Tongariro National Park

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

The Many Moods of Mt Ruapehu

Ruapehu 4

…and other views from Tongariro National Park, a place which can truly and safely be described as otherworldly. One factor that makes it a world heritage site is the presence of three volcanoes right next to each other. You will see more than you want of these three, in this post…sorry. The moods and clouds, the light and colors just change so often that when one is there one just can’t stop! I am blessed now to have visited New Zealand three times, and I am going to work my way through the (too) many photos I took there roughly in chronological order: this was the first major place our group visited as part of the big Howard’s-turning-50 tour. What a great start! (Btw if you’d like to see Tongariro in other moods, and  more shots from the top part of the Tongariro Crossing day hike, check out the post from my last visit, which is here:

I won’t say much here. NZ is so lovely and so endlessly various and fascinating that the photos better speak for themselves or I’m not doing my job right. For those curious, I’m back and settled in the bay area, in great health thanks, and trying to put down some roots here in the this intermezzo before the start of my next assignment…about which more, when the time is right :-). Peace. Oh, and btw: linger on the shots below: it’s a slide show of Ruapehu, which is sort of currently the biggest, though not the oldest, of these three volcanoes – and one that I explored in more detail this time than when I was last there, from up close. (More on that further down.) All the photos have names which pretty well identify them.Pano Ruapehu Ski Area

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Pano 4 Tongariro-Ngauruhoe-RuapehuTongariro-NgauruhoeFrom the High Slopes of Ruapehu Landscape 2 on Lower Tongariro Crossing Trail Landscape on Lower Tongariro Crossing Trail


Ruapehu Rock Wall - Lichen - MistPano Start of Tongariro Crossing TrailMt Doom Shrouded in CloudPano Rotaira & North from T CrossingPano Tongariro-Ngauruhoe-Ruapehu 2 Paul 2 Taranaki FallsRuapehu Rock Wall from Lift Chair Small Fall on Taranaki Trail Steam Vents - Slopes of Tongariro Stream Along Tongariro Crossing Trail Stream Cascade - Tongariro Crossing Stream Cascade 2 - Tongariro Crossing Sunlight Breaking Through - Tongariro Crossing Sunrise Along  Tongariro Crossing TrailPaul on Ruapehu Ski Lift

Tongariro Crossing – The Summit of Mt Doom :-)

So that’s it, folks. Two months in Australia and New Zealand (plus the bonus couple nights on Tahiti) over and done with, back to the life I was leading last year in NYC and environs. Here are all the pics I’m gonna give you from New Zealand. (There were more, but you’re glad I’ve pared it down even this far, aren’t you?) I was gonna wax political, about carbon footprints and how even comparatively well-off Aussies and Kiwis hang their clothes to dry and don’t even own a dryer; about how it seems the whole world gets what too many Americans still don’t, that Obama is our best hope and we as a people really need to rise above the narrow commercialism and blind xenophobia (masquerading as patriotism) that’s come to dominate our culture and society, and rediscover some social and cultural values like caring for our world, community, and honesty and quality of life that don’t have to do with someone’s quarterly bottom line. But that’s boring. Or I was gonna explain what I’ve given up in order to save the money to do this kind of trip, rather than working a regular corporate job and doing the daily commute. But that’s even more boring. These pics are interesting, so I’ll leave you to them. May this year and many to come be full of more hope than we’ve had recently. I will, just by way of grandstanding, leave you with two quotes, below…they say it all better than I could. Peace, out.
“…FlexPetz…rents out well-trained dogs to busy professionals in several California cities. [One] customer…feels like an uncle to the dog he borrows for $39.95 a day… Meanwhile, dog and cat owners who travel frequently now have another option for their pets… Posh digs for pets are available in airports… Amenities for dropped-off animals include piped-in music, individual suites, gourmet treats and Web cams so distant owners can check in on their pampered pets.” (High Country News)“Smallpox ravaged us quick, tuberculosis killed us slow, liquor made us stupid, religion meddled with our souls, but the bureaucracy did the worst and finally bored us to death… Along with rules, there came another affliction. Acquisition, the priests called it. Greed. There was no word in our language to describe this urge to own things we didn’t need. Where before we always had a reason for each object we kept, now the sole reason was wanting it. People traded away their land for pianos they couldn’t play and bought clothing too fancy for their own everyday use. They bought spoons made of silver when there wasn’t food…Where before we gave our things away and were admired for our generosity, now we grew stingy and admired ourselves for what we grabbed and held.” (Louise Erdrich, Four Souls)

Of the three active volcanoes in Tongariro National Park, Ngauruhoe is the second highest but by far the most classically-proportioned. It’s a pretty imposing sight, isn’t it? Imagine seeing it as I did: Climbing up a ridgeline from a bright-yellow stream (made yellow by all the minerals in the water, like at Yellowstone), suddenly at the top of the ridgeline I can look across a sparse scrubland of alpine plants to the towering even cone of Ngauruhoe, whose summit and cone are shrouded in cloud. Hearing the rotors of a helicopter clack-clacking away to my right, seemingly on the snowy slopes of tallest Mt Ruapehu, I look over and see that the helicopter is trailing some kind of long flat payload from a cable hanging below it. Has someone been evacuated after a fall while climbing to the 2800-meter summit of Ruapehu? Or is it something more mundane, like logs being dropped somewhere for trail maintenance? Then I look again ahead of me at the summit of Mt. Doom, no Orodruin, no Ngauruhoe (yes: a digitally-altered image of Ngauruhoe was indeed the image of Mt Doom/Orodruin the Lord of the Rings movies – small wonder, huh, seeing it in real life here!), and…wait a minute, the cloud has cleared a bit, but isn’t that a small trail of steam rising directly up out of the cone? Is that helicopter, perhaps, part of some general evacuation? Is all hell about to break loose with flowing lava and an explosion on the summit of one or all of these volcanoes? 🙂


In point of fact the ‘volcanic activity danger index’ was zero that day. But yes, it’s quite possible I really did see some steam rising from the cone. When I climbed it, the following day, I noticed there’s a vent on one side which regularly emits plumes of steam.

That there is looking down into the actual crater, from the summit. The text I wrote above is really about what I did on the rainy day before I did the official “Tongariro Crossing,” which is an almost 20km day hike almost all above tree line that goes from the west side of Mt Ngauruhoe up and over to the north side of Mt Tongariro; to clarify: Ruapehu, at about 2800m, is the southernmost, most active, and most snow-covered of the mountains; Ngauruhoe, at about 2200m, is in the middle and the most obviously volcanic, seen from a distance; and Tongariro, after which the whole park is named, is at about 1800m the shortest of the three but very large with several active craters over and around which we walked, and is the northernmost of the three.
Indubitably the best decision I made in one month here was, upon arriving in National Park by train (lower down for that story) and learning that weather was forecast rainy the next day, to extend my stay by a day and do the hike on the following day, forecast mostly clear and sunny. Having done the alpine sections of the Kepler Track (next section down…) in snow and fog, I just wanted some clear views from these highest sections of North Island.
That’s snowy Ruapehu, highest peak on North Island, behind the crater of Ngauruhoe; and two shots down, look to the left of the crater, and you’ll see a plume of steam coming off. Atmospheric, no?

The main Crossing track doesn’t include ascending to the summit of Ngauruhoe — up which, in fact, there is no marked trail. All those little rocks with blue sky at the top of the photo, above? You wonder why they’re there? They’re the summit of Ngauruhoe. That’s the trail. It’s 1000m up, and then 1000m back down to the main trail – which itself includes some serious ups and downs for the recreational walker – and a lot of it is this slippery slidy stuff. The rest is sharp volcanic boulders — thank goodness I had my gloves to shred, or I’d have needed skin grafts afterwards. But, given the chance to ascent Mt Doom, could I really have said no? 🙂 Most of these plant shots are from the summit ascent on Ngauruhoe. The greenest one is from near Silica Rapids, lower on the slopes of Ruapehu and thus a bit greener.

Emerald Lakes. Guess how they got their name? They smell as you might guess.

Look closely and you’ll see a lot of little figures along the trail silhouetted against the lake there: a large group of school kids on start-of-school-year camp, who spent days hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and rafting around the area. Kids in NZ have a great life, it seems…

That’s Lake Taupo in the distance, the largest in New Zealand, apparently. No Lake Superior, that; but then NZ is two moderate-sized islands with spectacular variety and scenery, when you get right down to it.

…have you noticed how captivated I was by Ngaurhoe’s cone? It’s my own xx Views of Mt Ngauruhoe ode to Hokusai. But seriously — I found Ngauruhoe as captivating as I find Half Dome — though not the tallest of the three, it ruled my imagination when I was in its range.

And that would be silica rapids, full of colorful minerals washed out of the stones solidified from the magma belched by Ruapehu, on whose slopes this was shot.