Why are there haystacks in the middle of the Buffalo River?

(Ian admits the sound in the video above is terrible, but what I am saying is we are starting a 30-mile float trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas and the bridge behind me was underwater in the 1982 flood.)

The guidebook describes the Clabber Creek Shoal as the “wildest rapids of the lower river.”

That’s a lie.

It’s the wildest rapid on all 135 miles of the Buffalo River in Arkansas, from Ponca down to the White River. I know because after my third trip there recently, I have floated all those miles over all those rapids.

The book “Buffalo River Handbook” by Kenneth L. Smith, talks about Clabber Creek Shoal current going right, then left, don’t get swept into the right bank and don’t get swamped by the haystacks.

Haystacks? Odd thing to have in the river.

Since then I have learned that “haystack” waves are not like the riffles, wave trains and strainers and stags I had glided happily over or have avoided on previous trips on the Buffalo. Haystacks don’t move downstream as you do; they stay right there where some underwater rock – or rocks – put them.

I, in my ignorance and hubris, figured I’d have no problem. Even a 275-prop will come down if you aim your tackle low enough.

No problem avoiding the right bank. On to the haystack waves, bow first and over the top as I always once did. I got up and over one. Sloughed through another and looked into the base of a Cecil B. DeMille wave. Sometimes the prop runs over you, and the Red Sea wave wins no matter where you aim your attack.

It flicked my kayak over to the left, and I remembered two things as the kayak turned: Stay with the boat and don’t lose your paddle. Fortunately, all my belongings were well attached. Dry bags, water jugs and carabiners all held to my new shock cords. My hatch cover leaked some, but tent, sleeping bag, camp chairs and coats (a bit damp) all stayed aboard.

The only things dumped into the river were unattached: the map case, my Stanley coffee thermos and me.

I pulled myself up over the overturned boat with my paddle in hand and peeked over the hull to see my thermos headed for the goal line. Kicking for shore with two legs and one arm as down the river we went.

Ian, my partner, took his kayak to the left of the haystacks, stayed upright and then did things in the right order. First getting the map case, then the thermos and finally towing me and kayak the last few yards to shore.

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Mostly wet and checking my fogged binoculars. Photo by Ian Gunn

The underwater camera seems to be working fine, but looking through the binoculars (in the pocket of my life vest, which I was wearing) is like examining a one-celled animal swishing around on a fogged microscope slide.

Up until then, the trip had gone swimmingly. We launched at Dillard Ferry, upstream from Buffalo Point, and got to what we thought would be our first night’s camping spot at noon. So we decided to push on to the second night camp spot. We needed the rescued maps and Ian’s GPS to try to find it, and never did. But it’s hard to get lost when the river is pushing you downstream.

First camp
First night’s campsite.

We found a great campsite but unfortunately followed some awful campers. Fire still smoldering, cigarette butts everywhere, soap and other trash strewn around and the TP flowers nearby with their white and brown blossoms.

Rekindled the fire, dried out clothes in sun, cooked, ate, read and to bed in skivvies – although the long johns are nearby.

Also see “Clobbered at Clabber Creek

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Cruising by Painted Bluff. Photo by Ian Gunn.
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Not a haystack wave in sight. Photo by Ian Gunn.

 

Traveling in the land of long-sticked squeegee poles

Long stick

Traveling in the past couple weeks in the land of long poled squeegees where you can mop the suds off your truck windshield without standing on your tire or reaching through your opened front door. Out of the short-sticked cities like Seattle, Denver, Wichita, Omaha and Kansas City, and out into the Midwest countryside to visit Huntington, OR; Flagler, CO; Fall River, KS; Iola, KS; and Chadron, NE, in a two week drive to a float trip on the Buffalo River in northern Arkansas.

Flagler
Camping near Flagler, CO.

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”

Thank you, Walt, and I’m sure you would appreciate a trip across America to look at the country and “check on the crops,” as my parents and grandparents used to say before starting out on each evening’s drive.

From driveway to driveway clocked 4,047 miles across 13 states, listened to all my songs from “Nada de Nada” by Braho to Paul Robeson’s version of the “Song of the Volga Boatmen.” Became a fan of Michael Smerconish on Sirius Radio and wondered how long a stick Mark Levin was sitting on. That yelp, that nasty attitude.

Farmers just poking their heads out to prepare grounds for planting. Past fields of green wheat, corn stubble and one large field of uncut soybeans, perhaps not worth the harvest expense when penciled against the crop prices undercut by tariffs.

Fall River
Sunrise at Fall River State Park, KS.

Oil wells starting in Russell, KS, which led to the question: What are they pumping into? Never anything there that looks like it could hold as much as a 55-gallon barrel. Underground?

Also went against the advice of the President and took a big risk of cancer by driving through the wind turbines near Sylvan Grove, KS. But worth it to get out of southern Wyoming. Every land has something of value, something worth looking at, but southern Wyoming from Evanston to Cheyenne may come the closest to that know-nothing description used by transportation planners and realtors: “vacant land.” All I can say for this trip is that it wasn’t snowing and Interstate 80 was open.

But enough of criticism:

“Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.”

Because of a late rain on our river trip (more in a later post), I was on the road a day early for my return trip but not early enough to reach my favorite Indian casino in Sloan, IA, the WinnaVegas Casino Resort, before dark. (How can you see America in the dark?) A large casino in a large field where patrons the last time I was there were talking about harvesting corn while a short lady threw tens from arms that barely cleared the rail around the dice table. They bet hard tens, I stayed on the pass line.

MapsWithout the planned trip to WinnaVegas, that meant I could strike out anywhere on my path back to short-sticked Seattle. Getting out the maps, I noticed that U.S. Highway 24 goes all the way across the state of Kansas.

Route 24 was a big deal in my childhood and an even bigger one later when its expansion looked like it would go through our farmland. My bumper sticker showing a highway sign of Hwy. 24 with a prohibited mark over it perplexed many in Seattle. But that battle is over and done with, and there will be no remorse, no hard feelings here.

“They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,

None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.”

 Compared to one-lane rural roads in Northwest Ohio, 24 could handle barreling semis, brook no stop signs and travel on to Toledo in one direction and who knew where in the other. Turns out it may be the only thing that connects Toledo, OH, with Vail, CO. Hard to imagine someone in Vail building a road to Toledo. More likely the other way around.

“Don’t ride your bikes on 24,” my folks said.

“We drove on 24 in drivers’ training class today,” we said after scaring Mr. Bard half to death as we traveled further to getting our licenses.

So from Rossville, KS, to just past Menlo, KS, where I turned north to head into Nebraska, I drove on 24, a two-lane blacktop except where planners decided to take some vacant land from some farmer and add two more rows of concrete (Oops, I forgot. No more whimpering). With Mrs. Mabel Apple in the GPS forever telling me to turn left and get on Interstate 70, it was just like Mom saying, “Don’t ride on 24.”

But I did.

“Allons! the road is before us!

It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well—be not detain’d!”

(“Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman)

Route 24

New Seawolves faces, same results — a win

Lost

Lost 2
What it looks like when the lineout is lost: Ball overthrown and the Houston, in yellow, take it.

Some new names in the Seattle Seawolves professional rugby team’s starting lineup Sunday night, but the same results – another win.

This one against the Houston Sabercats, 27-14. at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, WA.

Scoring in the first half was limited to a penalty kick by Seawolves’ Brock Staller, and a try by Houston after they stole a Seattle lineout, won a scrum, scurried the ball out to the backs and Osea Kolinisan scored in the corner. Sam Windsor uncharacteristically missed the conversion kick but added a penalty later after Seattle failed to release a tackled player. The half ended 3-8 with Houston ahead.

Seattle stayed on the Houston side of the field in the first half but found every way in rugby to loose the ball, the momentum and scoring opportunities – offside penalties, lost lineouts, knock-ons, ball not thrown in straight in the lineout and giving up the ball in their own loose rucks.

A long run by Eric Duechle looked like it might overcome the scattered play as he broke through several tackles and flopped into the try zone, slamming the ball behind him. Looked like a try, but the referee called it a dribble – didn’t touch the ball down to score – and a Houston player picked up the ball and ran it out of trouble.

With six minutes gone in the second half, the Seawolves took the lead again on a maul off their own lineout when Jeremy Lenaerts touched down for five points. Staller converted for two more.

Then it looked like the kicks by Staller and Windsor would decide the game. Windsor slotted a penalty kick after Seattle was offside to lead 10-11. Minutes later, Staller put up three more points after Houston was offside – 13-11. Staller had two more penalty attempts but missed them.

After a Seattle player entered the loose ruck from the side, Windsor connected to put Houston up, 13-14.

And that was it for Houston as the Seawolves took over the last 10 minutes of the game. The forwards pushed the ball down to just short of the Houston try line before getting the ball out, spotting one well aimed pass and Sequoyah Burke-Combs got the ball down just inside the out-of-bounds pylon. Staller kicked the conversion from the corner.

Duechle made up for that dribble earlier, running beneath an up-and-under kick, gathering in a deflected catch and holding off tacklers before touching down. Staller’s kick was good for a 27-14 win.

Houston has only won one game, but for Seattle it has to feel good to win without some of their regular players. Phil Mack played for Canada Friday night against the USA national team at Starfire. J.P. Smith filled in well for him at scrum half. Kellen Gordon, Dan Trierweiler and John Hayden spelled Stephan Coetzee and Tim Metcher. Oli Kilifi, who had played Friday night for the USA Eagles, sat out until well into the second half. Ben Cima and Peter Tiberio shuffled the stand-off and fullback positions for missing Matt Turner, the usual fullback.

With four wins and two losses and 20 table points, the Seawolves are right behind the New Orleans Gold, who have only played five games to collect 21 points. Right behind Seattle is the Glendale, Colo., team with 20 table points and a 3-2-1 record.

The Seawolves are back at Starfire Stadium on March 31 against the San Diego Legion, who saw the Toronto Arrows score 24 points in the second half Sunday night to win 27-20.

Next Saturday, Seattle is at Austin, who have yet to win a game this season. The game will be on ROOTS-TV. Seawolves have a bye on the weekend of March 23-24.

Won

Won 2.jpg
When the lineout is won: Ball straight to jumper, then on to the scrum half.

Why aren’t U.S. national rugby games on TV?

The Friday night game between the United States and Canada’s national rugby teams had eight lead changes and four times during the match when the opponents were separated by one point before the U.S. Eagles ran in a last minute try to win 30-25.

It was, as a first-time rugby viewer said afterwards, a “great match.”

Which leads to this question: Right now I can go out in the TV room and watch Scotland host Wales; Italy versus England is next and the Vancouver Sevens prelims will be on later this afternoon. Six Nations coverage continues tomorrow with France at Ireland and the Major League Rugby is on with San Diego at Toronto and then Houston at Seattle’s home team, the Seawolves, at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila, another sellout.

So why wasn’t the great match between the U.S. Eagles and the Canadians on TV, cable or otherwise where I don’t have to pay premium boxing/wrestling/martial arts fees to watch? At least having it on TV would get it into the local newspaper’s TV listing to show that an international match is happening right here in River City.

Wasn’t ignored on KING-TV, who did a great article on the two Seattle Seawolves who played in last night’s game at Starfire:

https://www.king5.com/article/sports/seawolves-teammates-on-opposing-sides-of-championship-game/281-8dacf189-b5e1-4660-9638-c42af8a76b36

The Eagles have three more games over the summer in the Pacific Nation Cup before they head into the Rugby World Cup in Japan in September. Will those games be on TV?

 

Let’s stop the clock for penalty, conversion kicks in rugby

Too much kicking and not enough tackling left the United States national rugby team down 32-25 to the Uruguayan team Saturday night at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila.

Straight ahead running by the Uruguay backs had a lot to do with the South American team’s victory in the American Rugby Championship.

The U.S. Eagles kicked away possession and saw the Uruguayan back cutting through their defense. The only way the U.S. team could score was from mauls from their own lineouts with Joe Taufete’e, the hooker, scoring three tries.

Uruguay led 19-13 at half, put up another try early in the second half (24-13) before Taufete’s scored his third try (24-18).

One more try by the Uruguayan backs before the U.S. got untangled enough to run in a try (29-25). With a minute to go, Uruguay chose to take a penalty kick and frittered away the minute so that when the ball flew through the uprights the game was over, 32-25.

It might as well have been like taking a knee in slow football: The Uruguayan kicker got a drink of water from the trainer, lined up the ball, hesitated, hesitated and finally kicked it as the clock ran out.

My suggestion: Stop the clock for penalty kicks and conversions. The kickers take too long and burn up too many minutes.

Stop the clock when a try is scored and restart it after the conversion kick is taken.

Same with a penalty: When the team decides to kick for goal, stop the clock and restart it when the play resumes.

Why let the dawdling kicker run down minutes off the clock while he is waiting for the tee to be brought in, adjusting the ball on a tee as big as a traffic cone, scraping his feet on the turf, backing up, taking three steps to the side, grimacing or doing other facial contortions and finally approaching and putting foot to ball.

Let’s spend that time running, scrummaging, tackling, scoring tries and playing rugby.

More international rugby at Starfire Friday night at 7 when the U.S. Eagles take on the Canadian national team.

Conversations on a train to Chicago

CutbankI’m headed back home for two days of hunting and fixing my mother’s cars. I’ve worked as a mechanic, but now I’m in school in clinical engineering.

Which is?

Mostly I will be fixing medical equipment, which might pay more to support my collection of several vehicles and my BMW motorcycle.

You might do some work on some of the equipment that helps me get around, something that might help with what diabetes has done to my legs.

What kind of treatment are you getting? How long you had it?

I got it from being around something very Orange.

ShelbyBet I know where that happened.

You’re probably old enough to know about Agent Orange. Saw lots of it in you know where.

You fully eligible at VA?

I am.

Had a friend that could never get to be fully eligible for MS treatment even though he ate lunch sitting on top of Agent Orange barrels.

Gotta stay positive though. You know how to count in Spanish?

How?

What do you call four gringos in quicksand?

What?

El quatro cinco.

You heard about Sven and Ole and their great fishing spot, right?

Tell me.

It was so great that Sven told Ole they should mark it. So Ole leaned over and painted a big X on the back of the boat.

You stupid, that won’t work; what if we don’t get the same boat when we come back?

Hey, we better give up our table for the next bunch of diners.

Let me tell you this though, the best ride is from Chicago to San Francisco – great views in the daylight rather than passing through the Cascades at night.

Night all.

Malta

Great day, huh? Waking up in beautiful Montana, larch trees yellow, snow on the ground.

Where you from?

Austin, but our daughter works in Seattle.

And you?

Taught Spanish in Mexico.

You won’t think there’d be much need for Spanish teachers in Mexico.

Also in Guatemala, Alaska . . .

Williston

I’m a TV camerawoman and when I was hired in 1992, I was the third woman to hold that job in my city.

Me? I wanted to be a forester since I was five years old. We were bombed out in our German city, and I went to live with my grandparents in the country. I came to America because of a woman, and I’m still with her 50 years later.

She on the train?

No, she’s a military kid and doesn’t like to travel, but I just spent a week on a 50,000-acre ranch, hunting deer in Missouri Breaks and Bearpaw forest. I carried both a rifle and a camera and only shot with the camera. I did my forestry training in Germany and hunting was part of it there. Hunting makes me feel more connected to land, following the fauna and the flora.

You always travel by train?

Mostly. I like to see the land from the ground up – not at 50,000 feet. And you travel on trains much?

I do, said the camerawoman. I don’t like that you can’t pull over to the side of the road if something goes wrong on a plane.

Let me show you some of the photos I shot of the deer. They always stop at the top of a hill and look back at what scared them before going over the top. So I “shot” this one right at the perfect moment.

And here’s one that we followed for hours.

And this one.

And this one.

And this one.

Maybe we should give up our table,

Red Wing

Here’s my theory on questions: When you drive, you can see the road and you can ask about it. But if it weren’t for the road, you would not be driving. So if it weren’t for the universe, you would not be able to ask a question about the universe.

And where does that lead you?

To my own mysteries, which are:

Number 1: Why does God hate trailer parks?

Number 2: Why do you never see old limousines? Really, you ever see one? Where do they go?

And lastly, Number 3: What did pigeons do before there were cities?

WinonaDid you hear that Hillary Clinton said all black people look alike?

She said it was a joke.

Yeah, but she made it sound as if race doesn’t exist.

It doesn’t, according to the latest National Geographic.

You need to get better reading material.

ColumbusLike what?

I just read a book by Tucker Carlson, whom I admire.

Can’t agree with you on that. He always seems off the news, talking about things his audience of one would like to hear rather than Mueller, investigations, etc.

Hey, he’s telling the truth about the Trump administration – the good economy, the . .

He had a good economy when he came into office. And there’s more than the economy. He’s taking down the American culture, what it has come to represent over more than 200 years.

And he wants to get us into a war because he knows that the wartime presidents are more remembered and admired.

That’s baloney. All I can say is that when I go to bed each night, I say “Thank God for Donald Trump.”

He’s a crass, a racist, incompetent . .

I say thank God for Donald Trump for what he’s done, but you’re a liberal and you don’t want to talk about it. So good night.

Chicago

 

 

 

 

Seattle Seawolves hand New York its first loss

DSC_3688
Seattle Seawolves defense: Two on one and two more coming soon. George Barton tackling above and Shalom Suniula hangling onto a foot.

The Seattle Seawolves combined strong defense, speedy back play and accurate kicking to hand Rugby United New York its first defeat of the season, 33-21.

All scoring came from tries and conversions with no penalty kicks attempted in the game. The Seawolves scored five tries with Brock Staller converting all but one when his kick bounced off the left post. That may have been the only thing he did wrong all night.

He scored two of the Seawolves five tries including a 75-yard run after picking up an errant New York pass.

The Seawolves win scrambles the Major League Rugby standings with San Diego and New Orleans, the two teams New York has beaten, on top of the standings, and Seawolves coming in third behind the two teams they have lost to.

Eric Duechle started the scoring for Seattle, taking a pass off loose play and touching down in the corner seven minutes into the game that had been dominated by the Seawolves forwards.

Four minutes later, New York set up a dazzling double scissors that left Will Leonard scoring under the post. Cathal Marsh converted his first of three conversions.

New York took the lead seven minutes later when Ross Deacon scored from five yards out after peeling off a set scrum.

Seattle continued winning the ball, pushed to New York’s try line where Tim Metcher put one down for five more points. Then Apisai Naikatini pushed the ball back in a loose ruck, but scrum half Phil Mack’s pass to standoff Ben Cima bounced by him. But Shalom Suniula was there to pick it up and cut behind the loose. New York scrambled, but Suniula stretched out a hand to make the try.

Staller ran for his 75-yard try and the missed conversion one minute before the half ended, 26-14.

In the second half, the Seawolves either had the ball in hand or were putting steady pressure on New York. A well placed cross kick by Cima found winger Staller racing down the sideline to gather up the ball and score one more time.

New York finally broke through the Seawolves defense with 12 minutes left in the game and Mike Brown going in for the try.

The Seawolves forwards were dominant in loose play and in the set formations, with the reserves coming in as strong and well settled as those they replaced. Better control in the lineouts for the Seattle team with extra high lifting of the jumpers. Backs seemed peppier in this match with many exciting breakaways.

New York, now 2-1 in the league, head to Texas next week where they should have no trouble. Whatever happened to rugby in Texas? Between Houston and Austin, the Texas teams, have one win in eight tries.

The Seawolves are off the first weekend in March, but there will be plenty of rugby at Starfire Stadium in Tukwila as the United States national team will take on the Uruguay team on Saturday, March 2, at 7 p.m. Why isn’t that on TV?

On Friday night, March 8, at 7 p.m., Brock Staller, a Canadian national player, will be lining up with Canada in Starfire against the U.S. Eagles, which could include several Seattle Seawolves. Should be good, and why isn’t that game on TV?

Seawolves return to Starfire on March 10 against the Houston Sabercats, who have that one win in Texas.

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Ben Cima’s kicks got Seawolves out of trouble or set up scoring.

A professional rugby player fixed our plumbing

A professional rugby player came to my house today to fix our blocked sewer pipes.

A fine rugby player and a hard-working plumber – and thanks to Raymark Plumbing and Sewer for hiring so many Seattle Seawolves, who, let’s face it, can’t make much of a life on salaries from the Major League Rugby, now in its second year.

Perhaps this will be like Johnny Unitas working for Bethlehem Steel during the National Football League’s off-season back in the 1950s. Or, Lou Groza selling insurance. Jim Brown was a marketing rep for Pepsi-Cola, and Frank Ryan taught math at Case Western Reserve University (I was a Browns fan long before the Seahawks were a twinkle in anybody’s eye).

If others do what Raymark is doing to keep good players playing the game in the United States, it could be the start of something big for fans, the players and the league. And some day, soon we hope, the teams will be playing a salary players can live on.

Of course, my player-plumber never asked for advice from an old rugger, but that hardly stopped me.

Keep at it. You may not have studied chemistry and psychology in college to keep my pipes clear, but do this to keep playing rugby well and as long as you can. My teammates built concrete farm silos in the 1970s – thanks, Bruce — so we could play at the Ohio State University and for the Old White in Atlanta. Later, working the night shift on Saturday night left the day open for rugby.

Let others help you to play at the top level as long as you can because some day you will see the play but not get there in time to make it.

And some day, your damned teammates will start dying. First it was Tripp, whom Old Puget Sound Beach heard about while on tour in New Zealand and Fiji, where Tripp should have been instead of in some cancer ward dying.

And whatever happened to Simo, who would stick canned smoked oysters up his nose and pull them out and eat them at highly inappropriate times. And the Round Man, big smile, big girth and a deadly pass from scrum half.

You go to a team reunion and reminisce about the kicker that stared into the setting sun, goal post down there somewhere, and kicked a penalty that won the Heart of America tournament in Kansas City. “Oh, he died in a car accident some years ago,” we were told.

Johnny Mack shot in a bar he managed. Botz dared to be gross, and we thought he’d never die. But he did.

Then Don, who I had a bit of a shuffle once at practice. He was big, I was small and I’m sure he never thought once about it as he walked off the pitch and then painfully off the planet.

Even if you make enough money in rugby to live on, never take time off like Joey Galloway did in an NFL contract dispute. Did he think the prime time of his playing career would last forever? That he could waste year of it?

Just remember, there will come a time when you would rather play rugby than talk – or write – about it. Let Raymark and others help you out.

 

 

Galapagos Islands: wildlife galore, from sea to sky

Monday, October 1, 2018, to Friday, October 5, 2018 — Time to leave Quito, Ecuador, and our Alexander + Roberts guide, Maria, here competing against Sunday morning church bells in the main square. She has another group coming into Quito on Monday afternoon to do the same trip we have made in reverse – Ecuador first, then Peru.

We are leaving this land of volcanoes to a group of islands 645 miles off the coast of Ecuador, where we will spend the next five days. In 1959, Ecuador made the Galapagos Islands a national park, and it became a UNESCO site in 1996. The archipelago includes 19 islands; just five of them, where potable water was found, are inhabited by human beings. That’s about 3 percent of the land mass for humans and the rest national park, where about 95 percent of the natural wildlife is still intact.

BoatWe traveled around the islands aboard La Pinta, staffed with three naturalists, chefs who knew their way around the kitchen, a helpful crew to sail the boat and help us in and out of our wetsuits and the pangas (Zodiacs or small boats).

 

Five days of hiking, snorkeling and exploring the islands’ coastlines by boat. Hard to beat.

First stop was Santa Cruz Island, where we visited what seemed to me to be a tortoise farm. The tortugas, weighing as much as 500 pounds, are not in captivity and can leave through fences to seek food. But they come here for the guava fruit and grazing on grasses, leaves and bananas. Not carnivores.

Those that are hatched here are kept for five years until their shells are strong enough to be released by the park.

Turtle

Then from turtles to iguanas, seals and lots of birds. I’ve seen more variety in fish when snorkeling in Hawaii, but I’ve never swum with a seal before. Tried to get a picture with my underwater camera ($110 Nikon Cool Pix, highly recommended), but he took one look into my mask and took off while my finger was trying to find the shutter button.

Seal eyes open
Seals are much easier to photograph on land; it’s hard walking on flippers

The naturalists accompanied us on treks around the islands and also gave lectures each night, one on fishes, land iguanas (did not see) and my favorite, on penguins. There are about 17 kinds of penguins — more or less with some dispute on that — and all but one lives in the Southern Hemisphere. That one is the Galapagos penguin, which is close enough to the equator to drift into the Northern Hemisphere. The lecturer pointed out that the Galapagos Islands are the only place in the world with both penguins and flamingoes – except for Las Vegas, interjected Mimi, a witty member of our group.

Penguins
Galapagos penguins

Once Galapagos penguins numbered over 2,000 birds, but they are down to about 1,200. The biggest threat is El Nino, a weather condition where the ocean current pushes warm water east into the islands and the coast of South America. The penguins live on the west side of the islands because the underwater current churns up cold water with lots of food. The El Nino reverses that, causing the biggest drop in penguin population. Other threats include:

  • Pollution from lead and cadmium, which may come from underwater volcanic sources rather than human contamination;
  • Fishing when birds are tangled in nets or caught as by-catch (unintended);
  • Tourism, overpopulation by the 100,000 who visit each year;
  • Predators — feral dogs and rats are the worst. Goats used to pick the islands clean, but they have been mostly eliminated in a park eradication program;
  • Diseases brought by migratory birds.

Besides the island of Santa Cruz, we visited the islands of Bartolome, Santiago and Genovesa. We saw birds, birds, birds. And I’ll leave you with that on this last post from our trip to Peru and Ecuador, which was a buen viaje.

Lava heron
Lava heron
Magnificent frigate
Magnificent frigate bird
Galapgos dove
Galapagos dove
Yellow warbler
Yellow warbler
Juvenile red-footed booby
Juvenile red-footed booby
Swallow tailed gull
Swallow-tailed gull
Brown pelican
Brown pelican
Blue footed booby
Blue-footed booby
Great blue heron
Great blue heron
Galapagos mockingbird
Galapagos mockingbird on Sanders’ hat
Short-eared owl
Short eared owl
Iguana-blue footed
Marine iguana and blue-footed booby
Us with seal
Us and a seal of approval

Oh Rose thou art in abundance in Ecuador

Single rose

September 29, 2018, outside Quito, Ecuador — “Oh Rose thou art sick” may be the only line of poetry I remember from my English class on William Blake. I also remember what our professor, Hazard Adams, said about that line: It’s rooted in reality; roses do get sick easily and often. And then Blake and the class wandered off into Los, Urizen, Oorthoon, Enitharmon and other fantastic Blake’s poetry and artwork.

The “Rose thou art sick” is stark reality based on my piddling rose-growing experience, mostly black leaf spots, spindling vines and little adherence to trellises.

Merino RosesSo imagine if you had 99 acres of flowers to keep healthy so you could pick 50,000 blossoms a day. That would be the business of Merino Roses, outside Quito, Ecuador.

There are 422 companies growing flowers in Ecuador, most of them started in the few decades. The country is perfect for growing roses: the daylight on the Equator is consistent at 12 hours a day all year long, the weather is mostly the same. So now the country supports 700,000 acres of greenhouses.

The Merino company’s greenhouses each cover about one acre to grow 69 different flowers — 17 devoted to red roses. The greenhouses control the humidity and ultraviolet rays that can cause variation in blossom colors. Birds and beetles are kept out, and even pollinators such as bees are verboten since these hybrids want no natural you know what. Bamboo fences keep out the wind.

Greenhouses
Greenhouses for flowers
Equator
Each with one foot in different hemispheres

New plants take about four months for the first cut of blossoms, then two more months for the second cutting. After that, the plants can produce every 75 days. Those that don’t measure up go to the compost pile.

The blossoms are harvested, washed, climatized for seven hours, kept in a cooler for five hours and cooled slowly down to the temperatures in the planes that will take them to Europe, the USA and Japan.

The roses are cut according to each specific market. Some markets want short stems, some want longer ones — and the longest goes to . . . Russia. Six feet long and very leafy.

About three weeks before February 14 — Valentine Day — the 50,000 blossoms per day gets kicked up to 110,000 buds per day. The 175 employees are joined by about 50 percent more workers keeping the plant in operation 24 hours a day during this busy time.

Distance in rows
A worker at the end of the row, cutting roses
Gathering roses
Gathering the picked roses
Putting in baskets
Wrapping them in baskets
Baskets
Ready to be shipped from the greenhouse
Trolley
Off to packaging
Sorting by stems
Sorting by stem lengths

The average wage in Ecuador, according to Maria, our Alexander & Roberts guide, is about $376 per month. The rose factory tops that by about $150 to $200 more. Plus workers get two meals per day, except for one on the half day on Saturday. Money for social security and hospitalization is withheld at 8.9 percent, and the employer also pays into the fund. The best thing about the job, says Maria, is that people don’t have to leave there community and move into the cities for jobs.

There is no room for slackers or slowpokes in this factory. Those on the lines sorting and packing flowers move quickly and efficiently to keep up. And the roses hold up very well compared to all they are put through in packaging.

Kathy in warehouse
In the warehouse

The flower industry is much bigger than I would have thought until I read a New York Times article about what would happen when Britain splits from the European Union. Twelve billion flowers and plants are sold through Royal FloraHolland near Amsterdam — more than one third of the worldwide trade. One billion dollars of that goes to Britain, now with no tariffs, no custom inspections and no sanitary inspections. But Britain’s exit from the European Union is fast approaching and that could mean all the incumbrances to free trade listed above. As one flower shopkeeper in London said in the article: “People aren’t buying as much as they used to.”

With this much disruption in the bloom business this could be the

 

“The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.”
Rose gift
What would a rose factory give its visitors?