Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beware of the Flowers

On Saturday we went to the local National Unreachable Wilderness area on a photographers' guided ramble. I bought a digital SLR camera last July and have barely used it since. STB, who calls himself a Conceptual Photographer (meaning he knows all about it but hates photographs) decided a trip with other photographers might do me some good. It was described as a 3 mile hike with a 25 foot elevation taking place on Sunday the 29th May. Date straightened out, we booked on it.

In the morning I got a thorough grounding in the theory ("'...depth of field' is often misnamed 'depth of focus'." "Yes, I know...") and three practice photographs and then in the afternoon it was off to shoot me some flowers. It was a hot Southern California day and I was woozy with heat before we even set off on the trail. Two very enthusiastic volunteer docents took us out, one leading and one bringing up the rear so that the laggards could not be picked off by the man-eating mastodons of Laguna Canyon. Every now and again we'd stop for water, a quotation about photography by Walt Whitman or Ansel Adams, and then we'd go off again. After we'd climbed about 400 feet I was feeling woozier still. Apparently the date was not the only error in the ad for the hike.

Although only one person had brought a professional-looking camera (the others having point and shoots), I still didn't feel like displaying any lack of skill so I didn't actually take any photos until the guide told us we were facing a horehound bush - it was an omen! Jack Himself had planted a bush for me to photograph! When I leaned in closely, it didn't look like horehound, but I snapped it anyway. Looking at the photograph today, it plainly isn't horehound, unless that's a local term. Both Marrubium and Ballota horehound look like herbs - they have that basil/mint/dead nettle look to them, which is not surprising as they are all in the family Lamiaceae together.

I had to ask what this was and was told hemlock. Of course - it grows all over England. I should have known that. This one looks like a hogweed rather than hemlock to me, but I guess it's the same thing. Hey, I took a photograph!

Anyway, the ice was broken and I subsequently took many ill-focused and hastily-composed pictures of flars. STB borrowed the camera and took a few shots of things which illustrated that I'm not very good at it and he is. (We looked at them all as a debriefing today.) I noted that he did not take pictures of flowers, which are not intrinsically very interesting, unless you put them into Photoshop and change the colors around a bit. I will bear this in mind for the next trip, which will be to a multi-story parking structure or something else with a bit of an edge to it.

This is a local cucurbit called something like Spiny Cucumber. One member of the party described them as looking like kiwi fruit with issues. Pretty leaves.

I did learn the names of many of the local plants I see every day. A magnificent flowering Dudleya, the parasitic Dodder (I'd always wondered what this explosion of red hair over other plants was), Monkey Flower, and a big soft plant like a floppy-eared rabbit's ear, which is a Lamb's Ear. I can now tell a coastal sage from a white sage. And I had no idea that pack rats build those huge nests - six feet or more long - you occasionally see at the foot of trees. (Apparently males build them up in the trees and females at the foot of the trees.)

I didn't take this on the trip - this was taken a few weeks ago, under the eaves of my house where there are several hummingbirds' nests. The tree leaves look unnatural, and that's not actually due to amateur photography problems. It's a plastic tree. Trees don't grow in the shade so I have the World's Largest Gallery of Artificial Plants under there.


KaliDurga said...

Sounds like the photog hike was not all it was cracked up to be. Amazing to see hummingbirds nesting in an artificial tree. Only in southern Cali, perhaps?

Peromyscus said...

Well, the walk was quite nice. If I'd been stronger (I have a cold) it would have been lovely. In general, though, I knew more about the wildlife than the docents, which was funny.

You think I have Disneyland hummingbirds? Could be! I think they just want somewhere under an overhang where the crows can't snatch the babies, though. The type of tree doesn't bother them. :)


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