Archive Page 3


Thomas Campbell’s Foreword to my new book, Moved by a Mountain

Moved by a Mountain

Moved by a Mountain

only 200 copies of the book are available for Christmas. they are pre-publication copies that are embossed, numbered and signed. get them for yourself and for gifts at



By Thomas Campbell

The photographs of mountain landscapes on these pages are not the casualties of ever increasing entropy (erosion), but rather the survivors of an inexorable process dictated by the second law of thermodynamics that moves all things physical toward higher states of entropy with the passage of time. Such mountains stand tall and proud, unyielding to the endless tortures of wind and rain, snow and ice, unmindful of the relentless freezing and thawing of the seasons. Contemptuous of the might of men, they remain unbowed, magnificent, and majestic for all to enjoy and appreciate.   Though they are much older than humans, we are both the result of eons of evolution; enduring the abuse and enjoying the benefits of many millions of years of random destruction and creation to become what we are now, survivors on an evolutionary journey that is still unfolding. Though our paths are very different, the process is the same, and thus, there are lessons we can learn from the wisdom of the ancient mountains.  As it becomes increasingly clear, we are all interconnected in fundamental ways which we are just beginning to understand – all joined as one living small blue planet.

The majestic landscapes depicted by Reed’s photographs remind us of our comparative smallness and insignificance. Simultaneously, we can identify with the persistence and enduring power exhibited by these wild monuments of nature. As Reed discovers in his account of living in the presence of The Throneroom, we can become mentally, emotionally and spiritually entangled with these mountains in a profound way, and the result will resonate with our core as a perfect meditation of being whole and complete in the moment. In that identification of oneness with the mountains, we can begin to realize that we are a part of what is real, and sacred, and grand in the big picture, as well as what is small, profane, and dysfunctional in the little picture–that we too are a piece of something beautiful; a work of natural art that is shaped in the little picture by cycles of birth, choice, and decay.  Through observing the resistance of The Throneroom, Reed awakens to an awareness of the continual struggle against the tide of increasing entropy; that human beings are also in the process of forming something majestic that is bigger than ourselves.  The hope of our species is that our boundless collective and individual potential will one day develop its own expression of beauty and perfection that will be no less a majestic part of this world’s landscape than the mountains in these photographs.

From our perspective, these wild and dangerous places are metaphors for the invincible, powerful, adaptable, and immortal – all things that we, as puny physical beings, are not. Yet, surprisingly, they are good metaphors for “we the people” who collectively animate the form of an evolving humanity that has few limits placed on what it might become. Moved by a Mountain reminds us that we, like the mountains, face the challenge to persist and endure until we become a thing of peace and beauty.  Love is our destination, and the mountains show us our path and urge us on to be all that we have the potential to become.

As we look at these dramatic photographs of The Throneroom, we get a momentary taste of our immortality as conscious beings…a challenge to evolve and become, to persist and grow, as both individuals and members of a race with nearly unlimited potential. Gazing at these photographs, we can sense the awesome power of natural existence, the challenge and uncertainty of a dangerous environment, and the immortality granted by evolution that subsumes the individual. This state allows us a healing and helpful glimpse of a bigger picture that puts our individuality in perspective as a part of something larger, more lasting, and more significant. Thus the mountains speak truth to us. If we listen, we can resonate with their message at the core of our being.  They inspire us, and in doing so become beautiful in ways we deeply understand but cannot express at the more shallow intellectual level of facts and models of human behavior.

These wild places and high peaks put us in touch with our own power and purpose; we see our own potential in their images and find healing and peace in their encouragement to join with Gaia and all of her creations to become all that we can be, a necessary step toward actualizing the potential of the whole.  They nudge us onward to find our destiny as they have found theirs; our destiny, an expression of natural love, encouraged and focused by their destiny, an expression of natural beauty.  Only together can we succeed for, in truth, we are but one.


Moon over the Throneroom

Moon over the Throneroom


Will AWE Allow Us to Shift?

Will AWE Allow Us to Shift?

The link above is to a 1-minute video I had to make for TED. The transcript is below:

Why is it that a human can be moved to the experience of profound awe by viewing a mountain? This was the basic question of my first book, The Granite Avatars of Patagonia.

As a wilderness photographer and author, I have asked, “What is natural beauty?” And I’ve concluded that Natural beauty doesn’t exist. It’s a noun we use to label anything in nature that causes certain emotions, falling into 2 categories: comfort and shock. Comfort obviously serves us, but how can shocking awe serve us?  Maybe it’s to wake us up to the realization that there is something more important than our survival, our comfort and well-being, our freedom from suffering, even our freedom to pursue pleasure. Maybe Awe is what will allow us to shift attitudes and policies and laws so that we can live in a sustainable harmony with our precious environment.


Natural Beauty and aesthetic Arrest (TEDx presentation, Homer Alaska, 9/10/11)

Click Here to watch the TEDx presentation

I’m called a landscape photographer, but when I give presentations to photo clubs I begin by stating that I’m not a photographer, I’m an artist who uses a camera. But even that’s not true. Once I was in my booth at an art show and someone asked if I was the artist. I answered “no, I’m just the photographer,” thinking that nature is the artist. 


We don’t have a word for what I do.  My art is to position myself in the right place and be there at the right time to see something in nature with a certain kind of beauty that is dramatically powerful. Timing is important.  The Greeks had a word for beautiful, that came  from their word for “hour”, indicating that beauty happens at a certain time. I agree.

 My goal has been to produce photographs of nature that I’d want to hang on my wall and look at every day, but it’s taken a few years to understand what I’m really doing and why. 


My quest for an understanding of beauty led me to study with a master of Japanese aesthetics, Shozo Sato. He taught me tea ceremony, flower arranging, and calligraphy, and helped me understand composition on a deep level. But I had a more fundamental question: what is beauty? 


Eventually I realized that beauty doesn’t exist.  It’s a noun we use to label anything that causes certain emotions in us; therefore beauty IS in the eye of the beholder. Because we are all unique personalities with complex psychologies, and all at different stages of our spiritual evolution, different stimuli will evoke those emotions in different people.


What emotions?  We don’t have a word for our emotional response to beauty. We can be pleased, satisfied, satiated, calmed, soothed, relaxed, fulfilled, or, we can be captivated, astounded overwhelmed, awed, enraptured, become ecstatic, or feel harmonious or at one with nature. 

 I think there are two basic emotional responses to natural beauty–comfort and shock. The shock is what interests me.

Denis Dutton, an art philosopher who has given a TED presentation, confirmed my suspicions that humans seem to have inherited an aesthetic sense that causes us to appreciate hospitable scenes with livestock and water and shelter–what I’d call a pastoral scene. This is the type of beauty that evokes comfort. I appreciate this kind of beauty–this is my cabin here in Alaska–but I don’t photograph pastoral scenes.  

Dutton says that “in general, people everywhere who have been subject to the will of nature are less inclined to be charmed by its beauties.”  But I think he’s leaving out the concept of choice. When people of undeveloped areas have no choice but to live subject to the will of nature, then they would love to dominate it, and the beauty of a landscape is of little concern.  But here in the developed world where we have a greater ability to insulate ourselves from nature’s will, we can choose to go into nature, be subject to its will, and still be emotionally moved by its beauty. Many will even intentionally endure discomfort in order to find inspiration from wilderness.  


Inspiration, breathing in, GASP, is our response to shocking beauty. Exhalation, breathing out, SIGH, is our response to comfortable beauty. The in-breath is the renewal and the out-breath is the expiration, the release, the end. When we are stunned by the perception of what is, for us, profoundly beautiful, we first breathe in, and are filled with what might be considered divine. Then the mental construct of self can expire.



In his book, “Mountains of the Mind,” Robert McFarland claims that it’s only in recent times that humans have begun to appreciate the extremes of nature, which have been so inhospitable for all of history. He says that the meaning of awe has also changed. The original meaning had more to do with fear. It comes from an old English word meaning terror and dread.  Todays definition, “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder,” still includes that element, but as you know, in recent decades the word “awesome” has lost it’s potency, the meaning has changed, and so we have lost a means of communicating an emotion that is at the heart of my inquiry –that is, why the inhospitable is profoundly beautiful to some people.  This was the basic question of my book, The Granite Avatars of Patagonia. Why is it that a big rock can shock a human into a profound state of consciousness?



  A few decades ago Joseph Campbell said, “The aesthetic experience is a simple beholding of the object….you experience a radiance. You are held in aesthetic arrest.”  “Aesthetic arrest” is what I‘m interested in. Campbell borrowed the phrase from James Joyce who wrote that in the presence of great beauty “The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.”  In my words, the egoic mind is stopped and we are left face to face with the true nature of reality: one immense, infinitely complicated, interconnected miracle that our consciousness is part of, yet can be enraptured by. 


While researching the true nature of reality, I came across another Campbell–Thomas Campbell, a physicist who has been exploring in other dimensions for over 30 years.  This Campbell has written what he calls his big TOE in which he says that all of existence is evolving away from entropy, that is, away from chaos and towards organization, harmony, and ultimately towards Pure Love. This made perfect sense to me. It confirmed my suspicions about human evolution.  But I was confused by the fact that many of my most dramatic landscapes were photographs of the results of erosion, which is an entropic process. Why is entropy responsible for revealing divine sculptures of rock that are shockingly beautiful?  I was stuck on that one, so I asked Mr Campbell, who pointed to the obvious, that the granite spires and canyon walls that I photograph are what resists entropy.  They are what is still standing after millions of years of being attacked by the brutal and relentless forces of erosion. He said they convey a sense of awesome, invincible power, and that in viewing them we can be reminded that we are an integral part of the source of that power. He said that can have a healing effect.  


A majestic peak seems to say, “The world around me may be falling apart, but I stand strong, with dignity and integrity, pointing the way past the ego, to love.”


 We don’t have a word for this spiritual healing by natural beauty.   The Spanish word “alucinante” led me to create a word:  “elucinate, which means “to reveal the truth (or enlighten) by blowing one’s mind.” Please use it if you like it.



 My suspicion is that while we humans are evolving towards love, we are all at different stages. I suspect that fear is associated with entropy, and that fear is what prevents us from experiencing aesthetic arrest when observing nature’s most inhospitable and awesome scenery. When we are fearful we do experience the terror of such powerful landscapes, if we allow ourselves to really look, and we will keep our distance. But as we evolve past fear, we can actually be healed by that same landscape, especially if we enter it. 


 The word “heal” comes from the same root as “whole.” Just as two sides of a wound come back together, we can heal the rift between our individuated selves and the omnipotent forces that rule over all. 

This is why people can have life-changing experiences in dramatic wild landscapes, and why I find compositions in such places, record them with a camera, and show them to others. 


sharing a fish

This is the piece i created in a 20 minute writing program in Homer, Alaska, on the subject of “community”. the session was initiated with the prompt about a Upik native who had a fish and his neighbor had none. the project is called “one city, one prompt” and you can check it out at:

“I got a fish.”
“Shit. I didn’t get any.”
“Lets build a fire and cook it.”

They gathered driftwood and built a fire, and when there were coals, he laid the salmon there and covered it with seaweed.

The salmon came every summer. They came to spawn in the rivers and streams. They came to die in the forest. They came to be eaten, and when they were eaten, those who ate, shit, and their shit nourished the land, and the forest grew from that nourishment.

The flesh of salmon came every year, like a wave of nutrients from the sea, penetrating the land by the arteries of fresh water that drained it of snowmelt. Everyone depended on it. It was the way it was. The bears, the eagles, the seals, and the humans all relied on the annual flood of flesh.

And when it came, it was not yours or mine, but for all, a bounty of providence from the sea for all life on the land. And didn’t the snow come from the sea too? The snow that the salmon used to make their way inland?

The seaweed held in the moisture, steaming the fish from above while it roasted from below. They ate, together, and gazed across the bay, watching the tide rip by. The tide that flooded and drained the bay twice a day, taking nutrients from the land to the sea to feed the fish and the crabs and the mussels.

As they ate, it was clear that all is as it should be, that they fit into this dynamic–were a part of this exchange between land and sea.
And the joy they experienced from the taste of the moist fish–a flavor better than any other fish–and from the heat of the fish in their belly after a long day in a penetrating wind, and from the sharing of the bounty–that joy seemed to be part of the dynamic too.
It all seemed to be screaming some kind of Hallelujah, as if this was all one big divine party.
The gravel of the beach was surrounded by spruce reaching for the sky, fed by the shit of bear, fed by the salmon that were fed by the small fish that fed on others that lived off the nutrients of the land that flowed down with the snowmelt that came from the sea. Sitting there with their butts on the gravel, they looked into each others eyes and giggled at the beauty of it all.


radio interview about The Granite Avatars of Patagonia


The first few pages of The Other Side

the following is the beginning of THE OTHER SIDE, On the Road in South America, available at

watch the book’s video at

Chapter 1

Fight or Flight

This trail parts chest-high chaparral with dense overhead thickets of a bottlebrush bamboo, heading south, crossing a slope that faces the rising sun, with a big lake below. It’s a still and cloudless summer morning in early January, and the tingle of delight I feel entering the Andes for the first time on foot seems to buoy my full backpack.

The route passes through a burned area. The fire must have been low and hot, killing the trees by burning through the bark at the ground. Most of the trees have little charcoal on them, and the twigs are still on the branches. When the trail hits a valley that heads west, into the mountains, it follows the stream in the bottom and enters an exotic forest. Only one species of tree grows in the valley: the lenga, or southern beech, and they stand about sixty feet tall. The improbably dominant lenga comprises the entire forest in all of these mountain valleys, all the way up to tree line. I’m reminded of the claim that the largest living organism on the planet is an aspen grove in Colorado. I’d be surprised if all of the lenga in each valley of these mountains are not someday found to contain identical DNA, with each valley contains a single tree, sprouting countless times as the roots spread through the soils, from the quaggy bogs in the valley floors up to the desiccated scree slopes tumbling down from the eroding peaks. What is it about them that feels so exotic? The main trunk splits low into several branches which continue up, like an elm, then the leafed branches find a horizontal orientation. The leaves are small, and these horizontal layers of fine dark green leaves give the forest a Japanese feeling. “It’s more Japanese than any of the forests I’ve seen in Japan,” I joke to myself.

Proceeding up-valley, the path comes upon a small shelter made of two log walls enclosing the overhang of a huge boulder. The boulder is granite, the size of a small house. It could have ridden on top of a glacier to get here, or it could have come to rest after a violent drop from a peak above. Either way, it’s been here for a long time. The little refuge, maybe half a century old, is just its current state, like a warbler nest in an ancient tree. Who knows, maybe the aboriginal Tahuelche used the overhang for shelter on occasion, or maybe all of the soot on the boulder is from fires built by hikers in recent years.

As elevation increases, the trees begin to diminish in height, revealing broken granite spires on the ridges above. Soon I’m in a sea of dense, low lenga covering the upper valley like chaparral, with a steep stream roaring in cascades beside me; then the trail makes a final lunge for the pass. Up there I find a large tarn, and where its water spills into the valley is Refugio Frey, a two-storied structure of fine cut-stone blockwork. Beyond the refugio and the tarn sits an amphitheater of several spiky peaks appropriately named “Catedral.” The view is a satisfying reward after the climb. Not having seen any photographs of this area, I had no expectations of what I’d encounter, so I’m pleasantly surprised at the regal nature of the spires. They jut skyward like the “drizzled” points I made topping sand castles on the beach as a kid. The scree slopes around them still bear lots of snow, and this month is the southern equivalent of our July, so the snowfall must be substantial here.

The refugio was built fifty years ago and named for a local mountaineering hero. Its first floor is a rustic dining room with three massive tables and benches made of thick timbers, behind it is an even more rustic kitchen. Above is a bunkroom, able to squeeze forty people side-by-side on two long bunks like shelves, one above the other. Rock climbers are milling about, most of them Argentinean; sometimes other languages, English or Portuguese, float through the air. They tell me that a storm is coming and recommend staying in the shelter. One warns me that the snoring inside is incredible. I had planned to pass this valley today, but three weeks of sitting on buses in Chile took away muscle and stamina without my noticing. Travel is like that, the constantly changing environment and complete lack of routine, the strange food, missed meals, and increased alcohol intake all contribute to a less than optimum situation for monitoring one’s physical condition. I was in shape when I left California, but I’m not now, and I’m tired. The enthusiasm I felt when I first got on the trail has dwindled. The buoy has been cut from my backpack. Sitting on a stone wall, I make a ham and cheese sandwich and consider my options. Do I want to sit in a one-man tent through the storm, or hang out at the shelter with a coterie of climbers? I decide on the tent. It’s too much of a scene here. It’s a one-dimensional atmosphere, like I find at international surf spots, or martial arts summer camps. If you’re not a climber you’re on the outside. It’s one thing to be alone; it’s another to be alone in a crowded room.

It takes a traverse of the entire length of the lake before finding some solitude. A tent city fills the spaces in the lenga scrub along the lake-shore. But at the far end there’s a cozy alcove in the brush big enough to throw up the tent. I stash my pack in it, and take off for a walk. Making my way for the snow-covered headwall of the cirque that holds the lake, the refugio, and the climbers, I notice two huge birds cruising along the north ridge. “Fucking condors!” I blurt out. A wave of excitement rejuvenates me. It’s been a hope that I would see them, but given that the California condor has eluded this birdwatcher for decades, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.

Feeling much better without my burden, excited by the terrain, and energized by the sight of the giant birds, I climb the headwall with the zest of a kid. Above the snow slope there is another small cirque with another tarn, this little one still more than three-quarters frozen. The granite turrets above it are pink to rust in color, but also fruity— cantaloupe, mango and persimmon in places. I make my way for the pass to catch a glimpse beyond, and meet a Belgian couple in their sixties as I begin a climb on large talus boulders. They are slowly and carefully making their way from the chair-lift to the refuge. I’m impressed. They tell me that the trail had steep drop-offs and was scary, so now I want to see it, and when I hit the pass I keep hiking north along the ridge, on the west slope of it, below the crest, following red spots painted on the rocks—and it’s nothing but rocks. Large angular boulders lie on an angle that barely allows repose below a craggy ridge. These rocks once stood above those crags, maybe in majestic vertical displays like what remains behind me. Those spires of the cathedral have a castle-like quality, due to the highly fractured rock, which resembles block construction. Abundant fingers of rock, called gendarmes, decorate the towers like the gargoyles of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. I wonder where the boulder under foot once stood, in what cathedral, and in what cataclysm it came crashing down.

While traversing a buttress of the peak above, the rocks get as big as cars. I round one and see a guy about thirty feet below me, standing still, wearing a new overstuffed red pack on his back, and a big day-pack slung on his chest. I yell down, “Watch out for falling rocks,” and he turns quickly and bursts into rapid exclamations about the magnificent view in Spanish that sounds like sing-song Italian. He’s totally overwhelmed by the beauty, and he hasn’t even seen the cathedral yet. He asks how far to Frey, and I describe the route.

In a while the chair-lift comes into view. I suppose I passed the scary part without knowing it. I still feel strong, so I leave the route and head for a peak. At over 2,000 meters the air is already getting thin for this body from sea level, and I have to stop a few times to catch my breath, but I make it to the top with no problem. The final sixty feet or so is a near vertical rock climb, up a crack and through a chimney. A spot just below the pinnacle offers shelter from the wind, which howls in off the Pacific, crossing Chile in no time, and biting my right cheek. From my perch I face south, overlooking the spectacular granite amphitheater, and turn my head to reconnoiter tomorrow’s hike in the next valley to the west. Beyond my route, ice-covered Mount Tronador, the “Thunderer,” looms high in the sky, marking the Chilean border, and beyond it are the lower slopes of another volcano that is probably Osorno. Its top is mantled with the weather that’s moving in. To the north and south, snowy peaks and ridges continue to the horizons. The Andes are a long mountain chain—three times the length of the Himalayas. The word “Andes” is thought to have evolved from either of two Indian words: anti, meaning “east,” or anta, meaning “copper.”

After studying tomorrow’s route with binoculars, and assessing the snowy pass to be crossed, my head turns back to the south and my eyes catch the movement of a condor closing in from the left, gliding into the wind at high speed and close range. Immediately I reach for my camera bag, but with my thumb and forefinger on the zipper pull, I stop. There’s no time. If I go for the photo I’ll miss the experience—and probably the photo too. The condor is only a couple hundred feet away. I see the feathers of its downy white-collar shift in the wind when it turns its head ever so slightly to look at me. Its wings span ten feet and are motionless as it cuts into the wind. It passes me at about twenty-five miles-per-hour, flying into a headwind that’s thirty miles-per-hour or more, and is gone in a few seconds, becoming a flattened ‘v’ silhouetted against the stormy sky. Its head, described in my bird book as “bare, wattled and carunculated,” is a blue-grey, telling me it’s of the southern race of the species, and the fin-like crest atop tells me it’s a male. I wonder if this fin helps him soar with such efficiency. As he shrinks to a dot in the western sky I come down from the rush, and hear myself say, “Cool” out loud. A sudden feeling—that I could leave now and be satisfied with the entire trip—passes through me and takes me by surprise. Why do I feel so satisfied, so content? It’s not like I came down here to see condors. I came to scout for a new place to live. Not just a new place to live, a place to thrive.


Alaska Journal: the arrival of spring

bradley valley, from my balcony


I made it to Bowlegs.

All the flights were easy, but I spent from 1:30 am till 8am in the Anchorage airport. The flight to Homer was uneventful, passing through the dense vapors of a low ceiling and not seeing anything, trusting the young pilot (this is a 7 seat plane) who landed us like you would set a baby down on concrete.

My neighbor Mike picked me up at the Homer airport and took me shopping. I filled 2 boxes for $240, and we drove the 16 miles out to our neighborhood in a foggy overcast that allowed no view, dodging a moose at mile 13.

Mike told me that the snowshoe hare population is peaking. A classic example of wildlife population fluctuation cycles is the snowshoe hare and lynx cycles, which, if i remember from college days, is supposed to be a seven year cycle. The snowshoe hare population is supposed to peak every seven years and then the lynx population will peak afterwards because of the abundant food. Then when the hare are all lynx turds, the lynx population declines.

The hare population was high when i arrived here in 1982, but I never saw it rise again until now. and all the lynx that have been seen in this neighborhood were seen in the last 10 years, well after the peak of hares.

There are so many hare that they had to eat spruce saplings to survive the winter, so all the baby trees I’ve planted and/or nurtured in recent years–anything under 18 inches–are bare wood sticks. Taller saplings have been stripped that high. and the hare broke into my chicken-wired birch nursery–more intended to stymie moose, but built with the thought that a hare may want to get in– and ate all the young ones.

All the trees i’ve been planting are to create a visual barrier between me and my crazy new neighbors who have little sense of respect for the very large personal space we used to enjoy in this neighborhood. The good news is that I hear they will spend the summer running some wilderness lodge.

I’m early. Only the last remnants of snowdrifts remain, but the earth is frozen under the surface mud. Things look dreary, an the breeze still has a bite to it. An eagle flew by. Inside my cabin, everything was just as I left in 20 months ago. More sawdust had fallen from between the floor boards above, and a hundred dead flies littered the floor. One of the great mysteries of my Alaska cabins is that flies go to great effort to get in, then hang out on the windows trying to get out. It reminds me of we humans, entering this reality from the dimension we exist in between lives, then putting our efforts into vain attempts to find comfort and peace, and relief from life’s challenges.


the new cabin, “Beetlekil”, built in this century. photo 7/09


The prehistoric calls of sandhill cranes make me look up and find them in small bands of 4 or 10 as they arrive here from their winter retreats in the central valley of California, or southern Arizona, or maybe Mexico. When they leave here in the fall they do so in huge flocks of hundreds of birds that gather in loud spirals high in the sky before setting out. I imagine that these arriving cranes did so down south, but that the big flocks have fragmented along the way in gusty storms and fog.

The nuthatch tree, the one whose top is in so many of my photos from the balcony of Beetlekil, still stands. I hooked up the waterline from the spring, but a short stretch of that is a few inches underground, so it is still frozen. My new cabin is still without a woodstove, since I am usually not here in weather that demands one, so I slept 11 hours in my sleeping bag. when I got up in the morning and went out to pee, a goshawk zipped through the trees and passed 10 feet in front of me. I surprised it, and it stopped in a tree to turn and study me. Mike says there are a few around (it is a rare bird), and he thinks it’s because of the hare. There’s an ermine in a deck of small logs I’ve been saving for use in construction. I haven’t seen one here since I moved here and one lived in a log pile then.

This morning the sun was out and it warmed the cabin, and allowed a spectacular view of the snow-covered mountains above the bay that was covered by a thick blanket of brilliant white fog. I removed the protective roof from the balcony and sat on it with a pot of tea, and thought about all I have to do.

Now I’m headed in to town to pick up my crate of tools. I’ll stop in at the Fritz Creek general store to send this.

My first week will be spent talking with experienced guys to plan how to jack up my old cabin “Twisted Timbers,”


“twisted Timbers” , a timber frame built in 1982

extract the wooden piling, and replace them with concrete. I’ve been invited on ski trip on sunday, boating across the bay and climbing a ridge between 2 glaciers and then telemarking down. The shore-bird festival is this weekend too, so I may go and try to see some unusual birds as they pass on their way to the arctic.



At 8:30AM, I was sipping tea and waiting for bread to toast when I looked across the canyon and noticed movement. Focusing my eyes, it looked like a black bear, so I ran up the stairs and focused the spotting scope. By then the bear was in the alders, but they are still leafless, and I found it–a big brown bear sow with two little dark cubs frolicking around her. She is the same color as the dead grass, but the cloud-filtered sun was rising beyond her, so it made the side facing me shaded and darker–enough to spot her. I suppose I ought to avoid the canyon for a while. Running into a brown bear sow with two little cubs is one of the most dangerous things you can do in the North American wilderness.


Violet green swallows pass by on occasion.  I think they are migrating. I think the ones that will nest here on my cabin are still on their way north. The varied thrush and robins are here and beginning to sing. The resident red-breasted nuthatch makes it’s buzzing beeping call. Snipe are flying their mating dance with whooping wings. Occasionally, when all conditions are right, giant mosquitos come to me. Garry says they are from last year–that they spend the winter “under a log, and do what insects do,” which must involve getting frozen solid for seven months. I don’t know. If I had internet here, I’d research it.


This morning I woke to the sound of a screaming animal. I don’t know what it was, I’ll have to discuss it with my neighbors. It sounded too small for a lynx and too big for a hare, but cats have strange voices, as you know if you’ve read The Granite Avatars of Patagonia. I grabbed a machete and dressed warmly on this blustery day, and hiked down towards the sound, which I thought was on this side of the canyon. Once down there, all was quiet except for the owls. I have been hearing owls all day long lately–right in the middle of a sunny afternoon. There are two of them and they have two different calls, which has had me confused. Neighbor Garry says he saw one and it had no ears, so we’re thinking it must be a great grey owl. To know, I set out for the hoot.  Soon the owl left a tree and flew by–a great grey, which, according to ornithologists, shouldn’t be down here on the coast. Then I heard the other one. I stood silently and gave my best hoot back. The owl came to me out of curiosity, and landed in a tall spruce beside me–a majestic great horned. These two owls of different species have been hanging out together. Are they keeping each other company, or are they squabbling over territory?

Just now a merlin landed on the top of the nuthatch tree and was swarmed with a flock of pine siskins, not pestering him as a jay might do to a hawk, just swarming five feet overhead.


We’ve had cold, dry weather. Intense winds have been blowing out of the arctic. The kind of weather that keeps a drop of water below the tip of your nose. A north wind is extremely unusual for this place. I made the mistake of trying to ski brokenknife ridge with a group of locals.  Invitations for a boat ride over to jakalof bay are not frequent, so I accepted, but the wind on the ridge was a sharp 35 knots, and even though it was a cloudless day, the snow couldn’t melt. May skiing is about corn snow, when the sun warms the surface of the snow on sunny days, it freezes at night and forms a hard crust, but another sunny day melts the top inch and gives a liquid surface that is easy to carve telemark turns on, even for me.

It was so windy on top that I used my avalanche shovel to dig a grotto into the back of a cornice to find some shelter for lunch.  The ski down was like skiing on a parking lot, but at least it was smooth. In winter, crusty snow can be formed by intense wind and gets sculpted by it, leaving two-to-three inch ridges and flutes to ski on. My first time up on Brokenknife I skied such sastrugi, with soft, low-cut shoes and wooden skis, wearing wool. That memory makes me feel like a relic of the old days.

Back on board the fishing boat we had hamburgers, beers and a hot tub waiting. The barbecue quit working so I had to cook the burgers with the propane weed-burner that was heating the hot tub.

Taru, a Japanese mountain adventurer who has settled in this area, was the first to dive off the boat to cool off in jakalof bay. He was strong enough to climb onto the dock which has a 12×12” curb rail along the edge, making it a tough move. When the three Russian and Chinese grad students who came along for the ride followed Taru into the  bay, the lifeguard in me assisted by yanking each of the naked girls out of the water. Good entertainment for all.

Meanwhile, to the north, climbers on Denali were stuck in the windstorm. Some seriously bad luck for such an unusual wind to hit during a May climb. One of the climbers died from the exposure. I heard the wind chill factor was 35 degrees below zero.


I’ve been building pole sheds out of logs and cutting deadfall on the side of the ravine. Hard work. It all caught up to me yesterday and I had to take it easy and rest. First I stapled up all the postcards I’ve received in the past two years, as is my tradition, to cover the outhouse walls. Back when I built the outhouse, in 1982, I knew lots of young travelers who’d send postcards. Now almost all the postcards come from friends who have used the outhouse and want to contribute to the decor. Captain Dan sends them from every trip he takes, occasionally writing nothing more than “Another one for the shitter.”  Lauryn sent cards from the Pyrenes, where she backpacked before joining me in the high sierras last August (If you ever want to contribute to the wallpaper, the address is 34880 Moonrise, Homer, Alaska, 99603). There are many links to the past on the walls. Postcards from all over the world telling of great adventures. The old cards fade. The blue ink is the last to go, and when the card is all white, I take it down and try to read the back, but that ink has usually faded as well. There are always surprises. This year I found one that I had sent to my home-town friend Mike Christopher from England when I was 17! Mike came to visit me in ‘87 and he must have brought the card. The photo is gone, but my writing is legible. We had not yet won the rowing races that I was there for, I just told him about the bomb scare at the airport. It was 1974 and the IRA was in full swing. Another card was from someone who had just been to an isolated section of the Maine coast. Unfortunately, the bottom of the cards collect the water of driving autumn rains (the outhouse has no door because of the fantastic view) and the signature is always the first to go. Sometimes I recognize the handwriting though, and I think this one is from the same Mike because of the way he crosses his T’s. One faded card is from my sister who had been vacationing in Hawaii. Another is from the sister of my closest neighbors who had spent a month here barking logs with a drawknife when they built their cabin in ’83. She wrote her return address at the top. Nothing else survived. Someone sent me a series of postcards from Cairns, Australia. They were folded like an accordion. I had to refold them, bringing fresh images to the surface.


After that fun job, I built a ladder out of two 17’ poles with branches for rungs, set in place by mortise and tenon. The ladder will give access to little room on top of my big pole shed, where visitors can stay. Today I have to roof a shed, but the cold wind encouraged me to spend some extra time in the cabin this morning. The thought of wrestling cold corrugated steel roofing in this bitter wind is not appealing.



The roof is finished and the foundation is ready for the next shed–a new woodshed. I threw one together with the treetops that were laying around the land (it had been selectively logged) back in June of ‘82 as a place to keep my tools dry when I built my timberframe cabin. It is actually amazing that it lasted this long. This summer I will need a place to keep things dry. I’ll make it big enough to work in.

It still gets dark, but I rarely see that, as it happens some time in the wee hours of the morning. I haven’t done manual labor in 9 months, so I sleep like a dead man. We are past the half-way point between equinox and solstice, so the the rate of the daily increase in daylight is slowing. We’re down to five minutes a day. The day is 17 hours long, from five-thirty in the morning to ten-thirty at night. Twilight last another couple hours on each end.

Sparrows are singing this morning. Birch and elderberry buds are swelling. Alder buds are just turning green. The first edible shoots are breaking the ground. robins chased a stellers jay from their nesting tree.

a hot sauna warmed me to the bone.




Yesterday I was standing by the big upstairs window because the sun broke out for a few minutes and I was absorbing it’s warmth. I was building up gumption to go out and work in the cold wind. I noticed a dark spot in the alders on the edge of the canyon and grabbed the binocular and watched the brown bear for a while as she browsed the upper meadow, not far from here, with her THREE cubs playing all around her. This morning I was doing the same thing. Dark and wet today, but the wind finally died–still I need to build up the gumption to get out and place 4 log purlins on the new woodshed. Standing by the window, a dark spot in the island of alder in the lower meadow caught my eye: a black bear sow with HER three tiny cubs roughhousing with each other and climbing in the alders, exploring this world they have entered.

The swallows are flying here. Are they the ones that will stay?


looking east from my balcony


The coldest day yet. Even the Alaskans don’t want to go outside because of the bitter wind. I was at the big window upstairs performing my daily ritual of gumption-building before heading out to work, laughing to myself that I should see a bear in a meadow, when I saw a dark spot in the alder island of the lower meadow. It was a moose.

The wind has been crazy for over a week, coming from unusual directions. Today from east, whipping up streams of froth on the bay. I dressed well and put a steel roof on the new woodshed and quit early at 5. Then there was the black bear and her cubs in the meadow, below lenticular clouds over the mountains, indicating high turbulence in the atmosphere.

Edible shoots of nettles are nearing harvest height. Fireweed shoots are right behind them. The fiddleheads haven’t broken ground yet.



We had a good temblor at 5am, during a heavy rain.

The hermit thrush sung early this morning. I am very happy to have them back, such a beautiful song they have.

The cold wet wind is relentless. I went to town for supplies.



The fox sparrows are beginning their singing, and the swallows were investigating the birdhouses on my cabin. Stellers jays, gray jays and magpies all have an eye out for robin’s nests. A black bear was on my neighbor’s porch yesterday.

Today was reasonable weather. If I was working, I could get by with a t-shirt on, but just standing around I needed more. The sun warmed the land, wild grasses are already a foot tall in places, my lawn maybe four inches tall. Alder buds are swelling.

The frost has heaved many old roots out of the driveway, so I sharpened a maddox with a grinder, and cleaned them out. Two years ago a big forest fire was started near here in May by a guy sharpening his shovel with a grinder–sparks into dry grass. So I was careful. This is fire season–between snow cover and “green-up.” Soon the mud will be dry–when frost below it melts and allows the water to wick into the earth. Then I will throw wood chips and sawdust on it and begin using it.

I did a bunch of little jobs today–just organizing the place. Small firewood to the sauna, cleaning up after the shed construction. Planning a compost bin and more tree-protecting fences, etc. I was happy–partly because of the weather, but mostly it just feels good to work on my own land, i have loved this place for many years. Love and organization go together, it seems. It has to do with care and it has to do with beauty.


A birch tree that I have been protecting with fencing for years has escaped the reach of moose, and is skyward bound. Today’s warmth brought the leaves out of the buds. Neighbor and veteran gardener Roger says that the Alaska rule is to wait till the birch leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear before planting your garden.



I’ve been eating the stinging nettles. When they are 6 to 10 inches tall I pick them and steam them. Last night I sauteed them with garlic and onions and olive oil and ate that with a little pesto on rice. This morning it was a nettles omelette.

A neighbor says that he heard that a trapper has taken 12 lynx form this area. No wonder the hares are so thick. And another rumor is that a man of equal intelligence as the trapper is feeding bears to the west of me, across another branch of the canyon. The word is that 26 bears are making his house a regular stop. The cops say they need evidence before they can do anything.


The mountains have been obscured by stormy weather for about ten days, and just appeared. Seeing the throneroom is why I live here. I’ve missed it. And now the peaks are splashed with sunlight working its way through the breaking storm and I can’t take my eyes off the show. After so many dull days I am thrilled to be here.


I haven’t seen the moon in 10 days either–totally missed the full moon, and I don’t know if I will see it again for a few months, because it won’t be dark enough.


I saw some fiddleheads breaking the ground today.



The swallows have moved in. Bird songs are intensifying. They are most full before dawn, but I am asleep then, at maybe 4 or 4:30. I wake and listen and fall back asleep.

The hermit thrush was silent for a few days, making me wonder if I had mistaken, but they are singing now, in the evening.

Fireweed shoots are now at edible height too, and fiddleheads are right behind them.

I dug a hole yesterday to test the frost level beside the old cabin. The frost begins at 15 inches down, but only goes for 5 more. It should thaw soon. The skirting is removed from the south side of the house, I have 4 house jacks, borrowed from 3 friends, and some other jacks to assist.

All that deadfall clean-up I did exposed 4 little birches that were protected by the phalanx of logs and branches. I couldn’t just leave them there for moose fodder, so I built fences around the 2 healthiest ones, maybe I’ll get to the others, but they have already had their leaders nipped off in the past, and may not grow well.

Yesterday was the first day of summer. It was overcast and warm, with no wind. I heard that a moose calf has been seen. The cows should be giving birth this week, but I haven’t seen one here on my land in 2 weeks.

The driveway is dry and I can drive in. Soon I will go get a few truckloads of 4×6 cribbing from my friend steve who has a saw mill that he’s run since I moved here. The cribbing will support he cabin after it’s jacked up and the piling are removed….i hope.


the throneroom, from my balcony




We now have 18 hours of sunlight (5 to 11) and it will grow for 3 more weeks.

Even though I hate to see all the changes and population growth here, I am constantly amazed at how wild it still is. A family of grey jays with 3 dark one-year-olds are feeding off my compost pile, which is really a bird feeder now. In the sauna, Garry told me about a moose that had died about half way between his house and Mike’s, about 3 or 4 hundred feet away. His dogs kept going into the alders there, so he followed them to find the carcass, which was buried by a bear! Between the bruin and all the other predators and scavengers and insects and bacteria, he said there was nothing but bones and hair after 4 weeks. That wouldn’t happen in most residential areas, but we do border on state park and we are surrounded by wilderness. The wildness is the cause of my constant struggle to improve the land here. Of course, it is my concept of “improve,” and it is one that the wildlife do not agree with–that includes much of the vegetation. The grass grows fiercely this time of year. It has just turned on and will grow relentlessly for the next two months, invading any uncolonized area–areas I try to keep clear like flower gardens and a border around the cabins to lower the fire danger.

While waiting for the ground to thaw, I’ve been preparing everything for the big project. I had a perimeter of football-size boulders around the old cabin so grass wouldn’t be in touch with the wood. Those boulders were hardly visible, buried in grass. You know all the stories (from past years) of me trying to protect trees from moose. I finally figured out the fencing design that confounds the moose, and then the snowshoe hare infestation brought the little munchers in under those fences. I am still amazed that they ate the young spruces! That was survival mode for them.

I am sad for the loss of some cottonwoods that I was nurturing. The hares got them too, Of course the biggest saplings were killed, but two little ones survived and will be re-fenced. No rush, as the hares have an abundance of green food now.

I just read that an early ’90’s study revealed that most humans prefer landscape art that has sign of human improvement.

My desire for this place is to have the triple beauty that I saw in 1981 when I first visited. It was August and I hiked down through Yule Kilcher’s ranch. Yule was a Swiss who came here in the 40’s to create a homestead. But the 80’s, after 40 years of hard work, he had a paradise. Rolling pastures sat one above the other on the slope towards the bluffs over the bay. Each pasture was walled by thick, tall spruce forest. An occasional birch was left in a pasture. Horses ran free before the view of the bay and the mountains and glaciers beyond. Fireweed was 7 feet tall and in full bloom. The combination of the salt water–full of fish, birds, and marine mammals–with the high crystaline peaks and ice-filled valleys was a spectacular view, but it was framed but Yule’s ranch. The pastoral setting surrounded by the glorious Alaska wilderness was overwhelmingly beautiful, and I decided then that I would live here. And over the years I have carved a spot out of the wilderness, built 3 buildings by myself, but I haven’t been around enough to beat back the wilderness. It all began when the spruce bark beetle killed the forest twenty years ago. I loved the forest. Since then I’ve been nurturing young trees–spruce, birch and cottonwood. Several of the deciduous saplings have been munched, but I now have a twenty foot cottonwood, and a fourteen and an eighteen-foot birch.  I never tried too hard to protect the currants and roses, and they have gotten pruned heavily in recent years too.

The young spruce were doing fine until now. The hares must have been starving to eat them. If I was here full-time I could stay ahead of it, but Nature takes advantage of my absence. Nature does not care about a pastoral feeling.

The study I referred to also determined that humans have  apreference for landscapes that include a tree with low branches–one that is easily climbable–which could explain my perenial attempts to protect the birch from the moose.


We have moved into summer. The wind has relented. It’s still cool, but it feels and smells like summer, and I see the mountains often these days. Last night while taking a photo from the balcony, an eagle landed in the big beetle-killed tree to the north, maybe 70 feet away. There are more rumors of moose calves, and fresh moose tracks in my driveway, but I haven’t seen them. They visit while I sleep. When the bay is calm and glassy in the morning I see rafts of sea ducks working the mudflats and the abundant wakes of seals and otters. The birches appear more leafed than bare now. Alder are slow to leaf. But now that it is warming I see a difference at night when I look out the window. It is greener than it was in the morning.


I picked 5 gallons of stinging nettle and steamed it and froze it for Italian dinners with pesto, sausage and wine. The small plants under six inches don’t sting, but I grab them up to ten inches, so the back of my hand gets stung. Yule Kilcher used to walk through the nettles naked once a year because he said it prevented arthritis, so I don’t mind getting my hands stung. Down in the ravine, the nettle grows side by side with the water hemlock, famous for it’s poison, but they are impossible to confuse.


fresh fiddleheads (ferns) and nettles


A glorious morning. I couldn’t resist sitting on the balcony with tea. I’ve been avoiding it so the swallows would feel safe enough to nest just around the corner of the cabin. While sitting there the female came and landed beside me–two feet away. I don’t know why I love these birds so much. When I said hello, i scared it away. When the male landed about seven feet away and was checking me out, I remained silent. I was thinking, “don’t worry, I will protect you.” –more of my concept of improving this place. I have five swallow houses all around this place, but they only ever use the same one. I have to assume the birds in it are of a lineage that continue to return to that house from wherever they go far to the south. If that is true, then maybe they recognize me. Who knows, maybe they are greeting me. Happy to be back. The presence of the swallows improves this place. A pair of hermit thrushes hopped by, leap-frogging through the stubble grabbing various bugs. I rarely see them in pairs. They always are alone and hidden, and they never sing their sweet notes while visible. The song just radiates from the trees. The song improve this place. I mean, without the swallows and hermit thrushes this place wouldn’t be the same. That’s why my neighbor Jerry shoots the jays and magpies when they try to rob nests of eggs–his idea of order. And Garry puts up boards to hide the robins nests, who tend not to be so clever in choosing a location. His idea of order.

But we can’t forget that in creating our order we are depriving a jay of a meal, and the moose of winter fodder.

Two robins were mating in an alder. Are they going to have a second clutch? When I peed int the dead grass I woke a moth and a nuthatch chased it. Nuthatches love moths, but they rarely can catch them in the air. They find them while the moths sleep. The nuthatch returned to me and landed right beside my stream of urine and studied it closely.

The biophany is in full swing with this first of the REAL summer days– a naked tea on the balcony day. White and golden-crowned sparrows, fox sparrows, robins, varied thrushes, nuthatches all in symphony. The hermit thrush will be silent until evening, and the vireo flew into my window and died. The ruby crowned kinglet has not showed up yet, the juncos are silent. Siskins just chat while flying in bands between feeding. I saw one alone on a treetop tis morning–rare. The swallows chat as they jet around over this meadow ridge. Gray jays whistle like a human, Steller jays seem to be scolding everyone. The magpie’s call is a combination of the the previous two jays. The owls are still hooting and hunting hare. Raven pass by and make any of a wide variety of vocalizations. They no doubt have a language.



It has cooled again, and I need the ground to thaw to get started on the big project. The frost is still at 15 inches deep, and I wear a hat and gloves while working.

Days continue to grow. Now the hermit thrushes fill the 3 AM twilight with their sweet fluty notes, and the robins join in a little later.  By dawn, some time before 5, the biophany is at a mild roar. Now I have salads of fireweed sprouts and dandelion leaves.



Still cool.

I finally saw a moose calf, but it wasn’t in my yard. I went clamming with Mike at the head of the bay. We trudged out on the mudflats there. The mud is glacial silt and is almost clay. It’s greasy and sticky at the same time. You have to be careful not to walk right out of your rubber boots because of the suction. On the way home I saw a cow and week-old calf in the burned area.

I’m thinking the cows may be avoiding my place this year because my neighbors have gotten noisier since I was here 2 years ago. There are dogs on either side of me that will bark at a moose, as well as my renter’s dog right here. Maybe the moose pass through while I sleep.

The buds on the tips of the spruce have opened and the new growth is just beginning. I’ll be picking the tips from the trees below the cabin–the ones I don’t want to grow too much because they’d bock my view. Spruce tips make a nice tea. The first lupine is blooming, and it’s all the way up at the mailbox instead of at a lower elevation. A wild geranium bud is opening near the outhouse. I’ve been hearing a ruby-crowned kinglet.




south side of the cabin jacked up and cribbed.


I made this a separate section, thinking that many of you don’t want to read about my projects. You can leave this now if thats the case.

It has been a long month of talking to guys about how to do this, borrowing jacks and cribbing material, renting a little front end loader on tracks to excavate, getting a mental picture of my plan, which keeps changing, and buying materials. Meanwhile you read about me building a couple sheds, logging the deadfall on the ravine slope, and building fences to protect the birch. It has often been frustrating, with cold weather not allowing the ground to thaw, and making the excavation a mess that I had to abandon before I got stuck, and a series of setbacks–repairs needed on my truck and chainsaw ( my friend bruce would write the story of the cascade of problems well), but today I finally got the south side jacked up a couple inches and then cribbed. I worked from noon to eight thirty and was very happy that things went well. The hydraulic jack is an amazing tool. I have 5 of them here, from 12 to 20 tons, and 3 screw jacks that sit on top of 4 inch pipe and screw up with a 4 foot steel bar providing the leverage. In the beginning the jack drives the platform below into the earth, then the cabin slowly begins to rise, often bringing the piling up with it.

The log piling have been in the earth for 29 years and are beginning to rot. Once I get them extracted I will cut them to see exactly how bad the rot was.

Tomorrow I’ll go to town to get a truckload of aggregate to make concrete, and borrow a neighbor’s chain hoist. I plan on using my 20’ tripod and chain hoist to extract the old piling. It will be interesting.

Some of you have expressed an interest in visiting. The old cabin is vacant and you can stay there, but I will be working with my shovel, long hours most days. Each of 15 piling has to be pulled and then a 2 ft diameter hole, 50 inches deep, dug by hand, then I shovel aggregate, sand and cement into the mixer, and pour the new piling, then back-fill with the shovel. I have been blessed with a pranic balance pendant that keeps my back feeling young and strong. I am so impressed with it that I am now selling them. I get out of bed every morning with no stiffness. Amazing. Worth $200 to feel that good every morning for the next 25 years (estimated life of the pendant).

the cabin in september, before the deck was built

end of the season:
Williwaws blew out of the mountains with intense gusts, stripping the alders of their leaves and knocking down the grasses, littering the lawn with golden birch leaves. I arrived in early May, before “green-up”, when the landscape was dreary, and now it has returned to that state. It has been an intense summer of growth and then fading, with plant energy returning to the Earth. And it has been an intense summer for me as well; five months of relentless hard work. My body is thin and sinewy and my hands are calloused, enlarged, and spotted with scabs. My beard is long and bushy and my timberframe has been revived and renewed. It sits on a new and permanent foundation of 17 concrete piling. I think it has evolved from a cabin to a small house, with more space, and a water system. There is a nice feeling of achievement to be had from completing such a project.

My new renters, Josh the hard-working fisherman and his fiancé Gloria have moved in to take care of things through the cold and dark season. They’re excited to call this place home. I am grateful to have them. We have plans for a greenhouse, pond, and expanded garden. Josh will plant the fenceposts next week, before the ground freezes

Relieving a full bladder from the balcony at five-thirty in the morning, the aurora was blazing. What glory.
A porcupine considered making it’s winter den under the sauna.
A black bear cub, somehow separated from mom, wandered through here in bad shape. I went up to it and spoke to it, but it didn’t respond–as if I wasn’t there. The poor animal is destined to feed the predators. Nothin’ I could do about that.

We had four days of clear weather during the full moon. You may know that the road I live below is called “Moonrise Street.” The reason is because of the spectacular sight of the moon rising from the glaciated mountains.


September 2018
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