Quarantine Chronicles – Above Water Adventures vol. 4

Happy 51st day of Quarantine!  Let’s see, what’s new on Maui?  Today the Mayor announced he’s hiring more staff to go around and spy on businesses that are allowed to open as of Monday to make sure they are being sanitary and report back to him.  Some State Parks (including Makena State Park) was said to open, however it’s still closed.  I have no clue if we are allowed to be in a car with someone outside our household yet, and no word on if you still have to hike 20 feet away from anyone else.  (sigh)  Oh ya, about 40% of our unemployment hasn’t been processed, another 20% that were processed were denied and 100% of self-employed remain both unprocessed and unpaid.  Good times.

In other news, I woke up this morning bright and early to the increasingly annoying resident rooster and peeked out the window to find the palm fronts blowing in the wind.  I held hopes maybe it was my imagination so I drug myself to my living room and stuck my head outside to check out the ocean conditions from the backyard.  More bad news – even at 6am the current was obviously raging out there and the surf report forecasters clearly are dirty liars.  Just about the only thing I figured I’d get if I tried to paddle would be either a free trip to Tahiti via the Pacific Ocean or a nice introduction to the US Coast guard as they hauled my wet rat looking self and my board onto their boat after I drifted out to sea.  I can’t lie, the option to travel right now is extremely enticing, but getting a military escort to shore I’d likely never live down.

So instead of exploring underwater as has been the case so often these days I decided to take a walk and rock hop along some of our local beaches with my camera to kill three birds with one stone.  Enjoy the nearly empty beaches, get some exercise, and send a little piece of my backyard electronically to your backyard (or living room) until y’all can come enjoy it yourself.

I started in central Kihei walking Charlie Young Beach down Kamaole 1 up and across the Royal Mauian and Kamaole Nalu’s grassy oceanfront public access until I reached Kamaole 2.  The lifeguard’s were on duty which was a bit unexpected, but I’m glad to see that they’re able to continue to work right now.  The beaches were basically empty aside from a few snorkelers swimming through the wind chop and south swell and a few locals walking the beach to get some exercise.  The clouds came in quickly and by the time I reached the end of Kamaole 1 the ocean became dark and the beach a bit dreary but further south I could see the sun shining like a beacon on Red Sand Hill and Makena State Park.

I hustled back to the car to chase the sun and took an unexpected wild hair of a detour to take a peek at Maluaka Beach which was pristinely empty aside from two spear fishermen at the far south end of the cove.  I found there has been some serious progress on building very high end ocean view condos and the old Makena Golf & Beach Resort since the last time I have been there.  Fingers crossed that the foot traffic doesn’t overwhelm the beach when these places start opening and filling to capacity again.  It’s always been such a quiet, peaceful off the beaten path kind of beach.

Once again the clouds came rolling in so I took my little tail south as fast as I could go to shoot what I consider to be one of the most beautiful coves around.  Aside from days when I’ve arrived there shortly after dawn today was the first day I’ve ever seen it completely empty and as the sun came and went per usual it didn’t disappoint.  I spent quite a bit of time climbing all over the rocks getting every angle I could think of before hopping in the car to head home all of 2 minutes before a downpour hit with full force and zero warning.

I’m super grateful for all the beautiful distractions this island has to offer during these “interesting” times and hopefully they’ll bring you some nice daily distractions as well.

With aloha until the next time…..

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Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 3

Quarantine day number 50 has arrived!  We received word on Monday from our Governor that as of May 8th (2 days from now) retail stores and malls would be allowed to open throughout the state which is the first stage of their “grand opening/restructuring” scheme. But just before you have a chance to get too excited, we were told that oops, just kidding, no retail establishments, etc. are allowed to open on Maui specifically.  Just other islands.  Ummm what???

We barely had time to process the bizarreness of this revelation of why Maui was put in an island “Time Out” today before it changes once again now stating Maui can open select retail businesses on May 11th, and Oahu on May 15th – but still no restaurants or chuches.  (sigh) Oh ya, and by the way the powers that be reported in the news yesterday that we could have Murder Hornets come in on Christmas trees and we should all prepare for hurricane in the meantime.  The “To Do” list is expanding…

The one constant is still no visitors able to arrive without being locked in a room for 14 days upon arrival and not being allowed to rent a car. (insert sad face here)

The good news is that I was up with the dreaded feral rooster again this morning who has decided that my back fence is really the only good option for him to sound his pre-dawn alarm.  Lucky me.  The forecast called for no winds which is always exciting, but as often happens I think they lied.  The water was still really nice, but wow what a difference a day makes!  There were pockets of absolutely mind-blowingly pristine visibility that looked like I was paddling over the top of an aquarium, and other spots that have gotten so murky it was like swimming in a swamp.

There is definitely more plankton around and small algae blooms associated with the full moon so I had high hopes of finding some manta ray but no such luck.  It was mostly just the standard honu friends coming to the surface but they were a bit jumpy which I’ve noticed happens as the visibility deteriorates a lot.  I can’t say I blame them exactly, I’m a bit more jumpy under there when I can’t see more than 12 feet in front of me either!

I was especially excited to find a sweet adult female turtle (see image below) that I just found about a month ago tangled significantly in fishing line.  I’ve seen this girl around for a number of years and she’s always unusually friendly as far as turtles go, but the day I found her wrapped up in line she surfaced 2-3 feet away from my board and kept staring up at me with her head outside the water.  That behavior was really odd and when I looked closer I saw that both of her front flippers were tightly wrapped in thick green fishing line that wound in a figure eight around her neck.  I always carry very sharp scissors with me in case I need to cut line so long story short I got in the water with her and bless her little turtle heart she stayed at the surface and let me cut and unwind all of the line off her which was no quick task.  Because there were no hooks imbedded and no damage to her skin she won’t have any lingering issues and swam down to the bottom to take a nice little nap. Today was the first time I’ve seen her since and she was friendly as ever.

With the re-opening of a few state beaches beginning tomorrow I’m hoping to be able to take my camera with me while I exercise to capture images to share with everyone!  The beaches and ocean are looking spectacular after having such a long pause in activity so I am excited to be able to spend some time enjoying walks along them again and trying to document them at their best.

Sending you all warm aloha and looking forward to seeing everyone back in our beautiful state soon.

 

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Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 2

As crazy as it sounds today was officially day 49 of lockdown here in the islands AND it fell on Cinco de Mayo (no I did not have a Corona to celebrate).  It was announced that as of the 7th some small local retail stores are now allowed to open, but still no word on when traveling and/or tourism will be up and running again without a mandatory quarantine unfortunately.  Never thought I would be complaining about a lack of traffic or tourists that’s for sure!  Strange times…

The past few days the trade winds have been whipping through South Maui hard enough to rip your hair out it seems!  So although it’s been possible to get up with the roosters (literally) and hop on the water down in Makena before the windline hits, it doesn’t make for the most ideal of circumstances.  Lucky us the winds slowed down a bit this morning and we are supposed to have little to no wind for the rest of the week.  All fingers and paws crossed at my house they’re telling the truth on that!

The extra good news is that because we’ve had so much off-shore wind, it’s also created one heck of a current within the channel that has cleared our waters up and made for some crystal clear diving and snorkeling  conditions and epic visibility even close to shore where it can easily get hazy.  In other extra extra good news we have a full moon arriving on the 8th as well.  Yay!!!  Each full moon brings about many predictable changes in the ocean, one of them being increased level of plankton and coral bloom.  The reef mantas then come in close to shore to feed and can be found alone and sometimes in small squadron if you take the time to look for them (and bring some luck with you).

This morning’s water was still spectacular with small amounts of plankton already starting to appear.  Because there was a really nice window of calm, flat water I stayed out for a couple hours paddling back and forth covering a couple miles of shoreline trying to find sea creatures to play with.   I saw two pufferfish (kōkala).  One was a bit startling because it was close to the size of The Hulk and swam up out of nowhere just below my board.  Sorry to report I don’t have any photos to back up my “big fish story” because by the time I hopped in to act as his paparazzi he’d moved on to other pastures – next time.  There were also tons of flying fish per usual (fat little ocean fairies) and reef fish galore.

The resident Honu (green sea turtles) were out in force today as well.  I’ve gotten so spoiled with our incredibly epic whale season and having so many dolphins and manta rays around that I haven’t spent quality time with my turtle friends in ages.  With such unusually pretty underwater conditions finding new places to photograph has been a blast!  And today I got the added surprise of being serenaded by a humpback whale for quite a long time while I was in the water taking photos of a lazy turtle.  I waited and watched for it to break the surface but never did see it, however it was SO LOUD so he had to be really close.  I hold hope maybe there’s still a couple days left to bump into one of the stragglers sticking around to try to find a hot date before heading back to Alaska.

I’ve included some of my favorite shots from today and look forward to sharing more very, very soon!

 

 

 

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Quarantine Chronicles – Underwater Adventures vol. 1

Maui humpback and calf

Welcome to the first installment of the Quarantine Chronicles – where I’ll share with everyone my views from outside my four walls of our beautiful underwater world and other picturesque locations found here on the island of Maui.

Throughout the state of Hawaii we have been experiencing uncertain times, economic shutdown and implementation of social distancing along with the rest of the US and international communities.  Because the vast majority of our jobs here, and on Maui especially, revolve around the tourism industry with inbound flights all but non-existent and a 14 day mandatory quarantine upon arrival for the foreseeable future thousands and thousands of people find ourselves with no work schedule, school schedule, or basic sense of normalcy as it was just a few short months ago.  However the silver lining and the one thing that we do have as a constant in our lives is the ocean.

For the past 7 weeks of lockdown most activities are very limited, if not banned altogether, as our local government’s focus is on limiting the exposure of the virus within our island population.  National and State parks are closed as well as beach parks and county parks but access to the ocean and water activities has still been allowed.  Swimming, surfing, paddling, kiteboarding, windsurfing and exercising on the beach are encouraged and considered an essential way to stay healthy both mentally and physically.

Being an avid water girl myself, I’ve been taking advantage of all this new free time and trying to either go out paddle boarding with my camera or hike one of the open trails nearly every day.  My mind and my body are far happier this way.  As time creeps along and boat traffic has come to an abrupt halt the ocean has positively come alive in ways I haven’t seen since moving here many many years ago. For the last several years many have noticed the amount of fish in our reefs disappearing, wildlife such as manta rays being few and far between, dolphin pods becoming more infrequently seen and the damage to our coral reefs because of excessive use of sunscreens containing harmful chemicals well studied and documented.  Now however, our waters are getting a much needed reprieve.

Spinner Dolphins

It is absolutely unbelievable how in only 7 weeks the reefs lining our shores are now teeming with fish of all shapes, colors and sizes, large squadrons of manta rays feeding on plankton have begun to be a regular sight along southern shores, resident spinner dolphin pods and bottlenose dolphins are making morning appearances very close to shore and our sea turtles are prevalent both in the water and hauling out along the coastal shorelines.  The clarity of the ocean has been, for the most part, phenomenal allowing for exceptional visibility and unparalleled photo and viewing opportunities.

I realize that while we are all struggling to cope with the ongoing changes and uncertainty we are also so fortunate here in the islands to have a whole other world to retreat to in times like these – the underwater world.  So I decided that although it may be a little overdue, I am going to begin regular blogs with photos and videos of my (almost) daily adventures in our underwater world to share with anyone that may need a bright spot in their day or something to let their mind take a break from thinking too hard about viruses, politics or all of life’s other burdens.  Since the shutdown started I’m so grateful for the chance to regularly paddle on my Naish SUP both within and beyond the pristine South Maui bays where I can find wild dolphins, manta rays, green sea turtles and countless species of fish.

I have included a few of my favorite encounters here to get the ball rolling and can’t wait to begin documenting in real time all the beautiful things happening outside of these four walls and underneath the water’s surface!

Made On Maui and brought to you with aloha. All images displayed are available in various sizes and mediums by going to www.APlaceInTimePhotos.com.

 

 

 

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Rivers and Bears

“The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.”

Theodore Roosevelt

On a recent trip to Alaska’s Katmai National Park the opportunities for brown bear observation and intimate encounters was truly epic.  There was a bountiful run of salmon throughout the summer season combined with low water levels allowing the bears easier access to fish spawning in the lakes and streams.  The weather compared to the previous year was generally pretty dry for southern Alaska and provided long daylight hours combined with overcast skies which made for beautiful photography for hours on end.

This particular morning I was up before sunrise with a small group of friends and we headed down to the beach alongside Naknek Lake to photograph two mothers and their cubs of the year as they slept in shallow little beds dug in the sand.  These adorable little families gradually woke up stretching, nursing and play fighting to start off nearly every day.  After the sun rose and the bears headed further down the long, narrow beach to spend some alone time in the shelter of the forest we took our cue as well heading across to the river in chest high waders to make our way up towards the falls to shoot brown bears fishing, playing and interacting from eye level.

There were 4 of us so we felt great about the whole “safety in numbers” thing. Despite that though it was still time consuming and more than a bit challenging to navigate our way through the marsh grasses and through the forest trails to a point where we could eventually hop into the water with our gear and cross over to a nice little island mid-river because of the dense numbers of bears in the area.  Not only were there large boars fishing and mothers with cubs, but this year there were a large number of sub-adults that were both extra curious and playful.  The naughty little teenagers of the bear world trying to test out their boundaries and newly found freedom.

After we managed to dodge the fishing bears, the playing bears, the arguing bears and the sleeping bears we got about a third of the way into the river towards our target island when it was very clear that this large mother and her twin cubs were headed from the opposite bank to the same place we were.  The island is fairly small, I’m guessing 50 feet long by 20 feet wide so it wasn’t ideal trying to negotiate a “stay-cation” for all of us on it at once.  However changing direction and heading any other way lead us into deeper waters and much swifter currents so straight ahead to the island we went.

The following series of images were taken at a focal length of approximately 100mm while this gorgous mother fished for salmon in the shallows and her two small spunky cubs stayed in the grass.  She was exceptionally tolerant of our presence and we all felt comfortable enough to just kneel down in the water to a sitting position at the base of the island while the bears stayed about ¾ of the way to the opposite side.  The little cubs of course were very curious what we were doing and would peek out from the grass like they were playing hide and seek.

We spent a little over an hour with this trio enjoying every minute of it…. Except for maybe that 10 minutes when mom had absolutely had enough of her two kids squabbling over food and lunged upright to a full standing position, swatting the water with her paws, and roaring without question the loudest roar that I’ve ever personally heard from that close of a distance.  She towered over her cubs (and us) yelling and glaring while her kids instantly put an end to their bickering and settled for nibbling from the same salmon throwing a couple dirty looks each other’s way instead.  Then larger cub took a quick glance back at us like, “did you see that?”  Hard to tell if they were embarrassed we saw or seeking sympathy but their little expressions were quite comical.

Bears have always topped my list of favorite animals for a variety of reasons.  A lot of that having to do with my belief that they are very misunderstood by most of society.  It’s easy to cast them in a negative light based on their size and power alone, but it’s hard to believe that anyone could still feel this way after spending any time with them.  Their dexterity, sense of humor, animated expressions and love for their cubs is an absolute joy to witness.  I sincerely hope that for everyone who doesn’t have the fortune to see it in person, will atleast be able to live vicariously and enjoy bears just a little bit more through my images.

 

 

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How Disconnecting = A Total Reconnect

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It’s always amazing to me how sometimes your initial assessment of a situation can in reality be the polar opposite.

It didn’t take long after returning home from Southern Alaska before I realized that my relief at “disconnecting” from the world for a week was a total misconception.  In reality it wasn’t a disconnect that I was enjoying so much as it was a total reconnect.

Planning my trip to Alaska this summer was super exciting and also more than a bit nerve-wracking.  I’ve never been completely off the grid before with absolutely no potential for connection with the outside world.  No cell phone, no internet, no TV, no radio. Nothing.  And I’ve never been to an area that remote while sleeping in a little tent with just the absolute necessities rather than every day luxury items you quickly grow accustomed to.

Sure I’ve traveled to some out of the way locations, but even so, I have still managed a connection to friends, family and clients if needed given a little effort.  This time, in this location, that simply wasn’t going to be an option.

In hindsight, I see now that I’ve never taken an actual vacation from work before, which is completely ridiculous.  Regardless of my location; if I’m in Asia or Africa or in a remote mountain cabin somewhere, I’m still diligent about responding to emails or voicemail, getting back to clients, and scheduling appointments for when I return.  It never donned on me how even these little arbitrary interruptions sprinkled throughout the day prevented me from being completely present to whatever experience I was having.  There was always a little part of me still at work, or still at home or still somewhere that wasn’t where I physically stood.

After spending a week in a tiny remote area of Katmai National Park (the most remote national park in the US) photographing brown bears returning back home to a my “real life” in a condensed island town, with what now seemed to be constant noise, electronic interruptions and mundane tasks was a less than amazing transition.  I had a heck of a time figuring out why this time acclimating to life back home was so much more gut wrenching than most.

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Finally after stumbling across a fellow travelers narrative of their time in the wilderness it all clicked for me.  This little getaway was so much more meaningful for me because I was forced to be completely present every minute of every day.  Present to myself and my physical well-being and needs, the weather pattern around me, the animals and their patterns and schedules, and getting to know other like-minded people.

How rare it is these days to be able to be that completely present in “real life” with all the phones going off, emails coming in, traffic, deadlines, expectations, and the list goes on.

I was reminded why I began my pursuit of photography so many years ago.  Loud and clear.  It was because of my passion for the environment and all that entailed.  To be able to capture it in the purest sense, and preserve the beauty I find in it – in all those remote nooks and crannies that others may initially overlook.  The seemingly hidden macro elements of leaves, flowers, textures and of course all the amazingness that can be found in wildlife if people just have the patience to wait for it to unfold.

I’ve naturally expanded the scope of my work to include elements of commercial photography and branched out to offer portrait photography as well.  I believe this offers a way of helping people to preserve those special moments in their life as keepsakes and also allows me an opportunity to connect with more people along the way to share my adventures and my love of the outdoors and all that it entails.

“Getting away from it all” clearly wasn’t what happened at all.  I returned home with so much more focus and feeling like I’d found my center again. Given a chance to simply remove all the superfluous distractions just showed me the path I’d intended to follow all along.  And luckily had the extra bonus of providing heaps of brown bear along the way to study and photograph and absolutely fall in love with even more than before.

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I think that the general body of work I was able to capture in Katmai is the best series of work I’ve ever compiled.  And it was because I was able to give it my complete attention and focus.  I could be completely present.  I went into this trip with a shot list I’d gone over in my head a million times, and I was able to keep focused on those goals, and check off mentally where I was, and what I’d still like to achieve before heading home. There was no pressure, no stress “what if I don’t get this, what if I don’t get that, what if ….” That is so easy to fall into when you’re having to rush through a project or be pulled in different directions.

Being there could be summed up as serene.  It was easy to focus.  It was easy to be grateful – every day.  It was easy to appreciate all the little nuances unfolding around you with the bears, the cubs, the salmon, the chain of life. It’s something I hold dear, and hope to carry close to my heart and remind myself to apply now that I am back in the “real world” in the hopes my business will continue to grow and evolve and develop in the directions that I guide it.

And in the hopes that my images will continue to capture the emotion of the moments in which they’re shot and bring people happiness in viewing them and watching the story that unfolded in front of the lens.

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The Value of Listening to Your Instincts

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After spending so much time on the water it’s become second nature to see things and feel things in an almost hyper sensitive state of awareness while I’m out there.  I use a small Naish SUP board and conditions change quickly so not only are my eyes always peeled for wildlife, but I keep a lookout for wind shear approaching on the horizon and I monitor the surf reports for tides and expected change in wind patterns every day before going out.

Paddling is like my own little personal meditation time and I get in a zone out there whether on top of the water, or when I duck underneath to take photographs.  It’s relaxing and rewarding all at the same time when things go smoothly.

I’ve been super lucky this summer that more often than not when I paddle out I can manage to find a few manta rays to follow around and swim with.  They’re such cool creatures and it’s taken some time, but finally I’ve gotten pretty good about reading their patterns and judging how comfortable they are with me joining them in the water.  Just like any animal, they all seem different and some are really social and others take off as soon as you get anywhere near them. I’ve had rays jump out of the water in front of me, jump next to my board, fly around upside down in a kind of manta ballet and let me paddle within a foot or two above them while they calmly feed at the surface.

The week this photo was taken I had a bit of a break in my work schedule so I was able to get out several days in a row and sure enough without fail, I found the rays within only a few minutes of being on the water.  I was finding two or three within a pretty close proximity of eachother and they’d go about their business feeding and flying, sometimes to circle back and interact with eachother before flying off again.  Mostly I’d swim and interact with one at a time, but every now and again one of its manta friends would come flying over to join in the activities and give me a once over before heading back off on its way.

The visibility had been fairly good and I was actually surprised to find the mantas in such shallow water with the plankton levels seemingly low.  But this day, the visibility was terrible.  I mean absolutely awful.  Both murky and filled with plankton and a few jellies.  There were sunny skies which helped, but there was no way I would have gotten in the water had the mantas not been out and about as well as the honu.  I have a little rule that if the turtles aren’t up I don’t go down.  But with that said, it’s still undeniably the murkiest water I’ve jumped in for probably a couple of years.

I spent an hour with this particular ray and several times when we were swimming near eachother I got a strong sense that I was being watched by something else.  About the same time as my “spidey sense” would go off, the ray would bolt like a bat out of hell and then reappear 50 yards or so down the bay.

Not that there aren’t other reasons for rays taking off like this, but the only time I have seen one do it consistently I looked down below me to find a huge tiger shark just floating there, probably 15 feet down, and directly underneath where I was swimming with my camera and where the manta had just been.  I hopped immediately back on my board without incident but always remembered that as a good example to take my cues from the little critters who live in the ocean.  If they go, I go.

After about an hour in the murky water, I got that same strong feeling that I was being watched for the third time and I swam in a circle trying to see any shadows that would validate my feelings, but never could see anything as the sun went behind a bank of clouds.  I decided then to call it a day and head in rather than taking any more chances and considered myself lucky to have had that good hour with the rays, even if they were behaving a bit more erratic than usual.

No sooner had I gotten home than I got a message from a good friend who had paddled their canoe into the bay where I’d been maybe 10 minutes after I’d left – we just barely missed eachother.  Not having any idea I had been there swimming with the rays, he wrote to tell me that as soon as he got to the center of the bay (and gave the exact coordinates where I’d been) he was approached by a very large dorsal fin as a shark followed along with his canoe and was checking him out.  He said that he didn’t feel in danger per se, just like it was curious and watching him, which is the same feeling I was getting under there.  Not necessarily in danger, but that something was there watching me.

It was a very clear and timely reminder to me that in a world which often makes you doubt yourself and your instincts, they exist for a reason and time and again my instincts are right on point.  With animals and people alike.

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