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Local Attractions - From Farms to Lions To Mountains

April 27-29, 2016
Written April28+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

d160427_50_arthub.jpgThis is another multi-purpose diary, another something-to-keep-John-busy diary.  As always, it's for our own record, but family and friends are welcome to tag along.  This episode has been prompted by three days as an art-widower for me.  Marianne is attending a three day class over at the "Fresno Art Hub", a gallery and work-learning space a couple blocks from home.  This is a fairly ambitious class with three full days of trying to learn as much as possible.

Here are some first-day pictures.
My plan is to use these three days to see what I can put on (digital) film.  This sort of forced exercise is useful to me, even if nothing great (digitally) develops.  I started right away, in the Art Hub parking lot!  There is an old patch of cactus there and now is the time for these hardy souls to sprout a few new buds and flowers.  Nice shapes and colors and good practice for my "small" camera - a SONY "point-and-shoot" that really can be used for nice work, if the operator practices enough.

Otherwise, I have been reviewing a local tourist guide to find nearby places I am unfamiliar with.  Fresno gets a bad rap as a place where not much happens, but I can't join in that chorus without at least trying.
My first try was "Simonian Farms."  The tour guide writeup described a museum-like establishment that also sold fruits, nuts, and veggies.  Well, mostly it is a parking lot, surrounded by old farm equipment and a big fruit and nut market, filled with other old stuff; bikes, gas pumps, tools, etc.  (I probably need to go back, because I discovered that I really had not taken anything inside worth the effort.  Next time.)
d160427_20_japanesemonument.jpgAmong the old tractors, was a tower of ragged wood, a monument to the Japanese internees of the 1940's.  Mr. Simonian, from an Armenian immigrant family himself, erected it in honor of the local Japanese who taught him so much about farming, and generally did not reveal the hardships Americans had dealt them. 

d160427_30_shin_zen.jpgSpeaking of Japanese, my next goal was originally the Clark Bonsai Collection.  My Fresno-area tour guide website said it was located in Hanford, about a half-hour south of Fresno, but further research revealed it had been moved to Woodward Park, in Fresno itself.  Now, it shares park space with the Shinzen Friendship Garden.  This sounded like I could get two tourist badges for one stop.  Almost.

Shinzen has unusual winter hours, 4pm to dusk, about 7:30pm, except on rainy days.  As luck would have it, rain was on the horizon when I left Simonian Farms, so my Japanese garden stop was very brief.  I will need to come back for more time and more sun.
My original goal, the Clark Bonsai Collection, was also an almost-bust.  It turns out to be open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  I had to make do with peering over the fence, enough to see what I could not examine close up.  Another need to return. (See next diary.)

Thursday (28th) was my most ambitious day while Marianne was busy with art classes. I started the day with a visit to the camera store to pick up my rented "safari lens".  The goal, like on the zoo day, was to practice photographing animals, in case our bucket-list African safari ever materializes.  This time, it would be a session at Project Survival CatHaven in nearby Dunlap, California.  Like most people around Fresno, we had passed by CatHaven many times in our trips to Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks.  Every time we passed, we would say: "We need to stop sometime."  This was the time.

I unpacked my gear and trudged from the parking lot to the administration building and joined two other visitors waiting for the guided tour.  Our guide, Nick, led us through the formalities and gave us a five minute slide show giving background of Project Survival and CatHaven's role in it.  Basically, CatHaven's mission is education in support for wild cat survival.  Project Survival operates throughout the world supporting initiatives that increase survival rates for the wide range of wild cats from Siberia to South America..

For the next hour or so, Nick showed us each of the wild cats, some half the size of a regular house cat and others much, much bigger.  Do I remember all the names and facts he provided?  Not at all, but his enthusiasm and that of all the others we met was wonderful.  I'll use my pictures to re-tell some of what I did learn.  (Errors are my own, not Nick's.)
CatHaven is run by Dale, seen here as a climbing toy for a new leopard, and Wendy, greeting one of her old tiger friends.  Other staff seem to be knowledgeable and enjoying the application of that knowledge, both to the treatment of the animals and to the education of the public like me.
I wish I could remember what each of the cats are and what every story is, but I was way too busy learning how to operate my new lens and capture eyes behind heavy screens.  Besides, there are over 30 cats, each with a name and story.
Did you know that "panther" is simply another name for a black leopard or cheetah or any other cat.  And, do you know the difference between a large cat and a small cat?  It's not the obvious.  Small cats purr and large cats roar.  Really.  Big cheetahs purr, so they are "small cats", no matter their size. There is an important legal difference here too, because small cats are considered "pets" and can go in public and CatHaven does just that to provide education in schools and elsewhere.  Nick noted that, in the final analysis, the cats themselves decide if they like the public exposure and some individual felines do and others do not.
This white leopard absolutely enjoyed posing and I enjoyed taking her picture.
These two lions share a large pen, but each has its own bedroom loft.  The crew must have faith in the cage material separating them from the curious or hungry large cats.  These large animals appear quiet and docile, but Nick was careful to emphasize the need for rigorous procedures keeping workers out of harm's way.  It doesn't always succeed.
My favorite was this blue-eyed Siberian tiger. 
Cathaven postscript: When I arrived with the big 150-600mm zoom lens on my camera, I joked about practicing for a real safari.  Nick asked if I had actual plans, or was it just a bucket-list item.  I had to admit it was more a dream than a plan.  He called Wendy over and she explained that Wendy and Dale organize photo safaris every November and there is still room for this year's trip to see the migration in Tanzania.  Who knows?

Back to the real world.  The second part of my photo-Thursday would take me into Kings Canyon National Park.  The highway into this area had only been open about ten days, after almost a year of closure due to the Rough Fire last summer and fall and due to winter snows.  This is one of the most beautiful canyons we've ever seen, and I was curious about how much damage the massive fire had done.
Here's what I saw.
Much of the forest is still closed, as are all campgrounds.  The Cedar Grove lodge toward the end of the Kings Canyon Highway, where we stayed last year, is also closed, but should reopen as summer approaches. Unfortunately, Kings Canyon Lodge, an historic small private motel and gift shop, had been destroyed in the Rough Fire.
The forest damage is extensive. Fighting it cost the US Forest Service over $3million.  In some places, burned and unburned trees  still stand together.  Elsewhere the path of the fire is revealed by deep scaring.  Nonetheless, nature is recovering, starting with colorful wildflowers  among the black limbs and trunks.
This spectacular view of the junction of the North and South branches of the Kings River shows just how rugged the mountains are and one can imagine the difficulty of fighting the massive fire.
Eventually, I passed the fire damage and was greeted by the roaring river.  I could have taken these pictures for hours, but did need to turn around for the two-hour drive home.
This pair of pictures illustrates the difference between a fast and slow shutter speed.
The slow-speed technique is fun and always a bit mysterious about how it will turn out.

And, that's it.  Marianne is done with her class and we will start our normal life again.   Of course, we will have to learn a bit about Tanzania.  Stay tuned.

John and Marianne


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