Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bamberger Ranch, Unnamed Tank

Bamberger Ranch, Unknown Tank. ©2007 Chris W. Johnson

My visits to the Bamberger Ranch continued this last Saturday. Conditions for photography were not favorable, with cloudy skies and high winds, but. if you don't show-up, you can't get lucky. I drove down before dawn, caught a few badly needed winks, and met up with David and Margaret in time for lunch. Margaret told me she'd found me another waterfall, and off we went in David's old pickup with Corey, the Bamberger's dog, enthusiastically riding along. (It's not that I'm obsessed with waterfalls, it's just that some of them are seasonal, and, this being the season, I want to catch them while I can.) After checking in with the visiting turkey hunters, we headed up a dirt road into High Lonesome. Soon after, we arrived at the tank shown above and began walking up the creek that feeds it—the dog leading the way from somewhere invisibly far ahead—to a very nice little waterfall and pool.

As Margaret and I chatted, I setup my pano rig at the edge of the pool, and began waiting for moments when the air was still and the sun was shining between the clouds. There weren't a lot of those, and, unaccustomed to the waiting and the boredom that are such a large part of multi-frame panoramic photography, Margaret and Corey went off to explore further upstream. Somewhere in there, I realized that, unaccustomed to the pleasant distractions of company on my photographic jaunts, I'd setup my pano rig incorrectly, thus rendering useless all of the would-be panoramas I'd shot so far. I reset the rig, and eventually managed to get enough plausible takes that I couldn't see spending any more time on that location. I strolled back to the tank, setup on the shore, and began waiting for the wind to die and the sun to shine. That spread of earth, water and sky had to have a good pano in it. And, eventually, it provided the one seen above. Happily, that was also the moment that Corey, the dog, caught up with me, and just happened to stand dead still while the three exposures of his segment of the pano clicked away. He is, therefore, immortalized in a very small way near the right-hand edge of the panorama. Good dog.

Margaret arrived shortly afterward, and we returned to the truck with no clear destination. Remarkably, she hadn't had her fill of panoramic boredom, so I asked her to take me to the overlook of Jacob's Ladder tank on which she'd drawn David for Water from Stone (page 46). I thought it would be interesting to capture the view from David's perspective. Quite apart from providing charming company, and commentary on the ranch and its flora and fauna, Margaret was indispensable as a guide. Without her, I'd've wasted a lot of time stumbling around on boulders looking for that vantage point, and I might never have been sure I'd found it. With her, it was a breeze. I setup my rig as far out on the edge of David's boulder as the tripod could go, and at a seated person's eye level. "Is that safe?" she asked. "Not completely, but it'll be worth it if this works."

Thus began the waiting for the wind and sun to cooperate at the same time. Corey scrambled deftly over the boulders, exploring countless scent trails with perfect dog dedication, while I waited and Margaret waited on me. I started the pano many times, but never captured more than half the segments before the wind would return. I had the suspense of waiting for the next lull to arrive, listening carefully for the sound of its approach on the surrounding hills. Margaret had to settle for watching me wait, and an occasional conversation. ("We could cut down that willow tree that's blocking the view." Nobody had ever offered to cut down a tree for me before. I politely declined—it seemed like too much generosity to accept—although I couldn't help but think from then on that it really would be a lot easier without that damn tree.) Good natured soul that she is, she held-out a lot longer than I would have managed to do before she headed back up the boulders to go for a walk with the dog.

I crouched on the boulder, next to the camera, waiting with the shutter release remote in my hand, feeling the breeze die down, watching the willow's limbs sway less and less, until they stopped, and the whole scene was still, and as I depressed the shutter release to capture the pano's first segment, heard the breeze rising up through the trees, rotated the camera for the next segment, and watched the willow's long, graceful branches begin to sway, and then all of the other trees following suit. Not that it was their fault; that damn willow had to be the ringleader.

And so I would begin the wait for the next lull with good light, telling myself that if it didn't come along in the next sixty seconds, I was going to break-down the rig, and go find Margaret. Well, make that, ninety seconds. Wait ... yes ... I can hear the next lull on the way .... No, not good enough. But if I go another sixty seconds without a lull, I'm definitely done. Make that ninety....

That went on for a while, but eventually I did give-up. If I'm very lucky, I captured half of a usable panorama at some point, but I doubt it. Up the boulders and down the hill to the dam, I found Margaret and Corey. The dog still seemed to be having a fine time, but I expect Margaret was relieved that I'd finally quit. She drove us back to the ranch house where we found David, and I learned to my surprise that I was joining them at a neighbor's party that night. The yearly "swamp angel" party, no less. That wouldn't have meant a thing to me a week earlier, but having spent the week reading Water from Stone, I felt as though I was following in Jeffrey Greene's footsteps - the new year's new stunned guest. "Swamp angel" isn't in the index, but it's in the book, and I'll leave it to Jeffrey to tell that story.

We headed over to the party with David at the wheel of his old pickup, the three of us sharing the big bench seat. I was offered the middle position, but suggested that Margaret would be the better choice, as she had years of experience snuggling up against David, whereas I'd need training. So Margaret took the middle, and I took the end. With it, I acquired the responsibility of opening the various ranch gates we'd come to, waiting for the truck to pass through, then securing the gates behind us. There's not a lot to that job, but having left the passenger side door open at the first gate we came to, I was duly chided by David for my lack of gate etiquette. I struggled to redeem myself the rest of the way to the party, and back again later. Enjoying the situation plenty, David told me that he'd had the Lord Mayor of London (retired) along on this same trip some years ago, and that he'd made the same mistake.

It was on the return journey that I, at last, managed to clear my name by successfully passing not one, but two, trucks through the gates on the way back to the main road. David finally allowed that, like my predecessor, the Lord Mayor, I'd learned my gate etiquette, and passed the exam. Let no one doubt that the mission of the Bamberger Ranch Preserve is education, or that it works.

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