The Casual Blog

Tag: Rob Dunn

Learning photography in western N.C., and saving the wild places

Last week I went to the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina for a photography workshop.  I was hoping to improve my camera and processing skills, take in some natural beauty, and meet some nice people.  That all happened, and I also made these pictures.

The workshop was led by Chas Glatzer, a master nature photographer and gifted teacher.  He was friendly, patient, and nonjudgmental. He got our group to good vantage points for sunrise and sunset and tried to make sure we didn’t slip on the rocks near waterfalls or get mauled by a herd of elk.  

Chas coached us individually on composition and camera settings.  He also explained the work behind some of his stunning animal shots in harsh and remote places.  He was ably assisted by Dave Kelly, who taught us some good Lightroom processing techniques, and helped me figure out more about my Nikon D850, which he also uses.    

We stayed in the Hampton Inn in Pisgah Forest, Brevard County, N.C.  Brevard bills itself as the U.S. mecca for waterfalls, with 250 of them, and the ones we saw were beautiful  The trees were changing colors, though the colors were muted this year. We also saw an impressive herd of elk (28) and a flock of wild turkeys. 

The majority of our group was older, with several retirees, and most were quite knowledgeable and experienced in photography.  We talked a lot about equipment and techniques. I got some good tips, and also enjoyed hearing about their lives. Some were dealing with serious health conditions and other tough circumstances, but they seemed absorbed and happy in their efforts to make better photos.  There’s a lesson there on dealing with personal adversity.

The mountains of western NC, with their dense forests and wildlife, are special for me:  I always feel my head getting clearer and my heart expanding there. I remember visiting these forests as a kid and assuming they and their inhabitants would last forever, but now I’m very conscious of their fragility.  Trying to catch part of their essence in photographs and share it with others seems more urgent than in times past.

The NY Times reported on a scientific study this week on the dire situation of the world’s remaining wilderness areas.  The scientists found that humans had modified 77 percent of the earth’s surface, and the remaining wild areas could disappear in a matter of decades.  They pointed out that these areas “provide a lot of life support systems for the planet,” including storing carbon dioxide. The scientists called for urgent action to save these remaining wild areas.

This week that Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss businessman and philanthropist, announced that he is donating $1 billion for a conservation effort aimed at protecting 30 percent of the planet’s surface.  Wyss wrote a short essay explaining that preserving wild places is necessary to prevent the extinction of a majority of plant and animal species.   

Hats off to Wyss.  Of course, most of us don’t have an extra billion dollars to contribute to the cause, but there are some things we can do.  One timely one is to vote this week in favor of politicians who recognize the urgency of our climate crisis, and oppose those who deny or equivocate on the issue.  Neither of our major political parties has been as strong as needed on behalf of environment, but one has been much worse than the other. Please let me know if you need any help in figuring out which is which.  

I learned this week about the iNaturalist project , which involves citizen-naturalists posting photographs of wildlife and plants on a site, expanding the base of knowledge and getting help in identifying the subjects.  It’s the brainchild of Dr. Rob Dunn of N.C. State. The account the project in the Times focused on the project’s work in the wonderful world of indoor insects.  I downloaded the app and am looking forward to making some observations.

Good conversations

One of my favorite movies is My Dinner with Andre. The 1981 movie is about as simple in concept as possible: two old friends have a conversation in a restaurant. It starts out like a typical conversation, though livelier and wittier than most, and gradually begins to soar and swoop. It’s like a duet, or a dance in words. The friends are having fun, but are also creating something. It sets a high bar for a great conversation, but it’s also inspiring. It shows that a good conversation is a work of art.

This week at Red Hat we had a meeting of our entire legal department, including colleagues from our foreign offices. I had five business dinners in a row, not to mention five business lunches and multiple impromptu encounters between meetings. There were plenty of conversations. A number of my colleagues were inspired talkers, and knew a lot about their subjects.

Some of our conversations were fairly ambitious: talking with Monica about European IP law; with Amanda about race in America; with Madeline and Kathal about blogs and the future of literature; with Mei about refusing membership in the Chinese Communist party; with Richard about the future of open source licensing, with Winston about conservative politics; and with Patrick about religion in Utah. There were many good stories: e.g. Eric on playing tennis with Andre Agassi; Emily on working with her personal trainer; and Jean on working as a flight attendant for Singapore Airlines.

It was varied and fun, and I felt grateful to be associated with a group of such interesting and stimulating people. But as Myra and I discussed, socializing in large doses is depleting. I felt really tired and ready to relax when we finished our meetings Friday afternoon. When I got home, I did some yoga, and then played some Chopin and Debussy. It always amazes me how half an hour of immersion in making music can refresh the mind and produce great happiness.

Sally mixed us basil gimlets (one of her signature drinks) and cooked a tofu curry while we listened to a Pandora mix of contemporary Indian music. At dinner we talked about some big subjects, including global warming and species extinction, which we both worry about. The topics are, of course, anxiety producing and sometimes depressing, and depression may lead towards hopelessness. And loneliness. These issues can be friend repellents: who wants to be with a depressing person who makes you depressed? This is another reason it is good to have a committed loving partner: you can talk about serious things.

We also talked about art and science. Recently I read The Wild Life in Our Bodies, by Rob Dunn (a professor at N.C. State), which discusses evolution of humans as a story that cannot be understood without appreciating our symbiotic microbes (fact: they’re more numerous in our body than human cells), parasitic worms (which may prevent disease), our former prey and predators, and other aspects of the natural world. The book is uneven, but the vision is sweeping and fascinating. It is my latest piece of evidence for the theory that scientific intuition and artistic intuition are very much alike, and they can be thrilling in much the same way.