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Posts Tagged ‘desert’

Photo: CNRS / MADAJ / R. Schwerdtner
Mysterious 2,000-year-old camel carvings found in Saudi Arabian desert.

The lure of space travel notwithstanding, there’s still a lot to discover and puzzle out on Planet Earth. In this story, archaeological adventurers ask why life-size camels might have been carved 2,000 years ago in a Saudi Arabian desert.

Ruth Schuster explores the mystery at Haaretz. “About a dozen life-sized stone sculptures and reliefs of camels have been found in a markedly inhospitable site in northern Saudi Arabia. While camelid art has existed in the region going back millennia, nothing quite like this has been found before.

“The somewhat eroded statues are tentatively dated at around 2,000 years old, give or take a century or more, according to a collaboration between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage reported [in] the Cambridge journal of Antiquity. …

“No associated artifacts were found at Camel Site that could give clues about origin – no hammers, picks or anything.  …

“For all the art, Camel Site seems not to have been inhabited. As the authors write, it ‘does not seem propitious for permanent human settlement.’ However, they point out, the fact that ‘this isolated and seemingly uninhabitable site attracted highly skilled rock-carvers is striking testimony to its importance for surrounding populations.’

“For instance, it might have been a place of veneration going back generations. … Or the site could have been a boundary marker. Or a rest stop for caravans. …

“The camels were carved in proportion. Muscles and heads, particularly the muzzles and eyes, and the thickness of the legs were individual. These were lovingly depicted camels.”

More about the work to uncover the story of the carved camels may be found here. I was surprised to learn camels actually emerged first in North America.

By the way, I once rode a camel briefly. I was five months pregnant with John. I think I pretty much just got on and then got off.

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The clouds on Wednesday were amazing here, and to share my photos of them, I first tried to find a cloud poem on Google.  But after reading several that weren’t quite right, I decided to change tack and see what I could learn about languages with numerous names for clouds.

That’s how I came across photographer and journalist Arati Kumar-Rao, who writes at Peepli about clouds in an Indian desert, where clouds are few and far between.

“There was excitement in the air. The horizon was flashing an intermittent neon in the darkness, silhouetting ghostly clouds.

“What are those clouds called? I asked. Chhattar Singh gazed into the distance, as if mining a lost memory. The words began to trickle — hesitant at first, then faster, crowding one another in his excitement. Those were kanThi, he said. And if they consolidate and promise rain, their name will change to ghaTaaTope. If the clouds become very dense, they’ll be called kaLaan.

“That night, the kanThi did not build up. It did not rain.

“Life stirred awake next morning under a pretty-patterned sky — tufts of white trailing in arcs and lines, horizon to blue horizon.

“We sat sipping chai and watching a distant wind ripple through a feathery, fruit-laden khejri. ‘Those clouds won’t rain either,’ I offered.

“ ‘Teetar pankhi’ Chhattar Singh replied. They had a word for this cloud pattern too – a perfect analogy that likened it to the pattern on the wings of a partridge.

“They say eskimos have 40 names for snow. I get that — they are surrounded by snow all year. The people of the Thar have just forty cloudy days in a year — and yet they have as many names for clouds! …

“The area I have been visiting over the past three years, the deep western part of the Thar desert, lies in Jaisalmer district. It is bounded on the north and west by Pakistan, in the east by Jodhpur district, in the south by Barmer district, and in the northeast by Bikaner district.

“The rainfall here is a meager 100-150mm, about a tenth of the national average and a pitiful 2 per cent of the rainfall Kerala and some other of the wettest areas in India get. For the people of the Thar, sighting clouds and rain are events. Memorable. Priceless. Because these moments hold the key to their very existence.” Read Kumar-Rao’s report here. I think you will like how respectful she is of Singh, controlling her instinct to ask a million questions.

My Massachusetts scenes don’t look much like the Thar desert, I know, but maybe clouds are similar everywhere.

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My husband has found some of his best reading-list ideas after checking out the obits. Sometimes I find blog stories there. This one is about a ballet dancer who brought her art to the desert.

The Associated Press reported, “Marta Becket, a dancer and artist who spent decades presenting one-woman shows at a remote Mojave Desert hall that she made famous as the Amargosa Opera House, died Jan. 30 at her home in Death Valley Junction, Calif. She was 92.

“A New York City native, she had performed on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall. A flat tire during a 1967 camping trip with her husband to Death Valley, changed her life.

“They discovered an abandoned theater in a mining town. The couple rented the building, and Marta Becket made her debut in 1968 at the renamed Amargosa Opera House. In the beginning, only the three Mormon families who lived in the town at that time came to watch.

“The nearest town is 23 miles away from the opera house, but audiences filled its 114 theater seats so many times over the years that extra chairs sometimes had to be brought in.

“Ms. Becket wrote songs and dialogue, sewed costumes, and painted sets. She danced every Monday, Friday, and Saturday whether the house was full or empty. …

‘‘ ‘I love dance. I love ballet. It’s the world I want,’ she said in 2001. ‘It’s mystifying. I feel as if this is what I was intended to do.’’ …

“Her story was captured in 2000 in the award-winning documentary ‘Amargosa.’ ” More here.

I love that she danced even if there was no audience. That’s art.

Photo: AM Morris/The Las Vegas Sun
Marta Becket danced en pointe during the inaugural performance of “Masquerade” at the Amargosa Opera House.

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Photo: The Economist

Reversing desertification in Africa has to be one of the biggest challenges ever attempted. But if we believe that the longest journey starts with a single step, then the continent’s long journey is off to a good start.

According to the Economist, “Building a wall of trees across the width of Africa is a tall order. Solving the twin problems of land degradation and desertification poses a greater challenge still. But more than 60 years after it was first proposed, just such a project is underway at the edge of the Sahara. …

“In 1952 Richard St Barbe Baker, a British environmental scientist, proposed planting a swathe of trees across the southern reaches of the Sahara. The trees would block the wind and sand that move southward from the desert and improve the quality of the soil by binding sediment together and adding nutrients to the mix.

“Although Mr Baker was unable to convince others of his plan during his lifetime, the idea has since taken root. In 2005, Olusegun Obasanjo, then president of Nigeria, revisited Mr Baker’s proposition, seeing in it an answer to some of the social, economic and environmental problems afflicting the Sahel-Sahara region.

“An estimated 83% of rural sub-Saharan Africans are dependent on the region’s land for their livelihoods, but 40% of it is degraded—worn away by soil erosion, human activity and scorching temperatures—leaving much of it unfit for use.

“In 2007, Mr Obasanjo gained the support of the African Union. The Great Green Wall Initiative was launched the same year. Today some 21 African countries are involved in the project, which has grown in scope. Trees have been planted, but building a wall of them is no longer the priority.

“Instead, the wall of trees has become a vehicle for a wider goal: countries in the region working together to tackle climate change, food security and economic growth. Recent projects include abating soil erosion and improving water management in Nigeria, agri-business development in Senegal and forestry management in Mali.”

More at the Economist.

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OK, here’s one I bet you don’t know about. Like a couple super fathers I know, the sandgrouse father is devote to parenting. But when the fathers I know give thirsty children some water, it is likely to arrive in a bottle or sippy cup. The sandgrouse papa delivers water in his feathers.

Rick Wright and Mary McCann report at Public Radio International’s Living on Earth, “Sandgrouse – pointy-tailed relatives of pigeons – live in some of the most parched environments on earth. To satisfy the thirst of newly hatched chicks, male sandgrouse bring water back to the nest by carrying it in their feathers. It sounds incredible, and for decades, scientists thought it was just a myth. But it’s not. In the cool of the desert morning, the male flies up to twenty miles to a shallow water hole, then wades in up to his belly.

“The water is collected by ‘rocking.’ The bird shifts its body side to side and repeatedly shakes the belly feathers in the water; fill-up can take as long as fifteen minutes. Thanks to coiled hairlike extensions on the feathers of the underparts, a sandgrouse can soak up and transport 25 milliliters of liquid. That’s close to two tablespoons.

“Once the male has flown back across the desert with his life-giving cargo, the sandgrouse chicks crowd around him and use their bills like tiny squeegees, ‘milking’ their father’s belly feathers for water they so desperately need.”

Listen here.

Photo: Ian White, Flickr CC
The Feathers of Burchell’s Sandgrouse carry water for miles back to the nest.

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A 70-year-old California homesteader’s shack near Joshua Tree national park is now a light installation, Lucid Stead.

When architect Michael Graham Richard talked to artist Phillip K. Smith about the work, Smith explained, “Lucid Stead is about tapping into the quiet and the pace of change of the desert. When you slow down and align yourself with the desert, the project begins to unfold before you. It reveals that it is about light and shadow, reflected light, projected light, and change.”

To Richard, the disappearing act that Lucid Stead achieves with reflections is a revelation. “Sometimes the best way to be part of the landscape is to blend into it,” he says. “Animals have been using camouflage for millions of years for survival, but there can also be aesthetic reasons to want to disappear, at least a little.”

In Smith’s creation, he continues, “the desert itself is used as a material,” as is reflected light. Check out a slide show here , at Treehugger.com, which highlights the artist’s use of solar power. Be sure to note how amazing the “shack” looks at night (slides 7-9).

Photo: Steven King, Phillip K Smith, III/royale projects contemporary art

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