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.
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.
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.