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Outpost Magazine: Aliens in the Andes
Feature article and photography in Outpost, March/April 2009.
Solid as a rock, the saying goes. But rock as a reference point for stability is a geological fallacy. Rocks crack like ice floes and wrinkle like worn faces. Tectonic forces heave rock to heaven, building mountaintops out of ocean bottoms. Elemental forces dissolve stone into sand, sifting beaches from those same mountain summits. And in the Andes, where volcanoes fume over the land like temper tantrums rendered topographic, rock explodes.
I have spent years absorbing such facts in the classroom, but the heavy truth of geologic transience only sinks in on the slope of Aguas Calientes, a near 6000-metre volcano in northern Chile. Seven of us are climbing this peak as part of the High Lakes Project supported by NASA and the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). On this expedition, an international team of scientists and engineers are probing this lava-paved landscape in South America for clues about whether Mars was habitable billions of years ago. In other words, we have come to the Andes seeking the alien.
Outpost magazine: The Idiom of Ice
Feature article and photography for Outpost magazine, 2008.
Frazil, pancake, slush, grease, shuga, nilas: this is the idiom of sea ice, an onomatopoeic vernacular that floats and cracks with the vitality and violence of the substance itself. From crystallization and evolution to decay and dissolution, sea ice is a phenomenon in flux, and the science devoted to its study boasts a vast and tongue-twisting vocabulary to fix its various incarnations into language. The Inuit may have hundreds of words for snow, but modern scientists have a truly encyclopedic diversity of words to describe frozen water.
Outpost magazine: Cycling the Silk Road
Feature article and photography in Outpost, July/August 2007.
“Where you from?” the woman asks, wide-eyed and worried. “Canada,” I respond in Chinese, one of the few words I know. This answer provokes knowing “ahhhhs” from the couple—either because my nationality alone explains why we’re foolish enough to bike across the Taklamakan or because they're impressed I seem to speak their tongue.
Once they discover my language skills end there, they proceed to act out in grim pantomime the various ways we will surely perish if we pursue our intended course. There is death by dehydration, death by starvation, death by bandits, death by transport truck, death by sandstorm, and death by a variety of other gruesome means that we can't quite decipher from their miming—but in short, death by desert.
Outpost Magazine: Light-headed in Ladakh
Feature article and photography in Outpost, March/April 2008.
All around us are mountains as sharp and mean as barbed wire, the ice and rock glinting metalically beneath the stars. The world is full of the silence only intense cold creates. I think with wistful nostalgia about once owning fingers and toes capable of feeling and functioning. There's a thin line separating a pilgrimage from a meaningless penance, and climbing mountains is a matter of walking that fragile tightrope—all while wearing five-pound boots clawed with crampons, carrying ice axes as balancing poles.
WEND Magazine: Cycling the Silk Road
Feature article and photography in Wend, including cover photo, Summer 2009.
Outpost magazine: Trekking Norway's Tundra.jpg
Feature article and photography in Outpost, November/December 2007.
Nothing beats the shrill whine of mosquitoes as a soundtrack for adventure. At the northern edge of Norway, high above the Arctic Circle, is the Finnmarksvidda: a little-known mountain plateau pocked with lakes and stands of taiga forest. Plowed and furrowed by glaciers long since melted, today its tundra yields a rich harvest of bloodsuckers. In winter, the plateau serves as stomping and chomping ground for thousands of reindeer, which the once-nomadic Sámi people continue to raise and herd. In the summer, when the bogs and bugs are particularly rampant, the reindeer have the sense to flee to the blustery coast. My pals Sarah, Geir and I, however, lack such keen animal acumen.
Armed with insect repellent, head nets, and a hefty helping of ignorance, we decide to strike off on a five-day mid-summer trek across the tundra. Geir, who is Norwegian, is unfamiliar with this stretch of his country. He’s cheerfully bleak about what awaits: “Either a beautiful hike across a vast and fascinating landscape,” he says, “or an endless battle with mosquitoes in the most boring part of Norway.” The only way to know is to go.
Endeavors magazine: Alien and Extreme
Feature article and photography in Endeavors, Fall 2005.
Life in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica is fierce, robust, and tenacious. I’ve spent months exploring the tropics, where living things burst forth in all imaginable colors and proportions. But while the biodiversity of temperate regions is dazzling, I’ve always been more taken with desert places, where the living isn’t so easy. To me, a single rare lump of algae floating in the subfreezing, briny waters of a pond in the polar regions is many times more poignant, digni!ed, and wondrous than a rainforest.