Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Virginia Reel

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  What is it about these Virginia foothills that makes them feel so different from similar topography in New England? Perhaps it is the character of autumn in Virginia that made me feel it so distinctly this time, the way it connects landscape and architecture. Rusty roofs and rustic, gray wood are the dominant barn type. Many seem survivals from an era of subsistence farming now vanishing like the season.  These provide a different garnish to Virginia's fall display, a display that favors rust over brilliant red and yellow.  No matter how I try to name attributes, the distinction eludes me, but I don't think I would ever mistake this farm for one in New England.  In any case, hurricane Sandy has now wiped away the season in both places.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Autumn Staccato

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  An invitation from my friend Gary in Rappahannock, Virginia, to come shoot on his turf provided a welcome opportunity to start turning from processing and writing about my spring travel shoot and to put full focus again on shooting new and old subjects. Most of all it was an invitation to have a good time shooting new images. There are more Galapagos photos to come, but from now on they will be interspersed with more recent images. 

This nearly complete, abandoned farmstead, overgrown with weeds, came with a soundtrack of crows and a stinktrack from a skunk we never saw but whose presence we inhaled. This is the farmhouse. Inside the floors were frail.  We gingerly climbed to the second floor but then backed down. I took no shots inside.  Subsistence farms like this have almost disappeared from this area of Virginia, but many linger as phantom farms.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lava Heron

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Down in cool, shadowy hideouts where mangrove roots reach the sea, small fish and crabs will never see the lava heron, perfectly still, waiting above them. Along with flightless cormorants and marine iguanas, he is one of the animals shaped by the fresh, dark lava of the archipelago, and he has become invisible. Contrary to what I read in the guidebooks, it doesn't appear that any of them are hiding from predators. Mammals are scarce on these new islands.

This lava heron is hunting beside a small bridge connecting our trail with a landing area where we will meet our ponga. Twenty of us are passing within half a dozen feet of the lava heron, and he hasn't moved a muscle since he found his spot. He is indifferent to our commotion. Perhaps he knows our vibrations may chase fish his way, or, much as this may not occur to us, he ignores us knowing we are irrelevant.  This is a cool, tenebrous part of paradise, good for him to hunt in.

Friday, October 19, 2012




Tidal stirrings,
treading transience,
always looking for the fix
to an unbroken horizon
girdling round,
no docks in paradise,
treading transience.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Viridescence 1

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  The white sands lay rippled like fish-scales just where the ocean, winds, plantery motion, and whirl of the galaxy had dropped them the night before, except at intervals where the pattern of scales was interrupted. There the sands had been cleft as if by a wide, balloon tire. One might almost think motorcyclists had ridden up out of the lagoon, crossed the beach and vanished miraculously in the brush. Except when one looked closely at a tread mark in the sand, each tread bore the imprint of a single, triangular flipper to the left and right of the central mash. So closely were they placed that they looked like tire treads. They testified to the laborious journey the sea turtle had taken the night before, dragging herself over the deep mound of white sand, then digging a hole to secure her eggs and covering them, finally leaving them forever and dragging herself back to the sea. These were tasks her body was ill equipped to accomplish.

And when, at last, at the end of her night of labor, as she eased into the water, melted back to a realm where she is agile, graceful, sleek, even beautiful; did she feel fulfilled? Did she find solace? Did she take pride? What powers her inner bunny?  What is the stuff we sometimes call, "instinct," and sometimes call, "spirit"? Where does it come from?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Looking Back

CHARLES DARWIN:  It is a hideous-looking creature of a dirty black color, stupid and sluggish in its movements. The usual length of a full grown one is about a yard, but there are some even four feet long. ... When in water this lizard swims with perfect ease and quickness, by a serpentine movement of its body and flattened tail, , the legs being motionless and closely collapsed on its sides. A seaman on board sank one with a heavy weight attached to it, thinking thus to kill it directly, but when, an hour afterwards, he drew up the line, it was quite active.

The nature of this lizard's food, as well as the structure of its tail and feet, and the fact of its having been seen voluntarily swimming out to sea, absolutely prove its aquatic habits, yet there is in this one strange anomaly, namely, that when frightened it will not enter the water.. Hence, it is easy to drive these lizards down to any little point overhanging the sea, where they will sooner allow a person to catch hold of their tails than jump into the water. They do not seem to have any notion of biting, but when much frightened they squirt a drop of fluid from each nostril. I threw one several times as far as I could into a deep pool left by the retiring tide; but it invariably returned in a direct line to the spot where I stood. It swam near the bottom with a very graceful and rapid movement, and occasionally aided itself over the uneven ground with its feet. As soon as it arrived near the edge, but still being under water, it tried to conceal itself in the tufts of seaweed or entered some crevice. I several times caught this same loizard by driving it down to a point, and though possessed of such perfect powers of diving and swimming, nothing would induce it to enter the water; and as often as I threw it in, it returned in the manner above described.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Flightless Cormorant

WILLIAM BLAKE: "Without contraries is no progression."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  What misplaced vanity causes the flightless cormorants of Galapagos to lift their pitiful wings and strut against the wind on the blackness of these crooked lava shores? There are monsters in paradise. 

Galapagos was created sterile. It remains arid and scrubby. Everything that lives here came once by sea or air, and those that remained found themselves freed of old enemies and in need of new talents. Paradise transformed them. The cormorants stand this way because once, far away, on a distant shore their ancestors did the same to dry their wings for flight. Thus these cormorants, though not quite fish, have learned to live by swimming and are matchless in water, but not quite fowl, they prepare for flights they will never take, their muscles redesigned for underwater gymnastics.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Courting Brown Pelicans

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  There are no docks in paradise. That's how they try to keep it pure, and when anyone goes ashore it is aboard small, inflatable pongas. Our first such landing was, I believe on Fernandina, newest and most westward island of the archipelago. Fernandina last erupted in 2009. It sits directly above the hot spot.

I wasn't prepared for the joyous greeting we received as we landed. It was like passing through crowds of well-wishers in costume at Mardi Gras. As we stepped across rocks to where stone steps climbed to a bluff above the sea, a booby was perched beside the steps, and we gasped. Three steps up and we were eye-to-eye.  Almost by habit I checked for my ID, and the booby might as well have been checking them, as each of us had to stop and pose for and snap a photograph before proceeding to the top of the bluff. 

Overhead, boobies and frigate birds cruised for mates from among the many birds who were building nests around us near the shore. Pelicans fished and sometimes carried food back to their young, and along the trails baby boobies were being groomed or scolded by their parents, or they played or pecked for our attention while parents watched.  The trail across the island was filled with the commotion of courting and mating and raising new families, and as we walked, birds looked into our eyes in calm wonder.  In mid-May Paradise is alive with the feracious celebrations of scales, feathers and fur. Even hermit crabs were out searching for larger dwellings, and we were privileged to be included in the ancient and annual pageant inebriations that had long ago adjourned on other shores.

Like all tourists, we thrilled, thinking we were part of the parade; the parade was for us.  Later I saw the next cycle of tourists pouring expectantly onto the tarmac from the plane that would soon carry me away. I understood then our place in this fearless bliss. I thought about that never-ending line of us, and I was glad the world had limited access here to small groups arriving via ponga.  I understood why new limits had just been imposed, capping the number of landings allowed at each site, and, as I fastened my seatbelt for take-off, I understood why paradise can never be reclaimed.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Blue-Footed Booby

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL: Imagine a world in which when we walk by, the birds don't fly to a bush further off and hide in the branches, the field mice and chipmonks don't scamper beneath rocks and fish don't shy away as we near the water.  Imagine a world where other animals, innocent of fear, merely pause at our approach and look back in innocent wonder at the odd new creatures with the clicking boxes visiting among them, strangers in paradise.

CHARLES DARWIN: "I will conclude my description of the natural history of these islands by giving an account of the extreme tameness of the birds. This disposition is common to all terrestrial species; namely to the mocking thrushes, the finches, wrens, tyrant flycatchers, the dove, and common buzzard. All of them are often approached sufficiently near to be killed with a switch, and sometimes, as I myself tried, with a cap or hat. A gun is here almost superfluous; for with the muzzle I pushed a hawk off the branch of a tree. One day whilst lying down, a mockingthrush alighted on the edge of a pitcher made of a shell of a tortoise, which I held in my hand, and began very quietly to sip the water. It allowed me to lift it from the ground whilst seated on the vessel. I often tried, and very nearly succeeded, in catching these birds by their legs. Formerly, the birds appear to have been even tamer than at present. Cowley (in the year 1684) says that the 'turtledoves were so tame that they would often alight on our hats and arms, so as that we could take them alive, they not fearing man until such time as some of our company did fire at them, whereby they were rendered more shy.' ...It is surprising that they have not become wilder, for these islands in the last hundred and fifty years have been frequented by buccaneers and whalers; and the sailors, wandering through the wood in search of tortoises, always take cruel delight in knocking down the little birds.  These birds, although still more persecuted, do not readily become wild. In Charles Island, which had been colonized about six years, I saw a boy sitting by a well with a switch in his hand, with which he killed the little doves and finches as they came to drink. He had already procured a little heap of them for his dinner, and he said that he had constantly been in the habit of waiting by this well for the same purpose. It would seem that the birds of this archipeligo, not having as yet learnt that man is a more dangerous animal than the tortoise or the Amblyrhynchus [local iguana], disregard him, in the same manner as in England shy birds such as magpies disregard the cows and horses grazing in our fields." 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sea Lions on the Shore


Fearless in Galapagos

Fear, like the sound of the wind,
may go unnoticed 
until branches scrape 
and canyons howl;
or most preciously 
when it is suddenly still. 

Imagine that fearless silence,
spacious as the horizon,
where the song behind the wind
rings clear, 
fills immensity -
Welcome to paradise.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Striated Herons, White Sand, and Waves


Along the Edge

Although the idea of Galapagos 
has no human footprints, 
we've been scrambling here
since the time of Pizarro.
The clumsy wreckage of our presence 
still vies with efforts to preserve and restore.

Beside the slow, even breathing of the sea, 
weed-white shells and fish as bright as the rippling moon;
small herons check our credentials, 
lose interest, continue pecking
among grains of white sand,
along the edge of paradise.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Idea of Galapagos

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  If you have thought about Galapagos at all, it is likely that before it was a place, it was an idea. As I have read and thought about it for a little while, the idea has become more distinct and multifaceted. First came the name and its reference to sentient creatures, the tortoises who some think may live as much as 500 or 1000 years. That is long enough for all of Mayan, Aztec, and Inca civilizations to have come and passed. That is one scale on which I measure my Galapagos.

Despite strong evidence to the contrary, my Galapagos is a pristine archipelago set far apart from continental traffic and trends. It is a place where volcanic islands are still rising from the ocean, floor, borne on a bulging hotspot in the earth's crust which each island will ride back into the sea in an arc of time. Each island from oldest to youngest, children of the sea, is distinct though a recognizable member of a family. My archipelago explodes with diversity and abundance, free of threats from outside.

Because each island owes its origin to different volcanic events over a vast stretch of time, each island is a unique habitat. Famously, Darwin observed species here and found species of finches that were endemic, not only to the archipelago as a whole, but to specific islands within it, with differences reflecting each island's habitat. Thus Galapagos became the land that confirmed species mutability, challenging the notion that creation was over, accomplished, complete. My Galapagos is a place where the world is continually being made new, a place where we are only visitors to a finite world looking for an escape to eternity.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Quito from the Mountaintop

Rizbuth "The universe is apparently a self-creating entity. We were engineered by the environment of which we are part, preceded only by an impulse to be, the source and trajectory of which remain unrevealed, at best, conjectural."


Of Wheels and Weaves

Wheels spin 
like time itself 
shuttling tourists,
the Teleferico  -
built to showcase 
a local culture 
a country,
a genius,
to worldwide markets, 
turning cables,
spinning Inca, 
into global fabric 
still evolving 
on shifting techtonics,
as we plunge back to Quito
with whatever we have learned.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cabled from the Mountaintop

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:  Back in the terminal the wheels were still at their cadences beginning with a whoosh as the doors close - eleven seconds whirring followed by pulses, throbs, double-thump, whoosh and silence as I imagined parallel sets of tourists issuing from the gondolas, one side coming, the other going, and cadences, gondolas every thirty seconds, the wheels forever turning. 

In reality, only a few other visitors were there when we were there, and most of the gondolas went through empty. Even so, it was hard not to pause each time the cadence reached the double-thump, whoosh, and at the silence look for the invisible families streaming up and down the mountain in even-cadenced rhapsody. I had a few moments to take it all in before we joined the line and rode the cable back from the volcanic frontier, where continents collide along the ring of fire, to the wheels and deals of Quito.

Monday, October 1, 2012



FEDERICO FELLINI:  "What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one.... It's this in-between that I'm calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible world and the intangible one - which is really the realm of the artist."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL:   There are many truths at the tops of mountains, and the first is that the top is always further off and higher up than it seemed along the way. We never got there and turned back toward the city. Another truth for me is that the thrill, the rush, the ecstasy comes as much from the remoteness of the mountaintop as from its elevation.  We were beside a major city. We had arrived in a gondola made to carry bicycles at a terminal where vacant store fronts begged for tenants!  

We had, however, crossed a significant edge the moment we stepped beyond the terminal and we thrilled looking over it. It was certainly an edge, even a, "frontier," to a notoriously rugged and lonely stretch of roadless, volcanic, Andean highlands; a frontier if one accepts that terrestrial frontiers are now all encircled by roads and photographed from space and available on your Google desktop. No need to stand on a mountaintop to feel the earth shifting beneath our feet, however good it felt to actually go there and feel it push up on the soles of our shoes. Perhaps the real frontiers today are all in time.