Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dunes of Sand and Ice

I plan to take a Sunday morning stroll and found myself on Crane's Beach, on one of Massachusetts long, sandy beaches framed by dunes and estuaries. It turned into a four hour hike along the ocean shore and  miles of trails that wound through richly adorned bank of coastal dunes.

Not many visit the beach in winter. Drifts of hard, crusty snow from the last nor'easter adorned the beach along the tidemark, where one normally finds shells and seaweed. On this early March day, I only saw a handful of people jogging and walking their dogs along the wet and icy sand. I felt that sense of freedom as one can only experience listening to the rich sounds of the ocean. After a mile or two I began to jog for a while in order to warm up.

Piping Plover by Glenn Tepke

From time to time, I would stop and walk, particularly when I ran into small flocks of tiny seabirds called piping plovers. The beautiful creatures nearly became extinct in the 19th century, prized for their eggs and feathers across Europe. Today they remain endangered, and Crane's Beach is one of the world's most important protected nesting sites. Each time, I approached them softly, keenly aware of the need not to frighten them as they foraged for food.

After a few miles or so, I finally rounded the southern end of Castle Neck Peninsula and found myself alone in the tall, marsh grasses of the Essex River estuary. There was a well-marked trail that entered the landscape of tufted dunes I remembered as a child.  I rounded a hill and looked back at the ocean one last time.  Braced against the cold, northeast wind I could still hear the surf smashing against the sand. Somehow it seemed as loud as when I felt spray in the air, my feet inches from the water.

As I got deeper within the landscape of shrubby dunes, the ocean sounds faded away, and there was nothing left to hear.  Even the wind stopped speaking.  Sheltered behind a tall dune, I sat and closed my eyes, reveling in the silence. A sense of peace washed over me as if a wave, and I wondered if these dunes were any different than the lapping waves.  They come and go as well, I thought, only in a different scale of time.  

I felt myself as ephemeral, and I wondered what of nature isn't a wave that rises, crests and falls? In my travels along the dune trails I lost my way a time or two, once finding myself back on the shore on the estuary side. The tide had risen and the bank of ice that once rested by the water's edge had turned to tiny icebergs drifting to and fro. 

I sat, rested, and took out my phone to determine where I was; I had taken a picture of one of the posted trail maps. I walked back along the marsh, avoiding the high waters, traversed the top of a particularly tall dune, and headed up Wigwam Hill, where the vegetation began to thicken.

After a few hours of hiking along trails of crusted snow, ice and sand, the landscape held a final surprise; I found myself in the middle the largest pitch pine forest on the north shore of Boston. The texture and smells of the pine grove could not have provided a more pleasing way to end my small adventure.

I don't have to tell you, I plan to be back, and next time perhaps I'll bring some friends.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Wolves Change Rivers

Scientists unravel mystery why wolves cry

Each and every action has unknown consequences. Everything in nature is interconnected in ways that seem hard to imagine until seen and experienced.  The natural processes of Yellowstone National Park provide lessons for how we comport ourselves in this world. We must strive to be conscientious at every level of life, from the deeply personal to the global. Watch the wolves and understand the wonders of nature...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Living Color

Color will catch most everyone's eye from time to time.  It can't be helped as our eyes are designed to perceive the spectral wonders of the natural world.  It is one of those phenomenon that is so common most of us hardly give it any thought --

-- unless, of course, you are an artist, gardener or chromatographer.

The sun emits an amazing  range of energy in the form of particles or waves (wave/particle duality will have to wait for an upcoming blog).  The colors we see in nature are a tiny part of that energy called visible light; science refers to the whole affair as the em (electromagnetic) spectrum.

One em wave can span galaxies or be so short that a million times a million waves could fit in a spoon. To us humans, color is a ridiculously tiny part of that range with wavelengths from 390 (violet) to 700 millionth of a meter (red).   That range just so happens to be the frequencies of light most emitted from our sun.  (Can you guess what color shines most from the sun?  Hint, think of photosynthesis and the amazing adaptive powers of nature.)

What would the world look like if our eyes could see beyond that limited range?  To have an idea check out false color images from satellites or put on a pair of infrared goggles.

We see colors because it serves us to do so.  We are hunters and gatherers by trade, been doing it for millions of years. The retinas in our eyes are filled with cone cells sensors, and adaption that has allowed us to thrive as a species.   Our physiology only partially explains the way we perceive colors, however.  We find a sunrise beautiful and, from an evolutionary perspective, its hard to explain why that is so.

Aside from picking the right color berries to survive in the wild and the aesthetic considerations of our artistic selves, colors extend into our lives in so many other ways.  They are a part of our consciousness and our very nature as we ourselves are nothing more than living color.  The notion that we are beings of light may sound like a New Age mantra, but it is substantiated by science (for more on that look for an upcoming post on  It is simply a matter of perspective.

In the meanwhile take the time to enjoy the wonders of color. See more images on my pinterest or look out your window.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Joe went for a walk...
a guide to mind/body awareness through landscapes of consciousness

Walking along the beach conjures in me an intangible and immeasurable sense of peace and contentment.  I feel the wind, take in the rich smells of the ocean, and hear the sound of the surf.... read on

The art of being mindful 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Water Falling in the White Mountains

Water falls by way of gravity, making its way back to the ocean and leaving behind scenes of beauty like this clear mountain river in Jackson, NH.

I walked another trail to Diana's Baths, a splendid series of waterfalls and elegantly carved stone. As I sat by the rush of water over hard fissures and rounded swirls of rock, I felt a sense of timelessness.

What does it take, I thought, to break such hardness into progressively smaller stones, to carry all of that material downward and cover valleys with nourishing soil?  In turn, even the valleys disappear as all of the land is taken.

What does it take to remove a mountain from the earth and cover the bottom of the ocean with its remains? Such a thing transcends me.

The water flows and carves, giving no heed to the scale of human notions.  The White Mountains, like the rest of the Appalachians, are hundreds of millions of years old.  Once as tall as the Rockies, perhaps taller, they have been eroded down to nobs of hard granite.  And like these images, these splendid, rounded mountains too are only a snapshot in the eye of unimaginable geologic time.

More Images

Friday, July 19, 2013

Calcium Carbonate by the Seashore

We humans have been collecting sea shells for a very long time.  They have been used for tools, art, adornment, musical instruments, currency, religious and spiritual practices, and mixed with dry fish they make tasty chicken feed. Sea shells, protective outer layers made by a host of sea creatures, are composed of calcium carbonate, found in our homes as wall board and antacid tablets.

The White Cliffs of Dover
Aside from feeding chickens and relieving gas pains, calcium carbonate is utilized by a great number of living creatures. The White Cliffs of Dover, for example, are not only lovely, they made a great barrier against European hordes.  The Brits are quite fond of them, but the Coccolithophores that made them hardly get any credit. The cliffs are the remains of planktonic algae, creatures of microscopic size that excrete and live within a hard matrix of calcium.

There is a great abundance of shells, from microscopic to hundreds of pounds, lining many parts of the ocean bottom.  The diversity, texture and patterns of shells is simply astonishing. There are many exotic examples one could choose to illustrate just how aesthetically pleasing they can be – true works of art. In my estimation, however, the simplest of shell is a wonder of nature.  If you don’t believe me just take a few minutes to really look at one.

...more images