a photo of a race car in action).

Photo Techniques magazine introduced the word in 1997 and since then blurry backgrounds have been all the rage. As you’ll see below, I like to use bokeh as a background, a frame and a subject.

It’s a cool aesthetic that I just discovered a few years ago. I always wanted every millimeter of my photos to be crystal clear (with the exception of portraits).

One day I was out taking photos in the garden and I thought it might be interesting to take some pictures of our big cactus and took some shots of thorns, through a hole in one of the cactus pads.  Below, the blurred pad provides a frame for the thorns.                                   

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