Orbs among the Oaks
by Ted Denmark
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The time came about ten years ago when I began to realize I should photograph my hidden grove of extraordinary Black Oaks and Valley Oaks that anchor the hillside canopy at strategic grip points from top to bottom along the seasonal creek bed at my Golden Eagle Oaks property. Some of the most surreal ones had even remained hidden to me for several years before that since it was not particularly easy to climb up or down through them, and there were still a few remnants of poison oak clinging to spots where the sun shone brightly through the tangle of oaks, pines, cedars and Manzanitas. Being particularly sensitive to the highly irritating oil of the noxious scrub oak from long-ago childhood encounters with menacing remnants on dogs and foraging chickens, I was not inclined to want to repeat the weeklong rush to suppress the persistent rash. So I put it off.
Then, one day I had a notion the time had come: my camera battery was charged, I had the afternoon duty free, and I was motivated to have a more careful look at these unusual trees and estimate their number, which I knew I would do if I were taking the camera along to document the inventory. A few years before I had gone up on the slope above the big thousand gallon redwood water tank, looking for a place to drill a shallow back-up well to drain down a short distance to it, but my dear friend Hilarion had told me that water was still more than a hundred feet deep in this area, even though it seemed shallower to me from my dowser’s assessment. I had thought the reason these oaks were obviously thriving so vigorously was that their deepest roots had access to seeping water. I had learned some years back that depth of underground water here in the high Sierra ridges was not easy to read from the typical echoes felt through the dowsing rods from the time a powerful artesian well had come in at a thousand feet deep when it seemed to me water should have been present at two hundred feet (!).
My “diggings,” as the old gold miners had called their test holes dug to explore what might be unexpectedly lurking underground at one suspicious place or another, was still there on either side of the “V” with the dirt piled up the way I left it. I had struck the damp bed rock after only a modest five foot dig into the hillside while hoping for more than just a touch of moisture, but it would have been more than the call of duty to have put all the dirt back, so … there it was. It made me think how much I would like to have a real cave dug into my hillside that any foraging bear would have been proud to have as a home … and would have likely have found years ago, as I have heard tell, in the truly impenetrable brush on the other side of Dowd’s Hill, but of course this objective was not going to happen here on my watch.
It was a bright beautiful sunny day, and I had my little Sony hybrid camera with its old Minolta film-camera lenses, my awesome lightweight Chinese hiking boots, a third string old Levis brush jacket, my favorite wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses … and the excitement to be finally flushing out the oak forest just football yardage above my house which I had put off for so long. The drought had taken its toll on a number of otherwise hardy Cedars and Manzanitas along the way, which was still of some concern, even though the fearsome drought had been broken in the winter of 2016/ 2017 with record precipitation. I decided to try to find the most healthy-looking large Manzanita bush I could see to get the picture taking started, but there weren’t any as robust as the largest ones near the orchard further down the hill just above the house, so I settled on the following one, which seemed nice enough.
The Manzanitas were the most magical local totems with their dark red peeling bark that always intrigued people seeing them for the first time and whose berries with only a suggestion of sweetness, sustained most of the wild animals in the area as you could see from scats of the occasional fox or bear trotting or trudging through this neck of the woods.
After the hardship of my initial effort to ascend the hill slope from bottom to top along the path of the creek bed and its steep banks, it occurred to me that it would probably be much easier to walk up the well-worn path in the clearing only forty yards away and then descend the now dry creek bed going downhill—an obvious no-brainer. So, I climbed out across the creek bank at the first break in the underbrush, being careful not to fall with the camera and all the while scanning for poison oak. It was May 18, of 2014, and a more beautiful late spring day could not be imagined, I thought, as I slowly walked up the hill along switchbacks going past big old oak limbs brought down in winter windstorms of years past, then for a short time along the ancient disrupted creek bed of an antediluvian stream with its spray of gravel just slightly tipped to the downslope and an increasingly open view of Beaver Falls on the other side of the Middle fork of the Stanislaus River Canyon. It was a view you had to work for by climbing to the top of the hill as I had done many times before to repair my big TV antennas that pulled in digital broadcast television from a hundred miles away in Sacramento and Monterey.
It needed only be a leisurely walk today since the emergency of not having access to PBS broadcasts for the evening was not looming, and I finally arrived at the top of Dowd’s Hill, the highest hill within a radius of about five miles with its inspiring eastern panoramic view. I walked along the trail at the top for about a hundred yards to make a quick check of the old big Cedar that had survived both the wild fire of the late Nineteenth Century in the area as well as the loggers for all the years since. It was probably at least a few hundred years old and still there just as I remembered from bringing Julie up to see it the first time she visited my place about four years earlier.
I walked back through the rich ground cover of bear clover while scoping the vistas across the river going up to Dodge Ridge on the horizon, the highest of the distant Sierra ridges where the ski-cats can be seen late at night in winter grooming the trails for the next day of skiers. I came up to what looked to be the first of the Black Oaks sitting up on the edge of the gorge that would have to be where the creek began at the top of the hill. There was also a fairly tall old Black Oak on the top of the hill in this same vicinity.
But wait … there was more, even though I did not notice it at first while adding these shots taken on the top of the hill—there was what would be called an “orb,” actually two (and a few more very faint ones)—appearing in front of the main oak trunk about ten feet off the ground.
I went into my Sony photo editor and cropped it down to clip a blow-up of the odd-looking area. Here’s what I saw:
And to zoom in a bit more:
Whatever this was, it was a rather enchanting phenomenon—though it had gone unnoticed by me for several years.
I then moved on and chose my spot for a solid footing, turned on and lifted the camera for a next shot and soon fired away. I had no idea about these orbs in photos except what I had seen briefly in a few pictures from dance classes of some years past … which were fascinating but had puzzled me at the time. I did not see anything unusual at first that day either as I took this shot of a vigorous middle-aged oak and began my search for an easy path into the dry creek bed to begin my descent.
Later, of course, when I got back to the house and down-loaded this batch of photos into the computer, I would be similarly puzzled since this picture was obviously swarming with what would have to be called “orbs,” which at the time, as noted, I didn’t know much about, but I felt disappointed since it seemed to me they spoiled the lovely clear and clean shot I was looking for. What were they? I was afraid they were an unfortunate and unforeseen lens flare artifact of my lens and camera combo from that particular camera angle into the sunlight.
But at the time I kept stalking a trail that did not exist since I was probably the first person to walk this way in a long time, probably the latest in a short list of explorers or property owners since the time of Edwin Dowd a century earlier who had climbed up from the other side of the hill to see the giant Sequoias across the canyon of what is now called Big Trees State Park … the first time for the 49ers era settlers.
The next picture, taken while still on my way into the dark thicket of the primeval water course, shows a large old oak rooted into the hillside with a nice expanse of trunks, limbs and foliage … and no orbs:
Here was a normal picture of a kind I was looking for in my documentary of these stolid old survivors lining the approximately 250 yards of downslope I was about to survey on my way into the darker spaces of this hideaway … but why no orbs this time? It was from a spot only a short distance from the first orb shot. At least I would have another good “realistic” shot.
I kept going into the brush-lined ravine and soon found another awesome old multi-trunked specimen that pleased me very much … such a hoary old survivor. I surveyed the view and took the following shot … which again was to be seen teeming with orbs (!) as I would soon learn upon viewing it on a larger high-resolution computer screen compared to what the camera provided in the field. And again, I would be mystified and disappointed that I was not able to anticipate that my sun-angle or whatever it was, had distorted another potentially successful shot. I hadn’t remembered anything like this happening before with this camera and lens hookup, and I had taken many hundreds of pictures with it by this time.
It was somewhat amusing and instructive to remember my reaction that can only be characterized as “denial” when I first saw these orbs in this set of pictures since I like to think of myself as perceptive, but it was definitely an instance of realizing how much our perceptions are built around what we expect to see and especially what we want to see. Another slightly surprising thing is that I never noticeably found orbs in any other shots afterwards either, though I’ve taken some fairly unusual pictures of UFO’s (there’s another idea for a photo essay) … among others.
Yikes, it looked like Lawrence Welk’s bubble machine was running in the foreground! It wasn’t until years later (2017) when I looked much more carefully with zoomed-in scrutiny that some of these orbs had really spectacular internal chromatic structures while others were more ordinary. Had I unwittingly photographed the local nature spirits of legend? Here’s the first clip of a cropped blowup from the upper left side of this original:
Seemingly, there are at least three unusual orbs or areas of chromatic overlay on the tree and foliage background: an uppermost left most chromatically intense orb, a “whiter” orb appearing to be in front of it and overlying it by about half, and another—possibly two–more bluish shape(s) in the right lower area that do not seem quite so clearly circular.
A second clip from the right-hand side of the original shot shows another group of orbs with a slightly different set of characteristics—almost like giant dandelions floating across the underbrush of leaf and branch litter:
Again, there are at least three distinct orb shapes, with the most chromatic one in the upper left-hand corner and the two lower ones of a more bluish character. In addition there is a nearly invisible one just to the right of the most chromatic one, which shows only a faint distortion or color blur overlying the leafy background, but a careful look reveals a circular rim. The foreground light on the bark of the lower dead limbs gives an interesting contrast to the darker underbrush of the scene, but the highly reflective bleached wood gives a comparison as a patch with no obvious orbs.
Finally, a third clip from the same picture, a blowup of the afore-mentioned “most chromatic orb,” shows more detail of the diffraction-like color distortion of this unusual circular shape lensing its background:
It is obviously a translucent overlay and gives the branches and greenery behind it a curious iridescent color correction while maintaining its “unnatural” circular shape in comparison to everything else. Once again, the brightly–lighted branches in the foreground also show some color distortion, being driven slightly into the bluish or blue-green direction. There are other areas in this shot that are also slightly blurred, but let’s continue the walking/ shooting tour to the next stop. My Minolta lens was clearly better than a Vivitar, but was no Zeiss.
This next tree shot looks reasonably “normal” at first glance, but a zoomed-in closer inspection shows orbs seemingly hiding in the bushes and boughs up, down and all around, with a particularly large radiant multicolor example at the base of the tree which was amazing enough for me to use as a Valentine’s Day email, which soon got amazed responses back! If any of these discoveries deserves an audition as a “nature spirit,” it would probably be this one.
At the same time this example also has more of the flat-sided hexagonal look of a lens flare that we will see and be able to compare to other more obviously flare-like examples in later shots. This rather romantic large orb image also uniquely among those being shown has a rainbow-like spectrum around its outer periphery which seems to enclose its mystery as it surveys the area at the base of the large multi-trunk tree.
In the meantime here is another blow-up from the same wider perspective shot, appearing just to the left of the previous blow-up:
Once again the same lovely pale pink or magenta wild flowers at the edge of the clearing grace the bottom where the orbs build up to another clearly chromatic example at the mid-upper right position. The pattern of orbs together inhabiting this space in front of another bunch of flowers imaginatively looks a little like the Pillsbury doughboy or Michelin man sitting in the bushes. In addition there are other suspicious distortions of the boughs in the upper left-hand side, one of which also seems to have more flattened sides. A quick review of all the earlier blow-ups—to see if any of them also have flattened sides—gives an uncertain answer, but just how perfectly round are they? I must admit that all the examples appear to have some aspect of edge flattening that I did not notice as I was beginning this examination of my unusual hillside oaks. I also have to acknowledge that all the shots showing orbs were taken into the sunlight looking towards the south or southeast. So “lens flare” phenomena are likely part of the orb story, but a variant not yet fully understood in relation to merely routine lens flare that is a light reflection or refraction starkly and mechanically ricocheting around the camera innards. The orbs may also somehow be an artifact of the electronic light sensor in digital cameras, although there are also reports of orbs on film images, too, but I have never seen yet verifiably seen one myself.
Finally, here is a larger replica of the original wider-angle shot that the two preceding crops or blow-ups were taken from, which I had first introduced as appearing somewhat ordinary, that is, not having obvious orb entities that draw one’s immediate attention, but here they are becoming more obvious.
Apart from the weird turquoise sky (with no orbs unless they are too dim to be seen on the bright sky overlay) that needed a better filter selection to limit the blue short-wavelength scattering, this shot seems to be the kind of modest and dignified picture I set out to get. Yet there are obvious enough orbs all the way around this lovely old oak that are quite clear as soon as you begin to look for them, particularly having seen the blow-ups first.
Now comes the middle part of the more “ordinary” sequence of shots of other nearby weathered but mighty oaks that my downhill trek led me to find on that beautiful spring day.
Even though the bright patches have been pulled down with Sony’s wonderful Play Memories Home editing software in both these shots, the bright spots are still too white, but the little Nex C-3 Alpha camera has been critically noted for this overexposure problem, and I can only look forward to the time of having a better camera and lens combo to use in this golden age of digital photography, but it is still impressive what only a few hundred dollars investment in equipment can yield (!).
The next shot redeems some of the less-than-professional settings of the previous pair with a nice take on the glowing-green ground cover to the in-focus whitish tree bark and finally to the much more color-correct clear azure blue sky beaming through the canopy.
I should admit that these oaks, staunchly rooted in the hillside, are a mixture of Black Oaks and Evergreen or Valley Oaks, the former being deciduous and the latter retaining their leaves year around—even at this 4,000 foot elevation. It’s a little hard to tell which is which during the spring and summer, but the one on the right is clearly a Valley Oak, looking almost like a White Oak (also an evergreen oak) of which there is one grand old tree towards the bottom of the hill by the house, which will not be included in this picture set (but in the next lower oak grove set). And, of course, there are no orbs in this picture either, but the dynamic feeling of the tree trunks and limbs give it a nicely rendered freeze-frame capture in any case.
What seems to have happened to this rare blend of Valley Oaks and Black Oaks is that the Valley Oaks have claimed the middle of the ravine while the Black Oaks have thrived in the micro-climate just to the wider flanks or edges of the ravine. This little section of “banana belt” environment at the top of this ridge of the Stanislaus river Canyon where my property is located is the only place in our area I have ever seen any of these Valley Oaks, so it is a thin slice of survivable territory for them. The White Oak (which was probably brought into the area and set out by the native people who lived here several hundred years ago) is the sole example of a surviving specimen that normally lives at and dominates the oak biome here in the California Central Sierra at more like 2,000 feet.
And now, make way for a truly wizened old twisted oak that I could hardly stop looking at and photographing when I first discovered it about mid-way upslope in the darkest part of the oak thicket.
It, too, looks more like a White Oak than a Valley Oak and is probably a stunted specimen at least a couple hundred years old, whose main growth, like several others that we will soon see, has been in the large upper limbs for some decades rather than in the trunk—probably only an oak specialist would know why that is … at least it certainly is gnarly-looking.
A closer-in shot reveals the drama of this atlas-like figure, holding up the canopy of its secret world that very few people have ever seen before.
In fact this ancient truck appears to present more of a full-frontal feminine figure, if you will, on its sun-streaked exposure and veiled visage with the solidarity of another dark oak associate across and just above the ravine, which together are just waiting to win a photo contest, given a brief chance to appear. Here are two more takes on it: first a darker one, then a lighter:
Next is an offering of a shot that highlights the strangeness of the almost muscled over-development of the first rank of branches above the single base trunks of some of these old survivors, hunkered down in their protective seasonal creek bed, holding up the sky.
It would have been nice to get back a little further for a better perspective in a few shots, but typically the suspicious-looking poison oak leafy twigs in the ground cover on the creek bank prevented additional possibilities.
Another intriguing sight, and one of the few really old deteriorated trunk bases to be found, long deceased with none of its upper branches evident on the adjacent ground, is this surreal snag that had to be burned out in the legendary wild fire of the 1890’s that roared through this area, according to one of my neighbors whose family were first settlers at the time.
And now for the Piece de Resistance, as the French say, going to the heart of the matter, the great Black Oak lens-flare spectacle (or is it?) … with orbs tattooed all over it (!).
Once again, I was quite taken with this Samson-like dark figure standing out from the creek bank with its mighty uplifted double branch arms, looking almost like horizontal trunks, so I almost immediately took a second shot on the same spot (which has the flare but no orbs):
Wow (!), what is going on here? Same situation for a third attempt after fiddling with camera settings. This one also has more than its fair share of weirdness with a Cheshire cat-like image just above and to the right of the bottom of the astonishing dynamic purple lens flare (and no orbs).
I so wanted to capture this behemoth unleashed in its natural habitat, I continued on. It was like a tree with a beating heart that may have never felt the presence of a human being before.
I have no idea what happened here with this “lens flare,” but I was still standing in the same spot with only a slight tilt of the camera. Here’s what the blowup of this feature looks like:
Still no orbs (or is it a super orb?), but the color distortion of the dish-like profile is unique in all the shots I’ve ever taken with this camera setup … so I had to go figure for several years … before being clear enough in my mind to be able to pull it together as a presentation—even if I knew it was quite special. So, there is the finale … the last shot taken of the “upper grove” of oaks at my place that I call Golden Eagle Oaks at Dowd’s Hill near Avery, California.
Next time it will be the lower grove … no orbs or lens flares but mostly just flowing water on rocks and sumptuous green moss on those rocks and trees, culminating in a rather special shot of the great white oak … the first winter after the great drought of 2014-2017.
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Excerpt from J&T Telepresence Conference 98 on Orbs
March 4, 2018
Ted– Well, the first question is a somewhat imaginative one that has fascinated us recently, having to do with what we call “orbs” that appear in some electronic photography, I noticed quite a few of them in a recent photo essay that I did on the upper oak groves at my place in Avery, CA. We would very much like to have someone explain what these orbs are, whether artifacts of the camera electronics/ optics … or something else.
Julie– Oh, that’s why the wizard people are here (!). Well, Thoron is going to speak first. He’s saying these have also been called “plasma” by your people, and in neither case is the answer to the question correct. He said, “They are members of the elemental kingdom; they are sentient … but not high on the evolutionary scale.” <Right …> He’s trying to explain to me and show me … so, there is a relationship to those who participate in the elemental kingdom which have been given names in many traditions and that there is an aspect here of what has been called “magic,” elemental magic, which can draw forth or call from the potential of these elements into manifestation. These “orbs” as you call them, have always been present as a part of nature. Those who dwell underground in the Earth, who have been called by many names: fairies, elves, dwarves, Leprechauns, etc. use and work with this substance that resides in the cosmic matrix, which your science might call “zero-point energy” … and there are those who know how to transform the potential of this energy into living light. What you have called “orbs” in many ways could also be called living light. <[softly] Wow …> They possess energy and frequency; they are the state of light when it is both wave and particle. <Wow …> They come in different sizes … <[laughs]> they are attracted to each other; and they are attracted to frequencies which are harmonious and natural and joyful. They are much beloved by what have been called “Fairie Folk.” <[amused]> They are part of the natural world that was not able to be perceived. Your technology can now perceive them, but others who are sensitive also perceive their energy and nature. Does this answer?
Ted– Yes, that’s marvelous. We thank him for revealing this to us.
Julie– He nodded. It was lovely because there’s a tassel on the end of his wizard’s cap …
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