Friday, March 15, 2019

The Elephant Whisperer - Book Review

One of the books that I wanted to read this year was The Elephant Whisperer - My Life with the Herd in the African Wild. Lawrence Anthony, the author, was asked to accept a rogue herd of elephants on Thula Thula, his reserve in South Africa.


If he did not take the elephants, they would be shot. Yet, he didn't have experience with elephants - much less with ones with behavior problems.

He ended up taking the elephants, and dealing with a variety of experiences - from challenges; triumphs and progress; new life; and death.

This books gave me a lot of insight into the minds and personalities of elephants; their sheer strength and determination; and the bond they have as a family and with humans they trust.

The start of the book started a bit slowly. However, as the story progressed and the elephants were beginning to trust Lawrence, it was interesting to learn about their personalities, interactions with one another, and how they accept (or don't accept) humans based on their intentions.

One of the many interesting chapters dealt with how the elephant herd dealt with a fire at the reserve. The matriarch of the herd led them all to a watering pool which they waded in to stay cool and safe as the fire approached them. They would take up water in their trunks and spray their bodies to stay cool. The author was checking on them and followed the matriarch's lead. By following her behaviors, he and his dog also were able to make it through the fire.

Like people, elephants have a certain "personal boundary space" around them. Each elephant's space is different. The smaller the elephant, the less confident they are and, therefore, they demand more space around them. A mother and a newborn baby need the most space of all.

When they each, they pluck up grass in clumps and then tap it on their knees to dislodge soil from the roots. They are fussy about what they eat; and will check the scent of each plant before deciding if they want to eat it.

Elephants communicate with their eyes, trunk, rumblings, subtle body movements, and attitude. As the author said, "Whether it is a pet dog or a wild elephant, communication is not so much about the reach as it is about the acknowledgment....If you are not letting them know that their communication has reached you, if you don't acknowledge it somehow there can be no communication."

An elephant's trunk pulses with about fifty thousand muscles. I had no idea there were that many in the trunk!

There were two especially sad parts in the book. One was when a baby elephant's feet had been deformed when it was born. Despite the encouragement and persistence of the herd, there was nothing they could do to help it. The staff was able to intervene and progress looked promising. However, it was not meant to be. The baby elephant died. The author said, "The elephant's cheerful ways and her refusal to surrender until the end had inspired everyone. She had shown us how life could be joyous, despite pain. How it could be meaningful even if it was short. Thula had shown us how life should be lived for the moment."

The author died in 2012 and the elephants continue to bring their babies to an area near where he lived even though he no longer is alive.


His legacy is that  he changed people's perception of elephants outside the perimeters of conservation. He encouraged people who said, "I can't" that they can. He believed that people should get involved, join conservation movements that actually do something rather than relying on media gimmickry; lobby local government officials; and plant trees. Most important, just go outside and look and breathe.

As Graham Spence, who wrote the postscript in the book said, "Wilderness is not somewhere out there. It's in your soul."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

My Favorite Photos - February 2019

As I look back on February, these photos and memories stand out for me:

Sophia, Olivia, and I took a hand-sewing leather course at the art center. The girls each made a purse.


I made a tote bag.


I visited my sister at the end of February and took some photos of her cat. This is Juliette. She's a Flamepoint Siamese cat.


This is Buttercup. Check out those blue eyes!


I saw the first robin of the year during February. The birds like the apples that have been on the tree all winter.


There's a White-Crowned Sparrow that's been hanging around our farm this winter. Normally we don't see them in the winter. So, this is a real treat!


We have a flock of pheasants that have been hanging around as well. There is a group of six of them. The one below is a male - he is more colorful and has a white ring of feathers around his neck. He also has some interesting eyebrows. It's always fun to find one of the long tail feathers in the Spring.


This is four of the six pheasants in the driveway. They use their feet to scratch up the snow and uncover seeds and grain. They are looking for corn that I put in the driveway for them.


This is a blue jay that's approaching the feeder. I wish it were a better photo. However, I like the wing span on the bird and its target: the seeds.


We've had so much snow in February this year...an excessive amount. It was the snowiest February ever recorded in the Twin Cities - in all of history!


Indoors, the pets are being patient until there is more area for them to run around outside. This is Aspen.


This is Scooby. He's getting bored with being inside so much.


Another class I took at the art center this month was papercutting. This is an example of Notan - a Japanese form of papercutting that explores negative and positive space. You start with a square piece of black paper and do free-form cutting from there. 


After doing that exercise, we worked on another papercutting project. All the parts have to touch one another (including the border), otherwise it is considered collage. The size is about 8 1/2" x 11" to give a size perspective.


During the month, Cooper has enjoyed watching the birds at the feeder. He likes the small ones, but - for whatever reason - does not like the big birds at the feeders, like the mourning doves, pheasants, and pileated woodpecker - all of whom have visited the feeder he's looking at in the photo below.


We've enjoyed visits by a large number of cardinals this year. We have multiple families here which is great!


This is a female. Her feathers on her head are standing tall meaning she is on alert.


This is a black-capped chickadee who chose a peanut to eat. She (or he) will fly off with whatever nut or seed is chosen and eat it in a tree.


We had a lot of challenges with icicles this month. This is not a good sign when they are this big since it shows that we have poor insulation between the ceiling and roof. These all were removed and the roof raked in mid-February. We have to do this again in early-March before it melts otherwise we could look at water damage in our home again, like we had a few years ago in three rooms.


Olivia and I drove out to Paynesville, Minnesota, in mid-February so she could do a 4-H retreat. It's for teens who are interested in nature, photography, and leadership. On our way back on Sunday morning, we stopped in Monticello, Minnesota, at Swan Park. There are thousands of trumpeter swans, Canada geese, and mallards on the Mississippi River. They are fed each day around 10:30 a.m., so we were able to see the tail-end of the feeding session.


We drove through a small blizzard to get to St. Kate's where Sophia was invited to attend a special reception and program for scholarship finalists. We found out later in the month that she won one of the top three awards!


For Valentine's Day this year, we celebrated it twice. Once was on the 14th when the girls and I had heart-shaped pizza and garlic bread plus red pop. Not terribly healthy, but it was a tasty treat.


I decorated the windows with some stars and heart-shaped cut-outs I had made.


We also celebrated it on the 15th when Paige was back in town from a business trip. I made a recipe I saw on Pinterest that I adapted. It used two types of tortellini/ravioli (cheese filled as well as meat filled), spinach, mozzarella cheese, and spaghetti sauce.


Another class that Olivia and I took at the art center was how to do peg loom weaving. The loom is small, yet you can weave rugs on it which is interesting. It took a bit to learn, but once I got the hang of it, weaving went quickly. This is Olivia's rug:


I'm participating in a Mystery Quilt project through Minnesota Quilters. Each month, you get a clue about how to sew together some pieces that you cut in January. These are the squares I made in February. I should have waited to see how people cut them because for the square on the left, the yellow should be half of the square; and the pink and purple the other half.

My only complaint about the directions are that they assume that people have a lot of experience with quilting and cutting squares. I don't, so it's a bit of a challenge.


Another sewing project that I coordinated was sewing diapers for newborns from t-shirts for Global Health Ministries. The diapers are used for incentives for women in developing countries to get prenatal care.


It was part of a larger service event that I coordinated on February 12th for our local Lions club. We had 21 people there - despite the snowy and icy roads.


We visited the girls' step-grandfather (Paige's step-father) in a transitional care unit. He is getting stronger now that he is getting 24/7 care. He will be moving to the nursing unit now that is part of the graduated-living community where he lives. It is an exceptional facility; and he is getting very good care.


One last photo that summarizes how the month felt.


Literally we feel buried in snow, it's so high we literally have to trudge through parts of non-shoveled parts. Cooper was looking for something in the snow...thus, his face is covered in snow. 

We are looking for Spring. Hopefully it comes soon.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Being Caribou - Book Review

Being Caribou - Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd by Karsten Heuer is one of the books that I wanted to read this year that is focused on animals and nature.

This is a short book that is heavy on photos which I enjoyed. I learned a lot about this particular caribou herd of more than 100,000 that treks thousands of miles each year in Alaska. The caribou go through icy rivers, high mountain ranges, and passes that are snow-covered.


They come across grizzly bears, human hunters, insects, and wolves. However, out of all of these predators, the worst one, it seems, are millions of bloodthirsty mosquitos and biting flies. Once the insects hatch in the spring, the caribou make a fast-retreat back to their summer region.

The reason for this long migration to thee Arctic National Wildlife Refuge each year is that the females give birth to their babies. The peacefulness of the area and absence of the insects in the early-Spring helps the calves gain strength and prepare for a challenging year ahead.



This is the only area in the caribou's range where a certain kind of protein-rich cotton grass grows. The mothers, who are trying to produce milk for the calves, depend on this grass.

The author and his wife are the only humans to become part of this caribou herd. They followed them, set up their tent, and slept in the same area that the caribou lived. It gave them - as well as the reader - insight into the lives of these fascinating animals.

One thing that was amazing about the calves is that within five minutes of being born, a calf can take its first steps. Within 30 minutes, it walks smoothly. But the end of its first day, it can run, jump, and play with the other calves.

Another thing I learned was that the calves and mothers play games together to form a strong bond. The mothers grunt and the calves bleat over about a ten-day period; and they practice those sounds often so that they know one another. How well they learn and respond to each other's calls will determine whether the calves survive.

I wish there were more books written like this about different wild animals. Learning about them in their environment and not harming them lifts my spirits.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

My Favorite Photos - January 2019

These are my favorite photos from January. It's hard to believe the month went by so quickly.

We started the month out by going out to eat at the Chinese restaurant to celebrate the New Year. The year started out better than last year when we didn't have water thanks to the line freezing between the well and house. So, we had good reason to celebrate this hear: we had water!!


On Janaury 11th-12th, we went to the Mid-Winter District Conventions for the Lions. The girls came with since they are involved with the Leo Club. The theme was Italy, so the club president got hats for them to wear. Someone dressed up as a Lion and walked around all evening. 


On the 12th, we made a few fleece tied blankets that will be donated to children with cancer. Pediatric cancer is one of the key issues that the Lions are interested in.


On January 14th, Olivia needed a photo of herself to use with a wildlife group she is involved with through 4-H. Cooper sat nicely next to her for the photo. He looks big in the photo, but he's only about 68 pounds.


My friend, Yoshiko, sent me this hat from Japan. It came at the perfect time because the temperature started going down during the middle to the end of the month. This was a typical look for most of January when I went outside. The west pasture is behind me.


On the 17th of January, there was a beautiful sunset. If you look closely, there's an ice pillar (the ray of light that goes from the horizon to the clouds).


The next day, it was Olivia's birthday. She and I get up early, so she wasn't expecting anyone else to be up for her birthday breakfast. While she was outside taking care of the horses, I told Sophia and Paige they should get up quickly and surprise her. They came downstairs and sat at the table. When she came in, they yelled, "Surprise!" Needless to say, Olivia was pleasantly surprised.


For her birthday, Olivia wanted to see the new Bell Museum and Planetarium. The dioramas from the old museum were transferred to the new ones, and the glass was between the public and dioramas was improved. You can't even tell it is there in photos which is nice. 


The wood duck in the tree reminded me of my dad and how he loved putting the wood duck house by the lake each Spring. We had a lot of wood ducks raise families in the house throughout the years. It was always a joy to see them.


There was a wall of squares at the museum that Olivia stood by. I can't believe she's already 16 years old. Time went by way too quickly!


This is a close-up of the wall.


Another diorama was of sandhill cranes. I had never heard or seen a sandhill crane before moving to the farm. Now, each year - late Spring to early-Fall - I hear and see these beautiful birds.


After going through the museum, we saw a show in the planetarium. I haven't been in one since I was a kid. There used to be a planetarium in the downtown Minneapolis Public Library. It was closed and now the Bell Museum built one when they built their new museum.

It was interesting learning about dark matter (which I had never heard of) and seeing some of the constellations that are visible now in the winter sky.

Before the show, the screen in the planetarium was lavender, so that's why the photo of the girls is lavender.



We all enjoyed birthday cake after Olivia blew out the candles.


Sophia was having fun with the tissue-paper decorations. There were 16 flowers - 4 large light-blue ones and 12 little navy blue ones that were hung from the ceiling.


On January 23rd, Olivia and I took a tour with a group from the arts center to see the current exhibit at the Walker Art Center. Olivia is standing by a large piece that is collaged.


We had some extra time after the tour, so went outside to walk around the Sculpture Garden.


We saw the spoon bridge and cherry plus the blue rooster. The former sculpture is one that's been around for a long time; and when we used to visit the Sculpture Garden when the girls were younger, they would go close to it and watch the spray come out of the cherry stem.


There was a sculpture that was new (or at least new to us since we hadn't been to the Walker in many years).


The next day, January 24th, I got a couple pieces back from the kiln at the art center. I was so happy with the colors of the glazes. There are actually only two glazes. The blue in the middle is the color that you get when the two glazes on the outer sides overlap.


The is another piece that I made using the same glazes.


I made another piece that is ready to be fired. It is a tracing of my hand that I cut out and decorated with three different stamps in a random pattern. The hand sign means, "I love you." It will be fired and ready or glazing when I go back to class on February 7th.


On the 26th, I taught a class about Chinese New Year and the 4-H Global Connections project to eight youth who were at a Winter Workshop Day. Olivia helped me set up which I appreciated. She and the other kids in the class are choosing which Chinese candies they want to try.


Sophia was at the Winter Workshop teaching Cloverbuds (5-7 year olds) about how to make a kite. She had fun teaching them, and the kids were happy with what they created.


That evening, there were fireworks at the community center. Sophia wanted to see them since she has missed the 4th of July fireworks for the past two years because of being at the Take Action Camp in Arizona.

It was about 8 degrees out, so we bundled up to watch the fireworks.


There were ones that were low to the ground that went off and others that were higher in the sky.


We both had a great time watching the fireworks...though our hands got a bit cold since we had to take one glove off to take photos and video.


My favorite colors were the blue and silver ones.


By the end of the month - January 31st - I completed the first blocks for a Mystery Quilt that I am doing with the Minnesota Quilters. Each month, they give directions for one part of the quilt. This month, it was using three different colors to create a tri-color block. The little blocks with two colors are leftovers. They can be used either to incorporate into the back of the quilt or for another project.


As I look at the other people who are posting photos of their finished blocks, it looks like I'm cutting my wrong. I don't know how people are cutting them so they get the yellow section to meet exactly at the corners. (You need to trim the larger block down to a smaller size.) I may have a rather odd-looking quilt by the time I'm done. At least it will be colorful.