Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ruby Beach, Washington

The beauty of the rugged North Pacific coast.  

Ruby Beach, Washington
Just a short walk from Highway 101, on Washington's Olympic Penninsula, Ruby Beach is a hot spot for sunset photographers.  Without tripod and fancy lenses, I felt a little underdressed, but the spectacular scenery compensated for my little point and click.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska

Disenchantment Bay, Alaska

Over six miles wide at its face, Hubbard Glacier appears small until you realize how far away it is, until you sail slowly toward it through icebergs and eerily blue water and mountains scarved in mist, until you realize that it's dwarfing this ship of yours, this ship that itself can dwarf a town.
Hubbard Glacier vast in the distance
Hubbard Glacier much closer--just the very end fits in the camera.
The most beautiful thing about Hubbard Glacier is how alive it is, one of the most active glaciers in the world, and one of the few still advancing.
300-foot high walls of Hubbard Glacier, calving modestly in the center.
The ice chunks that fall off can be as tall as 10-story buildings. 
As you stand at the rails in Disenchantment Bay—possibly the most inaccurately named bay in the world—watching the 400-year old ice at the glacier face break off and crash into the water, creating a sound the native people describe as white thunder, you'll marvel at the diversity this planet so generously offers, and how very small we all are in the face of it.    

Click here for an awesome time-lapse video of Hubbard Glacier on a sunny day.  Watch for calving at about 45 seconds.  The second video is a cloudy day, where the ship doesn't get half as close.  Thanks, Jeff Birmingham (radiofreebc), for the great videos. 

If you want to know more about how to see Hubbard Glacier for yourself, 
check out my new book on Amazon:   Cruising Alaska on a Budget,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My story on the Helium home page is a site where people can post articles on all sorts of topics, and creative writing in many forms.  Today my flash fiction piece, "A Summer Storm" appears on the Helium home page.  It will probably disappear from there tomorrow, but you can read it any time here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Travel and Patriotism

Sometimes I cringe when people say the USA is the best country in the world.  I think, perhaps, these people have never been to any other countries, or they've only been to the ones we're fighting wars in.  Or perhaps they've traveled, but never really left home.

I think the USA is a good country, more or less.  But out of nearly 200 countries in the world, can we really say it rates number one?  Certainly not in all areas.  Certainly not for all people. 

I've travelled to many different countries, and had long, thought-provoking talks with travelers who have spent time in far more exotic and culturally distinct places than I've ventured to.  One of the things I've learned is how very many definitions of "good" there are in the world.     

I'm proud of many things about my country.

You can do a great deal to change your life for the better here.  Opportunities abound.  But that's true of many other countries too. 

The justice system is less flawed than in many nations.  More flawed than some, true, but less flawed than many.     

I remember during the presidential election of 2000, when for days we weren't sure who would be president, I wasn't particularly afraid it would turn into a bloody coup or a civil war.  That's saying something.  But if a similar event happened in Portugal, say, or New Zealand, I'm not sure their people would worry about anarchy either.

We have very little of the starving-children-sewage-in-the-street-no-way-out sort of poverty very poor countries suffer with, and that makes us very, very lucky.  However, we're also one of the only first-world countries I know where a huge proportion of the middle class can't afford health care. 

I often disagree with our foreign policy or the foreign wars we interfere with or even instigate.  But I'm not afraid of saying so, and that means a lot.  And even if I disagree with our wars, I still believe—perhaps naively—that it's mostly well-intentioned, if often misguided.     

Despite our problems with racism and prejudice, I think we have managed to integrate more cultures with less day-to-day strife and more harmonious diversity than any of the other four countries I've lived in.  My sample size, however, is quite small, and I believe there are countries that do it better than we do.    

We enjoy a great many freedoms, and I'm grateful for them, but we're not the only citizens with these freedoms.

In case I somehow haven't made it clear, we enjoy many rights, privileges, and luxuries in the US.  But it is by no means the ONLY free country.  It is not the ONLY country with democracy, or the ONLY nation where a poor child can grow up to be a successful businessman, and it's certainly not the only place where people are happy.

Mark Twain once said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."  Sometimes I think travel can be fatal for patriotism, too.  And perhaps that's not such a bad thing.        

It's not that I don't love my country.  Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" can still make me cry.  It's just that I love a lot of other countries too, and have seen first-hand how we might benefit from imitating different models from around the world.

Of course, I wouldn't mind if other countries imitated a few of our best ideas either.  After all, I'm proud to live in the land of free ice water in restaurants.

Happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Magic Can Be Murder" by Vivian Vande Velde

Magic Can Be Murder opens strongly. In a world where witches are hunted down, young Nola doesn't realize she's special until she accidentally shows her friend the magic she can do.  After that all she and her mother do is run, never able to put down roots.  Then her mother goes half crazy, hearing voices in her head, believing a baby is living in her thumb.  I read the first few pages of this short YA novel and knew I had to read the rest.

Unfortunately, the pace slowed down after that.  It's basically a murder mystery, with some magic and a lot of cleverness.  After spending the night in the household of a man who later turns up murdered, Nola goes back to the scene to hide the fact that she and her mother are witches, even though they've moved on and would likely be safer just fleeing.  The reasoning is explained, but it still feels a little contrived. 

In the process of trying to destroy the evidence of her witchhood, she pretends to be someone else, and everything careens quickly out of control when she finds herself a suspect.  The ending's a bit too convenient. 

Overall, it's still a fun read:  very smooth writing, creative characters and world-building, nice romantic tension, witty dialogue.  I haven't read anything else of Vivian Vande Veld's, but after this, I believe I will.

Rating:  4

Explore her website, or buy the book.