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Friday, January 19, 2018

Belize 2018

Wherein the chronicle of my latest excursion to the tropics is written.

I picked up my student Seth at the 18 wheeler and drove down to St. Louis.  When we arrived at the Embassy Suites airport hotel we found every parking lot around it that does not connect to it.  We had to make a fairly large excursion to get back to the single entrance.  There we met another student, Dylan, with whom we planned to share a room.  We had dinner at the hotel bar and enjoyed speaking with former football pro Hanik Milligan.
We got up at 3:15 a.m. and caught the shuttle to the airport to meet the rest of our group, totaling 17 and composed of 15 students, myself, and colleague Dr. Megan Boccardi. We checked in, passed security and took two short flights, first to Houston then on to Belize City.  It was sunny and hot upon deplaning, quite a contrast to the 15 below I had enjoyed at home just a couple of days previously.  We were greeted by an agent and loaded onto our bus.  We stopped at a nearby grocery store, where I was unable to buy a 6-pack of beer (I found out later this is one of their blue laws; one can only purchase singles out of the cooler).  The bus driver called in our lunch order and we stopped 45 minutes later and picked up our hot lunches to go.  Like most, I got beans and rice with chicken. It was pretty good, and cheap.
   We proceeded on through flat, scrubby tropical habitat, which gave way to more heavily forested, mountainous regions, interspersed with citrus groves and other ag lands.  Curiously, some of the orange groves were overgrown with vines, seemingly abandoned or neglected.  Also interesting were the numerous free-range chickens and dogs.  The somewhat rough bus ride of 5 hours became rougher over the last 20 minutes of heavily potholed gravel road.  I stayed awake until sunset, when I could no longer see anything out of the windows.  The gravel road to Blue Creek woke me right up.
   A veritable army of Mayan children from the village were there to greet us and offer to carry our bags.  I chose an adult male to carry my big bag, but my camera bag went on my back.  It was a muddy, rocky single track to the lodge, well worth the tip money spent on the porter.  We met our gracious station manager Byron, who showed us to our lodgings.  The male and female students had separate dorms.  Dr. Boccardi was given a nearby cabin, while I was shown to a charming treehouse, accessible only by a swinging bridge.  It was perfect, even with the large wolf spider on my wall.
   We had rice, beans and chicken for dinner.  It was delicious, in spite of the repetition of lunch.  All meals were prepared by local Mayan women Teresa and Serafina, and they were incredible cooks.  I led some of the students on a short night hike, where we saw toads, crickets, leaf-cutter ants and a big, black tarantula.  Birds I saw that day included turkey vulture, great-tailed grackle, Amazon kingfisher, a hawk and a dove, among others.
   Byron told me that he had been a zipline guide for many years and had rigged a number of ziplines.  I took the opportunity to pick his brain on the subject, particularly how they were tensioned.  He said they typically used a come-along with Bachmann knots to tension the cable, thereby avoiding putting kinks in it.  The exception was a 1500-ft cable that they tensioned with a heavy-duty chain hoist.
   I took the first of several unpleasantly cold showers on this morning, then hiked up the trail a bit before breakfast.  I saw a blue-crowned mot-mot, a hooded warbler, a common yellowthroat, a hummingbird and a bat.  Breakfast consisted of flatbread, eggs and beans.  While we were hanging about, Byron pointed out a large male iguana sunning in a tree across the river.
   We took the ethnobotany and farming hike with local Mayan guide Sylvano, who also claimed to be a shaman.  He reviewed the (often questionable) medical uses of many plants, including Jackass bitters, which I tried.  It wasn't bad at first, kind of minty, but finished with a nasty aftertaste.  He showed us a large vine from which water could be obtained and many of us had a drink.  I thought it was fine water.  He also showed us how to make roofing thatch from a palm frond.  The tour of his farm was quite interesting.  He had a nice stand of cacao trees, but the squirrels were raising havoc with his fruits.  Everyone tried the fresh cacao fruit.  He also showed us calabash, vanilla vine, and others.  I enjoyed his demonstration of tapping a rubber tree, which I'd never seen in real life.  He had a black orchid plant as well (national flower of Belize), but it wasn't in bloom.  Along the way, we saw a lineated woodpecker, various parrots and others.  When we got back to the lodge, we saw a slaty-tailed trogon that kept returning to a couple of fruiting palm trees next to the shelter.  Rita and Bobbie went kayaking.  Lunch consisted of  rice and beans, beef, pasta and banana bread. It rained a bit during lunch.
   We took a short hike upstream to begin the cave swim. We wore headlamps, life jackets and water shoes.I also wore a shortsleeve rashguard and carried the polaroid action cam. We arrived at a large cave entrance. At it's ceiling, there was a large, dead bee hive, the combs hanging from the bare rock.  We were told that it had been a problem, with many tourists being stung. Finally, the guides had built a fire to smoke it well, then blasted it with a shotgun. Just to be clear, essentially all honeybees in Belize are African (killer) bees.  It was sometimes hard swimming against the heavy current.  There were some neat limestone formations and a few bats flying around.  I had never done anything like this, and I'm sure the students hadn't either. We couldn't go as far into the cave as normally because the flow was too high.   It was easy floating out with the current.  After hiking back we swam in the creek in front of the lodge.  Some of us had a good time on the rope swing, and  I got some video of that.  Most of us swam up to the falls, which, again, was not easy in the current.
   I had a little spare time and took the camera out to photograph waterfalls, usually with a slow shutter speed to let the water look cottony.  I went back to my room to change lenses for full-flash macro. I leaned over and heard a small piece of plastic hit the floor.  When I picked it up, I found that it was the mode knob from my camera (Canon 7D).  This event was very alarming.  I tried sticking it back in and turning it, but nothing happened.  Fortunately, it was stuck in Aperture Priority mode, which I use a lot.
   That evening, I saw a large bat cross the creek.  We took a night hike up the trail toward the cave.  Specimens were thin, but we did see a tarantula, a couple of walking sticks, spiders, crickets and millipedes.  When we had gone as far as we were going to go, the guide told us to turn off our lights and be quiet.  Immediately, something flew past my head and screeched.  The prolonged quiet and profound darkness were much creepier, as it was fully overcast, and not even starlight penetrated. I learned later that many of the students were very freaked out by this episode, especially since we weren't told about it ahead of time and didn't know the purpose.  Some kept flicking their lights on periodically.  We were told that it was designed to allow us to hear owls hooting and possibly kinkajous moving about in the canopy.  I thought it was to allow more wildlife to approach closer, which we would then see when we turned our lights on.  None of those things happened.  It turned out to be just an exercise in stretching our nerves.  Upon returning, I helped Byron remove a big spider from the women's dorm. He also used a black light to find a scorpion down the trail, which was a big attraction for students.
   I walked down the trail toward the village to do some early birding. I saw great-tailed grackles, great kiskadees, hummingbirds, parrots, black-cheeked woodpecker, great egret, Amazon kingfisher, a becard, a thrush, and many others.  While I was at the edge of the village, I saw a young woman washing her clothes on a rock in a stream.  Before long, she was brushing her teeth, then stripped to her bra to wash herself.  Self-conscious of carrying binoculars and not wanting to appear creepy, I walked up the trail back to the lodge.  I got a lot of good, close photos of the trogons coming to feed on berries.  After breakfast we hiked down through the village to a downstream region of the creek to hunt iguanas.  It was on this march that on a trail through a corn field I was stung on the ankles by numerous small black ants.  Every time I would stop to take a photo, they would swarm up my shoes and sting as soon as they contacted skin.  The sting pain was insignificant, but over the next week my ankles were severely itchy and swollen.  At least I was able to photograph a couple of butterflies on this hike.  At the streamside we prepared for wading and went upstream a short distance, where the son of the guide climbed into the trees to spook iguanas into the water.  The students formed a line across the stream, but the first iguana got right past us.  Kevin grabbed the second iguana, receiving some wounds for his efforts, and Seth ended up lifting it out of the water.  The guides caught another small one by hand, as well as another big male.  While we were hanging about, I saw a blue morpho butterfly flit across the stream.  I tried to call everyone's attention to it.  I've not seen one in the wild before, in spite of several trips to the tropics.  We took multiple photos of nearly everyone holding an iguana. On the way back we saw three chachalacas fly out of a fruit tree.  Our lunch was traditional chicken caldo.
   We hiked down to the village again for the arts and crafts presentation.  Melina showed us how to prepare cacao. She roasted the beans and separated out the chaff. The students helped grind the beans. The final product, sweetened and served warm, was about the same as a hot chocolate.  She also showed us how to weave a basket from the fibers of the jipi-japa palm leaf.  Several students had a try at it.  We were also entertained by her charming children and their chickens.  I was fascinated by the construction of her thatch-roofed hut.  The timbers were round poles, locally sourced, no doubt, and bound together with vines that had been saturated in water before lashing and shrank when dry.  The walls were mostly rough-cut boards.  Hammocks for sleeping were pulled aside during the day to allow more living space.  On the way out of town the villagers had set up a craft fair with a lot of hand-made goods, such as baskets, beaded jewelry, carved calabashes, and baskets.  Prices were very reasonable.  We had a dinner of fried chicken and smashed potatoes.  The students enjoyed a wild game of spoons into the night.
   I got up and packed, putting my wet and muddy things into a trash bag.  Breakfast was pancakes, beans and eggs.  I will forever miss those beans.  We had told the locals we were leaving at 8.  They started showing up at 7 to carry our bags.  I chose Julian, a thin but stalwart 14-year-old, to carry my big bag down the trail to the village.  We stopped the bus at Lubaantun, a sprawling Mayan ruin that was apparently used as a marketplace and a stadium for ballgames.  I saw some parrots flying around, but could not identify nor photograph them.  One high point was getting a clear view of an agouti that ran across a clearing below us.  We went on to Hopkins to the Lebeha drumming center, where we heard some great percussion music, danced and ate fish and plantains.  Most of the students had a turn at pounding the plantains using a long stick and a big wooden pot.  To me, it was exactly like packing the soil around a fence post with a tamping rod, and I took right to it.  Onward we went to Dangriga, another coastal town.  We were met by one of the guides, who got our bags on one boat, while we got in another.
   It was a fairly short (45-min?) ride out to South Water Caye, and the lodge run by IZE, our outfitter.  We met Barb, the director, who gave us a short tour then showed us to our rooms.  When I pulled my wet clothes out of the trash bag, they absolutely reeked.  I hung them on the line outside to dry.  We went snorkeling right from shore off the south end of the island.  It was a nice, easy swim in fairly calm water.  We saw a nurse shark, and a big southern stingray, which swam right under me.  I also saw brain corals, soft corals, elkhorn and staghorn corals, a feather duster worm and a large hermit crab.  Interestingly, they had an underwater rack where they were growing staghorn corals.  I had a couple of beers at happy hour before dinner.  Afterward we enjoyed shining our flashlights in the shallows around the pier to see fish and invertebrates that came out at night.  This activity became our pastime every night.  Eventually, I discovered that by using my big flash I could get some decent images.  We shortly discovered some sea horses that clung to a tangle of rope hanging from the deck rail.  We also saw houndfish, bonefish, and watched an octopus move in to hide under the deck.
   After a breakfast of waffles we took the boats out west of the caye to snorkel.  The water was rough, and there weren't many fish in this locale.  I saw a rock beauty, parrot fishes, wrasses, lots of corals, and delightful ascon sponges in a variety of colors.  About halfway through my breakfast started feeling heavy in my stomach and the snorkel felt big in my mouth.  The up and down motion of the waves was beginning to make me nauseous.  Shortly afterward, I was stung in the calf by a jellyfish.  I never saw it, but it hurt much worse than the little ones that stung us in the Galapagos.  The pain began to pass and the time had come to get back in the boat.  I thought I was going to be fine, until I heard my student Abby starting to retch.  Normally, I'm not a sympathy puker, but I am vulnerable to motion sickness. I gave my breakfast to the sea over the side of the boat.  Guess I was chumming the fish.
   When we got back I took a shower, ate a benadryl and put hydrocortisone cream on my ant stings.  Feeling much revivified, I took a nap in the hammock on the deck of my cabin, which, by the way, sat among the mangroves and looked eastward over the Caribbean.  Lunch consisted of chicken empanadas.  Delicious.  I eschewed the afternoon snorkel, which being done on the fore reef endured heavy waves from the neverending Northeast Tradewinds.  I took a nap and did some photography.  Dinner was barbequed chicken.  I watched the students play volleyball.  I thought our kids would dominate, considering we had three varsity women on our side, but the locals, mostly our guides, were pretty good.  Night shining around the dock revealed a green moray (he's a regular), stingrays, squid, crabs, a lobster, polychaete worms, a sea cucumber, bonefish and a small barracuda. We saw a little squid on the surface quickly accelerate and catch a tiny fish.  One of the guides cleaned some lionfish at the pier, and the bonefish showed up to aggressively consume the remains.  Also, a huge puffer appeared, presumably with the same ideas.
After breakfast I took dramamine in preparation for snorkeling at "The Aquarium".  It did not disappoint. The coral formations were fairly shallow, allowing a good look. Conditions were calm, and no one got sick.  I saw many soft corals and sponges.  I saw a sea turtle, a spotted moray, two boxfish and two cowfish, many parrotfish, a rockfish and others.  This snorkel was, without doubt, the best of the trip.  Upon returning I took a brief outing in a sit-on-top kayak (Lifetime), followed by a short trip on a stand-up paddleboard.  It was kind of a cheap one, with no skeg, which may be why it did not track at all.  It was kind of cool paddling through a school of bonefish.  I took a little video of that.  I went birding with a couple of guys from the other group, from Sacramento City College.  We saw some warblers, including the yellow, black and white, palm, and Cape May.
  On our way out to the afternoon snorkel we saw a dolphin.  We stopped and it swam right under the boat, then breached a few times, giving us all a great view.  Snorkeling "Coral Gardens" was not bad.  The water was not too rough.  I saw several large stingrays,  We also saw two comb jellies and two regular jellyfish.  I took video of them.  Actually, I took video during all of my snorkeling, but most of the footage is very poor.
1/9  The day dawned windy and rough, so no one was in the mood for snorkeling.  I led a short nature hike starting from behind my cabin, where many tiny hermit crabs swarmed in the shallows.  I described the value of mangroves as incubators for many juvenile animals, and their role in stabilizing shorelines.  We also saw a sea urchin and fiddler crab, and I talked about coconut trees.  We walked out to the north end of the island, where the coral rubble created some shallow tide pools.  By turning over rocks, we found three species of sea urchins plus pencil urchins, a couple of species of brittle stars, chitons, conch, many snails, acorn barnacles and decorator crabs.  On the way out Kevin spotted a sea anemone.  I fed it one of the small snails as a demonstration.  Birds we saw included great-tailed grackles, brown pelicans, cormorants, and magnificent frigatebirds.  Also noted was the sea grape.
   We took the boat out to Carrie Bow Caye to get a tour of the Smithsonian Institution's research station.  It was quite nice, especially the wet lab with running sea water.  The station manager told us that the island used to be 5 acres, but it was down to about .5 acres since they cut down the mangroves.  I reminded my students of what I had said about the role of mangroves in stabilizing shorelines.  Thence we went to a small island where the frigate birds were nesting and brown boobies were hanging about.  The guide broke off some sticks and threw them in the air, where the frigates caught them and carried them back to their nests.  We looked for manatees around the Tobacco Range, but didn't see any.  We moored at Tobacco Caye and took a quick tour of the island.  We had a sobering view of fishermen cleaning conch in their boats and tossing the shells onto a giant pile.  We learned the Noni tree and a couple of others.  We returned to South Water Caye, enjoyed a couple of beers. We were given a few lobster tails for dinner, even though we had failed to find any lobsters ourselves (I had been looking hard during the snorkels).  We finally had a decent sunset.   All previous sunsets had them obscured by clouds, as were all sunrises.  I photographed the hell out of this one.
  I was reading in bed the works of J. Sheridan Le Fanu using the Kindle app on my phone when I felt an earthquake at about 9.  I fell asleep at about 9:30 but was awakened by knocking at my door at 10:30.  Barb said there had been an earthquake, and that we were under a tsunami warning.  I woke up Dr. Boccardi.  It was decided we should go to the second floor of the student dorm and don life jackets.  After I heard the earthquake was in Honduras, I figured there wasn't much of a threat because there isn't much water between the island and the mainland, so I lay down and half dozed.  In a half hour, we received the all-clear, took off our life jackets and went back to bed.  Upon my return to the states, I looked up the story and found that the earthquake had been in Honduran waters, and was magnitude 7.6.
Had I seen this map, I wouldn't have gone to sleep, I'd have shit myself.  There's a lot of water between that epicenter and Belize, our island being just off the middle coast.  This caye has no elevation, and everything on it could be easily wiped out by a decent tsunami. Here's the full story.  We sure dodged a bullet there.
   I packed early and got a little photography in before breakfast.  We loaded on the boats and hauled back to the mainland in rough water.  From there, a bus ride of a few hours returned us to the airport, where we were finally able to shop for souvenirs.  All the shops had mostly the same tourist kitsch, but that didn't stop us.  Our flight was delayed by 11 minutes, which made the layover in Houston a bit dicey.  We had to clear customs, immigration and security in a little over an hour.  I thought by the time we had gone through customs and immigration our bags would be waiting for us, but nooooooo.  We waited in agony at the baggage carousel for them to appear while the minutes ticked away.  After they finally came up, we grabbed them and ran through the airport to our gate, where our flight was already boarding.  Whew, that was a close one.  We arrived at St. Louis, said our goodbyes, then Dylan, Seth and I took the shuttle back to the hotel.  We got in our cars and headed home.

Photo albums:

Blue Creek
Iguana hunt
South Water Caye

I'll be adding some videos later.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

December 2016

December brought us a real, if thin, snowfall, and a genuine cold snap.  Below zero temperatures froze things up well enough for me to go ice fishing.  After several false starts, I found the honey hole over in Lowell's lake and brought home 8 decent bluegills.  The end of the academic semester finally came.  We had our insect folk song sing-along for the last lab in Entomology, and there was the annual Christmas carol sing-along/play-along.  These are always fun musical events, and give me an excuse to pull out the old charango.

Since final exams I've spent most of my time organizing my workshop and the other sheds.  I've built shelves and moved things around to places that make the most sense at the moment.  Stacey and I spent an afternoon recently packing things in plastic (presumably mouse-proof) tubs for long-term storage.  This event was essentially our final act of moving.

My friend Bob gave me a wood lathe, which I've always considered to be a highly specialized tool.  I've made some preliminary efforts with it, just with pieces of wood I had lying about.  I've turned some square pieces into round ones, and made two yo-yos and a top.  Lowell gave me his old fuel tank, so we spent an afternoon moving it over.  It needs refinishing and some other work, which makes for the perfect winter project.  It had sat so long that a tree had grown through its base and surrounded some of the angle iron.  It was an effort with chainsaw, splitting wedges and sledge hammer just to get that off.  We decided a welder would be useful, so we split the cost of a cheap one.  It will increase the range of projects we can attempt.

The dogs are about the same, and we still have Marshall.  We've had him about 4 months already.  Miss Kitty, now fully recovered from her surgery, is more spunky than ever.  She lost about 5 pounds, which probably helps.

Stacey and I went to the Therapy Dog Christmas party.  Sadly, dogs were not invited.  However, the hostess prepared a tremendous spread of diverse delectables.  It was fun to talk to people about dogs all night and some productive things came out of the meeting too.

We hosted the camera club Christmas party this year, which was a first.  We put all the dogs in crates in the (heated) workshop, which worked really well.  It was fun.  We have seldom entertained in recent years, but that may change now.  For Christmas day, we had Lowell, Savannah and her boyfriend over.  This was the first time we met the new beau.  He's gainfully employed, relatively normal, and a very nice guy.

I've been working as an expert witness for about 3 years on a wasp-related case.  It was finally about to go to trial and I had even booked a flight to Florida for next week.  Fortunately, the case settled out of court and I don't have to go.  I would have made a nice sum of money, but I would have had to drive back from St. Louis in the wee hours of the morning and be ready for my 8:30 class.  Both Stacey and I are quite relieved.

This may be my last blog for awhile.  I've been writing them monthly in recent years, but now even that seems a stretch.  Hard to believe I used to write them weekly.  They'll probably be restricted to special events or travel.  In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook.

Click here for December photos.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

November 2016

I took Isabel her first agility trial.  We had been training for over a year, so it was time.  She really did well in Jumpers With Weaves, making first place both times, and a perfect 100 on the second run.  On the standard course, however, she refused to go on the contact obstacles, and we did not qualify. It was fun to compete and I look forward to our next trial.

Kitty had surgery on a mammary cyst that she's had for some time.  It was quite a time getting her over it, with three return trips to the vet, and wearing a cone for 3 weeks.  She beat the heck out of the cone, as it grew to be her personal weapon.  On the day we were planning to take it off, she went outside and rubbed it in dog poo, which precipitated an early removal.

My dog class has gone really well, as I've had lots of dogs visiting and culminated in a trip to the kennel club to see dogs run the agility course.  We got some good PR out of it when QU did this little story.

About 11 years ago, Lowell dug up some snake eggs while getting some soil with his tractor.  He gave the eggs to me and I hatched out three of them: Little Ron, Little Joe and Little Lowell.  I eventually released the first two, but have kept the third happy and healthy for years, often using it for demonstrations in my class.  I was completely surprised to find 4 eggs in her cage last week.  I think because I overfed her last spring, she had nothing better to do with the nutrients than make eggs.  I have rechristened her "Lolita".  For those keeping track, I'm 0 for 2 on guessing the gender of my pet snakes, as I thought my Burmese Python a female for years, but it turned out to be a male.

We took the sisters and Gretchen to a barn hunt practice.  They all shoed a little interest, but were not exceptional at all.  I was surprised, given how they like to chase squirrels at home.  I certainly thought Gretchen, who has killed mice, would attack the rat.  We consoled them with a trip to Pet Supplies Plus, where they got many treats and toys.

The next day I took Indigo to the Therapy Dogs International (TDI) test.  I knew the test was coming and she needed to work on some skills, but I just didn't have enough time with all the late nights and special events.  Miraculously, she passed.  Now she's a certified therapy dog.

Because we are insane we took on another foster.  Lilith is a pepper and salt mini.  She has lots of energy and attitude.  She is learning to socialize with the other dogs, and playing with one of the sisters at a time seems to work best.  We only had her a week before handing her off.  She sure was cute.

Leaves are one of the drawbacks of living in a heavily wooded area.  I had to buy a leaf blower.  I found one that attaches to my string trimmer, so I didn't add another motor to my maintenance load.  After blowing the leaves away from the house, I roll them into a big tarp, creating a giant burrito to slide down the hill and dump in the valley.

Deer season came and went.  I hung a stand on a tree in the back yard, but soon found that I had faced it in the opposite direction of that from which most deer come.  I saw about 7 deer on opening morning, including one legal buck, but I passed on them. I moved the stand to another tree with a better view.  On the second morning I saw 11, which was very entertaining.  I still didn't shoot, as most were on the adjoining property.  On the last day of the season I saw none.  It was much colder and fairly unpleasant.  I didn't even hunt that evening, much to my chagrin, as the dogs spotted a nice buck in the back yard that sauntered down the fence line after hearing their barking.

We had a nice, quiet Thanksgiving, with Savannah and Lowell coming over.  I had a long break from work, which enabled me to catch  up on raking leaves and other tasks. I did spend most of one day at an auction.  Guy I knew died earlier this year and they sold most of his stuff.  I didn't buy anything too fancy, just some inexpensive things, like a bike carrier and some plastic barrels.  I did get a little, black, cast iron schnauzer though, now adorning our fireplace.

Click to see November's photos and videos.

Monday, October 31, 2016

September-October 2016

Either I've gotten very lazy or my live is so boring, that I didn't bother to write a blog for September.  Time to catch up.  Perhaps the biggest event has been our fostering another giant schnauzer.  Marshall is a leggy, 80-lb black giant.  He has been a lot of fun to have around.  Since he is young, he likes to play a lot.  He even wears out the sisters.

I went to the International Congress of Entomology in Orlando.  I was so sick of flying that I drove.  I learned a lot, presented my talk, and reconnected with some old friends.  I did not go to Disney or any of the other tourist traps.

My dog class has been going great. We have had dogs ranging from Newfoundlands to Yorkshire terriers.  I'm sure the students are enjoying it.  Indigo earned the Canine Good Citizen title, and we're working on the skills for a Therapy Dog.  Isabel is making progress in agility.  She did really well in our demonstrations at Responsible Dog Ownership Day at Quincy Mall.

I fixed up an old Hiawatha bike that my brother Mike brought out from California.  It originally came from my Grandpa's estate, then hung in our milk barn for years. I put new tires and tube on it.  It is rusty but ridable.  Savannah rode it in the Monster Bike Bash in Columbia and won a costume contest with it.

I got another vintage bike, a Raleigh, that also needs tires and tubes.  It's a 3-speed with a steel mixte frame.  It does have some sweet fenders on it though.

Anticipating the need to plow snow this winter, and given the need to move stuff around and work on projects here, I thought a UTV would be the ideal solution.  After considerable research, I got the Honda Pioneer.  Although I had to send it back for a new fuel pump after a week, it has performed well ever since.

I found a couple of vines of wild hops at North Campus and I harvested as much as I could.  They were so prolific that even after several one-hour picking sessions, there were still many cones left on the vine.  I dried them and stored them in my basement.  I brewed up a batch of beer with it and bottled it.  I will be drinking it soon.

I taught the bug and bird parts of a Master Naturalist class.  They seemed like people who were really into it, though we didn't see as many species as I had hoped.

After nearly 3 years of waiting, I finally gave the deposition for the expert witness case I've been working on.  I'm not used to having my authority questioned as part of my regular job, but the opposing attorney in this case had no problem questioning it, and every assumption I made.  It was a bit unnerving, but I think I made my points and even got him back on a few.

I helped set up and take down the equipment for the Responsible Dog Ownership Day that the Quincy Kennel Club held at the Quincy Mall.  It was a fun event.  Isabel got to demonstrate agility twice and appear in the breed parade.  We hung out and chatted with our kennel club friends, mall visitors and vendors.  Dairy Queen had the pumpkin pie blizzard, which I could not resist.  I got to see and visit with a lot of dogs too.

The last day of the month was, of course, Halloween.  One of my students surprised me by dressing up  He had the hat, jeans, khaki shirt, tennies, fake beard and moustache, and even the earring.

September photos

October photos

Thursday, September 1, 2016

August 2016

I finally finished moving all our stuff and fixing up our old house.  It's for sale here:

It's been a hot, dry summer, but we finally got some rains, nearly 3 inches one night.  So I had to mow the grass at the new place.  The previous owner probably mowed 3 acres of surface area.  I sure wasn't going to do that! A lot of the tree-filled area will go back to natural woods, with a little help.  I started with a zero-turning-radius mower that I had gotten from Lowell.  It's a Bad Boy brand, and he's had a lot of trouble with it.  It was working well for me until I nearly put it in the pond.  It doesn't like to turn uphill.  I stopped it, then pulled it back up the hill with my truck.  Then I was mowing the dam and it stopped responding to the controls.  The belt had broken.  So I switched to pulling a Swisher finishing mower with Lowell's little ATV.  That was working even better until I looked back and saw it smoking (and not mowing).  I had burned up another belt.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow Lowell's riding mower and finish the job.  It was still 4 hours, including string trimming.

While we have become accustomed to the presence of deer in the back yard, the appearance of a big buck was quite a pleasant surprise.  I'm not normally a very patient photographer, but I stood at the tripod (which I keep in the sun room at all times) for quite a long time waiting for him to come out from behind a tree.  It was raining and the light was so dim I had to use a very high ISO.  Consequently, the images were not the best ever, but at least I got the shot.

My brother Mike and his son Racin drove out from California.  He brought me an old bike I had been storing in one of our barns.  We aired up the tires and I rode it for a minute before they blew out.  It's a restoration project.  He helped me fix up the old mowers and organize my workshop.  We hiked the property and swam in the pond.  We went to Palmyra one afternoon and I bought a vintage bar to go in the family room.  We squished up all the blackberries and started a batch of wine.  We went up to Hamilton, IL, and dug geodes for one morning, which was kind of fun.  There was an auction down the road and we went to that.  I got a few good deals, but was outbid on some others.  On his last day here, we moved Racin into the dorms at QU.

While they were here, we received a bid on our old house.  It seemed reasonable, though they wanted the old mower with the house, and we accepted.  We'll be happy to not be paying two mortgages for long.

The fall semester approached with the usual series of meetings, followed by the onset of classes.  i have two new preps this semester.  One is the Biology of Dogs, which was my own idea.  The other is QUC, which used to be FYE.  It's been years since I've taught it, and it no longer resembles what it once was.  Classes are now in full swing, and I am enjoying taking the Entomology class out.  They are very motivated and seem to appreciate the skills they are learning.

On my first check on the blackberry wine, it smelled bad, like vinegar.  I was quite worried.  After I racked it, I found that the liquor was developing into a nice wine, the smell attributable to the cap of decaying skins and seeds.  The fermentation was going strong, and I have reasonable certainty that it will be an excellent vintage.

I had a spare moment and got the old Honda CT-70 running again.  I had switched out the carburetor and added fuel filters last spring, so I just added gas and it fired up without much trouble.  Naturally, I rode it all over the new place, and even used it to go over to Lowell's to pick pears.  Stacey and I have been chipping away at the unpacking.  We got all the artwork hung on the walls and have emptied many boxes.  The house is almost in the shape that we ultimately want it to be.

Savannah got a new job as office staff at a Quincy manufacturer.  It's part time, but at least it has normal hours.

Indigo and Gretchen have been taking Canine Good Citizen classes.  Both are very close to being able to pass the test.  Isabel has been still taking agility classes for about a year.  She's still a novice, but very accomplished.  She may be competing this November.

Picasa has gone extinct, so I can no longer embed slide shows in this blog.  At the moment, it seems the best I can do is provide the following link, which you can click through to see the photos.

Photo album

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

July 2016

Moving, moving, moving.  Rather than pack all our stuff, rent a big truck and move all at once, we elected to use a more do-it-yourself strategy.  For the last week in June, I hauled a lot of nonessential things to our new place.  On July 1 we planned to haul essentials: bedroom, kitchen, bathroom. I had arranged through a friend to hire a couple of big guys to help us.  Unfortunately, they didn't show up.  We were able to pull in some late recruits and get the job done.  From then on, we have lived at the new place.  We bought a king-sized bed, in various parts from various places, and use our old bed for the guest room.  The new (used) frame was actually cobbled together from various parts of a couple of beds.  Turns out it's larger than King sized, and we had a big gap at the front of the mattress.  I ended up buying a regular rail frame and attaching the big wooden headboard to it.  No more gap.

Savannah lives in a basement room.  We have continued moving over the remaining noncritical stuff until the old house is emptied.  Stacey has done much of the unpacking and organizing the new house.  Meanwhile, we have hired a friend to peel wallpaper and repaint a few rooms.  We got our satellite TV hookup right away, but the internet, which was supposed to be hooked up on July 1, consistently failed to work.  After Stacey harassed them several times, CenturyLink finally admitted that they could not provide us with internet service.  That was after a week.  I still don't know why they couldn't tell us that in the first 5 minutes.  We got to hook us up eventually.  We have a very fast connection now.  Of course, CenturyLink still billed us for services they could not provide.

We also changed our cell phones from AT&T back to US Cellular.  We had poor reception at our house and essentially no data.  AT&T kept billing us too.  One big hitch we waited on was to get new carpet in the downstairs family room.  In the interim, all the extra furniture was stacked up in the front room.

Aside from the chaos of moving, we are loving the place.  It teems with wildlife.  We have tons of hummingbirds visiting our feeders, house wrens nesting on the front porch and eastern phoebes nesting under the eaves of each building.  Red-headed woodpeckers are here all the time.  We have a couple of mineral licks that the deer visit nearly each day.  Every evening after dinner Stacey and I feed the catfish in the pond and sit in the swinging bench and watch them come up to eat.  It's very relaxing.  I caught a bass on my first cast on my first attempt to fish the pond.  We'll be stocking more catfish in due time.  Right now, the bluegills have their circular beds constructed all around the edges of the pond.  The water is remarkably clear, perhaps because it receives no agricultural runoff, the grass carp keep down the vegetation, and the previous owner may have dosed it with copper sulfate.  I enjoy swimming in it, and I finally got Savannah to try it, though she's freaked out by the fish.  There is a floating dock on it already, and Savannah donated a pool ladder.

Much of the place is heavily mowed, so that it looks like a park, with lots of mature oak and hickory trees.  However, one day I took a hike and explored most nooks and crannies.  We have a couple of huge gullies from the outflow from Lowell's Lake.  I found a lot of native plants and not too many bad non-natives (autumn olives, your days are numbered).  I've seen lots of insects.  We have toads hanging around the front yard, and even 5-lined skinks that occasionally appear.  We have a woodchuck who, unfortunately, made a burrow under the big shed.  His days are numbered too.  Grey squirrels are all over, and we feed them a bit of field corn.

The smaller dogs like to sit in the bay window and watch the wildlife, especially the squirrels, in the back yard.  The dogs can see out from many of the rooms.  They are adjusting to the new invisible fence.  It was perfect for this situation, as we are set back far from the road.  They have lots of room to run, and I have little fear of their escaping.  I try not to leave any of the smaller ones out alone though.  I know the coyotes are out there.  The dogs are learning to swim in the pond, but some enjoy it more than others.

Our 13-acre hayfield was baled by our neighbors, a nice young couple.  He already has the hay sold and will split the (modest) funds with us.  I love being a hay farmer again after a hiatus of several decades, but I also would like to convert the hayfield to prairie eventually.  The bales were a lovely decoration for our field, and I naturally used them as props. I put Gretchen up on one for a still photo, and got Isabel to jump and climb them for a video. Eventually, our hay bales were taken away.  Other long term plans include planting native shrubs and woodland wildflowers.  I sure won't be mowing as much, though I plan to have some trails.  The previous owner had the most unique mailbox: a John Deere lawn tractor with a space in the grill hollowed out for the mail box.  I think they make fine tractors, but I don't want to advertise for them.  I unbolted it and pushed it off the post.  It's actually an old Husqvarna painted to look like a JD.  I put up a regular mail box with a schnauzer silhouette on top. I've made other improvements as time has allowed, usually when I'm stuck at home.
Video of Isabel should be embedded here:
Our proximity to Lowell (directly across the road) has been a great convenience, as was our intention.  We have him over for dinner, and I can help him on projects that he is working on.  We have been fishing a couple of times, and blackberry picking season has been exceptional this year.

As the old house emptied, I've been working on it.  I touched up the paint and woodwork.  I've made dozens of minor repairs.  We had the carpets cleaned.  I had a garage sale to get rid of all the stuff we didn't want to move.  It was a rainy morning, so hardly anyone came.  I did sell a few things, anyway.  We gave the rest to the thrift store or recycled it.  Our cleaning lady has been working on every square inch of surface.  We hear the real estate market is hot right now, so we're tried to get it for sale as soon as possible.  We had a couple of showings on the first day.

My friend Jan has cicada killers in her back yard, and invited me over to photograph them.  It had been awhile since I'd seen a nesting aggregation, as I couldn't find them in Canton anymore.  It was nice to get some photos with my latest equipment.  More interesting, perhaps, were Jan's big flower beds, mostly zinnias, that are very attractive to butterflies.

This months photos should appear in a slide show below (requires flash):

Saturday, July 16, 2016

June 2016

In the early part of the month I spent a lot of time working on the house and taking training rides.  I put the final touches on the bikes, installing full fenders on mine using some redneck engineering.  I did take the time to do some photography, mostly documenting insects that use our milkweeds.

I can't give a blow-by-blow account of Big BAM.  I wasn't able to keep a journal along the way, but I can mention some highlights.  The music was very good.  My favorite band was on the first night, the Kris Lager band, good rock music.  Second would be Final Mix, essentially a funk cover band.  I also enjoyed David Wax Museum and Bones, Jugs & Harmony.

The riding was challenging, with the heat and the hills.  The first day was hardest, covering 65 hilly miles. The fifth was easiest, 40 flat miles.  The towns had really prepared for us.  They all had a nice park or fairgrounds for us to camp in.  Chillicothe was probably best, having a large park with mature trees and their own water park, which we were able use for free.

One of the strangest things happened right as we were leaving St. Joe.  We were pedaling through a nice neighborhood, and there was a live bullfrog in the middle of the road.  The abundance and diversity of roadkills provided constant challenges to my taxonomic training.

We didn't bring our speakers for this trip, but our theme song was "Feelin' stronger every day" by Chicago.  It was appropriate because each day we became more fit, though we still had aches from the days before. So it was pain by day and misery by night, as we camped in a tent in the heat and humidity.  We adjusted fairly quickly to sleeping in pools of our own sweat.

We did take the opportunity to dip our wheels in the Missouri River at the beginning and the Mississippi River at the end.  It never rained, so I carried the weight of those fenders 300 miles for nothing.

We were interviewed by the Quincy Herald-Whig, resulting in an article.  I had a hard time articulating why we did it and what it meant.  I will say it was a rare opportunity to spend a week with my daughter, almost 24/7.  It was an adventure and an accomplishment.  I should also say that bicycling is intrinsically pleasing.

Upon our return I began preparing for the big move.  I went to the seller's auction and bought a few things, notably the firewood, which was already cut, split and stacked.  I loaded up my truck and trailer, the RV and the Lil Egg with some of our stuff.  After final details of insurance and banking, we went to the closing.  The sellers gave us the keys and we hauled out to our new abode.  Our address is now the following:

20697 250th St.
Lewistown, MO  63452

We have some acreage in the countryside, a pond, a few outbuildings, and a lovely home.  Now we just have to get all of our stuff out there.  I expect this will occupy me for weeks to come, as will sprucing up our old house.  One of the great points about this house was that it has a huge carport that we could use to park our motorhome out of the weather.  The first big disappointment was to find the the RV doesn't actually fit!  It's too tall by just a few inches.  Not sure how we're going to deal with that yet.

Photos should appear below.