Hummingbird Salamander (Book Review)

book reviewsenvironmentalism

I've been a fan of Jeff Vandermeer for a little over a decade. This means I am both biased (re: my baseline attitude towards the author and his works is favorable) and an insufferable hipster (re: I liked his books before he got fame, fortune, and a movie staring Natalie Portman.)

I first encountered Vandermeer's works at a formative age. His novels shaped my understanding of what a novel could be. I became aware of dimensions of description and prose that were sorely lacking in many of the other books I was reading at the time, yet present in his novels about beheaded meerkats and sentient mushrooms. Vandermeet is technically accomplished, and has used a variety of unusual devices to add atmosphere, characterization, and immersion to his works.

His latest, Hummingbird Salamander is an eco-thriller. Its language is relatively terse; its atmosphere, one of decay. The world is ours, except farther along its track into ecological catastrophy: it's filled with rotting institutions, unethical technology, devastation, and loss of havitats and species.

52 Frames (July 2021)

airplanecatspittsburghnycplant lifearchitecturevideo gamesshadow the hedgehogSeries: 52 Frames

My weekly photos this month encompassed quite a few interesting themes, and most of them got very little editing. Has Steve turned into a JPEG shooter? Read through and find out!

27. Black and White

I'm someone who tends not to use certain fancy digital camera features like "filters" and "color profiles." But, the (somewhat divisive) Dynamic Monocrome setting on the Panasonic GX85 really hits the mark for me. So, I knew I wanted to use it, and submit a straight-out-of-camera JPEG.

The subject matter was some plants, some weeds. Queen Anne's Lace and some fern-y things. Shot at maximum aperture, some of the contrast that would have been provided by color is instead provided by depth of field. In the photo, a lot of green has shifted to grey and I quite like the effect.

Ferns and weeds in fifty shades of...


Series: Maui 2021

Personal note: I've been bouncing around and VERY slow at uploading these Hawaii posts, but there is at least one more ready to go. Expect them to slowly trickle online as time permits.


Whenever I travel to a new place, I try my best to have as few expectations as possible.

But because the act of getting there itself is often some combination of stressful, tiring, long, and/or expensive, and because it takes some time for me to find my bearings and adjust to my surroundings, there's usually a bit of mental and emotional gymnastics involved.

Case in point, Hana.

View of Hana from the walk to Fagan's Cross
View of Hana from the walk to Fagan's Cross

52 Frames (June 2021)

mauimilkweedSeries: 52 Frames

We've just hit the half-way point in 2021. I know, because we hit photography challenge number 26. Multiply that number by two, and you get the number of weeks in the year.

I'm beginning to feel like I've gotten better at doing these weekly photo assignments. Arguably, I haven't half-assed one since the first week of May, meaning that we have a near two month streak of decent-to-great photos.

As the year has gone on, I've become a lot less reticent to take advantage of the ridiculous editability afforded by RAW files, messing with local adjustments, particular color changes, and fiddling with shadows and highlights with reckless aplomb. Overall, this is a good thing, because I do think it has enhanced some of these photos without looking too unnatural.

Hopefully you agree with me too. :)

23. Music

Despite Hawaii being somewhat famous for its musical instruments: the ukulele and steel guitar, I was not in a position where I was around too many of them, and I was feeling like this was a particularly ill-timed challenge. (I have plenty of musical doo-dads at home that would have sufficed for... a photo.)

Then serendipity happened.

I had been hiking around the King's Highway, and a local recommended that I follow a particular turnoff down to a "secret beach." Surely, it can't be so secret when the palm trees are visible from the trail, when it's location is noted in guide books and on crowd-sourced trail websites, and when you're telling any random tourist to high-tail it down there. But, whatever, I was convinced.

Of course, the "secret" was out already, and the secluded beach was occupied by some folks who were all off swimming in the water. They had a radio with them, which loudly played reggae music, and so that's what I photographed.


I shot this using a wide angle lens with a circular polarizer. I probably should have paid more attention to which way the polarizer was facing, as I think I helped wash out some of the colors. Still, I rather like the effect. It reminds me of film.

I also like the sharp focus on the white chair, and the people who can be seen swimming off in the right half of the frame.

I cropped this somewhat heavily, from an original ~36mm equivalent focal length to something more like 50 or 60mm equivalent.

I probably could have lifted the shadows on the trees a touch less, as they're a little too unnatural looking.