Reykjavik, Iceland: Fire

 

The next stop on our trip was Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. In our short time there we saw an incredible mix of natural wonders. This first set of photos is all related to geological activity, including hot springs and geysers, volcanic rock, and an above-ground section of the mid-Atlantic rift.

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Scotland

The third stop of our trip was in Kirkwall, capitol of the Orkney Islands in the northern part of Scotland. In addition to the Renaissance-style Earl’s and Bishop’s Palaces, the town featured St Magnus’s cathedral, which was equally stunning inside and out. The cross-shaped cathedral was built with red stones which glowed against the green grass of the surrounding cemetery. The interior was dominated by two large stained glass windows on either side, with multiple stories of smaller glass pieces lining all the walls. The region’s Celtic and Nordic inheritance were evident in the cathedral’s architecture, including the details of the crosses, ironwork curls on the door, and even viking ships in the stained glass.

Newcastle-on-Tyne

Our second stop was another city of enduring military importance, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and the gate and castle keep there guarding the bridge over the Tyne river. Excavations had revealed a Roman establishment to guard the same location centuries prior, which was marked on the pathways in stone. We spent a long time at St Nicholas Cathedral, admiring the storytelling in the stained glass windows, wood and marble carvings, and hanging battle flags.

Dover Castle

The first of many posts from an absolutely stunning trip around Europe. Every place we went I wished for more time, including our starting point at Dover. The old city was adorable and full of small surprises, the cliffs were indeed white, and the castle reigned over it all.

The core is a castle established by Henry II, a stunning rock fortress with feet-thick walls, winding circular staircases, and narrow galley passages. Layers of history wrap around and under it, from a 1st century AD Roman lighthouse, to barracks for troops in the Napoleonic wars, to underground tunnels used for storage in WWII. Perimeter walls have been added and expanded, gates have been added, fortified, and sealed up, rocks upon rocks standing testament to the enduring military significance of the castle on the hill.

Wild River

I spent two summers working in Olympic National Park, monitoring how plant communities returned along the Elwha river after the removal of two large dams and draining of the reservoirs. Summers in Washington are bright green, full of big leaves and new growth. This spring I had the opportunity to re-visit those areas, many of which have been drastically changed by winter storms.

As the river settles into new channels, it regularly shifts and floods, and the buildup of silt from the dams continues to move downstream, often in intense and even destructive ways. My visit to the Elwha revealed the destruction a wild river can create, with torn up logs and wrecked campgrounds. One of the reservoirs is not currently accessible, as the river has taken out portions of the road to it, and the other has been carved up significantly, with large chunks of fertile, silty soil washed downstream and the rocky bed underneath exposed.

At the same time, the river continues to be full of life, with new plants growing every day. Older willows and cottonwoods that germinated when the dams were first broken down have matured enough to start reproducing, contributing to the next generation of trees. Animals are making use of the space, with flocks of swallows moving through the open evening, eagles nesting in the tops of trees, and all sorts of amphibians moving in and out of the water.

The last two summers, the story of the reservoirs has been one of abundant growth and forward progress. This spring revealed a more complex path taken by nature, as destruction becomes part of the very process of restoration. We can only imagine what the river will do in the decades to come.

Mushroom hunting

We visited Henry Cowell state park on a gray, drizzly day, and laughingly said that it would be a perfect day for hunting mushrooms. Looking down at the leaf litter and logs turned into a very fruitful hunt indeed, with some absolutely stunning finds. From enormous to tiny and in all sorts of colors and textures, the fungus truly put on a show for us.

(As always, click on any thumbnail for a full slideshow)

Treasures on the Shore

It’s no secret that Point Lobos is one of my favorite state parks. The same way that Yosemite calls me to the mountains, Point Lobos draws me back to the coast time after time for days of discovery and exploration. Busy tidepools. Vibrant sunsets. High surf days with 20-foot waves. Opportunities to play with new equipment and ideas.

This winter’s visit did not disappoint. A recent storm had washed all sorts of marine creatures onto the small beaches, decorating the shore with everything from glistening abalone shells to variegated sea weeds and even bleached white bones. Sea lion cubs played hide and seek with the waves, and we even caught a hint of a sunset before the clouds rolled in.

Fly away home

 

Once again I’m staring at a calendar, watching my final days on the Olympic Peninsula flash past me. As excited as I am to return to my main research work and life in California, this place excels at being hard to leave. I’ve never called Washington home, but these mountains, and particularly the project on the Elwha, capture my heart.

My focus on this project is the vegetation, but as wonderful as it is to see valley turning green and the trees shooting skyward, I’ve been even more amazed by the transformation of the river itself. Now that the dams are completely removed and the silt has washed down to the delta, the Elwha has come alive. Each section of fieldwork I wrap up is a bittersweet victory, as I prepare to leave this shining, shifting river, which after almost a hundred years of constraint, is finally flowing free.

 

Photo: Mt Shasta, taken on the trip up here. I am in fact not flying home, but driving for fourteen hours, past some very pleasant scenery.

Natural moments

These photos are from last September, a retreat that was hosted for the first-year graduate students in my program. We had a truly wonderful time getting to know each other in a setting where we ecologists are truly at our best–outside! Our weekend spanned forest and coast, and the great moments of sharing science got us started out on what turned out to be an incredible year.

As always, click on any picture to start the slideshow.