Four Billion Years: Blog https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog en-us (C) Alberto Patiño Douce gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:24:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:24:00 GMT https://www.fourbillionyears.com/img/s/v-12/u713640607-o685809237-50.jpg Four Billion Years: Blog https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog 120 120 Mare Nostrum https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2019/1/mare-nostrum I travel to southern Spain every year to visit family near the city of Almería. It is a pretty area, squeezed between the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean Sea. It is close to landscapes and little hamlets that have not changed much since the turn of the twentieth century, but that are sadly being encroached upon by industrial agriculture, in the guise of an ever expanding sea of plastic greenhouses. But there are still places where one can spend a quiet afternoon strolling about and trying to capture the essence of an age gone by.

La Fabriquilla is one of those places, located close to the southernmost tip of Cabo de Gata. It is mostly known to tourists from elsewhere in Europe as a remote and solitary beach, with perfect sunsets and plenty of room to park your camper van. But the area also contains the remains of what used to be a salt mining operation, sometime during the twentieth century. Located across the main road from the beach, it consists of a few derelict buildings, a nineteenth century church and some scattered fishing skiffs in various stages of decay. It is a place that, at first glance, has no particular attraction. But this impression changes if one arrives late in a windy winter afternoon. As the sun goes down over the Mediterranean it bathes the old buildings and boats in golden light and the place comes alive with colors, shapes, details and shadows. It is a transformation, from a mundane scene to a wonderland of light, that I have witnessed in many other places as well. Suddenly there are so many compositions to work on that the light disappears too quickly. This gallery is but a small sample of what one evening at La Fabriquilla had to offer.

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Almería Alpujarras Cabo de Gata decay La Fabriquilla Mare Nostrum skiff Spain https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2019/1/mare-nostrum Sun, 13 Jan 2019 21:14:30 GMT
Light is everything https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2017/7/light-is-everything If you have read some of my essays, or looked at some of the images in either of my websites, the first thing I want to do is thank you! My chief goal is to share my vision of Earth, my love of empty spaces, quiet and solitude. To thank our planet for having allowed me to exist for a infinitesimal fraction of cosmic time. And I truly appreciate that you took some time to listen to my story. But I did not intend to get philosophical. So, if you have looked at my images and read some of the things that I have to say about them, you are probably aware of the fact that my philosophy is to manipulate images as little as possible. To let nature, not the photographer, do most of the talking. I strongly dislike "HDR" and I am appalled by software that can, for instance, invent any kind of sky and insert it into any scenery that one chooses. Leaving aside the fact that all of these techniques lead to aesthetic monstrosities (a subjective opinion, of course), there is the matter that such images do not depict reality (not a subjective opinion), and reality is all that I am interested in. 

But not all reality, or perception of reality, is equally moving. In my opinion, the light that bathes a landscape is as important as the landscape itself, perhaps even more so. I find the high-angle light of the mid hours of the day, especially in mid-latitude summers, to be outright depressing. I don't mean this just in terms of photographic possibilities (or, rather, lack thereof). I mean psychologically depressing. As far back as my memory can go (many decades...) I can recall a sense of despair coming over me whenever I am outdoors during the few hours that precede and follow noon. It happens to this day. For me, life ends every day two or three hours after dawn and begins again two or three hours before sunset. The remaining daylight hours I prefer to spend indoors, involved in some type of intellectual pursuit if possible, so as to take my mind off the horrors lurking outside. At noon, the most beautiful landscape is meaningless. At sunset, a plain city corner can become the most beautiful place in the world. 

Light gives, and light takes away. But the cycle is endless and predictable - one only needs to wait a few hours, in the certainty that the elation of the early morning will return as dusk approaches and noon becomes only the memory of a bad dream. Let us celebrate light, then. In a sense, all of my photography is a celebration of light above all other elements that make up an image. But why not be more explicit about it? In this spirit, I will be adding galleries to my portfolio that celebrate the light of specific geographic locations. The first two chapters focus on the light of some of North America's magnificent deserts: the Chihuahuan Desert of SW Texas and that part of the Mojave desert that we know as Death Valley

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) chihuahuan desert dawn depression dusk light mojave desert noon https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2017/7/light-is-everything Thu, 27 Jul 2017 03:41:33 GMT
The Ice Lagoon https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2017/2/the-ice-lagoon Jökulsárlón, the lagoon at the end of one of the large glaciers that descend towards the sea along Iceland's southeast coast, has become wildly popular with tourists over the last decade or so. It is without a doubt a beautiful and unique spot, easy to reach and made famous by a number of high-profile movies, by social media, and by Lonely Planet. As with all such spots, overcrowding by loud and intrusive humans is rapidly making it harder for the minority of us who love pristine nature, and who respect the right of other individuals to silence and solitude, to absorb the spirit of the place. Its sights and sounds and smells and cold humid wind. But I won't rant about that here (I will somewhere else). I prefer to celebrate the beauty of the world, which is what this website is all about.

It is difficult to photograph the beach at Jökulsárlón without falling into the cliché of stranded ice pebbles. There are those among my photographs, but I have tried to make the ice just one more element among depictions of the open ocean and of the North Atlantic sky. I have attempted to capture the rapidly changing colors and textures of an early winter subarctic sunset. To have the drama in the sky be the central element in my images, with the ice blocks and the basalt pebbles added to give a strong sense of place. You can, hopefully, see this in the photographs of the beach at Jökulsárlón, and also in the images of the lagoon, a few hundred meters inland. Some of these show a sun-star near the horizon. In others, faint clouds that mimic an aurora are a strong element in the composition. And in every case, there are the reflections that are such an important part of this unique place. Reflections of icebergs, mountains and sky on the smooth surface of the lagoon, and also of the colors of the sky on the dark basaltic beach.

A few of the photographs (it is easy to see which ones) come from a previous visit, during a foggy summer day. These images are imbued of a very dark mood, which is exactly how I perceived the place on that, my first trip to Jökulsárlón. The icebergs barely showing in the dark fog made me think of the River Styx and of Charon, its lugubrious ferryman. And do Titan's methane shores resemble, perhaps, Iceland's Atlantic shore on that dark summer day?

I mourn for the solitude that Jökulsárlón will never again see. And I have tried, with my photographs, to rescue the essence of a place as it may have existed in a more genteel and quiet world. 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Iceland North Atlantic Skaftafell Vatnajokull colors glacier ice jokulsarlon lagoon sun star winter https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2017/2/the-ice-lagoon Sun, 19 Feb 2017 21:05:17 GMT
In the Valley of the Ancients https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/11/in-the-valley-of-the-ancients Every Northern Hemisphere autumn I take a short trip to the deserts of the Western U.S. A not insignificant portion of my photographic work comes from these trips. It is a geographic area to which I feel a deep attachment - to the land, not to the people. This past October I  spent a few days hiking and photographing in and around the Snake Range of Eastern Nevada. Some of the largest remaining groves of Great Basin bristlecone pines are located in the higher elevations of the range, protected inside Great Basin National Park. If you have never heard of bristlecone pines, what is special about them is that they are the oldest living beings on Earth. Some of them are over 4,000 years old. Think of it this way: when that seed sprouted the Trojan War was almost 1,000 years in the future, and another thousand years had to elapse before Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus. We are as removed in time from Cleopatra as she was from that seed. 

Their age gives bristlecone pines an internal beauty that few other living beings possess. Whenever I stand next to one I feel engulfed by its age and soothed by its wisdom. How many storms has it witnessed, how many sunrises and sunsets? To think that such a wonderful and innocent being can be killed in an instant by an idiot with a chainsaw, and that this has indeed happened, fills me with the sort of rage and contempt that, regrettably, I all too often feel towards my species. Bristlecones are also physically beautiful, but not in the way that a fir or a palm tree are beautiful. Not two bristlecones are alike. Each has endured its unique share of challenges over its long life and, as a result, each individual has a distinct, twisted, bent and angled shape. After a while, if you visit a grove again and again over the years, you recognize individuals and think of them as old friends, each of them with its own distinct personality. And it is not just the shapes that are unique, the details of the exposed wood, where the bark has died off, are also distinctive. And so are the dead trees, some of which are still standing hundreds of years after the last pine cone dropped to the ground and the last needle turned brown. For bristlecones tend to grow where there is no soil, sinking their roots in glacial till, where humidity is almost non existent. This, together with their very closely-packed wood and the cold dry climate of the high Great Basin ranges, keeps them from rotting. There is a saying in Spanish - los árboles mueren de pie - trees die standing upright. This phrase encapsulates the nobility of trees, all trees, but few other trees are the equals of bristlecones in this.

Bristlecone pine groves have distinctive sounds and smells as well, that in one's mind get forever entangled with the visual experience. It is only the latter that get recorded in photographs, however. Perhaps, if you have been fortunate enough to visit with the bristlecones, these images will bring back many of the sensory experiences of being there. The photographs that accompany this commentary were all taken in a beautiful bristlecone pine grove that grows in a glacial cirque in the high Snake Range of Nevada.

 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Great Basin Nevada Snake Range Wheeler Peak ancient tree bristlecone https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/11/in-the-valley-of-the-ancients Thu, 17 Nov 2016 18:59:51 GMT
Scotland https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/11/scotland Few place names evoke such strong feelings in me as Scotland. I am not sure why this is the case, however. I am not Scottish, although my father was from Galicia, that region of northwest Spain with deep Celtic roots, complete with bagpipes and curly haired ruddy people. Perhaps there is a very distant blood connection with Scotland. I was educated at a British school in Argentina, where I had an unforgettable succession of Scottish headmasters. So maybe there is some connection there too. But I am an ardent Anglophile, and I have always been ambivalent about my feelings towards England vis-a-vis Scotland, or for that matter vis-a-vis France, a nation that I also love and with which I have very close blood ties through my mother. 

Scottish history is sometimes seen as violent, even by the standards of the European middle ages. Macbeth was my introduction to Shakespeare, in my early teens, and may have tinted my understanding of Scotland ever since that impressionable age. But was Macbeth's world real? In a similar vein, do the peaceful Norwegians and Icelanders of today really descend from ruthless and murderous Vikings? Or is that image of the Vikings, together with that of ferocious Scots, little more than a myth of the Dark Ages? After all, Scotland is the birthplace of geology and the seat of  world-changing eighteenth century enlightenment currents and ideas. The scientific understanding of the age and history of the Earth was only one of them. It is, without a doubt, a land of enormous human contrasts.

Yet when I think of Scotland, as when I think of any other place, it is not  the human history what moves me, so much as the geography. The landscape, the weather patterns, the plants and animals. And Scotland is a powerful land. In absolute terms nothing in Scotland is truly large. The Munros are no taller than the Appalachian hills of the Southeastern US, the lochs do not come close to Icelands' or Norway's fjords or the glacial lakes of the Patagonian Andes, the glens are subdued versions of the Austrian thals. But for some reason Scotland is an imposing, beautiful and deeply moving land. It may be the contrast between the deep greens and the quickly changing leaden skies. The cold and windy summer rain.  Or perhaps simply the wonderfully horrible Scottish roads, that make all distances appear longer by virtue of how long it takes to get from here to there. Whatever it is, I will always love Scotland and when I leave I always long to return. 

 

 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Hutton Scotland geology glen highlands loch https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/11/scotland Tue, 15 Nov 2016 19:16:16 GMT
The blues are not sad https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/9/blue-is-not-sad Blue has always been my favorite color. There is of course no reason - could you say why your favorite color is green or red or blue or yellow? Although I suspect that yellow is not a popular favorite color, but who knows? Anyway, I love blue and I don't understand the association of blue with sadness. For me, it is anything but sad. And it is a color that I find easy to work with, photographically. Greens tend to be easy too, though less so than blues. Reds are a nightmare, at least for me. Funny, other photographers whom I know tend not to like blue, and get on my case about too-blue skies or waters. But that is how I see it !

A gallery showcasing blue in all of its wonderful variations seemed to be in order. There is no real unifying idea in this gallery, except for blue. You could call it blue hour, that is fine with me. Most of the photos, except those from Iceland, do fall into the generally accepted definition of photographic blue hour. But that is about it. Most are evenings, one is dawn. Some are deserts, others are coastlines. The images were made in North America, Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand and Mediterranean Europe. Some of them are technically better than others, some are frankly deficient from a technical point of view. But I like them all. They are blue. And they reflect reality fairly accurately. At least, the reality in my mind as I was making the images. I hope you enjoy the blueness as much as I do! 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) blue hour dawn desert dusk ice ocean reflection sea https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/9/blue-is-not-sad Mon, 19 Sep 2016 04:54:37 GMT
Hawaiian Volcanoes https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/9/hawaiian-volcanoes The current eruption of Kilauea, in the Island of Hawaii, has been going on continuously since 1983. We visited Hawaii for the first time in 2003, and have been back about every other year since then. And yet, for one reason or other, we had never been able to see Kilauea's eruption up close. Since both of us are geologists, this was beginning to be embarrassing. This summer (2016) we were there at the right time, when flow 61g was picking up steam, and managed to get close to the active lava flow. The first thing that struck me was how unbearably hot it is next to the lava flow. I should have expected this, I am a geologist and, perhaps more to the point, I take pride in considering myself something of a physicist who deals with rocks. A body at 1200°C radiates in the visible part of the spectrum (that is why it looks red) and also puts out a lot of energy in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. So, heat transfer from the lava flow to the observer, and said observer's camera gear, is radiative heat transfer. The insulating properties of air don't matter. Obvious, and I of course knew it, but as I was hiking towards the lava flow this was far from my mind. When I stepped over the last hard lava hummock and I was face to face with the flow, only a few meters away, the heat, and the reason for the heat, suddenly hit me. I also take pride in being a theoretician more than anything else, I love equations, but sometimes forget what those equations mean in the real world. Rough awakening. 

The images in this website are only a small fraction of the several hundred images that I captured over a couple of afternoons and evenings next to the lava flow. They were all shot with the same equipment: a manual focus 35-135mm Zeiss zoom and an Olympus EM-1 digital body, plus a tripod when it got too dark. I was concerned that the beautiful glass in my Zeiss lens would devitrify at that temperature, but it survived. Come to think of it, the organic matter that the photographer is made up of would have broken up before the glass. I was also concerned that the camera electronics would be fried, but they also survived. I survived, but became very thirsty, which made the hike back to the car something of a drag. My technique to shoot the pictures was to spend perhaps a minute or two shooting next to the lava, sometimes as close as 1 meter from the lava front, and then walk behind some little knoll that cut the IR from the flow, to cool off, and let my gear cool off, for a few minutes. 

The flow is a classic pahoehoe flow. Much of the activity goes on inside the hardened crust, with the lava flowing along lava tubes. Where the tubes breach the surface of the flow there are lava breakouts that can be quite spectacular. In some case motion is slow enough that the crumpling of the viscous lava is frozen even at relatively low shutter speeds. In other cases the lava moves fast enough to blur the image.  The lava viscosity increases exponentially as it cools down, which explains structures like this or this. In other cases enough lava surges forward that it stays hot long enough to yield a fairly smooth liquid surface. I'm not fond of any language or metaphor that has supernatural connotations, but I must say that some of the images do look like the Gates of Hell.

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Hawaii Volcanoes Kilauea Puu Oo flow 61g lava flow pahoehoe https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/9/hawaiian-volcanoes Sun, 11 Sep 2016 23:09:45 GMT
In the depth of canyons https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/8/in-the-depth-of-the-canyons I have always loved hiking in open country. Until not too long ago I would not have even considered the possibility of hiking inside a canyon, surrounded by steep walls that don't let you see further than a few tens of meters on either side. For me, hiking meant a trail  going up to some peak with panoramic views. If most, or all, of the trail followed open slopes with expansive views, so much the better. What was the point of hiking along a canyon, enclosed by walls? I am not claustrophobic, but I consider myself to have a condition that I call "anti-agoraphobia" - I don't mind being indoors, but, if given the choice, I would much rather be outdoors. So this peak vs. canyon hiking was (is) quite possibly a reflection of this way of thinking: why would I be constrained by walls while hiking, if there are other places where the entire universe is the ceiling? During that time, too, photography for me meant shooting wide ranging panoramas and little else. In other words, a very immature view of photography.

Those times are, I want to believe, behind me. I am still strongly attracted to shooting wide-angle panoramic landscapes, but I have discovered, very belatedly, the photographic possibilities of many other natural environments. Among these are deep canyons with sheer rock walls and austere dryland vegetation. The American West is richly endowed in these environments, perhaps as no other place in the world. The Colorado Plateau is in a very real sense defined by them, but there are also some magnificent examples in the Great Basin, in the Mojave Desert, in the Chihuahuan desert, in the Rockies and even in the drier regions of the Pacific Northwest. 

Once you begin hiking canyons the photographic possibilities dawn on you. The play of light and shadows on canyon walls changes constantly as the day goes by. In contrast to photographing "in the open", when one is essentially constrained to short periods of good light in the early morning and late afternoon or evening, the light at the bottom of a canyon can be good at any time of the day. And if it is not, just keep walking, it may be good around the next bend. In some narrow canyons there may not be direct sunlight at the bottom even at noon, but the colors and textures of the walls are always there. Of course, I am not saying anything that has not been said many times before. I have not discovered anything new. It simply took me a very long time to find out by myself.

And the possibilities really multiply, the more you hike in canyons and come to enjoy them. You can concentrate only on the repertoire of shadows of varying intensities, perhaps with blotches of sunlight. Or you can work with the vegetation. Or with rocks strewn on the floor. Or focus on the maze-like geometry of many canyons. Or simply enjoy feeling small next to a massive wall carved by a stream that may only carry water once or twice a year.

So I have now been hiking canyons for some time. Given the choice, I still prefer my highland walks. But there is a very important place in my photography for the play of light on canyon walls. I know that there will be more to come.

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Colorado Plateau agoraphobia canyon claustrophobia hiking https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/8/in-the-depth-of-the-canyons Sun, 28 Aug 2016 22:21:48 GMT
A poor place https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/8/a-poor-place I have lived in Georgia for the past quarter century, but there has not been a day when I did not wish that I lived somewhere else. From my point of view, Georgia, like all of the US Southeast, is a poor place. When I say poor I don't mean monetary poverty. What I have in mind is Georgia's nonexistent landscape, its oppressive climate, its dull vegetation, its insignificant history, its distance from all the places that feel like home. So why have I stayed this long, you may wonder? Because life got in the way. Both my wife and myself are in academic careers, in the same Department of the same University, and that makes moving quite difficult. We never thought that we would be staying this long, though, and at least I am looking forward to leaving for good, when I retire in the near future - my wife is more adaptable and is in less of a hurry to leave.

When asked whether there is anything about Georgia that I like, my answer is always the same: Atlanta's airport, specifically the check-in counters (baggage claim not so much). Most of my photography starts at ATL-Hartsfield. On average, I manage to be gone for a total of some two months every year. The other ten months I am Georgia, and I try to make the best I can of it. For lack of a better place, I usually end up walking the trails at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and sometimes even talk myself into thinking that it is sort of OK. It is a good place to test and compare photo gear, for no better reason than the fact that I have photographed many times the same places, over the seasons and under a wide variety of lighting conditions. But those are technical matters, that you can read about in my other blog, if you are interested. 

One way, certainly not a new idea, to try to comprehend the place where I live is to follow some of the same places as they change along the year. I don't intend this to be a "surgical" review, however, showing exactly the same places at precisely spaced time intervals over the course of a year. What I will attempt to do is to use images that convey some understanding of what the Georgia Piedmont looks and feels. It may be that different times of the year are best captured in different places. I invite you to visit the autumn of Georgia at the State Botanical Garden and Sandy Creek Park, both located in Athens, short drives away from where I live.

 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Botanical Garden Georgia Sandy Creek Park autumn piedmont https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/8/a-poor-place Sat, 20 Aug 2016 15:45:04 GMT
Summer twilight https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/8/summer-twilight Iceland is a beautiful, powerful and varied land. I don't think that it is generally possible to say that some place or other is "the most beautiful place in the world", but if I were asked to compile a list of some of the places that I wish to return over and over again, Iceland would be near the top of the list. I have visited it twice, first in the summer, then in the autumn. I will be going back for a third visit early this winter. I know that it will not be my last. 

Of course, I have known about the Icelandic Sagas since childhood, but I had not read them. During my first visit, after spending about a month driving around the country and meeting Icelanders, I became deeply aware that this powerful and difficult land had bred a most welcoming, warm and friendly people. Are these the descendants of the fearsome Vikings? What better way of understanding my newly found friends than by reading what they had to say about their origins? How I wish that I had discovered them much earlier. The sagas are as unique as Iceland and the Icelanders. If I had read them thirty or forty years ago, and I had visited the country back then, perhaps my outlook on humanity would be more positive than it is. Better late than never, I suppose. Much has been written about why the sagas are masterpieces, about their unique place in prose narrative, centuries before anything remotely comparable arose in mainland Europe. I can certainly see this, but, to me, what is truly great about the sagas is how they succeed in changing one's perception of an entire people and their culture. For we grow up learning to fear the Vikings as the scourge of the Dark Ages. And yet, in the sagas, where they talk about themselves, we see them every bit as human as any of us. Some of them - Olaf and his father Hoskuld in The Saga of the People of Laxardal - are eminently decent human beings. Gisli Sursson is deeply unlucky through no fault of his own. Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir may be one of the most remarkable pre-modern women. And then there is that most complex and likable of anti-heroes, Egill Skallagrimsson. If they are any different from King Alfred, the Cid or Roland it is in their more patent humanity. 

Iceland has become popular with the Lonely Planet crowd and with the selfie generation. Shame - they tend to ruin what they touch, although they may have a harder time with Iceland. You will see them congregating in the (justly) famous waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes. I prefer to begin my photographic exploration of Iceland along the coast, and in particular with some of its pretty harbors. Where the endless summer twilight, the fog and the quiet fjords give a softer, and perhaps more accurate, image of the land and its people.

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Viking fjord fog harbor reflection saga sea summer evening https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/8/summer-twilight Sun, 07 Aug 2016 23:52:02 GMT
The reds, oranges and greens of the Great Basin https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/7/great-basin The word "Nevada" tends to evoke images of unending deserts, tumbleweed blowing in the wind, secret military installations and casinos. There is some of all of these in Nevada. In my experience, however, few people have a clear idea of what the Great Basin really looks like. The Great Basin also includes a good piece of western Utah, and some corners of California, Oregon and Idaho, but, for me, the heart of the Great Basin is Nevada. And it is a landscape that I love very dearly. I never tire of driving those roads that, when you get to the top of a range, show you the next twenty miles of road, crossing the valley and going up the next range. I never tire of smelling the sagebrush. And I will always love my hikes in Great Basin National Park. I am less enthusiastic about much of the human population of the Great Basin. I cannot help it. I only feel contempt for guys in cowboy boots and hats, driving big pickup trucks with gun racks and hauling horse trailers. No matter what they think, they don't belong in a landscape as beautiful as this one, and they don't own it. But that is another story, better left for some other time. Here I want to celebrate the Great Basin, and not waste time with its human defilers. They will be gone one day, and nature will remain.

When Great Basin National Park was established in the mid 1980's it was apparently possible to preserve only a small portion of the higher elevations of the Snake Range, in Eastern Nevada. It would have been better to include much of the lower elevation surrounding valleys as well, but there are humans who claim property rights over those areas. I am not opposed to private property, but I do think that it is a right that should be subordinate to the the needs of nature preservation, and that in a situation such as this one the ranchers occupying the valleys around the Snake Range should have been kicked out, so as to make a National Park that preserves the full spectrum of landscapes and life zones that the Great Basin is capable of. But that is not going to happen and, in any case, here I am again, fuming rather than celebrating. So let's celebrate. 

There are times when you can feel that you have Great Basin National Park all to yourself. Autumn is one of those times. The colors are everywhere, and the landscape changes almost from hour to hour, as the clouds, the rain and the sleet move in and out. It is a time when peaceful sunsets and stormy ones alternate with no obvious plan. When you can follow the aspen leaves as they cover the banks of Baker Creek or as they collect sleet along the trails, that melts to form millions of miniature magnifying glasses. If you have never been to Great Basin National Park, or if you have visited only during the summer when nature is less interesting and the human presence is an ever present stain, you are missing on a well-kept secret. Go, visit, enjoy, but don't tell other people.....  

 

 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Baker Creek Great Basin National Park Lehman Creek Nevada Snake Range aspen autumn https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/7/great-basin Sat, 23 Jul 2016 23:15:20 GMT
Thoughts of a former city dweller https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/7/thoughts-of-a-former-city-dweller I grew up in Buenos Aires, but I am not much of a city person. I don't dislike large cities. I find them interesting. I enjoy discovering similarities among cities that are in many ways so different. For instance, I don't find it difficult to pretend that I am in Buenos Aires when visiting New York or London. I tend to feel comfortable and at-home in large cities, but I would never again be able to be a permanent resident of one. I love walking their streets, discovering their small unique corners, and trying to absorb something of their histories and geographies. I hate driving in cities, though. I am exasperated by exasperated locals trailing me as I try to find my way around. They are right, of course. I can relate to their frustration when I am the exasperated local. I prefer walking and riding the rail systems. Never the buses or trams. Trains have set stops, you know exactly where you are and where you have to get off. They are discrete, quantified, exact. Buses are more complicated, they are continuous variables. If you don't know your way around it is very easy to miss your stop. Who, me ask? Never! So I take the train/underground/U-bahn/Metro/Subte, etc., get off close to where I'm going and walk the rest of the way

I left Buenos Aires about three decades ago and have lived in smallish University towns ever since - Eugene, Oregon and Athens, Georgia. I would never be able to re-adapt to being a permanent dweller of one of the world's large cities. I do miss quite a few things, especially the chance of being able to get out of the house and spend an evening walking streets that I may have walked many times before, recognizing trees and front doors and gardens and sidewalk potholes. Somehow this never worked in Athens nor in Eugene. You need a large city, with a seemingly infinite collection of streets. A city that, without much effort, one may think of as a dystopian creation of J.G. Ballard. Otherwise you (or at least I) soon get bored. 

I don't live in Georgia because I like it (I do not), but because I have to (the perils of academic careers, which are even worse for two-career couples). I try to flee the Southeastern US as often as I can but, when planning a trip, large cities are seldom, if ever, at the center of my itineraries. If I can choose, I choose places with few people, which means jumping on a plane and traveling cross-country or over the ocean to go walking in the deserts and mountains and remote coastlines of the Western US, Hawaii, Iceland and Spain. Every now and then, however, the opportunity arises of spending some time in one of the world's large cities. On the way back from our trip to Iceland in November of 2014 (more on that elsewhere) an overnight layover in New York was unavoidable. If we are going to stay overnight, why not make it a couple of days?

New York is a city that brings up strong feelings in me, perhaps because it reminds me of the city that I grew up in in so many ways, good and bad. They are both cities that swelled with the immigrants who arrived in overcrowded steamships at the turn of the twentieth century. The buildings from that time are still plentiful in Buenos Aires and New York. Italian and Jewish DNA are everywhere in the two cities. Both have distinctive accents and slangs, they share their paranoia, moodiness and humor. 

New York is of course the more spectacular of the two - it is the Capital of the World, no doubt. And this fact makes Central Park all the more special. It is the city's courtyard and garden, a small patch of relative quiet and lack of asphalt, where one can pretend to be inside a bubble, looking out onto a world in another solar system.  We spent a warm November evening, just before Thanksgiving of 2014, strolling around Central Park. These are my impressions of that peaceful day.

 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Buenos Aires Central Park New York autumn evening reflection twilight https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/7/thoughts-of-a-former-city-dweller Tue, 19 Jul 2016 09:46:58 GMT
Where the sea begins https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/6/where-the-sea-begins I write these paragraphs high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Hana, in Maui. There are patches of blue sky and blue ocean below, but most of the sky is covered with a low overcast, and a few puffy cumulus clouds in the distance. The rain forest is behind me, climbing the lower slopes of Haleakala, but the view to the ocean is open, interrupted only by a few Norfolk Island Pines, some traveler palms, rainbow eucalyptus and other tropical trees that I can't recognize. In an earlier post I commented on how depressing I find the rain forest to be. Still true, but, somehow, the rain forest here in Maui has a redeeming quality that makes it perhaps more beautiful, and certainly more bearable, than almost anywhere else. This is the fact that it is a relatively narrow fringe on a huge volcano, and that I know that it is possible to escape the rain forest for the freedom and beauty of the desert by simply climbing a few kilometers up the volcano. The same is true of the rain forest in the island of Hawaii, and a few other large volcanic islands. So here I am, contentedly spending a few days on the edge of Maui's rain forest, which is but a transition between the Pacific Ocean and a huge volcanic summit.

As always, I began writing this blog entry with a topic in mind, and I have yet to start on that topic. I wanted to give some context to one of my galleries. If given the choice of migrating to an ocean planet (say, Frank Herbert's Caladan) or a desert planet (his Arrakis), I would not hesitate to choose the latter. But the ocean holds and indisputable attraction, which is quite possibly shared by all humans. I do not like the sea of midday, I do not care for an ocean under a bright cloudless sky. But a cover of turbulent clouds can transform an otherwise dull seascape into a scene that evokes places that may exist only in our imagination, yet are very real, extending away from us and into a distance that we cannot comprehend. I sit here watching one such scene on the North Shore of Maui. The horizon is a blurry blend of cloud and sea, of a luminosity that can only exist in tropical latitudes. It is not the forbidding horizon of subarctic latitudes, all too common along Iceland's spectacularly varied coastline. It is not the endless horizon of the Pacific Northwest coast. Nor the always luminous Mediterranean horizon that I have to come to know and love in the volcanic coastline of Almería, in the southeast of Spain. It is a horizon that I will be trying to document over the coming weeks. If I succeed (and I may not, as I prefer to set too difficult standards), then a new gallery will display some of my efforts. For now, I invite you to look at other portraits of The Clouds and the Sea. As always, I thank your for your visit and invite you to start a conversation.

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Almeria Cabo de Gata Frank Herbert Hana Hawaii Iceland Maui Oregon clouds horizon sea https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/6/where-the-sea-begins Fri, 01 Jul 2016 02:01:49 GMT
There is no sound more beautiful than the silence of the desert https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/6/there-is-no-sound-more-beautiful-than-the-silence-of-the-desert I don't know whose quote this is, I am not even sure whether it is a quote from somebody more or less famous. I read it years ago in a bumper sticker attached to an old jeep in Death Valley, and it stuck, because at that point I realized that that is how I had always felt. Being completely alone in the desert as the sun rises, especially on a windless dawn, is a profound experience, one that you are likely not to fully understand unless you have experienced it. And, if you share my feelings towards deserts, one that you will want to repeat again and again. But not everybody will find this experience to be a beautiful one, as some of us do. There are those who love deserts, but I can see why many people have a strong dislike of them, and find them lifeless wastelands (in fact, that is the German word for desert: wüste). What I find difficult to understand is indifference towards deserts. If deserts don't move you in some way, if they don't affect you in one way or another, then there may be something wrong with your capacity to understand your surroundings. If you have never been to a desert, or have just driven through one with windows closed, air conditioning on and music blaring inside the car, you may find this statement difficult to relate to. 

We all have different and unique ways of relating to our surroundings, and in particular to the natural world. For example, although I can understand the beauty and the biological significance of tropical forests, I am strongly repelled by them, in an almost atavistic fashion.  Something very old inside me sees them as places of terror, death and decay. I don't remember when I began feeling this way, but I do remember that, when I was a freshly minted geologist and I was in one of my first jobs as a minerals exploration geologist in the Paraguayan forest, I already felt this way. It was a strong rejection of, and revulsion at, my surroundings. I had not spent much, if any, time in rain forests before then, so it may be that I was born with this ancestral fear. More likely, the loathing of tropical forests grew out of something that I read or saw in the movies as a child, and that is otherwise deeply buried in my neural circuits (for that is all that conscience at its different levels is). Interestingly, I do not have this same feeling towards temperate and boreal forest and woods, in fact I like them. So it is not the trees, nor the darkness, nor the limited horizon. It is not the possibility of having unexpected encounters with fauna of varying sizes either. It is something that is barely defined, that has to do with constant growth and decay, and with corrupt humanity (in all the possible meanings of the word). Perhaps Joseph Conrad felt the same way, and was able to translate his feelings into that masterpiece, Heart of Darkness. In another masterpiece, the film Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O'Toole (T.E. Lawrence) is asked why he loves the desert so much. His answer could have been mine: "Because the desert is clean". Clean as in honest, pure, naive, pristine, permanent. Tropical forests are, for me, the most unclean environments on Earth. Of course, they are essential cogs in the planet's machinery. They must be protected from destruction and human encroachment (is there any difference?), for the sake of all of the non-human beings that  live in them. But I don't want to go there.

I began this blog entry talking about deserts, and so far have used almost as much space talking about tropical forests. Perhaps I got sidetracked, but it is just as likely that I was trying to describe all that is beautiful about deserts by describing what I see as their antithesis. No matter. In my photography you will find many desert images, especially of North American deserts. This website will always be a work in progress, and only a few galleries are online as I write this. Among them is one devoted to the many moods that sunrise can take in Death Valley. I invite you to visit this gallery and spend a few instants with each image. Perhaps you know these places, and my photos will bring back the sounds and the smells of the Sun slowly rising over the Mesquite dunes, near Stovepipe Wells, or over the Zabriskie badlands, or behind Dante's View on a very cold December morning. If you have never been there, then it is my hope that through these images you may understand why the desert is such an important place for some of us. Perhaps one day we will meet out there? 

 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Death Valley Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad Mesquite dunes T.S. Lawrence Zabriskie badlands conscience desert neural circuit rain forest silence tropical https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/6/there-is-no-sound-more-beautiful-than-the-silence-of-the-desert Mon, 13 Jun 2016 04:54:49 GMT
About my journey https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/5/about-my-photography-journey So let me begin with a few things about myself, and how they may reflect on my photography. Let’s get something out of the way - I am opinionated, and I make no apologies for being opinionated. I get along with animals (especially with cats, that most opinionated of all animal species), with plants, with deserts and cold places, with the wind and the ocean, with solitude, with silence. I have a strong dislike for crowds and human noise, for conventional wisdom, for fashion and trends, for crowd mentality, for selfies and selfie sticks, for self-congratulation, for spoiled brats (I am a university professor), for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, for the “me mentality”. In other words, I don’t get along with my species all that well. I am a scientist and a mathematician, which  is how I make my living. But this website is about photography. Why did I get into it? Two reasons: I love nature and I love toys, and there are few activities that combine these two loves as well as photography does.

My aim is to depict nature in all of its glory, but this does not mean in all of its unblemished glory. For some landscape photographers having a road or a building in the frame is sacrilegious. I may prefer that the road or the building were not there, but if they are I will work with what I have and try to make nature look its best despite those blemishes. For most macro photographers depicting a flower in anything but its perfect prime is pointless. I don’t feel that way. A flower with a torn petal, or past its prime, or surrounded by weeds, is no less beautiful. And that “imperfect” flower tells a story that may be so much more interesting than that of its less tarnished sister. You will find landscapes with no “hand of man” in my galleries, but you will also find cities, roads and buildings. You will find less than perfect flowers, trees and animals. What you will not find are humans, or at least not many of them. I am incapable of photographing humans. I admire good portrait photographers, but I am not one of them, and I have no inclination to become one.

Many places become iconic because they are photographed over and over again. Why? Because they are either beautiful or photogenic. For somebody who is a nature lover first and a photographer second these are two very different concepts. A trendy image maker, on the other hand, is unable to tell the difference. You will find in my galleries some images of famous places, but I tend to avoid them, in no small part because I don’t like the idea of having to share these places with other humans, with their constant incoherent chatter and their shrill screams, their loud laughs and silly Oh-my-gods.

And what about toys?  I use a wide range of equipment, new and old, digital and analog. Part of the joy of photography is, for me, to handle gorgeous pieces of engineering and extract beautiful images from them. I tend to favor manual focus lenses from the analog era, made by Olympus, Carl Zeiss (East and West), Konica, Fuji and a few others. The camera is less important, as I think of it as digital back for the lens. But I have my favorite cameras, that I use because they are unquestionably at the top of their respective games. Olympus OM-D and PEN bodies have the best image and build quality that one can extract from a very small package. Sony E-mount cameras (full frame and APS-C) are the only sensor-mount combination that is capable of doing justice to great analog lenses. Finally, if you have ever worked with Foveon raw files you may understand why I have a special place for my Sigma SD-1. Cantankerous, slow and quirky, but nothing comes close in terms of image quality.

So there you have it. If you read to the end of this first blog post then perhaps you share some of these views. Or, perhaps more likely, you are so mad at me that you feel that you must argue back. Either way, I invite you to share your thoughts (but please be polite) and, if you feel like it, to look at my photos and comment on them.

 

Thank you!


Alberto

 

 

 

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gowron808@gmail.com (Four Billion Years) Carl Zeiss DDR Foveon Jena Olympus Sigma Sony cat collective thinking crowd me generation mob mentality nature photography selfie https://www.fourbillionyears.com/blog/2016/5/about-my-photography-journey Mon, 30 May 2016 18:32:00 GMT