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July 16, 2014 | Science and Travel

Western Sheep Moth

Western Sheep Moth

This is a Western Sheep Moth just minutes after pupation. It's beautiful when its wings are fully out, but something about this stage allows you to see its greatly colored abdomen. I've been exploring the logging roads between Portland and the Coast and finding all sorts of great stuff.

July 16, 2014 | Science and Travel

Erik Crucifies Mike Duncan

American Clean Coal Coalition is picked apart by American travel writer Erik Gauger

In a response to a vile climate change piece by clean coal hack Mike Duncan, Erik strips him down and crucifies his logic.

June 20, 2014 | Roam

Travel Blogger Kim Dinan Misses Mark in Diatribe on Woes of U.S. Culture

So Many Places to Go

Above: one of my sketches of suburban Minneapolis, where I grew up. A unique, underappreciated subculture in the United States.

In an entry on her travel blog, So Many Places, Kim Dinan lambasts the culture of the United States, "pointing out its many flaws."

In the United States, according to Dinan, "we worship the holy paved road, the shotgun, and the almighty dollar...our shopping malls and our local Costco...Why do we just accept having a massive mortgage and the newest smartphone and so many bills to pay that we have to go in to work over the weekend to earn overtime as the way?"

Dinan's entry reminded me of a line from the award-winning fictional travelogue, The Golden Age, by Michal Ayvaz, who writes, "Some (travel) writers adopt the habit of describing a strange land by admitting or concealing their intention to demonstrate and criticize faults in their own society. I can assure the reader that he or she will not encounter any such bad literary practices in my report."

Dinan makes the same mistake that many travel bloggers make. The idea that, having seen other parts of the world, a travel blogger becomes uniquely qualified to make broad sweeping judgments about their own country. And her judgments are extremely sweeping in nature: "What about happiness? What about living an extraordinary life. What about love? What about adventure? What about joy? What about peace? What about laughter? What about soul?"

I moved to Portland, Oregon because the people in this city deliberately and innovatively build a culture that attempts to rise above many of the things that Dinan sees as being wrong with American culture. I don't like box stores and shopping malls either, but it's a stretch to paint such a broad stroke across a big country of not one, but many, cultures. Portland isn't the only place that defies a stereotype. What I see from my perch in Portland is that other places in the country are just as passionate things like building bike culture, about local food and art, about sustainable architecture or preserving their rivers and marshes. Isn't it great to ponder the influence of travel-food writers, such as Michael Pollan, in influencing the better side of our American cultureby writing through observation and experience? I wonder if Dinan can see that - the power of travel writing, on real places and real people.

Dinan saw this ugly side of America from her hotel room in New Jersey. Her readers awarded her with generally positive comments, enough so that she might see no reason to reconsider.

But perhaps one commenter hit the nail on the head when he pointed out the fact that Dinan did not visit the beautiful, rural New Jersey countryside and that she made a judgment about the entire country from a tiny sliver of it which is popularly, and easily, derided in American culture already.

Another commenter wrote, "yet for some reason people think they can come to one of the biggest countries and most diverse country in the world and make these sweeping generalizations and play them off as truth. I have lived and worked in multiple countries – and I find the people in these places just like people in other places kind, friendly, interesting and curious and also materialistic, fearful, ignorant and racist. Now they are fearful, ignorant, materialistic in different ways – but I would never say "better" ways and I think the story – especially from people who are so well traveled – should be, how can we learn from each other instead of who is right and who is wrong?"

Dinan, as a travel writer, you have the power to describe subjectively the place you are traveling through and to show your readers what is ugly and beautiful about the culture of that specific place. But I suggest you rework this piece by removing your generalizations and convincing us through the unique assets of the travel writer - observation.

Dinan referred to a particularly vile youtube video as an example of crass American culture:


But that video was widely panned for its awful tone here in the United States, making it an outlier rather representative of our culture. A travel writer must do better than sharing youtube videos. A travel writer must describe their specific experience, to get down dirty in the street, and convince us to see that place through their own eyes.

Perhaps Dinan, in looking for an example of what is wrong with her country, and seeking that lowest common denominator in travel readers, who often hunger for the message that indeed foreign travelers such as themselves are wiser than their ignorant countrymen, unwittingly made the same mistake as the advertising team responsible for that Cadillac commercial.

The United States is a vast place, filled with mystery, beauty, a thousand cultures. To me, I prefer to think of regions within North America, rather than countries, as embodying particular traits. Regardless, the United States is no less authentic than any other place. It is an enduring fault to believe that foreign travel gives us wisdom, and this misplaced travel blog piece confirms it.

June 16, 2014 | Organize

Daypack Lunch

Baguette in my daypack

I notice that hikers and traveling walkers don't always put much preparation into their daypack lunch. When I walk with others, this means that when lunch calls, we need to get off the trail or the mountain or divert our walk in some way. And lunch at a restaurant off-the-beaten path can be expensive.

Build the habit of packing your lunch into your pack. My favorite is a thin baguette with serrano ham and Cana de Oveja sheep's cheese from Spain. An apple always packs well into a pack. Add a container of raisins, blueberries, almonds or strawberries.

Five ingredients which take 5 minutes to shop for is easy and transforms your day. And there is nothing better than rewarding yourself with a long day of walking with the perfect meal. My best memories of hikes and long walks are sitting on a rock or a beach and unpacking a good lunch.

February 7, 2014 | Organize for Travel

Gouache Travel Set

Gouache Travel Set

I decided to exclusively use gouache paints for my travel sketches in 2014. Gouache is amazing medium. It's really just an opaque form of watercolor, but it ends up having certain properties that make it ideal as a travel paint set. For example, watercolors lose their bright colors against the manila surface of Moleskine journals, but gouache retains its bright opaque qualities, and so even on Moleskine paper, the paints appear as bright as acrylic.

I found this Gouache travel set for twenty-one dollars. It has 24 pans, a tube of white, a built-in mixing pallete, and it folds together nicely into one solid brick. The gouache paints work perfectly with water pens.

January 1, 2014 | Science & Travel

Iridescence and the Anna's Hummingbird

Male Anna's Hummingbird

Hummingbird feathers are often iridescent, which means that rather than being color pigments, they are designed to be produced and amplified by reflected light. Male hummingbirds, like this Anna's Hummingbird, which I photographed in Portland, Oregon, use bright color to attract mates. Since hummingbirds have natural predators, its useful for them to show their displaying colors only at the right time. Anna's hummingbirds reflect magenta. But since the bird is in the process of turning its head toward me, its iridescent feathers momentarily reflect oranges, greens, purples and reds.

December 5, 2013 | Travel Organization

What's Inside Your Carry-On? Packing Light for Travel

Travel bloggers love to impart advice about how to pack and how to travel light. But I've never found much use from packing tips columns..."roll your clothes"..."lay your clothes flat"..."roll your socks in your shoes", especially since each individual traveler's needs are so different. What I have always appreciated more is when travelers show each other what's inside their luggage, and explain why, like in this column about deep mountain preparation by talented Seattle photographer Kiliii.

I have my own packing system, and I thought I'd put together a graphic that shows every single item in my backpack, including all my toiletries, for a trip the West Indies.

I can get everything above to fit easily into an Eagle Creek carry-on and a Mountain Hardwear Hueco 34 daypack, which acts as my personal item on international flights.

December 4, 2013 | Science & Travel

999 Birds, and One to Go
I had this goal to try to reach 1,000 birds this year. It's December and I'm at 999. I started the year with 953 birds, and had no plans to travel anywhere where I might 'pick up several birds.' So throughout the year, I had to incorporate a bit of birdwatching into everything I did outdoors. Here is my bird infographic for 2013:

Bird Life List Goal in 2013
2013 Birds
The Bird List in 2013: Marrakech
Birds of Morocco
Birds of the Bahamas
Birds of Oregon

November 15, 2013 | Organize

Lens Caps Trick Lens Cap Trick

I have this one lens cap that I seem to always lose. On a recent trip, I found that the bottom of a plastic cup made a perfect temporary replacement.

October 8, 2013 | Roam

Lech River, Fussen

Sketch of Bavaria, Germany

Sketch of Füssen, Bavaria and the Lech River from Neuschwanstein Castle. I used several shades of yellow-green copic markers and a sepia liner pen for this sketch.

June 01, 2013 | Organize

Tiny Homemade Watercolor Set

Tiny Watercolor Set

Here is an idea for a tiny watercolor or gouache set for when you really need to travel light: fill an altoid mini tray. Tiny and durable, large enough for about 12-18 colors.

January 14, 2013 | Roam

Southeast Portland House Sketch

Southeast Portland House

Sometimes, sketches do a much better job of depicting something about travel than a photograph, and I've always admired travel sketches. I've been practicing little travel illustrations here in Portland, Oregon, with the old houses of the Southeast and Northeast as my subject. In 2013, I hope to incorporate more sketches into my travel writing.

January 01, 2013 | Travel Photographer

Updated Photography

Grasshoppers

I've changed the intent of my travel photos section, and added new photography.

October 20, 2012 | Organize

Simplifying Field Tools

Nut Brown Ink from Winsor Newton

Since I've started using the larger Moleskine sketchbook, to make up for the increase in weight, I have been cutting out my watercolors and other heavier items.

I've found this three piece combination to work well: nib pen, a wide brush with a slanted tip, and a bottle of Winsor & Newton nut brown ink. You can do a lot with these three simple tools. The Winsor & Newton bottles are very small, and have no risk of leaking. All three sit nicely at the bottom of a pocket in a daypack.

October 20, 2012 | Science in Travel

Oil Fields in North Dakota

Western Sandpipers

Each year, around the world, thousands of bird species, like these western sandpipers which I sketched here in Oregon, migrate, often from continent to continent, following receding mud flats or ripening seeds and berries. Along the way, they feed on their ancestral habitats, stripping trees of seeds, falling prey to local predators, nesting. The various treaties which countries have signed are 

really interesting in conservation, because migratory birds require all their habitats to be protected, even if that means they fly from Alaska to Argentina, and so the inter-country conservation become models in the complex future of conservation.

The success of these programs has preserved vital habitats for tourism, resource exploitation, hunting, endangered species as well as the habitats themselves.

To protect those habitats, The Fish & Wildlife Service must work with the companies who are granted permits to exploit the resources near or on those habitats. In a routine check, Fish & Wildlife officers cited oil companies in North Dakota for leaving their waste pits uncovered, which was resulting in the deaths of migrating birds. The misdemeanor, which was thrown out by federal prosecutors, would have cost the oil companies about two-thousand dollars were the federal agents successful in proving that the oil companies were negligent in regard to the migratory bird treaties.

The point is not the birds themselves, none of which were particularly scarce, but the power to keep those who use public lands to do the small things required that may impact a vital habitat which they agree to carefully exploit. It is a remarkable tribute to any country that is forward-thinking enough that it considers the small costs of future habitats when it works for today’s profits.

A few days ago, In the second Presidential debate this year, Mitt Romney tried to take this routine affair and turn it into a condemnation of the Obama Administration, even if it's exactly what the Fish and Wildlife would do under any Presidency. As if Obama himself were trying to halt oil production over 28 birds. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Romney's vicious anti-conservation record - rejecting the value of public lands, denying climate science, threatening to dismantle our environmental legislations, is common now among this country's conservatives, but this degree of anti-science and anti-conservation is new to Republicans: Historically, U.S. Republican presidents were responsible for the two acts which went on to be copied by nearly every other country on Earth and which form the foundation for modern global conservation.

Tuesday, July 10 | Photos

Small Town Groceries

Grocery in Brooten, MN Grocery in Brooten, MN Grocery in Brooten, MN Grocery in Brooten, MN Grocery in Brooten, MN Grocery in Brooten, MN

Small town grocery stores fascinate me. I just started photographing the shelves of grocery stores while I travel. These images are from rural Oregon, rural British Columbia and rural Minnesota.

April 27, 2012 | Moleskine Journals

Moleskine of the Amazon Venice Chronicles

Just uploaded my travel notes from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

February 25, 2012 | Science

Something Funny about this Picture

Common Potoo

You notice anything unusual about the photo above?

There are seven species of this bird from the new-world family Nyctibiidae, related to nightjars, and they each are quite good at pretending to be tree stumps.

Below is a closer look at the same bird, a juvenile Common Potoo.

Common Potoo

November 21, 2011 | Science and Travel

Amazing Wasp in Winter

Horntail Wasp Online Travel Journal


On a sunny November sunday, I photographed this wasp at Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge in Portland, Oregon. Not entirely sure, but I believe this is a species of horntail. Here in Oregon, lumberjacks refer to these wasps as stumphumpers, or even stump****ers. Great name for a wasp whose females drill into logs with a drill attached to their behinds.

November 17, 2011 | Organize for Travel

Mixing a Cocktail in Coach

Cocktails in Coach

Online Travel Journal
On my latest flight to the East Coast, I noticed that some people in the seat ahead of me were ordering rum and cokes for $6 each. After the hassle of flying these days, I can't really blame them. But their airplane bar tab was way too steep, so I told them that next time, they should just carry their own alcohol on the plane. Those airplane liquor bottles cost about one dollar at your local liquor store, and they are under 2 ounces of liquid each.

The best thing you can drink on an airplane is water, but sometimes, on long flights, a nice drink is worth it. Here's what I do when I want to fix a drink on the airplane.

On the Plane

In the United States, it is not illegal to transport 2 ounces or under of alcohol bottles in your toiletries bag. It is also not illegal for you to drink it on the airplane. However, technically, your drink must be served to you by your flight attendent.

Okay, easy enough. Ask your flight attendent for a soda. Technically, you can ask her to serve the alcohol to you, but I've never bothered with that technicality. Then, mix to your heart's content. I keep a small Dark & Stormy cocktail kit in my toiletry bag. Usually, an airplane size rum, a small container of bitters, and a cocktail umbrella is all you need. Ask the flight attendent if they have ginger beer. If not, ginger ale is a fine substitute.

Why the cocktail umbrella? It's a great conversation piece to remind those around you that if you want to travel more, you need to beat the airlines at their game of overchargeing, and commit to the habits of affordable travel. Cheers!

August 28, 2011 | Travel Organization

Saying Goodbye to Airplane Food
in Coach and First Class

Airplane Food

Online Travel Journal
A young couple with two children sitting next to us on a domestic flight ordered food for their entire family. Their total ticket? $68 US, enough for a couple to share a top-notch meal at a fine restaurant. With all the baggage and travel fees that airlines are charging you these days, I thought maybe I should share the way I eat on board airplanes these days.

Cockroaches! I'm Not Safe in First Class?

Most of the benefits of first class are geared towards satisfying the simple tastes of business travelers (read: lobotomized monkeys), so, while first class meals are definitely better than coach, it's still airplane food, so what really is the difference? If you have experience with good food, you won't like what you're being served on an airplane, whether you're being overcharged in coach or being served up in first-class.

In 2010, the USA Today uncovered reports from the FDA using the Freedom of Information Act. What they found? Airline food is unsafe, and the companies that make your airline food had kitchens littered with cockroaches, flies and rodent feces. The kitchen workers? Poor personal hygiene. The FDA findings were so shocking, that airline food was considered so unsanitary as to simply not be safe, at any elevation.

What's more...first class food is in no way immune to cockroaches licking your Southwest Chicken. It's the same factory, with the same guy who doesn't wash his hands. So the next time some lobotomized monkey tells you why his company is paying him a thousand dollars more to fly first class so he can eat like a king, you know that he, and his company, are morons.

So What's the Secret?

There's no secret. Just a good habit that we've lost since we've grown accustomed to free food on an airline. Whether riding first class or coach, avoid eating anything the airlines serve you, unless its bottled, and pack yourself a good meal. Airplane Food

If you have a decent lunch box, this can be done quickly, even while traveling globally. I prefer packing a bento box with cheeses, fruits and olives, and carrying a fresh french bread aboard. Olives and fresh almonds are great too.

 

Airline Food
A well-packed bento box packs nutrition in a small space. Here are my two lunchbots and a wood cutting board which acts as a plate. This takes up just a tiny amount of space in a carry-on. In fact, all three items rest on an iPad to show you the size:

LunchBots

We prefer metal bento boxes like these by LunchBots, because plastic and food don't always go well together, and because I need to keep my carry-on light and small. But there are endless varieties of metal, wood and plastic bento boxes, as well as larger North American-style lunch boxes with plenty of room. Try an Asian grocery store for variety.

I'll update this column with more meal configurations for the sky.

August 11, 2011 | Travel Maps

Map of Ecuador

Ecuador Map

Online Travel Journal
I just finished a map of Ecuador for my new South America section.

July 16, 2011 | Travel Collecting

Seaglass, Shells, Seeds and Fossils.
What to Collect while Traveling?

Collecting Seaglass

Online Travel Journal
I've met a lot of folks who keep collections of things they pick up while traveling. It may be airport souvenirs, mementos or sometimes a very particular thing, like face masks or statuettes or tea cups. My experience is that the habit forces travelers to spend time searching for something they then have to pack in their luggage - the collection becomes a crutch.

I gave up collecting anything in particular a long time ago, and instead, Instead, I keep just two boxes of items I collect while traveling. All of these items are free, can be found anywhere in the world, and are very educational, especially once you start to explore the details of their existence.

From time to time, I'll pull one of the two boxes out and look through them with my son, whose questions sometimes force me to learn more about what exactly it is.

One box is labeled Native Artifacts, and the other Natural History. For me, this is a great setup, because it allows me to collect whatever I want and still have it fall into a general category of collection. It doesn't force me to collect anything in particular while traveling, but I can still add any of these items in my pocket just about anywhere I travel.

Travel Collection

Native artifacts can include anything from arrowheads and native tools to items such as sea glass.

Natural history includes shells, seeds, seedpods, fossils, agates, thundereggs, dried crustaceans, pressed flowers and so forth. It should be said that many types of native artifacts are illegal to collect because they disturb potential archaeological sites. Many natural history items, such as living invertebrates or corals, should never be collected, and picking anything alive, including flowers, should be done carefully. I usually only pick live flowers on roadsides.

Collecting Shells

Collecting a few shells is, on its own, not all that rewarding. But building a habit of collecting related items over time actually teaches me a lot about those items. Here is a sampling from my small Natural History collection:

All fuzzy pink sombreros and eiffel tower statuettes eventually find their way to the garbage can. But a collection of unique artifacts and specimens is free, beautiful, unique and will entertain and educate for a lifetime. What do you collect while on the road? Let me know your thoughts on Facebook.

December 12, 2010 | Photos

Notes from the Road Photo
Featured on iTunes Remix

Lights On

A photo from my notes on the Mountain Cheese of Portugal is featured in a Carmen Rizzo remix of an Eddie Cohn song from Eddie's sophomore album, "Stay with Me". Carmen Rizzo is a music producer who works with artists like Alanis Morrissette and Oakenfold,and a three-time grammy nominee.

Eddie Cohn

Carmen Rizzo (left) and Eddie Cohn. Photo by Rony Peters

Eddie Cohn is a long-time friend of mine. I am honored to see this photograph, shot at midnight in the mountains between Spain and Portugal, on this iTunes single.