A day in the woods

Photos, with commentary.

Clematis seed heads (I’m thinking Clematis virginiana).


Witch Hazel (Hamamaelis virginiana)


Pistachier Noir

With a nod to NH Franco-American culture, tan seed capsules each carry one or two small shiny black seeds reputed to be edible with an oily pistachio flavor. *


Near a landing – I’m thinking abandoned logger’s office/shelter.


Beaver pond (handheld) panorama. Click on the image below to embiggen moderately; click here for the full boat.


In the mid 1800’s, the majority of New England was deforested. You find evidence (stone walls, cellar holes) everywhere – even deep in what is now regrown forest. I found what looks to be the remains of a sawmill foundation and millrace yesterday, miles from the nearest 2 lane road (and a half mile from the nearest tote road).


A short video of the site – as much for the sound effects as anything. Cameo by the lovely Dinah.

The Tiger follow-up

My little narrative of how John Vaillant ended up at RiverRun centered on my experience – a less Ptolemaic version might have emphasized the key roles play by Steve Bodio and his review of the Tiger and by Michele at RiverRun. It’s easy to be the pivot when there are folks like these jamming on the lever arms. Noted in passing – Michele is on NH Magazine’s 2010 ‘It List’ in recognition of the central role she plays in making Portsmouth the hoppin’ place it is. And another shout-out to @westchesterdead and @apatheticalto – many fulcrums make for a smooth Rube Goldberg of connections.

Support your local independent bookstore. Really. Browse. Hang out. Buy. Tell the booksellers, “You have the best job – you can just sit around and read all day.” – they’ll love it. You don’t know what you got till it’s gone and unless you support your local, it may disappear. I’m making some changes to the way I link out to books from D0aMNH to be a touch more indie-friendly.

Support big cat conservation. Apex predators are critical – when they’re removed, the ecosystem changes, often radically and never for the better if one values diversity. The easiest way to pitch in is by contributing to organizations that are fighting poachers:

  • The Phoenix Project via Global Giving – along with Amur Tiger protection, the Phoenix Project is also trying to save the last 30 Amur Leopards left in the wild. This is where I chose to contribute.
  • The Phoenix Project via Wildlife Alliance (select the fund in the ‘you can support’ dropdown).
  • Panthera is involved with conservation effort for all big cats – Tigers, Snow Leopards, Jaguars, you name it. Quick quiz – what’s the 3rd largest big cat? They live in the Americas.
  • A more extensive list of worthy organizations (John Vaillant’s picks) can be found here.

There are so many things to work on in our own lives – reducing the amount of fossil fuels we use, figuring out what’s going on with the food we eat, staying involved with local community issues – but once a big predator is gone, that’s it. A thread of, for lack of a better phrase, predator knowledge is broken. Tiger cubs stay with their mother for a couple years, learning the ins and outs of the particular landscape they’re in.  That understanding goes back tens of thousands of years, passed from mother to cubs; there ain’t no magicing it back if it disappears. A few bucks now buys some time and a few bucks – a tank of gas, a new set of batteries, tires for the truck – make a big difference in anti-poaching efforts.

Via Adelle’s FB Gallery (thanks, G).

Atomic seaplane follow-up

What brought the simmering Convair/seaplane/nuke-yu-ler thing to a boil?

One – discovering the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives on Flickr. There’s a huge set devoted to Convair.

Convair : F2Y-1 : Sea Dart


Convair : F2Y-1 : Sea Dart


Two – finding a link to the work of the great and hilarious Stan Mott (hadn’t thought about him in too long) that included this image of a seaplane aircraft carrier. I don’t know whether it relies on a reactor or the combined power output of the lashed-together Cyclopii that form the hull (I suspect the latter). Thank you, Agent Malki.


Impossibly wealthy Oil Sheik:  Signor Martini, I am blue.
Martini:  Hah, I have idea for you!  (See how quick he is?)
Sheik:  What?
Martini: Something expensive.
Sheik:  To buy?  Where?
Martini:  The personal aircraft carrier!  Fantastico!
Sheik:  But cars…
Martini:  Exactemente!  I make aircraft carrier out of cars,  Cyclops Us.  They float.  So by lashing hundreds of thousands of them together they form magnifico aircraft carrier.  Just what you need.  No one else has.
Sheik:  But I get seasick.
Martini:  Ah hah … that is why it is land-based carrier.  It rolls on ground, desert, your desert.
Sheik:  But how could it be a real aircraft carrier with no water?
Martini:  We bring our own water.
Sheik:  Where?
Martini:  On deck.
Sheik:  But how can the planes land on water?
Martini:  Sea planes.
Sheik:  Well, I don’t…
Martini:  Don’t worry.  Will be absolutely safe from Russian scoobie divers.  I put sharks in water.
Sheik:  You are a shrewd man, Signor Martini.
Martini:  Ah, my friend, for you … anything!
Sheik:  What will my aircraft carrier look like?
Martini:  It is up above this text.
Sheik:  Ohhh, praise Allah!  How much?
Martini:  I thought you would never ask. *

The Tiger

Author John Vaillant was in town last night on a book tour in support of his latest: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. It was a good evening out (understatement). John, Sy Montgomery, Liz Thomas and I met before the event and had some dinner – much tiger conservation strategizing (in the ‘what can writers do’ sense) was done, contacts were exchanged, etc. Fascinating stuff – I was mostly a fly on the wall, but not completely.

John, Sy, yr humble corr., Liz


Then it was off to RiverRun for the main event. I’d already read The Tiger – regardless, I found John’s reading to be riveting and, in the case of the first passage, where Markov meets the tiger for the last time, hair raising. I wasn’t alone – you could have heard a pin drop whenever John had the floor.

The book itself… Before I quote some reviews, my short version -> read it. Soonest.

Steve Bodio:

It is better than good– my favorite book of the year so far, and a likely classic in my rare favorite genre, that which documents (to use a book title) “the edge of the wild”, that interface where humans and “nature” are not artificially separated but in conflict or cooperation, acting on each other. *

Liberty Hardy:

…no other non-fiction book has gotten me so wound up in the last five years as John Vaillant’s The Tiger. It is a phenomenal book! I read it back in March and then had to wait *five* whole months before I could start selling it. But that didn’t stop me from talking about it to everyone in a ten-mile radius. I talked about it so much that it was driving my coworkers crazy. *

Sy Montgomery:

…those who truly know the tiger realize that it also possesses an invisible but equally lethal weapon: a brilliant and calculating mind. One hunter tells the author: “The tiger is strong, powerful and fair. You have to respect him. You think he doesn’t understand the language, but he understands everything. He can read a person’s mind.”

Of course, there are those who say a tiger doesn’t have a mind, much less one that can read ours. But Vaillant’s book teaches a lesson that humankind desperately needs to remember: When you murder a tiger, you not only kill a strong and beautiful beast, you extinguish a passionate soul. *


After the signing (and chop marking – v. cool) finished up and a phone call from New Mexico was taken (see below) John and I headed out for more conversation, food and drink. Steller’s Sea Eagles were mentioned, the scale of the landscape in British Columbia was discussed and a good time was had (by all? I sure had fun).

A note on how all this came to be:

  • Many months ago @missliberty tweeted about how much she enjoyed The Tiger. It registered, but not as a ‘do something now’ item – it would be quite a while before I’d be able to get my hands on a copy.
  • Steve Bodio emailed me in early August raving about the book; I turned around and tweeted his recommendation.
  • The next thing I know, twitter friends in West Chester, Pennsylvania twote back “We know John – we’re excited about the book too!”
  • Someone must have given John a heads-up – I received a nice email from him thanking me for passing on Steve’s recommendation.
  • RiverRun loves The Tiger; I’m emailing with the author – what to do? I connect John and RiverRun’s events coordinator. I also let Sy know that a reading might be happening – I think she made a phone call or two.
  • Presto – RiverRun gets included on John’s east coast swing. WIN.

RiverRun often livestreams author events – last night was no exception. I asked Tom (the owner) for a favor yesterday – he emailed the stream’s address to Steve. When the event started, John thanked the folks that had made the night happen, including Steve, and as he did he gestured at the webcam. I had no idea whether Steve had gotten the email or if he’d tuned in but I thought, “If he’s watching, that had to have been a bit of a mind-blower.” When the signing was almost over, the shop’s phone rang – call for John Vaillant. Yep – it was Steve, checking in after watching from a ways away. I spoke with Steve as well. Tigers, tragopans and Pheasant Jungles!

I should no longer be surprised by the power of the internet to connect folks, but I continue to be gobsmacked on a regular basis.

Atomic seaplane

I can credit Charlie Stross and Pluvialis for my interest in the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program. My interest in seaplanes has been with me as long as I can remember – it may have started with seeing floatplanes at my grandparent’s cottage on Trout Lake (outside of North Bay, Ontario).

The two things came together in 1950’s San Diego at the offices of Convair.

Track one – a tornado damaged B-36 (six turning, four burning)

is rebuilt as the NB-36H Crusader.


The cockpit was well shielded (I hope).



Track two started with some design work on Betta 1 and Betta 2 (1950)


which led to the F2-Y Sea Dart.


Put them together and you get the Model 23B Atomic Seaplane:


Scan from Convair Advanced Designs: Secret Projects from San Diego, 1923-1962.

As they say – what could go wrong?

Tragopan temminckii

Another great post over at BibliOdyssey sends me off on a surf-fest. This time it’s a series of Chinese bird portraits – among the ducks and birds of paradise and finches and pheasants I spied a tragopan. Tragopans live in an area that’s been front and center in my reading list lately; off I clicked to see if I could figure out which species was being represented.


I’m basing my ID on the lappet – obviously, I’m guessing Tragopan temminckii. A bit of etymological fun:

These birds are commonly called “horned pheasants” because of two brightly-colored, fleshy horns on their heads that they can erect during courtship displays. The scientific name refers to this, being a composite of tragus (billy goat) and the ribald half-goat deity Pan (and in the case of the Satyr Tragopan, adding Pan’s companions for even more emphasis). *

Under the entry for Pan’s pals, the always helpful Wikipedia cautions us that satyr is “not to be confused with Satire or Seder”.

Here’s a picture of a half-extended lappet (to reassure you that I’m not just making stuff up):


And a great bit of Youtube showing a Temminck’s displaying:

Colobus Day Weekend

Some highlights from the long weekend:

A front-long (its opposite is back-long) bike sighted at the Farmer’s Market Saturday morning.


From there, off to the Athenæum book sale.


Two words that cause my heart to race (even if there’s a little staining) – tipped in.


More images from Ehon mushi erami here.


They’re the reason for the season!


Most of the rest of the long weekend was spent outside.


Three expeditionary books.

The last three books I’ve read have all featured exploration as a thematic element. In the order I read them – and coincidentally, in reverse chronological order – most recent expeditions first:

James Tabor’s Blind Descent is the story of two series of attempts to find the deepest cave on the planet. American Bill Stone explores supercave systems in Mexico; Ukrainian Alexander Klimchouk does the same in Georgia (or what used to be Georgia – Abkhazia). I enjoyed Blind Descent – amazingly difficult caving makes for a good story. It’s comforting, for me at least, to know that there still are blank spots on the map; places that one can walk to (with difficulty) and be the first person there – ever. Shades of some of the polar explorers. A quibble – it feels like the book wants to be a profile of Bill Stone – driven, difficult genius – but can’t go all the way. Instead it pays a lot of attention to Stone, then throws in Klimchouk for contrast and because he actually found the deepest cave, and does a decent job painting, with a broad brush, the logistics of supercaving.

Stone on caving and on his next project:


The Last of His Kind is a biography of Brad Washburn. When I thought of Mr. Washburn, it was as a photographer, cartographer and the Big Cheese (ret.) at Boston’s Museum of Science. I knew he’d done a lot of mountaineering when he was younger; I did not realize what a key figure he was in early Western Canada/Alaska climbing and exploration. This excellent bio fixed that. It did leave me curious about Washburn’s relationship with Charlie Houston. The two of them fell out during a 1933 attempt on Mount Crillon; they never climbed together again and though they remained friends it comes across in this book as an odd and strained friendship. If you’re interested in mountaineering, photography or a really interesting life, you’ll enjoy this one.


Both of the aforementioned books use a narrative device that I’ve gotten a little tired of. The author starts the book with an especially interesting/scary/pivotal period then, in chapter 2, drops back and starts at the beginning. Sooner or later you end up back at the time period referenced in ch.1 and there’s this dislocation as the author says in effect, ‘and then, as we’ve already seen, x happens. Press on.’  Ouch – or maybe it’s just me.


The Tsangpo/Brahmaputra River rises near Mount Kailas (along with the Indus and a major tributary of the Ganges – axis mundi, anyone?) and flows west across southern Tibet before looping – and I mean looping – south through the Himalayas in the deepest gorge on the planet. Because of the vertical relief the plant diversity in and around the Tsangpo Gorge is incredible – bamboo and Bulbophyllum orchids down low, an alpine environment up high and rhododendrons everywhere. In 1924-25 noted plant collector Frank Kingdon Ward and the 5th Earl Cawdor explored some of the Tsangpo Gorge and parts of Tibet to the gorge’s northwest.  Frank Kingdon Ward’s Riddle Of The Tsangpo Gorges river reprints K W’s original text with additional supplemental material. The Kingdon Ward story is prefaced by a brief history of exploration in the area, peppered throughout by great photography and finishes up with an overview of conservation efforts in the area. If you like plants (I do) and rivers (I do) and big mountains (yep) this book is a delight. I just wonder if there are mahseer in the river – that would make the area heaven on earth – even with the leeches.


Transgenic nudibranch

Not only does E. chlorotica turn sunlight into energy — something only plants can do — it also appears to have swiped this ability from the algae it consumes.
Native to the salt marshes of New England and Canada, these sea slugs use contraband chlorophyll-producing genes and cell parts called chloroplasts from algae to carry out photosynthesis, says Sidney Pierce, a biologist at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
That genetic material has since been passed down to the next generation, eliminating the need to consume algae for energy.

Bizarre sea slug is half plant, half animal | MNN – Mother Nature Network.

Vias @SynapticNulship.

Photo album from the British Mission to Tibet, 1903-04

The causes of the war are obscure, and it seems to have been provoked primarily by rumours circulating amongst the Calcutta-based British administration (Delhi not being the capital until 1911) that the Chinese government, (who nominally ruled Tibet), were planning to give it to the Russians, thus providing Russia with a direct route to British India and breaking the chain of semi-independent, mountainous buffer-states which separated India from the Russian Empire to the north. These rumours were confirmed seemingly by the facts of Russian exploration of Tibet. Russian explorer Gombojab Tsybikov was the first photographer of Lhasa, residing in it during 1900—1901 with the aid of the thirteenth Dalai Lama‘s Russian courtier Agvan Dorjiyev.

In view of the rumours, the Viceroy, Lord Curzon, during 1903 sent a request to the governments of China and Tibet for negotiations to be held at Khampa Dzong, a tiny Tibetan village north of Sikkim to establish trade agreements. The Chinese were willing, and ordered the thirteenth Dalai Lama to attend. However, the Dalai Lama refused, and also refused to provide transport to enable the amban (the Chinese official based in Lhasa), You Tai, to attend. Curzon concluded that China did not have any power or authority to compel the Tibetan government, and gained approval from London to send a military expedition, commanded by Colonel Francis Younghusband, to Khampa Dzong. *

I heard about today’s auction on the radio this morning (no info on the NPR web site yet). The obvious fact that the album might as well be on another planet as regards my acquisition does not stop me from lusting after it.

An album of important photographs taken during the controversial British Mission to Tibet in 1903-04 is for sale at Bonhams Travel and Exploration, India and Beyond sale in London on 5 October (£10,000-15,000). The album can be traced to a member of the Mission – Lieut. William Pyt Bennett – and is believed to be the first with such a provenance to appear at auction.

The photographer was John Claude White, a Political Officer in the Indian state of Sikkim, and joint leader of the expedition with Major Francis Younghusband. Officially the mission’s purpose was to settle a border dispute between Sikkim and Tibet but it turned into a full scale invasion with the aim of establishing a strong British presence and, crucially, thwarting Russian ambitions in the area. *




I have another Tibetan post in the pipeline (hint – 1924-25, rhododendrons and primulas) – stay tuned.