Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"'Is the warhead intact, Carruthers?'"

A funny and touching profile of English diving pioneer John ('Jack') Alwyne Kitching (1908-1996), by Trevor Norton in his brisk trot through the history of early diving, "Stars Beneeath the Sea: The Incredible Story of the Pioneers of the Deep Sea" (Caroll & Graf, New York); Kitching is seen in the photo above, about to dive into Lough Ine, with his home-made diving helmet (basically a milk churn) in 1937. His wife-to-be, Evelyn is also visible.

"I first met Jack in 1964 at Lough Ine. On entering his laboratory I was stunned to see the legs of a corpse dangling through the loft opening. 'My diving suit,' he explained, 'It keeps intruders away.'

He was tall with long lean legs and his nose was exfoliating from too much sun. If he had been a chicken you wouldn't have eaten him. 'Call me Jack,' he said in a voice like a distant foghorn softened by mist.

Jack's Quaker upbringing perhaps contributed to his stiffness in company. Laughing didn't come naturally to him; it was as if he'd learned it from a book. For politeness he uttered a restrained guffaw that really did sound like "Ha! Ha! Ha!" But very occasionally, if you could take him by surprise with something that really amused him, he would forget his laughing lessons and, without making a sound, tilt his head backwards until tears streamed down his face.

...[once while diving Jack was approached by a bystander] curious as to why someone without a rod or crab-pots should be bobbing about on the ocean.

'Is it fishing you are?'
'No,' replied Jack at his most precisely obtuse, 'We are monitoring irradiance amidst Laminaria in the subtidal zone.'

I surfaced and handed Jack the photocell. In a loud voice he said 'Is the warhead intact, Carruthers?'

Whilst I pondered what he was talking about, I noticed a chap rowing hell for leather for the shore. Next day there wasn't a person in town that hadn't heard of the misguided missile that had plunged into the sea off Lough Ine and made the whole place radioactive."

(c) 2000 by Trevor Norton

Friday, August 22, 2008

To Save the Polar Bear (II)

A while back I posted a draft of this article, relating what I learned, first-hand, of the Alaskan native view of polar bear protection. The final, edited version (which has been re-titled, and which I haven't even read yet!) is now available in Cultural Survival Quarterly, a magazine published by Cambridge, Mass-based Cultural Survival Inc, a foundation "Promoting the Rights, Voices, and Visions of Indigenous Peoples".

The text is online (it's also been picked up by oneworld.net, "a global information network supporting communication media of the people, by the people and for the people - everywhere.") but the hard copy is, as they say, on news-stands now! And that one may have an illustration, either a drawing or photo, I just don't know yet--I have yet to get my hands on a copy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Watching a 20-year old audiovisual essay about Antarctica, I saw this image, and immediately identified with it; I know the feeling of the hands too stiff to bend, the clumsy oversized mittens, the need to get the goggles up -- quick now! -- before they fog over, the slap and sting of icy wind...Instantly this made me smile and feel at home.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"...an okay pig pen."

"...she has written so well, and so marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But [she] can write rings around all of us..." -- Ernest Hemingway on aviator / writer Beryl Markham.

Two excerpts of Markham from "West With the Night" (1942): the first as she prepares to fly alone across the Atlantic:

'It is too much that with all those pedestrian centuries behind us we should, in a few decades, have learned to fly; it is too heady a thought, too proud a boast. Only the dirt on a mechanic's hands, the straining vise, the splintered bolt of steel underfoot on the hangar floor---only these and such anxiety as the face of Jock Cameron can hold for a pilot and his plane before flight, serve to remind us that we have not 'conquered' the air."
"Here is a sprig of heather," said Jock, and I took it and pinned it to a pocket of my flying jacket.'

And later, after she crash-lands, having crossed the Atlantic in her Gull aircraft:

"On the following morning I did step out of a plane at Floyd Bennett Field and there was a crowd of people still waiting there to greet me, but the plane I stepped from was not the Gull, and for days while I was in New York I kept thinking about that and wishing over and over again that it had been the Gull, until the wish lost its significance, and time moved on, overcoming many things it met on the way."

Below, the last minute of an approach and landing I made some weeks ago. Landing a paraglider is tense elegance; there is no engine, no second chance. You cannot power your way out of trouble. You must get it right the first time, every time.

Assistant Flight Instructor George McPherson talks to me on the radio.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mad as a Hatter

Some recent sketches below; most are disastrously bad ideas, extremely complicated and wasteful, but thinking through them is important. As Marc Twight said when he dropped his team's tent while descending the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat, "Well, at least I don't have to carry that anymore." Exactly. Now, I don't have to worry about these very bad ideas anymore!
But wait! First, an image by Gustave Dore', one of my favorite artists; Satan is cast out of Heaven and into Hell.

Now the mad sketches. The final sketch *isn't* madness, it's very reasonable body protection I need to develop before flying the paraglider in the Arctic this winter.

Oh, wait...because it's so important to laugh, a good one from Lily Tomlin:

"Truth is, I've always been selling out. The difference is that in the past, I looked like I had integrity because there were no buyers."


This was an attempt to inflate a balloon during parachute descent. Not sure why I wanted to do this! It's too complicated.

This one is a contemplation of the hardware for inflating the insane balloon noted above. The tanks would hold pressurized hydrogen (to inflate the balloon while descending); but a quick look at the rig shows it's far too dangerous; I imagine the tanks slamming together and all manner of mahyem.

This one isn't crazy; it's good protection for the kinds of crashes / hard landings ('any landing you walk away from is a good one' says my flight instructor!) I'll have on the sea ice this Winter.

And, just because it's a lovely song, The Proclaimers' "Sunshine on Leith." The lyrics are below.

"My heart was broken, my heart was broken
Sorrow sorrow sorrow sorrow
My heart was broken, my heart was broken

You saw it, you claimed it
You touched it, you saved it

My tears are drying, my tears are drying
Thank you thank you thank you thank you
My tears are drying, my tears are drying

Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness
While Im worth my room on this earth
I will be with you
While the chief
puts sunshine on Leith
Ill thank him for his work
And your birth and my birth."

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Scrawled on the back of some writing I was lately proofing.