The cal-fire site tells me that the Nuns fire complex ultimately burned 56,556 acres. The final report date on the site is November 6, which I suppose means it was 100% contained or fully extinguished on or before that date. Earlier, I’d assume, since the superintendent of Annadel State Park allowed parts of the park to reopen for hikers, bikers and runners on the 5th if I understood the signs well.
My last post contained all the photos I’d taken in Sonoma County between returning from Haiti (late April), and the day of the post. Today, I’m posting almost entirely photos taken yesterday in my beloved nearby State Park. Annadel is a gem on the eastern edge of Santa Rosa which has been a key source of recreation and mental-health management for me here in Santa Rosa. The fire burned through about 2/3 of it, and if the wonderful fire fighters (see thank you signs from my last post) hadn’t stopped it where they did, then it would have destroyed many homes near the park, and I guess there was a very real risk this fire complex would merge with the Tubbs complex, which had already destroyed so much to the north in Santa Rosa.
With many of the trails open, I got out there again yesterday to appreciate the park and take stock of the damage. I try to find silver linings: that it WAS stopped here is a silver lining; that green shoots are already sprouting among the charred grasses is also good to see. (See the round gallery a little lower down.) The rainy season has come – it’s sprinkling as I type this – and so we must hope for enough rain to allow plants to re-grow strong…but not so much as to cause too many land slides in all the newly-vulnerable areas whose trees and grasses have been burned.
If you look closely, you will really see how rapidly the fire passed through (burned areas surrounding unburned patches), plus the stark line where they stopped the fire: trees charred on the south side, still green moss on the north side. Rocks the same way. Since I already wrote more in the last post, I’ll leave it here for now. Gratitude, shock, slow return to regular life, I guess. Peace, everyone. Most photos have titles that’ll tell you what they are or why I selected them.
Can you spot the photo in the gallery above is not taken in Anndel? It’s this entry’s tribute to our first-responders. 🙂
In a post last year, I did a selfie while taking a breakfast break lying on one of these two tables, at the junction of Marsh & Canyon trails. Canyon was the fire line through this portion of the park — the photo above, here, with straw over where fire fighters had widened the line is on Canyon trial, west of this point. To compare then and now, check this link or others labeled Annadel, or Sonoma County, or Napa & Sonoma (I need to work on my tags…) — https://somuchworldsolittletime.com/2016/08/19/dry-hillsides-live-oaks/
When I returned from the two year assignment in Haiti, I landed first in a late Canadian winter/early Canadian spring, then came south to spend a week with my mother in New Jersey. A thing that’s changed since I was a youth here is more wildlife — time was when it was rare to see deer even in larger state parks; now they roam our little local streamside parks, where some of these photos were taken. So, as autumn advances in the northern hemisphere, a reminder of this spring and springs to come :-). Enjoy.
A thing I learned long ago is that Haiti is almost entirely deforested. In the last post I put up, from a short trip I took up the coast to Arcahaie (about an hour north of PaP), you could see evidence of this fact in the hills I showed. And PaP too is nearly treeless – and full of cars, people, and dust at this time of year. Last weekend four colleagues and I drove to a town about an hour south of PaP, beyond Kenscoff village high in the mountains at the southern base of PaP, to a point where even a good 4wd vehicle really won’t be able to cover the road any more. (As we learned in our onward walk, motorcycles DO make the onward journey, though it’s not one I’d relish making that way.) In any case, the point of being deposited in this little town is that one can – and every weekend some handful of expats living in the capital, and apparently some straight-up tourists as well – do get dropped off in that town and start the walk further south, aiming to end up (after four or five hours of walking in hot sun on mostly shade-free road) and spend the night at what turns out to be quite a lovely little guesthouse set inside what’s now Parc Nationale La Visite. One reads, in a lovely coffee-table book available for sale at the guest house, that the national park is recently created, and that less than 2% of Haiti’s forest is protected. During the visit we played cards and chatted a bit with another American guy who’s part of a program to pay landowners to not cut down their trees for firewood or to sell for making charcoal, construction, etc.
As you’ll see in these shots, the deforested steep mountainsides can certainly be beautiful…but look closely and you’ll also see apparent evidence of erosion, and of rocks left behind in landslides. (Some of the rocks seemed to be eroded lava from more ancient flows, but I’m no geologist so I might be quite wrong.) We wondered how much longer before all the top soil washes into the sea…and without trees to rot and replace it, what will be left? Again, not my area of expertise, but when I consider the amount of agricultural products I saw being carried on people’s heads or panniers on mules, and which we ate during our short stay at the guest house, I hope enough is retained to keep providing PaP etc. with food to eat. (That handful of expats hiking the road weaves into a much larger stream of foot, mule and motorcycle traffic, much of which is clearly geared at getting nice fresh produce to market.) For us it was mainly a lovely 2 days of walking and enjoying beautiful vistas and some stretches of forest which, without realizing it, we’d all grown to miss during our weeks and months on the dusty, busy streets of PaP. I did edit the photos, but not enough, I acknowledge. Sorry – after weeks with little but buildings to look at, I got a bit shutter-happy.
You’ll notice these three shots in a row show the same things from different angles and perspectives. My attempt to give a sense of how things fit together in this steep mountainous zone of windy roads...
With this third visit to New Zealand, I’ve grown more aware of how the country lives in the outside imagination. For many, it’s the middle earth of certain much-loved fantasy films. For me – and clearly many more – it’s probably the single best place on earth to get an amazing range of very well supported and managed backpacking options. Hut-to-hut hikes abound throughout North Island, South Island, and Rakiura/Stewart Island, meaning one can travel a bit lighter without a tent if one chooses, and – particularly important down in Fiordland – have a solid roof and walls around one when the rains fall and/or the temperatures plummet even in high summer. The best known and most popular of these hikes are managed as ‘Great Walks’ by the superb NZ Department of Conservation. When I first learned of them, while planning my very first trip to NZ more than six years ago, I think I read there were eight Great Walks at the time. Now it’s up to nine; and I’ve hiked three of them in their entirety, while touching on a fourth during both my first trip and the most recent one. Some friends have said they’re saving developed-world tourism for later, and focusing on less-developed cultural-adventure type travel now, while they’ve got the physical and mental energy and fitness to handle travel to relatively challenging locations without great tourist infrastructure or support. I fully understand that logic, and I’ve heard it applied also to the US by many European friends.
However, let me through some of these posts suggest that places like NZ, and the great national parks of the Western US, offer outdoor adventures which are more difficult when one’s body has lost the appetite for overnight camping and backpacking…and if you miss out on these places now, you might regret it when you visit them later and are limited to their cities and paved roads, unable to get off the highway and into the wilderness. Herewith a few too many shots of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, as support to my argument. This is an unbelievably beautiful place that I am incredibly happy to have hiked and would very gladly return to many times. By hiking it, and waking up early to cross certain estuaries at low tide with my shoes tied together and strung around my neck, I’ve had the unique opportunity to lay down the first set of footprints on the soft sand of those estuaries, to see the sun brighten the sky and rise above the horizon or the moon sink below it, to greet the sun with a mug of tea from my thermos while reveling in the absence of any sound other than waves or bird song…and generally to experience that mystical oneness with my universe that, sadly, I for one simply cannot quite achieve while behind my computer or the steering wheel of any motorized vehicle. Tasman is neither the most famous, nor the most over-subscribed of the Great Walks…but I’d definitely do this one again. Believe it or not, I really did cut out a TON of photos from this post but there are still a lot, for anyone interested in getting a more thorough feel for what it might mean if you were to lace up your boots, grab your walking stick, and step out onto this lovely trek. To reduce the length of the post, condensed two sets into galleries and one set into a slide show. (The gallery just below this focuses on tidal crossings and other cool visual and experiential effects of the tide’s action along this trail.) I hope you enjoy!
…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: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/tongariro-crossing-the-summit-of-mt-doom/)
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.
A few weeks ago, I got back to East Sepik again for the first time since July of 2012. It was great to see the towns and have a sense of continuity; also great to see it through eyes that have now been around PNG a bit longer and come to understand the extent to which the arts of the Sepik region are represented all around the country. At Ambua Lodge near Tari, the dining room is full of magnificent woodwork carved by folks from Sepik. This set of photos is all from the settlements on both sides of the river at Pagwi, which so far as I can see is the first place along the course of the river, in its run from the mountains at the Indonesian-PNG border to the Bismarck Sea, where a sealed road gets to the river’s bank. The detail of roof decoration above is from a lodge I photographed at that time as well; but then I’d not seen the gorgeous close-up mask that I shared with you all back when the orchid show was happening down the road from us at the house of Parliament….which was built in the style of a House Tamburan, a men’s house for traditional ceremonies in the Sepik region, from what I understand.
It’s good I went for the orchid show and took those shots of the lovely facade of parliament house when I did, because not long after, the speaker of parliament had the lovely row of traditional masks just above the lintel taken down and (at least partly) destroyed, for religious reasons – something about idolatry, I think. This caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the local media. I remain somewhat shocked that in such a multi-cultural country, such a senior leader can get away with simply destroying something of that sort which, as I see it, represents both part of the wondrous heterogeneous cultural patrimony of this rich nation, and beautifully skilled artistic craft. This blog, it would appear, is one of the few places where one can easily see images of the original, intact facade of the lovely house of parliament. That entry, and another example of a lovely traditional larger mask like the one above can be found in these entries:
and here, though I think some of these masks have origins from other regions as well:
If you’d like to see the rainy vs dry season comparisons, go check out a few of the river shots from the entry below:
if you scan through that entry you’ll see a few shots of the same stretch of shore above and below; there’s one where many people are unloading from a boat that’s down below where I was shooting from: that spot is where the boat is in shot just below. I figure the river is a good several metres higher in these shots than last time I was here.
On the other side from Pagwi is a crocodile farm, with riverine crocodiles. Compared to the massive saltwater crocs I saw in Northern Territory two years ago, these guys look cute and cuddly. Still, I’d rather not step on one or even share the same patch of water with them! And as the wonderfully decorated skull below shows, even these freshwater guys can grow to substantial size if not captured by croc hunters like those pictured above and then sold for either meat or leather.
This is where we spent the last few quiet, peaceful, absolutely blessed nights on South Island, there at the tail end of 2013 with my mother and brother. These are the Marlborough Sounds; if you’re so inclined, google ‘linkwater marlborough’ and you will see exactly where on the map of the world the shots above were taken: at the base of the Grove Arm. With Howard and Gene, five years ago, we drove fairly rapidly through this area en route from Nelson to our Kaikoura Coast Trek, but I remembered it as a lovely spot well worth revisiting. Now I’ll remember it as one of those places on earth I could very happily live, or retire, if I could ever afford it. 🙂 A lovely mix of pastoral, agricultural, maritime, small-town, outdoor-adventure…you name it, you got it there from milk cows to fantastic kayaking and world class wines. (Wonder if NZ tourism will give me a cut for the referrals here…) Btw below are the panoramas giving you about a 280-degree view from the pier on which the above photo was shot.
At the moment, a soft rain is falling on a Port Moresby Sunday morning, and I expect only to wake up in Port Moresby (or PNG more generally) on only seven more Sunday mornings. After having done precisely that for most of the past 104 Sundays, this comes not as a shock, but as awareness of imminent change. Friends on the email list have already started hearing from me about the plans, and in the months after March this space will feature more of North America and Europe than the South Pacific. And I’ll hopefully spend a lot of time on my bike and in the yoga studio. For now, my goal is stay focused and keep things on a steady course as we head into the home stretch. That’s all I shall say now: enjoy these shots of the Marlborough Sounds and Marlborough wine region, and some of the west coast and central South Island mountainy areas we drove through getting from Christchurch up to Linkwater. Peace, out, more at some point…
All of these initial shots, up until the last photo of the bay with the green boat and the tree, which comes just after the display of mailbox pride in the Marlborough Sounds, are from the basic Linkwater area. If this appears correctly, below you see a rainbow and if you look closely you’ll note that it’s actually double rainbow. It was, in fact, the fullest, clearest and sharpest full double rainbow either Steve or I had ever seen. (Mom was napping.) After the mailboxes, you’ll see various photos taken of the mountains, rivers, and vineyards that extend around the middle of the island south of the Grove Arm and north-northwest of Christchurch, through which we drove on…the rainy 29th of December, to be quite accurate. Enjoy! Happy new year!
And here some shots again of the Cook Strait as we departed South Island and headed back to North Island: below, Picton Harbor from on board; and a few shots below the exit from Tory Channel into Cook Strait with North Island in the distance; and further down a panorama shot in which you see both North and South Islands from the boat in Cook Strait.
When last I myself visited the wild, entirely rug, very wet & green & remote & spectacular southwestern expanse of South Island that’s known as Fiordland National Park, I managed to squeeze in a day trip on Doubtful Sound. (Which is so named because, in the days of sailing ships, captains usually doubted they’d find the offshore wind which would allow them ever to escape from the narrow, deep sound.) This time around, knowing a multi-day hike such as we undertook last time was out of the question, I thought I could still get Mom and my brother out for an overnight – and so we spent the night of 23rd December snugged into a little anchorage in the midst of, probably, the most remote and wild place any of us had ever spent a night…and we’ve been a few places, so that’s saying a bit of something. Our little boat had eleven passengers and three wonderful crew, and despite omnipresent rain and mist, it was simply an extraordinary experience which left us all feeling quite privileged.
Thence we drove on up to Queenstown, on Christmas Eve, where we had the lovely dinner whose dessert course you see having its five minutes of fame above. I’m popping these photos up on the blog at the start of New Year’s Eve, here, knowing that tomorrow we all fly back to our current home countries – me to PNG, they back to North America – and that the first weeks of 2014 will be full and hectic for me. Happy new year & lots of love to all my readers, known and unknown.
And for anyone interested in other, often sunnier, photos of the Fiordland region, check out these entries:
https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/definitely-doubtful-sound/ in which you can see how Doubtful looks when the sun’s shining a bit, and another shot remarkably like the top photo here…and with blue sky. Ah well, don’t tell my family. Cheers.
Since I figure many of you will only be interested in a few of the atmospheric, misty-foggy-rainy waterfall shots, I’ve plugged several of them into a gallery, below, where you can either skip over the thumbnails or click to see the full-sized shot if you’d like. Below the gallery are a few more full-sized foggy-misty shots for the atmosphere and then a shot of Lake Te Anau from the southern shore, and then a few from Queenstown and the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
Looking at the opening shot from Dunedin’s lovely town center, called The Octagon for clear reasons, I am reminded how lovely blue skies can be. As you will see in subsequent posts from Doubtful Sound and here in Christchurch where we’ve been now for two days, this semi-clear day in Dunedin earlier this week was, roughly, the last bit of blue sky and sunshine we’ve had. Ah, for the sunny blue skies of our Cook Strait crossing!
That said, the Northern Royal Albatross, perhaps the most iconic fauna of Dunedin’s gorgeous if wet Otago Peninsula, only flies when it’s windy and seems to prefer the wet to the dry. Thus we were able to really enjoy seeing quite a few of the adolescents on the wing during out time around Taiaroa Head at the tip of said peninsula. Below is one shot of such a bird in flight, but no still image, not even something on film, could really capture the remarkable grace and perfection – for their evolved purpose of circumnavigating Antarctica in the roaring 40’s 80% of their time – of these creatures of the air. Their wings are multiply hinged, so that they unfold in sequence to reach a much greater length than you might think, if you saw one nesting on the ground as we did from the hilltop perch whence we first viewed them.
On the same remarkable day we saw all the yellow-eyed penguins, some of them up rather close and personal. They’re (one of?) the most endangered penguin species in the world. And, a correction to those whose imaginations have been over-stimulated by Happy Feet etc., most of the 18 extant penguin species are NOT ice-dwellers, but nest on beaches and, yes as seen here, in coastal-adjacent grasslands. What makes the yellow-eyed ones so rare? They’re the only anti-social penguin species. They won’t nest in sight of other penguins! So when Euros showed up here and started cutting down the coastal trees and scrub, these guys’ nesting habitat was greatly reduced. They also won’t nest if they see humans around – they’re very habit-driven creatures and do not like the size of humans. So on this working sheep farm, the owner a few decades ago decided to start tunneling down under camouflage nets that he’d erected to hide himself. These underground paths lead to what are now basically viewing blinds scattered over the acres of headland where the yellows come back now every year to nest and lay their one egg and hope it hatches and rears well. If you look closely in in the shot that should be more or less at the end of this block of text, you’ll see gray ball of fluff which is a several-week-old chick, the only one who’s hatched on this patch this year of about a dozen or so nesting pairs. Yellows are something like the third-tallest species of penguin. We also saw some little blues, aka fairy penguins (yay!), in the water, but they’re too small to capture well. (If you’re curious, there’s this from my last visit in Dunedin: https://somuchworldsolittletime.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/littlebluepenguin.jpg) — these guys are more numerous but they’re truly a bite-sized morsel for many an airborne or seaborne predator, so they try to camouflage well from both below and above and thus are hard to capture well on film. Because we so rarely get to see truly wild and natural penguins in their own habitat, I went a bit shutter-crazy, but to spare those of you without so much interest, I’ve tucked most of the penguin shots into a small thumbnail gallery below; the penguin-lovers among you can click on the individual shots to see them in fuller size; there’s another shot of the chick w/parent in there as well.
Anyhoo: I hope you enjoy these wildlife shots. Despite its Scottish weather, I find Dunedin – this time as last – a surprisingly appealing and magnetic town that I can somehow imagine living in. Who knows, maybe some day. Especially if I meet the right reason, as it were… Cheers and happy new year, one and all.
…a northern royal albatross in flight, above; and a fur seal at rest below. There were tons of fur seals and even a few adorable, squeaky little pups hidden in the rocks and among their protective elders, but I didn’t get many good shots of the seals, either here or later in Fiordland where we again saw quite a few in the water and hauled out on land. They’re show-offs in the water, when a boat goes by, I can tell you that for sure. 🙂
In the shot above, you’re looking down from the Octagon toward the train station in Dunedin, a grand building erected during Dunedin’s reign as wealthiest town in NZ (late 1800s or so, due to gold finds around inner Otago region) which they claim is now the most-photographed building in NZ. Having not photographed it last visit, I figured I’d do so in my usual off-angle way this time around :p)