Olympic

As an antidote to political pandemonium, my first wife and I visited another national park at the end of September. We find solace and wonder in the quiet, astounding beauty of our national heritage and try to make a pilgrimage to at least one park a year. In early days, we’d pack our kitchen, bedroom, and living room into a big duffel bag, fly to a spot of natural beauty, rent a car, and camp out until it was time for a shower in a motel.

I think it was about fifteen years ago when first wife Nancy told me that, from now on, camping out would be a Holiday Inn or better. So, before visiting the Olympic peninsula a few weeks ago, I made reservations in or near The Olympic and Mt. Rainier national parks. North Cascades was avoided because only tent camping was allowed. And we could only reach the campsites by a long trek or canoe.

We drove from Seattle to Forks, WA a small town found near the west coast between the Pacific and main inland areas of Olympic national park. From that location we made daily visits to both the coast and inland areas, most of which are on native American reservations. The Pacific northwest Indian cultures are fascinating.

Pictures describe our adventure better than words. Here are some from the forests primeval on the peninsula .

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Longevity Cover

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Here are photos from the Pacific side:

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That’s a fly agaric mushroom. Parboiled and dried, it’s hallucinogenic!

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This picture is from the Trail of Shadows at Mt. Rainier.  The first two days there were cloudy and wet. On day three the skies opened up. Unexpectedly, the brush at about a mile up displayed stunning fall colors–even on drizzly days. Here are some of them.

073Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

018Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors  013Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

And then–we saw the mountain.

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071Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

And other peaks, including Pinnacle–pretty obviously named.

050Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

Black bears aren’t found only in our backyard in New Jersey.

012Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (foggy day)  065Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

And, of course, it’s a rain forest, which means lots of water but not too much in the fall:

020Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Nisqually River  048Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

I’ll spare you the other 700 photos I took.

Enjoy.

 

 

Eager Cactus

Last July, I commented on the prickly pear cactus in my garden that bloomed on the same day, July 1st, two years in a row. I wondered if the plant could tell accurate time and awaited this year’s bloom. Would it be the same day again?

Since the bloom lasts only a day or so, I checked daily to discover that a pair of blossoms opened on June 30, a day before the last two years. One day off out of 365—about a quarter per cent error. Is that enough to accuse the plant of jumping the gun, or is it just a rounding error?

Not to humanize the cactus, it does show amazing perseverance—looking like a dead piece of shoe leather in early April, beat upon by five nor’easters in three weeks and nibbled around the edges by marauding mice—only to regain its green color in May and send out fat buds in June.

That bloomed like this:

Cactus Flowers

On top of that, it had to fend off two roughhousing dogs who thought nothing of wrestling nearby, deterred only by the prick of needles the cactus grew to defend itself.

Here they are: Luci-fur and Dingo measuring the size of their teeth.

Teeth

I think I’ll cut the cactus some slack, welcome it happily to my garden, and forgive it for being a bit eager. Come to think of it, were it a person it would be more likely to be late than early.

Nice to see you, opuntia!

Bluebirds (and Flying Squirrels)

Originally posted on April 25, 2018

According to my friend, John, former President of NJ Audubon, bluebirds are in our neighborhood all year long. I’ve never seen them in the winter, but I would never mistrust John. Today, after weathering four Nor’easters in three weeks (the one on the first day of spring deposited 12 inches of snow in the woodlot) it was time to prepare out bluebird houses for a new season.

Bluebirds are fastidious, and they will not tolerate a dirty or untidy home, so I work on each house with a putty knife to scrape away last year’s debris. New Pup, Dingo, assisted by keeping marauding juncos at bay.

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If only bluebirds occupied the house last year, there is a two-inch high nest at the bottom of the house usually constructed of pine needles and soft, downy material, with a few feathers. If house wrens took over the nest, it will be filled to the top with twigs cut to fit the interior dimensions of the house perfectly. Sometimes the wrens build their nest over a bluebird nest and smother a fledgling or two. I dislike that cleanup job.

Today, however, I had a novel experience. Opening bluebird nest number three, I saw the remains of a bluebird nest at the bottom covered by five or six inches of soft moss, light as a feather. I pried it all out with my putty knife and, as the stuff fell to the ground, discovered that I had a flying squirrel setting on my hand. As a nocturnal animal, it had large black eyes, which fixed me with a look of surprise and irritation. I was a mortified homewrecker; the pile of moss was beyond repair.

So, we looked at each other for a few moments, as I hoped for forgiveness and the squirrel, I guess, woke up fully and decided on its next move. Which was to hop onto an adjoining branch and look at me accusingly. Then its large eyes softened, and he crawled unhurriedly up the branch, watching me finish cleaning.

Fly Squirrel Siberian flying squirrel 4

I moved on to the next nest, relieved that a nuthatch rested on the opening and flew away as I arrived. I guess I’m only good for wrecking one home a day.

 

Camels

5Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau - Sahara Desert- CamelsFor the past two weeks I’ve been recuperating from surgery that fused three vertebrae in my neck. The results were positive—numbing pain in my right arm disappeared, and more improvements are expected as time passes. However, this process is not for the faint-hearted. The surgeon approaches the spine through the front of the neck, causing great difficulty swallowing for about a week. But, I lost nine pounds in less than a week.

With a decreased activity level, I’ve been reflecting on a trip to Morocco my wife and I completed a few days before the surgery. Aside from the pleasure of visiting a new and exotic place, I also wanted to get a sense of a North African locale. I am currently outlining a new book that has a character who is a German soldier fighting in North Africa in 1942 who is captured and sent to an American POW camp

Morocco is a fascinating Arab country, one of few we’ve visited, with an abundant supply of camels, gregarious and ubiquitous beasts I had never thought much about, considering their rarity in New Jersey. I was immediately attracted to the camels suddenly in our midst. Their luminous eyes, friendly curiosity, and willingness to serve impressed me. It took a while to learn to ride one, but I finally settled in to the swaying gait.

Moroccan camels, like 96% of all camels, are dromedaries with a single hump. The two-humped camel, the Bactrian, lives in central Asia, far from North Africa. The dromedaries can reach seven feet high at the hump, weigh up to more than half a ton, can drink 53 gallons of water in three minutes, run 40 miles an hour, and provide transportation, milk, and meat—all in one package perfectly designed to survive in the hottest desert. In the 1850’s, the United States Army established the U.S. Camel Corps. Although the Corps was considered a success and the Secretary of War intended to order a thousand more camels, the outbreak of the American Civil War saw the end of the Camel Corps: Camels were used as war machines as early as 12000 BC.

So, here are some pictures of my new friends. In the Sahara Desert, On the beach in Essaquira. At work and hanging out.8Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau - Sahara Desert- Camels

24Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau - Sahara Desert- Camels07Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau -Essaquira Waterfront with camels + horses693Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau786Copyright 2017 Rolf MargenauAs a bonus, I can’t resist the goats who eat tree leaves,690Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau

Rolf

 

April Fools

I imagine the April Fools Gods were snickering at us residents of northern New Jersey over the weekend. They lulled us into a false sense of security by allowing a twitter storm to bypass to the Midwest where it settled in, destroying the livelihood of pig farmers in Iowa because China will boycott their pork exports, and worrying grain farmers because tinkering with NAFTA is prompting Mexico to rethink where to buy its corn and wheat.

Before the day was out, however, the fifth major winter storm in the past four weeks arrived. We woke up to this view.

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Since it is April, our snow quickly melted, leaving only a white slushy residue by the next day. The remains of the twitter storm, however, continue to threaten. I worry about the sturdy folk in the farm belt who chose to be led by someone who denies climate change, believes in the trickle down fairy, only likes immigrants who will marry him, and thinks a trade war is easy to win. I can dismiss his peckerdillos, but fear that ignorant meddling with the fabric of our economy will have devastating consequences for those who placed the most hope in his ascendancy.

Let’s hope that the April Fools Gods will be disappointed, that so many will  not have voted against their self interests. May is coming, when the April Fools Gods disappear for another year. May it be a good one.

Too Many Nor’easters

5Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau (2)I’ve concluded that, as much as the falling snow adds beauty and charm to our two-acre woodlot, the second Nor’easter in five days (the equivalent of two lions charging in the first of March) is a bit too much. We are looking forward to a foot or more of snow, with the saving grace of temperatures above freezing the next few days. It’s no fun shoveling slush!

Most photographers know that foul weather can make fair photos. So I took our two little dogs (Luci-fur and her therapy dog, Dingo) up to the woods this morning and looked around. Here’s what I saw.

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17Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau (2)

Murder and cars

I’m writing the final chapters of my latest novel and am trying to devise unusual ways to kill off some of its less desirable characters. It’s taking a toll on me; never thought killing people would become tiresome. So, I am taking a break and reflecting on one of life’s small victories.

In earlier days, other parents and I observed that, when we loaned our cars to newly minted teen age drivers masquerading as our children, the car usually came back empty of gas, the driver’s seat reconfigured, the rearview mirror misadjusted, and, most irritating, all the radio buttons playing something like “My Sharona.” Those were the days.

I take comfort in the fact that those children now have children who most likely are equally discourteous to their parents’ cars. And when my kids bitch about theirs, I am justified in smiling and suggesting what goes around comes around. Sometimes they don’t talk to me for days.

During the winter I find it necessary to bring my car to a commercial car wash because it’s too cold to do it myself. The people there do an excellent job, with one exception. The four-foot three-inch man assigned to drive the car the thirty feet from the car wash exit to the spot where it’s dried always cranks the driver’s seat to within inches of the accelerator. It may be days before I am able to return it to my sweet spot. It makes me cranky.

Last year Nancy bought a new Subaru sedan replete with more gadgets, levers, and toggle switches than I can count. Neither of us knows how they all work. We thought “blue tooth” referred to smutty dental work. The one thing I mastered this year, however, was adjusting the driver’s seat to suit each of us and setting buttons one and two accordingly. I’m button two.

Today I had to run errands and took Nancy’s car to have it washed. As expected, Shorty adjusted the driver’s seat to his liking for the thirty-foot journey from the wash. He had a kind of malignant, smirky look when he signaled for me to drive the car away. I triumphantly pushed button number two and watched the driver’s seat obediently conform itself to MY desired position. One button. One push. Victory.

I’ve been feeling good about that all afternoon. Now I must decide whether to kill someone with a cross bow.

Costa Rica — Pura Vida

With unaccustomed wisdom, Nancy and I planned our fifth visit to Costa Rica last November. We wanted a warm and pleasant place  where we could escape Northern New Jersey’s customary drismal January weather. The week before we left, temperatures hovered unpleasantly near zero. We almost didn’t mind arising at 4 am to catch the early flight to San Jose.

Costa Rica (“the rich coast” Columbus is supposed to have named it) is close to the equator in Central America. It has numerous ecosystems–dry forest, cloud forest, rain forest, arid forest…you get the idea. It also has some active volcanoes that occasionally wipe out entire villages, but also create wonderfully fertile soil. Cut a pole off a tree, stick it in the ground for a fence post, and it sprouts leaves in a few weeks. Hence, the living fences surrounding coffee, banana, pineapple, coconut, sugar cane, and other plantations. Costa Rican coffee is exceptional. Its high octane caffeine provides a promising beginning to every day there.

Costa Rica is bordered on the north by Nicaragua, on the south by Panama,. and the “Ticos,” as in many neighborhoods, have mixed feelings about their neighbors. They have very friendly relations with Panama, but are not crazy about the “Nicos” to the north. The country’s population is five million, of which one million (according to local friends) are immigrants from Nicaragua who provide much of the hard labor needed to bring in lush harvests. Fortunately, political leaders recognize the need for these helpful laborers, and do not follow northern bad examples of trying to keep them out.

Pura vida (“pure life”) describes a happy and relaxed outlook on life. Just saying the words in response to “how are you?” is satisfying. Rather than expanding on this thought, here’s a photo of of a Capuchin monkey demonstrating pura vida–totally relaxed but ready for mischief.

006Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Capuchin Monky

The country’s most important import is tourists– 1.7 million each year. They come mostly from the US and Canada for eco-tourism and are the Costa Rica’s primary income producer. Like us, they tour in well-appointed new buses, stay in hotels ranging from posh to pleasant, eat too well, and are delighted by natural beauty and wildlife. We saw many exotic animals, principally at a wildlife rescue center, one of which is below. I’ve seen many pheasants display, but they have been shy about showing their backsides. That mystery is now revealed.

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225Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau

The country’s oldest city, Cartago, was founded in 1563, and the country is dotted with charming old villages and small cities. Catholic churches anchor the central squares of those places. Here’s a view of the one in Zarcero.

Rolf Margenau Photo

Up close, the gray tiles that cover the church are discovered to be vinyl . So much for ancient masonry!

We swam at turtle beaches, took a cable car ride through lush tropical forest, bathed in volcano heated hot bathes, cruised jungle rivers, and visited all the forest areas. The warmth of the climate and the people was appreciated. And the weather was much warmer in New Jersey when we returned. We didn’t see a volcanic eruption, but the sunsets made up for that.

039Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-CR Sunsets

Pura Vida!

Hawk – A Dilemma

I almost had to make a difficult decision today. It involved an immature red-tailed hawk sitting on the lower limb of the magnolia in our back yard.

Some background first: Our house bear, whom we’ve named Clyde, has been visiting our bird feeders for four years. He’s close to 400 pounds, but remains intimidated by Luci-fur, our cairn terrier, who occasionally escorts him off the property. When Clyde first visited, he snapped off one limb of my carefully pruned “V” shaped Asian pear tree and ate it like an ear of corn. Then he came up the hill to the feeders behind the house and picnicked on them.

Understanding that, if I can reach the feeder so can the bear, I raised the feeders to a height of 14 feet. They are raised and lowered by loosening and tightening the clothes line supporting them—every morning and evening because there is always the chance Bonnie might show up.

We are not sure whether she is related to Clyde, but she is also very large. The first time she was here, she had two yearling cubs and two babies with her. The cubs scrambled up the posts supporting the feeders and trashed them all. The next time she showed up, Luci-fur and I exchanged words with her, and she chose to depart, though slowly.

So, the 14-foot-high bird feeders are fifteen feet from the kitchen window, and the magnolia is fifteen feet north of that. Nature has graced up with a blizzard today, so I made sure the feeders were full this morning and dumped little piles of seed around for the ground feeders. The birds were appreciative and looked especially attractive with their feathers fluffed up against the cold and wind. The cardinals really stood out in the snow.

Later, I saw that all the birds had disappeared. The reason was obvious. The young hawk sat on the magnolia branch that suffered deer rub this fall. He was close to the feeders and his sharp eyes surveyed the yard for little birds—his prey. We know that hawks have been there before from the dandelion-like blossoms of gray, red, or blue feathers on the ground from time to time. Hawks eat little birds. That’s how they make their living.

I surmised two things. The hawk probably would kill a little bird this wintry day, and, if I banged on the window, he would leave. I stood there for at least five minutes watching the hawk and trying to decide. Maybe I am becoming indecisive at my age. Then the hawk left. Decision averted.

So, what would you have done?

Where have I been?

Good question. Nancy and I have been on the go since early September. We checked off an item on our bucket list by visiting Bruges, Belgium the first week of the month. It is a splendid medieval town with buildings from the fourteenth century still used in every day life. Then we cruised Belgian canals for a week before returning home. Here’s a nighttime view of a canal in Bruges.

153Copyright 2017 Rolf Margenau

That’s when I began an essay about images that give us ease and comfort. Things like crackling fires, foggy mornings, sparkling meadows, fluffy clouds, and sunsets. I believe such things are wired into our unconscious cerebral cortex and that they are  essential to our well-being. So, here’s one of my sunset images, taken from a promontory overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Mexico. Comforting?

Manzanillo Sunset

Later that month, we visited the National Parks in North and South Dakota. The Badlands are wildly beautiful and we were up close and personal with big herds of buffalo. The golden glow of cottonwoods and aspen enhanced some of the pictures. I took over 700 photos, which are still being edited, but here are some that made the cut.

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Finally, we volunteered through my college alumni program to work with the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe in Nevada . It was an intense and valuable experience, and I hope our Indian friends found it as worthwhile as Nancy and I did.

Back to sunsets! Here’s one on a tributary to the Amazon River in Peru.
Amazon jungle - Sunset on the river