See The Point [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~ Viktor Frankel

There is a new mantra cycling through my circle of friends. Once, highly frustrated with people refusing to participate as a community in the relatively benign measures necessary to end the pandemic, they’ve now forged their frustration into a different shape: there’s no point in trying to change “them.”

The circle is closed. Or, perhaps, it has been closed all along. Us. Them.

We spent the weekend in a special cabin with The Up North Gang. Walks in the woods. Pontoon boat rides seeking a sunny spot to anchor. Friends that heal what hurts. Laughter and wine. Occasionally, our conversation wandered into politics and pandemics, usually spurred by a local man posting cryptic and apocalyptic messages from deep within his conspiracy well. He is one of “them.”

“How can he believe this stuff?”

“Imagine everything he has to ignore to believe this stuff!”

“He’s always been a bit kookie.”

“There’s no point in reasoning with him.”

“There’s no point in writing a response, he’d just deny the facts, the court cases, the data, the science, the…”

There’s no point. That’s the mantra. There’s no point.

Us and Them. Together in the same boat. One half trying to rock the boat. The other half trying to keep it from flipping.

Exhaustion? Surrender?

“It’s like they’re drowning in bad information,” she said,

He replied, “And, there’s no sense throwing them a rope, they’d refuse to take it.”

“We have thrown them a rope,” she added. “It’s called the vaccine.”

We laugh a sad laugh, shaking our heads. What’s the point?

read Kerri’s blog post about Safe Together

Consider It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.” ~ Marshall McLuhan

At the first theatre company I artistic directed, we cut silk screens and pulled ink to make our posters. They were crude but we didn’t know it at the time because that was the most advanced process available. At the time they looked cool and we were proud of them. They took some effort.

I remember the day a student came into my office and showed me how we could design our posters on the computer. His designs were gorgeous, easily adjusted, took almost no time, and came back from the printer quicker than I could cut a good screen. We felt like our status bumped up a notch. We looked professional, and, what we’d been so proud of only a year before, now looked primitive.

My first website cost an extraordinary amount of money. It took weeks of working with a designer. Changes were costly so were made rarely. Now, Kerri and I design, redesign and make changes to our site every week. A few years ago we set up a site for a theatre company, complete with ticket service, database and newsletter capacity all in one easy-to-use app. It cost them almost nothing and any fool could adjust and make changes to it.

People who only a few short years ago considered themselves voiceless can now say any old thing they want to an audience no less than world-wide. Patti once asked a conference attendee, “If you had a voice, what would you say?” If I could go back in time I’d beg her to retract that question.

We live in a time of high anxiety. There are few substantial anchors to moor our reality. I’m about to make the ultimate old guy statement: I remember when…a few limited news channels actually attempted to broadcast the news. They had a limited window of time to tell the news so they made their information count. We now have hundreds of information and misinformation sources that can rattle at us 24/7 and from multiple devices. The challenge is not editing-down-to what-matters, it is filling too much time with loads of spin that mostly has limited substance.

Information spreading – for me, too – has become easy-peasy. I can lob an opinion as easily and as readily as the next person. But, as Marshall McLuhan said – and I whole-heartily concur, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” In other words, (don’t tell Kerri) I am sometime reactive. Sometimes, I think I know more than I do. Sometimes, I make mistakes. Slowing down seems to be the only cure. Thinking things through. Researching before spouting. Breathe and breathe again. Consider what matters. Really matters.

I’ve walked a complete circle in my life. Now, in all it’s shiny capacity, within the amazing miracles of technology, I find much of what people say and do and assert with this glorious ability – to be crude. Without thought. It’s too easy so it doesn’t much matter. The stream will quickly carry away even the most offensive opinions and endlessly wash in some more. I wonder how considerate people might become if their easy voices were less easily shared? If saying something actually took some time and effort – let’s say, as much time as it took to design, transfer and cut a silkscreen – what might they say? If it was less easy to “like” or “dislike.” If one slip would send the thought back to the arduous start? Maybe we’d be more considerate because we’d take the time to consider what we were expressing – to think about what we were saying and why we were saying it.

I suspect most of our “whys” would get our knuckles rapped by grandmothers who held decorum and polite communication as a high virtue. Saying stuff so-as-to-belong-or-pile-on…or to hear ourselves talk, certainly wouldn’t spare the rod.

That whole thought stream came from taking a walk, looking down, and finding a rock smiling back at me. Someone took some time. Chose a rock. They chose what to paint and had a grandma-approved-reason-why. And, they did a good job of it. “Ahhhhh,” Kerri said, smiling back at the rock. “How considerate,” I added to her awe.

read Kerri’s blog post about ROCKS THAT SMILE


Let The Outside In [on Merely A Thought Monday]

Civilization excels at manufacturing anesthetics.” ~Declan Donnellan

“What are you waiting for? Snow?” 20 was sweating. It was July, hot and humid, and he wondered why we had yet to put the air conditioner units in the windows. Our house was built in 1928 and central air is something we can only imagine. In truth, we’d been asking ourselves the same question all summer. Why are we suffering the heat and, yet, so resistant to putting the ac units in the windows?

Finally, the penny dropped. We realized why we had no desire to plug up the windows, shut the door, and manufacture cold air. Last summer, as the pandemic numbers soared, as our city burned with civil unrest, we shut the world out. We isolated. We turned on the cold air and made certain we felt as little of the heat as possible. This summer, even though we are still keeping our circle small, we want to feel the summer. We want to breathe the real air, not the manufactured stuff.

The real air is hot. Humid. Uncomfortable.

I made breakfast after reading the news. Poor Kerri had to listen to my epiphany-rant: While cracking eggs I realized that the horror story of the GOP wouldn’t be able to perpetuate their pandemic-denial-march if the people listening to them wanted to hear truth. “If I was born in 1700,” I said, “I’d have an excuse for being ignorant. I’d be illiterate and have very limited access to information. I’d be easily led because I wouldn’t have the capacity to check the story that I was being fed. That’s not true today.” We have, unlike any time in human history, immediate access to information. I rarely participate in a conversation that doesn’t involve someone pulling up information on their phone, checking a fact or the veracity of a story being shared. How then, in the middle of the national pandemic hot spot, can the governor of Florida block every science-based mitigation measure and whip up a fruit smoothie of fear – how can he manufacture so much empty air – without his constituents crying foul? The answer is easy: they would rather not feel or know what’s really going on outside their comfort-bubble. They are choosing fluff over fact, anger over curiosity.

In our day and age, ignorance is a choice. Denial is a choice. Plugging the windows is a choice. Insular is a choice. The device carried in every pocket could, in a heartbeat, puncture the gasbag-foolishness.

Reading this post, MM will be compelled to once again send me this quote, so I will preemptively include it: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.” E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology.

I know. I know.

Belief, like sugar, is easy to consume. Knowledge takes some effort and self-reflection. Anger and fear and division are easy, too, especially when the target audience of the fearmongers has no desire to challenge the narrative. It is the great paradox of our times that those waving their flags and screaming the loudest about their freedoms are so ready and willing to abdicate their freedom of thought. They parrot the fox. They inhale the anesthetic, the manufactured air.

Last night we watched a great short documentary, Lessons From The Water: Diving With A Purpose. Black divers searching for the shipwrecks of slave ships. One of the founders of the projected said,“Here in the US, our (African American) history has been ignored,” he adds. “They don’t really teach anything about slavery in schools. And I think if you don’t teach your history, you’re bound to repeat it.”

They dive to find the artifacts, to tell a fuller story. They dive. They look for artifacts. Facts. A complete narrative.

It made me think about the enormous resistance to critical race theory, the intense counter-narrative to climate change, the ferocious dedication to perpetuating The Big Lie, the ubiquitous conspiracy theories and global rise of authoritarian voices…all of it an appeal to an insular story. Close your eyes. Trust without question what you are told.

The real story is uncomfortable. It is hot. It needs telling. Fingers out of ears, eyes wide open. Forward movement, growth, health, is never the result of suppression, distraction or numbness. Health, equilibrium, always follows the revelation and acceptance of the full story. It’s open windows. It’s letting the outside in.

read Kerri’s blog post about LET THE OUTSIDE IN

Care Enough To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Have you noticed that people all over the world are divided into groups, calling themselves Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and so on? What divides them? Not the investigations of science, not the knowledge of agriculture, of how to build bridges or fly jet planes. What divides people is tradition, beliefs which condition the mind in a certain way.” ~Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

John helped me carry a treadmill downstairs into the basement. It was a beast, a one-step-at-a-time affair. After the job was done we fell into a conversation about how baffling we find our divided nation. He confided that, of late, he’s completely unplugged from the news. “I’m happier, less anxious,” he said, though somewhat conflicted about his decision.

I told John about my dear friend whose strategy for navigating the division and the noise was to read only The Wall Street Journal. It aligns with his conservative values and provides the business and financial news that he enjoys. For his mental health and well being, he’s eschewed all other sources.

On our drive from Wisconsin to Colorado and back again, Kerri and I were amazed by the rabid roadside proclamations of belief. A bumper sticker trumpeting Extreme Right Wing, a pick up truck, weaving through traffic, flying a Confederate flag. We stopped to get gas and went into the convenience store to use the restroom. We were wearing masks which apparently was an affront to the other patrons; I literally locked myself in a stall to avoid being assaulted.

I thought all night about my conversation with John. What are our strategies for surviving the toxic noise? Note the word, “survive.” John suggested (and I agree) that the division is intentional, a strategy. “They’ve learned to monetize hate,” he said, “Both sides.” Our strategies of survival are indications of the problem. Like my dear friend, we seek a source of information – a single source – based on our belief, what we align and are comfortable with, and not based on any measure or expectation of truth.

This is not a new revelation. We’ve been talking about the problem with info-bubbles for years. John’s question, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions of what they are being told?” is, I think, exposes the root of the challenge. People have to want the truth, expect the truth, before they care enough seek it.

Questioning is the basis of education. Curiosity is what drives progress. Belief asks adherents to stop questioning. We are, apparently – at least 50% – a nation of believers. Not a question in sight. Witness the circus in Arizona, the implosion of the GOP, the restrictive voting laws sweeping our nation, the undying support of a lie that undermines the pillars of our democracy. Belief without question is a toxic soup.

It’s become a metaphor that is easy to grasp: the Kansas billboard read, “Don’t Let Pigweed Creep Back.” A warning to vigilant farmers, pigweed strangles crops. It is toxic to farm animals. To keep the fields and the farm prosperous, a farmer must wage a consistent and conscious battle to keep the invasive weed from overrunning their fields. Our nation is no different than the farmer’s field. We are overrun with pigweed. It seems our information sorting mechanisms are out of whack. We no longer know – or care – to sort out what is edible and what is toxic.

We eat the weed and ignore the vegetable. John’s question is more and more relevant, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions about what they are being fed?”

Belief without question. Conditioned minds. Mental farms overrun by pigweed.

read Kerri’s blog post about PIGWEED

Achieve Some Reason [on Flawed Wednesday]

I laughed heartily when I saw this Dodge Challenger commercial. It’s entitled Family Motto and inadvertently speaks to the one of the major challenges of our times. We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated. The frame freezes, the small boy in the driver’s seat of the in-studio-muscle-car looks to the camera and says, “Our lawyers just want you to know that this isn’t real.” They poke fun at the ease of deception, the effortlessness of suspended disbelief. It’s fun to believe that the kid is driving the car.

It’s fun until it’s not.

For instance, in a lawsuit against Tucker Carlson, the lawyers at Fox News successfully argued that no reasonable viewer would take anything he said seriously. In other words, much of what he espouses is nonsense not to be believed. It’s entertainment, not information. He’s akin to a comedian, like Stephen Colbert – only not funny. Sydney Powell, after months of sowing doubt and slandering Dominion Voting Machines over the last election is attempting to make the same argument. Reasonable people, she claims, would never believe a word that she said. All of those press conferences, those indignant claims of voter fraud blasted into the news cycle, were apparently for sport. They were meant to be fun.

Thinking-people should know better than to believe what they are being told. Reasonable people know that the kid isn’t really driving the car and so they should also know that the pundit and the lawyer are peddling fiction and not fact.

It’s one thing to sell a car. It’s quite another to sell a false-reality. To peddle a lie. The car is being sold during a commercial. The false-reality is being sold on a network platform that sports the word “news.” Context is everything. Reasonable people, we are told, should know the difference. Is it news? Is it a commercial? Is it entertainment or press event? What do we call it if it is broadcast between commercials?

The problem, of course, is that reasonable people are either in short supply or they base their reason, invest their faith and belief in places they ought not. The false-narrative is literally ranted into the camera from behind a news desk or at a press conference. It’s propounded with the same enthusiasm that Phil Swift uses when selling Flex Seal products – only not as nice. The lie is proclaimed as truth. And then, the lawyers step in. And then, the story changes. The previously spouted truth should not be believed and reasonable people ought to know better.

We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated, news from entertainment. We’ve had a lot of help ascending our mountain of confusion.

I recently heard this phrase: an armed person is a citizen, an unarmed person is a subject. It is, of course, a phrase that is bandied about by the 2nd Amendment alarmists but I think it is more relevant and applicable when “being armed” applies, not to guns, but to information. Those men and women who stormed the Capitol, beating the police with flags, declaring their freedom, were in fact, being sold a false narrative. Voluntary subjects void of information, grown fat on a diet of fantasy. Easily led.

A person armed with information in the face of so much deliberate confusion, has a prayer of being a citizen. Achieving reason takes some effort. The lawyers want to you know that no reasonable person should believe that the kid is driving the car. The same is true for the space between the commercials, the detritus in the media stream.

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S NOT REAL

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

Learn To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There’s something about opinions that needs saying. It is simply this: not all opinions are created equal.

Neil Postman wrote that “In the development of intelligence, nothing can be more ‘basic’  than learning how to ask productive questions.”

Hearty opinions, opinions worth holding, are generally sourced from a deep well of questioning. If you are, like me, of a certain age, you’ve seen the promise of the age of information warp into the age of intentional misinformation. Knowing what and how to question is not only a necessity, it is the only protection we have, inundated as we are, with so much malignant hooey.

An opinion – a perspective – worth holding is not afraid to be questioned precisely because it is the product of questioning. It is not rigid or defensive because it is an open-ended inquiry. It invites questions, challenges and more information. A worthwhile opinion strives to see more, not less – another quality of a developing intelligence. A solid opinion need not shout down opposing points-of-view or belittle a challenge or bully a questioner because it is not fearful of the light. It need not hide behind “alternative facts” or conspiracy theories or rely on deflection when revealed as ridiculous. It practices stepping outside of the echo chamber to check the veracity of the information upon which it is built.

A dulled intelligence is a choice. It is a closed fortress, leaving the inhabitant trapped inside, self-righteous, indignant and afraid of challenge, clarifying data, and fact. Protecting the fortress, whipping up anger and multiple specters of invasion, is the function of an information echo chamber. Refusal to step outside the fortress, take a look around and ask productive questions of information sources – unwilling to consider whether or not the vaunted opinion is worth the energy to hold – is a tip-off that the thought-house is built on nothing but the softest of sand.

Everyone is, after all, entitled to their own opinion. We can agree to disagree and we will remain on opposite sides of the crevasse forever. Common ground is infinitely available – and will return for us – when stoking anger is less important than embracing the ‘basic’ and learning how to ask productive questions – of ourselves and of the information we are being fed.  Until then, all things will be stagnant, the narrow mind will proclaim itself victim to confirmed facts and relevant questions.  Pathological lie, division and deceit will be called virtuous by those too angry and unwilling to step back and care enough about their hard opinion to ask a simple question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AGREE TO DISAGREE

 

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Bother to Ask A Question [on Flawed Wednesday]

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All of us know this tale: A farmer loses his ax. He saw the neighbor boy playing in his field so he suspects the boy took his ax. He tells his wife the neighbor boy is a thief. The wife goes to town shopping and tells everyone she meets the story of the neighbor boy stealing her husband’s ax. People share the story and the story magnifies. An ax is now the least of the boy’s crimes! They tell other people and when things go missing or worse, the boy is their suspect. If he could steal an ax he could also steal a shirt off the line. He’ll take your horse when you’re not looking! He’s a chronic thief! The boy is shunned. His family is ostracized. The farmer feels satisfaction until the day he finds his ax resting on the tree – right where he’d left it.

Narratives are very, very powerful.

Yesterday I listened to a speaker from SelahFreedom present on the growing “industry” of sex trafficking. It was horrifying. One of the slides on the speaker’s Powerpoint was from a pimp’s notebook, instructions about how to keep his women under his control. Drugs help but the narrative weave is all. It could have been notes taken from the commandant at a concentration camp or a cult leader’s handbook. Paranoia tactics. Isolationist, us-versus-them strategies. Lies and distortions repeated to the point that it is impossible, once inside the narrative, once hooked in the story, to distinguish between reality and the distortion.

We live in the age of information and misinformation. We now inhabit the era of hyper-magnified distortion. A single post, a tweet, can reach millions in an instant. The boy stole the ax! They are trying to make us all socialists! The judge was biased! Don’t believe what you see! Witch hunt! Hoax! Believe what I say not what I do.

When was the last time you checked the veracity of your news sources? When was the last time you bothered to fact check or research something that alarmed you in your stream?

Fear is a great brain scrambler. Robert Sapolsky, researcher of stress in animals, has shown that zebras are capable of shaking off their stress after the lion gives up the chase. People, on the other hand, whip up and maintain their stress by repeating the story over and over to all who will listen. And, more to the point, there need not be a real lion chasing us, just someone who knows how to manufacture a lion and get us to spread the terror, to share without question.

It’s the pimp’s strategy. Stoke fear. Discourage thinking.  Threaten. Sow doubt. Play on insecurity. Keep them hooked. Encourage thoughtless sharing of an empty narrative. It validates the perspective of the pimp and the farmer who couldn’t possibly have lost his ax all by himself.

Despite what they tell you, the pimp is never protecting your interests. The pimp is only concerned with his own interests and needs a deep state of delusion running rampant through his stable, to control the narrative.

Imagine what might have been possible if anyone in the ax chain had thought to ask a question, had stepped back to think about what they were hearing before they hit the easy button to share.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THINK BEFORE YOU SHARE

 

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Look Up [on KS Friday]

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We read this morning that people are developing bone spurs or “horns” on the back of their skulls and spines from so much phone gazing. Next generation dentist hump.

Last night 20 introduced us to a new term: deepfake videos. Artificially intelligent face swap videos. Seeing is no longer believing or, more to the point, any word can be made to seem to come out of any mouth. It just proved my late grandmother to be a foresighted genius when she cautioned, “Take it all with a grain of salt!” Believe nothing. Question everything.

I suppose it was always true that the age of information must come hand-in-hand with an evil twin. As E.O. Wilson said, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

What is real? What is real life? I think it must be the question that defines our age.

We just spent a few  days on island. Our technology didn’t work there. Not a signal to be found anywhere. So, we put down our phones, ceased looking at our apps for the latest weather or news. In lieu of seeking constant connectivity, we stopped searching for what we already possessed, what we’d always possessed. We held hands. We sat on the steps of the deck, faces to the sun. We listened to the birds cry, the waves lap on the shore. We talked with the people who were directly in front of us. Tangible.

Kerri chose this song for the studio melange before we went on island. Before we ‘lost our signal’ and found our moment. That makes her a foresighted genius, too! As she reminds us in her song, it’s not the ideal or imagined or vogue or concocted that makes life grounded and rich. It’s the day to day. The stuff you can actually touch in this sea of information detritus.

It’s real life. It’s the day to day. That’s where the love is found. Just ask grandma. Or Kerri.

 

IT’S REAL LIFE on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN is available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S REAL LIFE

 

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it’s real life/as sure as the sun ©️ 2002 kerri sherwood

Put It In Context [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Context (noun): the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

I love this photograph. It could be of the salt flats. It could be desert landscape. It could be the arctic snows. Absent of context, how can we know?

The headstone of the 21st century will read ‘Taken out of context.’ I was a teacher when the internet first washed over the land and the question on every educator’s desk was this: how do we teach students to discern what information is valid and what is not? Education is, at least partially, the pursuit and discernment of what is true and what is not.

Discernment (noun): the ability to judge well.

In a world in which any one can post anything about any topic in service to any agenda, void of context and with an astounding expectation of 280 characters or less, how do we judge well? No attention span available. No context necessary. Discernment is out of reach. As W.B. Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” 

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  (Yeats, The Second Coming)

Context avoidance and manipulation is not unique to the 21st century. It’s been around since the invention of preachers and politicians. We simply have the tools to amplify it and glut ourselves on the fat that remains.

‘Taken out of context’ comes with a cold surgical sister phrase: after the fact. They knew after the fact. He was an accessory after the fact. It was only after the fact that they saw what was there all along.

fact (noun): a thing that is known or proved to be true.

How do you know or prove something to be true? It is the same question educators faced so long ago: how do we discern what information is valid and what is not? Well, begin by slowing down enough, care enough to place the thought, idea, opinion, data, in its full context. Conviction, ideals, truths…all of these lofty words, have meaning and value, become grounded, solid, and meaning-full – in the presence of context.

(The photograph was taken from a ferry cutting through the surface ice at Death’s Door).

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pull the camera down and this is what you see

 

read Kerri’s blog post on ICE LANDSCAPE

 

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