August 21, 2017 Solar Total Eclipse

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have ordained, what is mankind that you are mindful of him?                                               Psalm 8

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C2 Totality

As you surely know, the U.S. enjoyed a cosmic (dare I say, near biblical) event last week— the first total eclipse of the sun to cross the entire country in 98 years.  Perhaps some baseline tidbits?  A solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s orbit brings it in alignment between earth and the sun.  Our moon’s diameter is 400 times smaller than the sun’s, but coincidentally, the moon is 400 times closer to earth than the sun. The moon’s orbit is modestly elliptical, so some alignments of the moon between us and the sun do not fully eclipse the solar disc, producing a so-called annular eclipse.  But for this August event, the moon was at just the right distance from earth to produce a precisely complete beach umbrella shadow total eclipse beginning off the west coast of Oregon and arcing southeast to exit South Carolina into the Atlantic, in a path roughly 60 miles wide.

Astronomers speak of total eclipses in four stages, labeled C1, C2, C3, and C4, referring to the very beginning of the eclipse (the time at which the orbit of the moon’s leading edge begins to cut in front of the outside periphery of the solar disc), the beginning of totality, the end of totality, and the end of the lunar periphery in front of the solar edge.  Our viewing location was atop a bluff above a radio-control model aircraft airfield to the north of Redmond, Oregon, carefully chosen to produce an adequate duration of totality, an absence of teeming throngs (just the four of us), and providing relatively quick egress from there to our Cirrus, awaiting us on the ramp at the Redmond aerodrome, KRDM, for transport back home.  Cathy had classes to teach the next morning.

It’s amazing what you can find on the internet and the sort of apps that can be added to a mobile device these days.  In pre-eclipse recon, I discerned that my chosen camera site would have C1 at 09:06:24 with the sun at an azimuth of 103 degrees (ESE) at an elevation of 29 degrees above the horizon,  and so on.  See my hand-scribbled crib sheet below, which I frequently extracted from my shorts’ pocket as reference during the morning’s passage.  The vagaries of mobile phone latitude/longitude position determination during a dry-run rehearsal were such that, in fact, we got a bit more totality than expected, but otherwise pretty much on the mark.

Eclipse times

My crib sheet makes reference to a new moon moonrise at 05:05, followed by official morning twilight at 05:44 and sunrise at 06:16.  This was all too glorious to pass up, so I arose at 03:30, with host Neil H kindly driving me to our viewing site so as to be setup and capturing Time-Lapse of this beginning of the day.  The new moon was such a sliver that, with cirrus clouds to the east, it escaped being noticed at all, but the rest of the dawn was lovely, as I hope the linked video below will convey.  My Cathy came along with Neil’s wife Kathy S (meine frau’s college dorm chum) a tad after sunup, and before C1.

Eclipse sunrise

All these celestial machinations are a demand for my peabrain.  Okay, the phases of the moon are the result of the terrestrial shadow on the lunar surface with earth coming between the sun and the moon.  A solar eclipse is when the moon comes between the sun and the earth, the moon throwing its shadow racing across the earth.  But on this day, the moon rose first, even if we couldn’t see it in its newness.  The sun followed, over an hour later.  Then with the sun climbing left to right in the southeast sky, the moon’s shadow began taking cookie monster bites out of the sun, with the chewing starting at the upper right…

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…and moving to the lower left across the sun.  I guess that means that the speed of terrestrial rotation about it’s axis was faster than the speed at which the moon was rotating around us?  But it makes steam exit my ears just thinking about it.  Anyway, it was just wonderful being ill-informed and wide-eyed observers.

Not to mention, selfie photographer subjects.

So, it’s the moon, betwixt the sun and earth that blocks the sun to produce the eclipse, casting its lunar shadow across the earth’s surface in the process.  C1 corresponds to the beginning of the penumbral shadow moving across the terrestrial surface, the diffuse shadow ahead of the full umbral shadow which races across the earth like a tsunami, first overriding then receding at C2 and C3 respectively.  Those not in totality’s path also take in the penumbral shadow to the side, and it ceases everywhere at any location’s C4 time.

Midway between C1 and C2 the glow of the grasses and sagebrush began to dim while the cameras captured their T-L, and successive still imagery.  That’s a very clear sky, but already dimming.

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And mere moments before C2, the sky began suddenly darkening in earnest, with the umbral shadow racing towards us readily observable. That would be hostess, Kathy, below, taking in the moment.  This twilight was of a different look and feel than vanilla dawn and evening twilight.  The hues, which seemed to emanate from some gossamer veil of light grays and violets cast over us didn’t correspond to the pinks, oranges and reds of the myriad sunups and sundowns I regularly enjoy.

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At the same instant as above, just before C2, the last moments of solar view before totality.

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There’s more shadow things to mention.  I had heard that two things are possibly perceivable.  One is “Baily’s Beads” named after Francis Baily, who, in 1836 posited an explanation of lunar surface peripheral light at C2, and the other is referred to less elegantly as “snakes,” myriad twisting, writhing vaguely linear shadows on the earth’s surface in the split moments as totality comes on.  Both are caused by the same thing—the lunar surface is not a uniformly smooth circumference, but one composed of mountains, craters, valleys and such.  At just the moment of totality the sun’s light is not instantly and totally eclipsed, but manages a moment or two of wriggling past the low spots while being blocked prematurely by the higher terrain.  Baily’s Beads are a dancing of light at the moon’s edge as perceived from earth. From observing it with the 12X magnification of the telephoto,  I saw all sorts of spectral color variations in apparent prismatic effect, light beams bending around the lunar topography and coming through earth’s atmosphere in some angular warpage.  Breathtakingly beautiful.

With a little inference, one can imagine how this might make darting snake-like shadows momentarily appear on our earth’s surface.  But I’d like to share a personal vignette that you fellow terrestrials may have experienced, especially those who do first light dog walks and surf checks along the bluff in my Del Mar haunts.  When the sun is up but not yet over the hill of Del Mar, the surf near the shore is cast in shadow by the cliff.  As the sun rises farther, there are a few seconds when there is direct light on the white foam, brilliantly lit, simultaneously with penumbral shadows from higher trees and such up the hill.  This softened, shadowed light quite literally dances aglow in fervent gay abandon in an absolutely magical way around the churning whitewater.  It is momentarily fleeting, pretty much an earthly version of what a keen observer on the lunar surface would see at the edged interface of umbras and penumbras on the moon if it had an atmosphere to diffuse shadow.  Pick the next sunny morning here and transport yourself into this unique earthly experience of the physics of beads and snakes.

There’s yet another eclipse experience about which many have already heard—the “diamond ring.”  I don’t know if it ever occurs at the beginning moments of C2, like Baily’s Beads.  I did not perceive that, anyway.  But as C3 came on, the sun breaking forth  at the lunar periphery, we were treated to a spectacular 1000 karat version perfectly in keeping with Richard Strauss’ Also Spracht Zarathustra fanfare.  

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Go ahead, indulge yourself, and turn up the volume:  

So here’s the deal.  All of this seems so precise and technical, because it is.  The sort of information one would use to carry the proper gear, to the proper location, set up in the proper manner to assure a no-sweat, slam dunk oh-so-informed turn-key eclipse experience.  True as that may be, no amount of preparation as to the technical details prepared the four of us viewers for the emotional experience.  Not on a par with walking on the moon looking back at our earthly blue marble home, but a whole lot more than taking in a fine sunset or a full moon rising above the coastal mountains in the east.  It haunts me still, and I am already thinking of the next opportunity, perhaps Chile in July 2019, and for sure, Fredricksburg Texas on April 8, 2024.

May I present a multimedia version of our morning on August 21, last?  Don’t forget to observe the dark sunspots on the sun and the red solar flares at the one o’clock and four o’clock positions.

“Mein Jesu! Was Vor Seelenweh” by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Stokowski transcription for symphony orchestra.

I thank Victor V for keying up Psalm 8 for me, and Russ H for doing the same with this quote from Blaise Pascal:

“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe, and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”

Headed home along the western edge of the Sierra Madre range.

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Home in time to take in the end of the day from the front deck.

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As ever, Tom

 

Biking the Italian Dolomites

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The beginning of Summer and the end of Cathy’s Spring semester.  What to do?  How about a biking vacation in the Italian Dolomites, part of the Südtirol, or southern tyrollean mountain region which includes parts of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Italy?  Intriguingly, while the biking was in Italy, the tyrol its largely a German language region, so we didn’t really start interfacing in Italian until our fifth lodging.  Each of the small towns where we stayed have both German and Italian names, and the routine language spoken in cafes, trains, and street corners was German.

United initiated new non-stop service from San Francisco to Munich about a week before our trip, an as yet undiscovered flight routing sparing us the usual “are we going to get on?” space available travel nail-biting.  There’s a train station right in the MUC terminal, where we acquired our tickets through to Innsbruck, Austria, and boarded a train for there within minutes of our on-time arrival.  We used Innsbruck (which means, loosely, the place where the bridge crosses the Inn river) as our jet-lag adjustment location, and it’s a worthy mountain-surrounded city destination in its own right.

The Inn river, and a pedestrian platz, above

The “Golden Roof,” seen from the City Tower

Innsbruck tower

We lodged at the Schwarzer Adler in the “Old Town” just a short walk from Innsbruck’s fine Tyrollean museum and several strolling platzes, and an equally short walk to the gondola ride up into the mountains for hiking on the west side of the city.

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A shaded trail leading to a mountain hut for food and drink, before proceeding above the tree line for spectacular vistas.

Innsbruck Nordkette view

There’s more than one way to get about and take in the sights.

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After two nights in Innsbruck we boarded a train for a four hour journey including two train changes to tiny Silandro (aka Schlanders) Italy where we would begin the biking phase of our trip, set up by the Pure Adventures outfitter we used two years ago in the Czech Republic.  Self-guided, using their rental bikes, detailed maps and written directions, with stays in very nice lodges and hotels, breakfast included, and luggage transfer provided, while we rode from town to town, generally between 50 and 60 km each day.

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The view out the train window while nearing the Austrian/Italian border.

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The Schlanders Bahnhof, or Silandro Stazione, if you prefer.  As small and delightful as the town.  One track, or gleis or binario.

We stayed two nights here, at the Hotel Golden Rose, beginning riding the next day, driven up to the Resia Pass at the border with Austria, for a 60 km downhill back to Schlanders.  The route generally followed the Adige river, which means more downhill than up, but nonetheless plenty of “up” in each day’s rolling.

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The scenery on Day One was none too shabby.

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Small towns through which we passed usually had their own take on fountains with potable water for refilling the bike water bottles.  It was in the upper 80s to mid 90s each day, so we were constantly needing to top off the H2O.  We stopped at tiny Canal (20 structures?) for water, then an off-the-charts lunch of fresh salad and vegetables, and the most delicate gorgonzola white sauce and broiled chicken pasta, partaken in the shade of overhanging grapevines.  Well in the running for best meal ever.

Our breakfasts throughout were continental, with an enormous variety of delectables—eggs, cereals, muesli, fruit, cheese, meats, yogurt, fresh and grilled vegetables, every sort of kickstart sweets, breads, rolls, juice, sparkling water, coffee, and even Proseco.  We waddled our way to the bikes and never needed to dine again until mid-afternoon, though timing the hunger and sustenance was required, as cafes closed from 2-6 PM.

Each afternoon I tried to capture a feel for what we experienced with that day’s journey, free-associating on my i-Pad, and will paste it whole, here:

Reflections on 11 June: Resia pass to Silandro.

Sounds–Eagles’ “Hotel California” from the speakers in the diesel 6-speed stick Ford Transit Van. Songbirds. Babbling streams crossed, and shushing Adige river alongside, wind swirls as we head downhill into a headwind.

Sights–Tyrolean crags, whitewater, maps/textual directions/bike paths & signage, tall church spires, walled castles, wildflowers, and pollinator collisions–okay, that’s feel, not sight. Mea culpa.

Tastes–pasta with a delicate Gorgonzola white sauce at Canal. Five stars.

June 12: Silandro to Merano.

Cycling through countless km of apple orchards, the trees pruned to near vertical stalks in close-quarter rows.  Apples, this early in the season, small green and reddish nubbins. Birdsong incessantly delighting, and joyously saluting the fine sunny day. Widely scattered small undeveloped cumulus, per Camelot meteorological statute, confined solely to the ridge lines either side of the descending valley.

Leapfrogging a family of four–two small children on their own bikes. We’d pass them, only to have the favor returned when we stopped for another Canon moment. Must have happened a half dozen times.

We beat our bags to the City Hotel, a complication for Cathy, who, used to our Czech trip, with bags awaiting, failed to stash walk-around attire in her panniers. For once I had the edge. Not to be repeated going forward.

Castle Trauttmansdorff gardens. Wow! By city bus, no less. At about 95 F. One portion of the extensive gardens featured its own river and waterfalls, a stretch slowing over pebbles along a sandy bank (where are the darting trout?) trees laced overhead, all of it a blessed relief from the late afternoon swelter. And, oh, those breezes coming up the slope at 18:30 with wasser kalt mit gas, were a godsend.

June 13: Merano to Caldaro.

It took some navigational work leaving Merano, where the directions were based on a lodge well out of town. A local map from the hotel, and a bit of intuition, and we were able to join the route after several km. The riding has been on mostly well-marked designated bike paths, with great smooth pavement, absent the broken glass of US roads. Biking is a way of life here with a diversity of riders from toddlers to oldsters, male, female, clubs, cruisers, you name it. Flip flops to SIDI and spandex. Some slower than us even in our dotage and 45 pound clunkers, but many young Italian and German men with high tech rides, wheels singing on their missions from God.

June 14: Caldaro to Trento

Our lodging in Caldaro was a small boutique hotel, Das Haus am Hang, situated well up a killer hill for heavy bikes at the very end of the riding day. But a worthy place with a commanding view of the lake and valley down yonder, a fine restaurant with al fresco dining, livened by a refreshing breeze. There’s a pool, and lounge chairs scattered under the overhead vines of this working winery.

Two problems, however. At bedtime the breeze quit, as did the AC! And the morning’s departure directions were not from Haus am Hang, but from a “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” starting point–down yonder. Eventually we found our way to down yonder, and a local, seeing our bewildered furrowed brows, took us under his wing with a half German/half English “follow me” to get us onto our route. Good to his word, in spite of a rat in the maze circumbobulation, it worked out sportingly. With another 10 km added to the day’s required kilometerage, of course. Do I sense a trend here?

A bit more about our riding days. Four or so hours including physiological and photo respites, steaming at just less than 20 km/hour. The trip follows the Adige river generally downhill but with a fair share of up amongst the down-rolling. Our riding has, without exception been into a headwind, so pedaling downhill, too. There’s a benefit to this, though–the headwind cooled us somewhat. Scattered along the route there are fountains and dedicated water sites, all with potable, often quite cold artesian water. Given the heat and exercise, I never could consume enough wasser or acqua. Invariably thirsty. Numerous bici bars and small cafes, where we’d stop for a full liter of wasser mit gas (carbonated mineral water, a staple of the region), refill the bike bottles, empty what little we could, given the extant sweat elimination process, swing a leg over the top tube and saddle up, the sitzbones and quads reminding us of their vote in the discussion.

June 15 & 16: Trento to and in Riva Del Garda

Leaving Trento was even more complicated than arriving. Our lodging was in town, but the directions were from a pension outside of town on the other side thereof. This resulted in an additional 10km to negotiate without explicit guidance, using a hotel-provided city map, and naturally a day 10 km longer than advertised. Ah, but what fun starting the journey through the Piazza Del Duomo, this morning, turned into a bustling farmer’s market, spilling into the first blocks of Giuseppe Verde Strasse. Yes, let’s laugh together at the incongruity of Italy’s iconic opera librettist having his street name in German. And while we’re indulging our funny bone, how about taking an enormous imaginative and temporal leap to join me in mirthfully transposing Cathy and I and our bikes as Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck slicing through the throngs on our Vespas, now an appropriate half century after our Roman Holiday! Okay, you had to be there, but memories are made of this stuff.

Not until well out of town did I realize I’d left my water bottle at the hotel. Nothing for it but to pull from the pannier the small bottle retained from our flight to Munich. This occasioned a delightful refill opportunity at a fountain in the center of a flower-bedecked traffic circle in a one horse town beside the Adige. Then there was the textual directions’ river crossing denied us with the bridge being closed. Backtrack to the preceding waypoint, and sure enough, dayglow chartreuse signs (in Italian, natch) pointing to the necessary detour to carry on towards Riva.

There were clues, if one was alert to more than their road-weary derrière and tired quads–let’s see, we have to exit the Adige valley at right angles and proceed to a pass, so as to drop into the mountain-locked Lago Garda, the largest lake in Italy. Does the term “climb” ring any bells? Earned, the right to make the roaring descent from San Giovanni Pass, an exhilarating punctuation mark, prelude to eine grosse bier und pizza, lakeside, just before the 14:00 cafes-closed bewitching hour. Consumed as emphatically deserved-certain as the divine right of kings.

Riva Del Garda is right out of central casting as your quaint waterside Italian town. We stumbled on a wonderful cafe up an oxcart-wide cobblestone passageway in keeping with a place a couple thousand years’ established. The following day We endured the obligatory tourist boat ride down lake, the high point of which may have been the sailboat regatta on the return.

June 17 – 19: Verona.

Verona is an ancient place. We reconnected with our Italian UCSD exchange student “son” of 9 years’ past beneath the Porta Borsari, which dates to the BC era. Marco squired us to favorite sites and sights, not to mention tastes and personal vignettes. The coliseum, here, predates Rome’s, and now is celebrating its 95th season as venue of al fresco summer opera–unfortunately beginning next week. Then there’s this evening’s sold out Tony Bennett concert in the Teatro Romano. Double “Rats!”

We’ve explored very vecchio (old) streets, churches, towers, and hills, collapsing, footsore into shaded trattorias, red and white checkered tablecloths supporting leant-on elbows and glasses of chilled Soave vino bianca. And if spirits sag, how better to rally to the next adventure than with a double gelato from that tiny dispensary of taste extravaganza Marco told us of on the corner of Via Cappelletta? Then right on cue, having just licked fingers clean of cicolatta drool, while strolling in afternoon shade on Pietra Vecchia, what should we encounter but an open garage? Within, a man and his ten (?) year-old son diligently conjuring the machinations they have set in motion on a hand-made wooden Foucault pendulum using a weighted pendulum with attached stylus to render colorful circles and ovals in never-ending arcs scribed on paper. Dad waves us in, and in conversant English we learn a bit about one another. No, he’s not an Engineer, but a forest ranger, who like me, delights in the tactile pleasure of wooden things, like his scribing device, and the hand-crafted wooden-frame kayak hanging from the ceiling. His wide-eyed son is clearly enjoying this unexpected drop-in event nearly as much as he exudes love and pride in his father. I share that in the U.S. this Sunday happens to be Father’s Day, and ask of dad if he’s familiar with the English term “serendipity?” The tongue twister is beyond his vocabulary, but he clearly grasps my definition and the none-too-subtle example our ice cream-engendered chance visit represents thereof. We part, four happy humans, none of us knowing the others’ names.

And tomorrow we secure train transport back to Munich for our Tuesday flight return to day-to-day reality, serendipitous and planned adventures drifting into memory lore.

Drink break on the way to Schlanders, and then the arrival thereto.

The biking was always on dedicated and well-signed bike paths, which combined with our maps and textual directions mean only modest navigational challenge, but when challenged it was always in the getting to and from the lodging within the community at each destination.

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Flower bedecked covered bridges.  The sign reads “You are pedaling in the areas dedicated to the cultivation of marzipan.” Except at this point we are pedaling amongst vineyards.  Ah, Italy.

En route navigation mostly amounted to how many kilometers to the next bench under a shade tree for a butt-break and a little back stretching.  Which is to say that there was plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view.

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Castles abound, why do you ask?

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But don’t forget to take in the small scenes close at hand.

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And, as ever, smell the flowers and refill the water bottle.

We arrived in Merano, pretty bushed and beaten down by the late afternoon heat.  But Cathy wanted to find a way by bus to the gardens at Trauttmansdorf Castle in the hills outside of town.  I went along to get along on this, only to discover that she had nailed it as a worthy venue.  The gardens cover several square km, and are lushly beautiful.  There were shady mini forests, vast numbers of blooming flowers and a cafe with a lovely fresh breeze overlooking the valley from the shaded al fresco watering hole.

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The view of Caldaro from Haus am Hang.

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Haus am Hang lounging, mit grosse bier after plunging into the pool.

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I’ve mentioned bici bars and alongside the path cafes as R&R oases. The local riders routinely would consume a beer or two at these locations.

Cathy and I just tried to keep going and save the adult beverages for the end of the riding day, as in this interlude of beer, wine, bread, cheese, olives, and scenery at Scrigno del Duomo on the Piazza del Duomo in Trento.  And yes, that is a new apple from one of the orchards through which we rode.  A personal smile-inducing talisman.  The duomo (dome) itself is off my right shoulder.

Scrigno del Duomo and apple

The Italians are such friendly sorts, never mind the crumb-dusted beak.

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This afternoon, there was a community event in the piazza, urging people to rally against cyber bullying, with locals casually taking in the event and enjoying Neptune’s fountain.

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The next morning the piazza was a thriving farmer’s market with food, flowers, and hand made goods, the square chock full of people doing the day’s shopping.  We had to walk the bikes through and onto Giuseppe Verde Strasse.

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Our final biking destination was Riva del Garda at the north shore of Lago Garda.  There was that climb out of the Adige river valley, and then the roaring downhill to the lake.

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This northern end of Italy’s largest lake has regular afternoon winds to delight wind sailors and kite sailors, as well as those engaged in sailboat regattas which we enjoyed when taking a ferry ride down the lake on our second of two days there.

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The view from the harbor quay next to our lodging at Hotel Sole.

Lago del Garda

The quay is a gathering place from early morning to late at night.

Sole warf

Riva warf morning

Clocktower twilight

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And, of course, like all of Italy, the Garda area is a rich environment for a color and texture hungry photographer.

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Riva has plenty of trendy stores, and cafes with tablecloth al fresco dining on narrow cobblestone streets of a dimension and carefree abandon in keeping with having been laid out a couple of millennia ago when transportation was by oxcart.  On one evening we dined between two delightful Bavarian families, and learned that we were there at the end of a two week school holiday in southern Germany, thus accounting for the large number of German-speaking tourists in a highway accessible vacation mecca.

Having concluded the bicycling, we were driven to Verona, an ancient Italian city notarized by William Shakespeare, even though Romeo and Juliette never existed except in his fertile mind.  The Veronese nonetheless have capitalized on the lovers’ tragedy by establishing a home for both, Giulietta’s being just off Via Capello, close enough sounding to Capulet, and finishing the nod to tourism by adding a balcony that did not exist on the house when it was chosen in 1932.  Marketing 101.

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An important motivation for our visiting Verona before returning to Munich, apart from never having visited the lovely oh-so-Italian city, was the chance to reconnect with our Italian “son.” Marco Tebaldi hails from there and was hosted by us as an incoming UCSD exchange student nine years ago.  We’ve had wonderful host relationships over the years and have daughters from Spain and Taiwan, and other sons from France and Mexico.  Marco was in town during our time there, having returned from his most recent work posting in Melbourne, Australia.  We got a chance to be squired about with a local’s eye, and his boundless enthusiasm and bonhomie, and then meet and take dinner with his real parents.

Marco chose to meet us, just steps away from our Palazzo Victoria lodging at the Porta Borsari, a gate entrance to the old city dating from before the time of Christ.

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The old city is a labyrinth of twisting pathways, and something fascinating and colorful awaits around every bend or corner.

The view from the Clock Tower.

From Verona's clocktower

The Clock Tower itself.

Verona clocktower

Dynamic Duo just below the tower.

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Striding on the Ponte Pietra (stone bridge) crossing the Adige at the Castelvecchio (old castle).

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The bridge is both a wonderful viewpoint, as well as worthy view subject.

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Ponte Vittoria as seen from the Ponte Pietra.

Ponte Vittoria

Verona Adige

Last of the twilight.

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I’ve mentioned Verona’s multi-millennial age.  It has a coliseum, which predates the one in Rome, with whatever Caesar it was at the time, getting the idea for Rome’s version when seeing Verona’s on a visit. Dating from the first century it is more lately the venue of summer opera presentations, unfortunately beginning the week after we left.

A little set decoration outside the coliseum’s walls, awaiting installation within.

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Speaking of ancient, Dante Alighieri hailed from Verona.  I think one of his circles of hell might well include our country’s present governance circus.  That’s him, striking a pensive pose.

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Wherever one strolls, there are sights to delight.

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Verona wall #1

It was just around the corner after the picture above, that we had the serendipitous encounter with the man and his son in their garage with their handmade pendulum and kayak.  And just before this next serendipitous hello appearing on cue as we strolled by, and fully in keeping with the neighborhood colors.

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Well, trips end, as does this missive.  But first a glimpse from our sleeping berths on the return flight.  Somewhere northwest of Hudson Bay.

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Ciao, Tomaso

 

 

A new moon sets, a new home rises

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Memorial Day weekend, and a staple of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church is the annual Come Build Hope mission over that Friday to Sunday to build homes and plant seeds of hope for deserving families in northern Baja California.   This year, a return visit for Cathy, Torrey and I, perhaps the best ever.

As a once Army grunt, I liken Come Build Hope to a military campaign, with all the strategic vision and copious logistics planning.  And similarly, many things go off well, but not without a few glitches and a touch of drama here and there.

Hundreds of us rendezvous at the church campus and are transported by high-end comfortable buses to a pre-staged campsite a short distance from the shoreline near Rosarito Beach.  Not just SBPC, but other churches sponsor worker bees, and all of it is coordinated with Amor Ministries, based in Mexico.  Amor bulldozes a relatively level site in coastal grasses, maybe 250 yards square, and when we arrive near sundown, the tents are set up, as are the portapotties, kitchen, food serving area, modest solar showers, and a couple of sinks to wash hands and brush teeth with potable water.  We travel with our individual work team group, and the site is set up with a designated module for each group encircling a campfire pit, and folding chairs to take in the warmth and camaraderie during evenings and early mornings.  The Amor staff has a quiet generator to provide for the kitchen, but for everything else, it is strictly campfires and headlamps. You know, there’s something to be said for the forced quietude of non-electrification.

One of those aforementioned glitches occurred during the Friday arrival, with the group that flies in from Colorado for CBH.  They got picked up on time at Lindbergh field, but their bus driver got lost navigating the warrens of Tijuana, and arrived around 2130 military time, long after the gorgeous moonset and chilling time after dinner for the rest of us.  Amor kept dinner for them and their arrival was greeted by cheers from one and all.

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But it’s early to bed and early to rise.  I’m not sure about the healthy, wealthy and wise part of the old saying, but early the next morning we’d get a fire started to take off the chill and nurture the team’s coming together.

There’s always a flurry of activity getting the day started, a teeming mass of humanity as we fill our lunch bags with the sandwiches we make for ourselves, along with chips, granola bars, and fruit and a water bottle.  This is followed by breakfast of eggs and sausage, french toast, potatoes, cereal and milk, fruit, coffee, hot cocoa or juice.  There are meetings for team leaders in preparation for the day’s labors.

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As you can see, Come Build Hope attracts workers of all ages and stripes.  Some are not persons buoyed by faith, merely wanting to do their part as citizens of the world.  There are Scouts that come as a troop.  Old and young, and old that are made young, as well as young that are made mature just by the experience.  It’s genuinely lofty stuff.  But there’s also the stuff of families and friends having spontaneous fun.

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The windup finished, the ball’s on its way.IMG_4186 copy

A solid hit with a spare scrap of wood…IMG_4185 copy

We load up the water and Gatorade, and board the buses for an 0800 departure to the various job sites.

Two teams per bus, each headed to separate sites near one another.  We called ourselves the Dirty Dozen, and by the end of the day, the term fit like the proverbial glove.  That’s a small team of unprofessional builders to build a house from the ground up in two days, but most of us had been on previous Hopes, and under the excellent guidance and cajoling of team leaders Sandi and John (aka Juanito) we pulled together.  Not a slacker amongst us, and the mutual support of other self-igniters carried the day.  Okay, days.

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This is a human endeavor, and the humanity of it all is everywhere.  Our driver, Rosaria had Danna Paola written on her inside mirror with a picture of a young girl.  I asked if this was the name of her daughter?  No, the name of her deceased young sister.

Glitches and drama visited us on Saturday morning.  After dropping off the other work crew we proceeded to our site, only to learn that there had been a reassignment to a new family.  The problem was that no one knew the site address nor the name of the family.  Torrey and I were the Spanish speakers in our group, and we enquired of those we encountered in the neighborhood, with little success.  Eventually phone contact was made with Amor and we were able to navigate to our young family of three— Natalia and two year-old José, then after work, Cesar.

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The task is to build from the ground up.  Amor prepares the site by pouring the slab with tiedown straps in place.  On site await the lumber, nails, tarpaper, roofing materials, bailing wire, chicken wire, cement and sand, sand strainer, windows (two per house) and front door, plus a box with some (but never enough) tools.  For safety, and because there isn’t electricity at the site, all labor is manual without powered tools.  We returnees tend to bring our own work pouches, with tapes, squares, saws and hammers.  And hats and sunscreen.

Team leader Sandi spoke to the dignity of doing God’s work, and in the spirit of “praise the lord and pass the ammunition,” job forman John, gave us a brief overview of the tasks at hand and the division of labor before lighting a fire under us, one and all.

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And, then, begins the day’s work.IMG_4203 copy

There were sub teams assigned to framing the two straight walls, the three raked walls and the two subcomponents of the roof.  An early challenge was that—surprise, surprise—the foundation was neither flat or rectangularly plumb.  John’s internal compass worked out ways to resolve this conundrum in spite of the difficulties it presents to making walls and roof come together agreeably and having doors and windows that function.

Before long, the first wall rose up off the pad where we had framed it, followed soon after with additional walls.

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And while some of us began installing the roof framing and sheeting

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Others set about crafting the door jambs and hinging up the front door.IMG_4219 copy

There were a few snack and hydration breaks during the day, plus emptying our brown bags—opportunities to catch our breath, stretch out complaining body parts, and savor the sea breeze and the splendid view.

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Natalia and Cesar, and abuelo, straining the rocks out of the sand to be used for the next day’s  stuccoing, while José (Pepe) supervises.

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We finished around 1800, by which time the framing was finished and the bailing wire was wrapped and tightened to about C-sharp, beginning the process of creating a taught and stable abode.

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Saturday evening’s al fresco dining by firelight was as wonderful as Friday’s, not withstanding the stiff bodies. Do you sense that I rather like the campfire aspect of Hope?

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Sunday morning began with John (aka Juanito) buoying us with the fruits of our labors.IMG_4227 copy

And there was much to do, with everyone doing their part.  Two years old and oh so cute.

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The overhead work required first putting in bird-proofing blocks along the top of the walls, then squaring and nailing the plywood, followed by stapling on tarpaper, and lastly securing the rolled roofing composite.

Then in an afternoon race with the clock, the tarpaper, which had been stapled in place in the morning, was covered with chicken wire, forming a base foundation to which the stucco adheres.   Roofing nails are applied to underlying studs and fire blocks, then with a technique of manually levering with PVC pipe, the wire is stretched tautly over the nails followed by cutting out the doors and windows.

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Close on the heels of this, cement and sand in prescribed ratios are mixed with water to create the first coat of stucco, which is then troweled over the walls from bottom to top.  This stage is an all-hands project, it being necessary for the stucco to be the right consistency, applied before it starts drying up, and getting it done in one step—no stopping partway through.  All this while racing the clock to finish before the day does.

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Finally what the entire experience is designed for—presenting the homeowners the keys to their front door, a few mementos of our time together including a framed group photo and bible inscribed by all of us.  Even Scrooge would choke up at the beauty to be savored in the moment.   Cesar and Natalia, suffused with pride and joy, a curtain sewn by ladies from the church drifting on the afternoon breeze, as she haltingly reads our words of blessing.

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After giving our stucco time to dry, Amor Ministries comes back and applies the second, finish coat of stucco, removes the internal braces, and (hopefully) adds insulation and interior wall coverings.

Giving esperanza y amor (hope and love) to a new family, honoring them and the spirit of giving, as we honor those who gave their full measure in service to our country that we might have the peace and freedom to share our blessings with others in this way.

This year we built 14 homes, which brings the total to over 20,000 built under the auspices of Amor Ministries.  On Saturday evening, the head of Amor shared a satisfying backstory about Mexican governmental red-tape being cleared out of the way by the mayor of Tecate—who grew up in an Amor home and carries with her the appreciation of what giving can accomplish.

 

 

Sureste al México

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Barra Navidad Air Force

February.  Winter.  Cirrus magic carpet.  Escape.  México.

Last fall the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association announced plans for this season’s group flight getaway to Alamos, Sonora, and Bajía de Navidad, near Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico.   I jumped on the opportunity, paired up with a time that Cathy, the resident SDSU professor, had free from academia.  It turned out to be a large and congenial group of forty-five attendees in twenty-two Cirri, flying in from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Come launch day on Sunday the 19th, a winter cold front was pummeling not only SoCal, but all of northwestern Mexico.  Egads, doth we really have to file and fly under Instrument Flight Rules?  The aviating began with a climb-out through low clouds and rain before breaking out on top over the San Diego county mountains heading first toward Mexicali, then southeast by airways paralleling the eastern shore of the Sea of Cortez, en route to Ciudad Obregon as our Airport of Entry to clear customs and immigration.  At MMCN we purchased our multi-entrance permit to fly our U.S. registered aircraft in Mexican airspace.   Not to mention refuel and decaffeinate before a short second leg to our first destination of Alamos, an old colonial era silver mining town where we ensconced ourselves in the gushingly beautiful Hacienda de los Santos.  http://haciendadelossantos.com/wp/

The views of the delights within the high periphery walls of the Hacienda immediately abutting our San Bernardo suite.  I should mention the mesquite log fires set for us in our bedroom’s fireplace to warm the nighttime slumbers.  Daytime temperatures in the mid seventies, nights in the low sixties.  Yum.img_1882-copy

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For pilots, getting there is part of the fun, of course, and the leg to MMCN required sitting up and paying attention.  Prior to effecting the hand-off to Mexican air traffic control, Los Angeles Center enquired of our desired cruise altitude, and I selected 11,000′ .  This seemed a nice balance between what I anticipated as cloud tops and freezing levels, and not having to trundle on with oxygen cannulas.  That worked out to have been a nearly prescient choice, but not without deviations left and right of centerline to avoid the ice-laden higher cumuliform tops.

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That’s TKS anti-ice fluid streaming back along the windshield, above, for our occasionally unavoidable forays into cloud tops.  The higher tops were above 13,000′, and all of them were ice-laden, with many being modest  thunderstorms.  At least our sashays left and right of course centerline averaged being on course!img_3791-copy

The worst of the weather was between Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregon, with the VOR DME 2 Runway 13 instrument approach a necessity. Then we had to proceed under Visual Flight Rules at a lowish 3,000′ MSL betwixt cumulonimbus bases above us and cumulogranitus tops below us, with partial success in dodging rain shafts to our landing at the MM45 (Alamos) strip’s runway 13.

Solid rain from a buildup washing the windscreen on an extended base leg leading to a straight-in final approach to Alamos.

Solid rain washing the windscreen

We mostly dodged the worst cell between Obregon and Alamos, then headed down a river valley for a straight-in visual approach, lifting our skirts just above the rooftop of a house atop the knoll immediately off the approach end of runway 13, and clearing to the transient ramp, guided into our spot by a marshaller.  Thomas Daniel, a Pole by birth, and longtime US resident, put this trip together for COPA, and he really outdid himself coordinating for mass arrivals and departures with the aerodrome Commandantes, immigration and customs, fuelers, surface transport. and luxurious accommodations at both stay-over destinations.  Kudos, Thomas.

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Newsflash—I’m a devotee of the visual, and this time of year in these latitudes of Mexico, the sun enriches the already eye-popping colors and textures of México,  a land of warm and vibrant people.  As I like to say, it’s a target-rich environment for all the senses sybaritic, and a relief to the soul in this contentious social and political time.  Given the incessant tweets and shoot-from-the-hip emanations from Washington, it’s fair to wonder as to how Mexicans greet Gringos these days.  I’m happy to report that our southern neighbor remains the land of “Bienvenidos,” of warm smiles, twinkling eyes and hearty, sometimes shy, salutations.  Individual Mexicans know that not all of America is as dysfunctional and pugnacious as is D.C. Beltway chic.  Our time was universally of a humanity in keeping with the warmth and beauty of the tropical milieu.

Following the passing storm of our Sunday arrival, even the cobblestone puddles and windblown corners of elevated sidewalks graced us with color.  Reason, as ever, to keep the peepers peeping.sj4a0029-copy

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How did we spend our time?  Abandoned to overindulgence, of course.  The Hacienda has it’s own tequila bar with something like 500 different types to ensure a proper wasting away in Margaritaville, if not savoring fine sipping Reposado or Añejo.  The group wasted no time signing up for Tequila 101, a graduate level afternoon slurpfest—everyone eschewing written exams by auditing the class.

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The town of Alamos, population somewhere around 13,000, exudes the quiet small community vibe, where teenagers hang out on foot or bicycle in and around the town square zocalo, the community social heart, and always fronting the church, or iglesia.  Families pass by on their daily meanderings, and seniors hold court, siting on tree-shaded benches.

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Along the back wall of the iglesia, a typically colorful Sonoran mix of cactus and bougainvillea.sj4a0024-copy

 A local farmer’s haul of naranjas which seem somehow a more vibrant orange than we see this side of the border.sj4a0028-copy

A glimpse in the town hall where citizens quietly await an afternoon activity.sj4a0027-copy

 

For our second day antidote to epicurean overload we set out to explore an outlying area not encountered in years past, seeking trails up the tall mountain on the west side of town.  Hacienda staff gave us some street-wise guidance, and then put us in touch with an eco-lodge operator who added trailhead input, and off we went.  We got to the edge of town okay, but it took two salients to actually find the trail beginning near Parque Colorado.   And, herein some backstories of just why following one’s nose can be such a splendid endeavor.

Just another arch leading to residential grounds, except this one belongs to a Massachusetts Henry Cabot Lodge family scion.  Old wealth, well used.img_3833-copy

Passing onwards and up the trail, the really interesting stuff presented itself.img_3823-copy

 This is leaf-cutter ant territory.  Such industriousness—and a power to weight distribution of which The Incredible Hulk can only dream.
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Speaking of which, emerging into our consciousness as if from a dream, we came upon a vision of Sancho Panza astride his faithful donkey, Dapple.  Coming closer and into focus, a buenos tardes discussion revealed the wizened (there’s a pun, here) gentleman to be Ramón, astride Gaspár.  Yes, he assured us, gentle twinkle in his eyes—the very same Gaspár of biblical three wisemen fame.  I’ll wager he’s never heard of Donald Trump, nor bereft thereof.img_3831-copy

Okay, truth will out.  The above picture’s focus is neither the result of tequila, or of daydreams, but of the camera not resetting itself from Macro mode after the picture of the leaf-cutter.  But hey, this is what unencumbered vacation is all about, right?  To the errant walker, the spoils.

Back down the mountain, in what turned out to be a five mile hike, we followed our exploratory instincts and stumbled upon this delightful tiny cafe hidden behind yet another Alamos arched door set in a thick tiled adobe wall.  Teresita’s was all it advertised on its doorway—a bakery and bistro celebrating its sixth anniversary.  Everyone but us was local Mexican or expatriate.  Cathy chose delightful soft corn tortilla carne tacos and I savored a truly awesome Monte Cristo with homemade dipping preserves as counterpoint to its tangy cheese and spicy mustard interior held in place by egg-battered French toast bread.  Artisanal Mexican cerveza to wash down the trail dust, while savoring homemade cheesecakes, floured cakes, cookies and pastries.  Boy, howdy.img_3836-copy

The view within—hand crafted native rock wall, washed from above by a gently sibilant waterfall.  Bougainvillea and achingly blue sky.img_3837-copy

Ahhh, Mexico.  End of the day after a dunk in the pool alongside San Bernardo, and before the evening’s gustatory excess.sj4a0040-copy

Leaving Alamos on the way to Manzanillo (ICAO identifier MMZO), we elected to revisit the Barrancas del Cobre, (Copper Canyon) quite nearby in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  Carved over the millennia by six separate rivers that combined, drain into the El Fuerte, which empties into the Sea of Cortez near Los Mochis.  And this being no problema Mexico, we underflew the canyon.

Dropping over the rim into the canyon near Divisadero, and turning south.  Snow on the rim off to the right.img_3850-copy

The cockpit Primary Flight Display “Synthetic Vision” view of the canyon while descending into the main channel.  That warning is the electronic Ground Proximity Warning System chastisement that we are below ground level.  Well, duh.  It’s driven by a worldwide database, probably originally satellite-derived, and corresponds remarkably closely to the actual view out the window. The system knowing our location, direction and altitude from onboard WAAS GPS.  Scheiss Heiss.  Hopefully you aren’t offended by German pilot expressions.  I used the autopilot here so that I could wield the camera. img_3851-copy

A left rim bank shot before arcing back to the right to stay above the El Fuerte in the center of the canyon. img_3855-copy

And then onwards, overflying Culiacán, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta en route to MMZO.  Lots of mountainous terrain along the way, and we got a moderate turbulence arse-kicking on the last segment southeast of Puerto Vallarta.  Tight seatbelts a must, and reduced airspeed to soften the bumps.

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I can report that we never saw Manzanillo, which is the other side of the hills at twelve o’clock in the frame.  Our destination was one of those absurdly over-the-top Mexican Xanadus behind us in the small Bahia de Navidad (Christmas Bay), so named by the Spanish explorer who arrived there to shelter his ship on a Christmas Day.   Our lodging was yet another suite, of pretty nearly the square footage of our Del Mar digs, and overlooking the yacht harbor, strewn with vessels of J.P. Morgan’s admonition “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” ilk.  If these belong to pensioners, they still have theirs!

Which is segue into a side discussion of some of the attendees, an interesting cross-section of the owner demographic.  One other flight instructor chum with his lady friend, the granddaughter of a former assassinated El Salvadoran dictator.  Her verbiage.  Or the British developer of a Cirrus desktop flight simulator.  The Indian computer PhD husband and wife team from the Silicon Valley.  A farmer from Minnesota.  An RV sales owner and sometimes flight training client of mine with his devil may care wife.  The husband/wife team who’s retailing business turned out to be adult paraphernalia—dinner conversation turning on the benefits of the dual-motored vibrator.  It gives new meaning to the common pilot preference of twins over singles.  I’m not making this up.  The money manager from Pennsylvania, a true gentleman of multiple years’ association from instructing at the Cirrus proficiency event in Williamsport, and his sweet as honey Mexican-born wife.  In keeping with the last sentence in the paragraph above, the eighteen-wheeler owner/operator who matriculated into the Teamsters, and then ended up successfully litigating the union as a self-educated expert, on behalf of fellow retirees, regaining 80% of the value of their pensions, which had been dumped by Teamster shenanigans.  He still has both of his knees, by the way, and is a stellar hero in my firmament of those who do the right thing.

After settling in at the Grand Isla Navidad Resort     http://www.islanavidad.com.mx/site/US/index.php    we took one of the 24-7 water taxis across the oceanic inlet to a typically Mexican low key “poor cousin next door to big cheese extravagance” pueblo—Barra Navidad (Christmas Sandbar) and wandered the village seeking meaning and enlightenment.

Well, at least enlightenment.  Right echelon formation in late afternoon sun.  Have I mentioned that Mexico is unafraid of color?  Barra resonated easily with me, a smaller-dimensioned version of the Mission Beach of my youth—a sandspit jutting between the Pacific on the west, and the bay (bahia) on the east.  Comfy.img_3886-copy

The hotel staff member who golf-carted us to the water taxi, we being too tired to walk it, suggested Simona’s as a worthy alfresco dinner café.  Excellent advice worthy of two evenings’ dinners.  I chose seared ultra rare fresh-caught tuna the first evening, and Veal Scallopini the next.  Simona is a German expat of seventeen years’ Sandbar experience.  First a margarita rocas con sal, then an agreeable Chilean wine while taking in the sunset over our cena.  img_1890-copy

I am Crusoe.  I shall call you “Friday.”img_3887-copy

Barra Navidad street scene.  Shades of my youth when we jacked up VW’s to drop the engine for a driveway overhaul.  These guys are on a union contract—one worker underneath the well-loved pickup, one to hand him the appropriately-sized wrench, and two to kibbutz from their courtside seats.img_3893-copy

After departing this maintenance event, and before partaking of our last evening’s dinner at Simona’s, we had another road less-travelled experience, coming upon a small community park between Barra’s two main streets.  Cathy eyed two young gals of early twenty-something age, setting up a cookie stand.   In my best, only partially stumbling loquacious Spanish, we discovered one was the new entrepreneurial head mistress of her own Xocolate panaderia (bakery) and she was proud to offer some freshly baked cookies.   Seizing upon the opportunity to have some snacks on the next day’s long return flight to El Norte, we secured a bag of nut-filled cookies.  Learning of our intention to consume them on our flight home, she insisted that we take another bag—of butter cookies—tambien.  For the price of one bag.  Eat your heart out Donald Trump.

An auspicious early commencement to our headed home day.  The view across the bahía.  It’s always about the light.  Always.sj4a0048-copy

Ol’ What’s Her Name trying to figure out the name of this pueblo or that rio.  That’s when she wasn’t reading her book on the world’s refugee crisis, or playing electronic Sudoku or Solitaire.   The mountainous air between Manzanillo and Puerto Vallarta, where we’d had such a drubbing three days before, now sublimely somnolent.img_3899-copy

It helps to engage one’s sense of humor or at least still the passions when in unfamiliar travel circumstances, it not life more generally.  We had to dodge a modest immigration incident bullet as we passed through MMCN as our chosen AOE international departure station.  When you process through México’s immigration on arrival, they issue a paper visa and place it in your passport.  That visa paper is surrendered to them on departure.  Cathy’s passport had her visa, but mine had gone walkabout AWOL from my passport, which had been snugged into a pocket of my pilot’s kneeboard (a holder of charts and other pilot necessities, usually strapped around your thigh for easy and secure access in flight).  This produced real terror in the customs inspector, who had been the very gentleman who had welcomed us at MMCN at the beginning of the week.  He remembered us both just fine, but was distraught because the process involves not only securing the paper, but entering data from it into the governmental computer system.   After much handwringing and head scratching I remembered that I had taken out of my passport, where I usually keep it, my immunization record, which I had placed in my Baja Bush Pilots “Airports of Mexico” booklet sitting on the back seat of the Cirrus.  I hurried out and found the visa hidden in the yellow record.  I’m not sure if the officer or I was the more relieved—it was smiles all around, for sure.

And as icing on our departure cake, the computer link of the Obregon Oficina de Combustibles (Fuel Office) was down, and everyone purchasing fuel had to pay cash.  Fortunately having occasionally experienced this elsewhere in Mexico on past trips we had held in reserve enough cash to fill ‘er up.  No, this is not a subterfuge for corruption, it is just “the computer is down” that it appears to be.  In fact, without exception,  over the years, every time we’ve had anything to do with Mexican officialdom at the aerodrome interface, everyone has been completely professional, courteous, and welcomingly helpful.  A bona fide treat.

Before signing off, perhaps you may find interest in a few technicalities?  We flew on three days of our week’s getaway, covering 2284 nautical miles.  An even 16 block to block hours in my pilot logbook, but 15.2 hours takeoff to touchdown, for an average economy power groundspeed of 150 knots.  213.1 gallons of avgas, for a fuel consumption of 13.3 gallons per hour.  Altitudes ranged from around 1,000′ above ground level, to 11,500′ MSL.  Some actual instrument flying on Day One, a little icing, a lot of deviating that day, and one non-precision VOR approach with a non-radar airways transition in actual instrument meteorological conditions, IMC, in pilotspeak.

Safely back home with a plethora of happy memories in the can.  And unrelenting rain again today, as I write.  Oh, for the warmth and blue skies of tropical Mexico.  Next year, once more with feeling.

Hasta Luego, Tomás

Peak Color

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Over those many decades of commercial flying I developed a strong affinity for the stark beauty of the Four Corners region.  Over the PA I’d point out that it was the only place in the U.S. where four states come together at right angles—Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Minnesota.  Mind you this was back in the day when people actually looked out of the windows, passengers and pilots alike.  Ahem. ‘Tis a region with appropriately modest population and infrastructure to minimize distraction from the beauty and solitude.

As SoCal Del Martians we are used to seasonal changes, but not on the order of many locales, so come autumn, Cathy and I frequently heed the siren call of deciduous extravaganza.  In the mountainous regions of southern Utah, one gets to double dip with the flora as punctuation for the colors of the earth itself.  Yum.

Catalina had set up her SDSU schedule with an eye to having the time off and we settled on a VRBO home in Brian Head, a quiet ski resort in the Dixie National Forest at an elevation over 10,000’ and a short drive out of Cedar City, where the Cirrus took us in 2:02.

Zion to starboard.  Short final approach to Cedar City runway 20.

The otherwise sleepy aerodrome, these days is actually busy with extensive helicopter training for flight students at Southern Utah University.  The folks at Sphere One Aviation had a silver Nissan rental ready for us—in fairly nice condition considering its 166,000 miles on the odometer!  Well, anyway it ran well and like The Little Engine that Could, managed to get us to all of our trailheads and national monuments and parks.

Neither of us had ever visited Cedar Breaks National Monument, just a stone’s throw from our Brian Head lodging, so now was our opportunity, and it did not disappoint.

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The only downside for some, might be that unlike Bryce Canyon National Park, all the hiking at Cedar Breaks is along trails atop the canyon rim.  But at over 10,500′ there was enough gasping along the rim’s undulations to not add more by dropping into and then back out of the canyon itself.  Not to mention, the topside view left us gawking as well as gasping.

While the second time-lapse was running, I read in the monument materials that the Spectra Point trail led to an outcrop with multiple Bristlecone pines.  Oh, my.  Bristlecones are the oldest living things on earth, up to 5,000 years old, although Cedar Breaks’ versions have matriculated through a mere 2,000 seasons.  Lord knows in this election season it sure helps to think in terms of a longer perspective. ancient-one

Ancient One

bristleconesCan you imagine the stories to be told from this vantage point the past two millennia?

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Bristlecone pines have a somewhat intriguing life plan.   Some of the older portions of the tree twist to take best advantage of the location, and eventually die off, leaving the newer parts to continue being sustained by the roots.  These are hearty plants that take root in poor quality virgin soil that would not support other trees, and with a dense resinous wood resistant to insects.  They survive with very little water, not to mention carrying on at high elevations that would be above the tree line for many species.  In a word, durable.

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Plus they are wondrously gnarly.  Given the advancing arthritis in my limbs, I feel a particular affinity with this specimen, so reminiscent of Tolkien’s Treebeard.  I’m sure he is gesturing to make sure I appreciate the beautiful contrast between the red rock and the golden Aspens over yonder. Probably smiling internally at the colorful pranks of those youthful lowlander whippersnappers with their flashy colors.

On our second day, we ventured forth to Bryce Canyon, about an hour’s drive east of our lodging.

I thoroughly enjoy making beach drip castles with the grandchildren.  Besides their redolence with my own youth, they always remind me of the sandstone filigree of Bryce. Bryce, like Zion, has shuttles about every twelve minutes that take riders to and from the various viewpoints and trailheads.  A great way to get about and minimize traffic jams.

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Following our day at Bryce, we considered driving 1:20 or so the next day to Zion National Park.  We decided, instead, to stay near Brian Head and hike in the Dixie National Forest. Zion is superb, but worth multiple days in its own right, and the roundtrip drive time was off-putting.  Ol’ What’s Her Name did a bit of online research, and came up with a couple of days’ worth of exploratory hiking from two trailheads on the Virgin River Rim Trail, meandering up and down either side of 10,000′. This entire region is part of the northeast-bound rising terrain of the Grand Staircase, forming among other things, a watershed that includes the Virgin River.  Excuse my tangentialism, but here’s a glimpse of the Virgin River flowing through Zion from a previous year’s visit.

virgin-inversionVirgin Inversion, Zion National Park

Cathy’s excellent research really hit the target for beauty, exercise and perfect crowds—we saw three other hikers on the first day, and zero on the next.  cascade-falls-trailDescending terrain along the Cascade Falls trail exuding the early October autumnal colors

img_1452Climbing the Virgin River Rim Trail southeast-bound from the trailhead at US Forest Service road #054.  Weather conditions were primo throughout our stay, but layering was absolutely essential, with early morning temperatures in the low thirties, warming up to the middle forties, and strong gusting winds waxing and waning throughout the days.  With the exertion of hiking at these elevations it felt cool, but not cold—so long as you kept moving and didn’t dally in shaded areas with the full force of the wind on you. Cathy complained about cold fingers, but didn’t let that deter her. Rounding a bend in the trail, or easing along the edge of red rock drop-offs,  we were constantly reinforced for our exertions.

zion-from-the-virgin-river-ridge-trail         Gazing at the back side of Zion National Park from the trail.

Well, as mentioned at the outset, we came for the fall colors.  Veni, Vidi, Vici.  You Latin experts will have to change that to the first person plural, past tense—We came, We saw and We conquered the opportunity to drink deeply from the splendor of it all.

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And, yes, that’s the trail along the forest floor just to the right of the tall Aspen in the center of the frame, above.  I’m sure you’ve noticed the title to this missive is a silly double entendre, on hitting the season at maximum coloration, but also the mountain peaks in the region in which we traveled.   Trees’ peak color is very short-lived.  The image below of this particular strand of trees was taken as we drove on that unpaved #054 USFS road proceeding to the trailhead in the morning.  By that same afternoon returning to our lodging, the leaves were already noticeably more orange and rapidly blowing from the branches.

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Consider another example—the strand of Aspens, below, is the same as that shown in the very first image in this post, but seen twenty-four hours later.  Gold, turning to rust.

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Following our second days’ trail hiking I returned to another vantage point at Cedar Breaks with hopes of a viable sunset time-lapse sequence, the cirrus clouds you see in the image above, glowing in iridescent glory.   However nature had other ideas.  The clouds disappeared entirely, leaving an entirely clear sky—lovely by day but lacking in the pizazz of clouds lighting off in prismatic excess at and after sundown.

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Still, the rich low light giving way to dim pastels has its own appeal.

My intention was to follow up that T-L with another of the Milky Way arcing above the southern through southwestern horizon, with a nice new moon setting in the bargain.  Great idea, until the reality of an upper 20s temperature and about 25 knots of wind racing up from the canyon floor and over the rim directly into my face took hold.  This would have required nearly three hours to film, and my teeth-chattering got the best of me after about twenty minutes.  So just a few still frames lifted from those from the beginning of the abortive T-L.  Dang, but I wish I’d had warmer clothes and maybe a bottle of Laphroag as anti-freeze.  No guts, no glory this time.

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milky-way-moon-and-planet-settingThat’s Venus, setting in tandem just below the moon, which while a sliver in real time, appears here as a globe, given the speed of movement over the fifteen seconds of the time-exposure.  These frames all come from a time over a half hour after it became dark.  Isn’t our galaxy just gorgeous, and can you see, as I do, how it forms a ghostly lion’s visage staring back at us, two glowing eyes above the snout, an umbral mane defusing into the night sky?  The horizon glow is probably a mix of residual twilight augmented by Lost Wages’ luminescent excess, not visible with the naked eye, but fully apparent in a fifteen second exposure, taken every twenty seconds at ISO 2500.  That fifteen second exposure is what necessitates 3 hours—three frames a minute for 180 minutes is 540 frames, and at 24 frames per second you end up freezing to death for 22.5 seconds of T-L video.  Brrrrrr.

I’d like to finish up by dedicating this missive to two chums—T.J. Steer, a United pilot colleague from yesteryear with whom I had a guys’ Cirrus trip to the Four Corners, and Wes Mudge, with whom I’ve had a couple of trips in this region.  Great guys and great memories. Being in this region has had me thinking of both of them rather a lot.  T.J. has flown west, very sad to say.  Wes is still happily amongst us, glad to say.

Paradise Taveuni, Fiji

 

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It’s a welcoming place

It having been too long since we’d taken a family dive trip, we decided to explore a new site in the Fijian islands—the Paradise Taveuni Resort.

 http://www.paradiseinfiji.com

Getting there from SoCal is modestly straightforward—a 10:20 nonstop from LAX to Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on the main island of Viti Levu, then an hour’s flight by De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter to Taveuni, and another hour’s drive along a rugged, mostly dirt road to the southern end of the island.

Fijians have a well-deserved reputation as among the friendliest people extant, and the welcome we got at the resort was a perfect example. The staff warmly greeted us by name right from the get-go, and throughout the days engaging us with a smile-suffused “Bula”—the Fijian equivalent of Hawaii’s Aloha.  Literally translated as “life,” it is routinely used as a hello greeting.  These are people who smile with their eyes, and routinely stop what they are doing to engage with you.

The resort is lovely and small, and recently rebuilt.

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Our lodging

The view from the room, a perfect place to read in the shade after the morning’s diving, and before the sundown libations or dinner.

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Morning view

After lunch on our first afternoon, we did a single tank dive off the resort dock to verify equipment functionality and to confirm that we still knew how to apply basic underwater skills. Then we settled into relaxing with a book and an adult libation as the sun settled toward Vanua Levu across the Somosomo Strait.  Jet lag be damned!

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Wasting away in Margaritaville

That’s the resort dive boat, by the way.  Small, but seaworthy and capable of keeping something like eight divers comfortable in shade from the tropical sun.  The resort sits at 16 degrees south latitude, and take your pick—180 degrees east longitude, or 180 degrees west longitude.  The international date line takes a zigzag to the east so that the entire island nation is in the same time zone, not to mention the same day.  Taveuni is five hours earlier and a day later than California.  In fact, Fiji begins the new date for the world.  Keep that in mind for your next New Year’s Eve.

The resort is renting that dive boat, because the three they had operated were destroyed last February by Cyclone Winston.  There’s much to say about this beast.  Cyclonic circulation is rotation around a low pressure system in the same direction as the earth’s rotation, a circulation, that due to coriolis effect, is counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise down under.  Common names for cyclones are hurricane, chubasco, and typhoon.  Winston was the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, and that means all oceans and seas.  It came ashore, its eye near the resort, with 185 knot winds.  If you’re not “knotically” inclined that’s over 210 mph!  This exceeded the normal velocity standard that maxes at Category 5, so Winston got it’s bad boy rating of 5+.

The resort was totally destroyed, and the inhabitants at the time survived in a shipping container located behind the main office/dining area and wedged between coconut palms.  The resort staff is from nearby local villages, and those villages and the homes were likewise obliterated.  Resort owners Allan and Terri Gortan, Aussie by birth, and Fijian by current citizenship, were denied even the benefit of insurance, which dropped coverage for any cyclone over Category 4.  They set about building a dormitory for their homeless staff, and then rebuilding the resort, itself.  Providing a place to live, food to eat, work and earnings, and the opportunity for all to come together for a common purpose.  Team effort.

Not at first grasping the magnitude and import of all this, we were the beneficiaries of introductory rates as they bootstrap the resort back to its former glory.  The resort is lovely, but there was a modestly attenuated level of poshness than what jaded jet-setters expect, and thinned out vegetation.  It took about a day for us to realize that we got the glorious end of the bargain, and I’m not talking dollars.  We got to be the honored recipients of this team effort, tangentially contributing with our stay, to the industrious way these proud, hard-working people were elevating themselves, the resort and their communal lives.  The vibe was infectious and sincere at every turn.   This is something you can’t buy at a Hilton or Marriott.

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Quiet, steady resilience

As the saying goes, one picture’s worth a thousand words.  The captain readies the dive boat to come from its mooring to the dock for the day’s dives, and this quiet, shy woman is hand weeding the newly replanted pathway.  Each day began this way.  Sharing in this rebirth was the most satisfying highlight of our stay.

But we’d gone to Taveuni for the diving, and that was certainly a stellar feature.  Most of our dives were along the 13 mile long Rainbow Reef in the Somosomo Strait, and Vuna Reef along the southern tip of Taveuni.  Common depths we dove were between 50 and 110 feet.  Water and air temperature were about the same at 80 degrees F, and water visibility somewhere between 60 and 150 feet.  Oceanic decadence.

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Torrey and Cathy taking in the myriad corals and crinoids on the Rainbow Reef

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Soft corals

Nurtured by nutrient rich currents that wax and wane with the strait’s tidal changes, Rainbow Reef is noted for its soft corals, exuberant testament to nature’s kaleidoscopic palette.

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A cloud of tiny orange Anthias, punctuating the soft corals’ color statement

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White soft coral

Another byproduct of the currents are fan corals.

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Sunlight through a fan, as Torrey and Cathy swim by

Corals, of course are living organisms.  They are sensitive to the nutrients of the water, but also its temperature, its pH, and man-made toxic runoff.  Scientists partially gauge the health of the aquatic environment by the health of the corals, which are central to the symbiotic interplay of fixed and swimming creatures.

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Symbiosis

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Two fish hiding in this colorful coral. One dark eye peering back at me

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Tiny, finger joint-sized nudibranch

Typically the dives last approximately an hour underwater, then an hour on the surface, followed by a second dive.  This surface interval reflects the physiology of the body’s processing of air, which is just under 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen.  We consume the O2 to power our bodies, but the nitrogen, being inert to respiration, dissolves in the tissues and bloodstream under the pressure of the depths and is slowly exhausted at the surface lest bubbles form in tissues and joints producing the debilitating experience of “the bends,”which can literally bend the body in response to painful nitrogen-infused bubbles in joints.

One of our dive days was a three tank gig.  After the second dive we boated to a crescent beach on Vanua Levu for an alfresco lunch to increase the interval before dive 3.  Our dining table was a fallen coconut palm.    The cafe view was none too shabby.

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Alfresco lunch setting

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After lunch, between dive 2 and dive 3

Each day began with a boat ride to the day’s dive sites…

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Morning clouds enveloping Taveuni

…and following the dives returning us to the resort.

Cathy and Torrey

After the dives, returning to the resort.  Happy faces with mask imprints.

On two tank days we’d enjoy a delicious lunch from a daily-changing menu, then repair to that hooch overlooking the water, perhaps a swim in the pool—or as often as not for me, a brief nod-off three or four pages into whatever book I was reading.  Vacation, redefined.

There were also days when we explored some of Taveuni’s ground-based options.

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Tavoro waterfall

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Waterfall swim

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Straddling the 180th Meridian—right foot in today, left foot in yesterday

Early in a long day’s island exploration with our driver guide Jim, we stopped to visit Wairiki Catholic church.  Built in 1909 (and honoring a French missionary who suggested a successful strategy to defeat a Tongan war party) replete with stained glass, but replacing pews with palm floor mats.

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Wairiki Catholic Church

We came by in the midst of an island-wide childrens’ Rugby tournament.  Fijians are perennial Rugby powerhouses.  Imagine a stateside soccer tournament, with kids’ games going on throughout the day, the families rooting on their brood from the shade of trees encircling the pitch…and being watched over by Mary in white vestments.

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Rugby kids, Wairiki church portal.  Somosomo Strait and Vanua Levu in the background.

There’s a backstory here, as well.  We learned that Jim, who also had picked us up at Matei airport when we arrived on our first morning in country, was also a minister in a very small church that he started after being moved by The Spirit on a visit to Brisbane, Australia.  Much against his personal inclinations, this quiet man of faith, heeded the call, seeking to share Christ’s story with his Fijian counterparts.

On our return that day we were treated to a rain falling and a lovely down-sun rainbow.  Our bure (room) is framed by the notch in the double palm and its hammock.

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A paradise rainbow

But still there was more diving to be had, reefs to explore, and creatures to gawk at, including two lionfish.  They are invasive and destructive creatures with very venomous fanning fins.

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Lionfish

Lionfish

Docile, but venomous.  Check out the outrigger paddle eyebrows.

I managed to find a couple of giant clams, several feet across, and similar to the one that holds up the coffee table in our living room, if you’ve been to the Del Mar digs.

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Colorful clam

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Delicate camouflage of a giant clam

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Leaf Scorpionfish.  Feathery, translucent and well camouflaged.

And we also encountered some larger creatures.  This picture lacks the brightness and color of my underwater strobe because this six or seven foot shark was shy, and my “there goes the neighborhood” arrival disturbed its bottom chillin’, scooting away before I could get close enough to do the image justice.

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Shark and remora

For me, the highlight of the dive creature encounters happened as I was running out of air, and starting an ascent to a nitrogen out-gas safety stop at fifteen feet under.  Looking down, past Carolyn (a delightful French film producer living in London) two six-foot across black speckled stingrays were fluttering together in a mating pax de deus, their fins’ periphery a lilting dance of the veils.   I can assure you, we were lost to them in the heat of their amorous ardor.

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Giant rays’ mating dance

Perennial favorites of dive photography are anemone fish.  They live embraced by the anemone tendrils, which are quite toxic, but for which these Clownfish (their coloring) are immune.  A safety mechanism that keeps predators at bay.

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Clownfish, immune to the stinging tentacles of the anemone undulating in the surge.

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Clownfish generations amid anemone—newborn, juvenile and adult

And when the diving day is done, maybe a Fiji Bitter and a bit of quiet time taking in the approaching sunset?  Here, I’ve started a time lapse and am nursing my brewski while reading a book.  Hammock-borne multi-tasking, Paradise Taveuni style.

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A time-lapse underway. Chill out time with a Fiji Bitter

The time lapse from above

Or stills from this and other sundowns.  The first is of a catamaran that came to the mooring to pick up a group of U.S. physicians who took off by the vessel to provide pro bono sick call at multiple small Fijian islands.   A nice way to give back.

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Physician transport

Taveuni twilight

Taveuni twilight with crescent moon

Sailboat as night approaches

Taveuni sunset

Taveuni sundown

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Dive boat sunset

So yes, our bridging the hiatus of family dive trips was accomplished in an exemplary and altogether satisfying fashion.  The Fijian subaquatic environment is healthy and beautiful,  Fijians the warm, exuberant people of our recollection.  And Paradise Taveuni was lovely and getting posher through the ministrations of Allan and Terry and their entire staff.  Vinaka vakalevu.  Thank you very much.

Moonlight on the water

Moon and planet light on the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nature of Nurture. The Nurture of Nature.

Mom—the ever watchful Sweetie

Mom—the ever watchful and nurturing Sweetie

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to watch three hummingbird mothers go through the process of raising a brood, but each time there were logistics challenges documenting the process.  Then, this March, we discovered a nesting female in a palm abutting our front porch.  I’ve surmised that she may have been a first-timer, with only a single egg and placement of a shallow insecure nest on a fairly fragile frond.  The upshot was that a nighttime gusty early Spring cold front rocked the tiny nest so strongly that by morning the egg had been blown to the ground below, shattering its future.

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A sad morning sight.

I selfishly fretted over the lost opportunity to chronicle their family-building.  Then on May 7 Cathy noticed a hummingbird frequenting another palm in the same area, and sure enough, we found a sturdy, deep nest located securely on a strong frond, well protected by foliage above and below, and facing directly at our front door!  Watching until she vacated the area I quickly got a ladder into position to look into the nest.

Two eggs

Two eggs

Hallelujah!  Given a new lease on bird-voyeur life, I set about trying to make the most of the opportunity, setting up the 5D with a 600 mm telephoto alternating with occasional spells of the G16 in macro mode.  This turned out to be a technically challenging endeavor, with fronds wafting in and out of the frame and confusing auto-focus enough to make it nearly useless, dim light on the sheltered nest confounding exposures.  Depth of field with such a long lens located maybe ten feet from the nest meant that focus was always of the shallowest few inches variety.

Given the hyperthyroid exertions of their flight profiles, hummingbirds need formidable amounts of energy ingestion in the form of flower nectar, tiny insects and such, which translates to much coming and going for food, interspersed with quiet downtime sitting atop the nest to incubate the eggs, ideally kept at 96 F.

I struggled to personalize the experience first with a name for the mother and eventually her brood, receiving several great suggestions from friends following the developments on e-mail.  And then one morning I realized that for days I had been stepping out the door in the morning for newspaper retrieval or surf condition checks, smiling at her on the nest, and saying something sappy like “good morning, Sweetie, how’s it going?”   The name stuck.  I hope she liked it.

Ruby-throated hummingbird incubation is in the range of 14 to 16 days in temperate SoCal.  We first discovered the nest with eggs already in place on May 7.  On May 18 the first egg hatched, followed two days later by the second.  One hatched

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Hatchlings one and two.

At breakout, the hatchlings’ eyes are closed and they’re  mostly bald, save for a fuzz down their backs akin to Phyllis Diller on a bad hair day, make that any day.  Their skin is crenulated, about like mine these days, seven + decades into a gazillion roentgens of solar energy absorption.  In fact, new little hummers would be good stand-ins for progeny of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  There, I’m dating myself, and if you don’t know the reference, Google it.  Also, at this stage, they are as yet unable to maintain body temperature, so the reptilian association is perhaps even more apt.  This creates even more challenge for the Sweeties of the avian world, with the effort to feed herself juxtaposed with the hatchlings’ need for both warmth, and feeding.

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Idle time with ptew tongue machinations…

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…alternated with feeding returns to fuzzy-headed hatchlings.

Hummingbird hatchlings double their weight in the first five days, and do so twice again within the next few days, so growth is rapid, and Sweetie was constantly inbound and outbound, as well as sitting quietly atop the squirming youngsters.  As with mom, their names just came to me out of the blue—Bert and Ernie, in that chronologic order.

An early Bert feeding

Lots of incubating

Sweetie vigil

Food for Ernie

This shot reminds me of a helicopter, pitched over and accelerating out of a hover.Nose down, and accelerating

Bert, getting pinfeathers, while Ernie is still bald and closed-eyed.Incredibly hungry

Bert, topping off

And then there was this moment when I just had to gawk and wonder what Sweetie was thinking as to the kids’ capacity to ingest, or her own, for the matter of that.  Grasshopper tenderloin, still twitching and trying to extract itself.  Darn near as big as she.Grasshopper

Food delivery

Sweetie heading out to refill

Pin feathers

In short order the kids began stuffing the nest, feathers rapidly fattening their bodies, although Ernie still is modeling cornrows—Bo Derek, but no Dudley Moore.Getting cozy

Sweetie delivery

More fuel

Click for a Sweetie food delivery

In time they were bulking up enough that it was often one inside the nest, and one hanging around the rim, usually the elder Bert.Bert on the edge

Bert, being older and bigger, frequently got first dibs when Sweetie came in on a food delivery, but she was careful to feed Ernie as much.  Check out the small bead of regurgitant about to transfer from Sweetie to Bert.  Given that pooched out stomach, I expect Sweetie to let go with a 6.5 Richter belch.  A tasty morsel

Mom, we’re hungry!Arrghh, this is hard work

As the maturation progressed, Bert, in particular took to frequent self-preening.  Whether to fluff up his feathers, or just basic fastidiousness, I can’t say.  Bert, preening

However, this behavior seems coincident with the testing of wings.  Bert showing his stuff in the next six frames.Bert, testing

Bert, revving up

Bert, getting lift, without control

His full power pre-takeoff exercise was impressive, but he often collapsed in exhaustion right where he was, Ernie getting squashed by all two ounces of the elder sibling. Bert, all tuckered out

A countenance of pure concentration.Bert testing with resolve

Getting very close to turning a high power run-up into breaking those surly bonds of earthBert, testing lift

Watch out!Bert's first solo return

OMG!

Okay, mom, I'm coming

Bert, get back here before mom sees you!Bert,coming back

Let me catch my breath.  This is so rad, Ernie!Did you see that?

Mom, mom—look what I can do!  Ernie, cringing and pretending it didn’t happen on his watch.Look, ma, I can do this

Landing gear down.  Check.  Flare for the touchdown.  Bert about to land

And then, the next day, the 10th of June, the inevitable…Solo x-country launch

Remember, you saw it here, first.  Outta here.  Look out life, here I come.Look ourt world, here I come

A singularly sad state of affairs…Ernie, all alone

…but at least, Ernie now has room to spread his wings.Ernie, unfolds his wings

The next day we had grandparent (human) responsibilities up in Montrose, CA.  Ernie was still solo in the nest when we left in the morning.  But by the time we returned at the end of the day, I was heartbroken to learn that I did not get to chronicle his launch to freedom.No Bert or Ernie

In closing, let me share a modest measurement of the scope of this magnificent event, the matriculation from tiny egg to feisty terror of the skies.  It should help put our own lives in perspective.

Tiny nest

!WOW!