On homeostasis, polar vortices & photography

I am reading Antonio Damasio’s new book: “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures“. A central theme in the book is the evolution of human culture as a homeostatic phenomenon (see review in the Guardian newspaper: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/02/strange-order-of-things-antonio-damasio-review) . Homeostasis more typically refers to the ability of an organism to maintain a balanced physiology during external challenges e.g. excessive heat or cold etc. This is timely, as we have dealt with some wild weather in Europe due to a polar vortex coming to us via Siberia at the end of February. This caught me off guard: I packed clothes for a regular Paris winter, not for a Moscovian one – all of my really warm clothing is back in Indiana. That said, when the cold came I layered up like a Babushka & took the Metro to work, so I have nothing to really complain about…


But this got me thinking about when I have been really cold in the past & most of the time it usually had something to do with my passion for photography. For example, there was a trip to the Jungfraujoch in Switzerland in mid-summer. An incredible place for the very short time I saw of it.


Literally 10 minutes after I took the above photo we were in a white out & this at the end of June. What to do? Turn back & make our way back to Basel via Interlaken…

One October I travelled to a meeting in Galway in Ireland (staying at the Glenlo Abbey, see http://www.glenloabbeyhotel.ie/). The autumn chill was definitely in the air. I took the opportunity to drive to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Not a great day for it really – very blustery with a hard cold rain coming down sideways at one point because of the wind. I really enjoyed the Guinness at the pub at the end of that day…


After the OHBM meeting in Seattle I travelled to the Olympic Peninsula. It was mid-summer, but with chilly & wet weather – I had wet weather gear for me & my camera… It is a breathtaking place. I stayed at First Beach at La Push – courtesy of the Quileute people – a tribe of native Americans who have lived there for aeons (https://quileuteoceanside.com/accommodations/). The photo below was taken at around 9:45 pm from my cabin on the beach on the one day that we finally had some clearer weather.


Then there was a mid-summer 2 week trip to Iceland where there is snow on the peaks & almost perpetual daylight. This otherworldly place should be on everyone’s bucket list. The landscape is like none other & the bird/animal life is unforgettable.


There have been many other times when I lost the feeling in my fingers for a short period of time while trying to shoot pictures. Holding a cold tripod & camera in the cold tends to do that. But most recently, I froze my fingers here in Paris walking home from work during the snowstorm a few weeks ago, but this time it was because I was using my cell phone to shoot pictures & kept taking my glove off…

Ironically, of all the times when my fingers have been the numbest has probably been when I have been at home & have dashed out to shoot winter pictures in the yard. I still remembering the stinging sensation in my fingers after coming inside from shooting pictures after a particularly impressive hoarfrost early one Sunday morning.


But turning back to the original theme of this post, homeostasis. Our personal wellbeing depends on it. But our collective wellbeing is tied to the homeostasis of our planet. By now it should be pretty apparent even to the climate change deniers that the Arctic region has been destabilized due to our irresponsibility as a species. Extreme weather events are now common as the consequences of our collective carelessness – last summer’s & this winter’s storms in the Northern Hemisphere show that well enough. These will probably become more severe and frequent as time goes on. Challenges accompany these extreme weather events – particularly the cold weather ones. For example, how do we ensure that the homeless have shelter & avoid freezing to death? So what are YOU personally doing to help your fellow humankind or your planet in response to these climactic challenges?