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.
At First Sight: Sandhill Cranes, Northern British Columbia
Sandhill Cranes choose partners based on graceful mating dances and remain together for life.
…and our graves will be like two lovers washing
their clothes together
In a laundromat
If you will bring the soap
I will bring the bleach.
Richard Brautigan (from Romeo and Juliet, 1970)
– Raised in abject poverty, Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) was struggling to gain a foothold in San Francisco’s literary scene when, in 1967, he published Trout Fishing in America. The counter-culture novel catapulted him to international fame. A year later he solidified his reputation with In Watermelon Sugar.
Feather Fan: Junco
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
William Wordsworth – Intimations of Immortality, 1807
Along with Samuel Coleridge, Wordsworth (1770-1850) is credited with founding English Literature’s Romantic Age. He was the country’s Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death.
Amber Eyes: Arctic Fox, Point Hope, Alaska
The thick, soft fur of the Arctic Fox is the most efficiently warm of any land mammal.
It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.
David Attenborough – BBC Life documentary series, 2009
Knighted in 1985, Sir David Attenborough turned 90 in 2016. The world’s most recognized narrator of natural history films, he remains in possession of amazing vitality.
Winter Hunt: Saker Falcon, Kustai National Park, Mongolia
Prized by falconers for their beauty and power, Saker Falcons are endangered due to black market trading and habitat loss. They are the national bird of Mongolia.
(From) The Winter’s Tale
Jog on, jog on, the foot-path way,
And merrily hent the stile-a:
A merry heart goes all day,
Your sad tires in a mile-a.
William Shakespeare – lines from The Winter’s Tale, 1623
In otherwise good health, Shakespeare (1564-1616) died 3 days shy of 52. Many of his plays were published posthumously. According to one source, Shakespeare’s death followed a night of heavy drinking with Ben Johnson and Michael Drayton. An apocryphal tale or not, all of his plays contain references to drink.