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Pieter Bruegel, Flemish, born almost 500 years ago, was a miracle of a painter who gave us images we can still understand and delight in without a thick book or an expert.

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Most of his pictures have their origin in the Christian Bible, but if you never saw a Bible in your life you would see and feel the humanity of what is staring you in the eye.

And you would see the children, somewhere in the frame.

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You need to look, sometimes, for the children.  But they are almost always there, busy, preoccupied, stocky/stubby, lovely.

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This is a detail of the Census of Bethlehem

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Wherever you find them, these, Bruegel’s children are identifiable as today’s children, even if so much around them is bizarre.

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Above, The Hunters in the Snow also known as The Return of the Hunters, is a 1565 oil-on-wood painting.

It is a quiet cold wonder in the palace of great art–thanks in part to those small boys and girls.

it’s always amazing to see what nature is up to when we aren’t there

white sands national monument john hunterup there in the wildest places, the farthest places from our small lives, that’s where you’ll see what can happen without us.  it is always original, never trivial, never trending.

ice greenland nyteven when these farthest places change because of the accumulated effects of our daily lives. the result is all nature’s own–spectacularly un-human,  beautifully bereft of our precious cliches.

We can’t help but drop our jaws and shed some tears of admiration before we go back to our day job.  But some have chosen to find work, put down roots and raise families right up against the raw originality (and harshness) of remote places. La Rinconada Peru REMOTE-6This is upper Peru. Life unplugged from everything except life.  It isn’t easy of course, but the miracle is that it exists at all.  Found here

Frozen-Ittoqqortoormiit-GreenlandAnd this village is on Greenland in the upper middle of nowhere looking bright, cheerful, remarkably at ease.  Part of a collection here

The only rival to the remoteness of the highest and coldest places on earth are the oceans where, we are told, you might sail for weeks without seeing any land at allocean-yonaguni-ring-shape-oxygen-ascending-risingThe only mark on this part of the Pacific is an air pocket…

landsat image of antarcticaThe remotest places have many lessons to teach us, if we will only listen and look, lessons about beauty, humility, responsibility…

hiroshi sugimoto-seascape-north-atlantic-cape-breton-1996Just look .

Image by hiroshi sugimoto (seascape-north-atlantic-cape-breton)

Living by the sea can be a swell thing. Where we live, the breezes are mostly mild and scented with salt, sea shells, and mermaids.

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People, lots of people, choose to live in coastal cities, and they always have.  And those who don’t or can’t, come for holidays. Many of the benefits are obvious. Lovely pic of a coastal guy on his lunch break from here.  Experts from all over (e.g.) say that just breathing sea air allows us to sleep better, and that can have real benefits to how happy and healthy we are.

But of course we can’t be blind to the other side of living with the sea as your neighbour.  Our salty benefactor that serves up so much pleasure and good health can also serve up destruction and death. The truth is, sometimes, the bountiful sea doesn’t stay put. Sometimes, it comes calling.

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Venice is the most famous and photogenic example.  And though Venetians are justly famous for just carrying on and wading about their business,  the government is spending a fortune (even by Venetian standards) to try and keep the Mediterranean out of the piazzas and palazzos. One story here

 

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New Yorkers got a taste of life with the Atlantic ocean too close for comfort during and after Hurricane Sandy Oct 2012.  Since then, the city has been re-thinking the way Manhattan works in order to prevent similar damage from future, inevitable storms.  Here is one of many reports on the plans.

It is not just New York’s problem. This is something all great and small coastal cities should have on their agenda.  Because there is more water in all the seas than there once was, and the only place it has to go is up, where we are, by the sea.  Why?

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The ice at the top and bottom of our planet is melting fast enough to cause measurable changes in sea level around the world.  Whether you think the reason is man-made climate change (we do), natural cycles, socialists, or alien misbehavior, the melting of arctic and antarctic ice is real.  It is not a theory or a political platform.  It happens daily, sometimes in dramatic fashion.

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This berg is about to shed a wedge of ice the size of warehouse.  Beautifully photographed in Alaska by Betty Sederquist.  More here.

 

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At the other end of the earth, this is a giant iceberg in Antarctica about to leave the mother ship.  It was deemed separated in April of this year and weighed in at “the size of Chicago”  or “as big as Singapore”, depending on your source.  Lots of video coverage via this site

What this event means for those of us who live by the sea now is not much, in terms of our day at the beach.  Even if it drifts into warm waters and melts completely, even when Chicago melts, you’d need more than an eagle eye to spot the rise in sea level.  But there are lots more city size ice cubes breaking away and melting.  This is a recent summary report from the NY Times

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This beautiful object (wonderful photo by Camille Seaman) may not be much of a threat to modern ships or tomorrow’s day at the beach, but it and its kin are slowly raising the tideline around the world.  Choice property will be lost–some quickly in murderous storms, some slowly over generations.

We can’t stop it, but we can do what we do when we are at our best: we can start thinking differently about how we respond to this force of nature.  We in coastal cities can start planning–as New York is doing–for dealing with higher water when it comes, taking preventative action, reducing the destruction.  Instead of pure admiration or pure fear of the ocean, we need to get more realistic and show more respect for the ocean we love.  As sailors always have.

 

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It’s time to move the carousel.  Pic from Brooklyn Oct 2012.

 

 

 

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This is a pivot irrigation system near a suburb south of Yuma Arizona.  Nice composition and colour.

When people build things to do a job, fill a need, make some money, their last thought is ever ending up in an art show.  But the truth is, like it or not, the visual effect of human intervention on the landscape is often stunningly beautiful.

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These are greenhouses in the Almira Peninsula in Spain 2010.  Muy Bonito–tight but dynamic structure, plus subtle colour and texture variation.

Of course the beauty of these interventions comes at a price, and sometimes that price is very high: a lasting stain on the canvas we all inhabit, or worse, a fatal infection of some irreplaceable part of what keeps us alive.

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Above is Cerro Prieto Geothermal Power Station, Baja Mexico, 2012.  As an image, it has a hyper-electric, saturated intensity.  As a piece of evidence, it is deeply disturbing.

All three photographs above by Edward Burtynsky whose work can be viewed here  and here

 

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Stelco Steel Mill Nanticoke Ontario.  When a gifted, technically super photographer takes on the job of showing us who we are and what we are doing, the results can’t help but be both beautiful and alarming.  That’s after all what we are.

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Residual Bitumen, Suncor South, Alberta, Canada.  How do we reconcile that this image of a careless (?) industrial after-effect has some of the same aesthetic qualities as the muscular/spiritual abstract paintings we flock to see in modern art museums?

Above aerial photographs by Mr Louis Helbig, based in Ottawa, but flying all over the country.  Look here

 

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Back to Spain, this time above a Borox field with photographer David Maisel.  These fields, like “a grey sea in a desert” says Mr Maisel, are in a mining and agricultural region of La Mancha.

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Up next, open pit mines in Nevada on the Carlin Trend, a highly productive gold mining district. The downside is mines from this region are the source of mercury emissions released when ore is heated during refinement. Also shot by David Maisel.

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This is one of the edges of Utah’s Great Salt Lake where zones of mineral evaporation ponds lie. Industrial pollution creates haunting other-worldly effects than only the artistic imagination can match. More David Maisel here

 

Mojave night Imperial Sand Dunes

This glowing mound is a portion of the Imperial Sand Dunes in the Colorado Desert Region of Southern California, at night, crawling with recreational vehicles, some of the 1.28 million visitors who visit the area annually.  We know this is not good, but holy crow it looks like an a electric volcano.  Source

 

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Photographers keep flying over the land and recording the remarkable things we do when we think no one is watching–and the findings are so often both stunning and rattling.  Alex S. MacLean captured this: Motorcycle Racing on Black Ice, as well as the three images that follow.

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Here he records snowmobile tracks on ice near industrial sites in Western Canada.

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Looks like calligraphy. But it’s tomato fields North Central OH, 1990

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And this beautiful image is a shot of something probably very very wrong.

Lots of amazing photos by Alex S MacLean on tumbler and his own site

 

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Above Edward Burtynsky, Nickel mine tailings, Sudbury Ontario 1996, found here

There is a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery just now (May 2014) featuring a fine selection of Edward Burtynsky’s photographs.  We may not be doing him full justice, but we believe he sees and n fact seeks the beauty in the interventions that we the people make on the earth one way or another every day.  His VAG show is called A Terrible Beauty.

Should we feel guilty about finding something poisonous beautiful?  Should we feel guilty in failing to acknowledge the beauty of something clearly dangerous to the earth?  To hold contradictory ideas in the mind was once thought a virtue.  For now, all we can say is: it’s the truth

 

When the weather is warm and dry, lots of us get it into our heads to find a spot in the wilderness, set up camp, build a fire, and get closer to the natural world. Just for a few days. As did the folks above spotted here.

Here’s a family group on a spot in the wilderness that happened to have a mowed lawn. They seem happy enough, even in black and white, seen here.

This man, in his TRAILER for TWO is well off the beaten track and looks ready for anything. In particular he is ready for someone to join him to make it a trailer for two. Found here.

Now here we have an open trailer in the urban wilderness , nicely decorated and outfitted to tempt even the most reluctant camper. Found at design vagabond, from this source

But to some, trailers do NOT represent true camping. Authentic campers, like this above, choose canvas for their home away from home. These two are camping near Ayers Rock in the middle of nowhere, central Australia. Discovered here.

Well this nice campsite for tenters above is in the middle of somewhere, not exactly sure where, in the wilder part of England. Found here

Now that, above, looks to us like the real, wilderness (well, with well groomed tentsites) camping. At a place called Juniper Ridge, more here.

And if you can find a spot next to the ocean, you’ll find you sleep better–so long as your tent is above high tide. This above is Hawaii, the Kalalau Trail, found here.

This dry wilderness is not all that far from Las Vegas Nevada, in a place called Big Springs, in Paria Canyon, Southern Nevada. Seen here.

Above is camping in Spain. SPAIN!!! Wow, seen here.

This is…somewhere nice enough to inspire you to rearrange your life, for the better, in the glow of the tent in the middle of that landscape. Happy. Camping.

Seen here

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