Monthly Archives: January 2017

January 23, 2017


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January 23, 2017 · 11:00 pm

Sea Swells

Over the winter break we took a family trip to Antarctica. There were many highlights, which I hope to share here over time. The first one concerns sea swells.

On our particular trip, the ship followed a triangular route, comprised of three long “crossings” on the open ocean:

1. Ushuaia, Argentina to South Georgia Island (crossing the South Atlantic Ocean, two days at sea)
2. South Georgia Island to the Antarctic Peninsula (crossing the Scotia Sea, two days at sea)
3. the Antarctic Peninsula to Ushuaia (crossing the Drake Passage, two days at sea)

These crossings can be calm, easy and restful (e.g., “Drake Lake”), or rough, difficult and barf-inducing (e.g., “Drake Shake”). On our trip, crossing #1 was rough and crossings #2 and #3 were calm, which we were told is about average (three calms or three roughs is rare).

Our rough crossing– the one from Argentina to South Georgia Island– lasted for the full two days. Many people got seasick, including some of the crew, so most people used the seasickness patch (scopolamine). During these rough stretches deckhands place barf bags all over the boat, tucking them behind handrails and lamps, and stacking them on bars and tables. The on-board PA announcements remind you to “give one hand to the boat,” and in fact you are always holding onto something because of the roll of the ocean. When a big wave breaks against the ship, items slide off tables and out of shelves (waiter trays, glasses, cups of tea, etc.). Overall it takes some getting used to, but the patch does work and you do find your sea legs.

On day 1 of the crossing we had 15′ seas, and we were mesmerized by the mountains of water rolling across the ocean, lifting and dropping our large ship over and over. On day 2 the swell increased to 25′, and again we were mesmerized. I tried mostly in vain to photograph these swells, hoping to capture their volume, height and personality, but their scale against the endlessness of the ocean and the uniformity of its color resulted in boring photos.  At first I took pictures from Deck 6, looking out over the sea. Here’s the best I could do.

(click to enlarge)

At the moment when I took this photo, the boat was cresting one swell while I photographed the approaching peak of water that you can see in the middle of the photo. I was not thrilled with this image, so I asked the on-board photographer for help. He offered no useful tip, except “keep trying”.

For my second effort, I went down below to the dining room on Deck 2, to photograph the waves through the window. For reference, here’s the ship.

(click to enlarge)

You can see the big windows of the dining room on Deck 2 at the stern of the ship, in the gray painted area. (I snapped the Deck 6 photo from the open area at the stern, next to the French flag.)  For more context, here’s a picture of the dining room.

(click to enlarge)

We are sitting at our usual breakfast table, and you can see a window in the background. (On the first day, we tried sitting at the window table but we got queasy, so we moved inboard to this table.)

So by going to Deck 2 I wanted to capture what it felt like looking up at these swells from below. Here’s a photo looking out the window from the perspective of the queasy table.

(click to enlarge)

Because you can’t see the horizon, it is hard to measure the size of this swell, so again I felt stymied.

Finally, I took this video out the same window. You can see the table setting at the bottom of the video. It is 50 seconds long; try to hang in there until the 30-second mark. Make it fullscreen if you can.  



Filed under Editorial

Louise Erdrich

Editorial: Here below are three passages from Louise Erdrich’s latest, LaRose (2016). She remains one of my favorites.  I read her books slowly because it’s no fun when they run out.

(p. 198) What She Learned. Before the first LaRose died, she had taught her daughter how to find guardian spirits in each place they walked, how to heal people with songs, with plants, what lichens to eat in an extremity of hunger, how to set snares, jig fish, tie nets, net fish, create fire out of sticks and curls of birchbark. How to sew, how to boil food with hot stones, how to weave reed mats and make birchbark pots. She taught her how to poison fish with plants, how to make arrows, a bow, shoot a rifle, how to use the wind when hunting, make a digging stick, dig certain roots, carve a flute, play it, bead a bandolier bag. She taught her how to tell from the calls of birds what animal had entered the woods, how to tell from the calls of birds which direction and what type of weather was approaching, how to tell from the calls of birds if you were going to die or if an enemy was on your trail. She learned how to keep a newborn from crying, how to amuse an older child, what to feed a child of each age, how to catch an eagle to take a feather, knock a partridge from a tree. How to carve a pipe bowl, burn the center of a sumac branch for the stem, how to make tobacco, make pemmican, how to harvest wild rice, dance, winnow, parch, and store it, and make tobacco for your pipe. How to carve tree taps, tap maples, collect sap, how to make syrup, sugar, how to soak a hide, scrape down a hide, how to grease it and cure it with the animal’s brains, how to make it soft and silky, how to smoke it, what to use it for. She taught her to make mittens, leggings, makazinan, a dress, a drum, a coat, a carry sack from the stomach of an elk, a caribou, a woods buffalo. She taught her how to leave behind her body when half awake or in sleep and fly around to investigate what was happening on the earth. She taught her how to dream, how to return from a dream, change the dream, or stay in the dream in order to save her life.

(p.227) He said this firmly, although he still didn’t know exactly what to do besides watch Nola. Sam Eagleboy had told him to sit still and open his mind if he had a problem. LaRose would come back to the grass nest that evening, after Maggie was gone. He would concentrate on the problem. Even if he couldn’t see them, he would ask those people he met in the woods. He would find out what the situation called for.

(p. 290) There are five LaRoses. First the LaRose who poisoned Mackinnon, went to mission school, married Wolfred, taught her children the shape of the world, and traveled that world as a set of stolen bones. Second, her daughter LaRose, who went to Carlisle. This LaRose got tuberculosis like her own mother, and like the first LaRose fought it off again and again. Lived long enough to become the mother of the third LaRose, who went to Fort Totten and bore the fourth LaRose, who eventually became the mother of Emmaline, the teacher of Romeo and Landreaux. The fourth LaRose also became the grandmother of the last LaRose, who was given to the Ravich family by his parents in exchange for a son accidentally killed.

In all of these LaRoses there was a tendency to fly above the earth. They could fly for hours when the right songs were drummed and sung to support them. Those songs are now waiting in the leaves, half lost, but the drumming of the water drum will never be lost. This ability to fly went back to the first LaRose, whose mother taught her to do it when her name was still Mirage, and who had learned this from her father, a jiisikid conjurer, who’d flung his spirit all the way around the world in 1798 and come back to tell his astonished drummers that it was no use, white people covered the earth like lice.

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