Easter Blossoms in Railroad Square

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

Tree Blossom at the Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa

We’re enjoying perfect Easter weather in Santa Rosa, and yesterday afternoon I visited Railroad Square, where the trees are blossoming. I took several photos, including this one of the former Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad depot (which is now Chevy’s restaurant).

As you can see, the depot’s name is still visible (although usually unnoticed by passers-by) in the wrought ironwork of the balcony, which is above what was the main entrance of the Spanish-Colonial-style depot when it was built in 1927. Its survival is quite remarkable, given that passenger services on the P&SRRR ceased in 1932. The building’s appearance has recently been improved by new paintwork. The photo below shows the full façade of the building. On the other side of the blocked door is the restaurant’s bar.

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad Depot

Those familiar with Railroad Square may be surprised that I didn’t start with a photo of the more familiar North Western Pacific railroad depot. That building also is currently surrounded by blossoming trees, as shown below:

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

Former NWP Depot, Santa Rosa

The reason that I didn’t choose that as my header picture was because, as you can see, it’s impossible to get a composition without its being spoiled by all the cars parked around it!

This railroad depot achieved fame by being featured in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock movie, Shadow of a Doubt. There’s a well-known photo of the entire cast and crew in front of the depot. Perhaps the building’s more impressive achievement, prior to that, was that, along with most of the other stone buildings in Railroad Square, it survived the 1906 earthquake, which did far more damage per capita in Santa Rosa than it did in San Francisco.

It’s heartening to be able to report that passenger trains are once again stopping at this depot, for the first time since 1958. Yesterday, as I arrived at Railroad Square, a northbound train was paused at the station, as shown below.

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

SMART Train at Santa Rosa Station

The Snoopy statue on the right in the photo above, which stands in front of the former Railroad Express Agency building (now a coffee/ice-cream shop), is painted as a SMART conductor, shown in close-up below.

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Snoopy as a SMART Conductor, Railroad Square

Immediately beyond the railroad depot stands the La Rose Hotel, which is visible in the photo below, behind the huge monkey puzzle tree.

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

La Rose Hotel, Santa Rosa

The Real Significance of Easter

In my Easter-time post of last year, I mentioned that I’m very glad to be free of the macabre, ignorant religious nonsense that afflicted this time of year during my youth, in nominally-Christian Britain.

Instead, I’m now able to enjoy the real significance of Easter, which is the seasonal regrowth of life in Northern climes.

Of course, I’m aware that the festival occurs at this time of year because it originated in cultures of the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, it makes no sense at all, a simple fact that seems to have been completely unknown to the supposedly-omniscient gods!

New Year’s Eve: Then & Now

New Year's Eve, 1977

New Year’s Eve, 1977

The photo above was taken exactly 40 years ago, on New Year’s Eve, 1977. The location was the War Memorial near the summit of Oliver’s Mount, in Scarborough, which as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, was a prime spot for sky and cloud photography.

According to my records, this particular photo was taken at 3.05 that afternoon, indicative of the shortness of days at that time of year. The sky that afternoon seemed to me to be heavy with a sense of foreboding, which turned out to be appropriate, because many tumultuous events were about to occur in my life during the ensuing few years. In retrospect it seems like an incredible and very scary roller-coaster ride, ending only ten years later, in 1987, when I found myself spending my first New Year on a different continent, here in California.

The Birds Just Won’t Pose

Yesterday, a flock of Robins and Waxwings appeared in the ornamental pear trees in front of our house. This is a fairly common event here during Winter, but it was the first time this year that I’d noticed the two species together in the trees.

waxwingRobinCright

Robin & Waxwing in a Pear Tree

I mentioned in an earlier post that these scenes formed the inspiration for the design of our 2017 Yuletide Card, titled Sonoma Winter Birds.

One advantage of being able to draw, and so create my own artwork, is that I can pose my subjects in whatever way results in the best composition. For the card design, I was able to position the two birds close to each other, striking exactly the poses that I wanted. For the robin, I knew the pose that I wanted, but was unable to find any reference material showing one in that position. Nonetheless, understanding something of the anatomy of birds meant that I could create a convincing pose from my imagination, aided by images of similar species, as below.

CardComp5x7Cright96dpi

Sonoma Winter Birds

Back when I was learning to draw, the usefulness of that skill in this age of photography was sometimes questioned. Why spend hours creating a realistic image, when the camera can achieve equivalent or better results in a fraction of a second? It has since become clear to me that natural history subjects are one area where drawing skill continues to offer an advantage over photography.

No matter how good their equipment, photographers do not have the luxury of being able to conjure up a scene from their imaginations. When shooting natural history subjects, they must be content with whatever poses their actors choose to adopt. My own photo above shows that, even though the birds were together in the same tree, they were never close enough to each other so that I could capture them in the same frame. Instead, I simply created a composite bitmap of 2 photos.

Even so, there’s no doubt that the abundance of photographs of any desired subject provides a treasury of reference material that was simply unavailable to earlier generations of illustrators. I’ll have more to say about this in a future post.

Happy New Year 2018!

My best wishes to all of you for a joyous and prosperous 2018!

Planning Your Career: Aim Too High or Aim Too Low?

Sunset through Freezing Fog, Coventry, 1979

Sunset through Freezing Fog, Coventry, 1979

The photo above—which could be titled “In the Bleak Midwinter”—shows the sun setting through freezing fog in University Valley, Coventry, in January 1979. The location was approximately here, although it’s now unrecognizable.

At the time, I was feeling very bleak myself, because I really wasn’t sure why I’d embarked on an Engineering Science degree course at Warwick University, with a view to becoming, of all things, a Civil Engineer. As I’ve described in a previous post, that experience didn’t go well, but, in retrospect, it actually turned out to be for the best, since a short time later I moved to a more prestigious university and obtained a better degree, in a subject that was more appropriate for my skills and interests.

It’s interesting to examine the flawed thought process that led me to make that discouraging “false start” at Warwick, and whether it would even have been possible for me to have made career decisions more wisely in those days.

What to Do with Your Life

Years ago, I heard someone say something like this (in a PBS radio item, I think):

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time worrying about what I was going to do with my life. As I grew older, I came to realize that I should be worrying more about what life was going to do to me!

That may be all too true, but it does nothing to answer the question that occupies the time of many young people (including me, at that age), about what career to choose, and, in general, what path to take in life.

When I was growing up, it was by no means clear what career I should aim for. I seemed to have no access to knowledgeable advice, and the only thing that everyone seemed to be agreed on was that I should not follow in the footsteps of my father! (My father had become a teacher.)

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

What do You Want to be when You Grow Up? Are You Joking?

It has become a cliché that most children are asked at some point what they’d like to be “when they grow up”, and I was no exception. My earliest recollections of my ideas on that topic suggest that I wanted to be a train driver. However, my mother claimed that the answer I gave to that question was that I wanted to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps, and be “retired”!

In retrospect, it is now obvious that, had I tried to answer that question seriously, and had I somehow been able to give an accurate answer, nobody would have believed me.

Suppose that, in 1977 when I had to make decisions about what to do after I left school, I had made the following statement about my future:

Well, I think I’ll aim to get a degree in Electronics from one of the world’s top universities, then that should enable me to get a job with the BBC, so I can become a video engineer. Once I’ve mastered that, I’ll move to California to work on advanced video system design. Maybe I should also invent a few new video systems and techniques, to earn me some patents in the USA and Japan.

I can just imagine the kind of response that I’d have received to such a statement! There would have been much rolling of eyes, shaking of heads, and almost certainly some laughter or derision. I’d have been accused of not treating the question seriously.

But the paragraph above describes exactly what I actually did do during the ensuing quarter-century!

To realize just how impossible those predictions would have seemed, bear in mind that, during my schooldays, I’d never used any kind of computer more complex than a digital calculator (as described in a previous post), and nobody in my family had any history of working in engineering or technology. (My father had owned an electrical installation business prior to World War II, but that was really the construction industry.)

In retrospect, it’s obvious that, although my career choice at that age was an important decision, it was really much less important than I was led to believe at the time.

It Seems Easy for Some

In contrast to my indecisiveness, my best friend at school never seemed to have any doubts about what path in life he wanted to follow. He had created his own marionette act while at primary school, which he performed around the Scarborough area, and, when we were at school together, he was always certain that his future lay in show business. I was envious of his clarity of purpose and determination to achieve it.

He went on to win ATV’s New Faces show, on national television, and dropped out of school to pursue his dream, eventually becoming one of Britain’s most successful theatrical agents and managers.

Build Your Own Dream

I had to learn the hard way just how true is the following statement.

If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.

As a young man, I would certainly have found the idea of “building my own dream” impossibly daunting, but nonetheless, time expended trying to define “my dream” would have been well-spent.

This kind of advice is sometimes taken to mean that you should start your own business, but that’s not necessarily the case. You may be able to work for someone else, and yet also gain skills that will lead you towards your dream role.

Too Narrow an Education

One major problem that negatively impacted my career decisions was the insistence on over-specialization, at too early an age, that was a feature of the British educational system. The requirement to concentrate on a limited range of subjects at school, from the age of 13, effectively closed off many careers to me.

I’ll have more to say about this problem in a future post, but I want to mention it here because it has probably had such a negative effect on the lives of many.

The Luxury of Options

I realize that people of my generation and younger can perhaps consider ourselves lucky that we even have the luxury of being able to choose our goals in life. For many people—perhaps the majority—throughout history, those options were simply not available, and their paths through life were largely restricted and predetermined at birth.

For my parents, and many of their generation, their attempts to plan their lives were repeatedly interrupted by major events beyond their control, such as two World Wars in my father’s case.

Even those who managed to avoid taking overt personal risks sometimes found themselves impacted by the misfortunes of others. My mother’s first husband died of tuberculosis (contracted in a Japanese POW camp), which then almost killed my mother (her life was saved only by the development of new “wonder drugs” at the end of the 1940s).

By comparison with my parents’ battles, my own worries and concerns have always seemed trivial, but nonetheless I did have to make important decisions about my future at a young age.

Summary: how to Choose a Career

The best advice I can give to anyone trying to make a career decision now is as follows. In offering these tips, I’m well aware that it’s much easier to give this type of advice than it is to follow it!

  • Don’t fret the details. Don’t waste time trying to predict or plan exactly what you will do. As I showed above, even if your predictions were to be 100% accurate, there’s a good chance that nobody, including you, will believe them! Some people try to plan in immense detail, and are then disappointed when things don’t work out exactly that way.
  • Build Your Own Dream, by aiming to do what you enjoy doing. I realize that this is common “pop psychology” advice. It sounds trite and is usually much easier said than done! However, it has a valid basis. One way or another, you will spend a significant portion of your life doing whatever you choose to do as a career. Choosing to do something you don’t like is therefore a terrible form of self-punishment. You only get one go at life, so you will never get back all that time that you spent being miserable.
  • Don’t worry too much about relative pay or current career prospects. These conditions tend to change with time, so the job situation when you actually enter a field is likely to have changed relative to when you made your career plans. Many jobs that existed when I was trying to make my career decisions simply no longer exist at all, and vice versa. There are also more subtle pressures. For example, I chose Electronic Engineering over Computer Science for my degree, partly because, at that time, I could obtain an apprenticeship in the former but not the latter. In retrospect, though, Computer Science would have been a better fit for my skills and interests.
  • Always aim “too high”; that is, aim for the highest level that you can achieve. For example, if you can get a Ph.D., and if it’s relevant to what you want to do, be sure to do so.
  • Don’t fear failure. Again, this is easier said than done! My parents seemed to have a fatalistic view that, if you tried something but failed at it, you were somehow marked for life as an “irrevocable failure”. In fact, many successful people have experienced some failures along the way, but still their achievements outweigh their failures. They don’t “write themselves off”, nor permanently wallow in self-pity, because of a failure.
  • Treat career advice with caution. I recall many instances when someone said to me, “If I were you, I’d…”, then proceeded to offer some well-meant advice. The problem, in all cases, was that the person offering the advice was not me, and typically had completely different skills, aptitudes and interests from me. For example, an art teacher was never going to advise me to become an engineer, and a science teacher was never going to advise me to become an artist, but what I now do involves both skillsets, so I was right to insist on developing both.
  • Reject advice from “No-Talent Naysayers”. Not all career advice is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, there are many in the world who have no particular talents, and who try to compensate for their own failings by belittling the abilities of others. Such people will invariably tell you that, whatever ambitions you have, you’re sure to fail. I grew up with the British class system, where the typical claim would be that, “People like us don’t achieve things like that”. The best response to such nonsense is not only to recognize it when you hear it, but also to feel sorry for the inadequacy of the person saying it.

Fire & Frost

Burned Trees at Keysight, Fountaingrove

Burned Trees at Keysight, Fountaingrove

It seems very strange to have to discuss both raging fires and frosty mornings in the same article, but that’s the way things are at the moment. Not only are we still recovering from the Wine Country fires here during October, but substantial new fires are burning right now in Southern California.

Last week, I was asked to go back the Fountaingrove site of my employer, Keysight, for the first time since the premises were closed due to the Tubbs Fire. The photo above shows how trees burned right up to the south side of Keysight’s Building 4, although the building itself was saved.

Nonetheless, all four main buildings suffered internal smoke damage, due to particles sucked in by the ventilation system from the fires outside. Therefore, we went into our former work site last week, with instructions to sort through everything and triage it as: personal items for removal, company-owned items for cleaning, or trash. Everything that will stay on the site must be cleaned before it can be reused, so eventually we will probably have one of the cleanest workplaces in the county!

The only buildings at Keysight that were completely destroyed by the fire were the two relatively small “Vista” buildings, the remains of which are shown below. Those were always relatively insubstantial structures.

Remains of the Vista Buildings at Keysight

Remains of the Vista Buildings at Keysight

Complete Destruction… Almost

Next to the Parker Hill Road entrance to Keysight is a residential area known as Hidden Valley Estates. As shown below, the fire destroyed almost everything in the northern part of Hidden Valley; the entire neighborhood has been wiped out. This Google Streetview shows the same location before the fire.

Devastation in Hidden Valley

Devastation in Hidden Valley

There was also a satellite school next to the Keysight entrance on Parker Hill Road, but that burned down.

I say almost everything was destroyed, because, as shown in my photo below, the Jehovah’s Witnesses Hall on Parker Hill Road seems to have escaped completely unscathed.

Jehovah's Witness Hall in Hidden Valley

Jehovah’s Witness Hall in Hidden Valley

It will be interesting to learn why that particular building survived while everything around it succumbed. Did it have a fireproof roof, or did its isolation in a car park help to protect it?

First Frost of the Season

Moving on to a happier subject, I awoke this morning to the first frost of this Winter season, as shown in my photo of Village Green Park below. As you can see, nearly all the leaves have fallen now, but the church at the far corner of the park has just acquired a new spire, which is actually a covering for a cellphone antenna!

Village Green Park with Frost

Village Green Park with Frost

My photo below shows the antenna cover being mounted on the church, in the rain about a month ago.

Mounting the Cellphone Antenna on the Church

Mounting the Cellphone Antenna on the Church

Our thoughts go out to those in Southern California who are now having to endure what many in our area went through in October. We hope that the new fires will be brought under control very quickly.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

Autumnal Vineyard, Occidental Road

The photo above, which I took yesterday afternoon, shows autumn-shaded vines by the side of Occidental Road.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, so we wish everyone a happy holiday. If you’re not in the US, then this probably isn’t a holiday for you, but enjoy your day anyway! (When I lived in the UK, nobody even thought about Thanksgiving. However, since I left 30 years ago, it seems that my birth country has adopted some commercial aspects of the US holiday, such as Black Friday.)

As we did last year, Mary and I plan to have our Thanksgiving dinner in Sonoma. We’re looking forward to it, in anticipation that it will be just as excellent as last year’s feast!

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Sonoma Plaza at Thanksgiving

Although I won’t be working for the remainder of the week, I do expect to be busy… working on this year’s Yuletide card design.

The weather here today is clear, dry and pleasant, but apparently Southern California is expecting temperatures in the nineties! Whatever the weather is like where you are, enjoy your holiday!

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

Sun Dog at Leddy Junction

While driving home yesterday afternoon, I noticed what I at first thought was a rainbow in the Western sky, and took the photo above.

However, it couldn’t be a rainbow, because it wasn’t opposite the sun, as shown in the second photo below, where I’d changed position slightly so that the building did not block the sun. When I finally discovered what it was, it gave me a title for this post that sounds like it would make a good name for a Spaghetti Western!

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

Sun Dog Beside the Sun

It was in fact a Sun Dog, an atmospheric phenomenon that I hadn’t previously noticed here. The scientific name is parhelion, which doesn’t explain a lot since it’s just from the Greek for “beside the sun”.

The location of the photos is just off North Wright Road in Santa Rosa, near a place that used to be called Leddy Junction (before 1947). This was where the North Western Pacific Railroad’s tracks were diverted during the 1930s to connect to what had been the Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railroad’s line. That allowed the trackbed of the duplicate NWP line to be sold to the state, for the construction of what’s now Highway 12.

In my photos, you can just see a pair of rails glinting in the sun. Those are the remains of a spur that once connected to the “main line”, which passed through where the row of bollards now are, on the left in the photos.

This is the current Google Streetview of this location. (I managed to avoid including any portable toilets in my photos!)

Autumn Leaves in the Park

The view below was from our bedroom window, one misty morning during last week. The trees surrounding Village Green Park are now displaying their full autumnal shades, and in fact the leaves have begun to fall.

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

Misty Autumn Morning in the Park

That may have been my last chance to photograph autumn leaves this year, but we do have the Thanksgiving holiday this coming week, so maybe I’ll stumble across some more somewhere.

Autumn Leaves & Woodpeckers

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

Autumn Leaves, Arnold Drive, Eldridge, CA

I took the photo above yesterday afternoon, showing a spectacular display of autumnal leaves by the side of Arnold Drive, in Eldridge, CA, in the Sonoma Valley.

I mentioned in a previous post that the “Turning of the Leaves” tends to occur later in California than in Britain, because of the warmer climate. In fact, many native California trees (such as Live Oaks) are not deciduous at all, and do not shed their leaves. Thus most of our seasonal displays are due to imported species, including, of course, grapevines.

Yesterday, I visited Sonoma for the reopening of the Depot Park Museum, which had been delayed for a few weeks due to the recent wildfires. On the way home, due to heavy traffic on Highway 12, I took Arnold Drive instead, and spotted autumn leaves at many points along the route. Here’s another view of the leaves in Eldridge:

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

More Autumn Leaves in Eldridge, CA

Incidentally, just in case anyone is wondering, Arnold Drive is not named after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, but after General “Hap” Arnold, who lived in a ranch near Sonoma for many years.

I also stopped briefly at General Vallejo’s Home in Sonoma, which is now a California State Park. The idyllic location is surrounded by trees that are populated by noisy Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus). It seems that some of these woodpeckers have taken to using the wooden eaves of the Swiss Chalet barn at the site to store their nuts, as shown in the closeup below.

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

Acorn Woodpecker at the Vallejo Home, Sonoma

I was even able to get some video of the woodpecker in action, although the deficiencies of the camera video system are painfully obvious at maximum zoom!

 

Naturally, the wildfires had a serious negative impact on the tourism industry in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. However, as these photos show, most of the region is undamaged, and local businesses are eager to encourage visitors to return.