A Second Chance at the Chestnut of 100 Horses

 Fig and Lichens
In September of 2010 I visited the Castagno dei 100 Cavalli for the first time. It was the height of Mediterranean summer, over-ripe, really, and the Castagno was no exception. Its half-dome canopy was so heavy with foliage and chestnuts that one could barely see the branches for the leaves. I made some photos, but came away thinking the umami of it (I like to keep my mixed metaphors vegetarian friendly) was somewhere underneath that surface: while the lush growth was impressive, it is the structure of its split-and-spread trunk that really tells the story of what it's like to be alive for 3,000 years. 

Moss on the Castagno, 2012

Since I was returning to Europe to install my exhibition at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, I took a cue from the death of the Senator Tree earlier this year, and decided to seize this opportunity to return to the Castagno. Spring was well underway in the tree-lined streets of that southern German town last week. Their chestnuts were already well-leafed, and I worried that I had come all this way just to face the same obfuscation. But I had forgotten an all important factor: it's not just latitude that matters; altitude can make a world of difference.

 Hail and Lava
I arrived in Sant'Alfio in the dark. I drove my rented Smart Car through the narrow, steep-walled switchbacks and up (then back down) an unsigned one-way street. Once safely tucked in at my favorite agroturismo, a thunderstorm settled in, then hail pelted down in loud, if brief, intervals, stirring up the yard dogs. In the morning, a layer of perfectly round hail covered the previous layer of lava spit down from Mount Etna. 

By the time I had made my way over to the Castagno, the hail had already melted, but I could see it had knocked a few tender leaves from its branches. The high altitude slows the coming of spring (and it's not hard to believe that its unseasonably cold here, as I write under a blanket in an old stone farm building.) I welled up with tears at the sight of its bare branches flecked with green, at the beauty of its form...and in relief for not having come all this way for naught. 

The weather changed every few minutes, clouds rolling in and just as soon rolling right out again. I explored the perimeter and the adjacent hazelnut orchard with my cameras. This morning I returned once more to meet Alfio, a gate keeper of the tree here in Sant'Alfio, whom had kindly held an umbrella over my head in 2010 while I photographed through our first meeting. The clouds persisted, but the precipitation did not, and I was able to see much more this time than last. I saw the heavy sections of the trunk and new suckers pushing forth, connected below the surface by a massive root system. I saw the details of gnarled and moss-covered swirls of bark. And I saw the deep charcoal of one section that I had overlooked before:

"Fire," I asked? Yes. Someone had tried to grill sausages inside the tree, and had nearly burnt it down. The fence has been up ever since.

Site-specific exhibition, FAB.com Print Sale, and a return to the Castagno

Gutten abend from Baden-Baden, where my first site-specific installation of my Oldest Living Things work opened last night at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden. I've created a timeline spiraling from floor to ceiling, from 500,000 years into the past with the Siberian Actinobacteria, all the way up through 500,000 years into our unknown future...


And now through 11am on April 19th, FAB.com is hosting a special 5-day sale of my work. It features a number of my images from Antarctica (including those that ran in the NYTimes), as well as some one-of-a-kind artist proofs and a very few Oldest Living Things. Prints are up to 50% off, and your purchases directly help support my work. Win, win!

Tomorrow I head back to Sicily to re-photograph the Castagno dei Cento Cavali, or Chestnut of 100 Horses. I am taking a lesson from my experience with the now-deceased Senator tree: take your second chances when you can. I previously photographed the Castagno in the height of its summer foliage. Beautiful though it was, I missed the branches for the leaves. Hopefully it's still early enough in the spring that I'll be able to capture some of its unique understory. 

A final missive from Antarctica: South Georgia, Shackleton, and ancient moss

Medusa Kelp in Hercules Bay, South Georgia

On April 24, 1916, just four years shy of one hundred years ago, Ernest Shackleton and a small cut of his crew set out on an 870 nautical mile journey on a 22-foot glorified rowboat across the Drake Passage. 
They were coming to their own rescue.
I, too, was headed to South Georgia; it was the same trip, though certainly not the same journey. I looked out the windows of the National Geographic Explorer, secure and comfortable, as we rounded the far eastern point of Elephant Island. I saw the cove where Shackleton and his men found some small respite from the icy waters, and drew a mental picture of that place, too depleted after my morning’s efforts to even go get my camera.

Elephant seals in Gold Harbor

Two days later we were in South Georgia, a veritable paradise of animals, vegetation, and exposed geology, like the story of the world writ large on the landscape itself. And here, too, are etched the final chapters of the Shackleton story; the thumbnail of a beach where they first landed, the spot they set out overland across terrain just this side of passable, a hike over a last ridge that separated an impossible journey of perseverance back into a remote outpost of civilization: a whaling station in Stromness Bay.

A small selection of the 300,000 King Penguins in Gold Harbor (aka 'Penguinpalooza')
The captain pulled us so far into Stromness Harbor we were practically on the beach. Despite some cloud cover and a bit of snow coming in, our conditions were calm that day, and I hopped into a Zodiac with Stephanie Martin, a marine mammal researcher, and we zipped back out into the bay and down one harbor to Husvik. The moss I was now after, my “back up moss,” if you will, is 2,200 years old, and growing on top of a 9,000-year-old fossil bed. Fortified with the research and a map provided from Nathalie Van der Putten who discovered this bank, I once again scanned the outline of the topography to home in on Kanin Point.

The beach and tussock grass was so lousy with seals that Stephanie became my de facto seal bodyguard, and likewise instructed me on how to keep them at bay. The first rule is to make loud noises. The second was to carry a paddle from the Zodiac. One might be tempted to smack a snarling male fur seal on the head, but it isn’t necessary – just tapping them on the flippers is deterrent enough. (Which is not to say that no one got bitten over the course of this expedition.)

2,200-year-old moss bank, growing on top of a 9,000-year-old fossilized bank

I climbed through the tussock and saw the ancient mounds of peat. I had found it. I made some photos, this time close in, feeling unbelievably fortunate to have found not just one, but both of these ancient moss banks -- the needles in a polar haystack.

Grytviken Whaling Station Torqued Ellipses (For Richard Serra)

Later the same afternoon, I hiked overland from a protected inlet into the plot where Shackleton is buried. My heart was once again clutched with the grip of this place, ancient and primeval in its makeup. It was akin to a wide-eyed first visit to the surface of another planet. 

If Shackleton’s story had been written as fiction, surely someone would criticize it for having an unrealistic number of obstacles. He had returned to South Georgia five years after his harrowing circuit, and, as if living on borrowed time, died of a massive heart attack the very night he arrived. He died having no idea he shared Elephant Island with one of the oldest living things on the planet, nor that he would end his journey in South Georgia just a stone’s throw from yet another. But I have a feeling he would have approved of the quiet perseverance of these unassuming mosses, in this landscape that speaks of deep time, the power of the natural world, and the precariousness of life in its clutches.

The Grytviken maritime graveyard, guarded by a giant elephant seal

I poured some whiskey on Shackleton’s grave, and some for me, too.

OLTW featured on the New York Times LENS blog today

View from my cabin near the Lamer Chanel

Dear readers,

I am honored to announce that the New York Times photography blog, LENS, is currently featuring some of my writing from Antarctica, as well as an overview of photographs from the Oldest Living Things project.

Stay tuned for more updates from the bottom of the world.

Next stop: Antarctica

Hello from Antarctic waters.

I’m currently on the National Geographic Explorer crossing the Drake Passage, thanks to the kindness of Lindblad Expeditions, who have invited me along as a researcher on this expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula and some of the outlying islands.

I’m looking for the 5,500-year-old Antarctic Moss that was discovered in 1987 by researchers from Umea University in Sweden. It’s going to be extremely difficult to find it. There are other moss banks on the peninsula itself, and South Georgia, so I’ll be on the lookout wherever we land.

It’s hard to believe that just last week I was in Orlando, photographing the now-deceased Senator tree, whose 3,500-year life was cut short by a fire. My story and some photographs were published on Brainpickings.com

Last of the Lomatia

Wondering what's going on here? This is a clipping of the 43,600-year-old Lomatia Tasmanica, propagated in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

There is only one single living individual Lomatia Tasmanica left in the world. It flowers, rarely, and there are pollen and a stigma in each flower, but as the plant is a triploid, it is sterile. [corrected from original post.] And it is 43,600 years old. How is that possible? It's growing clonally, as you've heard me talk about before: it continues to send up new shoots, without the introduction of new genetic material.

I was not granted permission to visit the Lomatia in the wild (more on my thoughts about the Tasmanian Parks Department later), though I was glad to see it in the Gardens. The clippings propagated there and one in Canberra are the only other places it can be found in the world, and even then it is not on public display. The clippings are so sensitive, in fact, that the only time one spent half a day in public view in slighly different conditions, it died. That hardly bodes well for its survival.

The Lomatia Tasmanica is continuing its line in the only possible way it can: by cloning itself over and over again, theoretically forever, though that is unlikely given the instability of our climate to come.

12,000-year-old Antarctic Beech

This image is of a fairy ring of Antarctic Beech which is probably around 12,000 years old, living in Queensland, Australia. The ring of trees is a single, clonal individual, growing vegetatively (as opposed to adding genetic material from another individual as in sexual reproduction.)

There are a number of other clonal Antarctic Beech living in the area, though not all have been studied. I was lucky enough to have botanist Rob Price, a veritable expert in all the local flora and fauna, guide me out to this stand, as well as others in the area. (Rob first got in touch with me after seeing my TED talk. So glad he did, as I otherwise might have missed them.)

Why Antarctic? These beauties used to cover Antarctica in its milder days, before its present iced-over state. As Gondwana broke apart 180 million years ago and the South got colder, the Antarctic Beeches worked themselves up to more suitable climes. Talk about going the distance.

Waking Up Down Under

I haven't finished penning the story of my Sri Lankan mishap yet, but I couldn't help but start my next adventure. This morning I woke up in Australia. No, not all of a sudden, but rather after a somewhat perplexing 16-zone time change and two full turns of the calendar between JFK and Sydney. Who was it that said in regard to sea sickness that it feels like you're going to die when you have it, but to everyone else around you it's just funny? Ditto on the jetlag.

There's a lot on my agenda in Oz -- not to mention a lot of physical ground to cover --
between now and December 23rd. Antarctic Beech trees that have inched their way out of now frozen pole over tens of thousands of years to settle on the Gold Coast. A Eucalyptus so rare that all I can tell you is that it's in New South Wales and might be 10,000 years old. In Western Australia there are the Stromatolites, which are beyond fascinating and beautifully complex, and their neighbor to the south, a 5,000-year-old Gum tree. And the two clonal organisms in Tasmania that caught my fancy back in 2006 when this project was still but a twinkle in my eye: the 10,000-year-old clonal Huon Pine on Mount Read, and the Lomatia Tasmanica...a 43,600-year-old clonal shrub that is literally the last of its kind left on earth, and yet theoretically immortal. The sheer magnitude of its solitary existence and unfathomable perseverance gives me a chill every time I think about it. But you can't just stroll right up to this wonder (save for visiting a clipping in the Hobart botanical garden.) I'm still working on securing permission to visit the two Tasmanian sites.

It struck me on the plane ride over that I had no idea what The Oldest Living Things would become back when I first photographed the Giant Sequoias and other California elders that are, relatively speaking, close to home, and how fortunate that I waited to come to Australia. If I had made this trip in the project's nascent stages, I wouldn't have known about half of the organisms on my current itinerary. I'm glad to be taking this journey now, having learned a great deal about what to look for and how to look for it in the intervening years. 

Today my primary goal is a simple one: to stay awake during daylight hours. Tonight I'm embracing the idiosyncrasies of travel by accepting an invitation to see Eddie Izzard perform live. And on Saturday it's up to the Gold Coast to kick off a few weeks of photographing organisms tens of thousands of years in the making.

Tough Break

Wondering where I disappeared to after my last missive from Colombo? As it turned out, I fell and broke my wrist my first evening in Anuradapura. After a rather traumatic misadventure, I'm on the mend and have quite a tale to tell. Stay tuned for a long-form article on my experience.

In the mean time, if you're in the Chicago area, please stop by the Museum of Contemporary Photography where some OLTW prints are part of the "Our Origins" exhibition, up through October 16th.

Are we there yet?


My first visit to Dubai came and went in a 12-hour blur.

A sign reading "Mr. Sussman" greeted me at the gate, and I left the glistening airport for the near-empty roadways and a nearby hotel. The night air was desert-hot, but I wasn't outside the deep chill of air conditioning long enough for it to actually sink into my skin. I found myself instinctively searching for context, and came up with Miami meets Las Vegas. To be fair, I hardly saw the city itself. Though when faced with a new environment, we always look for familiar markers to give context to experience, an inner voice that says: I understand; I know what to do here. The Arabic road signs were like math equations I did't understand. There's an inherent order, but an abject foreignness. And then we whizzed past the requisite Chili's and TGI Fridays.

This trip is distinctively different from most of my other OLTW travels: it has far more of a cultural navigation than an environmental one. Instead of researching things like GPS coordinates and radio carbon dating, I've wondered "should I be wearing a head scarf?" As I contemplated what it is like to be a woman in this culture, and whether or not I should dare swim in the hotel pool in just my skivvies (a resounding no), a ridiculously phallic "fruit basket" arrived -- two bananas jaunting upward out of an undulating crystal bowl, and apple and an orange nestled at their base. I laughed out loud and set my alarm for 4:45am.


The storm over the Indian Ocean was fierce but brief. The sky is still a heavy gray, and it's just as sultry as before the downpour. The waves reach up to the rocky sea wall, and I'm drinking coffee amidst the other guests at this partially restored colonial hotel. Yesterday I sat with an Indian man on holiday here (his wife wanted to go to Europe, and had opted to simply stay home), who told me that both JFK and Marilyn Monroe had stayed here when it was at its prime. He was quick to add that they hadn't stayed here together, as if I might somehow be scandalized.

The past day or so went by in a haze. I thought about leaving the hotel for a walk yesterday, but was met with so many warnings about getting scammed, not to mention the mid-day heat, that I scarcely got half way down the Galle Face Green (more like a fallow soccer field than a "green" per se), that I turned around and came back. I haven't felt particularly comfortable thus far, and it dawned on me why: I feel more like an interloper than a guest. There is a cultural language as much as a spoken one that I'm not privy to. Thus far I feel like a tourist, not a traveler.

But later today I'll dip my toes in the water and start meeting people: first, Suranjan, a university contact via the Thilo Hoffman, preeminent conservationist and uncle of the incomparable Tina Roth Eisenberg, and the later, I'll visit the home of friends of my cousin Laura and her husband Wijitha.

And tomorrow I head out to Anuradapura. I'll let you know when I get there.

What do an environmental grant, a photo equipment company and my first cousin have in common?

They all play an intrusmental part in my forthcoming journey to Sri Lanka. As I prepare, it occurs to me just how auspicious it is to have so much support from so many disparate sources.

First, a resounding thank you to David de Rothschild and his non-profit foundation, Sculpt the Future, who generously awarded me their Creativity for Change grant. The grant is supporting the entirety of this trip and some much-needed equipment back in the studio. How amazing is that? David, whom you might know from his incredible voyage on the Plastiki, also founded MYOO.com, a forward-thinking website bringing together people and fostering ideas about protecting our planet. I'm proud to be working with the talented folks at MYOO, starting with this in-depth interview on OLTW.

My next thank you goes out to Ron Egatz at the Mac Group, who very kindly brokered the loan of a lightweight yet heavy-duty Benro tripod for me to take on the road. Ron wrote up my project on the Mamiya blog last year, and has gone out of his way to see me properly outfitted. I've been lugging around a brick of a tripod, and heavy equipment can really take its toll physically (though I'm sure my years as an acrobat didn't help matters any either.) So on behalf of myself and my osteopath, I'd like to thank them for lightening my load.

And sometimes support comes in the form of sharing your knowledge and connections. It just so happens that my first cousin Laura's husband, Wijitha, is from none other than Sri Lanka. Though they now live in Virginia, Laura and Wijitha have been instrumental in helping me plan my trip. From giving me recommendations on where to stay and helping me find a driver, to discussing local customs and reaching out to their own contacts, I know my travels will be all the richer for their kind and thoughtful support. They also helped put my mind at ease in terms of safety as a foreign woman traveling alone. While the civil war is over, I'm first to admit I know woefully little about the intricacies and brutalities of the war or its lingering effects. (I recommend the New Yorker article from Jan 12th of this year for a thoughtful primer.) Thank you, Laura and Wijitha, and I look forward to swapping stories.

Ok, back to packing. Technology permitting, stay tuned for reports and pictures from the field over the coming two weeks... x

From the B62 to the Anuradhapura Bo tree

The pharmacist told me to take the Typhoid directly home. It was in the 90’s in New York yesterday, and I had just picked up my traveler prescriptions, including anti-malarials and some just-in-case antibiotics. The tiny box labeled “Live Typhoid” needed to stay refrigerated, so I hopped on the bus to spare it a hot walk down Bedford Avenue. Though harmless in its four blister-packed capsules, it was a heightened moment on New York City transit, a la La Jette or 12 Monkeys.

This is part of my travel prep for Sri Lanka, my next OLTW journey, which will be underway in a few weeks. Film? Check. Culturally appropriate clothing? Check. Immunizations? Check. I leave on August 1st, and arrive in Colombo, the capital, on August 3rd after what I’m sure will be a delirious 12 hours in Dubai, sandwiched by nearly 12-hour and 5-hour flights, respectively. (Sri Lanka, to save you the Google search, is the tear-shaped island off the southeast coast of India.)

And what is it I’m after, you ask? A 2,239-year-old banyan fig tree that lays claim to several distinctions:

  • It’s the oldest historically cultivated tree on record
  • It grew from a transplanted branch of the tree under which Siddhārtha Gautama attained enlightenment. As the story goes, the branch was brought to Sri Lanka under the specific instruction of the historical Buddha, planted in 228 BCE
  • It’s one of the world’s oldest angiosperms. (That’s flowering plants, kids. Look that one up.)  The oldest angiosperm? Probably not. You might remember the ancient Olive and Chestnut I photographed in the fall that also meet that distinction. The Baobabs, too. Ooh, and the Llareta. You get the picture.

As I was calculating the exact age (um, yes: 2011 + 228) of the Anuradhapura Bo tree (which also happens to be a UNESCO site and one of the longest historically inhabited cites in the world), I was reminded of the “year 0” dilemma.  A number of numerical systems skip from - 1 to +1, as it were, without counting the zero. Sort of like buildings that eschew a 13th floor. The Buddhist calendar does include a year zero, though it begins somewhere between 554 and 483 BCE. Which means that our 2,239-year-old tree just might be 2,240. But who’s counting?

The 13,000-year-old Oak of the Inland Empire

 [Rachel photographing the Jurupa Hills Oak in February 2011. Photo by Marie Regan.]

About six months ago I got an email from a biologist at UC Davis telling me about a discovery that he and his colleagues made down near UC Riverside. It was a clonal scrub oak, Quercus palmeri, that's at least 13,000 years old, and might actually be twice that. The biologist, Jeffery Ross-Ibarra, saw an article about my project on CNN and thought I might be interested in including their discovery in my project. He was right.

This past week I flew out to Los Angeles, along with my friend and wonderful filmmaker Marie Regan, who is capturing the first documentary footage for the Oldest Living Things in the World project. We drove to Riverside, where we met up with Jeffery (who just happened to be in town for a conference), and Mitch Provance, who was the first person to have a hunch that the Oak was something out of the ordinary. We also met Andy Sanders, master of the UCR Herbarium, who helped Mitch confirm his hunch. Over a decade later, their paper was published, confirming the minimum age of 13,000 years, and conferring the title of oldest continuously living organism in Southern California. (Though it's got nothing on the 80,000-year-old Quaking Aspen clone, Pando, in Utah.)
 [The Jurupa Hills Oak. 13,000 years old. Riverside, California.] 

So what does this thing look like? If you're picturing something akin to the 'Giving Tree' or something on the massive scale of the Giant Sequoias, think again. In fact, like many clonal organisms, you might walk right by it, never knowing you'd come in such close proximity to such exceptional longevity. In fact, you might not know you were even in the presence of an Oak. The leaves are tough with sharp holly-like points, though they're not related. 

See that silvery, sagey looking shrub? That's it. The bright green in the foreground actually belongs to a type of Cherry. The Oak clone extends over the ridge of the hillside, though not down the other side. It found a purchase on this steep hillside at a time when mastodon and camels still roamed the area, and has quietly persisted ever since, even as housing developments, a cement factory, containers filled with modular home components, and the traffic of off-road vehicles became its new neighbors. 

It's a difficult climb to the top (especially when dividing ones attention between maintaining ones footing and safely transporting ones camera equipment), but I'm sure that's what has afforded the Oak the off-the-beaten path anonymity that allowed it to survive into the present.

The Ancient Olive of Ano Vouves

[Olive tree of Ano Vouves, approx. 3,000-years-old (unconfirmed)]

I find I've been talking about "time flying" a lot lately. A blink (and a 19-hour travel day) later, and I'm back home in Brooklyn. It's amazing how 30 days on the road and crossing 7 time zones requires so much recalibration. It feels significant in the realm of personal time, but what happens when pondering the loose fragment of a second taken to capture an image of 4,000 years of growth? Even if we don't think back quite that far, the question remains - what did it feel like when it took months to get from that village in Crete all the way to New York City? Or years? Or how about when the continents weren't even known to each other? To us, it is always now...and now seems to be getting faster and faster. So I wonder: If context shapes our understanding and experience of time, are we therefore temporal relativists?                                                                                                                                     
Ok. I'll stop waxing philosphic for the moment and leave you with this picture of the venerable old tree, holding court in upper Vouves. Stay tuned for the 1,000 words later.

Posidonia Oceanica

It's amazing how time can fly by on the road. It seems that one minute I was still trying to gain more intimate access to the Castagno dei 100 Cavalli (which I did, albeit in the rain), and in the blink of an eye it's already my last day in Spain. 

In the past week I made four dives to different sites where the Posidonia Oceanica grows, the image here a rather shallow shot, showing off the beautiful color of the grass, and hinting at the expansive meadow. The grass extends all the way from Ibiza to Formentera, and was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, even before its exceptional age was discovered. 

It was really interesting to watch the biologists at work, hear about the accidental discovery of the clone grass (analysis of the genome of shoots from well-separated plots proved identical), and to hear about the vital role of the meadow in the ecosystem - as well as the invasive species of algae that now endanger it. More details on all of this to come, and in the mean time, see them below, counting shoots of grass in special plots which they've been returning to for the past 10 years.

Tomorrow it's off to Crete, in search of what very well might be the world's oldest Olive tree.

A tough (chest)nut to crack

It's proving a bit tricky to get accurate information on the age of the tree, or to even get through the gate for that matter. (No, that rope fence isn't holding me back - I'm still relegated to the outer circle of the high metal fence. I stuck my camera through the slats, my arms separated by a post, to get this shot.)

I've gotten a small taste of Italian bureaucracy in trying to gain access and information, but it's been tempered by one of the most helpful people I've yet to meet on my travels. Valentina, jack of all trades at the agroturisomo, sat and made call after call for me this morning, speaking in rapid Italian to scientists in Catania and Florence. The first, it turned out, was an entomologist. He passed along the information for someone he said was an expert on the tree. When we got her on the phone, she told that she would study the tree, except she's not all that interested in forestry. She passed along the name of another 'expert,' this one who was at least offer up the information that there is a book on the subject. Which brought us full circle back to the first call Valentina made, to Sant'Alfio City Hall. Someone will be coming up to meet us here this afternoon, perhaps with book in hand. And then we'll set out together to find the traffic carabinieri to open the gate.

Fingers crossed. 

Buongiorno Castagno

First look, Castagno dei 100 Cavali (5 exposures)

It's my second morning here in Sicily. Another overcast day, but that's my favorite shooting weather.  After settling in yesterday, I went directly to the Castagno dei 100 Cavali. It seems to be quite happy, large and green and heavy with the season's chestnuts. Today I'm trying to find out how to breach the protective fence which encircles it. I've just been instructed to find the traffic police in the town square -two women in a white car - and ask them to let me in.

I arrived here in Sant'Alfio yesterday afternoon, after a somewhat harrowing drive from Catania, where I had flown in the night before. Street signs, traffic lanes, signals - who needs 'em? Scooters and motorcycles whip by from all directions, pedestrians cross whenever and where ever they see fit, cars push their way towards/into/in front of wherever they're trying to go. One out of five streets seems to have a sign. I laughed aloud while driving up a busy, narrow two-lane street, the scooters scooting comfortably into the oncoming traffic... suddenly joined by an older woman in a motorized chair, wheeling her way up the street as a bus barreled towards them all from the opposite direction. No one seemed to find this unusual except me. 

Good thing I'm not a nervous driver.

And from that frenetic drive in Catania into the country-stillness of Sant'Alfio. It's quiet and peaceful here, birds breaking the near-silence amidst olive, apple, fig and plum trees that dot the still-working farm and one-time monastery where I'm staying. The farm dogs were kind enough to give me a walking tour when I arrived.

And on that note, it's time to get off the computer and back to the tree.  Oh, and feel free to check in on my Flickr stream, where I'm posting more images from my trip.

Ciao for now...