Serene’s Black Bayou returns to Second Life

Black Bayou Lake, April 2022 – click any image for full size

I’ve long established that I really appreciate the work of Serene Footman as he brings us places from around the globe we’d otherwise likely never get to visit outside of photos and television images. With his own eye for interpretation, Serene brings these places to life within Second Life to allow us to appreciate them directly. In all the years I’ve had the pleasure of following Serene’s work and writing about his region builds, I’ve never failed to be impressed with his skill and execution in bringing these places to life.

However, there has tended to be one of his builds that has always held a special place in my recollections of his work. In October 2018, Serene brought us his vision of Black Bayou Lake, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. So you can imagine my delight when Shawn Shakespeare nudged me about Serene having re-opened Black Bayou on April 22nd, 2022. What’s more, and as with the original design, this is once again collaboration with Jade Koltai, with whom he worked on a fair number of regions designs.

Black Bayou Lake, April 2022

Established in 1997, Black Bayou Lake is a US national Reserve covering 2,000 acres of lake and a further 2,000+ acres of shoreline and watershed. The primary am of the park is to provide a place for people to connect with the natural world, and it forms one of four refuges managed in the North Louisiana Refuges Complex.

The lake and its surroundings is a haven for wildlife and waterfowl, and its most ionic landmark for the park is a wooden walkway that extends out over the waters of the lakes and its wetlands. This was a central feature with the original 2018 build and makes a return with this new iteration, complete with its angled raised section intended for the passage of small boats. Also to be found are some of the dry lowlands with their long grass and sprawling trees and much of the wildlife that can be found throughout the actual Black Bayou and also brought Serene’s original build.

Black Bayou Lake, April 2022

However, this iteration of the region design adds some new aspects, as Serene notes in his own bog post on the 2022 iteration of his region.

We’ve added a railway bridge – the Cross Bayou Railroad Bridge, aka the Kansas City Southern Railroad Bridge – which we believe adds to the coherence of the region, making it easier to walk around.
In reality this bridge is located around 100 miles from Black Bayou Lake. It straddles the Twelve Mile Bayou (spelled ‘Twelvemile Bayou’ by locals), which is part of the Cross Bayou, a tributary of the Red River of the South. The bridge was built in 1926 and abandoned during the 1980s. 

– Serene Footman, Return to Bayou

To accommodate the bridge, a river has been added to the region, seemingly carrying water down to the bridge on the west side of the region, from the wetlands to the east.

Black Bayou Lake, April 2022

Elsewhere, other little touches in keeping with legends of the bayou have been included – such as the rickety cabin that appears to be home to voodoo / black magic rituals.

Rich in scenery and wildlife and caught under s setting Sun (I’ve used my own EEP settings here), this iteration of Black Bayou Lake retains the spirit and sense of the original for those who remember it, whilst offering enough that is new to engage and entreat those who do to explore onwards and discover what is new. For those who never got to visit the original, the return of Black Bayou Lake presents the opportunity to enjoy a build celebrating one of the southern United States great areas of natural beauty. As such, I’ll say no more here other than – go visit and see for yourself!

Black Bayou Lake, April 2022

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Serene’s Dyrhólaey in Second Life

Dyrhólaey, March 2022 – click any image for full size

For some reason, my favourite places on Earth seem to be islands. On numerous occasions in these pages I’ve mentioned that facts that I have spent time in Hong Kong both in childhood and as an adult, and that I consider Sri Lanka a kind of “spiritual home”. Another place – vastly different to either of these two – that holds a special attraction for me is Iceland.

Dyrhólaey, March 2022

It’s a place I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit several times, most of them initially spent in and around Reykjavík on arrival before heading north by air to Akureyri (the so-called “Capital of North Iceland” with a spectacular approach to the airport running down the fjord), and thence onwards by road to the Mývatn region and the great volcanic caldera and fissure zone of Krafla (where tours are available of the geothermal power plant as well as out onto the lava landscape that is indescribably stunning). So when Shawn Shakespeare informed me Serene Footman has settled on another part of Iceland for his latest region offering, I had to hop across and take a look.

For his latest 2022 build, Serene has chosen Dyrhólaey (“Door Hill Island”), a place almost directly opposite my stomping ground (so so speak) of Akureyri, being located on Iceland’s southernmost reach of coastline. It’s a part of the island I’ve not personally visited – although it, the village of  Vík í Mýrdal and the area around Katla have been on the list of potential visits for a future return to the island.

Dyrhólaey, March 2022

Dyrhólaey started life around 100,000 years ago as an island resulting from a volcanic eruption. Today, it forms a small promontory sitting between the North Atlantic to the south and the Dyrhólaós estuary to the north. Rising some 120 metres above sea level, it runs eastwards and links to the Reynisfjara, the black sand beach that runs west from the mainland, and which in 1991 was ranked one of the ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world, and in 2021, the 6th best beach in the world.

With views across the beach towards the Reynisdrangar that sit off-shore to the east and inland toward the glacier Mýrdalsjökull and the uplands of Katla, Dyrhólaey is a popular attraction for both tourists and Icelanders alike, being a 2-hour drive from Reykjavík. However, the two things that make it most notable is the sweep of the beautiful – if at time treacherous – Reynisfjara sands, complete with their basalt columns, and the a gigantic black arch of lava standing in the sea that gave the promontory its name.

Dyrhólaey, March 2022

The latter two – the basalt columns and the great arch – are features of Serene’s build, but rather than confining himself to the landscape around Dyrhólaey, he brings together elements from across Iceland (and another from the imagination) to capture the sprit of the island. As  he notes in his own blog post, Iceland has many waterfalls, a good many of which are stunning.

To honour theses waterfalls, Serene includes a set of high falls within the build whilst also mentioning the glorious Svartifoss (“black waterfall”) which lay 140 km east of Dyrhólaey. It’s an apt choice to mention: the falls drop over a set of basalt columns of a similar nature to those at Reynisfjara – columns that have influenced many an Icelandic architects, one of whom built the unmistakable Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík (a building with which I’m very familiar, the bed and breakfast we use during visits being located a short walk away, on the route down to the harbour area.

Dyrhólaey, March 2022

Iceland is a genuinely dramatic country – and one that isn’t the easiest to visualise, not when it comes to trying to fit that drama into the 65,536 square metres and just 5,000 LI available within a Homestead region.

However, from the high cliffs through gathering the black sands of the beach around the base of the cliffs, from the tough grass that makes a good portion of the island’s vegetation to representing its rich diversity of wildfowl and birds – and even the hardy Icelandic ponies – to the off shore rocks that capture the spirit of Reynisdrangar, this is a region that does so admirably. Even the touch of American architectural visualisation inspired by  Alex Hogrefe fits right into the setting; while he may not be a son of Iceland, Hogrefe’s  work is very mush in the style of forward-thinking Icelandic architects.

Once again, a marvellous visualisation by Serene – so be sure to see it while you can!

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Furillen in Spring for 2022 in Second Life

Furillen, March 2022 – click any image for full size

In 2015 I had the pleasure of visiting the first region-wide build by Serene Footman. Entitled Furillen, it was modelled on the Swedish island of the same name that sits just off the coast of Gotland. It marked the start of string of engaging and photogenic builds by Serene modelled after the more unusual places to be found in the physical world, the majority of which I have attempted to cover in these pages.

In 2020, Serene decided to take a break from designing public regions in Second Life – which while a loss to us all, was entirely understandable given the amount of effort required to bring his designs into being, from initial idea through research, design and construction through to opening. However, he is now back, at least for a time, and has opted to return to his roots (so to speak) once more, offering a further look at Furillen through the lens of his imagination.

Furillen, March 2022

For those unfamiliar with it, the four square kilometre island of Furillen is connected to Gotland via a bridge and a narrow isthmus wide enough for a road, and for most of the 20th century it was home a limestone quarrying before becoming restricted to military personnel when a radar installation on the island started operations in the 1970s.

Radar stations still operate on the island, but the restrictions on public access were lifted in the 1990s, and parts of the island were declared a European Union Natura 2000 area and nature reserve, affording them protected status. Two thirds of the reserve is covered with pine forest intersected by some marshlands.

Furillen, March 2022

Since 2000, the island has been the location for a minimalist hotel and conference centre owned by photographer and entrepreneur Jonas Hellström. A project headed by Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame planned to build a recording studio close to one of the island’s beaches as the first part of a broader intent to make Furillen into a centre for art and design. However, permission for this work was ultimately denied in 2010 due to the environmental impact the project would ultimately have on the beach and the island as a whole.

In his original Furillen build (see The beauty of a bleak midwinter in Second Life), Serene celebrated much of this – the old quarry, the hotel, and so on. For this iteration, he again presents these elements, but – in taking a look at the photographs of Furillen that can be found in places like the café house and the hotel, are much more closely modelled on their physical world counterparts.  Also to be found is a nod towards the radar installation, thanks to the tall tower and squat station building sitting within the north-east corner of the setting.

Furillen, March 2022

However, this is no mere re-tread of the 2015 Furillen build; instead we are presented with a new take on the island, with a focus on the hotel and the quarry, the ambient sound scape offering a feel for the island’s nature reserve status. As with the previous iterations of Furillen, this is an atmospheric build with a marvellous minimalist feel to it.

This is not to say there is not a lot to see, but rather that Serene uses a measured eye for space, landscaping and placement of elements to present a place that looks and feels like a minimalist painting whilst actually offering a lot to see and photograph.

Furillen, March 2022

I really don’t want to say to much more – not because I don’t appreciate the region (the reverse, in fact: I’ve long admired Serene’s work and am hoping this will make the first of a new season of his region builds, as I’ve genuine missed his artistry in Second Life). Rather, I’d like people to see the build first-hand for themselves – but to keep in mind, Serene’s builds can be short-lived, so dropping in sooner rather than later might be worthwhile just in case. My thanks to Shawn (again!) for the LM and pointer!

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  • Furillen (Overland Hills, rated Moderate)

Black and White and Travelling Heels in Second Life

Club LA and Gallery: WuWai Chun – Travelling Heels

Opening on May 9th are two new exhibitions at Club LA and Gallery, curated by Wintergeist, which between them offer unique studies and unusual views of Second Life.

With Black and White, located in the main gallery, The Friendly Otter offers an intriguing portfolio of some 15 black and white images that stand as a mix of avatar studies and landscapes. What is particularly captivating about them is not that they are monochrome – but the manner in which they are presented.

Club LA and Gallery: The Friendly Otter – Black and White

Each piece takes a specific subject  – avatar, landscape element, birds, etc., – and presents it in an almost ink wash style sans intruding surroundings or wider surroundings, on a pure white backdrop. The result is a series of pieces that are wonderfully minimalistic but with an incredible depth and richness of story.

These are genuinely graceful pieces that have every look of having been painted by hand, rather than originating with in-world photographs. Sadly, none are offered for sale, as all of them are highly collectable.

Club LA and Gallery: The Friendly Otter – Black and White

In introducing Travelling Heels in Second Life, WuWai Chun uses a variation of a famous quote about Ginger Rogers, the original version of which (from a 1982 Frank and Ernest cartoon) read:

Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.

It’s a more than apt quote for this exhibition – reached via teleport from the main gallery – which offers highly unique views of Second Life around, under and over high-heeled shoes.

On reading this, it might be tempting to simply say, “Oh, you mean this is an exhibition of photographs of shoes!” But that really is not the case; while a pair of shoes is featured in each, they are not in an of themselves “just” focused on the heels. A number present scenes captured from around Second Life in which the background demands the eye’s attention – a villa and pool, a dusty hill from (I would guess) Serene Footman’s Kolmannskuppe, the tide breaking over rocks – as much as the heels.

Club LA and Gallery: WuWai Chun – Travelling Heels

Mixed with there are artful pieces that capture the spirit of popular art from (roughly) the 1960s and 1970s, adding to the depth of this exhibition whilst offering some highly individual pieces that would be welcome in any home.

I mention this latter point because all of WuWai’s pieces in this exhibition are for sale – and she is giving 100% of all sales to Feed A Smile – so in making a purchase, you’re not only gaining a great piece of art, but also helping a very worthy cause.

Two extraordinary exhibitions that should not be missed.

Club LA and Gallery: WuWai Chun – Travelling Heels

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A desert ghost town in Second Life

Kolmannskuppe, April 2020 – click any image for full size

On April 10th, 2020, Serene Footman opened his latest limited-time region build to once again transport us to one of the most unusual places to be found on Earth.

I tend to wax lyrical over Serene’s designs, and for three good reasons: the first is they are invariably elegant in design and statement, packed with details that may be both obvious and subtle, whilst also incorporating Serene’s own recognisable individuality of touch that has marked all of his designs. The second is that they demonstrate that while Second Life sets the imagination free and can become the home of the strange, the out-of-the ordinary and the unique – so too can the physical world around us, which is every bit as richly diverse as anything to be found in-world; the difference is, Second Life offers the means for to visit such places where otherwise they might forever be out of out reach save for photographs and videos seen in publications and on-line.

The third reason is that his builds are always educational, both in terms of what can be achieved in Second Life with care and forethought in design and because as soon as I visit one of his designs, I’m reaching for the encyclopaedia and calling up my search engine to find out as much as I can about the locations he picks, so I might broaden my own knowledge.

Kolmannskuppe, April 2020

And so it is with Kolmannskuppe – The Ghost Town of Namib Desert, his build for April 2020, which brings to SL the long-deserted mining town of Kolmannskuppe or (to give its name in Afrikaans) Kolmanskop located on the inter-coastal erg of the southernmost reaches of the massive Namib desert in modern-day Namibia, but was at the time of the town’s founding, German South West Africa.

Named for a nearby kopje, or hillock, which had in turned been dubbed Kolmannskuppe “Kolman’s Head” after the wagon driver who had been forced to abandon his wagon there after a particularly violent sand storm in 1905, the town came to prominence as one of the first areas along the Namib coast to experience a diamond rush.

Three years later, a railway was being built between the territory’s major harbour town of Lüderitz on the coast and the inland town of Aus. The man in charge of the work was German-born August Stauch, who has moved to the territory in the hope of alleviating his asthma. An amateur mineralogist in his spare time, Stauch became fascinated the tales surrounding the territory’s founder, Franz Adolf Eduard Lüderitz (after whom the the harbour town was named) and his belief the region contained diamonds just waiting to be found.

Kolmannskuppe, April 2020

So firm was his belief Lüderitz had been correct, Stauch obtained a prospecting licence and told his railway workers to bring him any unusually shiny stones they might turn over whilst digging to lay the train line’s foundations, and in April 1908, one of his aides, Zacharias Lewala – who had previously worked at the Kimberley diamond mines in South Africa – did just that. Systematically searching the area Lewala had been scouting, Stauch found more of the stones and took them to Lüderitz, where his friend and mining engineer Sönke Nissen confirmed they were diamonds.

Using Stauch’s prospecting licence, the two men secured a 75-acre claim at Kolmannskuppe. At first they tried to keep the mine and their growing wealth secret, but news inevitably spread, sparking a diamond rush into the area, and Kolmannskuppe  grew to become an extremely wealthy settlement, boasting all the amenities of a modern town: a rail link to Lüderitz (itself massively enriched by the flow of diamonds from Kolmannskuppe  and further deposits found to the north), its own tram service, a host of civic facilities and utility services form a hospital (with the southern hemisphere’s first x-ray machine) through a theatre, ballroom and casino to its own power station and ice-making factory.

Kolmannskuppe, April 2020

The town reached its peak in the years immediately before and after the first world war. However, the discovery of a huge deposits of diamonds 270 km to the south around the mouth of the Orange River that did not require complex mining, resulted in many from Kolmannskuppe simply up and moving south, leaving their homes and possessions to the sands of the desert. These moves marked the start of 3-decade decline for Kolmannskuppe, the last inhabitants leaving the town to the shifting desert sands in 1956.

More recently, Kolmannskuppe has become a tourist attraction – if one that is corporately managed, De Beers and the Namibian government jointly funding it. This remaining buildings sit alongside a dusty road, dunes of tufted sand wrapping themselves around wooden, sun-bleached walls that are so leached of moisture they don’t so much fall down as crumble away. It’s a place that is beloved of photographers, artists and film-makers for its sense of desolation and nature’s reclamation of man’s fragile foot-hold in this harsh desert environment. As Serene notes in his own informative blog post on the setting, it is in some ways a contrived and artificial location, centred upon the hulking form of the former casino (and now the nexus for tourists) – but it is undeniably photogenic and captivating.

Kolmannskuppe as it is today. Via Wikipedia

It is in this form that Serene captures the town, and does so quite magnificently, from the high shoulders and roof of the former casino through to the crumbling skeletons of houses and the bare bones of former utilities. While some of the house styles may be more esoteric than those of the actual town, he has perfectly captured and embodies the spirit of Kolmannskuppe, right down to the touches of corporate artificiality, such as the misplaced baths.

As the same time, he has added his own touches, notably in the form of multiple places where visitors can sit and immerse themselves in the setting, watching the coming and going of others, the entire region surrounded by high dunes that mirror the Namib’s reputation for sand dunes that can reach heights of up to 300m. Rounded-out by the presence of oryx gazella, Kolmannskuppe – The Ghost Town of Namib Desert is yet another remarkable location presented by one of Second Life’s foremost region designers.

Kolmannskuppe, April 2020

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Ubay Island: racing the King Tide in Second Life

Ubay Island, March 2020 – click any image for full size

In October 2013, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the province of Bohol, Philippines, inducing about 1m land subsidence to some of its small island communities. Now, the islands of Batasan, Pangapasan, Ubay and Bilangbilangan of the Municipality of Tubigon experience partial or complete flooding even during normal spring tides. Coming face-to-face with a hundred years’ worth of sea level rise, the island communities show that they are far more resilient than we think.

This is the introduction to Racing the King Tide, a film and website looking at the impact of the 2013 Philippines earthquake that was centred on the island district of Bohol had on the people and islands close to its epicentre. One of these islands – perhaps the most deeply affect of them all – is tiny Ubay, which is the central inspiration for Serene Footman’s latest region design in Second Life, and which opened to the public on March 3rd.

Called, appropriately enough, Ubay Island, the setting offers a marvellous reproduction of little Ubay – which is less than 4 acres in size – perhaps as seen in the the time period immediately after the earthquake had struck the region. As is always his way, Serene has provided a comprehensive blog post to accompany the build, and I cannot recommend enough that it should be read alongside any visit to Ubay in-world, as it really puts the build into perspective. Through his writing, Serene provides not only a lens through which to view the build, but also wider context on on the earthquake, its impact on the peoples of Ubay Batasan, Pangapasan and Bilangbilangan.

Ubay Island, March 2020

The build presents Ubay as it appears for around 130-140 days a year: flooded to a typical depth of some 45cm (1.5 ft) – although tidal ranges can make the actual waters deeper. The flooding is a combined result of both rising sea level de to climate change – and which ultimately threaten Ubay’s future – and the fact that the 2013 ‘quake saw a mean decrease in elevation of a metre (3ft) within the area where Ubay is located (an collapse that also gave rise to The Great Wall of Bohol on Bohol island itself), leaving the island’s maximum elevation when dry at just 2.32 m (7.2 ft) above the surrounding sea level.

Under the default windlight the water is a dirty, brackish grey / brown – a reminder, perhaps that flood waters can carry with them dirt, mud, animal manure and human wastes which can be hazardous to health – with wooden walk ways partially winding through the village streets in an effort to keep passing feet dry. In this, the setting has the feel of depicting Ubay not long after the earthquake struck; more recently, much has been done (starting with an imitative by the islanders themselves before they received external support), to raise the village footpaths above the average level of the flood waters.

Ubay,Island, March 2020

The landing point sits within the local school playground, a location which is both touching and somewhat ironic. Touching, as Serene has captured the graffiti marking one of the playground walls that reminds us of the lives the adults and children of the island face: This Is Where We Play. The irony is that on the actual island of Ubay, the playground was supposed to be the evacuation assembly point should the island be at risk of flooding – but in 2013, it was one of the first places to be submerged.

You might think that given the state of the island, it would have been long deserted – and you’d be wrong. Despite the earthquake, despite the continued and very real threat of rising sea levels as a result of climate change, the people of Ubay steadfastly hold on to their homes and way of life, up to and including the annual threat of typhoons wiping the village off the face of the planet.

Ubay Island, March 2020 (as it might appear under a brighter sky and the invasion of sea water)

This might sound like a case of local hubris, but it’s not. With some 74% of the population living below the national poverty line even before the 2013 earthquake, there is simply nowhere else in the Philippines where the peoples of Ubay and its neighbours can survive. This was proven in the period following the 2013 ‘quake when the 300-ish Ubay islanders were made to evacuate to the “mainland”, and almost all of them quietly moved back to island as it was the only place they could survive as fisher folk. In doing so, they have given Ubay its ray of hope.

Serene has tried to capture this sense of life as well: fishing boats lie in the waters around the village, chairs are set out on raised “porches”, ribbons festoon some of the village paths, clothes are set out to dry in the sun and breeze even as the waters pass under the lines on which they are hung, and so on. Someone has even enterprisingly set-up a stage for a music concert while boat repair yards are still in business. True, one or two liberties may have been taken (for example, the  Racing the Tide website, for example, infers that the half-submerged house that’s included in the build may be at Bilangbilangan Island rather than Ubay), but none of this spoils the setting in any way – rather, they enhance it.

Set as it is under a heavy sky, with its muddied waters and the ruins of buildings pulled down by the earthquake, and its shanty-like corrugated metal walls and roof tops, you might think that Ubay is a bit of a dismal place in SL to visit, but this simply isn’t so. Serene offers something that is once again captivating, poignant and with a depth of story behind it that should not be missed.

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