Ancient Winter Traditions from the Pacific Northwest

As many of you know for many years we made our home in the Pacific Northwest of North America living in Seattle and also for a time worked as commercial fishermen in Alaska. We have admired the traditions of Pacific Northwest Coast artists and their beautiful pieces for many years. Some of you may remember our relationship with a particular Northwest totem, the Sisiutl (pronounced: Si’sEyuL). This totem has graced our many vessels in a special place for more than 35  years. See our post

We recently saw this beautiful painting by legendary NW artist, Bill Holm and his description of a traditional winter ceremony involving (our) powerful and dynamic spirit. Thought we would share it. The image is stunning. The explanation below may be more than you need to know but strikes a cord for us.

Sisiutl rises at the Winter Solstice

Bill Holm’s Painting – Dlugwi

The Kwa’kwala word dlugwi (dloog-wee) means “a supernatural power” that can belong to a person and can be demonstrated by him or her. It is often translated as “a treasure,” as it is valuable and prestigious. A person demonstrating such a treasure is called dlugwala (having supernatural power). The demonstration of a dlugwi is the main feature of a dance of the Tugwid, usually a woman, who gets her power from a mysterious spirit named Winalagalis (Making War Everywhere). For that reason, the Tugwid is sometimes called “the War Dancer.”

The Tugwid is believed to be invulnerable, and may demonstrate her dlugwi by, for example, being decapitated, thrust in a box and burned in the fire, weighted and thrown overboard off a canoe, or having a splitting wedge driven through her head. Her power enables her to revive and continue her dance, always showing evidence of her ordeal. The demonstration of a Tugwid’s dlugwi is always a high point in the great drama of the Winter Ceremony. But many dlugwis are not so violent. The dancer can demonstrate her power by causing birds to fly in the house, tall carved figures to rise out of the ground, salmon to jump out of water poured into a box, and other marvels. One of these is the conjuring of the Sisiutl, a fabled triple-headed serpent. The dancer first enters the firelight in the bighouse signing her power song, walking slowly around the floor. A speaker questions her to no avail. Finally, he and others speak disparagingly of her, shouting that her “power” is a fraud. Three times she runs back and forth, trying to bring out her dlugwi, to no avail. The taunts increase. One more time she runs, but this time the dlugwi suddenly appears, to the amazement of the spectators! The monster rises out of the ground and undulates in the firelight. The Tugwid steps quickly back and forth, her hands raised, holding the power of the Sisiutl. Slowly it sinks again into its lair, and the dancer circles the fire and disappears into the secret room at the rear of the house.

Read more.. Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Wild Cape Cod: Free by Nature

Our fine art print photography book is available from local booksellers especially on Cape Cod. It may be ordered directly from the publisher Schiffer (see below)


Barnes and Noble

Read more.. Friday, December 14th, 2012

Cape Cod Winter Journal

Winter comes:  As the water temperature slowly cools and the amount of daily sunlight creeps toward the Winter Solstice signs of a winter landscape appear here on Cape Cod revealing surprising and beautiful wild places. We recently accompanied friend  Todd Kelley, Kelley Trailblazers – (, a terrific local natural history guide and wildlife tracker, on his yearly pilgrimage into wild Wellfleet on the western reaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Our six hour hike began at the parking lot at Duck Harbor in Wellfleet. Incredible day of walking and deciphering nature as the trees and plants head to sleep for their winter’s nap. A highlight of the walk was circumnavigating Bound Brook Island – pictured below. HINT: It is an “island” of glacial moraine formed by glaciers long ago and is surrounded by estuaries of the Herring River. This is a point on the Cape where Wellfleet and Truro come together revealing a wonderful landscape a “Coastal Heathland” that outside of parts of Nantucket, may be the last of its kind in North America or possible the earth. This day was crisp but windless – a great day for hiking.

Marshlands & Winterberry, Bound Brook Island

Atwood - Higgins House

Ancient white oaks cut 150 years ago return

Beach at Duck Harbor

A Portion of our hike

Broom Crowberry - the essence of Coastal Heathland

Redcoats on lichen

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Monument to one of the old schools of Wellfleet that once occupied this wild site

Read more.. Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Madagascar: Cultural Melting Pot

The Malagasy people are very pleasant and display a love for life and a happy attitude even though the country is very poor. The average worker in the country takes home a wage of approximately $1 US per day. Principle pursuit is farming or herding the ubiquitous Zebu, a distinctly bovine creature that appears regularly on all menus. France colonized Madagascar in the 18th Century and still have an influence even though independence was achieved in the 1960s. Many of the Malagasy practice Christianity but the majority practice a religion very similar to the Torajan practice in Indonesia which places fundamental importance on life after death and a very special reverence for ones ancestors.

Zebu on the move

"Live" chickens to market

Death Monument

Rice Fields are cultivated everywhere possible

Villagers on the road to Berenty

Geese to market

Sacred Ground on the High Plateau in Isalo NP

Zebu drawn Cart pulling a supply or wood to be sold for Charcoal Trade

Read more.. Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Madagascar: Wildlife Menagerie

Its is impossible to summarize Madagascar in a few images. The terrain on the surface looks deceptively familiar but literally every time you look closely there is another mind blowing creature that evolved here over the past 65million years AND no where else in the world.

More than 80 percent of Madagascar’s 14,883 plant species are found nowhere else in the world, including five plant families. The family Didiereaceae, composed of four genera and 11 species, is limited to the spiny forests of southwestern Madagascar. Four-fifths of the world’s Pachypodium species are endemic to the island. Three-fourths of Madagascar’s 860 orchid species are found here alone, as are six of the world’s eight baobab species. The island is home to around 170 palm species, three times as many as on all of mainland Africa; 165 of them are endemic. Many native plant species are used as herbal remedies for a variety of afflictions. The drugs vinblastine and vincristine, used to treat Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia and other cancers, were derived from the Madagascar periwinkle. The traveler’s palm, known locally as ravinala and endemic to the eastern rain forests, is highly iconic of Madagascar and is featured in the national emblem as well as the Air Madagascar logo.

Over 300 species of birds have been recorded on the island, of which over 60 percent (including four families and 42 genera) are endemic. The few families and genera of reptile that have reached Madagascar have diversified into more than 260 species, with over 90 percent of these being endemic (including one endemic family). The island is home to two-thirds of the world’s chameleon species, including the smallest known, and researchers have proposed that Madagascar may be the origin of all chameleons. Endemic fish of Madagascar include two families, 14 genera and over 100 species, primarily inhabiting the island’s freshwater lakes and rivers. Although invertebrates remain poorly studied on Madagascar, researchers have found high rates of endemism among the known species. All 651 species of terrestrial snail are endemic, as are a majority of the island’s butterflies, scarab beetles, lacewings, spiders and dragonflies.

Looking east across the Mozambique Channel toward Africa

Broad billed Rollers - Berenty

Madagascar Longeared Owl - incredible Camouflage!

Velvet Asity

Isalo National Park

Three Eyed Lizard - Ifaty

Panther Chameleon

Parson's Chameleon

Mantella baroni frog

Labord's Chameleon


Biggest fly in the World?

Giraffe Necked Weevil

Madagascar Snipe

Short-nosed chameleon

Read more.. Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Madagascar: Through the Looking Glass

We have been off – line for a few weeks and are eager to report some thoughts and observations from our recent expedition into the wilds of Madagascar.

Some Background from Wikipedia: The nation comprises the island of Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world), as well as numerous smaller peripheral islands. Following the prehistoric breakup of the super-continent Gondwana, Madagascar split from India around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90 percent of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The island’s diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are threatened by the encroachment of the rapidly growing human population. Madagascar’s varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity. Since the arrival of humans around 2,350 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90 percent of its original forest. This forest loss is largely fueled by tavy (“fat”), a traditional slash-and-burn agricultural practice imported to Madagascar by the earliest settlers. Malagasy farmers embrace and perpetuate the practice not only for its practical benefits as an agricultural technique, but for its cultural associations with prosperity, health and venerated ancestral custom (fomba malagasy).

As a result of the island’s long isolation from neighboring continents, Madagascar is home to an abundance of plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. Approximately 90 percent of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic, including the lemurs (a type of prosimian primate), the carnivorous fossa and many birds. This distinctive ecology has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the “eighth continent”, and the island has been classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot.

Lemurs have been characterized as “Madagascar’s flagship mammal species” by Conservation International. In the absence of monkeys and other competitors, these primates have adapted to a wide range of habitats and diversified into numerous species. As of 2012, there were officially 103 species and subspecies of lemur, 39 of which were described by zoologists between 2000 and 2008. They are almost all classified as rare, vulnerable, or endangered. At least 17 species of lemur have become extinct since man arrived on Madagascar, all of which were larger than the surviving lemur species.

Road to Berenty


Ranomafana National Park: Rice fields

Ring-tailed Lemurs wake up with the warm rays of sun

Verreaux's Sifaka

Ring-tailed Lemur baby and mother

Atrophaneura anterior - Madagascar's largest butterfly

White footed Sportive Lemur - Berenty

White footed Sportive Lemur - Berenty

Subdesert Mesite - Ifaty (quite rare and very hard to find!)

Incredible "Singing" Indri the World's largest Lemur

Ring-tailed Lemurs

Goodman's Mouse Lemur

Milne- Edwards Sifaka

Black & White Ruffed Lemur

Crossley's Dwarf Lemur


Pita like ground roller - rare sighting of a beautiful bird

Red-bellied Lemur

Milne Edwards Sifaka

Collared Nightjar at Mantadia

Lowland Streaked Tenrec

Grey Bamboo Lemur

Infant Common Brown Lemur

Baobab trees - Spiny Desert Region

Pam with Black & White Ruffed lemur

Read more.. Tuesday, December 4th, 2012