Friday, September 28, 2007
I offer you this antidote to gloominess.
The snake doesn't always win, see? Funny, the more I watch the video, the more the slug reminds me of congressional Democrats. I know, I know -- that's an unfair comparison. Congressional Democrats would be working a lot harder to get themselves into the snake's mouth.
As it happens, youtube is all I'll be watching for awhile, as I think we've inadvertently sold our television. All summer long we've been selling a bunch of our stuff on Craigslist and eBay, and we had too many televisions from several years ago when Mr. T came out here for his new job before The Kid and I did.
We gave one to a friend for his kids, and then without really thinking about it, we put the other one on Craigslist. About two seconds after someone called and said they'd be coming to pick it up tonight, I realized that I do occasionally watch it, if only for Animal Planet, my yoga videos and an occasional rerun of That 70s Show.
So we may buy another one. But not for awhile.
And now other duties call, as The Kid is downstairs assassinating members of the population of fruit flies that mysteriously appeared in our kitchen sometime in the last three days, and I believe he may be destroying cabinetry in his insecticidal zeal. Incidentally, those things are hardy. The other day I opened the microwave door after nuking my lunch for three minutes, and out hobbled a temporarily dazed fruit fly. It wandered around my counter for about ten seconds, and then resumed his hovering around my sink. I didn't have the heart to take him out after that display of fortitude.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
India's tigers will require a miracle to avoid extinction, says Valmik Thapar, a renowned Indian tiger expert. The tigers' numbers have more than halved just in the last five years.
[Thapar] said the tiger's survival was dependent on rapid action, reform and strong protection of the animals and their habitat.
But instead, Thapar said, the government was placing the animals under greater risk with a new law giving people rights over forest resources and advocating the co-existence of tigers and man.
Thapar has written fifteen books on tigers and made about twenty documentaries, many of them showing his seven-year interaction with a tigress he named "Macchli", or fish, due to a fish-like mark on her cheek. He was also the first to document how male tigers behave in the tiger family unit. But now he has concluded that his life is a failure because he has failed to save India's tigers.He says, of his career:
Am I the only one who finds comfort in knowing that such wild creatures exist, even though I never see them? Am I the only one who finds their plight more pressing than the latest Britney Spears cr*tch shot? Given the recent Giant Otter swarm to this blog, I don't think I am.
"The most moving and memorable time was with a tigress and her three tiny cubs. I watched her in the early morning sun for two hours, it brought tears to my eyes. I wept in joy -- the joy of the devotion of a mother to her little ones," he said."But if you look at it today, those mothers are being killed and the cubs are dying as the mothers don't return home."
But can you feel the loneliness that must dog Thapar as he absorbs the life of these creatures, only to watch them be carelessly destroyed? Making documentary after documentary, writing book after book, running around with your hair on fire trying to tell people they are losing part of their world, only to watch these tigers be poached for their skin? Hunted into extinction?
If only his words here were still true:
I guess, ultimately, it doesn't matter as long as we have our comfortable lives in the suburbs, our iPhones and good pizza. And I'm serious about that. Isn't that the lesson of the modern age? I may be little better than the next guy on that score. But is that real? Is it the truth? Or is the same indifference that's killing the tigers of a piece with the emerging reality that we may be indulging ourselves to death?
Sorry for the downer, guys. I'll try to post something a little more uplifting later. But this article just sent me right into the mental crapper.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I graduated from law school almost ten years ago, and it look me a long time to admit fully to myself that I didn't really like it that much. I did enjoy law school and I did well. With one parent and a sibling practicing law, I just couldn't convince myself that I ought to be doing something else. Plus, I'm actually pretty good at it. So it was easier to simply blame the atmosphere at the law firm I started at, or the type of law I was practicing. But after five years of the most flexible practice imaginable, with work that is about as interesting as it gets in my practice area, it still feels like I'm wearing a shoe that's too small. So for the last ten years, I've been hanging between practicing law on the one hand and nature photography and writing on the other -- never committing fully to one or the other. And this lack of integration had me alternating between valleys of despondence and inertia and then the impotent panic that comes from a sense that one is wasting one's life.
But recently I think I'm seeing things a bit more clearly. The law, like any job, can be a tool (at least the way I'm fortunate enough to practice it) -- and an extremely valuable tool -- to create some semblance of the life I'd like to have. And that's the best way for me to look at it. Inflexible, binary thinking was doing me in. So as soon as I stopped being surprised by the fact that I'm not interested in devoting my entire life to the law, the more it was possible to become exactly how I described myself a few posts ago:
For those who don't know, I'm licensed as an attorney and I use that work to finance my travel, nature photography, and nature seminars, like the one I took this summer on climate change and glacial recession in Glacier National Park, Montana.)
That's my story, which doesn't interest me as much as hearing yours. Toots already told us her story (her? his? Let me know if I have the pronouns wrong, Toots). What's yours? Are you content? Have you created the life you want or is there still more to do? For what it's worth, I think you can be content and still imagine things you'd like to do or rather be doing. I also think one's degree of contentment can change over time.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Michael, a recent Sancho-inspired reader, e-mailed me a link to this post on his real estate blog. According to the post, there is a parcel of land for sale in the Brazilian Amazon -- a mere 1.2 million acre parcel.
That's a little less than twice the size of Rhode Island and a little larger than my beloved Glacier National Park -- though it's only a tiny part of Brazil, which is an enormous country.
Michael observed that there are only about 24 individuals on earth who could afford, on their own, to purchase this plot of land. Michael further reflected that those 24 individuals could afford to make, with only a few limitations, pretty much any positive environmental impact they want.
Imagine it. In a world in which ordinary people are (justifiably) exhorted to drive less, use less energy, install compact flourescent bulbs, and buy carbon credits, what, if anything, is the moral duty of the super-rich? (This may be, ultimately, an irrelevant and silly question. It seems that very few people in America are interested in imposing moral duties upon the wealthy; and really, who'd listen anyway?)
I wish that 1.2 million acre parcel would be used for the good of the Brazilian environment and the world at large -- sustainably managed, a haven for stressed wildlife, gently productive for the Brazilian people. But I don't think we live in that kind of world -- yet. Perhaps one day, all around the earth, we won't have to fantasize about buying such pieces of land ourselves in order to see them responsibly used.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Here is some interesting information that Carolina Vargas has kindly shared with me. (See below for the other Sancho-inspired posts.) I hope she will let me know if I get anything wrong here!
Giant otters are quite endangered, and the main obstacle to studying them and conserving their populations is, of course, money. Dr. Vargas says that gathering biological information takes a great deal of time, and therefore, a large amount of money. Fortunately, there are some good researchers working on giant otter studies. The Frankfurt Zoological Society (which I linked in a previous post), is the oldest and best established, and is working in Peru. There is a support page, but it's in Euros, since the Society is located in Germany. There does not appear to be a means to pay by credit card on the site. When I have a moment later on, I will e-mail the Society and ask advice on how Americans might donate. (Does anyone reading this speak German?)
The first long term study on giant otters was conducted in Suriname by Nicole Duplaix. I found links to several of her papers in English here. (There is additional information on that website as well.)
Brazil has 3/4 of the giant otters' distribution, mostly in the Pantanal and the Amazon. Since watching the show and doing these posts, I've been reading a lot about the Pantanal. For Americans, think of it as an inland Everglades, except much, much bigger and even more biodiverse. In fact, the Pantanal is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
I'm actually thinking about traveling there during the next dry season (right now is the last part of the dry season. The wet season begins in November). My family may have some time to travel in the coming year, and we have been trying to decide where to go. This morning, Dr. Vargas kindly e-mailed a link to the eco-lodge where her studies and her work with Sancho occurred. You will recognize it if you browse the website. Fishing is not permitted there, so the giant otters are doing very well, and its common to see them during the dry season. (Remember the large family of ten from the show?) I hope to be able to go, but the events of the next several months are a bit uncertain for me. We'll see!
Carolina, if you are still checking in, I just thought of a question: You mentioned that you were involved with wildlife rehabilitation before you worked with Sancho. What animals did you work with while you were doing that? What circumstances led you to begin working with giant otters? (Okay, so that's two questions.)
Update: Oops! I need to read more carefully. I unintentionally failed to include the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has been a source of funding for giant otter studies in the past, as well as Dr. Vargas's work. Donation page here. (There is also a link for "specific donation opportunities" on that page.)
And updated again: Carolina adds three Brazilian organizations doing important otter research. (These pages are in Portuguese, but you can use google translator to translate the page into English.) The first two are governmental organizations, and the last one is nongovernmental:
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (Amazon Research Institute), EMBRAPA Pantanal, and the Ecolontras Project. (I have been having trouble with that last link. I don't know whether their server is down or if perhaps my computer is the problem.)
Monday, September 17, 2007
Well, I was about to walk out the door with my camera bag this morning and the light took a turn for the worse. A few minutes later I got a phone call telling me I have more legal work to do. (For those who don't know, I'm licensed as an attorney and I use that work to finance my travel, nature photography, and nature seminars, like the one I took this summer on climate change and glacial recession in Glacier National Park, Montana.)
So I'm going to post this hilarious video I found on youtube, involving river otters. I may just declare this Mustelid Week on this blog. If Discovery Channel can have Shark Week, we can have Mustelid Week. When I fall in love with an animal, I fall hard.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Update: Hello, Sancho fans from the October airing! I viewed Raising Sancho for the first time in September, and I wrote a series of posts that was generated in part by the scads of folks who found their way here looking for updates on Sancho. Carolina Vargas found us as well, and left a number of comments on the posts! For some reason, Google directs most readers to this post, but to read the whole group of posts, go here and begin at the bottom, moving up as you go. Please feel free to leave comments of your own on any of the posts. I don't know if Carolina will be checking back in or not. This post does contain names of organizations that do giant otter research for those of you who are interested.
As all of you know, I was deeply moved by Raising Sancho, and I've become really interested in giant otters (and mustelids in general as I learn more about them) since this show aired. And if you're reading this, it's a safe bet that you feel the same way.
Meanwhile, I've been doing more reading and looking around. Giant otters are endangered, and if present trends continue, their already-low numbers may halve in the next twenty years. For many years, they were extensively hunted for their pelts. Now, they face threats from mercury poisoning, habitat loss, illegal hunting, persecution from fishermen who perceive them as competition, and diseases passed on by domestic animals, such as parvovirus and distemper.
Go here and here for organizations working on giant otter conservation. Note that the latter organization has a page entitled Ways to Help. The Frankfurt Zoological Society also does giant otter conservation work in South America. Note also the page entitled "Support."
Here is a brief and charming video of a small group of giant otters.
I'll probably update this post with further links as I find them, for those who are as otter-obsessed as I am right now.
Further links: I'll be heading out to do some photography here shortly, but I wanted to provide you with a few interesting items. Regular reader Kristy viewed Raising Sancho yesterday and writes about it on her blog. Kristy points out that, too often, we expect neat endings with no ambiguity, and that isn't always how life goes.
Also, check this out. I could watch these guys forever. I believe what the first otter is doing is called periscoping. (Perhaps if Carolina is still checking in, she could tell me if that's correct or not.) I'll be back later on this afternoon. Feel free to continue the discussion in any of the three posts -- this has been great.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I'm sorry for that title. Really, I am. Clearly I need coffee.
For those of you just arriving, you can find my first post on Raising Sancho here. Last night I wrote an e-mail to Dr. Vargas and sent it to the address found by alert commenter Bethany. It reads as follows:
Dear Dr. Vargas:
I'm sure you've been getting many e-mails since "Raising Sancho" has been airing, and I apologize for adding to the lot. I tried to find the answers to my questions on google, but was unsuccessful. And if it were only my questions, I might have been more reluctant to e-mail you.
But I was incredibly touched by Raising Sancho, and I wrote a post about it on my (previously obscure) personal blog. For some reason, my website ended up on the first page of google rankings in English for most related queries, and I've been absolutely deluged with site visitors since then -- all people searching for information on you and Sancho. Several people have left comments on the post expressing their sadness at the uncertainty of the ending. (Post and comments here.) One concerned reader found your e-mail address and asked me to write.
So, I wonder if you could either answer the following questions or point me to a website or article that contains the answers, if there are any.
1. The show stated that, three months after Sancho's departure, you still had not encountered him again. Have you ever seen him since that time? I did review the English portion of one of your scholarly papers here that observes that "sub-adults may wander off as a subgroup for weeks on end, eventually rejoining their parents." Given this behavioral characteristic, I began to wonder if perhaps he had returned after the three months mentioned in the episode.
2. Are you still studying giant otters in the Pantanal? Have you written anything else about your work in English that's posted on the web? Also, I'd be interested in knowing what organizations do significant work with giant otters. I know they face threats from mercury pollution, mining, and possibly illegal mahogany logging. But I have only found one such organization on the internet -- at least, on the English version of , which may be the problem, since it appears that most of the work is done in .
Again, I apologize for adding to what must be a mountain of e-mails. But so many people fell in love with Sancho and found their way to my site, wanting to know more. For myself, I'd just like to say that I think your work, dedication and your devotion to Sancho are absolutely inspiring. I'm fascinated by giant otters, and I'm eager to learn more about them -- and conservations efforts on their behalf -- in the future.
Thank you for your time,
[My name redacted]
I have not yet received a response, but I only sent it twelve hours ago. I'll post any response from Dr. Vargas, if I get one, assuming I have her permission to do so.
Meanwhile, I've been doing a bit more reading. I found this interesting article on the Defenders of Wildlife website. Please take careful note of the "What you can do" section on the right sidebar of that article. Think of Sancho next time you consider buying gold or mahogany. These guys are seriously endangered, and after seeing the show, I can't imagine a world without them.
I also found this website on giant otters. See also the International Otter Survival Fund.
Please post links to any interesting reading that you may have found.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
I just watched a Wild Kingdom episode that made me bawl like a baby. It's all at the link.
Excuse me while I fetch another tissue.
Okay, I'm back.
I often find myself surprised by the depth of feeling I have for something, once it bubbles up. And every now and then something wiggles its way beneath the obliviousness and leaves me reeling.
And this one episode of fricking Wild Kingdom was one of those things. Carolina Vargas, a veterinarian in the Pantanal wetlands region of southwest Brazil studies giant otters. A group of fishermen found an abandoned giant otter cub and left it with her for rehabilitation. She named him Sancho, and hoped one day to release him back into the wild. The show followed Sancho's babyhood and progression to adulthood. Vargas bottle fed Sancho at first, and taught him to swim, and later on, even how to catch his own fish -- all the while painfully aware that success would mean the breaking of their powerful bond.
I think, had there simply been a pat ending with the formality of a bittersweet ceremonial release back into the wild, I would have been fine. But it didn't happen that way. Vargas gradually lengthened their separations until she was leaving Sancho in the water during the day and returning him to his den at night.
Until one day, he was simply gone. At nine months of age, he was of the age where some cubs will sometimes leave their families, though many will stay up to two years. Three months later, even after looking for him, she still didn't know what had happened to him. Had he gone to make his own way in the world, or had something darker happened?
So of course, this whole thing had me roped and tied and dipping deeply into my stash of Puffs with Lotion.
These events changed Vargas' life; and as the narrator noted, Sancho's departure -- both the manner and the fact of it -- left a "huge hole" in her life. The viewer could feel the pain radiating from her. But I wasn't sure why I was identifying with it so deeply till reading this post over at Under the Ponderosas nudged me in the right direction.
Separation. It happens. Whether or not you're ready, and in a manner that may or may not leave you any comfort. It's cruel, it's necessary, and it's tragically beautiful.
Update: Wow. Judging from the number of folks digging into the second page of the google rankings to get here, I'm not alone. I realize leaving a comment on a stranger's blog may seem odd, but do feel free to tell me why Raising Sancho resonated with you. Was it the loveliness of the Pantanal region? The dedication of Carolina Vargas? The uncertainty of Sancho's destiny? Were you struck, like me, by Sancho's intelligence and the depth of his interaction with Carolina?
All of the above? It's nice to know I'm not alone in being affected by this, but I'd love to hear others' thoughts. You can also drop a link to anything you've written about it.
Updated again: Be sure to read through the comments. Carolina Vargas has left a very informative comment toward the end, as well as some comments on the other Sancho-related posts. Other posts here, and here.)
Friday, September 07, 2007
If there's one thing that I've learned from all this living, it's that it wouldn't change a thing if I let go.
Not a damn thing. And it's that way no matter who you are or what you've done, really, at least over the grand scheme. So let's just enjoy the ride, shall we?
That's not to say that years of family pressure and self-flagellation haven't dented my determination to merely live "an interesting life" -- as a dear friend put it in the first birthday greeting I got this morning -- but every time I start to beat myself up for not becoming a hot shot lawyer, publishing a book or making a living off only my photography, or just generally doing something fabulous, I listen to this song and I calm down. I have other priorities, at least right now and perhaps forever. And that's quite all right. I like the wonderful melange my life has become.
Now if you'll excuse me, it's 7:00 a.m. and the tree in my front yard is turning gold from the sunlight, and I must go watch it.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Monday, September 03, 2007
Wednesday night: Leave for Montana way too late, get into hotel room in Richland, WA at obscenely late hour.
Thursday morning: Leave hotel room way too late; get on road to Montana. At 1:30 pm, run out of gas in the middle of barren Eastern Washington (because you're towing a trailer and your light never went on), barely make it to an exit with no gas station. Wait with kid and two dogs while your husband walks across railroad tracks and, miraculously, returns with can of gas obtained from gentleman in undershirt with two-legged dog who refuses to accept any money. Return can, thank man profusely, give him gift of multi-tool and knife which Mr. T always has on hand on accounta he works in that industry.
Thursday night: Reach house in Montana, think for a moment that an unruly rock band moved in and trashed the place, find tiny turds that are too small to have emerged from average-sized musician, realize it's a pack rat, and start cleaning up.
Friday afternoon: Leave for Glacier National Park way too late, eat delicious meal in Kalispell. Get to Apgar Campground in Glacier just after dark and attempt to get tents set up before meeting sister's flight back in Kalispell at 11:12 p.m. Complete tent set-up approximately three seconds before downpour begins, complete with kid- and dog-scaring thunder and lightning. Look at watch, notice it's almost ten o'clock.
Warily observe the slide into hysteria on part of kid and younger dog, thank God that older dog is deaf and old and doesn't give a shit. Get kid calmed down, just before husband enters tent loudly forecasting certain doom if family stays in tent, which is leaking. Calm kid down again, run after dog who bolts out of tent in fear and won't come to anyone but me since I'm the idiot that trained him in the first place. Get sodden dog back in tent just in time to hear husband observe that, dammit, there were vacancies in the hotels in West Glacier and why didn't we just do that. Tell husband fine, take the friggin' tents down then, we'll snag a hotel room just before meeting sister's flight. Sit in car with kid and dogs; hope husband doesn't get struck by lightning while handling tent poles in thunderstorm. Imagine headline -- and inevitable Darwin Award -- and wince. Alleviate guilt by remembering that I offered to do it myself, even though it was his idea in the first place.
Drive to West Glacier to secure these supposed accomodations, which are now nonexistent, because we are apparently not the only complete fracking idiots who wimped out on camping in a storm. See vacancy sign 1/4 mile ahead, swerve to right only to have four other cars swerve the same direction in front of us and pull in, each competing for the same vacancy.
Lather, rinse, repeat for the next 45 minutes. Have clever idea that the hotels in Whitefish won't be as full as those nearer the park, and call ahead to the Holiday Inn Express. Get room reserved at 11:16 pm, after calling sister to instruct her to cool her heels at the airport for another fifteen minutes.
Get sister, who has a hearty laugh at our expense, but the joke's on her because she has to sleep with Trailhead Kid that night, who ends up horizontal on any bed he sleeps on.
Saturday: Leave Whitefish way too late, but get up to Logan Pass early enough to do five mile hike to Hidden Lake with sister while Mr. T and the kid set up tents in new campsite. Have an absolute blast hiking and blabbing with sister. Photograph more mountain goats. Realize it's all worth it. Go to sleep in Avalanche campground after consuming huge slab of buffalo meatloaf at Eddie's in Apgar.
Sunday: Leave Glacier way too late, drive scenic route back to house, see that pack rat shat on the counters again and did not succumb to the trap. Go fishing with Mr. T, sister and kid till dark. Eat bite of single rainbow trout caught by Mr. T, let the kid have the rest, which he proceeds to eat, skin and all. Listen to neighbors' Newfoundland bark at coyotes for two solid hours before finally falling asleep.
Monday morning: Leave house way too late. So late, in fact, that sister misses -- by ten minutes -- being allowed to board flight. Realize that if the dog hadn't had such relentless, horrid gas all the way to Spokane, the ten-minute stop in Sand Point to try and get him to poop wouldn't have cost sister her Monday flight. Get sister hotel and reservation for flight Tuesday at 7:00 a.m. Have one last lunch with sister; be secretly glad. Leave sister at hotel and go home. Get home way too late. Realize it was still a great weekend full of nature, hysterical laughter at the string of catastrophes and the easy interaction with family you truly love. Write boring blog post about it.
Anyone still with me? Or did I lose you back at the two-legged dog?
Sunday, September 02, 2007
You probably don't read my blog, but given the ingenuity you displayed in trashing my house during the month of August, I can't be completely sure. Since I have no idea where you are just now -- though you clearly spent some time on
Really, it's not so much that you ate an entire bag of peanuts out of the pantry and then made a nest with the shells in our stove, thus requiring us to discard the entire appliance. After all, we were going to remodel that kitchen anyway, and heck, we can cook on our camp stove this weekend. I can even accept that you appropriated two rolls of toilet paper to make a bed in our linen closet downstairs. One cannot, after all, be expected to sleep on a bare shelf.
But when you so kindly left -- as a sort of rodent memento -- hundreds of tiny turds on the laundry I threw carelessly on the bed before leaving four weeks ago, you placed your dainty ratly toe over the line. It simply isn't done.
You know, Pack Rat, this ain't my first time at the rodeo. And I've gotten meaner as I've aged. But I've been thinking about it, and I've decided to leave you a peace offering. There is a blob of peanut butter in the kitchen -- where the stove used to be -- right next to a couple of dire-looking metallic contraptions.