29 June 2010


Sometimes what I work on really gets me down. 

This video buoyed me up. 

(Again, the experience is way better if you watch the HD video at Vimeo.)

(Photo from here.)

27 June 2010


(Credit: Little_DogPhotography at Flickr.) 

by Elizabeth Bishop 
Although it is a cold evening,
down by one of the fishhouses
an old man sits netting,
his net, in the gloaming almost invisible,
a dark purple-brown,
and his shuttle worn and polished.
The air smells so strong of codfish
it makes one’s nose run and one’s eyes water.
The five fishhouses have steeply peaked roofs
and narrow, cleated gangplanks slant up
to storerooms in the gables
for the wheelbarrows to be pushed up and down on.
All is silver: the heavy surface of the sea,
swelling slowly as if considering spilling over,
is opaque, but the silver of the benches,
the lobster pots, and masts, scattered
among the wild jagged rocks,
is of an apparent translucence
like the small old buildings with an emerald moss
growing on their shoreward walls.
The big fish tubs are completely lined
with layers of beautiful herring scales
and the wheelbarrows are similarly plastered
with creamy iridescent coats of mail,
with small iridescent flies crawling on them.
Up on the little slope behind the houses,
set in the sparse bright sprinkle of grass,
is an ancient wooden capstan,
cracked, with two long bleached handles
and some melancholy stains, like dried blood,
where the ironwork has rusted.
The old man accepts a Lucky Strike.
He was a friend of my grandfather.
We talk of the decline in the population
and of codfish and herring
while he waits for a herring boat to come in.
There are sequins on his vest and on his thumb.
He has scraped the scales, the principal beauty,
from unnumbered fish with that black old knife,
the blade of which is almost worn away.

Down at the water’s edge, at the place
where they haul up the boats, up the long ramp
descending into the water, thin silver
tree trunks are laid horizontally
across the gray stones, down and down
at intervals of four or five feet.

Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
element bearable to no mortal,
to fish and to seals . . . One seal particularly
I have seen here evening after evening.
He was curious about me. He was interested in music;
like me a believer in total immersion,
so I used to sing him Baptist hymns.
I also sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
He stood up in the water and regarded me
steadily, moving his head a little.
Then he would disappear, then suddenly emerge
almost in the same spot, with a sort of shrug
as if it were against his better judgment.
Cold dark deep and absolutely clear,
the clear gray icy water . . . Back, behind us,
the dignified tall firs begin.
Bluish, associating with their shadows,
a million Christmas trees stand
waiting for Christmas. The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

(Photo by Malene Thyssen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

In my humble opinion this is simply one of the best poems ever written. 

The long middle section of DEEP BLUE HOME takes place mostly in Newfoundland, with its extinct cod fishery and pilot whale "fishery," its capelin fishery, and the wonderful seabirds of Cape Saint Mary's. Elizabeth Bishop's poem reminds me of that world.

The poem also reminds me of Pete, the harbor seal from Monterey, a friendly guy who visited divers up close and personal back in the 1980s. (Does he still?) I liked him so much I made a sincere effort to cut him into every single film I ever made, no matter how long a stretch it might be to have, say, a California harbor seal appear in a film about coral reefs. I still remember his cameo lived on videotape #113 in my stock footage library. Lori, if you're reading this, you might remember that too.

26 June 2010


Photo by Phil Hart. And, by the way, well worth a visit to his website for his explanation of the complex factors that led to this photograph. Plus more really beautiful images of bioluminescence.
I wrote about bioluminescence, the brilliant aurora stirred by motion in the nighttime sea, in THE FRAGILE EDGE. Here's an excerpt:
The light show we observe near the surface, at least as we understand it, is produced largely by the dinoflagellates—those unicellular plants possessing microscopic whiplike tails that enable them to move, however slightly, this way and that. Large creatures such as you or me or a spinner dolphin will activate billions of these bioluminescent plants as we move through the surface layer of the nighttime waters. Even small zooplankton, for instance, the predatory krill traveling on their swimmerets, will find themselves spotlighted.
As to why plants in the sea produce bioluminescence, a hypothesis known as the burglar alarm theory postulates that the chemical production of light acts as a visual siren: the plants turn on their lights when their predators (for example, krill) are in motion, illuminating them so that their predators (for example, lanternfish) can catch the krill and eat them first.

You can read a classic science paper on the phenomenon: 
Mark V. Abrahams and Linda D. Townsend. Bioluminescence in Dinoflagellates: A Test of the Burglar Alarm Hypothesis (pdf). Ecology, Vol. 74, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 258-260

Photo from here.
More about bioluminescence from THE FRAGILE EDGE, an excerpt about sailing the Pacific one stormy winter:

In the trough between the swells, an incandescent waterfall of radiance tumbled from the wave breaking directly ahead. Time and again, we sailed into this cascade, which outlined the bow of the sailboat in a vibrating aura of electric blue and electric green. Behind us, our wake writhed like an aquamarine serpent before fading from view over the precipice of the receding wave.
Most nights schools of dolphins—generally common dolphins (Delphinus delphis)—arrived seemingly out of nowhere to ride our bow-wave. Alone on watch in the open-air cockpit, I would glimpse a streak of blueish-green heading towards the bow, looking for all the world like a torpedo until it porpoised through the surface to breathe. The first streak was invariably followed by others, sometimes dozens, all racing across the beam, carving glowing turns before settling into bow-riding position: on their sides, tail flukes nearly touching the bow as it hobby-horsed through the swells. No matter how violent the action of the bow, the dolphins held fast in their position, their bodies outlined in the pulsing blue light of an underwater St. Elmo’s fire. 
Common dolphins were not the only cetaceans we encountered in the course of these bioluminescent nights. We also came upon migrating gray whales headed for their breeding lagoons on the western coast of the Baja Peninsula. Their bioluminescent wakes mimicked the wakes of boats. If conditions were right, when the whales blew, the plugs of water covering their blowholes flared into faint, blue-green mists of luminous organisms, as if the behemoths were exhaling pixie dust.

Photo by Jed Sundwall, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

24 June 2010


(Image Credit & Copyright: Bob Franke)

From APOD:
Normally faint and elusive, the Jellyfish Nebula is caught in this alluring, false-color, telescopic view. Flanked by two bright stars, Mu and Eta Geminorum, at the foot of a celestial twin, the Jellyfish Nebula is the brighter arcing ridge of emission with dangling tentacles below and right of center. In fact, the cosmic jellyfish is seen to be part of bubble-shaped supernova remnant IC 443, the expanding debris cloud from a massive star that exploded. Light from the explosion first reached planet Earth over 30,000 years ago. Like its cousin in astrophysical waters the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, IC 443 is known to harbor a neutron star, the remnant of the collapsed stellar core. Emission nebula Sharpless 249 fills the field at the upper left. The Jellyfish Nebula is about 5,000 light-years away. At that distance, this image would be about 300 light-years across. The color scheme used in the narrowband composite was made popular in Hubble Space Telescope images, mapping emission from oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur atoms to blue, green and red colors.

23 June 2010


For a long time I had a sizable Antarctica section in the manuscript for my book DEEP BLUE HOME. But it didn't survive round two of my own cuts. Which doesn't mean I didn't like it. I prefer to think of a cut as a postponement, and remain hopeful the piece will a find a home in a future book.

Some of my favorite parts of DEEP BLUE HOME that made it through to publication came from an old novel I was working on a few years back. Recycling (I call it parasitizing) my own work makes me happy.

Here's a taste of the Antarctica outtake:
At first glance, the massive penguin rookery at Brown Bluff looks to be strewn with the carcasses of penguin chicks. Thankfully, they’re not dead, only prostrate with heat—so fat and absurdly fuzzy that they’re forced to lie prone on rotund krill bellies, wings outstretched, webbed feet raised in the air behind them, shedding heat through the only unfeathered parts of themselves. The Adélie chicks hatched earlier than the Gentoos on the island and some are near fledging now, emerging from their down feathers like penguins from gorilla suits. Most are joining crèches and partaking in the comical affairs known as feeding chases: a parade of chicks besieging any parent returning from the sea, the youngsters chattering loudly of their hunger. The returning parent, bloated with krill, lurches as fast and far away as it can, hoping to winnow its own chick from the mob. Some feeding chases persist a thousand feet down the beach, a long way for birds with no ankles.

(Photos © Julia Whitty)

20 June 2010


Preguntas Hermosas from Süperfad is a bittersweet animated pas de deux of poetry. From the Vimeo description:
Preguntas Hermosas is a story about a time that was shared between two people, told through a combination of Poema X by Pablo Neruda and Under the Harvest Moon by Carl Sandburg.  It unfolds in three parts; a fond remembrance, loss, and then finally acceptance.

Night Sea, Edward Gindin

Forthwith, the two poems. Since I can't find the Spanish text of the Neruda online, and since someone has borrowed my Neruda and not yet returned it, Poema X is presented here in an interestingly Googlemangled translation, found online.

Pablo Neruda
We have lost even this twilight. No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.
I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant hills.
Sometimes as a coin
lit a piece of sun in my hands. I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.
So, where were you?
Who else was there?
Saying what?
Why all the love I will suddenly
feel when I am sad and far away?
The book that always closed at dusk fell,
and rolled like a hurt dog at my feet my cloak.
Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight-erasing statues. 

Carl Sandburg
Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

(Image from here.)

On Father's Day, in memory of my father, the melancholic poetry-loving Tasmanian engineer. In remembrance of Ian's dad, mostly disappeared from Alzheimer's.


Photo by Southgeist, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

When I woke, the waves had gone black,
turning over the macerated
curd of the ocean bottom, heaving its sludge
onto the beach. Some storm far out, I thought,
had ravaged the sea, stirred up its bed,
sent the whole mess flying to shore.
At my feet I found a grave of starfish,
broken and gnarled among the fleshy
snipes and heads. Every shade of death
covered the sand. It looked hopeless
in the pale day but for the birds,
a congress of gulls, terns, and the rarest plovers,
calm for once, satiated, a measure of
the one law: this sea will claim it all—
feed them, catch them, grind their complicated bones.

18 June 2010


Evasion hors de la réalité. Je l'aime ♥

By the Canadian duo Tricot Machine from the lovely city of Montreal.

17 June 2010


(I can't tell you a whole lot more about this dream image, which looks like the illustration for a book, apart from the fact that I found it here.)

In my new book DEEP BLUE HOME I write at some length about the strange life history of anglerfish. Here's a snippet of an excerpt from a longer section about the death journey of a great whale to the bottom of the sea:
Odd gelatinous anglerfishes approach, the females casting fishing tackle attached to their foreheads, complete with rods, lines, luminescent lures, and sometimes hooks. Their male partners accompany them in the form of tiny parasitical appendages attached by their jaws to the females’ skins, where they subsist on embryoniclike connections to her blood supply. Thus conjoined, the males atrophy to nothing more than their gonads, awaiting the moment to spawn.
But, really, why write at all when Matthew Inman has created this masterpiece of scientific cartooning? Below is one of his five frames on the subject of anglerfish, called How the Male Anglerfish Gets Completely Screwed. Click on the frame for a bigger version:

You'll have to wander over to The Oatmeal to read the rest. It's worth the click.

And in case you missed it the first time I posted it, check out Isabella Rossellini's fantastic Green Porno Anglerfish film.

16 June 2010


Swarm Mentality is an excellent short film from Scienceline parsing the collective decisions made as the sum of individual choices, which manifest in behaviors we call swarming, schooling, and flocking.

I wrote about schooling and flocking in some detail in my book The Fragile Edge. Here's an except:  
Meanwhile, out on the lagoon, a juvenile bigeye trevally caught by a black noddy falls back to the surface to be reingested by the ocean. Sometimes, with a big enough flock of noddies and an armada of aggressive frigatebirds, the little fish fall like rain, their reentry points marking the surface with the bulls-eye targets of ripples. If you happen to be snorkeling or diving in the vicinity of a feeding frenzy while this is going on, you can see the little fish streaking like lightening bolts for the company of the school. With a homing sense as true as any bird’s, they dash towards their beleaguered fellows, gathering until they form a subschool of survivors. If the subschool grows large enough, it may temporarily abandon the mother school, particularly if the battle is not going well for the latter. 
Watching, you think it must be hopeless: that every last living creature in the sea or in the air above desires these little fish as bright as newly-minted silver coins. Tossed cruelly into the hordes of the greedy, hounded day and night, they live lives of unending terror under conditions of perpetual warfare. Yet they survive, many of them, somehow.

Photo of a school of goldband fusiliers, Pterocaesio chrysozona, by Mila Zinkova, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Back to the excerpt:
A school of predatory jacks, which the Tahitians calls paaihere, are dogging their heels from below. The noddies are skipping across their spines from above. The frigatebirds lurk in the shadows of clouds. Bunching together, the juvenile trevallies spill and pool and reunite like loose mercury. When the paaihere launch an attack, the little fish perform a defensive maneuver known as the fountain effect: the school instantaneously splitting into two, each subschool reversing direction and circling behind their attackers on opposite sides. This behavior awards the trevallies a running headstart from their enemies.
Capitalizing on the momentary advantage, the little fish dive, trying to escape the reach of the birds above. But the paaihere are relentless hunters with big appetites and phenomenal accelerating abilities. They wheel around and come at the trevallies from below, herding them towards the sunlight, where the reflections of their newly-minted bodies sparkle in the irises of the dancing noddies.
Trapped, the little fish unloose another defensive stratagem known as the flash expansion. Without warning or any apparent means of coordination, the school explodes, and members scatter shrapnellike out from an imaginary center. The whole reaction takes place in as little as twenty milliseconds, as each fish accelerates to speeds of twenty bodylengths per second. Amazingly, the trajectory of each trevally carries it away from the center and away from its neighbors, and is accomplished without any collisions—which would surely prove fatal under the circumstances. More astounding is the fact that the entirety of the flash expansion occurs at speeds faster than the rate of nerve impulses travelling from the little fishes’ eyes to their brains and back to their muscles. In other words, this defensive play has nothing to do with sight, and the little fish are as good as blind throughout it.

Here's a video showing flash expansion in whirligig beetles.

Again, more of the excerpt:
Curiously, computerized fish programmed to behave like a school of a fish cannot perform as well as the real thing unless they are subject to a field, which is itself influenced by all the individuals in the school, and which in turn links them together. For living fish, sight alone is not enough to maintain tight schooling. Neither are the lateral line systems that enable them to sense minute pressure changes in the water. Real fish that have been temporarily blinded with opaque contact lenses and others have had the nerves to their lateral lines cut still manage to school effortlessly.
—from The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the 
South Pacific, Chapter 12, The Infinity Pool

Photo of schooling bannerfish by Jon Hanson, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

13 June 2010


The photograph is by Rosie Hardy. More otherworldly images on her flickrstream. (Thanks Rosie for sharing, thanks Steve for facilitating the sharing.)

by Walt Whitman 
The world below the brine,
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick tangle openings, and pink turf,
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the play of light through the water,
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes, and the aliment of the swimmers,
Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling close to the bottom,
The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting with his flukes,
The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,
Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths, breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed by beings like us who walk this sphere,
The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.

11 June 2010


This teaser for Jason Wingrove's documentary on the Australian ocean pool culture in Sydney was filmed at the famous Bondi Icebergsa club founded in 1929 for winter swimming. 

(BTW, the video is really worth watching in HD on Vimeo.)

Bondi Icebergs, photo from here.

There used to be a lot more lidos in the world than there are now—though there is something of a rebirth underway.

Photo of a beach in Australia, 1958, by John Dominis, from the LIFE photo archive on Google.

According to Wikipedia, a major breakthrough in lido revival took place in 2005 when English Heritage published Liquid Assets: The Lidos and Open Air Pools of Britain. Author Janet Smith spent years swimming in lidos around the country and her book explored the past, present, and future of open air pools. This, in turn led to two major conferences in 2006: "Reviving Lidos" and "Making a Splash."

Long-running—in one case, 20-plus-yearcampaigns have resulted in the reopening of London Fields; Droitwich Spa Lido; Brockwell Lido; Clifton Lido; and Woodgreen Pool.

Be nice to see Sutro Baths in San Francisco reopen someday...

With or without a roof.

08 June 2010


Silence. Gail Potocki. Oil on linen in handmade frame.

This painting by Gail Potocki about the Exxon Valdez oil spill didn't just speak to me it hypnotized me. I haven't been able to stop looking at it.

I learned about it from Thomas Negovan, Gallery Director at Century Guild in Chicago. He wrote to me:
The painting, Silence, was created as a symbolic representation of two elements of the Exxon Valdez oil spill: one, the deadly silence of the landscape, and second, the avoidance of talking about the event. Sadly, it is far too relevant again this month.
Plans are afoot at Century Guild and with Gail Potocki to produce a print with 100% of sales going as a charity to assist the rescue efforts relating to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I'll keep you posted.


There are many reasons to love the French and Guillaume Nery just moved to the top of my list.

The film is part fiction, composited from four days of dives and multiple dives per day at a blue hole in the Bahamas. But that only makes it more lovely, afloat on art rather than fact. From Outdoor:
"We just wanted to show another approach of freediving," Nery explained. "For me freediving means to be in harmony with the elements, it means freedom, it means exploring the unknown. We tried to express this feeling in one video."
Julie Gautier, a French freediving champion and model, who filmed the dives while freediving herself, wrote on her blog: "Our goal was to emphasize on aesthetic images and innovative camera moves."

This National Geographic photo is of the Great Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef, Belize.