(Image credit: Little Fuji)

Posted by Ellen

These four words were scratched into the sand at one end of the beach in Ecola State Park, near Cannon Beach, Oregon. The love note was inscribed at the other end of the beach.

But they go together, right? Maybe Summer Liver loves Sky Melodee? That's probably not right, but somehow these two messages have got to fit together?

Posted by Ellen

Here in Philadelphia, the sun is smiling on us this week; it feels like spring, and it will look like spring very soon. We'll know it when we see it. Even in South Dakota's appropriately named Badlands, where life is tough and the weather is bad pretty much all seasons of the year, faint green hints of spring can be discerned in the landscape–not in March, however; the photo above was taken in mid-May 2014.

Posted by Ellen

The year of earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, back in 2010 and 2011, left devastation that was still immediately obvious and widespread when we visited in December 2013.

Many ruined buildings were still propped up then, still awaiting demolition. Some repairs had been begun, some new construction was under way, but the city's main shopping district had been displaced into a new popup mall made out of shipping containers.

Christ Church Cathedral, shown here, once dominated the city's central square. As of this writing, no decision has yet been announced concerning whether to repair or replace or simply demolish what's left of the structure. The new popup Cardboard Cathedral a few blocks away has not officially been designated as a replacement. 

Posted by Ellen

Last January, when this picture was taken, Rittenhouse Square looked plenty wintery. The snow hasn't been as deep this January, but the cold has been, if anything, even deeper. Which just goes to show, except that actually it doesn't.

Posted by Ellen

The gnarled little trees called wallum banksia thrive in the sandy heathlands along Australia's east coast, from Queensland down into northern New South Wales around Sydney. Tall spikes of yellow-green flowers linger for months on the branches, drying out and turning brown and then gray; the knobby fruits–seed follicles–may hang on the plant indefinitely, at least until a brush fire sweeps across the countryside, which is something that happens there about every seven to twelve years.

Wallum banksia are not harmed by fire, nor by salt spray or nutrient-starved sandy soil or extended drought. The species has evolved to thrive in extremely harsh conditions, in a habitat which, like the species itself, is known as wallum.

Fire may burn up the leaves and branches, but it also pops open the seed follicles, allowing new little wallum banksia to sprout up all around the old ones. Also, the roots often push up new growth after a fire, helping the species reclaim the territory from other opportunistic seeds that might be trying to spread thereabouts.

The specimen pictured here is not in Australia at all, but in the Australian garden area of Wellington Botanic Gardens in New Zealand. The climate in almost all of New Zealand is cooler and far moister than in most parts of Australia, and wallum banksia does not grow naturally in New Zealand. In fact, it is said that the healthiest, largest, fastest-growing specimens are in dry, sunny, fire-prone locations with poor soil comprised mostly of sand.

Posted by Ellen

At the Waysider in Tuscaloosa, where another semester and another football season are already so close you can taste them.

Posted by Ellen

In the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island is Castlepoint sheep station, a stretch of pastureland as long as Manhattan and half as wide, home to tens of thousands of sheep, a dozen or so sheep dogs, a few thousand head of cattle, a handful of horses, four shepherds with their families, and an American family from Westchester County, New York.

Until about twenty years ago, the Americans had been dairy farmers in Westchester, out in the fringes of suburban sprawl. Their small farm attracted the attention of developers, who eventually made them an offer they couldn't refuse; they took the money and headed off to New Zealand, where they bought one of the largest grazing operations in the country, which included beaches, a lighthouse, a big rock so iconic it is featured on the country's postage stamps, and pastures that had been maintained  for over a century.

We visited on a difficult day, weaning day. All the little lambs had just been separated from their mothers and herded together into paddocks of their own. The babies were not happy about this, and some were so unhappy they disregarded the electric fences and wandered all alone around the station, looking for mama. The ewes weren't happy either.

Posted by Ellen

A chain of gourmet pizza places in cities around New Zealand's South Island is called Filadelfio's, despite what its website claims as a "New York–inspired atmosphere."

Americans can't help but notice something a little different about the atmosphere, however. Our restaurants have a no-shoes-no-shirt rule, and Kiwi restaurants don't.