Pine needles, bluffs, the sky and the sea


Writers, I am told, are oft counseled to write about what they know.  Sage advice for any creative endeavor.  Subjects, whose beauty calls out for artistic rendering, can be distant, or as closely known as the rough spots on your own skin, or that quirky smile of a loved one.

The Torrey pine tree is native to only two places on earth—the California channel islands, and right here in my backyard, the Torrey Pines Reserve and scattered about my home community of Del Mar.  Once nearly extinct as a species, but now numbering a few thousand specimens, it is a rugged, twisted pine tree reminiscent of a well-sculpted Bonsai, albeit 25 to 50 feet tall, and draped with a unique five-needled foliage grouping.  Its habitat is the sandstone bluffs and canyons of this region, one not known for abundant rainfall.  In response, the Torrey quickly sinks a deep taproot to retrieve water where it can, and also is adept at catching moisture from the coastal sea breezes and fogs.

Our six month-old whippet, Sawyer, takes me for my regular morning and sundown walks along the bluffs, canyons and arroyos, making sure that I get my fresh air and exercise while he explores what the squirrels, birds and other natives are up to.  This is officially our rainy season, but we’ve not seen precipitation in recorded memory.  However, over the past few days the low spots in the bluffs have awoken swathed in soft blankets of gauze-like fog, embracing the Torreys with dew so heavy that it has literally been raining off the pine needles onto the sandy soil beneath the trees, conditions proving fruitful with creative opportunities.

Morning sun diffused through a shallow fog and a Torrey's pine needles, glowing like ET's heart

Morning sun diffused through shallow fog and a Torrey’s pine needles, glowing like ET’s heart

These fogs can be both ephemeral and effervescent, the sort of thing that makes you glad you dragged yourself upright before the day grew long in the tooth, treating us to a fogbow, if you will, like a low-laying rainbow, but where the mists do not refract the light into its component spectra.

A non-spectral fogbow—the mist and a dancing arc of sunlight

A non-spectral fogbow—the mist and a dancing arc of sunlight

Ofttimes it isn’t fog, but just a low marine layer of stratus clouds, what is locally referred to as May Gray or June Gloom conditions.  When the sun starts to burn through, as with this moment, gladdening my heart that I’m not among the weekday road warriors just out of sight down below the ridge rushing off to work.

Morning sun, the jewel in a Torrey pines tiara

Morning sun, the jewel in a Torrey pines tiara

Last fall I vaguely remember the occasional storm passing through, and as in Camelot, where, by decree, the rains must be finished by morning, there was wondrous light beguiling and rewarding our early rising.  And oh, the sweet bouquet  from brushing against the chaparral and scrunching the damp, fallen pine needles beneath our feet—you could actually taste it.

Sunrise through Torreys

Sunrise through Torreys

Painters and photographers love sunup and sundown for the warmth and iridescence of the light.  These times positively insist on the most exorbitant color selection on the palette.  And, of course it is decidedly easier to still be up at sunset than to arise at the first hint of morning light.  This image was taken not fifty yards  away from that above, albeit looking the opposite direction.

Bushwhack a few yards off trail in the Del Mar hills for this bit of solitude

Bushwhack a few yards off trail in the Del Mar hills for this bit of solitude

Okay, as I just remembered this is a single frame lift from a time-lapse, I might as well share the T-L while I’m about it.  This sequence was an experiment on changing the lens’ focal length while underway, my desire being to zoom in on the sun as it dropped below the horizon.  I still like the concept, but clearly need a better method of accomplishing the sought-after effect.  So much to learn.  The music, Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra performed by the inestimable guitarist, composer, poet, neighbor and friend, Celedonio Romero.

All of the above images are from the various Del Mar bluffs and canyons, truly our back yard.  But of course the Torrey Pines Reserve is just a short walk away, and is famous for its rugged cliffs hugging the Pacific shore.  There’s an out and back path off the Broken Hill trail which leads to a promontory with this lovely vista, a fitting way to end one’s day and this missive.

Broken Hills view

One Comment on “Pine needles, bluffs, the sky and the sea

  1. Truly inspiring, Tom, as we sit here in rainy FL. Am always amazed at your interpretations, both visually and verbally. Thanks for brightening our day.

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