The Park, the Tree, and the Dog

The little park was not far removed from civilization, but sitting under the oak tree, in the moments between the frequent passersby, Duncan could pretend that it was. The tree was a beautiful, old, gnarled oak tree that he thought about sometimes while sitting at his desk at work when he needed a peaceful visual to calm him down or stave off the empty feeling that everything he did was futile. The oak itself didn’t make the feeling go away, but it somehow made him care less. Having a decent picture of the oak, he thought, might help. Getting a decent picture, that captured the aspects he wanted to, however, was proving more difficult than he had expected. It was such a beautiful subject to photograph; he had thought that it would be easy to capture an attractive image. Someone more skilled in the workings of a camera and more practiced in framing an aesthetically pleasing shot could have worked wonders with it, but Duncan was neither of these things and the deep, brilliant majesty his eyes saw was somehow filtered out during the image taking process.

Every once in a while an ant came wandering along, so he had to check around him on occasion to make sure he wasn’t getting ants in his pants. Overall, though, it was a pleasant and comfortable place to sit. He leaned back and stared at the tree. Sunlight trickled through its leaves and the mottled shade around him changed slowly and smoothly from the gentle breeze tussling his hair.

Duncan was contemplating this effect of the light and wondering how he might go about capturing it, when the dog trotted by. A dog passing the small piece of trail he could see from his place of contemplation was not abnormal. The people that frequented this park were generally of three categories: exercising, contemplating, or walking their dogs. Sometimes people did several of these at once. There was a specific woman he saw often when he came to visit the tree, who would run at speeds Duncan considered a sprint, but she did them for multiple loops of the mile-long trail, and she did so keeping pace with 3 dogs. Another regular was the man Duncan called “the Brooder” in his own mind. There wasn’t much more to say about the Brooder that the name didn’t cover. He wore jeans and a t-shirt, and his hair was an untidy bush around his head. He could often be seen at this time on Sundays, staring at the trail in front of him while he walked, a little off to one side, a pensive frown on his face. If one watched him he he could be seen on occasion to slow in pace momentarily, wave his head back and forth slightly as if debating a particularly troublesome point, then shrug and shuffle onward. Duncan noticed people that he saw regularly, but he was more likely to notice the dogs. He liked dogs and wanted there to be one waiting to greet him when he got home, but it didn’t feel like the responsible choice. “Soon,” he had been saying for about 5 years.

There were many dogs that he saw when he came at this time on Sundays. There was the heavy-weight chocolate lab that just wanted to sniff everything, and the group of four basset hounds that walked together like some sort of droopy sled dogs attached to a single leash and pulling the tiny woman attached to the other end so that she always seemed on the verge of tipping over. There was the ball-focused dog that was some sort of mix which included some large part German Sheppard. There was a tiny, white, fluffy terrier that was not shy about trying to get pet by every human it passed. Often Duncan saw an elderly pug that wouldn’t walk more than a few paces before sitting down and groaning until he was picked up. There was even a medium-sized pit-bull that wore a string of fake pearls atop her collar. Duncan had the vague sense that the woman who was usually walking beside the pit was attractive, but he couldn’t have picked her out of a line-up without the dog, he only remembered the glamorous, goofy dog with the string of pearls. On any given Sunday, there were more dogs than these around, but these were the core group that he saw almost every time.

No, it was not strange for a dog to come trotting down the path. What was strange about this one was that it was humanless. Perhaps, Duncan though, the dog had just run ahead of its person a little and they were on the way. Duncan waited a few moments listening. He could hear the chatter of two teenage girls that where coming from the other direction, but he didn’t hear anyone coming from the way the dog had.

He stood and, tucking the camera back into its case, made his way to the trail. The dog had trotted a little past where he had seen him, then slowed to smell something. The two teenage girls ran past, talking incessantly while running, in the way of youth, and didn’t seem to pay the dog any mind; they didn’t belong to the dog any more than he did.

“Hey, buddy, where’s your human?” he called to the dog, approaching him. The dog looked at him and watched him approach, neither coming forward, nor running away. He was a medium-sized mutt of some sort with yellow, shaggy fur, long, floppy ears, and a thin tail. He could, perhaps have been part yellow lab, but the face was a stubbier shape and his body was much smaller. When Duncan got close, he crouched and stuck his hand out. The dog stretched his neck out to sniff the hand. He wasn’t wearing a collar.

After the customary sniff, the dog looked up at his face, then took a step towards him and Duncan reached up and rubbed the fur atop his little head. His little head pushed back into Duncan’s hand affectionately. Duncan used both hands to rub behind the dog’s ears, repeating the question “where’s your human, buddy?”

He looked around again, there was still nobody in sight. “Are you all alone?” he asked, making eye contact with the dog, “like me?”

The dog responded by pushing past his hands and angling his body so that it rested against his legs. It was, Duncan thought, as if he was saying, “Not anymore.”

A brief flutter of joy blossomed in Duncan’s chest and he sat down onto the ground. The dog climbing onto his lap, trying to lick his face. What if the dog WAS alone? Could he take him home? What real reason was there for him to not bring a dog home? He could scrape together the money for the extra deposit on his apartment, and he could budget for food and toys.

He stood up, realizing that he was getting a little ahead of himself. “We should probably look around a bit for your human, before I go getting you a key to my apartment, huh?”

The dog just looked up at him, tongue hanging out to one side and eyes smiling.

“Come on,” Duncan said, walking back the direction he had seen the dog come from, the dog watched him for a moment, then ran to catch up, staying level with Duncan’s right leg. He sniffed things as they walked, and looked around, but every few steps he would shift his weight ever so slightly so that his body would brush against Duncan’s leg. When other people came along, the dog shrunk from them or sniffed their dogs, but remained at Duncan’s side, while he asked each and every one if they had seen someone looking for a dog.

“Aw, little guy’s lost?” a man asked, reaching down to pet him. The dog backed away and remained out of reach. “Must just not like men; probably a woman’s dog,” the man offered, then moved on.

“Sure,” Duncan said with a smirk as the dog nestled back up against his leg, “you just don’t like men.”

They did the entire loop without a single person claiming the dog or having any information about a lost dog. By this time his new, hairy friend was starting to pant and Duncan realized that, being fairly hot out, the dog might be getting thirsty.

“Let’s head back to my car, get you some water, and call animal control to ask what I’m supposed to do,” he said, “Oh, don’t look at me like that, we need to check if anyone is looking for you, but if not, don’t worry, you’re coming home with me. You’ll like it there.”

On their walk back to the parking lot, Duncan let his imagination run away with him, imagining how it was going to be having this dog live with him. He smiled as he thought over potential names he could propose to see how the dog reacted. He contemplated, only briefly, if he would let the dog sleep in the bed. As a kid, his mom had strictly forbidden dogs from the furniture, but this was HIS choice and he settled very quickly on the idea that – once treated for fleas, of course – the dog would be taking over his bed in no time. The smile turned to a broad grin as he thought about becoming one of those guys that ran with a dog every morning. He had been a runner when he was young, but had fallen out of it as it held no real appeal to him, until he thought about running with a dog. For some reason, that was much better.

By the time they made it back to the parking lot, Duncan had already decided which bowls could be re-purposed for dog food. He had picked which blanket the dog would get to cuddle in that evening, and he had started contemplating how he was going to manage a trip to the store to get dog food and shampoo. He didn’t want to leave him in the car, how would he feel being left in a strange apartment alone? Could he leave him with a neighbor while he ran to the store? He didn’t really know any of his neighbors. The one he had met was an asshole with a loud television and a constant parade of different women coming and going at weird hours. The only thing these women seemed to have in common was that they screamed during sex. He didn’t want to leave the dog with that neighbor.

When they entered the parking lot, there was a Prius parked right by the trail-head, with an old woman standing next to it. When she saw them, her eyes lit up and Duncan’s heart dripped into his stomach. He immediately knew what was coming, and tried to smile, though it hurt.

“Oliver! There’s my boy!” she yelled, and the dog bound to her to get his head scratched. After a brief tousle, she opened the door, and, without so much as a backwards glance, the dog jumped into the car.

“Thank you for finding him,” the woman called to Duncan, as she went to the driver side, “that was so nice of you!”

Then, without awaiting a response, she was in the car and it was creeping silently out of the parking spot.

Duncan swallowed hard as he watched the car start to drive away, then looked to the trees at his right, taking a long, slow breath. “Sure, “ he mumbled to himself, “I was being nice.” The emptiness was back and he wanted, very much to go ponder the oak tree again, but he had already done that today, so he started toward his car. “That’s why I did it; I was being nice.”

Preston Falls

The three of us at the start of the hike. I’m wearing a goofy hat, and that rock was not a great choice to hold the camera.

The week before last (June 5th- 12th, 2017) I went on a little adventure. I got to meet up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I spent some time with my parents, and got to take a day trip down into Big Sur, which IS accessible from the north, and it appears that a lot of people don’t realize that anything is open down there. It is.

The trip ended with a single night backpacking trip with my siblings to Preston Falls in Stanislaus National Forest. This trip was fantastic, but there was a certain lack of information about the trail (and lack of trail at some points, for that matter) that made me want to write a blog post about it.

For starters, I came across a blog post while researching the trail that said they made it to what they thought were the falls, then made it home to realize that it wasn’t the right falls. This was a super handy tip, but… where were the actual falls? How did she

The river was very full.

know she hadn’t made it? It took me a long while to find the proper GPS coordinates. That’s the first thing I thought I’d fix, in case someone ends up here, curious about the hike to Preston Falls.

The trailhead is actually marked as the Stanislaus National Forest Trailhead and can be found at these GPS coordinates:
N 37° 52.722′ ,  W 119° 57.025′

There is a little parking lot at the end of the road just past the dam where you’ll find a big sign saying “Stanislaus National Forest Trailhead,” a restroom, and, of course the trailhead.
Preston falls is at GPS coordinates:
N 37° 53.067′ ,  W 119° 52.878′.

The trail was very well maintained for the first 4 miles.

We had wanted a short, easy-ish hike because it was only for an over night and it had been a while since any of us had been backpacking. Some sources said it was a 4 mile hike and others said it was more like 4.4. Not usually enough of a distance to really worry about, right? There’s a good reason for that discrepancy… I’ll address this in a moment…

The river had a ridiculous amount of water in it and, though there were signs everywhere that it had burned in the rim fire a few years ago, it was still startlingly beautiful.

There were flowers everywhere.

It was a nice, relatively flat, easy hike for the first 4 miles. Including a long, leisurely lunch break, it took us something like two hours, but we were dawdling, because we thought the whole thing was going to be that easy. Just about at the 4 mile mark, there’s a

These are the NOT-Preston Falls

nice little camp spot, and a view of SOME falls, and the trail went straight into the river. I understand why people would be tempted to stop there.

Did we, though? No. No, of course we didn’t.

We knew Preston Falls was further up stream, so we pressed on. The idea was that the trail had to come back out of the river at some point. For the remaining half mile or so — spent scrambling over rocks through ever thickening poison oak — we found plenty of pretty views, but never saw a trail again. I’m not sure exactly how far we walked because there was a lot of back and forth while setting down packs and scouting ahead, but it was about a half mile, probably less, and it took us almost another two hours. We eventually found some relatively flat ground and decided to call it a day. Curiosity got the best of me, and the little marker on my GPS was SO close, I ran ahead to see if the falls really existed. Fully intending to just pop over for a look and probably come back later, I, like an idiot, left my camera behind. The route got more difficult and took me a while to find a way up, over, and through the obstacles.

If you look closely, you can see our camp site in this picture.

As a side note, this is probably a good time to mention that I had dropped my walkie talkie into the river earlier and was under the impression until I had made it a good ways away from my siblings that it was waterproof… It was not. It just took a while to start freaking out. I felt a little bad being gone so long without contact. They were a little worried, but it all worked out. I did find Preston Falls, just about when I was going to give up. “If it’s not around this last corner I’m going ba… Oh, there it is. Neat.” They were beautiful, but I didn’t wander back over there later. I met back up with my siblings, set up camp, and took a bunch of pictures. It was beautiful, and totally worth it.

The stars were super pretty.

The walk out was easier and much faster because we knew where we were going.

I regret nothing about the trip, but when I plan the next one to this location, there are a few things that I’ll do differently, now that I know. I’ll make sure it is more than an over-night, because there was a lot to explore… but that’s sort of how I feel about everywhere. I would also probably plan to set up camp at the site near the first set of falls (where the trail disappeared), then go back to Preston Falls as a day hike, there’s no reason to drag the pack back there.

I definitely could have spent several days laying on my back, staring at the trees and flowers.

When the river is lower, I imagine the trail might be more easily traversed. Please let me know with a comment if you do this hike and conditions have changed.

Because I’ve been playing around with time lapses, I put together a few throughout the course of my adventure and, just like last time, I edited it into a short video with some music I made. It’s not great, but it was fun to make.

The music is something I made for this video in Muse Score.

The first shot with the flowers, is in San Diego in Guajome Regional Park.
The next 5 (between times 8 and 52 seconds) were taken from my parents’ backyard in Monterey.
The remaining 5 shots were taken near Preston Falls in Stanislaus National Forest.

More Audio Files

There are new audio files of me reading A Single Flower and Sonny’s Fix.

You can either listen to them on the page for the story (there’s a link at the bottom) or you can listen to them here:

Audio file for A Single Flower: https://www.dropbox.com/s/9es9atuty2hob55/ASingleFlower.mp3?dl=0

Audio file for Sonny’s Fix: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ckg6e80x9l07yxf/SonnysFix.mp3?dl=0

My First Attempt at Time Lapse Photography

Hey everyone,

I discovered that I can do time lapse photography, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It was actually very easy (See below the video for a description of what I used).

Now, doing it well and just doing it are pretty far apart, and I know I’ve got a long way to go, but for all being done within the first 24 hours of realizing that I had the capability, I’m pretty proud of what I came up with and I thought sharing how easy it is to get started might be beneficial.

The music is something that I composed and played in MuseScore a while back (it was sitting around, so I thought I’d use it). I’m not a musician, so forgive its simplicity and the fact that the instruments are all midi simulations rather than… something that sounds good.

For those that are interested, the shot locations are as follows:
-First two clips with the water – Calavara Lake in Carlsbad, Ca
-The ants and two oak tree clips – Buena Vista Park in Vista, Ca
-Last shot with the grass – out my window in Vista, Ca

 

The camera I used is a Cannon PowersShot SX160 IS with CHDK installed on it. I’ve had the camera for a few years now and I like it, but if I were shopping for it all over again, I would choose something else for one simple reason: this specific PowerShot eats through batteries like a puppy through pizza (maybe a little less messy). The other models of PowerShot I had in the past were not this way. It’s powered by 2 AA batteries and can’t (as far as I’ve figured out) be powered externally (if anyone has any suggestions other than the toothpick trick, please share). Just in the shots used in this video I went through 12 AA battieries; I’m a MONSTER! They are still half full for many other devices, but the camera says they’re dead and turns off. They worked long enough to get these shots, but if I wanted to shoot over a time longer than about 45 minutes (and I do), this just isn’t going to cut it.

CHDK is a set of firmware updates that you can use to increase the functionality of Cannon PowerShots. Model specific downloads and directions can be found here: http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK
CHDK is temporary. You just run it off of the memory card and it allows you to run scripts on your camera. The CHDK download for most PowerShots, I believe, come with an intervalometer script. That’s the one I use. It is very simple once you figure out the menus. You set up your camera ready to go with whatever settings you want, then you tell the intervalometer script a time interval, and launch it. It then takes an image every time that interval is up. For example, if I set it to 10 seconds, it will take an image every 10 seconds until I tell it to stop or it runs out of batteries and turns itself off (the latter usually being the case for me). I did find that, because the camera takes a moment to take and save the images, if you set it too short, it will just take an image whenever it is ready. The clip with the ants, for example, was supposed to be a 1 second interval, but it took one image every time it was ready, which was somewhere between 6 and 7 seconds. The rest of my clips were set to 10 seconds or longer and worked like a charm.

A tripod is a good idea. None of these were taken using a tripod, and I think it shows. My tripod was broken, and the one I ordered was sitting on my doorstep when I got back from the last shot for this. One thing that was kind of cool, but 100% unplanned was the sort of droopy panning effect in a couple of shots. Those happened because I set the camera on its empty case and over the course of 45 minutes or so, the whole thing settled. While it worked out this time, I can see how it could completely ruin a set and is probably impossible to plan exactly where the camera ends up pointing. I don’t know how professionals do the fancy pan shots (hey, I’ve only been at this for a day) but I’m 97.46% sure it has nothing to do with setting the camera on a cloth sack propped against a rock and hoping for the best.

Once I got the shots and made it home, I used the OpenShot Video Editor in Linux. OpenShot allows you to import sequences of pictures. It uploads them like a video clip, with some set number of frames per second and you can manipulate it just like any other video clip. OpenShot is free and very intuitive.
I had a few issues, however. OpenShot uses sequential numbering on the file names to determine which files to include and their order. My camera uses a 4 digit number in the file names. There’s some sort of bug (that took me a while to find talk of on the internet) where if the first image in the sequence has more than a 3 digit number, it tries to upload, then the clip just says “INVALID.” So, I rename all the files to have 3 digit numbers. No, I don’t do it by hand. There are many ways to do this. I had a python script already set up to do something like this, so I just re-purposed it and it works. I have a suspicion that I’m going to get told that the easiest way is to use a BASH script. Feel free to tell me, but I already made my Python tool… so… there.
OpenShot is a little lacking in control of the rate that it plays the images. You can not adjust how many frames per second it shows (I don’t know what the standard is, something near 30?). You can have it double of triple each image while importing if you want it to play 2 or 3 times more slowly. I doubled the images on 3 of the clips because I thought they were too fast, but, for the most part, I feel like being able to speed up or slow down these clips would be handy.Another issue I had with OpenShot is that it is, at least on my computer, very slow with videos of this resolution. You may notice that in the above video the syncing of dramatic moments in the music with clip changes is a bit off. This is because I had to export the video each time just to see if it worked, because the playback option in OpenShot was sketchy and would get stuck. When I reduced the resolution, it worked just fine, so that’s a potential solution as well, but I think I might try experimenting with some other software (any suggestions?).
I feel the need to repeat myself here, though… OpenShot is free… So, that’s really nice.

The music was composed in MuseScore in Linux. It is also free and pretty neat. MuseScore is composition software with a midi simulation playback option which is fantastic for someone like me with no idea what they are doing. It has it’s limits, though. The midi playback IS still midi, and it sounds like it… but it was sort of fun getting to output my song as an mp3 and use it in the video. Maybe someday I’ll use music from real instruments, but for goofing around and learning, I think it works just fine.

I hope you found this enlightening or helpful. Please feel free to ask if you have any questions… though… remember, I’m figuring it out as I go along. In all liklyhood, questions will result in us trying to figure it out together rather than me already knowing the answer. That’s the fun part anyway, though, right?

A Single Flower

First off, apparently May 10th (last Wednesday) was my Blogiversary! My blog is 4 years old! YAY!

Okay, now onto a piece of flash fiction.

Trigger warnings: Depression, alcoholism, death of a loved one.


The empty scotch bottle slipped out of his fingers and settled next to the single flower growing from her grave. Tears ran down his cheeks into the stubble that had formed on his chin over the past week and a half since the night of the accident.

She was gone and it was his fault.

His back starting to cramp from his hunched, crumpled position leaning over her grave, he laid back onto the ground and looked into the trees, listening to the gentle hum of insects and the soft rustle of leaves in the breeze. He took a deep breath in an attempt to make the world stop spinning. The air was thick with the pungent smell of the bottle of Glenfarclas that had half gone down his throat and half gone into the ground. A warm, smokey flavor lingered in his mouth and he thought, “I better appreciate the taste now, because I doubt I’ll be able to stomach it tomorrow.” This was the sort of bender that turned one off of specific types of booze.

They had been saving this bottle of scotch for a special occasion. There would be no more special occasions now.

He had never been a big drinker, but he had been drunk that night – the night he had killed her – they both had.

For what seemed like the millionth time, the way her neck had felt beneath his hand when it snapped ran through his mind and he could almost feel it again. His stomach churned, from the booze? From the spinning sky? From the memories? Yes. Probably all of the above.

Tears had stopped flowing, but his body still went into convulsions, and his chest still tightened while he quivered in dry sobs.

He hadn’t meant to, he had loved her with all of his heart, but she was just so damn fragile. One moment she had been shrieking with laughter while they wrestled in the bed, her trying to lick his face because he had complained about her breath. The next moment they had tumbled out of bed and his hand went out to catch them. Somehow – and he still couldn’t piece it together – her neck had been twisted between his palm and the floor as her head hit the ground.

He had felt it snap and she had gone limp even while they were still falling off the bed.

One poorly placed hand. One fragile neck. Two lives ended.

The tears came back now. They tore through him as he curled into the fetal position on his side facing her grave. She had been his everything and he had killed her.

“Lance?” a small voice broke through his sobs.

He sat up and looked around frantically. It was a small, frail voice, but it was hers for sure. Was he losing his mind?

It came again, repeating his name, “Lance?”

It came from the flower. He looked closer. The flower turned towards him, petals framing a tiny face. “Lance, is that you?”

“I… I… How…?” was all he could get out and the flower smiled.

“I’ve been brought back to you, my love.”

“But,” there was a panicked tightness in his chest while he struggled to catch his breath. How was this possible, “How did you-”

“It doesn’t matter, Lance. I’m here now and we can be together.”

He crouched down so that his nose was inches from the flower.

The broad smile was strange buried between petals of a flower, but it was undeniably hers and it warmed his heart and he started to smile for the first time since she had died. “Stop crying; this wasn’t your-” she stopped short with a gasp.

“What’s wrong?”

“It wasn’t your-” she paused, the smile fading. Then the flower whipped around, looking at the ground, “GAHHH!” she cried, “My roots are burning! Make it stop! Make it-” She fell silent staring at the empty bottle of scotch on the wet soil.

“You DIDN’T!” she screamed in anguish.

“What?” he asked.

“OH god, the SCOTCH IT BURNS!”

The scotch? He grabbed the bottle. It was 120 proof, plenty high to kill just about any plant.

“You stupid son of a-” she continued, “OH DAMNIT IT BURNS!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t-”

“I worked so hard to get back AND YOU’ve POISONED ME!” The flower was leaning to one side and convulsing now.

“I’m SORRY,” he bawled, not knowing what to do, dropping the bottle and cradling the flower in his hands. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

But she was gone again.

The small, single flower wilted and died.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, rocking back and forth, “I didn’t know.”


Listen to it here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/9es9atuty2hob55/ASingleFlower.mp3?dl=0