Capital Hill Protest Zone

On the night of June 10th, 2020 a group of Seattle-area protesters, led by a city councilwoman, entered and occupied city hall. After a demonstration, they walked back to the infamous Capital Hill area where daily protests had turned into nightly violent clashes with the police outside of the city’s East Precinct. That night, the mayor gave the order to stop protecting the area and leave the precinct. Protesters took over and declared the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone – the CHAZ – was in the hands of the people.

I will not link to any of the articles about the place, since all of them would include some sort of bias about the movement and subsequent occupation of these roughly 6 city blocks. You can, and should, search for yourself and review the history, challenges and changes occurring daily in the Zone. For example, the Zone was in the process of being rebranded while I was there.

As of this writing, it is called the CHOP – the Capital Hill Occupied Protest. Again, I’ll leave it to you to research why the name was changed and the implications thereof. Here, I only want to share my own observations and feelings about the place.

All street entrances are barricaded to vehicle traffic. Even at 6:30 am, when I was there, all of the barricades were manned by several people with walkie-talkies who were in communication with other people in the Zone. No one stopped me as I walked in. I saw no one open-carrying guns during my time there. Although not crowded, the streets were still abuzz with activity even at that early hour.

It would be a bit of hyperbole to say that every square inch of the Zone is covered in graffiti, but that’s what it feels like. There’s art, slogans and myriad expressions of frustration and anger on practically every surface – buildings, streets, trees, outhouses. Much of the sentiment is in support of Black Lives Matter, and there are countless memorials to those black men and women who have lost their lives at the hands of the police. There is also quite a bit of rage expressed toward said police.

Being there was an unpleasant experience on multiple levels. My feelings, opinions and emotions about the place are complex and multi-layered. One of the strongest feelings I have is about a place like this even existing. For almost 2 weeks, people protesting for racial equality ended the nights being tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets. The Seattle mayor and chief of police eventually relented and allowed this Zone to form and operate on public city streets. People still live in this area, and some businesses still operate. There are several sites within this small section of town made famous on the news and social media, like the Conversation Cafe.

And the No Cop Co-op.

Here I had my first strong sense of history unfolding. Those umbrellas were famously part of the front-line clashes with police in an attempt to deflect tear-gas canisters and other crowd-controlling devices. The strategy was inspired by the protesters in Hong Kong. You also see conflicting messages about not accepting donations and also how to donate. With no central authoritative body, there is no one, clear message.

It was at this point where I was first confronted. A young man, with unnaturally intense eyes and no mask, got in my face and asked my why I was there. He asked me what the camera was for. I engaged him calmly while another gentleman, Clayton from Dayton, also introduced himself to me. The first man aggressively extolled some of the virtues of the Zone, like a lack of authority and hierarchy, before informing me that Krishna is God. He then went on to emphatically tell me that he is Krishna and also, this was very important to him, that he WAS Krishna. It was at this point that I politely disengaged.

As perhaps expected, the Zone is a beacon for the homeless. There are numerous signs about how the homeless are picking up trash. To their credit, I did see very little loose trash on the streets. However, I also saw several large piles of garbage bags piling up, especially in the park by the tent city. Near one of the entrances, several people were busy carrying these bags off somewhere. They left the Zone-proper, to where I do not know.

Perhaps the crown-jewel of the Zone is the now-infamous East Precinct of the Seattle Police Department.

Further along 12th Ave., standing atop the barricade at Pike St., a person was fervently talking into a walkie-talkie about a white sedan that had just pulled up. They were watching the car, talking to someone on the other end of the street, and dropping thoughts and observations to me at the same time. While we were there, a person (probably undercover police, according to my friend), got out of their car, ran to the front of the police station and took a selfie. They then ran back to their car and drove away.

This greatly bothered the barricade guard, who lamented, “Jesus, this isn’t Coachella.” I offered the suggestion that perhaps people are interested in being part of a historic situation but later reflected on the fact that these are still public areas. People can come and go as they please. I wished my friend well and left for another area of the zone.

After about 30 minutes, I was ready to leave. There is a palpable sense of paranoia throughout the Zone, and I was definitely an interloper. Some people were friendly when I was there, but many were not. It could have been the time I was there, or the big camera I was carrying (although I wasn’t the only camera-toting tourist), but something set me apart.

On my walk out, I acquired two black-clad escorts, both masked, wearing what looked like bullet-proof vests. “Did you get any good pictures?” one asked, somewhat aggressively. I told him I wanted to see and document a historic event. He asked me if I saw any harassment. Although I considered a sad interaction I’d seen between a young man who’d lost his bike to a crazed homeless person, I told my escort that I hadn’t seen any harassment. He lightened up a bit, we chatted about some things, and they left me alone.

When I walked into the CHAZ/CHOP, I saw that the Cal Anderson park, which it encompassed, had developed into a tent city. I planned on circling back and getting some pictures from inside this now-famous park. As I walked out of the Zone, however, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I no longer wanted to go anywhere near that park but felt I had to, for posterity, because I never planned on going back. The picture above is of the public restrooms. The graffiti-covered port-a-potties were being pumped out behind me. The drinking fountain and portable washing station were both out of order. I didn’t walk into the tent city and only snapped one quick picture with my phone.

This is only a small section of the park.

By this time, I was anxious to leave. During the short walk back to my home and family, my emotions ran high. Do you remember the first time you saw Saving Private Ryan? That’s how I felt – I had a vague but somewhat desperate sense of depression. It wasn’t a good feeling, but maybe that’s the point of the CHAZ, to unsettle us. Its nature and ideals, however diffuse, extend beyond the perimeter, into the rest of Capital Hill, the greater Seattle area, and probably much further beyond.

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Cape Cod and Head of the Charles

I’ve had to travel to Boston recently for work, about once per month for a few months now.  I rarely get out to the East Coast, so this has been a treat for me.  Everything is just a little bit different and exciting, even the subway – the “T”.

It’s not really in Boston though.  I work and stay in Cambridge, across the Charles River.    As a bit of foreshadowing irony, my hotel room always has a great view of the river.  The crews are already out there rowing at dawn and are still going when I come back in the evening.

After finding out that my stepdaughter qualified for a race in the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta (the biggest regatta in the world!), I was thrilled that the weekend would coincide with a business trip.  My wife and I decided to make a bit of a vacation out of it and traveled out on the Friday before the races.  Since Saturday was for masters only, we chose instead to spend the day on Cape Cod, an area to which I’d never before been.

Of course there were lighthouses and seascapes and salty old locals hiding dark and ancient secrets, but the primary mission was to get lobster rolls.  We had a tip for the best offerings in Chatham, but that place was closed for the season.  Another tip lead us to another closed spot, and then eventually we learned that lobster rolls were just not to be had after Columbus Day.

Disappointed but undaunted, we ended up getting some delicious lobster salad at a local market and making our own lunch out of it.  After eating, and drinking a tremendous amount of New England coffee for which we did not care, we went sightseeing in Chatham and saw some amazing houses.

I could go on for pages with all the pictures of the postcard-perfect homes on the Cape.  Perhaps there’s another post idea in there, but for now I’ll just mention that an inordinate amount of homes on the Cape have names, some of which are some’at baffling.

Eventually we drove the entire length of the Cape, and the weather couldn’t have been nicer.  It was a spectacular Fall Saturday on Cape Cod.

On to the regatta!  We had to get up very early and leave our hotel in Hyannis.  It was a bit of a drive into Boston, and we had no idea what to expect at one of the largest spectator sporting events in the world.  Parking in that area is tough on a good day.  This was not a good day for parking.  But we managed to arrive on-site before the sun was even fully up and found a decent garage where the price wasn’t totally outrageous.  We had enough time to walk the entire course up to the Eliot bridge, where the carnival atmosphere was already in full swing.

That’s the Anderson Memorial bridge pictured above.  My camera and I ended up between it and the Eliot bridge.  The river was beautiful in the early morning light.  The bridges and foliage were spectacular.  The architecture is historic, of course, and we walked past the Harvard boathouse.  Being a junior in high school, the stepdaughter wouldn’t be rowing against their crew this year.

After walking the course, I found myself a great shooting position.  I have no control over the direction of the sun, and if the rowers are facing away from it, then all their faces will be in silhouette.  Normally there’s nothing I can do about that.  The Charles River, however, has so many turns in it that I could judge where the sun would be for the races with which I was concerned and position myself accordingly.

I setup on a bend where I could see the boats coming at me.  With several hundred entries, it wasn’t a given that I’d know when someone I cared about would be going by.  Unlike other regattas I’ve been to, they wore their bow numbers on the back of the bow position rower.  This made it much easier to see who was coming.

As soon as the boats passed me, I could photograph their faces in great light.  For me, this is key.  I already know what the racing shells look like; I don’t need or want a million pictures of boats.  I want to see facial expressions – passion, determination . . .

. . . yawning.  It’s a long stretch from the launch to the start, and things can get a little boring along the way.  This is my stepdaughter’s 8+ heading toward the start of the 3 mile course.

While the 8+ was navigating to the start, a quad on my stepdaughter’s team was racing by.

Eventually my stepdaughter came by.  There are 9 people in the 8+ boat.  Here, you can see the coxswain encouraging the crew to the finish.

This is just passed the 2 mile mark, so the crew would be pretty worn out by now.  And they still have about a mile to go.  Rowing is a grueling sport that takes as much mental toughness as it does physical skill and endurance.

Her boat came in 6th, out of 85 entries (in that one event!), and qualified for next year’s regatta.  I know they were hoping to medal, but that’s still a very good finish for the biggest regatta in the world.

So it was a pretty good race and trip overall.  Hopefully we’ll find a way to get back there next year.

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Zion National Park In the Spring

In the Spring of 2019, my entire family took a road trip from Washington, through Oregon and Utah, eventually to southern Arizona.  We then headed out to San Diego and drove up the Pacific Coast back home.  We had with us 2 toddlers, a baby, and, for part of the trip, 2 teenagers for the 17-day, 4100-mile journey.  This is part of that trip.

We could have planned this better.  Zion National Park is huge and diverse, and there are a lot of things to see and do.  It would be best experienced over the course of several days that included hiking and, perhaps, some camping.  We did none of that.  Instead, we allocated one day and spent most of that inside our car.

Also, it was overcast.  And we weren’t there for either golden hour near sunrise or sunset.

So, we could have planned it better.  Even so, there were still some impressive views from the road.

And we did get out of the car several times during our drive.  Since we didn’t feel it was fair for the kids to be stuck inside a vehicle the whole day, we hiked in a little bit off the road and found a nice and secluded stream.  Of couse, we weren’t prepared for this either, so, being a secluded area, we let the kids trip down to their undies and splash around in the water.

Opposite the little stream, there was a fairly shear wall of rock that Tommy decided to climb and get stuck on.  It all happened so fast, and none of the adults present were dressed to ford the stream and rescue him.  So, we figured that’s where he’d have to live from now on – on the side of a rock wall.  Fortunately, he was able to get himself down.

Spending “the day” at the park did not preclude the kids’ need for a little downtime.  So we interrupted our already limited visit with a return to the b-n-b for some naps.  We returned to the park later in the day and this time hopped on the tour bus that took us deeper inside.  Earlier in the day the lines to ride the bus were way too long to make this a reasonable option.  In the evening of a kind of crummy-weather day, we got right on.

Claire was especially looking like Cindy Lou Who at the time.  She loved riding the bus, and since we basically had the whole thing to ourselves, she could spread out a little bit.  We got out at a few of the stops to try to maximize our tour before there was no light left.  I forget which stop at which we got out and walked around quite a bit.  Our day was getting kind of long at that point, so it was a mellow time.

By the time we got back to the parking lot, the clouds had cleared enough to get a little bit of sunset light.  I’m not sure I’d describe it as a spectacular sunset in Zion National Park, but the sun was, in fact, setting and we were still inside the park.

After Zion, we drove south to Sedona.  The landscape of southern Utah into northern Arizona is probably some of the most beautiful in the country.

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Bryce Canyon in the Spring

In the Spring of 2019, my entire family took a road trip from Washington, through Oregon and Utah, eventually to southern Arizona.  We then headed out to San Diego and drove up the Pacific Coast back home.  We had with us 2 toddlers, a baby, and, for part of the trip, 2 teenagers for the 17-day, 4100-mile journey.  This is part of that trip.

We approached Bryce Canyon through Dixie National Forest.  As much as we wanted to reach our destination for the day, we had to stop for a while and check out this gem.

We were a completely full car at this point, and our two teenagers hiked to the top of hill beside the highway.  That’s them waving at us in the picture below.

As beautiful as this place is, it was only an unplanned stop on our way to our planned destination of Bryce Canyon.

We probably could have spent hours just exploring this one area, but we’d only allotted ourselves a few hours total for Bryce, so we had to move on.  My advice for anyone else undertaking a trip like this would be to give yourself much more time than you think you need at each stop.  Throughout the 2-week trip, we should have reduced our stops by half.

As we approached Bryce, we passed through the famous arch in the rocks, and I was allowed to wait by the side of the road until there were no cars passing by.  Also, it didn’t escape our attention that there was still plenty of snow laying around the landscape.  We’d seen the amazing red rocks of Northern Arizona before, but never imagined their majesty juxtaposed with white snow.  Bryce Canyon was breathtaking.

We also didn’t know how similar the landscape of Southern Utah is to our beloved Northern Arizona.  I’m probably not the first person toe liken Bryce Canyon to a miniature Grand Canyon.

The time spent here could have been more challenging with the kids because it was sunny but fairly cold.  This was supposed to be a trip out of the Pacific Northwest gloom into the Southwest sunshine.  Unprepared as we were, we didn’t know that it would still be snowy in this part of Utah.  Fortunately we happened to have warm (enough) clothes for the kids that we kept having to put on a take off throughout the day.

At four, two and not-quite-one, the kids aren’t much into sightseeing.  I’m not sure they understand why we adults like looking at trees and rocks and stuff for as long as we do.  Still, they were pretty patient, as far as young kids go, and even posed for pictures with us.

Leaving Bryce, someone in our group had the idea that there was something special waiting down the highway away from our next stop.  I suppose it depends on what your definition of ‘special is, but there was definitely not any particular attraction waiting for us.  At this point we were tired and hungry and still a few hours away from where we needed to be for the night, so it was kind of tense for awhile.  When we finally decided to stop and head back toward town, we were still in the middle of incredible natural beauty.

Our destination for the night was a Bed-n-breakfast near Zion National Park, and it was about 80 miles away from where we were.  Although night was already fast-approaching, we had to stop and eat first.

We ended up at a place in the city of Bryce called Ruby’s Inn, where baby Ben picked up a book and read some useful tips for the rest of trip.

Eventually, after dark, we reached our day’s resting spot.  The next day we got up early to head out for that day’s activity.

But that story will have to wait for another time.

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4th of July, 2019

Last night was one of my favorite nights for photography of the whole year.  The 4th of July is the one time I get to shoot fireworks, and I look forward to it very much.  We always get a spectacular show here on Vashon Island; the only variable is where I get to shoot from.  This year, we were invited to a client’s house on the island with a close, direct view of the launching barge.  Before the official show even began, the next-door neighbors were setting off huge shells of their own.

I wasn’t sure if that dock would be a welcome foreground or annoying distraction.  That’s up to you, I suppose, but I like it.

The biggest challenge this year was that there was almost no wind.  This means that smoke built up as the show went on, and I think that takes away from the color and clarity of the bursts.  Actually, there was already a pretty good amount of smoke between me and the show because of the neighbors’ pre-func celebration.

You’re not seeing all the smoke in these pictures because Lightroom’s new(ish) Dehaze feature works very well for reducing its appearance.

This year marked the first time that Tommy (now 4) actually sat through the show. He’s come close before but always lost his nerve at the last second.  He stayed through the whole thing this year and really enjoyed.  As a bonus, Claire (almost 3) and little Baby Ben (who will be 1 in two days) also watched the entire show.  It was a full-family affair.

Once again, Vashon Island’s little fireworks show did not disappoint.  I’ve never been out to see the display at the Space Needle, and at this rate I probably never will.

If you want to learn my technique for shooting fireworks, please feel free to check the little tutorial I put together. It’s totally free!

How to Shoot Fireworks

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