The vernal equinox: a time of change


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Photos by Whitt Birnie

Teahupoo TahitiWhile the planet gently glides through the equinox into another season, we on earth know we’re in for big changes, either towards wild winter weather or more peaceful summer calms.  Since most Polynesians know no winter, these outdoor people follow the seasons closely, the most skillful working the best Southern Ocean waves generated in the stormy ‘Roaring Forties’, to the delight of everyone. Others share a traditional moment together in their va’a, the outrigger, working the languid lagoon, angling for dinner.

Tahiti: Va'a, tane and vahine.Yours truly has been remiss on Outbound  because the great outdoors keeps calling.  Tempted to post interesting images and find stories to share, so beware, I’ll be back.

Earth Day 2014: On the winds of change

by Whitt Birnie

Unsettled weatherToday is one of those special moments in time when we pause in our hurried lives to reflect on the beauty and sustainability of our planet.

ED02 Earth Day 2014 by Whitt BirnieVery well-informed and respected persons at the summits of their research professions have repeatedly met to present findings on the urgency of modifying our behavior and economic model, so that life as we know it will survive. Those who deny the conclusions that climate-change must be addressed immediately are ignoring the facts — the future health of our lives on this beautiful earth should not be decided by those who have fallen victim to disinformation, lobbies and vested interest groups.

ED03 Earth Day 2014 by Whitt BirnieMankind needs to accept that the ‘common good’ trumps ‘individual desire’ when it comes to matters such as human destiny. Sacrifices are never pleasant, especially when they are voluntary and without immediate results, but the cards are on the table. We must change our behavior or climate-change will change us for the worse, relatively and absolutely. It will increasingly treat us with such fury that the environmental disasters we occasionally suffer from today will become commonplace.

ED04 Earth Day 2014 by Whitt Birnie

We have risen to all sorts of challenges before, but this one is threatening our world, our children’s health and happiness and their grand-children’s very survival.  Don’t be blind, accept the obvious. Support your organizations, contact your representatives, consider alternate green solutions, convince the clueless, act intelligently – we are approaching the point of no return. Honestly, are you willing to be remembered as the generation at the helm when the pilot just abandoned the controls?

ED05 Earth Day 2014 by Whitt BirnieEarth Day 2014.  Nasty weather was brewing offshore, but for a moment the sun shone thru, celebrating Earth Day’s anniversary.  I chose a similar image for the photo challenge “My Beautiful Planet,” sponsored by TIME and Google+.

ED06 Earth Day 2014 by Whitt BirnieThe weather began to clear, the lagoon took on a familiar complexion, the agitated trades returned, but the problem remained.

ED07 Earth Day 2014 by Whitt BirnieHeavy clouds carrying gusty squalls pile into the northeast coast of Moorea, kicking up spume on the outlying coral reefs.

ED08 Earth Day 2014 by Whitt BirnieReassuring in its warmth, the setting sun sends us warning signals about climate-change. We are at a tipping point today. It’s become our turn to change our foolish ways. “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

Spring holidays: spirits at the seaside


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by Whitt Birnie

Freshwater garden pond on Tahitian seashore, French Polynesia.There is a Tahiti far away, beyond the city walls.

SB02 Whitt Birnie seabirds  ID: Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée.Seabirds in freshwater near a lightly inhabited Tahitian shore.

SB03 Whitt Birnie seabirds: Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée.Dozens of seabirds were landing, drinking, bathing, and taking flight, one after the other.

SB04 Whitt Birnie seabirds:  Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée. TahitiThis was certainly their morning ritual, to fly down to the seashore for an early dip, snack and a chat.

SB05 Whitt Birnie, seabirds of Tahiti: Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée. Heads up, coming in for a shallow landing.

SB07 Whitt Birnie, Tahitian seabirds:  Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée.To bathe and dry their delicate wings, they really look like happy and well-adjusted creatures.

SB06 Whitt Birnie, Tahitian seabirds: Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée.Up, up and away.

SB08 Whitt Birnie. Tahitian  seabirds:  Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée.Time for a little fishing.

SB09 Whitt Birnie seabirdsCatching something for breakfast.

SB10 Whitt Birnie seabirdsWith a bill streaking across the water’s surface, she’s a Tahitian Great-Crested Tern (Tarapapa, sterne huppée, sterna Bergii).

SB11 Whitt Birnie. Southwest coast, Tahiti, Tahiti-iti. Seabirds and the internet.A freshwater pond at the edge of the ocean, surfers, coral reef and breakers beyond. The internet cables make for a safe place to meet; interestingly, the seabirds turn their back on the view.

SB12 Whitt Birnie seabirdsPeaceful Tahitian morning, 9 am., warm and green, dark sand, far from the hustle and bustle. People are already online and the cables are singing.

SB14 Whitt Birnie. Tahitian seabirds: Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée.Is the top spot always that much better?

SB15 Whitt Birnie. Tahitian seabirds: Greater-Crested Tern, sterna bergii, sterne huppée. "On the line"I thought of all the telephone conversations, e-mail correspondences, attachments, pictures, posts and social media passing thru the cables as the seabirds chatted and dried their feathers and I thought, “this is a wonderful, wonderful world”. Nature can be so ‘awesome’.SB16 Whitt Birnie. Four Greater-Crested Tern, (sterna bergii, sterne huppée) on the internet cables in Tahiti..Always remember how important a healthy, sustainable environment is, work at convincing the hold-outs how dangerous climate-change is becoming, and try to celebrate Earth Day every day. This concept is not for the birds, it’s serious and concerns all living creatures. This message of tidings will arrive on your screen thru the very telecommunication cables you see here.  The spirits send their greetings too. We’re all in this together. Happy Easter one and all.

Climate Change: aren’t we cutting it close?

by Whitt Birnie

After a recent show of some of his work, a former university lecturer and life-long photographer responded in an interview with the following remarks:

Press: What do you mean by the title, “Climate Change: aren’t we cutting it close?”

CC01 by Whitt Birnie. High surf, Tahiti reef, Moorea

WB: “Well, the phrase implies that we are approaching a limit or a time when important decisions must be made.  In this case, it refers to the urgency of limiting unwanted changes to the world’s climate. With the Philippines’ storm and its disastrous consequences fresh in people’s minds, I first tried to picture what it must be like for people to see nature’s boundless fury, then, make an opinion on the important issue of climate change, and finally, to share the photographic work with the public at large.”

Q. Did you intend to frighten people with the pictures?

CC02 by WhittBirnie. Breakers, Tahiti reef, Moorea

 A.  “No. These are not trick photographs or combinations of pictures meant to fool people. They come straight out of the box, a non-waterproof, everyday-type, typical, moderately priced digital camera. I picked a good vantage point and photographed the real world. The waves look menacing for several reasons.  The sheer volume of water moving rapidly is enormous.  The phase angle, or line of sight, is directly into the sun, making shadow and shade ominous.  Stop-action freezes the image and can give a chill. I was cutting my images close.”

Q.  How big were the waves?

CC03 by WhittBirnie. High surf, Tahiti reef, Moorea

A. “Very big. I didn’t bring a sextant to measure their heights, so I can’t give you a precise figure. The mountain ridge in the background intentionally gives the impression of great altitude.  The high surf and heavy breakers were loud and big enough to frighten me into questioning my safety and wondering if the pictures were really worth it. The roar was deafening. There were no brave surfers for company.  But I had several big advantages: one, I wasn’t responsible for anyone else, and two, no one could tell me what I could or couldn’t do. Freedom of choice amidst the wild elements, on the edge of paradise. Yes, in that sense, I was cutting it close…”

Q. Why did you include this shot?

CC05 by Whitt Birnie. Reef surf, Tahiti, MooreaA.  “Today, most people live in cities or away from the coasts, so it’s difficult for them to imagine that these pictures are real. Many photos seen on the Internet are artfully manipulated for wow effect. I needed to include a valid reference point, a reality check. Here I included one wide-angle shot for perspective. The horizon is visible to the far right.  Going left, what looks like small islands are, in fact, the tops of trees out on the outer edges of the neighboring island, Moorea, about 25 km. or 15 miles, away. From there, behind breaking swell, the slope of the old volcano, now lush in luxuriant vegetation, rises gradually into the clouds.  The foreground is a stark view of a long, barren fringing coral reef, strong in its resistance to the high seas, but fragile and sensitive to man-made pollution and human generated climate change.”

Q. Why didn’t you sink?

CC06 by Whitt Birnie. Breakers

A.  “I didn’t sink because I was cautious, but I did come close to falling in. Seriously though, and importantly, from my early youth I’d developed a great affinity for the sea, and a deep respect. I treated her like a beautiful woman who’d gained my admiration. But loving my life as well, I wasn’t foolish enough to throw it down the drain. I suppose the greater powers and the sea itself forgave my folly and spared my life.  But to be more worldly, the coral reefs found throughout the tropics are strong, while at the same time fragile structures living in harmony with the sea. Much like the rainforests which produce water and oxygen, the coral reefs protect islands from erosion by the sea, and produce the environment for fish to nourish populations. It’s part of the precious balance of nature, permitting all of us to survive.”

Q.  Why did you include a man-made sailboat into what would be a dramatic nature series?

CC07 by Whitt Birnie. Outsider, beyond the reef

A.  “Actually, I wanted to say something with pictures alone, but then realized that people might miss the point. What is the use of pretty pictures without a pitch?  A reference point is needed to anchor the story.  In fact, no boat is visible in the pictures, just a hint, and an idea. The sail is enough, because it is an old-time, traditional means of moving vessels, goods and people around the world. Besides clean locomotion, sail doesn’t pollute or influence climate change. Rain is often caught aboard small craft for drinking, sunshine provides warmth, and solar panels nowadays generate enough electricity to run lights, instruments, charge batteries for cameras etc. and additionally, power connections for an Internet to bring you this report. I try to live responsibly. ”

Q.  Why didn’t the cameras get wet?

CC08 by Whitt Birnie. Outside Tahiti's reef, surf

A. “The cameras stayed dry because of the second element in the photos, wind.  A strong breeze, a force five, was behind my back and blowing out to sea.  This made for the brilliant white spume, which streams off the tops of wave crests. The wind also drove the breaking water even more vertical, higher and higher, as the air and water stood battle over strength.  Gravity always wins, but the spume is terrific. If the wind had come from any other direction, the pictures would be less dramatic and the salt water would have ruined the delicate optics”

CC09 by WhittBirnie. Outside the breakersQ. What about the birds?CC10 by WhittBirnie. On the wing

A.  “The boobies?  They are affectionately named ‘blue-footed boobies’. The origin of the name escapes me. They are riding the updrafts from waves below. Like gliders and surfers, they take advantage of what nature so generously offers.  We need to apply our mental assets and creative resources to utilize the renewable energy sources nature always provides.  We need to raise our level of consciousness and develop personal responsibility. Otherwise, we are boobies too.”

Q.  Okay, what are the white lines in the waves?

CC11 by Whitt Birnie. Dangerously close

A.  “Light streaming through water.  As the waves become vertical, they thin, and because they are backlit, sunlight streams through. Perhaps they are windows to another world, sort of like the ‘Stargate’ portals.”

Q.  How do you see the future?

CC12 by Whitt Birnie. Surf, sail, Moorea

A.  “Try to lead a life commensurate with sustainable human existence.   And legislate.  Remember refrigerators with CFC’s burning huge holes in our atmosphere. Banned.  Remember Rachel Carson’s book,  “Silent Spring.”  DDT banned.  Remember whale populations close to extinction.  CITES brought revival.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  We’ve already produced a more dangerous world than what we inherited.  We do have the capacity to push ourselves to extinction.  We almost did it with atomic weapons.  Remember Nevil Shute’s, “On the Beach.”  And MAD, mutually assured destruction.  We could easily do it by ignoring climate change.”

Q.  What’s next?

CC14 by Whitt Birnie. Dangerous sailing

A. “Look, we all die one day anyway, so perhaps all this is hot air, ‘of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’  Then again, we can plead common sense to our legislators, our leaders, and our friends.  Every step, every voice matters.  Everyone, except those with vested interests, agrees, time is running out, we’re cutting corners.  We’re favoring short-term comforts instead of facing hard decisions. We are cutting it close.  Will it be a bright future, or gloom and doom; it’s a close call.”

Q.  “Can I just watch the movie?”

CC15 by Whitt Birnie. Lost in sprayA.  “Sure. Enjoy.”

CC16 by Whitt Birnie. High surf with sail

CC17 by Whitt Birnie. High surf, sail

CC18 by Whitt Birnie. Surf and sail

It’s a close call.