Kakadu & Northern Territory Parks

Remembering in December

My wandering field life passed the ten-year mark earlier this year. That’s ten years of finding my way into a new work environment and getting to know new colleagues once a year or so. In a more mundane way, it’s ten years worth of photo files to keep up-to-date and to try to remember to share on my blog. A cousin (thanks, Juliette!) noticed that the entries from my earliest days had lost their photos: mine was a rather early blog, and the ways of uploading photos have changed since then.  (Many of those earliest posts appear frankly so embarrassingly shallow to me now that I’m tempted to simply wave my editorial wand and have done with them…but thus far my sense for historical accuracy is controlling that temptation…) If my continued research succeeds, many of those photos will be directly restored onto the blog as I find their originals in backup hard drives and other obscure locations: ah, new year’s resolutions before the old year has even wrapped up!

In the meantime, I’m uncovering little treasures that never made it up here, while fondly remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was recently saddened to learn that Nancy Schrom Dye, former president of Oberlin College, had passed this year. During my years of active alumni-association work I greatly appreciated her contributions to my alma mater – so I was proud to join some other colleagues in taking her for an end-of-year meal which, the digital date stamp tells me, occurred in Beijing on December 31, in 2005. Up above are also a few rediscovered December 2005 Beijing-area shots which somehow didn’t get posted at the time. (Posting photos was more challenging in those early days…)

Just below are some previously-unposted 2015 shots: early-morning moonset at my home here in Haiti; me with my brother and a colleague when I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year; and some shots from the lovely Frick House & museum in Pittsburgh, from the same visit. And since this put me in the mood, I’ve wandered through the many countries & continents, family meals & trips & assignments on four continents that have filled the years between these two sets of photos so very fully. Assembling them’s been fun for me so I hope viewing them is fun for you too :-).

This time last year? In December 2014, I returned from Sierra Leone & later went with great friends to enjoy the Ai WeiWei exhibit on Alcatraz Island (more photos from that one in the original post….though that particular set of great friends – you know who you are! – are remarkably camera-resistant):

Where’d I spend 2013? Living in PNG, participating in meetings in Amsterdam & dive trips in Australia, then celebrating the holidays with Steve & Mom in New Zealand:

I began 2012 in the US (where I visited Washington, DC in cherry-blossom season), turned 50 in the company of Howard & Gene at Kakadu National Park in Australia, and finished the year in PNG:

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2011 was mostly Mweso, a little Lamu, a little London and a year-end back home seeing Frank Lloyd Wright homes of Pennsylvania with family:

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2010…wow, what a year. Just seeing all the continents and countries where I spent time (actually meaningful time, with friends and family and work) makes my head spin even now. The photos evoked so much for me that I just couldn’t narrow it down to three or four…so I’m giving you a lot from 2010, a mix of Manipur (start of year) and Mweso (end of year), with a sprinkling of Sweden, Berlin, Paris & California in between:

House, Valley, Hills on Hike - Pre-Monsoon Season

I entered 2009 in Tahiti, yes it’s true: during the year I took off from work to help Mom with her house, I dedicated two months to exploring Australia (and watching the Australian Open!) and New Zealand, flying in via Tahiti with a few nights in Papeete, just because I could. The year ended, of course, in Manipur and included a great trip to see excellent sites of Rajasthan with Howard & Gene:

Ngauruhoe Summit View of Lakes & Clouds

2008 started in Nigeria, and ended in Tahiti…with a lot of good work in Nigeria, a short assignment for the earthquake in China, visits in Germany with my exchange family friends there….and a good deal of time in and around NYC (Mom, aunt Judy & I enjoyed a harbor trip past Ellis Island where our own immigrant ancestors entered the country, and also a trip to our favorite sculpture park up th Husdon)…with a side trip for some hiking in Sequoia and other California adventures:
Rivers-Abia Border Boats & River

2007…I began the year based in Colombo but spend the new year’s period with Mom & Steve at  Angkor Wat, returned to Colombo to finish out an assignment, headed on for training in Paris where I also got celebrate Mom’s 71st birthday…back to the US to reorganize my life after my first two years in the field, and then off for a new assignment in Nigeria. At the time it felt big. Now it’s all fond memories:

…which will bring us back to year two of this current phase of life’s great adventure, the lovely year 2006. From Beijing & Yunnan in China, to Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (where I was based at year’s end), with family time on Cumberland Island (Mom’s 70th birthday dinner!) and in Germany in between. With a special souvenir from Seoul, where I had the opportunity to work a bit with the young ladies pictured with their daffodils. In a small-world twist, I had dinner with one of those two young ladies just a few nights ago in Port au Prince, which she visits sometimes in her current work with the CDC. So much small world, so little time for it all. Happy end of 2015, and many good hopes for a 2016 of more peace and health to everyone, everywhere.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Kakadu, Katherine Gorge & Litchfield – Out & About in NT!

On our last morning in Kakadu National Park, we took a boat ride along the East Alligator River, which separates Kakadu National Park from Arnhem Land, all within the political boundaries of Northern Territory in the contemporary nation-state of Australia. By that point I’d seen Aboriginal rock art that’s been dated back, in some cases, as far as 20,000 or more years. I’d heard how the current estimate of how long Aboriginal cultures have lived in this part of the world is now up to about 60,000 years — as archaeologists continue their studies and dig deeper down the layers, they can carbon date and look other clues to the time of each layer, based on known climate changes or changes in what animals were in which area when.

Anyway, so here we were coasting along this river with a very personal narrative from a guy who grew up here, whose parents grew up here…whose ancestors, one presumes, have been in and around this spot of land on the planet for something like 20,000 or 60,00o years or so. I’m seeing crocodiles much like the one below — huge saltwater (estuarine) crocs that look magnificently primeval and dinosaur-esque, I’m seeing beautiful and timeless landscapes on both sides of this deep green river. I’m imagining the flow of time. I’m thinking about where my own ancestors might have been 20,000 to 60,000 years ago – times when northern Europe was under mountains of ice, so they sure as heck  still wandering somewhere else.

My most immediate thought was this: if global warming does sort of end contemporary late-capitalist civilization as we know it; if some of the movie fantasies that show up in films like Water World do come to pass…I bet the aboriginals of Australia will keep on going. So my first thought was about how these are people who have merged their culture with their land, with their fairly harsh environment surrounded by extremes, in ways that I and mine haven’t come anywhere near for millennia, if ever.

This was the relatively simplest expression of a wide range of far more complex reflections that I was having throughout my two weeks in Australia, about race and colonialism, history and society, and so on. While in Darwin after Kakadu, we saw an excellent Aboriginal & Torres Straits Islander art competition. The winner in one category (works on paper, maybe?) was drawn from a few facebook discussion groups about aboriginals, with a lot of really astoundingly racist and ill-informed or frankly ahistorical and anti-reality based comments about what Aboriginals are and represent in Australia. I had that to think about, compared with the (so far limited) experiences I’ve been having in PNG, a colonial-created modern nation, which from 40,000 years ago until about 100 years ago was hundreds of individual cultures…then went through a short phase as an Australian colony and is now working its way towards being a modern nation-state governed democratically by its own indigenous inhabitants who themselves have been around about as long as the aboriginals of Australia have. So there are interesting comparisons – Australia more like the US in that Europeans arrived and stayed, claimed primary ascendancy in governance and politics and rapidly outnumbered their predecessors; vs PNG where Australians did that for a period then left, leaving behind a created state.

There’s no way I could do a decent job of sharing the complexity of my thoughts. I have no conclusions. It worries me that humans are still tribal by nature, at a time when our technology and sheer numbers can have such global impacts. But we’re endlessly creative and problem-solving, we modern humans (meaning our species since about 100,000 years ago or something of that sort…not my field). So here’s hoping we’ll sort this out rather than continue to tear each other and our world apart.

Enough seriousness. Enjoy the pics! Northern Territory, Kakadu and so on ROCK.

What you’re seeing so far… Immediately above: Paul contemplates the impressive scariness of a termite mound at Maguk campsite in Kakadu. Above that, all shots from the various parts of Kakadu where we camped. Below, a suite of shots from Litchfield National Park (closer to Darwin – the two waterfall shots) and then Katherine Gorge (south of Kakadu).

NT is marked by extreme seasons: a very wet wet season, then a very dry dry season, called “the wet” and “the dry” by locals I believe. In the shot of Katherine Gorge below, you’ll notice many trees bending strongly in the downriver direction. This is from the wet, when half of the gorge is full of water and all the trees are deep underwater, and bent over by the force of the current. That’s when saltwater crocs can come all the way south the Katherine Gorge even though it’s hundreds of kilometers from the ocean, because there’s so much water they can easily swim in, then get stranded when the wet ends and the various bits of the gorge get more disconnected by rapids and rocky stretches as below.

…Howard & Gene enjoying a swim at Florence Falls in Litchfield, above; and the sunset at Katherine Gorge, below.


And now, as of the shot of me above, we’re back in Kakadu. Immediately above: rock art showing inflamed joints, interpreted traditionally as the local spirits of a bad place punishing people for being there. Modern science tells us that there’s a lot of uranium in the spots that have traditionally be identified as not good for humans, but reserved for spirits instead. About rock art: the red color can last longest, so in the very oldest paintings it’s only the red that will hold up. The yellow, white, and some of the other colors can last a few thousand years – but the red can last tens of thousands, literally. And below is our tour guide, referred to above, demonstrating how to use a spear thrower to increase the range of a spear. Below that, Paul with the spears after he picked them from the river, once we were back on the boat. Yes, the same river where we’d been seeing 5-meter-long salties. 🙂

 A car crossing from Kakadu into the fully-aboriginal-reserved Arnhem Land. Below, me in Katherine Gorge…yeah, some of these are a bit mixed up. Artistic license? 🙂

This is maguk — a waterfall, a big deep swimming hole below and a lovely set of pools above. Immediately below: how Paul spent the better part of an afternoon relaxing at the upper bit of Maguk.


Some views of the nature where we were. Immediately left (if this shows up as I hope once finalized), sunning itself on the sand by the side of Katherine Gorge, is a freshie – freshwater crocodile, not really a threat to swimmers etc. unless you step directly on them. A saltie (esturaine or saltwater croc) is showing off her teeth above. There are thousands of magnificent birds all over Kakadu – migrating waterbirds, parrots and singing or raucous birds of all sorts. And, of course, the ever-present agile kangaroos. And then, below, another freshie doing the crocodile rock… :-/

 The timing of this vacation was set to overlap with my 50th birthday. Howard & Gene had  a few surprises on the evening of my actual birthday at the absolutely gorgeous Maguk area – as you see below.

Below: if you wonder how I got some of the angles on water, rock, and the landscape below…that’s me the intrepid travel photographer at work.