Monday, June 30, 2008

Swamp Thing

Wading into Blackwater Lake the water feels cool at first, in the shallows. But when I'm chest deep and deeper, and a tangled network of duckweed hides just below the surface, it's warmer. There is so much life in the lake -- squirming and flitting fishes, aquatic insects, underwater blooms of microbes -- that the water seems faintly carbonated, fizzing and bubbling. Diving down I drop through a three-foot layer of misty jade, where the canoe above blurs out, a smudge of color. Then down two more feet and suddenly all light is shut out by a layer of suspended muck, opaque and blinding as squid-ink. My dive light, mounted on my wrist, doesn't even begin to cut through the murk. Groping below blindly I thrust my arm into the lake floor, a silty goop at least three feet deep. Up to my shoulder, I feel no solid lake floor. Finally I draw up my arm and push upwards through the blackness into the green and then the green is washed out by a generic white light of the sky above and then I push up through silver, breaking the surface, my body draped with vegetation. I hang onto the side of the canoe and breathe again. I tell Todd and Chuck what I've seen. The lake surface is bubbly and humped with a few weed-heads close by, but further off it's level and reflects the sky like a mirror.

You can read Todd's reports about the project here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Star Horse

Up here on Parrett Mountain, Oregon, they use horses to harvest timber carefully, selectively and sustainably. The horses' hooves--shod with iron--are big as soup bowls, and the forest floor shakes when they stamp. I photographed two; one, in the photo above, has a star-like, camoflague-like pattern on his coat. It also looks like the light-struck sea-watery coloration of a whale's hide. Below, two horses (brothers) haul a small log. Yes I use a computer ever day, and no I don't want to give it up. But yes, there are some things about which we can say To Hell With the Modern in logging. This is sane. Clearcutting, whatever timber lobbyists tell you, isn't.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Seawater and the Rapture of the Deep

Watching a whale devour a squid on TV the other night I wondered just what a feeling of health and vitality that whale must have, how charged it must be by a diet of raw living flesh and stinging saltwater. It must be a glorious feeling. I'm not tempted to go on some kind of raw food diet, but I am tempted to eat more raw food and drink more raw juice.

This weekend I experienced a moment of vitality and charge I still can't shake: my diving partner, Todd Olson, and I dropped 100 feet from a bouy in Hood Canal (Puget Sound, Washington), lashed a line to a cement block on the sea floor, and then ran the line down, down down a silty slope to 120 feet, then 130 feet, where breathing becomes harder and the delirium of nitrogen narcosis--what Jacques Cousteau famously called "the rapture of the deep" can start to make the world tilt strangely. Completely negatively bouyant, with my bouyancy vest deflated, I tramped downslope, as in the sketch above, while Todd followed a foot or so behind, completely blinded by the silt I was kicking up. When we turned around at 130 I had to haul myself up the line; air was running low and I didn't want to use it to inflate my vest. 'Batmanning' up the slope under the pressure so much dark seawater above was unbelievably exhilarating.

I'm writing something about this experience, now...but it'll take a little while.

Below, a sketch of moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), one of a cloud of these organisms we swam through on a different dive.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cyanea capillata

"Jellyfish" is a crude word for a thing that's not really jelly (it's mostly water, and about 10% protein), and definitely isn't a fish (fish have backbones and fins). When I was learning to scuba dive all eyes were on the starfish or anemones, and the jellies were just dismissed as a nuisance. But now I want to study them up close, and next time I'm in the ocean I'll pay more attention. In the photo, a lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata, or, as most people know it, a "Medusa") in Puget Sound. Arctic Cyanea can have a diameter of up to seven feet and tentacles over 100 feet long! Some jellyfish have brains; in fact, one species has four brains processing the light intake of 24 eyes. Jellyfish have been around for over 600 million years; they can tell up from down, their sting can be mild or deadly, and they normally live less than a few days, though some species are thought to live for decades. You can see one swimming here, and learn a little more about them here. My drawing above (click for the bigger version) from a recent dive. I'm just about done with making an underwater tablet to draw with; grease pencil on white tablet. I'll be able to draw underwater, looking directly at the subject rather than relying on memory.