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#145 :: Yosemite Debris

July 4, 2004

sickness mind ‘popup’, cure ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>The act of capturing light is intoxicating. Next to the seemingly rational conversion of images to pixels by the average digital camera, shooting on film verges on sorcery. I’ve shot with just about every still medium available – black and white, color, infrared, ultraviolet, Fuji, Ilford, Agfa, Kodak, noname, 35mm, 126, 127, 2¼x2¼, 6cmx7cm, 4x5in, 5x7in, 8x10in, Polaroid SX-70, stereo – and the potential and power of exposed undeveloped film still amaze me. I’ve coiled rollfilm onto reels, dipped sheets into tanks and dropped it off at the drugstore – rolls upon countless, processed rolls of it fill my negative binders. I’ve lost thousands of frames more – images that escaped back into the light when a dropped cartridge broke, melted when it went overboard, fogged beyond use in an airport scanner. An AP photog taught me how to tear these little cartridges open with my bare hands in the darkroom and whip the film onto a reel in about 30 seconds. And he’s probably jumped on to surf the digital wave that will leave all this behind in a backwash of colored dots that can’t quite approximate the alchemy of an image on film. I don’t know what’s on these two. Yet.
and ‘popup’, order ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>There’s something timeless and iconic about this chubby, vulcanized chunk of cheer. Ernie sang about him. You can buy his childlike optimism in bulk. He’s a quiz, an electronics warning, an obsession, an animated irritainment, and a target for black humor. And – oh, phenomenon most rare – he’s an unstoppable blight upon the waters of the world. This one’s about three and a half inches long, and looks … earnest.
symptoms ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>When I was six, we all got on the school bus after getting to school one day, and drove away from school we went to this museum with GIANT DINOSAUR SKELETONS and you could imagine them walking the earth shaking the ground with their big heavy footsteps Thunder Lizards dinosaurs means and we got to see a coelacanth I can’t even spell it my future self would learn how to spell it decades later but a coelacanth the oldest species of fish on earth it’s like a living fossil fish and they had a stuffed emu I think and lots and lots of dinosaur footprint fossils but we couln’t touch them and they had this amazing picture, all stretched long of dinosaurs eating and walking in the swamp and eating each other’s flesh with huge sharp teeth and claws and I remember all the neato things in the glass case in the museum store this magnifying glass only I didn’t have enough money and I only had enough money for a little plastic dinosaur not even a good one I didn’t have enough money for this prism …

I could go on like that for hours. Age six is still very vivid for me, especially as my son approaches age five, gaining wonder and focus and smarts. I’ve had chandelier prisms and prism creatures and a military surplus tank rangefinder prism (wish I could lay hands on it now) and scientific prisms like this one, which really require direct sunlight to project the spectrum. There is nothing on earth – short of God’s holy dance of mist and light – so mystifying and pure as a prism.
information pills ‘popup’, pills ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>The original was black, small, hard. If you threw it hard enough, it would almost whistle off the sidewalk 40 feet into the air, then bounce a second time almost as high. Superballs were cool. Then at some point, they started making them of swirled rubber, kaledoscopic and cheap, as if the halves of the mold barely fit together and the press operator overinjected one half and the finisher didn’t bother sanding off the mold marks. We always talked about how high one would bounce if you dropped it off the Empire State Building and whether it could jump higher if you were able to actually throw it toward the sidewalk 102 stories below. Zectron, man. Whoa.
stomach ‘popup’, mind ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>In seventh grade, we had Mr. Sletner. He was pear shaped, phlegmatic, probably 32 or 33, a lifelong science geek with a rather brittle demeanor. He assigned us to write a science fiction story one semester and I remember I wrote this very involved drama about astronauts marooned on the moon with no radio, no rescue and no weapons battling this huge bat creature from the sun. They finally defeated it by using compressed blasts of oxygen from the last of their air bottles to fire moon rocks at it, and eventually kill it. I was pretty proud of the hard science involved in the story, and my ballpoint-and-crayon illustrations. He gave me a C+ because my handwriting was so bad. For that reason, I didn’t feel completely crushed by guilt when I was in his supply room one day after school by myself, and broke his sling psychrometer (a mercury-filled vessel with a wick that you swung in centrifugal circles) by accidentally smacking it against the black composite counter while swinging the thing around my head. Glass and beads of mercury all over the room. I sort of stuck it in the sink and vanished as fast as I could. Later that year (there was never any mention of the damaged equipment) he taught us about relative hardness, and how – short of diamonds – glass was one of the hardest substances on earth, harder even than steel. I still can’t entirely figure out how a glass cutter works – I’m guessing the pressure causes glass’ brittle surface to chip, scoring a line that later will snap when stressed by bending. But it’s just a tiny little steel wheel with a sharp edge, mounted on a single pin (not even a bearing!) shoved through a cast piece of potmetal.
approved ‘popup’, case ‘width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0’); return false”>Aaaaah, fuck. I dropped my fuckin’ wirenut. Hey, gimme another o’ those li’l fuckers, willya? Nah, not that one, gimme one o’ the big fuckin’ orange fuckers. Thanks. The fucker who invented fuckin’ wirenuts was one dedicated son of a bitch, man. Probably spent his days twisting 10-gauge wire together and balling it up in black fuckin’ electrician’s tape. Tore his fingers all to pieces, torques his wrist doing it with a wrench. I wonder how long that fucker did this, day in and fuckin’ day out, until a light just went on in his head, a big, fuckin’ cartoon lightbulb just like in the fuckin’ cartoons, and he says to himself, fuck this, what if you just make a little plastic knob with a tiny screw-in metal socket embedded in the end that you just twist onto the end of a couple of wires that you need to join? A few quick turns, and the wires are jammed together good ‘n’ tight like they’re one wire again, and the fucker won’t even move. I bet I could make a fuckin’ million if I ever thought of patenting the thing. Fuckin’ wirenuts. They keep the whole fuckin’ world running. Fuck
illness ‘popup’,’width=500,height=500,scrollbars=no,resizable=no,toolbar=no,directories=no,location=no,menubar=no,status=no,left=0,top=0′); return false”>Ansel Adams may not have considered this when he shot and printed Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite or any of the other thousands of images he made at Yosemite National Park. The damage may not be in what men bring to the park, but in what happens when it falls apart. We camped at Yosemite this weekend – at one point about eight of the guys trouped out onto a boardwalk across a meadow to drink beers, make ridiculously long shutter exposurs of each other drinking, and to watch the full moon rise. The screw was sticking about half an inch up out of the boardwalk, where it had been extracted by the ceaseless pounding of millions of tourists’ feet each year. I pulled on my beer and considered it, a little woozily. It was loose. If I left it there, someone would surely come along and either blow a tire or stub a toe. If I pulled it out, I’d be an agent of entropy, a force for decay. I hesitated a bit, then pulled it out, having just recently come through a patch of wickedly bad kharma involving my own bike (drove it – while it was on my car’s roof rack – into a low-hanging steel-and-stucco carport, about which the less said, the better). The other item – a milky white glass insulator – glinted up at me from amid the granite stones in the bed of the stream that fed down from the foot of Lower Yosemite Falls to the Merced River. It was almost hidden in the icy, fast-running creek that swirled around my ankles. If I had left it there, perhaps it would have sunk back into the streambed, forever part of the landscape. Perhaps it came from a felled powerline or phone pole somehwere much farther north along the river. No matter. It’s on my desk now.

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