Category Archives: Photography

Big Black Fred’s Friend

And by “friend,” I mean “potential dinner.”

(Typing up a little loose end, one of literally thousands on this site I’m afraid.)

About ten days ago I posted some pictures of one of our yard’s California Alligator Lizard friends, who I dubbed “Big Black Fred.” I also closed that post with a teaser – “Something besides the sun had his attention.” And then my muse went on her merry way and I completely forgot about the tease or where it was headed.

Until today.

This guy was fairly large, about three inches long.

One of the odd things was that he didn’t spook or jump away or fly up into my face – which would have made me scream and cry and possibly wet myself despite my intellectual knowledge that he’s 100% harmless.

I was still a couple feet away, shooting with a 300mm telephoto lens, but still you would think at some point that he would feel that I was invading his personal, insectoid space. Nope. He never moved.

Even when I got down on my belly on the concrete and was looking at him head on, he never took off or twitched. I was starting to think that he might be dead.

But when I stood back up he moved a few inches, so I knew that he was alive. He just wasn’t moving.

It was after I got back to my feet that I noticed Big Black Fred over by the trash cans, maybe eight or nine feet away. And I noted in those pictures that Fred didn’t seem too spooked by me, allowing me to get much closer than usual for the skittish lizards in this yard.

It occurred to me only later that I might have gone and lay down on the concrete in the middle of a classic reptile/insect version of a Mexican standoff. Fred didn’t want to move because he didn’t want to spook the grasshopper while he was sneaking up on it. The grasshopper didn’t want to move for fear that the motion would catch the eye of Fred. At some point Fred was going to hit the gas straight into fifth gear (unlike the new Corvette C8, apparently – sorry, couldn’t pass up that little bit of snark!) and go after the grasshopper before he could jump away.

Who was going to be faster? Who was going to be the victor with eating dinner or being dinner on the line?


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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography

By The Mailbox

On a day which featured a truly ugly and horrible thing along with all of the usual crap, it was a surprise and a small joy to find these next to the mailbox when I got home:

If they’ve ever been there before in the eleven months we’ve lived here, I’ve been blind to them.

Which may in fact be the biggest takeaway. It’s possible that they only bloom for a few minutes a day around sunset, or that they only bloom for a few days every year…

…but I’m going to go with the probability that they’ve been there before, but I was busy getting the mail and ignoring the flowers that were six inches from my feet.

I did not stop to smell them – one thing at a time. (Plus, they’re not roses. I don’t know what they are, but they’re not roses.)

Thinking tonight of those who are having much shittier days that I did.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Flowers, Photography

Big Black Fred

This guy was sunning himself next to the trash barrels when I went out this afternoon:

I’m actually surprised by what the photos show him to look like in detail. From where I was standing and taking the pictures (about ten to fifteen feet away with a big telephoto lens) he looked to be solid black.

As you can see, he’s got a much, much more detailed and not quite as dark scaling pattern.

He was also pretty calm about standing his ground – I’m guessing that he’s pretty comfortable with the environment around the trash bins and the ivy and bushes immediately behind them, so he knew that he could get to cover very quickly. Most of the other lizards I see in the “new” house sun themselves more out in the open and are pretty skittish. This guy let me step up to within about seven or eight feet on this picture before he boogied.

But he was back out quickly after I dropped off the trash – I saw him back out there just a couple of minutes later. Something besides the sun had his attention.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters, Photography

No Longer Charred

You might remember that we had a major brush fire here back in November. It left tens of thousands of acres blackened and charred.

Then came the rains that caused mudslides, flooding, and rock slides as the denuded hillsides had nothing to hold the soil.

But life is cyclic. (Life is also “psychotic,” but we’re going for upbeat and cheerful tonight, so work with me here.) The plants that covered those hillsides have evolved over millennia to have their seeds survive those brushfires – some even require it occasionally. And all of that rain followed by our current bouts of warm weather lead to…

Five months ago, these hills were black and smoking, not a single green or living thing in sight. Our house and the west end of the San Fernando Valley is beyond those hills about four miles. The fire had started up there and then headed straight south, coming down over these ridges, jumping the 101 Freeway into Agoura, then south through Mailbu to be stopped only by the Pacific Ocean.

You can see the trees that may or may not ever recover. These must have a chance because the crews have already cut down hundreds of them that were totally gone. But while the trees may take years to come back and recover, the grasses and weeds come back much faster. Everything out here is now covered in yellow mustard flowers and purple sage.

It’s hard to see in the shadow and backlighting, but those darker areas are all purple sage, much like the ones I’ve shown you in our front yard. It’s gorgeous.

Of course, we’re still on that aforementioned cycle – all of this growth will turn brown in July, and by November…

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Filed under Flowers, Los Angeles, Photography

Mottled Sky

I liked the texture on the underside of this cloud layer a few days ago – not quite mammatus clouds, but there’s a bit of that sort of structure, especially in the lower left above the palm trees.

Simple pleasures. Better when shared.

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Filed under Photography, Weather

A Bittersweet Anniversary

Have you ever had a feeling, a tickling at the base of your brain, a twinge in the gut that means that there’s something that you’re supposed to realize, to remember, to be aware of, but for the life of you it’s just slipping away in the fog of confusion and stress? The knowledge that you’re sure there’s something that you should be having an “A-HA!” moment about, but instead your brain is just spinning like a kitten chasing its tail?

What am I forgetting? A birthday? A meeting? Some sort of deadline?

Not necessarily a “sense of impending doom,” but rather a void, a memory that got forgotten before it could be remembered?

Something about the date. April 4th. Oh-four, oh-four.

Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky…

No, that’s not it, but we’re on the right track. I know that’s today, but this is more personal.


On my desk I have a digital picture frame that scrolls through a couple thousand favorite pictures every day. I miss about 90% of them because I’m busy, but it’s okay because they’ll roll back around in a few hours. But I happened to look up at this one.

Ah. Yes. Four-four.

But that didn’t seem to be all of it. So I looked up the file.

April 4th. 2009. Ten years ago today.

I had been out on the tarmac alone, tying down the aircraft and finishing up the routines following the flight. But I wanted to just be doing a happy dance and had no one to share it with. Some poor stranger wandered by and I grabbed him and asked if he could take the picture for me. He was gracious enough to accommodate me.

That paper? That the FAA certificate that says that I had passed my check ride. I was now officially a pilot.

That was one of the best days of my life, a memory that no one will ever take from me. Not on a par with the birth of my kids or my wedding day, but as far as personal accomplishments go, it’s up there with graduation days, finishing marathons, arriving in Europe or Asia for the first time…

Why is it bittersweet? Because things changed, and no matter how much I want to be in the left seat “up there going somewhere,” the fact is that I was only an active pilot for a little over thirty months after this picture was taken. It’s been over 7 1/2 years since I’ve flown, and barring another drastic change for the better, it’s unlikely to happen again soon. Despite the fact that I spend an inordinate amount of time hanging around planes on the weekends with my CAF gig.

So, thanks, subconscious! There’s no doubt that’s an important one and I guess I’m glad that it didn’t go by unnoticed and unheralded – but maybe I could have passed on this one.

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Filed under Flying, Paul, Photography

Darkness Is Coming But Spears Of Sunlight Linger

The hills of Southern California are covered with houses.

(And the streets are lined with billboards for cannabis dispensaries, but that’s a rant for another day.)

As the sun sets in the west, the hillsides to the east often find that ONE house that’s lined up perfectly, its windows acting like mirrors to reflect the fading rays of the sun right into my office window.

Like a one-day beacon, this particular house shines. Tomorrow, perhaps a different one.

A week later, that first house is just another semi-illuminated dot on the hillside.

But another house has stepped in, while the first house is no doubt shining bright in another office to my left or right a few windows or a few blocks away.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this change from day to day is proof that the Earth and Sun are moving in relation to each other. No doubt a careful measurement of the changes from day to day across a tall office building would allow you to calculate that movement and predict the Sun’s position.

If you don’t have a handy twelve-story, steel and glass edifice handy, you could always just use large stone monuments. What’s that sort of thing called again? A “henge”?

And so the darkness comes again. But as has been noted, “We love the stars too dearly to be fearful of the dark.”

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography