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  • AMA A TU PRÓJIMO

    Love thy Fellow Man

    On the heights above the town of Casa Blanca, across Havana Bay from the city and visible from many places along the waterfront, stands El Cristo de la Habana, or Christ of Havana. It is shorter and not nearly as famous as Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, but it might be a more tenacious symbol of christianity.

    Funds for the creation of the statue were raised by Marta Fernandez de Batista, wife of then-president Fulgencio Batista. It was sculpted in Italy by a Cuban named Jilma Madera from 67 blocks of Carrara marble that were blessed by Pope Pius XII before being shipped to Cuba for installation. The statue was inaugurated on Christmas Eve of 1958 with the Batistas in attendance; one week later they would flee the island as Fidel Castro overthrew the government.

    The statue could have been viewed as a high profile vestige of the Batista regime that the new ruler might have wanted to erase from the City's skyline. And although Castro was raised as a Catholic, the church soon fell out of favor with the new government. Dictators succeed when people have no alternative institutions such as organized religion to turn to, and so for many years all denominations were ostracized. Parochial schools were closed in favor of a state-controlled education system, and professed believers were not allowed to join the Communist party, thus preventing them from getting good jobs. Yet Fidel allowed the statue to remain.

    Next door to Christo is a lovely hacienda-style house with a spectacular view of Havana. It was probably appropriated by the Castro government from its rightful owner, perhaps a wealthy Cuban who opposed the new regime, or an executive of a US company that had been doing business in Cuba. Fidel gave the house to Che Guevara, whose first job after the revolution was supervising the arrest, conviction, and execution of over 150 former officials of the Batista regime. Che later admitted that the guilt of many of those executed was less certain than were their deaths. The executions were often carried out by firing squads at the La Cabaña fortress, conveniently located just down the road from Che's house.

    My synthesis of these facts is that the shadow of Cristo loomed over Che in the mornings as he walked to his car to drive over to La Cabaña to have people killed, which must have annoyed him. Much that annoyed Che came to bad ends, but when he left Cuba in 1965, Jesus still stood on the hill. Throughout the decades of the Castro regime the repression of the Church slowly eased. Pope John Paul visited Cuba in 1998, and posters of that event are still proudly displayed in many places in Havana. The statue was restored in 2013 by Raul Castro's government, and was this time blessed by the archbishop of Havana.

  • RETRATO DE ALBERTO VITAMINA

    Portrait of Alberto Vitamina

    Suerte is the Spanish word for luck, which seems to describe the life of Alberto Vitamina. He lives in a comfortable house in the beautiful and fertile Valle de Viñales. The tobacco that he and other farmers grow in this valley is reputed to be the best in all of Cuba, and the government buys it to make the finest cohibas sold in Havana. Since the early 2000's he has been allowed to keep 10% of his crop to roll his own cigars, which he sells to visitors to his farm...and smokes himself, of course.

    We were fortunate to meet Alberto one hot Saturday afternoon. We had traveled to Viñales for the day, stopped at a street fair, then had a delicious lunch at a restaurant just outside of town that serves its own organically grown food. Before heading back to Havana, Steve Anchell directed our taxista down what seemed to be a randomly-chosen road where we noticed Alberto and his large family gathered outside their house. We stopped, our guide Anay talked to them for a bit, and we found ourselves invited in to talk, tour the farm, buy cigars, and get to know these wonderful people. We also took many photographs of Alberto, his family, and his farm, and I feel fortunate to have made this portrait of him.

    We learned that in addition to growing tobacco, Alberto and his family also own a paladar (a restaurant and bar that is another one of the capitalist ventures permitted by Raul Castro as a way of improving his country's economy.) Alberto told us that he hunts wild pigs that feed on acorns in the nearby mountains, which he roasts and serves to visitors at fiestas at his farm. In the most fortunate turn of events of this day, we will be returning for one of Alberto's pig roasts in December.

    While reboarding our taxi for the return trip to Havana the sliding side door fell off the van. One might think that our luck had just run out, but things like this are just a fact of life in Cuba where the inability to replace, maintain, and properly repair equipment is endemic. When these things happen, I say they are “Going Cuban.” We were unable to effect repairs, so I, as Steve's assistant on this trip, was tasked with taking our group to Alberto's paladar for beer and snacks while Steve and Anay rode the now door-less taxi back to town to find another van.

    They were successful in their search, and, fortune still smiling upon us, returned with a much nicer van for our return. It seems the only person in this story who was not lucky was our first driver, who we left behind with his broken van. But, there was that street fair going on in town, so maybe his luck improved as well.

  • TAXISTA

    You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars? Well, we came across the square from the dock to the Pearl of San Francisco Café to get coffee and there was only one beggar awake in the square and he was getting a drink out of the fountain. But when we got inside the café and sat down, there were the three of them waiting for us.

    • To Have and Have Not, by Ernest Hemingway.

    If you start where Hemingway's book did, and then walk in a more or less westerly direction, you will pass through a slice of time, and life, in the city. In their halcyon days of the early 20th century the docks welcomed steamships from around the world and ferries full of automobiles and tourists from Miami and Key West. They are crumbling now, in stark contrast to the sleek cruise ships that tie up to them at the rate of three per week. You would have a much more difficult time than did Harry Morgan in crossing the now frenetically-busy Avenida del Puerto. The Spanish Colonial buildings surrounding Plaza de San Francisco, along with the rest of Habana Vieja, sank into disrepair since Hemingway lived and wrote there, only to be renovated in the 1990's to house and feed the vacationing Canadians and Europeans that fueled Cuba's resurrected tourist industry.

    Keep going and the beautiful architecture that the Spaniards left behind begins to become mixed with other styles; fewer sport renovated exteriors and some have collapsed entirely. This is the part of Havana I like best. Ordinary Habaneros live here, many in dark, dirty, overcrowded apartments that were given to them after the 1959 revolution and have been subdivided into even smaller spaces as children grew up and made their own families. Others have more spacious quarters, light, airy, and as clean as any house anywhere in the world.

    Some of the residents of these neighborhoods have found the means to buy and renovate adjoining structures into casas particulares. These apartments are my favorite places to stay in Havana, clean, comfortable, affordable, stylishly Cuban, and now even accessible through AirBnB! Instead of the posher, state-owned restaurants in Plaza Vieja, here you will find paladares, or family-owned and operated eateries with better, more authentic, and less-expensive food. Other entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the recent easing of government control to open businesses from their front doors, selling internet and phone access cards, various types of repair services, ham sandwiches, and my favorite, the places where I can buy a tiny cup of strong, sweet Cuban coffee for a peso (about 4 cents) from a kitchen window.

    These streets are crowded with people going about their lives from early morning until late in the evening, and life happens in the streets and on the stoops in these neighborhoods. The buildings are very close to the narrow streets, and windows and doors to the ground floor apartments are left open, with only wrought iron grilles separating their residents from people outside. It is easy to catch a glimpse of life inside a Cuban house while walking past, and one often receives a warm wave in response, and sometimes even a chance to chat that results in an invitation to enter.

    Habana Vieja is bordered on the west by three busy, gracefully curved streets that run from bay to bay, and that clearly signal a change to another area and a different kind of life. I was walking toward this frontier one evening after dinner when I noticed an unusual street light where Calle Chacón ended at Avenida Bélgica. At first I was drawn solely to the light structure and didn't even notice the taxi parked across the street. When I did, it became part of the composition. Then out of the darkness came the taxista, who occupied himself with cleaning what was probably salt spray from the nearby Malecon. He completed my composition and contributed his own little slice of life in Cuba.

  • LOS PINTORES

    The Painters

    When I first traveled to Cuba, I thought, like many people I suppose, that every building on the island was losing its battle with gravity, that all of the motor vehicles on the streets had been abandoned by US citizens fleeing the 1959 revolution, and that every Cuban spent much of each day searching for enough to eat.

    Those things are partially true, of course. Especially during the so-called “Special Period” after the Soviet Union dissolved and was no longer Cuba's economic patron, food shortages, nightly rolling electrical blackouts, and the lack of other basic necessities were common. Rationing remains a fact of life for many Cubans today. The island is full of vintage Chevrolets, Fords, DeSotos and other Detroit iron left behind in the exodus depicted at the end of one of my favorite movies, Havana, starring Robert Redford and Lina Olin. But I think that there are far too many for all of them to have been left behind in the exodus, and they are accompanied by a large number of Ladas and Moskviches that the Soviets left behind. And while building collapses due to lack of maintenance have been common in Havana for several decades (the latest one killed four people just two days before I wrote this) many, especially in Habana Vieja, have been restored to their former colonial glory and state of safety.

    I now know that Cuba is a much more nuanced and complex place. I would like to think that the hundreds of thousands of tourists who are flocking to the place right now understand this as well, but I doubt it to be so. Most have only a few hours ashore from their cruise ships to take a walking tour through the touristy part of the city, then queue up for a mojito at La Bodeguita del Medio where Ernest Hemingway drank one day.

    But even though these tourists get a view of Cuba too superficial to permit them to understand the place well, they are adding value in one way: by spending money on those mojitos, Che berets, and other tourist offerings. Some of that money is allowing the reconstruction of Havana to slowly make its way out of Havana Vieja and into other parts of the city. This photograph is evidence of that revitalization.

    We spent a morning on my most recent trip walking through the Centro Habana area, interacting with and photographing la vida de la calle, or life on the streets: ordinary Habaneros going about their business, the cacophony of poorly-mufflered vehicles, the smell emanating from shops selling ham sandwiches, sensations that the tourists down in Habana Vieja cannot experience.

    As the sun rose higher and the morning grew warmer, we turned north out of Centro toward the malecon, taking refuge under the portico of an office building. From that shady perspective we watched two painters slowly lowering themselves down the side of a building, applying a tropical shade of green to the wall as they descended. A few years ago this activity in this part of the city would not have been seen, so maybe all of those cruise ships do have some redeeming virtues.

  • El Niño Enmascarado

    The Masked Boy

    Cuba continues to surprise me, no matter how many times I travel there. Just this year alone I met a man who had lived in the same small Michigan town that I once did. I was allowed to drive a train on the Hershey Electric Railroad. I experienced the pleasure of having dinner in the home of a wonderful Cuban family. I participated in Cuba's black market. And I stayed in a casa that was also home to a pet crocodile named Alberto.

    While it is now routine for me to see major repairs to an ancient American automobile taking place on a narrow, busy street in Havana, I have to say that this little guy not only surprised but delighted me. As two men worked on the front door of the car, he sat on a stool, oblivious to his surroundings, his face obscured by a home-made mask. My first thought was that he was preparing for Halloween six months hence, but as far as I know, neither that holiday nor the custom of trick or treating is celebrated in Cuba. Perhaps he was pretending to be a luchador, but boxing, not wrestling, is venerated in his country. If he was playing at being a superhero, what was the purpose of the plastic bag?

    In the end, I just enjoyed the uniquely Cuban scene that I had encountered, made a couple of photographs of it, and decided that he was doing what little boys everywhere in the world do when they have the opportunity: he was being a boy. I can think of worse ways to spend a morning.

  • PINTOR; PLAZA CATEDRAL

    When I first began photographing in Cuba five years ago, I had a plan. I was going to use all of the film that I brought to photograph the buildings, vehicles, and other creations of man that had been left to their own devices in a country that lacked the resources it needed to maintain them. It seemed like a good plan, but as Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth Von Moltke said, "no operation extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the main body of the enemy.” The enemy, in my case, was reality. The first photograph that I made portrayed exactly what I thought exemplified Cuba: a building that was slowly but inexorably being reclaimed by the environment due to the inability of its owners to obtain the materials required to keep them up. 

    But about ten minutes later and three blocks from where I made that first exposure, reality demolished my plan as surely as any wrecking ball. I found another building that was not yielding to entropy, but was existing quite nicely, thank you, due to the persistence of its owner, a man named Nivaldo. I felt called to document this other side of Cuba, one that survives, and even prospers, despite a government that centrally plans and controls nearly everything, the sudden withdrawal of support from a patron state (the former USSR), and the embargo imposed by the USA.

    When, many years ago, I decided to make the exploration of entropy a long-term photographic project, I resolved that the influence of man would only be implied, and not depicted, in my pictures. But that day I came to understand that Nivaldo was the difference between a shining, well-preserved example of Spanish Colonial architecture, and one whose glory had long since faded, its balustrade half gone, its stained glass windows broken, its peeling shutters hiding an even greater deterioration within its crumbling walls. Nivaldo was part of the story these two photographs told, and he needed to be included along with his house.

    Similarly, I felt compelled to ask a taxista I met to pose with his wonderfully-maintained 1935 Ford, in stark counterpoint to a now nameless car seemingly abandoned on Brasil Street. Last year I spent an entire day walking the streets of Santiago de Cuba with nothing more than a handheld camera and a pocketful of film, interacting with and photographing the people of Cuba. After four trips to the island I think I finally understand what my friend Steve Anchell has been saying all these years: that it is not Cuba that keeps drawing him back, but the Cuban people.

    Through his company, Anchell Workshops, Steve has been guiding people interested in learning about and photographing Cuba and Cubans for most of this century. This year I was honored when he asked me to assist him with two Havana Street Photography workshops. I felt that there was little new for me to say about entropy, buildings losing their battle with gravity, classic US and Russian automobiles, or “the land that time has forgotten,” to quote currently popular travel websites. So, with no small amount of trepidation, I left my precious Linhof 4x5” camera, heavy tripod, and bulky film holders at home, and instead took a more mobile and and faster medium format rig. I wanted to use the workshops to build upon the work that I started in 2016, engaging with and learning a bit about my subjects, then photographing them in a way that depicted their unique surroundings.

    The workshops began in Plaza Catedral, one of the four important plazas in Habana Vieja, the original and oldest part of the city. Steve assigned the participants to work on “Street Portraiture,” which he describes as “engaging the subject through conversation, eye contact, or other interactions, trying to capture on film the essence as well as the likeness of the person.”

    As I walked around the plaza, I noticed a painter who had set up his easel and was working on a composition of the cathedral on the opposite side. I looked over his shoulder, paid him a compliment, then asked if I could make his portrait. He agreed, and went back to his painting while I made several photographs. This was the first roll of film that I exposed on this trip, and the first to be developed when I returned home. I like the result: it is clear who he is and what he is doing, and I particularly enjoy his furrowed brow as he intensely concentrates on his art. A good start, I think, and I look forward to finding some other satisfying pictures as I develop and print the rest of my film.

  • A Sign of the Times

    At the gallery where I show my photographs, we exhibit different work every two months. For the next period I decided to show two older photographs that I continue to be happy to have created: Piano; Lee Plaza Ballroom and A Desecrated Place. I thought I needed a complementary piece to fill the wall space allotted to me, and looked back through other work to I find this picture. Suddenly it became the focus of my exhibit, and would be supported by the others.

    This picture was made a number of years ago. The building is a long-closed factory in a little town in Michigan, and I suppose that the sign was meant to discourage non-employees from unauthorized entry. The building and the sign had survived years of neglect; the bricks, wood, and metal slowly succumbing to the process of entropy that I strive to show in a body of work by the same title.

    Now, in the first months of 2017, here, in the United States, it has taken on a completely different meaning for me. It has become a symbol of the current climate of exclusion being promoted by the Trump administration based solely on nationality or religion. It says that “you cannot come in here if you are not one of us. No exceptions. If you are from a certain country, or practice your religion in a certain way, or wear particular articles of clothing, or speak differently, you are out.”

    I love my country as much as anyone. I don't want to see another September 11 here, or attacks like those in Europe recently. I want my government to prevent terrorists or criminals from sneaking into the United States and causing harm to my countrymen and my country. But I want to see those people excluded because they are criminals or because they have been radicalized and want to destroy our way of life, not because of where they were born or how they choose to worship. Otherwise, we risk destroying our great nation through our own actions.

  • The Power of Two

    Early in my quest to become a good photographer, I attended a workshop in Grand Rapids, Michigan led by David Plowden, a photographer whose work I admire. David is an old-school film photographer who began his career as an assistant to O. Winston Link, and went on to photograph and publish books on trains, bridges, buildings, and other bits of disappearing America. The workshop included a critique of photographs by attendees, so I brought with me what I thought was some of my best work at the time; my “greatest hits,” so to speak.

    After looking at my offerings, David's only comment was that he didn't quite know what I was trying to say. I asked what he meant, and after making sure that I wanted him to continue, he gave me a brutally honest critique in front of the rest of the attendees, basically telling me that although they might be nice pictures, there was no cohesion, no connection, no theme to them.

    After thinking about David's words, I realized there were two paths forward: put all of my camera equipment up for sale on eBay and find something else to do, or use them to improve my photography. I chose the second and spent months thinking about what I wanted my work to be about, and then learning how to best express what I was trying to say. It turned out to be a wonderful journey of reflection and discovery that helped me grow as a photographer.

    A few years later at the Photostock event hosted by my good friend Bill Schwab, I received another critique, this time by Shelby Lee Adams. Also a traditional film shooter, Adams concentrates on the people and places of Appalachia. By then I had found my own voice in an ongoing body of work I call “Entropy.” Adams quietly looked through my portfolio front to back, then back to front. He asked me a few questions about the lith printing process I used to make the pictures, and made some very positive, encouraging comments about them. He told me that he saw a theme of duality in my pictures, something that I was unaware of at the time.

    I was not thinking of duality when I noticed this vine growing on a tree in the Costa Rican rain forest. I simply appreciated the simplicity: line and form. I chose a perspective and framing that eliminated everything except the vine and the trunk on which it was growing. The light was pretty even and diffuse, yet was directional enough to separate the vine from the similarly-colored trunk, and to reveal the texture of the bark, requiring no photographic heroics. But as I composed the photograph, and again while printing the negative, something seemed familiar. It certainly wasn't the location since I had never before visited the rain forest. I looked through some older portfolios and finally made the connection to “Frozen Fog.”

    One late winter day in west Michigan I awoke to find fog accompanied by temperatures just below freezing, one of my favorite meteorological combinations. I headed to a nearby park and spent an hour or so walking the trails, and was almost back to my car when I found this image. A single vine grew on the trunk of a tree, and I suppose that its lesser surface to mass ratio caused it to be colder than the trunk on which it grew, allowing the fog to condense and freeze on the vine but not on its host. The vine must have been covered with spines or hairs that each attracted their own little ice formations.

    Even though these two pictures were made many years apart, in very different places and certainly in diametrically opposed weather conditions, I was struck by the similarity of the compositions and subject matter. I sense a positive-negative vibration when I look at them together.

    To bring this story full-circle, many years after that first critique I relocated to Roanoke, Virginia. One Saturday I attended another workshop with David Plowden, this one held at the museum dedicated to the work of O. Winston Link, Plowden's old mentor. I was able to tell David how valuable his critique had been in shaping my development as a photographer, although in a much different way than Adams' comments had influenced me. Another duality, I think.

  • Razas

    (Roots)

    Now I know that your Yankee whisky it has taken away my mind,
    and I know that rum is the only drink suitable to mankind.
    And I know this tree I'm under with its shape entirely wrong.
    I need to see a gentle palm tree and I won't wait too long.

    Captain Jim's Drunken Dream

    -James Taylor

    Unlike the protagonist in James Taylor's great old song, I have lived my entire life in the temperate zone. I am used to the trees of northern America: the forms of their leaves, the texture and appearance of the bark, the various seeds they produce. I know that they are anchored into the earth with impressive root structures because I have seen them revealed when their hold has been overcome by wind and the tree they supported toppled. But usually all that is seen are the very tops of the roots; they do their work hidden like the foundation of a building.

    So when I began researching the flora and fauna of Costa Rica for my trip there, I was fascinated by the fantastical above-ground roots that support many trees in the tropical forests. These roots begin several feet above the ground and spread out in curving, descending “walls” to resist the lateral forces of the wind, very much like the buttresses that resist the outward push of roofs on the walls of gothic churches.

    One of my major sources of information on the rain forest was a book entitled Tropical Nature by Adrian Forsyth and Kenneth Miyata. From the book I learned that these buttresses are not unique to one species, but are common to many of the larger trees found there. I also learned that this form of stabilization probably evolved because the soil in the rain forest is wet and shallow, and therefore less able to support subterranean roots.

    Most of my time in Costa Rica I was in the Central Valley and the Monteverde Cloud Forest. But I was able to spend three days in a rain forest preserve near the Pacific coast town of Dominical. The town itself was full of surfer dudes (and dudettes) from the US and Canada, dressed in their tie-dyed uniforms and fairly reeking of patchouli oil. Not really my thing, but I did have what may be the best fish tacos on the planet there.

    Several miles of trails wind through the preserve, and I spent most of my time there hiking, listening to birds and animals hidden in the canopy, and looking for photographs. One evening I left just before dark on an out-and-back hike. As I returned in full darkness I startled a peccary (an apparently harmless relative of the javelina) who squealed, well, like a pig; I, in turn, squealed like a little girl.

    There seems to be a mutually beneficial cooperative arrangement between the Ministry of the Environment and private enterprise in Costa Rica, and this preserve surrounds a great little eco lodge called Hacienda Baru. It was built with sustainable wood grown right on the site, and water is heated with solar panels. Ceiling fans and cross ventilation provided by ridge vents and big windows eliminate the need for air conditioning even in the heat and humidity of the rain forest. Surprisingly, there is no need for insect screens either, just Spanish-style iron grilles to deter marauding monkeys. My first night there it rained, hard, all night long, giving me one of the most restful sleeps I have had in years.

    I awoke early the next morning and headed out on the trails, where I found this tree. I really didn't find a tree, just its roots. I do not recall looking up at the trunk, or studying the leaves, or trying to determine its species. I was entranced by the shape and form of the roots, how they formed hollows in which animals and smaller plants could shelter, their surfaces textured by moss and lichens, how their ends seemed to dig into the ground like toes. I spent the next hour and a roll of film experimenting with compositions, looking for one that would reveal the essence of these roots. Some pictures seem to compose themselves, but this one was more difficult. There were so many interesting shapes and forms and curves, it was tempting to leave too much in, complicating and consequently weakening the picture.

    As sometimes happens, it was not until I was printing the negative in the darkroom that I noticed the plant growing close to one root, with a leaf hanging over the top, illuminated by a shaft of sunlight that had found its way through the canopy. I think that photographs are strengthened by such an element, a visual “hook” so to speak, that attracts the eye as it scans the image, and I thank Apollo for guiding that beam of light in an opportune direction.

  • El Podre de la Naturaleza

    The Power of Nature

    The Ring of Fire is a 25,000 mile long arc that begins in New Zealand, goes up the eastern coast of Asia through the Philippine Islands and Japan, follows the Aleutian Islands across the Bering Strait to North America, then travels down the western coast of the Americas all the way to Tierra del Fuego (another place on my travel bucket list) at the southern tip of south America. Along this arc lie most of the earth's volcanoes: Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Alaska is a product of The Ring of Fire, as is Mt. Ranier and the infamous Mt. St. Helens in Washington state. About 90% of the planet's earthquakes occur along this line as well.

    Being a long, thin country completely bisected by The Ring, Costa Rica is home to 5 active and 61 dormant or extinct volcanoes, the most well known and picturesque being Volcán Arenal, which erupted regularly between 1968 and 2010, when it became quiet. As Arenal calmed down, Volcán Turrialba, an 11,000 foot volcano which had been in a dormant phase since 1866, woke up and has been emitting ash and steam since. It became even more rambunctious in 2015, and a few weeks before I was scheduled to fly to Costa Rica, ash caused the airport in San Jose to close for a couple of days.

    I had been told that Turrialba was visible from Orosi, the village in which I was staying, but it was obscured by low clouds during my first two days there. Then, very early on the third morning...it gets light in Costa Rica at about 5am every day of the year...I awoke, looked out the window of my room, and was treated to a great view of ash and steam rising from the volcano about 30 miles away. From then on it was a daily ritual to see and discuss with my Costa Rican host family what the volcano was doing. Sometimes a towering column of ash rose straight into the atmosphere before being pushed toward the Caribbean by the wind. Other times it seemed to need to take a breath, emitting only faint puffs of steam. Occasionally the wind direction changed, blowing the ash west toward Cartago and San Jose. The daily discussion increased my Spanish vocabulary by several words, and never again will I have to search the corners of my mind to find the word for “ash” (ceniza), “eruption” (erupción) or “nuboso” (when it was obscured by clouds.)

    One day I hired my taxista friend Luis to take me to the summit of Turrialba's slightly taller neighbor, Volcán Irazú. Luis was the first Costa Rican I met on my trip there, as he had been sent by the school to pick me up at the airport. We chatted in Spanish all the way back to Orosi from San Jose, several times during my stay there, and on the trip to Irazu. I assumed that like many people in Orosi, he did not speak English, but just before my time there was over I learned that he was in fact bilingual, but took pains to speak Spanish to students at the school.

    We left very early in the morning to be there ahead of the clouds that typically form on the higher peaks later in the day. As we climbed Irazú's slope, we passed hundreds of acres of vegetables growing profusely in the soil that had been enriched by past eruptions. We went from the bright morning sun of the valley, through the heavy fog of the cloud layer, then burst back out into sunshine above the clouds.

    The national park that surrounds Irazú was not yet open when we arrived, but the policía guarding the gate allowed us to walk down a road leading to Turrialba that had been closed because of the eruption. There I made this photograph of the volcano from about 10 miles away. Its peak rose above peaceful, white clouds from which dark, menacing ash boiled up from the crater, highlighted by the sun coming from the side. I was reminded of very severe thunderstorm clouds on the plains of my country, and almost expected to see lightning flashing from them. Nature expresses her awesome power in many ways; few can be more impressive than when she reveals the forces hidden deep within the planet.