Vacation Photos ’09

(I apologize for the layout on this page. After trying to display this various different ways, setting the image width to a constant was the only way it would come up right. I didn’t want to go back an re-thumbnail everything though, so the heights of the images vary -if I had set the image height static, it would have distorted the images. This will be a learning lesson though, the next time I attempt to post such a large collection of photos I will certainly crop and resize them the same.)

This is the first vacation in recent memeory that my wife and I had actually enough notice to plan for. That being said, we didn’t exactly plan it very well. We knew there was to be a drive to Ventura, CA, that there would be a day trip on a boat, and that we wanted to visit some of the missions along El Camino Real. We made no hotel reservations, had no concrete departure or return date, and more or less just winged it the entire time we were gone. If you have never had the pleasure of taking a vacation in that fashion I highly encourage you to try it just once.

As we set out I was armed only with the clothes on my back, about 3/4 of a carload of shit, a laptop computer, and IPod, a shiny new digital camera (which thanks to the breakneck speed of developing technology was obsolete before it even hit the sales floor), and a pair of sandals. Not exactly roughing it. When we arrived in Ventura, after a night’s sleep, we boarded a boat to the Channel Islands. There we would spend a few hours hinking in the warm (but comfortable) California sun. Much picture taking would ensue.

The particular island we visited (Santa Cruz island, I believe) had been a farm in years past, and they still had the rusting farm equipment there. Since the island is now protected as a state park, the equipment will likely remain there until it has rusted away completely. As you can tell by the following photos, it is well on its way.

The island was beautiful, but barren. I think the beauty came from the solitude, mixed with the sense of being somewhere that -though it has been coninuously occupied by man for hundreds of years- seemed so untouched. I was only able to get a few decent photos of the ocean while we were there:

During the vacation I found myself taking a lot of pictures of trees. I think it might have something to do with the fact that while I grew up in Oregon (where trees abound), I now live in Arizona, where trees are a scarcity. I rarely see much here that would qualify as anything more than a glorified bush. The trees that we saw on our trip to California were, well, trees. Some of them pretty old by the looks of it. Here are the tree pictures from the entire trip, for the sake of order(these ones were of such varying size that they didn’t thumbnail well at all, and I have no intention of making a table to display them properly):

There were a couple of other things on the island that I felt compelled to photograpgh, and that the photos turned out well enough that I have decided to include them. They are here simply because I find them to either be well shot, or interesting enough to warrant not ending up in the recycle bin:

While we were visiting the missions, we happened to stop by the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. It was unremarkable; if you have ever visited a museum of natural history anywhere in the U.S. (possibly in the world) you have seen pretty much all the exhibits. The one thing they did have was butterflies. I don’t find them particularly interesting, but I did find myself in a tent with them, and they were posing for the camera. These are probably some of the best photos I have ever taken in clarity, color, and contrast. Frankly, I was amazed that the cheap little camera was able to get this kind of detail:

Of course the real joy for me was seeing the missions. While I am not a religious man, I do love history, and the history of the church is probably the most fascinating history of all. That religion continues to survive in the modern day is something that I have some trouble wrapping my head around. I could certainly see the use for religion back before science was able to explain that the tidal wave wasn’t God smiting down evil-doers, but actually a side-effect of a volcanic eruption below the surface of the Ocean. Even moving forward through history to the founding of these missions, I could see how a belief in God would help you through the hard times -which must have been brutal for the people at the time. And as you walk into these buildings you can almost feel whatever it was that compelled them to visit. Even not being religious, I felt quite humbled standing in these ancient cathedrals, with the religious artifacts surrounding me.

One of the most interesting things that I saw in the missions, though, was the way the common symbols in religion have changed coming into modern times. I took a couple of photos that have the skull and crossbones above and beside doors (I took similar photos at several of the missions, unfortunately only the ones from this one were good enough to post). These, of course, are the symbols that the graveyard lies beyond. That makes perfect sense, of course, but I can’t remember seeing these in any of the churches that I belonged to as a child (of course none of them had attached cemeteries either, so that is probably a big reason). In fact I can’t recall ever seeing the skull and crossbones symbol and a cross in the same field of vision anywhere other than in these missions. No doubt any church of reasonable size and age would have it, but since America is so young it almost seems like we have just gotten rid of the whole death part of the church completely. Or at the very least sanitized it and hidden it away so that we don’t have to think about it. It is also possible that I am reading way too much into that. Nowadays nearly everyone in the western world is literate, and would be more than capable of reading a sign that said “cemetery”. That hasn’t always been the case. So perhaps they skull and crossbones didn’t actually fall out of favor, but just lost their necessity.

Another thing that I found quite interesting was the way the crucifix has evolved over time. Unfortunately the oldest example I found was encased in glass which made flash photography near impossible, and without the flash it was too blurry to see. I fixed up one of the flash photos the best I could, the detail is a bit better if you click through than it is on the thumbnail. I have posted the older example here (which dates to the late 1700’s if the sign attached to it was to be believed) next to a modern version for compariosn. The first point is that the blood is almost gone completely in contemporary crucifixes (I think it actually is gone totally in most) while there was much blood on the body, clothing, and cross in the older example. Also, in the older example Jesus is portrayed to have very short, black hair, and his skin is very, very dark. That’s not to say that I necessarily think he is being portrayed as a black man, but he is certainly portrayed in a far more reasonable way for someone who spent most of his time outside, lacking the modern conveniences of electricity, air-conditioning, tele-commuting, etc. The cross itself also seems to have changed. The older example clearly shows that he was hammered to 2 crossed posts, designed specifically to torture and kill someone. In the more contemporary example the cross appears to be the symbolic cross, with the apparent focus on its aesthetics, not necessarily a torture/killing device. I sure wish I could have gotten this one to come out better, a lot of the detail is simply lost from the poor quality of the photo.

There was a fountain in front of each of the missions, and because I was a tourist I managed to snap a photo of pretty much all of them. In fact you can pretty much tell which phots are taken at which mission based solely on the fountain photos that were either the first or last photo at each location. As you will see some of the fountains look like they date to the time of the mission (with bits of restoration), while some are clearly later additions.

The missions were all founded by the same guy -whose name I can’t remember. I took a picture of the statue of him at each location if I could find it (not all of them made it to this page -it turns out that even I got tired of seeing so many pictures of the same guy). So if you notice a little dude with a walking cane and think I must have taken 50 pictures of him and mixed them in throughout, I assure you they are all pictures of him at different locations. Sort of like the lawn gnome of the 19th century.

The rest of the photos are just from all the various missions we visited, and in the order I snapped the photos. Another thing that I found interesting was how brightly painted these were on the inside. When I think of a church interior I think of drab white with little or no decoration. These are clearly not that. And they don’t stop at the standard ROYGBIV either, there are hundreds of colors that make them really stand out. In places the entire walls were murals…of brightly painted walls. Way more color than I think of when I think of the inside of a church. Anyway, perhaps sometime I will come back and clean up the order of them, but for now I just want to get this page live. So enjoy them, and click on them (and the ones previous) for much larger views (though still only 35% of full resolution). Enjoy!

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