Where are we now?

View Where are we now? in a larger map Jo, Annie, Miles and I are living in Northport, Alabama and working at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. We've been glad to be in one place for a bit after what appeared to be semi-permanently traveling (in actuality for a period of 2.5 years).We started this blog to catalogue some of the adventures when Jo and I were sequentially conducting our dissertation research in India and Brazil. While we've fallen off the blogging bandwagon somewhat during recent trips to Brazil, we're trying to pick it up again now that we're back in India!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thoughts on Ladakhi ecology and landscape creation

Our time in the Ladakhi villages over these two weeks was really special as an environmental anthropologist. While the hiking and music playing were both amazing, I particularly enjoyed the chance to do a little "participant observation" as we call it in anthropology, of the local agriculture.

 From Ladakh!!!!
What I was astounded by throughout my time  in Ladakh was--to cut through alot of academic jargon--how the local people had shaped their landscape through their agricultural practices. The landscape of Ladakh, as you've seen in the preceding posts and photos is incredibly arid, and quite simply harsh

However, every once and a while, you'll come across these small spots of green, which inevitably were where villages and monasteries were located.

How did this landscape come to be transformed--from the arid desert that seemed almost omnipresent, to these habitable, if not thriving, oases of green?
Agriculture was the most obvious factor.

Agroforestry, such as the planting of these apricot and almond trees, provides essential nutrition for the Ladakhi people. Up to 90% of their caloric intake in winter comes from these fruits.

Fields of millet

Earthen greenhouse used to extend the very short growing season

However, my focus over the first few days on the amazing presence of green in this landscape of brown had distracted me from what I think was really the most amazing and defining feature of this landscape, and the Ladakhi's transformation of it: water.

Ladakhi women irrigating fields with spades used to shape earthen channels

In this arid landscape, water is the defining resource, and its management occupies an incredible amount of time and energy. It is the management of water that has led to the shaping of this landscape, for only where water can go can live spring up

In the homestays, I took advantage of the opportunity to learn a bit about how the people (mostly women) irrigated their fields. What I learned really amazed me: the women used a long spade to shape these channels that the water would run through. Once the water had irrigate a particular patch of the field, the women would close it up at a junction and open it up in another spot in the channel so the water would flow to a new area. Although this sounds confusing, hopefully this video will make things a bit clearer.

My attention to the Ladakhi agriculture is part of a larger academic interest in Ladakhi ecology and conservation. In short, the Ladakhi people are generally recognized as having a sustainable environmental ethic. From irrigation to the Ladkhi toilets, which are composting squat toilets that use no water and whose by products get recycled as compost back into the fields.

While all this can be critically explored, the presence of these thousand year-old junipers below is at least a partial testament to the material practices of this culture.

As you might be able to tell from this post, I was incredibly fascinated by this landscape and its people. Returning to Ladakh--perhaps to conduct research on these landscape histories--would be a dream for me. Now I just need to work on my Ladakhi!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sweet times

We've already written here about how fortunate we are to have not only an incredible support system in the United States, but here in India as well (It's great to have friends post linked here). Our network of friends who study in India is really strong, and we are incredibly lucky that Sarah's research has fortuitously brought her back through India right around the time of Annie's birth. To give Sarah the appropriate credit, this wasn't fortuitous, but something she planned around when she stayed with us in Delhi in February/March. Sarah arrived yesterday, and I think these pictures document that she is having a blast, and is quite smitten with our little potato (or any of the 100 other pet names we refer to her with). They also document that her new camera (Canon Rebel G3I) is absolutely amazing, and I am plotting how I can acquire one...

From Annabelle Winifred Meek
Snuggly times with Sarah (Annie in her DIY miracle blanket)

An amazing innovation, the  padala, which looks like a open-faced oil lamp, is a glorified spoon that is used to feed newborns expressed milk here in India. It's great because bottles at this stage are supposed to cause "nipple confusion"; well, we're not confused, the padala is awesome.

Even Annie thinks so!

Happy baby!

One of Annie's first pseudo-smiles!

This last picture is particularly funny, as Sarah jokingly tries to convince a friend over Skype that this beautiful baby is hers.....

Once again, how great is it to have great friends?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ladakh: Backwoods and Bluegrass X 2

The second week was a reprise of amazing musical opportunities. Inspired by incredible vistas and made slightly delirious by whooping cough combined with high altitude, we really relished in the opportunity to hike for a few hours in the morning, and then play music together all afternoon. Days I will certainly not forget.

From Ladakh X 2

From Ladakh X 2

Elzic's Farewell

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ladakh: Off on the trail X 2

We decided to take a five day home-stay trek after our fabulous experience the week before. The scenery was absolutely spectacular. Most of the hiking was through an incredibly arid high-desert landscape.

From Ladakh X 2

Amongst all of the arid landscape were beautiful little patches of color, like these amazingly fragrant wild roses.

From Ladakh X 2

Similar to our last homestay trek, the incredibly stark landscape was punctuated by these green oases, which were where the villages were established.

From Ladakh X 2

From Ladakh X 2
Jon on the trail towards Rumbak village

We would also come across these "parachute cafes", which were actually just parachutes that served as a tent under which people would sell various dry goods, or very very simple meals, such as the Indian Ramen equivalent.

From Ladakh X 2
Parachute cafe in the middle of nowhere

Hiking through this landscape was just simply amazing. We would come across these amazing cultural artifacts, such as the common presence of "Blue horned sheep" horns on walls and houses, which were meant to ward off snow leopards and other wild beasts.

From Ladakh X 2

In addition, the many religious monuments at every turn...

From Ladakh X 2

One thing that I found really magical were the Buddhist prayer flags that we would find hung between rocks at the top of these high passes.

From Ladakh X 2

From Ladakh X 2

The sound of these prayer flags blowing was really amazing. On one hike, Jon and I heard the sounds of the flags flapping from kilometers away....unbelievable. The prayer flags are left in the elements, and just diaphanous, made thread-bare by the elements.

From Ladakh X 2

From Ladakh X 2

In addition to the amazing experiences we had at the homestays, the hiking was phenomenal.

From Ladakh X 2

One thing that was so unique about being in this area was the light. With the changes in light during the day the colors of the rock would change completely. In the photo below, the mountain that Jon is looking at was bright red before sunset, and green in the morning.

From Ladakh X 2

Unfortunately, I caught Dad's whooping cough, and so the hiking, which was between 12,00-15,000 feet, was really difficult for me. The trails that looked like this sure didn't help!

From Ladakh X 2
Super steep hiking abounds, notice Jon's position above me

Every hike felt like a marathon, and I could only walk for a short period before having to gather my breath.

Adding to the whooping cough, I had a really "special" encounter with a friendly plant that looked like mint. Reaching down to grab a leaf to smell, I yelped in pain! My ring finger proceeded to swell up, so I removed my wedding ring (having learned from Mom's experience!). The pain didn't abate (for three days!) and the only thing that seemed to help was spitting on my hand, continuously...

From Ladakh X 2

Other amazing natural scenery was less stinging, such as these crazy mushroom rock formations...

From Ladakh X 2
and the amazing landscape vistas that made me feel like Ansel Adams....

From Ladakh X 2

From Ladakh X 2

From Ladakh X 2

Perhaps the most exciting part of the trip, however, was when Jon got really really sick on our penultimate day. Faced with a 5 hour hike, I pulled out my learning Ladakhi book and began using my "Do you know where I may hire a horse phrase) (thatobe- tobado). Turns out there were no horses to be had, so we had to walk until we came to a roaring river, for which the only way across was in a basket that you had to pull hand over hand across!

Crossing the River (basket is in bottom right)
From Ladakh X 2

From Ladakh X 2
Jon in basket crossing the river

A really bad quality video of the river crossing

After all this excitement, we were all ready to close the book on our incredibly interesting Ladakh experience and move onto the last leg of our trip----Benares!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


We love to snuggle with Annie. Here she is getting a good checkup at the hospital today...

Getting more alert all the time...
(Jo wrote this post, but Dave has to edit it to note that this picture is soooo cute it actually hurts....somebody call the aaaaawwwwmbulance!)

Well, not all the time.