Monday, May 31, 2010

The Day the Music Died - Reprise

I’ll never think of Cinco de Mayo in the same way. This is a celebration I wasn’t familiar with growing up in the northeastern part of the country, but after moving to California in the 60s I became acquainted with it and have enjoyed it every year since. But no more.

I thought the day the music died was the day Phil Ochs hung himself over the bathroom door in his sister’s house.

I thought the day the music died was when that damn idiot shot John Lennon for no reason at all.
I often thought the music had died every time someone I knew from the 60s music scene in Greenwich Village passed on way too early in their lives.

For me, the music died on Cinco de Mayo this year when my wonderful friend Steven Richard See succumbed to melanoma.

I moved west with the Ochs and others from the folk music world in 1968 when the recording industry gave up on Manhattan and relocated to Los Angeles. Oddly enough Los Angeles didn’t offer me the musical world I was accustomed to. I searched for it but it seemed to have disappeared. Eventually I gave up looking. Until I came to Morro Bay. Lo and behold, here was the folk music/singer-songwriter world I was missing. Predominant among the offerings were the intimate little concerts held at Coalesce Book Store and put on by some guy who billed them as The Cambria Hoot.

I was one of the predominant writers for a pulp called San Luis Obispo County Magazine. I wrote about nature, agriculture, art, and music. One day Steve called me, came over to the house, and we talked folk music for hours. Then we talked about our cats. He told me how he fed the strays no matter where he lived. A cat man is definitely someone special.

A friendship was forged and I wrote articles about the concerts he was promoting.

In 2007 I was stricken with breast cancer. It was a blow and I wasn’t sure I would survive, but most of all, I had no idea how I was going to manage to continue to work. Since I am a freelance writer, I have no employer supplied benefits and have no independent disability insurance. My choices were to do nothing about the cancer and continue to work or treat the cancer, disabling myself, and starve to death with no money. I needed help.

Two friends in particular came through for me and Steve was one of them. As a cancer survivor himself, he knew what I was going through. He put on a fantastic fundraiser for me. He asked Dave Stamey to perform and donate the proceeds to me. Dave, the best Western music performer ever, agreed. The money raised by that concert kept me going for more than a year.

To say I was grateful is an immense understatement.Since that time, Steve kept in touch with me, calling every few months if he didn’t see me at a concert or at the post office, checking up on me to make sure I was okay. He told me to come to any concert, free of charge. I never took him up on that. And of course, we would talk about our cats.

Ultimately I ran out of money. He called one day and I said, “I think I have to file bankruptcy.” He replied, “do it!” Then proceeded to tell me of his own adventure down that road.

A couple months ago he called me. I was glad because I hadn’t seen him around or at the post office and I wondered why. When he told me the reason, I was just dismayed. How could that cancer come back after so long. We talked about his options and I didn’t want to think that there weren’t any. His concern was twofold – for his mother and he said, for two friends who needed money help. I was one of the two. He still wanted to do some kind of fundraiser again. I remember telling him that his concern had to be himself and what could be done to combat this awful cancer. Then we talked about our cats, like we always had before.

I received one more call from him. His opening comment when he called was “How are you doing? Are things better?” Not a comment about himself. I had to ask how he was and things did not sound good. Again he reiterated how awful he felt for his mother, who it appeared would have to endure losing a son. I didn’t want to believe it. I wouldn’t accept it. And what about the cats?

On April 21st I suffered a stubborn irregular heartbeat that gave me a ride in the ambulance and a stay at French Hospital. When finally released, but unstable still, I came home and dialed Steve’s number. Fortunate for me, he answered. He asked how I was and I told him of my latest episode. “But I want to know about you,” I said. I could tell from the sound of his voice, it wasn’t good news.I knew he was surrounded by friends and everyone was helping. I wished I was in better shape myself so I could spend some time with him, but it wasn’t to be.

I got the e-mail announcing the “final” hoot concert. How could there be a final Hoot? The e-mail said Steve wouldn’t be there. I couldn’t imagine never attending another Hoot concert. Who will carry on the music?

Cinco de Mayo dawned. Sometime during that day, Steve made his transition from this planet.

I didn’t cry immediately. I just couldn’t believe I would never talk to him again. I wandered around my house with my skippy-beating heart trying to comprehend. I thought about all he did for people. How he made sure the music kept coming and never made much money on the enterprise. I called up in my mind what his voice sounded like. I remembered every one of our conversations.

About the music.

About politics.

About money.

About the cats.

Oh the cats!

Who will feed the cats? Who will feed the cats? Who will feed the cats?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wildflower Season

The last really good year for wildflowers on the Central Coast of California was 2005. Photographers waited these long five years for another spectacular display and this year the rains did their job and we have been blessed by blooms everywhere. People suffering from allergies were miserable but couldn't help exclaiming that it was worth it.

This was the first year since my spinal fusion surgery that I ventured out to take shots of the blooms. Back in '05 I was still able to get down on the ground to get those intimate and close-up
views, but no more. So it meant I had to get creative in order to take the shots I wanted.

First of all, I didn't have to go too far to try a new method. A short trot down the street I found wildflowers in abundance at the Presbyterian Church. I decided to just stick the camera in amongst the blooms and take the shot and see what would happen. The results were interesting. So I ventured a little farther down that road to the State Park.

Here I found some nice flowers but getting to them required a bit of ingenuity and prayer on my part, hoping not to stick my foot in a gopher hole and break my ankle or pick up a tick. The results here were not too bad either.

Now you have to have a liking for ANY wildflower in this area and that includes Oxalis. Most serious gardeners and people with lovely green lawns hate the stuff, but you have to agree it makes a showy display when it is at it's height. I suppose I can be smug since my gardener got it out of my garden, but don't ask me how he did it. At any rate, since it was abundantly growing everywhere, I included it in my photographic efforts.

Well, the time came for me
to take my photo students out to shoot wildflowers, so one fine Spring day we drove out Route 58 to Shell Creek Road and joined the throngs of people cavorting among miles and miles of yellow, purple, and blue wildflowers.

My students set right to it throwing themselves down flat and focusi
ng closely on Tidy Tips, Owl's clover, Baby Blue Eyes, and tiny white flowers for which I have no name. I took lots of overall shots and then set up my camp stool and my tiny low-to-the ground tripod. Mounted the camera on the tripod, leaned over, and pushed the button. Views of the blooms from insect's perspective registered on my data card.

Now I have to tell you this is not the same as doing serious macro photography, but the one thing it did for me was allow me to break out of a mold and take some photos that I might never have thought to try. Sometimes one's disabilities open up all kinds of possibilities.So here is my wildflower season of 2010. Enjoy!

It's next to impossible to get these images in on this miserable Blogger where I want them so bear with me.

Sometimes its best to type some text and then place the photos -- sometimes, but not always, this works! It isn't working this time, sorry!

The Wind and the Waves

Montana de Oro is a park with over 8000 acres of rugged cliffs, secluded sandy beaches, streams, canyons, coastal plains, and hills. “Mountain of Gold” is the English translation for this naturalist and backpacker heaven

The name came from Irene McAlister a former property owner who fancied finding black gold in the hills. Her ranch and prospective oil field went bankrupt in the 60’s and the state purchased the lands. But even the State Parks offer the flower explanation for the name, officially stating that “Mountain of Gold comes from the golden wildflowers that bloom in spring.”

Hiking is probably the most popular activity at the park and there are numerous trails to try. One of the easiest is the Bluffs Trail. Here there are great views of the park’s eroded marine terraces and its offshore sea stack, Grotto Rock. The flat trail winds along the top of Montana de Oro’s shale and sediment bluffs that are constantly being formed and reformed by the pounding ocean.

At low tide Corallina Cove has tidepools with ochre sea stars, urchins, anemones, and sea snails. Harbor seals lounge on the rocks and sea otters bob around in the surf.

Valencia Peak is the tallest spot in the park. It is two miles to the top of the peak at an elevation of 1,347 feet. On a clear day the view extends from Point Sal in the South to Piedras Blancas in the north.

Other trails are the Coon Creek that follows the creek and has coastal sage scrub alongside, with oak and pine woodlands on the steep side slopes. Another popular walk is to Hazard Reef where through coastal scrub and sand dunes to the beach.

At Spooner’s Cove, located right across from the Visitor Center, enjoy the ocean and watch as waves surge through the colorful rock outcroppings. Here you can practice photographing the waves trying both stop action and motion. Enjoy!