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Iceberg Encounters

It took me a few sightings to appreciate that icebergs are as diverse as they are plentiful.  This means I started shooting iceberg portraits relatively late on our trip.  Here are a few highlights.

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Half-a-Million Penguins

More from the Antarctica notebook.

The next impossible photo to capture is the one that conveys what it feels like to stumble upon half-a-million penguins, which is what we did at St. Andrews Bay on South Georgia Island.

St. Andrews Bay was cut by two glaciers, which are now in retreat, leaving a wide gravel shore that is home to a massive king penguin colony. We learned that this is one of the largest penguin colonies in the world, holding roughly half-a-million penguins during its peak season (December and January). Quiet simply, visiting this many animals all at once boggles the mind, body and spirit.

But how do you capture this experience photographically? Again the internet provides lots of good attempts (image search “st andrews bay south georgia penguins“). Here’s one of my favorites from National Geographic:

And here’s one of my own photos taken from the gravel beach looking out across the colony:

While these images capture the density of the colony quite nicely, neither gives a sense of its expanse. Hopefully these photos do just that:

I took these photos from the deck of the ship as we sailed away from St. Andrews Bay. The first photo really tells the whole story: the multi colored specs at the bottom are penguins (!!); the massively retreating glacier in the middle of the photo is Heaney Glacier; and Sheridan Peak is at the top.

The second image was ‘nested’ in the first, and the third image ‘nested’ in the second, hopefully providing a three-step zoom effect on this landscape.

In the end I fared better at this task than the Penguins Porpoising, which in retrospect remains the true Holy Grail of Antarctica photography.

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Penguins Porpoising

The Holy Grail of Antarctica photography is the full-frame, head-on shot of penguins porpoising. I tried over and over to get it and came up with bupkis.

Penguins porpoise when they swim fast through the water and leap into the air. They porpoise in rafts, and they do so quickly. I’m not sure why penguins porpoise—maybe to get a clear look at their surroundings, or to escape predators, or because they can—but it is great fun to watch. Penguins are as graceful moving through the water as they are clumsy on land.

Image search “porpoising penguins” on the internet and you will see lots of great photos– but none of them are the Holy Grail.

There are two challenges to getting the perfect shot. I already mentioned the first; it is hard to snap porpoising penguins because they move through the water so quickly. The other challenge is distance and setting. It is hard to know where the penguins are and when they will pop up, and typically the setting is a huge distraction anyway. To illustrate this point, here’s one of my average photos of porpoising (I have a zillion such images from our trip):

Here is a zoom-in on a pair just bombing along:

And finally, here is a handful of similar images, but zoomed and cropped:

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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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Maggie Smith

Good Bones
by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

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Desert Island Playlist

Additions and reformatting on the D.I.P.  Links are to preferred versions of each piece in Spotify.  It appears that while my interests in classical music span all periods, they trend towards Hispanic composers in the 20th century.  Ahora sé.

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Laura Knight

The Yorkshire Coast (1929)
Poster Print

M29027-2488 001

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