Monday, September 29, 2008

The Octopus' Garden

Sixty feet down, near the end of a long dive, a glimpse of the Northern Pacific Giant Octopus; you can just see suckers on one of its arms--as big around as my own--at around 2:00 minutes into the video. The octopus rests in the day but comes out to hunt at night; something I'd love to see. One of the octupus caves, the front yard of which was littered with crab shells and other octopus meal remains, was big enough for me to swim into..but I backed off of that very foolish plan at the last moment. The undersea world is so astounding that you almost can't help but do foolish things to explore it.

Towards the beginning of the video you can observe the beautiful motions of a large Lion's Mane Jellyfish. I'm endlessly fascinated by these creatures, and I'm writing something about them at the moment. There are around 30 species of luminescent jellyfish in Puget follows that a very reasonable thing to do will be to dive there at night, settle at a good depth, turn off all the lights, and just wait for the natural lights to come on and ghost around and above us.

Being immersed in the water, wrote Philippe Diole, is like moving through "vast silk."

Video shot by me and by Todd Olson.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sea Star

A sea star thriving on the sea floor in Puget Sound, Washington. My dive light illuminates its central disc and many arms. Sea stars are among the class of life forms called Asteroidea, comprising at least 1,500 species who have evolved in the oceans for something like 200 million years.

Sea stars appear motionless unless you slow down, vent all the air from your bouyancy vest and lay on the sea floor to watch closely for a minute or two; then you see that they are in fact in motion, crawling along on the most delicate hundreds of tube feet imaginable, one tiny measure at a time.

The photo, by Todd Olson, is one moment of a long dive rich with marine life, including octopus and wolf eel. Seeing them in their natural environment is particularly special; as Jacques Cousteau pointed out, "No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Down with the Octopus

Going diving this weekend, up in Puget Sound, in search of octopi. I can already taste the seawater and feel the cold clamping at my hands and toes...

Below, bits of a certification flight over the Columbia River a couple days ago; I'm getting close to my solo flight rating, which will allow me to fly without an instructor on the radio. I'll be, as they say, licensed to learn...and it'll commence simultaneously the most dangerous, demanding and rewarding phases of my experiences in gliding aviation.

Have a thrilling weekend!

Monday, September 15, 2008

La Balsa

Above, our 60-foot balsa raft, Manteno-Huancavillca, in 1998. I was aboard with five crew. An excerpt of a recollection I've recently written:

My clearest memories are of the sounds and the motions. The ropes creaked and ticked rhythmically. Foam sloshed across the deck with a low hiss. I remember the murmurs and occasional laughter of the crew behind me in the deckhouse, and, while I was on watch at night the sky was bright with stars. I can still taste the fresh fish we caught, prepared with nothing more than a squirt of lemon, and the sea water that dripped from my moustache into my mouth. The rainwater, which we caught in barrels to drink, was as fresh and clean as any mountain stream. And I remember the sensation of being a speck utterly subject to the limitless powers of the sea. Swells lifted and then dropped the raft without effortless, gentle motions. It felt like being on a gigantic see-saw that took us up a few stories before quickly lowering us…again and again, all day, and all night. John tells me he mainly remembers the sloshing. Even today, waiting at a stop light, he hears it, “like someone in a bathtub at the end of a long hallway.”
We navigated by the stars, winds, currents, and other natural clues to direction. Since we were just north of the Equator the pole star was low on the horizon, but I could steer by it easily, keeping it just a little to the right of our central hull log. And Orion, the hunter, came up every night due East, and set due West. I could tell time by it. During the day the directions of the wind (from the south), the swells (from the west) and signs of land to our right (east) were enough to keep us on a good course north. There was no doubt in my mind that the Manteño could have navigated by the stars and other natural signs; it’s not hard, and people around the world have done it for thousands of years.

(c) Cameron M. Smith 2008

Excerpted from:

"Seven Hundred Miles on a Primitive Raft"
Sample chapter for the proposed book,
My Life is in Ruins: Two Million Years in Africa, Ten Thousand Years in the Arctic, Seven Hundred Miles on a Primitive Raft, and other Tales of Archaeological Adventure Worldwide

Finally, a sketch of me on a night watch, my favorite time:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Back up on Parrett Mountain, Oregon, to wrap up a few investigations, I'm happy to find Starfire - or 'Star' as everyone calls her - enjoying her life as a deer-chasing, briar-brambled, car-chasing, coon-hunting, creekwater-gulping, field-sprinting, sun-lazing farm-dog. We get along, and if I could I'd bring her home with me.

Friday, September 5, 2008


Photo: Is there any reason to go out here, to the ice caps and other immensities, and travel on or through or above or under them? Haven't they all been seen and traversed and described a hundred times already? Giving it a lot of thought, I conclude that yes, there are dozens of good reasons...A misty crag in Iceland, Winter 2004; it only appears lifeless, cut off from humanity and other living things, when viewed through the lens of mainstream adventure writing.

Excerpt from a rich, wise, thought-provoking piece by Barry essay on many things, including why it's still important and relevant to go outside and see the natural world, and tell people what you've seen. More on that later...for now, the quotation (from the article in Orion magazine);

"To read the newspapers today, to merely answer the phone, is to know the world is in flames. People do not have time for the sort of empirical immersion I believe crucial to any sort of wisdom. This terrifies me, but I, too, see the developers’ bulldozers arrayed at the mouth of every canyon, poised at the edge of every plain. And the elimination of these lands, I know, will further reduce the extent of the blueprints for undamaged life. After the last undomesticated stretch of land is brought to heel, there will be only records—strips of film and recording tape, computer printouts, magazine articles, books, laser-beam surveys—of these immensities. And then any tyrant can tell us what it meant, and in which direction we should now go. In this scenario, the authority of the grizzly bear will be replaced by the authority of a charismatic who says he represents the bear. And the naturalist—the ancient emissary to a world civilization wished to be rid of, a world it hoped to transform into a chemical warehouse, the same uneasy emissary who intuited that to separate nature from culture wouldn’t finally work—will be an orphan. He will become a dealer in myths.

What being a naturalist has come to mean to me, sitting my mornings and evenings by the river, hearing the clack of herons through the creak of swallows over the screams of osprey under the purl of fox sparrows, so far removed from White and Darwin and Leopold and even Carson, is this: Pay attention to the mystery. Apprentice to the best apprentices. Rediscover in nature your own biology. Write and speak with appreciation for all you have been gifted. Recognize that a politics with no biology, or a politics without field biology, or a political platform in which human biological requirements form but one plank, is a vision of the gates of Hell."

(c) 2001 by Barry Lopez