Yesterday I was up on Castro Ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains just to the west of Los Angeles. This is one of my favorite places near home. I can be there in less than an hour, and I have now been there frequently, through all seasons, in sun and rain.
I think there is real value to returning to a location again and again, to making it so much yours that you know where things are, and details of that place start to become old friends. I have been reading a book by an English naturalist, John Lister-Kaye, a book called, At The Water's Edge. The entire book is about his experiences taking the same circular walk from his home in a Scottish glen (like a valley) up to a small loch (lake) for the past thirty years! His observations encourage the reader to look again at the nature around us and to discover its wildness for ourselves.
I think that happens anytime I can go back to a natural location again and again. Sure, I absolutely love going to places from Maine to Costa Rica, but in some ways, coming back to a location I know, and photographing there over time gives me a stronger sense of place than being at other locations. And it helps me see the wildness in me and places nearby.
Going back to a location again and again helps you gain perspective on a place throughout the year. You start to look for subtle, yet important changes. You see a patch of flowers in bloom and immediately you know what they are and how they are doing this year.
You might think that being in an area so close to the huge population of the LA area that there would be a lot of people up there. I saw a total of ... none. The morning was chilly and it was early, but still, not another person. In all the times I have been to Castro Crest, I rarely see many people, except on the weekend when I might see all of half a dozen. This is one of the most accessible and truly wild places I have ever been to.
But all areas have places like this if you get out and look for them. I know of special places like this around Minneapolis/St. Paul where I lived most of my life. I know of special places like this near my sister's home in Freeport, Maine. I think every photographer should find and explore such a special place, then make it his or her own by regularly photographing there.
I can honestly say that I now know a lot more about the chaparral, an important shrub-based ecosystem unique to California in the U.S. I have read quite a bit about it, but there is nothing like being out in it, especially a place you can truly experience throughout the year. I have seen and photographed the world of the chaparral as demonstrated at this location, as seen at Castro Crest. I am not saying I know everything there is to know about chaparral, but I truly know a lot more about it from this direct experience.
And I have gotten photos that I truly like. I can't say my expedition to Castro Crest yesterday netted me brilliant images that I will show off to everyone. But I don't need to do that. I know I will get my best shots over time. Yesterday, I simply needed to reconnect with my friends there and capture some images that might express something a little new.
The big-pod ceonothus were in full bloom. These are pretty, though not dramatic, white-flowered shrubs that are an important part of the chaparral here. I photographed some early prickly phlox -- I had not seen them in bloom this early before. I found a lovely small manzanita that showed off its wonderful bark in the low light of the early morning sun.
All of these things were important to me. I don't care if none of these images go any further than my opening them and putting them on this blog. They are my connection to wildness in a place not so far from home.