May 2014 — Costa Rica

5.11 This was graduation day, with family in town, events to attend, and Savannah to move out of her dorm room.  It was a whirlwind, and when we were done, we headed off to Troy, where we spent the night at the home of one of my students. This hospitality was a tremendous convenience for us.

5.12 We got up crazy early to catch our 6 a.m. flight from St. Louis to Miami.  After a brief layover, when most students slept, we caught the second leg from Miami to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Both flights were only 2.5 h, which is nothing relative to my recent transatlantic flights. After customs and immigration, we met a guy at the airport who apparently was representing EF College Study Tours (our tour provider).  His name was Orlando.  He positioned us strategically on the sidewalk, and stated emphatically that Carlos would be picking us up.  This statement was strange because our Tour Director was supposed to be Alonso.  The bus pulled up and we got on.  The next group (from a different school) was coming in an hour, so the bus took as to a nearby mall to burn some time.  Many of the students ate, though almost all the restaurants in the food court were American fast food joints.  I wandered the mall but bought nothing.  One of my students lost her debit card, so I let her use my phone to call her bank and cancel it.  That was the only time I used my international calling plan (which I had gone to considerable time and effort to obtain).
After picking up the other group we went to the Gran Hotel Costa Rica in downtown San Jose.  It was quite a nice hotel, without air conditioning, but that’s not uncommon.  We still had some hours to use before dinner, so the tour director took us to the market, which had numerous tiny shops with everything from food to souvenirs.  I bought a few things for gifts.  We had dinner at the hotel and got ice cream at a nearby shop.  Some of the students went out for drinks, but I went to bed.
5.13 We got up early and had rice & beans for breakfast, which was hearty. Rice and beans were served with almost every meal.  I love the stuff, but the rice caught up with me later.  We also enjoyed plantain chips and yuca, heart of palm, and cactus ice cream at different times. We drank the delicious coffee at every opportunity.  The students began to refer to it as Costa Rican crack.
The bus ride took us through the cloud forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park.  We stopped briefly to see the confluence of two rivers, one stained yellow from volcanic deposits.  Around this time I learned that the Tour Director was, in fact, Alonso.  I had called him Carlos at least five times by then.  Alonso talked about the road we were on, which connects the Pacific with the Caribbean.  As it is cheaper and easier to truck goods over this road, it is sometimes referred to as the “dry canal.” As we proceeded through the countryside, a student spotted a sloth in a tree on the roadside.  The bus stopped right in the road and we ran back to see the sloth, which we were all excited about.  I took many, many photos.  The light wasn’t bad, and he eventually turned and faced us, offering a good shot.  The bus continued on through a banana plantation, and Alonso gave a short lecture on banana farming.
We were on our way to Tortuguero, but, as they say, “you can’t get there from here,” at least not on a bus.  The place is only accessible by plane or boat ride.  So we repacked our stuff, taking only enough for two nights and leaving much of our stuff on the bus.  The boats were essentially long, skinny jon boats capable of carrying about 20 through the narrow river and canals.  The boat ride was really neat.  We saw a variety of birds and several basilisks, which are capable of running over the surface of the water.  Before the trip was over, I saw this behavior occur three or four times.  We even caught a glimpse of a howler monkey high in a tree as we passed.  I had thought this might be all we would ever see of a monkey, but when we reached our hotel, the Rana Roja, there were howler monkeys in the trees right among the cabins.  At the first opportunity, I took a crazy number of photos.  But under overcast skies and a closed canopy, shooting black monkeys was quite challenging.  This problem would occur over and over.
After checking into our hotel rooms and getting lunch we took the boats to Tortuguero.  Alonso gave another nice lecture on the history of the area and the sea turtles that nest there.  Some students went into the turtle center, but I went right over to the beach, where I bought a coconut (with a fresh-cut hole and a straw to drink the milk), and admired the Caribbean.  I dipped my feet in.  The dark, volcanic sand stuck to my feet.  Speaking of my feet, I had just gotten a huge blister on my heel two days before departure.  I went through all of my footware to find some that would work.  I got through the trip in Birkenstocks, Fila Skeletoes, and Merrell low hikers.  We walked down the beach and into the town, where I bought a couple of little things.  I got a strawberry shake (blackberry being not as common here as in Ecuador).  I sat down on a bench to enjoy my shake when I noticed something on my leg.  An ant.  Then I noticed that I had ants all over my leg and that my camera pack was swarming with them.  I brushed them off as well as I could, taking a few stings on my hands in the process.  They swelled and became itchy, similar to those I’ve gotten from fire ants in Florida.
We had a nice dinner and later a night hike hike for frogs.  We saw several species, including the large Smoky Jungle Frog, the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog, and the quintessential Costa Rican frog (it’s on the cover of both travel guides I own), the Red-eyed Tree Frog.  I was unable to get a decent photo of it, however, as the use of flash was discouraged.
5.14  I arose early to take advantage of a free optional birding activity.  Alonso set up his spotting scope by the pool, where the openness allows a good view.  We saw quite a few species that were new to me (life birds), but the bonus was the two spider monkeys (mother and baby) that came down and harvested fruit out of the tree right above us.  We got some good looks at Montezuma Oropendulas, which build large pendulous nests (like orioles) from communal trees. I clearly remember seeing a documentary on them sometime in the past, I think during my undergrad years. The males have a dramatic display in which they call and swing down on the branch upon which they are perched. I took many photos of it and attempted to video record it. Another first was a distant look at some toucans.  Two species occur in Costa Rica, the Chestnut-mandibled toucan and Keel-billed toucan.  The Keel-billed is the familiar Toucan Sam from the Fruit Loops cereal box.  Both are very attractive.  Though we saw them frequently and in different places, they seldom came very close (except at the animal rescue center), making photography difficult.
We took a boat ride in the morning through some canals, relics of the logging past of the area.  We saw a lot of birds, including a pair of gray-headed kites mating.  The Northern Jacana is a water bird with huge feet for walking on aquatic vegetation. I had only read about them previously. I had never even heard of the unusual Boat-billed Heron. We saw some caimans (I think it’s spectacled caiman here) and a variety of plants, including the raffia palm (useful in weaving goods).  Upon our return we were pleasantly surprised by a troop of White-faced Capuchins moving through the hotel area.  There must have been thirty of them.  They were feeding on fruit in the various trees.  Some were taking packets of sugar from students (from a different school), though we were told not to feed them. Sugar is like crack to monkeys.  They started demonstrating more aggressive behaviors at this.  Nonetheless, it was quite a show to see all of them wandering through the area, including mothers with babies on their backs, and fairly close to us.  I was now overwhelmed by our luck: we had now seen all three species of monkeys.  As it turned out, we saw monkeys on almost every boat ride and hike that we went on.  I can only conclude the following: Costa Rica is full of monkeys.  Furthermore, monkeys in the wild are elegant and well adapted to their environment.  Captive monkeys are frequently neurotic, not surprisingly.
We took a short walk through the rainforest, where we saw the Black and Emerald Poison Dart Frog.  We were also overflown by the endangered Great Green Macaw. Alonso broke open a termite nest so we could all have a taste of them.  They are spicy. Sadly, these highlights were overshadowed by the unrelenting attacks of the abundant mosquitoes.  My student Eli had perhaps the best defense, using a hoodie and handkerchief, he looked like he was about to rob a bank, but the mosquitoes couldn’t get to him.  Some of our tall women got their long legs thoroughly bitten up.
I took the optional afternoon boat ride, which produced yet more birds and monkeys.  Curiously, we saw a group of long-nosed bats perched on the shelter of a boat dock, which they apparently cannot distinguish from their usual species of tree.
Most of us took the optional night boat ride, which was a rare opportunity, given that the practice had been discontinued 20 years previously.  Unfortunately, sleep deprivation and jet lag caught up with me, and I fell asleep for most of it.  We saw a few birds and a number of caimans.
5.15  We packed up and took the boat ride out while it rained on us for, surprisingly, the first time.  We loaded on the bus and headed west to Sarapiqui.  Our hotel had air conditioning, which was quite a relief from the hot, humid conditions of Tortuguero. Here we geared up for the Canopy Tour, which is another name for ziplining.  I had planned for this by bringing along a Polaroid sport/action camera mounted to my own helmet, thinking I’d get some video footage that the students would enjoy later.  Little did I know several of the students brought their own GoPro cameras.  Some video recorded almost everything we did.  Anyway, it POURED on us during the ziplining.  My boots, though waterproof got soaked as the water ran down my legs and filled them up.  I got by with the skeletoes during the subsequent days while the boots dried.  It was still quite fun, especially the last zipline, which was very long and went over the Sarapiqui river.
That night we took a night hike through a reserve.  The trail took us over a long suspension bridge, the engineering of which was sketchy at best.  This hike brought us the first of our much-sought-after venomous snakes.  My group saw the Hognosed Viper, which was a tiny but deadly thing.  Later we saw the Cat-eyed Snake, which occurs in the southern US, but I’d never seen it.  There was also a dizzying variety of invertebrates, such as millipedes and a tarantula.  Some of the other groups saw birds and a kinkajou.
5.16  We went directly to whitewater rafting this morning.  Again it was raining.  Fortunately, my helmet cam is waterproof.  The going was quite rough, I think more interesting than any rafting I’d done before.  We got soaked, but it was warm enough.  Both Eli and Savannah fell in the river, but we got them back in.  I got some footage of one of the other rafts flipping over.  About halfway down we stopped and ate some freshly cut fruit.  This spot had a cliff of maybe 10 feet which we enjoyed jumping off.  I did front and back somersaults.  I haven’t completely lost my form.  The students really liked this part. We ended up back at headquarters and had lunch.  They had a couple of giant rhinoceros beetles outside feeding on bananas.  Really cool.
That evening we went to the Baldi hot springs.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but certainly not  a series of large modern swimming pools, each at a different temperature.  The water comes out of the mountain (volcano) at 160 degrees F.  It cools as it falls from one pool to the next. There were waterfalls that were great for massaging the neck and back.  I was not expecting…water slides!  I love water slides, and these were fast and rough.  The first of our women to go down them warned us of the potential, uh, enema effect that could occur.  Savannah and I went on all of them.
On our way back to the hotel, the bus driver, Harold, turned on the “Macarena” while flashing the lights. Alonso encouraged us to dance.  It was pretty funny.  It was one student’s birthday, so that night we took them, via the bus, to a nightclub.  The local beer, Imperial, is tasty, but so weak that it took about four of them before I felt a buzz.  Eventually, I danced with Savannah and some of the other students, but I was definitely in chaperone mode.  We didn’t want anyone wandering off.  Only one did, but we found her.
5.17  We kayaked at lake Arenal, a huge reservoir created by a small, well-placed dam.  The  kayaks were fiberglass tandems, and somewhat awkward for me, being used to my own boat.  We crossed the lake and the students swam and enjoyed trying to dive to the bottom with life jackets on.  We paddled back and loaded back on the bus.
We hiked up to the base of Volcan Arenal, which until 2010 was still a quite active volcano.  Right away we saw a Golden Eyelash Viper, another small, deadly snake. This site provided a rare opportunity to see primary succession, as 1992 eruption had created a lava field that is now grown up with shrubs and flowers. For the third time in my life, I hiked up a volcano carrying my biggest lens and never used it.
We drove to La Fortuna waterfall, or at least the park in which it lives.  We hiked down to it.  There were fish in the stream and the students enjoyed swimming and goofing off here, though the water was cold.  I had not brought along my wide-angle lens, and kept trying different angles to get a good shot of the waterfall.  Alonso showed me a secret trail to an overlook that let me get a really good shot of it. On the way up the 500 steps (not 800, as Alonso had said) Savannah and I saw an agouti on the trail.
We drove to Don Juan’s organic farm, where many adventures awaited.  We started by each eating a berry of what Don Juan said was “wild grape”.  It was black pepper. So now I knew Don Juan was a prankster.  Next he had three of our women give three of our men a “face massage” using a fruit paste that was bright red.  They were surprised when they opened their eyes at the end.  I volunteered to try a rainbow pepper, as one who enjoys spicy foods. It was fairly small.  I chewed it up and tried to swallow it fast to get the mass of it out of my mouth.  The heat came on slowly, but it ended up crazy hot.  I didn’t yell or jump up and down or drool, but my eyes watered eventually. A bit of frozen coconut helped put out the fire, and some star fruit later on finally quenched it.  I was stung by another ant on the foot in the Sensory Garden, which makes sense, I guess.  We saw how the farm operates, with a cow named Chocolate and two pigs providing the manure for a methane digester.  The methane is used as fuel in the kitchens. The farm is a completely closed system.  At the end, we pressed some sugar cane to extract the juice, and we all got a stick of sugar cane and a shot of squirrel rum, which I didn’t think was half bad (and I don’t drink hard liquor).  We adjourned to the restaurant where we had yuca chips from the rhizomes we had harvested earlier, juice and coffee.  It was delicious.
5.18  To break up the long bus ride, we stopped at an animal rescue center. They had monkeys, birds, and almost all the wild cats of Costa Rica.  Most of the cats actually looked pretty happy.  They all had natural vegetation in their cages, unlike most zoos. I bought the T shirt. This was the day I started feeling bad, but the only up side to that was my ability to sleep on the bus. We arrived at Rincón de la Vieja National Park, where we immediately saw the magpie jay, which looks a lot like our blue jay, except with a fancier crest.   We were given the option of a short hike or a long hike.  Normally, I always take the longer hike, but I chose the short hike, along with three students. We saw some mud pots and water pots, bubbling with volcanic activity. It was very hot, and I felt like at any moment I could be seized with crippling stomach pain.  Those who took the long hike saw a bunch of monkeys and a white-nosed coati mundi. Then it was onward to Playa Hermosa.  The Hotel Mangaby was just a few blocks from the beach, and we got there just in time to see the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.  There were Magnificent frigate birds and Brown Boobies flying over the water. Around this time I finally figured out what was wrong with my body.  Lots of rice and dehydration had let to a serious case of constipation.  Savannah ran down to the local grocery and came back with milk of magnesia.  It was all they had, but she swore it would work.  I had no means of measurement, so I took 4 big swallows.  Relief came within an hour.
The next morning, my roommate, Dr. Brian Nolan, was watching birds from hotel balcony. This turned out to be an excellent pastime for me, as I had no desire to spend time at the beach.  A diversity of birds came by to visit the big tree in front of the hotel, of which our second floor room had a great view. I saw the Inca dove, Tropical kingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Squirrel cuckoo and Bullock’s Oriole.  However, the crowning moment came when I spotted the Turquoise-browed Motmot.  When I was a student on field trips with Dr. Mayhew, when he was asked if we were about to leave, he’d say, “Unless we see a Turquoise-browed motmot.”  I had finally seen one in the wild, and it was spectacular–multicolored, with long racquet tails.

I did take a short walk on beach with Savannah. In the afternoon we took the bus to nearby Coco, a much more tourist-oriented town. There were plenty of souvenir shops, so naturally we bought stuff. We got back just in time for another sunset.  I tried to HDR it, but conditions weren’t exactly right.  There was a local guy with enormously long dreadlocks who was wakeboarding.  Every so often he would run down the beach, throw down his board and skim over a wave.  I got some nice burst sequences of him, even in the fading light.

5.20 Fortunately, our group did not have to leave crazy early in the morning, so I took the opportunity to do more bird watching from the balcony. I saw some of the same birds, but perhaps most interesting was the variegated squirrel, which is white with a black racing stripe down its back.  Sadly, we all had to pack up and load on the bus to the airport in Liberia.  We said our goodbyes to Alonso and Harold and proceeded through security.  After a short wait we got on the plane.  We had a nice view of the Keys when we approached Florida.  We had a long layover in Miami, but we made the best of it by eating and reading.  In St. Louis, Erin’s family picked us up and we spent the night at their house again, as it was quite late.  The next morning we drove home well rested.
I have read all of the student journals, and they universally enjoyed the trip.  They all appreciated the culture and would definitely do it again.  I agree.
Here are some extras, but you’ll need to click through to see them.
Video of helmet-cam footage on YouTube–edited down to 3.5 minutes.
Google takes bursts of images and assembles them into short, often choppy animations, but sometimes they look cool. I’ve selected the best of them.  Let me know if these links do or do not work.
Flipbook animations:
 

April-May 2014

I got up in the middle of the night to see and photograph the total eclipse of the moon.  I’ve seen them and even shot them before, but these opportunities don’t come along often.  I got up an hour too early, as I had not taken into account the correction for our time zone.  So I got to see the beginning of it.  I laid down for awhile and got up at 2 a.m. for the peak.  I thought I would get better results this time, but it’s just plain tough to photograph a dim, moving object.

We went camping over the long Easter weekend.  We didn’t get into the better campground at our local state park, but there was hardly anyone in the one we got.  It was a good thing we didn’t get a spot down by the lake, as there were many rotting fish on the shore.  It did have some nice waterfowl feeding in it, and the reflections in the evening made for lovely photos. I didn’t fish this time; didn’t even take a kayak.  I took my bicycle and longboard.  This park is ideal for longboarding, and our campground had a long, gentle slope and smooth asphalt curves.  I gave Savannah a lesson, as she never took up skateboarding when she was a child.  She came out to visit us twice.  We opened Easter baskets and had a good time eating and hiking.  I took a bike ride one day and wore my helmet cam the entire way.  I narrated all the birds I saw and some other interesting things, but I’d had the camera aimed too low, so hardly any of the animals are visible in the video.  We were a little too close to the playground, and all the screaming children.  At least there were a lot of Least Bluets in bloom, but I wonder how many of the parents noticed the huge wolf spider burrow in the sand.  There was a nice pair of brown thrashers frequenting our campground, and I managed to get some shots of one of them.  Wakonda State Park used to be a gravel mine, and some old concrete structures still remain.  On one hike I spotted a goose nesting on top of one of these concrete chutes.  It’s a perfect spot, safe from predators. One night a friend of ours came out with her mandolin.  I had the charango in the RV, and we jammed on some 80s tunes and tried to figure out the strumming for La Cucaracha.  
Wildflowers have finally come into bloom, and my class got a good look at some at Fall Creek.  The most interesting thing we saw, however, was a pair of toads mating in the shallows of the stream, complete with a string of eggs.  
The developmental biology class produced some more preserved and stained mouse embryos, and I promptly photographed them.  While I had the camera set up on the copy stand, I shot a dissected violet and a milkweed seed.  The macro lens does great things with them.
We have endured a generous amount of spring rains.  One day I looked out in the back yard and saw it was raining, and yet the sun was shining.  I guessed there must be a rainbow. I looked out the front yard and there it was in the East.  I grabbed a camera and drove down to the river to find a good setting.  The rainbow seemed to fade as I traveled, though it’s less than a mile.  I got a decent shot before it was gone.  
The rains seemed to target my Plant Field Biology lab.  On a Tuesday we went to a friend’s place where I normally see quite a few wildflowers.  It rained on us the entire time.  On our last day, we went to Lowell’s.  It rained on us a little in the beginning, but we saw some new flowers and enjoyed a long hike.  Unfortunately, I woke up with four ticks the next morning.  The next weekend I went back to Lowell’s for some mushroom hunting.  I only found three.  We fished for awhile and we each caught one fish.  On the up side, I found a false morel, which is a new record for Lowell’s.  I also found a small shed antler and a box turtle shell.  A few years ago I found a box turtle crossing the road, and released it out at Lowell’s.  I hope that wasn’t it.  I got an excellent photo of a tiger swallowtail.  I also got a shot of a whip-poor-will for the second time ever.  Again, I did not have the right lens.  I got a photo of a sassy turtle and a cottontail rabbit on shore that apparently didn’t know what we were.  My anti-tick measures (white clothes, DEET) were unsuccessful (I woke up the next morning with three more ticks).  We had a great lunch in Durham too.
Final exam week was a whirlwind.  It was a struggle to keep up with the grading, and I went right down to the wire to get the senior grades in under deadline.  Of course, I was at the same time preparing for Savannah’s graduation and family visiting from out of state.  We had a lovely visit from them and a nice party for Savannah at the Lewis Street Playhouse.  Tomorrow will be the actual graduation ceremony, and tomorrow night Savannah and I leave for Costa Rica.  Adios!

March & April, 2014 — Spring interrupted

There has been a steady diet of winter waterfowl on the nearby Mississippi River.  Canvasbacks, redheads, buffleheads, scaup, common mergansers were around during the colder months.  Several were cooperative enough to swim close to the shore and give me a decent look.  The American White Pelicans moved in at about the same time that the eagles moved out.  The pelicans are extremely abundant this year, and hanging around for a long time.  Some years they just pass us by.

We’ve just about completed a major effort in making maple syrup. I had a grant to ramp up our production.  So I thought that getting an off-the-shelf evaporator would make our lives easier.  I may have been wrong about that.  The fine unit we bought, the Leader Half Pint Evaporator, came with some (OK, all) assembly required.  I had to find a brick mason to brick up the wood-furnace interior.  I bought a garden shed to put it in as well.  Fortunately, our physical plant guys put the shed together and placed in on a leveled site.  They even installed the stove pipes, which I also had to track down and purchase.  After many hurdles, we got the thing to work.  Two of my students did almost all the work.  You have to actually watch the thing all the time to make sure it doesn’t run dry, and to keep the fire hot.  They did produce some fine product, however.  One morning I stopped in to check on their progress.  As soon as I stepped into the sugar shack, my glasses fogged up. I took them off, folded them and hung them from the front of my shirt collar.  A few minutes later I was checking out some sap, leaned over, and my glasses fell right into the bucket.  I said, “Damn.” The guys were cracking up.  I fished the glasses out of the sap and carried them back to my office for a thorough rinsing.
After the time change (Spring forward) I was heading in to work an hour earlier.  I stopped at the riverfront to photograph the sunrise, and found that the abundant birds crossing in front of the sun look very cool.  I got quite a number of interesting shots in this theme, including pelicans, eagles, gulls and ducks.
My nephew Racin Coelho came out to visit QU as a prospective student.  I had lined up some fun things to do, including photographing the sunrise and birds around town.  One afternoon we harnessed up Big Guy and took him out in the street.  I had just bought a longboard.  They didn’t have these when I was a kid.  It’s just an oversized skateboard, but it is a sweet ride.  We got the dog onto a favorable street and let him pull Racin for about a mile.  I had Gretchen, and as long as we stayed ahead, Big Guy had incentive to keep pulling.  Fortunately, Racin has some skating skills, and had no trouble with the ride.  
A couple of weeks later Stacey and I went on a walk.  OK, I didn’t walk; I let Big Guy pull me on the longboard.  It was a lot of fun. I had a helmet camera to capture the adventure on video.  I edited the footage down to just a few minutes of the most interesting bits.  Watch it here on YouTube:  http://youtu.be/WLWgqTUMnYQ
The ice ducks left, only to be replaced by the spring migrating puddle ducks.  We often get them in the retention ponds inside the levy. Normally, mostly blue-winged teal accumulate there, but this year we have good numbers of northern shovelers as well.  In previous years the shovelers have stayed out in the flooded fields, but the fields are not currently flooded.  My bonus. I keep stopping by in the afternoon to try to catch the light when it’s right, but it always seems to be overcast or windy or some darn thing.
One night I was coming back from a garden club meeting in LaGrange and there was a lightning storm north of Canton, but not actually in Canton.  I parked down by the brush dump and took a lot of pictures.  These conditions are so rare that it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to photograph lightning.  I had forgotten the camera settings and procedures for doing it.  After I got those worked out I finally captured some decent images.
One of my students showed me a mouse embryo he had prepared in the developmental biology class.  It was cleared and stained.  I thought it looked very cool, and had to photograph it, of course.  
One day coming home from work I pulled up the Canton exit and saw a hawk on a road sign.  I thought I could shoot it from the outer road, so I pulled around and did so.  It looked fairly relaxed so I parked and stalked it from behind a cedar tree.  I’m sure it could see me as I shot from behind the branches, but it didn’t seem to mind.  I’ve never succeeded in stalking a red-tailed hawk before, and that was definitely the closest I’ve ever gotten to one.  
The wildflowers are popping up now.  I expect you’ll see plenty of them in the next blog, as the Plant Field Biology class will take me all around the area for them.

February 16, 2014 — Barcelona

I am taking a class to Costa Rica in May.  Because this is my first trip booked through EF College Study Tours, I was invited to attend an orientation tour.  Just my luck the tour was to be given in a beautiful European city: Barcelona.  My original flight out was to be through Newark, NJ, but the storm that hit the east coast that day knocked out all flights.  After a series of changes, I ended up going from St. Louis to Chicago to Frankfurt to Barcelona.  Could have been worse–the guy sitting next to me on the Frankfurt leg was going on to Kiev with no idea they were about to have a revolution.  
The plane circled and came in over the Mediterranean Sea, giving us a lovely view of this coastal city, its beaches and port.  We landed at the time I would normally be going to bed, but instead we went on a walking tour of Barcelona. The time change made it broad daylight.  It was a zombie kind of day; I think I was up about 36 hours.  After a bus ride to the hotel, a few of us went to a nearby cafe for tapas and drinks.  We took the train down to the Plaza Catalunya and walked through the Gothic quarter, seeing a really old church and similar buildings.  This was our first foray down Las Ramblas, a wide street with a huge median for pedestrians and little shops.  It runs all the way down to the waterfront.  We saw some street performers playing the recognizable strains of “Rock Around the Clock.”  
We took another train to La Basilica Sagrada Familia, a huge church designed by famous (and famously bizarre) architect Gaudi.  It has strongly organic and biophilic elements, incorporating fruit, animals and grains into its design.  It is far from finished, but maybe in a dozen years or so will be complete.  On the way to the Mossul restaurant for dinner we stopped at a Gaudi designed house.  I thought the balconies looked like turtle skulls.  Dinner was a hamburger on a hard piece of bread topped with mushrooms.  As we walked back to the train station we passed a fountain illuminated with different colors.

Around Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia

Saturday we took a bus to Park Guell, another Gaudi-designed facility.  It’s actually a failed housing development, but makes a heck of a park.  The tile work, cave-like viaducts with strange pillars and more cool houses make it a kind of fairyland.  It’s one of few green areas in Barcelona, and had a modest bird fauna.  The bus took us up to Mont Juic for a drive-by look at some of the Olympic venues constructed for the 1992 games.  They are still used, for a variety of purposes, and are a great enhancement to the city.  We stopped briefly at a park that had spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea, shoreline,  and port.  
We went back downtown, where several of us ate lunch at La Boqueria, a big, open-air food market.  I inhaled a fruit cocktail.  While others were munching on their pitas, I wandered the marketplace.  It was a colorful array of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats, eggs, and even chocolates.  In its center was a big, circular fish market.  The diversity of fishes was staggering.  I think I could have taught all of my invertebrate zoology lab there, with all the shrimp, lobsters, crabs, squid, mussels, urchins, and more I cannot remember.  This place was a feast for my camera, and the wide-angle lens let me take in an entire store by standing at its corner.  Incidentally, I used nothing but the wide angle lens (Tokina 12-24 mm) on this trip.  I was so fascinated by the market, I was almost late for the bus.  I ran down Las Ramblas and caught it in time.

La Boqueria

The bus took us about 1.5 h to Las Figueres and the Dali Museum.  You can’t really take in an art museum in a couple of hours, but I was duly impressed with the breadth of Dali’s styles.  He thought up some crazy things, which made it quite entertaining.  He also used a lot of insects in his work–there’s my entomological tie-in.  

Dali Museum

Upon our return, about 12 of us went down to a waterfront restaurant to have paella.  I didn’t know what to expect, but when I was told it was a rice and seafood dish, I was in!  We had both the seafood and lobster versions.  It was ssssssssssssssso good.  Nine or ten of us went to see Flamenco after dinner.  I had been really looking forward to this opportunity, as I love dance, percussion, and guitar.  The performance was all acoustic, but they sure could get some volume as the stomped the living hell out of the hardwood stage floor.  I couldn’t understand the words (Spanish sung in this style eludes me), but I could sort of follow the story.  The dancers were very skilled, and there was even one guitar solo performance.  We were allowed to take video and photographs at the end, so I did both.  A couple of the ladies in my group had fallen in love with a young, Spanish dancer, and wanted to take him home.  I said I didn’t think that was allowed.

Flamenco

Sunday morning was time for the orientation portion of our orientation tour.  We received a crash course in E.F.’s practices.  It was enlightening and moderately entertaining.  It was good information and I took lots of notes.  Afterward we had a couple of hours to burn, and my roommate and I walked Las Ramblas looking for souvenirs and gifts.  I bargained hard for the tile plate I bought for Stacey.  I had lunch of a hot dog.  I met with 14 others for the optional bike tour of Barcelona, another event I had been much looking forward to.  Though it was cool, riding through the narrow alleys of the Gothic quarter and along the beach path was glorious.  I kept my camera hanging around my neck and took many shots on the fly.  We stopped at Citadel Park, which had once been occupied by Napoleon’s army (lots of history in Barcelona), and took a group photo.  The beachfront area is all relatively new, attractive developments.  Apparently, a lot of old industrial warehouses were torn down and replaced with the current buildings in anticipation of the Olympics.  These foresightful efforts permanently changed the character of the city, and for the better.
We had a couple of additional hours after the bike ride to hang out.  I walked around the entirety of the Plaza Catalunya, and ran into my roommate, Sam.  I  photographed the fountains at night.  Everyone gathered at a predetermined location and walked to the site of the farewell dinner.  It was a delicious grilled tuna.  Some people went to a bar for one last drink, but I went back to the hotel.  I was tired.
We had to get up early Monday morning to catch the bus to the airport. It was sad to say goodbye to all the friends we had made. We had bonded a lot in a very short time.  It turns out that people interested in study abroad have a lot in common.  Joel and I had been raised on cattle ranches, except on opposite sides of the country.  We have formed a Facebook group to stay in touch.

Last Day

You may click on any slide show to visit the online photo album directly.  Here are the videos.

Lady Flamenco Dancer. This woman had very elegant hand movements.

Longer Flamenco sequence:
Upon my return, I learned that we have a student that wants to go to Barcelona.  I said if she finds five more I’ll surely lead it.  And I’ll be certain to request our Tour Director, Jesus, who was the best.

February 10, 2014 — The long, cold winter

Although I dodged the polar vortex while bouncing around England, winter has continued holding us in its loving hands (or icy grip).  That’s been great for eagle photography, though it was horrible for Eagle Day in Canton.  Hardly anyone showed up to my talk at the lockhouse, and only the usual suspects showed up for the wine and cheese opening of the photo show.  Some of our people could not even make it to the show to hang their art because the roads were so bad.  

One day I came home from shooting eagles and a hundred starlings were mobbing the cedar tree in my neighbors yard, eating the abundant little blue berries. I rolled down the passenger window and fired away. Some robins were with them, then a small flock of cedar waxwings joined up.  Bonus!  I got some of the best pics I’ve ever taken of lovely cedar waxwings, which for some reason are shy of me.
After finding my 24-105 mm zoom lens a little too tight for the narrow streets of London, I decided to get a wide-angle lens.  I chose a relatively inexpensive Tokina 12-24.  It has been a surprisingly good lens.  I took some shots of buildings around Canton, then lucked into a case of sundogs (little rainbows on either side of the sun).  The last time I shot sundogs I had to take two frames and stitch them together.  Not needed with the wide angle.  It also does very well indoors.  
Big Guy loves the snow, but Stacey and I took advantage of a rare warm (50 F) day to go for a walk.  I harnessed him up and had him pull me around on a skateboard.  Success would have been no broken bones, but we exceeded that.  If I had a better board it would be a lot more fun.  
The cold and snow led to a snow day and a half for me. I took Big Guy down to the levy and we cross-country skied on it.  He didn’t pull me much, but I wasn’t expecting him to.  We started with the wind in our faces, and I thought I wouldn’t last 50 meters.  When we turned west we had the wind at our back, and my numb face began to thaw.  I had equipped his harness with some saddlebags, holding water and treats.  He did appreciate the treats.  Canada geese flew over, honking and heading south to presumably find some open water. The route took us through town.  A guy was digging his Mini Cooper out of a snow drift.  As I skied by with the dog, I asked, “Shall I hook him up?”  We both had icicle-covered beards at the end.  I took a selfie and we look remarkably similar.  
Stacey and I went down to the riverfront one day and some juvenile eagles were eating frozen fish on the shoreline.  This behavior is rare, and I tried to get some shots.  They were kind of skittish, but I did get some as they returned to their fish sticks.  Stacey heard the “scream” of an eagle for the first time, which actually sounds more like a series of chirps.
The sub-zero temperatures and foot of snow have concentrated birds at our feeders as well.  We have seldom had good light, but it’s hard to resist photographing them.  A rare Carolina wren even showed up at the feeder.
I could tell we were going to run out of firewood within the week, so I made a run out to Lowell’s.  The good part was that I didn’t have to cut much wood, as the logs we had cut in previous years were still in pretty good shape, and there was more volume than I thought.  The bad part was that my trailer tires utterly failed, and I ended up moving all the wood into Lowell’s trailer just to get it home.  I have spared you the description of every excruciating thing that went wrong along the way. In any case, Stacey was to be well supplied while I was gone the following weekend.

January 2014 – London Calling!

I had the good fortune to serve as a faculty chaperone on a student study abroad trip to London (and Paris).  This blog serves as a journal and travelogue.

We rented cars and drove to Chicago in cold, snowy conditions.  I drove a Nissan Altima, which was quite nice.  We parked in an outlying lot, caught a plane out of O’Hare and flew overnight to London’s Heathrow.  I got very little sleep on that redeye.  We dropped our bags at the hotel and commenced our bus tour of major London landmarks.  Unfortunately, we were kind of tired, and there was much nodding off on the bus.  We had lunch at a pub, where I had shepherd’s pie.  It was good, much like the first of many English ales I consumed.  I later learned that Fuller’s ales are still brewed in London, and served at 50 F (not warm) so that one can taste them better.  We saw Big Ben and the London Eye at night.  We went up in the Eye (a big Ferris wheel), which gave a sweeping view of the city.  Westminster Abbey was very impressive.  The tombs of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace were most moving to me. Photography is not allowed inside.  Neither are hats, as it is still a functioning church. Winston Churchill’s war rooms in Whitehall were neat to see, and not much different from the way they are depicted in movies!

London 1

We took the Eurostar train through the Chunnel under the English Channel to France and continued on to Paris. I believe I could enjoyably spend a summer just photographing quaint churches in the little villages sprinkled about the French countryside. We toured the Pantheon, which was luckily free that day, and saw where many of France’s famous dead are entombed. Of course, we joked that the Curies were still glowing. We saw the Eiffel Tower at night. It was spectacular, though  a 25-knot gale was blowing on top, which made things kind of chilly, but it was worth it. I never thought I’d see the Eiffel Tower. The next day we had brunch at the local cafe down the street from the hotel. We went to the Louvre and spent a couple of hours there, though it would take a couple of weeks to see it all. The students were having fun photographing “sassy baby Jesus” in the religious iconography. After we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Mona Lisa, I explored on my own. I had to get to the second floor, and they sure don’t make it easy to find. Ultimately, I found my way there, and enjoyed interpreting the paintings. This is where I began my series of selfies with nudes that I posted on Facebook. I don’t think I ever got so many comments or likes before. We went to a lengthy row of tourist-centered shops along a street next to the Louvre. I found a few things for Stacey and Savannah. I bought one item for 4 euros and handed the shopkeeper a five. He said “Thank you” and closed the till. I hesitated and he said, “No, change today”. I said, “Yeah, right.” He smiled, opened it back up and gave me a euro. I wonder how many times per day that act works for him. We ate crepes for dinner and took the Eurostar back to London.

Paris

We went to the British Museum.  I had chicken pie for lunch.  I enjoyed looking at the native American displays, especially their weapons and means of catching food.  There was a small zoological collection, including a tragic painting of the now-extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  Some of the antiquities were nice, especially those extracted from Nimrud, which were in excellent condition.  We went to see the musical “Billy Elliot” that night at the Victoria Palace Theatre, a a very ornate, old venue. The play was well written, choreographed, staged and acted.  It seemed to follow the movie fairly closely, from what I remember of it.
The following day was a free day.  I had hoped to go out to Charles Darwin’s house, but they were closed.  So I went with my second choice, The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a short train ride away.  I knew the trees would be leafless, and flowers would be few, but the greenhouse was spectacular.  There was an entire orchid room and two for carnivorous plants (tropical and temperate).  They were doing a lot of off-season maintenance on the place.  The upside was that there were few other visitors, mostly Mums with prams.   I was walking through an area of oaks and thought, “Wow, that looks just like the coast live oak from California.”  I looked at the monument, which read, “Quercus agrifolia.”  I was right!  They had a really nice display of “People and Plants,” which we’d call economic botany.  It was fascinating, and I’d love to squeeze in another lecture on this in Plant Field Biology.  Kew also had a canopy walk, a Japanese gate, and a 10-story pagoda.  I got some mileage out of the place.  For lunch I chose the sandwich with the least strange combination of ingredients: tuna, sweet corn and lettuce.  I had brought the wrong camera battery charger with me on this trip.  To conserve battery for later, I used my camera phone for a couple of days.  It did force me to learn the capabilities of the camera phone, at least. That night we went on the Jack the Ripper walking tour.  Our tour guide was really funny and extremely knowledgeable.  In fact, he had written a book on it.
Kew
We took a bus to Stonehenge.  The guides were really funny.  We had to take an alternate route because southern England was enduring some flooding.  I could relate.  We passed one of those big, old chalk patterns carved into the ground.  The new visitors center at Stonehenge had just opened with the new year.  It was quite nice, having a virtual Stonehenge inside, projected in a surround, and showing the stones throughout the centuries and during the solstices.  The real Stonehenge was everything I thought it would be: big, imposing, mysterious.  It’s surprising any of it is left after 5000 years.  They don’t let visitors wander around among the stones any more.  That’s good for me, as I didn’t get too many people in my photos.  There’s a low fence all the way around so I could photograph it from all angles.  The bonus was that it turned out to be a rare sunny day, which gave me good lighting.  In spite of the sun, it was really cold, with a steady wind.  So when we went to the old city of Bath afterward, I bought some bargains: new gloves, a fleece and long underwear.  Bath was really neat.  The buildings are all built in the same style, even  the new ones.  There are dozens and dozens of little shops, and street performers everywhere.  I discovered on this trip that I like to photograph street performers, and I don’t mind contributing a little for the privilege.  Our last stop was a “secret place”, a very old town.  The home that served as Harry Potter’s original house in Godrick Hollow was there.  We had an ale in the old pub.
Stonehenge & Bath
The Tower of London was much larger than I expected.  After a tour by a witty Yeoman Warder (AKA Beefeater), we wandered about at will.  I liked the torture room, of course.  We had lunch at another old, ornate pub.  I had a delicious hamburger.  We went to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but could not get in, as a service was about to start soon.  We walked out on the Millenium Bridge, which was used in one of the Harry Potter movies.  I suppose I’ll have to watch them all over again to see these sights.  It was a good time for night photography, and I got some good shots of bridges and buildings.  We had a free night and I went to see the musical “We Will Rock You” at the Dominion Theatre.  I went alone, which was probably good.  I was a total idiot: clapping, singing and waving my hands.  I love the music of Queen.  Though perhaps not as well written as Billy Elliot, it was highly enjoyable.  

Tower of London & British Museum

It was a short tube ride to the Portobello Road Market, a mile-long double row of street vendors, plus brick-and-mortar stores.  It took all morning to see it.  In spite of the dizzying array of offerings, from antiques to clothing to trinkets, I bought very little.  I did get in some street photography.  I like fruit stands because they have color, texture and pattern.  There was a trio of street performers that I really liked, the Hightown Crows.  The drummer had a beat up snare and a cymbal. His bass drum was an old suitcase, with another cymbal bungeed on top.  He had great rhythm, but resembled a Dickensian character.  The bass player had a beautiful, apparently new stand-up bass with fresh graphics painted on.  He was a scary looking guy, covered in tattoos, and rough.  The guitar player, who also handled lead vocals, was the most normal looking.  He had some good licks and used the distortion pedal sparingly.  Their style is hard to characterize, but they reminded me a little of Calexico.  I bought their CD.  We stopped at another spot to see a Police Box, well known as the Tardis by Doctor Who fans.
   In the afternoon we went to Harrod’s which I hated.  After 5 minutes I left for Picadilly Circus.  This being Saturday, the trains were packed.  I couldn’t get on the first one, and barely made the second.  I saw room enough on the floor for my feet, and figured there’d be room enough above for the rest of me.  I was almost right.  The door hit my head as it closed.  I rode four stops cheek by jowl with the other travelers.  Picadilly circus was absolutely jumping.  I wandered about and saw a bunch of shops.  I got a deal on a hat at a big sporting good store.  I watched some good street performers, including beat boxers and dancers.  There was free WiFi in this area so I leaned against a wall and caught up with Stacey.  At this time I was confronted with what I believe to be a con artist.  He walks around a crowded square asking specifically targeted people for a pound for train fare.  He flashes 3 or 4 pounds in his hand to imply that he almost has enough.  He’s clean, but covered in a long coat so that his dress cannot be assessed.  If his request is refused, he plays the race card, which is almost guaranteed to produce the desired result through guilt.  It almost worked on me.  I wonder how much he makes in a typical night?
Portobello Road market
We got up early for the next day, a long one of travel: 9-hour flight followed by 5-hour drive.  I didn’t get much sleep on the plane, and so notched a 22-hour day.  It took about a week to shake off the jet lag.  
Overall, it was a trip of a lifetime.  The bucket-list sights were too many to mention.  The students were a really good group, and there were no major problems.  I hope that I am able to do it again.

December 2013 — end of year

I haven’t posted a blog since September, and here I thought that being on sabbatical I would have lots of extra time.  It hasn’t worked out that way.  I’ve been traveling to various meetings and catching up on minor projects.  I think I’ll just post some pics with minimal commentary.

Above you’ll see the last insect images of the year, mostly from October.  Things cooled down quickly.  A few fungi.  Some reflections in Sugar Creek from our trip to Crawfordsville.  Some shots from our trip to Austin, as well.  It had been slow for photography.

Now that the eagles are back, and in a big way, I’ve been catching up.  I finally got one catching a fish right in front of me, along with plenty of follow-through shots.  I’ve been trying to get a shot like that for years.  Bob Benton was there too.
At the end of the year, Google took random samples of my images and assembled them into a brief video here:
I thought I could do better, and created my own to post on YouTube:
Another thing Google does via Picasa is to assemble bursts of images into brief animations.  With this method I’ve made some clips of eagles catching fish.  Here’s the best one:
2013 sure had its ups and downs.  Tomorrow I head for London.  It should be an interesting way to start off the New Year!

September 19, 2013 — Never kayak the North River

I’m going to first state right out that this was Bob’s idea.  When I said we should go kayaking, he mentioned the North River, which he had done before.  He had only put in at the park in Palmyra, paddled upstream for awhile, then floated back down.  I suggested we float downstream to a take-out.  He also was the one who found the take-out on Google Earth. At the end, we would have to paddle out the mouth of North, upstream a short distance on the Mississippi, and into the mouth of the Fabius to the Fabius Chute Access.  Bob had forgotten his bottles of water.  Fortunately, I had brought two, and gave him one of mine.  I also brought a bag of almonds, while Bob had a sandwich and a banana.

The stream looks big from bridge on Highway 61.  On the map, it looked easy, especially compared to the 26 miles I’d recently done on the Mississippi.  We shuttled trucks, leaving Bob’s at the take-out, in spite of the lack of signs to direct us there.  We were a little worried about weather–storms were predicted for later that afternoon, but I knew we’d be out before then. Ha.
We started out OK, as expected pulling through occasional shallows.  On a rocky substrate pulling is easy (though hard on plastic kayaks).  We saw a great rusty car embedded in the bank. 
Birds we saw included Great Blue Herons, Green heron, many kingfishers (saw one trying to catch fish), eagles, pelicans, egrets, swallows, and a pileated woodpecker.  
Downstream a we saw Asian carp: a few jumped, which was a bit of a surprise.  At the Highway 61 bridge, there was a log jam underneath.  The water around it absolutely erupted with huge jumping fish.  One hit Bob. One became stranded on top of the logs.  I got some still images, then switched my camera to video, thinking I was getting awesome footage. Later I found I had forgotten to hit the record button. We saw a few more later on, and I did get some video, but never so many as under the bridge.  For one who’d never seen them before, Bob developed a radar for these fish.  He could see and smell them in the water somehow.
Further downstream the river became very narrow, and we were somewhat trapped by a log jam in front of us.  Of course, carp started jumping.  One landed inside Bob’s kayak. He was not amused. Not much he could do but block it with his feet.  I backed up, tailed it and threw it back in the stream.  His kayak will never smell the same.
Bob is a fish magnet.  I’m going to bottle up his sweat and sell it.  One fish hit me in the leg, but I considered myself lucky.  When a stream loses discharge volume as it goes downstream (because the water seeps into the underlying rock), it’s called a losing stream.  I don’t know if the North River is a losing stream in the geological sense, though quite possible owing to our karst geology, but it’s losing in another.  The stream got smaller and smaller, and we had to get out frequently to pull our boats through the shallows.  But instead of pulling through cobble, the substrate was deep mud.  Hard going.  Plus, many spots were blocked by trees.  We were reduced to pulling the kayaks over long sand bars.  Our stream float had turned into an overland haulage.  
My phone GPS was not giving me a high resolution view of our surroundings, making it hard to figure out where we were.  At one point I hiked through the woods and found the levee, but there was no road nearby.  By this time, we were getting tired and annoyed.  I popped open my bag of almonds and ate a handful.  Normally, I love almonds, but these tasted a little stale.  I checked the date on the bag: Best if used by Feb 2011. We were getting low on water too.  It was hot, and I had been bitten by hundreds of tiny ticks a few days earlier.  The cool water helped.  Dragging our kayaks through knee-deep mud was exhausting and unfun.  We got filthy with mud, and so did our kayaks.  It rained a bit–just enough to make us nervous.
The end of the stream just never seemed to come.  When we reached the second railroad bridge, I knew we were close.  But to our dismay, the stream under the bridge was blocked by a huge log jam.  I walked a long cottonwood bole to get a better look.  An impenetrable mass of trunks and limbs reaching at least 50 yards stretched to the bridge, and I couldn’t see what lay beyond that.  We climbed up the steep bank and over the levee.  At that moment there was no more joyous sight than the gravel road that paralleled the train tracks.  Bob walked to get the truck. I drank the last of my water and poured out the almonds. A train came by while I was fetching the kayaks.  To get them up the steep bank, I tied a strap to the bow of each one, climbed the bank, and pulled it up.  We loaded up the kayaks on Bob’s trailer and went to a convenience store, where I bought us 24-oz bottles of Gatorade.  We’re never doing that stream again.

September 2013–Sabbatical time

My output here has slowed down lately.  That’s surprising since I should have lots of time available during my sabbatical.  It’s been a lot like summer break–things just appear and fill up the time.  Fortunately, I have been able to fit some fun things in with the various types of work.  

I enrolled in 100 Missouri Miles, wherein one attempts to log 100 miles of activity in Missouri between June 1 and the end of the year.  The Governor created the program to celebrate Missouri being chosen as the number one state for trails.  I’ve been tracking my outings with an android app (My Tracks), which is pretty handy.  There are a variety of activities that count, and a secondary goal for me was to do all of them.  Of course, paddling and bicycling were easy, as were walking, running and hiking.  To get the riding in, I got on an old nag at the Relay for Life rally here in Canton and was led around the lot.  It was a bit embarrassing, but the money was for a good cause and I logged the fraction of a mile I wanted.  Stacey got a good shot of me hamming it up.  I got the swimming in during a fire department training.  We were practicing water rescues.  In between events I was doing laps.  The only activity remaining is rolling.  I’ve been planning for awhile to have Big Guy pull me while I roll on a skateboard.  Though dangerous and crazy, it’s going to happen.  Soon.  I only have about a mile to go to make my 100.
I took a bike ride at Wakonda State Park.  I was surprised by all the butterflies, and especially by the red lobelia in bloom.  I got some good shots of insects.  Speaking of bugs, I’ve been shooting a lot of macros of insects around the house.  There will be plenty of those in the gallery below.
Stacey and I took the RV up to Keosauqua, Iowa, and stayed in their state park.  The park is small, but nice.  Sadly, bicycles are not allowed on their trails; however, I took a nice kayak float from Keosauqua to Bentonsport.  I saw lots of wildlife, and benefited from a decent current and tailwind.  We’re going back for the fall festival next month.
I’ve been catching up on firewood cutting and fishing at Lowell’s.  The resident green heron has been cooperative with photography.  The woods have not been kind to me, however, as I got a bad case of chiggers a few weeks ago, and more recently was bitten by dozens of tiny ticks.  You’d think I would learn.  I was squirrel hunting when I got the ticks.  One of the most curious things that happened was that I was nearly run over by a deer.  I was walking a trail and heard a bark.  I rounded a corner and saw a small doe break from the edge of the woods coming right at me.  I dodged toward a tree.  She saw me and turned the other way.  I didn’t think my air gun would be adequate firepower.  I remain disappointed in the air gun’s accuracy, as I had shots at three squirrels but killed none.  
During the recent dry spell we had a rash of grass and brush fires.  One ate an entire afternoon for both Stacey and me.  I ran the Polaris Ranger the whole time.  Though agile, it is somewhat lacking in water firepower.  That’s frustrating when you’re trying to put out burning trees.  We did get the fire extinguished once bigger water arrived.  We also had several smaller grass fires and a burning tree, which we gave an enema.  We are ever so thankful for the recent rains.
August photos
September photos

August 23, 2013 – Kayak Hannibal to Louisiana

Stacey invited me to have lunch with a couple that were kayaking from the headwaters of the Mississippi to its end.  They were stopping in Hannibal to do service, which is really the point of their trip.  Their story is told on their own web site and blog here; http://paddleforapurpose.net/.  Upon learning that I was a kayaker, they invited me to accompany them the next day.  The leg would run from Hannibal to Louisiana, 26 miles.  Like a fool, I said I would go, having no training or preparation.  My kayak is designed and outfitted for fishing, not distance paddling, and the furthest I’d ever gone before was 15 miles.

Nonetheless, I stripped down the kayak to its barest essentials and met Barb and Gene at the launch ramp in Hannibal.  I joked that it was free bait day, as an irregular line of dead shad were arrayed along the shore.  They packed up their 20-foot home-made kit-built mahogany kayak, and we headed out onto the river.  Before long we had reached Lock and Dam 22 at Saverton, MO.  I pulled the rope to let the lockman know we were waiting to lock through.  We waited a long while for a response.  It may be because a workman was grinding metal outside that he couldn’t hear us.  I pulled the rope again and presently the lockman came out and opened the gates, which swung agape like the mandibles of a giant insect.  We paddled in, the gate closed and the lock was dewatered. I got a sinking feeling.  Here I pointed out that while we were in Lock 22, the next one was Lock 24.  There is no #23.  It was never built, as it was not needed, but Barb and Gene already knew that story.  The downstream gate opened and we paddled out.  There were three boats waiting to lock through from that side, including one that was playing loud music.  I appreciated that.  And the bikinis.  We pulled over onto a beach just below the dam for a break.
Along the way, I gave various minilectures about cicadas, caddisflies and various other subjects. Barb and Gene seemed to tolerate these quite well, being educated and amiable people.  Barb is a retired teacher who had reared monarchs in her class.  I was mildly encouraged by the numbers of monarchs we saw crossing the river, apparently already in migration.  We saw many birds, including great blue herons, egrets, American white pelicans, and swallows.  We even saw an eagle come down and snatch something out of the water–a rare sight in summer months.  
We paddled on to our next stop, the DuPont Reservation Conservation Area on the Missouri side.  There were primitive camp sites for RVs (no hook-ups), but there were rest rooms on site.  We ate lunch sitting on stumps around a dead campfire.  We decided to trade places for a bit.  Gene took my kayak, while I took his spot in the stern position of the wooden tandem.  They were right, with two people paddling synchronously, you can really move fast.  Also, I immediately noted the advantages of their rudder, which my kayak lacks.  Meanwhile, Gene was having fun in my kayak, paddling around at high speed and, at one point, going backwards!
Our intention was that we’d go on this way for a couple of miles, then switch back to our previous positions.  Unfortunately, there was no good place to stop for the rest of the trip.  All of the “beaches” were essentially mud banks, where from experience we know that stepping out onto them results in post-holing to the knees in the proverbial Mississippi mud.
I felt really good through the morning hours and even after lunch.  Only after we rounded the last point that obscured the Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana did things get tough.  Just because you can see the bridge, you feel like you’re already there, although it’s still three miles away.  I paddled hard on the final stretch and began to cramp in some particular muscles.  The river was quite low at this time, and the current was only noticeable when passing by the Army Corps buoys that line the channel.
We finally reached the marina, which lies on the Illinois side, just north of the bridge.  Sadly, the restaurant (complete with fake lighthouse) was closed, and we were not able to have a drink together.  I had called Stacey earlier, and she arrived after a few minutes with the dogs on board.  Gene and I loaded my kayak on to the Lil Egg.  The private campground was a bit costly, and I believe Gene and Barb were going to spend the night in the small water trail campground, which should be free.  I read their blog entry for this day with great interest.  Indeed, I read the entire archive of their blogs and have continued to keep up with them for the rest of the trip.