STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN

Moving forward, my work will be divided in 3 main themes/campaigns.

Yesterday, I wrote about RANDOM CONNECTEDNESS, a social project which focuses on illustrating how we are all connected, in ways that go beyond social media.

FEEL THE WILD is about my work as a wilderness explorer, photographer and writer – I will write more about this in another post.

The third campaign, STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN is related to my mission to help and inspire people in their life’s journey. It is the platform on which my public speaking and coaching are built on. The campaign is about creating a space for introspection, where people can find the answers they are looking for. It is about honoring and welcoming our path, finding peace with our journey on this planet and celebrating who we are as human.

To explain more about it, let me share with you an excerpt from my Adventure Travel Trade Association 2017 Summit Keynote:

… As an artist, Wilderness is my studio, my inspiration. It is where I go to create – to photograph and write. But most importantly, I go there to meet with my mentor and teacher, Nature. My creative process is simple, by welcoming solitude, I open myself and am able to listen and receive the treasures it has to offer.

All this time alone in the wilderness, has led me to experience many epiphanies, moments where I felt that the veil of mystery on some of Life’s most precious secrets had disappeared. I have realized along the way that there was a certain pattern for those revelations to appear, a certain formula that seemed to work as a calling card for these insights to sneak up into my mind and reward me with a “eureka” moment. This pattern that I have observed has translated itself into one of my most powerful mantras – STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN. 

These 4 words have transformed me and changed the way I experience life. They have helped me manage my way out of challenging and struggling situations. They have given me a way to connect with life, with the world, and with others. By following them, I have come to understand who I am and who we are, individually and collectively  

STOP BREATHE RELAX LISTEN is about creating boundaries, so that you get a new perspective, which will bring you clarity and in the process allow you to receive the help life is sending your way. STOP and create your boundaries. BREATHE and get a new perspective. RELAX and welcome clarity. LISTEN, not with your ears but with your heart and mind so that you can open yourself to the signs Life is giving you, the guidance it is showing you.

Let me give you a way to visualize the mantra

Imagine that you are like a glass jar filled with water, sand, and floating candy (floating candy don’t really exist but the concept works for this exercise), all contained with the lid tightly on. Now that jar represents you, your own self. The water is the world around you. The sand is your thoughts, you worries, everything that populates your minds. And the candy, they are the insights, the rewards, ideas, those eureka moments. From the second you wake up, and until the very last moment when you fall asleep, you are constantly and frantically shaking that jar. Making a big mess of what’s inside. The water is blurry. The sand is all over. And the candy, well, good luck! They are like shooting stars, tiny dots of color that disappear the second you see them. If you want to see, pick and eat the candy much like if you want to find, receive and apply those insights that help you process your life’s journey, what you need to do is take that jar. Put it on a table, don’t touch it. Let the water stop spinning. Wait for the sand to rest and settle. Then and only then, you will clearly see the candy float up, calm at the surface, ready for you open the lid and pick them up. 

Experiencing the world through the lenses of humility, reciprocity, and vulnerability opens the path to so many treasures and priceless discoveries. Transforming our struggles and pain into growth not only brings us happiness and peace, but it also make us celebrate what it is to be human. Life is not easy. Life is not fair. It is not meant to be fair. It is not meant to be perfect. It is meant to be lived, to be experienced, to learn and grow from it. 

And what is there to learn today, in 2017? Well, there is no need to shame the human race with guilt, constantly pointing the finger at ourselves on how bad of a species we are and have been. How could we do the things we have done in the past. Simple, we have done them because in that moment we thought it was best. Some of them were good and some turned out to be real bad. And that is ok. We learn through feeling the consequences of our actions. And now we are feeling them. But remember, change is hard. Nobody wants change. The reason why we are 7 billions on the planet is not because we are a bad species, but because we are extremely good at learning from our mistakes, we rise in face of challenges, we shine and figure our way out when the shit hits the fan. This is who we are, this is what we do.

STOP and lets create our boundaries. BREATHE so that we can get a new perspective. RELAX and lets welcome clarity. LISTEN, not with our ears but with our hearts and minds so that together, united, we can become better humans, protecting and caring for this world, leading towards a bright and inspiring future.”

I have a dream… Bill of Nature

Nature is more than a destination, more than a “place”. Nature is a mindset and a way of looking at the world. It is a teacher and a mentor. It is a set of values and principles on which one chooses to live accordingly, a framework for personal transformation. Nature is about reciprocity, balance and humility. It is a world of wonders, discoveries and wisdom.

Nature is Life – Life is Nature.

If a Genie gave me one wish, my wish would be for our society to change its relationship with Nature and view it in the same way we see Freedom and Democracy. As a value that needs to be honored and respected. Instead of seeing Nature as a commodity that needs to be managed.

I would wish for the creation of the BILL OF NATURE, just like we have the BILL OF RIGHTS.

This Bill would set the tone and direction on how citizens of this world want to move forward and into the future. This Bill would NOT be about measuring or quantifying Nature, but about creating a framework for our growth, a set of values that we prioritize culturally, and individually.

The Bill would be simple, clear and composed of keywords:

  • Humbleness NOT Righteousness
  • Better NOT Easier
  • Respect NOT Protect
  • Consciousness NOT Senseless
  • Reciprocity NOT Opportunistically
  • Community NOT Individuality
  • Slower NOT Faster
  • Local NOT Global
  • Accountability NOT Dishonesty
  • Long Term NOT Short Term
  • Forward NOT Backward
  • Optimism NOT Pessimism
  • Dynamic NOT Static
  • Evolution NOT Perfection

That is what my wish you would be.

Proust Nature Questionnaire- Erick Tseng

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ERICK TSENG is a Product Director at Facebook where he oversees product management for the company’s global advertising growth and solutions. Erick joined Facebook in May 2010 as the Head of Mobile Products.

3 words to describe Nature?

Magical, beautiful, essential

3 things Nature taught you?

To take risks, how much beauty there is in the world, how fragile our existence is on this earth

3 most treasured Nature spots?

Yosemite, Galapagos, Himalayas

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Small

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Fresh

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Empowered

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Calm

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Excited

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Cold

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

Ocean

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

Traveling to a beach near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and going tide-pooling amongst the rocks. I loved looking for little fish, crabs, and mussels tucked away in the shallow waters. I’d also collect fresh seaweed, and my mother would clean it up, and cook seaweed pork soup that night. Delicious!

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Erick and his wife, Rachel, in Antarctica. In 2015

New Beginnings

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In 1952, unusual circumstances came together and paralyzed one of the busiest cities of Europe. Heavy foggy days were no stranger to the residents of London, but on December 4th, the metropolis found itself suffocating, literally. An anticyclone landed on the region, bringing high pressure and causing temperature aversion. Cold air found itself trapped under a thick layer of warm air. Normally the winds would have pushed the system out, but this time they were simply no were to be found – the air was as stagnant as molasses. In the weeks prior to the event, cold weather had led the Londoners to burn a lot more coal that normally, increasing the presence of sulphur dioxide in the air. Added the carbon dioxide from vehicle exhausts and the hydrochloric acid and fluorine compounds from various industries, London quickly became engulfed within a lethargic yellow-black coloured concentrated acid haze. In the weeks that followed, around 4,000 people died. It is believed that as many as 12,000 fatalities might have been attributed to the “Great Smog of 1952”.

Each of us, at one point or another, have lived our own version of the “Great Smog”. It is not a feeling of being lost. It is rather a sense of powerlessness created by circumstances that are beyond your control. The ingredients you need to power your imagination, your body, or your drive, disappear. While yesterday you might have roam the land of creativity freely, today, your mind is shackled and focused on breaking away from the burden that has taken over.

Monet stopped painting for two years after his wife passed away. Picasso was so affected by the divorce from his first wife who took custody of their son and the birth of his daughter to a mistress that he no longer spent time in his studio.

These past twelve months for me will be known as my “Creative Great Smog”. Though I married the most amazing, awesome and phenomenal woman and found myself absolutely fulfilled when it comes to love and family, my creativity and career however can be summarized in two words – inertia and sluggish. A quick look at my blog and social media feed and the obvious is plain to see. Almost a year since the last entry. A little over eleven months of sparse and random posts. 338 days of stalled artistry, looking for inspiration and not finding it.

While the reasons for my disappearance are simple, the process of rebuilding took time and energy. Just like a tornado that destroyed your house, before you can start thinking of interior design and what will go on the walls, you first need to clear the rubble. Once the terrain is cleared, then it is time to rebuild the foundations. You need to reconnect the power and repair the sewer. You put the walls up and the roof over, but still, you are nowhere near inviting people over for dinner. Step by step, little by little, your new house takes shape. The furniture comes in and finally the sense of home returns. Soon, you start making phone calls inviting friends over. One evening, you find yourself sitting at the dining table surrounded by loved ones, your life filled with laughter and happiness once again.

Standing on the porch of my new house (conceptually speaking) on a beautiful morning, I am mentally shuffling through the events that took place under my previous roof. There are thousands and thousands of memories that I know now belong to a bygone era. The year 2016 was the end of a cycle, the epilogue of a book, the conclusion of an energy that started a long time ago.

Every end marks a new beginning

Watching the sun rise as a new day begins, I am pondering on the journey that lies ahead. My blank canvas is ready to be painted. My creativity is back and like a snake that has shed its old skin, my mind is clear and fresh, primed for a new adventure. There is so much to be grateful for, the most important being my wife. Yes! I am truly excited for the future.

This year, I commit to more writing, more public speaking, expanding my outreach and more art. There will be new expeditions and, of course, I invite you to come along and share with me this new voyage of discovery, growth and love.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.Joseph Campbell

Magical Sea Cave

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Part of upcoming story written for SIDETRACKED magazine

After five hours of smooth paddling, a couple of dolphin pod encounters, and several mobula ray breaches, I rounded the north end of the island and started looking for my next campsite. San Marcos, an island in the Gulf of California, off the Baja Peninsula’s Santa Rosalia, has plenty of beaches where I could land. Inexplicably, as I was paddling toward a desirable looking spot, my attention was pulled to the end of a giant rock formation where a tiny beach on the side of it was partially exposed. At first glance, there was no justification for me to explore this beach. It didn’t even look big enough for a camping site, but a little voice inside my head kept whispering that it might be something special. As a longtime solo traveler, I have learned the value of gut feelings, about the importance of listening to the intangible, about believing and accepting the signs when the world speaks to us. So without much mental resistance, I shifted my weight and edged the kayak on its right side, stroked hard with my paddle, and turned left. Little did I know what treasures lay just ahead.

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Gliding around the edge of the rock formation, my first glimpse of the hidden beauty behind it came at the very last moment when the tip of my kayak reached the beach. The back side of the rock revealed itself to be a remnant of a sea cave, a sort of half-shell amphitheater that faced the beach and sheltered a tiny lagoon filled with water that flowed in from the sea through a small porthole in the back of the cave. At the center of the lagoon, where the half-cave’s roof gave way to the sky, was a boulder surrounded by water at high tide. The boulder acted as a focal point, collecting the energy that seemed to bounce from every angle of the cave’s walls. The force was seriously strong in this place. No wonder it had called me, pulling me away from my trajectory. This cave was like a magical giant planet with its own gravity. Perhaps a portal to another world? My stay there would lead me to believe that yes, indeed it was.

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After setting up camp on the beach, I put on my fins, snorkel, and wetsuit, grabbed my spear gun, and went fishing. Stepping into the water, I walked knee-deep into the lagoon toward the porthole. I took a deep breath, dove, swam out into the sea, and entered a world full of fish and wonders. An hour later I was back with my meal, a large smile on my face and a blue mind of enchantment that comes from being in the water. I was at peace after spending so many minutes holding my breath, 20 feet deep, mesmerised by the life swimming around me.

At day’s end, the wind was nowhere to be seen or heard. Everything was quiet; even the birds that had so far chirped without a break. The gulls stood in silence, each balancing on one leg on the rock and on the beach. A deep stillness permeated the air, as if time had slowed down. It was similar to the excited feeling I get before something grand happens, in that precise moment before the show starts, before the curtain rises, when everybody stops and directs their attention to the stage, waiting for the magic to appear. I felt my attention drawn to the middle of the cave, onto that boulder surrounded by water. I walked to a rock near the beach, faced the cave, and sat. Taking a deep breath, I felt my energy spreading outward. Interestingly, it didn’t feel like my energy was escaping, but instead stretching far and connecting with every other molecule that surrounded me—the rocks, the animals, the water, the wind. Closing my eyes I could see the giant web that was being formed. It reminded me of the neural patterns in the brain, the filaments that stretch in all directions, connecting, transmitting, unifying, constantly evolving.

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As if on cue, two things happened at once. The small cave entrance that squeezed between the water and the rock lit up with a burning glow like a mini-sun, radiating with such intensity that for a second I had to cover my eyes. The sunbeam was in perfect alignment with the arched porthole, and the water acted as a giant reflector, focusing the light into one small opening and blasting it to the other side. It was as if I was
witnessing the birth of a star.

The tide had reached a height where even a little ripple, the tiniest of movements on the surface of the water, pushed enough air through the cave’s hollows to create a gurgling sound that felt like an ancient language. The spirit of the cave was talking. This elder of ancient times had awakened and was sharing its wisdom. It was a privilege being here amongst the birds, the rocks, the water, and the wind. But unlike the powerful things that surrounded me, I was only a guest, a passerby, someone whose species has disconnected from the magical thousands of years ago and has since stopped seeing what is now un-seeable.

At this moment, in this place, I was the one who felt primitive, simple, lacking depth and unable to understand the grandeur and connectivity of the universe, of life. Staring at the water, listening to the cave, feeling the silence around and in me, I realised that it was our species that needed saving, not the other way around. My eyes were not seeing a world where humans were the chosen ones and stewards of this planet, but rather that we were the ones who needed to be brought back home, from the darkness, returned to a world of love, compassion, and humility.

The serenity of this place convinced me to extend my stay—certainly not one of my hardest decisions. For another day I fished, read, relaxed, listened, and soaked in the energy that was offered to me. The following morning, after packing and tucking myself into the kayak, I took one last moment to reflect. Dipping my hands in the water and closing my eyes, I thanked the cave and promised to return—but I would bring others so they too can know its marvels.

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S2 = C + P

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The beach was made of this creamy white sand – powdery granules made of crushed shells and limestone eroded over millions of years, moved with the tides, currents and wind, slowly and gradually pushed back against the shore, grain after grain, and now forming the soft cushion I was resting on. This quiet little place located on the westerly side of Isla Espiritu Santo, just outside La Paz in Baja California Sur, was tuck between two long cliffs made of a multitude of volcanic ash layers, a product of the Miocene Era. Just like a pair of blinkers on a horse, these mineral fingers that advanced way far into the water, protecting this tiny oasis, were also preventing me from seeing the vastness of the Gulf of California, restricting my sight of this interior sea to just a sliver of emerald water. But that didn’t really matter since darkness had fallen and now my gaze was looking up, laying on my back, my hands behind my head, my eyes lost in an ocean of stars.

I was contemplating a world that was beyond my comprehension, a reality that was bigger than me, a universe that hold more secrets and treasures than I could fathom, and this reigning serenity was the perfect way to end the day.

The morning started with a gentle breeze, as the sun peeking above the horizon began its ascent into a cloudless blue sky, flooding the air with warmth, fueling invisible particles of oxygen and nitrogen with heat, causing them to move and swirl faster and generating the wind that would later slow my progress. This transition from darkness to light, this dance between the Sun and the Earth was affecting everything – the air, the ocean, the animals, the plants, and myself.

This planetary movement was intricately linked to the complex biological process that was happening in my body as my eyes were opening after longs hours of sleep, a ritual that has been fine tuning itself for thousands and thousands of year. The level of melatonin in my blood was decreasing as the presence of cortisol was going up. It is believed that this event is linked to the hippocampus in preparation of facing stress during the day. My lungs were expanding with more vigor, flooding my blood cells with oxygen, waking my muscles back from their comatose state. The same muscles that would later push against the wind.

Every part of my body was awakening. Slowly, I was becoming more in tuned with my surroundings. My existence on this planet was connected to the Universe. These carbon atoms of which my body is made of were affected by a star millions of miles away, by the gravity of the moon above me and by the unknown forces that controlled the solar system. How is it possible that we believe that Life revolves around us?

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With every paddle stroke, my thoughts, my worries, my wishes, my struggles, my joys and my pains are stripped away, leaving me naked but with clarity and perspective.

After cooking breakfast, sipping yerba mate and packing the gear into the kayak, I walked into the sea pulling the kayak off the beach. With a quick jump, I maneuvered myself into the cockpit and started to paddle. Looking back one last time, I offered my goodbyes to an imaginary host – a customary practice I do every time I arrive and depart a location, paying my respects to a place which doesn’t belong to me, honoring the hospitality I humbly received. In the same manner that I always ask the Ocean permission every time I travel its realm. It is not a religious belief but rather the understanding that my future is in the hands of nature.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau

The clear blue sky had become swamped with hundreds of white smudges, much like the freckles on a summer skin. The peaceful clarity of the morning had left and in its place was some kind of an orchestrated chaos. The pelicans were flying everywhere and diving on bait fish while being harassed by sea gulls that trailed them like leeches. Rays of all different sizes jumped out of the water mysteriously, giving me the impression that the sea had turned into a giant Whack-A-Mole game. Frigate birds high in the sky keeping an eye on passing-by blue-foot boobies, waiting to steal their catch. Turkey vultures gliding effortlessly counting the days for the nearby carcass of a sea lion to reach its perfect decomposition state. Bouncing waves from the cliff with the current running around the island, plus the waves coming from the open sea and the head winds were creating this tempestuous surface that made me feel like I was sitting on a mechanic bull. And that was only what I could see. I am sure that if I poked my head underwater, I would discover another world of madness. All this energy, these whirlwinds of life, this pool of bouncing atoms, was creating heat, moving up and feeding what were now giants puffy monoliths.

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength” Jack Kerouac

The tent was up and the dinner was cooked. Pelicans were still feeding, picking the last of the survivors of what had been earlier in the day a bait ball of probably in the tens of thousands. But the way they flew and dove looked heavy and lazy. Even the sea gulls had giving up pestering them, instead floating on the water or resting on a rock nearby screaming like young spoiled brats – Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! I was reminded for a second of what we must look like after a Thanksgiving dinner, stuffed to the ears and still reaching out across the table grabbing one last piece and managing swallowing it down only with a deep breath. Who said we were different from the animals?

After its daily journey across sky, the sun was about to disappear behind the horizon, painting the sky with deep hues of orange, pink, red, and purple. Had there been no clouds but a perfect empty sky, the sunset would have still been enjoyable but would have lacked panache. It would have been simple, humdrum, kind of stale and monotonous. There wouldn’t have been any deep hues and many colors. There would have been only a general fading of the light accompanied by a possible green flash and some orange leftover at the end. It was all this energy, this chaos, this frenzy of everything this world is made of, that this sunset was feeding on and giving it back to everyone to see in the most spectacular show ever produced. Beauty was literally rising from the depths of madness.

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The wind was barely rolling over the water and the round fluffy silhouettes up above were moving away. The night was taking hold and bringing along with it its posses. Venus, Jupiter, Vega, Arcturus, and Regulas were the first to show up but give another hour and the room would be filled with billions of others. As much as this place was buzzing with noise just hours earlier, now silence was of order.

It seemed to be a necessary ritual that he should prepare himself for sleep by meditating under the solemnity of the night sky… a mysterious transaction between the infinity of the soul and the infinity of the universe.” Victor Hugo

Laying down on that beach, I let the world sink in. I let my thoughts disappear. I let the silence take over. I am staring at this night sky filled with stars and know that, like earlier, looking out and seeing only a sliver of the sea, I am seeing only a tiny fragment of what we call the Universe. There is so much out there. How can we think so much of ourselves in front of such inexplicable beauty and mystery? Why are we so insecure about our evolutionary identity? Why can’t we find comfort in the knowledge and humility that there are things that are bigger than us? Having no meaning in the big scheme of the universe doesn’t mean we have no meaning in life. It just means that ultimately, we matter for a moment, for the ones around us. And that is important. But in the end, the atoms that we borrowed are returned. And the only things left are memories and legacies. Even those, unfortunately for the ones who have past but to the benefit of the ones who will come, will fade away with time.

The cacophony of life is necessary. The buzzing and frenzy of our culture has a creative purpose and we shouldn’t underestimate its value but more importantly, clarity and perspective happen only when silence and solitude are present. In our culture of multi-tasking, every hour filled with endless distractions and finding ourselves relentlessly connected to our technology devices, these alone times are becoming rarer and rarer leaving us with an incapacity to delve and think deeper, stuck in the shallowness found within 140 characters. More than ever, we must find the time to STOP. BREATHE. RELAX & LISTEN.

S2 = C + P (Solitude & Silence = Clarity + Perspective)

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi

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The Power of the Voice

The black bear stood tall, mounted on his hind legs, only 15 feet away from me. Its nose was covered with long grey hair, some remnants of a deer carcass it was just feeding on. Its front paw claws hung in front of him while the ones on its back paws were firmly dug into the ground. Its nostrils grew larger, then smaller, with a rhythm, inhaling the air with vigor, deciphering what the emptiness around us hold secret. Its fur was wet and looked heavy and scrubby – the weight of winter hibernation still buried deep into him. Our eyes, these marvels of evolution, so similar to each other despite belonging to such distinct species, were locked and engaged into a staring contest. As if on cue, the birds stopped chirping and the forest became silent. Just a slight cold breeze bristling the needles of Pacific Northwest conifers. In some distant corner of my memory, these iconic musical notes for a duel in a Western movie were coming out of the closet.

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I had left Telegraph Cove earlier that day. The tiny historical village was located at the north end of Vancouver Island, about 6 hours from Victoria. I had paddled south for about 5 miles and set up camp. The plan was to spend the night there then cross Johnstone Strait the next day, visit the famous Orca Lab and circumnavigate Hanson Island. With the tent up and food hoisted up in a tree, I grabbed the camera and went on a hike to investigate the area.

No more than 20 minutes had passed when I heard a sort of crunching noise, somewhere not far, over to my right, through the thick green canopy. The sound puzzled me. My hearing over the years has become attuned to strange things, the wilderness is always full of weird melodies, but this in particular was forcing me to search my repertoire of possibilities.

With binoculars in hand, I crouched and moved forward, slowly and silently, like a lion stalking its prey. My blood started to rush, my pupils dilated and my senses became super sensitive. My ancestral hunting mode had just turned itself on. I was aware of everything – the ground beneath me, the air around me, the trees surrounding me. Every step became a thoughtful process, assessing the sturdiness of leaves and branches, before I delicately lay my foot or hand over. When I photograph an animal, I make a point of not hiding, but this was different. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the curtain and before I announce myself I wanted to know what or who was there.

Inching my way closer to the source, a change in the pattern emerged. What was supposed to be green, now was black. It took only a fraction of a second to realize what it was – a black bear. But what was it doing? It was not really moving. It fact it was in one spot, its head low and slightly moving upward from time to time. Its body was mostly stationary and its focus was concentrated on what seemed to be one single task. But what was it? On the ground around was nothing in particular and yet, through my binoculars, the bear seemed to be tearing something from something else! I still remember the thoughts running through my mind – what is it that this bear is doing? It was certainly not digging. There was really no sign of a carcass, no bones sticking out, there was really nothing that would give me any clue. So I inched my way closer.

At this point, having identified the culprit, the hunter in me subdued itself and the photographer in me rose. So I took a branch with my two hands and broke it. The cracking sound reverberated through the air and the bear abruptly stopped, its ears aiming on me. Its eyes locked on my position and without any hesitation, it interrupted itself and started walking towards me. At that moment, I took my camera out, took a deep breath and connected with the inner power within me, from a species that has evolved and successfully spread its reach to almost every corner of the earth. For thousands of years, my ancestors stood where I stood, when two predatory species face each other and judge what is at stake and the possible outcomes. I was not a threat and it was my responsibility to communicate and transmit my intentions. As the bear maneuvered its way through the trees covered in moss, I let the moment sink and kept contact with the wild animal. The wilderness demands to be respected and honored. I was a visitor and my intrusion was nothing of a farce. I had imposed myself onto the bear, disrespecting its intimacy. Now I had to answer for my actions in a humble and respectful way.

Kneeling on the ground, I announced my stand. I was not to disrespect the bear no more, but I was also not going to give away the control of this situation. When wild animals meet, and right now I was one, it is all about the bluff, who holds the fear and who owns the moment. The bear in theory and physically had pretty much all advantages over me. And yet, I had to show him that I was not afraid and convince him that an attack on its behalf would be a waste of energy and not worth the effort.

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As it walked, I started to talk: “Hello Bear, I am not here to take anything away from you. This is your territory and I apologize for the intrusion. I will respect you as long as you respect me.” My words filled the silence. While they communicated my intentions and presence, the tone and calmness of the delivery reassured me. The voice carries a lot of energy. The sounds that emanates from our mouth, the air that originates from inside our lungs is pure vibration. It is alive. It has a power, and yes it can also announce a lack of it. From the dawn of life, every single species has used its vocal capacities to communicate with the world. And right now, my words were carrying my intentions and making a stand.

The bear stopped. It studied the situation. Its ears, eyes and nose were in overdrive. What was I? Was I a threat? Was I a threat to its territory? To its food? Whatever I was, I was certainly not something it was happy to have around. So it moved forward and closer. Continuing talking to him, my tone and assertiveness changed drastically when he got off the mount of dead tree and found itself no further away than about 25 feet from me. At that moment, my voice got deeper and sturdier. I remembered that scene in the Lord of Rings when Gandalf stood on that ridge, hitting the ground with his staff and loudly spoke:”You Will Not Pass!” I didn’t have a gray beard nor I had a staff, but my command to the bear resonated and echoed across the forest. As my words faded into the distance, the bear stopped, stared at me, turned around and went back to the place it had come from. The dynamic had been established. While I had taken control of the moment, from the bear perspective, it felt that I wasn’t a menace and it resumed at tearing whatever it was tearing before my interruption.

With a mix of curiosity and pride, I decided to stay where I was and kept observing. I was still clueless on what the bear was eating and perhaps deep down, some dominant species behavior was forbidding me to leave. So I sat there, not moving for another 20 minutes, glued to my binoculars.

The bear must have felt the annoying stalking cause it came back. And this time, everything felt different. I could see it in its eyes, they were defiant and had a purpose. Its stride was solid and grounded. It was not charging but it was coming with an intent. As it passed the dead tree, my Gandalf move fell into dead ears and I had to suddenly change my strategy. So I stood up.

As we faced each other, eye to eye, predator to predator, mammal to mammal, survivor to survivor, I reached down into my inner core and connected to a primal place I am not even sure existed in me. I don’t carry any firearms but I do have with me ways to defend myself. Attached to my belt was a long machete with a velcro wrapped around the handle. Pulling a John Wayne, my hands hovered at my waist and I told the bear that if it wanted to come at me, I would not go down without a fight and that if one of us would end up beaten, I swore to it, it sure wasn’t going to be me. With my lips closing on that last word, my fingers slowly pulled the velcro and as the stripping sound of the fabric tearing away filled the air, the bear slowly lowered itself back to its four legs, its ears showing sign of defeat and its eyes avoiding contact with me. It throttled back to its spot, then proceeded with much energy at tearing something. To my surprise, I gazed at the bear running away with half a leg of a deer. It had indeed been a carcass hiding there beneath the tree and all this time the bear was protecting an important source of food. The adrenaline still pumping into my veins, I sat down once more on the ground and took a deep breath. I thanked the forest and my ancestors for their protection and apologized to the bear for the trouble.

Our voice and words have tremendous power. Our culture of technology and science might have reduced them to simple  phonetic products, but the truth is that they carry much more. They are vessels filled with subtleties, nuances, emotions, and intent. If the roar of a lion can rule the Serengeti, if the howl of wolf can conquer the forest and if the unique sound of a baby penguin can be recognized by it mother amongst millions of others, imagine what your voice can do.

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Confucius

W.I.L.D. Scholarship Recipients

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It is with great pleasure that I am announcing the first 2 W.I.L.D. Scholarship recipients, Gavrielle Thompson and Kedyn Sierra.

Going on this trip feels so right. I’m ready to soak up all the new knowledge, life lessons, and memories that are on its way. Not only am I stoked for this trip, but I’m overflowing with gratitude for this once in a lifetime opportunity. “ Gavrielle

“I’m excited to be participating on the 30 day NOLS expedition this summer. I hope this experience will give me the opportunity to get closer wildlife and witness breathtaking views. On a more personal note, I hope this chance to experience a new part of the world will give me a new perspective of people and culture.” Kedyn

N.O.L.S. as awarded them both a scholarship so that the funds raised during the W.I.L.D. campaign will go towards supporting these two incredible young people and attend the month-long sea kayaking wilderness camp in Alaska this summer.

“NOLS is excited to support both Kedyn Sierra and Gavrielle Thompson in attending their NOLS Alaska Sea Kayaking courses this summer of 2015. They have demonstrated exceptional merit, and we believe firmly that they will make excellent students this summer. The goal of the NOLS scholarship is to help support students who we believe will make influential and important leaders in their communities and future careers, and who otherwise would not be able to attend. We strongly believe in Kedyn and Gavrielle’s abilities, and are excited to get to know them better this summer.”

A huge thank you to ETC Trips for helping in the process of selection.

UPDATE

I am so proud of Kedyn Sierra, who, thanks to your contributions and support, spent a month sea kayaking with NOLS in Alaska last summer. Please WATCH the video and you will see how the power of nature has shaped this incredible young individual.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”” Dr. Seuss

#ThePowerOfNature

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Stories unite us and nature heals us. It is for that reason that I have decided to start a new Facebook Page focused on YOUR storytelling relating to how NATURE has changed your life, and how it has helped you become a better person.

This page is for everyone to post. Feel free to share your experiences, your inspiration, your moments of bliss, your lessons learned, your insightful hikes, your peaceful paddles, your challenging backcountry explorations; share any story that highlights the power of nature to restore our human spirit.

Nature is more than a destination. It is a teacher, a meditation, it is food for the soul and the body, inspiration for the arts, a healer, a mentor, a lover – what is Nature for you? Tell us!

Please use the hashtag #ThePowerOfNature when posting on Twitter, Instagram and Google +. Every month we will award a signed print of my work to one lucky winner, among the ones who posted throughout all social media platforms (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Google +).

A Challenging Return

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The road is my home. It is where I feel alive. It is where I breathe and nourish myself. The road feeds my craving for discovery. It calms my restless mind hungry for new experiences. My dreams are blank canvases that paint themselves as I move forward towards new destinations. I am like a mountain river that needs the movement to fill itself with air. Let me dawdle in a pond and I start to suffocate. It is not that I can’t stay in one place it is just that my energy vibrates to the rhythm of the unexpected and continuous change – endless journeys filled with discoveries.

But two months ago, my 9 months of traveling came to an abrupt end (Alive and Stronger) and since then I have been feeling the weight of inertia. It wasn’t until last week, while trying to find clarity on a beach that I realized just how much of a recluse and grouch I had became, overwhelmed by loss (camera equipment stolen) and sensory overload. It was not only that I felt my energy stuck in a perpetual loop of nothingness, but that my vision and optimism had became clouded with a dark and asphyxiating curtain, like algae chocking a river until nothing lives, transforming a once thriving ecosystem into a dead zone, leaving behind this empty liquid – a ghost.

And these last few months, I have been nothing but an angry ghost, snapping at everything and every one.

So returning from the beach after Thanksgiving, I decided to write about it. I needed a catharsis. I needed to feel the sun again and find peace in the moment. I needed to be grateful for what I had and stop chocking on the things I was missing. I needed to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX and LISTEN. So nature brought me back from the dead.

On that same day I started writing, Becca Skinner posted on Facebook the following:

“There’s a part of me that woke up this morning with a wild heart and restlessness in my bones. And I craved the road and traveling to the point of near tears. So I sat down and wrote about it, drank cups of coffee and told the restlessness to hold on a little bit longer. After spending so much time traveling, it’s often difficult for me to stay in one place. It’s something I’m working on.

Reading her intimate thoughts made me realized that most of us who explore and seem – judging from all our social media feeds, to be living a life of dreams and adventures, all come back and crash. So I reached out to my fellow travelers and explorers and asked them to share with me their thoughts on the topic.

Scott Rinckenberger, is a professional photographer and adventurer specializing in capturing the most wild and pristine places his legs, skis and bikes will carry him. His commercial clients include REI, Patagonia, Red Bull and Intel.

“There is something that we earth-bound explorers share with those who venture into the open reaches of space. We have both experienced altered gravity. Theirs is a physical experience, ours is mental and spiritual. When adventuring I feel more energy, more strength, more speed and more clarity. For a time I attributed this to how my body was reacting to the environment, but I’ve come to realize that it’s my mind reacting to the change in constraints. It’s become clear to me that daily life in the city has a density that can weigh down and suffocate those who have tasted a lighter way of being. Our lungs expand less readily, our eyes see less distance, our minds have less clarity of purpose, and our bodies struggle under the increased burdens. It is so easy to succumb to the pressure, to opt for depression or escapism. Sometimes I let myself settle for this weakness for a short time. But I strive with all of my being to keep my ears open to the voice that reminds me how fortunate I have been, how much love I’ve been blessed with, how minor are my burdens in comparison to so many. And I force myself to go to my office, fire up my computer and update my status to read: “Stoked to be back home with family and friends.” And I try with all I have to really mean it.”

Jeremy Collins, is an illustrator, storyteller, film director, exploratory rock climber and founder of Meridian Line

It has a name. I call it the PTD, or Post Trip Depression. It comes on soft, posing as nostalgia or phantom warmth, then WHAM it hits like a glass wall. I crash through and land back in real life, whatever that is. I check the mail, mow the lawn, or whatever normal people do to play the game. It’s never easy, coming home. The landing is rough, the tarmac crumbled, and I land in the bed with a blazing heap of metal, luggage and memories.”

Sarah Outen, a British adventurer, ocean rower. She is currently part way through her multi-year expedition ‘London2London: Via the World’ – an attempt to row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet, starting and finishing at Tower Bridge.

“I work with a psychotherapist and we identified after my Indian Ocean row in 2009 that transitioning back into ‘normal’ life was really hard – and then through L2L that each transition in and out of different phases is the same. The biggest challenge for me came after my rescue from the North Pacific in 2012. Suddenly there was a huge trauma to deal with as well – I had experienced something very intense, threatening in total isolation and lost my boat in the process. People expected me to be happy and to slot right back in at full speed. In fact, I really, really struggled and it took a while to realize the depth of that struggle and seek proper help. It’s something that I have spoken about with many fellow adventuring pals and I would say that many are not that open about it. And I guess that’s not just in our adventuring expeditioning realm either – there is such a stigma around mental health that struggled often get brushed under the carpet or hidden from sharing. I wrote a blog post about my depression post Pacific 2012 and it was one of the most heavily commented posts of my entire trip. I think that acknowledging there may well be a settling in period after a trip is important. We often prepare for the going away, but thinking about the coming home is useful too and how to structure what happens next. Or even just acknowledging that it is OK, it is normal and we don’t need to charge back on with ‘normal’ stuff right away. Be gentle with yourself – that’s one of the best things I have learned on my trip.”

Krystle Wright is an adventure photographer, Canon Master, Red Bull Illume Top 50 finalist, F-Stop Gear Ambassador, SanDisk AU, and global traveller in search of unique images

“I am a child of the universe, officially a non resident of any country. My camera leads me to the far corners of the earth as I try to fulfill my insatiable desire to document expeditions and disconnect from civilization. I crave the escape. I thrive in the extremes, seeking the freedom and liberation that comes with completely disconnecting from modern luxuries. Yet at the same time I am more connected than ever to just being in the moment. Though inevitably I’ll return periodically and jump into the city scene for brief moments. I can only handle it for a short space of time before I feel the urge to get going again. I haven’t had a home for 3 years now and I have come to just embrace the nomadic lifestyle. It’s not that I hate cities, I just know that its not where I belong. There are many wonderful things that can happen in all types of scenarios including the hustle and bustle of the city, my biggest concern is that people become lost and engulfed and probably forget to disconnect and just simply be outside. Ultimately, it’s all about finding balance.”

Cristian Dimitrus, a cameraman, photographer, biologist and tv personality specialized in wildlife and natural history, his work has been featured on major television networks, including the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, TV Globo, History Channel and Animal Planet.

“Some people say that a true adventure means “get out of your comfort zone”. But when I am back in the city I am definitely out of my comfort zone. So for me being back in town is an adventure in its own way. Not the most enjoyable one but its the place where I have the opportunity to dream out loud, visualize and plan new adventures. This is the way I found to cope with the craziness. My mind takes me wherever I can imagine and sooner than I realize, I am there, back in the wild, where I belong, in Flesh and Blood.”

Catherine Yrisarri, is a documentary storyteller who has produced environmental, political and social stories in over 40 countries. Her clients include National Geographic Channel & Creative, PBS, Oprah, New York Times, The North Face & many others.

“I’ve lived in New York City for the past 6 years which is a strange dichotomy to my life & work on the road where I typically pilgrimage to places of immense natural beauty like the Himalaya, Indian Ocean, Peruvian Andes to capture stories about the culture or environment. In these places, you feel the majesty of the diverse ecosystem that exist in this fragile, beautiful world. It is spectacular. Then I return home to an epicenter of culture and diversity where humanity exists so closely knit here, but there’s a lack of nature. It’s a hard to return to and reconcile at times especially growing up in Colorado so closely tied to rivers and mountains. I find myself pushing toward projects that bring me back to these spaces because they lack in my daily life at the moment. There’s definitely a need in us all for the wildness, untouched beauty. I feel lucky enough that I get paid to escape to these recesses of the world that are slowly closing in by population dynamics and other human impact needs like mining and resource extraction.” 

Skip Armstrong, an award-winning director and cinematographer. His client list includes Boeing, Air New Zealand, National Geographic, Camp4 Collective, BF Goodrich Tires, The North Face, New Belgium Brewery, NRS, Patagonia and many more. His films have been awarded at major film festivals including Banff and Telluride.

“I’ve always been struck by the perfection of undisturbed wilderness.  The plants, animals, rivers – they are all in a state of balance.  I’ve found that after a few days I can’t help but personally take on the same feeling, of being balanced.  When returning to cities and the busyness of day to day life the stark contrast between the two worlds is remarkable. I wish and hope that we all prioritize and embrace the value that only wild and undisturbed lands can offer.”

Winston Ben Wolfrider, a British explorer who just returned home after traveling coast to coast across the USA for World Land Trust. He covered over 25,000 miles on just $6 a day, via a hoard of natural checkpoints.

I call it Re-entry. It’s hideous, and often welcomes me “home” or dumps me somewhere after a journey whilst handing me “plane flu”, a man-cold or a repetitive strain injury, at the same time as most people are ignorant to the fact that I might be jetlagged or in a version of shock. Ending any trip is the most awesome feeling of elation and accomplishment, yet immediately after the smiles, it’s possibly the biggest anti-climax and strongest feeling of loneliness I have ever felt. Many Olympic medal winners feel the same, so I’ve heard. There’s only one thing for it… start seeking the next one!

Sarah Menzies, a filmmaker based out of Seattle currently working on Afghan Cycles, a feature length documentary about the brave women riding bike in Afghanistan. Sarah founded her production company Let Media in 2012.

“Since I was a young kid, I knew I wanted to see the world. I’ve figured out a way to make those dreams come true when I became a filmmaker. My job takes me all over the world and I love it. The first few years of this work had me living on the road, out of a bag. I felt free. I’m actually renting a place right now, which I’m still getting used to. I’ve never looked at drawers the same way. I can actually unpack my bag now! While life with a home base has been an adjustment in and of itself, my recovery time from trips has totally changed. Life used to be one big trip that I was on. I like the balance of renting because it allows me to nurture a community and my relationships. I just got a dog! But I lack balance in the coming and going. When I get home from a production, it takes me a few days to find my normal again. I miss the sights, smells, conversations that I have when I’m on the road. It’s hard to tell stories from those experiences to my loved ones who were not with me, so I often feel lonely after a trip. Loneliness also comes in the form of missing all the people I met on those trips. My brain easily wanders as I think about those new friends and wonder if I’ll ever get to see them again. But as a filmmaker, I’m in a unique position because I get to relive those experiences (again and again!) as I work through an edit and share the final piece. As I edit something near and dear to my heart, I can almost feel those places, people, and even smells wrap around me and give me a big hug. It lessens the blow of re-entry, and helps give me closure with a trip and strength to move on to the next one.”

Cristina Mittermeier, is a Mexican-born photographer and conservationist, former President of the International League of Conservation Photographers, and a SONY Artisan. Her work has been featured in museums, art shows books and magazines, including National Geographic. She was recently assigned as a judge for the World Press Photo Award.

“The work of the photojournalist is exciting and stimulating but make no mistake, it also requires tremendous sacrifice. It demands infinite energy, tireless enthusiasm, a spirit of adventure, the ability to survive under difficult circumstances and the courage to confront danger. It can be all consuming, which makes for lonely spouses and neglected children. So, I confess. After so many years of being a nomad, all I want these days is to be home. Without a doubt, when the next assignment comes, I will be as excited and ready to go on another adventure, but for now I crave the comforting routine of a small, uncomplicated existence. I know it won’t last long and pretty soon I will be packing again, so while I am here, I like to pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist and I savor the beauty of the simple, everyday stuff.” 

Chris Burkard, is a photographer and World Explorer of cold, remote places. His clients include American Airlines, Nikon, Volkswagen, Apple, Fuel TV, Burton, Volcom, RVCA, Poler Stuff, Pacifico, among others, as well as having work published on over 35 national and international covers of magazines including Surfer Magazine, The New Yorker, National Geographic Adventure, ESPN.com

“I live for some of these adventures.  It is what gets my blood pumping and the hair on my skin to stand up. At the end I am happy to come home to see my family, but there are nights where I am kept up thinking about my next journey or dreaming about where I just was.  Sometimes I’ll go to a rock climbing gym to clear my mind, but I’m always thinking about my next step.” 

Flemming Bo Jensen, official Fuji X-photographer, traveler, filmmaker, has lived as a nomad for the past 5 years.

“It is always hard to come down after the high of a long road trip and adventure. The freedom of roaming through stunning landscapes, having new experiences and a new horizon every day is bliss for my soul. But after many years as a nomad I have realized everything must happen in balance. The time between adventures is equally important. It affords time to organize and fund the next adventure, time to have a daily routine, time to reflect and recharge. And most importantly, it reminds me how fortunate I am to have the freedom to do these adventures.”

Cody Howard from Huckin Huge Films

“Coming back from an adventure or trip of a lifetime to the hustle of the city always reminds me of an important mantra: everything in moderation. Moderate your time away from city and moderate your time in the city, you’ll grow to appreciate both. Burning out is real, moderation and healthy balance is what I strive for. Back to hills for me!”

Roei Sadan, is an Israeli adventurer that cycled around the world.

“Crossing the world on a bicycle for 5 years and coming back to the same place was the hardest part of the journey. I felt like it was a dream and that I would wake up. But ultimately I didn’t have to because the journey was inside me. The world is inside me, every challenge I faced, every desert or high mountain range I crossed became a part of me. Every project that we do stays inside of us and makes us better people. I feel like I know a secret that not many people know. But I will tell you my friends, you don’t have to do a big journey or a great challenge to feel great with yourself, the things that make my day are the things that are free and open for everyone. A great day is a day that you can enjoy the miracle of the sunrise and the magic of the sunset, simple and special. You can enjoy that if you are in the middle of the city or in the middle of a wild place. Enjoy the simplicity and dream with open eyes!”

STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN

STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN

#GetOutThere Nature Valley

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I am extremely proud to announce that December will mark the beginning of my new partnership with NATURE VALLEY. Reaching beyond being a simple company of granola and protein bars, NATURE VALLEY understands the power and reach it has to promote a healthy lifestyle and our need of nature to restore our human spirit.

Their campaign #GetOutThere, their project TrailView and their recent involvement with Erik Weihenmayer is only the tip of what they have in plan for the future and I am extremely thrilled that I am going to be a part of it!

By becoming one of their official contributors, NATURE VALLEY gives me an incredible platform from which I can expand my mission of bridging the teachings of the wilderness to the public and my campaign STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN.

Make sure to follow their INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK page as my content will appear on their feed periodically, starting in December.

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Death is Nature

The warm light from the morning spring sun spread over the bay and the mountains like gold dust. The snow up above the tree line was slowly disappearing, the edges of every little ravines and crevasses turning to black – I have always loved the mountains at this time of the year, the contrast of the imagery so dramatic. Everything was magical. The musical notes from a nearby Pacific wren echoed across the bay playing a melody that just reinforced this empyrean moment. As if on cue, a doe and its one year old fawn came out of the woods and started walking onto the beach. The bay was a vast tide flat with a long sand bar that almost geographically cut the bay in two. The tide was rising and soon this landscape of mud, gravel and wet grass would disappear and transform itself. A world dominated by walking and flying creatures would become a world where the ones who can swim rule.

Song of a Pacific Wren

 

The doe walked confident, heading for the tip of the sand bar while the fawn seemed hesitant as the water got closer and the sand path narrower. As they reached the point, I stared, curious to see what they would do – go back, swim perpendicular and head to the beach or swim straight ahead and cross to the other side of the bay. To my surprise the doe simply stayed on course aiming for the shore across. In the water and having swam half of the distance, the young deer stopped and turned around – doubting its capacity to make the short crossing. Looking through my binoculars, I witnessed the distance between the two increase as the mother stayed on her course. Realizing that its attempt to change the course of action hadn’t produced the goal intended, the fawn turned again bearing across, now trailing far behind its mother. While the head of the mother rose above the water, now her feet reaching the bottom, the head of the young deer disappeared and went under. The doe, after shaking the water off her body, scanned the water in search of the little one – so was I through my binoculars. After more than 15 minutes of finding nothing, it became evident that the fawn had drowned. Its mother waited on the shore for another 20 minutes until it slowly walked into the woods, stopping twice and looking back searching for any sign of life. Basking under the sun, the Pacific wren still enchanting my ears, my hands wrapped around a warm cup of tea, the serenity still permeating the air, I closed my eyes, relaxed and humble, reminded of the true nature of life. Death is an intricate and essential part of life and nature. In the wilderness it surrounds me and is everywhere I look. Yet, where there is death, life abounds. One can’t exist without the other.

“… Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” Richard Dawkins ~ River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

I have written many times of our dysfunctional and gooey perception of nature.

“As much as we want to categorize, compartmentalize, judge, humanize, and beautify nature, for me the “wild” is only one thing – real. Everything is what it is. There are no right or wrong, no bad or good, no judgement. Nothing is pretty, nothing is ugly. A dead tree has as much value as a living one. A fire will benefit some while it will kill others. The prey does everything it can to survive, as does the predator. There are no winners, no losers. No one is more important, yet everyone is connected and interdependent. Nothing is perfect – evolution is this endless chaotic yet harmonious dance where each adjust to the other, over long long long periods of time. Species adapt or disappear. Continents break while others sink. Still, every morning, the sun rises and brings with it life. And even if this sun stops to shine, another one, somewhere else in this huge universe will illuminate another world.” STRIPPED

“Nature is raw, rough, a struggle, a fight, cruel, deadly, strong, destructive, intimidating and yes also amazing, beautiful, relaxing, humbly, and inspirational. Above it all though, it is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It teaches you about perspective and reminds you that life is not about Us, that there is something bigger than Us, mere little humans. It teaches you about the costs of life, about sacrifices and what it takes to survive. Try to understand what it means for a species to spend most of its life and energy giving birth to hundreds of thousands, even millions, just to have a handful of survivors. While all the dead ones are essential to support a complex food chain that makes this great biodiversity inhabiting the planet possible. There is nothing sad about this because this is life.” WRONG IDEA OF NATURE

“By being so physically disconnected from it, we have totally forgotten what nature really is all about. We even go as far as to personalizing it, characterizing it as a female, “Mother Nature”. This concept of singularity simply doesn’t exist. In the natural world, both constructive and destructive forces are essential. Both the attack and the defense are crucial for survival.” NATURE IS NOT IN YOUR COMPUTER

Nature gives and takes life, it creates and destroys, lifts you up and pins you down, inspires you and depresses you. And this habit of constantly referring to nature as “Mother Nature” totally nauseates me. In fact I truly believe that it sits at the core of what is wrong with our relationship with the world around us and the planet Earth. We see everything separated and unrelated instead of connected and interdependent. We are not nature. Nature is not us. Nature is an entity separated from us. Within nature, we categorize and isolate the elements and the species or create gods and goddesses at our image, so to make sense of what is bigger, bringing everything down to our level – putting the Human as the most important single denominator, the reference to which everything in the universe is compared to. Once we saw the planet earth as the center of the solar system, now we are the center of the universe, of life and of evolution.

The word “nature” derives from Latin nātūra, a philosophical term from the verb for birth, which was used as a translation for the earlier Ancient Greek term phusis which comes from the verb for natural growth. The personification of nature is nothing new but the Greeks were extremely influential for inculcating the myth – Gaia, the great mother of all, the primal Greek Mother Goddess; creator and giver of birth to the Earth and all the Universe; Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. So in that matter we associated nature primarily with its ability to give and nurture, leaving the “negative” stuff to other gods, usually of male figure. I am not saying that nature is not caring, cute and lovely but it is surely not what defines it. Nature is this dynamic world that surrounds us, it is life, it is a mix of powerful energies that encompasses everything – us included.

A dead Guanaco on the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina

A dead Guanaco on the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina

 

SISU

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Finnish have a word – SISU, which its literal translation is “Having Guts”. But it cannot be translated without understanding its culturally value. It sits at the core of the their spirit and has, for hundreds of years, defined who they are and what they strive for. On the Finlandia University’s website, a page is dedicated at explaining it

 “Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character.  It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost.  Sisu is an inherent characteristic of the Finnish people. You might call it backbone, spunk, stamina, guts, or drive and perseverance.  It is a measure of integrity that surpasses the hardship and sees through to the end.”

In 1962 English poet Lavinia Greenlaw wrote of Sisu

 To persevere in hope of summer.
To adapt to its broken promise.
To love winter.

To sleep.

To love winter.
To adapt to its broken promise.
To persevere in hope of summer.

It is 7pm and I have about an 30 minutes of light left. I look down and can’t really see my feet – they are somehow lost under a thick canopy of ferns and branches that I have tightly wrapped around my waist. I get a glimpse of the red from my hiking shoes only when I lift them up and take a small step forward. In front of me is a green wall – trees covered by moss and in between shrubs and vines, their branches intertwining with each other so deeply tight that they give the illusion of being only one organism – a living fence! Every time I see an opening is because a mud pond or a muddy creek is revealed. Skunk cabbage is blooming and their yellow lanterns are bringing a certain eerie feeling – as if the brightness and contrast of their sunny flowers were to distract from the undeniable reality that this was a maze from where no one escapes.

Two hours before, after visiting the Red Creek Fir tree, the largest Douglas Fir in the world, I discovered that the oil pan under my car had been busted by a rock and that all the oil had leaked out. There was not a drop left in the engine and although I felt really bad for creating such a disastrous imprint from my visit, my main worry was of a different nature. I was about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside of Port Renfrew, a little village with no garage or cell phone coverage where the only gas found was either bought from the marina or from some local guy who sells fuel jars or drive 70km (45 miles) to the nearest town. The road to the tree was a 15km (9m) old logging gravel road that zigzagged through the hills. Most of it was ok for a car with only a few places where extreme caution had to be taken. I thought I had managed my way through but obviously it only takes one well placed blow to make the kill. Bled to death, my car was going no where unless it was being towed.

The situation was not too tragic. I had food supplies and obviously all my camping gear. I could either camp here and wait for someone to come up but being in the off tourist season, I am not sure there would be anyone heading this way for days. The other possibility was to walk back the gravel road. At a walking average of 5km/h (3 mph) it would take me around 3 hours to reach the main paved road. The last option was to walk on an abandoned logging road for a mile, cut through the forest and cross the San Juan River where the paved road was nearby. The distance to the paved road from the abandoned one was only about 1.6 kilometer (just a little over a mile). Because of time and obviously for the short apparent distance, I decided to go with the latter solution – certainly not the safest but I was confident it could be managed.

In case that anyone would somehow show up, I left a note on the car explaining the situation. I took one of my medium size Deuter backpacks and filled it with the essentials. I wanted to be light and quick but also I didn’t really know what was ahead so I had to prepare for some unexpected. The most important was my Delorme InReach. Together with my iPhone, I knew where I was and where I was going and in case of emergency I could always press the rescue button or send text messages via satellite. At 5h30pm, I left the car and started to jog. I needed to cover as much distance as possible while I could. I quickly reached the end of the abandoned road and ahead of me was a little bit of clear cut area with the forest perhaps 50 yards away. The fun was about to begin!

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Every pin represents 10 minutes of traveling

The beginning was your typical new growth forest – sparse trees, shrubs and ferns but as I got closer to the the river, the bushes became thicker and the damp soil became swampy. Maneuvering my way through, I got to the river. At this time of the year, before the spring melt, the San Juan River was relatively low. The flow was still really strong and could easily sweep you off. Studying the topography I looked for a shallow passage across. The shallowness would increase the strength of the current but would give me more stability. I took my socks and shoes off, rolled my pants and proceeded. It didn’t take long for the glacial water to numb my feet and make every step painful. Halfway through, the current was too strong and even though I only had water passed up my knees, my bare feet were too weak to hold a stand. Every small step demanded all the strength in my legs to hold still. I felt that I was just on the verge of loosing my balance. So real slowly I turned around and carefully retreated. I would have to change my approach. I took my pants off and put my shoes back on. At this stage, I would trade dry feet for a steady foot. Finding a place a bit deeper I took another shot. The freezing water violently hit my thighs but my mind was in no mood of dealing with the issue, more concern about keeping myself in control. I was now carrying my backpack on the top of my shoulders with the water passed my waist. Looking ahead, the depth was steady – good! But about 2 meters away the opposite shore, the river took a dip but lucky enough there was a tree right before that was diverting the current. Now with water mid torso, I quickly covered the remaining short distance and climbed up the bank. The skin from below my chest all the way to my toes was bright red as if I had fallen asleep under the sun for hours. The river was now behind. Relieved and with my pants back on, I choose to leave the socks off, in case I would still be in the forest by nightfall, I needed to be able to warm my feet.

There were no trails or even slight openings where I could enter into the woods. There was also no way to search the river bank for one. There was only thing to do, push my way through. Imagine a football field covered with people, packed like sardines, every one with their arms across holding on each other and you have to walk from end to the other carrying a backpack that sticks out above your head. Add a swampy floor littered with dead petrified trees covered in moss that break almost every time you step on them, muddy creeks that suck your boots right off and vines full of thorns that will scratch deep into your skin every chance they have. At 0.70 km/h (0.45 mph) it took me 90 minutes to cover 1 kilometer (0.6 mile). At 7h45 pm I was finally stepping out of the Pacific Northwest rainforest and onto the paved road. An hour after walking on the road direction Port Renfrew, a pickup passed by. Waving my headlamp and arms in the air, the driver agreed to take me into town. The next day, the tow truck* met me at the hotel and together we went to pick up the car. The entire ordeal, from the hotel to the car and to the nearest garage was close to 6 hours. 

Spending a lot of time in nature and on expeditions, your perception of things changes. You stop seeing things in what they could be or could not be. You quickly forget about probabilities, odds and statistics. Your bottom line becomes extremely clear and simple – yes or no, going or not going. I have to eat. I have to find shelter. I have to survive. You might and will debate about what to do or what could be done, but there is only one state of mind – Sisu. However long it takes, whatever it takes, the choice has been made and the only thing left is to do everything you can to reach your destination or achieve your goal. I have to cross that river. I have to reach that paved road. I have to continue my journey. It is not really a question of bravery or fearlessness, but rather a matter of staying focus on the objective with anything in between being irrelevant. It is not about being courageous but about sustaining that courage so that you can keep going. It is what that Red Creek Fir symbolizes – to be able to stand for a thousand years, to grow in an harsh environment and survive wars, logging and the elements.

Sisu is what you become by welcoming nature in. It is why I believe the Finnish have come to define themselves by this word, because of their intricate connection to their environment – with Arctic waters, long winters, endless nights, and piercing winds, one has little choice but to humble himself and focus on the long term goals.

… I have never had the teaching,
Never lived with ancient heroes,
Never learned the tongues of strangers,
Never claimed to know much wisdom.
Others have had language-masters,
Nature was my only teacher,
Woods and waters my instructors… 

The Kalevala, EPILOGUE

*I would like to thank NAPA, BCAA & Eric at TOTEM TOWING for turning this unfortunate event into a breezy one!

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Safe tow!

 

 

 

 

 

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Minute of Nature

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I have been working on finding a concept of short videos that would support my narrative – THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT.

It was during my trip to the Bedwell River that the clarity of what I needed to do came to me.

Let me explain to you … watch the video below.

This idea of sharing with you these moments and inspirational quotes or thoughts is exactly what I have been looking for. The notion of helping you disconnect and leave the modern world behind just for one minute so that your mind can wander away and connect with that part of nature where I was able to “Stop, Breathe, Listen and Relax.” This is exactly what I strive to bring to you.

Here is the first MINUTE, from Ucluelet.

These “Minutes of Nature” will be posted throughout all my social media sites but you are welcome to subscribe to the Vimeo Channel

 

Nature, Life & Technology

“All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.”  Mark Kennedy 

My work is about nature and our intricate connection to it, so why am I here in Munich attending for the second year DLD (Digital Lifestyle Design), a conference that focuses on promoting the benefits of living in a world of data and technology? As much as I would prefer being in the wilderness, by a creek, camera in hand and quietly observing a bear passing by, attending these kind of events is also important. One cannot truly understand the world we live in without seeing where it is going. One cannot understand the challenges we face in our attempt of finding mindfulness without knowing what those challenges are and why they are so enticing. Having a deeper connection to nature and life sounds wonderful but in reality,  things are little bit more complicated. Every one at this conference is trying to make the world a better place. The sense of creativity and ingenuity fueling all these amazing people is breathtaking and commendable. But as much as we love our computers and smart phones, we need to remember that there is more to life than data and technology.

Last year, in my post Concept vs Reality, a Cautionary Tale, I wrote about my worries of a world disconnected physically from reality, entrenched in a culture of concepts.

“From behind our television and our computers, it has become too easy to conceptualize the world, life, ourselves, our issues and our challenges… The beauty of our lives – of Life – does not find its root in numbers, codes and algorithms. Following a recipe to the letter doesn’t mean it will create the perfect dish. It is the human touch that brings the real value.”

In Our Salvation in God Technologius, my concerns were more about our faith in believing that technology would bring salvation, that we were now seeing humans has flawed and replaceable and that we seek spiritual and religious meaningfulness through our iPhones and other devices.

“…We need to take time to ask ourselves: “Is perfection something we should strive for? Or is imperfection the key for happiness?” Are we just a society in denial, buried in work, blinding ourselves with our capacity for the grandiose only to avoid our sickness? Any psychologist or therapist would say so. I do not believe that the key to our happiness and humanity is in our ability to go faster and embrace technology. I do not believe in fast food, diet pills, fake meat and running on the treadmill with glasses that projects a virtual trail. Instead I believe in opening a bottle of wine, inviting friends for a meal, slow cooking a nice roast and planning the next sailing trip… 

… this utopian belief that we will be able to control, for the greater good of humankind, all technology to come, that all the past mishaps will not apply to the future because we are smarter and know better. This naive and false sense of control is troubling. We are simply drunk with our own god complex… 

… Life is not about perfection. It is not about the shortest point between two points. Ask anyone who travels – not for business trips, but to discover new places, new cultures, new experiences – and the most wonderful moments are the unexpected ones, the ones where you get lost and explore the unknown.” 

At DLD this year, I was really happy to see three speakers who were there precisely to talk about the same issues that I have been writing about.

Evgeny Morozov a writer and researcher of Belarusian origin who studies political and social implications of technology, talked about Solutionism and our tendency to expect too much from technology.

Arianna Huffington, who has been busy promoting a new way to defining success (Third Metric) and Paulo Coelho, who wrote the famous book The Alchemist, talked about mindfulness and being able to disconnect.

None of us are promoting the idea that technology is bad or that data is irrelevant. Instead we all want to have an honest and truthful dialogue, a discussion that delves deeper into the realities and consequences from giving our lives away to technology. In other words, we just want to find a certain balance and make decisions that honor our humanity instead of destroying and erasing it. As Oubai Elkerdi puts it so well in his article Rethinking the relationship between culture and technology: “The truth is: the current state of technology is both unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. In many ways it robs us of our humanity much more than it enhances it.”

Life is not about choosing the only things that bring you satisfaction and gratify you. Life is about discovery. It is about realizing that the things we cherish the most are the ones that can’t be quantify. Perfection is boring and beauty lies in the subtle, in the imperfect and in places we try so hard to avoid today. The idea that we are entering a world where people will prefer a relationship with an operating system or a software is deeply troubling. Movies like HER and games like LOVEPLUS are no more science fiction. They are reality! And they bring with them the concept that relationships between humans is too hard, hurtful and complicated. Instead machines will bring us only pleasure, support and love.

“Manaka is the only — could I say person? … She’s the only person that actually supports me in bad times,” says Josh Martinez, a 19-year-old engineering student in Mexico City. He plays LovePlus at least once a day for 20 minutes and considers Manaka his girlfriend of 18 months. “When I feel down or I have a bad day, I always come home and turn on the game and play with Manaka,” Martinez says. “I know she always has something to make me feel better.”

The time I spend in nature teaches me about what is important in life. Through my stories like TIME, DREAMS, DISRUPTION, WAIT &  STRIPPED  I try to communicate and illustrate how the POWER OF NATURE RESTORES THE HUMAN SPIRIT – how through a better understanding of life and what nature is, one can find mindfulness. The goal is not to strip away the hardships of life but rather finding peace in the process.

As our lives become more dependent and intertwined with technology, we have to make a conscious effort not to loose sight on what is it that makes us humans. There is more to life than technology and data. Like any species, we are not flawed. We are nature and we are in constant evolution. We are a species that has mastered adaptation. We rise and hope even in the worst of moments. We create, sing, paint and write. We love and sympathize. We are complex entities that result from our upbringing and ancestry. What we are not, is just a series of zeros and ones.

“…You may think that I am the future. But you’re wrong. You are. If I had a wish, I wish to be human. To know how it feels to feel, to hope, to despair, to wonder, to love. I can achieve immortality by not wearing out. You can achieve immortality simply by doing one great thing…”

“… thank you for teaching us that falling only makes stronger…”

The Mighty Buffalo

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior

The massive animal was only a few yards away; his height doubled any of the bushes around. If I was to stand beside him, the top of his hump would still be a foot above my head. I was sitting on the ground and my eyes were to the level of his. He carried on one his horns a branch that he had snatched away just a few minutes earlier after scratching his furry head onto the trunk of a sagebrush. This improvised crown gave him a sense of notoriety and aristocracy that perhaps was due for official recognition. This herbivore had indeed once been the king of this land. It was only proper formality for me to bow in front of a surviving royal.

A little less than an hour ago, he had come from over the hill when he had seen me sitting on the grass, right in his path. Over the next sixty minutes he would stare at me for a while, trying to determine the level of threat I was representing; he then pretended eating, walking forward a bit, looking up, staring, and starting the ritual again. As he slowly passed by me, his gaze locked into mine. Obvious by its size, one would only truly realize the scale of its two-ton weight every time he lifted up one of its hooves to reveal a deep ravine print in the sand.

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The Unsung King

As often as it is the case with all my travels, my presence on the island had more to do with fate than anything else. Earlier in the year, while visiting a dear friend in Logan Utah, and looking for a nearby place to hike, she had suggested that we visit Antelope Island State Park — a wonderful 28,800 acres island located just outside Salt Lake City — and home to one of the largest wild herds of buffalos in North America. I remember standing on the top of Sentry Peak looking over Salt Lake and telling myself that I ought to come back soon and spend more time. The place had so much beauty and was filled with culture and history; it felt as if this land was connected to something ancestral, perhaps it was the presence of some of oldest rocks in the United States, or the Fielding Garr Ranch with the oldest (Anglo) building in Utah, still on its original foundation, or the free roaming buffalos, but something was calling me.

After my kayaking expedition in Alaska, I was looking for one last project to end the year with; something that would be close to home and would offer me the possibility of doing what I cherish the most: photograph big wildlife (See Totems). It was at that moment that another friend gifted me with the book “A Buffalo in the House: The True Story of a Man, an Animal, and the American West” by R. D. Rosen. The timing was perfect and it became quite obvious what I needed to do; to go back to Antelope Island.

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Top of Sentry, looking over Salt Lake

It is believed that the first Bison bison came from Asia over the Bering Land Bridge about 500,000 years ago. Before the arrival of the Europeans, in 1492, it is estimated that their numbers were somewhere between 40 and 60 million. Unfortunately, the conquering of the Native Americans and of the West, led to one of the greatest animal slaughters in human history. By 1890, only 750 bison were left — the equivalent of killing roughly 360 buffalos every day for 400 years. 1872, ‘73 and ‘74, are known to be the bloodiest years in the recorded slaughter of the bison. More than 4,500,000 of them were killed during these three years alone, which averages to about 4,110 every day.

The buffalos were one of the most important pillars of the Native American culture.

“The buffalo gave us everything we needed. Without it we were nothing. Our tipis were made of his skin. His hide was our bed, our blanket, our winter coat. It was our drum, throbbing through the night, alive, holy. Out of his skin we made our water bags. His flesh strengthened us, became flesh of our flesh. Not the smallest part of it was wasted. His stomach, a red-hot stone dropped into it, became our soup kettle. His horns were our spoons, the bones our knives, our women’s awls and needles. Out of his sinews we made our bowstrings and thread. His ribs were fashioned into sleds for our children, his hoofs became rattles. His mighty skull, with the pipe leaning against it, was our sacred altar. The name of the greatest of all Sioux was Tatanka Iyotake–Sitting Bull.” John Fire Lame Deer

This intricate connection made them a prime target – “Kill the buffalo and you kill the Indians” General Philip H. Sheridan said in 1866 when he took command of U.S. forces in the West, proposing to bring peace to the plains by exterminating the herds of buffalo that support the Indians’ way of life.

Conservation efforts and the slow coming back of the American Bison in the United States of America and Canada might bring hope for the animal’s future but the truth remains, the survival struggle of the bison is far from over. The recent culling at Yellowstone (NY Times 2008NY Times 2011) and the debate around brucellosis demonstrate how for many, the animal is still a culprit that needs to be exterminated. For ranchers, they are simply a pest that eats away precious resources which should be utilized only for their cattle. (See Buffalo War on PBS)

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A visitor

I spent more than three weeks on Antelope Island. On my first evening, four bison came running down the hill and galloped just a few feet away from my tent. I was by the picnic table preparing dinner with my head lamp turned on when I heard a loud noise and looked up — four pairs of eyes glistering in the dark. One dawn at 4am, I heard one passing within reach from my tent. Its humongous shadow casted against the fabric wall, as a result of the full moon that night. I could hear and feel his breath as if he was breathing over my neck. Another day, while I sat in the grass field, a small herd of around 25 cows and calves bison came upon me. As they got closer and closer, I chose not to move and started talking to them. I strongly believe that the voice carries energy that can calm, stress or anger. The herd came around and formed a line behind me. I slowly turned around, always sitting, and always talking. They were, of course, nervous, breathing fast with their eyes wide open and alert, but none were showing aggressive behavior. A few minutes had passed when a late arrival showed up and decided to change the mood. Whether he was showing off or not was not my concern. Its tail was up, his hoof was pounding the ground and his grunt was aimed at me. Keeping my calm, I slowly turned to face him. Raising my finger at him, much like a parent would do to reprimand a child, I changed the tone of my voice and with much fierceness told him: “You! Over there, shut it!” To my relief, he lost his stand, stopped his grunting and joined the others… behind the group.

Interestingly enough, my greatest surprise during my stay was to realize how they were all so different from one another. Before starting to photograph them, I thought they all look quite alike. But spending every day with them and looking at the photos taken, their differences became obvious. There personalities contrasted greatly. There horns differ. Some had triangular heads, others were rectangular. Many carried what appeared to be a puffy “toupee”. Some heads were black and some were brown.

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All quite different!

I went there to meet and discover an old soul, and I did. According to the Natives and in the belief that animals carry messages, the buffalo is about holding your prayers resolute and firm; giving thanks continually that your prayers have already been answered in the most abundant way possible. They say that buffalo medicine has a sacred connection with the Earth (Great Spirit) because they continue to aid, assist and provide God’s children on earth.

I live in a world where I will never be able to experience the abundance of wilderness that existed centuries ago. I can only close my eyes and imagine what it was like when they ruled the plains. Those ones who accepted me there gave me much to ponder on; for a species that almost disappeared, they are still around to tell their story, a story of hope and togetherness. Yes we brought them down, but we also brought them back up, and in the process bringing ourselves up. And that gives me hope for the future, for our future. We might, and are heading towards an existential crisis as a species, but I know we will come out stronger and wiser. That is what the buffalo told me.

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An old soul

 

The Legend of the Great Flood

“I have heard it told on the Cheyenne Reservation in Montana and the Seminole camps in the Florida Everglades, I have heard it from the Eskimos north of the Arctic Circle and the Indians south of the equator. The legend of the flood is the most universal of all legends. It is told in Asia, Africa, and Europe, in North America and the South Pacific.”

Professor Hap Gilliland of Eastern Montana College was the first to record this legend of the great flood. This is one of the fifteen legends of the flood that he himself recorded in various parts of the world.

He was an old Indian. His face was weather beaten, but his eyes were still bright. I never knew what tribe he was from, though I could guess. Yet others from the tribe whom I talked to later had never heard his story. 

We had been talking of the visions of the young men. He sat for a long time, looking out across the Yellowstone Valley through the pouring rain, before he spoke. “They are beginning to come back,” he said. 

“Who is coming back?” I asked.

“The animals,” he said. “It has happened before.” 

“Tell me about it.’

He thought for a long while before he lifted his hands and his eyes. “The Great Spirit smiled on this land when he made it. There were mountains and plains, forests and grasslands. There were animals of many kinds–and men.” 

The old man’s hands moved smoothly, telling the story more clearly than his voice.

The Great Spirit told the people, “These animals are your brothers. Share the land with them. They will give you food and clothing. Live with them and protect them.

“Protect especially the buffalo, for the buffalo will give you food and shelter. The hide of the buffalo will keep you from the cold, from the heat, and from the rain. As long as you have the buffalo, you will never need to suffer.”

For many winters the people lived at peace with the animals and with the land. When they killed a buffalo, they thanked the Great Spirit, and they used every part of the buffalo. It took care of every need. 

Then other people came. They did not think of the animals as brothers. They killed, even when they did not need food. They burned and cut the forests, and the animals died. They shot the buffalo and called it sport. They killed the fish in the streams.

When the Great Spirit looked down, he was sad. He let the smoke of the fires lie in the valleys. The people coughed and choked. But still they burned and they killed.

So the Great Spirit sent rains to put out the fires and to destroy the people.

The rains feil, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded valleys to the higher land.Spotted Bear, the medicine man, gathered together his people. He said to them, “The Great Spirit has told us that as long as we have the buffalo we will be safe from heat and cold and rain. But there are no longer any buffalo. Unless we can find buffalo and live at peace with nature, we will all die.”

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded plains to the hills.

The young men went out and hunted for the buffalo. As they went they put out the fires. They made friends with the animals once more. They cleaned out the streams.

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded hills to the mountains.Two young men came to Spotted Bear. “We have found the buffalo,” they said. 

“There was a cow, a calf, and a great white bull. The cow and the calf climbed up to the safety of the mountains. They should be back when the rain stops. But the bank gave way, and the bull was swept away by the floodwaters. We followed and got him to shore, but he had drowned. We have brought you his hide.”

They unfolded a huge white buffalo skin. 

Spotted Bear took the white buffalo hide. “Many people have been drowned,” he said. “Our food has been carried away. But our young people are no longer destroying the world that was created for them. They have found the white buffalo. It will save those who are left.” 

Still the rains fell, and the waters rose. The people moved from the flooded mountains to the highest peaks.

Spotted Bear spread the white buffalo skin on the ground. He and the other medicine men scraped it and stretched it, and scraped it and stretched it. 

Still the rains fell. Like all rawhide, the buffalo skin stretched when it was wet. Spotted Bear stretched it out over the village. All the people who were left crowded under it.

As the rains fell, the medicine men stretched the buffalo skin across the mountains. Each day they stretched it farther. 

Then Spotted Bear tied one corner to the top of the Big Horn Mountains. That side, he fastened to the Pryors. The next corner he tied to the Bear Tooth Mountains. Crossing the Yellowstone Valley, he tied one corner to the Crazy Mountains, and the other to Signal Butte in the Bull Mountains. 

The whole Yellowstone Valley was covered by the white buffalo skin. Though the rains still fell above, it did not fall in the Yellowstone Valley. 

The waters sank away. Animals from the outside moved into the valley, under the white buffalo skin. The people shared the valley with them. 

Still the rains fell above the buffalo skin. The skin stretched and began to sag.

Spotted Bear stood on the Bridger Mountains and raised the west end of the buffalo skin to catch the West Wind. The West Wind rushed in and was caught under the buffalo skin. The wind lifted the skin until it formed a great dome over the valley.

The Great Spirit saw that the people were living at peace with the earth. The rains stopped, and the sun shone. As the sun shone on the white buffalo skin, it gleamed with colours of red and yellow and blue. 

As the sun shone on the rawhide, it began to shrink. The ends of the dome shrank away until all that was left was one great arch across the valley. 

The old man’s voice faded away; but his hands said “Look,” and his arms moved toward the valley.

The rain had stopped and a rainbow arched across the Yellowstone Valley. A buffalo calf and its mother grazed beneath it.

Disruption, the Nature of Life

“The end is the beginning of all things, suppressed and hidden, awaiting to be released through the rhythm of pain and pleasure.” Jiddu Krishnamurti

The wind has been blowing steady at 25mph all morning. The mountains around, which on any other normal day can be seen reaching out to the sky are cut in half by a dull blanket of featureless clouds. My tent anchored in solidly is bending every time a gust comes rushing by. The magpies and crows are flying low while the gulls seem to truly enjoy this treacherous air. The Great Salt Lake, normally with its water flat and still like a mirror, is covered with foot high waves. Interestingly enough though, as if purposely playing tricks for a seemingly obvious weather forecast, the Rabbitbrushes and Sage Brushes are barely moving – their coarse branches specially adapted for this harsh, windy and dry environment. The warmth and quietness of yesterday was now replaced by a cold and noisy today.

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The little fortress of rocks built around my stove didn’t do much in stopping the fluidity of the wind and I was left with little choice but to improvise if I wanted to have my morning tea and oatmeal. I popped the trunk of the car open, moved the equipment around and set the kitchen there – now protected in this beacon of modern transportation.

In some bizarre fashion, I love these moments when you are reminded that the beautiful and precious you had is never to be taken for granted. Disruption is the foundation of happiness and it is the way the world and nature works. The key is to accept the unexpected and understand that the “ups” are only appreciated because they are relative to the “downs”. Life would be boring if it was constantly positive, independently how amazing it is. Which reminds me of John Maeda’s book “Simplicity”, where he defends that it is the complex moments in life we love, not the simple ones.

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Everything that we cherish is rooted in disruption. Think about it for a second. The spices in my food, the color in my room, the decorations in a christmas tree – they all disrupt an initial simple state and make it more exciting. It is the clouds in an monotonous sky that make a sunset or sunrise truly amazing. A straight road might bring a little speed, but the real pleasures of driving come with the curves and turns. Point taken, these are small on the disruptive scale, but the way of dealing with them is no different then with the more challenging events. The secret is to realize that disruptions are not meant to be avoided but rather to be explored and appreciated. They expend one’s mind, bring new experiences and make you appreciate the things and people you care for. Too much or too little disruption is only a question of perspective.

“I like learning stuff. The more information you can get about a person or a subject, the more you can pour into a potential project. I made a decision to do different things. I want to do things that have a better chance of being thought of as original. I do everything I can to disrupt my comfort zone.” Brian Grazer, film producer

When our ancestors moved around, nomadic not by choice but by necessity, life was a constant adaption to endless disruptions. The world around them changed, seasons came and go, and with it the understanding of living in a dynamic world. As we became sedentary, no longer adapting ourselves to our environment instead transforming it to our needs, our view of the world changed to a more static one. We started to separate ourselves from nature and what had been so far a world we “lived in” became a world we needed to escape, conquer and control.

Today, with technology, more estranged from nature and the realities of life than ever before, disruptions are the enemy, members of the axis of evil, threatening our sanitized culture. Instead of embracing them and their power of discovery, we do everything to eliminate them. Instead of inspiring and teaching people to find the positive in situations that are mostly unwanted, we propagate the message that life is unfair and that there must be someone to blame.

We have heard many times of people who have said that cancer, how unfortunate and destructive it is, was the best thing that had happened to them. How many times did we fear the end of a relationship only to admit later of its misery and how much life was better since. How do you think we have evolved and survived? Adaptation and disruption go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. We shouldn’t dismiss the gravity of the changes that are upon us today as our impact is threatening our own existence, but we can’t allow ourselves to think that this is the end. The best is always to come, cause I refuse to think that it should be used in the past term.

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The day was coming an end and even as I entered the tent to discover the interior and sleeping bag covered in dust, I smiled, remembering how the day had turned out despite the stormy weather. The bland day light and dusty air wasn’t really interesting to photograph so instead I hung out with the Park Manager as he took me around the island – beyond the gates, and told me about the fascinating history of this place. But the surprise of the day was when I went into town for lunch. I knew that dinner would be wet and windy so I wanted to give myself at least a “proper” meal. It was on my way out that I noticed a coyote walking by the water. For the last two weeks I had found it impossible to approach them – they were always on the move and would quickly disappear the minute they would see me. I got out of the car and walked down to the water’s edge, hoping the coyote would keep his direction and pass by me. Perhaps it was because of the strong wind, who knows, but even though he noticed my presence really early he kept trotting his course and finally came within 10 feet of where I was sitting. It was the only time during my stay on the island that I was able to photograph a coyote the way I wanted. Hadn’t been for the wind and rain, this encounter wouldn’t have never happened. Had the day been sunny and beautiful, this photograph would have never been created.

“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”  Zhuangzi

Stripped

It happens every time, and independently if I want it or not, I find myself pulled into it. Parked at the Big Sur Station, I am getting my equipment ready. The plan is to hike to Syke Camp, spend a couple of nights there then one night on the beach and finally hike a 3,000 feet peak nearby. I should be excited, thrilled and relaxed, but instead I am anxious and worried. I try to focus on making sure that I don’t forget anything – I would really hate finding out that I have forgotten a lens or battery for the camera after a 5-hour hike and having to return. Despite all my previous stories written, despite all the photos that I have taken, despite the fact that deep down I know that it always works out, I can’t stop but stress about the uncertainty on if I will be able to find something to write about or find a nice landscape to photograph. Will I be inspired? If so, about what? Will the light be good? Will I see animals? Will the weather cooperate? And what if I don’t have anything to show by the end of the week? My last story, TIME, was written many months ago in Hawaii. I have since been twice in Alaska, kayaking and hiking a glacier, and even though both were incredible expeditions, I failed to come back with new words. Knowing the reasons why the page has remained blank doesn’t help either.

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Pine Ridge Trail

The creative process is one of the hardest things to find. And even more challenging is to protect that process as the world around you changes. Inspiration is complicated and some are more famous for their bizarre rituals then for their own art.

I love being on expedition – having a set target, a destination to reach, a goal, but it is not what I live and work for. The content that I produce during these adventures is more descriptive – narrating the days, the progression, the ups and downs, the struggles encountered and the magical moments witnessed. It is premeditated. Inspiration is not really the most important aspect, but rather your ability to deliver the story, to capture the local flavors.

What I long for as an artist is much different. It is when I have the feeling, the sensation that the inspiration has come to me rather than me seeking it. It is that sense of being connected to something else, something bigger. As alone as one can be when creating, knowing that you are only a channel through which your environment expresses itself brings a total different perspective – the loneliness disappears and a deep fulfilling connectedness lives – bringing along a sense of purpose.

I am 2 hours into the hike and my mind is still stuck in that parking lot. I am walking the trail much like I would walk the sidewalks of New York – focused on the destination and shutting myself to everything else in between – a self defense mechanism we have had to developed to protect ourselves from the constant and relentless assault on our senses from our modern lifestyle. Instead of enjoying the moment, I feel heavy and distracted. Layers of anxiety rooting from our civilized, moral and intellectual culture weighing on me. My ears are open but don’t hear anything. My eyes are open but can’t see anything. My body is tensed, preoccupied with every uphill steps I have to make. The Ventana Wilderness is full of wonders with majestic Redwoods and beautiful Pacific Madrones, yet, my head looks down – I am a man walking his purgatory! After 5 hours, I arrive at the destination tired but wired. Where are the hot springs, where to camp? Quick lets get to work – what can I photograph? I can’t rest. This is work and I must produce!

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Syke Camp

It is 6pm – the tent is up, the backpack emptied, the hot springs have been located and already “enjoyed”. The kettle is on the stove. I am camping on this tiny “island” in the middle of the Big Sur River, a magical set up, yet I am totally oblivious to my surroundings. I am pacing frantically. The steam shoots out from the kettle and I am slow to realize the water is ready. So much for someone who is supposed to be “one” with nature – pathetic!

I take my cup of mate tea and sit on a log that rests slightly above the river, bridging my campsite to the north shore. My feet hang with my toes dipping in the frigid running water. I take a sip. Then I take a deep breath. Another sip – another breath. Finally, the moment I have been unconsciously waiting for is starting to manifest itself.

Like the afternoon wind pushing away the morning fog, with every new sip and every new breath, my comatose state starts fading. Free of their societal constraints, my senses awaken from their lethargy. My back arches up. My chest opens up. My ears start tingling to the sound of water swirling around the rocks. My eyes start seeing for the first time an American Dipper just a few feet away, diving for a few second then reappearing with a nymph in its beak. My lungs are beginning to feel lighter. My mind is clear. My heartbeat has slowed down, yet I remain extremely sharp. By the time my tea is finished, everything feels new and fresh – alive. In reality though, it is me who has changed, it is me who is alive now. I was closed and sequestered, now I am freed and attuned. I have finally found the state of mind I came here for. And with it came my inspiration. Thought by thought, sentence by sentence, words have come back. Stripped from the confinement of technology and cultural expectations, I was finally at peace with simply one thing – being.

“Nature is pleased with simplicity.” — Isaac Newton

“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” — Oscar Wilde

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Sunset from 3,000ft

As much as we want to categorize, compartmentalize, judge, humanize, and beautify nature, for me the “wild” is only one thing – real. Everything is what it is. There are no right or wrong, no bad or good, no judgement. Nothing is pretty, nothing is ugly. A dead tree has as much value as a living one. A fire will benefit some while it will kill others. The prey does everything it can to survive, as does the predator. There are no winners, no losers. No one is more important, yet everyone is connected and interdependent. Nothing is perfect – evolution is this endless chaotic yet harmonious dance where each adjust to the other, over long long long periods of time. Species adapt or disappear. Continents break while others sink. Still, every morning, the sun rises and brings with it life. And even if this sun stops to shine, another one, somewhere else in this huge universe will illuminate another world.

Independently if we believe and speak about it as a separate entity, in reality we are no different than nature. Quite the opposite, we are nature, and we are intricately part of it. We are nothing more than a footnote in the grand scheme of evolution. Yet we have come to believe that everything revolves around us – that everything is about US. Our view of the world is no different then when we thought that the earth was the center of the galaxy. Instead now we see ourselves as the center of Life, of the Universe.

In our quest to conquer – not only territorially, but intellectually and morally, we have lost our connection to the world around us, to the planet and to life. We also have lost our ability to look at our environment (the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates) and learn from it. We no longer look at nature and use it to understand life – instead we see nature and life as flawed systems that need to be corrected and reengineered under our own perception of what it should be. We see ourselves as great saviors with god powers!

Our myopia and shortsightedness have made us inefficient and incapable of looking at the bigger picture. We focus on details, obsessing about single events, while loosing perspective of everything else around. Our expertise at extracting data from pretty much anything – important or not, trivial or useless, has transformed our world into an intellectual dump. Buried under so much information and incapable of managing it, we look at technology as our only hope. Completely lost and feeling powerless, we blindly put our salvation into machines and their ability to “process” – because the only way we can make sense of anything is through numbers, equations, statistics and graphs. Common sense is no longer valued unless it can be measured and quantified.

Sitting on that log, with my empty cup of tea, nothing feels out of place. I don’t feel out of place. The humility brought by the simplicity I find myself surrounded by is relaxing, refreshing and gives me hope. Real and honest is what nature is to me. It is a constant reminder of the true essence of what life is about. It is my source of inspiration, my elixir for meditation and my most profound teacher.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Sunset from the beach

Sunset from the beach

Time

Time from Daniel Fox on Vimeo.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser* Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” Replicant Roy Batty Blade Runner

Batty, in his last words, accepts that despite his physical superiority, that after his failure of finding a way to live longer, time is something that he simply can’t avoid and defeat. It is the reason why he saves Deckard. Looking down at him and seeing him struggle, holding on for his dear life, he realizes at that moment that both of them are equal – two creatures trying to survive, trying to hold on and extant beyond that finite existence that nature has given them.

I am standing in the middle of a black lava field that stretches for miles in all directions. I am told that prior to the eruption, this now barren landscape was lush with trees and filled with life. The beach at the ocean was so beautiful that it was the official island postcard, promoting this divine location – palm trees over a black sand beach. But time has scorched this once beauty – covered in molten black rock, twisted and burned by fire, trapped under a blanket of desolation. It is easy to loose hope in this No Man’s Land, a place where even the strongest of gods would feel abandoned – Hades never forgave his brothers. But all this is part of nature’s plan.

Past sunset, the sky and the horizon become one. The darkness takes over and if it wasn’t for this cloudless night with its millions of stars and gravity keeping me grounded, I wouldn’t know which way was up or which way was down. Despite the eeriness of the moment, something incredible is happening.

Pele_01

According to the Hawaiian mythology, Pele is the goddess of fire, lightning, wind and volcanoes. It is believed that she lives in the Halema’uma’u crater, at the summit caldera of Kilauea, one of the Earth’s most active volcanoes. The residents of the Big Island take their belief in her quite seriously. And I understand now.

While daylight reveals a tortured landscape, at night time it is the blood of the planet that suddenly comes to be seen.  And there is nothing tortured about it. Life is what is flowing under my feet. I feel it, I feel Pele, I feel the earth, I feel its force, its intensity – it is then that I realize, this place is not about death and destruction, it is about life and creation.

This planet is a creation of time. We are in fact nothing but the result of an ongoing experiment that has been going on for millions of years. Time is nature, it is the force that drives everything. As I stand by this boulder the size of a bus, slowly cracking its way forward, I come to understand the pace and rhythm of life.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Man’s relationship with time couldn’t be more different. Nature has given us time to evolve and develop an intelligence that is unmatched on this planet. But like any good fable, with such incredible potential came an even greater burden – self awareness. As much as we think of ourselves as omnipotent, god-like and capable of outstanding feats, we are nonetheless simple mortals that cripple over time. Independently of our legacy, even the greatest of kings will be at one point forgotten and become nothing. Our existence might be relevant to us, but in the scheme of the universe, we are nothing, not even a grain of sand.

Facing our mortality and vulnerability, we see time as a disease, as a theft, as an injustice, as a destructive force and as the most valued currency we possess. Aristotle said that

“Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.” 

And Napoleon reminded us that

There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men:  time. 

Cecelia Ahern, in her book The Gift, wrote that

“Time is more precious than gold, more precious than diamonds, more precious than oil or any valuable treasures. It is time that we do not have enough of; it is time that causes the war within our hearts, and so we must spend it wisely.”

ruled by the fire

But isn’t it through time that the most beautiful things are created? It takes nine months for a mother to create life. It takes years to find that peaceful place in your heart. It takes a lifetime to realize that your most precious possessions were the simplest things you tried so hard to avoid. Time is the complexity that I taste in my wine, it is the beauty of an oxidized piece of copper. It is the essence of everything I cherish and it is my mentor as it brings me back to reality and makes me understand the universe.

I once read a story about an Elder telling a young woman of her frantic pace and need to get things done on time – “You have watches, but no time.” In this culture of speed where even the simple gesture of saying thank you is seen as a waste of time (NY Times), where anything above 140 characters is not worth reading, how will we ever understand and appreciate the beauty of life? How will we achieve wisdom if we can’t even appreciate the time it takes to become wise. Have we become spoiled and arrogant, basking in a culture of convenience and overnight deliveries? Maybe it is time to stop and look at the world around us and realize what we have been missing.

Like a petal in the wind
Flows softly by
As old lives are taken
New ones begin
A continual chain
Which lasts throughout eternity
Every life but a minute in time
But each of equal importance

Cindy Cheney

Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land.
So the little minutes, humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages of eternity.

Julia Carney

around

See more photos on Behance

A BIG thank you to LENSRENTALS, SANDISK AND JADE CHEN

* “Probably from Richard Wagner’s operatic adaption of the legend of the medieval German knight and poet Tannhäuser. Joanne Taylor, in an article discussing film noir and its epistemology, remarks on the relation between Wagner’s opera and Batty’s reference, and suggests that Batty aligns himself with Wagner’s Tannhauser, a character who has fallen from grace with men and with God but does receive redemption at the end. Both, she claims, are characters whose fate is beyond their own control.”

2013 Wish – Go Out!

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Now that the holidays are over, that the cacophony of consumerism has been muted, that our bodies are feeling the excess of celebrating and that the believers in the end of the world have had to deal with a doomsday-no-show, in is time to look ahead and hope for wishful thoughts.

Last December, Outside magazine published an amazing article written by Florence Williamstitled “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning”. The text was about how now science is slowly understanding and capable of explaining the positive neurological effects spending time in nature does to your brain and body. Armed with a battery of machines and sensors, scientists are able to identify the causes and consequences of lets say a walk in the forest. As I rejoice myself with the obvious conclusion, I worry of what is to come next. Williams is also aware of the danger, pointing that our “modern world” will try to put nature in a can, “feel nature without even trying”.

“Nature hates calculators.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness – perhaps ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things…” Walt Whitman

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs

Time in nature is more than chemical reactions. It is not just about our natural immune cells increasing every time we take a walk in the forest. Even if one day we are able to create a pill that will replicate the physical sensations of spending time on a beach, it will never do justice and bring the same benefits as the real experience. Nature is about breaking away from the chaos and anxiety we find ourselves so easily trapped in. It is a conscious effort of taking the time to relax. It is about making a choice of values and priorities. In this era of smart phones, computers, tablets, constant connection to the web and relentless solicitation to consume, these decisions to “disconnect” from this overbearing artificial stimuli does more than engage the neurones and immune systems, it is also one of the most rewarding sources of creativity.

And Kevin Charles Redmon writes precisely about this in his article: “Put Down the iPad, Lace Up the Hiking Boots

The results, which appear this month in PLoS One, were striking. Students who took the test after a four-day immersion in the backcountry scored 50 percent higher than their coursemates. “The current research indicates that there is a real, measurable cognitive advantage to be realised if we spend time truly immersed in a natural setting,” the authors write.

The study’s sample size was small and would best be repeated across several hundred subjects, thoroughly randomised. More importantly, the design doesn’t allow Strayer and his colleagues to pinpoint what’s causing the burst in creativity: is it the interaction with nature, the disconnection from technology, or both? And is physical exercise somehow involved? (Or could it be a flash of green?)

… Just how permanent are the neural ravages of Twitter, Gchat, and Gawker? Is a week in the Canyonlands every summer enough to restore our atrophied attention spans—or are we, the meme generation, totally hosed when it comes to consuming art more complex than a GIF or longer than 140 characters?

I have written before about the lack of imagination in today’s children. The topic is nothing new. A quick search on the web reveals many studies and articles, whether in the Washington Post (Is Technology Sapping Children’s Creativity?) or Psychology Today (Children’s Freedom Has Declined So Has Their Creativity). Richard Louv is obviously well known with his “Last Child in the Woods” book, which has become close to a cult classic.

So my wish for 2013 is that we forget a little about trying to understand too much what happens when we go to nature and that we simply go because it feels good, because it does us good. I wish that we would stop this obsession to quantify everything and start just believing in common sense. I wish that each one of us makes a conscious decision to disconnect at least one day of the week or one day of the weekend, and go out – outside the city, go smell the fresh air, go Shinrin Yoku, go swim, go hike, go see the mountains, the beach, the forest, anything really, as long as you away from any screen.

Happy Holidays! Away from the computer

Happy Holidays & a Wonderful New Year

Happy Holidays & a Wonderful New Year

This year I am starting a new tradition. The holidays are meant to be spent with friends and family. They are meant to break away from the workload and disconnect from the ever consuming world of constant access to information. They are meant go outside and take long walks. It is the time of the year where in other words, we should all be away from the computer and from all social media, and instead cherish the moment, the people around us, face to face, without thinking about our social career. So for the first time and hopefully for all years to come, I will be offline for 2 weeks, starting tomorrow evening. I hope actually to start a hashtag named #OfflineForChritmas and invite you to disconnect for 2 weeks, go on a social media diet, take a book, go play outside, leave the online world behind, just for a little while, detox your head and mind from the clutter of our connected lives and go free. I know that I am! So on that note, let me repeat my card:

“What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

All these little steps we take, all these little changes we make, are like the rain drops that fall high up in the mountains and trickle down to the ocean, joinning with others and becoming fierce rivers. Lets all move towards a promising and positive future. One where nature will be a state of mind, where humility will be valued and where the prospect of a simpler life will be welcome and embranced. I will see you back in 2013!

HAVE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY, A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A WONDERFUL HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Wrong Idea of Nature

“It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” Theodore Roosevelt

I often wonder how Roosevelt would be perceived today. A republican, a liberal, a politician, a cowboy, a rebel, a naturalist, an explorer, a scientist, an avid reader, a soldier, and a lover of nature. He was also a great hunter who went hunting in Africa but in the process helped the Smithsonian museum creating an exhibit that would fascinate and continues to do so to millions of children and adults alike.

He was someone who believed in using natural resources, but opposed being wasteful. What would the United States of America look like today if he hadn’t created 5 national parks, 18 national monuments and 150 National Forests, protecting more than 230 million acres (930,000 km2) of American soil in various parks and other federal projects.

Would Roosevelt be thrown to the pit by the conservationists? Would he be called an “animal hater” by the nature activists? Unfortunately I believe so, and to the lost of our culture.

Like politics and many other issues in our society, nature and the environment have become extremely polarised topics. Common sense has become a rare commodity, replaced by harsh judgements to anyone who tries seeking the middle ground. You are either one or the other and dare if you wish to bring some perspective to the table.

In my talks about our relationship with nature, I spend a lot of time showing how not only have we become disconnected with our environment but also how our perception of nature has become extremely erroneous.

Living in cities, away from the wilderness we are detached from the realities of living in nature. We shop for food at the grocery store, getting our electricity without much effort and have our garbage picked up every week. Our lawn is mown weekly and kept green with pesticide. The modern definition of nature is now a “sanitised and censored” one.

We personify it as this cute and cuddly entity that just needs to be taken care of, fragile and delicate, in dire need of our protection, us its Saviour! Nature has become this poster we put on the wall and admire, this beautified television show where a predator capturing its prey is edited so that blood and death don’t appear to the viewer. It is a world where animated ant, fish, dog, and bear talk and move like humans. A world where hunters who decide to connect with their food are branded prehistoric barbarian and animal loving extremists the voice for an unfortunate and unrepresented kingdom. It is a nostalgic ideology of a pristine and utopian world, a debate where anyone who doesn’t cheer for the cat and eats meat is deemed cruel and against the planet.

But nature is far from any of this. Nature is raw, rough, a struggle, a fight, cruel, deadly, strong, destructive, intimidating and yes also amazing, beautiful, relaxing, humbly, and inspirational. Above it all though, it is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It teaches you about perspective and reminds you that life is not about Us, that there is something bigger than Us, mere little humans. It teaches you about the costs of life, about sacrifices and what it takes to survive. Try to understand what it means for a species to spend most of its life and energy giving birth to hundreds of thousands, even millions, just to have a handful of survivors. While all the dead ones are essential to support a complex food chain that makes this great biodiversity inhabiting the planet possible. There is nothing sad about this because this is life.

It is easy to chastise the indigenous for hunting when sitting behind a desk pampered by today’s convenient world. It is easy to claim your love for deer, coyotes, elephants, monkeys, badgers, and so many more when you don’t have to physically deal the consequences of their presence. It is easy to click any cause on Facebook and claim to the world what you believe in. I dare you to go live with monkeys in your backyard and see how you deal with them. I dare you to go and deal with elephants destroying your crops year after year. I dare you to go live where deer will eat everything you plant on your property.

Did you know that elephants cause millions of damage and are involved in destruction of woodland and contamination of water?

Did you know that Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms eating soybeans, watermelons, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, potatoes and mushrooms, destroying about 5,000 hectares of farmland each year?

And if by any chance the price of your “organic” food increases, lets say because of “nature” – weather related or some invasion, you are the first one to cry unfairness.

Did you know that our society’s beloved domesticated cat has been responsible for hundreds of million of dead mammals, birds and others? Combined with rats, they have almost wiped out entire island’s ecosystems – so much for  our infatuation with the small feline.

So when the CBS Sunday Morning show aired the segment, the “Pro & Cons of Growing Animal Population”, featuring Jim Sterba’s new book “Nature Wars”, harsh comments quickly followed – “… this is anti-nature bullshit propaganda…”.

Because we see nature as this static world. Because we see ourselves separated from it, better than it. Because we believe we are above it. Because we want to pick and choose only the “good” things from nature. But ask any Inuit or Eskimo and they will tell you that the “Whites” live in an egotistical bubble detached from any realities and absolutely disconnected with real nature. And I agree with them.

Nature connectedness doesn’t mean wanting to protect nature – in fact “protecting nature” is a modern concept. It means understanding that you are a part of it and that you are dependent on it for your food, health and survival. It means that you understand that if you don’t respect it and accept the finitely of it, it is not nature that will loose but you.

Being connected to nature is not eating organic food, supporting animal welfare organisations, consuming green or being vegan or vegetarian. It is not about being emotionally attached to it either. Being connected to nature is to understand our interconnectivity with our environment. It is about accepting its teachings, to understand about losses, death, that nothing is perfect – that life is about perspective, that everything is relative. Being connected to nature is basically one simple word, humility. But like everything else right now, we see the world and the planet through the anthropocene lens and believe that life will end if we don’t fix our mess.

I will go as far as to say that except for old indigenous cultures I don’t believe that neither Buddhism nor Hinduism, or again Paganism are philosophies or religions that are connected to nature, because they all put humans as the central being and above everything else. The day that we will stop seeing ourselves as this god creature, we will then be for the first time on the right path.

Our bond with nature has become conceptual not physical and here lies the problematic. Away from its realities, we  are unable to balance our judgements. We are ruled by our emotions and incapable of seeing the bigger picture.

“I heartily enjoy this life, with its perfect freedom, for I am very fond of hunting, and there are few sensations I prefer to that of galloping over these rolling limitless prairies, with rifle in hand, or winding my way among the barren, fantastic and grimly picturesque deserts of the so-called Bad Land… its toughness and hardy endurance fitted it to contend with purely natural forces… to resist cold and wintery blasts or the heat of the thirsty summer, to wander away to new pastures, to plunge over the broken ground, and to plow its way through snow drifts or quagmires… There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” Theodore Roosevelt

Recommended articles
Killing Animals to Save Animals: A Conundrum
A New Breed of Hunter Shoots, Eats and Tells
The mechanical guts of the universe
Nature Connected Psychology: Creating Moments That Let Earth Teach
Germany to Ban Sex with Animals
David Bellwood: Lessons from coral reefs from PopTech on Vimeo.

Radio Interview on CHON FM

While on assignment in Whitehorse, Yukon, for the Tlingit Cultural Revitalization, I had the opportunity to sit down with radio host Christine Genier and chat about my work, the EPIC expedition and our relationship with nature.

Click here to listen to the interview

The Lack of Imagination

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. “ Henry David Thoreau

It was a beautiful winter day in the Alps. The sun was high, the mountains looked gigantic, the temperature was just right, and deep snow was everywhere. The parents were going to the village and I decided to stay behind with the kids. I figured I could take them out and go for a walk with the dog. We could also find a place and build a castle or dig a snow cave. The last thing I was worried about was to find something to do out there!

When I was a kid, winters were spent outside. The minute I would come back from school, I would slip into my big suit, put my hat, gloves and scarf on and hurry back to my tunnel. Our front yard would get so much snow, that with the cold, we would be able to dig our way into the heart of this tiny cold mountain and make ourselves a cave. My god did I spent so many hours in there! On weekends, we would venture into the woods to play hide and seek. Often, after tracking some animal prints for hours, re-enacting our own version of the Wild Kingdoms, we would reluctantly go back to the house, only to wait for the next morning and go out again. Of course we had television and computers, but playing games that originated from our fascinating imagination was always much more interesting. Whether alone or with others, there was never a shortage of ideas. And those snowball fights were epic!

What I experienced that weekend, though, was sad and tragic. There I was that morning, in the lobby, my jacket on, ready to smell the fresh mountain air. The kids were nowhere to be found. In fact one was at the computer, and the two others watched television. Nobody wanted to go out. Despite the bright sun blasting through the windows, each of them was staring hypnotically into their respective screens. I managed to pull away the one at the computer. The others, too entrenched and blasé gave no sign of even considering the outdoors.

Not even 30 minutes into our walk up the snowpath that I started having this feeling that the child was bored to death. While the dog was having the time of his life, barking at a small block of ice, picking it up and throwing it in the air, the child seemed lost. I took the lead and initiated the laborious task of building a hole. He was happy for no more than 20 minutes before finding himself bored again. Now not even an hour into our winter adventure that he told me that he wanted to go back. The minute that his boots were off and his jacket was on the floor, he went straight back to that computer and stayed there for hours.

What shocked me the most was not their short span of attention but their total lack of creating imaginary worlds. Children today don’t know what to do if it is not given to them. They don’t have the patience nor the ability to dig their way out of boredom. Living in an era of “Helicopter Parenting” everything is done for them. Their after-school schedules are so tightly organized that they don’t have anything to think about. So they move between school, structured activities, television and computer. And since imagination finds its energy when one is alone with his or her thoughts, children unfortunately have seldom time to develop it. As if this was not bad enough, “being alone” today in our culture, is something every one is trying to avoid, at any cost.

In her talk at Ted, “Connected but alone?”, Sherry Turkle talks about how we have come to see being alone as almost a disease or something that needs to be solved. So we solve it by inventing tools that give us the illusion of always being connected and therefore, never alone – social media sites, online video games, and of course the most obvious one, the smart phone. Solitude is such a taboo word that our incapacity of dealing with it pushes us to connect with anything simply to fill that void. When I was younger, these moments when I alone with my thoughts and dreams, when I was left to use my imagination, these were my favorites times. I have spent my entire life making sure never to loose them and to protect them. For me they are my most precious possession. They are my freedom.

Doing some research on the web, I found on Zen Habits… Breathe a post titled The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People. Interestingly enough, being alone is one of the most important aspect of creativity. Here are some quotes from the article:

Doing nothing has a way of synthesizing what is really important in my life and in my work and inspires me beyond measure. When I come back to work I am better equipped to weed out the non-essential stuff and focus on the things I most want to express creatively.” Ali Edwards

“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer–say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.” Mozart

“On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.” Einstein

“You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Kafka

“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.” Tesla

“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” Picasso

There is also Richard Louv, author of the Last Child in the Woods, who often talks about the connection between nature and imagination. He argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally “scared children straight out of the woods and fields,” while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors “safe” regimented sports over imaginative play. Louv states that this Nature Deficit Disorder has a negative effect on everything from the attention span, stress, creativity, cognitive development, and children’s sense of wonder and connection to the earth.

We are robbing our children from the magic of childhood, turning them into young adults. And the consequences could not be more tragic. For a child, imagination is crucial for dealing with the realities of life. It is a safe world where one can process hard emotions. What else is Dr.Seuss if not a giant repertoire of crazy stories about the hardships of life. Kids need to develop their own “crazy” world. They need to find time where there is only thing left to do, which is to explore their imaginary potential. Let them believe in fairies and the impossible, because at the end of the day, this is where dreams are born.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. “ Michelangelo

The Need for a New Story

Last week in London, I had the privilege of meeting the theologian Martin Palmer. It was one of those encounters when after two hours, we obliged ourselves to continue another time, most likely over dinner, because this discussion could go on for many hours more.

Both of us strongly believe that there is something crucial missing in the conservation movement, that science and technology have taken the center stage, and that what is needed has been demoted to being insignificant. In a previous post, Conservation 2.0, I wrote how we must stop focusing on statistics and need to bring back a certain sense of mysticism and base our desire to change on values, and not just scientific reports. Yes science is good, as a tool, but not as the root of our actions.

Alongside this issue, I was glad to read two recent articles in the the New York Book Review, Age of Ignorance, by Charles Simic and Do We Need Stories, by Tim Parks.

Simic and Parks point out how our society (in this particular case, the U.S.A.) has glamorized ignorance, and embraced a shallow form of storytelling: “there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business”. Our society is filled with junk information. We live in an era of condensed opinionated “blips” of information, in which opinions are valued more than in-depth knowledge. Whomever shouts loudest is the one who will be seen as the expert. Facebook and Twitter are perfect tools for this type of narrative. News is reported in 140 characters or less, based on ever shorter attention spans. It is certainly not a lack of stories that is at the root of the problem, but a lack in the quality.

“Like” buttons will get you “involved” and grant you the title of being a “supporter” of pretty much anything. A cute image of a cuddly seal pup or any other baby animal will do wonders to attracted your attention. No need to know about the underlying studies, no desire to even question the statements made: a look into those big round eyes, suffices to form an opinion! We are gullible to anything that makes us go: “Ooooooh, how cute!” or “Arrrrgh, how gross!” Just look at what is popular on YouTube these days. “In the past, if someone knew nothing and talked nonsense, no one paid any attention to him.” says Simic

In his article Parks makes an observation that touches some of the issues regarding our perception of Nature.

“There are words that describe objects we make: to know the word “chair” is to understand about moving from standing to sitting and appreciate the match of the human body with certain shapes and materials. But there are also words that come complete with entire narratives, or rather that can’t come without them. The only way we can understand words like God, angel, devil, ghost, is through stories, since these entities do not allow themselves to be known in other ways, or not to the likes of me. Here not only is the word invented—all words are—but the referent is invented too, and a story to suit.”

Through our views based on science and technology, we have come to believe that nature is no different than a chair. We have stripped it of its sacredness and reduced it to a series of logical facts, from which we ultimately deduced – and finally claimed – our superiority. We have taken possession of the natural world by baptizing it with our taxonomy and putting it under our dominion. The next step was to personify nature, giving it a “Self”. Thus we have come to not only perceive ourselves superior to nature, but now we are making nature like us. This is really the world upside down.

Sadly much of the conservation and environmental community has been following this trend incessantly, dumbing down the storyline. No one wants to talk about values and mysticism, rather, they prefer to use climate-change scares or the plight of poor struggling creatures. The Anthropocene age has not only transformed the planet but also the stories with which we define our relationship with it. It would have been too good to be true if all our knowledge would have made us more humble, rather than haughty and if it had actually brought back the need for something sacred, instead of turning us into “Tweeting Gods”.

Nature is not in your computer!

“Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.” Richard Louv

The United Nations predicts that by 2030, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in cities. By then, in the U.K., city dwellers will represents 92% of the population. It is quite a sharp contrast to back in 1950, when the world’s urban population represented only 30%. While this new reality clearly shows a growing physical disconnection with nature, another reality, much more subtle, is making people believe otherwise.

When I grew up, there were people who spent a lot of time in nature, and there were people who simply did not. The “outdoor” people were usually fishermen, hunters, campers, hikers, etc. They cared about nature because they spent time in it. The people who rarely ventured away from the asphalt, were, with no shame, just not concerned with the wild world. The environment was not really a debate, but rather a destination. What we learned in school about nature was more scientific, like ecology and biology, alongside geography and history. On television, you had Jacques Cousteau, Jim Fowler, David Suzuki, and David Attenborough. Each was a nature journalist, reporting on the wilderness, out there and out of reach. They showed us wild worlds with amazing animals, feeding our growing appetite for adventure. Back in those days, loving nature didn’t equate with being a vegetarian, or to campaign against animal cruelty. In fact, all the television personalities mentioned above fished or even hunted.

Today, the picture could not be more different. Technology has totally transformed our perception of the wild word.  While nowadays we rarely spend time in nature, people are constantly made aware of it. Discovery and National Geographic stream 24 hour/day entertainment shows. Social media makes it possible for anyone to care about environmental causes, anywhere, independently if they are well informed or affected by it. The Internet allows any individual to post anything they want without any particular context or further explanation.  Not one day goes by without seeing a photo of a baby panda, a dolphin, a shark being butchered or a dead seal entangled in a fishing net. Nature has become an ideology people are fighting for. It is no longer a destination but rather the emotionally charged and personified notion of an animal’s struggle to survive, whether it is the “march of the emperor penguin” or the “fate of the polar bears”. We now live in a world where natural realities are being blown out of proportion and every minute struggle in an animal’s life is over empathized for. Living in cities, feeding ourselves from grocery stores and spending our weekends in the park around the corner, the natural world has become a beautified concept, a Disney story and a pretty picture on the wall. Anything that contradicts this notion is deemed anti-nature or anti-animals. Animal welfare organizations, based in cities, are raging wars against society and anyone who doesn’t agree with their belief that any creature has a soul and humans have no right to take it away. In their view, plastic, genetically created meat, and soy-everything, is the way for the future. A meat eater, a fish eater, or a person wearing leather or fur, independently where and how it was processed, is targeted as cruel and against the natural world. For the indigenous people, who have lived off the land and the sea for millennia, with sustainable practices and honoring their connection with the earth, this intrusion from people who know nothing about their lifestyle and culture is seen as extremely hypocritical and shallow.

Worse, Google Earth and sites like theBlu are advertising themselves as places where one can “explore” the world. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times stated: “It’s a living, breathing ocean that you can “dive into,” exploring underwater habitats from the Indian Ocean to the Sea of Cortez while encountering thousands of fish — as they swim across your computer screen.” The computer screen is nothing like being out in the wilderness. It is nothing like exploring other countries for real or mingling with other cultures. Pressing keys on the keyboard does not make you an explorer nor and adventurer, and even less a naturalist or an environmentalist. Clicking the “Like” button on a Facebook Cause does not mean you care or simply understand what you clicked for. Watching Blue Planet on BBC doesn’t mean you love the ocean. What you love is being entertained by something beautiful. But the natural world is not just a cute teddy bear that you can spend your nights cuddling with. Nature is a raw chaotic world where each creature competes with each other, culminating in a very complex, intertwined balance that took millions of years to create, and CONTINUES to evolve .

By being so physically disconnected from it, we have totally forgotten what nature really is all about. We even go as far as to personalizing it, characterizing it as a female, “Mother Nature”. This concept of singularity simply doesn’t exist. In the natural world, both constructive and destructive forces are essential. Both the attack and the defense are crucial for survival. What is motherly? Volcanoes, hurricanes, droughts? Hyenas eating an antelope alive? A pod of orcas drowning a whale calf?

We have to be careful because our lack of relationship with nature and our disconnection from its dynamics and forces, can have grave consequences. As the Arctic is being developed, westernized countries and their mediatically-sensitized populations will most likely clash with indigenous people and their culture, as it just happened in Greenland. The Inuit have been hunting seals for as long as they can remember. And looking at the number of seals, they have done quite a good job at making sure that their hunt was sustainable. Compared to the western world which has had a reputation of decimating everything it goes for, from whales to fur seals, from wolves to buffalos, from tuna to mackerel.  Because we have done such a bad job with the planet’s resources, or such a good job of exterminating them, we now project our guilt onto others. The EU ban on seal products has created devastating effects on the Inuit’s culture and economy. The ban came after emotionally charged media campaigns, portraying fluffy white baby seals being clubbed to death and skinned. In the name of animal welfare, the EU decided to impose the ban. What people didn’t know was that the Inuit have an ancestral right to hunt. The ban didn’t reduce the number of seals hunted every year in Greenland. What it did, was strip away the right of the Inuit to make a living. Consequently, there are over 300,000 skins in stock in Greenland worth millions for the Inuit. Most likely, the skins will be destroyed, taking away with them the welfare of several communities.

It is crucial to do everything possible to take children outside of the cities, away from the computer and television. They need to experience the real natural world, not the urban or virtual version of it. Tim Kasser, Professor and Chair of Psychology at Knox College, correctly points out in his report: “Children, Commercialism, and Environmental Sustainability

“While not typically seen as an “environmental issue,” those concerned about the environment should be sobered by the increasing commercialization of childhood, as the same generation of children that is being encouraged to prioritize wealth, consumption, and possessions is the same generation that, if current trends continue, will need to drastically reduce its consumption patterns so as to prevent further global climate disruption, habitat loss, and species extinction… What’s more, recent research shows that the materialistic values encouraged by advertising messages are also quite problematic for environmental outcomes. For example, studies around the world make it clear that the more people care about money, wealth, and possessions, the less they value protecting the environment and the less concerned they are about how environmental damage affects other humans, future generations, and non-human life. Other research shows that materialistic values negatively correlate with how frequently adults and children engage in pro-environmental behaviors such as commuting by bicycle, reusing paper, buying secondhand, and recycling.”

Furthermore, We also have to be careful with what we promote and how we promote it. Social media and the Internet won’t make people change their daily routines. It might inform them, make them aware of something, but it is certainly not enough to change them. Writing “Cigarettes will kill you” on a pack doesn’t make someone stop smoking, but paying close to $10 for a pack might.

We might have the knowledge, but we greatly struggle with applying it. Social media, the Internet, computers and television are not a replacement for true wilderness, traveling, or exploring. We must be careful of the pretentious western environmental imperialism we so easily practice. Lets change our own tragically unsustainable culture first. Lets put in place the right legislations, lets decrease our production of garbage, lets reduce our consumption, lets show our children that there is more to life than cities and technology, let ourselves first reconnect with the natural environment and its realities, before telling others, who might be living off the land and sea and have done so in a sustainable way for generations, what they should do.

“We have two kinds of morality side by side:  one which we preach but do not practice and another which we practice but seldom preach. “  Bertrand Russell

Human’s Relationship with Nature

In the 1700’s, a famous astronomer from France, named Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, started to name his discoveries, new constellations, with man made objects. He would look into his telescope, point it up towards the stars, see a pattern then give it a name. He named one constellation Horologium Oscillitorium, honoring Christiaan Huygens and his invention, the pendulum. He named another one Microscopium, after the microscope. In fact, from the 70 constellations known at that time, Lacaille added over 14 new ones, all named after instruments. Little did he know that his decision to imprint the sky with Man’s creation not only broke thousands of years of astronomy tradition, but reaffirmed a behavior that had been working its way into the core of our society for the past several thousands of years – Nature was no more, and Man ruled every element and realm.

Allow me to illustrate how we have become so disconnected from Nature, the effects that it has created on our society, the gains it gave us, the damages it inflicted, and why, despite obvious future complications, we find ourselves challenged over what to do. We have made an habit to over analyze, saturate our theories with numbers, and spit out new solutions to only realize that their application was impossible and their success unattainable. In fact, the explanation lies in our history, how we are as a species, and why, what seems like a simple change, will demand from us, a drastic change in our values and in the way we live. Do not worry, I am not here to tell you that the world is doomed, that we have five years to fix it, otherwise life will cease to exist. Quite the contrary, we are masters at adapting and surviving and hopefully, by the end of the evening, you will have a better understanding of our current situation and what can be done to remedy this unhealthy modern paradigm.

On a small note, I would like to point out that I have just used the word “remedy” to introduce my rhetoric. The definition of “remedy” is the following: a medicine or a treatment for a disease or an injury. It is a means of counteracting or eliminating something undesirable. It comes from Latin remedium: “RE” meaning ‘back’, also expressing intensive force, and “MEDERI” which means ‘heal.’ Humans are not a bad species. We do not need to condemn ourselves with guilt, despair over how we have been so irresponsible. Who we are today, what we are doing and what we have been doing is quite logical and predictable. Just like a child who was told not to play with fire, and did, then got burned, now we need to tend the wound so that it can heal properly.

One of the first places we need to look into, is mythology, and more precisely, the history of our mythology. Now bare with me, we will not delve into a study of myths, gods and religions. I am simply going to outline certain key elements that pertain to our relationship with nature. Now, according to Mercia Eliade, in his book Myth and Reality, one of the foremost functions of myth is to establish models of behavior. Joseph Campbell, in his book “The Power of Myth” described them as having four basic functions: the Mystical Function–experiencing the awe of the universe; the Cosmological Function–explaining the shape of the universe; the Sociological Function–supporting and validating a certain social order; and finally, the Pedagogical Function– explaining how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances. In other words, whether be religious or folkloric, these stories passed over time helped us shape our system of beliefs and values.

The place of Nature in mythology is extremely interesting. At the beginning, humans were afraid of it. The early civilizations revered the elements – fire, wind, water, earth, and thought than certain animals were their elected representatives. We refer to this practice as animism, where plants, animals, inanimate objects and natural phenomena possessed a soul. The divine was illustrated in the world around them and humans saw themselves at the mercy of it. Nature was bigger than them. In the Mapuche mythology, a group of indians in the region of Patagonia in South America, the Ngen were spirits that managed, and governed nature. The Ngen were created by the Pu-am, the representation of the universal soul, who wanted the Ngen to assure the order and the laws of admapu , the rules of the Mapuche tradition. If a Mapuche needed to obtain something from nature, he was to first respect the spirit then give an offering.

Then came the gods. The earliest ones were still depicted in nature. Per instance, in the Aztec mythology, Tepeyollotli, the “heart of the mountains”, was the god of earthquakes, echoes and jaguars. He was portrayed as a jaguar leaping towards the sun. In the Egyptian mythology, Aker, one of the earliest gods worshipped, was the deification of the horizon. He was originally illustrated as a narrow strip of land, representing the horizon, with heads on either side, facing away from one another, a symbol of borders. Since the sun reaches its peak in the zodiac of Leo, these heads were usually those of lions.

As humans moved away from believing in the power of the elements, and seeing the divine in nature, a most fascinating event happened. They started to created entities, gods and goddesses, with human forms. These deities, with arms, legs and faces like ours, were now in control of the elements, of the universe, of life, and of the earth – no more was Nature master of her own domain. Poseidon, a god from the Greek mythology, ruled the realm of the sea. A human form with a beard, riding a chariot carried by horses or hippocampus. Nature was now tamed by the human god, at the mercy of his whip, reduced to a simple means of transportation. In this picture, Egyptians have evidently moved away from symbolism. It shows Shu, the air god, a human form, supporting Nut, the sky goddess, another human form. Geb, the god of earth, at the bottom, showed in earlier records with a snake head, has now moved into a full human form. Two characters, with human bodies and animal heads are helping Shu. In this attempt to explain how the world works, humans are the divine, and animals, or nature, are reduced to mere helpers. Even in Hinduism, Prajapti, “lord of creatures”, a deity presiding over procreation and the protector of life is shown looking like a human.

Now some will tell me that these images are not to be taken literately. Everyone knowns that they are only figments of our imagination and not a true representation. But saying that would be diminishing the power that images have and the impact it has on the subconscious when repeated millions of times over hundreds and hundreds of years. Studies in communication and marketing have proven over and over the impact of repetition, whether being true or not.

There is one character, present in several mythologies who differs in its representation: Faunus, Roman god of the forests, plains and fields and Pan, Greek god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. There is also Cernunnos from the Celtic mythology. Although we known little of his significance, his depiction leaves no doubt on the point being made. Each is a variation of the Horned god. A entity half human, half animal. With horns or antlers, a beard, and often baring legs of a goat.The meaning of such mixture is left for debate, perhaps it was an attempt to unite the old divine, Nature, with the new one, humans. Nevertheless, one thing for sure, this creature, the gross character, this half human, half beast, became with time, the flagship for Man’s savageness, witchcraft and the image of the devil.

So, at the beginning, we had the divine in Nature, now the divinity is in humans, and Nature is under its control. What was to come was even worse – a total loss of respect and a quest to destroy it.

The last two thousand years have been dominated by the rise of monotheism, the belief in only one god. Today the three predominant monotheistic religions are judaism, christianity and islam. As you can see on this map, together they cover most of the world. Different in the their form and beliefs, their attitude towards Nature is the same. The planet is to serve Mankind, and humans are to serve God. Mankind’s goal is to rise from this imperfect world and join with God who lives above, in the heavens. Nature is either savage, evil, or in great need to be corrected. Its resources are like a giant bottomless bag in which we can serve ourselves indefinitely. By putting humans as the perfect creation, mankind was no longer limited by Nature. Quite the opposite. Being divine masters and immune of any consequences, we were free to do what we wanted and manipulated the planet to our wishes. This narrative has unfortunately been the driving force in our relationship with the planet for centuries.

By having dominion over nature, humans came to believe that they were also its protector, even its savior, if needed. It is no surprise when looking into the Old Testament and reading the story of Noa and his arch, saving every animal on the planet, that we find ourselves today believing that it is still our responsibility, once again, to save the earth. Although the rescue boat has changed into our total trust in technology, the thought is the same: we are separate from Nature, we know better than Nature, and only WE have the power to save it. If life is to subsist, it will only be because of us.

And the question arises, why should we save Nature when for thousands of years, everything about it has been looked upon with aversion, annoyance, as a symbol our own limitation, as the enemy. Our industrial era has excelled in claiming that the growth of mankind had to be made to the detriment of Nature. Still today, we believe we have to choose one over the other. Why should we start to re-consider the sacred in the elements and in the animals, when the idea of pervading life in the “un-human world”, has been considered “childish”, and typical of “cognitive underdevelopment”, by our most distinguished philosophers and men of sciences. Why should we regress and act like “primitives”, as some suggest? Why is it that living in the country, rather than in the cities, a place glamorized by the feats of human incredible ingenuity, is culturally seen as simplistic and filled with a lack of vision. Let me ask you a question. Would any of you give up the comfort of your modern day convenient life – with your computers, your cars, your access to any kinds of food anytime, and your gadgets, to save a forest or a fish, or a mammal that you most likely will never see in your life.

The answer lies in our choice of values. And here is where the topic becomes tricky. It has nothing to do with numbers, statistics or any graphs. Technically, we are absolutely capable of living in a world empty of any wilderness. Technically, we could have every crop, every chicken, every fruit, every vegetable, every tree grown inside in artificial indoor places. We can engineer pretty much anything. And what we can’t, we are working on it. In fact, we have become so good at it, that we now know we can act like gods. What before was only an assumption, or a wish, is now a fact and a reality. And consequently reinforces our belief that our technology is the only thing that can save the earth.

We love our numbers. We love our capacity to create equations. We brag about how we are able to explain everything in the world, in the universe with numbers. Between 354-430 AD, St. Augustine wrote “Numbers are the Universal language offered by the deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.” Today, we continue and say that the underlying element that connects everything are numbers – it is the universal language we claim. We fantasize about meeting other people from far away galaxies and communicating with them through numbers. In the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, Professor Karl Barnhardt, a nobel prize physicist, entertains a meaningful conversation with Klaatu, an alien, through formulas and statistics. On Tv, there is a show where a young genius mathematician helps the FBI solve cases that normally would be too hard for humans to figure out. And how does he do it? With equations. We throw numbers at everything and all the time. Our DNA has been reduced to a simple equation of letters. Our food has been dissected into numbers – the perfect diet consists of X calories, Y carbs, Z proteins, and well 0 sugar of course. We look at life and everything around us in a simple way: input and output. It is what separates us from the animals, it is what makes us so special, our ability to manipulate numbers. Therefore, it is only logical, that we look at Nature in the same way. And for the past 20 years, the scientific community, the environmental community and the politicians have been raging a war of numbers. Each side claim to have the right statistics. My numbers are better than yours. And yet nothing changes. Why, because of the place of Nature in our values.

On a side note, to illustrate how far our obsession of quantifying everything has gone, it seems that the planets in our system have now a dollar value. An astrophysicist of the University of California in Santa Cruz has been appraising the planets. With a complicated and special formula, he came to establish that the value of Venus was a penny – of Mars, $16,000, and of course of the Earth, 5 quadrillion! Talking to the Daily Mail in London, the scientist declared that: “The formula makes you realize just how precious Earth is and I hope it will help us as a society safeguard what we have”. Indeed, how obsessed we have become.

The idea that technology will save everything is a dear one to all of us. In our modern society, technology has moved to a god-like status with the power of total redemption – if only we could invent or come up with a solution that will fix all our problems, nullify all our undesirable deeds, and allow our consumption based culture to keep growing without much interference, this is our idea of heavens.

Let me ask you another question. Do you care about child labor in a place, half way across the world, where you will never set foot? Do you care about domestic violence in a house, somewhere on another continent, in a city you probably never knew existed? Do you care about a 10 year old virgin being sold for human trafficking. Why? If we look at the numbers, there are absolutely no incentives to care. And even more, there are no reasons why there should be any laws to prevent it. The reason there are laws, the reason we care, it is because of our values. It is because of what we believe to be good, and what we believe to be bad. And those values are the foundation of our system. Sadly, in our modern world, Nature has never been a concern or a priority. It has never been part of our values.

Now, why is it so hard to change? Because despite the fact that we love to believe we are a logical and smart species, that our brain is in charge of every decision, unfortunately, we are still governed by our physical needs and our emotions. Do you remember when I talked about the child who was told not to play with fire and still did? Well, we are physical beings. We need to experiment, we need to feel to understand. How do you think we have achieved so much. It was certainly not because we listened to all the people who said it was impossible. The trait in our behavior that pushes us to new limits is the same trait that makes us ignore all the warnings. We know that cigarettes will kill you. It is even written on the package. But each of us also know someone who has smoked two packs a day for the last fifty years and is in better shape than most of us. We know that we have overfished the oceans, but living in our convenient and global economy, it is hard to know what it means. My point is that as much as we want to sensitize the public and ourselves about the impact of our lifestyle on the environment and the decline of wild animals, we will need to acknowledge the dynamic of how we behave, how we think, and most importantly, how we get to change. As human beings, we need to physically feel to understand, we need to experience the consequences of our actions. That is why we have laws. Because we need limits. And for the last 50 years, we have become masters at breaking any limit encountered. We have transformed deserts into blooming plains. We have engineered crops to yield five times more. We have manipulated our cattle to grow faster. We are experts at making things bigger and faster. So how can we care or value something which we have had as our mission to defy? Why should we care for something we have believed to be an obstacle to our survival?

Some people in this world have never set foot in a forest. Some have never seen a night sky saturated with stars. Some have never seen the ocean rolling on a white sandy beach. With ecology classes gone from schools and sciences classes slowly disappearing, how can children be even taught about the dynamics of life? How can a child be aware, or even have a sense of what nature is if he has never even experienced it.

We have a choice to make. And let me say that, whether you choose one over the other, is not better or worse. Each has its pros and cons. Each has its advantages and consequences. Each is either good or bad, it just depends on where you stand. If we, as a society, choose to have a world dominated by technology and engineering, constantly improving at making things bigger and faster, at the detriment of Nature, than we just need to keep doing what we are doing. I am sure we will be able to find technological solutions to pretty much everything. But If we choose to have a world where the wilderness can still be experienced, where a father can take his son fish in the outdoors. Where a child can snorkel the bay and marvel at thousands of flickering moving colors, then we will have to change. Not because of numbers, not because we need to save the earth, not because climate is changing, but because we value Nature. Because we want Nature to be part of our world. Because we believe that our responsibility is to be humble, respectful and caring citizens of this planet, of this universe. Not to destroy it or act like its savior.

Land of Savages

Disclaimer – GRAPHIC and DISTURBING images

 

“Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.” Henry David Thoreau

It seems that lately, I have been writing more about the tragedies I am witnessing than the beauties of exploring this incredible planet. Unless you find yourself secluded in the middle of nowhere – but again, our pollution and destruction has no limits – you are bound to witness and feel the “savage” nature humans possess. “Shot for a fish”  the story of a seal killed by a fisherman was written when I went to Uruguay. “Refuge”, the story of a jaguar left with no teeth, was written when I went to Misiones. “W.H. Hudson”, the story on how disconnected farm people have become, was written earlier on this trip. And now, I am left with no choice but to conclude Patagonia 2011 with another tragic story.

According to Wikipedia, the word “savage” or “barbarian is: “a term used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization viewed as inferior. In idiomatic or figurative usage, a “savage” may also be an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.

I actually believe we have gotten it totally wrong. The definition should rather be the following: “savage” or “barbarian” is known to be associated with an industrialized and modern society, also called civilized, where its inhabitants suffer from existential egoism. The unsustainable behavior is characterized by a deep lack of respect and care for the environment and a desire to radically exterminate anything that seems to be a threat to its existence. These threats are, in general, unfounded and come from a lack of inner security. The inhabitants are usually insecure with the idea of other species sharing what they believe to be their land. Extreme greed is often referred to as a form of savage nature.”

The quest to explicitly exterminate animals is a modern invention. What we – us, humans – did to the buffalo, to the wolf, and so to many others, and keep doing, like to the shark is nothing less than savage. Killing is nothing new, but the scale and purpose of eradication is. Even worse is the sense of righteousness that the perpetrators are taking.

In Argentina, and more precisely in Patagonia, sheep farming is big business. It is not what it used to be, the golden days are long gone, but it is still the biggest industry in  the area. Since 1889, almost every square meter of steppe has been turned into pasture for sheep and therefore, fenced. And worse, every single animal that is not a sheep is seen as a nuisance and consequently needs to be exterminated. Guanacos, the wild ancestor of the llama, used to roam South America in huge numbers – estimated at around 50 million in the 1500’s. But with the arrival of the Europeans and the beginning of sheep farming, their numbers were reduced to near extinction until they were put on the CITESlist. Today, although their population is bouncing back – 1 million more or less, it is a far cry from what it used to be. Still, since they eat twice as much grass than the sheep, for the estancias, Guanacos are simply “stealing” the food from their land. Even if hunting them is now prohibited, with little or no enforcement, they still kill them every week or so. And here is where the atrocity begins. Because their hunt is illegal, the dead animals are left in the field to rot. Nothing is done with their precious fur, nothing is done with their skin, nothing is done with their cholesterol free delicious meat. The only utility a shot guanaco has, is to spread death. Estancias use their carcasses to kill the others, especially the pumas and foxes. By cutting their guts open and pouring powerful poison over them, they create nothing else than a “Fountain of Death”. It is common to find around a dead guanaco: skunks, foxes, armadillos, and birds of prey,  and most likely pumas dead in their lair. Anything that eats meat or scavenges is at risk. And they themselves continue to contaminate the chain. Since the poison doesn’t disappear, it is passed over from one carcass to another. For each dead animal, dozens of others have had to die.

Pumas and foxes are the axis of evil of sheep farming. By taking out the guanacos, the farmers gave these predators no choice but to go after the woolly easy-to-catch mammal. Even though their predation is insignificant  in numbers – it is the same for the wolf and the shark, the retribution applied was and is still of catastrophic proportion. During a previous trip, I learned of one estancia that killed 140 pumas in 7 years. Today, even though it is prohibited by law since 1996, the fox and the puma continue to be hunted and trapped. The consensus is simple, no predators will be allowed to live on a sheep farm. None, whatsoever. So every time they see tracks or a kill made by one of them, they send the dogs after them and eradicate the menace.

So who is savage? The Cherokee who feared that the unjust killing of a wolf would bring about the vengeance of its pack mates, and that the weapon used for the deed would be useless in the future unless exorcized by a medicine man? The Kwakiutl, who when killing a wolf, would lay out the animal on a blanket and have portions of its flesh eaten by the perpetrators, and who would express regret at the act before burying it? The Ahtna who would take the dead wolf to a hut, where it would be propped in a sitting position with a banquet made by a shaman set before it? The Eskimos who, when killing a wolf, would walk around their houses four times, expressing repent and abstaining from sexual relations with their wives for four days. (Of Wolves and Men)

Or Us, the pinnacle of evolution, God’s creature, the center of the universe, the planet’s savior?

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” Albert Einstein

Polyethylene sculptures

In 2008, the province of Buenos Aires banned the used of plastic bags. In 2004, the province of Mendoza prohibited the use of non-biodegradable bags. In 2005, the province of Chubut, in Patagonia, prohibited the use of polyethylene bags. The same happened in the Patagonian tourist towns of El Bolson in Chubut, (2006) and El Calafate in Santa Cruz (2007) Yet, as of today, only the town of Calafate is known to have enforced the law. Grocery stores in Buenos Aires, Mendoza and Chubut and all over Argentina still use plastic bags in monumental numbers. But there is no other place where “breaking the law” is more evident than in “pristine” Patagonia. In an area known as “the land of the wind” the prevailing westerlies blow across the Andean peaks, over the vast empty steppes. The winds carry plastic bags from open garbage fields, from every pueblo, and every town, to the Atlantic ocean. From these palaces of our consumption, and for kilometers around, plastic reigns. Trees and bushes transformed into polyethylene sculptures, product of an oil era. And for the ocean and its inhabitants, god knowns how many of these eternal deadly ghosts have soiled its beaches and waters.

You can see the panorama photo up close if you click this link

W.H. Hudson


“I had become incapable of reflection; my mind had suddenly transformed itself from  a thinking machine  into a machine for some unknown purpose. To think was like setting in motion a noisy engine in my brain; and there was something there which bade me still, and I was forced to obey. My state was one of suspense and watchfulness: yet I had no expectation of meeting with an adventure, and felt as free from apprehension as I feel now when sitting in a room in London… I was powerless to wonder at or speculate about it; the state seemed familiar rather than strange, and although accompanied by a strong feeling of elation, I did not know it – did not know that something had come between me and my intellect – until I lost it and returned to my former self – to thinking, and the old insipid existence.”  W.H. Hudson, famous naturalist

I have always loved the life on a ranch. I have always felt connected to Life, and its cycle. You wake up in the morning and from the moment you open you eyes, you follow Nature’s rhythm, until you retire at night, having participated once again in a ritual several thousands of years old. You learn to understand the value of what the Earth gives you. The relationship between you, the animals, the plants, the insects, and the land could not be stronger – everyone and everything is interconnected, intertwined in a deep network of independencies. You need the land and the land needs you. You need the animals and the animals need you. It is a symphony orchestrated by nature, and I, am only one of the participants. Everything I need is given to me through a complex yet simple and delicate ecosystem. The bees, the cattle, the horses, the pigs, the chickens, the flies, the trees, the sheep, the wind, the sun, the frost, the pond, the fish, the river, the frogs, the birds, the rabbits, the wolves, the ducks, and me, we all play a role and our survival is tied to one another. It is a ritual that I have always felt honored and proud of taking part in.

Unfortunately, in our industrialized society, ranching and farming have become anything but“connected to the Land”. Independently if you are a gaucho (cowboy), a rancher, or an owner, the fact that one spends his or her days working the land has no indication whatsoever of his or her relationship to Nature. A fact that even surprised me when meeting several wildlife photographers, filmmakers, scientists, and biologists – it is not because one works in or with nature that necessarily he or she is close or connected to it. The last week has only reinforced this reality.

What we used to see as a privilege – believing it was a gift from the universe to allow us to harvest the earth, we now see as a given and a due. The land is a resource to be exploited and so are the animals.  And if one species is an obstacle, or a burden to our means, then we eliminate it. The more you can yield out of an acre, the better. No matter the consequences, we bully ourselves through life, thinking that it is our destiny to plow the Earth as if it was our personal galley.

Not only have we transformed our fertile lands into monoculture deserts, but we also have turned our society into a monoculture landscape. We live in a world where individuals are asked to grow up specializing in one particular thing and forget about general knowledge. As early as thirteen years old, a teen is asked what he or she wants to focus on, undermining the idea to acquire a broad foundation before deciding what to become. Every time I think of this issue, I think back of Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps one of the finest politicians in the world, in the last 200 years. A naturalist, a hunter, a rancher, a military man, a scientist, a writer, an explorer and a politician, he was solid in geography and well-read in history, strong in biology, French, and German, but interestingly enough, deficient in mathematics, Latin and Greek. What can be said of today’s political or business elite, bred to excel in one thing only.

I have never been afraid of death or killing. I have always understood the dynamics of life and the ramifications of its complexity. The idea that death is bad is only a modern invention. Nature not only does not value one over the other, but each is a necessity to the universal equilibrium. The death or destruction of one, is the birth and proliferation of another. When working on a farm, or a ranch, death is just part of life.  In fact, the farmed animals have evolved into trading the assurance of their survival for the price of their death. For me, to respect and honor the food on my plate, I need to understand and fully participate in what it takes to get there. I completely understand when hunters and fishermen claim to be more in touch with nature that the city dwellers. I have had on my hands the blood of fish, game and farm animals, and each time I have felt more connected to Earth than going to the supermarket. Every time I have honored the moment, the animal and thanked the universe for its grace. It was obviously with great enthusiasm that I agreed to tag along to lasso a cow that had a broken leg and needed to be put down. It was my understanding that I was going to participate in a dignified ritual. Here I was, in an estancia (ranch) surrounded by mountains and lakes, where cattle still roam free and horses are the main means of transportation. I wanted to respect what the cow had lived for. I wanted to be there and honor her death and the legacy she would leave behind. Instead, what I witnessed, was a brutal and perverted act of barbary. From the kill to the skinning, everything was done with disdain. I found myself sad, not for her death, but for us, humans and how, even in the most remote places imaginable, where one would expect the deepest communion with nature, we have become disconnected.

And then I was reminded of the passage on W.H.Hudson in Chris Moss’s “Patagonia: A Cultural History”, when he went to London, leaving Patagonia behind, “He was outraged at the way industry and its processes had usurped nature in his ancestral homeland, and would later describe his adopted England a glorified poultry farm … Somehow, while swatting away troublesome thoughts, the idler had reached a firm conclusion, that the biblically sanctioned notion of a natural world created for man to conquer and dispose of at will was simply unsustainable. To Hudson, the natural world, the environment, was sacred and not there solely be exploited. He contrasted nature’s richness with the artificial pleasures that most men valued – newspapers, finances, current affairs, city life – and which he despised. He viewed nature as a way  out of the tiresome, very English town-and-country dichotomy, and as a means to finding health as well as moral well-being.”

The Sun Will Keep Rising


“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.“  Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States of America

Call me an eternal optimist. I have always looked at life with a glass half full mentality. I have always believed that the world is what you make out of it. Even in the worst of times, we see what we want to see. I abide by those three little words: “Everything is Relative”.

But being an optimist nowadays is no small feat! Not one day goes by without having the gloom of the world plastered in front of our eyes, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Sometimes, it seems that the only way to escape this behemoth of negatively charged matter is to disappear, disconnect from the grid. Something not so easy according to recent studies. For many, especially for the young generation, to do so is as hard as kicking a drug or smoke addiction!

An intrusive network of satellite TVs, combined with limitless access to the internet and an economy that knows no boundaries, have reduced what was once a vast planet of great distances into a small village where everything is only a click away. Whether you are on the train, in a cab, waiting for the bus, on the plane, walking down the street, or even on a beach in the Caribbean, at school, at work, in a meeting, or in bed. Fast Food information (information that is devoid of any meaning, fat on drama, sweet on bias opinions, saturated with voyeurism and presented in large portions without any context) is constantly pushed down our subconscious. Independently if one wants it or not, it is getting harder and harder not to be “connected”.

Is there a correlation with food? There was a time when it was limited to the kitchen and restaurants. Now, Fast Food (devoid of any real benefits, full of processed fat, sweet on corn derivatives, saturated with attractive colors and presented in unnecessarily large portions) is found anywhere from the gas station to the pharmacy. Consequently, and obviously combined with other factors, our health has degraded tremendously. Is our intelligence awaiting the same fate?

We live in an era where every second, we are reminded that Armageddon is upon us. Today it is Climate Change. Yesterday it was Gas Stocks. Tomorrow will be the Economy, and next month it will be time for Fish Stocks. Next year is 2012 – The End of the World. An Asteroid is coming soon, within the next 2,500 years and the Rise of Sea Levels will drown most of the big cities in the world, sometime within the next 100 years. TV thrives with shows that fantasize on computer simulations that illustrate what will happen when the End is at our door. Hollywood has an orgy every time a Doomsday prediction comes out.

We must ask ourselves, are we actually wired to process all this information? Is it making our lives better? Is it necessary and trivial to know everything that happens everywhere? Or is all this information instead making us more anxious, depressed and giving us a false interpretation of the world? Is the world really worse now than before?  And if it is, relative to what?

I am not saying that the world is beautiful and that we should’t worry. Not at all! Believe me, I am going through my share of craziness down here in Argentina, a country where making sense has been extinct for a very long time. (Don’t get me started!) I do believe that indeed the world is coming to an end, the end of a “cycle”!

This morning, while running, I witnessed a beautiful sunrise and it made me think. Independently of all our tragedies, our wars, our losses, and our threats, the planet keeps going and the sun keeps rising. And the beauty of the sunrise will have nothing to do with the state of the world. Isn’t it refreshing! Isn’t it amazing to realize that at the end, all of our daily worries, all of our anxiety, our stress, our doubts, our complaints, have no place in the scheme of the Universe. The world could come to an end tomorrow, yet, the sun will rise again, reminding us that life goes one, as it has since billions of years and will do for billion of years to come.

When hypocrisy hits the fan

It used to be quite simple. Throughout much of human’s history, the people were separated in two camps. On one side, there were the country people, and on the other, the city people. The ones who lived in the country were generally more in touch with nature. They worked the land, raised farm animals, hunted and fished. The ones who lived in the city didn’t see much of themselves in nature. They believed in progress and industrialization. Although both sides looked at each other with a bit a disdain, everyone knew pretty much where they stood. More or less, it was always Man vs. Nature. City vs. The Country. The Rabbit vs. The Turtle.

Since the 90s, the difference between the two groups has never been so blurry. In fact, a new group has been created–the people who live in cities and defend nature. Even though they may rarely get out of their cement environment, a walk in a nearby fenced park, a weekend at the country house (country being in a little suburb not far from the city), or a holiday on a cruise ship or Club Med may be enough for them to claim that they feel connected with Mother Earth. For some, it could be said that nature is a beautiful vase you put on a shelf and admire. It is something of a fairy tale, where even the crush of a fly is deemed cruel. Many have stopped eating meat, bragging high that it is “against nature.” They may have even declared war against anything that is derived from animals, claiming that it is “against nature.” They even may point the finger at the people who DO live in nature, and lecture them that they are in fact, against it! According to them, their urban green lifestyle is an example upon which everyone should follow.

The latest from this world of hypocrisy and nonsense shows up in the design world. A man who in March 2008 declared: “ I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact. Everything I designed was unnecessary. I will definitely give up in two years’ time. I want to do something else, but I don’t know what yet. I want to find a new way of expressing myself … design is a dreadful form of expression.” Yet, according to his bio on his website, he is said to have “believed in the power of green long before ecology became fashionable, out of respect for the planet’s future.”

Philippe Starck’s latest meretricious masterpiece comes exactly two years and two months after his “mea culpa.” “A” is a megayatcht of 560 feet, which costs $20 million a year to maintain and burns a small 335 liters of gas per knot. Of the design, Starck states that, “While most megayatchs are a vulgar statement of wealth and power, ‘A’ was designed to be in harmony with the sea and nature. The boat has elegance and intelligence, it is not trying to show the money.”

The fact is, “A” could not be more vulgar to nature than pigeon shit on a million dollar Bugatti. With bright white interiors, chairs made from alligator hides and Kudo horns, walls covered with white sting ray hides and hand-stitched calf’s leather, $40,000 bath knobs, Baccarat crystal table, and a $60,000 banister, his claim feels more like a total insult than a mere annoyance. If there was a Hall of Fame for the Stupidest Things Said by Man, his would definitely be in the top three. “The use of the mirrors through this designed superyacht ‘A’, brings the wonderful views and horizons inside the vessel, thus creating the feeling of oneness with nature.” (LiveYachting.com) Excuse me while I control my gag reflex!

Stephen Bayley at the Observer summarizes quite perfectly the absurdity of Starck; “Through Napoleonic ego, Starck has achieved great celebrity and congruent wealth, but his work does not stand severe analysis. He has given us over-packaged pasta, groovy motorbikes that do not work, chairs that get scratched, sculpted shoes no one wants and the most famous lemon squeezer in the history of man’s emergence from the primeval gloop. Score 10 on Crap-O-Meter for that one. He tickles the ego of desire, without gratifying the more profound demands of id’s lasting needs. Far from tidying up the world, he has contributed to excess. As Karl Kraus said of psychoanalysis, Starck’s work is a symptom of what it purports to cure.”

The world of outdoor adventure has unfortunately also been affected. With teens spending over 75 hours a week consuming media (in front of the computer, television, mobile phone or playing video games) for many, the concept of exploring is a trip on Google Earth. In the eventuality that they do manage to step outside and smell the fresh air, they may rarely be disconnected from their cell phone or mp3 device. Their idea of nature could be defined by over the top dramatic-worst-case-scenario media channels. And they collect nature groups on Facebook like baseball cards. They Tweet about what the birds they saw in the backyard, the rain falling on the window. Even more disturbing, they exercise with the Wii. The outdoors, nature, exploring, traveling, all those words are becoming disconnected concepts. Words seen on screens. Options to be clicked when choosing a profile. What happened to the real nature?

Nature is raw. It is everything from the force of a tornado, to the kill of a baby gazelle by a group of lions; from the birth of a gorilla to a magical sunset; from the chicken laying eggs to a fox snatching them. Nature is pretty and cruel at the same time. It is hard and uncontrollable. It is the warmth of the sun, the freezing air of winter or a night sky filled with countless amount of stars. It is a scratch on the knee or a bite from a mosquito. Nature is definitely NOT a sanitized white environment filled with chrome and air conditioning. It is definitely not a fairy tale. Living in harmony with nature actually makes you humble, not pretentious and arrogant. It teaches you that the world is not perfect. That life and death are a necessary. Like ying and yang. I wish we could go back to a time of decency, where people knew the real meaning of being connected with nature. Instead we live in a world where the absurd is acclaimed, stupidity is rewarded and killing bacteria gel is the first thing to welcome you when entering your supermarket.

Nature (noun)
1 the beauty of nature: the natural world, Mother Nature, Mother Earth, the environment; wildlife, flora and fauna, the countryside; the universe, the cosmos.
Meretricious (adjective)
1 apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity : meretricious souvenirs for the tourist trade.
2 archaic of, relating to, or characteristic of a prostitute.
Thesaurus: the meretricious glitter of the whole charade: worthless, valueless, cheap, tawdry, trashy, Brummagem, tasteless, kitsch, kitschy; false, artificial, fake, imitation; informal tacky, chintzy.

Shot for a fish

“If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, or enemies, for the same reasons. “ C.S. Lewis

It was hard not to remember those words as I kneeled next to the dead female sea lion, beached only minutes before. The evidence was flagrant. There were no signs of trauma, no decomposition, no bloating. Blood was still trickling from her snout. Besides the missing eye, probably taken by a seagull, there were no other plucking wounds. This animal must have been alive only a few hours ago. On her back was the explanation for such an unexpected turn of events – a clear round opening, with soft curled red edges. A theory became quite obvious but I still had to do one more test before confirming my suspicion. I walked towards the sand dunes, picked a small branch and with it came back to the victim. Sliding the stick into the wound, it went in as expected and determined what was now a fact. The sea lion had been shot, and hit probably just before diving, explaining the low angle of the bullet’s trajectory inside the animal.

Looking over the horizon and trying to figure out how this poor creature had ended here, I noticed another floating object not too far off. As it got closer, I was able to clearly identify it. Sadly, it was another dead sea lion, but this time, it was a pup. As it rose up with the rolling waves, just before being rumbled back down, the animal would find itself in a transparent crest, illuminated from behind, crystalized and motionless, as if it had been delicately displayed in a glass of formalin. This one never made it to the beach. Trapped in the tumble of the rollers, it slowly kept drifting down the coast. I didn’t get the chance to examine the body but my conclusion seemed quite solid. With a fishing village at about 4 kilometers up the coast, coincidentally the direction from which the sea lions had drifted, and the reputation these animals have for “stealing” the fisherman’s catch, it was fair to assume that the mother and her baby had crossed the path of a person who believed that the world was too small for them to feed on the same “commodity” that he was making a living of.

Filled with a sudden lack of hope, I found myself questioning humans’ ability to make peace with Nature. Just the day before, I had finished reading Sylvia Earle’s book: The World is Blue: How our Fate and the Ocean’s are oneand had started reading A Passion for the Earth, a book of essays, inspired by David Suzuki. Sylvia’s last words were: “Throughout the history of our species, the mostly blue planet has kept us alive. It’s time for us to return the favor.” Closing in on 8 billion of a hungry world population, how many wild animals, how many jungles, how many oceans, will be killed, cut, and polluted so that we may carry on the uncontrolled and unaccounted destruction of our host?

A Story to Tell

“One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.” Joseph Campbell

Ever since I was a young boy, I found my inspiration and comfort in nature. It thought me about life, and death, about change and evolution, about challenges and perseverance. It thought me about perspective and balance.  Most importantly, it thought me about being humble and spiritual.

I started the Wild Image Project so that I could tell a story. A story about our relationship with nature, about our journey in this universe, a story about being human. Humans love to see the world within a limited frame, within a world that they can explain, control and manipulate. We forget that who we are today is the result of a process that has lasted several millions of years. We are also, just a chapter in the story of evolution. It is fair to say that if we had the ability to look into the future, most likely, we would discover that our appearance has evolved, changed, just like we have changed physically and mentally since the time we came down from the trees.

As our world is changing, so are we. Change is always hard. Change is by nature an unwelcome force. But change is the reason why we know so much and why we are so good at surviving – it forces us to adapt and thrive. Our unsustainable lifestyle has led us to re-question our values, the way we consume and the way we live. It is not just the last 50 years that have been damaging our planet, but the last 3,000, ever since we started to put Man as the perfect creation and saw nature as an imperfect reality: cruel, inhuman, obsolete…Since then, we have consumed our planet earth and manipulated her with no respect, believing that this land was only for our benefit. Just like a teen, who decides to egotistically deny his heritage and sees himself as the source of truth, we have strayed away from our roots bragging about our superiority.

In this period of change, it is important to remember that as we consume and destroy our planet, the people we hurt the most are ourselves. The planet will take a couple of thousands of years to recuperate, but we won’t. In fact, it has been proven, that the moment Man disappears, nature will flourish again. If we want the world to participate in this journey of growth, we have to change our line of thought. We have to stop seeing ourselves as saviors of the planet. The only thing we will save is us, our survival. This change of lifestyle must be embraced, not because it will save the planet, but because it will assure our survival and will provide a promising future for our children.

The story I want to tell is a story of hope and of unity. We are part of Nature, and it is part of Us. As someone said about my work: “Going beyond the rubric of “wildlife photography”, Daniel Fox’s images invite the viewer to act as celebrants/participants in a visual communion with Nature. Portrayed with a fresh directness that captures the immediacy of their natural environment, the subjects are offered not as “specimens” but as noble protagonists. Fox captures nature at its rawest and most challenging of states. He conveys its beauty and imbues it with exquisite poetry. Through this unique perspective, the natural world in its resplendence is both honored and transformed.”

It is my way to foster the flowering of our humanity, it is my own way of making the world a better place.

Refuge

I love the wilderness. I love being in it and feeling it. I love the humbling experience of feeling powerless towards it. I have lived in cities and I have enjoyed them. I love how convenient they are. I love their dynamics, their powerful energy. They are simply pure miracles of ingenuity. But at night, when the sun sets, when I close my eyes and seek my dreams, I long for the sound of the wind sneaking through the cracks, the rain tumbling on the roof, or the waves pounding on the beach. I close my eyes and retreat in my world where the Wild conducts her own symphony – the frogs croaking, the birds tweeting, the crickets chirping. I have often felt like a tamed wild animal, always looking out, over the horizon and wondering where I belonged. Many days I have felt caged, prisoner, torn between the comfort of a modern world, and the rawness and purity of the Wild. Yet, I have always had the freedom to choose, to move from one world to another. In all honesty, I consider my personal contradictions a privileged dilemma.  But the animal in front of me, with his mouth wide open fletching his razor sharp 2 inch long canines, a fur coat with patterns and hues beyond beauty, deep blue eyes with a piercing black iris fixed on me, this creature, this wild animal, has never asked for the conveniency of daily deliveries and a roof over its head. This jaguar, this magnificent predator of the jungle, is behind bars because it has been found at the frontline of an over expanding human world, with no room for the wild. This cage unfortunately, has become it last refuge, literally.  This wild cat was fortunate enough to find a land owner who preferred to capture it and call the authorities, rather than killing it – the usual solution. For him and for all the other animals in this center, their fate took a drastic turn when Man showed up. It was either being killed or living in close confinement.  With hunger for progress and gain, our modern world keeps growing, infringing its reach, taking without asking.  And the last refuge for the wild has been parks around the world, created to protect nature’s treasures.

I am in Misiones, a province in the northeastern part of Argentina. It is a little narrow strip of land, squeezed between Brazil and Paraguay. While the neighboring countries have been leveling down the forest and replacing it with agriculture and cattle, Misiones has been more or less successful at understanding the economic value of the almost extinct Atlantic Jungle* and its inhabitants and the province has done what it can to preserve it. From the air, the area almost looks like a small peninsula of trees, threatened by a raging sea of deforestation. Its dark green color much in contrast to the surrounding plain landscape. In the 1990’s, Argentina put a lot in effort into establishing parks and natural reserves. In fact, the momentum for conservation was so strong that a total of 800,000 hectares, about ⅓ of the province, ended up protected, off-limit to logging companies and agricultural plantations. But at the turn of the century, things changed drastically. For the past 15 years, economic realities and a change in government, have shifted the efforts in conservation and now the forest is being cut down from the inside out. Logging companies are given more to cut, protected areas are being opened up to build new highways. To make matters worse, illegal immigrants from Brazil are squatting in the forest, slashing and burning the last remaining remnants of pristine wilderness, while local politicians are granting them asylum as long as they vote for them. In other words, the forest is the new currency for votes and the exchange for corrupted hands. Every year, countless new patches of jungle are being turned into tobacco and yerba mate fields or as silent barren land surrounding the immigrant’s makeshift shacks amongst piles of garbage. Even when so-called sustainable “Selective Logging” is performed, the damage inflicted to retrieve the trees is enormous. Parks and Reserves are still officially there when looking at a map, but on the ground the reality is far from what it should be.

For the past 3 weeks, I have been traveling through the area. I am here to photograph the country’s wildlife for a show that the government is giving me at the Consulate in New York. But honestly, I have been barely able to snap one single image. After staying at the Marcio Ayres Research Center located in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Yaboti, at the ranger station of the Provincial Reserve Urugua-i and at the science research center of National Park of Iguazu, I am drained of any inspiration. Ever since my arrival, my days have been filled with horror stories. I feel more like a therapist, listening and taking in each person’s account of how the jungle is being cut, how the animals are being killed, how the local authorities are corrupted and how powerless they feel.

There are so many stories to tell. A report done by the rangers, on road kills on the new international road that cuts right thought the Uruagua-i reserve, counts 3 to 5 casualties a day, every day of the year, including jaguars and tapirs. When they presented their result to the government, they were told to do nothing and most importantly not to contact the media, if they wanted to keep their job.

A new super highway is being built right through the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Yaboti to accelerate the logging traffic between Brazil and Paraguay.

Rangers that are so underpaid they have to pay for their own uniforms, hats, radios, and even for the badge that says “ranger” on their shirt. Rangers with no support whatsoever. Their job is to patrol the jungle, but they aren’t given enough diesel to do it. They have to chase down illegal hunters that are armed to the teeth, but don’t have the right to carry a firearm. An amazing research station, with brand new accommodations, a satellite, a computer station, running water and solar panels, sponsored by European organizations, left to decay with no one to care of it. Local conservationists who tell me how their work of over 30 years is now being trashed as if no laws existed and as if past agreements stood for nothing.

The list goes on and on. But the one I want to tell you is the one about a particular jaguar, the other one in the cage, lying next to the animal that I am photographing. It is the story of a male jaguar, in his prime years, one that should be roaming the dense forests like a stealth warrior, tracking peccaries, but instead is confined behind those bars. It is the story of how this mighty predator of South America got to loose all his teeth. Jaguars have the most powerful bite of the “big cats”. Their huge canines are used to crush skulls, break necks or pierce through the tapir’s one inch thick skin. So a jaguar with no teeth would be like a cheetah with no legs!

Even if protected, locals see them as a threat. When an animal is seen in a populated area, or near a farm, procedures are taken to capture it. At the same time, unfortunately but most likely, a team of illegal poachers is hired to hunt it down. Even if the traffic of jaguar’s pelt is not what it used to be, 18,000 a year back in the 1970’s, it is still extremely valuable on the black market.

When one was spotted near a school some years ago, authorities were called to secure the area. With children around, it didn’t take long before a trap was set up. Jaguars are by nature curious creatures, and often, to their misfortune, their curiosity spells disaster. In this case, a simple steel cage, with bait inside, was enough to lure the animal in and capture it. The problem was that the event happened on a friday, when the director, in charge of supervising the transport and logistic, was having dinner. When he learned of the capture, instead of excusing himself to attend the more urgent business, he decided that the big cat would be fine, in the cage, until the weekend was over! The rangers inI love the wild. I love being in it and feeling it. I love the humbling experience of feeling powerless towards it. I have lived in cities and I have enjoyed them. I love how convenient they are. I love their dynamics, their powerful energy. They are simply pure miracles of ingenuity. But at night, when the sun sets, when I close my eyes and seek my dreams, I long for the sound of the wind sneaking through the cracks, the rain tumbling on the roof, or the waves pounding on the beach. I close my eyes and retreat in my world where the Wild conducts her own symphony – the frogs croaking, the birds tweeting, the crickets chirping. I have often felt like a tamed wild animal, always looking out, over the horizon and wondering where I belonged. Many days I have felt caged, prisoner, torn between the comfort of a modern world, and the rawness and purity of the Wild. Yet, I have always had the freedom to choose, to move from one world to another. In all honesty, I consider my personal contradictions a privileged dilemma.  But the animal in front of me, with his mouth wide open fletching his razor sharp 2 inch long canines, a fur coat with patterns and hues beyond beauty, deep blue eyes with a piercing black iris fixed on me, this creature, this wild animal, has never asked for the conveniency of daily deliveries and a roof over its head. This jaguar, this magnificent predator of the jungle, is behind bars because it has been found at the frontline of an over expanding human world, with no room for the wild. This cage unfortunately, has become it last refuge, literally.  This wild cat was fortunate enough to find a land owner whom preferred to capture it and call the authorities, rather than killing it – a solution most of the time taken. For him and for all the other animals in this center, their faith took a drastic turn when Man showed up. It was either being killed or living in close confinement.

With hunger for progress and gain, the modern world keeps growing, infringing its reach, taking without asking.  And the last refuge for the wild has been parks around the world, created to protect nature’s treasures. The province of Misiones in Argentina is by far a pioneer in preserving its fauna and flora capital. It has one of the highest ratio of parks in the world. Its 79 parks total 800,000 hectares, almost a ⅓ of the province. It is also the only province in Argentina with a Minister of Ecology and their amount of rangers is one of the highest in the world.

“Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions. The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures. The fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot. I am not interested to know whether it is profitable to the human race or not. The pain it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis and sufficient justification of my enmity towards it without looking further. In studying the traits and dispositions of the so-called lower animals, and contrasting them with man’s, I find the result humiliating to me.” Mark Twain

Listen to the Land

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” — Masanobu Fukuoka, One-Straw Revolution

The day is coming to an end. The sun is slowly disappearing on the horizon, over the tall Eucalyptus trees. Soon, another cycle will start when the moon awakens and takes her place in the sky. I am sitting on the fence at the Las Marias ranch, in my hand, a gourd filled with Mate. I feel connected. I hear the Land talking to me. I hear the birds in the trees. I hear the bulls bellowing. I hear the horses, the geese. I hear the grunting of the pigs. I hear laughter. I hear kids playing. I even hear the monkeys howling in the forest not far away. Nothing could be more different than standing at the edge of a monoculture farm we have grown so accustomed to in the “Civilized World”. How many times have I stood in endless fields of wheat and heard nothing more than the sound of the wind frisking the golden grass. Our modern farms are lands of desolation and loneliness. But here, right in front of me, Life reigns. Everybody is free to roam. And everyone does. Even the cattle whom so many believe can’t run, are galloping. And the soil, this red dirt that everybody wears with pride. Their boots are covered by it, their trucks are encrusted with it. It is their way to honor what the Land has given them. They owe everything to it. This red dirt is more than soil, it is the heart, the foundation of their culture. No wonder why they drink Mate with such loyalty and honor, a tree that only grows here and from which Yerba is harvested.

Las Marias is a company that has made its mission to be in harmony with nature and its people.  Everything and everyone is connected. From the very beginning, Victor Navajas never saw himself as a simple farmer, but believed in enriching human lives. As his company grew, so did his desire to spread happiness. Today, Las Marias is more than just a Mate producer. Here, quality is king. Beside being vertically integrated, employees are offered a broad range of benefits. Free school is provided to the children. Housing is available on the plantation or in the “pueblo” nearby. Gauchos rule the ranch in the same way their fathers and grandfathers did. Fields are rotated to allow the natural cycle. Tall grass is left alone until it is cut and becomes fertilizer. Lady bugs and rheas are used for pest control. There is no irrigation – the fields are managed to maximize rainfall. At the ranch, horses have no shoes, trusting the hoof of an animal that has survived for millions of years. Birds of prey glide over the land. Even the dangerous viper, mortal if bitten by, is kept alive to control pests. Everywhere you look, harmony exists between nature and the necessities of production.

Sipping the bombilla, I close my eyes and there, in my mouth, I taste it. I taste the land, the soil, the nature, I taste it in its purest form. Much like the French and their wine, Mate is the deepest and most honest gesture of hospitality when receiving someone, it means – “I welcome you my friend and I want to share my land with you.”  Now let me tell you about the beauty of  my country!

Whale Encounter

There is not much to compare the whale shark to on land. I don’t believe there is much to compare it to in the water either. This creature stands on alone. Thor Heyerdahl from his epic trip across the pacific on a raft, described it in his book Kon -Tiki, as the most hideous “thing” he had ever encountered.  As I float in the water, barely a foot away from a whale shark, my mind is still trying to figure out what to make out of this 25-foot long fish. I have been in water with great white sharks, dolphins, sea lions and whales, and every time I looked into their eyes I saw something, I felt a presence.  This whale shark feels like a cartoon character. His size, needless to say, is impressive. His shape, the one of shark, however, is threatening. His army of pilot fish is definitely a testimonial of his status in the world of oceans. Yet, with his mouth opening wide, gulping planktons by the gallons and his eyes at least 4 feet away from each other, this is by far the most bizarre encounter I have ever had. His eye is glassy and lacks any depth. It barely moves, even when there is a human swimming right next to him.

Besides the voice, which vocalizes thoughts and desires, the eyes are the most communicative part of our body. And we humans constantly communicate with them. Our subconscious gathers more information by looking into the eyes of another person than from any other part of the body. It is by no accident that we say eyes are windows to the soul.  When there are no eyes to look into, we switch our focus and look at the shape, or other parts from which we can gather information and interpret what we are seeing. The eyes of the whale shark next to me are each about 5 inches wide. This species has roughly the same eye size to length ratio as humans do. Yet, I can’t connect. I can’t seem to feel it. My mind is perplexed by the failure to connect the dots. As if there were simply no dots to connect. This shark could be a giant jellyfish and there would be no difference.

Once I have accepted this new fact of life, I am no more this analytic species, but rather a big kid swimming with a giant fish. I dive below him and pretend to be a new member to his float of escorts. I tuck by his pectoral fin and pretend to be one of the remoras. I suddenly feel like a kid playing in the sand with a giant Tonka truck. I count the white dots on his back. I swim next to his head and open my mouth wide, imitating him. I dive again and again looking up, mesmerized at the huge silhouette, defined by a high sparkling noon sun. After a while, I feel it is time to give this apologetic creature his quietness back and watch as his tail, about my size, pushes forward and slowly disappears in the blue.

Wait

I have been lying on the sand for 30 minutes, my eyes glued to the camera. My bones ache. My skin itches. My fingers are numb. I am starting to get cold. I am waiting. I am waiting for my subject to move. I am waiting for my shot. Most of the time, the shot never happens and those 30 minutes are added to the previous hours of waiting. The subject will not move  in the way I want to. Not with the right background, or right light. I will wait for 30 minutes without a pause, and the second I break my stare, it is when it happens. And then I wait some more.

In our modern era, a person through the course of their lifetime, will spend approximately 3 to 5 years waiting – 35000 hours motionless, expecting for a desired outcome. We wait for the perfect moment. For the right woman, for the right man. We wait for the right conditions.  We wait for the rain to stop, for the sun to come out. We wait for the bus, for the train, for the subway. We wait in traffic, at the bank, at the grocery store. We wait on the phone. We wait for a phone call. We wait for people. People wait for us. We wait for salvation, for forgiveness. We wait for the show to begin, for the commercials to end. We wait for dinner to be ready. We wait for a package to be delivered. We wait for inspiration to come. We wait behind the camera for the perfect shot.

Francois Rabelais said: “ Everything comes in time to those who can wait.” While Abraham Lincoln believed that “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustles.” Lenny Kravtiz has always waited for inspiration to write his music. Sean Lennon instead writes everyday convinced that inspiration comes with practice. Alexandre Dumas wrote that “All human wisdom is summed up in two words: wait and hope.”  At the opposite, W.M. Lewis said that “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.”

Nothing would ever be accomplished if we just waited for things to happen. But again, nothing would ever be accomplished if we were not able to wait until completion. Some don’t wait to start, but have trouble finishing. Others can’t seem to find the will to start, but once they do, they will finish what they have started even if they have to wait a lifetime to see the results. You can’t wait for the right conditions. You can’t wait for things comes to you. But you must be able to wait for the unique to manifest. And when it does, all those minutes, all those hours, all those years waiting, suddenly are worth the wait.

Rio Chubut

We had been driving for a while when we left the main road behind. From the fairly flat landscape our eyes had become accustomed, we found ourselves slowly going down a twisted dirt road – high walls on each side, perhaps 50 meters high. The road was cutting its way through red rock. The sun lighting up the mineral, the walls seemed to be alive. Thousands of shadow spots changing shape as we progressed down. It almost felt like we were in a kaleidoscope. Suddenly, the light disappeared. A long tunnel, a gateway to another place.  There were no more walls, only a dim light spot ahead of us. The light at the end of the tunnel – sign of a new world awaiting.

As our eyes adjusted to the brightness, we found ourselves at the top of a dam. To our right, a large reservoir. The red mountains trapped between the blue sky and the blue water. To our left, a river and trees. Their green in total contrast with the surrounding. Down there, passed the buildings from the electrical company, was our departing point. For the next 3 days, we were to kayak the waters of Rio Chubut, a river famous for its fly fishing, that starts in Carreras in the Andes and ends 800km further down in Rawson. Its name is derived from the Tehuelche word “chupat”, meaning “transparent”.

As we unloaded the kayaks and prepared our gear, memories of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It flowed back in my mind. I remembered the scene where the old man, tying up a knot on his line to attach a fly, reflects on his life, narrating the important lessons the River had given him.

“When I am alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and my memories, and the sounds of the big Blackfoot River, and the four count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

I remembered the importance of the River in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”. Its significance in the story, symbolizing the key to Freedom. There is no better imagery to epitomize our life journey, than the River. It starts from a point, and ends at another. No matter how wild the river is, no matter how unruly it wants to be, it still has a direction, a purpose, to reach the ocean. It flows blindingly to a place where it will cease to exist. It will merge with something bigger, it will become one with the others.

Young rivers are straight – giving more importance in the destination rather than the journey, often missing much of the world they flow in. Their banks offering no protection, the water rushes down, in a hurry. Old rivers meander, understanding that the journey is more important. They turn right and left, sometimes go back up, they explore and wander. There curves offer refuge to others and soon their banks and waters find themselves bursting with life.

Our first day was marked by massive walls, the River flowing at their feet, unimpressed, simply moving along. Flocks of Black-neck and Coscoroba Swans painfully flying away every time they see us. Graceful in the air and on the water, swans need a lot of energy to lift themselves off to fly. Their webbed feet pushing and keeping their heavy body above the water as their wings flap against the wind.  Red-gartered Coot quickly darting in all directions. Awful flyers, Nature gave them large feet that they use to run on the surface, and they do so with great speed and loud noise – rapid sequences of Flap, flop, flap, flop. On the river banks, horses, sheep, and cattle. If you are lucky and have good eyes, you might spot a hare, his ears up listening to any danger coming his way. In the air, Turkey Vultures scanning the vast land for any careless creatures.

Doing photography on a river is quite different than on the ocean. Everything passes by fairly quickly. Animals leave a soon they see you. The ones who don’t, hide themselves, and if you do find them, it is already too late, the current is taking you away. On the ocean, you usually only need one lens, a long one. No need to change since your main objective is to capture animals. On a river, you constantly keep switching between a short and long lens, wanting to capture both the landscape and the animals.  If you don’t make the right decision at the right time, it is too late.

Around mid day, we stop for a break and decide to go fishing. Rio Chubut is home for Brown and Rainbow trouts, and if you have the right gear, the right spot, the right technique, and the right spirit, you might find yourself with a nice big fish fighting you. I tie a silver spoon with a green stripe and cast my line close to a rock big enough that it creates a nice backwash, a perfect spot. Nothing. But something tells me that there is a big one there, so I keep casting in the same spot. My senses acute, I stare at the water, at the rock, precisely right next to it, where I know one must be. My spoon hits the water right pass the spot and I start to reel. The sun flickers on the spoon and in an instant, a big Brown trout goes for it. I dig my heels in the ground and steady myself. She goes upstream, her powerful body pulling my line with it like a fly on its back. We fight for a while until I sense it is safe enough to bring her to shore. But this is where the trout masters in strategy. She faints her defeat and while I joyfully bring her back, she gathers her strength and prepare herself for the big finally. With no net, I can’t simply whisk her off the water,  I have to hold my rode in one hand, give enough line so that the trout does not get out of the water, and reach with the other hand to grab her. Simpler said than done. I finally see my opponent – oh my! That is a big fish! I go to grab her and she darts up out of the water, twist, and as she touches back the surface, she uses the current and goes down stream. With no resistance, her power is doubled. She jumps again, twist again, and again and again. For a moment, I am afraid I will loose her. Her ferociousness is working. I am getting nervous, and careless. But I got her well hooked. I get my senses back and steady myself again. The fight goes on for a while. I finally manage to grab her. With a solid grip, I walk to the safety of the shore, sit down, and look at my catch. I tell her that I am honored by the fight she gave me. I get up, look at the river and bow. I thank her for her gift. That night, in addition to our dinner of Argentinean beef, we cooked my trout much like how our ancestors, and their ancestors did it – over fire.

Our second day camp is nestled amongst red rock hills. As we pull our kayaks to higher ground, a white horse is standing not far, looking at us. He stands tall and looks magical. Lifting his nose in the air, he turns his head sideways and walks away. Before dinner, we hike to the top of the highest hill and wonder at the sight. The river flows through a landscape of green trees and red hills.  The water reflects the sky and look like a long curvy endless mirror. There is no cloud and the blue sky completes this highly contrasted scenery.

On our third day, we come to a small damn. The bad news is that we have to portage our kayaks. The good news is that right after the small fall are little rapids, perfect for a little play time. While the others try their luck fishing one last time, I paddle my kayak to the bubbly waters. The rapids are not big, but it still offers me a moment of fun and excitement. Shortly before our final destination, we come to a big rock, perfect for a swim.  After tightening the kayaks together, we climb up on a small edge. Pablo is the first one to brave the frigid cold water. After filming the others jumping, it is time for me to go. I hold my waterproof Olympus in front of me, wanting to have footage of the actual splash and leap in the air. My body enters the water and goes in shock. The water is so cold.  Unconsciously I cling my fingers, pressing the stop button on the camera. The lanyard slips away from my hand and the camera goes free. My brain is fighting what to panic about – the cold or the fact that I just lost my camera. My hands frantically wave everywhere. Last I heard, camera sinks and current takes things away. I have perhaps 5 seconds before I loose any hope of catching it. My fingers feel the hard case, but I fail to grab it. I feel the seconds passing by. I feel my chances disappearing. By now, the camera is somewhere around my waist line, sinking rapidly. The current is making things worst. With one last attempt, I go for it. I feel the lanyard between two of my fingers. I squeeze them and pray it will be enough. I bring my hand to my chest and grab the camera for dear life. With the camera secure, I reach for the surface. I swim to the rock, my body still in shock. The look on my face must say a lot, cause everyone is looking at me with fear – What happened?

After warming up, we get back in our kayaks and glide the last hour. At our picking rendez-vous, Sofia has  a nice surprise for us, a cooler with some nice cold beers. I take mine and walk one last time to the river. I sit on my kayak, take a sip and repeat the words of Maclean’s:

“I sat there and forgot and forgot, until what remained was the river that went by and I who watched. On the river the heat mirages danced with each other and then they danced through each other and then they joined hands and danced around each other. Eventually the watcher joined the river, and there was only one of us. I believe it was the river.”

Dreams

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”For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

It is dark. Absence of colors. Black and white tones. Various shades of grey.  Daylight illuminates the world around us, but the night transforms everything into a monotone landscape. For a moment, I wonder, if actually this seemingly boring reality has a purpose. My eyes pan from left to right trying to find a destination. With no where to go, they are left with one choice – go up. And right there, I understand. We spend our days looking in front of us. Always trying to see what is coming. But the night belongs to dreams and there is only place you can find them – in the Stars. I am curious if this is why in Asia they write from top to bottom, as if to insinuate that everything in life starts with a Dream. My eyes are fixed on this black tapestry made of an incalculable amount of white pinholes. My pupils dilate trying to capture the gargantuesque size of the Universe.  Millions of specks of light, so distant from our planet than their location is measured by the number of years light takes to travel from them to us. Their sight reminds me of the infinite amount of possibilities our world holds. That we still know so little about Life. My thoughts of boredom are long gone now as I lay down on the sand, gazing at a world that is only reachable through my imagination, through my dreams.

Man has been looking at the stars for thousands of years. It has been a source of inspiration, a source of mystery, a source of faith, and a tool for orientation. It also has been a way for us to understand our relationship with Nature, and with Life. Ever since the dawn of humanity, the night sky and Nature have walked hand in hand. Through the ages, from all cultures, every time we raised our eyes to the night sky, we saw animals and mythical creatures. The Zodiac, invented more than 10 000 years ago, depicts our symbiosis with the Universe through images of animals. For centuries, constellations were named after Nature.  It is only in the 1700’s, at the early age of the Industrial Revolution, that we changed our relationship with the Stars. Frenchman Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, famous astronomer, broke all the rules and named all of his discoveries with man-made objects.

In a world where more than half of the population lives in cities, we tend to forget there is even a night sky. Our eyes barely rise above the horizon. Our sense of vertical is developed mainly around tall buildings. And if we do one day find our way to look passed the top of those skyscrapers, we find an almost white canvas with a few sparse bright dots. 

A night sky is a limitless source of creativity and fascination. Like painting by numbers, you trace imaginary lines from star to star, giving life to worlds that know no boundaries. Shooting stars and northern lights, props for magical stories. As much as we learn about the Universe in museum or on television, there is nothing like experiencing the sight of a night sky saturated with stars, the Milky Way casting shadows on the ground – it is overwhelming, it is humbly.

We need never to forget to look up. We need never to forget to dream.

A day with the dolphins

We were all sitting at the table, sharing food and stories. Fried anchovies, calamari and clams, all fresh from the morning. Each of us telling his Nature stories. Glasses of cold beer, sunset over the gulf, our joy and laughs spreading over other tables. I was having dinner with a production team filming for the next Life series on BBC. Tomorrow, we would spend the day on the water, filming the dusky dolphins. The team had been here for almost 3 weeks now and was leaving soon. One of their crew had left a couple of days ago. One man short, they were looking for an extra pair of eyes. When I offered mine, they gladly accepted.

It was 7am when they engines started and propelled us away from the beach. Under a magnificent sky, the morning air tighten up our faces, our collars zipped up, we drank our coffee and shared a bag of croissants. Although it might sound glamourous, documentaries like this one take years of patience and filming. Certain sequences captured after months and months of waiting, chasing, and hoping. Some, simply never happen when the cameras are rolling. Jonathan Smith and Tom Fritz had been filming the duskies for weeks now, hoping to catch the scene they had come to capture. They had filmed them feeding on small bait ball, filmed them with sea lions, filmed them jumping around, but they had not filmed them feeding on a big ball of anchovies. One day, they found a huge ball, twice the size of the boat, but no dolphins around, no dolphins feeding.

Each day is the same, no matter the weather. By sunrise, you are on the water, and you are not coming back before darkness. One member of the team in on land or in the air, on the look out. You spend so much time looking through binoculars, you start to see things. You spend so much time putting your wet suit on and off, it starts to look more like a fashion rehearsal. As days go by, you invent more and more lucky charms. Perhaps we need to do the dolphin dance tomorrow, with Hawaiian skirts this time! Jokingly, my arrival is seen as a possible sign of good luck, giving me now the responsibility of turning faith around, before I become a sign of bad luck!  The day is superb. The conditions are perfect. If only, just for one moment, this could be “The Day”.

The water had been zipping by for an hour when we spotted a group of dolphins. We were not the only one who had. Flocks of storm-petrels and seagulls were rushing toward them.  Like bees on honey, birds will find dolphins feeding, and in minutes, any flying creatures within miles will be seen flying in the same direction, hoping to take advantage of a free easy meal. I admit it is quite a scene. On each side of the boat, hordes of birds, flying at the same speed as we do. Their squeaking echoing all around. The adrenaline kicks in. The engines are roaring. Thoughts of this being the big one crosses all our mind. Cameras are prepared. Wet suits are put on. Every one is on the stand by. Already, hundreds of birds are at the scene. The frenzy is everywhere. Just as we arrive, as if on cue, the anchovies have all been eaten, and the whole bonanza starts all over again at another location. We put the cameras away, take off the wet suits, and follow the birds to the next spot. This dance goes on all day long, over and over, until the sun sets, 12 hours after our departure.

At one point, I ask if the event has actually been seen or captured on film. I start to have doubts, that perhaps we are chasing something that will never happen. Jonathan laughs. He tells me that it has once for an Imax movie – it took 52 days to finally get it. He also tells me that when it happens, when the big bait ball happens and the dolphins are feeding on it, it lasts for an hour.

I ask Jonathan and Tom some questions. I am curious to know about their background and their motivation. Why they do what they do. Why they spend 3 weeks, 12 hours a day, on the water, waiting for something and still find the energy to laugh and smile as if this was the first day on the job. Are they making a good living? Or working for Nature documentaries means living on bread and butter. Some of their answers surprise me, others don’t.

“You feel that you are part of something bigger. It is a rush. The unexpected, the surprise, the discovery. When the magic happens, there is nothing in the world that matches it, except perhaps the birth of your child.  This is life in its pure form. There is a sense of connection that is hard to explain. As if for one moment, before your eyes, all life, all Universes were connected to this one point in time and space. Including you.” Tom talks about the time he filmed the Bowhead Whales in the Arctic, to be in the presence of such giants, perhaps older than 100 years. He can’t find the words to express what it was like. His eyes are locked somewhere on the horizon. His memories stay secret, unable to find a worthy way to convey them. Jonathan tells me the story  when he filmed the leopard seals in Antarctica. Those apex predators, perfect hunting creatures, would bring penguins to them, like children wanting to share their toys. They would open their mouth, 160 degrees wide at the camera, showing their teeth one inch long.

Although their motivation is beyond financial, surprisingly enough, the nature documentary industry pays well today. A lot more than in the past and a lot more than other similar industries. Success like the Blue Planet series have proved their value. Planet Earth became the most watched show on Discovery channel.

We talked about today’s documentaries versus the early days of Cousteau and Attenborough. About Institutions like BBC that has succeeded over the years to commission and publish educational material of great quality. Jonathan mentions how important the mission statement is. Per instance, BBC’s mission is to “Inform, Educate and Entertain. It aims at sustaining citizenship and civil society, promoting education and learning and stimulating creativity and cultural excellence”. Notice that entertain is last, not first. Which is actually the opposite of most others in the industry.

As with everybody I meet who works with Nature, family plays an important role. They support financially or simply nurture the passion seen in their child, telling him or her, that what is important, is to do something they love, whatever it is – music, painting, art, traveling or working with animal . Children don’t have the wisdom, the foresight to see the bigger picture and it is to the parents to recognize what that passion is and guide it, support it.

One day, Tom rented a boat and took his family out for a little expedition on the waters of Florida. At some point, his son pulled his father’s shirt and innocently asked him if they were in the Wild. Amused by the question, Tom looked around, then look at his child and said yes. His answer could have been that little green creatures did live on Mars, the result was the same. The little boy had just stepped into a fantasy world. The mangroves, the water, the birds, the fish, all suddenly became subjects of fascination. In his head, the little boy was seeing for the first time what his father saw every time he went to work. Tom was mesmerized at the joy on his son’s face, simply by being in the Wild. Beside connecting with Nature, moments like these are priceless. There are no bigger rewards than to see your child’s happiness from sharing what you do for living.

We didn’t capture the golden sequence that day. As we ride back, I don’t feel any frustration, or disappointment from anyone on the boat. Of course Jonathan and Tom anxiously dream about it, but at the end of the day, to be in the water with the dolphins, to have them swim around, to have them look at you and squeak, it is hard not to be content.

That evening, as we are all sitting at the table, sharing an exquisite asado, glasses of cold beer, fresh timber burning in the fireplace, our joy and laughs spreading over other tables, no one would trade this moment. Jonathan announces that he will be going to Tobago after, to film flying fish spawning, something he has been waiting for 2 years. We can’t help but feel a bit jealous, but we still raise our glass to him and for a moment, as we look at each other, we feel bonded, united by our love for Nature.

The Almighty

I have always loved thunderstorms. I remember spending many hours, sitting on the front porch, my eyes staring at those giants passing by, unleashing armies of droplets, like millions of tiny soldiers. Canons firing lightnings, opening safe passage for the cavalry. Winds knocking down any who dared to resist. The sound of the thunder spreading over miles and miles. I would always count the seconds the moment I would see a flash, strategically, in my mind, following the progress of the battalion. One, two, three, four, five, bang! The storm is one mile away to the north! Send the troops! Nature has always been a companion in my imaginary world, never failing to deliver countless days of play.

The day had been calm and sunny. But the evening was to be another story. The blue sky was being invaded by a front of dark grey clouds. They looked like fire spreading over a ceiling. Magically engulfing every blue particle until there was no more. Visible curtains of rain, forming high, almost impenetrable walls, advancing over land. Their lighter shade of grey in contrast with the thick black sky. Lightnings splitting the air, cracking the earth, the loud noise tumbling across all over.  Flashes from beyond, illuminating every edges of this monster. No General could ever match the power and effectiveness of the invasion.  People running from the beach, taking cover. Doors and windows shut. Dogs barking. Within minutes, the entire town was taken prisoner and was showed no mercy. Power was cut.  Streets were flooded. We retreated waiving the white flag in hope of salvation from our defiance.

Slowly, the gloom passed, leaving behind trails of destruction. We were safe.

I smiled. From behind my lens, I was having too much fun, my script was perfect.

El Rey de las Ballenas

Saturday night, I am watching a documentary called “El Rey de las Ballenas” (The Whale King). It was produced by MC4 Grenoble, a French company, in 1987 and is about Mariano Van Gelderen, a man born in Bahia Blanca in 1945.

He arrived in Puerto Piramides at the beginning of the 70′s and started the first tourist whale watching in 1973, onboard his little boat. The man is bigger than life. In fact, watching him you can’t help but feel that trapped under his skin resides an old whale soul. His physique more agile, more at ease in the water, than on land. He doesn’t hide it either. He often used the forklift from the tracker that pulled his boat out of the water to lift himself out of his boat.

He talks about the whales with passion, with love. His hands gracefully describing their dance, the way they move. He talks to them. He swims with them. He learns from them. And he teaches with them. He became a pioneer on the practice of whale watching, giving conferences all over the world. Most importantly, he taught thousands and thousands of people about the whales and the respect for Nature.

From the beginning of the century, people started to come to the peninsula for 2 reasons: salt and kill seals and sea lions – their fat was used for machinery and in lights. Afraid of venturing on the water, whales were spared. But the carnage led on the land almost drove the sea lions to extinction. They would raid beaches, armed with sticks with nails and crush their skulls. Mariano remembers those days with irony. The peninsula was known to no one when the animals were killed. It is only today, now that we care for them and show their beauty to the world, that the peninsula has become a major destination, sustaining thousands of jobs.

His most precious wish, his dream, is revealed in a touching scene, with his daughter, his voice whispering: “Como te quiero chiquita, como me gustaria que el dia de manana quieras a las ballenas como yo quiero a estos animales y quieras la naturaleza que es tan importante“ (Oh my little child, the love I have for you. I only wish that tomorrow you love the whales as much as I do. To love Nature is so important).

That night, I fell asleep to the sound of whales, thankful to people like Mariano, who spent theirs lives reconnecting our relationship with Nature.

The next morning, I took my kayak and paddled to the sea lion colony. The memories of that evening with them still fresh, I wondered if they would grant me with the same playfulness. I also wanted to be reminded that those days of killing were over.

Early Wild Encounters

The air was fresh and clean. The forest was beautiful – different shades of red, orange, and yellow – on the ground as well as up in the trees. Fall in the Northeast is always spectacular. The leaves transform the wood into a magical mosaic of colors. Even as they fall, they retain their vivid pigments and create a thick colorful carpet that crisps under every footstep. We had been walking for a couple of hours, our eyes and ears, carefully tuned to the sounds of Nature, hoping to perhaps see deer, or partridge. My uncle had decided to stop. As we sat on a log, he whispered to me that animals are always there, we might not see them, but they see us. Curiosity is something that animals also posses. If you stop, stay still for moment, not making a noise, your reverse the dynamic and become the one looked for.

Shortly after his words, two partridges peeked from behind a tree, staring at us. Their curiosity gaining strength, they slowly walked out from their previously perfect camouflaged spot, their heads moving up and down, right to left, trying to size us and wonder who we were. I was amazed and fascinated. I was only a little boy.

I don’t know why I can remember this story has if it had happened yesterday, a simple walk in the forest, 25 years ago. But I do, and I have applied the lesson learned that day every time I am in Nature, whether scuba diving, mountain biking, or simply walking – Stop and they will come to you.

We never know what children will remember as they grow up. It is always fascinating to hear someone talk about a smell, an image, a feeling, a word, they remember when they were young and transformed the way they see the world.

That is why it is so important for parents to create opportunities for children to experience, live, and feel Nature. There is nothing more beautiful than to witness the eyes of a child experiencing the Wild for the first time. There is nothing more rewarding than to see adults become children again as they experience their first Wild Encounter.

Yesterday, two parents took their children out on the water. Neither them, or the children, had experience, and although it would have been easier to get on one of those tourist motor boat, they decided to go kayaking. After a little crash course, off we went. I was only tagging along to take some pictures but soon was reminded of the importance of what was happening. It doesn’t take much to create a sense of adventure. Simply do something you normally don’t and you will soon feel like Captain Kirk saying: “To boldly go where no one has gone before!”

We had just left the beach and already every splash, every shadow was a source of excitement. When that first sea lion appeared, it is as if the world had stopped and a door to a new one had opened. A world where there was no television, no video games, no cell phones, but filled with wonders and richness, where Man is part of Nature, connected to it, born from it.

Back at the shop, everyone was still talking about that moment when a sea lion passed under the kayak, when another poked his head out of the water, when a cormorant flew by, or when a penguin appeared. Those moments are the ones that will be remembered forever. Each will have their own version of what happened that day, and together, their memories will spread through friends and family, making this little adventure eternal.

The goal is not to make every child become a Jacques Cousteau or a David Attenborough, but simply to plant that seed of awareness, to create a connection.  Once a child has been touched, he or she will never see the world in the same way.

Choked

I was reading Jon Bowermaster’s entry from his blog “Notes from Antarctica” writing about garbage resolution and witnessing the sad impact our lifestyle has at some of the most remote places in the world. While out shooting at Punta Norte the other day, I noticed this female sea lion that had a wire around her neck. She must have swam through a while ago. The wire already cutting deep her throat. How much did she have left to live? What would happen to her cub, just born a few weeks ago? Did this male knew her faith as he watched over her?

Now looking at the picture, I can’t help but notice the drama of the image. Her devotion to him, even as her fate is sealed.

It is in those moments that you really understand how our lives really intertwine with theirs. I was not just a few miles from a busy port, where chances of running into garbage is frequent. I was in a National Park, a Unesco World Heritage. A place supposedly protected.

Connection

It happens every time. I am not sure how and why but I always know when it does. As I am sitting on the beach, just a couple of feet away from the seals, I sense that my presence is no longer a threat and from there, a connection, a communication is established. They observe me. I observe them. They make a move and wait. I make a move and wait. There is no longer them and me, but Us. We are all part of the same world, we share this beach, this ocean, the air. Our existence is bound to each other, to this Planet. Our goal is the same, to survive, to live.

I start to notice little behaviors, details that had so far escaped my attention. I start to recognize distinct dynamics between each of them. Somehow their body language seems no longer alien to me. They stare at me with their big black eyes. For a moment, I feel like I am having a conversation with them.

Later that day, after walking to another location, I was about to leave when a fox came out of the bush. After walking by a couple of times, he laid down not far from me and waited. I knelt down and slowly moved closer. He yawned. I took the hint that he wanted me to get closer. So I did. I inched myself forward, every time taking new photos, not knowing when he would get up and leave. I was about six feet from him. He would look everywhere then blink at me. After a couple of minutes, he got up and walked away. Just before disappearing, he turned and looked at me once more. I stayed down on the ground for a while, baffled of what had just happened. No need to wonder who was the observer, that Fox had come to me, pose and left.

Nature always surprises me. This encounter with the Fox reminded me of a dive at the Channel Islands in California. I was swimming in the kelp forest and I knew there was a seal somewhere. He kept showing his little face from time to time. As if he was playing hide and seek with me. Always remembering my walk in the forest 25 years ago, I stopped and kneeled on the bottom and waited. No more than 5 minutes had passed when I felt my fins pulled behind me. The little seal was there trying to get my attention. For 30 minutes we played. He would disappear. I would try to find him. I would stop, he would come back.

I never know when those magical moments will happen. In fact, it can be months, sometime years, but they are the reason why I do what I do.

Beyond the Sunset

The unexpected. The surprise. Time and space coming together to create a moment of bliss.

I had spent the entire day working in front of the computer – editing, uploading, writing. The night before our plans to go watch the sunset on the water had been spoiled by the wind, and by the end of the afternoon, the thought of a late outing seemed dim. I walked back to the office, and there, Pablo announced that a couple wanted to go kayaking and asked if I wanted to come. I was tired and hungry, but the idea of being on the water, to feel the rocking of the waves, to let Nature rejuvenate my depleted energy, my eyes lit up and my head nodded up and down.

I slipped in my kayak and pushed myself off the beach. The sun would set soon and the sky was already turning into a deep shade of blue. The water had this mystic look, a black shiny liquid. Thousands of shadows and reflections on the surface creating a metallic mosaic. A thick orange line on the horizon, separating two worlds – a contrast of realities.  We paddled out, almost with a feeling of never coming back. Each stroke pulling us closer to the unknown. The world around us was alive, changing every second. Cliffs and rocks ahead of us black by the absence of reflective light. Cliffs and rocks behind us burning from the Sun. Deep dark shades enhancing every edges. From the distance, I saw several pointy noses popping out, flippers splashing the water – a group of sea lions. Unable to see under the surface, there whereabouts remained secret. Only revealed to us every time their shiny fur came out, or their heads magically bursting up, like a periscope from a submarine. As we got closer to the colony, their number grew. On the shore, legions of little cubs, intrigued by us, not old enough yet to venture to waters, their curiosity evident with their whiskers up in the air, sniffing at us.

We stayed there. Cradled by the waves. I tried to film underwater, blindly, not knowing whether there was enough light, or even if I was filming anything. We were surrounded and we surrendered. Basking in this magical eden, not a word was said. Almost with regrets, we decided to go back. Looking behind us every few minutes, wondering if that door would ever close. I was in my head, contemplative. My arms moving the paddle without me being aware of it. Nothing could ever be more perfect than this moment. How fortunate was I. How grateful I was. The sea lions stayed with us, swimming along side my kayak for what seemed like eternity. Companions sharing this moment, escorting me out, after being their guest, privileged by their hospitality.

After passing the last bay, I turned once more. I was not prepared for such beauty. Up at the top of the cliff, behind the lighthouse, incandescent clouds, vibrant shades of colors, perfectly cutting the contour of the old building. I tell the others. We turn our kayaks around and face this unbelievable sight. None of us find the will to interrupt this moment.

Against the Wind

We were suppose to leave that evening. The plan was to kayak a couple of hours, pass Puerto Pardelas, and camp before Punta Alt. There, a small cave, up in the mountain, would provide us with a good campsite, and a beautiful scenery. From there, we would paddle for 3 days, hopefully cross the entrance of Golfo Nuevo and make it to Punta Cracker. Perhaps see some dolphins on the way. Although it was a good plan, Lady Nature had something else in her mind.

I am always a bit worried whenever I set out. Will I have something to write about.  Will the pictures be good? Will the videos be ok for editing? Will I have interesting material, or will I come back with nothing? Will I find my theme for the day? For the trip? As it turns out, with some faith and patience, Nature always delivers. It may not be what was expected. It might be something totally different. But there is always a story line, you just have to let it come to you.

Along with Pablo, Diego and myself, Sandro was joining us on this trip. He is Pablo’s long time kayak partner. Together, they have been paddling the waters of the Peninsula for years. Sandro, as I discovered, is the type of paddler that makes kayaking look effortless. Steady, with great technique and years of experience, he cuts through the wind and through the waves like a steamship, never hinting any signs of fatigue or forcing a stroke. One rhythm, tic tac, tic tac, like a metronome. Whether the wind is blowing at 30 miles an hour, or the surface is like a mirror, you won’t notice any difference. Pablo was telling me that he had once paddled for 11 hours straight, never stopping even once for the normal human needs.

The kayaks were packed and ready. We all stood on the beach staring at the sky, then staring at the weather forecast Pablo was holding. The wind was blowing from the north pretty hard and it would do all night long. Out in the middle of the gulf, huge cumulus clouds rose up like a gigantic towers. Although the wind would push us in the right direction, our campsite would be exposed to the fury of what was looking inevitable – a stormy night. The rest of the forecast didn’t look promising either. The wind would change direction the day after, heading south, increasing in the afternoon, reaching 25 miles per hour. This meant that we would paddle pretty much the 3 days with head wind. The chances of crossing to the other side now were close to nothing.  We decided to hold off our departure and leave the next morning. That night, we dined listening to the wind howling and blowing sand from the dunes, hitting the windows like a swarm of bees from a Hitchcock movie. Out on the open, flashes from the lightnings illuminating the clouds giving us a glimpse of what hell could look like.

The morning showed no signs at all of what had taken place the night before. The sky was cloudless and the water smooth like leather. As the tide was rising, we carried our kayaks to the water, pushed ourselves off the beach and paddled out. We knew those conditions were just temporary, but we couldn’t stop ourselves believing perhaps that the forecast was wrong and that the next 3 days would be an easy ride.

When the tide changed, along with it came a new set of rules. The promised wind was delivered. Like adding coal to a train, it gained speed. Soon enough, we were battling 8 foot waves and gusts of 30 knots. Our sunglasses became crusted with salt – all those droplets blown in our face every time our bow hit a wave. Right after Punta Alt, we pulled on the beach and reassessed. We decided to head back. We would camp at that cave and spend the rest of the day hiking. For the next hour, we paddled, gusts of wind pushing us like a stampede. Sometimes, I felt like I was being rushed out by a group of mad security.  With our kayaks secured, and our gear at the cave, we all stared at a sea of white caps and headed for a hike.

Trails of Guanacos, hares and foxes crossing our own, we walked through canyons where walls were made of fossilized shells. Our eyes scanning for historical treasures – a fossil of petrified wood, chipped stones reminiscent of when the natives lived those lands. I felt like walking the corridors of the Museum of Natural History in New York. Behind a dune, hidden by a tall sand bush, the wind had blown away the sand covering the remains of a dead Tehuelche, perhaps 300 or 400 years old. The place was filled with history. Back at our cave, we contemplated the valley in front of us as the sun set and a dimmed rainbow briefly came to life. With our imagination fresh from our discoveries, we were soon looking back in time and saw a tribe a natives crossing the land.

There was no relief the next day. The wind was still blowing strong. Not as hard though. We armed ourselves with patience and paddled our way.

The beach after Punta Alt is long and is a place where many juvenile whale carcasses are found. Bones taken by people, the skin is what is left, even after 6 months. Of all the baby whales born in the golf, ten percent don’t make it. Most of time, they end up here, on this beach, blown by the winds and currents. In the water, a couple of penguins, schools of fish surfing the water and from time to time, a curious wandering sea lion poking his head out would remind us that life still exist.  After a couple of hours, we found this place with some good little surf. There is always time for surf and for sure we took it. For a moment, there was no more wind, no more current, there were just nice little waves to ride.

We stopped at Punta Cormorans. Although we could go for more, there was no good camping site within reaching distance. We settled once more to stop early and go for a hike. But before, with the tide going down, the same fish that we had seen surfing earlier, get often caught trapped in little ponds. Stories go that some people are even able to catch them with their bare hands. With little strategy, we posted ourselves between the open sea – freedom, and the pond – the cage. We looked like bears, sitting atop a fall, waiting for the salmons to jump right into their mouths. Except, in this case, it was more a bunch of tired kayakers with barely any patience left. After unsuccessfully chasing 10 of them and seeing them sprint their way to freedom, we gave up.

The hike this time, had a total different feeling. On the beach, amongst the usual suspects – crab shells, bones of dead birds, fish left overs – hundreds and hundreds of garbage – fish bins used by boats, nets, sandals, plastic bottles, glass bottles, tubes, hats, and the number one garbage found in Nature, the eternal white plastic bag. For a moment, I felt like we were the only survivors on a desolate planet. Those … things, on the beach were what was left from a once flourishing population. Our hike became a search for the most unusual artifact – a boomerang, a plastic red toy truck, glue sticks. On our way back to the camp, we headed for the cliffs, leaving the desolation behind. Away from the reach of water, a sense of wilderness came back, tracks of animals, fresh and old. We found an old Tehuelche settlement, chipped stones, a piece from an old plate used to grind herbs and cereals. Not far, the polished rock used as a crusher.

That evening, as the sun set in an intense gold curtain, a fox passed on the beach, stopping once to look at us. Meeting of strangers in a strange land. At night, tucked in my sleeping back, the sky was impressively beautiful. There were more stars than usual.  It seems like they were everywhere. The Milky Way was bright, a clear white streak crossing a sea of millions and millions of white shining dots. How amazing, that in the course of one day, some many opposites come in conflict with each other – life and death, ugly and beauty, easy and difficult.

Magically, the next morning, the wind changed direction once more. This time, it was blowing from the north, coincidentally the same direction as our way back home. We took a deep breath and went for it.

As if Lady Nature was playing with us, two hours before our arrival, the wind dropped and the surface became smooth again. Exactly the same conditions we had on our departure 3 days earlier. It was hard not to laugh about it as we glided back to shore.

Golfo San Jose

We were at the end of the road. But our journey was only beginning. We got out of the jeep and proceeded to unload the kayaks from the trailer. We were all anxious – like children, the night before christmas, about to open their gifts. The plan for the next 2 days was to kayak west, along the coast of Golfo San Jose.

There is something about setting a campsite. It is like building a house – a little one. You look for the best spot, with the best view, yet protected from the wind. You look to place the kitchen, the bedroom, the dining room. With a little bit of work, you are able to transform what was an inhospitable environment into a warm and cozy place.

Our first dinner was a delight. Sofia cooked ‘bife a la criolla”, a recipe muy kaya-quistica!. We all toasted this moment with wine and shared our most memorable Nature memories. As the sun went down, the stars started to fill the sky. You forget about what a night sky is suppose to look like. Living in cities, blinded by the lights all around you, the night sky is simply a blank black cover. Away for urbanization, the night is alive, millions of stars shining, some more than others. A shooting star prompting a wish. You see the infinity. You are reminded of the “grandeur” of the Universe.

After breakfast and mate (Argentinean tea), we got ourselves ready and paddled out. We passed in front of the place where the Spanish Explorers landed more than 300 years ago. With no wind, the current had drifted them inside the golf. It is only after walking across the land that they realized that this was a peninsula and named the other golf “Golfo Nuevo”. Their faith would be another story. Almost all killed by the natives, only a few survived and walked to the nearest town, able to tell their story.

Our first stop was a place where old whale bones can be found. At the same location, a special kind of green grass that only grows where there is salt water. With no other grass around, you wonder if the death of the whale is responsible for this fertile place where life abounds. After a quick snack, we were back on the water.

After a couple of hours, we passed a point and beyond it was a small sea lion colony. A group of females and juveniles jumped in the water and suddenly we were surrounded by inquisitive big brown eyes. One in particular, distinctive by a patch on his back, surprised us all with his curiosity and friendliness, poking his nose at our paddles and equipment. I am not sure who enjoyed this moment the most, either them or us. That night, we camped and dined remembering this amazing moment.

The next day, we paddled to the Bird Island where penguin, cormoran and heron colonies breed. The place is protected and no one is allowed on the island, giving the birds plenty of safety. It is booming with life. A group of penguins was in the water cleaning their plumage. Others were coming down from the hill. Cormorans, moving their neck, stretched up, to the right, then to the left, all in unison. Seagulls flying high adding their shriek to the cacophony. Our kayaks were followed closely by thousands of small eyes as we drifted just a few feet from the shore.

Leaving a sky filled white and black wings, we paddled toward our pick up location. It was important that we arrive to during high tide. On a low tide, we would have to walk 1km due to the incredibly slow rising beach – certainly not something neither of us wanted!

In the jeep, we were all silent – a bit tired, but also, absorbing those last 48 hours of raw Nature and close wilderness encounters.