I have a really cool job where I get to spend my summers in beautiful places, hiking and looking at plants. I’ve done work in the Elwha river valley, Sierra Nevada mountains, burned California shrubland, Kenyan savannah, and more. I study how plants respond to disturbance—fire, drought, dam removal, build up of nutrients—and how those responses are shaped by other plants and by herbivores.
This summer, I’m working somewhere I’ve always wanted to go–Finnish Lapland–studying tundra plants. The project is testing how plant communities recover from years of added nutrients. It’s amazing to be so far north (the sun never sets! also, the sun never sets) in a patchwork landscape of mountains and lakes. And the tundra—the plant community itself—is incredible.
This is Mount Saana, where I’m working. From a distance, the area above the trees looks like a homogenous greenish-brownish blur. But get closer, and more and more variation reveals itself in the patchwork of ankle-heigh shrubs. Even closer, and stunning flowers pop out in all colors and shapes. Here’s a picture of one of our study plots—just a mere 25 cm x 25 cm—with 13 species growing in it!
Check out just a few of the beautiful species growing in the tundra (and the views aren’t bad either):
One of my favorite moments on our trip to Trier was stepping into the Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady.* Light colored stone and high windows let in soft, glowing light, and the whole space felt bright and peaceful.
The Liebfrauenkirche is the oldest gothic church in Germany—it was built in the 13th century, and stands on the foundations of a much older Roman church. Unlike most churches, it’s built in a circular shape, with eight alcoves in between the four ends of the typical cross shape, for a full form of a twelve-petaled rose. These twelve curves, and the corresponding twelve supporting columns, symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The dozens of stained glass windows include older style painted glass and more modern and geometric patterns. Because of its circular shape, the main alter stands in the center of the room, with all the pews facing inwards toward it.
* Literally “loving women church”
Another of the Roman structures in Trier is Emperor Constantine’s basilica. Erected to be an immense throne room, the basilica is a single room over 200 feet long and eight stories tall. Since it’s original construction in the 4th century, it’s been damaged and rebuilt many times, including incorporation into both a medieval castle and a baroque palace. It was converted into a church at the end of the 19th century, sustained heavy damage in WWII, and most recently refurbished in the 1960s to match the original structure. Interestingly, some of the original Roman walls were the sections that survived the best through the bombing.
The size of the basilica is mind-boggling, and hard to capture with pictures. Each of the wooden squares in the ceiling is 10 ft x 10 ft—the size of a normal bedroom. The two organs are mounted high on the walls, and the arches and windows extend even further.
Trier is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and still boasts multiple Roman structures. One of these is the imperial baths, a sprawling multi-story complex of tunnels and arches. These are an active archaeological site and open for public viewing, with ongoing renovations to shore up the existing pieces and restore additional sections. Also geese.
The Golden Temple* in Patan, Nepal is a stunning Buddhist monastery. The three-tiered temple roofs, walls, and embellishments are plated in golden metal. Decorative carvings adorn every inch of the courtyard, including doorways and roof struts. Rows of prayer wheels wrap around the courtyard, and statues surround the central shrine. The temple was founded in the 12th century, and its current structures date back to 1409.
On the day we visited, the sun was glaringly bright on the gilded sheeting. Instead of fighting the light, I decided to focus on light and dark contrasts, and the depth of shading in the elaborate details. I haven’t done much black and white photography recently, but I used to take and develop black and white film–35mm, medium format, and 4×5. It was a great experience to try out visual and mental lens in this incredible temple.
* Also called the Bhaskerdev Samskarita Hiranyabarna Mahavihara
My favorite of these pictures are the ones that show different layers of decoration. Taking pictures in this temple was overwhelming, because there were incredible angles and detail everywhere–around corners, multiple stories up into the sky, statues next to statues behind other statues. I particularly like how the prayer bell picture with the courtyard in the background turned out.
Want more black and white posts? Here’s a circular tower in Copenhagen, and animal antics at the San Francisco Zoo.
The last stage of our November Nepal trip was a week in Katmandu, exploring the city and surrounding regions. We particularly enjoyed visiting the other city states in the Kathmandu valley, which are now connected to the sprawling metropolis. The first of these is Patan, which was founded in the 3rd century. Temples and stupas are scattered throughout the city, many of them hundreds of years old. Intricate carvings adorn doors, windows, and even supporting wooden struts along the tile roofs. Walking through the streets, we also saw evidence of the 2015 earthquake, and more modern artwork, including a street exhibit on climate change and environmental issues.
Looking for more photos of Nepal? Check out mudbathing rhinos and mountain sunrises. Want more city streets? Here’s Copenhagen and Oulu.
Even on a brief and busy trip home, we squeezed in a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Highlights of the trip included comb jellyfish, moray eels, garden eels, sea otters, and three octopuses. The deep sea exhibit was also swimming, with two sunfish joining turtles, tuna, and a school of sardines in the giant tank.
Fernald’s iris (Iris fernaldii)
California hedgenettle (Stachys bullata)
Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana)
Fringe cups (Tellima grandiflora)
Chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana)
Lupine (possibly Silver lupine, Lupinus albifrons)
Sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus)
Variable checkerspot chrysalis (Euphydryas chalcedona)
Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum)
Santa Cruz manzanita (Arctostaphylos andersonii)
Bush poppy (Dendromecon rigida)
Redwood violet (Viola sempervirens)
Redwood needles lower (background) and canopy (foreground)
Cramp balls fungus (Annulohypoxylon thouarsianum)
Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana)
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, California, mid-May. The trail climbs from dense secondary redwood forest, to wet mixed conifer forest (redwood, Douglas fir, and hemlock), to sun-dappled oak trees, and finally sunny chaparral. The understory flowers also shift, from shade-tolerant violets and irises, to sun-loving lupines. The loop trail then returns along the creek back to redwood forest.
Entering Chitwan, we crossed a large river which our taxi driver told us was part of the Ganga river. We later learned that this is the Narayani, or Gandaki River, which is one of the major tributaries of the Ganga river. I spent 7 months in Varanasi, Indiat living and teaching on the banks of the Ganga (way back when this blog was first conceived). It was pretty incredible to see the same waters much further upstream.
During our stay in Chitwan, we took a boat ride along the river. We saw all kinds of animals in the water and on the shores, including the endangered gharial, or fish-eating crocodile. We also saw a group of men using two canoes to bring a Jeep across the river! And we took a morning walk with the elephants and mahouts that work at the lodge to cut food for the elephants. The elephants passed a bundle at a time up to their mahouts (stealing bites along the way) and carried the stack back–the whole elephant-load is only about half of their food for the day.