Category Archives: It’s Only Natural: Geology, Environment

Adventures with the natural world.

On Keeping a Journal: Fixing Images on the Emulsion of Memory

Alexander Mackenzie did it. So did Henry David Thoreau, Mina Hubbard, Raymond Patterson, and Sigurd Olson. And you can, as well. In fact, if you canoe or kayak—or if you just take an active interest in what’s going on in the world outside your door—you’d be foolish not to. Curious? Then read on. Tamia will tell you all you need to know about keeping a journal.

by Tamia Nelson | March 16, 2018
Originally published in different form on May 21, 2002

When Colin Fletcher smashed his only camera, far down a trail in the depths of the Grand Canyon, he cursed his luck. After all, he was walking through country he’d probably never visit again. Before long, however, his spirits had soared. He discovered that he’d escaped from the “tyranny” of photography. “Instead of stopping briefly to photograph and forget,” he later wrote, “I stood and stared, fixing truer images on the emulsion of memory.”

The emulsion of memory… It’s a wonderful turn of phrase, isn’t it? But there’s a problem. Unlike … Continue reading »

Boyz in the Woods: Coyote Tells It Like It Is by Tamia Nelson

It’s the Chinese Year of the Dog, and just the other night we heard a distant coyote family howling under a full moon. So it seemed only right that we revisit this column from the early years of In the Same Boat. Coyote doesn’t have an easy time of it in the Adirondack foothills these days. Pursued by dogs, targeted by “varmint” hunters, “harvested” by trappers… Coyote finds enemies everywhere he turns. But make no mistake: He’s not giving up. Coyote is here to stay.

A Note to the Reader

It was early evening. Cool, but not cold — in the 20s, in fact. Warm for February. A light dusting of new snow covered the bare ground, reflecting the pale silver light of a waxing moon. I stepped outside. Except for a barking dog in the far distance, the ‘Flow was quiet. Suddenly, a shrill yip shattered the stillness. It was immediately answered by a second. The distant dog stopped barking. Silence. Then there was a third yip. And another. And yet another. And soon a … Continue reading »

A Winter’s Tale: Drummers in the Wall by Tamia Nelson

‘Twas a night just before Christmas, and a creature was stirring. But it wasn’t jolly old Saint Nick. It was… Well, no, Tamia’s not telling. Not now, at any rate. You’ll just have to keep reading.

The little lives of earth and form,
Of finding food and keeping warm,
      Are not like ours, and yet
A kinship lingers nonetheless….

— Philip Larkin, “Little Lives of Earth and Form”

It happened almost 40 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. I wakened slowly from a deep sleep and realized that my arm needed to come in out of the cold. Even in midsummer the nights are chilly at 6,000 feet in the North Cascades, and though I was one of eight climbers huddled under a single tarp on the eve of the summer solstice, my sleeping bag was on the edge of the group. This had been my choice. Our tarp was staked close to the ground, and the atmosphere under its impervious fabric was thick with reminders of the evening’s meal, a one‑pot … Continue reading »

What Good is a Dead Tree? by Tamia Nelson

The Others have an answer to the question in the title. But is anyone listening? Tamia is.

The Expert looked at his watch, and gave his companion a thumbs-up. The job wouldn’t take long. A flight of finches exploding into the air. Neither man noticed. The Expert eyeballed the old pine. He didn’t see the red squirrel clinging to the trunk. He saw only the brown needles and the bare limbs.

“What good is a dead tree?” the Expert asked, not expecting an answer. His companion knew the question was purely rhetorical. And he marked the pine for removal.

The two men thought they were alone. But they were wrong. And the Others who were present did their best to answer the Expert’s question. He wasn’t listening, though. Perhaps he never had. In any case, his companion was anxious to get going. Time is money, after all, and the Expert had more trees to condemn.

Yet the dissenting voices of the Others continued to make their case, long after the Expert had gone. It’s too … Continue reading »

Brick — The Roadway Less Traveled By (But It Could Make All the Difference) by Tamia Nelson

Cyclists paved the way for cars. Literally. Long before the masses embraced internal combustion and took to the highways and byways on four wheels, cyclists were lobbying for paved roads. If you often ride on gravel or dirt you’ll know why. When you’re going somewhere on your bike—as opposed to simply killing time on singletrack between airings of the X Games—you soon learn to value a smooth, hard, stable surface. But the freedom of the paved road isn’t free. Asphalt and concrete slab surfaces are, for all practical purposes, impermeable. And when heavy rain falls on a well-engineered, impervious roadway (or shopping mall parking lot), the water does what comes naturally: It runs off immediately, swelling local streams to flood stage and overwhelming urban sewer systems.

From the narrow perspective of a highway engineer, this is a very good thing. You don’t want your roads turning into rivers, after all. But environmental geologists look at things differently. If you prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground, you impoverish local aquifers. And when you then hustle that … Continue reading »

Move Over, Niagara! Our Southern Hemisphere Correspondent Reports From Brazil’s “Big Water” Fallsby Marcos Netto

There’s nothing special about waterfalls, is there? Almost any stream large enough to appear on a quad has one or two tucked away somewhere. But these are everyday waterfalls. They’re well worth a visit, to be sure, but they’re not likely to take your breath away. The Cataratas do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls), on the other hand, are WATERFALLS. Located in the Iguaçu River, on the border between the Brazilian state of Paraná and the Argentine province of Misiones, this U-shaped complex of 300 islands and 200-plus-foot drops dwarfs North America’s Niagara Falls. (“Poor Niagara!” Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on first seeing Iguaçu.)

Despite this, I might have gone to my grave ignorant of the falls’ existence, but for the efforts the indefatigable Marcos Netto, our Southern Hemisphere Correspondent, who recently visited the Parque Nacional das Cataratas do Iguaçu—a World Heritage Site—and sent along some truly spectacular photos to jog me out of my mid-summer torpor.

He certainly succeeded. His first photo was taken well back from the falls … Continue reading »

Tales of a Turtle Taxi: This Lady’s Not for Turning by Tamia Nelson

With the onset of warm weather, turtles are out and about on the roads. Most are females, who leave their home waters to search for sandy soil in which to deposit their eggs. I met this formidable lady on a town road. While not the largest snapper I’ve encountered, she was pretty good-sized—perhaps half again as big as my helmet. And she had a disposition to match her appearance:

This Lady Is Not for Turning

She’d just begun to cross the road when I first saw her, and I decided to offer her a lift. But as soon as I got close she swiveled around to face me. She moved with lightning speed, too. Try as I might I couldn’t get behind her. (For what I hope will be obvious reasons—the name is a clue—it’s important to approach snappers from the rear. See this page for details.) Things were not going according to script. So I opted for Plan B: gentle persuasion. A windfall limb would serve as my shepherd’s crook. I figured I’d stay with the lady, nudging her away from … Continue reading »