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Fresno Activities - As They Happen
July 16-23 (probably), 2017Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Written July 19+
In the last diary, I talked about our escape from Fresno (heat), but this diary will be the inverse: Fresno activities, whatever they turn out to be. Starting out, we have no particular plans for much beyond the required chores: gym, garden, meals, Mamo, etc. I suppose I decided on this diary in order to influence some sort of flavor in that routine. So far, excitement has been limited - but not absent.
Fruit Trail (Sunday, July 16)In Spring, there is a delightful drive the local tourist bureau lays out called "The Blossom Trail". It runs east and south of Fresno through some of the oldest fruit orchards in the San Joaquin Valley and the pinks and whites of the trees are famous enough to draw tourists from around the world. Really.
When summer hits, Valley tourist attractions are not so famous, probably because of the infamous heat. But tourist bureaus always look on the bright side, so they convert the Blossom Trail into the Fruit Trail, touting local fruit stands, wineries, and restaurants. On Sunday, we set out with Mamo to see if it was all true.
We had the bureau's map, showing almost three-dozen fruit-related attractions, so we expected a full morning. Well, not so much. Our first fruit stand, corrected our expectations. Across from a modern "farm house", we found a very traditional fruit stand. (I presume the fruit stand had not paid for the house.) Peaches and plums were available on a self-serve basis: select, weigh, and stuff money in a crack in the counter. Really. Cute, but not the farm bounty we had expected.
Things did not get much better. The next two or three stands from our map-plan were closed. Then we found this one, open I suppose, but a selection limited to one small, old peach. We passed.
Eventually, we did find a couple of fruit stands, open with people and fruit. The "strawberry" stand, had no strawberries, but we did pick up three small boxes of the biggest, tastiest blackberries I think I have ever had. THAT'S what we were after. And the tomato store really did have tomatoes, good ones, so we could feel our Fruit Trail excursion was a success. Barely.
By now, we were at the south and east end of our drive, in the town of Kingsburg. The town was settled by Swedish railroad workers in the early 1870s and remained 94% Swedish up through the 1920s. Nowadays, some of the buildings carry on the Swedish decoration, but most stores and restaurants have shifted to more modern demographics: more Spanish than Swedish, for sure.
The original train station has been restored and is available for tours - on Wednesday morning from eight to noon. Not many tourists, I guess.
Our other Kingsburg stop was the Ramos Torres wine tasting room. Marianne and I introduced Magdalena to wine tasting a year or two ago, and she still enjoys the experience, even if her tastes are pretty tiny. The Ramos Torres story is perhaps illustrative of the non-Swedish future of Kingsburg and the Valley wine scene. Oscar Ramos is a graduate of the Fresno State grape-growing and wine making programs and has taken his family farm history, his university degree, and a few years of experience to start making his own version of Rhone-style wines. We wish him well and hope to see his name in foodie magazines.
Breaking and (not) EnteringPretty soon, it was Wednesday morning. I woke up considering some sort of local photo-excursion so I could add to this little diary. That was the idea: let the diary drive activities. Instead, activities happened.
A month ago, our back fence gate had been forced open and a low-life had tried forcing the garage door. He (I assume a "he") was unsuccessful, other than marring the door. He or a competitor came back. This time, the fence was jumped and the window in the garage door was shattered. Still, the door was not opened and hence the alarm not triggered. Maybe the shattering of the tempered glass was loud enough to spook the thief.
This meant my morning was rearranged. I called the police, non-emergency number, and the dispatcher offered to send someone to take a report. Within an hour, two young "cadets" showed up and Case #17046630 was initiated: vandalism. Truthfully, there was no expectation of solving the crime, but at least local statistics would be up-to-date. The police cadets got some practice and we received some sympathy, since one of them had recently had his own garage broken into. He commented that it was a reality of living in the Tower District.
My next task was getting our garage contractor to replace the window. I called him, and he called the door supplier, but a replacement panel would only be available later in the week, so I was tasked with creating a temporary solution. That first involved removing the window frame and the zillion bits of shattered glass. A mess. Then I had to go to Lowe's for a handy wood panel. Then I installed it, not fancy but good enough for a day or two. (Boarded-up windows are pretty common around here.)
In the end, the entire morning was shot and I was in a bad mood. Darn.
(ps: Replacement was installed on Friday, and now I need to repaint the mullions.)
Shopping, Etc.Meanwhile, Marianne had taken her mom out of the house while her place was being sprayed for bugs, ants mostly. This too is a common local activity, as the summer heat drives bugs inside nicely air-conditioned houses. One more insight into life in the San Joaquin Valley.
The girls' excursion tuned out well. They did breakfast and then shopped for clothes. Mamo manged to find the blue vest she has been looking at for awhile and then a fall blouse for good measure. And Marianne took some good pictures. Maybe this was the photo excursion I had in mind?
The week moved on and I was still thinking I needed a photo excursion. That's always something positive for me. However, all this thinking wore me out, so I connected up our new "mister" and relaxed on the patio. The box had advertised a reduction of "as much as 20 degrees", and I'll admit it helped, but it was still pretty warm on our Fresno summer evenings. I know you folks out in humid country can't believe this sort of things has ANY benefit, but it does. All part of that "dry heat" thing.
As I think I have mentioned, Marianne and I are going up to Oregon to see the August 21st solar eclipse. We will fly to Portland and then to Redmond, where friend Connie will pick us up and take us to her home in Bend. The next morning, very early to not be completely stymied by heavy traffic, we will drive up to Madras, one of the most highly-touted eclipse-viewing towns in America.
Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I want to take photos, I have been buying gadgets and preparing. It's what engineers do. On Thursday, I set about testing my gear and plans. I figured the hard part of all this is just taking shots of the bright sun, and that is available every day.
We have three cameras that might be considered for pictures: iPhones; a "point-and-shoot" SONY RX100IV; a Canon D7II. Here's what I learned for the first try:
The first job was to make a highly-effective sun filter. No camera can take direct shots of the sun, iPhones included, so I cut a lens off one of our eclipse sunglasses and taped it over the smart-phone lens. This cost me a pair of sunglasses (which had been free with other gear) and a bit of gaffer tape. ("Gaffer tape" is like very expensive duct tape, except that it is easily removed from equipment. It is apparently a standby for entertainment stage work - and photography.)
On my first attempt, I had a light leak from one of the access holes in the camera case. This was easily fixed with more tape. After that, just two problems. First, the image was pretty tiny, probably not useful. Second, there did not seem to be any camera adjustments to avoid gross overexposure and the "star effect" that can come from photographing bright points of light. Verdict: forget the iPhone for solar eclipse pictures.
The RX100IV is a very capable small camera that generally can equal my bigger camera in picture quality. I used the same sophisticated sunglass-lens-gaffer-tape technique for a sun-shielding cap. After a few test shots, it was clear that all the automation built into the camera was getting confused, so I changed to as much manual control as I could figure out. Still, all I got was a too-small-to-use image, no matter how much I zoomed in. Verdict: forget the RX100IV for solar eclipse pictures.
Canon 7DII. (Aka: my REAL camera)
This is a real camera, not the top-of-the-Canon-line, but serious. I enjoy trying to learn more on this gear and preparing for eclipse shots is proving I have plenty to learn. By now, I knew I would need a telephoto lens, to make the image big enough to be interesting. That in turn, requires a tripod. After some trying with my simpler "ball head", I shifted to the more long-lens appropriate "gimbel head". (Geeky enough yet?) That's just the start.
Optically, I tried each of my two telephoto lenses and two types of sun filters. And then I tried a whole bunch of camera settings, all in Manual mode because camera automation just doesn't work for this stuff.
My first and probably favored setup was a 600mm lens, with a glass, 18-stop filter. My first discovery was just how hard it is to find the sun when looking through such a long lens when the ONLY thing not blocked out is the sun itself. This is, of course, made harder by the reality that one should not look at the sun without solar sunglasses, which obscure any camera controls not available by braille.
My second discovery was that, like with star pictures at night, it is hard to focus correctly. Actually, with the sun, it was almost impossible for me to be sure I was really focussed on infinity, as I needed to be. I need to read some guidance on that.
This color anomalie is even more confusing to me, since a picture taken "zoomed out" (150mm) showed white, while one zoomed in to 600 mm showed yellow. (These un-scaled pictures on the left and right show the relative size of images shot at 150 and 600 mm).
The glass filter I used was not cheap, but for backup I also have a cardboard and reflective-film "cap" for both the 600mm lens and on a separate 200 mm lens. Color wise, this confused me even more. The 200mm image was white and the 600mm one was yellow. It also seems like the $20 cardboard version yielded sharper images than the glass costing an order of magnitude more. Go figure.
All this testing has lowered my expectation of getting wonderful solar eclipse pictures, just because it seems difficult and there are camera-instrument things happening that I do not understand. Engineers hate that. I need to keep in mind that it is the experience that matters, not the result. I am just a geeky amateur, after all.
My first idea was to see if I could see the preparation and takeoff of "fire bombers". This is fire season in the Sierras and the Detwiler Fire is just north of here. "Just" may not be right, but I figured it isn't far, as the air taker flies. We were particularly interested in this fire because it had caused the evacuation of Mariposa, our base for a Yosemite tour six weeks ago. The fire map shows the town surrounded on the north and west. Scary. (Our B&B is directly east, still a few miles from the flames. We hope they make it.)
Fresno Airport (FAT) is often used as a base for the tankers that attack forest fires with orange retardant. Watching videos of the pilots' work is always amazing, but even their lumbering takeoff from FAT could be interesting, or so I hoped. (Getting near the fire itself is impossible, due to road closures and common sense.) Unfortunately for my pictures, the bomber fleet is based closer to the fire this time, so all I saw was a single Forest Service plane, waiting to load up gear. Another stationary object. So much for that plan.
My other go-to places for Fresno pictures include the nearby National Parks (too far, too crowded), the zoo (too hot, too crowded), and art venues. On Saturday morning, most art workshops and galleries are closed, but Sorensen's Studio, on the south edge of downtown, seems to always be open.
Chris Sorensen, the 92-year-old Man of Steel, is both an active artist and the landlord-organizer of the space used by a dozen or more local artists to make and show their work. I am particularly taken by the rough, industrial feel of Sorensen's work and by similar work of a few of the Studio's participants. On this Saturday, like on most slow days, he greets every visitor as he wanders through the space on his three-wheel bike.
I enjoy wandering the quiet spaces and taking pictures I have probably taken before. Here are a few:
Nothing happened on the last day of my arbitrary diary period. No surprise.
I wonder what might be next?
John and Marianne
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