For the past 22 years, students from across the country have
been painting and drawing some amazing pictures of ducks, swans,
geese and related water birds.
Each year, the best pictures are printed up as Federal Junior
Duck Stamps, which can be purchased from participating post offices
and sporting good stores. With the deadline for the 2015 art
contest approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share
some of these great artworks.
The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program is
sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The $5 junior duck
stamps are modeled on the $15 Federal Duck Stamps, purchased by
hunters and used by others as a pass for national wildlife
Proceeds from the junior duck stamps are used for conservation
education, including a national curriculum for students from
kindergarten through 12th grade. The national program involves
elements of science, art, math and technology.
The deadline for the art competition is March 15. At the state
level, students are judged in four groups by grade: K-3, 4-6, 7-9
and 10-12. Numerous awards are given in each group, and one “best
of show” from each state are entered into the national competition
in April. Participants are encouraged to include a conservation
message with their entries.
American Rivers, an environmental group, has released an
inspiring new short film that captures the sense of wonder and
adventure people can experience in the wild outdoors.
The video features one little boy named Parker who exudes
enthusiasm as he runs, jumps and explores the rivers of the Olympic
Peninsula. We listen to fast-paced music as the scenes change
quickly, jumping from one place to the next, while Parker
demonstrates his “top 50 favorite things about Northwest Rivers.”
(Be sure to watch in full-screen.)
“We wanted a video that would connect with people on a fun,
personal level, reminding all of us why healthy rivers matter and
why rivers make the Northwest such a special place to live,” Amy
Kober of American Rivers told me in an email. “Wild rivers are
amazing places for kids and adults; they can make us all feel like
Amy said she chose filmmaker Skip Armstrong of Wazee Motion
Pictures “because of his talent, unique style, and creativity — and
his own love of rivers.”
Skip says he got the idea for a simple film about unbridled
enthusiasm and curiosity while watching his fiancee’s nephew
playing on the beach. When it came time to shoot the American
Rivers video, that particular boy was not available. Skip looked
around his hometown of Hood River, Ore., and found an equally
energetic and curious youngster named Parker Arneson, son of Emmie
Purcell and Shane Arneson. This high-powered 8-year-old is an avid
snowboarder and skateboarder.
Skip spent three days last summer scouting out locations on the
Olympic Peninsula, then came back in the fall with Parker for an
eight-day shoot, traveling the Highway 101 loop around the Olympic
Peninsula in a counter-clockwise direction. Being a home-schooled
student, Parker did not miss any school.
“We just followed Parker around when we got to locations,” Skip
said. “He literally did everything else. He’s an amazing person.
What struck all of us on the shoot was his ability to engage us and
the camera and to come up with ideas. He’s a ton of fun to be
“We only had one comical setback,” he said. “Hayden Peters and I
set off to scout a location and got a bit lost on the way back to
the van. It was pouring rain. We finally got to a hillside that
looked like the road was above it, so we set off to climb the hill.
Only problem was a benign-looking puddle that I stepped in with
great confidence, only to sink immediately to my armpits.
“Shortly thereafter, we arrived back at the car, me smelling
like a swamp and totally soaked. Parker thought it was pretty
Parker took some pretty good falls while running around, but he
always bounced back and was ready to go again, Skip said.
Parker even got a speeding ticket from an Olympic National Park
ranger for running too fast in the Staircase area near the North
Fork of the Skokomish River. It was a joke, of course. The ranger
was one who accompanied the film crew as part of the permit
requirements for shooting video in a wilderness area.
Emmie, Parker’s mom, said he had a great time shooting the
Skip has produced numerous films with a water theme. Check out
“featured work” on his website, WazeeMotionPictures.com. He
says it is important to remember the joy we feel in wild
“To me, there is no faster access to unbridled joy than through
the eyes of a young person or child,” he wrote me in an email. “It
was refreshing for our team to spend so much time with Parker, and
it’s cool to see audiences connect with his enthusiasm, too.
“American Rivers works so hard to protect our precious
resources, and I love that Parker shows us why this is important.
When we were shooting, we met so many wonderful people of all ages
enjoying the rivers and sights of the Northwest.”
Skip’s film reminds us that some of our best times can be had
outdoors. As the weather improves, I’m inspired and eager to get
back to some wild places with my own kids and grandkids.
I also want to thank Skip for sending along the still photos
that show Parker and the film crew out and about on the Olympic
BirdNote originated in 2005 at a single station — KPLU in Tacoma
— and expanded to 50 participating stations by 2010 with about 200
stations today, according to a
list of facts put together for the anniversary. Birdnote began
as a once-a-week segment before expanding to daily segments in
The searchable archive
covers more than 1,200 shows, featuring more than 650 species of
birds. Besides the daily audio clips, each webpage links to related
sources — including photos or videos; a little history or
biography; scientific explanations; occasional notes or blogs; and
often more information about the featured birds.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of BirdNote, and since this is
a blog about water issues, I’ve picked out 20 clips from the past
two years or so that I think you will enjoy:
Jimmy Fallon and Bill Gates together make an interesting
combination. One is about finding new ways to solve serious world
problems, while the other is looking for new ways to surprise and
Bill gates recently challenged Jimmy Fallon to the “ultimate
taste test” involving two glasses of water. Jimmy would try to tell
the difference between bottled water and sewage effluent from an
innovative treatment plant built in Sedro Woolley, south of
Bellingham. As you’ll see from the video, there was a bit of
In his blog,
“Gates Notes,” Bill Gates describes the Omniprocessor, designed
by Janicki Bioenergy of Washington state. A video on that page
(shown here) demonstrates how the processor works, with an ending
in which Gates drinks water that had been in the form of human
feces just minutes before.
Gates makes the most of this humorous but deadly serious issue,
knowing that one of the greatest health threats in the developing
world is contaminated drinking water — and that a machine could
help solve the problem.
The Omniprocessor burns dried human waste as fuel to dry more
waste as it comes into the plant, providing an endless supply of
fuel that can be burned at a very high temperature, thus
controlling air emissions. The drying process produces steam, which
can run a generator for electricity. The water vapor is cooled and
goes through a final filter to produce clean drinking water.
I’ve read many articles written about the Omniprocessor over the
past month, but Mark Stayton of the
Skagit Valley Herald wrote the most informative piece I’ve
A working prototype is scheduled to be fabricated this spring in
Dakar, Senegal, West Africa, and go into use soon after. Graphics
and photos are available on the Omniprocessor home
I’ll be interested to see how this entire operation works in
practice. Not much is said about getting the waste to the machine.
Apparently, some locations have trucks that pump out latrines and
then dump the untreated waste someplace else, risking contamination
to groundwater or surface water. Transportation of the waste/fuel
might be less of an issue in cities with inadequate
sewage-treatment plants, but I don’t know how efficient trucks
would be in rural areas, where roads are often a problem.
Anyway, I will try to keep you informed about the Omniprocessor
and similar technology in the months to come.
But I noticed another minor trend among the commercials: the use
of historical voice-overs connected to meaningful images. It began
with the first commercial after the game started. That ad, for
Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines, seems especially appropriate
for this blog, because it deals with the human connection to the
We hear President John F. Kennedy’s voice as he talks about our
connection to the sea:
“We have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are
tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is
to sail or to watch —we are going back from whence we came.”
The commercial contains wonderful images, as you can see in the
first video on this page. The second video shows Kennedy giving
that speech at a 1962 dinner in Newport, R.I, where the president
spoke about the America’s Cup Challenge. It was the year Sir Frank
Packer became the first Australian challenger for the cup, with his
crew aboard the 12-meter yacht Gretel. The dinner was given by the
Australian ambassador. A transcript of the speech is available from
the website of the
Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
The commercial for Carnival apparently was selected from among
five contenders in an online contest to determine which video would
be played during the Super Bowl. The runners-up were also pretty
“Get Away” was the
humorous video that did not make it to the TV screen.
The voice-over approach was continued in the first quarter in a
Toyota commercial featuring Amy Purdy, the celebrity who lost her
legs to meningitis when she was 19. Amy’s father donated a kidney
so she could survive. She then went on to compete in snowboarding
in the Paralympics, perform in movies and on television, and take
second place in Season 18 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
The commercial shows Amy running, snowboarding and dancing, but
especially driving a Toyota. The company claims on its website that
“our story is about much more than our vehicles.”
The voice you hear on the video is Muhammad Ali, talking about
his upcoming boxing match with George Foreman in 1974. You can see
him talking in the fourth video on this page, which offers a dark
shot of the speech that some call his greatest ever.
There was another voice-over in a commercial for NO MORE, a
campaign against domestic violence by the Joyful Heart
Foundation. The audio comes from an actual 911 call, which
speaks for itself. The version played during the Super Bowl was 30
seconds long, but I’ve posted the longer 60-second version, because
it contains a more accurate editing of the call.
If you’d like to view any or all the Super Bowl commercials,
arranged in order, go to iSpot’s “Super
Bowl Ad Center.”
Horses can be fairly unpredictable around water, as I learned
while scanning through videos of horses splashing in streams,
falling into icy lakes and serving as unwilling participants in the
“ice bucket challenge.”
I got started looking at horses and water after viewing the
first video on this page, which shows rider Anna Paterek patiently
coaxing her horse Magic into the water. As you can see, when Magic
would not carry his rider into the stream, Anna dismounted and
demonstrated that her horse had nothing to fear — and Magic
responded in kind.
From this first video, I found some others that I thought you
might be interested in seeing. While I don’t have much information
about the next video, I love how the rider manages a broad smile as
she goes to retrieve her horse.
The third video shows what could have been a tragedy in
Reykjavik, Iceland, where a group of horses and their riders fell
through the ice on a shallow pond during a horse show in 2009.
Fortunately, all the horses and riders were able to get out without
serious injury, although some horses needed to be warmed to avoid
Talk magazine had a written account of the incident.
Here are three more videos for your amusement:
Recall Videos” compiled a collection of steeplechase clips, in
which you’ll see horses and their riders having trouble getting
through the water jumps.
In a comedy video,
bystanders are caught off guard in a gag that involves a police
officer, a horse and a river.
Last but not least is a woman who decides to do the popular
challenge” astride her horse. While the woman only flinched
when hit with the icy water, her horse was roused into motion.
I can always count on the annual National Wildlife Photo Contest
to provide some amazing water-related photos — and the 2014 contest
was no exception.
This is the 44th year for the contest, sponsored by National
Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation. This year’s
contest attracted more than 29,000 entries, according to a
statement accompanying the winning photographs.
The winner of the Grand Prize, Hungarian photographer Bence
Mate, spent 74 nights in a blind over a period of several years to
figure out how to capture this remarkable image of gray herons in
Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park.
By experimenting with his camera gear, he was able to capture a
clear image of the birds and water in dim light, while also showing
us the stars, which were not in the same depth of field. His
home-made equipment was able to achieve good exposure throughout
“I made the photo with a fish-eye lens that was less than a
meter away from the closest bird and had to be careful not to scare
the herons with noise or light,” he was quoted as saying.
The birds kept moving during the 32 seconds that the shutter was
open, “and they created interesting forms in front of the starry
sky,” he noted.
I like the whimsical appearance of this bullfrog, captured by
Cheryl Rose of Hopkinton, Mass., as she explored Waseeka Wildlife
Sanctuary in Central Massachusetts. The water seems to wrap around
the log, becoming part of the sky with clouds in the distance.
“There were so many frogs in this pond,” she said, “but this one
gave me the perfect pose.”
The photo won second place in the Other Wildlife category — a
category for something other than birds, mammals, baby animals and
First place in the Baby Animals category went to Nathan
Goshgarian of Woburn, Mass., who watching as this mallard duckling
leaped at flies swarming over Horn Pond in his city.
“It had the incredible ability to select a single fly from the
seemingly random movements of the swarm and launch itself out of
the water,” he said.
I never realized how many water towers across the United States
have been disguised as other objects.
Take the giant catsup bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, for
example. The water tower, built in 1949, stands 170 feet tall and
holds 100,000 gallons.
It was originally built for the G.S. Suppinger Company, which
bottled Brooks old original rich and tangy catsup in the town.
Today, the brand is owned by Birds Eye Foods, which produces the
catsup in Canada.
Thanks to preservation efforts, the giant catsup bottle was
saved from demolition by the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group,
which restored the water tower in 1995. It was named to the
National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and is widely
recognized as a prime example of 20th Century roadside Americana,
according to a special
website all about the catsup bottle.
Then there is the Leaning Tower of Niles, located about 15
minutes north of O’Hare International Airport in Niles, Illinois.
The tower was built in 1934 by businessman Robert Ilg to disguise
water-filtration equipment for two swimming pools used by employees
of Ilg’s air-ventilation company, according to an article in the
Chicago Tribune. The story says the tower is in need of
additional restoration work. Photo courtesy of Lawrence
The “House in the Clouds,” as it is called, is a structure built
to disguise what residents considered to be a hideous 50,000-gallon
water tank on a hill in the community of Thorpeness, Suffolk,
England. The bottom of the steel structure also was enclosed to
provide living accommodations. In 1979, the metal tank inside the
structure was removed piece by piece and lowered to the ground,
according to the website “House in the
Clouds.” Today, the entire five-story
structure can be rented out as a vacation home. Photo courtesy
Several other websites show all sorts of crazy water towers. One
of the best is
“12 Weirdest Water Towers on Earth,” which gives a brief
history of each one. If you need more detail, an Internet search
will provide historical details for most of these.
In its annual “Ten Best Ads of 2014,” Adweek magazine praised an
eclectic assortment of commercials featuring unusual topics and/or
While I found no overtly water-related ads this year, a couple
of them came close — and I liked them — so I’m featuring them in
the two video players on this page. As you’ll see, they are quite
different from each other in style.
Adweek’s top winner is sort of a noncommercial, because it is a
description of a Super Bowl ad that would have been produced if
only the sponsor, Newcastle Brown Ale, had enough money to buy a
spot during the last Super Bowl. I featured this ad among other
“ads that never were” in Water Ways back on Feb. 10.
You can watch all 10 ads chosen by
Tim Nudd of Adweek in his annual review of television
commercials for the magazine. As he notes in his story:
“Four spots came from outside the U.S., and a fifth was made
without an agency at all. Also, there’s not a single traditional
30-second spot in the bunch, as if we needed more proof that the
shape of advertising is changing.”
It’s worth noting that these ads are chosen for their
creativity, not for their success in selling products.
If you’d like to view other clever or creative commercials, I’ve
put together some additional lists from 2014:
They say no two snowflakes are alike. And that’s easy to believe
after you’ve seen the extraordinary crystalline structure of a
single snowflake, as captured in images by Russian photographer
Alexey has spent a lot of time perfecting his technique of
shooting snowflakes on the balcony of his apartment. He uses just a
simple point-and-shoot digital camera, the Canon Powershot A650,
along with a reversed lens from an old Soviet Zenit film camera. He
captures a series of images of the same snowflake, then combines
them with special software to reduce the random “noise” found in a
single image. He explains his technique on his blog
“The Keys to December.”
Check out Alexey’s Flickr
page for dozens of snowflake images along with other enhanced
photographs. I post a sampling here, with his permission. Other
media outlets also have shown interest. See his list of