Break out the sparklers, it’s the last day of the last year of the decade, and it’s time for a whole lot of us photographers to pull out our best and favorite shots of the year to stick on the refrigerator. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll keep it brief: what a year. I didn’t post as much on here because I wanted to focus on good opportunities, and I think I found them. In fact, I think I pushed my photography the furthest it’s ever gone — in nature, on the street and at work. I’ve gotten to know Minnesota in all of its seasons. I got married and visited three national parks. I made plans and hopes for the next year and the next decade. What a year!
Thanks, as always, for looking. A happy new year to you.
Yamuna was already dead when I met her seven years ago, in the words of several activist and environmental groups, but they’re still trying to revive her. It hasn’t worked yet.
Yamuna is both a Hindu goddess and a major river that flows through India’s capital, a metropolitan area of tens of millions of people, before joining the Ganges. Yamuna is sacred and essential to all of those lives in one way or another. Their drinking water comes from her. They grow food with her help. They worship alongside her. They wash clothes with her water or pick through her shores and beneath her surface for a living. They destroy her, ecologically speaking, with their raw industrial and human waste on a colossal scale. And they endure her revenge in the form of lost fish and other aquatic life, infectious and waterborne disease and toxic metal exposure.
I previously posted on here a photojournalism project I did in college about the river and its paradoxes. This week I revisited my archive for that project for the first time since 2012. It turns out I forgot about a few pictures that aren’t too bad, so I thought I’d share some with you. But it’s also a chance to see if anything has improved in India’s core. The answer seems to be mostly no.
In just the last couple of weeks, poisonous foam coated Yamuna’s surface during a religious festival. And earlier this year, a project to capture and treat the huge amount of sewage flowing into the river missed its latest deadline. That project is the third of its kind in more than 20 years.
I also wonder how the people I met back then are doing. Dozens of locals put up with a random American college student who came out of nowhere to ask about their stories. Banny Miya and his family and Babi Devi and hers grew crops beside the river. Seventeen-year-old Saddam and his family washed clothes and linens in it, and he hoped to become an engineer. Gauri Singh, a young mother, angrily said nothing changes. I might never find out what came next for them.
As for the Yamuna, it’s only one of many environmental issues for India; Delhi’s air has made recent headlines for being some of the most polluted and dangerous in the world. We’ll see if Yamuna Action Plan Phase III accomplishes what phases I and II couldn’t. There are a few small reasons for optimism, such as some recent adjustments to religious ceremonies that might’ve cut down on one form of pollution.
Regardless, India’s struggles aren’t just some far-off problem. We all share this planet’s atmosphere and ocean. And our own country knows a little something about arguing over environmental disaster. Yamuna and other natural places have something to teach all of us.
We visited Voyageurs National Park the wrong way last weekend.
The park, right at the northern border of Minnesota, is more than one-third lake, and nearly all of the land is best accessed by boat — or by ice, once the lake gets there. We didn’t have a boat and had just a few hours, hardly enough to get introduced to a few hundred square miles. But it was my birthday week, and the fall colors were still hanging on, and we won’t be in Minnesota forever, and we had a beautiful Saturday to spend, so we went for it. It’s the wrong approach to truly see this place. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
We hiked the Blind Ash Bay Trail, a nice little loop near a park entrance. Golden aspen and birch leaves, long pine needles and green mosses carpeted the often waterlogged forest floor. There’s still growing to do even in October, including for spiky little plants, like miniature Christmas trees and cacti, that I’d never seen before.
Hopefully we’ll have the chance to get more thoroughly acquainted.
The clouds greeted us on our way to Kings Canyon. The road from Sequoia to the adjacent national park goes over a high ridge where water vapor drifts up and down the hillsides in all directions, including right through where we stood.
From there the road mostly goes down, descending from an overlook of one of the continent’s deepest canyons right to its floor. The gorge is genuinely, shockingly deep, gouged by the Kings River and ancient glaciers into a complex of rough-hewn peaks and cliffs — great walls that enclosed us on all sides except above. It’s a wilder, rougher cousin to Yosemite Valley and perhaps the more spectacular demonstration of frozen and liquid water’s sheer power, in my opinion.
We took the Mist Falls trail from Roads End, a literal-named park service station, deeper into the canyon. The trail is a backpacking thoroughfare, busy with groups going to and from the Sierra wilderness. Our destination was Mist Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in these national parks. The Kings River’s South Fork, the canyon and a textbook U-shaped, glacier-carved side valley kept the journey lively.
The enticingly named Paradise Valley and other beautiful places lie just beyond the falls. Nearly all of the park and its wonders are inaccessible by road. I can only get a taste of these glorious places.
The trail: about 8 miles in all, there and back; level for the first half of the way, more rugged and steep after that.