A Promise Is a Promise

Posted in Mixed Nuts on February 5th, 2011 by MadDog
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How do you eulogise a loved one in three or four lines of text? It’s impossible. A few months ago I fretted over the words for a couple of days and finally sat down and wrote them in ten minutes. On the black granite slab the size of a large coffee tray I had only three lines to tell of her. The words flow from her priorities – God, her man and everyone else. She had enough love to serve us all a healthy portion.

So, finally, I have assembled everything I need to fulfil my promise to her. She wanted to be buried on Kranket Island in the little cemetery full of the last remains of decades of missionaries and Kranket residents. The small field sits next to the island’s Lutheran Church only a hundred steps from the quiet harbour.

A couple of days ago, my friend Mike Cassell took me to Kranket Island to inspect the site and make final arrangements with the head man. As it turned out, Bill Koi, the fellow we went to see, had just left for Madang to see Mike. Crossed paths! Mike is a lot like Eunie was. He knows everybody and can get anything done. If it’s at all doable, he can make it happen. Friends like him you need. I asked him if he would handle the negotiations for space in the cemetery and smooth the way for me. It was absolutely painless.

Here is a shot of the approach to the long defunct docks at the harbour’s edge:

This is a familiar sight to any resident of Madang.

Since the docks are no longer functional, Mike left some kids to tend the boat while we walked inland:

We soon found what we were looking for, the last resting place of Bob Peaker:

Bob was a pilot for Missionary Aviation Fellowship, a world-wide organisation of Christian workers who provide aviation services to churches and missionaries. Bush flying is dangerous business. Bob lived with his family next door to us. Over the years we lost two next-door neighbours to bush flying incidents. Eunie was very specific. I don’t know how many times we talked of it. I had elaborate plans for my cremation and the subsequent spreading of my ashes over the quite waters of Madang. Eunie was less demanding, “Bury me next to Bob.” It was that simple.

Another friend, Gary McGowan of Lae Builders and Construction, is working on the marker stone. The engraved granite slab is shown here in its place before the cement is poured. The slab of concrete will be covered by ceramic tile:

When the marker is finished it will be carried to Kranket and set into a hole which will then be filled with concrete to hold it in place.

If everything goes as planned I will be accompanied by a small band of friends to the island on the twelfth of March (UPDATE:  Whoops! That’s the twelfth of FEBRUARY.) to put Eunie’s ashes in the ground in front of the marker.

I don’t know how long I’ll last. I don’t know how long I will remain in Madang. Much of it is not up to me. Much of my future is going to be determined by others. It seems that is the way it must be for now. All that I know is that if I leave Madang alive it will be very strange for me to leave Eunie behind and never be able to visit her resting place. I agonised over this for weeks. Take her ashes back to Illinois? Keep them with me? How can I deal with that final parting?

In the end it was the promise which led me to decide. Only the past speaks for her now.

A promise is a promise.

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Corals and Friends

Posted in Under the Sea on October 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today’s lecture will provide you with utterly useless information about coral. I’m certain that you will find this to be an illuminating and valuable experience. There will be no quiz at the end.

We’ll start with this ordinary image of a fan coral. This is the way we usually show them – flat side facing the camera, so that one can see that they are fan-shaped. Fascinating, eh?

What does make this picture mildly interesting is that you can see a very young Feather Star taking advantage of the food-rich water flowing through the fan. Both critters are filter-feeders. When I got these images at The Eel Garden near Pig Island,  the water was full of yummy plankton and other edible bits and pieces. Everybody was getting a good feed, but we were getting stung by some of the more vicious floating creatures.

Here is a small cluster of Fan Coral seen edge-on:

I seldom think to photograph fan coral from this angle. It is a fresh perspective.

Here is a Feather Star (Comanthina schlegeli)  resting between two different coral species:

Some corals are able to coexist very close to each other.

Other corals need their space. This shot is really quite interesting (yawn):

Here we can see a hard coral completely surrounded by a leather coral. I suspect that what is going on here is that the hard, staghorn-like coral in the centre is producing some chemical that tells the leather coral, “Back off, Jack!” This phenomena is quite common in nature. It was the keystone observation in the discovery of antibiotics. In 1928, Professor Alexander Fleming noticed that some glass plates which he had coated with a film of Staphyloccus  bacteria had some spots of mold growing on them. Around each mold colony was a clear ring free of the bacteria. The mold was Penicillium notatum.

Okay, enough of that.

Here is a cute shot of Geneviève Tremblay learning to steer Mike Cassell’s Felmara:

We had a gathering of the usual suspects up at Blueblood last Sunday. I rode up on Felmara,  because I did not want to drive up the coast alone.

I think often about how fortunate and blessed I am to have such a fine group of friends. Here is the mob gathered around the table after a good meal:

I decided to have a little rest in the hammock.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I had a long conversation last night with the lady who is handling my claims at the health insurance company. My friend Trevor Hattersley is helping me to sort out this very complicated mess. The lady gave me some information about a different way that I can submit claims. It will allow me to submit all of the as yet unpaid invoices and request that the providers be paid directly by the insurance company. I was not aware of this. I am close to breaking the backs of my two credit cards. This new way of submitting claims will probably save months of time getting all of the claims settled. It will also save me a lot of interest on the amounts on the credit cards.

That conversation removed part of the heavy, very stressful load of concern which I’ve been carrying. Last night I got nearly five hours of sleep. I have been averaging three. I call that a big improvement. I have plenty of serious challenges ahead, but now this one seems much more manageable.

I’m feeling very grateful.

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Leapin’ Lizards!

Posted in At Sea, Mixed Nuts on June 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you when I love life the most. It’s actually two times. I’ll let you guess when it’s not. No, I’ll tell you. It’s not when I’m making money or doing something “important” or “supporting a cause” or “being responsible”. All those things are good to some extent or another.

One of the times during which life settles over me as a fine, cool mist of euphoria is when I’m sitting quietly with my woman, enjoying the sweetness of nearly a half-century of friendship, affection. and passion. The other time when I feel very close to heaven is when I am with beloved mates who share my lust for life and welcome both the benefits and burdens of true friendship. I am blessed beyond comprehension with an abundance these moments.

My supply of words is running short today. I planned to make this my “Sunday” post so that I would not have a hole in my calendar. So much for dedication and self-discipline. So there’s a hole. I’ll flagellate myself later.

Right now I want to show you lovely Marleen and her dolphins:

Of course, they are not really Marleen’s dolphins. Nobody should own dolphins. However, Marleen had the best seat in the house as we travelled up to Blueblood on Mike and Di Cassell’s Felmara  on Sunday.

Now for a simple question:  What do you get when you take a bunch of clowns out to a floatie thing and give them a tennis ball? Well, you get Leapin’ Lizards:Here is Eddie “The Dancin’ Fool” with a picture-perfect catch. Richard Jones seems to be saying “What the . . .  How dare  you!”

Did you realise that if you Google “Leapin’ Lizards” (with the quotes) you will be about 368,000 hits. There’s a message in that somewhere.

Not to be outdone, Rich came on with a beautiful grab which ended in a spectacular splash:

Rich is one of the most physically competitive friends I have ever known. He has bicycled insanely, triathloned, climbed Mt. Wilhelm  and dived every chance he gets all despite having a great leaky hole in his heart. No, I mean his actual heart. No wonder he is so skinny. You do not want to get into a game of Twister with him. He will beat your socks off.

And, if you need incontrovertible evidence that man descended from the apes, you need look no further:I rest my case:

The next act was our scary local Frenchman, Pascal Michon, A.K.A. “The Prince of Pursuit”:Here Pascal is throwing down the gauntlet. “Bring it on!”, he challenges.

There followed what I think was a near miss, but there was so much water being displaced that I couldn’t see whether he actually caught it or not:At least it was a valiant effort, worthy of the flag.

The next attempt was evidently successful. Please note that the ball was firmly in his hands before his toes left the platform. The only way he could have surpassed this accomplishment would have been if he had managed to get back on the platform before ditching in the drink. Now that  would have been something:Rich is making his way back to the beach after exhausting his supply of red wine.

We have taken to calling Pascal “The Flying Frenchman” in honour of Clément Ader, Pascal’s countryman who was the first man to construct and pilot a powered aircraft in 1890. It reached a height of 20cm, and flew uncontrolled approximately 50m. Here is a picture of Clément Ader:

Don’t you see the resemblance?

After a flaming postprandial of Black Sambuca, we made our way back to town. I like this nice pensive shot of Brioni sitting on the stern of Felmara:Never a cross word was spoken. What a day!

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ANZAC Day 2010 – The Celebration

Posted in Madang Happenings on April 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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If there was ever such a thing as a “Just War”, then World War II was probably it. I can’t imagine a sane person who would say that the world would be a better place if the Allied forces had not prevailed. Hundreds of millions of people died in the spasm of ghastly violence that accompanied this tour de force  of human folly. In the wake of war the vanquished inevitably mourn and the victors celebrate. Both regret their dead and honour them for their sacrifices.

I covered the memorial service which commemorated the courage of those who protected us and finally prevailed. To me it seems quite proper that a memorial of courage should also include a celebration of life. Otherwise the sacrifice is cheapened. We did celebrate life and remember the sacrifices on Sunday at Blueblood. Here is Mike Cassell’s Felmara  with Group Captain Tony Behm at the helm and the appropriate array of beauties on the bow:No small craft should take to sea with less exuberance.

My first task upon arrival at Blueblood is to document the beach for posterity. Future scientists will study this series of images for evidence of ancient sea levels:All that you see here may be submerged.

The usual suspects gathered for lunch joined by some new honoured guests:

On the near end in front of Trevor Hattersley is Lt. Colonel Simon Watts on one side and his lovely wife Sue on the other. Down at the end in blue is Group Captain Tony Behm.

The usual after lunch activity is hanging in the water and drinking adequate quantities of delicious Australian red wine while laughing like a convention of comedians:As I seldom get into the water unless I have my diving gear on – I can’t swim very well – I usually end up being the photographer and wine steward. Constant demands rise up, “Bring us our wine!” I sometimes long to reply, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.”

Between my wine runs to keep the revels going, I wander with my camera. I search for “odd shots”. Here’s an example:A perfect hibiscus blossom superimposed on fishing boats with the Kar Kar Island  volcano in the distance.

It’s a sad fact that every good party must end. Here we see Felmara  cruising back to Madang with a load of happy people:And a pensive soul:Karen silhouetted against the setting sun.

I wonder what she’s thinking?

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Saturday Diving – A Row of Boats

Posted in Under the Sea on March 14th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sunday dawned clear and bright. Just what I needed to lift my spirits when I realised that my sinus infection (oh, I’m sure  you want to hear about that) has come back with a vengeance. I may possibly have insulted it during my very pleasant dive yesterday at Magic Passage.  Actually, I’m not telling the truth. The part that is not  true is that this is actually Monday’s sunrise:Could be Egypt, eh?

Conditions at Magic Passage  couldn’t have been much better. There was a manageable current flowing in from Astrolabe Bay,  making the water nice and clear. I usually get into the water first, to get out of everyone’s way and check to make sure that I’ve anchored where I think  I anchored. I got this shot from about seven metres below Faded Glory  and Sanguma,  which we had parked alongside each other:

Funny thing – coincidence strikes. The Beatles song Come Together  is playing with a heavy bass bias here in the IT Dungeon as I write. (In case you’re wondering, I was thinking of the boats coming together over the reef.)

He roller-coaster he got early warning
He got muddy water he one mojo filter
He say “One and one and one is three”
Got to be good-looking ’cause he’s so hard to see
Come together right now over me

I think that it is one song that nearly every person of my age who was brought up in The Western World (whatever that is) can probably sing along with without mumbling too many of the words. It always seemed like nonsense to me – nonsense ambiguous enough to mean anything you like. I give you the examples of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky  or James Taylors’ American Pie.  Still, the pitiless call of reason leads me to conclude that the song must  be about the members of the band. Four musicians, four verses, lots of obscure references – it’s not Rocket Science. If you’ve nothing better to do and you want to enrich your mind with some spaced-out references from the 60’s you might check here and here if you’re feeling clueless. The first link seems plausible. The second feels more like stoner-speak.

Errr . . . drifting away there. Back to the dive. One of the first things that I encountered was this lovely little anemone which I am embarrassed to say that I can’t identify accompanied by two juvenile Clark’s Anemonefish (Apmphiprion clarkii):My finger is for scale, not for food. However, while snorkeling at The Eel Garden  later I was demonstrating how the larger cousins of these youngsters would play with your fingers and occasionally nip at them. One of the larger specimens of A. clarkii  bit viciously three times. Each time it would grab a bit of my skin in its jaws and shake its body furiously before letting go. Since I was out of breath anyway and needed to surface, I decided to end the demonstration.

This morning I felt a distracting itch on my hand and discovered a bite mark left by the little terror:Don’t let anybody tell you that Nemo is not dangerous.

In the clear incoming water, the beautiful Anthea were glowing like neon lights:We were blessed by a bit of sunlight on Saturday, the first we’ve seen in some weeks. The weather here has been dismal, at least by Paradise standards.

Richard Jones led the little expedition, though he was possibly a little miffed when I was uncooperative and lazy at the beginning of the dive. He got even later by mugging me:However, I shall have the last laugh. He complained a few days ago about me getting his “bald head” into the picture – his words, not mine. I would call him “partially bald”. My response is, “How could I miss it?”

Later on, a band of Cassells showed up in Felmara.  This array of fishing lures caught my eye:The Cassell Floating Fishing Party motored off after a while and left us to enjoy the lowering sun.

Just another Saturday in Paradise.

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Random Images for Your Amusement

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 28th, 2009 by MadDog
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Once again, I’m left dead for a theme. Succumbing to writer’s block is not something to be enjoyed. It’s not part of my game to simply throw out a bunch of images with no comment. However, today the words are getting stuck somewhere. Maybe I can shake a few loose. It’s a sure formula for gibberish.

We’ll start with the standard ‘my house’ sunrise:

Hmmmm . . . That wasn’t so bad. Let’s move along.

This is a bit more interesting. On the way to the office a couple of days ago there was a fellow paddling up the coast in his canoe just off of Coronation Drive:At the far right, on the horizon, you can see the tail end of the Huon Peninsula  and the last of the Finisterre Mountains.  The towering cumulus clouds that you can see below the overcast are probably much more than 100 kilometres in the distance.

Now, here is a shot that I really enjoy. On our way back from Blueblood on Christmas Day, Kar Kar Island  was looking very splendid and mysterious:I caught Mike Cassell’s boat Felmara flying up the coast toward Madang with the island looming in the background about fifty clicks away. It makes a rather dramatic image.

Here is the standard Coconut Point sunrise, which you have seen here many times before:

I’m puzzled by the dark streak in the sky. It was persistent, pronounced and quite straight. We do not see aircraft condensation trails here in the tropics, or at least we rarely see them. I cannot remember seeing one in all the years that I’ve lived in Madang. My guess is that it’s a combination of factors. First, we are not under any heavily travelled routes. Another thing is that the air above us is generally too warm to form lasting condensation trails except at extreme altitudes. My best guess is that the dark line is a shadow of an invisible trail of condensation between the sun and the high layer of clouds.

Hey, it’s just a guess.

Here is something that I don’t think that you’ve seen before on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  – an image of Bag Bag Island:It is further away from Madang than Kar Kar Island  and considerably less mountainous. I had a lot of trouble with the colour of the island itself. It was far too blue. While trying to get it right, I ran out of time. It looks a little odd – like a pile of dust, not like an island.

Finally, here is an image that gives me a chuckle:It’s not a particularly good image; the Orangefinned Anemonefish is out of focus, as is my hand. However it does bring to mind the friendly, feisty anemonefish of The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  I have done hundreds of dives in this small area and I know every knob of coral and every fish. I do not understand the behaviour of these anemonefish, but it amuses me greatly. They seem to know me!  Yes, I know that is absurd, but there is something  odd going on. At several specific and consistent anemones, the fish will come up and rub against my fingers and nip at them. The nipping I get. Many anemonefishes do this. They are absolutely fearless, as if nipping at a giant predator would drive it away!

These, however, seem to ‘enjoy’ rubbing gently against my fingertips. It’s positively disconcerting. If they weren’t so cute, it would be a little creepy. In the shot above, I was attempting to get a record of the behaviour. As it turns out, it’s easier contemplated than accomplished. You may be amused to see another of the Damselfish family (as are the Anemonefishes) nipping away at my hand.

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More Sky and Water – Maybe a Little Lightning

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’ll start today with a couple of images that I got a few nights ago when I was trying to capture lightning in a thunderstorm. Here is an amusing image of a boat tied up at the south side of the compound near the airport. You can see the lights of the airport glowing in the distance and off of the bottoms of the nearby low clouds. The lighting on the boat and the fence and trees is from the main wharf which is at least a half-kilometre away:Boats in the light from the main wharf a half-kilometre away

The shot took fifteen seconds to expose. You can see a bit of motion blur on the boat, as it was bobbing around in the gentle waves.

This is the only shot of the thunderstorm that showed any lightning. My Canon G9 only allows up to fifteen second exposures. I wish I could get a full minute out of it. There wasn’t enough lightning in this cloud to make more than one or two flashes in fifteen seconds. This was the best shot that I got. I’m going to try again soon:A bit of lightning in a Cumulonimbus cloud

Strangely, this year has been almost absent of thunderstorms.

Here is a shot of Coconut point in the morning sun. I got this one on the drive into town a couple of days ago:

Coconut Point in the morning sun

It’s not a bad sunrise shot, but not as spectacular as some. What is interesting is that I accidentally caught a mob of Flying Foxes returning to town after there night-time raid on the gardens. You might have to click to enlarge to see them.

I got some nice images last Sunday on the way back from Blueblood on Mike Cassell’s boat, Felmara.  Here is a shot into the lowering sun with the Canon G9 set with the Night Snapshot scene setting and the flash forced on:Wake spray of Felmara in the afternoon sun I really enjoy having specific settings on the camera in the form of Scenes. It takes care of most of the adjustments that you need for particular shooting conditions. I could have recreated this shot using manual settings, but I would have to think a lot more. With the G9 I simply had to set the camera on Scenes, choose the Night Snapshot by spinning the wheel until it appeared on the screen, push the flash control until I could see that it was on demand and fire away.

This strange apparition is a lenticular cap on a Cumulonimbus cloud:

Lenticular cap on a Cumulonimbus at sunset

The cloud (called a pileus [Latin for cap] – thanks, Steve Goodheart) is rising up so quickly into the upper atmosphere that it is pushing warmer, moister air above it in a sort of shock wave. The warm, moist air can’t get out of the way, so it gets moved up to colder regions and the water in the air condenses into a small lens-shaped cloud that sits on top of the thunderstorm. There was much more of a rainbow effect visible to the naked eye. I couldn’t capture those nuances with the camera.

Though a US$4,000 camera and lens could do a much better job on this very technically demanding shot, for US$400, I’m quite happy with what my Canon G9 gave me:

Canoe in the late afternoon sun

The problem here is what is called dynamic range. I don’t know what the real numbers are, but I’d guess that there is at least 100,000 times as much light in the sun glowing through the thin cloud layer than there is in the trees in the foreground. The little sensors in point and shoot camera simply cannot handle this difference. So, everything gets compressed into a smaller range.

However, the technical aspects of this shot are not what I’m thinking of now. What I am thinking of is the gift that I got when the opportunity arose. There was a good deal of luck involved. Felmara  was moving at a rapid pace. I was shooting a medium telephoto shot from a bouncing boat. I had maybe a one-tenth of a second window for the shot.

Luck was with me.

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