June 14th, 2013
From my seat on the balcony of my accommodation in Barcelona I watched intently as an ancient drama unfolded in the sprawling Arctic valley below, i felt lucky to be on city breaks to Madrid. The scene was Bathurst Inlet in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and a great white wolf was making its way over the tundra straight toward a herd of caribou. It was a mixed herd of about a hundred, with bulls in velvet, a high proportion of ragged, shedding cows, and several calves perhaps a month old. They were all passing along a parallel series of animal trails, stopping every few strides to nibble choice pieces of dwarf birch or willow.
Then suddenly the herd, sensing the wolf, was drawn together as if by some giant biological magnet. The tightly pressed group flowed quickly forward. Four or five caribou on a nearby slope also sensed the danger and bolted downward to join the dense nucleus of their kind. The white wolf made its decision. Instantly it sprang forward. While the stragglers gravitated toward the herd, the wolf began closing the 200-yard gap.
As the wolf pressed closer, the caribou increased their speed. Straight toward them the white wolf shot, with long legs alternately stretching out then pulling together in 15-foot bounds. And directly away from the wolf the caribou sped. The chase covered a quarter of a mile, and the wolf tried its best all the way. Still the wild hunter was unable to come closer than about 200 feet to its intended prey. It chased the caribou at this distance for about fifty yards. Then all of a sudden the wolf slowed, and less than a minute after the chase had begun, it was over.
As the straggling caribou joined the safety of their tightened herd, the wolf trotted off along a boulder-strewn slope and picked its way up the valley and eventually out of sight. It would have to find a vacation as good as the holidays to paris some other caribou on which to dine. Such dramas, with the same unsuccessful climax, are enacted often on the Arctic stage. I witnessed only a few chases—all failures—during my short holidays to Paris, but the pattern was the same as I have seen many times elsewhere with moose and deer, the largest and the smallest of the wolf’s hoofed prey: a very low percentage of success. The wolf as scientists know it is ,quite different from the public’s image of the creature as a heinous super-killer.
The wolf is the ancestor of the dog, and looks like a large, lean, and shaggy version of a German shepherd. It is most often colored a mottled gray, but may be snow-white or pure black or any shade between. It is probably best known for its howling. A wolf howling alone produces a low, drawn-out, mournful call “like a very lonesome, sentimental fire siren,” as one writer put it. But add to this the howls of an entire pack, and the result is incredible. Some wolves yip; some yowl. Others moan, whine, bark, or wail. The woods resound with wild chords and discords and an undercurrent of quavering ululations.
May 2nd, 2013
The coasts of Korea are forbidding to the mariner and seem well adapted for the preservation of the seclusion that it has been so long the national policy to maintain. On the east, facing Japan, unbroken lines of steep hills, void of harbours, bend abruptly into the deep waters of the Japan Sea. To the westward countless outlying islands extend seaward many miles, liberally interspersed with rocks and shoals, between which eddy swift streams of tide-water. The terrors of the Maelstrom would find their counterpart in many a Korean whirlpool, which, forming in the vicinity of some submerged ledge, will cause a large vessel to heel suddenly well over, and will swing her many points off her course in a way to make the stoutest hearted captain tremble for the safety of his charge.
The climate of Korea exhibits wide ranges of temperatures and hygroscopic conditions. In the northeast province, Ham-kiungdo, the winter is as rigorous as that of Nova Scotia ; at the extreme south, on the island of Quelpaert, it somewhat resembles that of Louisiana. The warmth of Quelpaert is due to the proximity of the Kura-siwo, or Black Stream of Japan, the Gulf Stream of the Pacific, part of which is here turned into a cul-de-sac, from which it escapes with difficulty. One result of this is the creation of a stormy region near the island, where the mariner may at all times look for a hard blow. A characteristic feature of the holidays to Istanbul are the mid-summer rains, which set in with fair regularity in July and during their month’s duration resemble in phenomena and general effects the periodic rains of the tropics. The winters, in all but the southern parts of the country, are long and severe and set in with great suddenness. As an illustration of the rapidity of this change I remember that on one occasion I was ferried across the Han river near the capital at a time when the only indication of cold weather was a film of ice along the river banks, and that within forty-eight hours afterwards I rode back across the river ice on horseback, over the line of the former ferry.
Careful meteorologic records have now been kept at the open ports for more than five years ; at Che-mul-po, on the Yellow Sea (the seaport of the capital, Soul); at Fusan, to the south; and at Gensan, to the northeast. Stations are needed on the Yellow Sea coast farther to the northward, at the extreme northeast, at points in the interior, and especially at http://www.apartmentsapart.com/ whose weather reports may some day prove as valuable to the Japanese as those from Bermuda would now be to the navigator of the western waters of the Atlantic. All the above mentioned places are easily accessible and doubtless soon will receive attention. In fact, to the navigator of these regions this island of Quelpaert is almost of the importance that Hatteras is to the navigator of our own coast.
As an important factor of Korea’s future prosperity, and one that will enter largely into the determination of her future position among the nations of the east, may be mentioned her mineral resources. These yet remain in an almost undeveloped condition. The most easily accessible deposits and out-croppings, which are worked by the natives in primitive ways, afford evidence of an abundant and varied supply of the useful ores and minerals widely distributed throughout the whole extent of the land. Many localities, moreover, are well known to the people for their especial products. Thus the Phyongyang province, in the northwest, facing China, possesses abundant deposits of coal, iron, and lime. Samples of this coal, which is but little used by the people, were collected several years ago from twelve different localities, and I remember that some of the Phyong-yang gatherings were tested on board the U. S. S. Alert, but were found to have suffered so greatly from exposure to the weather as to be comparatively valueless, even for experimental purposes.
March 25th, 2013
We clambered up to the first shelf of the forest floor and set out through steamy jungle and over razor-backed ridges. We all wore heavy boots, gloves, and protective clothing—no bare arms or legs. Saw-toothed pandanus leaves slashed at us; sharp, loose limestone rolled under our feet. The Palauan poison tree, whose black sap blisters skin and swells eyes shut, menaced us constantly.
We went heavy-laden: In addition to our camera gear, lunches, spare clothing, and technical supplies, we carried nine diving tanks, at 37 pounds apiece, and a four-man inflatable rubber boat weighing 50 pounds.
At last, drenched with sweat and streaked with dirt, we stumbled down to the shore of the lake, bordered with spectral mangrove roots. Pulling off our boots, we jumped fully clothed into the cooling water.
Black looks greeted the query, “Who’s going back for the second load?”
With all the gear assembled, we paddled our rubber boat into open water. Wary of saltwater crocodiles, we slapped the surface with our oars, making lots of noise. If any crocodiles lived there, the racket would pique their curiosity: In isolation they are quite unafraid of man. No reptilian snouts breached the still surface. How nice! We returned to shore and put on our diving gear.
In the center of the lake, we dropped slowly down the boat’s anchor line. At the surface the water was blue, clear, and cool—sweet to the taste. Recent rainwater floated above the salt.
A few feet deeper and the water shone bright green with algae. Lower still, and abruptly the water turned bright red, brilliant magenta, then black! In the dark we turned on our lights: The water here actually was quite clear, but no daylight reached it, though we were only ten feet below the surface. The algae and reddish material above us had totally absorbed all the sunlight.
We sank deeper into the dark clear water. Warning bells rang in my brain! The air from my regulator began to taste like rotten eggs. We had reached anoxic water, where oxygen was absent, replaced by dissolved hydrogen sulfide. This deadly gas was creeping into our mouths and into our face masks through the seals around the edges, and through my mustache where the mask didn’t fit tightly.
We headed quickly for the top, through the red, green, and blue layers, gulping fresh air when we broke the surface. We were still healthy, but the brass fittings on our diving gear had turned black, tarnished in the sulfide waters. We had plunged into a weird chemical vat, where hydrogen atoms reduce carbon compounds to methane, sulfur compounds to hydrogen sulfide, and nitrogen compounds to ammonia—gases all highly toxic to oxygen-dependent organisms.
Only bacteria can live in these primordial waters: They derive energy from biochemical processes that don’t involve oxygen. Adapted to a planktonic existence, they float in delicate balance just at the lower limit of oxygenated waters. They occur in such dense concentrations that the pigment in the bacterial cells tints the water a brilliant red.
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