Too much fun

My son bridged from being a webelo to a full fledged boy scout in May. In that time he’s been on four camping trips with his troop.
At the end of each trip, he, as well as the other scouts, were exhausted from merit badge activities and late nights of s’mores, ghost stories and snipe hunts.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6.ISO: 100)

They all looked a bit like those pictures of shellshocked soldiers with their thousand-yard stares, shuffling around like zombies. When we picked him up from the Bodega Bay outing, it was no different. When we opened up the trunk of our car to load up his gear, he plopped down into it for a short cat nap. We drove him and some other scouts home (boys in front, their backpacks and sleeping bags in the back). They mostly slept in their seats, and the trip back was much quieter than the one up. 

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Yo mama

When our kids were little, my wife and I bought books on how children grow physically and mentally. We read that the aquisition of humor was a key developmental step.

I remember when my son was about 4 or 5, his attempts at telling jokes. He would get the concepts of the set up and punchline, but not how they were related to each other. One of his favorite jokes was: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Peanut!” We laughed not because it was funny, but absurd. He’s 11 now and gets knock-knock humor, Tom Swifties, and even jokes with sarcasm and irony, but I think it’ll be a few more years before he can create jokes on his own (at least funny ones) especially on the fly.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Canon 17-55mm @17mm. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 100)

On our stint of driving scouts to Bodega Dunes Campground, I ferried five boys and their gear in our Honda Odyssey minivan while my wife and daughter had two scouts in the back of our Honda Civic compact sedan (a quirk in vehicle assignments had our 11-year-old son riding in another car). The young passengers in my vehicle from 11 to 13 and excited to be on an adventure, were very talkative. Being mostly pre-teens, the conversation soon devolved into laughing over flatulence and belching (actual and simulated).

(Camera: Canon 20D. Canon 17-55mm @37mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

About halfway through the 2-1/2 hour trip, things turned into their crude attempts at insult humor. Whenever one of the scouts said something, it was was retorted by another with whatever the last word that the first boy said tacked onto “your mom’s a…” From then on the discourse was a back and forth of “your mom’s a this “and your mom’s a that.” After a while, after they ran out of insults, and the jokes became meaningless non sequiturs. “Look at that road sign.” “Your mom’s a road sign.” “Hey, there’s fog.” “Your mom’s fog.” The boys became giddy with laughter, drunk on the nonsense of it all. Grinning and bearing it, I couldn’t get to Bodega Bay fast enough. I kept telling myself taking a “boys will be boys” and that perhaps this was some developmental stage, as long as they kept me and my mom out of it.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Canon 17-55mm @46mm. Exposure: 1/320th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 100)

When we arrived and off-loaded our passengers and their gear, I conferred with my wife. She said that the two boys in her car were as quiet as church mice speaking only a few sentences between them. They even slept for most of the drive. Perhaps they knew better than to tell mom jokes with an actual mom at the wheel.

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Day is done

We ended the day with a stint at Wrights Beach along Highway 1, a few miles north of Bodega Bay. Not the fine-grained sand that I’ve seen on most California beaches, the shore was the consistency of tiny pebbles. It didn’t look the most comfortable for barefoot strolls, so we kept our shoes on.

The sun was starting to set, and the the temperature started to fall. Even it the weather was warm enough, the riptide currents were too strong to swim safely. The waves at some beaches lap gently against the shore, but at Wrights Beach, the breakers rolled in like thunder, rumbling as they crashed.  There wasn’t much to do other than to take in the beauty of the surf. At the end of the day, that was enough.

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Lunch light

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100)

Many restaurants, while good places to eat, tend to have poor lighting, which perhaps creates a romantic mood, but makes it less than ideal places to photograph the food that they serve. Once in a while an eatery will have light as good as its food.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 44mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100)

After our hike we toured the small towns along the Bohemian Highway and stopped in Occidental for a late lunch. cites the population of the town at about 200, but as small as it was, the town boasted several eateries. We chose Negri’s Original Occidental because it looked like a place that didn’t cater just to tourists but had regular customers as well.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 40mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100)

The cozy dining in the family-style Italian restaurant had large picture windows which the hostess sat us next to. Soft indirect light filtered in and gave a pleasant glow to the room. I ordered the chicken marsala, my daughter had the angel hair pasta with shrimp and my wife ordered a small Margherita  pizza topped with mozzarella cheese, basil, and tomatoes.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 54 mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 100)

I decided to take advantage of the light and chronicle our food photographically. We enjoyed our meals not only in taste, but, because of the light, visually as well.

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Take a hike

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

The AAA Northern California Tour Book listing for Bodgea Bay was a bit slim. It listed just a handful of restaurants and motels and the “Points of Interest” section was blank. Former assistant city editor Pat Omandam recently took a trip to the area, and he told me that Bodega Bay was all about the beaches. He said that it was a great place to stroll along the shoreline and take pictures. So we decided to take a walk.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 100)

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

In the morning we took in the Bodega Head Trail. Partof the Sonoma Coast State Beaches, the trail is a 3-mile loop along the coastal bluffs near the northern end of Bodega Bay. The trail offers spectacular views of the coast, with a great bird’s eye view of the ocean and the waves crashing against the rocky crags of the bluffs.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 100)

Although there’s 300 feet of elevation changes, the slopes are mostly gradual, and the walk was pretty easy. The cool morning sea air wafted over us and kept us refreshed.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 100)

According to Bay Area Hiker, wildflowers abound during the spring, but on our walk, the summer-seared wild grasses were mostly seas of gray and brown dotted with small oases of dusty green coyote brush. There was very little color to find, and if it weren’t for the great ocean scenery, it would have been a rather dull hike.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

Still, I managed for find a few bright spots of color amid the dried vegetation. Ice plant was rife throughout the area. Although there were only a few of the purple blossoms left, the hues of the plants themselves ran the gamut from green to a warm rust.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

Walking along the trail, I spied a small dot of yellow.  A beach dandelion, some petals tattered or gone, its bretheren long since extinct, clung to life in the dry soil.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 100)

A little farther, a bull nettle grew defiantly. It stood proud above the rest of the withered plants. I know the nettle is considered a weed to many, but it was one of the few plants that displayed any color at all. Its purple blossoms were beacons in a monocolored terrain. To paraphrase Desiderius Erasmus (Dutch author, philosopher, & scholar 1466 – 1536),  in the land of the drab, a little bit of color is king.

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(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 100)

Our motel, the Inn at the Tides, gave breakfast discounts to the nearby Tides Wharf restaurant in Bodega Bay. Its large windows gave a great panoramic view of the the bay. It was fun to see the harbor seals hunt for their meals and the sea gulls harassing them for a dropped morsel. Occasionally a fishing boat would chug out to sea or kayaker would paddle by.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm w/ 1.4 extender @ 280mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 100)

The only thing marring the picturesque seascape was a sailboat listing about 45 degrees to starboard about a couple hundred yards away from shore. We wondered what its story was, but we didn’t ask anyone.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

At our second breakfast at the restaurant, curiosity overcame us, and we asked our waitress about the sailboat. She said that its pilot got the boat stuck there about two years ago. Too costly for him to have it towed out, he just left it there, scuttled in the middle of the bay. Or perhaps he thought it might make an addition to the rustic nature of the harbor.

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Annie get your paintbrush

We stopped at St. Teresa’s Church in Bodega on our North Sonoma Coast trip. It was one of the sites used in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “The Birds.” When we pulled up and parked, we noticed an elderly woman working on a painting near the front of the church.  At first I thought she was rendering the picturesque church, but upon further examination we saw that she was actually facing away from the church, looking toward the small town.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 100)

My wife started a conversation with her, asking if we could see her painting, and she was quite a character. Her name was Annie Murphy Springer, 74, and a long time resident of the town. She was pleased that we asked permission to see her paintings and asked to take her photo. Earlier in the day other tourists came up to her and invaded her personal space without asking, she said.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8 w. fill-flash. ISO: 100)

Shaded by a couple of colorful umbrellas, Springer was dressed in a long-sleeve turtleneck shirt, sweat pants and a floppy straw hat, all the color of lavender. She showed us the watercolor she was working on, a scenic of the town’s main street and the surrounding hills. She went into stories from past of how she was the the town’s fire chief for a while and that she helped to consolidate several smaller fire departments in Sacramento County in the 1970s.

Springer mentioned the church and schoolhouse’s affiliation with the movie and also pointed out the artists’ cooperative gallery, of which she was a member, and the small clothing store next door to the gallery (both of which were part of her painting).

Springer correctly guessed my daughter’s age at 14 (being 5′-7″, most people guess she’s a few years older). Then she gave my daughter some unsolicited advice, saying that, while she grew up in a time when women had to fight for the very right to try to achieve, everything, from being an astronaut to becoming president, was open to to my daughter. 

After five or 10 minutes of talking with Annie, we were off to explore the parts of the town she mentioned. We felt richer for meeting her, because she was part of the color of the local town, and not just because of her clothes or her paintings.

I found this YouTube video of Springer that gives a taste of what she’s like. Enjoy!

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Going to school

Although the coastal town of Bodega Bay takes the credit for the being the site of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”, some of the famous scenes were also shot in the town of Bodega, about five miles inland. Two important landmarks from the film are still standing in Bodega. St Teresa’s church and the Potter School stand on the eastern edge town.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/7.1: ISO: 100)

According to a sign on a fence surrounding the school, it was built in 1873 and not only served as classrooms for grades 1 through 8, but as a community hall as well. In 1961 the school was condemned and sold at auction. In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds” at the school. It sat unused until 1966, when it was bought by Tom and Mary Taylor. They and their three children restored the schoolhouse to become their residence. Three generations of the Taylor family still live in the two-story building. Because of the continuing interest in “The Birds” they run a weekend gift shop out of one of the downstairs classrooms.

We looked around in the gift shop, “The Birds” related T-shirts and knick-knacks were for sale, but none of it interested us. The young woman behind the counter pleasantly thanked us as we left. As I crossed the street to get a picture of the building  I heard the call of a single crow. I looked around an finally saw the bird nearly hidden in a tall pine tree next to the school.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/7.1: ISO: 100)

My mind flashed to the scene in the movie where crows ominously gather on the jungle gym behind Tippi Hedren, who was seated outside the school. Hedren then goes into the school to warn the teacher, played by Suzanne Pleschette, and they evacuate the students. I remember the the anxiety I felt as the crows swooped down on the school children as they ran screaming down the street.  Hedren and some children found refuge in a parked car, Pleschette wasn’t so lucky. I realized that I had parked our car about 50 to 75 yards away at the church.

The crow continued its clear and steady, yet almost plaintive call, but no other birds came to its side. Perhaps it wasn’t a call to arms for his comrades, but rather a thank you for coming and remembering.

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Fall weather

An agapanthus flower at The Inn at the Tides motel in Bodega Bay (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/16 w/ fill-flash. ISO:100).

This year the first day of fall was officially Sept. 22, but it seemed like summer would never end. Valley temperatures continued into the 90s and even up to 100. I know that we live in sunny California, where the sun is supposed to shine all the time, but I was ready for the cooler weather. Maybe it’s old age, after all. I remember as a kid being able to take the heat. The hotter, the better, and it seemed that I could romp in it all day long. But now I can take only so much of it before I’m cranking up the A/C.

Dew covers an agapanthus flower at The Inn at the Tides motel in Bodega Bay (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/200th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 100).

We left for our trip to Bodega Bay on Friday afternoon, and as we approached the small harbor town in the evening on Highway 1, we could see fog billowing over the coastal hills slowly evaporating as it mixed with the warmer inland air. The high temps in the harbor town were in the mid-70s and the lows hung around 50 degrees. Like a dog drooling at the sight of a juicy bone, I couldn’t wait to feel the chilled air against my skin. When we dropped off the boys, it was almost too cold, and I had to break out a sweatshirt for a bit of warmth.

Dew covers a daisy at The Inn at the Tides motel in Bodega Bay (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100).

When we awoke the next morning, the sky was clear and the air had a fresh crispness to it. Dew covered everything from our car to the landscaping at the motel. We took in some the beaches and hiking trail around the town, and it was soothing to have the cool air fill our lungs and waft across our brows. Compared to the Valley temperatures that we had left a day earlier, it was refreshing and soothing.

A couple walk along Wrights Beach near Bodega Bay (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 100).

Then we toured the Bohemian Highway, stopping at the small towns of Bodega, Freestone, Occidental and Monte Rio, and although they were just a few miles inland from Bodega Bay, it was about 20 degrees hotter than on the coast. According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, another 10 to 15 miles further inland, measured a record temperature of 103 degrees! After several less-than-comfortable hours, we decided to head back to the coast, rejoining Highway 1 at the town of Jenner, north of Bodega Bay. The sea air returned, and, driving with windows down, it flooded the car with its cool, salty breeze.

A wave comes ashore at Wrights Beach near Bodega Bay (Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 100).

Valley temperatures have since dropped to more fall-like levels and hopefully they’ll stay that way until winter. My family and I were able to kick start the autumn weather, we just had to drive a couple of hours to do it.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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