July 9, 2018.
We're still hangin' in there.
Life ain't bad.
|Travels With Linda||
The Zephyr at the museum is Number 9900, the first one built, and it has been fully restored both inside and out. It was delivered in the spring of 1934 – 84 years ago – by the Budd Company of Philadelphia to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad. It immediately captured the country's imagination with its sleek, streamlined appearance. In fact, fifty thousand visitors showed up to tour the train during a CB&Q open house shortly after it was delivered.
Everything about this train was different. It was stainless-steel, not painted. The cars were long and sleek, not dumpy and dark green. And there was no steam engine, but rather a stainless-steel, diesel-powered locomotive that was as smooth and shiny as the rest of the train. The Zephyr was a beautiful thing by any measure.
The long, low stainless-steel railcars were like none ever seen before, as different from the passenger railcars of the day as your flat screen TV is from a 1950s black and white model. The cars did not even have their own wheel sets or trucks. These railcars were articulated with connecting cars sharing a set of wheels. With the carbodies so closely coupled, the train looked to be a single entity rather than a string of individual cars. It looked like... well, like a silver streak.
A very nice young lady from the museum arranged for me to get in an hour early to take some photos before the museum opened. She also had the train's interior opened for me even though it is currently closed to the public as they are redesigning their interior exhibit.
The Zephyr is located in a long narrow hall constructed exclusively for the train during a museum renovation in the late 1990s. It is three stories below ground level; the train was lowered into place by cranes, and the building closed over it. The long, narrow hall made it awkward to take pictures, and I was limited to few angles of the exterior of the train along with just a few interior shots. Nevertheless, it was a thrill for me.
Allow me to take you on a tour of the three carbodies that make up this train, moving from front-to-back with a few photos and some brief descriptions. Please enjoy this short visit with the Silver Streak, which the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry calls “the train that would reinvent travel and design.”
Now that you have seen this special train from front to back, inside and out, let's complete your visit to the past. Imagine it is 1934 and you are lucky enough to be one of the 86 passengers on the Zephyr for its record speed run from Denver to Chicago. You settle back in a plush seat that is about 6-inches wider than today's airline seat and watch the countryside zip by and see the crowds gathered on hillsides and at crossings to watch the Zephyr race past. It takes just 13 hours for the trip. The Burlington’s other passenger trains — all steam powered — typically needed 25 hours to cover the same route. You are in Chicago almost before you know it. You feel as though you just experienced a new era of travel. And you did.
Today we are again in a completely different era – airplanes, Interstates and automobiles. But even with today's Interstate highways the Zephyr would have beat you to Chicago by 2 hours – even more if you stop for gas and bathroom breaks. And if you stay off the Interstates (after all, this was a land of 2-lane highways in 1934), then your no-stops drive will have you arrive more than 7 hours after the Zephyr.
The Zephyr-class trains sped across the rails for more than twenty-five years even after newer designs became the standard. Eventually, inevitably, airplanes and cars took over travel in the United States, and passenger trains essentially went away. Sic transit gloria.
We hope you enjoyed your time on the Pioneer Zephyr. Thanks for joining us for the train ride!
One Fast Train
This is as good a picture as I could get of this plaque attached to the side of the Zephyr. It cites its speed records which were set almost immediately after the train was delivered to the CB&Q. Below is the text of the plaque.
THE FIRST STREAMLINE TRAIN IN AMERICA IN REGULAR SERVICE
MAY 26 1934 • NON-STOP RUN DENVER TO CHICAGO
1015.4 MILES IN 13 HOURS 5 MINUTES
AVERAGE SPEED 77.6 • MAXIMUM SPEED 112.5 MILES AN HOUR
JULY 3 1934 • NEAR OTIS COLORADO 10 MILES AT AVERAGE SPEED 107.25 MILES AN HOUR
NOVEMBER 11 1934 • BEGAN DAILY SERVICE
BETWEEN LINCOLN • OMAHA AND KANSAS CITY
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
The opening lines of Carl Sandburg's Chicago
This year's road trip not only took us to Missouri to see the twins for their second birthday, but it lead us to an excursion to Chicago for a four day weekend. We went to Chicago not in motorhome, but by rail. We just thought it might be fun to do, travel by train. And it was fun to do. But it was also painfully obvious that the Golden Age of Rail is from long ago and far away.
We had a great time in the City of the Big Shoulders – who doesn't like Sandburg's wonderful poem? We went to a museum; we went on a boat tour; we ate at a real restaurant; we overpaid real money for real small ice cream cones. We did it all. We even did Hamilton. Well, we didn't actually see the show (not at $400 per), but we did stay in the hotel that is over top of the theater where Hamilton is playing. That's pretty good.
Anyway, here are some highlights from a boat tour of the Chicago River and an evening's stroll about the streets.
Up to the Rooftops
While in Chicago we took an architectural boat tour of the city, cruising the Chicago River with our heads tilted up listening to our tour guide. Chicago is a lovely city, and it was a delightful tour. When it was over we left the boat with both a new appreciation for these tall buildings and slightly sore necks.
The photos here are representative of what we saw on the tour. I did not label them because, honestly, I can't remember the names of many of them. That's okay because while some have recognizable names such as Wrigley Building or Sears Tower (although actually the Willis Tower these days), most just have some sort of generic label such as 100 South or some other banality.
So without names or labels to worry about, take a trip through town on the Chicago River and enjoy looking up at some of the city's skyline and the tops of some of the more iconic buildings and architectural wonders. I promise you won't get a crick in your neck. Just rest your cursor on the photo and slideshow will begin. Enjoy!
What's better than a block party on Saturday night in May? Millenium Park is the gathering place for the community of the Loop area of the city, and on weekends it seems to be one, big, giant block party. Everyone is there. Everyone. This was especially true over the Memorial Day weekend when temperatures were setting record highs and the cool waters of the waterfall towers and reflecting pool were calling.
The Art on the Sidewalks
Like most large cities, Chicago celebrates art, not only in its museums, but with sculptures and mosaics and murals outside, in its parks, and along the streets and avenues for everyone to enjoy.
Many pieces of art are on the streets, in front of buildings, not in a park or other special place. Picasso, Miro, Chagall, Calder, and Dubuffet. Works by these artists, along with those in Millennium Park were all within a short walk of our hotel. Here are some photos of the wonderful stuff I saw on my evening's stroll.
The Cloud Gate sculpture, better known to all as the "Chicago Bean" is a public sculpture by British artist Sir Anish Kapoor. While not on a sidewalk (it is a bit big for that), as the centerpiece of the Plaza at Millennium Park it is art for everyone to experience and enjoy; to gather at; to walk under; to touch and feel. And the Bean's shiny stainless-steel surface reflects a wonderful and unique view of the Chicago skyline.
Cows on Parade
This bronze cow commermorates the Cows on Parade project started in Chicago in 1999 when local artists were asked to paint and decorate fiberglass cow statues. Then the cows were displayed about the city for several months. After the exhibition was over, the cows were auctioned off, and the money was donated to charity.
Since the first Cows on Parade, cities the world over have raised charity money by having artists paint fiberglass cows or other objects. I recall the Bush Library in College Station used steam locomotives.
The Picasso and Miro's Chicago
The Four Seasons
This mosaic, The Four Seasons, by Marc Chagall wraps around all four sides of this rectangular box. It is 70 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 14 feet high and made up of an untold number of pieces of glass and tile. I would love to go back sometime and try to photograph the entire piece in panorama showing all four sides as a single long strip. This piece was a short two blocks from our hotel.
Flamingo and Monument with Standing Beast
Everything in this little mini tour was within 10 blocks of our hotel. Obviously we didn't even begin to scratch the surface of the wonderful things to see and visit. Chicago. It sure is a neat place to visit. By nature, I am not a fan of being in a city, but I could go back to Chicago.
“It’s been happening everywhere,
I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.”
17 year old student from Santa Fe High School.
Read the quote again. Waiting for a school shooting is becoming the norm for our youth. Can you think of anything sadder? I don't think I can.
So, yes, it has all happened once again. The 16th school shooting this year – that's more than three shootings per month.
Three months ago – February 14 – seventeen were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Today it was ten killed in Santa Fe, Texas, a mere 31 miles from our house.
So all the rhetoric and posturing will now repeat itself.
The president will issue a statement offering sympathy to all and expressing his concern for these continuing tragedies. He will say this is all very sad and everyone will be in his thoughts and prayers. And then he will do nothing,
All the politicians will issue their statements as they have done for the past 20 years. They will all use the same words and phrases to tell us that the victims will be in their thoughts and prayers. Texas Senator Cornyn has already done so. And then they will do nothing. And nothing will change.
And there will be the intransigents. Those who will think anything, say anything, do anything so they don't have to face reality. Certainly the NRA. But others also. Consider the Texas Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick, who, while having everyone in his thought and prayers, has already said that the problem is that schools have too many entrances and exits. So maybe we can solve this whole school massacre thing by bricking up doors.
Summer is near, and school will soon be out. There will be a hiatus. But next fall another school year will begin. And no one will have done anything. And nothing will have changed. And it will all repeat itself – again.
Everyone will be in my thoughts and prayers.
Here we are in Missouri on the first leg of a spring tour. We're here to visit with the twins and celebrate their second birthday.
Jack and Tom have really grown over the past eight months since we last saw them. They are "blowin' and goin'" action guys who don't stop until they absolutely crater. What fun they are!
Three cheers for FaceTime, that magical thing that allows folks to have long-distance face-to-face conversations. When we last saw the twins they were less than 18 months old. Yet with the FaceTime visits we had throughout the year, they recognized us immediately when we arrived at the house. Wow! How great is that?
Of course one of the first orders of business was to don a new pair of Aggie tee-shirts of a size appropriate for a two-year old. Tom – Mr. Cool – goes nowhere without his shades.
This birthday photo was taken Thursday, May 3 at the daycare center the boys attend. The crowns stayed on their heads all day, and on through dinner with MeeMaw and Pop-Pop. And Tom was still wearing his two days later.
Two is an important age for these guys. This is when they have their car seats turned around to face forward. No more looking where they have been. No more looking at the seat back. No more cramped legs. So, new tees and looking out the front of the car. Life is surely good.
On Saturday there was a little birthday party at the house with a wonderful cake, MeeMaw and Pop-Pop, visitors, a friend, and bubbles – lots of bubbles. It was a fine day.
Mother's Day at Missouri Botanical Garden
Jeremy and April treated Linda to a day at the Missouri Botanical Garden for Mother's Day. And the twins did the same for April. The six of us had a wonderful time at these beautiful grounds which rank at the top of anybody's list of America's great gardens.
This is the Linnean House, the oldest continuously operated public greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. The left side – the northern half – of the building has a number of varieties of Camellia trees. The right side has been restored to its original use as an "orangery," with pots of different tropical and citrus plants that stay in the building until late spring and are then moved outdoors.
Walking all over a big old garden takes a bit out of you, especially when you are carrying your new big guy water bottle. So once in a while it feels good to take a quick respite on a bench. Walking or sitting, the twins were looking good with their hats and shades. Many thanks to Adolph Williams and his family for providing us with a bench just where we needed one.
Mother's Day is a busy time at the Botanical Garden. The entire 79 acres was just about as active as was this little garden of iris varieties. If you look at the far right of the photo, you will see a little patch of red. That's Tom's red shorts as he stands with his mom and dad. Jack is heading up the path.
Our day ended not too long after our rest at the bench. The plan was to have lunch at the cafe on the grounds, but it was Mother's Day and it seems most of St. Louis' mothers were visiting the garden and having lunch there. So we decided to head back to the house and enjoy some tasty sandwiches from Jimmy John's. It had been a busy morning and the boys were asleep almost immediately after getting in the car – even with their new forward-facing car seats.
Linda and Don Ride the MetroLink
Linda and I took a day to go down town. Linda had a few things to check on, and she thought it would be fun to try the public transportation to go into the city – do not ask me why. So off we went to the nearest station to hop aboard the MetroLink.
Remember the old trolleys and commuter trains? When I grew up the trolleys had big old leather seats and the trainman would flip the backs when the trolley reversed direction so you would always ride facing forward. Commuter trains were much the same except I remember them with fuzzy upholstery that was always full of dust. Dusty, but comfortable.
On the MetroLink you sit on molded fiberglass seats. Each seat has a 1/4 inch thick fabric pad – definitely a flat pad, not a cushion. And the seat backs do not flip. You ride facing forward going into the city and facing backward returning from the city. And coming or going, the seats are anything but comfortable. Modern transportation.
Anyway, after our downtown stop, we decided to take the train all the way to the Laclede's Landing Station at the Mississippi River. The station is inside the brick approach of the Eads Bridge. This is one of the earliest long bridges across the Mississippi and is a national landmark. While there I looked out through one of the brick arches and found I was looking right at the Gateway Arch.
The brick arch framing the monument made for a really neat photo-op, but I didn't have my camera. Linda reminded me I had my iPhone. Duh! So I took this shot with the iPhone and then did all the processing in the phone as well. Amazing. Who cares if no one ever calls me?
Hermann... as in German
It was a great day for a drive, and so we headed off to Hermann, Missouri, a German town dating back to the 1830's. Hermann was started by the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia. The group wanted to find a place where they could live in a self-sustaining community without their culture being absorbed. They chose 11,000 acres along the Missouri River.
Today Hermann is a tourist town and a hub for the Missouri wine trade. It's a small town with a population that has been around 2,500 for the past 70 years. Along with their wineries, museums, and old brick buildings, the town can also boast of its hills. You are just not going to go anyplace in Hermann without going up and down hills.
I was hoping the photo would show the town, but the trees are in full foliage, so you mostly see a lot of green. The steeple in the distance is a large United Church of Christ, and the gold dome is the top of the Gasconade County Courthouse. Beyond them is the Missouri River.
The Missouri River Runner is an Amtrak passenger train that runs between St. Louis and Kansas City with two round trips daily. The train makes a eight stops between the two cities, including Hermann. The River Runner happened to come into Hermann while we were down by the riverfront near the station. I managed to catch this shot as it pulled in.
We have just returned from Galveston. We were there for the FeatherFest, the island's annual birding festival. This is our third visit in the past four years – we were a bit out of commission last year.
This is the time of year the migrating birds stop on Galveston Island and the neighboring Bolivar Peninsula to rest and refuel after flying non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. Also, the year-round shore, marsh, and wading birds are in high color for breeding. With the opportunity to see birds of all sizes, shapes, and colors, how could we not go and enjoy? We could not; so we went and we enjoyed.
In other years we have packed up the motorhome and headed for the state park. But this year we rented a beach house as we had expected Linda's sister to be with us, and the RV is strictly for just two old folks. Alas, Sally ran into a minor roadblock and couldn't join us, but Linda kept the rental. I must admit it was very convenient for us. Like all homes on the island, it is built up in the air in case of flooding. But there was an elevator (yea!) which made things easier – especially with all the stuff my girl likes to pack.
The festival is a four day affair with many, many workshops and field trips. Typically Linda goes her way and I go mine, but we always schedule one field trip together. This year we went to them band birds with I.D. tags.
First Morning, Over 40 Species.
My first day was an unqualified success. My morning field trip was scheduled to begin at 8:00 which meant leaving the beach house by 7. Driving up the Seawall I looked out on the wonderful sunrise you see in the photo above. That sunrise was a good omen as Thursday was a totally successful day.
By the time our trip ended at lunch we had seen over 40 different birds, both residents and migrants. I did not get too many photos as a birding field trip is different from a photography field trip – we were just looking to see and identify as many different birds as possible.
Here are some photos of a few of the birds I did see. The Black-necked Stilts are a mated pair; the male is feeding and the female with a bit of brown on her back is in the front. The middle photo is a Greater Yellowlegs with the sun glistening on his wet bill, and on the right is a family of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks with their little black and yellow ducklings. The family of whistlers was a real treat as it was the first time I have seen the ducklings.
On the second row the brown bird with a tasty in its long bill is a White-faced Ibis, not rare but certainly not nearly as common as its white feathered cousin. To see this fellow with a catch in his mouth was special. The little bird in the middle is a Lesser Yellowlegs in breeding feathers. This photo was taken at a drainage pond, not at the beach. We were there to look for a Sora – ya gotta go where the birds are – and I have no idea why this yellowlegs chose the pond over the beach. Lastly the right-most photo shows the White-faced Ibis again, this time dropping in to visit a pair of Blue-winged Teals.
Remember to click on one of the photos to see them all full-sized.
Egrets, More Egrets, and Spoonbills
Thursday afternoon I was off to a rookery to see mating egrets and Roseate Spoonbills. You want birds? Here there are birds, thousands of birds. This is an almost unbelievable experience. There are truly thousands of Great and Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, and Cormorants all nesting on three small islands in a pond. The rookery is owned by the Houston Audubon Society which has constructed a number of observation platforms along one edge of the pond.
There are alligators in the pond which keep potential predators away from the nests. However the 'gators do expect some small return, and it is recommended that any bird drinking from the pond be well aware of what and who is nearby. Sometimes the alligators seem to become a bit proactive. Here you see a big old boy decide to climb onto the island and check things out. He reached the top of there hill, stayed for only a minute or two and then turned around went back to the water. I have no idea why he made this little trip.
In previous years of the festival the Great Egrets were in their full breeding glory. This year, however, the festival was held a week later in the month and many of the egrets were already losing their colors and plumage. On the other hand, there were far more chicks to see. The spoonbills were still pairing up so most of them were still displaying deep pink and red colors.
Great Egrets are second only to the Great Blue Heron in size among the heron family. They are typically 36 to 40 inches long with a wingspan of almost 5 feet.
They are patient hunters who wade in shallow water hunting for fish, frogs, and other small aquatics. They stand still and watch for prey to pass by and then spear their lunch with incredible quickness.
Coming In for Landing
Here is a sequence of photos of a Great Egret coming in for a landing at its nest in the treetops. There are other egrets about, including at least one chick, and also – for some reason – a cormorant. These photos were taken in burst mode at 1/2000th second shutter speed.
Snowy Egrets are smaller than their Great Egret cousins. They are easy to tell apart because the snowies have a black bill with yellow at its base and black legs with bright yellow feet (its golden slippers). When spring turns their fancies to romance, they grow some fancy feathers and then strut and jump about to display them – much like teenagers. Check out the two guys below.
Few birds are as fascinating to me as the Roseate Spoonbill. The bird is a visual enigma – lovely in flight but almost grotesque when seen close up. It flies with both its neck and its legs extended creating a long line that is further amplified by its long, broad bill. With its 4 foot wingspan and nice, easy wing rate, the spoonbill is really elegant in flight.
Things change when you see a spoonbill on the ground. It really is a goofy-looking, ugly bird. When up close you can see its bald, featherless, greenish-gray head, its silly orange tail, and, of course, that long spatulate bill. only its pink coloring is a saving grace. And during mating season some of that pink becomes very deep in color, almost red.
Spoonbills feed in shallow water, walking forward slowly while they swing their heads from side to side, sifting the bottom silt with their wide, flat bells. They like having buddies around and are often seen in groups, both while feeding and flying.
Scientists, conservationists, and other concerned folks keep track of what is happening to the bird population by banding them with little I.D. tags on their legs. Birds of all types and sizes. Little birds like hummingbirds and sparrows. Songbirds like warblers. Shore birds. Waders. Tough birds such as hawks. All sorts of birds get banded.
But who does it? And how in the heck do you put a band on a hummingbird's tiny leg? Outside of the town of Lake Jackson there is a bird conservancy that does just these things, and they let us visit and see how they band the birds. The conservancy depends on contributions and private funds. Its banders are all volunteer well-trained and dedicated master bird handlers.
Look at the picture at the right. Yes, that is a hummingbird being held in a large and incredibly gentle hand. That hand just reached in a sack and pulled out a bird, a tiny hummingbird.
The whole process starts with mist nets – fine mesh nets that birds fly into and become entangled. The birds are then picked off the nets one at a time and put into cloth sacks and taken to the banding station. Each bird is evaluated for its general health, weighed, and checked for fat content. Everything is carefully recorded in a ledger. Then a band is put on the bird's leg. And the bird is gently released.
Pelicans from on High
Here's an idea. Let's go up to the 26th floor of a swanky condominium, go out on the balcony and take some pictures of pelicans flying by at eye level. It's perfect. The condo is on the beach. The pelicans fly up and down the beach in squadrons every evening. It's going to be great!
It sounded great. It had to be great. So I signed up.
Friday evening arrived, and ten intrepid photographers gathered on the balcony of the 26th floor condominium. But the weather was not very April-like. It was rather chilly – I wore a winter jacket that Linda made me bring along – and the wind was over 20 mph. Pelicans do not like to fly in the wind. And when they do fly in the wind, they fly low to avoid the wind, real low.
So there we were. Ten photographers with ten cameras and ten long lenses on ten tripods just standing around talking while waiting for high flying pelicans which were never going to show. We enjoyed each other's company for about two hours and then we packed up and headed home.
We did see some pellies, but they were truly down low. Like these guys. This squadron is heading up the beach at about a second or third floor level which was far below our eye level. Here's my shot.
Low Down in the Sand
Here's another great idea. Let's lie in wet, soppy sand at 6:00 am and see the birds from down low. We'll be at eye level (again?) with the birds. It'll be fun.
So for my final outing of the of the festival I headed out very early on Sunday morning to do some "eye level" photography. For this outing eye level means getting down on your belly to get the camera down to the same height of the shore birds and waders. I have done this field trip twice before – so I should have known better – but this one was the messiest. There had been rain the night before and the tide had just gone out, so the sand was very soft and mushy and easy to sink into. When it was all over it took me over an hour to clean my camera gear. Sure it was messy, but it was also great fun.
We focused most of our time on a White-morph Reddish Egret which was feeding on the flats. The Reddish Egret is great fun to watch feed as it almost looks a bit drunk as you watch it. Rather than quietly hunting, it runs, jumps, spins, and flaps its wings in its quest of a tasty fish.
The white morph is just a standard Reddish Egret with no fashion sense. It is all white and looks like your everyday Great Egret, but it is not. And you know it as soon as you see them move. The Great Egret stands very still and waits patiently to strike with lightening speed. The Reddish Egret is proactive. It is peripatetic and almost hyperactive with all of its gyrations and staggers and leaps. The one below is using its wings to cast a shadow so it can more easily see beneath the water's surface.
Horses on the Beach
What's the deal with horses at a birding festival? Well, there are a lot of photography sessions at the festival, and this was a photography session. It was titled "Horses on the Beach at Sunrise." With a title like that how could I ignore it? I couldn't. So I signed up and went to take pictures of horses. On the beach. At sunrise.
A horse trailer arrived with two handsome horses, one cowboy and two cowgirls. They were probably just regular people, but cowboy and cowgirl just sounds better. As the sun was rising over the gulf, they rode the horses up and down the beach in front of our group of cameras. We kept messing with our camera settings hoping to get everything just right in that morning light that folks with cameras call the "golden hour."
I must have taken close to a million pictures. My primary method of photography is known as "spray and pray," and this was a great time for it as they just continued to ride up and back, giving me opportunities that were near endless.
It all sort of worked. I learned some more about light, and I got some pretty neat images. All in all, it was great fun, and I am happy I went to take pictures of horses. On the beach. At sunrise.
I finally have reached the end of this gosh-awful long post. If you have stayed with it all the way to here, thank you. Now just pretend the photo below is not a horse at sunrise but a cowgirl riding off into the sunset, and we will have the perfect ending to this whole thing.
Before you go, click here to see a photo of a momma egret with her chicks.
Galveston has been holding the Tall Ships Challenge, a festival of sailing ships the past few days, and on Thursday I drove down to see if I could get a photo or two during the ships' parade along the coastline. This is the first year they have held a Tall Ships Challenge on the Gulf of Mexico. Galveston, as home of the Elissa, is one of three Gulf Coast port cities hosting an event. The other two cities are Pensacola and New Orleans.
The Tall Ships Parade
The parade of ships down the coastline of the city is one of the highlight events of the festival. The Galveston Seawall was packed with folks waiting to see the marvelous vessels. Thursday was a dreary day with an overcast sky and relatively low visibility. Since several of the ships had to sail about one-half mile off shore to be in deep enough water, the combination of the distance and the visibility issues made photos a bit challenging during their parade.
The ships listed below are the ones in the photos. For one reason or another I did not get photos of the Picton Castle and the When and If.
A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I'm damned if I see how the helican!
– Dixon Lanier Merritt, 1910
The pelican is indeed wonderful – especially the Brown Pelican which has come back from the brink of extinction. The brown pelican was placed on the endangered species list in 1970, a victim of DDT which caused its eggs to have thin, delicate shells that could not survive incubation. In the early 1970s there were fewer than 100 of the birds on the Texas coast.
Today they are back! This photo shows only a portion of a large pod – in the air they are called a squadron – settled at the very eastern end of Galveston Island. There must have been several thousand birds here.
A few weeks ago we headed down the Texas coast to see the endangered whooping cranes which winter only at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. In the mid-1980s when we first went to see the cranes, there were only some 90 birds alive in the wild. Today there are nearly 400.
These are great birds. They stand 5 feet tall and have a wingspan of over 7 feet. They are the tallest birds in North America and fly with both their neck and legs extended. The whooping crane in flight is an absolutely magnificent sight.
The best way to see the cranes is to take a tour boat that goes up the Intracoastal Waterway and slips into the backwaters of the refuge's wetlands. The cranes feed on blue crabs and wade along water's edge grazing for them.
If you are lucky the boat will be able to get close to where the cranes are wading. If you are lucky. This year we were not so lucky. There were plenty of cranes to see, but, alas, they were always "over there," and over there was always a couple hundred yards away. As a result my photos are less than wonderful. Even with my longest lens the cranes did not fill the frame. But there are only some 400 of these elegant birds in the whole world, so I suppose any photo is special.
In the photos below the first two photos show a juvenile which has a rusty coloring on its head and tail. When born in the Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada last summer, the chicks were almost totally cinnamon or rusty in color. While two eggs are usual, typically only one chick survives. You can see the common family unit in the first photo in the gallery. By the time they arrive back in Canada in late spring the juveniles will have separated from their parents.
n.b. This is only the second time I have written this type of post on Travels With Linda. But it is something I had to write, and I would appreciate it if you would read it through. - Don
Originally I was going to open this post with a list. But it was long and boring and I would have lost you before I started. It was a list of schools. A list from Reuters that cataloged "some of the worst (italics mine) U.S. school shootings in the last 20 years." It was a literal roll call of 23 schools with shooting deaths. Twenty-three. More than one school per year.
This past week we had our latest mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It happened on Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday. It is the second "major shooting" – according to CNN there have already been 8 school shootings total – in 2018. The first was on January 23 at Marshall County High School where two students were killed and 14 others were injured. Marshall seems to have already faded in our memory.
Valentine's Day and Shootings
Once upon a time almost 90 years ago, seven members of the Chicago underworld were killed en masse by a rival gang. It was Prohibition and it was a turf war. We know it as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
Here we are, eighty-nine years later, with a new St. Valentine's Day Massacre. This time there are 17 dead. But in this massacre those killed were not gang members who knew the dangers of their world. No. Fourteen of the victims were children. Innocents. The other three were their teachers. And the killer was not some underworld tough guy. He was a 19 year old who was pissed at the world. I don't know why he was pissed. What I do know is that he had an AR-15 style assault rifle. At 19 years old he had an assault rifle with lots of ammunition. On Valentine's Day. At a school.
Are We Crazy?
What else I know is that the responses to this tragedy from our leadership in Washington focused on mental health and included no mention of guns or gun control. We have apparently passed a milestone, and it is no longer reasonable or even necessary to question our population's ready access to weaponry. It has become an absolute.
Perhaps our leaders are right. Perhaps it is a mental health issue. For what nation in its right mind would tolerate a status quo where its number of guns exceeds its population? That's right. According to GunPolicy.org the U.S. proudly leads the world with 101 guns for every 100 residents. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) puts our first-in-the-world figure at a more modest 88 guns for every 100 residents. But what does it matter? Either way it is sick.
Pizza and Lotteries
I don't want to bore you with statistics, so instead of guns just imagine a Domino's 8-slice pizza. The U.S. took 4 slices for itself and left 4 slices for the rest of the world. Way more than its share.
For gun-related deaths, let's use a lottery ticket. An American is three times as likely to have his or her ticket selected as anyone else. And each of us has 51 times the chance of being the ticket-holder as someone from the United Kingdom! And I suspect the lottery analogy is really not far from reality. Life does seem to be closer to a lottery than ever before.
Who Can Believe It?
Is it any wonder we have such a high rate of killings by gun? Does it surprise anyone that there is an absolute positive correlation between the number of guns in a country and the number of deaths in that country caused by guns? It shouldn't. We lead in guns owned and we lead in firearm-caused deaths. I know we like to lead the world, but this is not a category where we want to be first, or even in the top ten.
What is the answer? The popular answer these days seems to be to buy more guns; arm everyone. Stop those bad guys before they stop us. Stop them with your gun. There are even calls to arm our school teachers! The narrative goes this way, "This killing or that one would not have happened if you had a gun and stopped that guy."
Mental health problems? Yes, I would say so.
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TRAVELS WITH LINDA
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