Tag Archives: Nature

Waterfalls for the Gods

Godafoss. (foss means waterfalls)

Iceland astounds.  I no longer remember too much about my expectations before I arrived in Island, but one thing I know. Whatever they were, Iceland exceeded those expectations immeasurably. It was truly astounding.         In my view, the glory of Island though is found most vividly in its waterfalls. I can’t believe there is another place in the world where waterfalls abound as they do in Island. It is truly astonishing.

One of my (many) favorites was Godafoss. It means “falls of the gods.” Of course, for a waterfall guy all waterfalls belong to the gods. The name is entirely apt for its beauty alone.  However there is more to the name than beauty. In about 1,000 A.D. the lawpeaker (leader) Porgeir Porkelson of the Icelandic Parliament had to decide whether or not Iceand should remain pagan or change to Christianity.  He weighed the matter for 24 hours.  His reflections were not religious but economic. He decided Iceland could improve trade with Europe if it converted, so he decided everyone was now a Christian. No travelling evangelist was needed for the purpose. There is no evidence that the people had a choice. As always the people get to follow their leader. After the choice was made Porgeir tossed all his idols into the falls and the name Godafoss was born.





I am sure that one of the reasons for the amazing abundance of waterfalls is the fact that so many trees have disappeared from the island on account of neglect going back about a 1,000 years. Starting with the Vikings people ravished the countryside of trees and the country has paid the price ever since. The soils have mainly blown away without the tree cover. As a result even after more than a 100 years of trying, only 1% of the trees have been replaced. Trees need some soil to grow. As a result the rainfall too often does not soak into the ground but rushes along causing floods, but also glorious waterfalls! Iceland pays a heavy price for that beauty but we visitors get the benefits.




A bunch of us travellers begged for our driver to stop for this fall. This was one of the times he could do that, because there was a spot to stop. Often it was not possible as the roads were very narrow and stopping was impossible unless there was a place for parking. Too often Iceland provided no place for cars let alone buses to stop.



Seljandsfoss–This was my personal favourite

There are so many magnificent waterfalls it beggars the imagination. For a self-professed “Waterfall Guy” (along with “Bog Guy”, “Wild flower Guy,” “Sunset Guy,” “Lighthouse Guy”, and even “Church Guy”” of course) I found heaven. For a while I got upset at every waterfall our coach passed by. How could these Cretans not stop? Eventually I caught on that if we stopped at them all our trip would have take 2 centuries not 2 weeks.




Everywhere you drive water tumbles down mountains.


Gullfoss–One of the most photographed waterfalls in all of Iceland.  I have never seen a country with as many  waterfalls as Iceland. This is the land of the gods.

Would you not agree that all the waterfalls are the falls of the gods?





Iceland: Moonscapes and Marscapes


Iceland is beautiful but strange. This is a place in which the trees have disappeared. Hollywood studios have used it to make movies with an other worldly  landscape.  Movies like The Game of Thrones or The Fast and the Furious like to film in such unearthly surroundings. It is eerily unearthly in a beautiful way. The American space program has used it to train astronauts for being on the moon. Now they have decided to use it to train upcoming astronauts before launching for Mars.

All of this beauty hides a serious environmental problem created by ignorance greed and determination. The only good thing is that we now know that other civilizations besides the capitalist ones, can destroy their surroundings. Life is hard when you are stupid.

Iceland lost most of its trees more than a thousand years ago when Vikings arrived and started to decimate the countryside. At the time 25% of the country was covered with trees. Now they are largely gone. Icelanders would now like to have their forests back because they have begun to reaize how important they are. When the trees were felled much of the soil blew away as their was nothing to  hold it together anymore. As a result the soil was seriously degraded and this in turn led to huge problems with flooding. In recent years they have planted 3million trees, but it has not done much good. Less than 1% of the land has tree cover despite all these efforts.

Because the soil is so poor it is difficult to plant new trees that will stick. This demonstrates how difficult it is to restore the environment once it is ruined. This is a lesson all countries should learn. Canada, for example, should learn this lesson too before it allows Tar Sands oil production to devastate the environment. It may not be as easy to restore as oil companies seem to think. The largest forest now is found inside the capital city of Reykjavik.

By removing trees the Vikings removed the main pillar of the environment. The introduction of sheep later on did not help. Dr. Gudmundur Halldorsson, research coordinator of the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland was not shy in in his criticism of what happened. “As a result, Iceland is a case study in desertification, with little or no vegetation, though the problem is not heat or drought. About 40 percent of the country is desert, Dr. Halldorsson said. “But there’s plenty of rainfall — we call it ‘wet desert. “Simply everything was stripped away,” Dr. Halldorsson said. “This is what people don’t realize. You can lose something like this in relatively few years.”

The situation is so bad that students from countries that are undergoing desertification come here to study the process. That is exactly what we saw today on our drive through the northern part of Iceland.

I hope the same thing does not happen to Canada.

Orchids created by adultery (sort of)


Sometimes the orchid world reveals sins. Those sins include deception, trickery or adultery.  Previously I have shown you Small White Lady’s Slipper and Large or Small Yellow Lady’s Slippers.  The Whites are very rare. But there is something even more rare hybrids between the Whties and the Yellows. These are created by adulterous relations between 2 different species that have produced offspring.


The offspring are called Cypripedium Xandrewsii.   Last year I had the fortune to see these in Manitoba. You can see that their colour is sort of a creamy white from the different shades of the two parents.

Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper


Sometimes the stars align. I was just thinking that I had not yet seen the Northern Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin) when I got an email from a friend who said some were blooming just across the road from his home not far from where I live. As soon as possible I headed out.

The Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper is very similar to the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper. In fact some botanists claim there is only one species. On the other hand some believe that there is a third yellow species with fairly flat lateral sepals.  Don’t think these issues are not important to orchids nuts.  I am a member of Native Orchid Conservation Inc. an organization dedicated to the preservation of native orchids and other plants. a few years ago  a former President of our organization threatened to sue our current President at the time for denying in a radio interview that there was a 3rd species in. Most botanist disagreed asserting there are only 2 species, but our former President was passionate that there were 3. As a lawyer I am of course reluctant to say litigation is not a good thing, but this was pretty ridiculous. The orchid world is filled with fanatics. Thank goodness they rarely lead to jihads.

The Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper is smaller than the Large. That is why some say the smaller ones are just stunted large ones. The Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper also has darker petals and sepals as you can see from my photograph.

Life is good when the world blossoms




Spring is the time for blossoms


These are blossoms from our yard or our neighbour’s yard.


The flower of a plant is the reproductive structure that is found in all flowering plants.  Blossoms are flowers, but the word is usually confined to the flowers of fruit bearing trees such as apples, pears, plums, cherries and the like which bloom particularly in spring. Blossoms are usually white.

Life is good when the world blossoms.



Today I made my third attempt to locate and photograph the lovely native orchid—Calypso or Fairy-slipper. Finally it made its appearance. It was the first orchid of the year. Twice before I drove all the way to the Sandilands only to be disappointed. There was no disappointment today.  as a result, there was rejoicing at the Neufeld residence, sort of like the rejoicing in heaven when the prodigal son returned.

This is a tiny but lovely orchid. Perhaps the most lovely.  I really cannot say which is my favorite orchid. Asking me what my favorite orchid is would be like asking me who is my favorite son or favorite grandchild. But this one is certainly in the running.

One unusual thing about this orchid is that it has only one leaf and that appears at the base in the autumn. It remains green all winter long on the ground at the base of the flower underneath the snow. What is up with that?

Going Back to Heaven: In search of crocuses


It was a beautiful day.  Chris was gone gambling to the USA with her sister Huguette and Nick and Debbi. I was as free as a bird. Not that Chris restricts my movements very much I must admit. So I went in search of the prairie crocuses. The crocus is one of the first of our wild flowers to bloom. And one of the most glorious.

It was my first botany trip of the year in Manitoba. I went on many in Arizona, but that was the most disappointing of years for plants since the drought meant there were very few flowers available and cactuses seem to bloom late. I was sad about that. Very sad.

Crocus or Pasque flower as it sometimes called,  ( Anemone patens var. wolfgangiana) is the floral emblem of Manitoba and (as Pulsatilla hirsutissima) the state flower of South Dakota.  I find it one of the most beautiful flowers, and no doubt have more pictures of it than any other flower.  Every year I say, ‘enough already’ and then next year start photographing them all over again.

I have been thinking a lot about one particular issue this year.  I am coming to believe that plants and animals are not as different as people think. I thought about this because I heard someone on CBC radio refer to “plant and animal nations.” That is a wonderful comment.

This made me think about an exciting statement by Henry Beston:

For the animal shall not be measured by man.  In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.  They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nationscaught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.

Is that not just as true of plants? Another kingdomthe scientists say. Scientists classify organisms (life) into a hierarchy that begins with kingdomand works its way ever farther into phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species, in that order.  This can be very challenging.  It is difficult enough for me just to remember the order of the categories. Here’s a mnemonic referring to 16th-century Spanish exploration that might help: King Philip Crossed Over For Gold and Silver.   One I like even better goes like this:  Kings PlayChess On Fat Guy’s Stomach’s.   Sometimes people add another category, ‘Domain’ at the beginning before kingdom.  Then the mnemonic becomes: DoKings Play Chess on Fat Guy’s Stomach’s? Whether it is kingdom, domain or nation, all of these concepts refer to a temporal jurisdiction assigned by us. I will come back to this issue later. I call it affinity.

The day was warm. There were some clouds, but as a photographer I actually wished for more clouds. I would have to use a diffuser to spread out the bounty of the sun. That bounty can create harsh conditions of light for photographers of flowers.  Worse however, was the wind. Wind is not a wild flower photographer’s friend. It was very windy. The wind was a difficult challenge. When I got home I was pleasantly surprised how most of my photos were sharp. My technique in such circumstances is to wait for a lull in the wind. It usually comes but patience is required in abundance. I don’t always have enough of that. Today I did.

Another factor I discovered at the first site I stopped at was dust. The extreme dry conditions and wind sent dust drifting over me after every car passed and there were surprisingly many at this first stop. That was a pity because the crocuses were numerous.  Not only that, the crocuses were big and fat with fine colour. I wondered if this was the best crocus year ever.  I was in heaven (again). I keep going there. It is a nice place.

All American Road: Scenic Byway 12



We woke up and ate breakfast in our hotel and stopped briefly in town to take a couple of photos from Kanab. Then we headed north along highway 89, continuing our exploration of the extravagant Colorado Plateau. Driving in the morning was an exquisite pleasure.  Driving I have decided, while looking at mountain creeks and forests is the perfect place for happy little clouds and happy little thoughts. It was clearly a place to do what DeWitt Jones says we should do: “celebrate what’s right with the world.” Here that was easy.  I thought of Azar Nafisi and her two wonderful books, Reading Lolita in Tehran and Republic of Imagination which I read. One last year; one this year. Brilliant and inspiring. I thought of Marilyn Robinson in her Gilead trilogy. Minsters in a small Iowa town bringing much-needed gentleness to religion. If I had read this series before I lost my faith who knows how different my life might have been. But above all I thought about what a beautiful day it was. A beautiful day in the neighbourhood as Mr. Rogers might say.


Highway 12 connects Highway 89 with Capitol Reef National Park about miles away. According to my guide book, “This road boast what may be the most spectacular and diverse array of landscapes found along any road in the country.” This, I found, was no exaggeration.

The road starts south of Panguitch where Highway 89 intersected with highway 12. Our first stop just a couple of miles into the journey was at Red Canyon State Park immediately beside the road. I have already posted photos from there.             Red Canyon State Park is cut into the fantastic red mountains of the Paunsaugunt Plateau sprinkled with dark green coniferous trees. It has weirdly carved erosional rock forms that form a stunning array of turrets, hoodoos, pinnacles, or spires. Such features are found at many places along this magical road, but perhaps most sensationally right at the beginning of the road (from the west) or near the end (from the east). I took many photographs of this amazing place. It was very difficult for me to tear myself away while there was still room left on my camera’s memory cards.

We also drove through Cannonvillea quaint Bryce Valley town. It was settled by Mormons in 1876 and named after one of those settlers George Q. Cannon. They have an annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bear Festival. Now that is a strange combination. Fiddlers and bears?


There are constants in this country: red stone, flawless silence, impossible blue skies, and beauty without end. It often looks lifeless. But if there is water, there is life.

Sadly, this is one of the National Monuments that Donald Trump wants to desecrate. He says it is too big. So he wants to cut it down to size. 20% is all that will be left. This is national disgrace, but that won’t stop Trump.

A short drive off of Scenic Byway 12 took us to another special place—Kodachrome Basin State Park. I hesitated about driving 9 miles out of the way from Cannonville past the sign at a forsaken gas station that read, “Too Pooped to Pump”. How foolish that would have been not to take that diversion. I would have missed the splendour of this astonishing park. One of the little gems of Utah, often missed by those in pursuit of the “Big 5.”  Just like tourists in Africa often miss out on Africa in pursuit of their Big 5.

Not only that, but once we arrived we considered not going into the park since we had to pay the park fee even though we would be here just a short time. I think it cost us $15 or something like that. We were about to drive back when Chris, ever the wise one, said “lets pay”. It would have been criminally negligent to have gone. It was astoundingly beautiful, like so much in Utah on the Colorado Plateau.

Kodachrome was named in the 1940s after a revolutionary slide film prepared by Kodak. Some people think it is stupid to name a park after a film. As a photographer who loved to shoot Kodachrome for years, until its supremacy was dethroned by Velvia produced by Fuji. What is wrong with naming a park after a brilliant film? Maybe nothing.


Visitors to the park are drawn to it by it unusual geological forms such as a series of upright cylindrical forms. There is a series of them called sand pipes. They vary in height from 6 to 170 feet.  More than 60 of them have been identified in the park and we had a picnic very near to one of them.

Geologists are not in agreement about how the pipes were created. One theory goes sort of like this: What is certain is the pipes provided a unique landscape that we enjoyed immensely, especially as we had a lovely picnic. A stellar jay came to visit us, expecting we might be willing to hand out food to a poor supplicant. Sadly, when it perched on a branch right beside our table, like an incompetent photographer, I scared it away when I went to get my camera from the car, much to Chris’s disappointment. She had her camera ready, but it was gone. A competent photographer, like Chris, would have had the camera at the ready. Nonetheless we had a wonderful picnic and Chris did not maim me for my ignorant stumbling away from grace.


The story of the park is the story of geology which is the story of the earth. The one thing that is constant with the earth is change. That sounds paradoxical but it is not. Nothing stays the same; even massive rock. Everything changes and over time reveals the secrets of its history to observant seekers. Each layer of rock is like a new chapter of a book. Some layers tell a story of when the land was covered by a large inland sea. Other layers speak of raging rivers long since becalmed. Some layers speak of the unspeakable—immensely violent forces of nature that often seem so benign. Each layer tells the story of relentless forces of erosion—wind and water that can carve the hardest surface. All they need is time and gravity and then nothing can stand in their way. And this story never ends. New pages are added literally every day. We just have to learn to read those fascinating pages.

The towering chimneys of Kodachrome Basin change in color with the day’s changing moods. Against a clear blue sky like today, they look tinged with red, like so much of the American southwest. This contrast led the National Geographic Society to get the permission of Kodak to name the park after their film.

The stone sand pipes protrude from the surrounding sandstone out of which they have been carved like one  of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures that we saw in Florence. They seem to stand like guards over the park. It was indeed a great day in the neighbourhood.