I’ve seen it … I’ve been there

Long term changes in global weather patterns is a popular topic of discussion today. First, this isn’t some liberal rant about “climate change.” I’m not smart enough to understand whether or not it’s all man-made, whether it’s a natural effect, or whether it’s a combination of both. I do know how it’s affecting those who live in the Bering Sea region and Alaska because I’ve been there (five times since 1999) and seen it first hand. In 2009, for example, my wife and I spent two weeks exploring via small cruise ship the remote Bering Sea region from Kodiak Island, to Dutch Harbor to Eastern Siberia in Russia. It was, to say the least, a trip of a lifetime.

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This is Savoonga, the only town on St. Lawrence Island, located in the northern region of the Bering Sea, and as far as I’m concerned the most remote town in the United States. Below is the U.S. Post Office, Zip Code 99769.

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Below are photos of a few of the Native Americans who live in Savoonga. They were “dressed up” and welcoming of our visit. They shared native foods with us. They also gathered with us in the high school gymnasium to share their joy in song and dance. These are proud and very wise people.

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While there we learned how much these Americans depend on finding and gathering enough sea life annually, as a primary food source. There was a small General Store that sold basic subsistance items, but each was relatively expensive given the need to bring supplies in via air and boat from the Alaska mainland. Seal and Whale meat was hanging in various locations throughout the town, drying to make it less prone to spoiling.

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We were told how it has become increasingly difficult over the past several years to find enough whales, walruses, seals and other sea life to sucessfully hunt. For example, a single whale, captured and killed using harpoon and small outboard motor boats, might result in enough food for 100 people, for one year. Do the math to figure out how many whales must be found to feed a town of 700. Warming ocean water, the hunters said, seems to be the main cause of the reduced numbers of their usual and traditional prey. These are subsistence hunters. They waste nothing and take only what they need.

Another sight I’ve seen since 1999 is relatively rapid glacial melting, again caused by unusually warm temperatures. On our first visit to Portage Glacier south of Anchorage, for example, it was possible to see the glacier face on Portage Lake from the Visitor’s Center. In August 2017 I was there again at the Visitor’s Center, and the glacier had retreated so far back into adjacent mountains, one had to take a lengthy boat ride to see the face. I saw the same thing in Prince William Sound (August 2017 photo below). While many glaciers there are most impressive by their size, I note that they were much more impressive the first time I saw them.

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I recall when it was impossible for us to get as close to this glacier as we did this past August. That was because glacier ice clogged the bay almost to the point where I made this photo. I submit that warming temperatures are causing this.

Maybe we’re now going through another “cycle” that earth has experienced many times before. Large climate swings back and forth that may take decades to document. However, I’m weary of listening to and reading theories by so-called experts, and politically motivated bloggers who’ve never been there to see first hand what’s going on. I submit my “facts” observed over almost twenty years of “being there” are worth much more when discussing this situation. Blaming someone or some “thing” does little to help the Native Americans that live in these remote regions.

One Boot Camp Graduation

P1050436I recently attended the graduation of one U.S. Coast Guard Boot Camp class, in which our grandson was a part. Being retired military myself, I had looked forward to this day for months, even back to a time when he was working hard to get himself physically prepared at home in North Carolina, for the rigors of the training. Which, I learned, was a lot tougher than he expected. But all that was put behind the proud young men and women standing at attention before me and others, seated nearby.

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Leaders made introductions and speeches, and afterwards it was time to present the coveted Certificates of Graduation to the 80-plus “Coasties” standing in formation.

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And then it was over and family members like me moved quickly to shake hands, hug and generally say we too felt pride in the accomplishments made by these fine men and women. Within a few days each of the graduates would be off to their first assignment “in the fleet.”  But first, a handshake and hug.

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Fitness is Good

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Our daughter Amy teaches 3rd Grade students in North Carolina. She’s also been trained in various aspects of “physical fitness”, and plans to obtain her professional certification in that regard. Being retired military, I understand what fitness is all about. When Amy’s son Stephen decided he wanted to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard, Amy took it on her own to help get him ready for the rigors of Boot Camp. Her youngest son, Daniel shown below to the left is a natural athlete himself, so he’s sort of along for the ride, and when called upon may serve as a “demonstrator.” He did just that showing Amy how to walk the parallel bars at an Army Corps of Engineers built and managed “Fitness Trail” near where I live. While Stephen and Amy “sweated it up” jogging in-between fitness stations, Daniel and I walked ahead to recon the difficulties that they’d see, and Daniel noting how he’d done a lot of these rigorous exercises when he was playing high school football in Texas before they moved to North Carolina. Like my title says, “fitness is good.”

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Early Spring Fishing

It’s the beginning of fishing season headed into the hot summer months in SW Virginia. Soon, lakes and their hidden, quiet coves that attract fishing boats will be more crowded than they are now. Enjoy the season if you like inland fishing. And, if you’re an ocean variety fisher-person, have an equal amount of fun. Good catching all!

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Special Tennis Match

We were visited recently by our daughter Amy, her husband Mark and son Daniel. They had traveled from their home in Texas to spend some time touring the mountains of North Carolina and SW Virginia. During the visit, I had the pleasure of watching Daniel play a match with his father. Both are excellent players and were evenly matched throughout the game, with the “old man” winning closely. I had my camera handy of course and got some nice action images. Note Daniel’s form. Very nice indeed!

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When I Hiked

Recently I was walking around a public park in Greensboro, NC and there were two specific aspects I saw, on a life-sized bronze statue on display, that got my attention. The first was a hiking stick being held, and the second were the hiking boots being worn. These two images reminded me a lot of my past.

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Up until the time in my life when I was no longer physically able to do the sort of rugged hiking I once did, there were few things I enjoyed more than exploring alone, trails, woods, lake shores and mountain scenery on foot. I usually had a stout walking stick to help my balance, and always wore a sturdy and comfortable pair of boots. Most times I carried a camera to record what I saw. I recall one time specifically when I finally reached the bottom of a rocky gorge I’d hiked to in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, descending about 2000 feet elevation over steep twisting and ankle bending trails, when I had to stop, sit down on a large fallen tree trunk, and begin to regain my breath and to let my shaking legs rest. After eating an energy bar, and draining about half of my limited water supply, I asked myself if this sort of strenuous outdoor activity was really worth it. Well, after I continued on my way along a stream flowing through the base of the gorge, toward the trail that would eventually take me back up the steep gorge to where I had parked my car I discovered something that made it easy to answer my question of “worth” with a resounding “yes.”

Off in the dark woods, I spotted a rock wall about four feet high. It was obviously man-made, and surrounded what I saw right away was a cemetery. There were about twenty, crude stone-slab grave markers there, and the ones on which the carved letters were still legible, I determined that the people buried there had died before 1910. Many were the graves of babies who had died in less than two years after being born, a testament to exactly how hard life was in these mountain valleys during that time. Strangely, a few of the graves had artificial flowers neatly arranged on top. Someone, I thought, had been visiting this old cemetery recently. Who were they and how did they get here I wondered. Had they hiked down the steep trail I did, or was there some other way to the site? No matter how they got there, they deeply cared about the place.

As I began my hike back up the slope I concluded that doing what I was doing that day was not only excellent physical activity, but the real benefit was being able to discover such a relatively hidden place, clearly with a great amount of sentiment being given to it by those who had placed the flowers on those graves. When I finally made it to my car (again gasping and straining to walk easy) I finished off my water supply and promised myself that so long as I was physically able, I’d continue to hike and explore. It’s memories of such times that give me joy today. When I see objects like the hiking staff and boots on the bronze statue in Greensboro, I flash back to those days when I hiked.

A Special Photo Walk in Danville

Danville, Virginia is but a short drive of thirty minutes or so from our home. It’s a very historic place with many wonderful photographic opportunities. I’ve been there many, many times and each time I go I find some different view I’d missed before. Right after Christmas 2015, I made the trip with folks who had never been there. Our youngest daughter Amy and her three sons (in order behind Amy) Stephen, Brandon and Daniel had traveled from North Texas and I was of course most happy to have them with me on this very special “photo walk.”

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One photographic attraction and popular visitor location I wanted them to see was the Main Street Historic District and it’s intricate and colorful Victorian Style homes. I was not the only one with a camera. Brandon (below) is very creative in both photo/video work and perhaps one day that will be his chosen life’s journey. Amy and Stephen had their phone cameras and the images they made showed a talent for composition. Daniel, being a high school athlete excelling in both football and tennis was the catalyst of the group, offering wise and inspiring comments along the way.

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Here are a few photos I made for my personal enjoyment that day.

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This trip to Danville was my last photo walk of 2015, and I have to say it was certainly my most enjoyable for that year. May those in 2016 be equally so.

Oh Christmas Tree

Last year I posted a story about a rather large “live” Christmas tree our cross-the-street neighbor Daniel decorated in his home. Here’s my photo of that tree from a year ago.

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You must agree that was a very nice tree. Almost eleven-feet high and natural. Well, Daniel out did last year’s tree with the one below: an approximate eleven-foot high, Virginia Pine, 100 inches diameter at the base. It’s beautiful.

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Like last year, Daniel asked me to come over and make some photos of the tree and his lovely family, Sarah and Sophie. What a treat and honor that was for me to be so asked. Sophie was at first a bit shy, but after she became accustomed to me and my camera (a small, not so imposing Fuji X100T) she began to romp about the tree and smile a bit. After all, it’s not every kid who has parents so nice to bring into her home a tree like this one.

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We are extremely fortunate to have neighbors such as Daniel, Sarah and Sophie living close, and I look forward returning next Christmas with my camera, to make photos of the family, and their special tree. Merry Christmas to all!

Frank’s House

Neighbors where we live are perfect for us. One is Frank, and he has a very unusual house. Not so much on the outside, but when you walk through the front door you can’t help but feel you’re in a very unique place. His front porch has items displayed that make you wonder what might be inside.

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When you get inside, your visual senses are overwhelmed with items of beauty, historical significance and just plain awe that one person could collect so many diverse items and display them in such an attractive manner. Here are several examples.

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Frank definitely appreciates history; not only in America but worldwide. He has been collecting antiques for over twenty years since he retired. He told me he usually makes three weekly visits to local antique shops, usually coming away with a great find, often for an amazingly low price. And, he actually knows where everything is located in his house, and has each item recorded for posterity. Like I said above, we have great neighbors.

Action on the Water

Recently as I was walking along the Roanoke River, I spotted a small flock of Canadian Geese, feeding along the shoreline. The closer I got, they promptly waddled into the rushing water upstream, and began their escape from this intruder with camera in hand. Meanwhile, further downstream, a local fisherman was completely ignorant of my presence. He was definitely having fun, and I hoped at the time that he had been successful in his catch. It was “action join the water.”

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