This post serves two purposes. First, to share one of my favorite images from the past few months, shown below. Second, to explain why I’ve decided not to publicize the location of the image.
“Classic California” is no doubt my favorite image from a day in the field this past April. It was taken shortly after sunset as the sky was beginning its transition from the yellow-gold of sunset to the pastel hues of dusk and the “blue hour.” The sky lupines, owl’s clover, and an array of other wildflowers are enticing enough, but for me the image would be incomplete without the graceful Valley Oak near the crest of the far hill. No location I’ve seen, and surely no image I’ve taken, better captures the essence of the sentiment expressed by John Muir a century ago when he said: “Sauntering in any direction, hundreds of these happy sun-plants brushed against my feet at every step, and closed over them as if I were wading in liquid gold.”
But indeed, scenes like this are challenging to find even during a so-called “superbloom.” California’s population continues to expand ceaselessly, and so does the urban development necessary to keep it housed and happy. Fly from Sacramento or any Bay Area airport to Los Angeles and marvel at the long unbroken expanses of our cities and highways. It’s particularly apparent at night, when the land below resembles one of those composite pictures of the Earth at night and the urban centers of California—that is, much of the western half of the state—are defined by vast orange patterns of sodium street lamps.
Which brings me to the second point, about sharing image locations. As I write this post, Instagram measures the “reach” of this image at 6,289 unique views. And consider that only a few short miles from the location of this image, I watched crowds of hikers strolling casually off trails and into sweeping fields of lupines and other wildflowers without a care for what was underfoot. In fact, being in amongst the wildflowers was their very purpose as evidenced by the deliberate poses struck for awaiting iPhones. The same scene repeated itself across California and elsewhere this past spring. It seems, unfortunately, to be “a thing.”
In this circumstance, the decision not to publicize this location is not hard at all. I’m generally comfortable sharing locations, but I agree with the emerging ethic of not disclosing a specific location if it is environmentally sensitive and there is a chance that location sharing could cause increased visitation and the inevitable damage to resources that follows. The concept is addressed very well in discussion that appears on www.naturefirstphotography.org, which is devoted to espousing environmentally responsible practices for nature photographers. Even if a tiny fraction of the Instagram viewers actually visited this spot—let’s say half of one percent—that’s 31 more people than would have visited otherwise, at least some of whom would likely bring others with them and later share the location with friends.
This particular spot can, with some care, be visited without causing much harm to wildflowers or other resources along the way. I’d be happy to share this location with environmentally responsible individuals to allow them to appreciate it while respecting its fragility. I have no selfish desire to keep this location to myself. But for now, and for so long as wildflowers and other sensitive resources seem an afterthought for so many, it seems the most responsible choice.