What a wonderful talent – that can create an entire Spring
from a brush and a sheet of paper. If he would try poetry
I know he would be a master…
Su Tung P’o – On a Painting by Wang the Clerk of Yeng Ling, c. 1080
Also known as Su Shi, Su Tung P’o (1037-1101) was a Song Dynasty writer, calligrapher, painter, poet, statesman and noted gourmet. The dish “dungpo pork” is named for him.
Woman with Umbrella in Spring Snow: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
*Bokeh (暈け / ボケ) is a Japanese term meaning blur that began to gain popularity in American photography circles in the late 1990s.
The only friend to walk with is one… who so exactly shares your taste
for each mood of the countryside that a glance, a halt, or at most a
nudge, is enough to assure that the pleasure is shared.
C. S. Lewis – from Surprised by Joy, 1955
Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), known as Jack, considered his last novel, Till We have Faces, to be his most mature and masterly work though it did not achieve commercial success.
*As is true of many Japanese words added to English, the pronunciation of “bokeh” is not always consistent with the original Japanese. This bothers some a lot, others a little and still others not at all. Many English speakers pronounce the word “boh-kuh” to rhyme with chocolate “mocha.” However, in Japanese the first syllable in bokeh is pronounced with the “o” in hope and the second syllable is pronounced with a clipped (shortened) long “a” approximately between the ke in kettle and the kay in the name Kay. Almost like the word “bouquet:” long “o” and long “a,” but with the vowels clipped short and neither syllable accented.
Khongoryn Els: The Singing Dunes, Gobi Desert, Mongolia
A trace of slate in the sand grains at Khongoryn Els results in vibrations that are not only easily audible, but which reverberate through one’s body.
…I am tormented
with an everlasting itch
for things remote.
Herman Melville – Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, 1851
Herman Melville (1819-1891) served aboard a whaling ship before deserting in the Marquesas. Although he knew his subject (the book draws from Melville’s own experience, The Bible, Shakespeare’s work, research into whaling, the actual account of a hard-to-catch white whale nicknamed Mocha Dick and the sinking of the American whaling ship Essex by a whale, Moby Dick received mixed reviews and was a commercial flop. Dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorn “in token of my admiration for his genius,” the book sold just 3,200 copies in Melville’s lifetime and was out of print at his death.
A year after Melville’s death, Moby Dick was reprinted by Harper and Brothers. Literati circles – mostly in New York – kept interest in the book (barely) alive over the next several years until it was rediscovered by larger audiences. Of the book, William Faulkner said that he wished he’d written it himself; D. H. Lawrence called it “the greatest book of the sea ever written,” and in time it found its place as an icon of American literature.
Panache: Bohemian Waxwing, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
The red, waxy tips on the Bohemian Waxwings’ wings are actually flattened feather shafts.
…beneath a silk-blue sky…
To sun, to feast, and to converse
and all together – for this I have abandoned
All my other lives.
Robert Francis – Waxwings, 1960
– Robert Francis (1901-1987) lived for 40 years in a two-room house he built in Amherst, Massachusetts. Of Francis, Robert Frost noted, “…of all the great, neglected poets, (he is) the best.”
Double Limits!* 120 Razor Clams near Whisky Gulch, Alaska
Big, tender and tasty, Razor Clams are avidly sought along Pacific Northwest beaches. The year these were dug, the limit in Alaska was 60 clams per person.
…drop to your knees now & again…
& kiss the earth & be joyful & make much of your time…
For although you may not believe it will happen,
you too will one day be gone.
I whose Levis ripped at the crotch for no reason,
assure you this is the case. Pass it on.
Steve Kowit – Notice, 2000
– In 1966, Steve Kowit (1938-2015) sent the U. S. Army a letter: Were he drafted to fight, the letter stated, he would fight for the other side. He then married the love of his life and spent the next few years in Mexico and Central America before returning to the U.S. to live in California.
Watching for Whales: Point Hope, Alaska
The Inupiat Eskimos of Point Hope, Alaska (population 750) harvest an average of five to 10 Bowhead Whales each spring as part of their subsistence traditions. The season begins in March as whaling crews begin making trails over the frozen sea – at times an arduous task as the sea ice has often buckled up into fairly tall, jagged ridges and it may be several miles over frozen ocean to reach the open leads where the Bowhead and Belugas migrate. Crews still use traditional umiaks, boats made by stretching the skin of Bearded Seals over handcrafted wooden frames. Managed for sustainability, the Chukchi Sea’s Bowhead Whale population is increasing.
When I recall places like this, I wish nothing more than for this to be he way it is for the rest of my life – pointing a pickup truck upstream, upriver, up tide, cutting through forests or along beaches, looking for fish in places only a few people know about, can get to… have time for.
Jack Donachy – from Gravel Lick, 1991
Barbra and I lived in Point Hope, Alaska, from 2011 – 2014.
Silver on Ice: Onboard Gillie, Gulf of Alaska outside Resurrection Bay
Also known as Silver Salmon, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Coho Salmon return to Resurrection Bay near Seward, Alaska each summer where they constitute the greatest Coho Salmon sport fishery in the world.
I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
John Masefield – Sea Fever, 1912
John Masefield (1878-1967) went to sea at the age of 16. About a year later he deserted ship, initially thereafter living as a vagrant and taking odd jobs, but the awe he experienced on the open sea never left him. Masefield was England’s Poet Laureate from 1930-1967.
Snow Birds: House Sparrows, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Let’s go snow-viewing
till we’re buried!
Matsuo Basho, 1644 – 1694
House Sparrow males and females are dimorphic: a female is center in this photo, accompanied by three males. This species has adapted so well to life with people, they’ve become nearly ubiquitous in places of human habitation throughout the world – and nearly absent in more natural environments.
Basho suffered from severe bouts of depression, occasionally becoming recluse for long periods of time. A solitary nature took him on a number of journeys, alone, along routes that were often well off the beaten path. The Edo Five Routes which he followed on one of his earliest journeys were considered to be among Japan’s most dangerous roads; When he first embarked on this trek, he expected to be killed by thieves or to simply die along the way. Widely regarded as the world’s finest master of hokku (haiku), his poetic travel log Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Interior) is considered to be his finest work.
Whale Bones and Ruins: Old Tikigaq Village, Point Hope, Alaska
Tikigaq’s sod, driftwood and whalebone igloos (homes) were occupied until the mid-1970’s when the village was abandoned due to erosion from the sea. By this time, some of the houses were wired for electricity. Sigluaks, freezers dug deep in the permafrost at Tikigaq, are still used by the people of nearby Point Hope to store the whale meat they’ve harvested.
If a man loses anything
and goes back and looks carefully for it
he will find it…
Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotȟake (Sitting Bull) – Pine Ridge Reservation Speech, 1883
Tatanka Yotanka (1831-1890) was a Lakota Sioux holy man who earned his place in history through his fierce resistance to white encroachment on Lakota lands. A vision he had seemed to foretell the victory a combined force of Sioux and Cheyenne would have over United States troops led by General Custer at The Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. In 1880, Tatanka Yotanka was assassinated by Indian Agency Police at Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Agency (reservation) who feared that he would lead an uprising. His remains are buried near his birthplace in Mobridge, South Dakota. A monument marks the site.
Point Hope: Point Hope, Alaska
Solar winds disrupting Earth’s magnetic field cause the Aurora Borealis. They are often most spectacular on finger-numbingly cold nights in the depths of winter.
Point Hope is an Inupiaq Eskimo village of about 750 inhabitants located 200 miles above the Arctic Circle on Alaska’s North Slope. Originally known as Tikigaq (index finger for the slender peninsula that once extended into the Chukchi Sea before erosion took it away), the area is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in North America. Subsistence hunting for caribou and Bowhead Whales continues to be an important part of the culture. With no roads existing beyond the village, the local airport (lit up in the above photo) is an important lifeline to and from the outside world.
…the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead,
…the stars leaping in the frost dance,
…the land numb and frozen under its pall of snow…
Jack London – from The Call of the Wild, 1903
– Jack London (1876-1916) was one of the first authors to become wealthy writing fiction. Mostly self-educated, after stints as a hobo, a sailor, and 30 days in the Erie County Penitentiary in the state of New York for vagrancy, he made his way to California where he attended high school and began writing in earnest.