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And He Lived Happily Ever After...

The End of the Dusty Vagabond

semi-overcast 68 °F

I'm commiting blogicide (Is that a word?). Though "The Dusty Vagabond" has been a pleasure to produce, I would rather lay it to rest with style then watch it wither away through lack of effort.

"Why?"

It feels right, you know? I woke up this morning and my first thought was end this blog. I feel good about it. It's time to start the next chapter. Buddha said, "Use me as a craft for crossing the stream, but when you are across, let me go (roughly paraphrased)." Well, I made it across the stream. I have a voice. I know what I am about. I'm living an amazing life. This just feels right.
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I'm excited. I am now free to recreate myself in any fashion I wish. I am not done writing. I am not done catching photographs. I am not done sharing. I am not done living my life. I'm curious to see what doors will open next and where that path will lead. There will be another project. Consider the Dusty Vagabond, "Thom's early years."

If you are into numbers, blogging is all about how many people you can get to follow you. The more people that follow you, the better. I have great numbers. My blog site tells me how many people have visited (278,806), how many people have read my journey (297,240), how many people read what chapter (my most popular has been "Wardner Beginnings" 7,078 - I've never understood why this has been so popular). They are great numbers. They are YOU, after all. The fact you gave this blog any time at all is amazing to me. I sincerely thank you for your time.

I'm letting you go. You are as free as I am.

How did you stumble upon this blog? Was it from a friend? Did you see a picture you like and investigated further? Did you see a featured blog? Was it a random find? There's no reason that can't happen again. Perhaps, in losing me, you might find someone else to inspire you.
You might find my next project in the same way. Then again, you might just drop me a line telling me you are interested. When it gets up and rolling, I can send you a link.

Life flows on. So do I.

In a way, this is kind of like writing my own epitaph. "Here lies The Dusty Vagabond. May he forever wax eloquently about the morning mists of southeast Alaska."
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Actually, I never could do them justice. You really need to see them for yourself.

"And He lived happily ever after..."
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Look for me in the north, the west, the east and the south. Look for me at dawn. Look for me at sunset. Look for me in the night. You might find me on the ocean. You might find me by the sea. You might find me in the park climbing a maple tree (this is starting to sound like Dr. Seuss).
Above all, go look outside. There's good things to see out there. We might even cross paths. I'm the toe-headed bearded guy. I'm probably wearing my trusty blue wool beanie. I'm often found slogging down a mountain trail with a battered tripod sticking out of my faded red backpack. I'll have a serene smirk (can you smirk serenely?) on my face. My boots are will be worn, my adventure pants and shirt faded and ripped- but those are the trademarks of (mis)adventure.

Many Hugs, Many smiles.

Thom - The Dusty Vagabond

Posted by Rhombus 01:22 Archived in USA Tagged me alaska photography blog writing Comments (4)

Who Am I?

In My Own Words...

all seasons in one day 70 °F

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I get around, you know? I'm a professional visitor, a homeless (is that a typo?) romantic, a voyageur of sorts, a guy who wonders what‘s around the next bend. I spend most of my time outside. I've yodeled under a glacier. I've walked around in a blizzard in Antarctica. This makes me sound cold, but I am not. I once took a spelling test which received two gold stars on it. But, so what? We’ve all done great things. I like creativity in action. I love pointless challenges. What makes you happy? Why aren’t you doing that? It’s all in the details. I'll probably skip the small talk. Keep in mind that i am not a serious person, though I can be sincere. I'll probably make you dinner at some point. My sense of humor is irrepressible. I've been known to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I am a work in progress. I'm not sure I belong here...

Given the opportunity, I’d rather whisper secrets to the trees than go through the motions. I like giving honey to injured bees. I like picking up trash and I never use bug spray. I’ve become a social creature. Who knew? The path of life takes interesting twists, doesn’t it? I’m not the same man I was three years ago. Can I tell you the truth? I’m enjoying writing this.

If you were to ask me how old I am, I won’t give you a straight answer. I tend to get a deeper look into humanity than most people. I think it’s the questions I ask. But people tell me things I would never ask about. I give strange advice.

If I stay awake for over 20 hours I develop amazing powers of concentration. If I drink during this time, I become chatty. I like to jump into really cold water, yet I am obsessed with hot springs.

One of the best conversations I’ve ever had was with a mountain man from Oregon. We talked about ghosts, living in the woods, heaven, beer, hamburgers, jobs and wandering.

My brother taught me at an early age to keep my mouth shut. Since then, I’ve been a safe harbor for gossip. I can’t remember everyday that I have lived, but sometimes I try. I think it might be possible. People tell me I look like a Viking. I tell them they look like themselves.

Balance is important to me. I’m not sure if its an obsession, or simply a way of life. My head empties with the sound of a gong. I like to tie knots. I have many talents. I’ve read many books. Ask me anything, I don’t mind. I eat out a lot, though I prefer to cook. I love the ritual of coffee, especially in the morning.

I have an accent but its hard to place. Do I interest you? Think about that. Where does that feeling come from? “It’s better to live a short life doing something you love than a long one doing things you hate.” Alan Watts said that. I say it too.

Did I tell you I feed birds from my hand? My niece is dying to know my secrets. Speaking of secrets, I’m only ticklish on the bottoms of my feet. Oops. Say that backwards. That might be my next tattoo.

My hearing isn’t so good. My eyesight is worse. I’ve never met anyone who is famous. I love graham crackers in milk. I write long emails. I like hard work. Give me your shittiest job, I’ll do it. What do I care? I’m here to help.

Life doesn’t follow my Illusions. I need to be right here, right now. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I see myself sitting on a park bench in Strassburg sharing an ice cream cone with you on a beautiful spring day. You can’t tell employers that though, can you? I think I might start…

Posted by Rhombus 12:31 Archived in USA Tagged me history photography philosophy vagabond writing Comments (0)

Deckhand!

An Interesting Look Into The Life of a Mariner

all seasons in one day 66 °F

If I were to write you a short autobiography about the last three years in my life, I would begin by telling you about my job. For those of you unfamiliar with my line of work, I want you to know that I am a deckhand. I am a proud member of the bottom rung of the maritime ladder. I’m not sure there is anything else I’d rather be on this ship, much to the chagrin of my superior officers. A good deckhand has no use for promotions.
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I truly started living when I became a deckhand. I‘ll never forget how it felt to be on the open sea for the first time. I’ve been in love with the ocean ever since.

On Deckhands
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Deckhands are wanderers. Deckhands don’t make decisions. Deckhands do the dirty work. Deckhands know how to tie knots, both practical and fancy. Deckhands appreciate a good officer. Deckhands despise a bad one. Deckhands live and work outside in all types of weather. Deckhands have strong backs. Deckhands carry sharp knives. Deckhands like to swear. Deckhands don’t spill their coffee when the ship is heaving in rough seas. Deckhands are silly in the early morning hours. Deckhands can throw a heaving line a hundred feet. Deckhands know how to coil rope. Deckhands have nicks and cuts in their hands. Deckhands are mischievous. Deckhands like to spend their money. Deckhands have friends in every port. Deckhands love to eat. Deckhands love to drink. Deckhands often have tattoos of a chicken and a pig on their feet. Deckhands save lives. Deckhands probably have had their life saved. Deckhands despise bad line (rope) and hoses. Deckhands despise sloppy seamanship. Deckhands expect good seamanship. Deckhands can cook. Deckhands can sew. Deckhands know who’s sleeping with whom. Deckhands are healers. Deckhands like passing tugboats and trains. Deckhands love to lean on the rails. Deckhands love the sea. Deckhands love the stars. Deckhands love to laugh. Deckhands have seen things you have not. Deckhands stick together. Deckhands are indispensable. Deckhands are proud to be deckhands.
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Dennis Puleston wrote about a certain deckhand in his book, Blue Water Vagabond. “…He was one of those men born of the sea who had lived on it his entire life. He could easily spend a morning forming an eye splice out of steel cable before heading down into the galley to make delicate French pastries.”

There isn’t much a deckhand cannot do.
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A Note on Rough Seas
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The ocean can be as docile as a sleeping cat or as ferocious as an attacking lion. It all depends on the wind. Two days ago, the wind swatted us with its lion paw.

Go to a set of stairs. Now picture yourself walking on the front side of the stairs instead of the top using the rails to pull yourself up. It feels like you are walking downward even though you are going up. This is what its like to move on a heaving ship in big seas. It’s difficult to keep your balance when the only thing you can trust is rocking unpredictably.

It makes mundane tasks challenging. It’s hard to pour coffee in a cup that is sliding all over the counter. It’s harder to carry that cup without spilling it.

The swells were hitting us diagonally just off our port bow. I estimate the swells to be at least ten feet with another three feet of wind chop atop them. These swells caused our ship to roll from side to side, pitching at steep angles. They weren‘t the biggest seas I have seen, but they were the biggest I have seen in a long time.

So we were rolling. It was my job to walk throughout the ship to make sure everything was secure and not falling over. As this was the last day of ten beautiful days at sea, the crew forgot that the ocean could get lumpy. Seamanship Rule #2: Never trust the ocean. There were objects banging into things all over the ship. I had a hell of a time trying to lash down those loose items. I went from room to room, deck to deck securing a weird and wide variety of stuff.

Thom’s list of stuff that needed securing

Two kayak racks (which pissed me off because whoever moved them should have done this after they had finished their work). Four outdoor tables (in which I had to roll across the top of them to get the line to the rail. This is dangerous.). Two stacks of chairs. I found a puddle in the bar and found that the refrigerator had moved off the drainpipe. A food rack came loose in the storeroom. A file cabinet started sliding across the bridge. The refer doors in the galley started swinging violently open, almost spilling meat everywhere. The wine cupboard in the bar needed taping down.

I did pretty good, but not good enough. I forgot to check the public head and while I was busy securing all that other stuff, a monumental mess was created.

It turns out our hotel staff was keeping one-gallon jugs of liquid hand soap, shampoo, and lotion on the shelf under the sink. With one good roll of the ship, they broke out simultaneously spilling all over the deck (floor). Since it is a small space, it spread evenly and mixed into a slippery ectoplasm an inch and a half deep. It was an awesome sight.

I sighed. I went off in search of a large stack of towels and a dustpan I could use for scooping. Deckhands do the dirty work. If I was malicious, I could have left it for the hotel department to clean up, as it was their mess. But, that’s not the nature of this job. It was the nastiest mess I’ve ever had to clean up. The worst part was that I really had to pee. That’s why I went in there to begin with, and it was too slick to stand on that deck until I cleaned it.

As I was rinsing off one of the bottles in the sink, I looked in the cupboard to see if anything else had spilled. I found a small puddle forming from the suds I had just rinsed off. The drain gasket was leaking. I called up our engineers on the radio and asked for help. Perry came up to take a look. It wasn’t a hard fix and he was about to go and get the tools needed. Our other engineer called up and asked if we needed anything, and I told him, “a cold beer.” He laughed and said, “Maybe in awhile.” He meant when I got off shift.
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The thing is, it was a truly beautiful morning. It was crisp, damn near cold. The air was fresh. Each breath was a pleasure. The sun poured over the scene - white gold rays of a dramatic intensity that a photographer would love. Sadly, this photographer was knee deep in slime, but I could still admire it from afar.

The seas eventually abated when we turned with them into the Straits of Juan de Fuca. What a night, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
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Amelia
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When I come to Seattle, I call Amelia first. “A mariner has a girl in every port.” So they say. There IS a lot of truth to this, but don’t get any ideas about Amelia and I, we have been and always will be the best of friends.

I haven’t seen her in a half a year. That’s a mariner’s social life. When I saw her, I tackled her. I didn’t mean to, but our feet intertwined and I pounced a bit too aggressively, and shit… She cut both knees and scraped her elbow. I felt terrible. That’s not what I had in mind at all, but alas, it happened. Why am I such a jack ass? Anyway, I bandaged her up, apologized nine million times and made amends by buying pints of good beer at the Freemont Brewery. Eventually, we realized that we would laugh about this some other time. “Remember when I tackled you?”

We drank our pints at a likeable bench and talked the afternoon away. There was a lot to catch up on after all, and we took turns listening and speaking. We vented, listened, and helped each other think through some problems. We laughed. We were ridiculous. Why is there so much clarity when talking to some people compared to others? Amelia helps me think clearly.

We moved on and bought burritos from a notable food cart. We ate those burritos at a small park near the canal.

Thom’s definition of happiness:

I have a delicious burrito in my hand. My best friend is sitting on my left. Ahead of me blooms a warm spring park scene of green grass, swaying trees, azure sky, passing boats and gaggling geese. To my right sits a dude with the most outlandish sideburns I have ever seen. I am happy and content. Ah, yes. How I love these moments.
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If I were going to write you a short autobiography about the last three years of my life, I would end it like this: I love my life, the life of a deckhand.
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Posted by Rhombus 15:35 Archived in USA Tagged me oceans photography jobs deckhands Comments (3)

A Vagabond's New Year

Hiking Isla Catalina, New Year Celebrations, Favorite Pic's of the Week

sunny 76 °F

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The Isla Catalina is probably the greenest, most lush desert island I’ve ever had the pleasure of hiking. It’s home to two unique species, one being the rattle-less rattlesnake, and the other being the giant barrel cactus. While I haven’t seen the rattlesnake yet, I am intrigued by its genetic evolution. I can imagine its thought process, “Well hell, every time I move to nab that mouse my damn rattle gives me away. Who needs it?” and over time, stopped growing one. Isla Catalina is quite deserted, so another possibility could be that predators to the snake are also probably few, so with no need to warn enemies, it learned to do without.
Desert Scene

Desert Scene


The giant barrel cactus is something I have seen, and I am quite fond of it. It lives up to its billing. It’s quite large. It’s very stout, and has a bright green trunk, about the diameter of a telephone pole. It ranges in height from a foot high to well over my head (roughly 6 feet). They are dotted all around the island, sometimes growing right next to another in a small copse of funky cactus. The barrel cacti aren’t the only inhabitants of the island; there are massive clumps of cardon, interesting clumps of cholla, and other wildflowers, sharp desert shrubs and plants.
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In starting my hike, I chose the road less traveled. Not only was this a better way to travel, it allowed me to completely lose my sense of civilization’s grip on me. I saw nobody, I heard nothing manmade, and I was free.

The overcast skies were leaden gray, and it was surprisingly cool. I hadn’t been cold in many weeks, but I loved being in cooler temperatures again. It was probably only 70 degrees, but the wind was steady, and it felt good to my body.
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I really enjoyed hiking through this amazing desert. I swear Dr. Seuss designed the landscape: giant clumps of weird cactus, some looking like lumpy offset stumps, others like land borne octopus. I stopped often to marvel at these amazing plants. I found another of my sacred places. I have sacred places all around this planet of ours. Usually, they are small little areas of land that appeal to my sense of order in the universe. In this case, it was a small sandy area, maybe 20 feet in diameter, it was devoid of any visible presence of life, and on the fringes were clumps of desert fauna. In the distance, I could hear the rolling waves of the ocean crash on the beach. I could see the rocky crags and hollowed out holes of the nearby cliffs. It smell like a desert, and I was immediately smitten. It was like sitting in a desert shrine, dedicated to the simple beauty of earth, this time in a desert format. It was peaceful, energizing, and I could’ve stayed there for hours, and possibly days, drinking in, and enjoying its finer features.
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Eventually, I found a jungle of desert shrubs; bright green, thick desert growth that looked like it was going to be very painful to try to cross. Luckily, I had a dry wash to follow through the tall carpet of impassable spines. The wash led to a beautiful little cove tucked into a wall of steep rock cliffs. The sound of the rolling waves was very nice, as I walked around looking at amazing and interesting shells scattered all over the beach. I had fun crawling among the rocks, watching the quick and agile crabs clatter away from me. I crawled through the eroded rock tunnels and explored the beach before turning back again. I didn’t have a clock, and I really wasn’t sure what time it was. One thing I knew was that I didn’t want to be the guy who missed the last ride back to the boat.
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New Years Eve, Vagabond Style.

We loaded into our inflatable zodiacs at about 8:30 pm, sure, it wasn’t close to midnight, but it was midnight somewhere, and we had work in the morning. Our team consisted of eight highly trained, crack-shot pyrotechnicians, recruited for our penchant for rocketry and night ops. We drove a quarter of mile through calm green waters, our wake glowing alien green from bioluminescence. Do I have to explain bioluminescence? More on that later. We landed, anchored the boat, and chose a firing location. A million stars were shining bright in the dark sky. We grabbed our parachute rocket flares, lined up, and waited for the countdown. None of us had ever shot off flares of this kind before, and we really didn’t know what to expect. They were rated for 1000 feet, and we figured it would be pretty cool. The countdown began, and we at …1 we fired them off in unison. Holy Crap! These things are serious! A powerful hiss, and the rocket shot off, a blinding orange light in the night sky. Then the chutes opened and they fell slowly down to the sea, extinguished in the cool waters off Ispirito Santo.
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After cleaning up our trash, reloading in the zodiac, and making our way back to the ship, we decided to top off our night by swimming in the bioluminescence. “Bio” are tiny microorganisms that glow in certain areas of the oceans when agitated. The wake of a boat will cause it to glow, a passing dolphin, or my favorite: Swimming. To swim in bio is to immerse yourself into cool liquid smoke, lit up by millions of fireflies and glowing an eerie green. It is beautiful. It is amazing, and it is probably one of the all time coolest things I’ve ever done. If you get an opportunity to swim in it, go for it, you won’t regret it.
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What an end of a tumultuous year, and a righteous beginning to the next. I’m quite optimistic about this years travels. I’m already situated in a beautiful desert locale, and I have some other plans to be fully developed by May. Any suggestions for a good month long trip? I’m all ears, and ready to go.

Favorite Pictures of the Week.
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For now, look for more desert stories, and descriptions. I love Baja. It is heaven on earth, and I’m enthralled that I’m here to explore it.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged me boats islands wildlife mexico deserts oceans baja cacti photograhpy Comments (2)

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