Archive for Jul 07, 2011

tom house Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyAs a photographer I like to think I am adventuresome, ever in search of the road less traveled, literally speaking. In the years my wife Pat and I have driven from our home near San Francisco to our cabin in the mountains we have taken several different routes through the hinterlands north of Lake Tahoe. Here is a picture of it after a dusting of snow.

Unless one has oodles of time to kill, gas prices are low and the tires have plenty tread, there is no practical way out of Truckee save for Hwy. 89. Thus, on our most recent excursion, Hwy. 89 it was, through the sleepy hamlet of Sierraville (pop. 207), perched at the intersection of Hwy. 49. (Sleepy, that is, save for the ever-alert town cop, who routinely parks his cruiser alongside the main drag, radar gun beamed at oncoming traffic in hopes of finding reason to pad the town coffers by virtue of issuing speeding tickets. Trust me, it happens.)

At the T, between the Mexican café and the Sierraville Hot Springs Hotel (neither of which looks particularly alluring), we turn left. Several miles down the macadam it’s a right at Sattley (pop. 715), northbound onto County Road A23, which terminates at Hwy. 70. Once there it’s a left turn and a sprint of a couple of miles to the back road that takes us to our in-the-boonies cabin, 5,000 feet above sea level and, far more importantly, away from the madding crowd. What we savor more than anything else are the peace and quiet … and the clean air. Informed where we live, in the sardine-can-dense East Bay, a local once remarked, smiling, “Where you come from birds cough. Up here they sing.” How true.

Instead of turning at Sattley, however, this time we continued north on 89. Several miles yonder there is a fork in the road. Bearing left takes one east toward Downieville, not on the day’s itinerary. By bearing right one remains on 89, through Graeagle (pop. 730) to Hwy. 70. Just south of Graeagle there is a cutoff, a back road into Portola (pop. 2,227), the “metropolis” closest to our cabin. Like other burghs thereabouts, a century ago Portola was a thriving silver-mining mecca. Population – and economy – heading south, today it is a shadow of its former self, struggling to get back on its feet. Literally and figuratively, it is not a pretty sight.

Turning the steering wheel, I told Pat, “What the heck, let’s try it. The sign does say “To Portola.” Glad I did. After passing through a megabuck gated vacation-home development known as Gold Mountain, I saw in the distance what appeared to be – doggone it, is WAS – a rusted ancient car parked fetchingly in the front yard of a residence. The car qualified as a photo op not only for what it was, but also because it was a) readily accessible and b) the house was off in the distance.

buick rural americana photo Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyThe probability of getting shot at while shooting was remote, I reckoned. So, out came the Nikon D7000 cum 18-200mm zoom lens and, in a trice, I was on my knees, shooting the object of my affection from a variety of angles.

At first glance I thought it was a Ford but the shape of the radiator frame suggested to the contrary. I searched for an identifying badge, but found none. What I did find, however, in lieu of a front seat was a weathered, white wicker settee, which someone presumably had deemed a nice decorative touch. Tacky it was, but not so tacky as to deter me from shooting. After all, an old Rusted Relic is still an old Rusted Relic, hence by definition eminently worthy of posterity photography.

Mid-shoot, the family guard dog – thankfully tethered – began barking so loudly I was certain the next thing I would see was a rifle-toting owner shoo(t)ing me from the property. Luckily, it didn’t happen. I took all the pictures I desired unmolested. Here are two. Note the exposed cords (cotton in those days) in the sidewall of the spare. Had to be the original shoes, I surmised.

buick car photograph Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyIt wasn’t until I got back home and was editing the photographs that I noticed “Buick” embossed on the hubcap of a rear tire. By process of elimination, thanks to an Internet search I ascertained it to be a 1926. Given its sorry condition, my guess is that it wouldn’t fetch much money as a collectible. But as a Rusted Relic artifact, it definitely meets my own definition as a collectible.

Elated that a photo op had unexpectedly presented itself, I put the camera away, thinking that that was it. Not much farther down the road, however, an object looking something like a space-shuttle nose cone came into view. Asking Pat, as I (almost) always do, if it was all right to hop out and take a few shots, she said, as she (almost) always does, “OK, but make it fast.”

I measured perhaps 30 feet across at the base, and perhaps 30 feet tall. At first I thought it must be a farm silo, but the metal mesh grille at the peak smacked “spark arrestor.”

rural americana structure 1 Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photography
Thus, I surmised, rightly or wrongly – I think rightly – it was an incinerator. In any case, it fairly begged to be photographed, especially because it was set against a to-die-for blue sky laced with pillowy clouds. Whodathunk, a genuine, authentic spitting-image Rustic Relic replica of a Cape Canaveral nose cone permanently parked on a back road into Portola, not a place that comes to mind when thinking of space-launch venues.

After three very relaxing days later we headed back home. This time we took the usual trajectory – Hwy. 70 to A23 to Hwy. 89 and into Truckee, where we always pick up I-80 for the 3.5-hour drive to Lafayette.

As I approached the turn at Sierraville – where the radar-gun-wielding cop lurks seemingly 24/7 – out of the corner of my eye I saw a house I’d never seen before, not because it wasn’t there in the past, but because somehow it never appeared in my ever-oscillating field of view.

What jumped out, way in the distance was a yellow diamond-shaped road sign, affixed over the front porch of the house, with a prancing deer on it. Or perhaps REINdeer, in which case it might make sense at Christmastime, when Santa is making his rounds.

Poking my way down a dead-end side street, yup, there it was, tucked tight behind a gated fence and, as frequently is the case, a “Private Property ~ No Trespassing” sign. Not to be deterred – my policy is, better to ask forgiveness than permission – camera dangling from my neck, I climbed over the fence and had, well, a veritable field day.

rural americana window picture Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photographyrural americana swing Little did I know, wisdom of Yogi Berra extrapolates to photography

The house, very old and vacant, was boarded up, as was the attached wood garage. After squeezing off several shots from the front, I walked through the tall weeds to the back, where, to my pleasant surprise, I found not only several eminently photo-worthy shuttered windows, but a rope swing hanging from a huge oak tree and kissing a patch of wild California poppies grown up around it.

Climbing back into the car and finding, as often I do, Pat snoozing, I was reminded of the line attributed to that sage philosopher Yogi Berra: “It’s amazing what you notice just by observing.” A lovely weekend chilling at the cabin, garnished, as it were, by not one, not two, but three photo ops – one Rusted Relic and two Rustic Relics — stumbled upon, as often happens. Correct you are, Yogi, all too frequently do we look without seeing.