We are the Swampians

The chickee hut that sits just outside our door.
The chickee hut that sits just outside our door.

I apologize for the long break since my last post. In the interim, we moved from Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, where I’d been serving as an instructor/guide with the Grand Canyon Field Institute, to Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. We’ve settled in to our spot in the rear of the property at the Big Cypress Gallery and I’m now spending my days exploring, photographing, writing, and working in the gallery of Clyde Butcher, who’s been called “the Ansel Adams of the Everglades.” I’ve launched a new photography website (www.dfghailsonphotography.com) and am trying to learn all I can about gallery work while we’re here in the middle of the preserve. If time allows and I can come up to speed, I’ll also be leading tromps through (what can be) waist high swamp prairies, sloughs and strands.

Gene and I had struggled with whether to accept this gig as we were enjoying our lives in Arizona. But…we were moved to the decision to move through a conversation with Rader, one of the rangers at the Canyon. He’d just returned from Big Cypress and insisted we needed to head for Florida. He described the Western Everglades as pristine, with clouds of birds. So here we are.

Took me a few moments to notice this Green Heron in a canal across from the gallery. The larger herons stand prominently in the open parts of wetlands while these smaller relatives tend to be found at the edges, concealed in vegetation.
Took me a few moments to notice this Green Heron in a canal across from the gallery. The larger herons stand prominently in the open parts of wetlands while these smaller relatives tend to be found at the edges, concealed in vegetation.

To catch you up a bit, I’ll share just a few vignettes from recent days:

American AlligatorBack from my first Swamp Walk. We saw a gator before we stepped in to the swamp but, once in–through the wet prairie where one finds 700-900 year old dwarf cypress (yes, there is a prairie in the swamp) through the slough through the strand–we saw no scary predators. We did see bromeliads and orchids, cypress knees, pickerel weed, native and invasive snails, red-tailed hawks AND a Great Egret that came very near and circled around us. I took photographs but didn’t use my own equipment; instead, I had a friend’s waterproof camera. I enjoyed the experience. After some more training and time in the swamp, it looks like I might just embrace the idea of being a swamp guide.

*****

Chatted with a woman the other day who had just come in from a swamp walk and had spent a couple of overnights in Big Cypress. She told me she was now a “swamp girl” evidenced, she said (with great gusto and great joy), by the fact that she hadn’t combed her hair in four days. I’ve been wondering ever since why she decided to share that with me…Hmmm? Anyone have a mirror?

*****

Ochopee Post OfficeBrought the Christmas cards to the Ochopee Post Office for mailing this afternoon and got chatting with Postmistress Shannon, who, for the last nine years, has been holding down the fort here. Seems she was having a problem with her Pitney Bowes postage machine. A snake, apparently looking for a warm place to sleep on a recent chilly night, had gotten itself caught in the slot where the postage sheets are printed. The poor thing was dead and Shannon was waiting for her snake guy to come extricate it. She’s also been having trouble with curly-tailed lizards that are pooping on her shelves. Just another day in the country’s smallest post office!

*****

Shawn, a neighbor and fellow member of the swamp crew, who is also known as Murf, has introduced me to a new word: “Swampian.” My theme song is now “We are the Swampians” sung to a tune popularized by Queen. Hope you’ll give the new photography website a look see and hope you’ll also look for me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/dfghailsonphotography and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/dfghailsonphotography).

Skunk Ape Sign at BCG

Photos Soon To Be Available for Purchase

Crossing Temple Butte, Grand Canyon National Park
Crossing Temple Butte, Grand Canyon National Park
Fluffing Raven, Grand Canyon National Park
Fluffing Raven, Grand Canyon National Park

I’m delighted to announce that my photographs will soon be available for purchase at Grand Canyon National Park and via an e-commerce site I will launch later this month (I’ll post a link when the site is good to go)!

The Grand Canyon Association, the park’s non-profit partner, features only a handful of photographers and my work was chosen from more than 400 submissions. My website will not only have Canyon photos, but also images from Yellowstone, Craters of the Moon, Death Valley, Chimayo, Pearl Harbor, Santa Fe, San Antonio and many other locations around the country. The site will also feature photos of wildlife and scenes from “the road”.

Featured photo: Sunset at Navajo Point, Grand Canyon National Park

Desert View Watchtower Ceiling
Desert View Watchtower Ceiling

The End of Night? From The Starry, Starry Night to the Overpowering Street Light

Grand Canyon National Park Star Party. NPS Photo.
Grand Canyon National Park Star Party. NPS Photo.

For nearly a year now, I’ve had the privilege of living and working in Grand Canyon National Park. In late June, I was among some 1,100 attendees participating in one of the four nights of the 24th annual Grand Canyon Star Party. Astronomers from across the country, operating nearly 50 telescopes that were set up behind the Visitors’ Center, invited folks to get a glimpse of the planets in our own solar system as well as nebulae and star clusters sitting millions upon millions of light years distant from us.

The evening took me back to my childhood in Massachusetts where I spent many, many nights out under the stars looking up at a resplendent Milky Way. I am heartbroken to note that, if I were to return to the town of my birth today, it’s more than unlikely that I would catch even a fleeting glimpse of that Milky Way. Eight out of ten Americans today won’t ever live where they can see their own galaxy, their own solar system. More than two-thirds of Americans and Europeans no longer experience real night—that is, real darkness—and nearly all of us in the world live in areas considered polluted by light.

16131044In Episode 31 of On the Road with Mac and Molly, I chat with Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night, about the disintegration of what is natural into what is artificial. In this critically important book, Paul opens our eyes to how much we lose cooped up, as we are, under a perpetual glare.

At one point in the book, Bogard tells of a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York where, he suggests, one can see “real darkness.” There, he notes, fifty million people each year pass by a painting of “a small, dark town, a few yellow-orange gaslights in house windows, under a giant swirling and waving blue-green sky.” In The Starry Night, painted by Vincent Van Gogh in 1889, we see our world “before night had been pushed back to the forest and the seas, from back when sleepy towns slept without streetlights.” The Starry Night is “an imagined sky inspired by a real sky much darker than the towns we live in today.”

The Starry, Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889.
The Starry, Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889.

In a letter from the summer of 1888, Van Gogh described the night sky he saw overhead during a visit to a French beach: “The deep blue sky was flecked with clouds of a deeper blue than the fundamental blue of intense cobalt, and others of a clearer blue, like the blue whiteness of the Milky Way. In the blue depth the very stars were sparkling, greenish, yellow, white, pink, more brilliant, more sparkling gemlike than at home—even in Paris: opals you might call them, emeralds, lapis lazuli, rubies, sapphires.”

Street Light, Giacomo Balla, 1909.
Street Light, Giacomo Balla, 1909.

For most of us today, when we can see stars, most of these appear to be white so the idea that stars come in different colors seems wildly impossible. But, Bogard insists that if one were to “gaze long enough in a place dark enough that stars stand in clear three-dimensional beauty,” one would “spot flashes of red, green, yellow, orange and blue.” When Bogard made the visit to MoMA, he was in search of not only The Starry Night but also Giacomo Balla’s Street Light, a painting, dated 1909, that is so little known that the museum doesn’t even keep it on display. While Van Gogh’s painting depicts, what Bogard calls, “old night,” Balla’s is a painting of “night from now on.” Bogard notes: “In both paintings, the moon lives in the upper right corner, and for Van Gogh, the moon is a throbbing yellow presence pulsing with natural light. But for Balla, the moon has become a little biscuit wafer hanging on for dear life, overwhelmed by the electric streetlight. And that, in fact, was Balla’s purpose. “Let’s kill the Moonlight!” was the rallying cry from Balla’s fellow Italian futurist, Filippo Marinetti. These futurists believed in noise and speed and light—human light, modern light, electric light. What use could we now have of something so yesterday as the moon?”

Paul Bogard
Paul Bogard

In his book and in Episode 31 of On the Road, we travel with Bogard around the globe to find night where it still lives…showing exactly what we’ve lost, what we have left and what we might hope to regain. We hear how the loss of night is not only a loss of beauty above us. More light at night does not, as some insist, ensure greater safety and security; properly designed light at night does. Exposure to artificial light at night has been cited as a factor in health concerns ranging from poor sleep to cancer. Light pollution is also threatening the health of the world’s ecosystems as everything from reproduction cycles to migration patterns are adversely affected by artificial light at night. But there is hope. Light pollution is one kind of pollution we can readily fix. And, as the jacket cover of the book proclaims: Bogard’s “panoramic tour of the night, from its brightest spots to the darkest skies we have left gives us every reason to flip the switch—tonight.”

Here’s a link to the show: http://www.petliferadio.com/ontheroadep31.html and a link to a short clip of Paul Bogard introducing the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkIdOqu53XA.

The Adventures of Salt, Soap and Lori Rome

Canoeing on the lower Colorado River.
Canoeing on the lower Colorado River.

The Adventures of Salt and Soap at Grand Canyon is the true story of two puppies who wandered into the Canyon and maneuvered their way into some great escapades–multiple rim-to-river hikes, a white-water rafting trip, and even a helicopter ride—all while ultimately snuggling their ways into park rangers’ hearts.

6071241The author of this charming book for children, interpretive ranger Lori Rome, adopted this pair of adventurers after meeting them at the bottom of the Canyon at Phantom Ranch, the historic oasis on the north side of the Colorado River that’s tucked in right next to Bright Angel Creek. She took Salt and Soap in as “lost and found items” but, with Lori, the intrepid duo found a home. And home for all of them is now Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah where they’ve been joined by a third dog (another stray, Mo, whose proper name is Morri, after the Morrison rock formation near where he was found).

In this episode of On the Road with Mac and Molly, I chat with Lori about Salt, Soap and their buddy Morri. Lori gives us entrée to her life as a ranger in parks from Alaska to Florida, shares stories about pets and wildlife in the parks, and details her exciting work with mountain lions at Capitol Reef.

Pet Life Radio is the largest and #1 pet radio network on the planet, featuring weekly pet-related talk shows hosted by the most well-known pet experts, authors and radio and TV personalities in the world of animals and pets. With over six million monthly listeners Pet Life Radio has hosted celebrity guests like Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Betty White, Rachael Ray, and many more. Pet Life Radio was honored with a 2012 Genesis Award (Humane Society of the United States), and is the official radio media sponsor of the 2013 and 2014 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards.

Pet Life Radio is available free on-demand from the PetLifeRadio.com website and over 30 podcast distributors. The Pet Life Radio live radio stream is broadcast 24/7 worldwide on the PetLifeRadio.com home page as well as to smart phones, mobile devices and cars through mobile apps including iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, TuneIn Radio, Stitcher Radio, Nokia Radio and ooTunes Radio. Pet Life Radio has millions of pet loving listeners worldwide.

Here’s the link to the show:

http://www.petliferadio.com/ontheroadep30.html

When all the dangerous cliffs are fenced off. . .

“When all the dangerous cliffs are fenced off, all the trees that might fall on people are cut down, all of the insects that bite are poisoned…all of the grizzlies are dead because they are occasionally dangerous, the wilderness will not be made safe. Rather, the safety will have destroyed the wilderness.” – R. Yorke Edwards

Held Hostage and then. . .

I’m still struggling to overcome the Internet connectivity issues here at Grand Canyon that have prevented me from posting on this blog in recent weeks. I have hundreds of photographs to share and have been working on stories about the geological features, wildlife, hiking trails, and human history of this Natural Wonder of the World. This has been just one of the “hostage” situations in which I’ve been involved in recent days.

The bull elk that held us hostage while he had a snack outside our RV door.
The bull elk that held us hostage while he had a snack outside our RV door.

On Halloween, an 800-pound 12-point bull elk kept us captive in our truck for a half hour while he munched on the vegetation just outside our RV door. It’s wise to give these guys a wide berth (150 feet or better) at any time of year but especially during rutting season (which is now) when they’re more aggressive and protecting their cows and calves.

After this bull had his fill of the fare he found on offer in our lot, he sauntered off into the woods and we were finally able to bring our own groceries into our living quarters. Each night, as we walk Mac and Molly (our two Old English Sheepdogs), we look up to see a splendid display of the Milky Way and, as we go, we listen for the bugling of the elk.

Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This morning, a deer mouse, that’s taken up residence under our refrigerator, startled me with its boldness. He?/she? peeked out from its hiding place, ducked back, but then emerged into plain view and inched towards me. I warned: “uh-uh, too close,” and it returned to its hiding place. Only moments later, however, it RAN towards me until I, again and more forcefully this time, told it to back off. We played this game for a few minutes until Mac and Molly entered the picture. They came racing toward me from the bedroom and started tussling under me, competing for “the prize” that had, apparently, snuck under my seat. The mouse escaped and hasn’t been seen since. Mac has positioned himself at the base of the refrigerator and Molly hasn’t left my side. Knowing my M&M are on guard  freed me the rest of the day to focus on writing.

“There is a phoenix inside a midwinter’s bear, creating new self from the ashes of the old.”

Grizzly in Yellowstone
“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Grizzly in Yellowstone
Photo by Gene Hailson

 

Mary Ellen Hannibal, in The Spine of the Continent writes: “While other hibernating animals wake up every couple of days to eat, drink, and eliminate, grizzlies don’t. In a process tracked but incompletely understood by science, hibernating grizzlies live off the breakdown of fat, muscle, and organ tissue as a starving animal would, but then in a reversal from the trajectory that would eventually kill that animal, the bear utilizes urea to actually build new protein. As Tom McNamee puts it in The Grizzly Bear, “There is a phoenix inside a midwinter’s bear, creating new self from the ashes of the old.” Living off their own fat, hibernating bears create a unique form of bile that prevents hardening of the arteries or cholesterol gallstones . . .

“My favorite animal in the park is the grizzly, iconic, graceful, and with eyes that seem to know, and what they know is sad.” – Danielle Rohr, Denali Skies Female grizzly eating grass.
“My favorite animal in the park is the grizzly, iconic, graceful, and with eyes that seem to know, and what they know is sad.” – Danielle Rohr, Denali Skies
Female grizzly eating grass.
Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Though predominantly solitary creatures, “the famous maternal solicitude shown by the female for her cubs begins before they are even implanted; a mama grizzly can carry a fertilized egg in her womb for many months, ready at any moment to attach to the uterine wall and begin becoming a bear, which it does not do until the conditions are right. How the bear knows that she has enough body fat to support a pregnancy through hibernation, or how she knows whether there is enough forage available to support her progeny, is a mystery to us. If conditions are right for pregnancy, a bear will wake up in January long enough to deliver her cubs. She’ll go back to sleep, periodically waking to minister to the cubs. For approximately three months, these little ones will not hibernate but live in a half-waking world with their slumbering dam.  Talk about attachment theory. It’s no wonder the mother-offspring bond in bears is so ferocious; they are more or less unified in darkness until the group emerges in spring.”

“Most animals show themselves sparingly. The grizzly bear is six to eight hundred pounds of smugness. It has no need to hide. If it were to be a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey.” – Craig Childs, The Animals Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild Grizzly Bears. Photo by Servheen Chris, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If [the grizzly bear] were to be a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey.” – Craig Childs, The Animals Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild
Photo by Servheen Chris, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
These miracles of nature are at risk. There are many conservation groups trying to better understand grizzlies so to better protect them. Folks are also working to protect and maintain grizzly bear habitats, prey animals and the vegetation needed to supply bears with the extra calories they require to survive hibernation. Still, Defenders of Wildlife reports that: “Once common throughout much of western North America, the grizzly bear (also known as the brown bear) has been reduced to 2% of its historic range in the lower 48 states. A total of roughly 1,600 individuals still survive in five populations. The greatest threat to grizzlies today is conflict with people. Bears are often killed by wildlife officials once they start to frequent residential areas for easy meals of garbage, livestock, pet food and birdseed, or by hunters or hikers who encounter them in the field and shoot out of concern for personal safety rather than use bear spray. Much of the grizzly’s habitat has been lost or degraded as a result of development, road building and energy and mineral exploration. And climate change also poses new challenges to the bears; they are denning later, putting them on the landscape longer in the fall when unintended shootings by hunters are most common.”

A report in the July 22 issue of the Calgary Herald also lamented that: “There are only about 60 grizzlies in Banff National Park, where their biggest threat is getting hit on the transportation corridor. Since 2000, 13 grizzlies were killed on the tracks in the mountain park and another two just outside its boundary. Another eight have died on the Trans-Canada Highway in the same period. Survival in the protected area is considered critical because there are only about 700 grizzly bears throughout Alberta, leading the province to declare the species threatened.”

Grizzly_Bear_Rag
Listen to Wally Rose’s rendition of The Grizzly Bear Rag at Smithsonian Folkways: http://www.folkways.si.edu/TrackDetails.aspx?itemid=7337

Featured image: Stereoscopic view of a grizzly bear at home in the  wilderness of Yellowstone Park. Published by Underwood and Underwood. Available from the New York Public Library’s Digital Library.