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The Magic of Little Switzerland and the Historic Orchard at Altapass

 Blue Ridge Mountains with Misty Skies from Wild Acres

Blue Ridge Mountains with Misty Skies from Wild Acres

Last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend a painting workshop at Wild Acres.  Of course I brought my camera along and stole away a few times to photograph.  This particular evening I watched the mist rise from the mountains and the clouds it was forming shape shift.  It really made me focus on the transience of our experience and how each moment is unique and not to be missed.

 Wild Acres Foggy Skies

Wild Acres Foggy Skies

The image above is in color from the same area in a slightly different direction.  There were too many clouds for a dramatic sunset, but there was a streak of pink across the sky.  How fortunate we were to spend time in this magical environment that was started by Thomas Dixon, the author of "The Clansman," which was made into the movie "The Birth of a Nation."  The proceeds from the movie were used to acquire this property, which Dixon hoped to turn into a cultural center until he lost everything including this land in the Great Depression.  I.D. Blumenthal ended up purchasing it at auction for a pittance and he and his brother restored the property, which was used by Ringling College of Art and Design for their summer residency program until 1946, when the Blumenthals began inviting series of groups. Here's a link to the colorful history of this amazing retreat center: http://www.wildacres.org/about/history.html

 Apple Orchard at Altapass at Dusk

Apple Orchard at Altapass at Dusk

One night I went to the Historic Apple Orchard at Altapass to see the old apple trees as the sun was setting.  It was a full moon a few days later, so that made it even more special.  In 2012, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, a matching grant from Progress Energy, and contributions in memory of Eric L. Gressel, a long-time Orchard volunteer to the Altapass Foundation provided for the construction of a series of trails through the orchard.  There is a Guided Nature Walk that visitors can take.  

 Apple Trees in the 100 Year Old Orchard at Altapass

Apple Trees in the 100 Year Old Orchard at Altapass

The Holston Land Company, an arm of the Clinchfield Railroad, established this orchard 100 years ago on the top of the Eastern Continental Divide. In the 1930s, the Blue Ridge Parkway purchased a narrow strip of land through here, and today the remaining 2,500 trees produce 7,000 bushels of apples a year.  The 280-acre orchard was purchased by Katherine Trubey in 1995, but eventually the land above the Parkway was sold to the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation so it could be preserved in perpetuity. In addition to the orchard, there are wetlands and butterflies in this area.  Here's a link with information on the history of the orchard: https://www.altapassorchard.org/brochures/Trails_Brochure.pdf

 Dirt Road Through the Historic Orchard at Altapass

Dirt Road Through the Historic Orchard at Altapass

The sunset was magical to watch.  The clouds at one point resembled an animal jumping over the moon. 

 Clouds Over the Moon, the Orchard at Altapass

Clouds Over the Moon, the Orchard at Altapass

One of the last sights we saw was the moon framed by the tree branches.  I felt so grateful to be able to walk among these old trees that still bear fruit as nightfall descended.

 Full Moon through the Apple Tree Branches, the Historic Orchard at Altapass

Full Moon through the Apple Tree Branches, the Historic Orchard at Altapass

Eldorado Canyon Views of the Continental Divide, Goshawk Ridge Trail, and Wildflowers

 View of the Continental Divide from the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

View of the Continental Divide from the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

Last month I spent an incredible day in the Eldorado Canyon. I got there early in the morning and hiked up the Rattlesnake Gulch trail to the view of the Continental Divide First.  It  was spectacular and I sat there all by myself watching the clouds create different paintings across the sky.  The one below reminded me of Dali's mustache.

 Eldorado Canyon Continental Divide View with Cloudscape

Eldorado Canyon Continental Divide View with Cloudscape

Then I stood upon a bench under this pine bough to get another persepctive.  I loved the long needles and gnarly branches.

 Continental Divide View Under Pine Bough

Continental Divide View Under Pine Bough

The rock face of the canyon in some places is estimated to be more the 1.5 billion years old.  To see trees growing along the craggy summit and in nooks and crannies always makes me appreciate nature's life force and impetus to find ways to survive no matter what the conditions. 

 Eldorado Canyon Wall

Eldorado Canyon Wall

Along the trail, I photographed decaying dandelions, which seemed to evoke the transience of the season and life, next to century plants which seemed so much stronger and enduring, the stiff verticality contrasting with the more gossamer threads of the dandelions going to seed.

 Dandelion Decomposition wiht Red Tic

Dandelion Decomposition wiht Red Tic

 Eldorado Canyon Century Plant

Eldorado Canyon Century Plant

All along the canyon walls in the shaes, blue bells and other wildflowers grew in the nooks and crannies.  

 Eldorado Canyon Wall with Wildflowers

Eldorado Canyon Wall with Wildflowers

The thistle plants were exhibiting lots of pollen which attracted the bee below. The bee ingested so much pollen it fell to the ground a few moments later.

 Thistle, High Key

Thistle, High Key

 Bee Drunk on Thistle Pollen

Bee Drunk on Thistle Pollen

When I saw the scene below, I was pretty sure how Boulder got its name.  There were so many textures and sizes of rocks along the Fowler Trail, which I hiked next.  I was out in the canyon for 8 hours  and saw one spectacular scene after the next.  There were grand scenes, but the most intricate details were captivating as well as the macro of the rock below shows.  That was like a work of art there were so many vibrant colors and patterns.

 Boulders on the Fowler Trail, Eldorado Canyon

Boulders on the Fowler Trail, Eldorado Canyon

 Eldorado Canyon Macro of a Rock Face

Eldorado Canyon Macro of a Rock Face

I hiked the Fowler trail over to meet up with Goshawk Ridge trail and came upon this lovely view of the valley.  The clouds, the wildflowers and the light all came together to create simultaneously majestic and intricate compositions.  

 Eldorado Canyon View from the Fowler Trail

Eldorado Canyon View from the Fowler Trail

The wall below was fascinating, especially with the dead trees intermixed with the pines.  

 Eldorado Canyon Lower Peanuts Wall

Eldorado Canyon Lower Peanuts Wall

The Gowhawk Ridge Trail goes through a forest that has been left completely alone.  You are not allowed to walk off the trail at all and I never saw another person the whole time I was walking along it.  To be in such undisturbed woods quieted my soul.  This impossibly bent tree was an interesting anomaly that stood out among the other trees, and I realized that being unique is what makes life interesting. 

  Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Trail Crooked Tree

Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Trail Crooked Tree

Next I came to these ruins along a stiff incline where ancient people once inhabited this canyon.  Alone in this magical landscape, the past came more alive than the present.  

 Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Ridge Trail Ruins

Eldorado Canyon Goshawk Ridge Trail Ruins

The last part of my hike opened out onto an incredible field of wildflowers.  The last time I was in Colorado to photograph wildflowers with John Fielder, there was a severe drought and all I saw was fireweed.  Though there have been fires in southern Colorado, Boulder and the surrounding area had a lot of rain this year. In fact, some of the trails I'd wanted to hike near Nederland were flooded that week, which is how I'd ended up in Eldorado Canyon.  How fortuitous that turned out to be.  I spent an hour in this filed all alone, appreciating these incredible flowers and the surrounding scenery.  I lay down on boulders when I came across them, appreciated individual flowers, and noticed how they all magically fit in with the landscape.  Words cannot describe how it felt to be all alone in such a spectacular place with no sounds except the breeze blowing through the grasses, the birds calling, and insects buzzing as they fed upon nature's abundance.  If someone ever asks me to picture heaven, or come up with an image in my mind that brings me peace and joy, these scenes are certainly what will come to mind.  This planet we call home deserves protecting. To lose such brilliant biodiversity to fires and climate change will be tragic.  

 Eldorado Canyon Bluebells

Eldorado Canyon Bluebells

 Eldorado Canyon Field with Indian Paintbrush and Wildflowers

Eldorado Canyon Field with Indian Paintbrush and Wildflowers

 Bee Balm, Eldorado Canyon

Bee Balm, Eldorado Canyon

 Bee Balm Close Up

Bee Balm Close Up

 Eldorado Lupine

Eldorado Lupine

 Eldorado Field of Wildflowers, Detail

Eldorado Field of Wildflowers, Detail

 Bee Balm and Wildflowers, Field in Eldorado Canyon

Bee Balm and Wildflowers, Field in Eldorado Canyon

 Eldorado Canyon, Indian Paintbrush

Eldorado Canyon, Indian Paintbrush

Deep Creek, Seemingly Pristine Waters at Risk from Acid Rain and Climate Change

 Deep Creek, The Way Through

Deep Creek, The Way Through

I recently spent a couple of days in Deep Creek camping.  The water there was seemingly pristine and beautiful.  I knew, however, that it was already impaired from Acid Rain and at risk from climate change.  Since 1991, the streams in the Great Smoky Mountains have been monitored for water quality.  The acid rain created by coal burning plants deposits sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide that is deposited in the streams and along the riparian banks through rain, snow, hail and even fog and dust.  The rain then leaches nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil, raising its PH and making it more acidic.  The air pollution responsible for the issues in the creeks in the Great Smoky Mountains was improving, but now with a renewed focus on coal they are at great risk.  In 2015, before the changes in policy, it was already estimated that 200 train cars of sulfuric acid fell over the park grounds each year.  (https://www.nps.gov/grsm/learn/nature/water-quality.htm)

The velocity of the water can have both positive and and negative effects. Quickly flowing water can help flush waterways and prevent bacteria from growing as quickly, but it can also harm sensitive organisms that cling to rock faces.  Elevation can have both positive and negative effects as well.  Higher streams are cooler and this supports the populations of brook trout, but the trees and ecosystems located higher up are the first recipients of acid rain.

I made the image above one evening after climbing partway down a very steep bank.  The water was stunning as it found its path through the rocks.  But as I peeked through the branches to watch, I couldn't help fearing for the fragility of these ecosystems that have endured for hundreds of millions of years until we arrived and altered the balance from afar by burning fossil fuels.

 Deep Creek Swimming Hole

Deep Creek Swimming Hole

Most of the stream was quite shallow, but here, just beyond a bridge over the stream, the water was very deep and we were able to take a dip the next day.  The water was still frigid, which was a good thing for the fly fisherman that are drawn to this area and for the brook trout that live in this stream.  As temperatures increase from climate change, it will alter the levels of dissolved oxygen, which will damage the gills and reproduction systems of the trout.  

 Deep Creek Riparian Landscape

Deep Creek Riparian Landscape

For now the many visitors to Deep Creek can still enjoy this pristine stream and in the evening when everyone has gone home or back to their campsites, it is incredibly tranquil.  In fact, it was so peaceful it was hard to drag myself away and my friends were close to calling out a search party,  Below are some more images I made during this visit.  The mountain laurel was in full bloom, which was a treat to see.

 Deep Creek, Rocks and Riffles

Deep Creek, Rocks and Riffles

 Deep Creek Riffles

Deep Creek Riffles

 Deep Creek Flowing over Ledges

Deep Creek Flowing over Ledges

 Confluence of Indian Creek and Deep Creek

Confluence of Indian Creek and Deep Creek

 Tom's Falls on Deep Creek

Tom's Falls on Deep Creek

 Deep Creek Through the Foliage at Dusk

Deep Creek Through the Foliage at Dusk

 Deep Creek at the Golden Hour

Deep Creek at the Golden Hour

Below are two black and white images from my visit. The first is of ledges along Deep Creek midway down the stream and the second if of Indian Falls, a waterfall along Indian Creek just before it merges with Deep Creek.

 Deep Creek Ledges

Deep Creek Ledges

 Indian Falls

Indian Falls

I also hiked the trails through the woods along Indian Creek and back up through the hills until it rejoined the Deep Creek Trails.  I saw some interesting fungi along the way, and at the top of the ridge where two trails met,  I was met by a curious deer.  We sat and looked into each other's eyes for several moments.  I took one photo with the camera I had in hand, but then I put it down since I had this feeling that I wanted to connect with the deer instead of frighten it.  The deer then walked through the woods quite near me and appeared on the other trail, pausing again to look at me.  Slowly, I made a second image, though I felt weird pointing my camera at it when the deer was allowing itself to be vulnerable. I would clearly not make a good hunter. Even taking photographs felt intrusive, so I only made these two.  I used to live in Westchester, where deer almost seemed to outnumber people, and they were quite brazen and typically seemed unconcerned with people.  But I am used to wild deer running off, so this encounter felt special. 

 Flame Fungi

Flame Fungi

 Glowing Red Mushrooms Helping Roots in the Forest

Glowing Red Mushrooms Helping Roots in the Forest

 Deer in the Woods in the Smoky Mountains

Deer in the Woods in the Smoky Mountains

 Deep Creek Deer Encounter

Deep Creek Deer Encounter

Roan Mountain, Big Butt Trail, and Catawba Falls in Black and White

Roan Mountain Bent Tree in the Mist

Roan Mountain Bent Tree in the Mist

Lately, with the threats that constantly besiege our environment, I have been struck with the fragility of it all and a real sense of ominous foreboding.  Perhaps things will turn around, but for now trees are not just receiving water and carbon dioxide, they are also imbibing toxic chemicals from more coal plants and acid rain.  It has caused me to see the nature I love in such a different way and it is breaking my heart.  As a photographer and an artist, all I can do is express what I see with not just my eyes but through my intuition and soul. The image above was take on Roan Mountain on a foggy and cloudy day. The atmosphere was palpable and I suddenly felt how these trees have no escape routes.  Their leaves may adjust from season to season to taken in more Carbon Dioxide, but the rain and the wind still pelts down upon them. I processed this image to give it an antique feel, as if this mountainside exists in the past already.

 Lichen Man Dark

Lichen Man Dark

The photograph above was made on the Big Butt Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway near the summit of Little Butt.  When I saw this lichen, it looked like a man running.  All the other growth was interesting and very dense, but what really stood out for me was the central vegetation so I processed it to set that off.  I loved that it resembled a human form, as many scientists believe that lichen will be critical in helping us adapt to climate change through their innate ability to process carbon dioxide and harmful pollutants that find their way into our air.

 View from Little Butt, Dying Trees in the Blue Ridge

View from Little Butt, Dying Trees in the Blue Ridge

This image shows the affects of acid rain and why we need lichen and other trees so much.  The frightening thing is that this destruction exists in a pristine forest.  The harmful pollutants are being carried by air currents from the Ohio River Valley in the midwest.

 Erosion, Catawba Falls State Park

Erosion, Catawba Falls State Park

This year has seen very high levels of rainfall with associated flooding in the mountains of Western North Carolinna.  this image was taken on a day following one particular deluge.  When I stood on the edge of the bank, I was struck by how much land had been eroded and all the trees that had been sucked into the river.   Processing the image in black and white added to the ominous tone and also helped direct the viewer's focus onto the river.

 Water Eroding the Earth, Catawba River

Water Eroding the Earth, Catawba River

The image above was also taken on the Catawba River.  Seeing the water pour down with such force right next to the roots drove home how powerful waterways can be when they are at flood stage.  They are truly the shapers of the riparian landscape and forces to be reckoned with.

 Catawba Falls After the Rains

Catawba Falls After the Rains

Though several people have died at various waterfalls in North Carolina lately, from being swept off the top by strong currents, the water in all its force is beautiful to watch from below.  Its power and majesty are a testament to how man truly cannot control the forces of nature no matter how much hubris we exhibit in thinking we can.

 Lower Catawba Falls

Lower Catawba Falls

When I saw the Lower Catawba Falls in the dim light, the environment seemed almost ghostlike to me.  The water was of course more turbulent to the eye, but there was something about being in this dim forest with water racing through and erasing its features before my eyes that made me think of apparitions and so I slowed the exposure way down with a neutral density filter to convey the emotions I felt.

It has been a year since I moved to my new home and the Blue Ridge.  At first I celebrated all the biodiversity I was witnessing every day, and it is amazing.  The Blue Ridge and one location in China boast more biodiversity than any other temperate zone in the world, and this is indeed cause for celebration.  But as Scott Dean, my wonderful wildflower teacher at the North Carolina Arboretum said the other day, we may be the last generation to witness this proliferation of life.  No wonder I think of ghosts when diversity that has existed for millennia could suddenly be destroyed or greatly reduced in my lifetime.  I pray as a people we come to our senses and stop harming that which supports us and make the earth a viable home.

Eldorado Canyon and South Boulder Creek with Rushing Water

 The Big Bang of Water

The Big Bang of Water

Last week I had the good fortune to  study the rushing waters of South Boulder Creek in Eldorado Canyon after a few storms.  At first I was watching the dramatic parts of the scene where the stream cascaded through the canyon with the most velocity.  After awhile, I climbed on some rocks closer to the center of the stream. Again, I was drawn to the area where the most water was passing through, but suddenly I looked down below my feet and saw smaller rivulets of water leaping off the rock into the chaos below. The water seemed to move in slow motion compared with the rest of the stream. Suddenly it made me think of the big bang and it was as if the saying I have heard ever since Standing Rock about water being the source of life was being demonstrated before my eyes . When I processed the photo, in the center I noticed a pyramidal form that looked just like a gem.  We forget how precious water is to our survival.  Looking through my lens and on the computer afterwards, I was mesmerized by the magical powers of water I was able to witness that day.

 South Boulder Creek Slicing Through Eldorado Canyon

South Boulder Creek Slicing Through Eldorado Canyon

My first encounters with water were gentle and spiritual and taught me many lessons about going with the flow, avoiding snags and the like, but water is incredibly powerful too and carves through rock.  Often, I photograph water to capture a its grace and ephemeral spirit by using a filter to achieve long exposures that evoke gradual movement.  And indeed I made a few images like that this particular afternoon.  But when you hear the water pounding in your ears over and over again, the experience seems closer to reality when the image is made with a quick shutter speed to freeze the action. 

 The Power of Water, Eldorado Canon

The Power of Water, Eldorado Canon

Right at the heart of one particular section of the stream, water cascaded over and around big boulders in torrents. The rocks were covered with moss and the colors were spectacular.  The yellow-golds refracted in the water were spectacular and the water resembled a precious gem, a living, ever shifting amber-like tableau with droplets of life suspended in a briefly frozen moment.  The more we destroy our rivers and waterways, the more precious water becomes.  I want to capture it in all its majesty and remaining purity before it is turned to sludge.

 The Magical Waters of Eldorado Canyon

The Magical Waters of Eldorado Canyon

The dappled light and rich reds of the rocks made the riparian banks appear just as special.  I think I could have stayed there until dark watching and taking in all the myriad ways the stream flowed, its unique momentum and all the different ways it interacted with the boulders that once again contained it in the absence of floodwaters.

 Eldorado Canyon, South Boulder Creek

Eldorado Canyon, South Boulder Creek

A short way before this rocky area, the creek was more level and many fly fisherman were casting their lines  People were picnicking and some were even dangling their legs in the water.  Not here int this more rapid and turbulently flowing area, although this volume of water was probably nothing compared to 2013 when 500 residents were under evacuation orders.

 Boulder Creek Churning through Eldorado Canyon

Boulder Creek Churning through Eldorado Canyon

There was no way I was attempting a stream crossing here.  This image gives a clearer sense of exactly how turbulent the water was.

 Eldorado Canyon Boulder Creek's Mystical Waters in Dappled Light Multi Layer Processing

Eldorado Canyon Boulder Creek's Mystical Waters in Dappled Light Multi Layer Processing

South Boulder Creek starts in the Indian Peaks near Moffat and the source of its water is the melting snowpack. There is an ashram nearby as well as an artesian spring fed pool and walking around this area I got the sense that it was a spiritual place.  Of course for me the overused saying Nature is My Church is the truth.  I envisioned the scene in black and whtie to, in order to evoke a more timeless feel.  What a glorious place to witness the power of water.

Moody Forest–Color Images

Moody Forest Dancing New Maple Leaves2404.jpg

Moody Forest–New Maple Leaves Dancing in the Light

A month ago, I visited the Moody Forest–one of the only remaining old growth longleaf pine forests in the country.  The blog I wrote had black and white images of 200-300 year-old-pines and 600 year-old cypress and tupelo trees.  (http://www.lynnebuchanan.com/blog/2018/5/8/moody-forest-black-and-white-images-evoking-a-timeless-primeval-paradise)  But it was not just the dramatic ancient trees that caught my attention. This old growth forest is unusual in that the understory is still relatively open, which allows light to reach new growth. When I saw these fresh green maples leaves in the image above, they seemed to be dancing in the light and breeze.  As I sat on the ground and watched them, they seemed to radiate their inner essence and I was filled with a feeling of profound hope.  It is experiences like this, where I connect with nature in a direct that really teach me to live in the moment and appreciate just being, which is no trivial thing when done fully.

 Orange Milkwort

Orange Milkwort

The more open understory allows for the proliferation of wildflowers.  The orange milkwort was mesmerizing through my 200 macro lens with a Cannon 500 on top.  I could see all these teeny flowers blooming.  Early summer, when I was there, is the peak season for blooming but they can flower through to the fall.  These biennial plants are common in pine flatwoods, but they are anything but common to see.  When you look into the interior of the plants, where most of the blossoms are located, its like an invitation to a whole other universe.

 Indian Pink

Indian Pink

Indian Pink is an uncommon wildflower that grows in the southeast in rich moist woods.  I found most of these back at the edge of the bog where the cypress and tupelo trees were located.  The plants can reach 12-18 inches in hight.  Though it is called Indian Pink, the inflorescence is actually comprised of five-tipped brilliant red flowers with yellow interiors. I was so mesmerized by them that I got down on the ground at eye level.  The side view was most dramatic.

 Common Pea

Common Pea

There are also several kinds of pea plants.  Legumes are important in longleaf pine ecosystems, as they are a source of food for wildlife and also "fix" nitrogen. Their seeds are covered with a tough exterior, an intelligent adaptation that allows them to remain dormant until conditions are right for germination.  Once the plants begin growing, they convert atmospheric nitrogen by working with rhizobia, a bacteria in the soil that takes bacteria and feeds it to the legumes.  As in all fungal symbiotic relationships, the legumes then give carbohydrates back to the bacteria in exchange.  Legumes play a very important role because longleaf pine ecoystems are fire dependent for their survival.  Fires rob the soil of organic nitrogen that the legumes help reintroduce through their high nitrogen and protein content.  

 Pursh's Rattlebox

Pursh's Rattlebox

The image below shows the importance of fire in the Moody Forest Ecosystem.  Prescribed burns help wildlife and plants in the understory survive.  According to  Robert Abernethy, president of the Longleaf Alliance. “If you burn, you’ll have turkeys. If you don’t, you won’t.” The fires have to be well-managed so they don't let burning peat bog get out of control.  Forests like these suffer when there aren't enough fires.  The images below show how fire helps and is even oddly beautiful when it is controlled.  Indigenous people frequently made use of fire to  keep the soil healthy.(https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/northcarolina/north-carolina-role-of-fire-in-longleaf-pine-forests.xml)

 Moody Forest–A Fire Dependent Ecosystem

Moody Forest–A Fire Dependent Ecosystem

 Moody Forest-Burned Log Still Life

Moody Forest-Burned Log Still Life

 Moody Forest Regenerating After a Burn

Moody Forest Regenerating After a Burn

If you are in the area, visit this beautiful forest. It was such a transcendent experience walking through these woods alone, seeing nature grow back and thrive, and finding plants and new growth that was illuminated and almost pulsating in the light.  Connecting with the essential aliveness of the forest  reminded me to appreciate the privilege of being able to live on this magnificent earth, which we all too often take for granted.

Two New Black and White Images of Views from the Trail to Blackrock Near Sylva

 View from Blackrock

View from Blackrock

A couple of weeks ago I went on a Bio Blitz tothe  Blackrock area off the Blue Ridge Parkway near Sylva.  Right before a storm came, I took a chance and hiked quickly to the end of the trail to Blackrock, which opened out on this incredible vista and made this image.  The contrasts of light and dark and the looming glads made for a great deal of drama.  I couldn't stay long as thunder was rumbling.  

 Illuminated Dying Tree with a Storm Looming 

Illuminated Dying Tree with a Storm Looming 

Somehow I missed the storm, which did pour down on some members of our group that were ahead of me.  Suddenly the light came out again and lit up this tree, while the storm clouds that had caused the rain receded into the distance.  See the stark contrast of light against the darkness reminded me that there is always hope even in the midst of storms.  

The Incredible Biodiversity of a Vertical Bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway

 Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus

Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus

A couple of weeks ago I visited this amazing vertical bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway across from the Wolf Mountain Overlook.  May was the wettest month in recorded history in Asheville, so the bog was very moist and rife with life.  There are many rock faces along the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway and many have modest amounts of plants and mosses, while this one is chock full of plants, grasses, mosses, and even sundews.

 Water Droplets Clinging to Sundews

Water Droplets Clinging to Sundews

There were several areas in crevices with tiny sundews, which are tiny carnivorous plants.

 Bluets and Mosses on a Vertical Bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Bluets and Mosses on a Vertical Bog along the Blue Ridge Parkway

The wildflowers and mosses were abundant.  Why this bog has so many more types of plants and in such a higher density is a bit of a mystery. 

 Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus, Bluets and Moss

Vertical Bog with Grass of Parnassus, Bluets and Moss

The leaves on the far left are of the Grass of Parnassus, which doesn't bloom until later.  The leaves themselves are quite spectacular.

 Vertical Bog with Ferns and Grass of Parnassus

Vertical Bog with Ferns and Grass of Parnassus

Anywhere they can find to take purchase in the rocks, the ferns, grasses and wildflowers find a way o grow.

 Vertical Bog with Moss, Grasses, and Azaleas

Vertical Bog with Moss, Grasses, and Azaleas

Even large shrubs and trees find ways to grow on the rock, watered by rivulets that also carve the escarpments. 

 Vertical Bog with Plants and Intrusions

Vertical Bog with Plants and Intrusions

Though this bog is almost overwhelming in its beauty, sadly we may be one of the last generations to see it in all its diversity.  Native plants in the Blue Ridge are quite vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to reductions in snow melt and warmer temperatures, and acid rain poses a large threat as well.  

 Shell Pink Azaleas Adjacent to the Vertical Bog

Shell Pink Azaleas Adjacent to the Vertical Bog

The Blue Ridge and one area in China boasts the most biodiversity of all temperate zones.  The more I hike and visit different spots along the Blue Ridge, the more I appreciate all the abundant life forms that exist here.  Yet, I am also saddened to think that our lack of stewardship will cause this diversity to diminish.  Not only is it incredibly beautiful to witness, such diversity also keeps our planet healthier. 

 Vertical Bog from Ground Level Up

Vertical Bog from Ground Level Up

Pink Lady Slippers–Orchids that Don't Want to Be Tamed

 Pink Lady Slipper Orchids also Known as Moccasin Flowers

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids also Known as Moccasin Flowers

Pink Lady Slipper orchids are not only incredibly beautiful, they also teach us about the delicate balance that is required for survival.  They are also known as moccasin flowers and an old Ojibwe legend tells of the origin of this name.  There was a plague in the middle of the winter that killed many tribe members including the village healer.  A young girl was sent off to find medicine for the tribe and lost her shoes on the way.  She left a trail of bloody footprints in the snow and those footprints became moccasin flowers in the spring.  When I saw these two side by side, they really did resemble moccasins.

 Trio of Lady Slippers

Trio of Lady Slippers

When I saw this trio in the still brown woods in mid spring,  I was instantly riveted.  The dark prink and electric green leaves made the still dormant woods come alive.  Throeau experienced this same sense of awe when he came upon them in the wild.  He wrote: “Everywhere now in dry pitch pine woods stand the red lady’s slipper over the red pine leaves on the forest floor rejoicing in June.  Behold their rich striped red, their drooping sack.”

 Pink Lady Slipper Evoking Serenity

Pink Lady Slipper Evoking Serenity

In Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs, the authors write: “Lady’s slippers are among the most spectacular of wildflowers, almost shocking in their beauty.  All species of lady’s slippers, whether growing in bogs or woodlands, are quiet-loving plants that seek out homesites in undisturbed natural habitats.” I can relate, the older I become the more I gravitate to peaceful places and wild natural areas.  In my 20’s and 30’s, I lived in NYC and art and culture were my religion.  Today, nature is my church, and lady slippers are like stained glass windows that reflect light and shine their beauty for all to see.  I have to admit that another writer thought a lady slipper was the perfect candidate for a great Erotica poster.

 Pink Lady Slipper Flower

Pink Lady Slipper Flower

The bees are attracted to the bright pink flowers, which appear as if they contain lots of nectar but in fact contain none. They have been described as "a fun-house tunnel for bees, with a one-way entrance, a bright exit sign, and some sticky sweet hairs along the way."  The bees have to go in the slit, climb down to the bottom to search for the non-existent nectar before they climb back up and exit through one of two holes.  The image below shows the exit holes. 

 Lady Slipper Exit Holes

Lady Slipper Exit Holes

When the bees exit through the small holes, the pollen they picked up from the last flower is brushed off their backs and deposited and they pick up pollen from the flower they are exiting.  Bees are not unintelligent and they soon figure out its not worth the effort to enter these flowers.

 Pair of Lady Slippers Against a Stump

Pair of Lady Slippers Against a Stump

Since Lady Slippers don’t exert unnecessary effort producing food for bees to eat, many plants don’t get pollinated and only 10 percent in a season will produce fruit.  But when they do, lady slippers produce thousands of dust-like seeds. Lady slippers teach us why we shouldn’t take things for granted but they also show us why we shouldn’t give up and the importance of being ready when opportunity strikes. They have endurance too.  Despite being ephemerals, these plants can live for up to 100 years.  Part of their secret is that they don’t bloom every year, another example of conserving energy. Often described as elusive, they bloom a mere 10 to 20 times during their lifetimes and may only produce seeds four or five times.  If they have expended too much energy making seeds, or if it becomes too sunny or shady, they go underground and remain dormant until conditions are right.  What a gift it must be to know how to exert just the right amount of effort and no more.  

The other key ingredient for the survival of lady slippers, has to do with their symbiotic relationship with Mycorrhiza.  The fungus helps the pink lady slipper out by breaking open the plant’s seeds and attaching itself to them, its tendrils acting like straws and absorbing and passing along water and nutrients from the soil to the tiny seeds which are too small to include food reserves.  Mycorrhizae do this for the lady slippers until they are old enough to produce their own food.  Once a lady slipper is capable of photosynthesis, the Mycorrhiza is repaid when it takes excess carbon nutrients from the orchid to sustain its own growth.  Think about this for a second.  As humans we frequently fail to accept help from or offer assistance to others of our own species, especially if we feel they are at all different from us. Here we have a plant and a fungus working together in a delicate balance that allows them each to live and grow.  Not only that, the fungus does not require immediate payback and seems to get the concept of delayed gratification unlike many humans.  Could it be that karma applies to the natural world as well?  Do the Mycorrhizae know that they will be paid back for their helpfulness later? The relationship between the plants and fungi is not a brief fling either, over after each gets what they want. Without Mycorrhiza present in the soil, the lady slipper dies.  That is why transplanting wild orchids usually ends badly and is only recommending when habits are being destroyed. These orchids are meant to exist in the wild.

Elaine Goodale Eastman wrote this short poem about the moccasin flower and its untamed nature that I admire so much:

Yet shy and proud among the forest flowers,
In maiden solitude,
Is one whose charm is never wholly ours,
Nor yielded to our mood:
One true-born blossom, native to our skies,
We dare not claim as kin,
Nor frankly seek, for all that in it lies,
The Indian’s moccasin.

 

Moody Forest Black and White Images Evoking a Timeless Primeval Paradise

 Moody Forest Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

Moody Forest Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

On my way back from the Okefenokee Swamp and Cumberland Island, I decided to visit the Moody Forest near Baxley, Georgia at Peter Essick's suggestion.  I was so ecstatic that I did.  I only saw one person the whole time I was in the forest.  We met near the beginning of the trail.  He'd moved about an hour away for a job and frequently hiked in the forest. He said I was the only other person he'd ever seen on the trail. Being there was like being in some primeval paradise.  When I got into this one section with these towering virgin longleaf pines estimated to be 200-300 years old or more, I had to lie down on my back and look up in awe. While I was photographing the pines,  I was captivated by their tall trunks and sinuous branches and visualized them monochromatically.  Their elegance was magnificent.

 Moody Forest Vertical Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

Moody Forest Vertical Old Growth Longleaf Pine Canopy

This is one of the last old growth virgin forests in the country.  Many forests in the south were comprised of these trees, but most have been logged.  In 2002, the Nature Conservancy of Georgia, the state Department of Natural Resources and others donors purchased the 4,500-acres that constitute this forest for $8.25 million, making it one of Georgia's most valued conservation feats. I still can't believe that I was able to spend four hours walking around there taking this all in.  

Sadly, today many of our National Parks, forests, and other natural sanctuaries are viewed as resources to mine, log, and otherwise make money from.  The problem is that a forest like this took hundreds of years to grow, and once destroyed the ecosystem will never be like this again.  It does something to a person to be alone in a pristine place like this too. It makes you realize your place as a mere point in Indra's net but also as a sentient being capable of appreciating such grandeur and cognizant of  the richness of life it provides habitat for.  Dare I say I see God in trees like this.

 Moody Forest Tupelo-Cypress Geometry

Moody Forest Tupelo-Cypress Geometry

The trees in the Tupelo and Cypress slough in the Moody Forest are estimated to be approximately 600 years old.  To me, these trees are the eastern version of the redwoods and giant sequoias.  They were here before the Pilgrims landed and white men began despoiling America's wilderness.  Standing among these trees,  I felt the longevity of natural cycles and a sense of permanence that is ever more elusive in modern times.

 Moody Forest Slough, Tupelo and Cypress Trees with Reflections

Moody Forest Slough, Tupelo and Cypress Trees with Reflections

Often this area is dry enough to walk around the hiker told me, but there had been some heavy rains the preceding week and a lot of water was still present to reflect the tree trunks and the shadows they cast.  It was like peering into a maze.

 Abandoned Cabin on the Moody Forest Property

Abandoned Cabin on the Moody Forest Property

The state of Georgia has been able to preserve this gem because three siblings inherited what locals referred to as the Moody Swamp from their uncle Jake Moody.  He left them this land with the stipulation that it not be logged or developed.  While the siblings were alive, they protected the land.  Two years after the last one died in 1999, the heirs old 3,500 acres to the Nature Conservancy.  An additional 1,000 were later protected as well. This is what I call a great legacy.

Okefenokee Swamp at Dawn and Under a Full Moon

 Sunrise over the Okefenokee Swamp

Sunrise over the Okefenokee Swamp

My recent experience in the Okefenokee Swamp was magical.  I want to go back alone with my Tamcorder and record all the sounds.  I did post a short iPhone video on Facebook when our group was silent for a moment. So much life was waking up in every direction and the water was clean (aside from the mercury and issues from acid rain that I discussed in an earlier blog post). William Least Heat-Moons words from Blue Highways came to mind about how in a swamp in Tougaloo, Mississippi. where he felt “a powerful sense of life going about the business of getting on with itself.” May these images help you realize the importance of preserving primordial places that are the source of so much life.

 Dawn on the Okefenokee Swamp

Dawn on the Okefenokee Swamp

 Okefenokee Swamp Diagonals

Okefenokee Swamp Diagonals

 Okefenokee Swamp Layers of Life

Okefenokee Swamp Layers of Life

 Okefenokee Swamp ins Crosslight with Cypress, Never Wet Plants and Lily Pads

Okefenokee Swamp ins Crosslight with Cypress, Never Wet Plants and Lily Pads

 Stages of Cypress Trees in the Okefenokee Swamp

Stages of Cypress Trees in the Okefenokee Swamp

 Okefenokee Never Wet Plants in the Golden Hour

Okefenokee Never Wet Plants in the Golden Hour

 Okefenokee Swamp Golden Lily Pads

Okefenokee Swamp Golden Lily Pads

 Okefenokee Swamp Pitcher Plants

Okefenokee Swamp Pitcher Plants

 Okefenokee Swamp Wild Iris

Okefenokee Swamp Wild Iris

 Winding through the Canal Just Before it Emerges into the Grand Prairie in the Okefenokee Swamp

Winding through the Canal Just Before it Emerges into the Grand Prairie in the Okefenokee Swamp

 Okefenokee Swamp Where the Fires Burned

Okefenokee Swamp Where the Fires Burned

 Okefenokee Swamp Tannin Filled Waters Make the Perfect Mirror

Okefenokee Swamp Tannin Filled Waters Make the Perfect Mirror

 Full Moon with Reflection Over the Okefenokee Swamp

Full Moon with Reflection Over the Okefenokee Swamp

 Full Moon with Never Wet and Lily Pads

Full Moon with Never Wet and Lily Pads

Okefenokee Swamp Last Light2119.jpg

Sunset on the Grand Prairie, Okefenokee Swamp

Cumberland Island Black and White Photographs

 Cumberland Island Oak on the Riverbank of the St. Mary's River

Cumberland Island Oak on the Riverbank of the St. Mary's River

Unless you camp over night on Cumberland Island, which I certainly plan to do sometime in the non buggy winter months, your trip is restricted to arriving around 9:45 and having to depart by 4:45 which means arriving at the dock by 4:15.  The best light occurs before and the time spent on island.  However, the light is conducive for black and whites as is some of the subject matter.  Besides the stately oaks near Plum Orchard Mansion and in other inland areas, there are also oaks along the riverbank.  More frequent storms are leading to erosion on the St. Mary's, although sand is being built up on the other side of the island.

 Cumberland Island Fallen Oak 

Cumberland Island Fallen Oak 

This oak was one of the fallen ones where the riverbank was undercut.  These trees live for around 400 years.  A few on the island are estimated to be 600 years old.  To see them fallen from the deleterious effects of rising water or any cause is truly mind boggling.  Their large size becomes even more apparent when their limbs are splayed out.

 Wild Horses Cumberland Island

Wild Horses Cumberland Island

The wild horses lined up in front of the white road against the darker trees also caught my attention and my mind immediately saw  them in black and white because of the tonal range. In color, their arrangement was still nice but the image came to life in black and white.

 Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island

Dungeness Ruins, Cumberland Island

The Dungeness Ruins on Cumberland Island were quite interesting.  What really spoke to me were all the textures and patterns and all the shades of gray accentuated by touches of black and white.  It felt fitting to envision these decrepit ruins in monochrome.  The color was too distracting even looking at the scene.

 The Road Through Cumberland Island

The Road Through Cumberland Island

One more image I preferred in black and white was the road that runs through Cumberland Island.  the oaks have been blown by the breeze and many lean and touch each other to create mysterious tunnels of light and dark.  I enjoyed my day there so much that I can't wait to go back and explore more.  The next post will contain images I preferred in color from my visit to the island.

Okefenokee Swamp Wildlife

 Okefenokee Alligator Keeping a Watchful Eye

Okefenokee Alligator Keeping a Watchful Eye

Last week, I had the good fortune to visit the Okefenokee Swamp, one of the oldest and most well-preserved swamps in the country.  Despite my of swamps, this was actually my first visit here.  What an amazing place.  The water is very dark from all the tannins and it makes it a perfect mirror for reflections as you can see from the alligator eye above, which has the catchlight and even a reflection of our boat.

 Okefenokee Alligator in Situ

Okefenokee Alligator in Situ

Here is a wider shot of the same alligator, which gives you an idea of his swamp habitat.  Though the animals here appeared healthier than in many Florida ecosystems I have photographed, these animals do not live in perfect conditions.  Most of the water in the swamp comes from rainwater.  Water levels fluctuate depending on the amount of rain, but as the swamp is in a remote, undeveloped area there is not a lot of runoff.  One would think this would make for ideal water quality, but sadly this water is affected by air pollution.  Decades of acid rain have led to high levels of mercury in the water and elevated levels of mercury in the bloodstreams of many creatures.  In addition to mercury, the air also has a high concentrate of sulfates from coal burning plants in the eastern United States.

 Okefenokee Alligator Cruising the Grand Prairie

Okefenokee Alligator Cruising the Grand Prairie

Here is another alligator, this time in the Grand Prairie.  It was interesting to see its entire body on the surface of the water as it cruised along.

 Barred Owl Portrait

Barred Owl Portrait

Alligators were not the only creatures we saw.  We also saw a pair of juvenile owls that were beginning to leave the nest and fend for themselves.  

 Pair of Juvenile Owls, Okefenokee Swamp

Pair of Juvenile Owls, Okefenokee Swamp

It was wonderful to see them in their natural habitat peeking through the moss.

 Fledgling Hawk

Fledgling Hawk

A real treat was seeing a nest with two fledgling hawks and the mother bringing snakes.  It was high up in a tree and difficult to get good shots because of all the branches.  

 Hawk Mother Feeding the Fledglings

Hawk Mother Feeding the Fledglings

The light on the hawks and the composition with the long pine needles and nest against the blue sky (which is a unique color of blue from the burning of biomass in areas outside the park) made for beautiful compositions.

 Mother Hawk Portrait

Mother Hawk Portrait

Another treat was seeing a green heron take flight way in the distance between two trees.

 Okefenokee Green Heron in Flight

Okefenokee Green Heron in Flight

Other sightings included a woodpecker, kites, a juvenile alligator, and a great white egret.  It was wonderful to see so many creatures enjoying this swamp.  Hopefully, coal burning plants will cease operations in the near future, so these creatures can continue to flourish and not be harmed by what is carred into this pristine area by air currents.

 Okefenokee Woodpecker

Okefenokee Woodpecker

 A Trio of Kites Beneath a Full Moon, Okefenokee Swamp

A Trio of Kites Beneath a Full Moon, Okefenokee Swamp

 Juvenile Alligator, Okefenokee Swamp

Juvenile Alligator, Okefenokee Swamp

Great White Egret in Flight

Buriganga River Still in Crisis

 Sharif Jamil ont he Bow of the Buriganga Riverkeepers Boat

Sharif Jamil ont he Bow of the Buriganga Riverkeepers Boat

From mid-February through the beginning of March, I went to Bangladesh to see waterways impacted by pollution and climate change with Sharif Jamil, the Buriganga Riverkeeper, head of Waterkeepers Bangladesh, and Executive Director of the Blue Planet Initiative.  The Buriganga River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, in large part from the tanneries that operated here until many were relocated to Savar Tannery Park this year. Some smaller ones still operate on the river clandestinely and the government has not done much to shut them down.  The river was totally black before the larger operations were moved, and it is still very dark.  According to the Department of Energy, oxygen levels have improved since the relocation  to 1.0 in January and February of 2018 compared to 0 for the same two months in 2017.  As you can see, Sharif's boat is not large, especially compared with barges and other large ships that travel on this waterway bringing goods to the capital.  He prefers to have a smaller vessel, so that he does not have to take contributions and  can maintain the integrity of his organization.  

 Barges Barreling Down the Buriganga River

Barges Barreling Down the Buriganga River

The image above shows one of the barges that came right at us.  I have a closer image of a barge that was almost on top of us, but this one shows there are multiple barges and ships traveling this river all day. The thought of capsizing in that water filled me with trepidation.

 Dying Operations Shyampur Aream Buriganga River

Dying Operations Shyampur Aream Buriganga River

The biggest threats to the Buriganga River are the dying factories at Shuampur area, Dhaka WASA (Water Supply and Sewage Authority), continued unauthorized tannery operations, other industrial waste, and household pollutants.  It is estimated that 60% of the pollution in the Buriganga comes from industry, 30% from government institutions (WASA and others) and 10% from households.  Most don't contain any sort of effluent treatment, and according to Abul Hasanat Abdullah, the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on local government ministry, the city of Dhaka is only able to treat 20% of the cities sewage. Fortunately for this river the largest tanneries have been moved from Hazaribagh to Savar Tannery Park, but now the Dhaleshwari River faces the same issues the Buriganga faced for years (http://www.lynnebuchanan.com/blog/2018/3/7/savar-tannery-park-and-the-textile-industry-on-the-dhaleshwari-river-in-bangladesh).

 Textile Industry with Water Hyacinths Proliferating from Untreated Waste

Textile Industry with Water Hyacinths Proliferating from Untreated Waste

The image above shows all the hyacinths that proliferate near textile industry operations.  The waste that is being released from this effluent pipe is untreated..  The lack of treatment causes water hyacinths to grow out of control and choke the river.  Here you can see one of the canals that has been totally blocked.  When hyacinths cover too much of the surface of the water, they block out all light and reduce oxygen levels.  While researching the water hyacinth problem in Southeast Asia, I did discover one interesting proposal that has been put forth.  Hyacinths can be harvested, chopped, ground, processed and dried into bricks that can be used for cooking oil and other energy needs.(https://www.eniday.com/en/sparks_en/hyacinth-power-cooking-fuel/).  The World Health Organization attributes 4.3 million premature deaths worldwide to the burning of biomass and coal, so finding alternative sources for energy production seems wise for the air as well as the water. 

 A Pipe Carrying Water and Sand to Fill in Parts of the Flood Plain and Low Lying Areas

A Pipe Carrying Water and Sand to Fill in Parts of the Flood Plain and Low Lying Areas

In the photographs above and below, pipes are shown that are designed to carry water and sand from boats to fill the river's flood plain and nearby low lying land.  Frequent monsoons and flooding that erodes riparian banks as well as land grabbing for development are big problems for this river.

 Buriganga River, Pipe for Filling the Flood Plain 

Buriganga River, Pipe for Filling the Flood Plain 

In other areas along the river I saw people harvesting hyacinths, though I am not sure what purpose they were harvesting them for.  In addition to its potential use as a source of energy, the stems of water hyacinths can be used to make rope, furniture, paper, and as a source of natural fibers (https://textiletoday.com.bd/use-of-water-hyacinth-in-sustainable-fashion/). Further usages include wastewater treatment, since the hyacinths absorb and digest nutrients and minerals from untreated effluent.  The image below shows people harvesting hyacinths near a street market.  

 Harvesting Water Hyacinths

Harvesting Water Hyacinths

Although Dhaka is 400 years old, the city still lacks an adequate sewage treatment plant with the capability to treat 80 percent of the sludge generated by its population of close to 20 million. The water hyacinths that proliferate here, especially during the monsoon season, might be helpful in combatting this issue, as well as other forms of industrial wastewater pollution (http://wst.iwaponline.com/content/19/1-2/85.  

 Buriganga River Untreated Sewer Discharge

Buriganga River Untreated Sewer Discharge

Below is a cottage tannery business that is still operating along the banks of the Buriganga River.  According to activists and civil society leaders, the government has not done enough to enforce the relocation of industry or in terms of protecting the river.  Though power sources were eventually cut off to encourage businesses to move some were able to get illegal power connections. Even though a few fish have returned to the river, pollution levels are still so high that any fish that have returned are toxic to human health as will be discussed below.

 Cottage Tannery Business with Workers Still Operating Clandestinely Along the Banks of the Buriganga River

Cottage Tannery Business with Workers Still Operating Clandestinely Along the Banks of the Buriganga River

The fact that some fish may have returned is suggested by the presence of these tall fishing poles that have been installed by a public park where many residents are congregating and playing cricket.

 Buriganga River Park and Fishing Poles

Buriganga River Park and Fishing Poles

The image below shows a larger fishing operation on the Buriganga that seemed idle as we went past, although there were people present on the platform above.  The heavy metals present in the river include: Cd, As, Pb, Cr, Ni, Zn, Se, Cu, Mo, Mn, Sb, Ba, V and Ag.  According to a study in the US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health entitled "Human health risks from heavy metals in the fish of Buriganga River, Bangladesh," chemical contamination of food is the highest risk to human health from all the metals present in unsafe levels in the fish in the Buriganga River.  These heavy metals persist in the aquatic environment for a long time, and they are subject to bioaccumulation and biomagnification in the food chain.  Although not all metals cause carcinogenic health risks, the study concluded that "the accumulation of Ni in all fish species suggests significant cancer risk through consumption of these fish species." (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5047865/)  Yet, many people in Bangladesh live in poverty and have no choice but to eat fish from this and other polluted rivers when there is enough oxygen to support the presence of fish and other aquatic life..

 Idle Fishing Operations, Buriganga

Idle Fishing Operations, Buriganga

In the distant past, the Ganges river flowed to the Bay of Bengal via the Dhaleshwari River.  Over time, the course of the river gradually shifted and lost its link with the Ganges, which is when it was renamed the Buriganga River.  There were links with the Dhaleshwari though a few canals, but these canals have been grabbed by real estate companies, power companies, and brickfields.  This canal, which once connected with the Dhaleshwari, has been totally blocked, essentially robbing the Buriganga River from connection to its source and worsening pollution levels as freshwater no longer flows freely from the rivers it was once a tributary of.  The river would be in even worse shape if it were not for the monsoons and the flooding that accompanies these storms adding fresh rainwater to this ailing river.

 Encroachment of Canal that Used to be Source from Dhaleshwari River

Encroachment of Canal that Used to be Source from Dhaleshwari River

The image below shows how the brick industry relies on the Buriganga River for transportation of materials to Dhaka. 

 Brick Industry and Cow on the Buriganga River

Brick Industry and Cow on the Buriganga River

One of the mainstays of the Bangladesh economy, as well as a major source of pollution is the brick industry.  According to Dabaraj Dey, Research Associate from Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers association, "the unhygienic traditional burning process of the dried bricks is responsible for emitting about 11.59 million tons of CO2 in 2015."  (http://youthenvop.weebly.com/youth-blog/brick-sector-of-bangladesh-development-associated-with-concerns-dabaraj-dey) It is also linked to deforestation and is detrimental to agricultural top soil.  Yet bricks are the core element of most building projects in Bangladesh.  Eco friendly kilns are beginning to be built, but banks are often unwilling to make loans to smaller brick making companies (http://www.thedailystar.net/business/eco-friendly-brick-kilns-growing-numbers-1383931),

Buriganga River Brick Transporters7146.jpg

I found it quite remarkable how they could balance so many bricks on their heads.

 Bricklayers Balancing Bricks, Buriganga River

Bricklayers Balancing Bricks, Buriganga River

Chemically treated plastic bags are another big problem for the Buriganga River.  People rinse these bags directly in the Buriganga and Turag Rivers. (https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/06/26/can-new-protections-save-dhakas-dying-rivers/)

 Men Rinsing Chemically Tainted Plastic Bags along the Buriganga River

Men Rinsing Chemically Tainted Plastic Bags along the Buriganga River

We saw people washing discarded scraps of textiles as well as plastic bags in the river that they may have picked up in the mounds of garbage, again releasing unfiltered toxins.  Though utilizing waste and recycling are clearly beneficial for a society that produces so much trash, if waste producing unsafe chemicals is not disposed of properly, these toxins will continue to make their way into the water.

 Washing Refuse in the Buriganga River

Washing Refuse in the Buriganga River

One proposal the government had in 2012 was to dredge a channel fro the Jumana River, which is part of the Brahmaputra River that flows through Tibet and India before reaching Bangladesh.  However, environmentalists say this alone won't fix the problem. It is always best to prevent pollutants from reaching the river in the first place.  Dredging stirs up pollutants that have settled on the bottoms of rivers, and there are many in the Buriganga River from industries and oil operations along its banks.The dredging project was suspended that same year due to a lack of dredgers. (http://www.theindependentbd.com/printversion/details/9956)  

 Buriganga River Dredging Operations

Buriganga River Dredging Operations

What really struck me while I was motoring down this polluted river is how it is still a major artery of life for this city of approximately 20 million people, even though it is essentially a dead river.  All along the banks, I saw children playing often under drainage outlets or even in the water.  They were almost always barefoot.  

 Buriganga River Children Congregating in front of a Drain Pipe

Buriganga River Children Congregating in front of a Drain Pipe

 Children Looking at Something in the River

Children Looking at Something in the River

As was mentioned earlier, it is estimated that 10 percent of the pollution in this river comes from households.  This image shows a section of the riverbank that has been entirely taken over by trash.  During a Renewable Energy Meeting that I attended while I was in Dhaka, scientists discussed how biomass waste could be used as an energy source.  It also might help provide a healthier environment for residents–especially children.

 Buriganga River Children, This is Their Home

Buriganga River Children, This is Their Home

Below are more images of the ways in which people directly interact with the Buriganga River on a daily basis.  Though we often insulate ourselves from the many roles water plays in our survival in the western world, in Bangladesh the usage and importance of water in daily life is quite visible.  When I returned home and began processing these images, I realized that some were quite beautiful despite the horrifying thought that these people are continually exposing themselves to such health risks.  Before the country was subjected to unregulated industrialization as we experienced it 100 years ago, this river and the lifestyle of the people who dwelled here must have been quite idyllic.  When I blocked out thoughts of current  pollution levels, the bustle of people going about their daily lives made me wonder if people lived along the riverbanks in much the same way when Dhaka was formed 400 years ago or even 3,000 years ago when ancient boats were first designed in Bangladesh to traverse its 700 rivers.  However, food security was not an issue for this riverine country then, as the waterways were clear and stocked with fish.

 Buriganga River Life Goes On

Buriganga River Life Goes On

 Doing Laundry on the Buriganga

Doing Laundry on the Buriganga

 Buriganga River Boatmen, Children Harvesting Hyacinths, Drying Bags and Other Activities

Buriganga River Boatmen, Children Harvesting Hyacinths, Drying Bags and Other Activities

 Children Playing Near a Load of Bamboo, Buriganga River

Children Playing Near a Load of Bamboo, Buriganga River

 Ferrying People Across the Buriganga River

Ferrying People Across the Buriganga River

 Oarsmen, Buriganga River

Oarsmen, Buriganga River

 Pedestrian Traffic Along the Banks of the Buriganga

Pedestrian Traffic Along the Banks of the Buriganga

 Human Artifacts, Buriganga River

Human Artifacts, Buriganga River

 Buriganga Oarsman Rowing Past an Area with Discarded Plastic 

Buriganga Oarsman Rowing Past an Area with Discarded Plastic 

 Lumber Transport, Buriganga River

Lumber Transport, Buriganga River

 Buriganga Oarsman and Bustling Industry Near the Old Dhaka Landing

Buriganga Oarsman and Bustling Industry Near the Old Dhaka Landing

 Old Dhaka Landing

Old Dhaka Landing

The Streets of Old Dhaka

 Sheet Metal Vendor, Old Dhaka

Sheet Metal Vendor, Old Dhaka

One of the most interesting experiences I had in Bangladesh was being taken through the streets of Old Dhaka by Sohag Mohajon, who volunteers for the Buriganga Waterkeeper and lives in the area.  Most of the time I was in Dhaka, I was either inside an apartment or a car.  The country is problematic for tourists in the city, although it was possible to walk around in the Tea Gardens, Rain Forest and the Sundarbans.  I really enjoy connecting with people and seeing the culture, so it was a real treat when I got to walk around and have honey cakes and tea in a little shop and see what people were selling on the streets.

 Old Dhaka, Pineapple Vendor

Old Dhaka, Pineapple Vendor

The colors of people's attire added so much to the scene.  So many dressed so meticulously, both men and women.  Though there is a lot of poverty in Bangladesh, people do take great care with their appearance. As a tourist, I dressed to be modest, but often I felt so slovenly next to people in the city.  When I got home, I read this great article about fashion in Bangladesh.  It ends with the following observation, "Many styles have come and gone within this period but one thing has definitely remained constant throughout it all was the obsession of the people of Bengal, to look their best through thick and thin." (http://www.thedailystar.net/lifestyle/fashion-through-the-years-bangladesh-1355911)

 Old Dhaka, Street Pickles

Old Dhaka, Street Pickles

There were so many varieties of pickles on the street. I loved the rich colors from all the spices.

 Pickle Vendor, Old Dhaka

Pickle Vendor, Old Dhaka

The vendor was such a gentle soul and so proud of his offerings.  He is dressed in traditional attire for the men, wearing a lungi, the piece of cloth made of cotton, silk or batik that the men wrap around.  I suspect it is cooler than pants in the heat.  Lungis are very popular in rural areas, but they are worn in cities too.

 Newspaper Man, Old Dhaka

Newspaper Man, Old Dhaka

I could have walked around the streets all day taking everything in and noting all the cultural differences.  The old part of town is so enjoyable because it is a pedestrian area.

 Electrical Wiring, Old Dhaka

Electrical Wiring, Old Dhaka

The government estimates that about 70 percent of the population has electricity now.  However, the wiring is definitely interesting.  Sometimes power is shut off in a process called shedding, which serves to conserve power in the city of 20 million people.

 Old Dhaka Sugar Cane Vendor

Old Dhaka Sugar Cane Vendor

There are 30 varieties of sugarcane in Bangladesh, but farmers are reducing their production of this crop since it is an annual and land has to be dedicated to it year-round. With floods and monsoons, the country is having a difficult time producing enough rice for its population.  Rice is a major staple in the diet of people here, so some of the land that sugarcane was grown on is being taken over by rice and other more profitable crops.  

 Dhaka Gate, Erected by Mir Jumla

Dhaka Gate, Erected by Mir Jumla

This gate was erected by Mir Jumla, who was appointed Governor of Bengal in 1660.  Trade and commerce took off in the capital city, with people coming from  Holland, France, England, Greece and Armenia to do business. Now this landmark is in disrepair and nothing is being done to preserve it.  

 Old Dhaka, The Group of Volunteers Who Showed Me Their Town

Old Dhaka, The Group of Volunteers Who Showed Me Their Town

The group in the photo above are the wonderful people who escorted me through Old Dhaka.  I felt so honored that they came out and brought flowers for me.  The woman who is second to the right is from Belgium and works for First Defenders, who provide legal help for people in developing countries who are standing up for their human rights.  I was treated with such incredible respect and people were so gracious and grateful that I came to see the plight of their waterways.  Often our media only shows the problems in these countries and people fighting or suffering or refugees.  They paint a scary picture of otherness, but walking through the streets with my hosts I felt included and befriended.  There is something very special about truly honoring one another with such good will.  I always raised my children to accept and celebrate diversity, but often living in homogenous suburbs it was just a theory.  When connections like this are experienced, otherness disappears and that most certainly is the strat to healing and working together to solve the problems our entire globe is experiencing.

 Dhaka Jute Holiday

Dhaka Jute Holiday

There is just one more image I wanted to share and that is the one above.  The day I visited Old Dhaka was a national Jute holiday.  There were photos and billboards of jute all around the city.  Though it is not as popular today as it once was, the country is making an effort to revitalize it.  There was even a slogan for the day, "Golden Fiber, Golden Country.  When I was this woman walk buy and look up a the glamorous women in the photograph while she was so glamorous herself, I had to roll down the car window and take the shot.  It was especially beautiful to see the conventional dress and materials being celebrated. The people of Bangladesh are not without pride.  Though their country suffers from many problems associated with climate change and overpopulation, that does not mean that they are lesser people. On the contrary, the resilience, steadfastness, and dignity they exhibit in the face of critical environmental crises made me realize how remarkable the Bengali people are and how much I can learn from them about not giving up.

The Invitation to Infinity and Oneness I Experienced in the Sundarbans

 Sundarbans Heritiera Fomes on Red List of Threatened Species

Sundarbans Heritiera Fomes on Red List of Threatened Species

After spending ten days in the very polluted cit of Dhaka, I was fortunate to be able to spend three days in the Sundarbans, which literally felt like heaven on earth.  Though this is such an overused saying the mangroves were so graceful that it did not feel like hyperbole at all.  We spent our time on a boat traveling between the many islands that are home to Heritiera Fomes, the dominant mangrove trees here.  Though about 70 percent of the mangroves are this species, it is on the threatened species list due to the rising seas and potential damage from cyclones. I was struck by the exquisite beauty of these trees and how many birds, like the egret in the image above, made them home.  Heritiera Fomes are in fact the highest carbon storing plant in the Sundarbanas.  Given that this small country is perhaps most affected by climate change than any other place in the world, having a huge delta filled with mangroves is critical–especially as they buffer tidal surges.  

 Sundarbans Canal, an Invitation to Infinity

Sundarbans Canal, an Invitation to Infinity

While in Dhaka, I experienced a philosophical shift and arrived at a new paradigm of being in terms of my own experience.  Though I have often read about people feeling small when standing before the wide open expanses of the west, I did not understand what feeling truly insignificant was until I spent time in a city of 20 million people and huge traffic jams, where I could only see a few feet in front of me at a time.  I got claustrophobia and felt both helpless and powerless. 

During our trip to the Sundarbans, we took a small boat down a canal one early evening.  Standing on the bow of the boat looking down the expanse of the waterway that seemed to terminate at the edge of my vision or beyond, I felt that I was being invited to experience the infinite mysteries of being.  The distant horizon seemed full of possibilities I could always strive for. The boatman paddled soundlessly and I caught myself holding my breath several times.  Though walking on these islands is very unsafe, due to tigers and crocodiles, and only honey hunters and robbers venture into the forests, I still felt more included in this world than I did in the congested city where I had been hidden away in apartments or cars because I was an other.  Here I felt much more at home, though of course it would have been foolhardy to step off the boat.

 Narrow Tunnel Off a Canal in the Sundarbans

Narrow Tunnel Off a Canal in the Sundarbans

This narrow mangrove tunnel was off the canal we traveled down in our search for wildlife.  Somewhere near here, we'd spotted tiger tracks and smelled its scent. Beautiful Golpata trees graced the entry way.  If the tiger had really wanted to meddle with us, and Bengal tigers are the most man-eating of all, there would have been no way to escape quickly.  Yet, this knowledge did not fill me with fear and in fact I felt at one with this landscape that contained serenity and hidden turmoil around every secret corner. The mangroves dotting the shores held the soil and helped created a sense of unity among all the ecosystems.

 Sundarban Moon Rise in the Water

Sundarban Moon Rise in the Water

We spotted an endangered crescent eagle, kingfishers and many plants and artifacts, as well as a boat that was hidden on a narrow tunnel, potentially by a robber.  This whole area, not just individual species of trees or animas, is endangered. Yet, for a brief period of time it seemed this natural universe would continue unperturbed. I vowed to remember the feeling of oneness that came over me, so I would never forget the importance of unity with the natural word..

Climate Change in Bangladesh and Why Preserving the Sundarbans is So Important

 Mangrove Tunnel, the Sundarbans

Mangrove Tunnel, the Sundarbans

The Sundarban (translated as "a beautiful forest" from Bengali) is the world's largest halophytic mangrove forest. The section of the Sundarban that lies in Bangladesh was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, due to its "‘Outstanding Universal Value’, biological diversity and the ecosystem services the area provides."  The Indian Sundarban was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987.  (https://www.nature.com/articles/srep21234). The image above shows one of the many mangrove tunnels that grace the approximately 200 islands in the Sundarbans, which perhaps explains why it is often referred to in the plural.  These islands are disappearing due to sea level rise, which is happening here faster than in other places in the world, with many scientists predicting that the Sundarbans will be under water in 15-25 years.  Some say the Bay of Bengal is rising twice as fast as other oceans, while other environmental scientists have indicated that the average sea level rise in the Sundarbans is 5.9 mm yr-1 versus 1.0-2.0 mm yr-1 elsewhere.  (http://environmentalprofessionalsnetwork.com/sundarban-the-worlds-largest-natural-mangrove-forest-in-bangladesh/)  

Located in the world's largest natural delta, which is formed by the the termini of three rivers, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna, it is home to 334 species of saltwater tolerant trees and 269 species of wild animals including the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Ganges River Dolphin and crocodiles. (http://environmentalprofessionalsnetwork.com/sundarban-the-worlds-largest-natural-mangrove-forest-in-bangladesh/)  The Sundarbans occupies 10,000 sq km in Bangladesh and India, with 60 percent in Bangladesh.  As of 2015, it was estimated that 8 million people lived in and near the Bangladesh side of the Sundarbans while 5 million lived in and near the Indian region . (https://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/18/millions-at-risk-from-rapid-sea-rise-in-swampy-sundarbans.html). Eighty percent of the people depend on fishing for their livelihoods.  However, this industry and the ecosystems of the Sundarbans are being faced with many threats in addition to sea level rise. Other threats include increased salinity, climate change and cyclones, oil and coal spills, pollution from rivers that flow into the delta, deforestation and increased silt, and reduced flow from dams and water grabs by India that are  robbing the ecosystems of fresh water. 

The most serious threat to the Sundarbans continued existence is the proposed 1320 MW Rampal Power Plant currently under construction, which would burn 5 million tons of coal a year that would have to be transported through this delicate ecosystem.  The plant is projected to come online in 2019, perhaps sooner according to government officials.  In May 2016, a bulk cargo vessel carrying 1,245 metric tons of coal sank in the Shela River, the fourth incidents in two years.  The image below shows that almost two years later, coal is still being cleaned up.  Environmentalists are also concerned that the plant will draw its water from the Passur River, the lifeline to the Sundarbans, and will discharge wastewater back into that same river.  They believe this will threaten the future viability of the mangroves, which also act as an important carbon sink for the entire world. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/07/18/a-new-power-plant-could-devastate-the-worlds-largest-mangrove-forest/?utm_term=.bcd3e62d7d7b)

 Removing Coal from the Shela River

Removing Coal from the Shela River

Water pollution will obviously impact fishing, which is central to the Blue  Economy–a concept that began to receive worldwide attention in 2012 and is used in the context of economics, agriculture, and conservation as a way of moving from scarcity to abundance by focusing on what is locally available.  Given that the Sundarbans is the largest delta in the world, it is no surprise that fishing is the major means of livelihood for people in the area. Additionally, it provides food security for this developing country, which is among the most densely populated in the world.  This is especially important as many of the rivers, especially those around Dhaka have become so polluted as to become classified as dead.  Rivers like the Buriganga can no longer support fish.

 Fishing Boats, Dublar Char

Fishing Boats, Dublar Char

In addition to water pollution from coal ash ponds, there would be serious air pollution that would contributed to global warming and affect the health of people, trees, and ecosystems.  Effects of air pollution would "cover the entire Sundarbans ecosystem, Satkhira, Khulna, Noakhali, Comilla, Narsingdi and Dhaka districts in Bangladesh and Ashoknagar, Kalyangar, Basirhat and Kolkata of West Bengal."  (http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/6000-premature-deaths-40yrs-1401421).  This would make the already unbreathable air in Dhaka even worse.  In Nasrul Islam's book "Bangladesh Environment Movement, History, Achievements and Challenges," he says Dhaka has been described as "a gas chamber for slow poisoning," and goes on to say that it is destroying the body and brains of its citizens–especially children.   I can attest that this is true after my visit, where one hot day I almost succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning.  The air quality in Bangladesh is so polluted already that bringing another coal fired plant on line can only have disastrous consequences for both the environment and the population.  UNESCO has recommended the immediate cancellation of the project.  A Greenpeace study found that the plant would cause "at least 6,000 premature deaths and low birth weights of 24,000 babies during its 40-year life." (http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/6000-premature-deaths-40yrs-1401421)

 Dusk Over Dublar Char Fishing Village in the Sundarbans

Dusk Over Dublar Char Fishing Village in the Sundarbans

During my recent trip to the Sundarbans my host, Sharif Jamil, took me to visit the Dubalr Char Fishing Village.  It was almost dusk when we arrived and I was struck by the incredible beauty and peacefulness of this scene.  The motors of most boats were quiet and there was a stillness in the air and water.  I could see why people in other parts of the country would risk coming here for five months to fish, despite the dangers they face from man-eating tigers and crocodiles.  The air is clean, and though the water is laden with silt from deforestation, it is not black and foul-smelling like it is in Dhaka, and there are still many fish, though many that are caught in this area are smaller than those in India.  The Blue Economy has not been operating at capacity, with many resources exploited or mismanaged, and all fishing in the Sundarbans is dependent on the health of the forest.

Sundarbans Gathering of Fisherpeople in Dublar Char to Discuss Threats to Their Way of Life0517.jpg

The people are used to facing many threats besides the wild animals.  The temperatures have become increasingly hot in summer and the reduced flow of the rivers coupled with rising seas has altered the mix of the ecosystems forcing them to go further into narrow canals and up streams to fish.  This of course increasing their likelihood of tiger attacks. Many women in fishing villages become widowed.  They live far from civilization and lack access to hospitals or medical care.  The village leader told my host, Sharif, that someone had died from a heart problem three days earlier and would have lived if he'd been able to get medical care.  Sharif wondered if floating hospital could be obtained for the Sundarbans.  The storms are much, worse every year due to climate change, and the rising seas are swallowing more and more land every year.  Each time and island is submerged and more mangroves disappear, another layer of protection for the region and country vanishes.  The mangroves are essential to the survival of these people and indeed the nation's continued viability as ell.  This is one of the many reasons that building a 5 million ton a year coal burning plant 14 km from the edge of the Sundarbans would be so detrimental.  The air and water pollution that would result would kill the forest and pollute the water.  The health of the fish will be impaired and stock will be greatly diminished.  Already, after the oil spill of 2014, many dolphins and crocodiles died and the reproductive cycle of fish and crustaceans was disturbed.

 Rinsing the Small Fish to Make Chapa Shuntki

Rinsing the Small Fish to Make Chapa Shuntki

From late October until the monsoons come in April, the fisherman collect and dry fish to make the fermented fish product, Chapa Shuntki.  After the fish are rinsed, they are dried and then sorted as can be seen in the images below.  All phases are carried out by fisherman in close contact with the environment.  If the water is polluted, their health will be undoubtedly compromised from constant contact.  You can also see from the photographs how small these fish are, indicating problems with the Blue Economy in Bangladesh, especially given the over 165 million people that live here and need to be fed.

 Sundarbans Blue Econony Lags Behind India's, and it too is at Risk from the potential destruction of the forests.

Sundarbans Blue Econony Lags Behind India's, and it too is at Risk from the potential destruction of the forests.

 For Sundarban's Fishermen, the End of Each Drying Season is Filled with Uncertainty

For Sundarban's Fishermen, the End of Each Drying Season is Filled with Uncertainty

 Sorting the Small Fish for Chapa Shutki

Sorting the Small Fish for Chapa Shutki

 Man in Dublar Char Carrying a Fishing Net

Man in Dublar Char Carrying a Fishing Net

 Fresh Tiger Tracks Along a Narrow Canal in the Sundarbans

Fresh Tiger Tracks Along a Narrow Canal in the Sundarbans

In 2015, a census of Royal Bengal Tigers was undertaken in Bangladesh and it was estimated that the population was down to 106 from 440 in 2004.  The Royal Bengal Tiger has been listed on the red list of endangered species since 2010.  A current census that will take two years to complete is currently being undertaken by the forestry department.  The tigers used to help protect the mangroves, since they kept fishermen away from the dense forests, but due to increased salinity and flooding that is forcing the fishermen deeper into the Sundarbans, the continued existence of both mangroves and tigers is at risk 

 Trucks Going to the Rampal Power Plant Construction Site

Trucks Going to the Rampal Power Plant Construction Site

The image above was taken on February 26.  Construction was set to begin in March and the project is slated to be completed by the 2019-20 fiscal year.  The $1.7 billion project is being jointly undertaken by Bangaldesh and India and it is estimated that over a 60-year period, it could produce 38 million tons of coal ash.  (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10807039.2017.1395685?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=bher20

 Illegal Poaching of Mangrove Wood

Illegal Poaching of Mangrove Wood

The image above shows a person taking wood from the Sundarbans, which is illegal.  The government banned tree harvesting in 1989, but poachers continue to exploit the forest despite the fact that exploitation is directly linked with the habit loss of the Royal Bengal Tiger and other endemic species in the Sundarbans.  

 A Line of Dead Trees from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

A Line of Dead Trees from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

As was mentioned before, many islands are being swallowed by the sea.  Along the shorelines of remaining islands, there is frequently a line of dead trees from where the land has been eroded from encroaching saltwater and waves that undercut their banks. 

 Dead Trees and Encroaching Water from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

Dead Trees and Encroaching Water from Sea Level Rise, the Sundarbans

As we traveled around in our boat for a few days, I spied a lot of driftwood in the waters and along the shores, signs of the ongoing destruction of the mangrove forests even before the Rampal plant becomes operational.  The image below, of the fisherman in the mist and the washed up roots of a mangrove tree on shore expressed the current fragility and temporality of the diverse ecosystems and fishing industry that have been here for generations and have been protected since the early 19th century.  Now that the country is experiencing industrial development without proper pollution controls, just like we experienced a hundred years ago in the West, the future of this region is at risk. 

 Driftwood and a Fishing Boat in the Mist, a Threatened Ecosystem and Livelihood   

Driftwood and a Fishing Boat in the Mist, a Threatened Ecosystem and Livelihood

 

The image below shows the banks of the Padma (Ganges) River and the receding water levels resulting from the Farraka Barrage, the dam in India that diverts water to avert their own water crisis.  According to some estimates, India is predicted to be "water-stressed by 2025 and water-scarce by 2050," To avert political unrest, the country is grabbing water. As a result, Bangladeh is already experiencing water scarcity "with villagers forced to watch crops shrivel, walk hours each day to collect water, risk dehydration, and even interrupt their education." (http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/south-asia/article/1986238/bangladeshs-water-shortage-woes-stark-contrast-countrys)

 Padma River with Reduced Flow

Padma River with Reduced Flow

The image below shows a shrinking stream in UNESCO World Heritage site in the Sundarbans.  This image was taken at the end of February, roughly a month before the start of monsoon season.  When the storms begin, the area will quickly go from parched to flooded.

 A Stream in the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Low Levels Near the End of the Winter Dry Period

A Stream in the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Low Levels Near the End of the Winter Dry Period

 Parched and Cracked Earth in the Sundarbans

Parched and Cracked Earth in the Sundarbans

The image above shows how cracked and parched the earth is in this region, and the image below shows trees that have died from lack of sufficient moisture during the winter dry season.

 Dying Trees and Parched Earth, The Unesco World Heritage Site in the Sundarbans

Dying Trees and Parched Earth, The Unesco World Heritage Site in the Sundarbans

 Endemic Crested Serpent Eagle Eating a Snake

Endemic Crested Serpent Eagle Eating a Snake

The Crested Serpent Eagle is also on the IUCN Red List for Endangered species for the potential destruction of its habitat.

Sundarbans Deer and Monkeys on the Beach6902.jpg

The Sundarbans are home to monkeys and spotted deer, which are among the most beautiful in the world. The Rufus Orange Kingfisher and the Brown-Winged Kingfisher are also prevalent here.  It was magical to watch these creatures coexisting together on the shorelines and near the forests. There are obviously many more creatures that we did not see, but I appreciated all the biodiversity I did witness here  It made me feel so alive after leaving the pollution of Dhaka and the haze hovering a large majority of the country.  

Sundarbans Rufus Orange Tree Kingfisher6932.jpg

The Sundarbans is clearing a treasure worth preserving for its biodiversity and the livelihood it provides to its residents.  The mangrove forest is also critical to the viability of the country as a whole given rising seawaters, and to the entire planet as a major source of carbon sequestration.  Scientists in Bangaldesh and from the United States and other areas are convinced that adequate sources of power can be found through more sustainable methods such as wind, solar, and biomass.  The country is one of the most densely populated on earth and as a result has a large garbage problem.  Though deriving energy from alternative sources like these was more expensive in the past, it is cheaper now and it would free the country from dependence on other nations for coal, etc.  For the sake of the Sundarbans and the planet, the wisest choice is to abandon plans for the completion of this plant or convert it to a more environmentally friendly mode of energy production.

Savar Tannery Park and the Textile Industry on the Dhaleshwari River in Bangladesh

 Savar Tannery Park Pollution Close Up

Savar Tannery Park Pollution Close Up

The tannery industry is a $1 billion  business in Bangladesh.  Until recently, the majority of the tanneries were located at Hazaribogh and were polluting the Buriganga River with over forty heavy metals including Chromium. Pure Earth listed the Buriganga River as one of the top ten polluted sites in the world, including Chernobyl.  In July 2017, the High Court of Bangladesh issued an order to cut down electricity to Hazaribogh to force the relocation of tanneries to the newly established supposedly green Savar Tannery Park.  Plans for this park were begun in 2003, but repeatedly relocation deadlines were missed. Many tanneries did not relocate even after the court's order and continued operations by way of illegal electrical connections.  The new park has a CETP (Common Effluent Treatment Plant), but it is not functioning correctly since it lacks a Chrome Separation Plant. Existing operations and CETP functionality are not monitored and there are no preparations or guidelines for solid waste management.  Currently, solid waste is dumped into a field and contaminates the soil.  Many small and medium scale cottage industries use tannery waste and byproducts, but there are no guidelines for these businesses.  No plans or arrangements have been made for treating salt either, so wastewater being released into the river contains a high saline count.  Furthermore, the plant does not have the capacity to handle all the effluents after the complete relocation of the tanneries and when they are all operating at capacity.  Additionally, they do not have sufficient capacity to handle all tanning operations following Eid Ul Azha, the annual Muslim holiday commemorating Abraham's sacrifice of his son, during which many cattle and other animals are slaughtered.   The CEPT in Savar has the capacity to treat, if properly functional, 2500 cubic meters of waste, but the tannery industries produce more than double that during this large religious festival.  Finally, not all the tanneries go through the CETP and the image below shows untreated effluent being dumped directly in the Dhaleshwari River.  

 Sharif Jamil, the Buriganga Riverkeeper, Observing the Release of Untreated Eflluent

Sharif Jamil, the Buriganga Riverkeeper, Observing the Release of Untreated Eflluent

I went to Savar with Buriganga Riverkeeper and Executive Director of the Blue Planet Initiative, Sharif Jamil.  We  were also accompanied by Adrian Sym, the Chief Executive of the Alliance for Water Stewardship, a global network of members "that promotes responsible use of freshwater that is socially and economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable." The group has formulated an International Water Stewardship Standard (the AWS standard) and companies that comply with this standard are rewarded as being good water stewards.  As the government in Bangladesh (and in the United States and in many parts of the world) fails to implement policies if they are even made, I am in agreement that finding a way to get companies to comply on their own is highly desirable.  Those that meet these standards can market themselves as being responsible water stewards and those that do not can be boycotted by consumers or otherwise pressured to comply with this standard and stop polluting our waterways.  Though people I spoke with thought the United States was well ahead of Bangladesh in environmental protection issues, I indicated that Florida could benefit from the implementation of an international water standard.  In 2016, the Governor convened a board with two seats vacant, one to represent the environment and one to represent municipalities, to raise the level of acceptable toxic pollutants in the state's water by three times.  It would seem an international standard would prevent governments from changing acceptable levels to support the operations of corporations without requiring industries to improve waste management.

 Adrian Sym Photographing Effluent Discharge from Tannery Operations as it Makes its Way into the Dhaleshwari River

Adrian Sym Photographing Effluent Discharge from Tannery Operations as it Makes its Way into the Dhaleshwari River

While we were taking photographs of this effluent being dumped directly in the river, I felt really nauseated from the terrible odor released from all the chemicals.  There is a strong ammonia smell, among other scents.  Though the images are disturbing, the odor was even worse.  Adrian astutely observed that I needed a smell camera.

 Effluent Directly Entering the Dhaleshwari River from the Savar Tannery Park

Effluent Directly Entering the Dhaleshwari River from the Savar Tannery Park

The tanneries were relocated to Savar in order to protect the dead Buriganga River, which is black and has no living fish.  Given that many toxins are being directly released into the Dhaleshwari, it could soon meet the same fate as the Buriganga.  Additionally, the Dhaleshwari joins with the Buriganga downstream, so pollutants released into the Dhaleshwari will eventually reach the Buriganga.  

 The Dhaleshwari River Downstream from the Savar Tannery Park

The Dhaleshwari River Downstream from the Savar Tannery Park

The Dhaleshwari divides into two branches and merges back again before meeting the Shitalakshya River and eventually merging into the Meghna River, which is terminates in the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers and is the largest delta in the world.  This delta is also where the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest is located.  Toxins dumped in the Dhaleshwari do not just stay in that river.  Rather, they make their way to other rivers and the delta.  The rivers in Bangladesh would be in even worse shape water quality wise, if it weren't for the monsoons that flood the waterways and wash some of their pollution away every year.  However, these toxins are being carried somewhere and rather than looking at the monsoons as a way to cleanse polluted water, it would seem to make more sense not to allow the water to be so seriously polluted in the first place.

 Savar Park Backed up Drain

Savar Park Backed up Drain

Another huge problem with the Savar Tannery Park is that adequate drainage has not been implemented and pipes back up all the time, spilling black noxious water in the roadways that people drive and walk along and which dogs wander near and potentially drink from.  Chromium is a carcinogen, so having this water flood areas people live in and work near is a huge threat to their health. Additionally, no guidelines or plans have been made for the housing, healthcare, and education of the tannery workers as was required.  Workers lack protective clothing and many work barefoot, according to one report by a NY based company, Transparentem, examining human rights in this industry.  The report also found children worked in the industry, although Bangladesh prohibits anyone under 18 from working in tanneries.  Transparentem did not publish its findings to protect investigators, and the claims about child laborers have been denied by the companies involved.  (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4347870/Report-examines-grim-Bangladesh-leather-trade-links-West.html)

 Worker at an Incomplte CETP Plant at Savar Tanner Park

Worker at an Incomplte CETP Plant at Savar Tanner Park

Even though plans for the Savar Tannery Park were begun in 2003, it is still not complete.  Roads remain unfinished and the Chinese company responsible for the park has used that as an excuse for not finishing the CETP and making it more effective. Below are some more images of the plant.  

 Tannery CETP Savar Park

Tannery CETP Savar Park

 Sharif, Adrian, and a Worker Walking Through the Unfinished Effluent Treatment Plant

Sharif, Adrian, and a Worker Walking Through the Unfinished Effluent Treatment Plant

The photograph below shows the last tank before the effluent is discharged. In the background, workers are bringing their lunch to the site.  The water in the tank is still black and clearly has not been sufficiently cleaned.

 Last Tank Before Discharging the Effluent

Last Tank Before Discharging the Effluent

The image below shows where the effluent from that last tank ends up. There is still substantial point source pollution of these toxic chemicals.

 Discharge from the CETP, Savar Tannery Park

Discharge from the CETP, Savar Tannery Park

The following photograph shows hides hanging in the building in Savar Park.  Where tannery hides from the Dhaka tanneries end up was traced by Transparentem to Apex Tannery and Bay Tannery, who in turn manufacture for Clarks, Coach, Kate Spade, Macy's, Michael Kors, Sears, Steven Madden and Timberland, as well as Germany-based Deichmann, Harbor Footwear Group, and Genesco, which in turn design and market shoes in even more brands. ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-4347870/Report-examines-grim-Bangladesh-leather-trade-links-West.html#ixzz595vpmUua) Though some companies denied the claims while other said they got only about 1% of their leather from Bangladesh, consumers can make a difference by asking where companies are getting their leather from and what is being done to protect the workers and ensure that labor  and environmental laws are being complied with.

 Hanging Hides, Savar Tannery Park

Hanging Hides, Savar Tannery Park

The Dhaleshwari is also plagued by pollutants from the textile industry.  Though we did not get to visit a plant, we did drive by this building owned by the Doel Group of Industries, a 100 percent export oriented fabric and apparel company with in-house knitting, dyeing and garment production.  The photograph below shows untreated effluent being dumped directly into a canal.  Invasive plant species have clearly proliferated as a result of these discharges, and the toxins in this wastewater flow from the canal into the Dhaleshwari River.

Textile Industry Effluent Discharged Directly into a Creek0359.jpg

The textile industry accounts for 83 percent of Bangaldesh's exports, and Bangladesh's prices for textiles are the lowest of all global markets.  However, the textile industry is the second largest contributor to the pollution of Dhaka's Rivers after the tanneries.  According to a feature story by the World Bank in February 2017,  "There are 718 washing, dyeing and finishing factories discharging wastewater to the rivers in Dhaka and according to IFC’s best estimates this is generating as much as 200 metric tonnes of wastewater per tonne of fabric."  (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/02/15/how-dialogue-is-shifting-bangladeshs-textile-industry-from-pollution-problem-to-pollution-solution). The industry also has lots of child labor issues that need to be addressed, but that was not something I had time to delve into on this trip. 

In 2013 an initiative called the Water PaCT (Partnership for Cleaner Textile) was introduced and some progress has been made though implementation is often where difficulties arise in developing countries. The World Bank worked with 215 companies on cleaner production and achieved the following milestones:  $200 million was allocated by the Bangladesh Bank for a Green Transformation Fund for companies that implement environmentally friendly measures; incentives for environmentally friendly technologies were created; and penal measures for companies continuing to use chemical pollutants were agreed upon.  These measures and recommendations were submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest for approval and ratification.  In the meantime, the water is still being polluted.  One positive note is that in 2016 Levi's announced they were rolling out the implementation of PaCT's recommendations at six facilities in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.  Again, if customers demand that the source for products they purchase is not destructive to the environment or a violator of child labor laws, changes may be made by the companies themselves so that their bottom line is not adversely affected by boycotts.  

Dress and Scarf Vender Near The Textile Plants6143.jpg

The textile industry accounts for 45 percent of all industrial employment in Bangladesh, and is a huge source of jobs as well as contributing 5% to national income.  People need clothing and labor here is cheap, so this industry will likely remain in Bangladesh for years to come.  The environmental crisis has reached a critical stage in Bangladesh and, as in many places around the globe, government often sides with corporations.  However, the people in the country are increasingly aware of how polluted their water and air has become and they are starting a movement to demand that waterbodies are cleaned up and air pollution is reduced.  Due to increased public's awareness of environmental and water quality issues, frequent discussions are held between government officials, scientists, and civil society members.  Though Bangladesh is experiencing industrialization as we did 100 years ago and the United States is ahead of Bangladesh in controlling industrial pollution in many sectors, the recognition of the important role activists play and the willingness of these different sectors to come together to find solutions is something we can take away from this country in dealing with our own environmental issues. Lastly, given that the environmental problems in Bangladesh have become so severe as to become human rights issues, it behooves consumers in the US and around the world to purchase responsibly and consider the sources for materials in products we buy.

Satchori Forest, Bangladesh

 Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree, Satchori Forest, Habiganj, Bangladesh

Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree, Satchori Forest, Habiganj, Bangladesh

A couple of days ago, my hosts Buriganga Waterkeeper Sharif Jamil and his wife Mithun took me on a drive across Bangladesh to the Satchori National Forest near the Indian Border where we were accompanied on a short hike by Mr. Mahmud Hosen, a ranger there.  There we were met by Waterkeeper Tofazzal Sohel and his friend the poet Sifur Rahman Kayes. Satchori is a 600-acre forest with seven streams and over 200 species of trees, as well as many species of butterflies, brids, and animals.  It is exceptionally lush during the monsoon season.  Our visit was over a month before the start of the moonsoons, and though the stream I saw was totally dried up it was still very verdant compared with all the dust-caked trees closer to Dhaka.  This are is where Sharif and Tofazzal grew up.  Sharif said that when he was younger it was teaming with so many trees, you couldn't see the sky except on the roadway.  Climate change and air pollution have put a strain on all vegetation in Bangladesh.  Still, I was very happy to be in a natural area with green trees and very healthy looking bamboo.  Hopefully, the environment will be preserved in Bangladesh, so that one day I can return and hike more of the trails here and in the country's other rain forests.

 Dried up Stream, Late Winter,Satchori Forest

Dried up Stream, Late Winter,Satchori Forest

This is one of the streams flowing through the park.  Moonsoon season does not begin for more than a month, so there was no water.

 Satchori Forest, Giant Bamboo with Crown of Leaves

Satchori Forest, Giant Bamboo with Crown of Leaves

The image above shows all the biodiversity of the trees.  I have never seen such a tall bamboo with such a full crown of leaves.

 Satchori Forest, Steps to the Observation Tower

Satchori Forest, Steps to the Observation Tower

Some of our party beginning the ascent to the tower.

 Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

 Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

Satchori Forest, Red Silk Cotton Flower Tree Looking Down from the Tower

 Satchori Forest Sunset

Satchori Forest Sunset

 Satchori Forest Bamboo

Satchori Forest Bamboo

 Tour with Satchori Forest Ranger

Tour with Satchori Forest Ranger

Here we all are at the summit of the tower.  I am standing between Mr. Hosen, the ranger, and Mithun. Next to her is Tofazzal and beside him is his poet friend Sifur Rahman  It was such a special time sharing the beauty of this wonderful area with my new friends who are committed to preserving the environment of their native country. 

The Big Blackfoot River Revisited

 Big Blackfoot River, Peaceful Dawn

Big Blackfoot River, Peaceful Dawn

Came across these photos of the Big Blackfoot River that I took in 2016, while I was collecting photos from my Cross Country trip that year.  What a beautiful and peaceful river.  It was so amazing seeing it at dusk and feeling its serenity in patches without rocks, and its power in the riffles.

 The Big Blackfoot at Dawn

The Big Blackfoot at Dawn

The Big Blackfoot was the subject of Norman Maclean's book "The River Runs Through It."  In 1992, a movie starring Brad Pitt was made from the book.  However, the movie was actually filmed on the Upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers, since the Big Blackfoot was so polluted then.    Thanks to the Big Blackfoot Riverkeeper and the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the river is much healthier these days.  The Trout Unlimited chapter restored 700 miles of shoreline over the past 30 years, and spearheaded 750 restoration projects costing $15 million.  The river is a story of success and shows that waterways can be remediated if there are sufficient resources available, but wouldn't it make more sense not to allow our waterways to becomes so polluted in the first place?

As I worked on these photos, the feelings of peace and balance and health I experienced while sitting on the rocks by the river came flooding back. Before our elected officials are allowed to make more decisions that put our waterways at risk, wouldn't it be wonderful if they were required to spend a few days communing with rivers like this.  Then maybe they would experience through their senses just how valuable such waterways are for all who visit them or are dependent on them for their water supply.