A Walk on a Glacier

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Edith Cavell Glacier

Last fall I visited Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. My first time in Alberta. I was excited to see the Canadian Rockies close up. The timing was perfect for glorious fall foliage. The changing elevations and landscape in the park offered a mix of seasons, first fall, then a bit of spring, then a bit of winter, and back to fall. I was well prepared with a range of clothing.

One of the popular excursions in the park is a chance to “walk” on a glacier, the Athabasca Glacier.

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Athabasca Glacier

I knew it was a touristy thing to do, but how many chances do you get to do that? To reach the glacier area, I drove the Icefields Parkway, winding through the Columbia Icefields, to the visitor center. I picked a tour time and bought my ticket. Luckily I had time for a nice warming lunch before heading to the glacier. DSC_0400 - Copy

An outside deck at the visitor center provided an ideal seat facing the mountains and glacier. And, the sun added the perfect touch.

It reminded me of when I visited Switzerland, gazing at the alps on a sunny winter day, from a dry and snowless path. It didn’t seem right.

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A bus heads up to the snow coach

As the time for my bus ride to the foot of the glacier approached, the sky closed in and a sudden snow squall let loose!

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No doubt, this was the coldest, snowiest part of the park. I enjoyed the view going up the slope to where we would transfer to the giant snow coaches.

We climbed aboard. We could see the glacier.

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The glacier, through the snow coach window

The coaches are well-equipped for moving over snow. Moving is a relative term. Crawling is more like it. As one goes up the snow-packed road, one is likely going back down. We pause to let one go by. The stream of tourists proceeds on schedule every day.

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View from our snow coach

I had every confidence in our driver to keep us safely on the road. His job seemed a little treacherous, but to him it may have been just another day at work.

When we arrived at the parking area, the snow passed, the sky cleared and the sun came out. There were a couple other coaches and groups of travelers already scattered across the ice. Some were posing, some lying on the ice or otherwise frolicking.

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Though it was sunny, it was quite windy on the glacier. I noted the various state of dress of the visitors.

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Most were well prepared, but some, I thought, had to be beyond freezing. With a cover of snow, the ice still posed dangers. I walked gingerly. We had to stay within the specific area that was deemed safe.

The scene was a mix of international visitors, a good match for the row of flags of all nations that whipped in the gusts.

For a brief time, it was like there were no countries. Just us, the ice and snow, frozen in time. The scene took my mind to Antarctica. I know there are similar flags there too, whipping in similar winds, in a similarly frigid white landscape. DSC_0425

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It was perhaps odd to see such unnatural bright colors in the arctic-like landscape. It brought us back to our individual national identities.  Like the other visitors, I finally found my country’s flag. It didn’t feel like anything special. It was simply a curiosity, a photo opp. After all, it wasn’t the pole. It was Canada.

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Textures

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Having had enough time to take it all in, we boarded our snow coaches for the slow journey back to the bus.

I was glad for the experience. I was glad to have seen, touched and walked on something that is, in fact, going away.

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Sometime after my liftetime it will cease to exist.

Photos Don’t Lie

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Historic comparison of Athabasca Glacier

A Recent Foggy Morning

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Fog is a frequent visitor to Seattle and I usually enjoy it. Sometimes I take my camera and dash out before the fog begins to lift. On a recent December morning, I awoke to find pea-soup fog obscuring the view.

I decided to go down by the water, across from the downtown skyline. Only, this  morning, there was no skyline! Imagine how it would appear, looking across Puget Sound to where the city is – or used to be!

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The scene reminded me of a fond memory of taking a Zodiac in Scotland across a bay to the Isle of May. We started out in thick fog. We could not even see the island. But as we neared the island, the fog lifted and there it was. 

Back to tstumphe foggy day in Seattle. It was a quiet, damp and chilly morning. Along with the fog, frost had covered some surfaces overnight. Shades of gray stitched together land and sea, with puffs of fog occasionally floating over the water.

 

A few distant lights broke through along the docks.

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The only signs of life included a few cormorants, geese, and pigeons.

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Humans included several determined anglers lined up on the dock, intent on hooking squid, and a few people boarding the Water Taxi for the commute over the water to the disappeared city.

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I took a close look at one squid pulled out by an angler and placed on a bench. It was exquisite, still wriggling and struggling to live.

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Its skin was surprisingly colorful and pearly, sprinkled with tiny colorful spots like confetti.

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I could not imagine killing and eating these intelligent fascinating creatures, especially out of that heavily used port. But the fishermen were happily loading their buckets.

 

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Water taxi

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Sailing into the unknown…

Friday the 13th Full Moon

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I looked at my calendar to see when the full moon was this month and, bam, there it was. Friday the 13th!

What could this possibly mean? Has this ever occurred before? I had to see what the soothsayers said about it, or “seers” as the priestesses in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books are called. I happen to be reading about the priestesses of Avalon.

The Harvest Moon of September 2019 will occur just as the days morph from the 13th to 14th, shortly after midnight on the east coast.  But for the rest of us, it will still be the 13th.  This phenomenon has happened before, but it’s generally uncommon.

Smaller Yet Powerful Moon

Astronomers say the moon will appear somewhat smaller this month because it’s at its farthest point from earth – apogee.  moon9 No matter. This “micromoon” will still send full-moon energy. A full moon is the ending of a particular cycle, and marks the beginning of a new one.

Full moons are usually known as times when emotions can go awry. People get crazy, wolves howl, werewolves go abroad. Pair that with an equally freaky day, Friday the 13th, and let the games begin!

One “seer” notes that this full moon will rise in the constellation Phoenix, a powerful symbol of rebirth. However, it is tempered with a host of astrological arrangements.

“Jupiter square Neptune” can foster unpleasant things like trusting too much, falling prey to scams, and suffering losses or disappointments. The position with Mars can bring moodiness, anger, delusion and impulsiveness. DSCN4425 - Copy  But while “full moon conjunct Neptune” brings confusion and deception, Neptune rules hopes, dreams and spirituality, and the position of Pluto, our poor little downgraded orb, contributes positive energy for rebirth and moving on from destructive behaviors and emotional baggage.

Just Ancient Superstitions?

The number 13 has long been considered unlucky, so it follows that the 13th day would also be unlucky. And for some, the 13th falling on a Friday is especially worrisome.

The fear of this number is called triskaidekaphobia. Superstitious people generally avoid walking under ladders and spilling salt. DSCN1654Other taboos are opening an umbrella in the house and putting shoes on the table, both things my mother forbade! Even hotels don’t have 13th floors, most buildings don’t have one, and most elevators do not go to a 13th floor! Would you live or work on the 13th floor?

According to some historians, “Western cultures have historically associated the number 12 with completeness (12 days of Christmas, 12 months and zodiac signs, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 gods of Olympus and 12 tribes of Israel, just to name a few).”

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On the other hand, the number 13 is odd and therefore bestowed with incomplete qualities and has not been so celebrated. It is said that the ancient Code of Hammurabi omitted a 13th law from its list of legal rules. This may have been simply a clerical error.

Furthermore, the  seating arrangement at the Last Supper has led to a longstanding Christian superstition that having 13 guests at a table was a bad omen. The day following the Last Supper was a Friday. Many superstitions seem to arise from religious beliefs or events, while others appear linked to practical considerations.

DSCN4415 - CopyBut not everyone subscribes to these notions. In the late 19th century a New Yorker even created an exclusive club called, what else, The Thirteen Club. He thumbed his nose at all the myths surrounding the number, and invited 12 other men to join. They met on the 13th day of each month, in room number 13, and dined on 13 courses. Apparently, they all dodged bad luck.

Are you willing to test it? Go ahead, walk under a ladder, pet that black cat, and spill some salt! I dare you!

Good tidings under the Friday the 13th Full Moon! 

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Textures and Tones

On a recent day that began very overcast, I visited Mount Rainier National Park. There are several rivers in the park, and the Nisqually is one of them.

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Here it is a very narrow, shallow ribbon cutting through a rocky bed. You can see the low clouds over the valley.

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These were shot in color, but I have converted them to black & white, to focus on the patterns in the water and colors and patterns in the rocks.

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The tone of the water reminds me of chocolate milk.

These views were shot from a bridge over the river.

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New Moon, Low Tide

Last June, I roamed the shores of Puget Sound during a super low tide. I spent my time on the harbor side of West Seattle, facing downtown. The scene was memorable and photogenic, with blue sky and white clouds, reflections in pools of water.

This year I decided not to try to repeat those images and instead chose to experience the lowest tide around the bend to the south, where people go to look for marine life and volunteer beach naturalists are present to identify creatures.

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I guess it’s the moon phase and summer tilt of the earth that produces these low tides. Lucky for us, that’s a better time to explore near the water’s edge than winter!

During these super low tides, I’d say the tide goes out at least twice as far as it usually does, if not more. This is when Mother Nature reveals the hidden world that exists beneath the sea, and hordes of people young and old come out to witness the spectacle.

Hidden Treasures

I went down for a -3.4 ft. tide, and saw some exciting creatures. For the first time, I found a small fish, a gunnel. gunnel

Gunnels are long and narrow, similar to eels. This one was a saddleback gunnel, Pholis ornate, about four inches long, though they can get to about 11 inches long.

I learned that they are found close to shore areas, on mud bottoms among eelgrass and seaweed, and that they feed on small mollusks and crustaceans. The pattern on its skin made me think of a snake.

I searched for and found several chitons clinging to rocks, though their lovely shell shapes and patterns were completely obscured by coats of seaweed. A stunning find was a “gumboot” chiton, Cryptochitonstelleri, which reminded me of shelf fungi I see growing on logs.

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If it grew above ground, you’d easily mistake it for fungus. Someone had spotted it way under a rock and asked a volunteer what it was. It was huge, as far as any chitons I have seen. In fact, it is the largest chiton in the world, reaching up to 13 inches in length. It has a reddish leathery exterior that covers its shell plates, unlike smaller chitons. How lucky was I to see it!

There were plenty of anemones, with the large bright reddish ones screaming for attention. They come in many shapes and sizes.

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If you were going to make a horror film with sea creatures, anemones would surely be the stars. Remember the movie, The Blob? Exactly. With their slime-like glistening amorphous bodies, they stick to rocks and seem to ooze down to the ground.

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Anemone, left, and sea cucumber

 

The larger ones take on these stretchy shapes, while the smaller species are circular masses that can be easily overlooked among the wet sand.

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Stars and Cucumbers

Also looking soft and squishy were the many bright orange sea cucumbers. They are not large, but easy to spot.

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Sea cucumber

Another orange creature was the delicate looking blood star, Henricia leviuscula, with its narrow rays. It was much smaller than the beefy brown mottled sea star, Evasterias troschelli. This guy eats clams, shells, snails, chitons, barnacles and sea squirts.

 

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Blood star
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Mottled sea star and anemone

Nudibranchs are among the most colorful of undersea creatures. Although the magnificent Opalescent sea slug can be found in Puget Sound, on this day, all we saw were bland beige ones of the genus Doris. They were like big flat worms.

There are many kinds of sea weed along the shore, and one visitor even sampled one!

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Sea weed and shell

With all the commercial tanker traffic, ferries and other vessels, I’m not sure I’d eat anything from that particular body of water.

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Some sea weed reminded me of tire tracks.

 

 

 

 

Always my favorite, a moon snail clung inside its beautiful shell. These gastropods have been called “voracious predators” of clams.

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Moon snail and egg case

 

The snail envelopes the clam with its big foot and then drills a hole in the clam shell. Through the hole, it slowly sucks out the clam.

Oh, what goes on in the undersea world!

A Mystery Solved and the Spring Dance of Green Men

I’m so excited, I’m almost dancing.

Salix viminalis, Osier willow, common willow, osier.

These are names for what I believe is my little tree in the front yard! It has stymied me since I moved in 12 years ago. I suspected it was a kind of willow, but when I searched “willows,” none matched my tree. It’s not weeping and it has really small, narrow leaves. It has catkins in the spring, a willow-like characteristic, and gets lots of suckers and turns yellow in fall.

This morning, I broke off a small branch, including catkins and leaves, ready to send it off the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, for identification.

In one last ditch effort, I searched the internet for “trees with catkins.” This time, It didn’t take long to find a photo that looked like mine! “Osier willow” was what was pictured, a tree native to the United Kingdom and across Europe to western Asia. I am 99.9% certain that this is what it is.

I have a female tree, according to the description of its green catkins.

Male trees have yellow ones. Interesting! These trees favor wet areas and their branches have widely been used for basket making.

Osiers and Green Men

But, more interesting is the folklore associated with osiers. According to one British website, Chediston, Suffolk, has a local custom known as a ‘willow stripping’ ceremony. Typically held at the first full moon in May, this Druid-like event features a ‘Green George” figure dressed in willow strippings, who dances around and is then ceremoniously thrown into the local pond.

Wow! May Day is coming. Perhaps I should dance around my tree, though where it’s planted makes that impossible.

I wonder if Green George is what we also call Green Man? I have several versions of Green Man in my garden.

Myths abound about Green Man or “Jack-in-the-Green.”

Figures of Green Man can seen in numerous churches, cathedrals and abbeys, largely in Britain and France. He is variously depicted as good or evil, frequently with vegetation coming out of his mouth. This can represent life returning each spring, fertility, nature and in general faith and hope.

Obversely, Green Man has been depicted as a demon, devouring all of nature, instead of bestowing it.

Whether you know him by Green Man or Jack-in-the-Green, I prefer to think of him as a spirit who guides us back to our nurturing relationship with Mother Earth.

Jethro Tull did a delightful little song about Jack. It always makes me smile and imagine the little people living in my garden.

By the way, in case you  didn’t know, the name Jethro Tull pays homage to an 18th century English farmer and agricultural pioneer, credited with inventing a horse-drawn seed drill, an improved plow, and a horse-drawn hoe. So, he was a bit of a Green Man himself!

Here are some of the lyrics for the song by Jethro Tull, the rock band. Have a listen sometime!

 

Have you seen Jack-In-The-Green?
With his long tail hanging down.
He quietly sits under every tree
in the folds of his velvet gown. . .

He drinks from the empty acorn cup
the dew that dawn sweetly bestows.
And taps his cane upon the ground
signals the snowdrops it’s time to grow.

It’s no fun being Jack-In-The-Green
no place to dance, no time for song.
He wears the colours of the summer soldier
carries the green flag all the winter long . . .

Jack, do you never sleep
does the green still run deep in your heart?
Or will these changing times.
motorways, powerlines,
keep us apart?
Well, I don’t think so
I saw some grass growing through the pavements today . . .

The rowan, the oak and the holly tree
are the charges left for you to groom.
Each blade of grass whispers Jack-In-The-Green . . .

Have you spotted Jack yet?

Spring Equinox and the Super Worm Moon

March 20, 2019: the first day of spring – the equinox, full moon and the third and final Super Moon of the year. That’s a lot of weight for one little day to carry. I was curious about what it all means, so I consulted those most in touch with and knowledgable about the cosmos – astrologers, of course!

This is what they had to say about this overwhelming energy.

Under this Libra Super Moon, “we are going to be guided to enter into the new.” Under these three Super Moons, they say, “we have been encouraged to tune into our intuition . . . to purge and release all that is holding us back.”

Under these Super Moons, they say we have been guided to clear the slate and set ourselves “back to zero” and prepare for the new chapter that is ahead.

March’s Full Moon “opens a portal to a new wave of energy. It falls around the same time as the Equinox, which is the start of the astrological year and the beginning of a new cycle.”

And, get this! “Zero is the number of infinite potential, and it’s no coincidence that the March Full Moon falls at zero degrees of Libra. At the time of the Full Moon, we will actually have three planets in the cosmos aligned at the vibration of number zero, which means the Universe is just going to be blossoming with potential.”

Wow!

“. . . the Libra Moon will be calling us to take inventory of how we are using our energy and to assess whether we are using it in a way that serves us or drains us . . . we may realize that we need to let things go, and to do away with things take up too much of our precious energy reserves” This is interesting because that’s exactly what I’ve been called to do during the past week.

This Full Moon reminds us to center ourselves, to return to the blank slate . . . get perfectly balanced, so we can feel more peaceful and in tune with our lives.

Stay on this path, one astrologer says, because April also brings another Libra Full Moon, and this will bring the closing of the portal.

We will have one lunar cycle to integrate these new energies and walk into the new.

A final warning from one seer:

“Full moons tend to make us purge and release things from our lives, The bright light of the sun throws a spotlight on our subconscious and our shadow. This can feel uncomfortable as the Sun literally blasts out the demons who have nowhere to hide. Often the full moon is a time when we reap what we sowed at the new moon . . .  for good or for ill.”

“The veils between the worlds are thinnest around a full Moon, so be very careful what you invite in.”

Happy Spring!