The Book of Changes

A flaming log in a campfire.

“Blaming life for changing is like blaming fire for being hot.” I wrote this in my freshman year of college, in an email to my good friend Mike. We were attending schools in different states and had sought out a correspondence to deal with the newness of it all. Both of us were facing what felt like overwhelming changes at the time. We were out from under the watch of our parental units and confronted with all manner of unfamiliar responsibilities and scenarios.

I don’t recall what my point was exactly with that platitude about fire; it was the kind of thing I’d spout in a moment of poetic reverie without fully understanding why. Now though, nearly two decades on, it makes a certain kind of sense to me. Heat can cause problems—it can burn—but it is essential to the thing we call fire, inseparable, and also what makes it useful. Likewise, the mercurial natural of this ride we call life… let’s just say it’s pointless to take offense at such things.

These remembrances of things past come easily to mind of late, I think, because change looms large on my horizon. In a week, my wife and I will leave behind our little blue bungalow in Salt Lake City and move to the California coast, just a few hours north of Los Angeles. I’ll be moving on from Petzl, where I’ve worked happily for almost six years, to Patagonia, a company whose story I’ve been following with interest for over a decade. My wife and our dog will stand as constants, along with some furnishings and sundry books and artifacts, but not much else. Just life doing that change thing again. The funny thing about change is, even when you recognize its inevitability, it’s bound to catch you off guard.

The first response most of us have to change is fear. Change is scary in the same way darkness is—we can’t see what lies ahead, and so we fill in the blanks with phantasms of our own making. But it’s important to remember that there’s no real alternative to change. The things we identify with and attach ourselves to are bound to shift, evolve, and eventually fade away, one way or another. (In Buddhism, this concept is known as anicca, or impermanence, and it’s one of the three marks of existence.) A static world in which we can hold on to anything, even ourselves, exists only as a philosophical concept. Change, ironically, is the one constant we can count on.

So, with that in mind, I’m working to let go of the dualities my brain is trying to bring to this latest set of changes—the pros and cons, the fears and desires. Instead I try to focus on each step in the process and let the change happen, as it will whether I welcome it or not. The past is a memory and the future is a dream—what happens in between is an infinitesimal point that flickers and dances like a flame. The truth of this condition can only be experienced, not intellectually understood nor directly expressed. Some things never change.

NAMC: Not At My Crag

teaching

There’s a certain type of climber who likes to bash anyone who lacks the same skill or experience level that they have. A common refrain from such climbers is that the new generations are bringing a gym-bred lack of climbing knowledge and ethics to already-overcrowded crags. With the throngs of gumby-headed neophytes–the most oblivious horsemen of the climbing apocalypse–come ills ranging from accidents to annoyance, from faux pas to soil erosion.

Judging from the Internet, Not At My Crag climbers constitute either a rather large group, or just a small group with very large mouths—something that’s easily confused in the Wild West of online forums and comments sections. NAMC climbers particularly enjoy posting in discussions about the increasing popularity of climbing due to competitions (especially the Olympics), the rise of the modern climbing gym, and depictions of climbing in the media.

Of course, even the most vocal of NAMCers were almost certainly at one point in their careers the very same type of climber they critique. Now that they’ve made it through the precarious early years of climberdom, they apparently have earned a sort of immunity, a la Survivor. Instead of mere members of the swelling crowds, they have ascended to the status of “locals,” sole and rightful stewards of the places they climb. All others should bow and kiss their swollen, chalky knuckles before deigning to tie in.

But believe it our not, bagging on others on the Internet with an air of seasoned superiority is not the most effective means of making change.

This weekend, the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and the American Alpine Club hosted a Craggin’ Classic event in the Salt Lake area. This climbing festival took place at the Alta Peruvian Lodge, in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Despite menacing pockets of storm in the area, a bunch of climbers showed up to take clinics in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, lead by a guiding concession called Mountain Education & Development. Clinic topics ranged from Top Rope basics to Trad Leading and Multi-Pitch Belay Changeovers. There was even a stewardship event that involved trail building, weeding, and such.

I stopped in on the Trad Leading clinic and was happy to see a young but knowledgable instructor patiently showing climbers, from a wide range of age and experience groups, how to place pro, build anchors, and generally think like a climber. The clinic was only four hours long, and so just a small first step in the lifelong learning process that something as complex and potentially dangerous as climbing requires. But still, it was a step—an example of just one of the many ways that new climbers can become more knowledgable and more knowledgable climbers can help raise the average level of know-how at the crags.

One of the things that NAMC climbers most lament is the death of the “mentor” system in climbing, in which a veteran climber takes a n00b under his wing and edumacates him in The Way. It is the hallowed master/apprentice relationship still practiced in some vocations, particularly in Europe and Asia. While these types of relationships are certainly valuable, it is also worth remembering that, in the anarchic craft of climbing, a mentor can be anything from a true sage to a crusty character armed with little more than strong opinions, a lot of misinformation, and a burning urge to be in charge.

I guess what I’m saying is that we all should strive to be better examples and good mentors… and at the same times we all should probably admit that we have something, maybe a lot, left to learn. Events like the Craggin’ Classic are one way to be a part of this change. Coming to the crag with a dose of humility and empathy for those newcomers who probably look at lot like you did once upon a time is another.

SLC Eats: Tulie Bakery

Tulie Bakery, one of the finest establishments in Salt Lake City.
Tulie Bakery, one of the finest establishments in Salt Lake City.

Compared to New York City and Boulder, Colorado, my two previous places of residence, Salt Lake City’s choice dining options are, for the most part, few and far between — a handful of jewels scattered in a gravel pit. The gravel, in this case, is the mostly bland urban and suburban neighborhoods, strip malls, chain establishments, and restaurants with the moto: “Quantity over quality.” To find the treasure, you have to go a-hunting. Which is good and bad. Good because it makes the moment of discovery all the more satisfying. And bad because it means extensive research and car (or bicycle, if you’re into that kind of thing) mileage is required to find the really killer spots. (In the future, I plan to blog about more of the places I’ve discovered to eat, drink, and be merry in Salt Lake City.)

One of the first gems I discovered upon moving to Salt Lake two years ago is the Tulie Bakery, on the edge of the trendy 9th and 9th neighborhood. Winner of many awards and recognitions, I was surprised to find that few of my friends, who have lived here for years or even their entire lives, had been to Tulie. Admittedly, you might not stumble across it if you didn’t know it was there. Tulie sits in a suburban setting, along one of Salt Lake’s extra-wide landing strips roadways. You could easily visit the excellent Café Trio (680 South 900 East; triodining.com), which occupies the corner real estate a few doors down, and not notice its glass façade.

Keep your hands out of the cookie jars.
Keep your hands out of the cookie jars.

The French-inspired Tulie is approaching its fourth year in business and continues to draw crowds to its clean, well-lighted, rustic/modern interior. The usual suspects at the bakery comprise a relatively diverse mixture of young parents with smartly dressed toddlers, well-off empty nesters, the obligatory foodie hipsters, and a random smattering of difficult-to-classify individuals willing to pay a premium for the “pure, high-quality ingredients that flow seamlessly with the decor,” as it says on the Tulie website.

A mild crowd for a Saturday morning at Tulie.
A mild crowd for a Saturday morning at Tulie.

According to their menu, the Tulie Bakery has five core culinary offerings: breakfast pastry, hot pressed sandwiches, pastry ( for other times of the day, I gather), cakes, and the catch-all “cupcakes, cookies, and bars.” Of these, I have found the breakfast pastry to be the most superlative. Everything I have tried, from the morning bun to the pain au chocolat to the crème fraîche coffee cake has been worthy of recommendation.

Yes, everything is good — great even — but floating above it all, like a plate of ethereal, golden, powder-caked balloons, are the beignets, which are baked only on the weekends, at some time around 8 or 9 in the morning. Sold individually or in sets of four, these French-style (via New Orleans) “donuts” bear hardly any resemblance to their denser, tire-shaped cousins. I have missed the “golden hour” — from when the beignets come out of the oven to the time they sell out — on several occasions, which never ceases to fill me with disappointment. Another plus, and one that richly compliments the beignets: Tulie Bakery has trained their employees to pull excellent espresso drinks.

Tulie's famous beignets, fresh from the oven.
Tulie’s famous beignets, fresh from the oven.

Yes, the sandwiches, cakes, pastries, cookies and tarts really are among the best in Salt Lake City. Personal preference will vary, but there is no denying that the overall quality of the food at Tulie is second to none. Were I a wealthy man, I might stop in every day, but dietary and pecuniary limitations restrict me to weekly visits. That’s just enough to leave me always wanting more, which, I think, is really the way it ought be to allow for maximum appreciation of any food this good.

Tulie Bakery is located at 863 East 700 South, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Contact information, hours of operation, a complete menu, and more can be found at their website: www.tuliebakery.com.

Photo Friday: Nikon D800 Time-Lapse and Some Birds

Just playing with the D800 some more. So far, I continue to be impressed. Two things on my wish list (and, it sounds like, everyone else’s wish list, too): 1) faster frame rate and 2) smaller RAW image size option. Anyway, minor nits. Of course, now that the D600 looks like a real option on the horizon, I’m starting to wonder if I’ll regret having dropped $3000 on an FX camera when I could have gotten a $1500 FX camera with many of the same features. Ah well, the best cure for inklings of camera-buyer’s remorse is to use the tool to create some cool work.

The following images were captured during last weekend’s Living Traditions cultural festival in downtown Salt Lake City. Strangely, I took most of my favorite images that day at small pop-up tent with a few guys and a bunch of birds, located near the festival entrance. I’m not sure what the booth was all about, but the birds were fascinating to observe.

But FIRST… here is a (somewhat underexposed) time-lapse video straight out of the D800. The camera’s automatic time-lapse function captured the images and stitched them together, in camera, into a .mov file. Pretty slick! For you pros out there, it probably makes more sense to capture hi-res .jpg files with the interval shooting mode and then create your own animation in Quicktime Pro, but for fun projects, this is a very neat little feature.

A parrot outside the Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake City.
A parrot outside the Living Traditions Festival in Salt Lake City.
A fuzzy young owl.
A fuzzy young owl.
Dancers at the Living Traditions festival.
Dancers at the Living Traditions festival.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Baby birds waiting to be fed.
Baby birds waiting to be fed.

The Doodanglies of Spring

I’m walking my blue heeler, Bodhi, through the serene grass and pavement matrix of our Salt Lake City suburb, when some creature issues a short, high cry from up above. It’s a mysterious call that could well have come from some denizen of a distant, cacophonous rainforest, but here it is a lone, wild voice against the ticking and hissing of sprinklers and the lawnmower’s drone.

I’ve heard this vocalization before and know what it means. I scan my surroundings and within seconds I spot them: a family of California quail, teardrop shaped puffs of grey strutting around in someone’s front yard, pecking the ground in search of seeds and shoots. My fiancée has given these beautiful birds, with their scale-patterned feathers, rust-brown caps, and white-limned black faces, the name “doodangly” birds, after their flapper-era black head plumes that wiggle with every step. It’s now the only way I refer them in conversation, leading to much confusion.

The family — a mother and six chicks — putters onto the sidewalk just as their high lookout, perched on a roof peak a few houses down, detects my presence and issues his warning. They hasten into a single-file formation and hightail it away from me, legs swinging in a blur, road-runner style. Doodanglies almost never fly unless startled at close distance. They opt instead for more pedestrian means of locomotion and can move surprisingly fast over open terrain.

The family ducks into a driveway and behind a little rise of grass. I stand and watch, waiting to see if they’ll reemerge, and they do. I’ve noticed that these strange little terrestrial birds are seldom dissuaded from their course. They scramble whenever a human, cat, or car comes too close, but soon, with caution, pluck back towards their original course. Like pigeons and doves, they are well adapted to the grid-paved wilderness of the burbs.

Every spring, the doodanglies begin to show themselves in the Salt Lake valley. They are my favorite local nature sprites, embodiments of some ancient energy that humans have been endeavoring to bury in layers of concrete, glass, and metal for the past hundred-odd years. The doodanglies appear first in pairs, but soon in families. Their chicks are precocial, meaning they’re ready to roll straight out of the shell. Still, the parentals shepherd them closely when they’re on the move. It is common quail practice to have one scout posted up on a fencepost or tree branch, watching for threats like Bodhi and me. Of course, we’re not really a threat (or at least, I’m not), but they don’t give us the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t blame them.

If I’m lucky, I’ll make doodangly sightings every day, when I’m out walking my dog or running. Their simple, wild presence in the spaces between our houses and our cars, like that of the baroque, green-armored grasshopper or the flashing, iridescent hummingbird, reminds me of the way the world once was, and still is in our ever-shrinking preserves of  natural places. It reminds me that no matter how far “above” nature we try to arrange ourselves, we are and always will be a part of it. As Emerson says in his essay “Nature,” “The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.” He could just as well have said  “man and the birds.” It reminds me that we humans, the rich and the poor among us, must make a life for ourselves one day, one year at a time, just like the doodanglies, plucking towards the future powered by an innate stubbornness that I can only see as nature’s beautiful, irrational argument against the chaos of the universe.

Telling A Story With Video — A Work In Progress

To practice rapid-fire shooting and editing, I made the above short video of my fiancée, Kristin, at work on a new painting. Kristin earned an MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, in Philadelphia. Today, she works full time as a graphic designer, but tries to get some painting in after hours. Like me, she faces a constant struggle to remain creatively active, but I think we have both managed to find a tolerable balance. It’s better some weeks than others, but, as always, it’s a work in progress…

I took the basic order for the shots from a handy little article by University of Florida Journalism Professor Mindy McAdams. She describes a simple method for capturing a scene in just five shots. I’m fairly certain she didn’t devise this method (I’ve heard of similar approaches from other sources — in fact, there’s a nice BBC video on the “five-shot rule” here), but she does a nice job explaining it.

If you decided not to click the link, I’ll distill McAdams exercise here:

[In the case of a subject who is relatively stationary and using her hands]

  1. Shoot the hands up close (tight)
  2. Shoot the face up close (tight)
  3. Pull back and get a shot showing hands and face together (medium)
  4. Shoot over the shoulder (medium)
  5. Shoot “something else,” typically from a wider perspective

In making the short video above, which would typically be  just one scene in a longer documentary-style piece, I considered this approach and tweaked it a little based mostly on my own gut. I do not believe in any hard and fast “rules” about communicating, whether it be via video or the written word, or any other form or medium. We can get our point across in many different ways, and strict adherence to rules or formulas, although it can save time and effort, is a good way to bleed the life out of a story. That said, starting with a solid understanding of the basics is really a must for any aspiring creative.

As you can see in the stills below, I used more than five shots, but the basic ideas were covered:

1. Close-up of hands at work.

2. Medium shot showing hands and face (notice I skipped the suggested tight shot of the face — that comes in later).

3. Vertical pan on the painting. Again, this is not in keeping with the suggested five-shot order, but I felt it made sense to show the piece up front, for context.

4. Back on track, here’s the sometimes-tricky “over the shoulder” shot. I think it works well enough.

5. Because mixing paint was the first tight shot, I figured it would make sense to do a second, this one focused on the act of painting. I like the precision with which Kristin paints.

6. This shot falls between tight and medium, in my estimation, but it’s probably closest to what McAdams identifies as “something else,” a creative shot that adds visual interest to the edit. Kristin was interested to see it, as she didn’t realize she held the brush so high up. “It looks like Japanese brush painting,” she said. It’s her favorite shot and mine.

7. Here, I decided to go back to the face (what would be the second shot in the McAdam’s method). Not sure why, really… In retrospect, it may in fact have made more sense to put it up front.

8. A quick cut to an even tighter face shot. If I could lose any of the shots in the piece, it would be this one, as I don’t think it adds any information that shot No. 7 didn’t already convey.

9. To close out, I decided to give the contextualizing wide shot, which is how McAdams suggests finishing the a sequence. It’s not the most interesting image, and informationally it overlaps with the pan in my third shot, but I like how it gives a sense of scale — this is quite a large painting!

In the end, I used nine shots instead of five, although I’ll admit that for this very basic sequence, eight or even seven would have sufficed. I have shot and edited much longer, more complex videos, but as I’m self-taught, I try to go back and brush up on basics regularly. Like a lot of media makers in the digital age, I learned quick-and-dirty at the U of Hard Knocks. Without going back and practicing fundamentals, it’s easy to get caught in a big project with shaky foundations.

Always curious to hear what rules of thumb you use when telling a story with a video.

Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 2

D700/800 split

[To get the big picture, check out the other two posts in this Pro-spective series. Part 1 with Sam Bié and Part 3 with Corey Rich]

In the first post in the Pro-Spective series on the New Nikon D800, I talked to French action-sports photographer Sam Bié. He was decidedly not interested in getting the D800, as he felt it didn’t offer him anything he needed. At this time, video is a not a priority for him. In addition, he feels his D700/D300 combo is working just fine. Tim Kemple, however, had a completely different take on the matter.

Tim Kemple giving a thumbs upTim Kemple

Tim Kemple is a Salt Lake City-based photographer/videographer, and a really good rock climber, to boot. He’s the man behind many memorable print ads for The North Face, Gregory, and EMS. He’s been published in Outside Magazine, Climbing Magazine, Snowboard Canada Magazine, and many others. And he’s a co-founder of the Camp 4 Collective, one of the outdoor industry’s leading video production companies. Tim received some extra press as of late with this sweet music video he shot entirely with iPhones. From my encounters with Tim, he’s a perfectionist and a consummate professional. He also has a lot of very nice equipment, so to him the D800 is a no-brainer. He’ll probably buy a D4, too, just for the heck of it. He is one good example of who the D800 is for. His answers, particularly to the last question, below, also made me rethink some of my personal hesitations.

Continue reading Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 2