My favorite thing to say or play when I was a wee tot was “let’s pretend!” Even my Po Po (Chinese maternal grandma) who spoke little English, knew what that meant. After I got home from pre-school, I would insist on eating my lunch under the table pretending to be the neighbor’s dog and Po Po obliged me. These days I don’t pretend anymore unless I’m playing with kids and I let their imaginations weave the adventure. I’m not sure when I stopped pretending some time in my youth, but I find I don’t need to pretend anymore. Life is pretty exciting as it is – more compelling than a make-believe world. Life is also far more challenging in the real world.
this beautiful planet
Last week I sat in the dark on my laptop watching updates suddenly come streaming in on Facebook. There is always some chatter after midnight, but not like this. Thrust mechanism, subduction zone. Mw=8.9. Japan. And then the ocean raced in.
In my past life, I studied the Earth. Whenever there was a sizable earthquake, grad students and faculty alike would go down to the seismograph on the first floor for a gander at the wave forms coming in on the N-S, E-W, and U-D drums. I thought about seismic events in terms of stress and strain, co-seismic and post-seismic signals, convergence rates, recurrence intervals, seismic gaps. You become keenly aware of how much the Earth is a mover and shaker, how she never sleeps. After graduate school, my office was across the hall from the LA Times newsroom in the Seismology Lab at Caltech. If for some crazy reason you missed an earthquake, you’d know soon enough from the throngs of reporters and camera crews crowding into the room asking the question you can always count on hearing, “When is the BIG ONE coming?”
Some of my friends are busiest just after a major seismic event. They scramble to gather satellite data, retrieve GPS measurements, take field measurements – to better understand the earthquake cycle… to ultimately save lives.
I have seen a lot of people curse and hate earthquakes and tsunamis on Twitter and Facebook of late. Yes, I completely understand where those emotions come from and I too want very much to keep people safe from these violent and incredible phenomena. But I think it’s important to remember (and I believe the Japanese appreciate this better than most) that the Earth is dynamic: these very processes that can take lives with such indifference are also part of what makes life on this planet possible. Ours is a special planet. Understanding our complex home is essential to mitigating the loss. To think otherwise is just pretending. In the meantime, we are in this together.
Last week went to the birds, literally. The Sandhill Cranes have begun their northward migration from the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico passing through Colorado. I took it upon myself to pay them a visit in southern Colorado. Sandhill Cranes are jittery creatures. You can only get but so close before they launch into the air and far away from you. The same goes for large birds of prey and pronghorn antelope. That’s why a long lens comes in handy. Really handy.
jeremy for scale
I wouldn’t have bothered shooting the trip at all without this 200-400mm f4 Nikkor lens courtesy of Pro Photo Rental in my arsenal (if you want to rent pro equipment, these are the guys to call). I don’t photograph wildlife in general unless they happen to traipse through my viewfinder on their own accord. That requires patience and skill and talent that I can’t seem to muster. But it’s fun to play at wildlife photographer once a year. And sometimes I get lucky.
in the great san luis valley
There are parallels between hunting and wildlife photography. We stalk the animals. We anticipate their behaviors and actions. We sit around waiting – a lot. When Jeremy told his colleagues at the conference that I had left to go shoot the Sandhill Cranes in Colorado, they thought I had gone to SHOOT me some birds! I don’t even know if the cranes would taste good, but there were some cute ducks that flew past which did trigger thoughts of Peking duck with hoisin and green onions as my stomach growled on empty. But if I miss my target, I get several more chances. Of course, hunters aren’t concerned with focus, exposure, shutter speed, or composition. They have plenty of other things to worry about (ask my friend Tamar).
a pair in flight
You can see other photos from the shoot on my photo blog.
Jill wanted to know what I ate on my road trip. I am a food blogger, but I’m a practical girl. What suits me best is to bring as much of my own food on the road with me as possible. Having a motel room with a refrigerator and traveling in winter is a bonus against food spoilage. I went to the Santa Fe Trader Joe’s to stock up on my way out of town: a bag of apples, a bag of oranges, blackberries, several salads (the classic Greek and the Pacific Asian are my favorites), salami, bread, rice crackers, water, a couple of juices, and a tiny bag of chocolate-covered vanilla bean caramels to pop in my mouth on the long drives. Whatever you do, AVOID THE CHINESE BUFFET. I say it because I care. Besides, why eat out in Alamosa, Colorado when I had a few more meals left in Santa Fe?
dinner at ristra (excellent!!)
my scallops, gnocchi, asparagus, and artichokes
sandwich cubain at lovely clafoutis
On the last day while Jeremy was in a full-day workshop, I asked my aunt if we could stop by to visit with Jeremy’s grandparents before lunch. Jeremy’s schedule was insanely packed and I knew he wouldn’t have a moment to get away, but it was something I wanted to do ever since I knew we were going to be in Santa Fe.
There is something magical about the light in New Mexico. People say it all the time, but they say it because it’s true. You have to get out and walk in it, see it, travel around in it. That day I walked among the seemingly endless rows of headstones, over the dry and crunchy grasses under the brilliant New Mexico sky. They all looked the same and yet each one marked someone’s life. Up high on the hill the winds blew steadily across the National Cemetery. My aunt found the number. On one side was Grandpa and on the other was Grandma who joined him 12 years later. It was the first time I had ever visited the site.
pink tulips for both of them (grandma’s favorite color)
we miss you
we love you
I blinked back the tears behind my sunglasses and my chest shuddered as I read their names. They were my grandparents too… two of the sweetest people I have ever known. Despite the sound of the wind flapping the flags, it felt very quiet and peaceful. That evening as Jeremy and I drove north to Colorado, he asked how my day went – his eyes on the road. I recounted the lunch and our walk through art galleries and then I looked down at my hands and said that I had gone to the National Cemetery. My voice trailed off. I saw Jeremy’s hand reach over to gently squeeze mine in the fading light. “Did you find them?” Before I could open my mouth to say yes, I choked on my emotions. I nodded and squeezed his hand tightly as my face flushed and grew wet with tears. “It’s okay, Jenni. Thank you for doing that.”
We had seven hours on the road ahead of us – almost all in the dark and after a full day. Jeremy encouraged me to try and get a little rest, but I couldn’t. We talked for several hours about the earthquake, science, people, this world, loved ones, our lives, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed and snuggling up with Kaweah. It helped me put things in perspective and I silently reminded myself as we sped through the night to just make the most of the time I’ve got.