Northern Lights, Ketchikan, Alaska, May 2015, on the National Geographic Sea Lion
At the bookends of the Northern Hemisphere,
Two ships sail through calm waters,
Different voyages exploring two of Earth’s numerous natural treasures.
Two nights, almost exactly a month apart, open with clear starry skies.
Yes, stars do produce a spectacular celestial show on their own,
But on these two nights, they were but a prelude for what was to come.
In the darkness, a light…
Not the moon, nor the wish-inspiring path of a shooting star.
In the north, colliding particles in the atmosphere birth tiny bursts of light
Creating dancing ribbons of green and red over the lights of Ketchikan.
On the Equator, hot molten earth bursts from a volcano,
Its red flow producing a glowing ribbon of its own over the land.
Displays like these don’t last forever.
As clouds roll in, the sun rises, and lava hardens into a cold blackness,
The shows come to a close.
But they live on, painted in their fleeting splendor,
Forever on display in the depths of my memory.
Eruption of Wolf Volcano, Galapagos Islands, June 2015, on the National Geographic Endeavour
After several exceptional but rainy days in Southeast Alaska on board the National Geographic Sea Lion, we were greeted this morning by clear skies, calm seas, and the full moon setting behind the stunning landscape of Glacier Bay National Park. A beautiful beginning to the day!
As I stood this evening on the California coast, watching the incoming tide of the Pacific Ocean churn below me, the vastness of it all was undeniable.
It reminded me of Alaska, of mountains seen in the distance, rising some 10000+ feet from sea level…of the sheer number of animals that filled the waters around the ship…of the smallness of that ship when anchored in the landscape.
It also gave me a glimpse of the possibilities, the potential, of the unknown that this life holds for us if we are open to receiving it.
Yes, it can make one feel small to be in a place this vast, but it is also invigorating to be a part of something so big, and being a part of it, as we all are, wherever we are, is a beautiful thing.
(photo by Eric Johnson)
Glacial blues are a beautiful mixture of intense and subtle. Crayola doesn’t have anything that comes close to these mesmerizing colors.
“Look! Nature is overflowing with the grandeur of God!”
– John Muir
Critters. Big ones. Whales. Pectoral fins 15 feet long. Pretty darn big. Grizzlies. Not only big, but mean. Or so we’re lead to believe, kind of like sharks. The top of the food chain often carries with it an image of aggression. It leads me to wonder, “What of humans?” but that’s another discussion. For now it’s Alaska, in all its wildness, its unpredictability. This isn’t a zoo, folks; it’s nature. And as a friend recently said, Alaska is nature’s ultimate classroom.
Humpback whales are aerobatic giants. Their dive alone is graceful, with their flukes rising over the surface of the glassy water as the animal descends into the deep. But the breaching, chin strapping, bubble net feeding…those are sights to behold.
Grizzly bears feeding on salmon in a stream. They pounce into the water to capture a fish and often take it from there to the forest to eat it, while others devour it on site.
The salmon themselves are incredible. They are the basis for life in these forests, providing food for predators of course. But as they spawn out and their carcasses litter streams, they serve as the driving force for nutrients moving back into the forests, nurturing decomposers, fungi, plant life, the entire food cycle here. It really is beautiful to see the whole cycle play out before your eyes…and to know that a fish holds it together.
The beauty of Alaska is overwhelming,
with the vastness of her wilderness,
the majesty of her landscapes,
the intricate unity of lines and texture in her glaciers and geology,
the serenity of her forests.
“…but when we contemplate the whole globe as one great dew drop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”