Galapagone

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‘Adoring Ecuador — in spite of spooky caiman, scary towers and claustrophobic lava tubes.’

Yes, we made it. To the Amazonian jungle, the Andean peaks and the Galapagos Islands. There was plenty of excitement, though perhaps the most hair-raising bit was American Airlines cancelling our 6AM flight at midnight the night before.

That’s our lodge in the distance. Yes, it’s accessible only by water

We spent the first ten days in a remote lodge in the middle of the jungle, where swimming was allowed only in a caged area since there were caiman and piranha and sea otters roaming the waters. (Tempted to swim? I was most decidedly not.)

Lucy, the caiman who lives under the breakfast pavilion at Sacha Lodge

Though I did indulge in some tower climbing. For those unfamiliar with jungle birding (which may be most of you), towers and walkways suspended high above the jungle are pretty much a necessary evil, since the canopy is where the cool birds hang out. And with some tree heights well over 100 feet, there’s really no way to see, say, a paradise tanager without taking the plunge (hah) and hightailing it up a tower.

Me, after shimmying up one of the two canopy towers

There were seven of us participating on this jungle adventure, five of whom went on to the Galapagos. After more than a week of muddy-trail-and-scary-tower togetherness, we’d formed a pretty tight bond. I’ve often said that these birding trips are like jury duty. You show up when and where you’re told; you eat together, talk together, pay attention to authority figures. And the Galapagos trip was almost literally like a jury since there were 13 of us (12 jurors and an alternate).

Our Galapagos Group. There was no one who was The One. Unless it was me, of course

Usually on these trips there is a participant who is The One. He/she is maybe a little too loud or too whiny or who has some other personality trait that’s, well, annoying. Like, there was a woman on a Panama trip who insisted on being called “Raven,” though she had a perfectly good normal name (Rebecca, I think it was.) I responded to this request by “mistakenly” referring to her as Sparrow.

No sparrows, but plenty of iguana. So many that you had to be careful where you stepped

And then there was the famous instance of the vegan on the East Africa Tour. In those days it was pretty tough to provide for a vegan in the wilds of Africa while traveling from lodge to lodge every day. Every time we unpacked our tasty lunches, we’d look to see what nasty surprise Jodi would find in her box labelled “Vegan” (or sometimes just “V”). The funniest was the day she found her box filled with a hand of bananas — and nothing else. Well, nothing else but the giant tarantula nestled inside. And then, on our last night together, Jodi, like the rest of us, ordered a pizza. “You’re having pizza?” inquired our baffled guide Terry. “I thought you were vegan.” “Oh, I was just trying out being a vegan on this trip, just to see if I liked it.” she replied, as Terry’s face grew red and his head spun around on his neck.

Decidedly non-vegan lunch on board the Nemo III, our floating Galapagos home

We had a vegan on this tour too. But he was very nice. And got to eat a lot of avocados.

Dude Man makes a couple of new Galapagan friends. I don’t think they’re vegan either

Suffice it to say that the Galapagos Islands themselves lived up to all the Bucket List hype. I will have more than enough material for several more blog posts. (Oh, and remind me to tell you all about when we almost drove off a cliff up in the Andes.) But before I sign off today, let me tell you about the Lava Tube.

The Galapagos. We got to visit ten of the islands. Only three of them had any people living there

This is pretty self-explanatory. The Galapagos being volcanic in nature, there are lots of big ole “tubes” where lava once flowed. We had just finished a rather lovely lunch (no hands of bananas with clinging tarantulas) at the tortoise preserve when Willy, our guide, suggested a post-prandial stroll — through a nearby Lava Tube. “How long is it?” someone asked. “About two football fields. Silence. Asked for a show of hands, only Dude Man raised his. Then one other guy raised his. It was only after one other woman raised her hand that I figured “what the hell,” and raised mine too.

Another new Dude Man buddy

Our intrepid little band set out. There were many steep stairs to the entrance, but the beginning wasn’t too bad. There was even lighting. But, as we forged on, the tube got narrower — and shorter. Until, at one point, we had to sort of “limbo” our way under a rock outcropping. Here I was, scrunched up under a ten-foot span of cooled-off lava that was 3 feet from floor to ceiling. Literally a once in a lifetime experience.

Trying not to think about Tom Sawyer while in the Lava Tube

Whew. More adventures next week. Now I really need to get back to Barbara Pym. 

Thinking longingly about English villages and vicars

Amagansett, New York. August 2022

 

The Dude shares a bird-day

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‘Felicitations to a newly-minted 70-year-old, his cousin — and some future purple martins’

Last Thursday Dude Man celebrated a Very Big Birthday — his seventieth. (Gosh, that birthday is not only big, it’s really hard to type.)

Oh. If any of you are shocked — shocked, I say! — at my “outing” my husband’s age in this public way, let me assure you that I’ve already outed myself. I turned big ole scary 70 last November — and boldly and unabashedly wrote about it too. See my story “Skirting the Issue” for proof. (And fun party details.) See also “Doing the Math” for how one’s attitude changes upon reaching this hoary landmark.

 

Me, celebrating 70 in style — and with a heck of a lot of veuve

But enough about my birthday. We’re here to celebrate Dude Man and his 70 trips around the sun. Speaking of the sun, he happens to own a gizmo called a “sun scope” which he sets out on the second-floor deck and commandeers all and sundry to come up and squint through. Yes, you can see the sun. Okay, fine. But somehow I don’t quite get it.

The sun scope wasn’t a present. No, we’ve reached the stage in our relationship where we pretty much get what we want on our own. (Like that, um, sun scope.) Though I did get a request from The Dude. He wants a nice notebook in which to record the antics of his gift from Mother Nature — a flock of martins.

Dude Man’s martin house. There are martins in there. Finally. And yes, that’s the ocean in the background. I mean, what martin wouldn’t want to live here?

It was about fifteen years ago when The Dude got his martin house. And every year he’s cleaned it and doctored it (more gourds, fewer gourds, higher gourds) and watched over it. He’s opened the little doors, closed the little doors, mounted some of the gourds on the roof. Last year he played a loop of martin songs on an old iPhone that he rigged to a tree. (Incidentally, you can see the martin house over The Child’s shoulder in the photo at the top of this post.)

Nothing. For fifteen looooong years.

Then, this year two showed up. Then three, then four. They chased away some wren interlopers and kicked out a pair of flycatchers who’d settled in, eradicating their nesting materials with contemptuous tosses of their beaks.

And, on Dude Man’s birthday, this happened:

Martin eggs. Yes, you can lower the whole martin rig and open little doors on the gourds to look inside. The martins don’t mind. At least I hope not

Even more exciting (for me anyway) somebody else besides martins flew in. Last Sunday I got a call. Child: “Hey, what are you doing for Dad’s birthday?” Me: “I offered him a party, but he said no way. So we’re going to Smith & Wollensky.” “Really? Would it be okay if we came? It’s a Big Birthday.” “Of course you can come. He’d love that!”

News spreads of The Child and Hub joining us. But no, that bird is not a martin

Now, Her Childness lives in Flagstaff, Arizona — which is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump away. Which is why I hadn’t bothered to mention this dinner to her. But guess what? She booked herself and the SIL on a flight that got in the afternoon of the dinner. And when that flight was cancelled, they drove to Tuscon to catch a flight that would get them there.

“But what about the cousin?” you may well be asking.

Here’s the cousin (in back) sharing a snake — instead of a cake — with Young Dude (in front)

This cousin — a Whitmore; no doubt he puts his hands on his hips Backwards-style — has a birthday a couple of days after Dude Man, so we often get together in Amagansett to commiserate (er, celebrate.) And this year was no exception.

The other end of the birthday table, featuring Dude and SIL — and Carvel cake

So. Birds flew in. Kids flew in. And a cousin was the icing on the cake. Happy Birthday times were had by all!

Amagansett, New York. June 2022

 

 

 

“Okay. You know where the jail is, right?”

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‘Lost in America’

What is it with men and asking for directions?

Dude Man and I can be circling the same golf course for the third time, listening to GPS Girl intone “recalculating” over and over — but will he stop, roll down the window and ask that nice gas station guy how to get to 98th Avenue?

If you are a woman and know any men, I bet you can answer that question.

Me, looking surprised at something on a Cape May trip. Maybe a man just asked for directions

The above incident actually happened when we were driving our rental from PDX to my Favorite Sister’s house in Vancouver WA. Apparently, that golf course obliterated a former road that had been programmed into the GPS, and GPS Girl had us driving in circles trying to find it. Oh, and what is it with GPS Girl’s voice? (We were once in the car with The Child, who asked, “Why is she telling you to ‘drive to higher ground?'” GPS Girl was actually saying “drive to highlighted route.”)

Anyway. I thought of GPS Girl and the golf course just the other day when we were on our way to Cape May for our annual birding excursion. This is when we team up with a bunch of friends to trail around the woods and fields to catch the annual spring migration — of both birds and birders.

Doing a little car birding on the way to Cape May

This trip we scored many sightings, including indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers, bald eagles and a batch of Belgians who attached themselves to us for a while, delighting us with their excitement over even our la-di-dah birds. “Oh! Eeet eez a cardinal, n’est-ce-pas? Oooo-la-la!!!” said the Tall Belgian. “That eez a lifer for me!”

Our group is advanced upon by a gaggle of Cape May birders

But before we could find the birds and the Belgians, we first had to make it out of the City. Which is surprisingly hard to do, even at 5:30 in the morning. Part of why it is hard is because Dude Man insists on competing with GPS Girl. She will suggest a route, and he will say something like, “She wants us to go crosstown. I think it’ll be faster taking the Drive.” (The Drive is actually the FDR Drive, a road that loops all around the tip of lower Manhattan.) It is much longer to go via the Drive, but “there won’t be any lights.” Oh. Okay. Whatever. You’re driving, not me.

The blue dot is where we live. We were on our way to the Holland Tunnel, which is where that ’78’ is. Would you loop around the tip of Manhattan? Or drive crosstown then down? Hmmm

So we drive east to ultimately go west, zooming down the Drive. Which was actually very beautiful and movie-set-like, what with views of the Brooklyn Bridge and all. But somehow, instead of the Holland Tunnel, we ended up entering the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. (Naughty, naughty, GPS Girl.) Which not only goes to Brooklyn, but is really really long. There was a moment when Dude Man seriously considered pulling a U-ie. But I pointed out that not only were there were giant trucks whizzing by between us and the return route but a rather high concrete barrier.

So we drove through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which, at 9,117 feet, is the longest continuous underwater vehicular tunnel in North America. Dude Man’s ears were spouting steam. Then, when we emerged, we had no idea how to find the entrance to the Manhattan-bound side. I saw a police car and insisted we stop and ask for directions. This time he did not argue. The nice policewoman told us to turn left at the next two stop signs, then take the ramp. But did Dude Man do this? Of course not. He drove to the next stop light instead, before finally giving in and following the route she suggested.

Being a woman, I have absolutely no problem asking for directions. (My mother, pictured at the top of the post piloting my Dad’s green truck, doesn’t either.) Once — and this was waaay before GPS Girl or any type of navigational tool except maps — I was driving a gaggle of girlfriends out to Amagansett for the weekend. We were having a high old time in the car catching up and telling stories, and I missed the Manorville exit. I figured no problem, I’d just go to the end of the LIE and drive from Riverhead. Easy-peasy.

If I saw this woman on the road, I’d ask her for directions

Except that Riverhead has this roundabout where the LIE ends, and I took the wrong “spoke,” as it were. I ended up in a rather sketchy neighborhood, and it was getting dark to boot. I really wanted out of there. So I pulled up to a woman who looked somewhat the worse for wear — but not too scary — rolled down my window and asked, “How do I get to Route 27?”

Then she starts her directions by saying, “Okay. You know where the jail is, right?”

New York City. May 2022

Guys and their Gear

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‘They can never have too much’

I was once in the back seat of our beloved ’98 Toyota 4Runner (our new car; our old car is a ’91 Honda) eavesdropping on a conversation about GoreTex.

I did not join in. Partly because I’m not that into GoreTex, but mainly because I wanted to see just how long two guys — The Dude and his Best Friend Jim (pictured at the top of this post garbed in almost-identical gear) — could actually talk about GoreTex.

All that GoreTex Talk, and guess who forgot to bring any on our Texas birding trip? (See “Along the Rio Grande with the Birder Patrol” for more makeshift gear hilarity)

Well. It turned out to be a long time indeed. The GoreTex Chat lasted the entire Montauk Stretch — which meant at least half an hour, actually more like 40 minutes. Discussed were the different varieties of GoreTex; the structure and quality of the little bitty holes that make up GoreTex; various garments one can buy made of GoreTex (GoreTex pants: smart or sweaty?); which manufacturers give the best GoreTex bang for the buck.

And so on and on and on.

Not only can guys talk about gear — boy, can they collect it.

Me with new Girl Gear. i.e., a thoughtful birthday gift accessory

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the power of accessories. (See “Accessories After the Fact” for that scoop.) Well, gear is to men what accessories are to women.

Is this gear fusion? Or confusion?

If a woman has a dozen pairs of shoes, a man has a dozen camera lenses. And/or binoculars. Goggles. Those vests with zillions of pockets.

Nope, dear SIL. It’s called “gear”

Think she has a lot of handbags? There aren’t enough fingers or toes on a troop of Boy Scouts to tally up all his camera bags and backpacks — not to mention daypacks and fanny packs and belt packs. Oh, and all those straps and holsters and slings with clips to carry all the gear that won’t fit in the pockets or packs.

If boys have their toys, then men most definitely have their gear.

But that’s okay. I’d rather have a gear-collecting guy than one who is into, well, accessories. I once had a boyfriend who sorted his closet by color. But that’s a story for another time.

Helmet, check. Wicking biking shirt, check. Pants? Most certainly not organized by color. Here they’re not even worn

Let me close by pointing out that it is very easy to make a gear-collecting guy happy on Christmas or his birthday. No, not by “gifting” him some gear — you’d never know which camera widget or spotting scope thingie he wants or needs. No, you just declare that his most recently-purchased piece of gear was your gift to him. Bingo.

New York City. April 2022

 

 

 

 

I was positive I was negative

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‘But my Covid test said, “Not so fast.”‘

Was it the hairpin turns at 13,000 feet? The overturned tractor-trailer along the road to Buga? Or the super-sized snake being mobbed by birds?

Perhaps I should have appealed to Mary instead of taking her picture. (Note snake with an apple in its mouth at her feet not being mobbed by birds)

Nope. The scariest part of our trip to Colombia was when I got the results of my Covid test:

See, a negative Covid test is one of the many requirements to regain entry to the United States if you have been anywhere outside its borders, not just Colombia. And, yup. This triple-vaccinated person — along with two more of our group — tested positive. Continue reading

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Buga

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‘A quick birdy peep at Colombia’

No, I didn’t pack The Skirt for our trip to Colombia. In fact, I packed hardly any clothes at all. Not that I was being racy. Oh no. It’s just that the priority for the bags was gear.

Binoculars, of course. But also backpacks and daypacks and water bottles and camera bags and headlamps and bird guides and carabiners. Many many carabiners.

Birder Dude festooned with some of his gear, utilizing many many carabiners

For those of you not familiar with this amazingly versatile device, a carabiner is a thingie that pinches open and shut and can be used to hang practically anything from anywhere. We use carabiners to hang a walking stick from a pack or a flashlight from a belt or — just yesterday — a coffee cup from a pant loop. (This coffee cup happened to be red plastic and proved to be a big hit with the hummingbirds, who kept buzzing my backside thinking I was a source of tasty nectar.)

Where the heck is he? Birders patiently stalking a skulking bird. Some sort of Ant Bird, I think. I honestly can’t recall — we’ve already seen more than 200

Forgive me in advance, oh Delightful Faithful Readers, but I am now working within a very narrow window of shared WiFi service and am not be able to populate this post with my usual array of photos. Let’s see if this movie will upload. It was taken along the roadside leaving Buga for the Andean slopes. Busy road? Who cares? Birders gotta bird. Continue reading

The time crickets ate The Dude’s shoes

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‘”Eat or be eaten,” or so they say.’

So last time I told you about how We Whitmores were recruited to help save some purple martins from starvation. The martins were huddled in their gourd condos out at SoFo (the South Fork Natural History Museum, founded by Idiosyncratic Family Friend Andy), having been caught in an unseasonable cold snap during which their regular flying-insect food supply was grounded.

We rescued them by tossing crickets into the air — crickets which had been bought in bulk from a pet supply place. Overheard: “Do we have more crickets coming in?” “Yes, 1500 are due tomorrow.”

 

(At which point I’m picturing chirping boxes being unloaded by a quizzical UPS guy — or maybe just crickets, 1500 strong, marching en masse up to SoFo’s front door and volunteering for duty.)

Anyway. Martin Man, who directed our feeding efforts, would put a big ole Teddy Grahams container full of crickets into a freezer for seven minutes to stun them, after which we would throw them into the air (Martin Man used a slingshot) where the hungry martins would chomp them (you could actually hear their birdie jaws snapping) mid-swoop.

One weakened female got her crickets via cute kid and tweezers

Now, in case you’re feeling sorry for those crickets being eaten, let me share a story about how they’re not all that, well, innocent.

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Nesting Instinct

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‘At long last, bicoastal birdies come home to roost’

It had been 599 days since I had last hugged my Mom. And, gosh-darn it, I wasn’t going to let another momless, hugless day go by. I zoomed one last time — in an airplane instead of on a screen — and got myself out to Vancouver, Washington, where my Mom was settling into her new nest.

Mom shows off her nest, including her new Smart TV

The newly-hitched Child dragged herself away from her (sounds so weird to say it) husband to join us. And, bless her, she handled everything: Air bnb, car rental, the works. Once we got there, she even did an InstaCart. All I had to do was be where she said to be at the time she said to be there.

One of many beautiful trees adorning the grounds at Mom’s place. Anybody know what it is?

Our visit did not disappoint. In addition to multiple sessions of much-anticipated hugging, it was packed with Scrabble (I managed to win a game!), Cubs games, gabfests and even some Corner Gas (Canada’s answer to Seinfeld).

It was lovely enough for a walk along the Columbia River

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Tough act to follow

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‘What could possibly beat this?’

One of my best Bridge Buddies (hi, Laurie!) says she always reads my blog (thanks, Laurie!) but that she can tell when I’m, well, at a loss for words. I won’t mention specific posts, but if you, like Laurie, follow me regularly, you probably have your “favorites.”

Who wouldn’t be at a loss for words? (Well, except the Bridegroom, I trust)

Last week this happened because The Child had just wed The Beau in a quickie ceremony to satisfy the immigration authorities. (See “Runaway Bride” for cinematic photos and storybook details.) I sat there at my laptop wracking my brain, then gave in and wrote about the wedding. I could literally think of nothing else.

How could I possibly think of anything else? This is my brain on “wedding”

This week it’s because that story got kajillions of views and likes and comments. I’m thinking, “What can I write about now that could possibly capture your interest, O Faithful Readers?”

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Once upon a time, I thought underwear was redundant

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‘I still don’t trust any enterprise requiring a bra.’

Apologies for being so late with my story this week. My morning was consumed by getting my second Covid-19 vaccination at good ole “Jabits” Center.

Me, this morning in line to be jabbed. No coffee yet, which might explain my masked — and hooded — look

It went a lot smoother than the first time, since I knew where to go and all — and I wasn’t quivering from First Timer Anxiety. (Speaking of the First Time, you may wish to revisit “My Morning at Jabits Center.” Or not.)

There were oh-so-many more people there for shots today. So it was a good thing there were plenty of kind, polite and younger-than-springtime National Guardspersons to guide us, quite literally, through the ropes.

Many people, many lines. Nope — it’s not coach class checkin at JFK — it’s the vaccination line at Javits Center

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