When L. Sue Baugh announced to the writing group a few years back that she and her friend Lynn Martinelli wanted to document the oldest places on earth, there was no way for those in attendance to know how serious she was–and how glorious the results of that project would be.
Sue and Lynn sought to experience landscapes that resembled what ancient Earth might have been like long before humanity appeared. Their search led the two women into remote regions of Western Australia, Canada, Greenland, the United States–and eventually into territory not marked on any map.
The outcome of their research is Baugh’s book Echoes of Earth: Finding ourselves in the origins of the planet. The work combines science and philosophy, but it is dominated by the photographs that so gloriously capture the primitive beauty of the places explored. The book is remarkable not only in its subject matter and beauty, but also in its format. There are die cuts, half pages, and fold-outs, making the book an interactive experience.
While Baugh says she loved everywhere she visited, she said Australia was the place that most captivated her. She relates, “I don’t think my heart ever fully came back from there.” Of course, that’s a sentiment I share with her.
The book is not just getting noticed by Baugh’s associates in local writing groups. It has in a short time racked up an impressive number of awards:
• A silver medal for Photography/art from the Nautilus Book Awards
• Awards in two categories from the Benjamin Franklin Awards (Baugh is happiest with the award in the nature/environment category).
• A gold medal for science/nature/environment category from Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
Not too surprisingly, the book is available on Amazon. However, if you want a signed, numbered version–with additional materials–you can go to the website for Wild Stone Arts.
In the post on Mt. Conner, I mentioned that there are three giants in the Red Centre. However, the third of this group shattered and has weathered into a cluster of domes, rather than offering the monolithic profile of the first two. These are the Olgas, named by explorer Ernest Giles for Queen Olga of Württemberg. To the local Aborigines, they are Kata Tjuta, or “many heads.”
Though broken and worn, the Olgas are still impressive. Mt. Olga, the central and tallest rock in the group, is actually taller than Ayers Rock, rising 1,500 feet above the surrounding plain. The cluster of towering rock domes covers an area of 11 square miles.
I had been to the Olgas on my previous visit to the Red Centre, so I did not join our group for the standard hike into Olga Gorge. Instead, I wandered off on my own, to be alone with my thoughts and the land I had come to love, and to think about what had happened to me, now that my six-months was drawing to a close. It was immensely quiet once I was away from the group, with nothing but the breeze and the rustling of the fragrant brush around me to break the silence. However, I was not so introspective that I failed to examine everything. My camera being one of the ways I try to attach myself to a place, I also took a fair number of “parting shots,” including the one below.
The Olgas/Kata Tjuta
It’s interesting how the Internet has contributed new ways to meet people. I have developed a number of friendships over the years that are entirely online—though I’d certainly look these folks up if I landed in whatever country they’re in.
One such online friend is Flemming Bo Jensen. He is a photographer from Denmark who shares my love of Australia and attraction to the continent’s wilder places. He just finished a photo shoot in the Kimberley and created a gorgeous little video of his experience. I visited the Kimberley on my third trip to Australia, and I was there at the end of the dry season, so the waterfalls were a bit diminished from those in Flemming’s video. Plus I was traveling by land, camping in the remote wilderness, rather than cruising along the coast—though we did have the lovely opportunity of a helicopter ride out along the rivers and over the coastline, so I did get to experience many of the vistas in the video.
Though our trips were quite different, it was the same area, and it was an area that I loved. The video captures enough of what I experienced that it’s worth sharing. I’ll have more about my own trip through the Kimberley as time progresses, but I thought it worth sharing this now.
In my book, I mention wrapping an arm around a tree and leaning out over a cliff to take a photo of a king parrot I saw while visiting Katoomba. The photo I took is below. But what amazes me when I think about it is the things I do when a camera is placed in my hands that I would never consider without a camera. Close-ups of bees, hanging over cliffs (not just here, but as mentioned in my post on the Annan River Gorge), leaping in front of running horses or athletes. Somehow, the shot becomes the priority when I’m holding a camera. Of course, this is fading a bit as I age—I have a greater appreciation of the possibility of injury or death. But it is not gone.
Judging by the images I see in such outlets as National Geographic or Outdoor Photographer, I know I am hardly alone in this. It seems to characterize a wide range of photographers. I think it has to do with the fact that the photographer is even more focuses than the camera.
The king parrot is a splendid orange and emerald bird. The bright splash of color behind the king parrot is a crimson rosella, another beauty of this region. But the rosella appears in a previous post, so this time, it’s the king’s turn.
Well, I had pulled a lovely selection of slides to scan, so I could continue to share with you images of Tasmania and beyond, but my slide scanner (Nikon LS-2000 Super CoolScan) just failed me. It scanned one slide all black, and now it doesn’t even register that there’s a slide in the scanner. So until I can get it fixed, or can make arrangements with photographer friends to use their scanners, I won’t have much to post. Sure, I could just write stuff, but I figure that here, you want images too. Sigh. Don’t know if I’ll get anything accomplished before the Mother’s Day weekend (have to go spend some time with mom), but then I’ll tackle this problem and start sharing the beauty of Australia with you again. Till then, there are more than 200 posts here stretching back over a few years, so you can still get fairly immersed in Australiana, if you so wish. And wish me luck with the scanner.
I took this photo for reasons other than recording information about Port Arthur. I have a particular fondness for things that grow where they shouldn’t—grass pushing up through asphalt, vines growing over a windmill, a plant slipping up through a crack in a sidewalk, and flowers like the one in this photo, just sprouting out of a stone wall.
I have myriad photos of these “wall flowers,” as I love the juxtaposition of opposing elements. It reminds me that nature is designed to bounce back. Whether it’s Vesuvius burying Pompeii or Angkor Wat disappearing beneath a tidal wave of greenery, nature wants to win and will take back anything we leave alone for too long. And so I had to include the wall flower in this photo of an arch framing the penitentiary at Port Arthur.
Port Arthur with Wall Flower
I am always drawn to the beauty of water and light, whether it’s a rainbow, a reflection, a wonderful cloudscape, sunrise, or sunset. As a result, I spend a considerable amount of time admiring the sky in particular, but combine sky and a body of water, and I can’t help but stop to enjoy, and usually photograph, what lies before me. Camping at the edge of Macquarie Harbour, just outside of Strahan, gave me the opportunity to take several photographs of the changing colors as the sun sank to the horizon. It was a beautiful end to a wonderful day.
Sunset over Macquarie Harbour
One of life’s great joys is discovering people who share your love of something that is important to you. I love nature and beauty, and that particular interest has led to a friendship with Carol Freeman, an outstanding nature photographer who shares my love of beauty. Sure, there are differences in our approaches—I’m more international and am as drawn to rocks, ruins, and open-air markets as I am to birds and flowers, while Carol has focused her energy on recording and protecting rare and endangered species, primarily in the Midwestern U.S.—but the same delight in beauty and reverence for creation can be seen when comparing our nature photography. However, Carol, who works for the Nature Conservancy and other ecologically oriented groups, is a full-time professional, while I’m primarily a writer who uses photography to supplement my words—and that difference shows both in Carol’s level of skill and depth of work.
So I thought today, I’d give you one of Carol’s photos, and then send you to her website, so you can revel in the glory of her work. Her site is “In Beauty I Walk,” and you’ll see why once you visit it.
In the family Accipitridae, which includes eagles, buzzards, and harriers, kites are the mid-sized models. There are numerous species of kites, divided among three subfamilies, which live in warm (temperate as well as tropical) regions worldwide. Like other daylight raptors, kites generally rely on speed to dine. That said, some kites eat nothing but snails, so they must not all be relying on speed. One species of Australian kite eats rabbits, lizards, and emu eggs. Some live on insects, and are particularly happy when a brush fire leaves the ground littered with lightly charred grasshoppers. Many are primarily scavengers, though they’ll fill in with rodents and reptiles when there’s nothing to scavenge.
It seemed pretty clear to us, even without much expertise in ornithology, that the kites attracted to our camp in Kakadu were the kind that lived by scavenging. Either that, or they had been well trained by tourists like us. Whenever we cooked a meal during daylight hours, they were on hand, waiting for the leftovers.
Our guide, Henk, showed us a trick for photographing these speeding raptors as they dove in to pick up a snack. First, he placed a stick on the ground and told us to focus on the stick. He then tossed meat right next to the stick, with the instruction that we just fire off a shot when he said “now.” Of course, he had to say “now” just before the kites actually reached the meat, because even swift reflexes wouldn’t catch the grab if we waited until the birds were in our viewfinders. But with a couple of tries, we all came away with at least recognizable images of the lunchtime cleanup crew at work.
Back to writing about Australia and my adventures there.
It was while in the Centre, camping near Ayers Rock, that I first saw the constellation known as the Southern Cross. I have always enjoyed stargazing, and the Australian nighttime sky is astonishing, but this constellation delighted me beyond simply being a nice grouping of stars. Of course, this is no mystery; I’m sentimental. Orion has always been my favorite northern constellation simply because it was my father who first pointed it out to me, and I always associated it with my father. The Southern Cross had to be my favorite southern constellation because of its association with Australia, from its presence on the national flag to its mention in the Stephen Stills song of the same name.
That was the first time I saw the Southern Cross, but not the last, not only on this first trip, but on subsequent trips, as well. In fact, the image below was shot on my fourth trip to Australia. I was camping with friends at Tibooburra in the remote Corner Country, and we were so far from civilization that night photography was quite easy.
However, while I got a couple of good photos of the night sky, scanning the slides was not so successful. Any photographers out there have any thoughts on why my nice black sky on the slide turned into royal blue when I scanned it? I scanned it three times and couldn’t find a way to make the scan look like the slide. Photoshp Elements didn’t help, either. Any advice would be appreciated.
Despite the “blue screen” effect, you can still see the Southern Cross just right of center. The two bright stars lined up to the left of the constellation are known as the Pointers, because their brightness makes them easy to locate and then they point you to the Southern Cross. The Pointer to the left is Alpha Centauri. Actually a group of stars, rather than a single star, Alpha Centauri is our nearest stellar neighbor— the closest star system to our Solar System at just over 4 light years distance.