Agave attenuata

Agave attenuata

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

That’s John Muir (in fact, it’s John Muir in the San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, in part 4 of the series “Notes from Utah,” July 1877), and while he was probably not talking about my recent stroll through the  Huntington Gardens in San Marino, and while he might have in fact recoiled against the artifice of 120 acres of landscaped garden representing a half dozen different regions and ecosystems, Nature is, at the end of the day, Nature. Raw and untouched wilderness or carefully cultivated heirloom rose arbor, it’s all still the mighty force that through the green fuse drives the flower: life in its abundance, Emerson’s refulgent summer. The Huntington just happens to be nestled within the vast sprawl of Los Angeles, embraced within a tiny, affluent town of fewer than 15,000 people with a median income three times that of the US generally, and the median price of a home just south of $2 million. The Garden itself is on the grounds of the Huntington Library, the former home of 19th century railroad robber baron and art fancier Henry Edwards Huntington, who opened his home and collection to the public after his death. Well, open to members of the public who can pony up the entrance fee, anyway.

Optutia gosselineana

Optutia gosselineana

But enough of this class envy. The Huntington is a beautiful place, with lovely gardens representing flora of the desert Southwest, Australia and East Asia, as well as jungle, subtropical, herb and rose gardens. (There’s some sort of “Children’s Garden,” too, but in my dotage I tend to steer widely clear of anything suggesting that it may be overrun with younger persons and their shenanigans.)

Hippeastrum cybister

Hippeastrum cybister

Cleistocactus strausii

Cleistocactus strausii

Photographing nature is often a chancy business, as anyone knows whose gone out on a trail for hours and hours and found plenty of general serenity and beauty but nothing particularly photographable can attest. There’s nothing like returning to the car hot and dusty and sweaty, sore from lugging ten pounds of equipment through miles of trails, with nothing exciting to show for it beyond the general self-satisfaction and delight of a long day in the woods.

water lily

water lily

That won’t happen at a place like the Huntington. Because of the un-natural nature of the place, one is assured of finding interesting, unusual, and unique bits of the natural world to capture. There are, of course, the lovely plants and flowers, but also an abundance of birds and insects, and interesting effects of light and shadow. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “The true mystery of the world is in the visible, not the invisible.” I’ve found that to be stunningly true, and the Huntington is a nice little local microcosmic example of that.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

But back to Muir.  Walking in nature, however constituted, is an opportunity to receive what nature offers, both the beautiful and the ugly, the delicate and the red-in-tooth-and-claw.  We find ourselves, as a species and, I suppose, as photographers, balanced precariously on the very edge of a sphere that starts in fire and ends in ether; balanced between the sunless depths of rock and the insubstantial air. Between the ending and the beginning is a teeming mass of life just waiting to be seen and wondered at and loved–and photographed.

Hippeastrum cybister

Hippeastrum cybister

Agave attenuata
Agave attenuata