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The Dusty Vagabond's Photographic Review of 2012

It's Been An Amazing Year. I Love My Life.

This is my 2012 Photographic Review. I originally started this project with intentions of explaining where I was and how the photographs came about. When I started going through my files, I realized there were too many photos that I wanted to share. The entry would’ve been the size of a telephone book for elephants.

I will let the photographs speak for themselves. Many of these photos I’ve used in my entries during the past year, but there are a couple in there that I have not shared, until now. If you have any questions or comments concerning any of the locations or technique involved, please let me know and I’ll be happy to tell you everything I know.

With that, I offer you 2012 in review.

January - Baja, Mexico
I was in Mexico in January. I was finishing my last month as a full time employee for the cruise ship I work on.
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February - Idaho
In the beginning of February I headed west from Michigan to Idaho where I planned to become a ski bum for a couple of months. In Idaho, my life revolved around two of my favorite pastimes: skiing and long boarding. I skied when the snow as good on the mountain, and long boarded when the mountain was closed, or without fresh snow.

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March - Baja Mexico
After a year and a half of living and working on a ship, I became a social creature. In Idaho, I fell into a bit of a funk. I was lonely and I missed my ship friends. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to rejoin the ship for a month down in Mexico. I got out of my funk and let those bad thoughts float away on the tides. March is one damn fine month to be in Baja.

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April - Baja, Mexico, American Road Trip
My last week in Baja was about as good as you can get.

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April Road Trip - 2000 miles
After Baja, I travelled across America in my van on a rambling 2000 mile trip that turned into a 4000 mile trip.
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Chicago
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May - To West Virginia, Birthday in Seattle, Alaska
In May, I went down to West Virginia for some rock climbing and white water rafting. I celebrated my birthday in Seattle with my birthday twin, before heading north to Alaska to explore Denali National Park.

West Virginia
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Seattle
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Alaska
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Haines and Homer
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June - Isle Royale, Colorado
In June, I hiked I trekked on Isle Royale National Park before heading south to Colorado. In Colorado, I found incredible heat, forest fires, and amazing sand dunes.
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Colorado
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July - Michigan
In July, I returned to Lake Superior to embrace summer.
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August - Southeast Alaska

In August, I returned to work on my beloved SeaBird for another three and a half months. The wild landscapes and incredible beauty continue to draw me back.
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September - Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, Columbia River
In September, I saw some of the best that Southeast Alaska has to offer.

Alaska
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British Columbia
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Columbia River
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October - Columbia River
In October, I watched the summer turn to autumn along the famed Columbia River.

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November - Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica
In November, I took a three week epic cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia and The Antarctic Peninsula. The two years of blood sweat and tears I shed for my ship was completely repaid with this wonderful excursion to the Antarctic.

The Falklands
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South Georgia
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Antarctica
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December - Patagonia, Argentina
In December, I took my first steps on land in four months. I started in Ushuaia, and began travelling north into Patagonia.
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When I look back at everything I have experienced, I laugh. I can't believe it. How the hell do I get so lucky? I want to thank all of you
who have given this project any time at all. It's my sincerest hope you find some joy in whatever it is you do for fun. At heart, I'm a writer, a rambler and a photographer, and I'm happiest when I'm walking through an unknown landscape with beautiful light. Thank you, Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2013.

Posted by Rhombus 12:08 Tagged landscape travel seascapes love photography philosophy Comments (9)

Eating Habits of Whales and Bears

Bubble Net Feeding, Swimming in Alaska, Brown Bear Fishing, and Farewell to Alaska (for now)

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I’m wrapping up my last week here in Alaska until September. Yep, it’s time for a month off, and let me tell you I’m quite excited about my vacation. Before I go, it seems like Alaska is giving me a farewell party with a fantastic show of wildlife, cloud, and activity.

Bubble Net Feeding of Humpbacks

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I’ve talked a lot about the behavior of humpback whales, and now I’m going to attempt to describe one of the more spectacular eating techniques they employ: Bubble Net Feeding. Bubble netting is aptly named-- a pod of whales blows a net of bubbles that captures their prey inside of it. Then as a group, they can swim through the net, gulping their way to the surface.

I’ve seen two sets of bubble netting feeding whales, a small two-whale group, and now a large group of over six whales. There are several steps that go into making a successful net, and the whales have gotten their system down pat.

The whales arrange themselves in a line, and breathe along the surface for several deep blows. Then, as in a game of follow the leader, the first in the group takes one final blow and dives down. Each whale in succession follows it. It was impressive to see fluke after fluke of these humongous creatures dive down.
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I haven’t witnessed what goes on beneath the surface except on video, but what can be seen from the air is a large ring of bubbles that percolates at the surface. These bubbles are the sides of net. This net is formed as the whales circle the bait ball and capture it by blowing a long steady stream of bubbles from beneath them. The bubbles panic and confuse the fish, drawing them closer in their fast moving defensive swirl.
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The whales, having trapped their prey, bellow out a long trumpet like call, akin to a charging army’s cry of “CHARRRRGGGGGEEEEE” and as a group launch themselves through the bait ball opening their humongous mouths-- devouring their prey in gigantic gulps of gluttony. The whales break the surface as one, their momentum carrying them high out of the water. Look at how full their mouths are! They filter out the food with the baleen at the top of their mouth. A baleen is a series of long comb like cartilage that allows water to pass through but not the fish. They hold on the surface for a second, and then slowly sink back down enjoying their bite. The surface of the water is turmoil of bubbles dead fish and froth from which the seagulls get their share of the bounty.

I saw them surface through the bubble at least 8 times and we watched them for over three hours. I wasn’t on deck the whole time either, so this goes to show you the massive amounts of baitfish that can support this kind of feeding. That biomass of fish is impressive. The whales eat their fill, and their summer eating supports their migration south for the mating season.

To hear their trumpeting call as their bubbles trap you must be terrifying. We heard it on our underwater hydrophone, and it is eerily awesome. That call signals the others it’s time to eat and they do so with vigorous relish.

If you don’t have an underwater microphone you can tell where they will surface by the activity of the seagulls. They will signal where the whales will surface, and you can see the gulls get more excited as their lunch approaches.

I with I could have so much fun when I eat a fish stick.

Swimming in Funter Bay

This summer our Bosun, Nikki has been really big on swimming everyday. I’ve joined her several times, as I love jumping in cold water. If you are having a bad day, jump in cold water. It will refresh you, wake you up, and somehow make you feel a whole lot better. We were anchored in Funter Bay, and she asked my deck partner and myself is we wanted to go for a swim. Hell yeah! Why not? So I grabbled my shorts, stripped down on the fantail and without much ado, jumped in. Hot damn, was that some nippy water! Woooeeeeeee. It woke me up, made me feel good and I tingled all over from the experience. It was what swimming in Alaska is all about.

I jumped in two more times to seal in my delight. Then, since I was technically still working, decided I should change and get back to work. Since dinner was being served, I didn’t want to walk through the crowded dining room. I decided to change on the back of the ship, the fantail.

I looked around as I always do when I’m about to get naked in a public place, that ol’ wary eye. The coast was clear, literally, and I dropped my unmentionables in a heap on the deck of the boat. Just then, the captain of the boat walked out to have a smoke. I noticed him, laughed out loud, and said, “Hi, Cap.” Damn my timing. Luckily, I had gone for the towel wrap before I dropped my drawers and so saved the captain from a year’s blindness.

A moment in the life of Thom.

The Brown Bears of August
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Brown bears love august. The reason being, the fishing is good. The salmon have begun running up the rivers and streams of coastal Alaska. They are looking to have one last romantic getaway before dying.

The brown bears know this, and after eating greens and carcasses all summer long are ready for a change of diet: Fresh salmon. They come to their favorite fishing streams in singles (males), or families (females with cubs), to eat their fill before passing out for a long winter’s nap.
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Today I watched three bears pounce on salmon in the shallows just beneath Pavlov Falls. I’m not sure who Pavlov was, but of Russian descent and probably the first person to hike up this little creek. The fish were plentiful, and the bears make fishing look easy. They simply wait until the salmon get shallow enough, and then pounce on them, hooking their enormous claws into them and mashing them with their bulk against the stream. If we humans tried such a technique, we’d fail miserably.

Then the bear would grab the fish with its mouth, haul it to a nearby rock and eat only the choicest parts, mostly the guts and brains.

Now for some science.

Soil scientists have been studying the soil around these streams and have been finding large amounts of salmon nitrates in the soil. How did it get there? How could so much fish bits be in the soil? So they took samples perpendicular to the stream to see how far back the salmon bits went. They went until they finally found salmon free soil. I don’t remember the distance from the stream but I think it was at least a half mile on either side of the stream.

What they found was that salmon have been fertilizing and enriching the soil around these streams, which in turn gives the forest it‘s impressive lush foliage. How do salmon get into the soil? Bears. The bears catch the salmon, and often will carry their salmon out into the woods to eat in peace. The fish decomposes and turns to soil, and the bear having eaten its fill will digest and pass on the rest of it, broken further down and ready to add nutrients to the soil, making for lush coastal forests.

Now that is a smart natural system. Nothing is wasted, and everything keeps the system working.

One Last Whale
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This was the last whale I'll see in Alaska for awhile. I'm pleased that my last memory is that of a humpback waving good by with its gigantic fluke.

Alaska has once again been very good to me, and I'll miss waking up to its tremendous landscapes. I think it's good to take a break from it for awhile, lest I get complacent with the scenes around me. I don't think I ever will get tired of Alaska, but I don't want to take that chance. I'll be back in September and look forward to my return. Until then, stay tuned. This traveller has some fun lined up for August.

Some Last Looks.
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Posted by Rhombus 14:03 Archived in USA Tagged islands fishing seascapes whales alaska clouds oceans swimming photography bears bubblenetting Comments (0)

A Sailor Hits Seattle

Sailing into Seattle, Spending Spree, Enjoying City Life after a 4 Month Abscense, Welcome to British Columbia

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We docked the boat at about seven in the evening on a huge pier just north of downtown Seattle. Our entrance to Seattle was a pleasant one. I was sipping tea, chatting with my friend Bill-who is from Seattle, and he was proudly telling me about his town. We leaned on the rail of the ship, sipping and watching the anchored cargo ships, and the downtown area come closer into view. I believe the rails of most ships are designed for deckhands to lean on. It’s a good, comfortable leaning spot, and no matter where you are in the world, you can see deckhands leaning on rails, watching the world go by.
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Almost the entire crew came out for the event, excited to be able to walk on solid ground again, after six days at sea. The captain did his thing, and we linesmen did ours. It was a smooth landing.

When the gangway was set in place, the crew eagerly bounded down it to walk on the cold concrete of the pier, some disappearing into the depths of the city some three miles distant. I was expecting to go to work, but the chief mate asked me if I had plans, and that I could begin my shift two hours later than I had figured.

With unexpected time on my hands, I found a couple of my friends who were going for a jog, and told them to wait for me. I threw on what I guessed were suitable jogging clothes, put on my dilapidated, unsupportive footwear I call sneakers and joined them. We happily and energetically ran around, hopping over concrete barriers and chatting amiably. It felt damn good to be free of the confines of our 152-foot world.

I watched this huge factory ship dock in the night. It's bow is taller than the top of our bridge deck.
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We ran downtown along a shoreline asphalt trail. The darkness of early night was closing in, but we didn’t care. When we reached the city, we walked up on of the seven hills on which Seattle was built. We continued downtown to Pikes Place Market for a cup of coffee before returning to the shift. It was a good run, and in good company. I’m not a runner, and I knew my feet were going to feel sore the next day after the pounding I gave them. I didn’t care. It was worth it.
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The next day, I awoke, threw on some clothes and walked back into downtown for a little adventure of my own. The day was full of signs of spring. There were large areas of fresh green grass with dandelions and daisies bobbing around in the breeze. The trees were budding, and little songbirds were perched high in them attempting to seduce one another with song. The skies were blue with occasional cloudy patches bringing in drizzle. It was warm enough for a tee shirt, then cold enough for a jacket, all in five minutes. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it was to see a colorful landscape after five months in a desert.
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I love walking in cities, exploring through the hustle and bustle that residents take for granted.

I like looking at the little vignettes of city life: A woman cuddles into her man as he kisses her on the cheek. A pigeon lands briefly on a baby carriage (is this the right term anymore?) the bird and baby eye each other peacefully before the bird flew off. A man walks by me eating a cinnamon roll, and refusing to make eye contact with me. That’s the way of the city, nobody will look at you. I looked at everybody. I saw two elderly sisters standing the same way, walking the same, looking at their goal across the street; that being Macy’s. A young man looking street smart and hip waits for a bus while listening to his Ipod.

I was enthralled with the simple joys of a city after six months at sea.

I went on a sailor’s spree. I’ve a bit of money saved up for my toil and labor this winter. I didn’t spend much money down in Mexico. My nest egg is now full enough to spend at will (I realize that I probably gave the financially wise populace a heart attack). I’m boat rich; Easy come, easy go.

With nobody to keep me in check, I purchased a cinnamon roll, and a good cup of coffee ($3), some toiletries I needed ($30), an Ipod (my first, and I STILL can’t download itunes which makes it basically worthless)($160), I went into the map store on 1st Avenue and immediately bought two books I’ve been wanting to read. “The Natural Navigator” by Tristan Gooley and “As Told At The Explorers Club”($30). This particular store is very charming and very dangerous. I didn’t stay long, as I knew my weakness for maps. I finished off my day by going down to Pike Place Chowder for a bowl of chowder ($7) and getting one for the road ($7). Pikes Place Chowder is a very good bowl of chowder. In my opinion, there’s only one place on the west coast that makes a better bowl. I was satisfied with my efforts for the day, and walked back to the ship in good spirits.

The next day we sailed north into Canada and British Columbia. The first sunset of Canada was a memorable one. It was one that a picture can’t really do justice to, though I tried. To be in that moment, in that scene, was to be immersed in grandeur. I love being surrounded by glowing clouds and seascapes. There were only four of us who witnessed it, even after we told everyone to come and take it in. The fools, their noses were glued like mine is right now to their computers.
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For those of us who watched the evening unfold, it was a symphony in the sky, and a well composed one at that. The clouds were its greatest feature, lit up in colors I hadn’t known existed by the setting sun. It was one to remember, and I’ll do my best to do so.
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I’m now in Alaska…
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Posted by Rhombus 15:37 Archived in USA Tagged sky boats parks cities seascapes clouds sunsets oceans seattle Comments (3)

Landscapes and Seascapes of Baja Mexico

Spatial Experiences By Land and Sea

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There is a timeless quality to the landscapes of the southern Baja Peninsula. I feel as though if I visited these same vistas five hundred years ago to compare, nothing would have changed. They are timeless. The peninsula is perhaps one of world’s greatest interactive natural history museums.

These are peaceful views of incredible magnificence. They have grandeur.

From Land

Punta Friars on the East Cape
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I’m sitting high up on a rock far above the coastline and watching the quiet movements of the earth cycle and flow. The swells are deceptive. They are a lot bigger than they look from the sea. They roll in and stretch over the beach in a thinning white carpet of foam. The distant coastal mountains arc back, and form “points” out to the sea. The sun has warmed everything, the rocks, the earth, the sand, and me. There is always a wind here, and I’ve grown accustomed to its enveloping embrace around me. It’s like getting a soft hug from a swirling warm ghost all day long. The sun also provides the light, which make this whole gambit possible.

I don’t know it yet, but In a few minutes, I’ll be sprinting over two hundred yards of boulders to assist in helping a kayaker who flipped over in the big swell get back to shore. But I don’t know that yet, and so for these last few minutes, I’m at peace. It is kind of funny how life is; you just never know what’s going to happen next. One second I’m completely at ease, and the next I’m completely in motion in body and mind. Let this be a lesson to you Chuck: Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean.

Boojum Trees and Skylight
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I love bright, diffused light through thin clouds.

To Hike Punta Juanico
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It was an unexpected stop at an unknown location. It looked cool. When I say cool, it means it was gorgeous, and better yet, I could get on the beach and explore. I was ahead of the curve by two hours--I was alone and had a plan. I started south, hiking up the first trail I’ve used here in Baja. There just aren’t many trails down here. Hiking on a trail again was kind of a novelty, after four months of making my own. Stepping easy, and making good progress (I was designed for walking up steep hills), I was soon atop the first overlook and blown away by the view. I stopped to smell the roses, so to speak.
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The thin trail continued to stretch further south over and up a much higher ridge, and I was happy to oblige my sense of wonder and excitement as I climbed higher to an ever improving view.

At the apex of height, the trail descended to a perfect secluded beach. I had visions of meeting my one true love at the bottom, or at least some alluring senorita, but alas, it wasn’t to be. One day….
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I did find a beautiful cardon cactus standing tall at the edge of the beach. It had five stalks rising high like the fingers of a skinny hand. I liked its position in life. Not too close to the sea, but close enough for an excellent view.

Dry Wash

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I purposely angled to the shady side of the arroyo in hopes of finding highlighted cactus scenes. Instead I found myself on the cusp of shadow and light, perfect for black and white. This common scene of a dry wash gets much more interesting in low angled light.

Last Hike on Danzante

The climb was sketchy at best. Loose chunks of crumbling rock and gravel pieces lay on a steep hillside of scratchy desert brush and small cactus. To fall, meant pain. I was climbing my way up to the top of a high bluff that would overlook the entire north side of Isla Danzante. This would mark my last hike on this island for awhile, and I wanted to make it a good one. On my first hike on this island way back in December, I hiked up to a high point, that I could see not to far away. This would make bookends so to speak, with all kinds of memories in between.

With deliberate steps I made it up, and took in the view. It was satisfying, over looking the rugged landscape of rock bluffs, islands, the mountain ridges of the Sierra de la Giganta, and the sea. A single clump of cardon was placed perfectly, and I knew that was the picture I would take home with me. I took one photo, took in the view, and said farewell.
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From Sea

The Layered Ridges
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I love the layered shades of the coastal mountains and rocks. These landscapes are begging to be drawn; I want to sketch them out in shaded charcoal on my sketchpad. For now, a photograph will have to do.

Dolphins and Mountain Light
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Baja a remarkable experience because of the ocean wildlife melds so nicely with desert scenery and mountains. This photo has several names that come to mind: “Bottom’s Up”. “A Dolphin Mountain Gallery” or “Dolphins at Dawn.”


In looking at these photos, I wondered what goes into a good landscape? I decided one of the more important elements is space. With a strong subject and artfully arranged, they become appealing to the senses. That’s really all I am, an observer who arranges his own artwork to take home.

I hope you find time to get outside and see what it looks like beyond that next ridge.

Posted by Rhombus 10:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscapes beaches desert rocks seascapes oceans photography Comments (0)

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