The San Diego Studies: Mostly, I Thought About Mountain Lions

MOUNTMIGUEL2 I’m looking over the lyrics to the song America and I’m seeing a lot in there about purple mountains but I’m not finding anything about brown desert hills. Mount San Miguel, where I spent the night shooting, is a tough working class kind of Mount that overlooks San Diego. I don’t think anyone would call it majestic but it commanded my respect last night. I went up at 6pm yesterday and came down at 6am this morning humbled. The shot started beautifully; the sun sank slowly behind Point Loma followed closely by a red clipping of the moon. I’d hoped to get a cityscape at the bottom of the frame and a few meteors from the Persied shower at the top intersecting with the airplanes coming into Lindbergh Field.

Around 9pm the temperature dropped and the marine layer did a low altitude wipe on the city and sky. Water collected on the lens. Lens paper was too light to soak it up so I took my shirt off and used it between every shot but that didn’t work either, it was too damp. The camera was soaked. I spent the rest of the night trying to salvage a shot and dry the camera.


The popularity and numbers of time-lapse videos on the web make it easy to dis them but it’s harder than it looks. There are few setups that you have to commit to for hours before you can make any adjustments or get feedback. By midnight the dampness let up, or the lens temperature changed enough to stop collecting moisture so I tried a shot up the hill along a foot trail. At that hour I felt so lonely and the trail looked so forlorn, dark and sad that I sat down with my back to it for the whole three hours cycle. I didn’t want to look. Around 3am the city went silent and very dark. I realized I’ve never in any of my conversations with other filmmakers heard the phrase, “It went exactly how I planned.” Deft compromise...

The hills collect the clouds and an amazing amount of sound from the city. Dog barks, crackling power lines, car and house alarms, freeway traffic, police sirens, garbage trucks, distant voices and jet engines mix with disturbing proximity and clarity. The shutter clicks open. The shutter clicks closed. The shutter clicks open. The shutter clicks closed. I felt scared in the dark. I felt bored, cold, wet and lonely. The higher powers don't hang around foothills and I had no new insights. Mostly, I thought about mountain lions and wondered if they like tuna fish sandwiches. My bag was full of them. You have to fight tooth and nail for every little bit that you're given.