Watch out for that tree…

Sunburst, California Oak, Sierra Foothills

Sunburst, California Oak, Sierra Foothills
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
1/40 second
ISO 100
140 mm

I have a story that doesn’t really have anything to do with photography, except maybe that the experience got me thinking about my relationship with trees, and the number of images I have where a tree or trees are the primary subject. That connection was made because my story, in which a tree stars prominently, happened on the morning that I photographed this oak tree (and the crescent moon and oak trees image in my previous post).

Here goes (not for the faint of heart)

I’ve been a daily runner for nearly 22 years. For many years it was 50 miles per week, no days off; in recent years I’ve toned it down to a more sane 3 to 5 miles per day, with an occasional day off. I run on city streets, sometimes in the dark, dodging vehicles often guided by chatting, texting, speeding, angry, and/or drowsy drivers. I’ve stampeded sheep in New Zealand, breathed textured air in India, and have been chased by dogs, soaked by rain, and pelted by hail. Once, a squirrel ran up my leg.

But, while there are clearly many dangers to worry about while running, trees are pretty far down the list. They’re large, stationary, with no reputation for aggressive behavior. Which might explain why, until last Wednesday, (like most runners) I’d never actually run into a tree. Not even close.

Wednesday morning was hot, much hotter than I prefer, but I’d gotten out early enough that the houses and trees on the east side of my route cast occasionally useful shade. While I normally run in the street (believe it or not, asphalt is quite a bit softer than cement), on this morning I spent lots of time on the sidewalk when it meant the difference between shade and sunlight. By about 2 1/2 miles into my planned  3-miles the shade was rapidly shrinking, forcing me to stray even farther onto the sidewalk for relief. And so it happened that I found myself just close enough to the yard side of the sidewalk that a deceptively aggressive palm tree was able take a swipe at me as I flashed by. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Mean Palm Tree, Sacramento

Mean Palm Tree, Sacramento

In my defense, my arborous encounter was not a George of the Jungle face-plant; rather, the collision was more of a glancing blow, something a ninja might incur after deftly eluding an enemy’s death swipe. Nevertheless, it left my upper forearm with a gaping wound that pretty much stunned me with sudden pain and flowing blood.

While my first impulse to any injury has always been to pretend that nothing happened in the hope that nobody will notice whatever foolish thing I did to cause the injury, the blood dripping down my arm and trailing me on the sidewalk made that pretty much impossible. By the  the time I reached the next intersection I was bleeding so much that I prayed there’d be no cars who might call 911 to report a crime (what would you do if you saw a bleeding man running down the street?). At home I had to warn my wife to prepare for something gruesome before I entered the room. Once we got it cleaned up, it was clear that what I had was not so much a cut as it was an excavation—somewhere on that palm tree is an almond-size chunk of my flesh.

Today, nearly a week later, this stupid thing is still bleeding (I probably should have gotten stitches), though it’s down to just a few drops on the dressing each time I change it. As with all my running injuries, I tend to ignore them and hope they’ll go away. (And I must confess to kind of relish the coolness factor associated with running down the street with a slight limp.) Unfortunately, in this case, despite the ugliness of the wound, nobody can see it when I’m running and there’s really nothing cool about my answer when I’m asked what happened. I suppose I could have claimed to gotten it in a knife fight with a competing photographer (say, contesting a small patch of prime Yosemite real estate); instead I opt for the high road and just fess up: I, uh, ran into a tree. In broad daylight. Sigh.

But anyway….

As I mentioned in my July 12 post, my plan for this night had been to photograph a pair of oak trees in the foothills beneath a crescent moon. But my buddy and I arrived early, so we drove a few miles down the road to another group of trees that I like to photograph. The throbbing in my arm, while chasing trees, that got me thinking that evening about the morning’s mishap in the context of my “regular” relationship with trees. I chuckled about how I can be hyper-aware of some trees, yet so oblivious to others. Maybe not life changing insight, but food for thought at least.

The sun just disappearing as we pulled up to this second group of trees. Hoping hoping to catch a sunburst, I jumped out of the car, set up my tripod, pulled out my graduated neutral density filter (two-stop hard), metered, focused, and clicked in maybe fifteen seconds. Fortunately I nailed the first click, because by the time I recomposed a horizontal frame, the sun was gone.

9 Comments on “Watch out for that tree…

  1. Love that photo, Gary. It both takes my breath away and makes me hungry – only because it makes me think of butter, in a good, tasty and delicious way. Your photo is just de-lish! Sorry to hear about your boo-boo. Hope it heals soon. They should change that water tower off I-5 to say, “Sacramento – City of (Assaultive) Trees”….

  2. Gary, I can relate to your story. A puppy ran right straight up to me as I was running and instead of stopping I kept running and the dog got tangled in my legs and I fell to the ground with various cuts. I felt stupid. I hope you get better soon.

  3. I love this story. While I’m tempted to make fun of you, the girl who gave herself whiplash while dancing (to Paula Abdul — hey, the song just begged for a pivot turn) is not commenting except to say I hope it helps quickly.

  4. Just got back from my run along the Susquehanna to be greeted by this post about your close encounter. All of my running injuries have been self-inflicted and due mostly to stupidity. Glad to know that the combination of running and photography has been combined (quite successfully) in another.


  5. Lovely shot – I really like the crescent moon shot, too. I had a run-in with and aggressive palm tree in my youth, still bear the scars… 😎

  6. Nice story, Gary and I love both of the photos. I wish I had not given up jogging about 15 years ago. I’m the benefactor of about 20 unwanted pounds.

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