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Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Magnificent Polar Bears of Subarctic Canada

Polar bears move closer to Hudson Bay each fall.

All Images Copyright by Tom Debley, 2011
All Rights Reserved

Churchill, Manitoba – The Hudson Bay polar bears of this Canadian subarctic region are magnificent creatures. A grown male can stand 10-feet tall and weigh 1,400 pounds. These belong to one of 19 subspecies that is endangered by global warming.  And as much as some people deny the scientific evidence of global warming, on a recent visit we learned that the polar bears here are 22 percent fewer in number than a quarter century ago.  Local scientists say that this subspecies could be extinct as early as 2035.

Understanding why these polar bears are in trouble does not take a rocket scientist to understand.  

Young male polar bears spar, practicing for mating fights.
Polar bears live by eating ringed seals, which live under the ice of Hudson Bay in winter. When the ice melts and breaks up in the spring, the polar bears are forced ashore until the ice forms again in the fall.  They do not eat during this time, living off accumulated fat from the hunting season. However, the Hudson Bay ice is melting earlier each year and freezing later.  This shortens the hunting season. Polar bears don’t store adequate fat reserves, and then have to live without eating for longer periods of time once on land.  Thus, fewer cubs are being born. More cubs, adolescent bears and older bears are dying. The population today is estimated at 935 bears.

We had five wonderful days at a Road Scholar™ program called “Lords of the North: Ecology of Hudson Bay's Polar Bears” at the non-profit Churchill Northern Studies Centre, which offers independent “learning vacations” as well as courses for Road Scholar™.  My wife, Mary Jane, and I went with some close friends and learned a great deal about the polar bears.  It also gave me a chance to get up close to polar bears to photograph them.

Not much more need be said except to enjoy the photographs I am posting here.

Polar bear walks along shore of Hudson Bay waiting for ice to form.

Polar bear with a mouthful of ice to quench his thirst.
Two young males begin a sparing match.

Bears, looking like dancers, become more animated.
The show become much more aggressive as sparring continues.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Whimsical 'Found Art' of Remote Baker, Nevada

Meet Barb Wire

All Images Copyright by Tom Debley, 2011
All Rights Reserved

This blog post celebrates the "found art" of Baker, Nevada. Baker has a population of 68. And its "Post" Impression "art gallery" is a wide-open spaces collection of works on Highway 488, the five-mile-long road that leads into Great Basin National Park from Baker. Okay, it’s not really an art galley. It’s a whimsical collection of "found art" that is literally scattered along Highway 488 in the high desert of far eastern Nevada, often on fence posts.

According to various sources, it all began in 1997.  It is said a man named “Doc” Sherman of Baker, partially paralyzed by a crippling stroke, found artistic endeavors were amazing therapy. The first work in the “gallery” was his “Permanent Wave,” a plaster-filled glove mounted on a fence post. The idea caught on and, if you can an eye out, you can spot any number of castoffs that have turned one person’s junk into another person’s art as property owners have taken up the fanciful task of creating “Post" Impression art, the post referring to the fencepost that held Doc’s early work.

I never spotted Doc’s “Permanent Wave,” but found numerous other fence posts, fences and fields decorated by named and unnamed pieces of art by fun-loving residents.

Here’s “Too Tall Tony,” for instance, whose grave can’t hold him.

Nearby is the skeleton of an unnamed denizen presumably rising from another grave?

Of course, you want to be sure to meet       
Barb and Bob Wire along the roadside.       

Then there is the alien head
in his (her?) current headgear.
In photos a few years back, this
alien wore a National Park
Service ranger hat.

O-1 is another alien figure, presumably named for the O-1 visa” that is a temporary work visa available to aliens who have “extraordinary abilities.”

Don't miss the 1918 Essex: "Horse with No Mane."


“Anywhere But Here” features a man whose face is made from an old “Lean Mean Fat Grilling Machine.”

This one causes headaches trying to figure out the pun.  The figure is "washing a ton," thus a title of "Washington."

Okay, this guy is untitled, but it is clear he is manning his post. Note a fresh bullet hole at the center of the base.

 Jet ski? I dunno.

Hmmmmm.  Again, I dunno.

"Lamp Post?"  But what’s the chimney-like thing about?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Wondrous Jelly Fish of Monterey Bay Aquarium

All Images Copyright by Tom Debley, 2011
All Rights Reserved
Among the strange and captivating animals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium – or any aquarium around the word – are the jellies.  They are 95 percent water.  They have no bones, no blood, no teeth.  But they thrive in our oceans.

So I decided to spend some of my time at Monterey Bay Aquarium recently photographing these magnificent critters, learning a little bit about them, and, now, sharing my results here.

First is the Purple-striped jelly, or Chrysaora colorata, found in Monterey Bay, somewhat inexplicably I might add.  As described by the aquarium folks, “In certain seasons, they mysteriously appear near the shores of Monterey.” Cool facts from the Aquarium are these:

  • “The purple-striped jelly’s lifecycle was first discovered in its entirety at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • “How does a jelly move? The bell pulses to move short distances—to go farther a jelly rides the current.
  • “Since divers have seen ocean sunfish eating these jellies, we know some fishes must be immune to the sting.”

A second variety that I found fascinating was the Moon jelly, or Aurelia labiata. Some people think they look like alien creatures.  I think they are angelic little parachutes in the water with fine fringe instead of trailing tentacles of other varieties.
One of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “cool facts” about the Moon jelly was this: “Although they didn’t get to the moon, nearly 2,500 moon jelly polyps and ephyrae – two early stages in the jelly life cycle – went into orbit aboard the space shuttle Columbia in May 1991. They were part of a study on the effects of weightlessness on development of internal organs in juvenile jellies."

Finally, I took photographs of the Sea Nettle Jelly, or Chrysaora fuscescens. There may be a common belief among some that jellies sting, but not all do.

The Sea Nettle, however, is one of the ones that do.  The long tentacles and frilly mouth-arms are covered with cells that sting when they touch any prey.  These cells paralyze the prey and stick tight to it so the jelly can consume it. Prey include young pollock, larval fishes, zooplankton and other jellies

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Eye-Popping Beauty of Lehman Caves

Lehman Caves, located in Great Basin National Park on the eastern edge of Nevada, was one of the places my wife, Mary Jane, and I visited on a just-completed 3,100-mile trip around parts of the Far West.

This is a beautiful marble labyrinth. As described by the National Park Service, it is "ornately decorated with stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, flowstone, popcorn, and over 300 rare shield formations."  Lehman Caves, discovered in 1885, is said to be one of the best decorated limestone caverns in Far West.

Enough verbiage.  Here is a series of photographs I took.  I invite you to scroll down and enjoy my pictorial journey through Lehman Caves.

All Images Copyright by Tom Debley, 2011
All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 29, 2011

2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington Is Antidote To Our Usual Feelings About The Capital

We were privileged to travel to Washington, D.C. this summer to attend the 2011 Folklife Festival, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service on the National Mall.  This outstanding annual event dates from 1967. It brings musicians, artists, performers, craftspeople, workers, cooks, storytellers and others together "to demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and aesthetics that embody the creative vitality of community-based traditions." And, it is free!  Here, through some of my photographs, is my humble way of sharing this incredible experience enjoyed by more than one million visitors. These 12 images are some of my favorites culled from about 450 I shot. Each identifies and tells a little about the subject in a single, short paragraph. Enjoy!

Simbè Sankarè hails from Sèvarè in the West African Republic of Mali. He was modeling “bogolan” fabric, or “mud cloth,” which is fabric that is dyed using fermented mud. He was one of three residents from his village in Mali who were demonstrating their culture at the Folklife Festival's Peace Corps section along with a returned Peace Corps volunteer. Sankarè was an affable and colorful cultural diplomat for his country.

Desiree Diego, seen here, is lead singer for the Umalali Women Singers of the Garifuna Collective from Belize.  She performed on the Peace Corps World Stage at the Folklife Festival.  The Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary was one of the three themes of the 2011 Festival. The others celebrated the culture of the nation of Colombia and American rhythm and blues.

Elkin de Jesús Meneses, at right, is a musician with the group "Aires Del Campo," which is from the Coffee Region of Colombia. Here, he plays a "bandola" guitar on stage at the Colombia section of the Folklife Festival.  The stage backdrop was, for me, a distracting feature in the photograph that I otherwise liked very much. Using a technique I developed in photographic editing, I created this backdrop to better highlight the image of the musician.

Traditional carpet weaving is demonstrated by Khadija Ighilnassaf, one of two carpet weavers from Morocco demonstrating their craft at the Folklife Festival's Peace Corps section. She is from the city of Taznakht, Morocco. The craft, and the weavers' traditional dress, are part of the rich heritage of people and places served by thousands of Peace Corps volunteers over the past five decades.

Alexander de Jesus Nieto Marin is a silletero, or flower vendor, from Medellín, Colombia. During the festival he carried flowers like these red gladiolas in a cultural display of the flower trade in his city, which includes the annual Festival of the Flowers, one of Medellín’s most distinctive cultural markers. The Festival of the Flowers is one of the ways Colombia is celebrating its culture and hopes to bring travelers to the city that once was the home of drug cartels.

Hands at work make a photographic study as we see here and in two other close-up images below. At the right, we see the hands of Mele Vaikeli, a Tongan grass weaver at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  She was part of demonstrations for the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps.

Here we see at work the hands of Burul Zhakypova of the Altyn-Kol Women's Handicraft Cooperative in Kochkor in the Kyrgyz Republic. She, too, was part of demonstrations for the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps and was as colorful in dress as the fabric that she was sewing.

In this close-up, we see the steady hands of Juan César Bonilla González, a Tagua Palm (or vegetable ivory) seed craftsman from Colombia, as he carves fine miniature jewelry.  He is from the village of Tinjacá in the Andean Highlands. This hard, white seed is an important substitute for elephant ivory in making beads, buttons, figurines and jewelry.

Another artisan sharing his craft was potter Emilio Antón Flores of Chulucanas, Peru, another of the artists who was among those demonstrating their work as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps. Flores is president of an artisan association in northern Peru. Peace Corps volunteers work directly with him and other artisans offering business advice on marketing, networking, tourism opportunities and more, thus also helping to preserve traditional culture.

Hilda Maribel Sifuentes Altimirano is a Peruvian weaver from Huamachuco who also demonstrated her craft as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps.  Like Flores, she is served by Peace Corps volunteers working with her by offering business advice on marketing, networking, tourism opportunities and more, as well as helping to preserve traditional Peruvian weaving culture.

Artisan Tobias Herrera Turizo, a Colombian wood carver, creates the face of Christ.  From the Momposino Depression region, he lives in Mompox and specializes in religious sculpture. The annual observance of Holy Week in Mompox commemorates the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and features richly detailed figures like those carved by Turizo from local trees.

Rosa Jeréz is from Ráquira, Colombia, located in the Andean Highlands and called the “Town of the Potters.”  Here, she paints a ceramic sculpture of the Virgin Mary. Ráquira is a village of farmers and potters in the central Andes. Because this region is arid, ill suited for farming, women supplement family income with their pottery, thus the name "Town of Potters."