Shri Jasnath Asan, Rajasthan, India
Photo © Shri Jasnath Asan, 2016
24 Dec 2016
SOLAR PANELS AND SMOKING POWER CORDS
I have been mostly offline and not posting to my blog due to a couple of unforeseen occurrences; 1.) I had a presentation due last night and was swamped with work, and 2.) About two weeks ago my surge protector and Apple power cord blew out and started billowing smoke due to a remarkably big power surge. The good news is that my computer made it out unscathed.
I was hanging on by one foot, struggling like mad to keep my computer powered up enough to work on my presentation with help from a solar panel and battery. Thanks to Amazon India, the replacement cord and surge protector came in and, for good or bad, I am back to posting regularly starting tomorrow, 25 Dec. (Barring any other unforeseen difficulties.)
15 DEC 2016
We traveled to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area last Thursday for a field trip with Ranger Kate. It was a beautiful day with stormy clouds and cool weather. Ranger Kate taught us about how plants and animals are adapted to our desert environment. The highlight of our day was when we stopped near a stream and a flock of Mountain Bluebirds came in to drink from the stream. We spent time watching them fly between the trees and the stream. Later we went to the visitor's center and looked at the exhibits about the Mojave Desert.
11 DEC 2016
Our next foray into the nexus of environmental education and art was a class to designed to help us become more aware of the myriad shapes of leaves. We first introduced our kids to the basics of leaf morphology and opened their eyes by giving names to, veination patterns, leaf shapes, and differences in leaf margins.
Then came the great tree safari … we packed up our cameras and our newly minted powers of observation and visited 5 sacred trees on the ashram grounds. (I’ll introduce you to those trees in a later post) We found each tree had leaves that were distinct. Each tree had its own personality and its own way it “made its living” in the world. We collected leaves from each and came back to record and draw what we found in our journals.
I loved showing the kids and opening their eyes to subtle differences in the trees that they had never noticed before. Seeing alone is not enough. The framework and structure that knowledge and experience provides, allows us to extend our vision far past what the eyes can see. It is a reciprocal process between the eyes and the mind; what the eyes see adds to our knowledge and knowledge sharpens our visual acuity.
The same was true when we were bird watching. I call it “gaining a super power.” Now what was once a small blurred bird in flight with a flash of white on its head and yellow beneath its tail, can suddenly be transformed by your "super power" of sight and knowledge into a perfect image of a White-eared Bulbul in our minds. This is the way we expand our ability to see the natural world. It is an amazing gift.
Terry tempest Williams once said:
“When you say there is nothing out there, what you are really saying is that I cannot see.”
Words worth considering.
09 DEC 2016
The last post, 8 Dec, was about the photos by Rajasthani students of their wildlands. This time it is about students of Southern Nevada photographing the beauty of their own wildlands. None of these photographs are mine. All are the work of southern Nevada participants in our 2016 STEAM Global_India. Just as with the Rajasthani students, their work shows an exceptional attention to detail, an amazing eye for color and composition, and a love and compassion for nature.
In the last post I said I couldn’t be prouder, but I guess I was wrong. Today I am now twice as proud, with superb students on two continents to admire.
Our international project has given students in southern Nevada a chance to explore and photograph their wild places and share the beauty and diversity of those lands with their counterparts in India. We are a group of southern Nevada refuge and park professionals, educators, artists, and student ambassadors that are working together with their peers in Panchla Siddha, India on related STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) projects. This initiative is commited to arid land environmental educaton and dedicated to fostering an understanding between cultures of our shared responsibilies to our fragile planet.
Read more about STEAM Global_India project at: http://skydanceblog.weebly.com/steam-global_india.html
8 DEC 2016
None of these photographs are mine. They were all taken by young students with borrowed cameras and no photographic instruction. All the work shows an exceptional attention to detail and an amazing eye for color and composition. I couldn’t be prouder.
There are certain days in your life that you know you are part of a really wonderful thing. These special days fill you to overflowing with joy, and puts a broad smile on your face. I am proud and pleased to present the photography of the students that joined me at 7am for their first birdwatching/photography experience at Karmlai Pond.
The whole point of me coming to Shri Jasnath Asan was to connect our kids in southern Nevada, USA with those in Rajasthan, India. I hoped it would be a unique way to provide students on both continents with project-based-learning on a global scale in an effort to help them gain an understanding of arid lands, not just the issues being faced in their own community, but also of similar issues and concerns across the world.
As an artist, biologist, and educator, I firmly believe that providing students with field experience and tools to see their world differently allows them to expand their knowledge and appreciation of nature. Birdwatching, photography, and sketching are three such important tools that all strengthen the student’s bond with the natural world. These valuable tools sharpen perception, heighten senses, and reveals a beautiful vibrant world that often goes unnoticed.
By slowing down to observe or photograph, it encourages us to take time to watch the behaviors of wildlife and explore the landscape in a new way. Done with quiet mindfulness it reminds us of our place in the complex web of life on earth and reaffirms of our responsibility to all he fragile life with which we share this planet.
This day filled me with joy.
26 NOV 2016
The champion that was having breakfast at the Rampura irrigation pond was not me, but rather a beautiful animal by the name of Halcyon smyrnensis, alias white-throated kingfisher, alias white-breasted kingfisher, alias Smyrna kingfisher or in Hindi it is called Kilkila. What ever you call it at 28 cm in length, it is a very large kingfisher. It excels not only in size but also in the color of his plumage. His head, shoulders, flanks, and lower belly are a rich deep auburn that contrasts strikingly with a white throat and breast. He has stunningly beautiful, bright turquoise blue back, tail, and wings. As though that were not enough to render a birdwatcher speechless with awe and amazement, this kingfisher also has an ostentatious, oversized, bright red bill. The flight of the kingfisher is rapid and direct, seemingly full of strength and purpose, and as he flies he flashes striking white and blue patches on his short rounded black wings.
This species of tree kingfisher not totally tied to fishing in streams and lakes, but is often found well away from water where it feeds on reptiles, amphibians, small rodents, and even birds.
On this morning, at the Rampura pond the white-breasted kingfisher spied his breakfast; a very large, very ugly, Indian waterbug. This bug was large enough to weave dreams into cold-sweat nightmares that would scare Tim Burton, and looked as though it could carry off a small cat or unattended child. Perhaps I am exaggerating just a bit, but at 12 cm the bug served as a gigantic breakfast challenge for the mighty hunter.
Once the bug was captured, it took the kingfisher 10 minutes of thumping the bug against everything he could to subdue it. First he tried the fence post and pounded it there, next he flew to a rock and continued smashing, and finally he flew to a iron weir gate and banged it against the steel over and over again until the bug was long dead and tenderized enough to eat. However, this led to another difficult delimna. The bug’s size was close to the size of the Kingfisher’s head. After many false starts and aborted attempts, the bug finally was choked down into the gaping red mouth of this extraordinary bird, and finally at long last, the bug became the satisfying breakfast of this champion hunter.
25 NOV 2016
On our brief road trip the last few days we visited Rampura, the ashram’s 35 acre orchard and the future home for Rajasthan’s first eco-retreat. It’s is a tranquil, peaceful place where one can relax and connect with nature. The trees are lovingly tended for and irrigated with a drip system from an on-site rainwater water storage tank that uses solar power to fill and maintain it.
At Rampura there is an impressive array of plants, including berries and other shady shrubs, as well as: 650 Israeli date palms, 435 Palm, 585 Lemon, 56 Gunda, 50 Sheesam, 1500 Pomegranate, 5 Bael, 35 Shade, Neem, Peeple, Kathala, and Khejari. If that weren’t enough there are plans for planting additional species of trees including papaya, mango, banana, avocado, ashwaganda, amla, cheekuas well as adding an extensive organic garden. Since the eco-camp has yet be realized, we camped out on cots under the stars on the dark night of a new moon.
I the pleasure of eating wonderful fresh cooked Rajasthani food with chapati cooked over an open fire. The perfecion of this night was completed by sleeping out under a massive array of stars that rival anyplace I have ever been. Being at nearly the same latitudes (Jodhpur at about 27.20˚N, 73.50˚E and Southern Nevada at 36.17˚N 115.24˚W) the stars looked pretty much like a Mojave night sky. I felt at home under such a familiar sky, though I was literally half way around the world from our desert southwest of the US.
I could have reached out and touch the milky way.
25 NOV 2016
On our trip to Guda Bishnoiyan we were lucky enough to see a small herd of blackbuck near a grassy pond. The near threatened, blackbuck also known as the Indian antelope, is an antelope found in India and Nepal. The males have long, ringed horns, 35–75 centimeters long and beautiful white fur on the chin and around the eyes that is in sharp contrast with the black stripes on his face, back and the outside of his legs. In contrast females and juveniles are usually hornless and a pale yellowish fawn to tan in color.
Built to run on the open plains, blackbuck can reach velocities of up to 90kms per hour with strides up to 6m long and leaps up to 2m in height, making them one of the fastest animals on earth, only surpassed by the African cheetah. They are the quickest species left on the Indian subcontinent now that the Asiatic Cheetah, once in India, is extinct. Their agility, lightning speed, and high leaps protects the adults against most predators, but does not ensure their survival.
The conservation story is unfortunately a familiar one. Formerly a widespread species, only small scattered herds are seen today and are largely confined to protected areas. During the 20th century, blackbuck numbers declined sharply due to excessive hunting, poaching, deforestation as well as habitat degradation and fragmentation. One of the most powerful activist voices for the protection of the Blackbuck comes from the fervently conservationist Bisnoi communities in the region. Shri Jasnath Asan also is working diligently as well to protect and restore blackbuck habitat through their revegetation efforts at Karmlai.
These antelopes have earned a place of sacred respect in Hindu culture and hold a honored place as a heraldry symbol of several princely states of India.
25 NOV 2016
We headed southwest of Jodhpur south toward the Guda Bishnoiyan, in search of demoiselle cranes. Stopping at a beautiful pond at dawn we found them, hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of cranes flying in the rising golden dawn. There a few things in this world more powerful or beautiful then watching, and listening, to wave after wave, after wave of cranes gracing the morning skies.
Though the demosielle is the smallest crane, they still are a large bird. The demoiselle is 85–100 cm long, 76 cm tall, and has a whopping 55–180 cm wingspan. They can live in a variety of environments, including desert areas and numerous types of grasslands, but are often within a few hundred meters of a stream or lake.
This species of crane is found in most of central Eurasia, from the Black Sea to Mongolia and North Eastern China with an additional small population in Turkey. These migratory cranes spend their winters in the more hospital climes of the south. Birds from western Eurasia will spend the winter in Africa while the birds from Asia, Mongolia and China will spend the winter here, in northwestern India.
I first met this species on a trip to Mongolia a few years ago. There on the high Mongolian steppe, in grassy marsh area, I saw a pair of cranes with two newly hatched, fragile, long-legged chicks following their parents through the marsh. These little ones had only a few months to feed, grow, and learn under the watchful eye of their parents. During the long days of the Mongolian spring and summer, they would gain their strength and prepare for one of the toughest migrations in the world.
In late August through September the cranes I saw in Mongolia would have gathered in flocks of up to 400 individuals and prepare for their migratory flight to their winter range. During their arduous flight south they had to cross the Himalayan mountains, often flying at altitudes of 4,900–7,900 meters (16,000–26,000 feet), to get to their wintering grounds in India. There they overwinter and prepare for their spring journey, in March and April, back to their northern nesting grounds.
It’s hard to imagine that those little tiny fuzzy new lives I saw in Mongolia, actually could be the same demoiselle cranes I saw today. Perhaps those chicks I saw are now parents and are leading their offspring in their first long migration to India and arrived in time for me to greet them at Guda Bishnoiyan.
Mehringarth Fort, Photo © Kaushal Tarikh
How do I describe the indescribable?
Rudyard Kipling described it as:
"A Palace that might have been built by Titans and colored by the morning sun."
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis said upon visiting it:
"I have just seen the eighth wonder of the world."
Picture a fort.
It's not just any run of the mill fort to be sure. It was a fort built in 1460 AD by Rao Jodha and is one of the largest forts in India, rising 125 meters (410 feet) above Jodhpur. Enclosed by rough stone walls, the fort still shows the imprints of cannonball hits by attacking armies of Jaipur on it’s Dedh Kamgra Pol gate. It's breathtaking.
Mehrangarh Fort is a massive fort located at the center of Jodhpur and spreading over 5 square kilometers on top of a high hill that rises from the center of the city. Its imposing walls, are up to 36 meters high and 21 meters thick. The palaces above are placed in the heart of the fort, secured by many levels of gates and walls.
The building materials were chiseled from the rock on which the fort stands so the structure merges with its rocky base and gives the appearance of haven risen up from the stone. Still run by the Jodhpur royal family, Mehrangarh is packed with history and legend, far too much to get across in a short blog post. To learn more visit : http://www.mehrangarh.org/
Along the Way
Panchla Siddha, India
Sharon K. Schafer
I paint, photograph, and speak about wild places in an act of reciprocity that is as vital to me as heartbeat or breath.
My interest in the magic and mystery of the natural world lies at the intersection of art and science.
Made possible through
the generosity of
Artists for Conservation
Generous support and inspiration provided by
Shri Jasnath Asan