|Patience, Ice - Antarctica, February 2013|
McMurdo Station is here for one reason: scientific exploration in the polar environment (and to maintain a geopolitical toe-hold on this continent , but that is an expose' for another time).
When I wander around the labs of Crary Science & Engineering Center I have daily conversations with all sorts of researchers - biologists looking at the antifreeze and deep sea pressure properties of the Antarctic tooth fish, engineers soldering new optics or motherboards into R.O.V. (remotely operated vehicles), killer whale biologists trying to determine the distinct speciation of whales around this continent and the classic NASA scientists foraging for life forms in the most unlikely - and unkindly - environments on this planet in order to infer what might be dwelling on distant celestial bodies.
So goes the logic, that if life can adapt and persevere here, so too can it in Mar's ancestral ice or on Europa, Jupiter's icy moon. Like working on the moon, Mars or Europa, make no mistake about it, working here in Antarctica is difficult and expensive.
Although I am a "new guy on the ice", I am not unfamiliar with working in cold, snowy, and otherwise inhospitable places. In fact, I enjoy it and thrive in such environments. Being 5'4" x 5'4" I am built like a coal-fired furnace and function like one. But the same low-torque driving energy that I engage the world with in most places, is not necessarily the most fitting, forge-ahead initiative appropriate to navigate through the opaque chain of command that lets (or prevents) science from happening here in the first place.
In other words, to be in a "wild" place where the wild is mostly inaccessible until permission is granted, transport is provided and forms meticulously filed in triplicate, is, ahem, a lesson in patience. Pile on the tempestuous weather and one has to question, well, why bother work in a place that is so unaccommodating to work in to begin with.
In a previous post, I confessed that I surrendered to this frustrating process in order to be less frustrated. And surrender I have. And now, more happy and entertained by the stop and go absurdity of this process, I am able to move on - in lieu of photography - to take up a new practice: "Patience."
Couched in terms of an adaptive trait, the notion of "Patience" is what I have been meditating on for the last month as I - and all the scientists I came to photograph - sit mostly idle (and festering) in Crary lab, eating again at the galley or sequestered in our dorm rooms reading or watching movies as the tempest of weather and politics swirls around us.
Like Weddel Seals sleeping head-on into the wind, drifts sculpted around its motionless head, I wonder if it is they that I need to take my cues from. They lie side- or belly-up for hours, digesting their fill of fish and crab, seemingly content with their exposure to the blank and brutal terrestrial elements. When they do move across the serrated sastruggi surface, they do so awkwardly, all painfully achieved in a clownish, blubbering and rolling motion that seems less efficient than if they just log-rolled themselves from place to place.
What happens below the ice I do not know. I have, however, been lucky enough to witness a few seals make ephemeral, arabesque appearances in slushy surface holes, bent in full-body demi-plie', where it is obvious they are most agile and in their element, naturally.
I, however, am beset with the paralysis of limbo, laying exposed to the elements as someone else (and the weather of course) dictates when and where I can and cannot go. In that state, I must channel the limbo of the seal, put my head into the wind and let the snow and wind sculpt a shelter around me. Patience is, from an evolutionary vantage, a damn good and efficient use of energy down here. Just short of hibernation, calm idleness seems to be a good vehicle to swim the chilly, upstream battle here.
The other evening I ran into Andy Young, a mechanic and all-round renaissance fella I met years ago in Boulder, Colorado and then again in Alaska a few times. He has worked here in McMurdo for 18 seasons in all sorts of capacities, and by his own admission, patience was the most significant take-home lesson of his time spent here.
"I've discovered that there are reasons behind reasons behind reasons that I will never be privy to. And that is ok with me, because I have come to understand that they are most often good ones," he said.
It was freeing to hear that. Uncovering the origins of a decision here is exhausting, much like trying to unearth life at the depths of an ice-encased lake. Mysteries are not easily or immediately solved.
In addition to that conversation I have heard repeatedly from seasoned others that some research efforts are on occasion, total washes. More so there are tales of researchers waiting for more than a month to get into the field. Last season the Pine Island Glacier project (PIG) accomplished nary a notebook worth of real science. This year they are rumored to have achieved "150-percent" more science than they anticipated.
Here in the WISSARD project we have had to build scenarios that prioritizes which and what scientific instruments will be deployed down the bore hole based on the number of available days and hours that we are out in the field. At this point, given our repeated delays, we have scenarios spelled out that allow for 5-day, 4-day, 3-day, 2-day and yes, 1-day of science opportunities.
"One day of good science in the Whillans bore hole." said Principle Investigator John Priscu, "is worth it."
With more than 800-meters of ice to drill through still - and after more than $10,000,000 spent thus far, those few days of science are precious, to say the least.
Long terms research anywhere demands patience and perseverance. Here it demands even more. Apparently, the seals and the seasoned employees here know it and, for whatever it is that fuels their curiosity and research over the years, I respect it and willing to wait out the elements with them. When we get a chance to do our work, I trust that we will all do swimmingly, be it this season or, quite possibly, next season. Either way, we are gambling that our practice of patience pays off.
Crescents in the Ice - Antarctica 1.14.2013
If it got dark here in Antarctica we would be able to observe a waxing crescent moon emerge this week. The moon is rising and falling above us, invisible, out-shined by the ever-present sun.
The next sunset and sunrise here is on February 20th.
But if you watch the shoreline there are sleek blue, vital crescents forming in the sea ice every day, rimmed by the sharp, fresh edges of ivory ice splitting apart. When there is a strong wind, floating ice moves, fast. At the heads and points of this island, the places where the volcanic rock is stubborn enough to resist the elements, ice bends to the pressures of the geography and snaps open.
Viewed from the ridge above, bent ice is old skin pulled around a bent knee. The anatomy of Antarctica is bare and naked frozen water and glacial ice for the most part, save for the cold depths beneath the rest of the rigid skin, spread out until another appendage of fractured bedrock interrupts the ripple off in the unintelligible distance.
Last spring I spent time in New York City observing open heart surgery from the intimate vantage of a step-stool positioned directly at the head of the horizontal, anesthetized patient. I was scrubbed in and could stand with my welder's flip-down mask and hover directly over the open chasm of chest to watch the nimble hands of the surgeons repair and replace aortic valves. An old valve would be cut out, handed to the assisting nurse who would then hand it to me and my cohorts to touch and explore the sensual, delicate membrane, now riddled with plaque hard as porcelain and destined for the biohazard bin.
Sterile bright white sheets were spread in sharp contrast to the colorful, animistic organs below. The heart, now still, was soon to be reinvigorated, the chest closed and the skin sutured back together.
As I stand over the open leads of water, poised above the crescents of fractured, drifting summer ice, I cannot help but see the analogs of the two anatomical apertures. One availed a view to the heart. The heart. The other open to the plasma of ocean below. Both are vital, just below the skin; the skin we live in. The skin we walk upon, often as invisible to us as the rising crescent moon in this bright, austral summer sky.
What's a Thesis (for a journalist)?
I have consumed my fair share of stickies this year and made many notes that made absolutely no sense whatsoever on second read. They adorn my walls like freeze-frame confetti and functions as keys to past thought fragments....or not. Mostly, they are confetti.
But there are three stickies, the first (reading left to right) says: "crisp summations".
The second: "to tell someone else's story" and;
The third: "authentically and well"....
Waxing haiku, it sums up my ambition for what I am doing with words and camera. Simply put, it comes down to telling stories. And the complicated part, it comes down to telling stories.
In the process of choreographing my still images and words for the multimedia I am producing about the Mekong River, I felt like I have been playing chess and leapfrog....and maybe hopscotch too, all at the same time. They are all different "media", and thus each is a vehicle used to carry the "story" or the narrative along. Whence I started to mesh them together, I found it profoundly difficult to work out an efficient process. And I am still working it out.
I sit I write. I print it out. I cut up the printed text and move the paragraphs around and then move the images around and the text again and then I mock up a make-shift animation in Photoshop and Final Cut Pro...and then open up Motion..and then freak out a little bit and go back to writing or cleaning my room, again.
Alas, my friend from the classical music world, first as a musician and then as a writer of musicians, simply said to me "oh, polyphony"...as if it were a word she spits out when she buys a pretzel on the street. "Ya, I'll take a little mustard on that with a little polyphany."
Ok, sure. What the hell is polyphony. I mean, I kind of get the gist.
Literally: "...the style of simultaneously combining a number of parts, each forming an individual melody and harmonizing with each other."
Did you just hand me an important word?
Well, yes, you did. Thanks.
This whole word and image dance is polyphony...without string or horn section. And no accordion, thank jeebus.
But it is damn hard....even if comes off looking like a glorified slideshow...
January 2012. I left Cambodia with more questions than I arrived with this year. I came to understand the hydrologic pulse of the Tonle Sap lake and left with a palliative sense of a more recent cultural pulse - the deep impact that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970’s left in the marrow of the Cambodians.
Yes, children everywhere play with toy guns.
Perhaps I was unable to shake the vestiges of the still and motion images I have seen repeatedly over the last few decades. But the manner of the Cambodian children wielding toy guns left me uneasy and disturbed. “Never trust anyone 11 -years old or younger with a gun” was advice photographer Christopher Morris shared with me a few years ago. That advice reoccurred to me each time I saw a Cambodian child wield a toy gun, especially when it was deliberately and emphatically pointed at me from the shores of the Mekong River or theTonle Sap.
The image to the right was taken in a Pagoda a couple days paddle north of Phnom Penh.The janitor was no ordinary janitor. He prayed and prostrated as much as he swept and mopped. He was either developmentally disabled or suffering from some sort of mental illness; his communication and mannerisms were terribly amiss. That said, he was a gentle giant of a man, especially among the slight monks of the Pagoda.
On the day I arrived he had a full tattoo of an open lotus petal on his left arm. The next morning it was bandaged to guard an open wound created from the process of removing it.The child in the background was chasing another boy, both seemingly without a home to go to as the evening progressed. At sunset that evening I made additinal images of the boys with their toy guns and I was shocked by the cadence they “shot” at each other. Sometimes it would be a subtle “bang-bang”. Other times they would pistol-whip each other and shout at each other in a sinister tone of Khmer as if they were children soldiers. Each would be shaken by the other. And then there would be a short hiatus before the guns came back into play.
I felt 'dis-ease' the whole time. Under the skin of all these interactions - and behind a brimming Khmer smile - I had to infer that their manners and actions were informed by the events of recent history, inherited from a lost generation and buried like a thorn that has worked its way to the bone and, only now, is starting to work its way back to the surface of their young skin.
May 13, 2011 San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
I do my best to avoid slinging superlatives around, but the trip Craig Childs & I just completed here in the vast Atacama Desert was filled with experiential, goegraphic and geologic superlatives. For the most part we traveled early in the morning at the first ambient light and then hunkered down in the shade of mud, rock or salt caves when we were traversing the other-worldly Cordillera de la Sal (a mountain range up uplifted salt crystals). But on our 40km crossing of the Salar de Atacama on our 4th and 5th days shade was altogether absent save for our little tents. But on the final afternoon we had to push through the heat and sun and we were blessed with a thin cloud cover and ultimately this lone sawgrass growing next to a drill core that brought saline water to the surface; which came first we do not know. But either way we appreciated its shade for a half-hour before making the final push to the highway and the community of Atacamanan village of Toconao. The whole purpose of the venture was to to experience the desert environment of the ancient seabed and to understand the diversity of life, from microbial to the surreal presence of pink Chilean Flamingo in the Laguna Chaxa. More importantly this venture is to understand the importance of water, fresh & saline, in this world and to contrast this profoundly arid place with the saturated Baker and Pasqua River Valleys of Chilean Patagonia where Craig and I have both been working over the last few months. In a country facing the consequences of having privatized water in the 1960's and the present need to come to terms with both scarcity and/or control of their own water - in every biome acrosss the country - Chile is faced with a profound set of questions how to balance their energy needs via hydropower, desires for greater mineral extraction and need for to re-aquire access to their fresh water which is now largely owned by foreign corporate interests.
Stay tuned for more images and reflections on global water issues and for our upcoming articles and multimedia presentations in the States.
May 1 , 2010 Coyhaique, Chile. This is my last day in the Chilean region of Aysen and what I see out the window from here is a fall day with poplar (Alamo) trees turning yellow or already stripped of their leaves by the Patagonian wind and rain that churned through this valley all day yesterday. The lenga (nothophagus ssp.) up on the slopes are a rocous mix of reds and oranges and the slate gray clouds are heavy and building like a stone staircase against the cordillerra. What I see directly in front of me is a satellite image of the boca (mouth) of the Rio Baker and the fjords it pours into, displacing the salt water. It is the only "coastal" place I have ever been where I cannot smell the ocean salt or feel it on my tongue after a walk on the playa. The reason for absence of the ordinary day-at-the-beach cues is this: the "white" water you see in the image here is clear fresh water, perhaps one of the cleanest sources of fresh water in the world, and it displaces the Pacific waters that course through the fjords. Even at high tide the water is barely brackish and the speciation of fish (other than the introduced salmon), macroinvertabrates and benthic organisms is barely known in this collision of riparian, glacial and oceanic habitats.
Yes, we know that the moon moves the ocean, but rarely do we find a river that shoves the ocean out of the way. The Rio Baker and its sister river to the south, the Rio Pasqua, both posess the aquatic muscle to part the sea.
Up river on the Rio Vargas, a braided, swampy tributary of the Rio Baker, Juilio Vargas is cutting postes of standing dead cypres, oftentimes as many as 60 per day when his pair of oxen are willing to work as hard as he does. In a wind-break of bamboo, Julio also needs to strip the wet bark from each post, load them into his launcha (wooden boat with handmade oars and, as of a few years ago, a tempramental 20-hp yamaha engine) and either transport them via a shallow braid of the Rio Vargas to a truck along the Caraterra Austral or raft them down the Rio Baker to Tortel where they will be shipped to Puerto Natales via a Navy Armada ship for sale by a middle-man to Estancias for fencework and shipwrights for the finest of boats.
Images of more Tortelino cypres work to follow...nos vemos temprano, jt
April 15, 2010 Coiyhaique, Chile. It finally rained here in Coiyaque last night and today, and I am truly happy to hear the torrent on my cabina's tin roof. The light has been harsh and as brittle as pampa straw and the thing I expected most - the wind - has been absent since my arrival. That changed last night while I was watching a little CNN, witnessing the sound-bight discussion about the succession of earthquakes across the globe in 2010.
I felt a tremor here in Chile last week when I slept under the giant Coiyue (pronounced Coy-Way) tree at Arturo Quinto's campo along the Rio Baker. It gave me instant butterflies at the same time it reminded me that I was happy to be outside, laying directly against the terra infirma, experiencing it directamente.
Infirma. Unstable. The unknown. Tierra del Fuego was originally called Tierra del Humo after Magellan sailed around the horn. But smoke was not enough for the Spanish church that funded the tall ship trips that lead to the "discovery" and naming of "Patagonia"; land of people with Giant Feet.
But to me this is indeed Tierra del Humo. If there is smoke coming out ofthe stove pipe, people are home and a mate' is an inevitability.Permiso? ...and I go inside; the mate' makes its way around the hot estufo and I watch the light as much as I try to glean the most of the conversation in my limited Castellano. But I do hear with my ears and eyes. Inside, if there is light, it is warm light. Outside, the light is often harsh or lost behind the precipitous mountains. I try to extend the conversation inside, drinking as much mate' as I can until it is appropriate to explain my intention to make pictures, por favor. Often times we move from mate' right to wine and meat (chivo or carne) and more wine, which is just a beautiful thing. It is slow and fast and slow and the experience becomes the Patagonian equivelent of a moveable feast until I feel like I am being dragged behind a horse on a pejon.
I make pictures at the same time. It is like trying to be an attentive Buddhist and a caballerro boracho (drunk cowboy) at the same time, and I am finally getting the knack for it. Estoy practicando.
All the while I am hoping for warm fragments light. I pray for it, the same way I "pray" that somehow these rivers and Patagons are allowed to be rivers and Patagons the way they want to be, libre.
Here is a snapshot. I have made some sentences, but no essays yet. There is much to be done in the weeks ahead.
To see todays' preview of images, please go to my CLIENT ACCESS page, and use the password agua and follow the link. Gracias.
April 14, 2010 Coiyaque, Chile. Over the last 10 years I have been to Argentine and Chilean Patagonia a dozen times to make photographs of people and the relationship they have with this expansive and distant land. At first glance - or even at the millionth - the terrain here often appears unpeopled in many places.
It is not unpopulated by any means and the deeper I dig into the valleys leading away from the main rivers, the more amazing the people become; working the land with animals or harvesting lenga or cypress wood or fish (salmon) and eels(congrio) in the fjords - sometimes in sustainable way, sometimes not.
But the decendants of the original pobledores (settlers) and huasos (chilean gauchos) in this part of Chilean Patagonia certainly have not adversely affected the land at the scale that the proposed hydro power dams on the Baker and Pasqua Rivers would if they are ultimately developled at the currently proposed scale.
Yes, the proposed hyroelectric project - 2 dams on the Rio Baker; 3 dams on the Rio Pasqua, coupled with 2000 km of high tension power lines strung across earthquake and volcanically active Patagonia to Santiago and then another 1200 km north to power mineral interests in the Atacama Desert - is a daunting juggernaut of a project to address locally, nationally or internationally.
The primary opposition (!Patagonia Sin Represas!) is as sophisticated and determined as it is overwhelmed and fatigued by the struggle to confront the global consortium of energy powers that is taking on - head on. Additionally, there are isolated communities like Caleta Tortel at the mouth of the Rio Baker that have independently voted amongst themselves to outirght oppose the hydro project and they appear to be as fatigued by the weight and complexity of the issues as the NGO's - International Rivers and the NRDC, for instance, that have allied themselves in the effort to protect the wild and fresh waters of this area.
As a photographer I am equally amazed and inspired by the visual scale of Chilean Patagonia and its rivers asI am by the tenacity and pride of the people who dwell here in the main and tributary valleys, many of whom are facing the prospect of losing their land forever uner 20 meters of water.
Some have already sold their land to Hydro Aysen; others are holding out for more money and some have sworn themselves to never forfeit.
On this trip I am devoting much of my attention to two men - Arturo Quinto who lives along the shores of the Baker just above where the Baker II dam would be constructed and on Hernan Gaulet, who lives at the juncture of Lago Quetru and Rio Pasqua, just below the canyon where the Pasqua explodes from its steep decent from Lago O'Higgins.
Arturo Quinto will never sell his land.
Hernan Gaulet is undecided.
Both men are the vertible straws on the camels back.
There are many other players and complexities in this contentious battle like the "G", a collective of land owners who share a stake in land along the upper Rio Baker immediately adjacent to where the Baker 1 dam would be developed.
But is one man not as important as a whole city of men? Or a whole river that provides one of the worlds' greatest sources of fresh water?
I am not sure how to make a picture of an issue per se. But I can make issue and images of one man, of two men, of families, of communities and, yes, of a river system that I have come to love for its beauty, its shear power and its vital place in a world that seems to have its basic vitality compromised more so every day.
That is the least I can do.
The picture on this page is of Lalo, former dueno of Sol de Mayo at the head of the Colonia Valley. He is another man whose story is as valuable as all the others I have collected down here. And with his one eye he sees - and has seen - more happen in this land than I ever could. But he reminds me that I too am a witness, and with my two good eyes I have a responsibility to capture the spirit of this place at this moment in time. (photo essays to follow shortly).