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Showing posts from 2021

Green Wood-Hoopoe

  The Energetic Green Wood-Hoopoe Some birds simply refuse to cooperate when I attempt to take their photographs. For years, these sprightly avian wonders have thwarted dozens of my attempts to capture their beauty. I see them frolicking from my kitchen window, but when I run for my camera, they bop around so fast that I end up with a tip of a tail, or a bunch of leaves, or a blur of something completely unidentifiable.  During a recent trip to @mosethlathebushcamp in @madikwe, we found a family of these red-beaked cacklers hopping in and out of a dead tree they probably called home. I felt as if I had struck gold because they never perch for long, but there were enough of them on the leafless tree that I thought I might get lucky. I snapped and snapped, hoping I would capture one or two good shots. My photo doesn’t do them justice, but you can see the bright red beaks, the glossy greenish feathers, and the splashes of white. Gorgeous. They are social birds, flitting around touching ba

A Baboon Family

  A Baboon Family This baboon family makes me happy. The setting is peaceful, all four calmly sitting on a rock, at rest. Except for the baby looking directly at our game vehicle with curiosity, the other three's eyes gazing elsewhere.  Despite their sharp as daggers canine teeth, nut-crushing jaws, naughty opportunistic foraging of camper's food, and a hierarchy of dominating male bullies, baboons can be quiet and peaceful, going about their daily business in a well-defined social order.  These old-world monkeys thrive in friend and family units; females form strong bonds to raise and protect the kids, forage for food, and stay loyal to the troop for their entire lives. Like human families, they comfort each other, play, and squabble but ultimately come together for the good of the community and protection from predators - for the most part. Yes, there's a bit of infanticide by the males, beating females for the heck of it, violently tossing little ones to the side when th

The Tragedy of Human Despair

  The Tragedy of Human Despair in South Africa I came across this scene while running errands. The person, a man, I think, sat on the dirty, tar road at a robot, straddling the center and right turn lanes on a busy street. The light had turned red, so I was forced to face the human tragedy of poverty, hunger, and hopelessness.  It’s not like I hadn’t seen people on the streets begging for food, clothes, jobs, or anything to sustain them for another day, but this was different.  He rested in a fetal position, head bowed and covered by a white t-shirt juxtaposed against black clothing. And what about the books? I couldn’t see their titles; maybe one was a bible.   He was as still as a statue and as quiet as the dark before the dawn. He did not flinch or moan, nor did he have pleading hands reaching out for a tidbit of salvation.  The human was simply there, a tableau worthy of a production by the Ontological-Hysterical theatre company in New York City’s lower east side who keep their dra

Wild Dogs

    Rarely Seen Endangered African Wild Dogs In seven years of living in South Africa, I have only seen wild dogs, also called painted dogs because of their mottled coloring, four times; three in SA’s reserves and once in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. I am of two minds when I see them. I shiver in awe on one side and fear on the other. Watching the pups at play is as delightful as seeing our family pets frolicking with their canine pals in the park.  However, when on the hunt, they are focused, relentlessly determined, and terrifying.   The dogs travel and hunt in packs and have an astonishing 80% success rate. Compare that to the mighty lion at 30%. Wild dogs will even corner petrified prey against electric fences, forcing the animal to electrocute themselves before going in for the kill. But why am I terrified when I see dogs on the hunt? Because I have witnessed a pack of four descend on a baby impala and eat it alive.  Of the four dogs, three were young and robust, one was an old

Baby Hyena Up For Adoption

  Dateline: The Kruger -  Baby Hyena in Need of Adoption Last year, while traveling the roads in The Kruger National Park, his little jasiri, darling in Swahili, loitered on the side of the road every day my friends and I roamed the park in search of animals. At first, we thought, holy cow, look, it’s a baby spotted hyena - an extremely rare sighting. And she (it may have been a he, but it’s was hard to tell, so, she it is) is not fleeing from us in fear. So we took photos and oohed and aahed at our luck. Until we thought about it? Why was this little female hanging by the side of the road all by itself? In the middle of the day? Where was her mom, her clan? Hyenas run in large groups; we were confused. Why was this baby all alone? Sadness overwhelmed us when we realized that she was on her own without knowing how to fend for herself.   We passed her several times; she was always there, in the same spot. Once, when we slowed down, we were shocked because she approached our vehicle. She


  A couple of things are going on in this photo.  First, the ubiquitous bush butt shot. The rear-angle view of animals is so common that a friend of mine has a series of animal bottoms framed and hung on her bathroom wall.  I have about a million bottom shots languishing on a flash drive, I hate to get rid of them, but I’m not sure what I should do with the backside collection. Secondly, have a look at this trio of male giraffes. Elder, younger, and the one in the middle.  In this photo, the animals seem like pals. The three were playing rather than foraging on the treetops for food, so the sighting was special. Playing around to male giraffes looks like a neck-swinging dance and is weirdly elegant. The behavior is called “necking,” and it can cause damage if the play turns aggressive. It’s a dominance thing, a way to sort out who’s the boss of the females in the tower (or journey if they are moving).  As it turns out, male giraffes, like human males, have testosterone. It’s what makes


  I LOVE this photo. The silhouette of vultures perched on a dead tree at sunset is eerie and dramatic. I like dramatic anything, so I find these creatures fascinating.    I imagine these vultures waiting in the twilight for the wail of a captured impala as a pack of African wild dogs serves the antelope up for dinner. Or, perhaps they are listening to a trio of lionesses taking down a baby giraffe. The sound can never be unheard, but hearing the growls and pitiful cries is like a dinner bell for the birds. Why? Because raptors are scavengers that eat dead animals, whatever is left when the dogs or the lions are sated becomes a delicious and nutritious meal. Sounds disgusting, right?   But know, there is nothing gratuitous about the merciless events that take place in the animal world. It's survival.   Vultures are vital to the ecosystem. According to National Geographic, "They remove bacteria and other poisons in the environment quickly, consuming carcasses before they decay.

Ranger Dean

  This young man is Dean, and he is a ranger at Tandala Trail Camp in the Dinokeng Reserve. Dean is not just any ranger; he is my favorite ranger. At 25, his wealth of knowledge about bush flora and fauna equals any seasoned ranger I have gone with to the bush. In this photo, Dean hopped out of the vehicle to explain why elephants eat the bark of certain trees. It is because the bark of some trees is sweet and delicious. Dean also explained that the damage done to the trees will kill them unless the ellies only tear the bark from one side. If there is bark left on one side, the tree can mend itself, basically grow back the bark that acts as a shield against destructive weather and invading insects.   There are many things that I appreciate about Dean. His ability to identify birds by their call, tracking skills, and knowledge of the flora are remarkable. But the best thing is that he won’t carry a gun. Instead, he has a long stick that can help control a situation if an animal becomes

African Hawk Eagle

  Raptors are pretty darn majestic as predator birds go.  Watching them purposefully soaring over the savannah with wings spread wide in search of a critter for dinner is a stunning sight.  This beauty is an African Hawk Eagle. At least, I think it is an AHE. Identifying species of birds in the bush can take years. And years.  My friends and I watched this bird for a long time because it looked in distress. Notice the bump in the back of his neck; doesn’t it look a bit malformed.  We watched as the bird hacked and choked and did a little neck stretch dance, and we were concerned it was going to fall off its perch and die.  After many minutes, we watched in awe as the bird projectile vomited a big bunch of yuck.  As it turns out, this behavior is normal. Predatory birds gobble down their prey, digest the good stuff, and then regurgitate up the bad stuff - like feathers and fur, and sometimes bones. All the detritus that has no nutrition.   I wonder how come humans don’t have that capaci

See the Person

  See the person walking in the middle of the road.  It’s a beautiful road canopied with an assortment of deciduous trees lush with leaves in all shades of green.  Look closely; a sprinkle of pale lavender jacaranda blossoms compliments the scene. It is a lovely image with various shades and shadows, and the lone figure gives it a sense of solitude.  The street is located near a large grassy area in an upscale suburb of Johannesburg.  A friend and I stopped at the park along this street to visit an ART under the Sun open-air exhibition. A dozen local artists were selling their artwork anywhere from a few hundred rands to thousands of rands. A great deal of money for the majority of people living in South Africa. When we got in the car to leave, we noticed this scene.  We were curious as to who this person was lumbering along dressed in an unseasonable amount of clothes (the temp hovered around 90F/33C) and carrying a couple of bags hiked up on slouching shoulders.   We drove by the per

Back to the Movies

  A big question I have asked myself over the last year is what film will it take for me to return to the movie theatre - a place that I have missed more than anything else during the hateful pandemic we have had to and continue to live through. Admittedly, I have missed many things - teaching without a mask, concerts, going to the many markets in South Africa where I am a sucker for buying treasures I don’t need, and even the gym. Well, maybe not the gym so much. But movies, the big screen, the surround sound is easily the list topper. I have loved going to the movies since my parents gave me a quarter to go to the Saturday matinees when I was a kid. It’s a sacred ritual. I buy my ticket, purchase popcorn, find my favorite seat - on the right side aisle slightly more than halfway up - eat all the popcorn during the trailers, and prepare myself to be whisked to other worlds, and other peoples’ plights while sitting on the edge of my seat as protagonists fight monsters and demons, earth

The Royal Family of Lionesses

  In celebration of National Cat Day, let me introduce you to The Royal Family of Lionesses.  In the foreground is the Queen. On the left in the background is the Queen Mother.  The lovelies to the left of QM are the princesses. In the photo on the right, two of the princesses are having a precious moment together.  The ladies are calm, beautiful, and very photogenic.  And terrifying. Moments before they settled into their poses, the felines sauntered by our vehicle. In fact, they surrounded us as they passed. I know they could have cared less that we were there - they only see a big blob that smells of diesel fuel, not something wonderfully delicious. Nevertheless, there are rules to follow during an encounter with a dangerous animal.  Move as slowly as a chameleon pretending not to exist, fight flailing your arms even if a spider is crawling on you or a wasp is circling your nose, whisper, don’t stretch outside of the frame of the vehicle to “get the shot,” and if you are me, keep yo

Why, Why, Why: Medicine and Status

       Every time I am lucky enough to see rhinos in the bush, I am impressed by their bulk. They are huge, some weighing in at 6000lbs. Yet, even though they are massive, they move with grace and stealth through the grass and shrublands. Two species roam freely in the South African bush - The black rhino (the top photo), browsers, and the white rhino (bottom photo), grazers. Both are endangered. And because they are threatened, these photos were taken months ago and in different reserves.  One guess as to the cause of this tragedy. Homo Sapiens, the great destroyers of everything in their way. So, every time I see these magnificent yet gentle creatures whose ancestors date back to over 14 million years, I am also disgusted with humanity. I feel like pulling out every lock of hair and ripping the fingernails off of every poacher, every villain that hires poachers to kill rhinos for their horns, and every vile consumer that purchases the horns, which, by the way, are made of keratin, th

Homo Sapiens: Destroyers of the World

      I am reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.  It’s taking me some time because it is dense with thought-provoking ideas that need digesting. I am about halfway through and the premise is already clear; homo sapiens are the most successful species on earth because they have destroyed everything in their path since appearing on the planet a couple of hundred thousand years ago.  Ok, maybe a bit hyperbolic?  Not really according to Harari and according to the museum displays at The Cradle of Humankind, a Unesco World Heritage site about 50kms from Johannesburg. I visited the Cradle yesterday with a friend and the world of the book and the physical evidence of our evolution converged.  Sapiens developed big brains, learned to communicate, to love and hate, and to eventually desire more than they ever needed to survive (like our hunter/gatherer ancestors). As a result, we have evolved into a relentlessly greedy and divided species determined to destroy our

Writing Briefly and Beautifully

  In 2003, I turned in the first draft of my book, Waiting Wives: The Story of Schilling Manor, Homefront to the Vietnam War, to my editor. It was over 600 pages. She sent it back and said, “Cut it in half.” She gave me a few suggestions, but ultimately, I was the one that had to cut and continually ask the question - is this moving the story forward, or do I just like what I wrote? Finally, in 2005, my 320 page book was published. Okay, terrifying story, but what does it have to do with Metallica, The Brevity Blog, and Vivian Gornick’s masterful guidebook on writing, The Situation and The Story ? Simple - Brevity is a nonfiction blog where writers submit their writing. Brendan O’Meara wrote a piece for the blog called “ What Metallica’s “Black Album” Teaches Us About Writing Briefly .” Finally, the blog reminded me of what I had learned from Gornick’s book many years ago when I had to cut my story in half.  In her book, she writes, “​​Every work of literature has both a situation and

Lemur Shenanigans

  Lemur Shenanigans I never thought I would ever see lemurs in real life, let alone have them scramble all over me. I giggled like a little child with a playful new kitten as the lemurs of Madagascar climbed and frolicked while accompanying my friends and me on a hike during a journey to this island a few years ago. The country is a bit on the wild side when it comes to nature. Over 70 species of lemurs live in the rainforests, chameleons are everywhere, and any number of other animals exist only on the fourth largest island in the world.   Its history is colorful and diverse. Queens once ruled Madagascar before French colonization, and pirates rested on its beautiful beaches before continuing on raids. Rainforests covered most of its land, and baobab trees, the glorious tree of life, populated the dense forests.   Sadly, and over some time, this pure yet impoverished land fell victim to greed and resource rapers.  Deforestation from slash and burn agriculture, logging, coffee farms, a

Bye-bye Little Red

  Bye-bye Little Red This bike.  This powerful 2004 Harley-Davidson Superglide has been my partner on Russia’s wicked rainy and cold roads, and on so many roads in South Africa, I can’t even count them all.  Some were delightful twisty roads, some were lovely byways through farmland, and many tested my skills as a rider. Tar would simply end, and my riding buddies and I would have to slog through viscous mud, rumble through rocks and rubble, or slither in deep sand. Avoiding South Africa's ubiquitous craterlike potholes offered another challenge. Lunatic taxi drivers ALWAYS had the right of way; after all, they moved the majority of South Africans from one place to another. Good times! I stopped riding in SA a while back. I blame a bum rotator cuff. But in truth, I was probably ready to ease off the throttle and brake to a final stop. Oh, I went out a bunch of times after I recovered from surgery,  but that unexplainable joy of riding had floated away like a dandelion fairy in the


  View the beauty of this glorious jacaranda mimosifolia tree in full bloom.  They are everywhere in Johannesburg and Pretoria in spring.  South Africans look forward to the explosion of soft violet leaves every October, signaling the end of chilly winters and the rebirth that comes with spring. Traveling down an avenue canopied with these trees makes me feel like I’m in a fantasy novel, so enchanted by their majesty and color that I have pulled over more than once to snap photos. Local lore says that a person will have good luck if a jacaranda bloom falls on their head.  Originating in South America, the jacaranda was brought to South Africa somewhere between 1830 and the 1880s, at the height of the gold rush.  Planted along many of the streets of Johannesburg and Pretoria, the trees were charged with making the dusty landscape of the booming cities lovely and livable. They look like their entire existence to bring pleasure, kind of like the mockingbird. But, they are not like a mocki