Thursday, August 26, 2010


    One of the highlights of our Southern Africa trip was our stay at Kirkman's Kamp in the Sabie-Sands private game reserves next to Kruger National Park in northern South Africa. This place is a 5 star camp with nice cabins and great dinners every night. The service was high end, 5 star all the way. We took 6 game drives during that stay. The Kamp always assigned us to the same Landrover driver and tracker for each game drive. So we became well acquainted and friendly during our stay there. Ralph was our ranger in charge and driver. He was a local Shagaan tribe member and was very knowledgeable about the local animals and plants and just nature in general. It was great fun seeing all the animals close up and I have literally hundreds of great animal photos from this trip, but my intention is not to put those photos on this post right now. Instead I want to stick with my topic title above and describe one game drive in which Ralph expressed his knowledge about animal scat. We were traveling with a couple from Toronto who were naive about these game drives but just in general funny and jocular. Ralph decided to educate us about rhino scat. Apparently rhinoceros species often defecate at the same place again and again perhaps marking their territory. But sometimes both black and white rhino will use the same area and feel the need to mark on top of the others' markings. Ralph asked us if we wanted to hear his lecture on shitology. We laughed and of course said, Yes.  Ralph got off the Landrover and picked up some of the scat, broke it apart and explained to us the difference between the two species of rhino and how we can tell the species apart by their shit. We had got to laughing so much that we couldn't keep a straight face with this teaching episode. We named Ralph, "Professor of Shitology".
     But hidden in this laughable recitation by Ralph was actual true naturalistic information. The white rhino eats grass. It has a very wide mouth. In fact that is where its name came from, a misunderstanding. It was called the wide mouthed rhino which was misunderstood to be "white rhino". Hence its name.

 The mouth is broad and is shaped to break off grass in a grazing motion. A naturalist can look at the droppings of a white rhino and see the left over grass stems in it. The droppings are also lighter color when it dries due to the flakiness created by the grass blades. On the other hand, the black rhino has a narrow mouth because it browses shrubs and bushes as our deer do so its scat is totally different. The droppings are more homogeneous in consistency and are darker colored. Since the black rhino is much more aggressive than the white, this scatological identification in a rhino marking pile might actually be of use. So if you are ever hiking near rhinoceros, remember this caveat about the nature of their scat.

More photos of Ralph and our fun time together at Kirkman's Kamp: Below,  Our dinner in the boma.

                                          Ralph holding forth at dinner in the boma, Kirkman's Kamp
 I recently read the book, The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas in which she describes something that our local white tailed deer do that I knew nothing about before reading her book. Apparently deer have glands on the back of their ankles which secrete a strong scent. They are called the tarsal glands. When male deer wish to mark their territory, they rub their ankles together to distribute this scent on their feet and ankles and then they crouch with their back legs forward and urinate on their ankle to distribute this scent in that locale. The author also cited a naturalist friend of hers that could distinguish the scat of the leopard frog and the other frogs as well as between the spruce grouse, and at least two other species of grouse. And she notes that these shit piles are pretty similar.

     I have a book titled What Bird Did That? A driver's guide to some common birds of North America by Peter Hansard/Buton Silver, TenSpeed Press, 1991. This book is a tongue in cheek analysis of common bird's droppings on the windshield of your car or when they defecate from the sky on a hard surface. Strangely enough you can actually identify the bird species by these splats, though color and consistency can be altered by their diet. Still they eat typical things at certain times of the year and therefore the splays on the windshield are typical. This book is no doubt tongue in cheek as evidenced by the Dedication reprinted below:
     "This book is dedicated to the memory of Arnold McLay, undoubtedly one of the world's most brilliant and dedicated collectors of ornithological dejecta.
     "Arnold passed away in August 1986 while attempting to bring to our headquarters a rare triple splay of the Wryneck, which he had managed to collect on his windshield, some two hundred miles away in Dunbar. Unfortunately, the splay had almost completely obscured his vision and in order to see properly, Arnold was forced to drive with his head protruding form the driver's window. Tragically, he was only five miles from his destination when the combined effects of exhaustion and excitement caused him to misjudge the proximity of an oncoming truck and trailer.
     "His decapitation, however, was not in vain. Arnold's windshield and its remarkable splay miraculously survived the collision. It is, thankfully, preserved to this very day in the executive boardroom of the Birmingham Ornithological Dejecta Society.
     "In keeping with Arnold McLay's unswerving devotion to the preservation and study of splays, a commemorative plaque underneath the windshield simply reads: "The Last Great Splay of Arnold McLay"
     "These words and that windshield are an inspiration to us all."
And yet when we get to the end of the Introduction we are tempted to see seriousness to the topic and the description of the splays of various birds. Indeed, according to the authors in 1988 New Zealand devoted two official postage stamps to a picture of two rare birds and their typical windshield splays. The authors claim that the purpose of this stamp issue was to determine if there were other areas in the country where these two rare birds were living. The authors claim that indeed within 6 months of the issuing of these stamps,  three new colonies of the kaka, one of these rare birds, were put under protection. Of course, there were no such stamps issued and this is made up. But the authors had me going, enough so that as a stamp collector I did search the Internet and even a catalog of New Zealand stamps to find these "interesting stamp issues." References are made to various "Dejecta Societies" and I was hooked in to looking up some of these "societies" to see if they really existed. A very funny book which is responsible for several belly shaking laughs.
       I hope you have enjoyed this report on scatological nature. Hopefully it didn't put you to sleep like the next photo, but rather made you alert and feeling satisfied like the second photo below.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Non-golfer's view of PGA Tournament, Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisc.

     Wisconsin is in general very proud of our hosting of the yearly PGA Golf Tournament, at the Whistling Straits Golf Course, along Lake Michigan, in Kohler, Wisconsin. The sports commentators couldn't say enough about the beauty of the scene and the course and about what a magnificent achievement by Herb Kohler and Peter Dye who created this course. Some of these holes carved into the bluff and dunes along Lake Michigan look remarkably close to the posters and artwork that I have had framed for my golfing son to hang on his wall, showing tees and greens carved into cliffs and islands surrounded by open ocean.
     My husband and I received two free tickets for one of the days of the tournament from American Express since we have an American Express credit card. Since my husband will generally try to take advantage of free offers and since he is a sports fan, he determined that we should attend and we signed up for the tickets. Neither of us golf and I am not a particular fan of golf tournaments on TV, but my husband, I think, appreciates the sports abilities of the fine golfers. Even as a non-golfer, I was curious about this course since it is notorious around here. Unfortunately the week of the tournament and specifically the day that we had signed up to go was one of the hottest and most humid of the very hot summer we are all enduring in Wisconsin. I was not looking forward to suffering out there in the sun. We went prepared with an umbrella, a folding cane with a seat on it, sunscreen, water, wet handkerchiefs to put around our neck and every little thing that I could think of that might keep us comfortable. We were also prepared to leave shortly after arriving if the heat was too unbearable. Well, first of all the start of the day's play was delayed by 3 hours on Thursday due to fog coming in off the lake. So initially sun exposure was not a problem. As that time wore on, we discovered that taking a seat high in the bleacher gallery allowed us to receive the benefit of a wonderful cool breeze off the lake. We moved from bleachers to bleachers until we picked a spot high in the bleachers on the 18th green, from which we could also see the tee off on Hole 10 behind us and the ending of the 9th hole to our right. The heat was really not too bad here at all. And we were able to enjoy the day pretty well. Attendance this one day allowed me to appreciate the course characteristics better and I became interested in the TV coverage of the rest of the tournament.
     I was keeping track of the play on TV on Sunday as the tournament drew to a close. I was watching when Dustin Johnson combined shots to participate in the chance to win the tournament in a playoff, and then received the news that he had broken the rules, and grounded his club before hitting his 2nd to last shot. My first reaction was typical. In sympathy to this player, I thought the ruling was unfair, and that the whole handling of the situation spoke badly for Wisconsin and the local running of this tournament in our state. How could they claim this area of exposed dirt was a bunker? It was way past the tape bounding play and keeping the gallery off the play area. It was underneath a crowd of a thousand people and the photos showed it had been trampled, stomped on and even driven over as evidenced by tire tracks in the dirt. It looked like an area of sandy dirt and the golf course had been constructed on sandy dirt. Many of the hills and valleys of this course were so sandy that they would not even grow a ground cover.  People in the gallery were obscuring any evidence of a lip or any other signs that this was constructed as a golf hazard. It appeared that the rules people had just come up with an obscure rule that they pulled out to maybe justify their existence. And it made the whole management of this golf tournament in our state look like a fiasco even if the course was beautiful and wonderful.
     But then more facts on the other side come out. The PGA rules committee had debated exactly this possibility before the tournament and had known that such a possibility was likely to arrise on a course with over 1200 bunkers, many of them out of the main lines of play. To attempt to handle this issue, the rules committee put the number one rule on the printed rules as this rule applying to sand hazards on this course. They state that due to this nature of the course, the hazard rules which include not grounding the club would apply to even non play area sandy areas and these areas would be considered sand hazards, not "waste" areas. Some people say these waste areas out of play should not be considered hazards. But then how do you decide which 700 are constructed sand hazards and which 300 are waste areas and how do you mark them. That possible solution seems untenable to any reasonable person. So the rules committee did the best they could.  Copies of these rules had not only been distributed to players and caddies, but had been mounted on the mirror in the locker room and even behind the door of the toilet stalls. Not only that, similar questions had come up in Johnson's group on the 14th and 16th holes. And earlier in the play on the 18th, Johnson had asked a rules person questions about hazards, and the rules person had been near this site asking Johnson if he needed anything in order to play this shot. Johnson merely asked the rules officials to clear the people somewhat so he could play the ball. Some people say the rules person should have reminded him that this was a sand hazard but the rules person had to respond to other players on the remainder of the hole also. It was not his responsibility to remind players of the rules. All of the amateur golfers I spoke to about after this fiasco, said the rules people had no choice but to make the ruling they made. Of course, we feel sorry for Johnson and the whole thing appears unfair and tragic. Knowing this course, there may be future such issues, but I don't know what more could have been done to prevent this problem. Except maybe as one writer about the issue said: paraphrased quote: "In the future Johnson will no doubt pay more attention to the rules and to the lie of his ball, and Whistling Straits will probably fill its thousand bunkers with neon orange sand."
     There is an moral to the story somewhere, I think. Life is unfair. We must pay attention to the rules. But mostly it applies to Johnson's reaction to this devastating blow. He reacted with a calm demeanor and total class.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Recently Read: "The Hidden Life of Deer" by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

     I found this book in the new non fiction section at Weyenberg Library in Mequon, WI. I hate the deer; they are so very, very destructive on my property. I have always called them gigantic rats  because of their pest status.  But I decided I might be interested in reading this book. Maybe it would help me keep them away from my treasured shrubs, perennials and annuals. But when I began to read this book, my feelings changed somewhat. I had no idea these animals had so much of a social structure. Nor did I appreciate how much they knew about their environment, climate, and each other, and how much they communicated with each other about that knowledge. I learned they communicate with scent, with body language, and with their raised white tail among other methods, but none of these methods are vocal, of course. I learned about their family groups with daughters staying with their mothers for several generations and there possibly even being a grandmother leading this family group. I also learned that the young males gather in small groups as well, often with an older experienced buck from whom the younger males learn. The older buck does not purposely teach them; in fact he protects himself and lets the younger go first if there might be danger. But the young males do learn just by hanging out with the patriarch.
     The author is very dedicated to conservation and to the protection of the animals on her property even down to the flies that take refuge in her barn turned into her office, and to the mice and rats that take refuge in her buildings. After her most active mousing cat leaves her home, she has to resort to some pest removal of some of these rats with poison and experiences terrible guilt as the poison spreads to other animals through the rat carcuses. One year when the oaks failed to produce acorns, she went against the Department of Nautral Resources recommendations of her home state, New Hampshire, and began to feed corn to the deer and by default to a large local flock of turkeys. She spends a lot of time justifying this and countering her justifications with the reasons against it offered by the local experts. In the end, one tends to lean toward the author's feeding decisions even though I still get very put out at these large mammals when they eat my flowers.   

      I enjoyed reading this book and indeed developed a new respect for an animal that I had felt was very dumb. Deer are not dumb nor are the turkeys that the author writes so much about. Now I just have to figure out how to outsmart this ungulate species so that I can coexist without so much frustration. One method is to plant primarily flowers and shrubs that the deer do not usually eat. Following are some pictures that show some of those plantings. Some of the flowers that both the deer and I enjoy will need to be fought for with sprays and barriers and other methods of keeping the deer away. And after reading this book, I now know why nothing that I do lasts for very long. I used to say that the deer got used to a certain spray and learned to eat around it. Now I know indeed that this animal, much smarter than I had appreciated, does indeed learn to outsmart me. The ungulates have survived for millions of years. We are probably a relatively new species on this planet compared to their ancestors. 
The wild bergamot and the white and purple coneflowers in this sunrise picture are not the deer's favorite and grow in borders around my property. Likewise below are daffodils and bleeding heart, also usually ignored by the various mammals around our property.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

House Guests: Israeli and American culture mix.

     Last week my husband and I had an Israeli couple as house guests for the whole week. The man and my husband go way back -- to infancy in Israel. Hubbie was the first born child to Kibbutz Avuca in Pardes Hannah, Israel, in 1936. This kibbutz had been formed by new immigrants to Israel from several shtetls in then Bessarabia in Eastern Europe (now the independent country of Moldova), most people originating in Kalarash and a few members from Dombroven. These young adults had been bitten by the Zionist movement in the 1930s and joined the youth movement Gordonia to learn agriculture in a camp funded by the Jewish Agency before their emigration to Israel. This group of people were very close and established the socialist community known as a kibbutz in about 1934. They received land near Pardes Hannah, Israel and worked that land. They did not have a completely set off village as most kibbutzim with more money did. So in the beginning, they often occupied living space outside of the kibbutz owned buildings. But the children were tended in a nursery as was typical of the time. The firstborn child, my husband, became the child of the whole kibbutz. He was adored and doted, and probably spoiled. But within 2 years there were 7 children and our house guest last week was the 7th child. He is the furthest on the left lower corner of bottom photo, and my husband is the child next to him.
     Unlike my husband,  Ami (name changed) stayed in Israel. He served in the military and was teaching the use of grenades when one went off and severely injured him, causing loss of hearing, and loss of some vision, and multiple shrapnel wounds requiring several surgeries. He later became a lawyer and then a judge in Israel. He is now partially retired. His wife was a nurse. Ami met her while undergoing all of his reconstructive surgical procedures. My husband had not been in touch with him for some time but he came to visit my mother in law when she was aging and entering into an assisted living arrangement in Israel. My husband ran into him on that visit and renewed acquaintances. Recently an acquaintance was renewed before our trip back to Moldova as Ami has a cousin still living in Kalarash. We learned that Ami and his wife were coming to visit another cousin in Minneapolis and asked them to come visit us as well.

     We showed them some of American culture which was entirely new to them, of course. We were happy to show them at least America as it is represented in our little Midwestern sliver of the wider scene. The first day my husband took them to the state capital in Madison, and up on Bascom Hill. They saw where my husband and I met and where we used to live on State Street, and just in general got an impression of the city often voted into the top 10 of the most pleasant to live in the United States.

     The second day we took them down to Chicago, went up on the Willis Tower, visited Navy Pier for lunch, and drove around to view the lovely Lake Michigan waterfront of the Windy City.  We returned to Milwaukee and a surprise for Ami and his wife, The Israeli Tzofim (Scouts) Youth Group is traveling around the US for 2 months and were performing in Bayshore Town Square. We stopped there on the return from Chicago and witnessed a very entertaining song and dance show. And confirming the Small World Theory, one of the 10 young people was a friend of Ami's grandson. They got to visit together after the program.
     The next day included attendance at my husband's annual retirement picnic and a visit to the Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes. The following day we took them to a Brewer Baseball game against the Houston Astros and explained in detail the rules of a game that is totally foreign to Israelis. A stop on the way home at Kopp's for their famous hamburgers and ice cream demonstrated the Milwaukee institution that Doc Severson used to visit every time he was in town conducting the Milwaukee Pops Symphony. (He always used to ask the audience from the conductor's podium, "Does anyone know today's ice cream flavor at Kopp's?" and the audience would fill him in.)
     The last day with us, we dropped them off at the Milwaukee Public Museum to see the butterflies, the dinosaur exhibits, the Streets of Old Milwaukee, and European Village exhibits and an IMAX show on the oceans. Mixed in between all these activities were lengthy discussions in Hebrew about life in Israel, life here in the United States, and the differences and similarities of the two cultures. I improved my Hebrew a little bit again by hearing so much of the language. These two spoke English but of course it is easier for my husband to explain things to them in Hebrew. Although Hubbie admits that now he has an immigrant's English which he regards as less than perfect and a Hebrew that is horribly outdated. This living ancient language has had to modernize to accommodate modern technological society and many new words are unrecognized by my husband. 

     We were together for a week and there was only one brief period of contention. This occurred when we were at Kopp's. We had taken them to several restaurants for dinner. The ordering process was always a bit tedious and lengthy, because, very reasonably, they really wanted to know what they were going to eat and to make a very personal choice from the menu, while my husband tended to want to choose for them because he felt he knew what would be best. One of the recurring discussions revolved around how to order the steak. Israelis always order steak well done, and grilled steaks can not be well done or the outside of the steak is like shoe leather. We always tried to get them to modify this order and at least say, medium well, tending toward medium. But it was difficult. Many times they just ordered fish. But the night of the Kopp's visit, my husband wanted to demonstrate an American hamburger done as only Kopp's can do them. Also anyone familiar with a busy Kopp's knows that when you step up to the grill counter to order, you have to be ready to go and spit out your desires rapidly because there is a line of people with similar desires behind you. This is not the time to be discussing the menu or changing your mind. After my husband had ordered everything, the guest wife decided she wanted the chicken instead of a hamburger, so the clerk had to change the order on the computer and then Ami began to think again about what on the menu list overhead he wanted. My husband, as he will admit sometimes happens, .... he lost it and raised his voice and told them he wanted them to try the hamburger and that was that. I stepped in and quietly told the clerk to change one hamburger to chicken and then ordered the sides and the drinks. Everyone was a little subdued after that public argument, but we survived and no one held a grudge. It should be noted that this disagreement was more than the usual Israeli disagreement. I learned long ago shortly after I got married that Israeli discussions often look like arguments to someone who is not accustomed to the heated repartee that occurs in this somewhat hot-headed Mediterranean country. We had lots of discussions like that during our guests stay, but that is different. This public disagreement was not in that category. It was a definite strong chastisement by my husband and made everyone uncomfortable for a while.
     Still it was a pleasant week. We enjoyed showing off our home. We enjoyed showing off what Milwaukee and Wisconsin has to offer. Looking back on the visit, it is interesting to contrast our two cultures. My husband of course is now as American as they come, loving football, the NBA, and even golf tournaments, but I must remind myself of his origins. And I must remind myself about how different and yet how much the same all we human beings are.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Year of Biodiversity

     Did you know that the United Nations has declared 2010 The International Year of Biodiversity? According to a short National Geographic article in the May issue, Pp 30-35, Paul Hebert, University of Guelphe in Ontario, spent 5 year in the 1970s barcoding moths and butterflies from New Gunea. Overwhelmed by the 2,000 different species he moved to water fleas where there are only 200 species known. These barcodes are made by coding for the 600 spots on the CO1 gene which codes for ATP, a necessary enzyme in virtually all multicellular lifeforms on this world. Those 600 spots will be occupied by one of 4 different DNA bases. These barcodes are different among all creatures almost universally. This allows every multicellular creature on earth to have a different barcode. Researchers around the world are now attempting to barcode 500,000 species, out of the 1.7 million already named species from around the world. The plan is to have all these 1.7 million species barcoded by the year 2025. There is some controversy with this goal, some scientists feeling we should be working on identifying and naming more species that are unknown at this time. Some scientists, however, think that barcoding will become readily accessible and that DNA readers may allow even non scientists to barcode species that they have in their own backyard, producing more information about known pest species and possibly identifying those unknowns more quickly.

     I would like to have a similar barcoder for people. Wouldn't it  be cool to barcode that person down the bar from you to determine what species he is. Is he an introvert or an extrovert; is she outgoing or shy; are those two honest citizens or are they criminals (or in today's current events) Russian spies? Will that person be my friend or my enemy? Barcoding could certainly help us in these relations.
     Today we have literally thousands of dragonflies flitting around our backyard near Lake Michigan.  I did some research and identified
these large 3 inch green and purple dragonflies as the common green darner. These harmless but impressive dragonflies have a life cycle much like the monarch butterfly. The adults migrate south in the fall. The adults winter over in the south and then start a new line of offspring which slowly work their way north until a generation reproduces in our area. So these adults are no doubt starting their migration. We welcome them for the mosquitoes they are eating as they fly about our backyard.
Female green darner dragonfly

Yellow swallowtail butterfly

Bumble Bee

Monday, August 2, 2010

Is there anyone out there?

     Sometimes I am writing these blogs and laboring on them to some extent to think of nice subjects from my life, to polish the English grammar and edit them to make them concise, then to seek a nice photo to illustrate my story---and I begin to wonder --- Is anyone reading these things that I write? I do have the flag counter on my site and that helps some to see if anyone is looking. But I still wonder what people think? I had read some people's blogs in the past and noted all the comments, some of them negative and kind of cocky. I didn't think I wanted to get into negative give and take like I had seen on some websites. I debated at that time whether to even allow unsolicited comments. I did get a couple comments in the beginning but low and behold those were from family members. Since those initial couple, I have not had any more volunteers. I needn't have worried so! I have entered my blog into blog catalog and applied to Technorati to provide my blog when these sites are searched. I even recently paid the $5 that Blogcatalog charges to feature my blog for a day. I have put some other "gadget" sidebars on my site that are supposed to increase the traffic but have not noticed any benefit. I think the flag counter has so far done the most to improve traffic. Also I can tell that regular posts makes a difference.  My readership goes up slightly after I have made a new post. I recently decided to include a photo in my profile after long not having one, again to try to appeal to a larger readership.  Blogcatalog recently suggested that the "follower" gadget be right up at the top and that I call your attention to the follower site and ask you all to become followers of my blog. You realize that you can be either a private follower and not have your name listed on the list of followers at the right or you can be a public follower and be listed. You can choose to have your email notified when I post something new. Otherwise signing up as a follower does not require anything else from you. But it certainly indicates to me that indeed someone is out there. Also, though I expressed my fear about negative comments above, I am a big girl and I can take it. I would appreciate any comments on the topic, my writing, or my opinions and  I will try to answer them.

Read it up, become a follower on the gadget to the right and comment away! Your feedback is appreciated. Sincerely, RenRae.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Laughter, good for your health!

     There have not been a lot of studies but there are some that suggest that laughter might have some health benefits. The problem is that studies on this subject are difficult to do to provide complete reliability. Even if laughing people enjoy better health or feel better or more happy, deal better with disease, etc, it is difficult to tell whether it is the laughter that has this benefit or whether these are just people who deal more cheerfully with life's challenges, or have a more positive attitude. Also since laughter usually occurs while with other people, it is difficult to attribute benefit only to the laughter, when it might be the presence of a strong support group that really provides the better health.
     However there are some baseline studies that seem to indicate benefit.
     Studies have shown that we raise pulse slightly and blood pressure and stretch muscles, and breath faster with laughter, sending more oxygen to our tissues. Laughter is like a short and mild workout but granted it would take a lot of laughter to approach the workout we get when we exercise aerobicly.
     Another study has shown that blood vessels contract and expand normally when the person is laughing while watching tense drama restrict blood flow. Some studies suggest that the ability to use humor might raise infection fighting antibodies in the body and increase immune cells that produce antibodies. Another study showed that a group of 19 people who watched a tedious lecture after eating had higher blood sugars than when the same group watched a comedy after eating the same meal.
     Sounds like there could be some benefit, and we all know that we feel better when or after laughing.

Bacon in the Makin