Monday, December 29, 2014

The Silver Lining to a Cold Land

You may have read a dire-sounding warning in The Old Farmer's Almanac, "Beware the pogonip!" It shows up nearly every year in December. The expression "pogonip" is an anglification of the Shoshone word for cloud (payinappih). It names the atmospheric condition and effects of freezing winter fog, commonly formed in mountain valleys of the western United States, particularly Nevada. Apparently, the myth still persists that icy particles in the fog can be injurious to the lungs; this ironically in a state with a relatively high proportion of smokers.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Visiting a Minnesota Christmas Tree Farm

Charlie Brown and the passing of the 70s depressed the soulless market for artificial Christmas trees, so the annual tradition of picking a live--or rather, only recently dead--spruce, fir or pine tree is still the preferred way for the majority of American households to bring a little domestic nature home and cover it with Chinese-made plastic.

Most trees are purchased at impromptu lots adjacent to box stores and gas stations. It's not only food that comes from the supermarket. Where do they store them all year? My wife always feels there is nothing lonelier than an unpicked lot tree, destined for the wood chipper and garden mulch. So this time, we opted to get a little closer to the true source, and we visited a cut-your-own tree farm about a 30-minutes drive west of Duluth, Minnesota. It's a less wasteful American family tradition in places where the jungle isn't made of concrete.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pictures of the Moment - A What Kind of Pavement?

"A what kind of pavement?" I asked the unresponsive travel guidebook as we continued our drive tour along the eastern coast of Tasmania.

Tessellated pavement pans, Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania. Farther from the shoreline than the "loafs" (below) evaporating water leaves salt deposits that more readily corrode softer, more weakly-cemented sandstone of the concave pans than the relatively resistant joint filling between them.

In architectural terms, Encyclopaedia Brittanica defines "tessellated" or mosaic pavement (also known as floor mosaic) as interior or exterior floor covering composed of varicolored stone tesserae (Latin: “dice”), cubes, or tiles of other geometry closely fitted together in simple or complex designs with a durable grout or cement. Think of the courtyard mosaics of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Where is the Best Christmas Light Display?

America has an obsession with electrical stimulation. Even Snoopy gets in on the act.

Duluth, Minnesota is making its case as the world's capital of Christmas lights. It's a win-win for everyone, especially Minnesota Power. Does that reflect the crass commercialism bemoaned by Charlie Brown, or something more? It's a curious dichotomy for a community that was recently recognized as America's best outdoor town. Merv Griffin may have been on to something when he sang about this "Christmas City." There are only so many towns with their own holiday jingle.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Photo Essay - Storming Castle Hill, New Zealand

The indigenous Ngāi Tahu people named this place Kura Tawhiti, treasure of a distant land. Later European settlers, reminded of towering battlements, called it Castle Hill. It is well named in either case. Situated on the spine of New Zealand's South Island, south of Arthur's Pass, Castle Hill is still a high-country sheep station. But amoeboid, stony marbles crisply framed against a steely blue sky, it is also an otherworldly karst landscape of tumbling limestone boulders and tors rising from the rolling, grassy turf.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Picture of the Moment - An Invitation from Lowlands Beach

I love everything about this picture my wife took in June of 2010 -- soft winter's lighting of a late afternoon highlighting individual tufts of grass and distant hills, the beckoning of the stepped, sandy bush track. Even now I can feel it inviting me in. What could await you down below, where the winding path disappears into mystery?

And then there are the memories... We knew our time in Australia was coming to a close, the bitter-sweet end of something wonderful, like a warm bed the instant before your alarm rings on a cold morning, you appreciate it most at the last.

Lowlands beach is located near Denmark, on Western Australia's southwest coast. Drive west about 30 Km from Albany via Lower Denmark Road and turn left onto Tennessee Road S, following it until the end. The last 1.5 kilometers are unsealed. From Denmark, head west via the South Coast Highway (1) to where it intersects Lower Denmark Road.

You'll find a beautiful, white sandy beach nestled between granite cliffs.