A Day-Glo, Chromium Yellow Panda Bear? Well, of course. And now you can find out why.

That Panda Bear is only one of the characters in my new book, A Coward’s Guide to Living. In this coming-of-middle-age story, Jacob Will is charged with getting his life together via a most unusual method. He must commit a number of little deaths, “killing” those things preventing him from living a genuine life. Be assured, no animals or people were harmed during his quest.

His adventures will take him across the United States in an an attempt to fulfill that charge. Why did he destroy an expensive bottle of Champagne? What’s the meaning of that tattoo? And will he sue the manufacturer of a metal detector? Will he discover what love is?

These and more questions are answered in A Coward’s Guide to Living. Available now through Amazon on Kindle and paperback.

Water, water, everywhere…

That was to be the title of my next book. But researching that particular subject turned out to be an incredibly difficult task. Not that there wasn’t any information available. No, quite the contrary. There was too much. Thanks to a wonderful tool called Google Alerts, I was updated on water news daily. And there was a lot of it. Truth be told – there was too much for me to disseminate. Unlike water, there is no shortage of information about the future of water. Hell, if information was water, we’d all be drowning in the stuff. So unhappily, I put that subject back on the shelf for now. But that does not mean I’ve given up on learning about it. At the same time, I do not want to play the role of a Cassandra either, but this is a serious subject.

As I wrote in my last blog post, I was going to spend some time writing about our planet’s limited resources. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, this one is about water. Globally, we are reaching some tipping points in regards to many of our resources. For the past few decades, much has been written and said about oil and rightfully so. Unless the theory of abiotic oil is correct, and few believe this to be the case, then we are most likely running out of oil. There is no corresponding abiotic theory on water though. It has taken years for people to discover that water is becoming an increasingly more valuable commodity. It is only now that it is beginning to take center stage on the world as a limited resource.

The most obvious, visible impact on water’s availability is drought. Most people can identify with that even if they’ve never experienced it first hand. But beyond failing crops and people going without water, and these are not to be minimized, not much other thought has generally been given to water.

However in the coming years, we can expect to see water politicized as never before, both here and abroad. Water rights are becoming an election issue and a states rights issue. Wars will be fought over water much as they are now over oil. It will become a geopolitical tool used selfishly and perhaps maliciously. Who will become the Saudi Arabia of water? Where will the new speculators come from?… and you know they will be there. There are a lot of questions and not many answers yet.

As we should have learned during the first oil crisis in the early 1970’s, we could not continue to use that particular resource profligately, still we did. The same is equally true of water. Using water to keep golf courses green in the desert flies in the face of good stewardship. In New Mexico, a dusty, dirty car is the sign of someone monitoring their water use carefully. There are not many green lawns there nor should there be. They are coming to grips with it before most of us are because they have to.

There are of course numerous ways for the individual to do their part to help keep consumption down and it is necessary. I am not minimizing that at all either. But, we are facing a new time in history where once again, many may be at the mercy of those who control a resource that they, like so many others, need and are willing to fight for it. Such is the situation when a resource is limited or running out and others play games with it. And that is what the future regarding water will look like. Our politicians need to become aware of this and start preparing. After all, there is nothing wrong with a dusty car and a brown desert.

In which I get it right.

As I wrote earlier, when we were sitting in the airport, my lovely bride happened upon a postcard for a perfectly wonderful B&B. And as I wrote, I through my infinite wisdom had booked us for three nights in this wonderful place. Am I good or what?

We are now on our way to this wonderful Newfoundland version of Brigadoon, but without bagpipes. Since we are departing from the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula and driving up to Port Rexton near Trinity, about 260 miles. Not a bad drive, 4-5 hours with stops especially if we can find a Tim Horton’s.

Typical Newfoundland bog. (eoearth.org.)

Newfoundland has been settled almost exclusively on the coast line. It is a very big coast. As we drive from Burin north, we travel mostly inland. Lots of bogs, ponds, no moose sightings, and lots of rocks and birch trees. Since everything revolved around fishing, there is hardly anything resembling a town. This is not to say no one lives out there. We pass small enclaves of homes along the way. Just what they do for employment is something we haven’t been able to determine. Still, I wouldn’t mind living there either.

As we head towards that days destination, we start to see more small towns. They are different from the outports since they are still a ways inland from the water. But it lets us know we’re almost there. And then we crest a hill and a sign for our destination appears. Hot damn! This is where I really start to look like I know what I’m doing on this trip. Fisher’s Loft is even better in real life than the beautiful image on their postcard. The views are spectacular and it’s getting on towards dinner.

We check in to our room (it’s a suite!) with an incredible vista of the bay with some small islands in it. In the distant is a fog partially covering a small mountain/hill(?) – beautiful whatever its nomenclature. We clean up and go downstairs to enjoy a drink on the front porch of the main building. At the bar is a picture of Kevin Spacey and the entire crew of the film The Shipping News. They stayed there. Oh, yes, this is getting better by the minute.

Fisher’s Loft (been-seen.com)

We finish our drinks and head into the dining room. OK, this is getting ridiculous. The dining room is decorated beautifully with hand-made furniture from a local craftsman. His furniture also occupies our room. Wait, it gets even better.

The menus arrive and this is foodie heaven. And locavore heaven. They grow all their own produce. And wine heaven. Oh hell, it’s just heaven! And this is just dinner! We almost can’t wait for breakfast. The food is marvelous.

Breakfast doesn’t disappoint – along with regular fare, there are fresh pastries from the oven and partridgeberry jam. I wrote about partridgeberry jam in an earlier post, but it bears repeating. This jam is incredible.

I don’t want to leave. I wonder if they need a groundskeeper!

Enter the Wanderer with apologies to Bruce Lee…

Sounds sort of like a bad Bruce Lee film, doesn’t it? But, there are no flying fists, no crouching tigers, no leaping lizards, none of that stuff…just good old Newfoundland and its’ people.

I’m now ensconced on the small island of Ramea and have started to walk around the island, it IS small, and photograph. One of the first things I noticed on the ferry on my way in, is a collapsed fish processing plant, a fishery. It collapsed physically, but it is as good as any symbol of what has happened to the fishing industry. I could not have asked for a better opportunity to illustrate what has happened here. But Ramea is so much more than that, though its’ fate remains so tied to it.

Rendering of a fishery.

As  I mentioned earlier, one passes through a beautiful archipelago on the way in. It was so unexpected as to create a disconnect. “Hello, that number you’re calling is no longer in service.” That’s how I felt. In my modest research over the years, I believed that one found archipelagos in Japan, Indonesia, Scotland even. But Newfoundland, really? Oh, yeah. Yes, Toto, this isn’t Kansas anymore.

Ramea itself is a small, quaint even, little island if not for the oil tank graveyard I was currently photographing. I’ll tell you right now though, there are no photographs of those in this part of this journey. While I tip-toed around the tanks, respectfully trying not to wake them, I came up on a local who in true Newfoundland tradition was more than happy to talk with me. He gave me a little current history of the island and some recommendations: there was an ocean walk to take – check; don’t miss the wind turbine farm – check; Red’s Lounge – check and double check (can’t miss that!); the Anglican Church – check, but on Sunday of course; supermarket – check; and other places that were meaningless to me at the time.

I was into my wandering big time now. As I’ve written earlier, there I was taking pictures of nothing and really loving it.

Abducted by sea turtles AND the talk of the town.

With all apologies to the bard (Ramea, O’ Ramea, where art thou O’ Ramea?), Ramea is a small island off the southern coast of Newfoundland and I arrived safely on the good ship (well, ferry) Gallipoli. For those who may be history minded, Gallipoli is the name of a horrible battle in World War I in which allied soldiers were brutally massacred because of an incredibly dumb decision. It was also a movie starring the then uncontroversial and better-looking actor Mel Gibson. And Gallipoli was the boat of which I just got off! Should I have read something into that? Time enough to ponder as I’ll be getting back on it to return to the Newfoundland mainland in a few days.

Approaching Ramea, one travels though a beautiful though unexpected archipelago. It was a wonderful greeting. The only thing missing were giant sea turtles, but for all I knew they may have been laying in wait to ambush me and make mock-Bruce soup. Hey, it could happen.

This was going to be very cool. Ramea is a very small island, populated by about 600 people. At it’s peak in the early 1970’s, it had about double that, but when the fish were gone, half the populace followed. Yet, it holds on. There is a music festival, like so many other Newfoundland outports, in August. And there are a number of outdoor activities in which one can indulge. The electricity is furnished by a small wind turbine farm. OK, so much for the Chamber of Commerce business.

As I’ve come to learn and appreciate and obsessively seek out, the best activity of all in Newfoundland is talking and partying with Newfoundlanders, everywhere! And that more than anything would define this part of the journey. Oh, the photographs would be taken. And with the certainty of only those of the pure of heart and who sleep like babies, I knew they would be good. I didn’t really, I hoped they would be good. But I’m rambling. The beer would be drunk, but not I, oh, no! Moose what would be eaten. Sorry, Squirrel. More on that later,

I checked into the B&B on Ramea, unpacked, and then started out on which was to be my newest adventure. Without giving too much away, must be frugal with my words here, I was to see clothes-lines, coffins, windmills, hand-painted signs, a bar, so much more and unbeknownst to me at the time, become the talk of the island.

Look boss, the plane, the plane! No, Tattoo, that’s a boat!

Burgeo, on the southern coast. (From Sailblogs.)

Made it to Burgeo after a gruesomely long drive. The good news is that where I was off to next to photograph was a very small island, Ramea, on which I would be walking almost everywhere. The bad new is that when I got back to Newfoundland proper, I had an even longer trip back to St. John’s, but that’s for another post.

I found my B&B and checked in. Martine, my host was very friendly, showed me to my room, and offered some suggestions as to where I might find dinner. There were two options – both named after their proprietors- Joy’s Place and Sharon’s Diner. Sharon was off somewhere and was closed so it was to Joy’s Place which was closer anyway. Joy wasn’t in either (were Joy and Sharon running errands together?) so I couldn’t send my compliments to the chef, so I left a nice tip instead.

I returned to my B&B and had some wine with Martine. my host. We talked about Burgeo and what had brought me there. She told me that Burgeo was very old, about  500 years, but it was only incorporated in 1950 and was basically a fishing village until 1992 when the moratorium was put into place. Then it too went through all the difficulties the rest of the province did. It’s a sweet place with a couple of restaurants, a school, all the things one would expect to find pretty much anywhere, except they don’t have the view that Burgeo does. Take that world!

(From Wikipedia)

So, right now, it’s the perfect place to catch my breath before getting on another boat on my way to Ramea. Remind me why I’m doing this.

(Courtesy Newfoundland & Labrador)

Oh yeah, this’ll be fun.

‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky.

It’s probably a good bet Jimi Hendrix was not singing about the skies in Newfoundland and more’s the pity.

Nowhere have I seen a more dramatic skyscape than up on The Rock. Now you may be thinking, “It’s a sky. So what? Big deal!” Well, yeah, it is a big deal. It will show you textures, shapes, and tonalities like you’ve never seen and then in a moment vanish only to replaced by something completely different (and not in the Monty Python sense either).

Why is this sky different from all other skies you ask? In one sense, it’s very similar to Big Sky country in Montana. It’s high, it’s enormous, it appears to cover and touch everything you see, it goes on forever, and oftentimes it resembles a time lapse film. The Newfoundland sky is like a living motion picture – something is always going on and like a really good one, you won’t know the ending.

If it’s a sunny day, then the sea takes on an unbelievably rich and dark blue color. All the colors of the island jump out in blazing relief. And even on such a day, there can be fog which will give you a teasing glimpse of something beautiful only to obscure it moments later.

On a cloudy day then, of which there are many, the show really begins. Cloudy days in Newfoundland are not to be confused with a cloudy or overcast day anywhere else. After all, this is Newfoundland. Missing are the drab, plain-jane grey skies in the lower 48. Instead you’ll be witness to high drama. For the person who believes everything is black and white, they should be prepared for disappointment. These skies display some serious greys and a hell of a lot of variations. From light and medium greys to end-of-the-world dark greys. it’s all there. What makes it even that much more spectacular are the many textures. It’s not a flat sky by any stretch of the imagination; no, it’s a roiling, scudding, blustering, opinionated sky with its own intent.

Picture this: you’re out on the coast – the sea is a wind-whipped, nearly black surface complete with whitecaps; nearer than the horizon are brilliant white icebergs sitting in stark contrast to the dark, colorless sea and to the rich, cloud-laden thunder grey sky.This is the stuff of wonderful black & white photography and I’m really there.

So, go ahead and kiss this sky! I have.

I’m a real nowhere man…

Let me say it right up front – I like being “nowhere.” No, not just sitting around doing nothing, but being somewhere that doesn’t look or feel like anything else and has no particular name. In other words, nowhere.

In Newfoundland, there is plenty of nowhere and that’s a really good thing. There is so much good stuff there that if it were named or claimed, it wouldn’t be nowhere. That said, what does it mean?

Simply stated, there is so much land between formal towns and/or outports that is not settled or built upon, that is virtually untouched and untrod. It is glorious in it’s natural state. No malls, no convenient stores, nothing. As I said, glorious. And glorious in its isolation.

And where I’m going on this second trip to Newfoundland, I’ll be traveling through a lot of nowhere before I get somewhere and I couldn’t be happier. As a photographer, it’s very rare that we get to visit land unsullied by power lines, billboards, and visitor centers. This is land one doesn’t so much visit as experience. Nothing can prepare you for it. It is not postcard pretty in the traditional sense. Rather, it has a raw, vital beauty. Not the beauty say of a New England fall, but the unyielding beauty of a land defying commerce and compromise.

In the west, there are mountains, lakes, fjords, and caribou. Everywhere, there are bogs, moose, streams, and birches. And everything, every thing is informed by the sea. Oh, the sea. It is the lifeblood of the island even though its bounty has long been gone. It is in the DNA of the people and the culture. It is that that has helped me to decide where to go.

In a song by the Newfoundland group Great Big Sea, they sing: “There is no place quite like this place…”. They got that right.

Newfoundland is an island, about the same size as the state of Tennessee. But where I’ll be going to photograph this time are two islands off the coasts of Newfoundland – Fogo Island and Ramea: two very different islands sharing a similar story but ultimately with dissimilar outcomes: almost nowhere on the map, but home for a few hopeful and determined people.

There’s a fjord in your future.

There used to be only the Big Three automakers – Ford, GM, and Chrysler. That was it. None of the others that populate our driveways today were in sight back then. Life it seems was much simpler then.

This is a Ford.

So imagine my surprise when I heard about fjords. I was certain some under-educated person misspelled the ever-oh-so-easy name of Ford. Never mind that its usage in the sentence was peculiar, I figured they just spelled it wrong!

But noooo, I was the ignorant fool. Every Norwegian child worth their salt (and much salt is used to keep and preserve cod and other delicacies – don’t even mention Lutefisk to me!) knew what a fjord was. No Ragnar, a fjord doesn’t have four wheels! Yes, Bruce (the teacher said patiently), a fjord is a u-shaped valley carved out by glaciers a long, long time ago. Pay attention!

This is a fjord.

So, right about this time you’re asking yourself what does this have to do with Newfoundland? And my book “Arn? Narn.”? Good questions. As it turns out, a lot. On the western coast of the island is Gros Morne National Park. Gros Morne is French for the less than poetic sounding “large mountain standing alone.” And in this park is the Western Brook Pond fjord. It is your typical, everyday, run-of-the-mill, drop-dead, central casting beautiful fjord.

This is a fjord too. See the difference? – Western Brook Pond fjord.

The western coast is the final stretch of the Appalachian mountain range and it alone is worth the trip to Newfoundland. An area of unimaginable beauty, it is home to mountains, fjords, caribou (more on them at a later post), moose and the Tablelands. There was also very fine salmon fishing here, but it too like cod fishing is highly restricted. This is a problem that affects the entire island and it’s been learned a global one as well.

So if you go and I do recommend it, get yourself a Ford. It’ll give you a certain symmetry.

The 50,000 year old Rice Krispy or Snap, Crackle, Pop, (and Hiss).

Who would have thought that a popular breakfast cereal had anything in common with the Titanic? After all, even a floating case of Rice Krispies would not even be noticed by the mammoth ship as it steamed blissfully and ignorantly by the hapless krispies. It’s not like it was an iceberg or something …right?

One thing Newfoundland and the Titanic have in common though is icebergs – much to the horror of the passengers on the Titanic, but not so much for Leonardo DeCaprio. Newfoundland finds itself smack in the middle of Iceberg Alley. You’re not likely to get mugged in this alley, but the slow moving bergs can do a hell of a lot of damage if you’re not careful. Keep in mind that the pretty part of the iceberg is only 10% of the entire mass. The other 90% lurks silently, waiting to wreak havoc – or to just ground itself in a cove where it melts mostly harmlessly away and its remains wash up on shore.

In season, tourists flock to the area to be see the oftentimes staggering number of bergs making their way down from the Arctic Circle. But for some locals, watching the bergs is not what they’re waiting for. Oh no. They’re waiting to harvest the shards of this frozen flotsam.

Why? Because after the shards are washed off, they remain as frozen pieces of 10,000 to 50,000 year old unbelievably pure water and air. No pollution or industrial waste captured in these. They keep your drinks, soft and adult, really cold and pure. And the prehistoric goodness doesn’t stop there. They entertain. Oh, yeah. As they melt, (very, very slowly), they make sounds – sometimes startlingly loud. They snap, pop, and hiss, releasing age-old air into your drink. (OK, so I lied about the crackle!) And they keep for a long time. One woman who was gathering the ice told me this was the first time in four years she went out to get more. Being so dense, it doesn’t melt quickly. Wash it off, put back in your freezer and use again when ready.

The ultimate recycling effort. Yes, b’y.