This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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The secret minds of sea lions

IMG_3196.JPGSea lion group cuddle? Hardly: life as a sea lion is all about who is the most competitive, rowdy, and sizey.

That wonderful moment when there is just enough space for a stretch and just enough cuddle for warmth? Someone will push you into the chilly water. That moment when you have proclaimed yourself as the king of the bachelor pontoon? A seagull will bomb you.

And yet there are those huge, mature individuals who find a spot, carefully balance their heavy heads vertically over their necks, point the muzzles toward the sky and never mind the world that turns.

And as I stood by the Pier 39 I realized that zen finds sea lions when they feel secure about their place in the world. Oh how wonderful it would be to dive into the minds of these characters of extreme.

(Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco; December 2014)


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Date with the fish

Crete-23When the sun is up and breakfast has settled, it is time for a date with the fish. The crystal water looks shallow when viewed from a rock; dive in and suddenly a world of blue depth opens. The shallowness is just an illusion of perfect clarity.

Among the rocky reef, green-and-blue-marbled ornate wrasses bustle like costumed dancers going to a samba carnival, while scorpion fishes stealthily hang onto the undersides of rock, blending into the shadows. Diving into a submerged cave, tarantula-like Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttle away between the boulders on long, yellow-striped legs. And in the sandy beach bottom, a flounder is completing the camouflage-transition to invisibility.

Floating among the shoals of little deep blue fish I cannot quite decide which kind of life would be better: the zestful, endless ocean exploration of sardines or the quiet, world-observing meditation of the starfish. In the end, which is preferred? To truly be content with simple and less; or to spend one’s life exploring and chasing dreams?

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(Agios Pavlos, Crete, Greece; August 2014)


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Sharing a moment with our house mantis

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While I did the dishes I was rooting for the praying mantis on the kitchen wall. A fly was walking right into her reach. It stopped to contemplate the world, without noticing the mantis with her claws frozen, ready to attack. “Go grab it!” I cheered. “It’s your dinner, and it looks delicious!” But the mantis sat still, without unraveling her long, spindly, strong front legs into a split-second killing grip. And the fly, finishing its meditation with a quiet “om shanti”, flew off into the night.

Perhaps she is lacking stereo vision, I thought, and inquired, “OK what just happened?” The mantis turned her head slowly and looked at me. Together we shared the regret of dinner gone amiss. Disappointment shone in her eyes, but did I also catch surprise?

Our mantis is not the sharpest tool in the shed, I am afraid.

(Shimoni, Kenya; September 2013)


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The Ghost and the Darkness

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The Maasai warriors claimed not to see the lions. Instead they saw dark shadows of pure evil. The Ghost and the Darkness owned the night – and the day, too. In 1898 they killed dozens of railroad workers before they met their own fate, by the hand of John Henry Patterson. Tsavo lions are huge and fearless. What unspeakable terror it must have been to come to strange, hot, foreign Africa to work on a railroad – and to be dragged out of one’s tent at night, just to satisfy a man-eating lion’s thirst for blood.

Graceful, beautiful killers.

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(Tsavo East National Park, Kenya; September 2013)


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Life on the blue marble

whale-1Imagine us standing on a small dhow boat popping on the waves when a dark, huge shadow of a humpback whale glides underneath the boat, just to resurface and blow steam right behind the engine. We practically stood on top of a humpback whale! And imagine our wonder when another, much larger shadow floats up right behind it: the shadow we thought was a whale was just a baby and the mother is huge as a cruise vessel. Had she missed the angle to the surface with just a few degrees, we would have been in the water trying to climb on top of a capsized dhow boat.

dolphin-1Seven hours a day tracking dolphins and whales gives a pretty good tan after a few weeks. The scorching sun and the tan – brown or red – is completely forgotten as we watch the lovely folly of the dolphins, bow-riding, spinning, tail-smacking, and wrestling.

Shimoni-24What a privilege to spend so many days on a little sliver of turquoise and golden paradise on earth.

shimoni-12(Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park, Kenya; September 2013)


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Darwin’s giraffes and other odd animals

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Thinking about Darwin’s and Lamarck’s giraffes, and how the African animals are so odd-looking. Seriously, how did an elephant end up with a trunk and sail-size ears? And why does a giraffe have a blue tongue and reeeaallly long eyelashes and a random two to five horns? Why is the zebra jazzing black and white stripes, when yellow and brown blotches would probably be a better camouflage color? And how come it yips like a dog when all other equids sound at least remotely like a horse? Was Mother Nature being creative or just plain quirky?

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(Tsavo East National Park, Kenya; September 2013)