Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Spent some of yesterday taking apart a black swan mummified in the Kaikorai Estuary. It's cygnet time and duckling time right now - lots of boat floating water birds in rows and clans. Delicate bones, heaving keels and foot long feathers are all growing now.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Creating things

is important. I think most people have their own way of creating, or are at least looking for it. Some very tangible.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Surf wannabes

Just because it was nice outside, we tried it with the $2 boogie board. Whatever, fair weather doesn't keep little poofs of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current at bay. To me, this is cold. Hypothermic. Awesome. Richard and I have started a jar that gets fed pocket change every time one of us successfully walks past a coffee shop without buying a freaking latte. Anyone else want to donate to the wetsuit fund? Please send check, money order, cash, coupons, gift vouchers, US Savings Bonds, shares of APPL or cookies to :

The Ruins
392 Taieri Mouth Road
Kuri Bush
Dunedin 9091

Brighton Bight, South Island, New Zealand

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sheep self-portrait

I tried to set up a timelapse the other night at the Ruins. The yard is home to a flock that's been bored gnawing grass all day, hard at work making turds for us to step in. Leave the camera unattended for a few minutes, and they spend 50 frames taking glamour shots.

The Ruins, Kuri Bush, Otago


Monday, October 19, 2009


No, it's not Modern Art. Chickenwire in the rafters was apparently the best way to keep birds from nesting in plane engines out in the hangar. Or maybe the universe really is someone's giant mixed media installation. These situations always come up in Paleontology - you're never exactly sure how a fossil got to be in front of you. Lots of coincidental strings lead towards and away from stories one can read in rock. We're given a picture, but have to choose the thousand words.

Oamaru Flying Club, New Zealand

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Alvarez Nat Geo story on the Tsingy de Bemaraha is up.
Benson looks half lemur. Stephen and Neil did some amazing work.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sun's out.

These horses live among drunken trees, a larch forest listing in boggy permafrost. Tough. On a good thaw though, they stand up happy and roll around under a big sky. Like us today after nights of huge winds cleared away pacific clouds and the sun is on its arc, antipodal springtime way down south.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Монгол улс

Soviet tile mural like a space station ring on a hill. Past 200 stairs and a tank. Over Ulaanbataar, all 360 degrees of it, a fable of glory played for a mute audience in the valley. Soldiers of the transliterated Cyrillic Mongol Republic and eagles with hoods and leather gloves.

UB, Mongolia, the former CCCP, formerly Mongol Empire, former rulers of Asia.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stuff that floats


The ducks were everywhere today on the Waters of Leith. Some still in their eggs. Others ran rapids on floaty down, somehow not freezing or capsizing. One nearly got worked in a drain hole, but I grabbed him and thought about keeping him as a cheeping bath toy. In the wash worn flood bank, no joke, a moa femur subfossil. From somewhere up the urban canyon, it had rolled 500 years ago at least. Labels on drifted fossil finds like this say 'float.' Kept warm last night by a driftwood fire. Spring, windy. Wind always makes me think of Scoraig and its windmills and its amazing floating people. John the drystone waller hauls up a good sunrise one December morning at the latitude of Juneau, picking up a half ton of hay from the mainland. His boat a duckling in the loch.

Little Loch Broom, Ross-shire, Alba

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lambing season

Spent most of the day today out on the peninsula chasing around birds and things in the woods. There was more than one track buttoned down for the helpless sheeplets. In Garfield County, they keep a 3-legged dog on hand to hassle them into a pile end of summer to dock tails. In Otago during the October springtime, you can't stroll too close or they'll die of fright.

Twitchell Ranch, badlands, Montana

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


It was the night before summer race day, and these two mongolian boys were getting their horses ready with a good bath in the Eggin Gol. Four-legged things taking up residence in water is weird. The kid in the foreground won first place.

Hovsgol Province, Northern Mongolia

Sunday, September 27, 2009

it's a seal

When crawling around in waist-deep grass at twilight, you need to remember the giant weasels. Because you're not likely to see a Kekeno before you snuggle up next to it, and even less likely when you smell one. It's like finding a can of sardines in a steamy litterbox. They're funny without their feet though. This one was just ambling along, and wouldn't even stop for poor Peter the Norseman. We had to say his name a lot of times before he finally lunged out of the seal's flop zone. There were two on our other side, which put us in the middle of a small territory dispute with a lot of Pinniped coughing and grunting. Good thing Richard is bipedal.

New Zealand Fur Seal, Boulder Beach, Otago Peninsula

Saturday, September 26, 2009

o Otago

Gold. It's here because of gold. Au, The only reason this place ever became a town of stone and gardens. Enormous churches, paved streets. It flowed out of the mountains and rolling dry plains, from the metamorphic dirt to the prospectors to the assayers to the buyers to the ships to the empire of londoners and back again, that's the reason it's possible to live so far out on the monastic pacific. And at dusk, when you emerge from a library that's closer to Tierra del Fuego, Easter Island or the Ross Ice Shelf than home, there's a glowing clock face that says so. Little candles burning in dungeons of knowledge behind leaded glass - this is the future of studying the past.

University of Otago clock on the Waters of Leith, Dunedin

Monday, September 21, 2009

Victory beach

It's named after a steamship ironically aground here (1861). The real win goes to this Yellow-eyed Penguin who was fishing out at sea all day. They waddle up the beach to bed down in the grass we're hiding in. This happens every day at sunset, but we were laying in wait tonight. There is something even humans love about the crepuscular.

Victory beach, Otago Peninsula, NZ

PS: Q: did I do anything to this photo? A: no, the light looked like this.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Photos from Bros: Richard Candler

Three days of cloudless skies were more than we would ever ask for. Rarely are the rain gods of the Southern Alps this merciful. Noting opportunity, we made for the hills. We took this shot poised on the edge of Fiordland while we waited for the sun to swing back around the other side Earth. This is what the night sky would look like if it took your eyes/brain 9 minutes to process light. Luckily, my Canon can do what my intervalometer asks.
- RC
Dart River valley, western Otago, Aotearoa

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The whole Otago Peninsula is a scrambled sliced smothered and covered field of ancient sleepy volcanoes. Up and down, sea to sea to cove to swash, rolling and climbing steep hills. If land is still, it can be easy to forget - until igneous moments like this one catch you by surprise seconds from the beach.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sea is on

Springtime in Antarctica now. Dunedin's gold-fueled botannical gardens are shedding pink petals all through the gutters. So it's not the cold that's life-threatening about a low-tide scramble through lava boulders and rotten pyroclasts. Adam leads us on a climby seaweed and mussel foraging trip to Murderer's Beach on the dusky South Pacific.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


A day from when the only thing steering this bike was the next minute's worth of curiosity. Refining luck has something to do again with the automatic rearranging of randomness in reality to a story. Luck is lucky when it fits best into the plot. Like today, cruising my new 1974 Triumph TC 2000 up the street in Auckland, it didn't burst into flames from the pissing huge fuel leak out the rear carburetor. It means I'm still headed down to the South Island tomorrow, up the fish again, to the waters of Pounamu.

This is only one lucky frame out of a few hundred shot on the side of the road as part of a timelapse I'm still working on.

Out of bounds at Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah USA

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A thousand years ago, Maui pulled up Aotearoa out of the sea like a fish. The other name for Auckland is 'land desired by many people.' So they covered it up with buildings so no one would want it.

CBD, Auckland, New Zealand

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Primates in a Can

Aotearoa. They packed us all into an aluminum tube, gas pumped and pressured against thin air through which we hurled across the Pacific just slower than sound. Flying is crazy. Well, at least we didn't spend several months of our lives floating to get here. Pity, maybe. Certain: we are not on the same side of the world anymore.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Steeds III

Sometime in the late 40s, Soichiro Honda thought it might be a good idea to attach a gasoline motor to his bicycle. He was right. By the time 1982 came around, his company was making a 500cc engine that can roll a cycle 3,127 miles over 11,000 feet of elevation gain on 35 tanks of gas at 70mph with 50 pounds of junk and 180 of dude in the middle of the summer 26 years after it putted out of the factory. And I own one.

"Sweet," she said, a purple-haired woman in leather standing next to her Moto Guzzi, "vintage." That's right, I thought, it's older than I am. And, sadly, you are too.

Is it wrong to love a motorcycle? Well, I don't think I care. It's hard not to get attached to something so much like a horse that makes so much space so much fun. But I'm leaving it in Grand Junction today in the kind, capable hands of the Geigers while I fly to New Zealand. No, I won't be replacing her. But I may well find a stand-in.

Cinnamon Pass, Colorado 12,640 feet.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reservoir Dogs II

I suppose Mack Wash should eventually lead to the Colorado River, West of Grand Junction. As far as I know, it never does. But I haven't looked. The water is likely to be used up by the corn before it gets there - but I'm not complaining. Quite unnaturally, this sage and dust telephone pole country sprouts a Frankensteinish lake. You would expect such a desert pond as caused by the earthen dam at Highline to be tepid and green. It is not. Cool and crispy, with fingers of grass spreading at the edges, the mere provides. A svelte 1983 Master Craft skippered by a Geiger or four, and one unGeigered by marriage, we churn it up. Like wakeboarding on the moon. Young rowdy Geoffrey Geiger for scale.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Cowboy and his Cow

Abbey wants all the cows off public land. I agree with him, especially in beautiful marginal Utah where it takes a minimum square mile to barely keep a 'slow elk' alive. There's no way to buy enough land for a living's worth of cows in most of the arid West. Actually, most of our beef comes from the East anyway. But the whole reason these people live in the no man's land just this side of Canada is because the Government needs them to. The land has to be populated, even if barely, by your citizens to keep it part of the country. That's what land grants and land leases are all about. We can't forget that land is the fundamental resource, the reason the Cold War was between the two superpower continental empire mirrors with interiors populated with welfare peasantry.

This photo is from sheep docking time on the Twitchell Ranch in Garfield County - cutting off testicles and tails. These are good people with a genuinely original American culture built on generations of tradition - but it started with politically motivated land grants. They get rights to graze public land from the government, but that's about all they get. If they want a school, they build it. If they want to keep a road, they maintain it. If there is a fire, they put it out. Land grants might not make much sense anymore, but we can't just cut them off.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Canyons of the Ancients

The Hovenweep ruins are just one set of rock buildings at the head of a small canyon. Like cliff swallow nests. There are 800-year old Anasazi ruins like these all over the Southwest, but in this maze of canyons, they are literally everywhere. Inside the national monument, there are over 6000. That's 100 per square mile.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mesas are important.

The sun sets over Zuni, New Mexico with Sacagawea and Daniel Plainview.
Gawa Yalani towers over everything in town.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rain and the Desert

New Mexico by motorcycle. Worth every mile of Oklahoma.

US 60 West from Fort Sumner, Grave of Billy the Kid.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Riding the edge of this thing nearly worked. It turns out the only way over the Mississippi river at Memphis is the Eisenhower interstate highway system, which sure seems a lot like suicide in waning twilight with lots of wind, trucks, and water on the road. Sure, 500 more CCs would help, but so would a windshield. And a roof. Every milkshake at Sonic comes with free roofs to park under. Weather report by Speth:

I'm posting this from the comfort of one of America's many generic hotel chains, still river left. Sorry, Arkansas. I'll be sleeping with my sawed-off shotgun handy.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Reservoir Dogs

About 100 years ago, they built a concrete plug between Sugarloaf and Chilhowee mountains in the Ocoee river gorge. No better place for a dam, because the mountains did most of the work. They were TVA, and the reservoir is now about halfway full of sludge, sand, mud, and detritus from the Ducktown moonscape erosion nightmare. But by god, it makes electricity. Rafting the whole Ocoee out of the Great Smoky Mountain thrust into the flats of Tennessee's Valley and Ridge would be spectacular to do, if you still could. It's a pretty good lake anyhow, and if your boat craps out temporarily just jump in.

Parksville lake, Ocoee river, Tennessee

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Separating the waters above the Earth from the waters under the Earth is a big job. That's why the sky is so big. It's easy to understand why people used to believe there was another sea up there past the clouds, where rain came from. The truth is even more fantastically scarier - our atmosphere is a paperthin bubble in space, especially on code orange days.

I once read a book that was set on a terraformed moon. No one could remember how everything was created, but there were huge caverns underground full of churning machines tended by stubby gnomes continually manufacturing more atmosphere as it leeched into space. Earth's size gives us enough gravity not to have to worry about the sky leaking away. Air has mass, a breathable pile of molecules 22 miles thick (unless the mountains poke through). It always looks enormous. But if Americans drove as much vertically as we do horizontally, most of us would cross into space every day through the thin traffic of clouds and jets. We all have about one atmosphere of weight on our shoulders.

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On Steeds (2)

Sometimes, things don't go as planned. You can't expect the steed to ride out every storm. There will be temporary setbacks, like crashing your Jaguar research plane in the Maya Mountains of Belize. The death of a character redirects the story.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Some rush of bugs and color, Tennessee summers last forever like Daylight Savings Time. Greener than just about anywhere. Ethan carnivaling in the hammock, taking a break from the fireflies, trying to figure out what it feels like to be jounced around in a humid canning jar. Summer is still going strong, a warmup for the second one to be had in a few months. Doubling up on Fall seems like a better idea.

Monday, August 3, 2009

On Steeds (1)

This is Hourn, who is from Mongolia. He has a droopy donkey lip, and his name means 'brown.' We spent several weeks in the hills together, slowly. What is it about nonhuman and even inanimate traveling companions? Possibly they're just easier to relate to. The horse and I soon figured out what we expected of each other, and became something like friends. Neither of us did our jobs particularly well, but that was all up front. If you expect to waltz into a yurt in central Asia and be given one of the best horses around, you're sadly mistaken. Likewise if you're an old horse expecting me to have any idea what I'm doing.

John Steinbeck once had a deluxe camper in the bed of a three-quarter-ton pickup. He called it Rocinante, "which you will remember was the name of Don Quixote's horse." Whatever moves you becomes part of the journey. Sometimes important or ultimate, or just incidental. Volkswagen bus, motorcycle, bicycle, horse, sailboat, giant diesel train engine - whatever it takes to get wherever. Eventually, things attain the status of characterhood. Any good story can create a relationship between you and characters that might never even have existed. So it shouldn't be so surprising that these real steeds all have proper names.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hungry Jack

It seems like everything in the ocean is food. A school of Horse-eye Jack are swarming some kind of leftover ichthyan. Later on we fried one of them in turn. In coconut oil. We used to pound Hungry Jack pancakes before there was Aretha Frankenstein's. These puppies didn't need any batter though. Caribbean lagoon, Northern Belize.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


The largest Maya ruin site in Belize still contains the tallest building in the country. Absolutely amazing. Hitching your pants way up, you can hoist up one leg after another to climb it in the sun. At one point, I heard some other tourist say "Did these people do anything but build stairs?"

Monday, July 13, 2009

In Fiji before sunrise, up a volcanic sealump to see what was. The path was unclear. Vague expectations. Familiar and strange blur together until one is the other. It's the bitter yum jitter before jumping off into a place I've never been.

To Belize tomorrow with my family and a five-dollar copy of the Popol Vuh. It's been a long time since I went anywhere with 'vacation' as the admitted task. After that, the nomadism continues. I don't know what's ahead any more than I ever have. Still no more sure of what I'll do and see than usual. How long should that remain a comforting thought?

Saturday, July 11, 2009


The woven top of a forest. It's a strange blanket that might evoke anything. This one covers the coves of Savage Gulf, Tennessee. Everything possible in a forest could be under there. You can see the whole vast expanse of the trees, but not into it. Sure, forests are everywhere. But when seen from above, they're suddenly mysterious. Suggestive by concealment. Like lingerie.

Friday, July 10, 2009

They had skyscrapers in the Neolithic, too.

Somebody set this up more than 2000 years ago. The old Celtic core of Brittany is still there for anyone who looks. But in AD 769, Charlemagne ordered local evangelists to slap crosses onto gorgeous old pagan Menhirs all over western Europe. So for about 3 millenia, this standing stone in Brignognan looked the way it was meant to. However, no one remembers it now without the graffiti crucifix. But we know the truth.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Sun powered clouds build a storm and dissipate. Today's airshow at runway 2-4 Sewanee.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sea vs. Rock

Taking things back down to Aotearoa in a few weeks. The Otago Peninsula has a university and some friends, and lies in the sunward direction, if not exactly under it.

Monday, July 6, 2009


A regular goat has to spend 22 hours a day foraging for enough random weedy rifraff to keep itself alive. That's just to make meat. But a dairy goat that gets fed only has to spend 3 hours eating for subsistence - that means that the rest of the time, they're making milk. High summer in Khovsgol Province in Mongolia, powerbar slices of dried yak kurd solidify on a string over the stove. One window overhead in a yurt. Raw energy for some sunless frozen day.

I've been mending and gating a Tennessee goat's paradise lately. Expendable opposable thumbwork calories exchanged for portable goatmilk calories. We do the foraging for them, they make the juice that makes the cheese. Hurray for animal husbandry.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Gizz

A crack of thunder, then last night a storm. Everything was thirsty. The tin roof of the shack drummed in crescendoes with water. I stuck my camera in a plastic box and we went for a walk down the creek. Fiery Gizzard Cove is full of doomed hemlocks and slouchy water. No clear gossiping brook, but it's hard not to love.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Founding Fathers

Abe Lincoln might have known what he was doing, making sure there was one American Empire on this continent instead of two. I'm out of grandfathers, but Aunt June Frederick is 91 and reminding us all how to be. My maternal grandmother's older sister was a demigranma when I was little.

At that age, I didn't know that it was Independence Day because my Dad used to throw what he called The Fourth of July Gonzo Party. I just thought the rest of the country was copying him like I did. Fireworks. As they say in Montana, 'celebrate the independence of your country by blowing up a small part of it.'

Happy 4th

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TAG Caves - Stephen Alvarez

The TAG story came out last month in National Geographic - and it is gorgeous. Especially the full-blown quad-magnum triple-truck Rumble Room glory shot. June 2009 edition and online. A really incredible piece. It makes Tennessee look amazing - and it is. Here's a post from a trip we took while Stephen was working on the photographs last fall.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Substances Collide again

Headed to Madagascar in a couple hours ..
(see above)
Mangoes here we come.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Higher Learning

It is a little bit of a golden beacon. The rumor is, our library will begin to offer coffee "to compete with other libraries." We live on the Cumberland Plateau. I'm not exactly sure which other libraries they mean.

Seven years now since I started my undergrad. Funny now to be thinking about PhD.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chemicals, chemicals,

we need chemicals. Like Hayduke says.

Late dusk, Padgett pine beetle fire, Cumberland Plateau, north Savage Gulf, Tennessee. March is tricky, say they, and if its lies are to be trusted, we must be in for one mother of a last winter freeze before sun promised now goes on (remember 1993?). I'm saving green sprouting glow-bug floating chirping golden hour images for the same reason they try not to let the groundhog see his shadow. Maybe March is telling the truth after all. Come equinox, Frühlingzeit should get its due. That was March 20 already. This is not a time for caution. But.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

This Actually Happened.

Here we see a plate recently recovered from the archives.
Cheston cabin. Autumn, Tennessee, around the turn of the century.
Photo par : Elspeth Iralu.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mount LeConte

There we were on the Great Smoky Mountain Thrust Sheet in March, and it was raining. Today at about 11:52, Rocky said "let's go up mt Leconte." We said ok.

We got wet. It was cold. 13 miles, and fantastic. Smoky mtns Smoking. Fueled by avocados, at the top Dad says "I know where there's a hot tub."

We traded in.

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we win.