Visca la Revolució?

Catalan independence flag, laid out with rocks above timberline at 8,000 feet in Cadí-Moixeró….
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There is no shortage of drama while living the expat life in a separatist border region! For those that read the news, Catalonia is caught in the throes of struggle in its attempt to hold a referendum tomorrow on the matter of independence from Spain. Yes, we live in Catalonia.

The referendum itself violates Spanish law and its constitution. The Catalans, on the other hand, do not care. What has resulted is a very interesting game of cat and mouse. Catalonia’s Parliament passed a law to hold a referendum and included provisions that, if the referendum does not happen, the Republic of Catalonia is formed automatically. Spain’s Constitutional Court (and ironically Catalonia’s High Court) ruled the referendum illegal. Catalonia’s President proceeded ahead anyway, so Spain took over the region’s finances, arrested 14 politicians, blocked access to voting apps, databases for electronic voting, and various pro-voting websites. Printeries were raided, ballots seized, and thousands of paramilitary police shipped in on a cruise ship literally decorated with enormous Looney Tunes character artwork. There is nothing like hordes of purportedly hyper-masculine riot officers stepping off a cartoon ship in a party town. Well, there is: it was when a friend of mine got interrogated by a Mexican federale holding a machine gun and a Hello Kitty pad for taking notes. But I digress.

So, tomorrow, the Catalans go the polls, well, sort of. Police have shut down a third of the stations, and families with children have started squatting in schools to keep the police out so the stations can be used. Catalan farmers drove into Barcelona (among other places) with hordes of tractors to keep the police out of polling stations. A Spanish judge ordered Google to remove an app that leads people to voting stations, and Spanish law enforcement blew the doors down on the region’s telecom nerve center to control access to the internet.

Spain has been compared to North Korea, Turkey, the Franco dictatorship, and Nazis and called undemocratic. The Catalans have been called Nazis, undemocratic, and a coup d’etat. The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights denounced stamping out freedom of the press. The European Union said it’s “an internal matter.” Everyone doesn’t like the Prime Minister of Spain: Catalans and Spaniards alike.

The reality is, only separatists will go to the polls. I have spoken to non-Catalans, and they cannot be bothered. So, inevitably, if all hell doesn’t break any further loose, and the Spanish cartoon police do not seize all of the ballots and start smacking people with batons while it is being counted, the vote will be for independence. More than likely, an independence declaration will be made. What happens then? Anyone’s guess. There are a few options: Spain promptly and unceremoniously throws Carles Puidgemont, the region’s President, in jail, nobody cares, or the people go freaking apeshit and actually achieve independence. In any case, I hope the euro drops because I would like to buy some hockey skates, and that would make them cheaper.

People ask: “what are you going to do?” Nothing. Literally, a herd of cows kept us up last night. They brought them down from the mountains after summer grazing, and they were bitching and mooing up a storm. That is all that happens in our rural little enclave. Well, that and someone smacked a “Vote to be free” sticker on our garbage can, not realizing we are not citizens and cannot vote, and there are no other permanent residents in our village.

If society collapses, we are 12km from France by car. If the French decide to close the border (they have a phrase: “Africa begins at the Pyrenees”), then we’ll pile in the airplane and fly to the other side, declaring an aeronautical emergency and requesting asylum. I’m glad I kept our German visas.

As they say, “Spain is different.”

Catalan independence flag on a hill near Massis del Montseny.

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Catalan independence flag on a rock near Cercs…
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Book: Yellowstone’s Hot Springs, An Aviator’s Perspective

For some inexplicable reason, I do not like blogging about books that I have written, even though there is that thing called book sales, and I mercilessly blog about the process to get the photos for said book. Nonetheless, I am making myself do it. This is number 11, published in June (yes, that much procrastination!): Yellowstone’s Hot Springs: An Aviator’s Perspective. It is my first book where I am pretty much pointing straight down with a zoom lens, trying my best to capture the otherworldly colors of the hot springs of Wyoming.

I was going to do one Yellowstone book in general, and there are too many hot springs, so I’d have to leave too many of them out. Thus, I decided to do two: this one about the hot springs, and another about everything else in Yellowstone. It is the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, so there is enough to look at. The second Yellowstone work is forthcoming.

As always, there is an element of surprise and development, as I set off to Wyoming to photograph Yellowstone for one reason, and kind of ended up with something else, and a refined sense of the American West.

3d cover - Hot Springs


Flight: Spain, Andorra: September Snow

I am told that snow can happen all 12 months of the year in the Pyrenees. That is not an unreasonable assumption, as up until this particular event, I had actually seen it in 11 out of 12 months, even if it was a shred of a snowfall, on the north side of Puigmal, at 9,500 feet in July. Nonetheless, September remained the elusive number 12….until the mountains got slammed.

I am not sure how much fell in total at the peaks, though a week later, there is still some snow. With strong September sun and higher temperatures, coupled with my visual inspection from the airplane, I would estimate at least 10”/25cm above timberline. Snow levels did make their way down briefly to 6000’/1800m, enough to drive up to the ski parking lot and enjoy some lingering snow….while it rested on green leaves. As of this event last week, there was no fall color, though it is beginning to show.

Comparing this to last year, there was no snow at all in September 2016, much less any real fall color. According to my photograph archives, October 23rd was the autumn color peak at 1100m/3871’; it will be interesting to see how this year pans out.

As for the flight in question, I went up as soon as the steady rain abated, going straight to 10,000 feet, right into a mountain wave. Headwinds were extremely strong, and snow was blowing around on the summit (yes, I did a similar routine with our April snowfall), though this time it was kind of a non-event, as I have been playing in the waves more lately and nothing bad seems to happen.

After the waves, I headed toward Cadí-Moixeró, descending to skirt a cloud layer that was stuck in the foothills. As the rain came through from west to east, the ambient winds changed to the north, which means that they arc out of the east as they drain out of La Cerdanya. These clouds struggled to clear out initially, which afforded quite a mix of photography with a retreating front as a backdrop, September snow, fog below, and dramatic terrain in between.

La Masella….on September 15?
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Pic Carlit (France), covered in snow, on the horizon.
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Penyes Altes de Moixeró – snow level well below timberline.
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Above timberline, infrared.
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Above timberline, visible. What is this, December?
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Visible again.
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Infrared again. Its interesting to probe how IR shows up with snow.
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Cadí-Moixeró, infrared, with fog layer.
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Penyes Altes, infrared (in B&W only), now with clouds that blew over to this side.
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Moixeró, hiding in the clouds. Cumulo-granite, my favorite kind of cloud.
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Penyes Altes again. Yawn. I wish this guy would actually put some decent quality photos on his ridiculous blog. Maybe a selfie by the airplane?
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Not sure of the name of this peak, and I am putting more effort into publishing excuses than looking it up. The main point of the image is the cloud formation.
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Flight: France, Andorra: Le Massif de Tabe

It is a bit of a puzzle why I didn’t fly to this mountain earlier, though I think it has something to do with Google Maps satellite view having a clouded image, where I can’t quite make out what is there. If I don’t know what is there, why would one want to spend time and money to fly and look at what could be nothing?

After various flights on the northeast side of Cerdanya, over Pic Carlit and points north, I recall seeing this mountainous object in the distance, oddly detached from the Pyrenees, though it was always shadowed by the fact that the Pyrenees themselves are much bigger, and almost always have something more titillating to go and chase.

On this flight, I did not intend to fly to Le Massif de Tabe. My intention was to head down toward Pamiers to photograph some French farm country. It had been a strong Tramontane the day before, which meant everything should be blown to kingdom come, clean as a whistle. Well, upon cruising outbound from the Val du Capcir, with my flight plan properly activated and on the frequency with French Information, I saw a gross haze layer at 5,000. Well, forget Pamiers.

Now imagine the heavens opening, light shining beneath onto Le Massif de Tabe, and angels singing (even though my noise cancelling headset blocks out the angels). With skank air below, Le Massif was now a jewel in the sky. It helped that it was spring, and everything was surprisingly green on that side of the border.

This is my first flight of any distance after getting the IR camera, so you’ll now get to see those interspersed into the mix, as I now shoot with three cameras on each flight.

La Cerdanya, infrared.
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Val du Capcir, France.
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Les Angles
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Puyvalador Ski Area
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Sarrat de l’Embinade
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Skank layer, infrared. Wait – IR sees through haze.
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Skank layer, visible spectrum! Very gross down below.
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Crête d’Embeyre – whatever that means – it was on Google Maps.
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Same thing, not in IR. And there is Le Massif de Tabe in the background. Cue up a choir singing in a French cathedral.
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Pic de Soularac (2.368m / 7,767′) – Highest point on Le Massif.
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Note a little bit of above timberline going on, though the real badass Pyrenees are peeking from behind.
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Other side of Pic de Soularac. I just want push pins for my blog map now.
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Wandering back.
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Orlu, again. These are where our mountain waves come from. When the wind blows from the north (behind me in this image), they hit this terrain and head up to 40,000 feet, ruining my flying.
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Diving in to the very terrain that makes the waves. Perhaps this is why I haven’t come over here yet – the association with mountain waves makes for some fear.
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Blue sky is a channel swap from sepia sky that comes off the camera.
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Valley from Ax-les-Thermes to Andorra. The white is foliage from trees reflecting IR.
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Looking north into the Pyrenees. One can see why Le Massif de Tabe didn’t amount to much compared to this. Still glad I went, though.
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Pass heading into Val du Carol. Cerdanya is off in the distance.
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Heading into Andorra instead.
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Back in Spain.
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