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.
Pup: Sea Otters, Chignik Lagoon, Alaska
Exceptionally attentive, caring mothers, while diving for food such as crabs, sea urchins and clams, a Sea Otter mother will often wrap her pup in kelp so it won’t float away.
It seems clear beyond the possibility of argument that any given generation… can have only a lease, not ownership, of the earth; and one essential term of the lease is that the earth be handed on down to the next generation with unimpaired potentialities.
Roderick Haig-Brown, Author of A River Never Sleeps, 1946
Roderick Haig-Brown (1908-1976) was a tireless conservationist in his native Canada. His book A River Never Sleeps is highly regarded in angling circles and beyond.
The Vixen of Contact Creek: Contact Creek, British Columbia, Canada
Red Fox, Vulpus vulpus, with rabbit for breakfast, likely on her way home to a den of kits.
She loved me, and sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Pablo Neruda – from Tonight I Can Write…, 1924
Born Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) adopted a pen name to avoid conflict with his father who disapproved of his writing. In 1971, Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Brown Bear Claw Marks on Clay Bank: The Trail to Clarks River near Chignik Lake, Alaska
With two lakes, a river and numerous small streams that draw hundreds of thousands of spawning salmon each year, Alaska’s Chignik River watershed is home to a dense population of some of the largest bears in the world.
No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.
Jack Kerouac – Lonesome Traveler, 1960
– Although Kerouac’s (1922-1969) Lonesome Traveler didn’t achieve the acclaim of On the Road, The Dharma Bums or even Big Sur, the short story “Alone on a Mountaintop” by itself makes it worth diving into.
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.