Thursday, August 27, 2009


Guayaquil, again, on the way back to Portland. Some first impressions, scrawls...

In Salango, at night, I lay in a shaky bamboo cabin dumbfounded by the crash-upon-crash-upon-crash of breakers. I cannot see the swells approaching shore, but I sense their even rise-which has so often elevated and then lowered me-I sense their precise rise higher at the appointed line and then they topple forward and come down with unblievable sounds; the crashing of great swords; the faintest echo of colliding galaxies; the hiss of hurrying electrons; the sound of acres of metal sliding against acres of metal.

Some waves pound the sand like cannonballs, but these are just side-shows. The essence out there is in the rush, the slide, the sand-grinding of the ocean ashore; the billion-billion white noise of eternity. There is no code there, only particles in motion, but suddenly there is communicated to me the sense that I know nothing at all.

The moment passes: Not true: I know something now, I know that these crashes and hisses are important. They preceded all humanity and they will succeed all humanity. You may never understand them, I find myself thinking, but if you don't listen for messages in there you are a fool.

The next day, five fathoms alone under the dull surface of the Pacific, as I glance at my air pressure gauge, I am halted by another sound--a low whistle twisted by distance and water, a low whistle blending into a short, uprising moan. Whale. I breathe the word aloud through my mouthpiece in astonishment, the word roils upwards in silver bubbles. I kneel on the sandy sea floor and hold my breath.

Again, another low whistle, whorled by miles of current and salt and thermocline, but unmistakable. It trips my mind, putting me right back in the bamboo hut. Two whales, I think, dumbfounded, they preceded all humanity and they will succeed all humanity and though it´s time to turn around and swim back in, you had damned well better commit those sounds to memory.

But back in the cabin I cannot reproduce the sounds in my mind. They have already been washed out by fish-trucks, barking dogs, the rumblings of the cat-food factory on the beach. It's Ok,I think, you heard it. You can find recordings. It won´t be the same whales, I chuckle to myself, but so what? You don´t have to hear that twice.

Friday, August 21, 2009


In Ecuador, as underwater, it´s foolish to fight the tide. Í´m being shuttled from one meeting to the next, all in Spanish, para obtenir permissiones for a ´Proyecto Arqueologico de Submarina´ next summer. Hablarmos mucho, cada dia, sobre coordinacion de me universidad y Museo Salango. Me gusta todos.

In the mean time, a promotional video for Wilderness Survival for Dummies (you can get it at Amazon, or anywhere else on the web, or in Borders or other ´brick-and-mortar´ stores); this video was edited by Annie Biggs. Here in Ecuador, with a muy lento connection, I can´t hear or see it, and it´´ll be fun when I get back to have a look!

Till then, enjoy your hot and cold running water! Remember, most people don´t have such luxuries.

Cheers from Pacific Ecuador

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

There is only one way to do it

There is only one way to do it,
and that is to do it.
You can't sit around and wait for inspiration.
You have to go after it with a club.

-- Jack London

So many worries; will the pressure hold; will I forget some item on the checklist (more likely; what item will I forget, and what will be the consequence?); will the demand regulator work? Will the breathing exhaust port clog with ice? What if I have to bail out--how do I cut free of the main liquid oxygen supply and quickly switch to my bail-out bottle, without losing suit pressure, consciousness, and, a little more than incidentally, life?!?

Below, aviation pioneer Wiley Post clambers into his Winnie Mae, clad in his own built-from-scratch pressure suit. Building a strange flying machine of my own, pictures of Post give me the courage to carry out Jack London's decree; you just have to get down to it and do it.

Below, fit-testing my pressure helmet.

A little more tinkering, then off to Ecuador on Saturday for two weeks of underwater exploration.

Below, a message;

The moon bobs in the running river.
Drifting, drifting,
What do I resemble?
-- Tu Fu

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Half Way Down the Earth's Sphere

Lots of planes this summer -- now down to Ecuador, on the equator and significantly closer to the sun, to dive until work calls me back here in early September. Above, a cloudy wilderness from nearly 40,000 feet.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Back to the Pacific Northwest; flying in Nevada didn't work, with the wind daily either too strong or coming from the wrong quarter to allow safe gliding flight. Fight nature? Just Do It? ... No Fear? No thanks; I definitely fear bad flying conditions. I'll wait.

For the moment, some words on a recent night dive. Like most of what I post here, this is a fragment.

Remember this, I think, breaking the surface of the Pacific with the base of my skull and spitting the regulator from my mouth and simply floating, starlight streaming down my mask and vest; remember this bouyancy; this wilderness of salty air; remember the act of breaking a surface, of moving from a microverse of dark confinement to a universe in which photons from unimaginably distant and unimaginable sources rain into my eyes.

(c) Cameron M. Smith 2009

Below, after a night dive with Todd Olson (right).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Vapor Mountains

Cruising in a jetliner at 39,000 feet, sliding over the lunar scar-scape called 'Nevada'. Harsh sunlight splinters in the scratched lexan window but out beyond there are wonders; blinding white billows of cloud, fat white mountainscapes of cloud as white as paint; and there are bottomless canyons cleaving these mountains of vapor, voids that call for exploration. Expansive sheets of suspended mist are perforated here and there by enormous voids, revealing caverns of air illuminated by stray light. There are inexplicable towers of mist, too, they seem to be drawn upward.

Up here, in the lower stratosphere, we're above 80% of the Earth's atmosphere; despite the brilliant sun I know the air outside is bone-cracking cold, I know the metal of that wing would burn the hand. We can only survive here because we are encapsulated by devices approximating the pressures and temperatures of our terrestrial cradle.

Looking up, the sky darkens rapidly towards the zenith, where it is black. The gulfs of space are in reach. But we are already powering down for the descent...

Looking down I see Earth below. For five million years, I think, five million years we've been scratching around down there--swimming, running, sailing, trekking, dragging sleds across plains and oceans of ice...even burrowing down! But we've only been coming up here, into the stratosphere, for fifty years. To think we know this place, to think that we can describe it yet, and with a terrestrial vocabulary, is funny.

Down we go, sliding down now towards the dry lakebeds and several days of test-flying my paraglider in preparation for the Winter.