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The Demon and the Sylphs (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

The Demon and the Sylphs (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Yet another summer day has ineluctably slipped through my fingers.  What with work, friends, art, and the great human endeavor there was no time to find out about crab-eating seals or exoplanets for today’s post.  Fortunately I have my little book of fun sketches for such occasions (for those of you who just walked in, this is the small sketchbook I carry around and sketch in during downtime like the subway or lunch).  Above is my favorite of the three selected sketches for today.  I imagine it as being the dramatic climax of an unknown ballet where a tribe of sylphs confront the underworld demon-god and wage a tremendous dance battle with him on behalf of their upstanding moral principles (actually I think that might be an actual ballet).  In the real world, the pink and blue and yellow all blend together more seamlessly, but I guess I am stuck with what my camera can manage under halogen light.

Sulawesi Shipwreck (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Sulawesi Shipwreck (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

In the second picture a shipwreck at the bottom of the Indian Ocean is the scene for wayang theater, written edicts, and ghostly machinations.  It seems like the picture might be about the Dutch East India Company or some other Indonesian colonial enterprise.  At any rate, the great flesh colored sawfish who appeared from nowhere steals the scene from the human agencies (although the brain coral seems to also be in the know).

Cityscape (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored pencil and ink)

Cityscape (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Colored pencil and ink)

Finally I included a geometric doodle of a colorful cityscape.  I sketched this on the train after a frustrating day of work.  My colleague was out that day, so I spent the entire workday trying to answer two to six confusing phone calls every minute for hours on end.  I was thoroughly frustrated with New York and cursing the entire beastly expensive overrated mess when I got on a train car which had a foul smelling beggar in it.  Because of the smell, the train car was unusually empty at rush hour and I opted to remain on it so I could I could sit down and draw.  I sketched away furiously as the car stopped underground and lingered forever in a tunnel beneath the East River.  The beggar got off in Brooklyn Heights and I kept sketching, but I was still angry at everything.  When I was almost home (which is near the end of the 2 line) the woman who had been silently riding next to me the whole time quietly said ‘you are a great artist” which really turned around the bad day.  I am not sure the picture merits such a statement, but the comment made me feel great and stood as a powerful reminder of what a large effect small actions and statements can have.  I hope that kindly stranger is reading my blog so I can thank her properly for her words.  They meant a lot to me.

Sochi Winter Olympics from Space

Sochi Winter Olympics from Space

For another week the world’s eyes will remain on the Sochi Winter Olympics where fearless winter athletes from around the world are jumping off mountains on skis, hurtling down tunnels of ice on tiny sleds, or throwing glittering lady ice skaters high in the air. With our eyes so resolutely fixed on the tall white mountains around Sochi, it is easy to ignore the region’s dominant feature, the huge meromictic body of water which surrounds Sochi—the Black Sea.  The word “meromictic” describes a body of water in which the layers do not mix.  This means the depths of the Black Sea are oxygen free.  The sea’s anaerobic depths are largely free of light or life: the majority of the Black Sea is truly a black sea, dark and dead.

 

Ancient Greek Colonies on the Black Sea

Ancient Greek Colonies on the Black Sea

Yet the sea has an incredibly rich cultural tradition: for thousands of years it has been ringed by Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Slavic, Turkish, Georgian, and Russian cities.  Merchant convoys and navies sailed upon the Black Sea through all of this time.  Whenever some Byzantine courtier screwed up beyond belief, he was sent in to exile at Cherson—the hellish end of the world for the Greeks (which would ironically become the most popular tourist destination for good Soviets).  Turks purchased goods from Russia across the water.  The Silk Road ended at the Black Sea ports to the East. Through all of these different eras, ships were lost to storms, battles, and the perils of sailing.  Hundreds (or thousands) of ships from different eras have sunk into the depths of the Black Sea and then vanished from human memory.  In other marine environments, these wooden ships would rot or be eaten by various boring creatures, but the Black Sea is lifeless below a certain depth.  The wrecks of countless ships from millennia are waiting at the bottom in shockingly good condition.

 

The Shipwreck of Sinop D

The Shipwreck of Sinop D

Early in the 2000s, the great marine adventurer and explorer, Robert Ballard came to the Black Sea in order to see if it was indeed the rich historical treasure trove which oceanographers and archeologists speculate.  His team quickly discovered the wreck of a sixth-century Byzantine merchant ship found in the Black Sea’s anoxic waters at a depth of 325 meters. Known as Sinop D, the ship was in shockingly pristine condition.  The timbers it was made of had not deteriorated–indeed, carved details could still be easily made out.  Dr. Ballard vowed to bring the wreck to the surface and restore the ancient ship, but so far, the ancient craft remains where it sank so long ago.  Just imagine all of the other amazing, pristine ship wrecks that are also out there!  How does one get into Black Sea Archaeology?

The Skeleton Coast of Namibia (photo from grandpoohbah.net)

Try to imagine the Namib Desert, where a stormy foggy shoreline gives way quickly to endless bone-dry dunes of shifting golden sand.  It is one of the starkest contrasts in the world’s geography: the fury of the cold waves is juxtaposed with the opposing starkness of the sun-pounded dunes.

The coastline where the Namib Desert runs up against the Atlantic is known as the skeleton coast both because it is a place where whalers and sealers once discarded the stripped carcasses of the marine mammals they killed in droves and because it is one of the world’s most treacherous coastlines. More than a thousand major modern wrecks dot the coast (where they mingle with countless older shipwrecks). Portuguese sailors trying to get around the horn of Africa to reach the riches of Asia called the area “the gates of hell.”  A human powered craft can make its way through the pounding surf to the desolate coastline but it then becomes impossible to re-launch.  Sailors shipwrecked on the Namib coast thus faced the daunting prospect of walking through a vast expanse of waterless desert. Before the modern era, most ship-wrecked souls did not escape and their skeletons soon became part of the landscape.

The shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen (photo by Michael Poliza)

The desert is ancient.  For more than 55 million years it has existed as a wasteland with almost no surface water. Since the end of the age of dinosaurs, the warm tropical air of the Hadley cell has intersected a cold oceanic current welling northward from Antarctica. But the region was arid long before that.  West Gondwanaland shifted to its present position along the Tropic of Capricorn nearly 130 million years ago and has remained there since—a wallflower in the great dance of continents.

The Namib Desert photographed from The Space Shuttle Columbia

Namibia was a German colony during the colonial era. Unsurprisingly, the Germans made their Namibian colony the sight of the twentieth century’s first genocide when they tried to extinguish the unruly Herero and Nama peoples in 1904. The nation was seized by South Africa after the end of World War I but after many decades of gradual power shifting Namibia gained complete independence in 1990.

The Republic of Namibia is the second sparsest nation on earth with only 2.1 million people spread across a landscape roughly the size of Germany, Poland, the Czech republic, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands combined (not that those nations should ever be combined!). It is one of the few stable multi-party democracies in Africa (maybe I should say the world).  Namibia makes most of its money from mining uranium, gemstones, lead, tungsten, gold, tin, fluorspar, manganese, marble, copper and zinc.  Natural gas can be found just off the coast (though it may prove challenging to drill there).

The Navachab Open Pit Gold Mine, Erongo Region, Namibia

Why am I writing about this beautiful harsh anomaly of a nation?  The unique and isolated geography of Namibia have made it a unique ecosystem of creatures capable of surviving the harsh desert environment (to say nothing of the creatures which team in the rich coastal waters).  Desert dwelling creatures have had a long time to adapt to the hostile conditions of the world’s oldest desert. One of the most unique of all placental mammals is found in Namibia. I’ll address this bizarre fossorial hunter in my next post.

Hint: It's not the mighty African Elephant (one of my favorite creatures), but strangely enough african elephants do live in Namibia.

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