more Mendocino, this time on film

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somewhere in the sky
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surfers and fog

I imagine we’re not meant to live as if on vacation every day. But, what if we were? Could we stand that much sunshine? Could we stand the gorgeousness? So much of it? Would it hurt too much to live like that, or make us too soft, or too happy?

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my friend Kelly, contemplating the view

I don’t know. I tell people that here in Michigan the winters make our summers so much sweeter. Not that I mind the winters. Because maybe we have to do penance with the dark days, or the miserably cold days, to really appreciate the warm and sunny days. But I wonder if maybe we’ve got to see and taste and touch beauty every single day. Maybe it makes us better. I’m willing to bet it does.

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our cabin in the woods
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prayer flags and path
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garden

In any case, I took film to the lab today and they had it developed and uploaded before I even got home. Just when I’ve become more patient with the whole process, they go and make it instant! I shot one and a half rolls of Kodak ColorPlus film on my trusty Minolta SRT 102 in California two weeks ago, and this is the one. The half roll isn’t finished yet and that is what is making me feel so unsettled and thinking about just how much beauty we are entitled to in our everyday life. Perhaps it’s all in the way we frame things. Beauty is everywhere, after all.

I think some days we just don’t feel like looking at it. But it kind of smacks you across the face in California.

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Mendocino

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And here’s another thing. The fires are still burning. We left Sunday morning, and the fires broke out in wine country that night and they are continuing today. It sounds trite to say my heart breaks for California. But oh how it does. Such beauty, such loss.

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Mendocino, highway 1, and three beds

I am always so grateful for a few days off of work and a complete change of scenery. Even more grateful to spend that time with the person who knows me best, outside of my family. My best friend Kelly and I went to Tuscany together the year we both turned 40. At that time we made big plans for our 50 trip, thinking our lives would be so knitted up that a big trip would be easy. But life doesn’t ever seem to work that way and so in August we booked a short October trip to California with a drive up highway 1, Mendocino, Napa Valley wineries, and Airbnb. It didn’t disappoint, and we’ll just have to hope our lives let us put together something a bit longer for the next one. We also decided that decade trips are too far apart. Where’s the guarantee that we’ll be around in a decade? Every five years from here on out.

Of course I brought cameras, but I didn’t take as many photos as I expected, which is totally okay because sometimes you have to document and sometimes you have to experience, and I did more experiencing than documenting.

We spent our first night in a bed in a house with a treacherous driveway in Mill Valley and then started the drive north to Mendocino on Wednesday morning, taking our time for stops along the way.

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Is it terrible that I can’t remember now where we were half the time? Talking and laughing and driving and navigating… all those things took precedence over taking notes about where we were or what I was photographing. Rocks, ocean, coastline, view from atop a cliff. There is no shortage of this along California’s western edge. I’d never seen California’s coastline until this trip and I think it’s safe to say that 1,000 times wouldn’t be enough. It’s breathtaking.

Every time we came around a corner and I would gasp at the view, Kelly would say “hang on, it gets better.” I loved the fog and these rocks somewhere on the coast as we got closer to Mendocino.

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our cabin in the woods, Mendocino

The first night in our cabin, we drank a bottle of wine Kelly bought and saved from our trip to Tuscany a decade ago (it aged beautifully), which we paired with local cheese we bought on the way.

We went to a lovely little yoga studio in Mendocino one morning and then spent the rest of that day outside, first at the Point Cabrillo light station and then further north to a park where we hoped to see sea lions (we could hear them in the distance, but we never saw any).

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I think these pink flowers are amaryllis belladonna. They were everywhere, and so pretty!

I liked this view from the light station in black and white.

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I think this was just north of Mendocino… we pulled over as the fog was going back out and I saw these foggy rays through the trees.

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We drove up to the Avenue of the Giants on Friday, taking in the sights at various turnouts along the way.

I don’t get carsick (thankfully), but I can see how some people can probably never, ever drive or be a passenger on that route. Twists and turns. Hairpin turns on sharp inclines and steep descents. Narrow or no shoulders. Mostly no guardrails. Literally, a sneeze could send you plummeting over the edge. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I was both awestruck and completely terrified. Fortunately Kelly is a confident driver and she did all the harrowing stuff while I got to mainly drive the inland, far less harrowing, routes. Yay for that.

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Saturday morning we left our sweet little cottage in the forest and drove inland to Napa Valley, where we stopped at one vineyard, ate lunch at another, and then ultimately landed at a third for an absolutely magical tour and tasting. This was where I experienced rather than photographed, and I could kick myself a bit for that because the light and the grounds and our tour guide and the wine was just all kinds of magical.

After dinner in wine country we made our way back to Mill Valley for our last night in bed in a third stranger’s house. We had just enough time Sunday morning to make a few stops to view the Golden Gate Bridge in a bit of haze and too bright sun before getting to the airport. And that’s it. Too few details, I know, but experiences and laughter. So much laughter. That’ll do. Until our next trip, anyway.

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September on film

This week has been chaos. A drive back to the city, major work project and deadlines, trying to think about what I need to pack for California this coming week, and planning around this weekend, which is jam-packed.

Both kids were under our roof last night–a rare treat–and now everyone is off to their events for the day and I can sit and breathe for just a moment and look at the photos that I had processed this week.

When we were in Pittsburgh for my cousin’s wedding at the start of this month I found out there was a small waterfall less than a mile from the hotel where we stayed. This is Buttermilk Falls, also known as Homewood Falls. It’s a very short hike through a quarry where there are some rocky cliffs that maybe one shouldn’t traverse after overindulging at a wedding the night before, but the light was lovely here and worth a few unsteady moments.

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Jenny’s puppies, Kodak ColorPlus 200, Minolta SRT 102
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my (not) puppy, Kodak ColorPlus 200, Minolta SRT 102

That Bronica SQ-A I’m testing produced one beautiful roll and one awful roll this month, after a first disappointing roll. I still don’t quite know what to make of it… is the awful roll a product of a processing mistake or a camera error? Maybe I need to stick to standard films for testing–the first bad roll was an expired film, and this recent bad one was a redscale film. One roll I didn’t even send for processing because it only advanced sporadically, and I didn’t notice it wasn’t advancing while I was shooting. I need more time with the camera to make sure. I don’t want to keep comparing it to my son’s Mamiya because it has both its own quirks and its own charm. But so far I’ve had three bad rolls to one good… is it me, or is it the camera? I guess I’d like more consistent results before I purchase it. I can’t afford to waste so much film.

Aren’t these gorgeous, though? They look lush and velvety. They make me love 120 film.

And more gorgeousness.

And then the not so gorgeous:

Seriously, I’d love some clues as to what happened here. Can the paper backing stick to 120 film? Is this what might have happened? And redscale shouldn’t come out purple, right? The whole roll looks like this. Purple and muddled. I’m at a loss.

But back to the Minolta and that Kodak ColorPlus. It’s a 200 speed film, it can be found very cheap (last bunch I got ended up being $2.60/roll), and I really quite like it for an everyday 35mm film. So there you go.

Maybe I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, but I’ve been picking blueberries at this particular farm my entire life. My kids have been picking blueberries here their entire lives. The family that owns this farm has put it up for sale and I tell you, if I could manage to buy and run a blueberry farm, I’d do it in a heartbeat because I think I’m going to be around for a while, and my kids are going to be around longer, and I’d love for us all to continue blueberry picking at this very farm. But since it’s probably not a good idea for me to add blueberry farm owner to my plate, someone else is going to have to do it. Anyone interested? I’ll be your best customer.

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dill flower and sky at Cherry Point Market, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus
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color and shadow at Fox Barn, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus
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sign at Fox Barn, Minolta SRT 102, Kodak ColorPlus

So, summer is over. October begins tomorrow, and I’ll be back in the city more now. And that’s okay. My house is a disorganized disaster and I’ve got lots to do to sort it out. And I missed Detroit this summer; like any city recognizing a resurgence, it’s changing rapidly. A new stadium, new businesses. A drive west on Woodward last night made me feel like I’ve been away longer than I have. Slow down a little, Detroit. Let me catch up.

last year, this year

I’m trying not to compare. But, last year at this time I was on a wild mission with films and cameras and taking pictures. It’s not that I’m uninspired this year… it’s maybe that I want to avoid taking the same pictures over and over. In some cases, anyway.

Another digital sunset, anyone?

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Last year I just felt more confident in my art. I knew how to use all the cameras I had and I wasn’t planning on adding any more. But then, of course, I did. And it might have shaken my confidence a bit. This is good, though. Comfort is a stifling position to be in.

I’m still trialing (is that a word?) a medium format camera and I hope its owner isn’t getting too annoyed at the time I’m taking with it. The first roll was disappointing but there are so many factors that could have contributed. Another roll didn’t advance correctly. Two did advance correctly, however, and those will be off to the lab on Monday and I will hopefully have an answer for the camera’s owner by the end of the week.

And another lesson, the pinhole camera I got midsummer. I really don’t know what I’m doing, and after these results from a first roll through it, I’m even more intimidated by it. But I need to get over that and give it another go. I learn by feeling my way through something, and I’m not going to figure this thing out unless I keep trying.

So after a bit of a hiatus, the digital camera has been in rotation a little more this summer. I’ve still got plenty of love for it.

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In just over a week I’ll be in California for a short vacation, and I am nearly certain the Minolta SRT 102 is the camera I’ll take with me, because it’s my favorite and it may be the most reliable camera in my arsenal at the moment, and I’d rather shoot film thoughtfully than take a million digital images (which is what I would do, even if I decided to shoot digital thoughtfully) and tax myself with the time of going through them all.

So that’s where I am. About to go to California and see some areas I’ve never seen, forest and shore and redwoods. Testing a camera and getting over being intimidated by another camera. Waiting for some film to come back, 120 and 35 mm. I’m a bit in limbo and that’s all okay.

It’s a wrap

Oh, well, bye summer. I guess that’s it for you?

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Everyone left the beach yesterday. Poof. It rained overnight. The north wind blew today like it had a job to do, and a storm came over Lake Michigan this evening that sorta looked like it meant business. There was a freighter out there under the rain clouds, maybe far enough out that it was just at the edge of visibility, because it looked a bit like it was sinking. But it wasn’t (thankfully).

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I know there will be summery days this month, but Labor Day’s the harbinger of things to come. Fall things. An event with my daughter. A yoga festival in Detroit with my niece. A trip to California. A concert with my dad. Holidays on the heels of those things. Fall is going to go fast.

I love fall, but I still never really want summer to end. Does anybody?

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I ran today

Where did August go? What have I done all month? I don’t even really know, aside from work. I did get to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Planned a trip with a friend for about a year from now to Iceland, which I’m excited about. Planned a trip to California with another friend for early next month–our big birthday celebration in encore to our other big birthday trip to Tuscany a decade ago.

I’m focused, too, on my health this month. I was a skinny, but unfit, teen and young adult. I started running in my 20s and it kept me sane and fit through my 30s, when life was wild with work and raising kids. But I stopped in my mid-40s when a multi-year bout of vertigo knocked the wind out of my sails. And the weight that I’d managed to keep off with running started creeping on, making it harder to get back to running once the vertigo loosened its grip.

So, I’ve been working on that. Me, that is. And today, after years of thinking I’d never be able to trail run again because of the residual vertigo and an ankle damaged from too many sprains, I ran (with walk breaks) a five mile loop on one of my favorite trails. And, it was pure magic. I was the only human out there. I startled three deer. I heard cicadas, birds, my footfall, my labored breathing, the occasional crack of stick under my foot, my heartbeat. I had to stay focused so I wouldn’t misstep, turn an ankle, lose my balance. I had to be fully present in my mind and in my body.

My heartbeat, in every step.

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This is a section of the trail that was clear-cut maybe 10 years ago. I remember that just after cutting, it was a depressing swath of sandy, open earth where forest had been. The change in it today is so inspiring; the light through the young trees was beautiful.

When the tall ships come in

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neighborhood church at sunrise, Kodak Gold 200

I’m not on the beach. I piss and moan about this a bit, and when I’m not on the beach and I’m in the city, I think about all the things I’m missing on the beach. The fact that cherry season is well over, for instance. And that the corn grew tall in my absence. Have the peaches come in yet? And, how many sunsets on the lake have I missed? Have I missed the best one of the season?

Sigh. Shame on me.

Yesterday evening I walked my city for miles. I walked on blocks and streets I either haven’t been on in a few years or simply haven’t appreciated. I like this city, with its modest older houses and orderly city blocks, lovingly tended gardens and lawns. There are sidewalks here. I said hello to people sitting on porches (and they said hello back). I watched a squall come in and the sky turn into a fireball in the west where the sun prepared to set. Granted, there were houses and trees and power lines in the way of an open-sky view, but it was still shockingly beautiful. And, when the sky dropped tremendous raindrops and I took cover under a corner tree for a few minutes, but still got soaked anyway, I had an attitude adjustment. I’m so lucky I can spend time on Michigan’s west side gazing at the lake. I’m so, so lucky. And I’m lucky to have a roof over my head here on the east side of the state, in a living, breathing, working neighborhood just outside of Detroit.

But anyway, the ships.

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There is an organization, the Columbus Foundation, that sails two ships, replicas of Columbus’s Niña and Pinta, floating museums as homage not so much to Columbus’s voyage but to the type of ship he sailed. They sail most of the year and make stops around the U.S. and through the Great Lakes system, and one such stop happens to be right down the street from me in a neighborhood park on the Detroit River. While freighters regularly go by here, and they are beautiful to watch, there is something different about seeing these two beauties docked here for several days.

I got up early one morning to catch the ships in the sunrise with some friends and brought my trusty Minolta SRT 102, which had some shots left on a roll of Kodak Gold, a cheap 200 speed film that I’ve decided I like quite a bit.

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I shot a roll of black and white 120 film that morning on a camera I’m testing and may buy (ahem, don’t judge), but I’d like to hand develop that and I haven’t gotten to it yet. And, the first roll of expired color film I ran through it has me scratching my head a bit as the results are, well, weird. But that’s for another post.

I miss you, Mamiya

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fog on inland lake, Mamiya 645 1000s and Kodak Ektar 100

Last winter when I was taking a black and white film photography class, my son lent me his Mamiya 645 1000s camera, a behemoth of a thing (compared to any 35mm camera I have), with a sturdy feel and the most satisfying shutter-click sound. It intimidated the hell out of me with its 120 film and its battery fussiness and well, just the sheer size of it.

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abandoned farm outbuildings, Mamiya 645 1000s
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rusted, Mamiya 645 1000s

It eats batteries like crazy (as in, put in the battery, take a picture, take the battery out–or else you drain the battery mid-roll) and it’s hard to maneuver. The shutter is easy to accidentally misfire (I had at least one, often more, accidental or blank shot on every roll). I swore at it while using it, but always apologized immediately because it’s hard not to be charmed by its quirks, really, and the detail in the negatives of 120 film is enough of a bonus here.

In any case, I mostly happily shot maybe 8 or so rolls of black and white film with it during my class and got comfortable working with 120 film, and in doing so, I really fell hard for the camera. I joked about stealing it from my son, but that would mean a lifetime of lies (“no, really, that was shot on 35mm film, I swear”), and a few weeks ago I very sadly handed it back to him. I was even pouty about it for a few days. I know I can borrow it any time, but it’s not the same as having it in my possession, loaded with film and at the ready.

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dead end, Mamiya 645 1000s
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country road, Mamiya 645 1000s

Knowing I would have to give it back to him, I ran a couple of rolls of color film through it to kick myself in the gut one last time see how it handled color. And, it’s as beautiful as I expected.

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rye, Mamiya 645 1000s
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reddest sunset, Mamiya 645 1000s

Sigh.

I miss you, Mamiya. I hope my kid takes care of you like I did (minus the swearing at you–I still feel bad about that). Even if I end up with my very own camera of your genre and we don’t hang out again, know that you were my first medium format love.

family links

It’s easy to forget where I come from because I don’t live near family, but my genetics are half from hearty Italian stock that settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We spent weekends and holidays of my youth traveling there from Detroit to visit with a plethora of aunts, uncles, cousins. Food, of course, was the centerpiece of these gatherings. My Gram’s pastina soup (later I found out most people call this “Italian wedding soup,” but it will always be pastina soup to me), pizzelles, pasta. These are the foods I remember because Gram made them special for me–pastina soup with mostly the tiny, round noodles and broth, not much else, just the way I liked it; buttered noodles; pizzelle cookies not too dark, but thin and crisp. I was a kid–I never knew any of the politics or family drama. Just the food, the love, the cheek pinches and too-tight squeezes, the hot summer nights on the porch of that house on the impossibly steep dead-end street, the breezes in the dining room coming off the huge cemetery behind, the place where the fence to the cemetery was pried open and we could climb through and read the gravestones (Rose Love is one I particularly remember).

My father and his siblings are old now; some have passed. My brother and I took our dad to see two of his siblings this week, one of whom is very ill. Although our trip was short we saw cousins and second cousins from two families, two uncles, two aunts. In their faces I see my history, my heritage, my story, and mysteries we all have yet to uncover about our family name and the stories of our ancestors. The matriarch of this family enforced our togetherness, but her passing has made those links grow fragile and it will be up to the cousins to maintain the links, the stories, the relationships.

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My cousin shared this tiny notebook, which would have belonged to my Pap. I don’t know if this is Gram’s writing to Pap, or something she said to him and he wanted to note it that day in his notebook. Impossible to know, but wonderful to consider.