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Our California Vacation and Alvin’s Wedding

We decided to add a week-long super-vacation to the front end of the trip to San Francisco to my cousin Alvin’s wedding on May 17.

We flew in to San Jose on Friday May 9, and my brother picked us up and we headed into Santa Cruz to his house. I thought we were going to stay with William, but he said the house was not set up for guests and that he had arranged that we stay a B&B run by a friend of his. He gave us the address and we plugged it into the GPS and headed over to drop off our luggage. William was going to pick Stella (daughter, age about 7) up from school.

We easily found the house, packed among other upscale homes located a few miles away. As we brought our bags in, we were very impressed not only by the size of the house, but also the elegant furnishings. William said there were about five rooms available and that it had a stellar reputation on TripAdvisor. I can imagine!

We spent the rest of that day and part of Saturday with William and Stella who, after mounting some butterflies and insects they had recently caught, helped William create a pizza dinner. William cooks bread in an outdoor bread-oven that he’s constructed. Actually, he’s an internationally known expert on breads and the author of the book: “The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking — 100 recipes for the fireplace or camp” and maintains a Facebook page called: “Bread History and Practice.” It’s an interesting site.

c 36 william stella

William loaned us his car and we headed south on Interstate 1, heading for Monterey and beyond: down to Big Sur, one of my favorite places in California.

c 37 big sur   c 38 big sur

We had reservations at Big Sur Campgrounds and Cabins (http://www.bigsurcamp.com/sites.html). I wanted to give Master a sense of camping combined with the comfort of being in a cabin. These are tent cabins, not log cabins. They have a little general store and they are right in the middle of the other little stores/shops in Big Sur. We stayed there three nights and spent our days on mini-excursions. The “excursions” were for photography… this was May in Northern California—everything is in bloom

c 39 bob flowers   c 40 shooting flowers

We planned an excursion was to the Point Sur Lighthouse (http://www.bigsurcalifornia.org/pointsur.html). They run only one or two tours a day, depending on the day and the season, but not every day of the week. I had carefully planned our touring in order to be able to see this lighthouse.

I also had picked out a few restaurants that seemed interesting. These included Nepenthe, Deetjen's Big Sur Inn Restaurant, and Cafe Kevah. I will say, Deetjen’s is a very special place: if we ever are again in the area, I’d certainly want to go back. (We got lost trying to find it. When driving south on Highway 1, it’s tucked into the trees on the left side of the road as you’re making a sharp right. This highway is very curvy, and I was so focused ahead of me that we’d driven about 20 minutes looking for it before I phoned them to ask directions. It’s easy to see driving north on the highway because from that angle you can see the entire structure.)

When our Big Sur time was up we re-loaded the car and headed back up-coast. We returned the car to William so he could drive up to San Francisco for the wedding at his own pace, and Master and I rented a car and continued on, arriving at our appointed hotel around 4 on Thursday. Friday was to be a time for us to look at kink stores and visit with Angela (sister).

On Saturday, May 17 my cousin was married. In and of itself, perhaps not spectacular. In this case, though, my cousin is gay, 12 years my senior, and has helped me in many very important ways since I was in 11th grade. He “came out” in the living room of my father’s home when I was about 21. He was frequently in and out of my life since I was a small child and visited us fairly often when we lived in DC (when Father was at the Pentagon). We HAD to go to this event.

Alvin is marrying Robert, his long-time companion and lover. And, the wedding is to be held at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio (http://www.presidio.gov/venues/golden-gate-club). This is serious high-end wedding stuff.

I suppose there were 200 family and friends there. There was a string quartet during the post-wedding socializing. The catering and decorating and logistics were magnificent.

c 41 alvins wedding   c 43 jen william

Relatives and friends had flown in from all over the US to attend and to honor Alvin. My sister had come down from Portland, my brother had driven up from Santa Cruz. There were cousins here and there that I’d never even heard of. The accolades went on and on, every one of them fascinating and giving breadth to what I knew of Alvin’s life.

And, he’s had quite a life. He is the youngest son of my father’s mother’s brother, Alvin Sr. who was responsible for handling our Family’s financial affairs starting in about 1935. He and my father spoke regularly up until his death in 1960s. (Alvin Sr. was the founder of “Selected American Shares” one of the early mutual funds in the US. His office was about two blocks from the Chicago Stock Exchange.) 

Alvin Jr. was a Harvard-educated attorney who went back to school in his mid-30s to get a city planning degree—also from Harvard. He worked with Diane Feinstein for many years as a city planner in San Francisco. Alvin had always been active in San Francisco’s gay community, and at age 50 he decided that he liked counseling other gay men so much that he returned to graduate school and took a Masters in Social Work from UC Berkley (just across the bay from San Francisco).

All of this is to say, the wedding was spectacular; an event I will always remember.

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Sandhill Cranes

This was another blog-worthy trip. We’ve just returned from a very long and circuitous trip that had us going from Austin to Bosque del Apache in New Mexico, to White Sands, NM, to Carlsbad Caverns, to spend New Years Eve in Eve’s Garden in Marathon, TX, then back home.

For years, I’ve wanted to shoot the Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. We decided on a really grand tour that would start at the sanctuary (spending the night in Brownfield) for a late-afternoon / early evening shoot, go to Casa Blanca B&B for the night, and get up to be back photographing by 7am.

c 26 sandhillcranes at dusk 2628 w

I was able to take many outstanding dusk shots of the cranes, augmented by the full moon that was in exactly the right place and right elevation to be captured with cranes flying under it. At one point, as we were changing positions, a fox trotted along a path parallel to the road. Quite spectacular.

c 27 sandhill crane moon

In the morning, we arrived before the cranes had left their roost. It was very cold out: Jen remained in the car watching the scene unfold. I knew what was about to happen and hoped to be able to capture it. I set the focal distance, practiced panning, set the camera for 8 images per second, set up he remote plunger and waited.

I was looking through the lens at 400mm with the ISO set up to about 1,400 and the shutter set at 250th of a second.

I didn’t have long to wait.

Suddenly, one bird rose from the nesting flock and suddenly the entire flock lifted off. I caught it. I hit the plunger and started rolling and panning simultaneously.

I walked over to the driver’s side window once I had finished shooting. Jen was nearly speechless. OMG she kept saying. That was amazing. How did you know they’d all lift off at once? OMG! “When it was over, I looked at the woman in the car behind you (just to Jen’s left) and we both had our mouths open. That was one of the most spectacular events I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “It is.”

We ended our trip by spending New Years Eve in Eve’s Garden in Marathon, TX. This had taken a lot of pre-planning, but it was really worth it. Take a look at these:

c 29 eves garden 1   c 30 eves garden 2   c 31 eves garden 3   c 32 eves garden 4   c 33 eves garden 5

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Vacation beginning Leather Reign – Orcas – DC (Raven and Joshua) – the death of Jen’s dad

We decided to take a vacation. This is our first vacation, actually. We presented at Leather Reign in Seattle, spent a week on Orcas Island (about an hour north of Seattle, then an hour’s ride on a ferry boat. We came in to Seattle a day early so we could go down to Pike’s Place Market to do some photography. Here’s my version of an open fruit and vegetable stand.

c 18 pikes place market

Inside the Market, lower level, we found an arts/crafts store that had some very nice blown glass. One piece in particular caught our eyes. It was an a bright red apple, and the “stem” was a green snake. I asked the store clerk if I could set up my tripod and actually take my time with the shot. She said, “Yes,” and about half an hour later I had a few good images. This is among my favorite.

c 19 red glass apple snake

I really like Leather Reign (Master Duane and slave kelly). They put on a top conference that attracts some spectacular people. I enjoyed the time I had to sit down with Allena Gabosh and to catch-up with Alpha (Mac). Allena is the Executive Director of “The Center for Sex Positive Education,” also known as “The Wet Spot.” I’ve known her for a long time. Alpha, you may recall from earlier blogs, was the person who first got me started with kink photography back in 2002.

Far and away, the highlight of this period was our time on Orcas. We’d left the conference with enough time to drive up to Anacortes and catch the last ferry over to the island. I love this ride: super romantic, even though they reduced the sizes of the ferries a few years ago and these are more utilitarian and have fewer services. The ride takes about an hour and stops at Lopez and Shaw before docking at Orcas.

c 20 island ferry   c 21 coffee in ferry   c 22 happy jen

Orcas always has been special for me. Margo (my first wife) and I spent about two years working out the qualifications for the place we wanted to raise our children, and in those two years physically visited five cities. Orcas was the hands-down winner:

  • More than two hours from a major airport

  • Accessible to a city we would like

  • Has a “mountain” smell and feel

  • Has an exceptional school system (One standard deviation above the state average on the ACE exams in a state that was one standard deviation above the national averages on the ACE exam. When I was working for the National Institute of Justice studying crime in American schools, I had access to the National Bureau of Education Statistics and had my friend in that office run that analysis.)

c 23 orcas island hotel

Anyway, we landed at the doc, looking directly at the picturesque Orcas Hotel and turned left, heading almost to Eastsound but turning left one road past the turn into town. Margo had suggested this place: we wanted to be on the water. I wanted to be isolated. We got both. We were in a lovely cabin in the Beach Haven Resort without Internet or cell phone signal. No distractions! We could walk along the beach or take walks in the woods.

We drove in town to have dinner with Margo. I always have dinner with Margo when I come back to the island. I’d brought Karen here years ago; can’t even remember anymore.

The next day, when we went into Eastsound to look at the lovely stores, my Internet signal returned and I realized that I had missed a call from my brother (8 years my junior, he lives in Santa Cruz, CA). William reported that Robin thought that Father had suffered a stroke. He and Angela (my sister, 12 years younger than I) were flying out to Santa Fe.

Next, they arrived out there about the time that the lab and physician reports came in that they could find nothing wrong.

So Jen and I spent a lovely week hiking up to the lookout on top of Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park (the largest State Park in Washington) and photographing and reading.

c 24 winter leaf on twig

We ate in lovely restaurants that brought back all kinds of personal memories (Margo and I moved here in 1987 and I left on New Years Eve of that year to join Renee in D.C.).

The Orcas Island part of the trip came to an end. We were very sorry to leave: this island remains my ideal home. We took the ferry back to Anacortes, over to Mt Vernon and then south on Interstate 5. We had a flight to catch. We flew directly from Seattle to DC to take a weekend intensive that Raven (Kaldera) and Joshua (Tenpenny) were putting on at Castle Griffin (Master Griffin and slave ann).

c 25 raven and joshua

We were home on Monday, Thanksgiving was Thursday, and Jen’s dad died on Friday.

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Air B&B Houston Hot Air Balloon “Glow” Festival

Jen wanted to see a hot-air balloon glow festival and found one in Houston. This wasn’t a race, it was an event. They were going to fire their propane flames after dark in order to give a visual experience. Sounded very interested.

We looked up hotel prices and were slowed down a bit. Then, Jen looked up rooms using Air B&B and discovered a place only a few miles from the field. We took it.

It’s a hefty drive from Austin to Houston (or Dallas). I’m not fond of 3-hour+ drives. At any rate, we weren’t in any hurry to get there and arrived at the event around 4p on Saturday. Nothing much was going on, but a few of the balloons were inflated and a number of crews were actively setting up for the evening’s experience. I started working out how to capture useful/interesting photo images. I suppose I worked at that for an hour or so before we decided to go get a bite of early dinner, as the main event wouldn’t start until after dusk.

We got back to the field in plenty of time, and I ran around with my camera/tripod while Jen found things she wanted to watch. Finally, when they were getting ready to do a coordinated “lighting,” they announced it over the PA system, along with an introduction to the festival and acknowledgements to a variety of helpers.

The lit balloons were really spectacular. There were a lot of them — perhaps 30-40. It was hard to get them all in the shot, but I managed to get a string of them. Also, with my 100-400mm zoom, I took a number of shots of the backlit colored patchwork that made each balloon distinguishable from others.

c 17 setting up balloon   c 17.5 glow festival   c 17.8 full balloon

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Taos

We decided to go out to see Father in Santa Fe. Jen had not yet met him. He lives about 20 miles west of the city in a compound for rich people. I suppose the adobe walls are ten feet high and four feet thick. It’s massive. It has a VERY upscale clubhouse and restaurant and bar. I can imagine that many people must get together there practically every night. Nothing else to do out there but go to the clubhouse, have friends over, or watch TV. It’s along way in to Santa Fe.

This is a shot of his living room.

c 15 livingroom

He bought a lovely house there after he sold the big house on the ridge overlooking the entire valley. You could see Los Alamos at night: street and house lights. He actually moved to Santa Fe in order to take a literature Masters’ degree at St John’s College’s rigorous liberal arts program. Its main campus is in Annapolis, MD, but they have this campus in Santa Fe because of the nature of the population.

It’s the only school in the US (probably the only school in the world) whose curriculum requires you to read the entire set of “Great Books of the Western World.” 

Anyway, we decided to drive up to Santa Fe to visit Father, who is 91. He’s in amazing shape. His mind is as sharp as ever and he spends most of his time reading or writing. Right now, he’s writing about old age.

The drive takes about 13 net hours. We spent the night near Clovis and arrived in the early afternoon. We’d found a reasonably-priced hotel and, after checking in, drove out to see them.

Father is now using the guest room as his bedroom, so they prefer that people not stay at the house. Also, he naps a lot now and there would be long stretches with nothing to do. Robin (his wife) prefers to schedule the visits. We spent the afternoon visiting and they took us in town for a lavish dinner. We had a lovely time; Robin was looking well.

We drove back out for breakfast at 10, spent a few hours chatting and left for Taos at the point that he wanted to lie down for a nap.

It’s a fairly quick drive up to Taos — about 90 minutes.

I’d found what I thought would be a really spectacular place to stay in Taos, the El Pueblo Lodge Room 140. I turned out to be right.

There was a light snow falling when we arrived; very romantic. We checked in and went to the room: it was lavish. It has a HUGE bedroom/living room with very nice fireplace and ample wood. SUPER romantic.

We had ample daylight, so we walked around town looking at the interesting shops. There is one in particular that is my favorite. They have handmade knives and (most important) outdoor bells made from cut-off diving tanks. Really interesting and very sonorous. It took all our will not to buy it — but it was in the $500 range and we weren’t spending that kind of money.

I’d made reservations for the Taos Inn months ago. They have an upscale restaurant that was well reviewed, and we were not disappointed. They have excellent food preparation, tables well spaced, and the dining room gave off an air of elegance. We had a lovely time and then returned to our motel room where we lit the fire, put on some music (through my computer) and had a fantastic, romantic evening.

We spent the next two days wandering around the city and the Indian reservations’ public areas, taking pictures.

I find I'm drawn to shoot interesting doors...

c 14 red door taos  c 13 door taos

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