Living and Writing in the Natural World

Kayaking through history: the Potomac River and Manchac Swamp

September 15, 2017

The Manchac Swamp west of New Orleans
Though my train trip from California to the east coast and back was full of pleasures (old high school and college friends; the vast American landscape; new acquaintances on the train; a roomful of Monets at Chicago’s Art Institute; a Nats-Giants game in WDC; a plethora of Georgia O’Keeffes at the National Gallery, plus several of Alfred Stieglitz’s (in)famous photos of her), I must admit that among the highlights were my two kayak trips, the first on the Potomac into Chesapeake Bay, the second into the Manchac Swamp west of New Orleans.

I had followed the Potomac River out my train window for several hours and well over a hundred miles upon awakening on the overnighter from Chicago and drawing closer to the nation’s capital. It is a placid river in its youth, flowing amongst densely wooded banks in West Virginia. At Harper’s Ferry the equally scenic Shenandoah joins it, flowing up from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley on the west side of the Blue Ridge mountains. On a river packed with history, its Harper’s Ferry phase stands out.

Thomas Jefferson sat on a rock outside of town overlooking the Potomac here in October of 1783 on his way to Philadelphia with daughter Patsy. You can sit on “Jefferson’s Rock” these days and it’s still a fine view, tho hardly “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature” as Jefferson described it.

Several years later George Washington passed through, (more…)

Heading Home: the South and Southwest by Rail

September 3, 2017

Petrochemical corridor, Louisiana ("Cancer Alley")
After a marvelous college-roommate reunion, I boarded Amtrak's Crescent route in Greenville, South Carolina (home of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which I bicycled along the Reedy River) and headed for New Orleans in a long day of riding the rails. The Crescent here traverses the cradle of two distinctly American phenomena: folk music of gospel, jazz, blues, country; and the Civil Rights Movement, both amply represented in the small and large towns I passed through this day.

Which set me to wondering about the connection between art and tragedy. In town after town, the legacy of slavery and poverty seemed intertwined with epochal musicians. Coincidence? Or the bitter yet beautiful fruits of struggle?

In several stops we were at the curiously nondescript depot of Atlanta, Georgia, hometown of Martin Luther King, Jr., who would challenge the entire nation in his speeches and marches. The nearby village of Villa Rica was the birthplace of Thomas Dorsey, the father of gospel music, whose Take my Hand, Precious Lord was sung at the funerals of both MLK and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Soon we entered Alabama, the first stop of Anniston being the site where a bus packed with black and white Freedom Riders was firebombed in the summer of 1961. Then came Birmingham, (more…)
Sierra Buttes of the metamorphic, Mesozoic Sierra Nevada range

Infamous trail marker, New Mexico

"Bon voyage" to the backpacking daughter

emerald waters of Colorado River's Black Canyon

Immature White Ibis, coming into adult color

"Fierce and cruel alligators appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children." --John Muir

Hometown of 4077th MASH Company Clerk

The view from a sea cave

Man and Best Friend, Bennie

2,425 feet of "songs that bear pureheaven in every note"

Sun rising behind over-optimistic paddler, San Pablo Bay

Tomales Bay: North America plate on the right, Pacific plate on the left--and San Andreas Fault immediately below!

Corner room of Mt. Vernon Inn's restaurant. The Colonial Hoecake is not to be missed.

Georgia O'Keeffe's "Chama River" near Ghost Ranch entrance

Ortega showroom, Chimayo

A typical collection of urchins from Puako in the old days, before their return to the tidepool

Harbor seal on a redwood log, Big River

Darwin Falls, up Darwin Wash in Death Valley's Argus Range

Steinbeck and Ricketts pal Frank Wright (right) at Cannery Row

"What? You never seen an otter use a rock?"

Saint John, from wjpstudios.com

One of Monet's famous water lilies

The newest Sherlock

Eagerly awaited harbingers of spring

Zhou Minzhen, Barnett, Ye Duzhuang at Peking Man Cave

Julia Morgan's "Hearthstone" at Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Do you think the females will like my chain, guys?

40 feet of falling water at Glen Aulin

AJ, Kyle in monsoon at Emei Mt

Young John Muir

Whitney looms behind Ash, Maya

The young Charles Darwin

lunar new year festivities

Courtenay-Latimer's 1938 sketch

Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer

A son and Half dome in snow

Celebrating the harvest, S.F. style

40.5 lbs of trouble

A helpful label

Father, Son under Hamilton Dome

Camping among the sequoias

Fathers and sons at Bearpaw Meadow

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Selected Works

Nonfiction
His journals reveal a hidden Muir, whose radical worldview challenges
Taoism reveals simple habits for health and balance in our modern lives
Classics Revisited
Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins stumble upon ancient Chinese treasure
Sherlock Holmes discovers his brother has been murdered by a Nazi spy on the eve of D-Day
Historical Fiction
Murder and passion during the 1948 Communist siege of Peking
Nuclear war looms as China demands the return of Taiwan
A Virginian finds romance in Korea as Chinese and Japanese armies battle, 1895

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