It's been a long time since this blog has seen a new post. This may be the last post on here, but the account will remain active as I will be reading friends pages occasionally. I've been traveling a lot these last two years and have a huge backlog of things to share. However, I decided to move to a simpler blogging platform on my website. I'll be writing more whenever I get time as my new job will keep me very busy.
There was light drizzle when the 43 foot Mary Beth dropped anchor. The rocky shore was still a mile away but the waters were too shallow for the boat to go any further. The eight of us then hopped into a smaller motorized boat that had been tethered to Mary Beth and slowly approached the shore. We were briefed on how to carry out this mission successfully - "Keep your voices down and walk in a single file and no sudden movements."
Mt. McKinley / Denali as seen near Wonder Lake (photographed by Wendy Turner)
A piece of prehistory and history
Tall, ice-free mountains towered over a grasslands home to herds of mammoths and sabre-tooths. Armies of humans were moving in from the north via the Bering land bridge. After them came ice to the mountains and the grasslands would die giving birth to the tundra and taiga. The mammoths and sabre-tooths would go extinct and descendants of the the migrants from the east would continue to live in the unforgiving land. A tall mountain dominated the landscape and true to the nature of men it was given a name. Today, the descendants of the ancient migrants, the Athabaskans, call it 'Denali' meaning 'high one' and it is the oldest formal name on record. That was when the earth was flat and throughout prehistory and much of history it remained that way.
I've been reading a new book this week that has real life stories of peoples' encounters with bears.
One of the stories that really touched me is this one. I couldn't find a link to it anywhere on the web and I don't have the power to verify its authenticity, but since the author of the book claims these are real I have no reason to believe otherwise.
Here is this incredible story from Alaska:
When four-year-old little Ella May Lindberg left her Sitka house alone in July 1921, it was with one thought -- blueberry pie. She told her mother if she would bake a pie, Ella would get the berries. Ella wanted a surprise blueberry pie for her papa. She knew about a prize patch of berries where she could fill her pail. Ella had not given any thought to the large bears that roamed the woods near her Baranof Island home. She was really too young to understand anything about bears.
Almost two hours after Ella had left the house, her father Hans, superintendent of the U.S Horticultural station at Sitka arrived and queried about "Baby." He was shocked to learn that she had last been seen walking with pail in hand toward the woods. He immediately sprang into action meeting at the blacksmith shop with all available men, distributing his two 12-gauge shotguns and .22 rifle. He carried his .30-40 rifle himself. The men spread out in a half-circle and slowly began coming the woods. They were to fire three shots if anyone found Ella May.
A half-hour later Ella's father heard three shots and rushed toward the sound. One of his companions confessed that they hadn't found Ella, but they'd discovered some large, fresh bear tracks. In a frenzy Ella's father plunged ahead of the others ingot the dense brush, hoping against the inevitable. He tried to force all negative thoughts from his mind -- she could be mangled by a savage bear, she could be partially consumed, she may never be found. He was overcome by a father's grief for his little one.
He called frantically to Ella, reassuring her that he was near, coming to her aid. Shortly he stumbled from the brush tangle almost bypassing the still, small form lying on the ground.
It was Ella May. She lay in a patch of blueberries, chubby little body peacefully sleeping, with her empty berry pail nearby.
He fired three signal shots and turned to his daughter who was awakened by the commotion. Her first words were, "Where are my berries, Papa? I had a whole pail full of berries." Completely surrounding the berry patch were large bear tracks evidencing where Ella's berries had gone.
The day started brightly with clear blue skies and an on-time delivery of the lens I had ordered not too long ago. All through the day whenever I looked outside I could see beautiful sunlight and it only got more exciting as the day went by. After finishing up the day's work I packed up my bags and ran out to play with the new camera gear with childlike excitement and enthusiasm. I looked out at the still bright sky and was a little worried almost immediately: gray clouds lurked in the distance and the wind seemed seemed to be bringing them towards me. It got darker every mile I drove and by the time I had reached the place where I was supposed to test my new gear the clouds had consumed the sun and threatened to throw down some cold water too. Suspecting that I had to shoot now or wait till the weekend to have a chance of shooting something I decided to go ahead and shoot something... not the ideal time or place to be working with new equipment but anyway here goes the first images from the my new camera setup.
After years of shooting in Nikon and accumulating lots of Nikon branded gear along the road the decision to switch to Canon turned out to be a simple one in the end. A Simple One. The SO.
There was no drama. There was no crying out loud about nonexistent nonsense like how bad Nikon was or how the key to world peace was all about using Canon. The only reason I chose Nikon to begin with was because many of my friends were shooting in Nikon and we thought we could go about sharing our lenses. The DSLR world begins with a small investment in a basic camera body and a basic lens (or lenses). The brittle bond to a brand grows stronger by the year with each passing one bringing in new members of the brand into the family. Overflowing camera backpacks signal arrival at the point of no return and an unsaid oath of fierce allegiance.
Lenses are key ingredients for a camera setup and almost all the lenses you'd ever want to shoot in are horribly expensive when you're not a professional (or even a semi-professional) and don't sell or intend to sell photographs. We wait for the piggybank to fill up before we can take the spoils of a piggybank that did a Humpty Dumpty to our favorite camera store to get that glittery piece of glass we had been lusting for.
I loved every minute of shooting with Nikon. The only times that I thought about a move to Canon were during the times of planning a piggybank accident or when I could not photograph something that I would have liked to because it was beyond the reach of my lens. The reason those thoughts would come up was because Canon has more choice and their lenses are much cheaper but then the investment in Nikon was so much that I'd rather not be thinking about switching.
And then came the special one. She shot in Canon and I shot in Nikon. She had all the gear I had in Nikon but under the Canon tattoo. And both of us carry all our gear on trips to the wilderness. That translated to carrying twice the amount of gear that was necessary. I wanted a big telephoto and she didn't. Aha! Now which brand has a cheaper telephoto? A plan was made and Nikon made way to Canon in the backpack. It was that simple.
The jungle goes mad. There's cacophony in the form of alarm calls! There's a predator around they cry. Rattly vehicles beeline towards the calls. With engines switched off curious eyes watch all around hoping to catch a glimpse of the striped cats or the spotted cats of the Panthera kind. I've been in that situation a hundred times but not once have I seen a big cat by that method of spotting. It works a lot of times I've heard and you know for sure there's one of those felines hiding in the bushes and that itself is great satisfaction.
It had been three days in the jungle. We had seen lots of wildlife but there was no hint of a big cat. Time was quickly running out and we were resigned to the fact that there would be no spectacular sighting of a big cat. The morning safari was coming to an end. We were on a boat chasing kingfishers and cattle egrets out of boredom. It was hazy and the glorious morning light that everyone loves so much was now a thing of the past. Back to camp then? Yes! The motor-powered boat moved slowly over the Kabini currents. The photographers were reviewing their day's catch on their digital screens. The boatman was probably thinking of lunch. The scientists were thinking of the papers they had to review. We were a bunch of living things not paying attention to our environment. Ideal prey candidates. And when there's prey around, they say, predators come out... TIGER! TIGER! TIGER! I wasn't sure at first. It was just sitting under the shade of a tree along the bank. It was looking at us with curiosity and disdain. We had gone very close to this beast without even noticing it was there! No alarm calls. No rattly old jeeps. Nothing. It was just the most powerful animal of the forest with the sounds of its backyard.
Every time I've seen a tiger it's been this way and each time I hear an alarm call all I can only come up with is a wry smile. The tiger spent a good twenty minutes with us before going off into the bushes. And just minutes later Spotted deer called from inside the jungle from the direction in which the tiger had moved. "There's a tiger around" they cried. We know.
I thought I'd waste away this weekend at home, but I did manage to pull off a trip in the last minute. I just got back from the beautiful Death Valley.
I was reading that there was water (more than the usual little pools) at Badwater in Death Valley National Park and that I had to see. I also decided that I had to get to the Martian landscape near Trona which I had been putting off for the last half a dozen or so trips to the area. I had never seen Death Valley like this before - several paths closed because of snow and washouts and floods! Even the main highways had signs of washouts and floods. Badwater had a nice large pool of shallow water which had wonderful reflections of the Panamint range and the Black mountains.
Death Valley comes dead at moonrise when the crowds have left for their camps. Walking miles around in the dark starlit Badwater basin with the world on mute is an experience that can only be comprehended when experienced firsthand. Enough words, here are the pictures.
Sunset campground at Furnace Creek. Millions of stars and the pricey Furnace Creek resort in the hills.
It seems like I have been away forever from the world of blogging. There is still so much to show from the trip to Africa in September but I never got around to processing those photographs or even looking at them. Life-changing events (in a good sense!) have kept me busy in the past month and I hope I can get around to processing the remaining photographs from the Africa trip at least. What subject would be better to restart this near defunct blog? Elephants!
Loxodonta africana, the African Bush Elephant. I've waited forever to see the largest land-based animal in the wild and they really look tiny in the massive Serengeti. At least, that's the case until you get close to one of those things and realize how huge they are. When you're used to seeing elephants in the Indian subcontinent you feel that their African relatives would be similar in behavior. Elephants in India need a cautious approach. It is perhaps frequent conflict with men that makes some herds in India aggressive. Charges, mock-charges and tail-twisted flight are all common with wild elephant encounters back at home, but the Serengeti (and Northern Tanzania in general) turned out to be a much different experience. Elephants are calm and at peace with men here and they don't run or charge that frequently. In fact, it is probably safe to say that some of the elephants are rather tame. We had a bull elephant drinking water at our campsite near the Ngorongoro crater and even with people just a few small footsteps away, the bull went about his business and calmly walked out into the wild. It is such a nice experience to watch animals when they aren't feeling scared or feeling the need to attack/defend.