Toloache (Sacred Datura)

 

Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

The Sacred Datura plant (Datura wrightii) is known in Mexico as toloache, from the Nahuatl words for “bow the head” and “reverential” (how can you not love this?). Beverages made from this poisonous deliriant induce hallucinogenic visions; when used improperly, even death. It is used for sacred rites of passage by Native American tribes, has been used to hex and to break hexes, to produce sleep and induce dreams, and for protection from evil. It has also been used for divination, to find one’s totem animal, to allow one to see ghosts, for communing with birds, for long hunts and strength, for sharper vision, for sorcery and to increase supernatural powers. Sacred Datura (also known as Jimson Weed or Devil’s Weed [Yerba del Diablo]) is one of the subjects of Carlos Castaneda’s critically acclaimed The Teachings of don Juan. I have personally used it only for photographic power.

Accordingly, a sacred plant commands sacred photographic treatment. I experienced many rejects and failures before I finally landed a successful photograph. Sacred Datura grows in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran, and Mojave deserts and blooms from April through October, rainy season dependent. In clear weather, flowers may open in the morning or evening but close during the heat of the day. In cloudy weather, they may open earlier and last longer. Individual flowers do not last long, timing is everything. In windy conditions – common on the desert during it’s blooming period – flowers can be quickly damaged by wind (folded and bruised flower petals don’t photograph  well). Further, wind is often disastrous for large format film photography where long exposures are common and camera bellows become wind sails. My exposures are timed carefully to fall between gusts of wind. Unlike digital photography, there is no instant feedback in film photography – results are not visible until I later develop the film. A second negative is often made to counteract wind movement; one is routinely a throw-away (due to blurring).

Toloache resides in my gallery of Strange Growths. For photographers and other artists, my next post here will detail the origins of and methods used in this ongoing body of work.

Put a print of this on your wall!

You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Fireworks and Smoke

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It’s warming up ©2019 Michael E. Gordon

A challenging reality on the desert is heat. If each year it did not occur like clockwork, it would be rather difficult to pry me from this habitat. I’m the shrubfly on the lone stool in the distant stand of creosote; they have to kick me out when its time to close up for the season.

May 2019 was unseasonable on the California desert. Temperatures remained low and precipitation remained high enough to keep things cooler and greener than would be normal for this time of year. Early June temperatures were not quite yet deadly, so I decided to make one last chase: Smoke Trees (Psorothamnus spinosus). The beautiful Smoke tree can be found in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico deserts in dry, low elevation (<1500′) sandy washes. For much of the year they are nondescript and scrappy looking compact trees. In late spring – following a bountiful winter – they can explode with brilliant blue fireworks. After the heat has fried the flowers, they revert to their common appearance: like whisps of smoke rising delicately from a desert wash.

While the photographs may be enjoyable to view, they omit a few important sensory details: the baking heat (if it wasn’t cathartic we wouldn’t spa nor sauna); dry desert winds moving through the wash; and the cacophony of millions of bees (video) and other happy winged insects who gather this bounty (see the attached close-up). This is a living desert.

 


You are visiting the blog of landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Book Review: Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers – A Guide to When, Where, & How

For those who like no-fuss product reviews and a quick cut to the chase: Paul Gill and Colleen Miniuk-Sperry’s Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers – A Guide to When, Where, & How is an excellent guide that belongs on your shelf if you plan to chase fickle wildflowers in Arizona.

Although most are climbing and hiking guides, I own quite a few guidebooks. And once one owns and uses enough of them, one comes to a determination about what they most like about them and what they’d do away with. Although I haven’t written any field guides, Gill and Miniuk-Sperry’s highly logical approach to content, layout, and design is the one I would follow. This guide is designed in a fashion that works perfectly for me: Detailed (but not too much; you still need to bring your creativity to the shoots); indexing by location, flower color, AND bloom calendar; a section on AZ’s wildflowers and how to predict them; and filled with inspirational photos and detailed technical info (including 17 different photography tip sections). This guide is a robust 224 pages and features over 280 color photographs and describes 60 locations with detailed maps & driving directions. Further, guidebooks that get handled a lot tend to fall apart quickly. Wild in Arizona has a 6″ x 9″ laminated glossy soft cover that I believe will hold up to a lot of leafing and thumbing.

This book is not just for photographers: Leaf peeping is everyone’s business, and the painter, naturalist, and hiker will find plenty about this book to enjoy. Gill and Miniuk-Sperry have also established a blog to share “eyes-on” reports about what’s currently happening in the [Arizona] field. They’ve been posting fall color reports recently, but come spring they’ll shift back to wildflower reports. What I really like about the book is that alongside the detailed location specifics, they’ve included a legend/key that indicates where you can expect to find specific flowers (right).

An honest review of a product should explain its shortcomings or at least recommend ways to improve it. Quite honestly, I’m at a loss to recommend decisive improvements for this guide. One minor point for me: I’m not a fan of unnatural-looking HDR photography as Gill appears to be (as evidenced by a number of his photographs within), but HDR-style photographs have no bearing on this book’s effectiveness or its quality as a guidebook. The captions are detailed and include HDR notes (and aperture/shutter speed/ISO), should novice photographers with limited technical abilities question why their photographs do not look like Gill’s.

Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers – A Guide to When, Where, & How will help you discover new places to experience and enjoy within Arizona while saving you an enormous amount of scouting time. At only $24.95, I’d call it a great value. Order online and you get an autographed copy!

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Mojave Mound Cactus (photo)

Mojave Mound Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)

I found the granddaddy of all Mojave Mound cacti (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) this weekend in California’s Mojave National Preserve. This was the largest, healthiest, and happiest Mojave mound I’ve ever seen (sure, I’m anthropomorphizing, but it’s my blog :)), and it had no less than approximately 100 buds and flowers on it. The plant was at least 36″ across and about 30″ or more inches tall. Chances are that I’ll be heading back to it in about a week to catch it at its fullest bloom.

It’s not what most would consider a “great year” for wildflowers in California’s Mojave Desert, but if one gets out there with open eyes and willing legs and feet, one will find an incredibly lush, vibrant, and yeah, happy desert! So get out there before it gets hot!

Info for photographers: I made this photograph during the middle of the day under hard light. Why then does the light look so appealing? A 32″ Adorama-brand 5-in-1 (now branded “Flashpoint”) lives in my truck and allows me to shoot small scenes like this under any light. I typically use the diffuser most during middle-of-the-day light such as this. No nature photographer should be without this useful tool!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.