The Spirit of Juneau

Some places come and go. Some cities spring up only to disappear decades later for one reason or another (think of Bodie, California). History is filled with forgotten colonies and failed urban visions. I am curious though. What factors or variables are necessary to sustain a city and its inhabitants for hundreds of years? For thousands of years? How is a geographical location in the middle of seemingly nowhere able to maintain interest despite its remoteness and existential challenges? It takes more than an abundance of fish to justify settling down. It takes more than strong will and powerful wishes to turn a series of buildings into a lasting and thriving city where souls live and rest. Are there mini gravitational forces that we are unable to see, inexplicable vortexes that attract life and make people stay in the same way such as sweet nectar pulls in thousands of hungry bees?

For several millennia, this location was known to the Tlingit as Dzantik’i Héeni (where the flatfish gather). It sits at the foot Yadaa’at Kale (the beautiful face of the mountain) and is south of Aak’w (little lake). Nearby are Kootznoowoo island (fortress of bear) and Taku river (the flood of the geese).

During the 1791-95 expedition, Captain George Vancouver, along with his crew on the Discovery, were the first recorded Europeans to visit it. A hundred years later in 1880, two prospectors Richard Harris and Joe Juneau, guided by Tlingit Chief Kowee, struck gold at the mouth of Gold Creek. The city was then renamed Juneau.

For thousands of years, people have come from far away and gathered at Dzantik’i Héeni (Juneau). Whether they were drawn by the abundant natural resources, the major fishing and hunting grounds, the promise of gold, perhaps they followed love, were lured by work or simply came to visit, none of those reasons are enough to make one stay and settle. There is something in the land, the waters, and the mountains that draw people in and inspires them to call Juneau home.

I first discovered this Alaskan city in 2013 when visiting with a group of friends. Juneau was our rendezvous point where we boarded the Alaska State Ferry. We kayaked from Sitka to Hoonah, along the Pacific Coast of Chichagof Island and from Hoonah to Tenekee Springs (TV interview and radio interview).  I returned the following year, only this time I kayaked solo from Juneau to Pack Creek and then to the Taku Glacier (radio interview). One of the trip’s highlights was a night paddle on bioluminescent waters, surrounded by orcas and humpback whales. To say it was magical is an understatement.

Ever since that first visit, Juneau has played an integral part in my career and in my personal life. Three of my most popular photos were captured there (see above). Some of my most memorable memories took place on its surrounding waters and deep within its forests. Not only has Juneau become one of my favorite gateways into the wilderness; it is a place where I found a great friend, Ken. Originally from Boston, he moved to Alaska in the 70‘s. Explorer, philanthropist, conservationist and musician, Ken owned Alaska Discovery and founded of Pack Creek Bear Tours.

At the beginning of this year, Juneau resident Captain Tom Kelly from Blue Planet Eco Charter reached out to me with an invitation to join him on a summer sailing cruise. I was now married and the prospect of being able to share with my wife a part of the world that had been so special to me was really exciting. It was the perfect opportunity! While my solo wilderness expeditions are remote and span weeks at a time, this trip had to be slightly different. It needed to be adventurous, but not extreme while encapsulating all the classic highlights that Juneau is known for including the places, the food, the people and activities.

Travel Juneau and I worked together to plan the perfect itinerary: a floatplane to Pack Creek where brown bears can be viewed in their natural habitat, a hike in the Tongas National Forest, a paddle to the Mendenhall Glacier and exploration of the ice cave, whale watching in Auke Bay, a feast of fresh-caught Alaskan King Crab and a weekend excursion to a luxury fishing lodge in Angoon. Our 12-day trip would conclude aboard Captain Tom’s 40’ S/V Seamoore as we sailed around Douglas Island overnighting in Young Bay.

The other goal was to bring my photo project Random Connectedness to Juneau. Through this project I seek to illustrate the random connectivity of the human species. I do this by taking portraits of random people holding a letter of the alphabet. I then combine these portraits into words, phrases or sentences. The letters are red for a reason. According to Chinese mythology, the Gods tie an invisible red cord around the ankles of those that are destined to meet one another in a certain situation or help each other in a certain way. It is called the legend of the Red String of Fate. The red letters represent the string.

In addition to photographing the natural beauty of Juneau, I would turn the camera on its people. How best to celebrate this distinctive city that has given me so much other than to honor its citizens who live and breathe it, the ones who radiate the “Spirit of Juneau”.

It was incredible to hear their stories. The vast majority are from the lower 48 states who had come to visit and had never left. Some were born here, had left to pursue advanced eduction or a job, only to find their way back. Juneau was home to each of them. A unexpected discovery was to see so many talented and young entrepreneurs throughout the city. Young adults one would expect to see in major hubs like New York or San Francisco. They were all adamant about their beloved city – it was the best! Let me introduce you to some of them.

Maura Selenak of Almaga Distillery (Above, E in the THE). Originally from Minnesota, she moved to Juneau after falling in love with the dramatic scenery and sense of community. A kindergarten teacher, Maura and her husband founded the craft spirit distillery using a 250-gallon still from Vendome.

Eric Oravsky of Adventure Flow (Above, S in the SPIRIT). Grew up in Montana and was exploring the wilderness with his parents before he could walk. He continued to explore and found photojournalism to raise awareness for the wild places he loves. Keeping active and inspiring others led to him co-founding Adventure Flow.

David McCasland of Deckhand Dave’s (Above, F in the OF). An incredible story of persistence. A young local chef and fisherman, who recently opened a taco truck that serves “to-die-for” panko-crusted salmon sticks and fish tacos. His tartar sauce is a secret recipe and the talk-of-the-town.

Christy Namee Eriksen of Kindred Post (Above, 1st U in JUNEAU). Born in Korea, she grew up in Alaska. Christy is an artist, community activist, educator, and writer whose work is grounded in social justice and community engagement. She is the recipient of the 2013 Mayor’s Award for Artist of the Year, two Rasmuson Foundation Individual Artist Awards, and the Loft Immersion Fellowship.

Ryan Lindsay of Devil’s Club Brewery (Above, E in the JUNEAU) He began his career working for Bridgeport Brewing Co. in Portland and later found himself commercially brewing for Drifter Brewing Co. in Cape Town, South Africa. During his time with Drifter, his brew was awarded the best light beer in the country of South Africa.

Jessica Hahnlen of Frost and Fur (Above, 2nd U in JUNEAU). Born in Juneau, she lived in Sacramento then moved back with her husband. Her company design and hand-print (she screen-prints her art onto apparel) in Juneau and gives back 3% to local non-profits

Lia Heifetz of Barnacle (Below, O from Love). A lifelong Alaskan, she lives in Juneau with her partner Matt. Together they started Barnacle, turning kelp into tasty snacks, like salsa and pickles. Their mission is to create delicious and healthy foods using Alaskan ingredients to expand the local food economy, build community resiliency and perpetuate stewardship of natural resources.

A whale of a thank you to the FAVORITE BAY LODGE team for an unforgettable weekend!

Thank you Above & Beyond Alaska (ABAK) for a great time at the Mendenhall Glacier.

A HUGE huge thank you to Kara at TRAVEL JUNEAU for her support, Maryann at PEARSON’S POND INN for her incredible hospitality. Special thanks to Adventure Flow, Juneau Whale Tours, Alaska Seaplane, Tracy’s King Crab Shack and Deckhand Dave’s.

Nature Meditation – GETTING LOST

“ “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” Henry David Thoreau

The irony of the situation is hard to miss. This week’s meditation theme is about “getting lost” and here I am, writing these lines, lost in a world of in-between, in an unwanted place, away from my tribe, struggling to find my bearing. Yesterday, my life was structured and somewhat stable; I had plans, a schedule, confirmed engagements, and I had just celebrated the passing of a major personal milestone. And today, well, all the cards have been thrown up in the air and where they will fall is still unknown. Hours ago, my compass was bearing straight ahead, steady and holding course; now I look at the needle and it is pointing to all directions, going everywhere but the place where I want to go, leaving me in a twilight zone of torment.

How many times have, each one of us, felt this way? How many times have we faced uncertainty, the feeling of powerlessness creeping from the inner depth of our insecurity? In all my years of solo wilderness expeditions and in my personal life, I have always been able to look back at those moments of feeling lost, and, with the acquired wisdom, to see how positively transforming those truly unfortunate events turned out to be; how much I grew personally and spiritually. Despite knowing in my core that it was going to be ok, that I would make it through, I had been there before and that I had all the tools and capacity to find my way again, this chaotic present is still a burden of monumental proportion. And that is ok.

Erika Harris has a wonderful quote: “It is good to feel lost… because it proves you have a navigational sense of where “Home” is. You know that a place that feels like being found exists. And maybe your current location isn’t that place but, Hallelujah, that unsettled, uneasy feeling of lost-ness just brought you closer to it.

Besides reaffirming our sense of belonging, these forced detours are always filled with treasures, if only we let ourselves be open to being able to see them. I have lost count of the times when I have found the most beautiful places, met the most amazing people, lived the most incredible moments, and discovered my most cherished possessions, more often after finding myself lost and surrendering to the moment, letting the flow of life carry me, and my intuitions guide me.

There is an undeniable sadness and anxiety when faced with uncertainty. Let’s be honest, who really takes complete pleasure in being at a point in time and space that seems to be disconnected from everything? A location that has no name, no clear direction, no obvious way out? Should I go this way? Or that way? What if the solutions are in the opposite direction? Am I making things worse? Am I walking towards a precipice or closer to home? The answers, as distant as they may seem, reside inside of us, inside our “inner fire”, that place made of energy which is connected to everything and everyone. It is that place that feeds our intuition, that whisper which only wants to protect us. My fears and doubts will often be the loudest and quickest to react, urging me to flee and find shelter. But in those moments where my sense of orientation disappears, the bearing to find my way through the heavy fog, the path that will take me back home, the clarity that will illuminate my world once again and lift away that opaque shroud, all appear when I surrender and open myself first. The key is to accept the predicament and understand that I have no power over the past but I do hold the keys to the future.

Meditate on the times in your life where you’ve lost yourself not to the events, but to your fears and doubts. In the future how can you make sure not to give in to these negative feelings? We all get lost from time to time, it is an inevitable part of life. But whether these moments make us grow spiritually, happier, wiser, and richer, is within our control.

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit


PHOTO OF THE WEEK

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Kayak Triptych. Taken in Baja California and Alaska. Signed and Dedicated, Archival Inkjet Lithography / Ultrachrome Pigment inks, printed on Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl 285g

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NEW BOOK!

FEEL THE WILD “What makes Daniel’s work special and important is that it stirs us deep inside, where his story meets ours, his dream overlaps with yours and his curiosity become contagious” from Wallace J. Nichols, author of Bluemind

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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.

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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

Summer Newsletter

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As I am about to embark on a 2 1/2 month long paddle, I am reminded of a quote sent to me by a friend. In her poem Stanzas, Emily Blonte writes:

“Often rebuked, yet always back returning to those first feelings that were born with me… I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading. It vexes me to choose another guide… The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling. Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.”

I spent the last 3 months exploring the wilderness of Alaska, letting nature be my guide and mentor. Always grounding me to what is essential in life, I experienced profound insights, humility and was welcomed by love everywhere I went.


W.I.L.D.

Our connection to nature is deeply rooted but if it is not experienced at a young age it is most likely that it will never find an anchor on which it can grown. Wilderness immersion camps are for me one of the most precious ways to ignite the bond we have with the planet.

I believes that immersion in nature is an important part of our development, especially during our early, formative years when it is so critical to discover who we are, develop strong self-esteem, begin to adopt leadership skills, challenge our physical well-being and acquire the capacity to live a balance life in a world dominated by technology.

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W.I.L.D. – Wilderness Immersion for Leadership and Discovery, aims is to give youth, especially under-privileged teens, the opportunity to experience first-hand the positive impact nature can have on their lives. The goal is to motivate them to explore and discover the natural world and understand how experiencing the beauty and challenges inherent in nature can lead to enhancing their self-confidence and developing valuable leadership skills

Our wish is to have their testimonials and experiences reach ​ ​and positively impact other teens and their families and inspire them to Experience the W.I.L.D


1,000-MILE FUNDRAISING PADDLE

For my first W.I.L.D. campaign, I will raise the necessary funds to send a small group of under privileged teens to a 30-day Sea Kayaking camp in Alaska in the summer of 2015. The wilderness immersion camp will be given by the internationally known and extremely well reputed National Outdoors Leadership School (N.O.L.S.).

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Launching in the third week of August, I will paddle from Victoria on Vancouver Island to San Francisco, a journey of 1,000 miles. The 2 1/2 month paddle will be at the core of a Indiegogo campaign. Click here – INREACH tracking & FACEBOOK, to follow this amazing journey!

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Find out more about how you can contribute and the wonderful rewards you can get. These teens will be changed forever, transformed and more deeply connected with the planet. Lets make this happen!

“The most rewarding part of this course was getting out of my element, and experiencing nature at its fullest.” Thomas W. Southeast Alaska NOLS Sea Kayaking Grad

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STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN

Over the course of the next 6 months I will be announcing the launch for my new line of merchandize. Partnering with my sponsors, I will be offering tote bags, merino hoodies, t-shirts, mugs and much more with the mantra STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN on one side and The Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit on the other.

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STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN – The Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit is the foundation of my narrative and the message behind my work.

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SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL PHOTO GOLD AWARD

August 9th was the opening of the San Francisco International Photo exhibition. My photo LO won one of the GOLD awards. Judged by Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director and Curator, Griffin Museum of Photography, the winning photos are on display at the Gallery Photographica, in San Francisco, 3265 17th Street, near the corner of 17th and Mission Streets, until August 24th.

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ALASKA 2014

It is now my second summer in Alaska. Last year I paddled from Sitka to Hoonah, from Tenekee to Hoonah and hiked around Mendenhall Glacier. This time I decided to return to Juneau and visit the famous brown bears of Pac Creek.

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I then went back to the Mendenhall Glacier but this time kayaking the lake and exploring the icebergs.

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Next stop was the Taku Glacier, up the Taku River. The highlight of this paddle was kayaking at night with the orcas, humpback whales and the plankton blooming. Listen to my radio interview on KTOO, public radio in Juneau.

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Finally, I spent 6 weeks on the island of Kodiak. The first paddle was to the island of Afognak and the second one – a 150-mile paddle down the Pacific coast south of Kodiak. Listen to my radio interview on KMXT Kodiak Public Radio and watch my tv interview on KTUU Alaska channel 4 NBC. Check the KODIAK & JUNEAU PINTEREST for a wonderful photo recap with many bears, minks, glaciers and much more.

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Explorer and Storyteller, Daniel Fox, Believes in the Power of Nature to Restore the Human Spirit – on ABC

On August 7th, while in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow, I was invited to pass by ABC’s studio for a live interview and talk about my work and the photography I did on Antelope Island.

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OUTDOOR RETAILER 2014

Every year I do my best to attend the Outdoor Retailer trade show and reconnect with all my sponsors. This year I had an even bigger reason to attend as my main sponsors Wilderness Systems and Adventure Technology had a big wall with my photography and excerpts from my stories. The photos were a great success and comments poured in. From the Press Release:

“…At the Outdoor Retailer trade show next week, we are displaying some of Daniel Fox’s work (see the example in the montage above!) at our booth. It not only serves as a beautiful reminder of why we love to get outside and play, but it just might touch you in ways you wouldn’t have expected. Our goal is to inspire you to explore a world without boundaries and ask you to think about this:  “Isn’t it time you looked at life with a new perspective?…”

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KOKATAT also featured my photography – which appeared in this year’s catalog. Their booth’s front banner had my Owl (top middle), the Morning Reflection (middle center), my photo of professional kayakers Kate Hives (bottom left) and Paul Kuthe (bottom right)

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Voltaic Systems which has been supporting me with solar panels and long lasting batteries had this shot for their full backdrop. What a great presence at this year’s OR!!

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MOUNTAIN KHAKIS

Mountain Khakis has been believing and supporting my work since the beginning. I am honored to be featured in there 2015 catalog! So great being part of such a wonderful team of dedicated people, working relentlessly at delivering the best products. Thank you MK!

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MORE MINUTE OF NATURE

The series now has 24 videos. Watched by thousands, the videos have been the perfect platform to share my insights and the material I find inspirational. Promoting the need to disconnect by being in the moment – even just for 60 seconds, the series is a call for action to find balance in our ever-connected lives.

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MINUTE OF NATURE – CAPE ALITAK
Woody, plant manager at the Alitak Cannery and author of the book “Cape Alitak Petroglyphs: From the Old People” writes about a life changing event as a child while paddling with a whale

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MINUTE OF NATURE – THREE SAINTS HARBOR
The benefits of wilderness immersion, a quote from Casey Lyons at Backpacker Magazine and a myriad of moon jellyfish at Three Saints Harbor, Kodiak Alaska


STAY TUNED & THANK YOU!

I hope to get your support for the W.I.L.D. campaign. Don’t forget to follow the expedition via InReach and Facebook. And most important, find the time in the day to STOP . BREATHE . RELAX . LISTEN. 

Wilderness Systems, Minutes of Nature & Bear Encounters

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SPRING NEWSLETTER

What an interesting winter it has been! Unexpected developments demanding reassessment and ultimately turning into profound insights. Needless to say, the last four months have been full of surprises. With Spring around the corner, the foundation is now set to deliver a great deal of content – images, stories and videos. But first lets go over the latest!

WILDERNESS SYSTEMS

I am incredibly happy and proud to announce the sponsorship of WILDERNESS SYSTEMS and ADVENTURE TECHNOLOGY. Winner of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Boat Brand of the Year by Canoe and Kayak Magazine and manufactured in South Carolina, Wilderness Systems’ innovative designs are tuned for performance and quality. Since 1986, they have has pushed the limits of design and innovation by refusing to compromise.

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“Wilderness Systems and Adventure Technology products have long provided the tools to access off-the-beaten-path destinations and give people an opportunity to explore their surroundings in a more intimate way,” said Evan Lyendecker, marketing manager for Wilderness Systems and Adventure Technology. “The goal of the Wild Image Project is to capture beautiful, remote places for all to experience and then inspire people to connect with their natural world, so it was a natural partnership for us. We are always looking for new ways to expose people to the wild and watery environments we depend on and care about so much, and we believe Daniel’s expedition helps foster that awareness and passion.”

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MINUTE OF NATURE

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.

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Let me explain to you … watch the video below. (click on the image)

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Find out about the intended goal behind the un-edited Minute of Nature – Be in the Moment! (click on the image)

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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.

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VANCOUVER ISLAND

For the last two months, I have been kayaking and exploring the Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The Pacific Northwest is always full of adventures and discoveries and the island hasn’t disappointed.

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I started on Vargas Island just outside of Tofino and followed with the Bedwell Sound. Paddling from Victoria, I crossed the Haro Strait and explored the San Juan Island. Then came a long weekend in Telegraph Cove and Hanson Island.

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There was a wolf encounter, two bear encounters, many raccoons, plenty of rain and winds and some great paddling. Check PINTEREST for a recap.

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PATIENCE

In our culture of instant gratification, the meaning of the word PATIENCE has almost become taboo. Still, from time to time, we are forced to confront its undeniable necessity. Once again, my time in nature was responsible for bringing me perspicuity.

“It has been 15 hours since the heavy rain started. Tucked into my sleeping bag, the sound of the water droplets falling on the tent like an endless drum roll, the clarity of what has been happening these last two months just dawned on me and I just can’t help myself but start laughing. The fact that I had planned to be in Hawaii at this time, diving and kayaking with the humpback whales makes this spiritual awakening even more ludicrous. As much as I would have wanted the reality to be different, the message was clear and all around me – patience needed to be embraced…”  Read the story here

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SISU

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 their spirit and has, for hundreds of years, defined who they are and what they strive for.  This story is what happens when you let nature in and experience how it can truly restore the human spirit.

“…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…”

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SEA KAYAKER

Last July, some friends and I kayaked from Sitka to Hoonah, a 11-day 140 miles journey along Alaska’s coastal wilderness. The story of our adventure, written by Nathaniel Stephens was featured in the magazine Sea Kayaker.

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“…In the morning, as we sipped hot coffee and looked out across the water to the north, two humpback whales breached in unison, launching their massive bodies fully airborne and flopping down in tandem with twin plumes of white spray…”

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Check the photo board on PINTEREST and the video album on VIMEO for a recap of the paddling adventure.

PEEK

I was really happy to be asked by PEEK, a leader in the traveling industry, to contribute to their TASTEMAKERS section. Planning on spending some time on the Big Island of Hawaii? Make sure to read my “PERFECT DAY“.

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MARIN MAGAZINE

“Walking the Wilderness” is a contribution between poet Ushi Patel and I, portraying the beauty of the Marin Headlands located in the Bay Area just across from San Francisco by the Golden Gate Bridge.

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KOKATAT

Made in the USA, this family-style company has been believing and supporting my work since the beginning. I am honored to be featured in there 2014 catalog! So great being part of such a wonderful team of dedicated people, working relentlessly at delivering the best products.

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THE MIGHTY BUFFALO

My story “The Mighty Buffalo” was featured along with some of my photos in the Bison World, the official publication of the National Bison Association.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

I am now leaving the Vancouver Island and heading north. First stop will be ATLIN, then JUNEAU, maybe the Prince Williams Sound and finally KODIAK ISLAND.

In August I will be in Salt Lake City for the Summer Outdoor Retailer Trade Show.

Coming this summer, the announcement for one of my most anticipated projects ever – which will bring my work and impact to whole new level – stay tuned!!

As always, my work wouldn’t possible without the support of my sponsors, a big thank you to all of them! WILDERNESS SYSTEMS, ADVANCE TECHNOLOGY, KOKATAT, SIERRA DESIGNS, DEUTER, MOUNTAIN KHAKIS, DELORME, THULE, SMITH OPTICS, AQUALUNG, SANDISK, DAHLGREN, ICEBREAKER, VOLTAIC SYSTEMS, SEA TO SUMMIT, ROCKY S2V, SPERRY TOP SIDER, SOG, OPTIMUS STOVES, KATADYN

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

Alaska’s Wilderness, Dolphins, Volcano & much more

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FALL NEWSLETTER

I am continually asked to share what I’m working on; my expeditions, my photography and my appearances, so with that in mind I’m introducing the first edition of the Quarterly Wild Image Project Newsletter. The Newsletter is designed to keep you up-to-date on not only where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, but also to let you know about upcoming expeditions, photographic engagements and appearances.

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WELCOME

What a great year it has been so far! It’s now the end of summer and fall is just around the corner. What follows is a snapshot, literally and figuratively speaking, of my work to date.

EXPRESS NATIONALS 27

I was invited to photograph the 2013 Express 27 Nationals, held this year in the San Francisco Bay and hosted by the Richmond Yacht Club. If you’re not familiar with the Express 27, it an ultra-light displacement sloop designed by Carl Schumacher. It was built by Terry Alsberg at Alsberg Brothers Boatworks in Santa Cruz, California from 1981 to 1988.

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My intent with this assignment was to capture the excitement and intensity of the race and the competitive spirit of the racers. The green waters of the bay and the urban background were a challenge for the artistic vision I had so I desaturated the photos, keeping only the reds, yellows and blues. While increasing the highlights and whites allowed me bring focus on the sails and boats.

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Want to see more … go here on Behance or if you are interested in purchasing prints, please contact the Studio – studio – wildimageproject.com

IN SEARCH OF AN ILL FATED LANDING

On July 18th, fellow explorer Nathaniel Stephens and I set off on a kayak expedition along the Pacific coastline of Alaska. This route had always been of interest to us for two reasons: finding the Petroglyph Rocks at Surge Bay believed to be associated with the ill-fated Bering/Chirikov Expedition landing of 1741 and scouting the route for future commercial expeditions.

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We followed the Pacific Coast of the Chichagof Island, starting from Sitka. From there we voyaged our way north to Hoonah, covering 140 miles through Alaska’s pristine waters, following the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness, part of the Tongass National Forest. It is the largest national forest in the United States with most of its area part of the “perhumid rainforest zone, Earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Made up primarily of western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock, the land spreads over thousands of islands and is home to animals that are barely found anywhere else in North America, including a group of brown bears more closely related to polar bears than to other living brown bears. Besides being of great environmental value, the area is extremely rich in cultural history – more than 10,000 years ago, the Tlingit people settled here.

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You can watch my TV interview on KATH-TV and listen to our KTOO Public Radio interviews before and after the expedition.

Want to see more, visit the daily recap on FACEBOOK, photos on PINTEREST and INSTAGRAMvideos on VIMEO and an article in SIDETRACKED magazine.

Our expedition will also be featured in the SEA KAYAKER Nov/Dec issue.

PELE’S BLOOD

I had heard about the Hawaiian islanders spiritual belief in PELE, the goddess of fire, lightning, wind, and volcanoes who, it is believed, lives in the Halema’uma’u crater, at the summit of Kilauea, Hawaii’s most active volcano. Its lava continually flows reshaping the Big Island’s Kalapana southwest landscape. The islanders believe the melted rock is the blood of the Goddess and while this incredible display of earth’s power attracts thousands of tourists every year, for them it is a constant reminder of their origins and how their land came to be. So in June, I journeyed to the Big Island in hope of discovering and experiencing this sacred connection.

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My creative process is always the same; immerse myself into my surroundings, absorb its energy and let its spirit ignite and guide my work. Hiking the treacherous lava field of Puna almost every night, I came to understand and felt the sacredness of the place. TIME is result of this connection. It is a story about our perception of time in relation to what is, in simple terms, the cause responsible for this world we now try hard to protect.

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While most volcano photography focuses on free flows and wide landscapes, I wanted to create an abstract and artistic perspective of Pele’s intensity. These clefts are the result of a constant but slow force. One fracture at a time, earth is moved forward to form new landscapes, erasing the old ones. Invisible by day, their presence and intensity is only revealed at night, cracking the dark world open, like lightning splitting the sky in pieces. By taking the lava out of its environmental context, the beauty and power is revealed without any interference or distraction. You can see the resulting photography by visiting my online portfolio.

The work was featured in DAILY MAILPETAPIXELELEPHANT JOURNALEXPOSURE GUIDETREEHUGGER, & TERRA MAR PROJECT.

Daniel Fox and Pilot Whales

While in Hawaii, I took the occasion to join some friends in Kona and go free diving with dolphins, pilot whales and oceanic whitetip sharks. Take a moment to watch the 3 videos BLUE MORNINGDOLPHIN MOMENT & SUNDAY PAUSE.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

I could never accomplish the work I do without the support and partnership of my sponsors. Each one of them, in their own way, enable me to reach into nature, explore our world and bring it to you visually and through the written word.

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My heartfelt thanks goes out to:
KOKATATWILDERNESS SYSTEMSDEUTERAQUALUNGMOUNTAIN KHAKISSIERRA DESIGNSSANDISKDELORMEVOLTAIC SYSTEMSDAHLGRENSPERRY TOP SIDEROPTIMUSKATADYNADVENTURE TECHNOLOGYKLEAN KANTEEN, AQUAPACSOGG-FORMLEUPOLD & GOLDEN VALLEY

AROUND THE CORNER

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EXPEDITIONS

THE SPIRIT OF KOOTZNOOWOO

On September 9th, I’ll partner up again with Nathaniel Stephens to traverse the Admiralty Island. We will start in Juneau with a crossing of the Gastineau Channel to nearby Douglas Island. We will then face the challenging crossing of Stephens Passage and its notorious rough water. Heading south through Seymour Canal our goal will be Pack Creek, a famous area with one of the highest concentrations of Brown Bears in the world. Following the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route, we will reach the eastern side of Admiralty and make our way toward the Tlingit village of Angoon, the island’s only permanent settlement. We will meet with clan elders and learn about the town’s fascinating history, including an 1882 bombardment by the US Navy after a whaling dispute.

One of our goals is to continue producing the type of educational short videos we broadcast on our last expedition. Being explorers, we have the unique opportunity to bring to the public our in-the-field discoveries. You can watch some of these videos here Sundew FlowersBear SignsLittle Brown BatsChicken of the Woods and Coralroot Orchid.

I also plan to use photography to capture the essence and spirit of the Brown Bear, revered by many and a sacred totem for countless indigenous cultures.

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PHOTOGRAPHY

FALL ON CHANNEL ISLANDS

In October, I plan to set up camp on the Island of Santa Cruz in the Channel Islands, off the California Coast and spend 3 to 4 weeks exploring the archipelago. Kayaking and hiking my way around, my goal will be to connect with the island’s rich cultural past and precious ecosystem. And just like the people of the Churmash Indian tribe did thousands of years ago, I will paddle my way from the mainland to the Channel Islands.

With the help of National Park Service and Nature Conservancy, I will look into what makes these islands so important for Conservation and so adored by the American public. Partly educative and partly artistic, the content created for this trip will for sure not disappoint!

SEASONS AT THE FARALLONES

In partnership with the NOAA Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, I am working a photography/book/exhibition project titled “Seasons at the Farallones”. Although close to mainland, the islands have rarely been photographed – quite exceptional for such a unique environment and its proximity.

The Farallons are a group of islands off the coast of San Francisco, California, just 30 miles (48 km) outside the Golden Gate. Even thought the first European to record the islands was the English privateer Sir Francis Drake, who landed on the islands on 24 July 1579, it was the Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno who first charted them in 1603 and therefore gave them their name “Farallones”, meaning “rocks out of the sea”

Besides being known for its Great White Sharks population, the islands are home to more than 250,000 seabirds, 5 species of seals and sea lions and are visited every year by several whales species, including gray whales, humpbacks, blue whales, and the powerful killer whale.

By staying on the islands for periods of 2 to 3 weeks in Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, the goal will be to accurately capture the distinct seasons of such treacherous and extreme environment and the wildlife it inhabits.

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APPEARANCES

JACKSON HOLE FILM FESTIVAL

Internationally recognized as the premier event of its genre, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, held from September 23 – 27, has invited me to attend and photograph their event. Similar to what I’ve previously created for the Express 27 Nationals and the 2013 Digital Life Design Conference in Munich, my goal is to capture the energy and content of this event so that it can be shared around the world.

If you happen to be there at the same time, please reach out to me so we can meet.

THE WILD IMAGE PROJECT ON FACEBOOK

The online world is in constant change and it is important to have a platform that appropriately communicates the intended message and reaches out to both current and new audiences. So to make it easier for you to follow my photography, expeditions and appearances, I’ve re-launched the Wild Image Project Facebook site. All my FACEBOOK postings and updates can now be found here. From this page, you’ll be able to easily connect with me across all my social media networks, e.g., PinterestTwitterInstagram.
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I’ll be closing down my current Facebook personal page so be sure to take a minute and visit the new page and follow me by clicking LIKE.

PURCHASING PHOTOGRAPHY or SIGNING UP FOR FUTURE EXPEDITIONS

If you are interested in purchasing Wild Image Project photography or signing up for future expeditions contact me via email at daniel – wildimageproject.com.

The spirit of Kootznoowoo, the “Fortress of the Bear”

by Nathaniel Stephens

Last month we explored Baranof and Chichagof Islands and the outer coast of southeast Alaska. Next we will complete our “ABC’s “ with a traverse of Admiralty Island.

The route starts in Juneau with a crossing of the Gastineau Channel to nearby Douglas Island. We will then face the challenging crossing of Stephens Passage and its notorious rough water. Timing will be key to use the strong tidal currents to our advantage through Oliver Inlet and into Seymour Canal.  We’ll take advantage of a railcar system to portage our boats and gear between the two inlets. Heading south through Seymour Canal our goal will be Pack Creek, a famous area for viewing brown bears.  Indeed the island has some of the highest concentrations of brown bear in the world.

The Tlingit name for Admiralty is Kootznoowoo, or “Fortress of the Bear”. In September at Pack Creek we should have ample viewing of bears feeding on spawning salmon. From there we will head for the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route. A spectacular series of bays, lakes and portage trails; the Route was built in the 1930’s by the CCC and offers the intrepid backcountry adventurer a wonderful overview of Alaskan wilderness. The currents are incredibly strong throughout, running up to 10 knots, and the portages are often long and arduous. Whitewater features known as salt chucks occur in many places at certain tidal flows. We will be rewarded for our perseverance with excellent wildlife sightings and fantastic fishing along the way, as we bisect Admiralty Island National Monument.

Once we reach the eastern side of Admiralty we will make our way toward the Tlingit village of Angoon, the island’s only permanent settlement. We will meet with clan elders and learn about the town’s fascinating history, including an 1882 bombardment by the US Navy after a whaling dispute.

Finally, we will load our kayaks on the Alaska Marine Highway for the ferry ride back to Juneau.

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Oh Ferry Ferry please take me where I want to go!

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Alaska is known for its remoteness, glaciers, mountains and wildlife. But it is its amazing Marine Highway System that makes Alaska even more enjoyable.

On my last kayak expedition, we boarded the Fairweather in Juneau and headed to Sitka. With our kayaks nicely tucked in below, we were able to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Our 4 1/2 hour journey seemed more like strolling in a zoo as humpbacks and bald eagles majestically filled the landscape.

The Alaska Marine Highway System services 33 different ports, starting with Bellingham in Washington. From there you can head north to Ketchikan and travel through the Inside Passage and carry on until Dutch Harbor all the way to the end of the Aleutians.

After 11 days of exploring the Pacific Coast of Chichagof Island, coming around the outside of Yakobi , through the Cross Sound and around Point Adolphus, our final destination was Hoonah, where the ferry LeConte was waiting for us.  Once again, our trip back to Juneau didn’t deceive us. The scenery was outstanding, especially at Point Retreat where a couple of whales breached.

Independently of your destination, whether you are traveling by car, bicycle or kayak, the Alaska Marine Highway System is your ticket to experience the 49th State of America, the Last Frontier, Alaska.

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The World is a Cruise Ship and the Cruise Ship is our World!

Being in Alaska, where cruise ships abound, it reminded of a post that I wrote while working with the Pacific Voyagers Foundation earlier this year.

We were quite shocked last’s week in regards to the events aboard the Carnival cruise ship – but not in the way you would imagine. Being sailors and ocean navigators, we are used to take care of our surroundings. In fact we have a saying that goes like this: “The island is our Vaka and the Vaka is our island”. Meaning that if you don’t take care of your boat, you are not taking care of your home, your land, your world. What happened on that particular cruise ship is a great mirror to what is happening in our society.

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When you are on a sailboat, sailing the oceans, one thing quickly becomes extremely clear. For sanity to exist, for people to enjoy their time and for sailing to go smooth, it is extremely important that everybody respect each other’s privacy and acts with civility. People help each other and communication is gold. Without teamwork, attentiveness and consideration to others, life quickly becomes toxic and unproductive.

Last year we sailed over 140,000 nautical miles circumnavigating the world on Vakas that were only powered by solar energy. We lived to the rhythm of our environment – the ocean. We respected it, appreciated it, and honored it – consequently respecting ourselves, appreciating ourselves and honoring ourselves. Of course, from time to time you have conflicts and issues that need to be address, but these challenges are always welcomed and together we deal with them, growing stronger as a team, and as individuals.

The way we sail, they way we travel, is an extension of the way we live. We only use renewable sources of energy. We fish only what we need. We don’t use the ocean for our garbage, in fact we reuse and recycle as much as possible – producing a minimum of impact. We maximize the use of space. We read books, count the stars, scan the water for possible encounters and only reach out for technological devices when necessary. We eat together and embrace each others company.

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So when we learned that in only the space of a few days hell had broken loose aboard a powerless cruise ship, we scratched our heads wondering how could this happen. But then again, it didn’t take long to understand why. As a reflection to our society, these cruises are a celebration of consumerism, totally disconnected with the environment. According to Oceana, the average cruise ship, with 3,000 passengers and crew, produces 7 tons of garbage and solid waste, about 30,000 gallons of human waste, 255,000 gallons of non-sewage gray water, 15 gallons of toxic chemicals, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, air pollutants equivalent to 12,000 automobiles, hundreds of thousands of gallons of ballast water, which contains diseases, bacteria and invasive species from foreign ports – every day! With more than 230 cruise ships operating world wide, you do the math.

Passengers leave behind a city only to find themselves into another city – a floating one. Whenever they get off the boat, is only to sit in a bus and experience other worlds, other cultures from the safety of their cushioned seat, behind a thick reinforced glass, bathed in cold air-conditioning. Their evenings are spent watching television or attending one of the multitude entertaining shows. They eat in huge restaurants, served by an underpaid staff. They stay plugged in with their tablets, computers and constant access to the internet. Days are spent lounging, gambling, shopping or swimming in the chlorine water.

This ethos of individuality and pleasure is not only unsustainable but has absolutely no resistance or resilience. It is like a castle of cards, a game of Jenga, barely holding together. The minute you take away one piece, the entire system collapses.

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The media coverage was also extremely revealing. CNN went crazy with making the event its top priority, and with all the other television stations following. Everybody cried for the poor passengers, yet nobody talked about the even-worse situation of the staff onboard the ship.

“For the workers, it had to be doubly horrible compared to the passengers,” said Ross Klein, the author of “Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations.” Klein, a sociologist and cruise expert at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, noted that workers are stuck dealing with passengers’ “human mess” as well as their “frayed nerves and the short tempers.” Despite the stench of human waste, some workers may not have had the freedom, or the opportunity, to go above deck.  “Cruise from hell”: Don’t pity Carnival’s passengers! On Salon.com

If these cruises are a mirror to our society, what does it say about our system? Isn’t time to go back to our roots and reevaluate our values and what we stand for? Isn’t there a lesson to learn from the success of such endeavors like the Voyaging Societies and the quick failure of supposedly infallible behemoths? Here at Pacific Voyagers Foundation, we have made our choice – we will stand and promote a world where quality matters over quantity, where humanity is a communal celebration, where energy is never wasted and where food abounds because of the care we put into our environment. Who is up for a sail now?

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Along the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness

On July 18th, my expedition partner Nathaniel Stephens and myself will undertake an 11-day kayak expedition following the pacific coast of the Chichagof Island. Our journey will start in Juneau where we will take the ferry to Sitka. From there we will voyage our way north to Hoonah. This 140 miles journey through Alaska’s pristine waters will have us follow the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness. We will pass south of the Kruzof Island, around the Yakobi Island, through the South Iniah Passage, South of the Lemesurier Island and finally around the famous Point Adolphus.

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The West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness is part of the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States with most of its area part of the “perhumid rainforest zone, Earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Made up primarily of western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock, the land spreads over thousands of islands and is home to animals that are barely found anywhere else in North America, including a group of brown bears more closely related to polar bears than to other living brown bears.

Besides being of great environmental value, the area is extremely rich in cultural history – more than 10,000 years ago, the  Tlingit people settled here.

Our expedition will be tracked with the Delorme InReach which can be viewed here. We will try to post updates on Twitter, but most likely all the content – photos, videos and stories, will be published upon our return at the beginning of August.

Make sure to connect via Facebook or Twitter to receive the latest dispatches.

This trip wouldn’t be possible without the important support from

A historical Tlingit Potlach

You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” Steve Jobs

I am always amazed on how life unfolds itself. As much as one can pretend to have a plan, at the end of the day, nothing is more sure than the uncertainty of Life. Each of us has had these great expectations crumbled to pieces in front of our eyes. Each of us has had these moments of success when they were the least expected. Many of us have had to reassess our grand schemes, countless of times, only to see our original plan materialize years later. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense, in fact most of time it doesn’t. The moral for me is that life is unfair, and it needs to be. All of us need that sense of uncertainty so that there is room for believing. If everything was pre-determined  and if simply the output equalled the input, life would only be a series of additions and subtractions with a looming result at the end. Uncertainty is the realm of dreams and we need to dream. Steve Jobs was right when he compared life to a painting by numbers. It is only at the end that it makes sense. And until you reach that last dot, the only thing you have to, the only thing that you can do, is to follow your guts and to believe in them. Life might have given you the stage, but it is up to you to put up the show. Like Jawaharlal Nehru said: “Everything is like a game of cards.  The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will. “

Next Monday I will be flying to Whitehorse in Yukon, not far from Alaska. Why? Because of acting on a series of unrelated events. When I first contacted the organization of the International Polar Year 2012 conference in Montreal, to propose they cover my attendance fee in exchange of me writing and taking care of the social media, they really didn’t have a clue what I was really proposing and what they could get out of it. But I kept pressing the issue and finally convinced them of the “necessity” to “hire’ me. A decision they have not regretted a bit, they told me!

The conference was a total success and exactly what I expected to accomplish for the E.P.I.C. expedition. It is though the unexpected that surprised me. On the main stage on the afternoon of day two, the Tlingit Dakhka Khwaan Dancers were performing, dressed in their clan colors, Chilkat and regalia. Historically, Tlingit was one of most complex and powerful hunter-gatherer societies on the West Coast.

Their dance was fascinating but there was one thing they did, that left me wanting to know more. In between dances, each of them would take the microphone and tell a story about their clan. The others, waiting on the stage, would turn to show their back, facing away from the crowd. What was the meaning for this? At the end of their performance, everybody got rushed to their next meeting, myself included, with my question unanswered. Later in the afternoon, walking the exhibitors floor, I noticed the group talking to a reporter. That was my chance! I walked up to one of the members and waited for my cue, then jumped in and asked my question.

Stories for the Tlingit are extremely visual. A fact that is quite evident when looking at their culture. Everything from their clothes, the totems, the clan house and most importantly, their crest, is a strong graphical creation. When someone tells a story, it is important to have visual anchors that will help the narrator in guiding the listeners on how the story has to be interpreted. That is what the members where doing when one of them was at the microphone. On their back were bold and beautiful crests sewed into their Chilkat – powerful imagery supporting the narrative.

My simple question turned into a long discussion about the wilderness, the animals, nature, and our loss of connection to it. Next thing we were exchanging business cards and wished each other good luck. A couple of days later, I received an email from them telling me that they had found my work with the Wild Image Project amazing and that they saw in my stories, many parallels to their own cultural stories. They wanted to know if I would be interested in joining them for what will be a historical event, taking place on May 26th, in the village of Tagish. On that day, a potlach will take place to celebrate the re-emergence of the Tagish Kéet Hít (clan house) destroyed sometime after 1898 by the Anglican Church in an attempt to assimilate them. In fact, potlach were banned for close to 70 years by the government, but I will get to that later. In an effort to reclaim and revitalize their heritage and culture, the Dakla’weidi lineage will be rebuilding their clan house called Kéet Hít. To emphasize how unique this event is, 9 other leaders of tribes from Alaska and Yukon will be present for the ceremony. A clan house has not been risen for more than 100 years! It is with great honor that on the 21st, I will be leaving for a week, for Tagish in Yukon. There, I will photograph, film and write about the events taking place. I will write about their culture, the people, their philosophy and the challenges they face in this era of profound climate change. Stay tuned!

“Hít wooshdie yadukicht” (solidifying the House by dance)

Tlingit proverb