Category Archives: Uncategorized

Eclipse Views from New Mexico August 21 2017

Top photo: bottom center shows moon creating sun crescent.

Next photo shows lens flare opticalfall.

Remaining photos shows endless iterations of crescent sun as filtered through branches of Pinus edulis trees.

Photos copyright David L. Witt

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New Exhibition at Seton Gallery

“echoes” exhibition opens at the Seton Gallery of the Academy for the Love of Learning with a (free) reception on Sunday August 13 at 2:00 pm. The show features images of 1932 paintings by “Kiowa Five” artist Jack Hokeah used to decorate a historic building at Seton Village. The Academy is located 20 minutes from downtown Santa Fe, on Seton Village Road, accessed via the Old Las Vegas Highway.

Ernest Thompson Seton commissioned a series of 12 large murals plus many smaller ones from the highly regarded Native American painter Jack Hokeah. Time and rugged weather has destroyed much of Hokeah’s work. This exhibition documents Hokeah’s extraordinary talent through photographs of his paintings in their original and current (quickly disappearing) form.

Included in the afternoon programming will be a performance by Dancing EarthTM Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations.

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1907 Arctic Expedition Subject of Film

My film: “Ernest Thompson Seton and the Exploration of Canada’s Fabled Aylmer Lake” will be shown at the Las Cruces International Film Festival on Saturday March 11 at 1:00pm. Subject: 1907 Arctic expedition.

http://www.lciffest.com/

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Ansel Adams Wilderness Trip Autumn 2016

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Backpacking tool kit

In the past eleven months we have seen the Paris Agreement (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the Antarctic Protection Agreement (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) while at the same time the variety of environmental disasters from species extermination to melting ice caps has continued apace. American anti-environmental politics in this election cycle has deteriorated from absurd to farcical (or vice versa). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife (dis)Service continues to keep species such as the American Pica from receiving Endangered Species Act Protection. Given all this, months ago I quit making editorial comments. What is the radical natural history writer to do?

Give up on politics at the moment for a return into the heart of wild nature.

In September, I took a break from my primary research on Ernest Thompson Seton to assist in research on John Muir. For decades fellow radical naturalist Bob Hare has been inspired by Muir’s accounts of the Sierra Nevada, and for several years has been systematically following Muir’s routes through the Range of Light. See: Wilderness Adventures with Bob Hare.

I occasionally join him in the adventure, including this year for a few September days exploring the Ansel Adams Wilderness (west of Mammoth Lakes, California). One of our destinations this year: Lake Catherine, a jewel of a lake, outstanding even by the standards of a region known for its outstandingly gorgeous lakes.

Venturing from Taos, New Mexico, to Sacramento, California, thence across Yosemite and southward to Mammoth Lakes, we packed supplies and gear for a six- night trip.

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Our goal–going beyond the distant peaks

Sept 28. From Minaret Vista (near Devil’s Postpile National Monument) we looked out over the San Jauquin watershed to Mt Ritter and Banner Peak (the high points right of center) the stone pillars below which Lake Catherine glistens in the sunshine or glowers beneath storm clouded sky (although first we had to get there).

 

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Bob at the base of a large juniper

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Typical trail passage

We are both photographers so stopped frequently to pose in front of trees, on trails, etc.

 

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Still a ways to go

We took so long to reach Thousand Island Lake (Banner Peak and Mt. Davis in the distance above the lake) that I thought we had taken a wrong turn. Our path-finding skills have not diminished, but more than forty years on from our first backpacking trips together, either we walk more slowly or the upward tilt of the trails has increased.

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Trail by the lake

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Sunset

Finally made camp as the wind gradually increased—a harbinger of what was to come.

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Sunrise photo suite

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Sept 29. Morning sunrise photography occupied us for some time.

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Island Pass images

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That morning we headed north and uphill intersecting the Pacific Crest Trail for a hike over Island Pass and to the overlook of Waugh Lake in search of places from where Muir made sketches. Late afternoon we returned through an unrelenting windstorm that did not cease for the remainder of our trip.

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Ascent of North Glacier Pass

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Looking down to the lake

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And looking up…

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Sept. 30 From our camp at Thousand Island Lake we hiked up North Glacier Pass on the north side of Banner to where it became a Class 2 climb—talus mixed with large boulders.

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Amazing lake

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Bob at top of pass

After nearly having been blown off the rocks several times we reached the top of the pass and the unforgettable view of Lake Catherine. (I wonder for whom the lake was named?)

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Much steeper than it looks

Bob continued down to the lake and beyond in search of another Muir sketch site (detailed in his blog). At 1:00pm, he promised to return in 2 ½ hours. I retreated over a hundred feet back down in the pass to get out of the worst wind, covering myself with a poncho as wind shelter. He appeared above me at exactly 3:30pm.

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Sunrise on Banner

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Thousand Island Lake, wind swept

Oct. 1. We still had half the planned trip remaining, but high elevation snow and non-stop wind changed our plan. We headed down to Garnet Lake.

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Beautiful trail from Thousand Island to Garnet Lake

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Garnet Lake reveal

From Garnet Lake, we climbed down through a hundred feet of rock gully back into the San Jauquin valley finding a long abandoned (and occasionally entirely absent) trail for our return. Our research continued for a few more days—a story for another time.

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November 10 Evening Nature Discussion Group

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Third and Fourth in a series of Setonian Evenings

6:30 – 8:00 pm at the Seton Gallery, Academy for the Love of Learning

Tuesday November 10 and Tuesday December 8, 2015  Free

133 Seton Village Road (off the Old Las Vegas Highway)

www.aloveoflearning.org

Host: David L. Witt

As an important participant in the 1930s Santa Fe literary scene, Ernest Thompson Seton held evening salons at his home (Seton Castle) discussing Nature, Environment, Life and Lifecraft. The Academy’s Seton Legacy Project is reviving this tradition with a conversational series focusing on our relationship to the natural world. What “learnings,” warnings and inspirations might we find out there—and within ourselves—with close examination and reflection?

We will explore topics suggested by Seton, starting with readings from his stories. We want to hear your stories as we examine what is important about our experience with wildlife, wild places, and life in general.

Our Setonian evenings take place amid the drawings and books of the Seton Gallery. The setting is informal, a perfect atmosphere for the sharing of ideas and insights. We will start with a topic, but there is no set path—the direction of the discussion will emerge as we go along.

November 10: Connecting Seton to the Academy through Lifecraft

Seton developed a philosophy of outdoor education disseminated through his Woodcraft League. It was about learning and living. Seton’s “Nine Principles” and “Fourfold Path,” for understanding nature and just being in the world appear to complement the “Learning Field” model of the Academy. We will look into the meaning of these.

December 8: The Radical Natural History of Generally True Patterns

Combining the teachings of Seton and Muir with Systems Theory, we find that the dissimilar systems of physics, biology and society work in remarkably similar ways demonstrating our connection to nature (and disproving the prevailing theory of our disconnection). We will consider examples to find which of them may hold up in the real world.

 

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Generally True Patterns: A New Natural History Of Recognizing Ourselves As A Part Of Nature

GTP cover - final for smashwords

I have just published a book based on my observations from and about nature. It is meant as a non-fiction companion to The Prairie Suite novel. Description follows. The book is available through Smashwords or Amazon.

Introduction

There is a widely held belief that we are exempt from the laws of nature. And further, that we can treat the living earth without regard to consequences. Our species may endure, but our purposeful environmental destruction threatens the survival of wild nature and the civilization we have built. We need to examine what might remedy or mitigate the situation and address the underlying cause.

Understanding nature is of vital importance. The sense of unease that many of us feel in our personal, societal and environmental lives comes out of a disconnection from nature. This disconnection can be addressed through identification of what can be summarized as generally true patterns, a recognition that the physical, biological and social realms operate according to common underlying principles. Patterns demonstrate the endless complexity of nature, but are based on relatively simple rules and once recognized can be applied to the way we live, think and act. Generally true patterns are a model of nature’s architecture. Neither mass nor energy, they encompass both. Building skills in pattern recognition will be of importance to any of us who wish to become more conscious of our place in the world.

Pattern recognition is deep immersion into how the things, events and processes of the entirety are connected. Patterns represent the dynamical spirit of nature in its forms of chance and creativity pushed forward by instability. The purpose of this book is to identify patterns that demonstrate our connection to the natural world, to replace the person/nature split with a person/nature connection. It is for those of us who have decided to take responsibility for decisions made in our personal and public lives. It is for anyone seeking a mutually healing relationship with nature.

Works on corporate and government corruption, carbon pollution and climate instability, biodiversity and habitat loss have refuted the belief that the laws of laissez faire prevail over the laws of nature, but not everyone has accepted this message. The poisoning of the environment and our bodies has been noted but without appreciable change in the way we actually live. Our disregard of the natural world has not changed. Warning signs are coming from wild nature. Within a relatively short time major predators such as snow leopards, African lions, and polar bears will likely be gone from the wild. The integrity and carbon sequestering capacity of the Amazonian forests will be compromised beyond repair. Fresh water will become more fought over than oil. The polar air conditioners, required for planetary cooling could wind down dramatically. Our world civilization has not been reconciled to nature and has failed to take its actual processes into account. Unless there is a revolution in our thinking (and consciousness) the predicted disasters may well come about. Pattern recognition could convince us that we are a part of and not separate from the rest of nature. Finding accommodation with the natural world will lead to a better future for all living beings.

Generally True Patterns is based on my lifetime study of natural history and is informed by academic and professional work in political science, systems philosophy, and history.

 

 

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Five Down and One To Go, where is Country Joe…

Mollusk Fossil and Computer  …when we need him prior to the Sixth Extinction?

And it’s one, two, three,
What are we waiting for ?
Just ask me, there is a reason,
Next stop is Extinction;
And it’s five, six, seven,
Open up the pearly gates,
While there is still time to wonder why,
We exclaim they are all gonna die!

The reason I usually don’t like post-apocalyptic movies such as The Matrix is that given the apparent destruction of wild nature what difference does it make rather a handful of humans survive or not? Part of what makes us human is the other creatures with whom we share the planet. According to Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History, “one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh-water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.” And that is just in the near future. If the planet keeps warming and precipitation patterns alter as expected, it will only get worse.

Kolbert takes her readers through a history of extinction from the Ordovician (444 million years ago) to the 19th century when scientists began to come to terms with the idea that some of our fellow creatures had fallen from the evolutionary path. She offers up other important ideas such as the extinction rate has increased as humans have accidentally introduced new species of rats to fragile environments like islands where the newcomers destroy every defenseless creature they come across. The sheer number of species disappearing in our time is enough to leave a permanent mark in the geologic record.

I don’t know if climate change deniers also deny the sudden drop off of other creatures. In the face of overwhelming observational and statistical evidence, if the climate deniers have not yet also started denying the truth of species loss, they will likely do so any time now. The facts are that atmospheric carbon pollution and ocean acidification are driving coral ecosystems out of existence. Fungus infections are wiping our amphibians and bats. Some mammal and bird species move uphill to find cooler conditions but find less and less space since the land area of mountain tops is less than that at a mountain’s base.

The ecological concept of biomes (environments defined by dominant plant and animal species) is being replaced by “anthromes” (environments dominated by humans). The world of large animal biology (mice and bigger) is becoming simpler, that is, fewer different types of creatures as time goes on. Kolbert does not leave us with much hope: “The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust and giant rats have—or have not—inherited the earth.”

It seems to me that when all other creatures worth hunting and killing are gone we will have only ourselves left for that purpose. The mutually hating fundamentalists of all religions have a lot to look forward to.

<Mollusk fossil and computer. Photo by dlw.>

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That bastion of the American Left, the Department of Defense…

027 Glacier rivers DSC_0068 …has reaffirmed its concerns about climate change as a threat to national security. First put forward as part of its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, this year, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (the first former enlisted man to head this department) listed several challenges to the military including the likelihood of being called upon to provide more humanitarian interventions and needing to plan for damage at coastal bases due to the rising sea level. While the majority of the U.S. Congress denies or ignores the consequences of climate disruption, the military is one of the few government institutions to acknowledge the preponderance of scientific evidence. Also this summer: a new report on the economics of climate change and the latest evidence about ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica.

DOD Report              Risky Business Report            Melting Ice Report

While the first DOD and Risky Business reports recognize that consequences will arise from the melting ice scenario, they stop short of calling for an all out give-no-quarter war on the use of carbon energy sources. When a hurricane threatens a coastal base, the Navy protects its ships by sending them elsewhere. But that doesn’t stop the storm.

{Rivers on unnamed glacier, Baffin Island, July 29, 2009. DLW photo.}

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All reactionaries are unhappy…

SAM_2895     …but each is unhappy in his own way. The source of their unhappiness is a wedding of psyche to stasis, desperation to stick to the old ways: racial purity, domination of women, fundamentalist religious fantasy, sexual bigotry, authoritarian lust. I am not singling out any one group—the ideology of stasis crosses religious, national, ethnic lines to create a global ideology, notwithstanding the most fervent ideologues hate one another with great passion. This is (rather perversely) a good thing because if Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, Rush Limbaugh (not a national leader) and others of their kind throughout the world ever recognized their great commonalities, the rest of us would be in trouble.

Their greatest commonality is unhappiness—a state of mind engendered by their being forever separated from their greatest desires (named above). They can’t always get what they want nor can they get what they need. No matter how hard they try, they will be eternally (really, for all eternity!) disappointed. The laws of nature are against them (a topic to be explored more fully in essays on time and motion). Lusting for the unattainable has a long history. The problem is their deeply felt need to share their unhappiness with the rest of us.

To the extent that a conservative streak exists in all of us, there arises a feeling of dis-ease. The symptoms come out not only in the poor treatment of our co-species members, but also in our relationship to nature. Right-wing rage comes out of the disconnect between us and nature.

{Albino marmot, Wheeler Wilderness, New Mexico, June 28, 2014. DLW photo.}

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Welcome to The Prairie Suite

Many years ago when I roamed the remnant native grasslands of the Flint Hills, stories of The Prairie Suite came to me as startlingly powerful imagery. These tales inexplicably seemed to echo back from a future time, told from the perspective of a people for whom they had already happened – not withstanding that those events had not yet come to pass for us. As a novel, The Prairie Suite came about as a literary response to the institutionalized destruction of wild nature. Here, the themes of The Prairie Suite are explored in an ongoing series of essays. The novel has been published with Smashwords, August 2014 and Kindle, September 2014. David L. Witt

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