Mexico and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America

August 18th, 2017

The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America held its annual Peace Camp in July 2017 at the Mission Mazahua in San Felipe del Progresso in the mountains Northwest of Mexico City. These scenes are from inside the former Hacienda de Tepititlan founded in 1718 and its surrounding area. Over 200 people participated and about half came from Canada and the USA and the other half from Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Columbia, Chile, El Salvador, and Puerto Rico. This bi-lingual event represented part of what needs to happen to build peace in the world. This place represents hope since it was a place of slavery for the Mazahua people as a large hacienda and now represents a place where the local Mazahua people participate in rebuilding and running a center for gathering different kinds of people.   All the images from that trip are available on my website at

http://www.andysmithphotography.com/Galleries/Places/
Mexico/MissionMazahua/MissionMaxahuascenes.html 

 

The Courtyard 

Looking Up  on a Stormy Day  

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Delaware River Sojourn 2017

June 28th, 2017

Nothing is quite like spending seven days on the Delaware River in the annual Delaware River Sojourn.  Being on the water in a kayak gives me a sense of peace and well being.  It brings a feeling of slow living into the ever faster pace of society today. The Sojourn brought together up to 130 people daily from young to old, creating a community of old friends and new enjoying the wonders of nature on the longest undammed River east of the Mississippi.   While experiencing the Lehigh Canal and camping three days at the National Canal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania,  I recognized how the area is rich in history. The canals provided a way for anthracite coal to be transported, helping  the industrial revolution in the US to begin with iron and then steel manufacturing and the first cement plant in the country.  As I rode in the canal boat on the Lehigh Canal or sat in an operating lock, I recognized that the slow two mph speed of the mule-powered boat actually was an important part of the birth of our fast paced society today.   At the same time I enjoyed the wonders of the natural world from the power of thunderstorms to the beauty of a drop of water on a lily pad in Island Pond on the Lehigh.   Being in a natural setting with the beauty of the mountains and the clean water of the Delaware renews my spirit. As a nature photographer my mission is to bring people in touch with the beauty of the natural world where they live. Since I live in the Delaware River watershed, I  enjoy bringing the wonders of this region to others who live here.  The small selection of images below is representative of the larger selection on my website available at

http://www.andysmithphotography.com/Galleries/
Canoeing%20and%20Kayaking/
Delaware%20River%20Sojourn%202017/
Index%20sojourn%202017dw.html

 

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Pileated Woodpeckers

June 5th, 2017

These images of Pileated Woodepeckers are more than simple images to which I received an overwhelming response to one posted yesterday on Facebook.  They are part of the story I want to tell with my photography.   I had the opportunity to return yesterday for a couple of hours to observe and photograph these birds again.  What a difference it makes to spend time listening and watching in a natural setting, immersing  myself in what is such a contrast to the lives most of us lead in a human constructed world.   I could feel the intelligence of these beautiful birds going about their life.   The two young ones kept popping out of the hole in expectation of the arrival of their Mother. One of them particularly looked at me standing there watching.   The Mother was off in the woods gathering food which appeared to be entirely grubs found from her pecking in dead trees.  She only returned once or twice each hour, every time with a beak full of grubs that she deposited in the open mouths of her young.   In this natural setting less than ten minutes from my house, McKaig Nature Education Center,  I felt surrounded by the sea of intelligence  present, knowing that everything there had its own way of being, of sensing what it was and was not and knowing how to fit in and survive or alter its course.  I knew that the woods, primarily large tulip poplars, was a community that shared the wealth of food, water and minerals through an underground network of fungi.  As I left I walked beside the clear clean waters of Crowe Creek which begins at the top of the hill and flows through theses woods, its watershed.   It eventually enters the Schuylkill River which then flows into the Delaware River, so is a small part of the Delaware River Watershed, where I do much of my photography.  I rejoiced as I recognized that a small piece of this much larger watershed was preserved and doing what it was supposed to be doing to maintain a clean natural environment.

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Winter Morning in Valley Forge Park

March 6th, 2015

New fallen snow on a cold clear calm morning following the storm is one of nature’s delights. This morning I enjoyed the wonders of such a morning in Valley Forge National Historical Park. The park is filed with meadows and woods having a variety of trees with various shapes.  About a ten minute drive from my house, it is one of my favorite places on a day like this.  I anticipated a wonderful morning as I finished clearing my driveway late the evening before under a clear sky lighted by one of the brightest full moons I had ever seen.  Below are some of the wonders I found.

My house lighted only by the full moon

Road to Snowy Wonderland

Tall Pines

Patterns in the Branches

Sculpture in the Snow

Fallen Tree

Tall Trees

Lone Star in the Woods

Lacy Pattern in the Woods

Snow Capped

Droopy

Martin Luther King Day

January 19th, 2015

Every Martin Luther King Day I read something he wrote.  This morning I spent a long time looking through a pictorial biography and then looking at his last Sunday morning sermon delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington,  March 31, 1968.  His remarks remain strikingly relevant for us today, although I imagine he would recognize in these times the need to use inclusive language since he had a way of understanding the interrelationship of all oppression.

“Through our technological and scientific genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet . . . .  we have not had the ethical commitment to make it a brotherhood [beloved community].  But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters].  Or we will perish as fools.  We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in the inescapable network of mutuality.  And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

Public Aquariums and Slave Trade: Notes from a Visit to the Shedd Aquarium

January 16th, 2015

Last Monday I visited the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago after hearing a program on ecological issues in the Great Lakes presented by two staff from the Aquarium.  Little did I realize that my visit would bring me to an awareness of a different form of slavery, captivity of wild marine life for profit.  Yes, the Aquarium has a wide variety of fish species that I would not have otherwise seen, two varieties of penguins, Beluga Whales and dolphins.  Yes, there are many varied habitats from oceans, lakes and rivers, all artificially constructed to resemble natural habitats where the fish reside.  Yes, there is an educational purpose.  I admit,  I learned much as I strolled through the Aquarium and took many pictures just as I learned much from the presentation on the Great Lakes.

As I wandered from one tank to another I noticed several common threads.  Often the fish would look at me.  I make many images in the wild of birds and wildlife and try to get them looking at me.  This gives a sense of connection since I am related to everything, not just by having eye contact but in the larger sense of an inherent natural relationship of everything on earth, indeed in the universe.  As I connected visually with a number of the creatures at Shedd I felt they were trying to tell me something: Let me out of here! I’d rather be at home where I belong, swimming freely.  The feeling became particularly poignant as I watched the Beluga Whales,  for the most part swimming rapidly in circles around their enclosure.  One whale kept coming to the surface, poking his head out and looking at me.  Again I felt he was trying to convey a message: This is not my home.   I have been forcibly removed and am captive.

What is the definition of slavery?    Forcibly removed against one’s will, taken to a different location with escape difficult if not impossible, and used to make money for someone else doing something you don’t enjoy.    Each of the creatures at Shedd is unique.  Indeed we know that even members of the same species from the same habitat that may look the same to us have their own lives and characteristics which often include a strong sense of belonging to a community.  Beluga whales, like most whales and dolphins, are strongly communal and familial.  They are intelligent beings.   When in an aquarium they are usually placed with others not from their family and live lives shortened by their confinement.

We do not like to face the issue of slavery as one of the primary originating foundations of our economic system with lasting and devastating effects on  both the individuals held in captivity, their descendants and those enjoying the benefits of their captivity.   We seldom look at our industrialized society today as one of slavery, though the captivity of most in jobs they don’t enjoy that bring benefits of their life and labor to others, while they feel trapped has the basic features of slavery.  It is likely more difficult for us to apply this term to creatures other than humans since we have been taught we are somehow different, better, more intelligent and have a higher value than creatures who are not human.   We forget that our life is impossible without the trillions of living organisms within our bodies, roughly ten times as many as we have cells.

Today we are destroying many creatures and living habitats through the impact of the society we have created.   Some species of fish have been caught for human food in numbers that have brought them to the threatened or extinct stage.  Indeed some programs of the Shedd address this issue in the Great Lakes, but is that enough of a justification to hold thousands of creatures in slavery for the benefit of those who visit the Aquarium?

I did not know how I would use any of the images from my visit to Shedd since I do not normally use or even take pictures at aquariums, zoos or game farms.    Those I present below are only for you to see what feeling they evoke as you look into their eyes.  Do you have the same sense that I do?

Captive Tiger Ray in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Group of Fish in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Moray Eel in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Fish in Shedd Aquarium

 Captive Magellanic Penguin in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Rockhopper Penguins in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Beluga Whale in Shedd Aquarium

Captive Beluga Whale in Shedd Aquarium

Reflections from a Journey Through Time in Oregon

September 22nd, 2014

Last Monday Kim and I traveled 300 miles round trip from Bend, Oregon, through the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. One of the richest and most varied deposits of fossils anywhere on earth, it is also one of the most strikingly beautiful landscapes. In the dry high desert land of East Central Oregon lie treasures of the past that hold keys to the future. While today we are concerned about the effects of human activity in changing our climate, seeing the geological record of Oregon’s past made me realize in a deeper way that the earth is indeed a living planet. It has changed dramatically in the past and will continue to change. Our present land and ocean formations are recent in geological time. The constant movement of the techtonic plates, the subduction of life forms under the plates, and volcanic activity in many forms continue to shift our environment. As shifts occur, climate changes. Fossils from bananas and avocados indicate that Oregon once was a lush tropical forest now found in places like Panama.
In the geological time frame, humans are but a brief recent episode. Like many species in the past we may also become extinct. Humans in any form have been around as a species only a couple of million years or even less, about 200,000 years, if we speak of homo sapiens, our species. By contrast dinosaurs were around about 260 million years. We are the only species that has created a culture that separates us from the natural world. We fail to recognize that we are not separate but indeed have about 100 trillion microorganisms that live within us, approximately ten times more than the number of cells in our body. Our life is not possible without these microorganisms that enable us to perform functions like digestion of food. Our lifestyle today, in a society based on fossil fuels, fails to recognize that those fossils lived millions of years ago.
The Painted Hills, our first stop, is an amazing assortment of red, yellow and white mounds from the Oligocene era between 38 and 24 million years ago. The reds represent wetter climates and the yellows drier climates. The soils were formed from volcanic ash over a period of four million years. Overlooking the painted hills is Carrol Rim which is topped by a 28.7 million year old tuff of ash flow from a vent in Eastern Oregon.
Our second stop was the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center at Sheep Rock. This is an operating laboratory for scientists working on fossils found in the area. It is also a visitor center with panoramic murals of life represented by fossils. Sheep Rock, across the road from the Center, has layers of silica rich volcanic ash with a green tint that carries fossils from 24 million years ago. It is topped by Columbia River basalt from 15 million years ago and overlooks the John Day River.
Not far from Sheep Rock, as the road follows the River, is Goose Rock, a rounded mass of lava that emptied into the ocean about 80 million years ago. Here in the river we found three River Otters, playing and feeding. We watched them and they watched us for about 45 minutes, a truly wonderful experience of communing with another species of mammal.
Next on the road was Cathedral Rock, a towering cliff of red and green ash deposits from 29 million years ago that rises above the John Day River. Nearby is the Blue Basin with colorful banded layers that are 29 million years old.

About  two hours from the Paleontology Center near the town of Clarno is the Palisades, a group of towers formed from a series of mudflows 44 million years ago.  The fossils here include an assortment of 173 species of trees, vines, shrubs and other plants found thus far as well as animals that inhabited a near-tropical forest.  Unlike most of the other sites, some of these fossils are visible on the short trail.

After a day of viewing fossils and beautiful mountains and hills formed millions of years ago, I came away with a newly awakened sense of awe and humility.   I am part of something much larger and much older, and I am not in control.  Life is a beautiful gift present wherever we look to find it. Life calls for giving back.

Overlooking the Painted Hills

Looking Up in the Painted Hills

View from the Painted Cove Trail

Carroll Rim

A Brightly Banded Hill

Sheep Rock

Goose Rock

River Otters Swimming

River Otters Looking

River Otter Eating Crawfish

Cathedral Rock

Cliffs of the Blue Basin

Hill with Ash Tuffs

The Palisades at Clarno

The Palisades at Clarno

Fossil of a Leaf

20th Annual Delaware River Sojourn

June 30th, 2014

I returned Saturday evening from seven wonderful days on the 20th annual Delaware River Sojourn, a refreshing and exciting trip with the largest group ever, which once again included my life partner, Kim.  We began with a couple of days paddling one of my favorite stretches of the River from Shohola Rapids to Matamoras.   It includes some of the best rapids, beautiful scenery and an increasing number of Bald Eagles.

The third day included the Delaware Water Gap, five bears sited, I think the most ever on the Sojourn, and an eagle with a fish.  A mother bear and two cubs came out near the eagle and the mother took the fish the eagle had caught, seeming not to bother much about the large group of canoes and kayaks in the middle of the River watching her. Shelley DePaul, Chief of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, led us thorough the Gap, blessing each of us with smoke and cedar, singing and praying in the Lenape language, reminding us that the River is sacred to the Lenape people.

The fourth day included the waves of Foul Rift, a stretch not done on the Sojourn since the first one.  Even with many novices among the 95 participants that day, we came through with no injuries and only a few people taking an unexpected swim.  This year we were blessed with beautiful weather every day and only one storm at night.

The Delaware River is a treasure, about two hundred miles of undamed beauty above Trenton.  Each time I paddle I am caught up in the magic of slow living, taking the time to observe, enjoy and experience the sacred wonders surrounding me, such a contrast to the life most people see as normal. In the tidal section of the River where we paddled from Neshaminy State Park to Bristol and returned, the contrast was evident. Speed boats and jet skis whizzed past us at top speed creating large waves with their  drivers lost in the fast and destructive world powered by oil, likely totally unaware of their impact.  River tugs floated past us going toward Trenton.  Our presence on the River represented a meeting of two worlds.

The images below are a small selection of the images that will be placed on my web site later with those of eight previous sojourns.

Crowded Shohola Rapids

Damon caught a fish

Bald Eagles at Nest with Two Juveniles

Coming Through Staircase Rapids

 Dan Easily Does Butler’s Rift

Mother Bear with Fish

Approaching the Delaware Water Gap

 Mitzi Going Through Foul Rift

 Paddling Below Martin’s Creek Power Plant

 Waiting to Start at Riegelsville

 Dawn at Neshaminy Looking Toward Philadelphia

 Approaching Bristol

Jane and Dave

 River Tug and Jet SKi

 

Red Shouldered Hawk Nest

May 5th, 2014

Last Friday and again today in Northwest, New Jersey I had the privilege to spend several hours observing two Red Shouldered Hawks exchanging places in their nest to sit on the eggs.  Roughly every 45 minutes to an hour one of the mates flew in, often with additional nesting material, and the other left. At times I heard the one arriving call several times, but at other times there was no call but one mate often left the nest just before the other arrived. They are nesting in the crotch of a large Tulip Poplar in my partner’s back yard.  Over the next month I’ll continue to observe the nest and await the birth of the young with my camera and 500 mm lens.

Broadwing Hawk on Nest

Broadwing Hawk on Nest with Nesting Material

Broadwing Hawk Standing on Nest

Flood on the Schuylkill

May 1st, 2014

Yesterday we had 5-7 inches of rain in the Philadelphia region. Today the Schuylkill River and most of the creeks that flow into it and the Delaware River were flooded, much higher than anyone expected. I went out to Valley Creek where it flows under Route 23 and on to the Schuylkill, to the Pawlings Road Bridge over the Schuylkill and to the Betzwood Bridge and adjacent portion of Valley Forge National Park. I wanted to document the event and also capture some unusual beauty in the destructive forces of nature, an interesting and challenging assignment for myself.  Likely this is not a one time event since increasingly we have had more precipitation and stronger winds. Global warming is upon us.  The Arctic ice is not the only thing being affected.    Changes will continue.

As I was walking back to my car after capturing a number of images, I passed a young couple walking, each with a suitcase and he with a dishpan and dishes.  They were evacuating from the Valley Forge Lofts, a new apartment complex on the banks of the Schuylkill immediately downstream from the Betzwood Bridge.  Several of the buildings were under a few feet of water.   Another woman looking at the water near the Betzwood spoke of a friend who lives along the Schuylkill canal in Phoenixville whose house was totally surrounded by water. Yes, peoples lives are greatly affected by the changes in the natural world.  Sometimes it takes an event like this to help us keep our perspective.  We are part of nature.  Its power is both our power and greater than any one of us.

Below are a few images from the various sites I visited.

Spring Flood on the Valley Creek Just Above Route 23

Valley Creek Upstream from Route 23

Looking Toward Washington’s Headquarters Across a Flooded Valley Creek

Looking From Washington’s Headquarters Across a Flooded Valley Creek

Flooded Access Road Across Valley Creek from Washington’s Headquarters

The End of Pawlings Road Bridge By the Access to the Betzwood Trail

The View Upstream from the Betzwood Bridge

Flood Waters in the Picnic and Boat Launch Area of The Betzwood Section of Valley Forge Park

The Betzwood Trail Under Water

Looking Toward the Schuylkill from the Betzwood Picnic Area