We celebrated our nation’s independence the same way a lot of Americans do…with copious amount of light domestic beer, sun-filled trips to the beach with family, and shooting mortars out of make-shift exhaust pipe launchers in the middle of the street. Let freedom ring (in your ears, it was loud).
Summer / 48.5333° N, 123.0833° W / 2014
I spent some time in the Pacific Northwest for work recently and decided to visit home while I was on the west coast. It was great to get out of Florida and be back in San Francisco for a few days. Karl the fog took the day off, allowing the city to be filled with sunshine and warmth. I met up with Trey who was already in town (he travels back every month for work), and together we spent the weekend walking around some of our favorite neighborhoods, soaking up the unseasonably sunny weather at Dolores Park, feasting on Vietnamese food at Sunflower (the best little hole in the wall restaurant ever, I’m convinced), and cheering on the Giants.
I then headed up to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state to work while Trey stayed behind to finish up his work in the city. I came to this island when I was nineteen. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life so I applied on a whim to a small research program through the University of Washington that allowed six students the opportunity to study a resident population of killer whales and, much to my surprise, got in. I’ve returned a few times since then to work for the Center for Whale Research, a small research lab that focuses on killer whale population biology. The island is pretty remote, with the only access being by ferry or sea plane. It’s one of those places where your cell phone immediately loses signal and you couldn’t find a Starbucks latte even if you wanted one. Every summer around 80 killer whales show up around the the San Juans to feed on the salmon runs from local rivers. After suffering a loss of over a third of their population from marine park captures in the 1980s, they have been listed as endangered and are now studied extensively. I had the cool job of photographing and filming the whales up close as they returned this year to document any new babies, pregnancies, or missing (deceased) members of the population. I’m thinking of putting together some of the footage and sharing it here soon.
Trey came up and met me on the island a few days later and went out on the boat with us. Later, we explored the island, had dinner down by the harbor, and caught a ferry over to Victoria, British Columbia. On our last day, since we were catching red eye flights back to Florida that didn’t leave until the evening, we spent the day walking around Seattle. I love this city. It was 80 degrees without a rain cloud in sight. We made our way through Pike Place Market, walked along the waterfront, and then popped into a pub to catch the USA play Portugal in the World Cup (those last 20 seconds tho!). We had an awesome time and are excited to return.
Summer / 27.05668 N, -82.442651 W / 2014
There is a place on the Gulf coast where millions of shark teeth are buried. I didn’t know of it until a few weeks ago, and over the weekend I waded out at low tide at Casperson Beach in Venice, Florida with a sacrificial spaghetti colander to find some. Many of the teeth locals find here are quite old; remnants left behind from sharks that once roamed the Gulf of Mexico. An older man waded out next to me with a shovel-sifter and stories of divers finding megalodon teeth 4 inches tall out of these waters. A dolphin came in close to catch a fish and eyed us on its way out. It was neat, and when I got home I took an old frame and left over fabric to display the day’s bounty.
Spring / 18.8372° N, 98.9706° E / 2013
The van came to a grinding halt on the dirt path we had been traveling on. The resistance from our wheels against the rough terrain created a large cloud of thick dust, enveloping the small utility van we were in. Our guide, a petite Thai woman in her mid thirties, got out of the vehicle abruptly. We looked at each other with uncertainty from the backseat. Moments later the side door to the van slung open, implying we were to get out. I shielded my eyes from the bright morning sun as we emerged into a quiet, pristine valley surrounded by mountains on either side. A lively cadence of insects and birds serenaded us in the background, welcoming us. I had been told that the mountains of northern Thailand were beautiful, but nothing had prepared me for this. Suddenly, without warning, my admiration for the scenery was cut short when the brush just beyond our path began to rustle. Small trees and shrubs began to give way as a massive, mammoth-like creature emerged onto our path. There, standing less than 30 feet in front of us, stood a large adult female elephant. Her tan leathery skin was covered in wrinkles, her trunk swaying from side to side as she pulled brush from the earth into her mouth. She stood chewing, staring at us.
She was enormous, with eyes the size of tennis balls. Then, with nothing more than a flick of her huge ears, she swung her trunk to the side and continued across the road. A wave of adrenaline rushed over me. Seconds later, a tiny calf teetered across the path desperately trying to keep up with its mother. I turned to my right and saw another large, older female trumpeting in the distance. And that’s when it hit me. I was standing in the middle of an endangered Asian elephant family.
Entering the sanctuary was somewhat of a Jurassic experience. Hidden in these hills were herds of gentle giants roaming free. Some gathered at the river that ran along the edge of the sanctuary, others rested in the shade of palm coverings. Our guide led us to some of the elephants so we could meet them and their mahouts (care givers). We were able to assist the mahouts in their daily care by feeding them and splashing cool water from the river onto their backs.
I can’t imagine ever forgetting this experience. It was ethereal.
On a Wednesday around 3:30pm.