by wjw on July 13, 2019

IMG_3981Here we see a lovely carpet of lupines.  They were imported from Alaska to Iceland because they are hardy plants that stabilize the soil, and the soil of Iceland has a tendency to get blown out to sea during storms.

Of course I am of the generation that, when the subject comes to lupines, promptly thinks of this:


Frozen Giants

by wjw on July 9, 2019

IMG_3977This was once a giantess who had captured a ship, and was towing it to shore to devour the crew.  Unfortunately she lost track of time, the sun rose, and she was turned to stone.

Seems kind of unfair that the ship and sailors were turned to stone as well.

Also, Iceland must be hard for giants in the summer, when the sun is above the horizon 22 hours per day.

I’m at Angel Fire teaching Taos Toolbox this week and next, and so my opportunity to write any long, thoughtful essays is going to be limited.

I’ll try to post a few pretty pictures, though.


Newly Arrived

by wjw on July 4, 2019

IMG_5125_edited-1Come just in time for the Glorious Fourth was a box of the uncorrected proofs of Quillifer the Knight, which will be available in bookstores the first week in November, the date having been moved, apparently, from the first week in October.

All the better for the holidays!

Here’s the flap copy:

Rogue. Joker. Lover. Reluctant conspirator.

The bumptious, ambitious young Quillifer has been knighted for services to the crown, but was then banished from court by a queen who finds him obnoxious.  Now, after a two-year voyage to improve his fortunes, Quillifer returns to court and is plunged immediately into a maelstrom of intrigue that triggers duels, plots, amours, and rollicking adventure.   Bounding back and forth from the high councils of state to the warm bed of his mistress, Quillifer must exert every ounce of seductive charm and low cunning in order to survive.

Queen Berlauda’s foreign husband brings war in his wake, along with a clutch of officials who enforce the royal will with violence, torture, and judicial murder. A dragon menaces the realm, and political conspiracy threatens the life of Quillifer’s young patroness, Princess Floria. It’s the traditional job of a knight to fight dragons and rescue princesses, but Quillifer is hardly a traditional knight, and he brings to the job an array of unorthodox skills that dazzles his swarm of rivals, seduces their wives, and threatens to overset the realm.

But there’s a greater menace to Quillifer than deadly political intrigue, for once again he finds himself hunted by the cruel, beautiful, and vengeful goddess Orlanda.

“ . . . chockful of derring-do, blood and thunder, swashbuckling, and other good stuff evocative of Rafael Sabatini, Sir Walter Scott, and the penny-bloods: venomous and dangerous court politesse, reversals, betrayals, cowardice, heroism, illicit sex, allegorical theatrical productions, dangerous hunting expeditions, privateering and, at last, open warfare . . . it’s not precisely a tale of Swords and Sorcery. Rather, you might dub it Rogues and Rogering.” 

                                                            —Paul Di Filippo, on Quillifer


The Whale That Didn’t Get Away

by wjw on June 30, 2019

IMG_3688Finally a whale lets me get close!

This is the skeleton of a long-finned pilot whale, floating eerily with a number of other whale skeletons in the attic space of the Whale Museum in Húsavik.  Most if not all of the whale skeletons were from strandings, though Iceland still does catch whales, some to sell to the Japanese, and some to feed to tourists.

We saw quite a number of restaurants that served whale, almost all of it bought by tourists along with smoked puffin and fermented shark.  I declined to be one of the visitors supporting the Icelandic whale fishery, nor did I eat puffin, as their populations have declined throughout the North Atlantic area.  And I certainly wasn’t about to eat fermented shark, which is apparently one of the worst things you can do to your taste buds short of gulping sulphuric acid.

I did have smoked reindeer and horse jerky, but at least I drew the line somewhere.



by wjw on June 29, 2019

Version 2This is the less successful of the two photos I managed of breaching humpbacks.  But then any photo you get of a breaching whale is a success, no?

I shouldn’t have written “humpbacks,” because there was only one humpback jumping this day, and he kept it up for some time, as if he were indulging all the photographers on board.  (I’m guessing he was a he, and trying to impress a female with a display of his athleticism.)  He seems to have thought he was a spinner dolphin, because he spun as he breached, which is why each photo shows only a single fin.  He was quite successful at corkscrewing through the sky.

We boarded our boat in Húsavik, a port town on the north coast that is sort of Whale Central.  We were on a restored fishing boat, and not exactly ideal for sightseeing, since there wasn’t a lot of room at the rail and the boat had a tendency to roll.  I was told we were going to have to put on a survival suit before we went to sea, just in case we tumbled into the briny.  The survival suit turned out to be a (rather cramped) overall, to keep me warm.  If I’d actually gone into the ocean, it would have dragged me down to my death.

We went for quite some distance before we discovered any whales, and when they appeared, they were a mother and calf swimming on the starboard side.  I was on the port side, and I was trying to gauge the odds of my getting across the rolling deck without being thrown head-first into some machinery, or breaking an ankle . . . and then of course once I got there, I’d have to elbow my way through a crowd to see anything.  I consoled myself with the idea that I’d seen whales swimming more spectacularly in Mexico earlier this year.

The calf seemed to view the boat as a toy, and kept swimming under it to the port side, then swimming back.  It didn’t surface on the port side, but I could keep track of it by his big white fins visible through the water.

Then this other whale appeared on the port side and started doing acrobatics.  I already had my piece of the rail staked out, so I started snapping away.

A breaching whale is only visible for a second or two, and then there’s only the foam that marks the place where he submerged.  There was no way to actually aim the camera, focus, and fire in the instant available, so I took advantage of the fact that, when printed, the pictures produced by my Canon are maybe eighteen feet long.  In other words, if you blow up a small piece of a very large picture, you’ll still have a respectable photograph.

When the whale did anything, I just stuck the camera out and snapped.  What with the boat’s roll many pictures were of the sky or the ocean, and some were out of focus because the Canon’s autofocus feature just sucks, but I did get two pictures of the whale breaching, and more of the humpback spyhopping or penduncling, which are amusing things the whales do so that tourists can have something to talk about.

So all I had to get a decent picture was crop out the 85% of the picture that I didn’t want, and Bob was, as it were, my uncle.

I felt for the German guy who showed up on the boat with a zoom lens as long as my arm, and which would have produced a terrific picture if he’d just had it pointed at exactly the right part of the ocean in the right 1.5-second interval.  I asked him if he’d got anything good.  “Nix!” he snarled.

More evidence that if you want to be a good nature photographer, you’ll take 99 bad pictures for every good one.



June 28, 2019

Taos Toolbox 2014 veteran Chris Cornell died unexpectedly a few weeks ago, and his family has set up a memorial page for those who knew him. They have very kindly approached me to establish a scholarship in Chris’ name, and the page includes a link to Taos Toolbox, for those of you inclined to donate.

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June 26, 2019

This was described to me as “a church of the Hidden People.” The Hidden People are, well, people— they’re not dwarves or elves or trolls, who are supernatural beings who also hang around in Iceland.  They’re just people who are hidden. (Some people think the Hidden People are the same thing as elves, but Arni assured […]

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Pod People

June 26, 2019

Friend of the blog Pete Johannsen and his pal Connor (who seems not to have a last name) interview each other about my novel Voice of the Whirlwind.  Interesting ideas are raised, some of which I will have to think about for a while. It’s entertaining, it’s smart, and it’s about me!  Good Lord, how perfect is […]

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June 24, 2019

Dig the crazy halftrack action of this 1929 Citroen snowmobile!

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Debatable Ground

June 24, 2019

So here we are atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, on the neutral ground between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate.  Because the land here is very new, there’s not much in the way of bedrock to support it, and in places it’s sort of collapsed— though not here, where this lake can be […]

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