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I thought a digital rendering of a pine cone that I picked up in Ma’alot in northern Israel, would look nice with a quotation from naturalist John Muir. Muir was an early advocate of wilderness preservation in the United States, particularly in the west.

Click on image for full-size view.

john muir quote and pine cone

Preaching of Pines

Where the slopes are covered with pine forests, the Galilee reminds me very much of the western parts of North American. Jews began planting pines in the 1930s to reforest lands damaged by neglect and overgrazing by goats when under Turkish rule. Pines were chosen, in part, due to the fact that most of the “olim,” Jewish immigrants, were from Europe and pines looked normal to them. Eventually, the pine forests came under criticism, referred to as pine tree deserts, monotonous and sterile. Many people wanted to see native species reintroduced. However, in recent years much of the criticism has died away. It seems the pines have promoted the rebuilding of the soil. Native undergrowth and tree species, as well as wildlife, are making a comeback. And I can attest that sometimes the smell of pine resin is just wonderful.

The cone pictured is from from one of those pines, an Aleppo Pine (Pinus halpensis), also known as the Jerusalem Pine, is the only species of wild pine that grows in Israel. It is commonly accepted that the tree now called “pine” is the Biblical “oil tree”, as mentioned in Isaiah XLI, 19:

“I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree…”

It is also mentioned in I Kings VI, 23:

“And inside the sanctuary he made two cherubs of oil wood, each ten cubits high.”

The oil tree is also mentioned verses 31 and 33 of the same chapter, as well as in Nechemia VIII, 15.

The oil tree features close to other impressive trees in the description of the vision of the redemption, in the blossoming of the desert and the arid land. In the Mishnah and other rabbinic literature, the oil tree is mentioned as a tree that was used for kindling the beacons that were lighted to announce a new month.

The pine, in its present name, is mentioned in the Bible just once, in the Book of Isaiah XLIV, 14:

“… and takes the cypress and the oak, which he strengthens for himself among the trees of the forest; he plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.”

There is a mention of pine trees in the Mishnah in the context of the various trees which were used for burning the “red heifer”. There are also those who hold that pines were among the trees used for kindling the beacons to announce a new month.

Here is another view of the cone, superimposed on fallen needles.

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pine cone and needles

Pine Cone and Fallen Needles

The Aleppo pine blossoms and flowers in the spring. The male cones are shed after the flowering while the female cones develop into fruit. The cone stays closed on the tree until a heavy sharav [hamsin], when it opens and its seeds are scattered.

Several versions of these images are available on a wide variety of items at one of my Zazzle. stores. Search for “pine cone” or “muir.”

White on white. A new 10-Nugget postage stamp, featuring an Arctic Fox, a digital painting of an Arctic Fox, Vulpes lagopus, on the polar ice, has just been issued by the Alaska Postal Authority. The sun hangs low in the bright blue arctic sky. Do not stare at the sun as it can harm your eyes.

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arctic fox stamp

Alaska Arctic Fox Postage

As usual this image is available on an ever increasing number of items at one of my Zazzle. stores. Search for “arctic fox.”

The Arctic Fox is comfortable in deep cold; it does not begin to shiver until temperatures drop to about −70 °C (−94 °F) due to its dense, multi-layered fur. Other adaptations to a frigid climate include fur on the soles of its feet, short ears, and a short muzzle. Arctic foxes live in burrows, in a blizzard they may tunnel into the snow to create shelter.

The coat of the Arctic fox, sometimes blue-gray, is very effective winter camouflage. The natural hues allow the animal to blend into the environment. During the short warm season its coat changes to brown or gray, again acting as camouflage in tundra rocks and plants.

During the winter, when prey is scarce, the foxes follow hunting Polar Bears on the ice pack feeding on scraps. During the summer the eat rodents, birds, eggs, and even fish. They will also feed on berries and seaweed.
Arctic Foxes have extremely keen hearing, aided by their wide, front-facing ears, which allow them to locate the precise position of their prey beneath the snow. If it hears something moving under the snow it leaps into the air and pounces, punching through the snow to catch its prey.

The range of the Arctic Foxes is circumpolar; they can be found throughout the far north. The only land mammal native to Iceland, it arrived by walking oversea ice at the end of the last ice age. The species is in generally good shape except for the population on the Scandinavian mainland. However it is losing out to the larger Red Fox where their ranges overlap.

De Havilland Otter

A de De havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, sporting the logo of mythical Flying Moose Aviation of Talkeetna, flies somewhere over Alaska.

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de havilland dh-3 otter

de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter

The Otter, originally intended to be known as the King Beaver, was conceived as a larger, more capable follow on to highly successful Beaver. The Beaver referred to by de Havilland as a “half-ton truck;” the Otter would be the “one-ton truck.”

The Otter was used by the militaries of many countries and is also popular in  with skydivers; it can be found in many drop zones throughout the world.

A slightly stylized image of a Viking longship sailing under the Northern Lights; most of the crew is asleep, a few are on watch as the vessel navigates scattered ice. I took a few liberties, ignored physics, for artistic effect, so that the mast could be seen through the sail.  As far as I know no Norse sails have survived to the present so I made a few guesses as to how they were made and the material used. It is known that sails were sometimes dyed red to suggest blood and intimidate enemies.

Click on image for full-size view.

under the aurora borealis

Sailing Under The Northern Lights

I have always been interested in both the Inuit, the Norse communities in Greenland and their explorations and their unsuccessful attempts to settle in North America. It is well known that the Norse were in what is now Canada and the United States, but researchers are unsure as to exactly where they might have come ashore, save for the site at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. While working on the picture I came across a related article, appended below; researchers have found strong evidence of a second Norse site on Baffin Island in Arctic Canada. It has long been thought that the Norse may have explored the Canadian Arctic and entered Hudson’s Bay.

I highly recommend that you visit L’Anse aux Meadows if you can. The reproduction Norse buildings are extremely interesting.  The site was discovered in 1960 by the husband-and-wife team of Helge Ingstad, and explorer, and Anne Stine Ingstad, an archeologist. Helge Ingstad also co-authored Land under the Pole Star. A Voyage to the Norse Settlements of Greenland and the Saga of the People that Vanished with Naomi Walford which describes the life of the Norse colonies in Greenland which survived for about 500 years.

lanse aux meadows

Reconstructed Norse Buildings at L’Anse aux Meadows

As usual this image is available on an ever increasing number of items at one of my Zazzle. stores. Just search for “viking.”

vintage vikings

Vintage Vikings

Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada

Sharpeners may be smoking guns in quest for New World’s second Viking site.

By Heather Pringle, for National Geographic News.
For the past 50 years—since the discovery of a thousand-year-old Viking way station in Newfoundland—archaeologists and amateur historians have combed North America’s east coast searching for traces of Viking visitors.

It has been a long, fruitless quest, littered with bizarre claims and embarrassing failures. But at a conference in Canada earlier this month, archaeologist Patricia Sutherland announced new evidence that points strongly to the discovery of the second Viking outpost ever discovered in the Americas.

While digging in the ruins of a centuries-old building on Baffin Island, far above the Arctic Circle, a team led by Sutherland, adjunct professor of archaeology at Memorial University in Newfoundland and a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, found some very intriguing whetstones. Wear grooves in the blade-sharpening tools bear traces of copper alloys such as bronze—materials known to have been made by Viking metalsmiths but unknown among the Arctic’s native inhabitants.

Taken together with her earlier discoveries, Sutherland’s new findings further strengthen the case for a Viking camp on Baffin Island. “While her evidence was compelling before, I find it convincing now,” said James Tuck, professor emeritus of archaeology, also at Memorial University.

Archaeologists have long known that Viking seafarers set sail for the New World around A.D. 1000. A popular Icelandic saga tells of the exploits of Leif Eriksson, a Viking chieftain  from Greenland who sailed westward to seek his fortune. According to the saga, Eriksson stopped long enough on Baffin Island to walk the coast—named Helluland, an Old Norse word meaning “stone-slab land”—before heading south to a place he called Vinland.

In the 1960s two Norwegian researchers, Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad, discovered and excavated the Viking base camp at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland—the first confirmed Viking outpost in the Americas. Dated to between 989 and 1020, the camp boasted three Viking halls, as well as an assortment of huts for weaving, ironworking, and ship repair.

Viking Yarn

As reported in the November issue of National Geographic magazine, Sutherland first caught wind of another possible Viking way station in 1999, when she spotted two unusual pieces of cord that had been excavated from a Baffin Island site by an earlier archaeologist and stored at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

Sutherland noticed that the strands bore little resemblance to the animal sinew Arctic hunters twisted into cordage. The cords turned out to be expertly woven Viking yarn, identical in technique to yarn produced by Viking women living in Greenland in the 14th century.

The discovery prompted Sutherland to scour other museum collections for more Viking artifacts from Baffin Island and other sites. She found more pieces of Viking yarn and a small trove of previously overlooked Viking gear, from wooden tally sticks for recording trade transactions to dozens of Viking whetstones.

The artifacts came from four sites, ranging from northern Baffin Island to northern Labrador, a distance of a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers). Indigenous Arctic hunters known as the Dorset people had camped at each of the sites, raising the possibility that they had made friendly contact with the Vikings.

Intrigued, Sutherland decided to reopen excavations at the most promising site, a place known as Tanfield Valley on the southeast coast of Baffin Island. In the 1960s U.S. archaeologist Moreau Maxwell had excavated parts of a stone-and-sod building there, describing it as “very difficult to interpret.” Sutherland suspected that Viking seafarers had built the structure.

Clues Etched in Bronze, Brass, and Iron

Since 2001 Sutherland’s team has been exploring Tanfield Valley and carefully excavating surviving parts of the mysterious ruins. They have discovered a wide range of evidence pointing to the presence of Viking seafarers: pelt fragments from Old World rats; a whalebone shovel similar to those used by Viking settlers in Greenland to cut sod; large stones that appear to have been cut and shaped by someone familiar with European stone masonry; and more Viking yarn and whetstones. And the stone ruins bear a striking resemblance to some Viking buildings in Greenland.

Still, some Arctic researchers remained skeptical. Most of the radiocarbon dates obtained by earlier archaeologists had suggested that Tanfield Valley was inhabited long before Vikings arrived in the New World. But as Sutherland points out, the complex site shows evidence of several occupations, and one of the radiocarbon dates indicates that the valley was occupied in the 14th century, when Viking settlers were farming along the coast of nearby Greenland.

In search of other clues to help solve the mystery, Sutherland turned to the Geological Survey of Canada. Using a technique known as energy dispersive spectroscopy, the team examined the wear grooves on more than 20 whetstones from Tanfield Valley and other sites. Sutherland and her colleagues detected microscopic streaks of bronze, brass, and smelted iron—clear evidence of European metallurgy, which she presented October 7 at a meeting of the Council for Northeast Historical Archeology  in St. John’s, Canada.

Norse-Native American Trade Network?

Sutherland speculates that parties of Viking seafarers travelled to the Canadian Arctic to search for valuable resources. In northern Europe at the time, medieval nobles prized walrus ivory, soft Arctic furs, and other northern luxuries—and Dorset hunters and trappers could readily stockpile such products. Helluland’s waters teemed with walruses, and its coasts abounded in Arctic foxes and other small fur-bearing animals. To barter for such goods, Viking traders likely offered bits of iron and pieces of wood that could be carved into figurines and other goods, Sutherland says.

If Sutherland is correct, the lines of evidence she has uncovered may point to a previously unknown chapter in New World history in which Viking seafarers and Native American hunters were partners together in a transatlantic trade network. “I think things were a lot more complex in this part of the world than most people assumed,” Sutherland said. James Tuck agreed. “It’s pretty convincing that there was a much larger Norse presence in the Canadian Arctic than any of us thought.”


I have been trying to find out what else I can do with my graphics software and, as I like wood carvings and engravings, I am playing around a bit with that.  I thought I would start with a simple  “wood burning” or engraving of a grizzly bear cub in a tree on a piece of wood. Not too bad for a first attempt; even a bit of shadows and highlights around the edges.

ursa minor carving

Ursa Minor

I am currently in northern Israel and have been too busy to post any new work for some time. However, I was able to work on one project:

Click on image to see full-size view.

singing jackal amber ale beer label

Singing Jackal Amber Ale

This is a label from Singing Jackal Amber Ale brewed by mythical Nimrod Brewery in Israel. The label features a the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus).  Hebrew text above the jackal reads “Amber Ale.”  Additional Hebrew text below the jackal reads “Tan Shirah” (Singing Jackal), “Bira Tsafonit” (Northern Beer) to indicate it was brewed in the Galilee or the Golan Heights, and “Mivshelet Nimrod” (Nimrod Brewery).

The jackal, closely resembling and filling much the same ecological niche as the North American Coyote, is the most common predator in Israel. It is often found near inhabited areas, where it feeds on fruit, vegetables, offal, and carrion. It also preys on small animals. The eerie howling, or singing, of jackals often fills the night air.   Occasionally, I will see one or two lurking at the edge of heavy vegetation.

Jackal numbers in Israel have increased greatly in recent years. This is due in part to careless disposal of food waste and animal carcasses. Jackals will sometimes work together as do wolves to attack farm animals and wildlife such as gazelle in the Golan Heights and the Galilee. And rabies is an ongoing concern.


As is often the case the image is available on many items at one of my Zazzle stores. Search for “jackal”.

Of course, the bush pilots at Flying Moose Aviation have their own, specially-designed, pilot’s wings featuring Milton, the Flying Moose, wearing a leather aviator’s helmet and goggles.

Click on image for full-size view.

flying moose aviation pilot's wings

Flying Moose Aviation Pilot’s Wings


Reindeer (Caribou), Rangifer tarandus, may suffice for once-yearly, late-December deliveries, but when you need a heavy lift capability nothing beats the Flying Moose, Alces volanti.  Not only is the Flying Moose able to lift a much heavier payload than is the Reindeer, but its wings allow for greater precision when landing as well as hovering capability.  A wild Flying Moose, sighted somewhere over British Columbia, is pictured below.

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flying moose - alces volanti

Alces volanti – the Flying Moose

The Flying Moose has been adopted by at least one mythical, all-purpose flying service in Talkeetna Alaska – Flying Moose Aviation (FMA). FMA’s motto is “Flightseeing, glacier landings, cargo, hunting and fishing charters.  We fly; tell us where you want to go.”  A leather patch, as worn by FMA bush pilots on their jackets, is below.

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flying moose aviation logo patch

Flying Moose Aviation Jacket Patch

Northern Idaho and surrounding areas of Washington and Montana are blessed with a great variety of both flora and fauna.  The southern edge of the boreal forest, the Rocky Mountains and inter-montane habitat types blend into one another into.  Many species of migratory birds pass through the Idaho panhandle following Pacific flyway routes. Canada Geese, often called Honkers, are one of the most common.  Large flocks settle on the lakes and rivers.

Some Canada Geese are also year-round residents in the Sandpoint-Lake Pend Oreille area.  The image below depicts some of them on Sand Creek just a short distance upriver from Sandpoint.

While we do not seem to have suffered from a loss of birds that has plagued many part of North America I have noticed an increasing number of dead geese, and fish, in recent years while in my kayak. Whether that somehow results from the appearance of Eurasian Milfoil in out waterways, chemicals used to combat the infestation, construction and habitat degradation near the water, or some other factor, I do not know, but I worry about environmental degradation in this are as the population grows.

Click on image for full-size view.

honkers and cattails

Canada Geese And Cattails

The reference to “combat fishing” in the Cyanotic Salmon Bar & Grill posting from August got me to thinking that there should be an award for those who have survived the experience. So, using the U.S. Army Combat Infantryman Badge, awarded to soldiers who have been in active ground combat, as a guide I have devised the Alaska Combat Fisherman Badge.

us army combat infantryman badge

U.S. Army Combat Infantryman Badge

Click on image for full-size view.

an alaska combat fisherman badge based on the us army combat infantryman badge

The Alaska Combat Fisherman Badge

You can see the similarity between the two. The dark blue color of Alaska’s flag replaces the light blue of the military award and I have substituted conifer branches for the elliptical oak wreath.  A Sockeye Salmon, in spawning red coloration, on a dark blue background, over a conifer branch wreath. The fish is a male Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) in the red color it assumes for spawning.

I also worked up a green and black, embroidered “subdued” version as you would see on combat clothing.

a black and green, "subdued" embroidered varsion of the alaska combat fisherman badge

Subdued Alaska Combat Fisherman Badge

Honor the soldiers who have fought for our freedom.

Always remember that salmon runs are threatened in many places by mining, pollution, dams and other problems. Managed properly, salmon can feed humans for millions of years; long after dams have collapsed, long after mines have been depleted. Do what you can to help preserve them and never, never, never buy farmed salmon.

As usual, these images, and a couple of variations, are available on many items at my Zazzle store.


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