September Migrant Flies By

After considerable time spent trying to identify this bird, I believe it is a Hammond’s Flycatcher. Is that eye ring oval enough; is the bill short and dark; does it have a small, bull-head … whatever that means … to confidently identify this bird correctly? I know for sure it is a flycatcher, one of 17, and not the boxy-headed vermilion flycatcher which I see all the time here in SW Arizona as it is a resident at my elevation!

Hammond’s flycatcher

While this flycatcher can be seen from Alaska, USA to Nicaragua on its potential migration route, it is known to be in winter at elevations between 3000 – 5500 feet in my area. Now that I have added this bird to my life list, I will keep my eyes open when on the mountain roads this winter and look forward to its return in the spring.

Our Country is Burning!

I was thinking about the wildfires burning millions of acres in the western USA right now as I noticed a sign while walking a road in the town of Summerhaven, Arizona. Seventeen years ago this town burnt down due to a wildfire and 4 months ago the Bighorn wildfire once again threatened the town. Everyone in the town was evacuated for weeks and forest trails will remain closed till November.

Almost 120,000 acres burned here and now millions of acres are burning in Washington, Oregon and California. Why is our country burning? A whole host of things contribute to the issue. With increased greenhouse gas emissions, there are warmer temperatures drying organic material. Droughts add to the increase of dry vegetation thus fuel for fires. Strong winds and lighting strikes add to the increased size of wildfires.

Controlled burns help and so do homeowner assist programs such as being stated here on this sign:

More people are building in wilderness areas, power lines are above ground and people are not safely putting out campfires and/or participating in creating defensible space. Wind and lightning will continue, but we do need to reduce the fuel a fire survives on. We also should be concerned about the drought affecting so many areas in the west and southwest. All wildfires leave us with devastation of communities along with air and water pollution. The economics and social implications are huge as people try to return, rebuild, and survive never knowing if they will be met with support and success.

As we look to the future, we need to research and support programs addressing greenhouse issues with alternative methods. A closer look should be taken of our own backyard and local neighborhood to ascertain if we could have a wildfire, flooding or other natural disaster concern and what we can do now to prevent it. There is scientific information available so we can be pro-active in understanding and preparing for whatever concern we may have.

While today I am talking about our country burning, we should also think about why coastline areas are flooding. When will we think and do something so we have less loss of life and property? Should we build in the wilderness, on a flood plain, or along a coastline? What can we do now to help ourselves and plan for future building zones or whatever else is needed? Much of our country is burning and we all should be concerned!

Vote! Here is how to do it …

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This site will provide you with the needed information. It has details specific for every state in the USA so it will be informative for your needs.

Everyone needs to vote. There is no excuse not to vote. 
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Click on the link above, be informed and VOTE!

Love is Carried on the Wind

My sister, mom and friend celebrate September birthdays and I am physically thousands of miles away from them. I don’t speak of love 365 days a year, but I would hope each knows my heart feels for them everyday.

My daily routine includes meditative moments where I send positive energy. Most recent for my sister, mom and friend I hope my positive energy radiates to each of you for your day’s activity to be somewhat eased or your personal struggles to be lessened. When we live in the moment of hope and positivity a birthday celebration can be enjoyed with all near and far.

Think of my love being carried on the wind and you are wrapped around on all sides by that wind; that is my loving hug to you as you celebrate your special day. Live in that moment and know you are loved. Happy birthday!

Time to Think …

No matter how busy we are or not, it is time to pause and think: will we learn something, or anything, from our current state of affairs?

When we have notice of impending doom, will we prepare for it or will we nonchalantly envision no harm coming our way?

Will we observe, record, analyze and problem solve next steps to be taken to ensure our safety or scoff at and ignore scientists?

Walking helps me think.

As of this writing I believe there will be a future. Yet let us understand we have other impending issues needing our attention, such as ending racial and economic inequalities and addressing climate change. These issues are important for an overall healthy people and planet. Today, many of us are staying healthy from Covid-19 thanks to following the science. And in time scientists will have, once again, a vaccine to help us save ourselves from another virus. We will be saddened for the lives lost most recently these past months. Life will go on requiring us to look ahead and act responsibly. I say this with hope in my heart.

The question is, will we have learned to act now on impending doom or will we wait and again be mired in the next issue with no leadership, losing lives, and only slowly wake up to the chaos beyond our control? There is no vaccine to cure racial and economic inequalities or the devastating effects of climate change. If we want to survive, we need to take action now on all these fronts. A magic wand does not exist.

Time to do more than think about it all. Time to register to vote and to vote in November. Time to write state and federal legislators, representing you, to always respect science, respect nature and respect each other. Simply put it would get us further in solving issues we have now and which are only getting worse with the passage of time. We need to be concerned about the mental and physical health of our people and planet. Or, there will be no future for generations to come to enjoy.

You may not be concerned about any of this happening to us today or in the future, but I am. If you are concerned, take action. I thank you and so will all those yet to walk this planet. It is time for action!

Monday Memories: India and Bhutan

In 2017, my goal was to visit northern India from west to east, and then the small country of Bhutan. Only my daily journal could capture all I experienced during this trip. It was a fascinating experience and I have hopes of returning to see all of India some day.

Here’s a capsule of the adventure. After arriving in New Delhi, India, walking through various neighborhoods with our guide and seeing historic buildings, we headed toward the India – Pakistan border to watch the daily military ceremony referred to as a “border ceremony”. In the city of Amritsar, where the famous Golden Temple – a religious complex of the Sikh religion – is, I had unique experience with a local man who had poor vision. While helping him cross an area with road barriers, he and I talked. I invited him to join me for a soda or tea. I located a place to have our drink, much to the surprise of the shop owner and adolescent boys sitting in the shop, but my new friend and I had a good conversation.

Our tour continued north to Dharamshala where exiled Tibetan people live and work. The Dalai Lama resides here too when he is not speaking around the world. I loved seeing the Himalayan Mountains once again; last seen in 2001. Shops here support the Tibetan culture and handicrafts.

Women spinning wool.

We returned to New Delhi for a few more days and touring, then flew to Darjeeling, famous for its tea cultivation. While the streets of New Delhi and Delhi are hectic with wandering cows, people with push carts, wires hanging everywhere from poles, I appreciated people allowing me to photograph them; one man even asked that I photograph him! People in the countryside provided permission for me to photograph them too. But it was while I was in a moving vehicle that I caught sight of a man at his roadside dental appointment. Along that wall, many businesses were conducted.

I bought tea while in Darjeeling, relaxed in the British flair of this city, but I wanted to return to the Himalayan Mountains and visit Bhutan! Bhutan caps the number of visitors entering their country and maintains some traditions to hold on to their culture. Bhutan is a very small country between two super powers: India and China. It is an environmentally aware country and known for its “Gross National Happiness” philosophy. I asked for a specific example of where the people’s happiness and decision of the government may influence that philosophical index. Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and many workers live on the other side of the mountain and have an hour’s drive to work each day. Workers wanting a shorter drive requested the government build a tunnel through the mountain. The government thought it best to use the construction money to build paved roads throughout the country to help a larger number of people, and thus did not build a tunnel. Great example, and roads were being built mostly by Indian workers throughout the country.

Thimphu is the main city; however, just outside of it you will see a huge statue of Buddha that has many more Buddhas within it. The countryside is beautiful and at one point we did stop to talk with a nomad.

We stayed in Paro, Bhutan for a couple of days so we could climb to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, a sacred Buddhist site. It requires an entire day to drive about 10 miles to the site, climb the 2 miles up to the monastery with an elevation gain of 1700 feet, and be at 10,232 feet where the air is thin. No vehicles are in this area, one must climb. It was worth the hike!

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Two men from Bhutan will always remain in my memory. In my wandering I started speaking with a young man asking about his work. He acknowledged he was a young artist, but his job now was to sell the owner’s art work. I asked to see what he had drawn and I bought a piece of his work. Today it is framed and hangs on my wall. The other man was carving wood with his feet. I learned Bhutan’s Queen Jetsun Pema supports people living with disabilities and he has gained a thriving business as a result of Her Majesty’s support.

There are so many more memories of my visit to India and Bhutan, but I have kept these for now along with a fraction of photos taken during this trip. Someday I will return and create new memories. People have asked why I did not go to the Taj Mahal, etc. My answer: those areas are so over-run with tourists and I believe I will be able to visit them while in a wheel chair. On this trip I wanted to go where I had to hike to see the sites.

Never in my mind did I think there would be a global pandemic, as we have happening now, where country borders and sites are closed. I am so glad I traveled when I did. I look forward to more travel in the future.

Monday Memories: Poland

As I look back on 2019, I am thrilled I did not put off international travel to save money for future trips: New Zealand, Australia, the Arctic and Antartica. On this trip to Poland I had an opportunity to volunteer for a week with Habitat for Humanity (H4H) in Gliwice, Poland. Once realizing I was flying from western USA to Poland, I decided to travel on my own prior to my H4H responsibility.

I arrived in Warsaw, Poland and spent a few days joining walking tours to learn about and understand Poland’s history. I walked around the city which has so many museums and places to visit, such as the POLIN Museum about the history of the Polish Jewish community and the Warsaw Rising Museum, just to mention a couple of museums. I was glad to return to this city for a couple of days before flying home at the end of this trip, especially to decompress while walking through the Royal Łazienki Park.

Walk the city of Warsaw and see where the ghetto wall held in the Jewish people.

My travel around the country was by train so I could talk with people and see the countryside while traveling. Polish people were very friendly and there were interesting small towns and beautiful fields along the way to Gdańsk on the Baltic Sea. Buildings here were more colorful than Warsaw and the Museum of the Second World War was definitely worth visiting. I took the train to Sopot and Gdynia for a day trip. Sopot was unbelievably crowded and Gydnia’s Emigration Museum telling the history of migrating Poles was worth visiting.

My two favorite meals while in Poland were pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese, cooked in boiling water and not pan-fried, and kielbasa and sauerkraut. I was becoming a critic of the best of each during my 3 weeks in Poland and loved eating it all!

There were so many cities to visit in Poland, yet I hop off the train in Wrocław. As you stand in the main square of this city, you’ll see the Gothic Old Town Hall with its astronomical clock and have plenty of time to people watch. I loved looking for the gnomes around the city … visit to find out the history and importance of these characters.

After a few days I visited Kraków. As you stand in its main square you see the Cloth Hall and the 14th century Gothic church: St. Mary’s Basilica, where I also attended an evening organ concert. The Rynek Underground Museum was interesting and the walking tours about Jewish history were informative. There is plenty to do in Kraków and it is an easy city to walk.

I joined a day tour to learn more about the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes against Poles at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau sites. While some buildings are not open to the public, one clearly feels the horror that occurred at these places. The shoes, luggage and hair collected, the sleeping areas, electric fences, cattle cars which brought people in to these concentration camps, and the crematoriums were just horrifying to see knowing now the history. Another day I toured the Wieliczka Salt Mine where all statues, etc are carved into the salt. It was a good way to decompress after being at the camps the day before.

I met the team of Global Village/Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Krakow and we traveled to Gliwice, northwest of Kraków. For the next 5 days we helped renovate some old buildings to eventually house teenagers with addiction issues. We met and had dinner with some of the young people at their current site. Our work during the day was plastering walls or pulling up old flooring. Our hard-working crews accomplished so much in the short time; however, it may be a year before all work is complete … and that was the prediction before Covid-19 became real.

I returned to Warsaw. I flew home thankful for the opportunity to volunteer my time and energy to a worthy project and also visit a country I had wished to visit someday. Now in 2020 I wonder when my international travel will resume. Only time will tell as the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic.

Stay-at-Home Scat Lesson

Something has spent more time at our front door area than us, so it was only recently when I discovered fecal droppings, called scat, there. I wondered what animal left it since defecation at ones front door is not a good sign.

One person identified the pellet-like droppings as lizard scat. Another person provided me with a biology lesson about the similarities between reptiles and birds excretory functions and how theirs differs from mammals. Needless to say, there was research to be done by me to understand whose those droppings they were.

I discover reptiles, such as lizards and snakes, have something similar to birds in their unique fecal droppings. These animals all have only one bodily excretory function and expelling orifice, the cloaca, where urine and poop are within one dropping. (Mammals, such as us humans, urinate and defecate from two different orifices.)

Now knowing the scat is a combination of urine and poop, it helps identify this small, black, pellet-like, tapered dropping between that of a mouse or lizard. (The other reptiles are not being considered due to the small size of this scat.) Research says a white nitrogenous material of crystallized uric acid creates a white portion on each lizard dropping. Whereas a mouse dropping will not have the little white blob since their urea trails away from each pellet not crystallizing on it. Okay, so have I finalized my answer that these pellets are from a lizard? No. Why not?

While I see no small tracks, tail trails or gnawed outdoor stucco to think they may be mouse droppings, I want to look closely at the scat the next time around to know for sure if it lizard. (It’s the scientist part in me to observe and question, especially when I have hours to do so.) Although it is Arizona, we did have a recent rain that may have washed some of the vital evidence away only leaving the solid poop. So, I will observe my front door area on a more regular basis to get another scat sample. I am hoping to see a white blob at the end of each pellet because lizards are more valuable than mice for us. Lizards eat mosquitoes and another insects, yet I learned their feces can be dangerous as it can contain salmonella. Geez, that’s not good!

Today’s lesson: Reptiles and birds have similar excretory systems. Another day, maybe I will research more about the birds. Today’s clean-up task: Clean the front door area of the scat. Thank you Simple Green product. Future work: observe front door area for next fecal deposit and identify the culprit/animal.

My work for today is done! Who knew so much time can be spent on little things, such as scat!

Monday Memories: Death Valley National Park

I have visited Death Valley National Park in California a couple of times. Hiked the various trails and Badwater Basin salt flat, and another trip bicycled on the few roads within the park boundary. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes along with other points of interest in the park were worth seeing in this unique ecosystem. There are climate and geography extremes so plan your visit carefully.

There were flowers during my past visits, but my wish is to visit again and see a “super bloom”. I heard about the one in 2016 and saw many colorful wildflower photographs. Now in 2020, along with our pandemic time and no travel, there also was no super bloom. Maybe I can get there next year and witness a “super bloom” too!

It would be fun to see the Artist’s Palette again. With my new photography skills I know the importance of being there as the sun shines on the colors.

Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America, and photographing the salt flat and salt crystals would be fun too. If the heat is to much I know I can go to the surrounding mountains.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes had a dust devil moving across it while I was there. After my Sahara Desert visit in Morocco last year, I wish to spend some time back on this park’s dunes.

My future goal: visit Death Valley National Park again, and if there is a “super bloom” that will be wonderful!

Travel Need Not be Expensive, If You Wish

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the thought of local or international travel is maddening because I cannot get a handle on when the world will be safe to travel within six feet of another person and without a facial mask. I have to hope a vaccine is available in early 2021 so my travel plans for that year are also not on the cancellation list as this year’s trips. However, this is a good time to remind ourselves travel need not be expensive. And when we get back to travel, we have some adventures to plan and get going on!

When I think about any travel anywhere, I want to explore a place, be outdoors where possible, learn about the culture, interact with local people, and feel as though if I do not return I have a good feel for the place; these are my priorities. I know if my list included all-inclusive resort, first class air tickets and other high priced desires during my travel then the trip price would surely soar. Fortunately, they are not my priorities.

So what do I do? Here are some approaches for me to keep my travel price tag to what I can afford and still enjoy my adventure:

  • Ahead of the trip decision to go or not, I research the area I plan to travel so I know what I should not miss while there. If I am interested in the sometimes “tourist trap”, I add it on my travel plan list of options. I also love maps so I will circle areas to spend more time.
  • I take a look at what local companies in the place are visiting and may add some of their interesting places to visit. I also know many cities have free walking tours so I scout them out when eventually in the city. (“Free” means you donate what you wish to the local tour leader.)
  • I love knowing what food is cooked and enjoyed by the locals. Most often I shop in local markets or food stores for my essential snacks. When buying a meal, I usually have a delicious lunch to serve as my big meal of the day. (This is an advantage of solo travel since many enjoy their big meal later. But later for me means cheese and wine and time to relax, journal and watch a sunset.)
Olives piled high in a conical shape at a market with so many varieties of olives.
Love the choices here!
  • International travel allows me more options to consider hostels for my lodging. I am not a fan of paying a high price to sleep. If reviews indicate the hostel is in a good location for foot travel to public transportation, safe and clean, that works for me. I will admit no breakfast is great at a hostel and sometime even with only 4 other people in the hostel room I do not get the ideal sleep, so I will slip in some bed and breakfast or inexpensive hotel room stays during a trip. (Hostels do have single rooms so look for that option too. Others love VRBO, Air BNB, couch surfing … choose what works for you.)
  • Book air flights and transportation yourself. Most often I do not book through third party sites due to the frustration I have with them in needing any changes. However, I do watch for lower prices for travel on “off days”, other discount options, senior specials and would rather have flights with appropriate layover time and the seat I want than simply a cheap air fare price. Transportation within a country is usually on local trains, buses and taxis or I have walked or bicycled various cities to get around. (I carry one backpack to easily maneuver steps to and from places. Rolling bags and more luggage have their disadvantages at times. Keep it simple.)
  • Learning some basic phrases to communicate beyond a smile and hand gestures does help, even from someone like me who finds foreign languages difficult. When in local markets or stores is the best time to discover any special events that are happening. Often evening performances are held at parks or cathedrals and I learn about it from locals.
  • Travelers may cut this cost; however, I buy travel insurance to protect against cancellations, theft, etc and travel health insurance that insures for emergency evacuation for medical and disaster assistance. (Fortunately I was not traveling when the pandemic began, but I was glad to know if I was I had an option for assistance.)
  • There are so many tour companies around the world offering wonderful experiences at various prices. I have been on some tours that will remain memorable and it is possible to include some of your own plans before and/or after those tours. Before the tour it allows you also to recover from jet lag and get a sense of the new area. After the tour, you have gained a comfort with the local customs, food, or know of some places you wish to spend more time wandering about. Do it!
Man wood carving and using his feet to do so.
Revisit him and watch him create!

There you have it or at least how I approach my travel planning. The bottomline is make your plan work for you. Combine your plan with others or an organized tour, if that is what you want. Splurge where you want! It’s your trip to enjoy and at a price tag you are comfortable with so you can travel some more. Your next trip you may want to include that camel ride!

Shadow of people riding camels.
Travel on!