Fantasy Island


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 40mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

I close my eyes and I see a firey tropical sunset reflected off the ocean at an endless beach in Bali or Tahiti. I imagine long walks along the fine white sands, the warm water lapping over my toes. The only sounds are the waves against the shore and a ukulele being played lazily in the distance. A hint of a breeze ruffles my hair. I sigh, relax and then I’m gently swaying in a hammock suspended between two palm trees, sipping a fruity drink with a small paper umbrella in it.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

I open my eyes and I’m on the shore of the deep water channel near Louis Park in Stockton. I’m next to Darren Green’s ultralight seaplane, pulled on shore of a 30-yard long beach. The orange sunset is actually light passing through the colorful thin fabric covering the plane’s wings and bouncing off the dirty brown Delta water. It was fun when Green took me up for a short ride, but when it was over my mind went back to that imaginary tropical paradise.

I’ll be off on vacation next week. Nothing exotic planned, but at least I’ll have that island getaway in my head. Be back on the 17th. Aloha!

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Blast from the past: Mummy dearest

“So long it’s been good to know you
So long it’s been good to know you
So long it’s been good to know you
It’s been so long since I’ve seen my home
I’ve got to be rambling along”- Woody Guthrie w/ lyric adaptation by Phil Lee


(Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens Sigma 14mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

The mummy that has been a part of Stockton lore for the past 65 years is going away. Iret-net Hor-irw (Ear-et-net-hor-ear-oo; Translation: The eye of Horus is upon you, referring to Egyptian solar deity Horus), on extended loan to the Haggin Museum from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will be part of an exhibit at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in The City. “Very Postmortem: Mummies and Medicine,” will open at the Legion on Oct. 31 —  Halloween.


(Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens: Sigma 14mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)


(Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens: Nikkor 80-200mm @ 80mm. Exposure: 1/50th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

The mummy used to be displayed top canted up like today, but in the open. I remember Haggin Museum trustee Art Sanguinetti telling a story that years ago, small children, especially boys, used to do their best to touch the mummy.  I can just imagine the little kids egging each other on (touch it…no YOU touch it…I dare you…touch it … I double-dog dare you!), perhaps in an attempt to provoke a Boris Karloff-esque response.


(Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens: Sigma 14mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

In August 2003, I had my own close encounter with Iret-net Hor-irw. I photographed Patricia Podzorski, Ph.D., an Egyptologist with the University of Memphis’ (Tenn.) Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology, who performed a detailed examination of the mummy. It was Podzorski’s second visit to check out the Haggin’s illustrious Egyptian. In 1997, The Record, at the urging of columnist Michael Fitzgerald, hired her to decipher the hieroglyphics on the sarcophagus. Back then, she climbed around the glass enclosure but didn’t move the casket or its contents.


(Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens: Nikkor 17-35mm @ 35mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

In 2003, the sarcophagus was removed from its glass display case and the top removed. This time Podzorski got to take a much closer look. She closely examined the mummy’s tattered wrappings from head to toe. There were a couple of places where the mummy peeked through, an elbow and a finger, probably due to the poking from too many 7-or 8-year-olds’ fingers.


(Camera: Nikon D1H. Lens: Sigma 14mm. Exposure: 1/15th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

The mummy will be returned to San Francisco on Aug. 18 and is probably going off to a better place (pardon the pun). The Palace of Legion of Honor is an impressive museum and most likely many more people will get to see and marvel at him. But I doubt that he’ll hold a place in their hearts as he does for the residents of Stockton. So long, Iret-net Hor-irw, it’s been good to know you.

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Nature’s light show


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Go figure, but for our weekend getaway, we left the Central Valley’s temperatures in the mid-80s to low-90s for Southern Oregon, which was experiencing a heat wave. The humid weather seemed about 10 degrees hotter than at home.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 100)

Normally there’s a much less light pollution in the hills of the Rogue Valley, and I had planned to get a few night shots of the stars on our trip, so I brought along a tripod for time exposures. The first night we were there a nearly full moon was out, overpowering the dimmer stars. To exacerbate matters, smoke from a wildland fire in the Umpqua National Forest filled the valley and refracted the moonlight, obscuring most of the sky.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 43mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Our second day was a little cooler but still qualified as hot and humid. As evening fell, ominous clouds moved in from the south and east, again dashing my chances of getting a night shot. But to the west, the sinking sun combined with the roiling clouds to make a spectacular flaming sunset. Then the temperature dropped and the clouds began to weep. Although the drops were about dime-sized, they were spaced relatively far apart. It was good to feel the cool sprinkles on our skin. We sat out in the yard and enjoyed the relief from the steamy heat of the day and watched the rain clear out the smoky skies.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 33mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 50mm macro. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

Then a natural spectacle began in earnest. We saw flashes of lightning and heard the tympanic rumbling of thunder. From sheet lighting that flashed across the sky to ground strikes, the bolts occurred about every twenty seconds or so. I tried hand-holding the camera at a relatively slow-shutter speed to capture the lightning. I managed to get one shot of a strike, but there was a bit of camera shake to the picture. I had my son fetch the tripod from the car.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/155th sec. @ f/5. ISO: 200)

Finding an open spot in my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s heavily wooded yard, I set up tripod and camera and tried to time the shot. By counting the time between flashes and the thunder (1 second per mile) I estimated that the lighting averaged about 10 miles away.

(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 4 sec. @ f/22. ISO: 100)

Shooting lightning always involves timing, anticipation and lots of luck. Timing the shutter to coincide with a lightning flash can be tricky. Most of my exposures ran from four to 20 seconds, and I just hoped I would get a strike during that time. The anticipation comes from trying to guess where the lightning was most likely to strike next and aiming the camera in that direction. I had plenty of frames where either the lightning struck just after the shutter closed or hit out of the camera’s field of view.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 23mm. Exposure: 4 sec. @ f/22. ISO: 100)

Of the nearly 40 shots I took, only two had any decent lightning in them (aside from that first shaky shot). A couple of frames had the clouds lit up just a bit, but no apparent lightning, and and one had just the very tail at the edge of the shot.  After about an hour the storm had passed through the valley, leaving behind a cool freshness and echoes of nature’s light show.

The Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog has a gallery of great lightning pictures from around the world. Click here to view it.

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…you’ll feed him for a lifetime


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens Canon 17-55mm @ 18mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/13 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200)

We returned from our successful fishing trip with a total of six trout, a bass and a bluegill. All that was left to do was to cook them up and have a meal.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200)

Christopher’s Aunt Barbara was in charge now. She involved him from the very start of the cooking process. She instructed him on how to make the seasoning: butter, lemon juice (freshly squeezed), basil, and garlic. Then she had him put a splash of olive oil into a pan, dip a couple of the fish into corn starch and saute them. After covering the pan for a minute or two, she told him to lift the lid and flipped them to cook on the other side. After the first two were done Christopher was on his own.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200)

He repeated the steps of the first fish, with Barbara giving a only few tips here and there. She busied herself with making the rest of the meal: a succulent watermelon salad and some pasta. When all the fish with the exception of the bluegill (which had too little meat to eat and thus wasn’t on the menu) were done, Christopher poured the seasonings over them, and they were ready to eat.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens Canon 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8 w/flash. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens Canon 17-55mm @ 47mm. Exposure: 1/30th sec. @ f/2.8 w/ fill-flash. ISO: 200)

Because he caught the fish, Christopher had the honor of taking the first bite, and then we all dug in. The trout was tender and moist and tasty. If every merit badge ends in a meal as good as this one, then I hope Christopher makes it all the way to Eagle scout.

Posted in Animals, Nature, Travel, vacation | Tagged , | Comments closed

If you teach a boy to fish…

When I was a kid, my dad would take my brothers and me fishing. I didn’t have much interest in it, and, being the youngest, I usually ended up throwing rocks in the water out of boredom. After a while, they stopped taking me on those trips, and, needless to say, I never learned how to fish.

My 11-year-old son,
Christopher, has been a boy scout for a couple of months now, and one
of the merit badges he has to earn is for fishing. The requirements are
that he catches at least two species of fish, and clean, cook and eat
at least one of them.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

I bought him a fishing pole at Costco, but, unfortunately, that was all the help I could be to him. Over the summer, he’s been on two separate camping trips with the scouts to Lake Pardee, where he had the opportunity to get at least some of the requirements done. However, not only did he fail to catch anything, the whole troop came up empty-handed, both times, despite other anglers easily catching fish.

My wife’s sister, Barbara, and her husband, Mike, live in the wooded hills of the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. She’s a retired teacher, and he’s a forester. Modesty would prevent Mike from saying he’s an expert, but he’s experienced at all things outdoors. We recently took an extended weekend trip to the Rogue Valley in part to visit with family, but also in hopes of catching Christopher’s first fish.



For our first stop, uncle Mike took us to the Butte Falls fish hatchery, about a 45-minute drive from their house. It was one of those places where you just drop a line in the water and you get a bite. Indeed, as we set up, anglers of all ages were pulling fish out of the 50- by 40-yard pond. There were several snags in the pond, bushes and trees growing out of the water, so we settled in a shady spot away from the others.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 200)

Mike helped Christopher bait his hook and taught him the secrets of casting his line. Five minutes passed with a few bites but no fish. Then 10 minutes, and then 15. Christopher was in his anxious stance, hands at is side, standing still. I guessed that he was thinking about his Pardee experience, I know I was. Mike, methodical and patient, continued helping Christopher, giving him tips and hints. The lull in the action proved a blessing in disguise. It gave Christopher time to practice his casting, and he became quite good at it, being able to throw his line in with distance and accuracy.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8 w/fill-flash. ISO: 200)

After about 20 minutes a park ranger made his rounds and told us that we were at the shallow end of the pond. He said during hot days, the fish like to retreat to the deeper end on the side of the pond opposite us. Christopher moved to an open spot as began fishing as Mike and I moved our gear over to the new spot. Nearly as soon as he cast his line, Christopher reeled in a rainbow trout. In no time he had caught three more. Mike even set up his rod and reel to catch a couple himself. Then he showed Christopher how to clean the fish. It grossed out Christopher a bit at first, but soon he was able to do it easily himself.

We moved on to a different venue about a 10- to 15-minute drive away to a former logging pond that was about 10 times bigger than the hatchery’s fishing hole. I thought it would take Christopher a little longer to catch something there than in the more controlled environment of our previous spot, but it only took a few minutes before he caught something.  This time it was a largemouth bass. It was a little on the small side, so we decided to release it back into the pond. A few minutes later, Christopher caught another bass, this time a keeper.

A little more fishing resulted in catching a bluegill. The merit badge requirements called for two species, and Christopher caught three, so we decided to call it a day. I know Mike didn’t want to step on my parental toes, but I deferred to his expertise and experience. I was just along for the ride (and to document the trip). But least I didn’t throw any rocks in the water.

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Thinking big


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 155mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Gregory Dunham thinks really big. After watching a monster truck rally, he was inspired to build a motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle, but a really big one. It stands 11-ft, 3-inches tall, over 20-feet in length and weighs about 6,500 pounds . For comparison a Hummer H2 stands 6.6 feet, is just under 17 feet long and has a curb weight of just over 6,600 lbs. It’s taken him 3-1/2 years to build (“and it’s not done yet” he says). It’s recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest ridable motorcycle.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 95mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

A film crew from the Country Music Television show “All Jacked Up.” followed him as he gave the show’s host, actor C. Thomas Howell, a ride  through downtown Stockton. I might have missed it if not for a little bad luck on Dunham’s part. A radiator hose to the 502 cubic-inch, 500-bhp Chevy V8 engine burst sending coolant spurting out. Dunham pulled it over to the side of Miner Street, taking up three parking spaces to repair the hose. It not only gave me time to catch up and the film crew to get some lunch, but for the curious to gawk and take a few pictures.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 34mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

People stepped up and asked Dunham how big the bike was, how long did take him to build it and so forth. One woman even asked for his autograph but not C. Thomas Howell who has been in films such as Red Dawn and The Hitcher as well as being one of the bike riding kids in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)

People gave their cellphones and point-and-shoot cameras to friends, family members and even total strangers so they could have their pictures taken next to the massive bike. Some wouldn’t even get out of their vehicles, backing up traffic as they stuck their heads out the windows to get a shot of the bike.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

After about an hour the repairs were done and the anti-freeze topped off. The crew resumed their filming. Dunham with Howell riding shotgun on the bike, rumbled around the block several times to the surprise and delight of the denizens of downtown Stockton.

Posted in Enterprise, Feature | Tagged | Comments closed

July’s review

“July is light blue
The color
of the sky
July feels like a long vacation
In the sun
It sounds like waves splashing alone the beach
July smells like my birthday cake
It tastes like chocolate ice-cream
July is the best month of the year”
-July by Gurpiar Sidhu

Summer is in full swing, and it’s vacation time for many people (except for me). Time to take in a festival or two and maybe do a little wine tasting. Here are 10 favorite pictures from July.
_________________________________________________
7/10/09:


Lincoln Unified School District superintendent Steve Lowder checks out the Lincoln High School Engineering and Construction Academy building, which is only half completed. The project stalled in December because of the California budget crisis. It had just been announced that the project will be funded (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 200).

_________________________________________________

7/15/09:


Volunteer judge Anne Matson-Khasigian sniffs a glass of wine at the State Fair home winemakers competition judging held at the Wine and Roses Inn in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 160mm. Exposure: 1/80th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).


Wine glasses wait to be judged at the home winemakers competition held
at Wine & Roses in Lodi (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm
@ 200mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400).

_________________________________________________

7/18/09:


Katelynn Setness with the Brookside Breakers competes in a heat of the 12-year-old girls 50-meter butterfly in the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championship Swim Meet held at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/11 ISO: 100).


Timers wait for Emily Lasiter to finish a heat of the 13- and 14-year-old girls 50-meter breaststroke at the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championships at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/1000th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 100).

Quail Lakes Barracudas coach Lindsey Smith cheers on swimmer Brandon Toy in the 13-and 14-year-old boys 50-meter breaststroke at the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championships at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in  Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/2000th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 100).

_________________________________________________

7/25/09:


Edith Montemayor with the Sacramento-based Sinag-TagFilipino Theater and Performing Arts Association, performs a Filipino dance at the Adobo Festival held at the Moose Lodge Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5. ISO: 200).

_________________________________________________

7/26/09:


New York Athletic Club’s Emily Feher blocks a shot during the USA Water Polo Women’s Open Championship game against Stanford Red at UOP’s Kjeldsen Pool in Stockton (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/2000th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200).


2-year-old Ariel Michelle Nelson is a little unsure of Santa at Pixie Wood’s Christmas in July event in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @55mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/3.5. ISO: 200).

_________________________________________________

7/27/09:


Vicky Coffee-Fletcher, left,  hugs Wendy Moore, deputy director of the San Joaquin Department of Aging and Community Services at a memorial for Coffee-Fletcher’s mother Arlene Coffee at the Boggs Tract Community Center in Stockton. Coffee had been the director of the center until her death of breast cancer in the Spring (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/160th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 500).

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Leaving the nest

After our robin vs. dove drama, things quieted down in my family’s backyard. The parent birds’ activity cued us in on when the eggs hatched. Less than a week after the bird wars, although we could not yet see the hatchlings, we could tell that the robins were shuttling back and forth with food for the little ones.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm w/1.4 extender @ 280mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm w/1.4 extender @ 280mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Several days after that, one of the babies was able to poke its head above the rim of the nest. Its siblings were able to follow suit a few days after that. We counted three chicks and named them Huey, Dewey and Louie. We knew from experience that one of the birds always lagged behind the others. Huey seemed to the dominant one, getting the lion share of the food, with Dewey close behind. Louie was the runt of the litter.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 70-200mm w/1.4 extender @ 280mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

We’ve always marveled at how devoted the parents are to their babies. I don’t know if the they got to eat themselves, but they dutifully and reliably brought bugs or worms for the chicks to eat. They even took care of the disgusting chore of carrying away the babies waste so that the nest was kept clean (trust me, you don’t want to know the details).


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Over the next few weeks we watched as the birds grew, seemingly slowly at first and then exponentially at the end. We marveled at the birds’ growing awareness. Instinctively they knew their parents,of course, but soon could tell of their arrival even before they landed next to the nest. I saw them duck beneath the rim of the nest when an unrelated bird merely flew through the backyard’s airspace. They even hunkered down at the sound of the opening sliding glass door.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 800)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 400)

They soon started to outgrow the nest, and they were jostling for the most comfortable position. It seemed that Louie would always  get the short end of the stick and was relegated to the bottom of the pile. After a while they no longer could all fit in the nest. Huey, the largest, perched on the edge of the nest, occasionally flapping his wings, possibly practicing for flight.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

One weekend I was sitting at the kitchen table doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper when out of the corner of my eye I saw something flutter to the ground. I don’t know if he left of his own volition or was pushed out by his brothers, but there was Huey on the concrete patio. He looked around for a few minutes, seemingly confused and then flew off into the bushes and that was the last time I saw him.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 200)

It didn’t seem like Dewey and Louie missed their brother and actually looked like they enjoyed the extra room in the nest. Dewey soon took up Huey’s former position on the nest’s rim while Louie rested inside. We hoped that the parents knew where Huey was and continued to feed him along with the pair that remained in the nest.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

The next morning I noticed that Louie was the only one left in the nest.  I looked around and saw Dewey hopping around the backyard, almost as if exploring the area. He finally settled in one of the backyard bushes. One of the parents flitted down next to him and fed his some worms. That made us feel better for Huey. After eating, Dewey, like his big brother took off never to be seen again.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/4.5. ISO: 200)

Louie was in no hurry to leave. With plenty of elbow room he would nestle down nearly flat with the top of the nest. There a few times where I thought he had gone, but he’d poke up when a parent would come with some food. Even after a full day after Dewey’s departure, Louie looked like he was staying permanently.


(Camera: Canon 20D. Lens: Canon 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

The next morning Louie was still in the nest. I went to work that day and when I returned in the early evening, he was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know if he left on his own accord, or if mama and papa robin enticed or even forced him out, but Louie too was gone. All that remains is an empty nest.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

Friends have told me that once kids reach high school, time really flies. My son will be in sixth grade and my daughter will be a freshman next fall, and I know that it will be four short years and she’ll be off to college and three more for my son and my wife and I will have our own empty nest experience like the robins.

Posted in Nature | Tagged , | Comments closed

Gonna fly now

I was just cruising around when I saw a brightly colored ultralight airplane parked on a small beach at Louis Park along the Stockton deep water channel. It piqued my curiosity because, although I had seen ultralights before, this one was modified like a seaplane. Owner/pilot Darren Green of Stockton was standing near the plane all in orange — sweat pants and shirt, shoes and ball cap — matching the plane’s fabric-covered wings.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Green had fitted it with a pair of pontoons for aquatic operation. He said that during the Summer months he takes his friends out for rides on the weekends over the Delta. He’s even taken it fishing, flying it to a lake and then casting his line from the end of one of the floatation air bladders. At about 500 pounds, the plane cruises at around 50 mph. With the cost of the original kit plus some modifications, Green said that it cost him about the price of an expensive Harley Davidson motorcycle. Yeah, but can a Harley fly?


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

Green had just taken a pal up, and another friend, Jay Gier, who was playing the role of ground crew, was filling up the gas tank. Green then turned to me and asked, do you want to go up? Well, he didn’t have to ask me twice.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/6.3. ISO: 200)

He instructed me on how board the plane: hold onto one of the struts in a baseball bat-like fashion and then swing my rear end around into the seat in one smooth motion, or in my case not so smooth. Once I was seat belted in and put on a set of headphones, Green got on board and took off the orange ball cap he was wearing and sat on it for safe keeping. An unusual place to put it, I thought, but because the ultralight is basically a frame with wings, there’s not much stowage space. Then he taxied us out onto the channel. There isn’t a bottom to the plane so my feet rested on two control pedals that were also connected to the ones Green used to pilot the craft. Needless to say, I didn’t press too hard against them.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

He throttled up the engine, and we began to pick up speed. It was a bit choppy, not too bad, much like driving a car over a gravel road. It was obvious the moment we lifted off the water. Everything smoothed out and there was a sensation of being suspended by the wings. There was just a small harmonic vibration from the engine.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)

We skimmed just above the wave tops for a few hundred yards and then began to climb, if only slightly. For a mile or so we flew about 30 feet or so over the water. We passed sailboats and were about as high up as their masts. We could clearly see people in the boats wave at us as we flew overhead.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 200)

Green took us under some power lines crossing the channel, and then we began to gain altitude in earnest. I looked at the altimeter, and before I knew it we were around 500 feet. Unlike Green, I didn’t have any sunglasses and the 50 mph wind in my face was beginning to make my eyes water, making it difficult to see through the camera. I became aware of my employee ID, on a lanyard around my neck, was flapping in the wind behind me. I then thought of the whirling propeller just a few feet to the rear and I quickly reeled in the ID and tucked it into my shirt pocket.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200)

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 55mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200)

Although it was a hazy day, we still had a clear view of the Delta and even Mount Diablo. Green said that at the plane’s 10,000-feet ceiling (!) he could see San Francisco. We weren’t that high up, a quick glance at the altimeter read about 800 feet at our apex. A patchwork quilt of farmland passed beneath us, and the boaters now looked like insects.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 200)


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/10. ISO: 200)

After about 20 minutes or so Green flew us back to Louis Park. We were about a couple hundred feet up when we began our final approach. At less than a one-quarter mile I thought we didn’t have enough room and we’d overshoot the landing zone and have to taxi back.  We descended at rate that I thought was a bit alarming (Green was cool as a cucumber though), but he put the ultralight down as smoothly as we took off.


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/7.1. ISO: 200)

Once we were ashore, Green put his cap back on, and as we talked a bit more, I realized the need for a hat. I could see my reflection in his shiny dark glasses and I looked like North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il. The rest of the day I was a bit self-concious, constantly trying to flatten my hair. But it was worth it for the feeling of freedom of flight, just next time I need to bring my own hat.

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The competitive edge


(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/8. ISO: 100)

Perhaps to gain a little psychological edge, Jayson Chacon with the Sherwood Manor Sharks swimming team invoked the spirit of Olympic Gold medalist Michael Phelps in the 9-year-old boys 50-meter butterfly in the City of Stockton’s Recreation “B” Championship Swim Meet by wearing a cap bearing Phelps’ name. It must have worked, because Chacon was victorious in his heat at St. Mary’s High School’s Cortopassi Aquatics Center in Stockton.

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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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