Nagarahole: Elephant, Leaving

Nagarahole, India, January 2020. Indian forests aren’t like Africa, where the animal density is so high that zebras graze like cows in the Great Rift Valley and giraffe invade your hotel premises. In India, you have to *look*. So we were in a bus, driving around in the sanctuary, with an excellent naturalist guide, looking. (See Nagarahole, with Tigers and  Gaur Bull in Love for some of what we saw.)

The fallen trees were the first clue. There hadn’t been a storm, and only middle-sized trees were down. Could it be…. elephants?

Yes. Because shortly afterward, our guide said, “There’s an elephant ahead.” There was. It wasn’t very large, as elephants go. As we drew nearer, he added, “It’s a young male.”

The elephant gave a plaintive trumpeting call. No one responded. Where was his herd?

As it turned out, just across the road, in a thicket, browsing.

“But they’re not responding,” I said.

“No,” said the naturalist.  “They won’t let him come back. It avoids in-breeding.”

Elephant herds are females and their calves. Male elephants get pushed out of their herds when they reach puberty.

The young fellow got the message. Time to go.

He took off down the road. Soon he was out of sight.

Leaving home, leaving his herd. Young males sometimes make friends with other young male elephants, or they end up alone. Wonder what happened to this young guy.

Gaur Bull in Love

It wasn’t just tigers, of course, at Nagarahole. One of the more charming moments was the Gaur Bull in love.

Gaur are Indian Bison, the largest species of wild cattle. They’re considered a vulnerable species, because of habitat loss and hunting. Nagarahole is one of the sanctuaries where they’re thriving.

So when we encountered this small herd of gaur, of course we stopped. There were calves asleep on one side of the dirt track, and this female gaur on the other, placidly flicking her tail.  Then we heard lowing, and saw a bull emerging from a thicket.

He was clearly in love. He approached her, carefully, since he didn’t want to offend her.

But making his interest evident… coming closer…

… and closer…

Until her stood right behind her.

They stood there placidly; she chewed the cud and swished her tail some more, he tossed his head.

At that point it was getting late, so we had to leave. (All visitors are supposed to leave by sunset.)

But things looked promising. Perhaps there’ll be another little gaur calf in nine or so months.

Nagarahole, With Tigers

The first time I went to Nagarahole (“Nah-gurra-ho-lay”) was decades ago. Back then, they allowed private cars to drive through the wildlife sanctuary between sunrise and sundown. I recall seeing deer and monkeys – and magically, a leopard. But no tigers, no surprise because tigers were very rare.

In fact, I’ve been visiting wildlife sanctuaries in north and south India for decades. Sarishka. Ranthambhor. Bandipur. Mudumalai. Many a time, we came that close to seeing a tiger. Pugmarks. The vehicle ahead saw one. A tigress usually hangs out on this rock, but she’s not here today. I’ve seen them in zoos, of course, and in “safari parks.” But never in the wild.

Then – in January 2020, I returned to Nagarahole. We spent the night at a Jungle Lodge near the Kabini entrance, and took two “safaris” into the reserve in the government-provided bus. It was on the chilly early morning ride, after bumping around the dirt roads for maybe 30 minutes – it happened. “Tigers,” said the naturalist-guide who was leading the expedition.

And sure enough, through the morning mist – there was a tiger. And another, and another. It was a mother tiger with her three grown cubs. (Otherwise, tigers don’t usually hang out in groups.)

I just had my cellphone for picture-taking. But a couple of people on the bus had serious equipment. Like this.

I don’t actually mind too much. No photographs actually do the big cats justice in terms of their presence. And these pictures have a painterly, impressionist quality that I rather like.

Stow Lake with Goslings, Ducklings and Nesting Herons

Spring at Stow Lake comes with cute. No sooner had we started our walk than we encountered a Canada Goose mom with a couple of goslings first trying to hide under her, then climb on top. One succeeded, and promptly fell asleep.

There were a lot of goslings. As we continued our walk to the sunnier side of the lake, we saw three other goose families, with goslings of different ages. These were larger than the first ones. The parents looked at us searchingly, but generally trusted we’d be careful of their kids.

I only saw one batch of ducklings, hiding under some overhanging vegetation.

Three little mallard duckling hiding - Stow Lake, San Francisco

Mom and Dad were dabbling nearby, and when the trio tried to move out of their nursery, Dad chased them back in.

Mallard dad chasing his ducklings back into hiding

The great blue herons were also nesting, but those pictures were hard to get with on a phone.

Tree silhouette with barely visible nest of great blue herons

If you couldn’t find them, here they are!

Skagit Valley in January with Swans

We celebrated New Year’s Day with a drive up to Skagit Valley to look for swans. It was a lovely drive – no rain, not much traffic, a good pause at Donna’s renovated Truck Stop – and yes, we found swans.

There weren’t as many this year as there had been the year before – or maybe the timing was wrong. But we did find two sizable flocks, as well as a few lone pairs flying around and grazing. I think they’re tundra swans, but not sure.

We had a pleasant lunch at a Thai restaurant – one of the few open on New Year’s Day, then walked along the river for a bit. It was pretty cold, so we didn’t stay out long. Lovely way to start the New Year!







There Actually Are Beavers! Seattle’s Beaver Pond Natural Area

In a continuing exploration of the Thornton Creek Natural Areas, we went today to Beaver Pond. It’s actually two patches of preserved wild area in the middle of apartment buildings, homes, and office blocks. There’s  a delightful forest with a nice little trail through it, that starts on 8th near 105th, (Northeast) and across 8th. I wandered through it and saw what I think was a mountain chickadee, also two separate guys who seem to be camping there. (Later, in roadside bushes, I saw a song sparrow that was quite bold.)

Between 105th and 106th, there’s the actual beaver pond. The pond is connected to Thornton Creek via some culverts and a tiny open roadside pond – and that’s where, today, I saw a beaver, around 7 p.m.

I’d met a lady who was clearly looking for the beavers. She lived around there, I think, and had been observing them for a couple of years. It was she who pointed at this unlikely place, and said she’d seen beavers there before.

And while we were talking, and she pointed out where she’d seen them, this beaver surfaced. But before I could take a photo – it heard our voices, and went under in a swirl of water. So the photo I got is of the beaver’s wake, not really the beaver.







Pocket Jungle in Seattle – Thornton Creek

In Seattle today I wanted to go into a forest, but didn’t want to go too far. That’s how we ended up at Thornton Creek – specifically, the section called Licorice Fern natural area. It was a delightful creek valley, quite small (less than a half mile from the trail entrance to where it climbed up – via a metal ladder – to the road). But it was a veritable jungle, full of all kinds of plants at every level, and going through it felt like an adventure. Aside from a few too many insects near the actual creek, it was lovely.

It was definitely a hike, though, with paths uneven and marshy (logs and planks had been put in to help keep shoes dry) and plants trying to take advantage of the opening and obliterate the trail. I’d recommend jeans rather than shorts and long-sleeved shirts, mainly for insects.

I didn’t see many birds, though I think they’re there. One bird I heard and then saw was a Steller’s Jay, yelling its head off I guess about this hiker in its woodland. (Which may be why I didn’t see any others!) I thought I heard a woodpecker, and I found a feather which may have come from a barred owl.


Power, Beauty, Qing Dynasty at Minneapolis Institute of Art

A friend recently took me to an amazing exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). It was called Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty, and the concept and design were by Robert Wilson.

What was special was that the display was presented as a series of 10 rooms, each one themed to a particular experience with the wall coverings, especially composed music, and customized lighting. It started in a darkened room painted all black, displaying one perfect – black – vase. It was meant as a space for meditation, and the music was punctuated by what sounded like a falling pencil, but I was later told was Wilson himself dropping a chopstick.

The next room was wallpapered with a customized design of evenly-spaced precious objects such as vases and pins and other beautifully-made luxury products. In a chicken-wire enclosed space, the pictured objects were displayed in the center of the room.  Room 3 was a display of court robes, including the emperor’s own robe. They were exquisitely woven and embroidered. I am into textiles and textile art, so I spent some time just trying to understand the artistry and techniques here.

Room 4, painted a dull blue, had a glass case with a 2000-year-old bronze statue representing the common man. He faced the Emperor’s throne in Room 5, painted red with a dramatic and fearsome dragon. This might have been my favorite room.

The rooms on either side had religious art – Buddhist on one side, with five statues; and Daoist on the other with three hanging scrolls in a darkened room that represented a cave.

Room 8 was a contrast, representing the decorative role of women. In a room lined with silvered mylar, the central display was of more gorgeous robes, head-dresses, and furniture.

It also had a pair of “lotus” shoes that went on a woman’s bound feet. A little child’s coat, delicately embroidered, was a reminder that the children also lived in this environment of beauty and constraint.


The next room, Mountains of the Mind, contrasted mountains carved of jade with a custom wallpaper that at first glance looked like the spectacular limestone mountains of Guilin (which I’ve actually seen, many years ago). But on a second look, the mountains are made up of apartment blocks, office towers, and factories, some functional, others dilapidated.

The brochure for the exhibition suggests that mountains represent the divine and spiritual in China, and the idea of retreating to the simplicity of the mountains was a dream of courtiers and Emperors. The wallpaper seemed to contrast that idea with the impacts of economic progress and perhaps the opposing dream of material prosperity.

At the center of the room was a glass case with a simply exquisite very long scroll, apparently woven of silk and enhanced with paint and maybe embroidery. I pored over that for a long time.

The final room I found anti-climactic. Set up in contrast to the darkness of the first room, the idea was “Lightness” and it was painted white with bright even lighting. A single exquisite white jade vase was on “display.” I put display in quotes, because it was behind what seemed to be lightly frosted glass, and was high above my head. I could barely see it; it was like a ghost of a vase. Which was a shame, because by the picture in the brochure, its detailed carving is part of its beauty.

Skagit Valley at Tulip Time

A few years ago, someone took me to Skagit Valley, Washington State, at tulip time. (It’s usually the whole month of April – though this year they think it will continue into the first week of May, 2018).  Last Saturday, I took someone else to Roozengaarde, one of the two major flower farms in the valley. It was spectacular.

We chose Roozengaarde over Tulip Town (next time!) for two reasons – it’s open later, upto 7 pm compared to 5pm for Tulip Town; and it has a brilliant display garden. They mix different types of tulips in every color.
Tulip bed in Roozengaarde display garden 2018

Then we walked around the fields – each one planted in a different color. That’s where they get the bulbs you can order from their catalog for Fall delivery. They appear in bands of color.

It was overcast, even drizzly on Saturday, which made for dramatic skies.

The paths were *so* muddy, it was one step at a time – especially the paths that were not graveled. They’re like clay slip (emphasis on “slip”).

The kids were having a great time, though. One dad was trying to be careful not to get his toddler’s feet wet. Kid stared thoughtfully at a puddle, and stomped in it. Then she did it again. He scooped her up, but unless he was going to carry her the whole way, that kid had many puddles in her future. Overheard from another little girl: “I’m mudskating!”

There were visitors from all over, especially from Asia. (I guess Europeans can find tulip fields closer home!)

The most unusual flower I saw was a  giant orange variety of tulips.

I didn’t think they were very pretty, but they were certainly dramatic. That boot is in the picture for a size comparison!

The Columbia River Gorge, Serendipity and Fire

The weekend before the eclipse, August 19th and 20th, we stayed in Portland for a short getaway. We didn’t have any fixed plans, but browsing yielded a big draw: The Multnomah Falls, and the Columbia River Gorge. It’s amazing to me that there are these beautiful places I’m hardly aware of… and this sounded wonderful.

We didn’t know then that it was just in time – that only a few days later, fire would roll over the whole area we visited.

What we were concerned about that day was crowds. Multnomah Falls is notoriously busy, especially on weekends, especially the day before the eclipse when many eclipse-tourists would be in town. Like us. We were right; by the time we got there, the exist to the Falls was blocked because there were too many cars in the parking lot.

Instead, we drove on to the Bonneville Dam. It was very impressive. The gush of white water threw up a mist over the river.

Linking my video from Facebook: Rushing waters at Bonneville Dam

The visitor center had a fish ladder with migrating fish

Also lampreys, which I’d read about frequently but have not seen before. But we missed seeing the ancient sturgeon, Herman. (Fortunately, he’s survived the fire, so I hope to see him another time.)

After Bonneville Dam, we kept going, absorbed in the river vistas on our left and steep tree-clad hills on our right.


At Mitchell Point, we made a stop to look at the view. The information sign had an interesting, rather poignant story about what used to be there – a beautifully designed tunnel, destroyed when the new highway was built, and a roadhouse that eventually closed down and faded away.

We climbed a trail into green woods, but not too far. We wanted to see more of the river gorge.


At Hood River, we decided to turn back – and then we came, serendipitously,  upon the absolutely charming Columbia Gorge Hotel and stopped for coffee.

It’s a historic and charming hotel sitting between a brilliant garden and a glorious river.

We sat on the patio for coffee and a snack, enjoying the view and the flowers.

Driving back, we had to decide between crossing to the other side of the river, or retracing our steps.


We decided not to cross, because I hoped that by the time we got there, the Multnomah Falls would be accessible. And they were! Still quite crowded, but no more than Yosemite in summer, for instance.


It was altogether delightful, and we thought we’d come back. It’s easy from Seattle.


Only two weeks later, I was horrified to learn of the Eagle Creek fire engulfing the very area we’d visited, roaring through all that beauty and threatening the Multnomah Falls. As I write this, it sounds like it’s been saved. Thank you, firefighters!


Solar Eclipse in Oregon

Like maybe a million (or a few million!) people on August 21, 2017, we made our pilgrimage into the path of the totality.  It was a long road, even though we only came from Seattle. We drove down to Portland, and spent the night there on the previous Saturday and Sunday.

Heeding all the traffic advisories, we started early from Portland on Monday. By 5 a.m. we were checked out and on our way. To our surprise, it was a smooth run aside from a couple of minor bottlenecks,. We even had time for breakfast at a diner that announced it opened at 6 a.m. The place was packed with eclipse watchers, probably headed into Salem.

We, instead, decided to go to the small town of Aumsville. By 7 a.m. we had checked the place out, and settled into a small park with a few other eclipsians. The park was perfect. There were picnic tables, a pretty creek running along the bottom, trees to cast the crescent-shaped shadows, and a clear view of the sun. We’d come armed with cardboard eclipse glasses, as well as binoculars with taped-on filters.


Enough others had come to make it a fun group event, but not so many that it was overwhelming. People had the cardboard glasses, but also light-boxes like this one to throw an image of the eclipsing sun onto a sheet of paper.

The eclipse started, and I got some pictures.

Trellising my fingers yielded crescent shapes as the spaces acted like a pinhole.

And here’s what the sun looked like:

I’ve seen solar eclipses before – several partial ones, and one very brief totality in India in the 1990s. This was different. It lasted long enough to register what I was seeing with my naked eye. It looked like a black sun, floating in a pinkish corona, just hanging there like a completely alien and awe-inspiring object.

And then, too quickly, the moon moved on and the “diamond ring” appeared. I put my eclipse glasses back on, and watched as the moon slid down across the sun.

After the eclipse, we made our way back to Seattle, stopping along the way and hoping to avoid the traffic. It didn’t matter. All roads were clogged. The traffic advisories didn’t cover the departures, and everyone was leaving in the same 2-3 hours.

We got back to Seattle after 2 a.m.

But what an amazing experience!

Old Typewriters and a Ray Bradbury Tribute

I was at San Francisco Airport yesterday, and came upon this tiny exhibit of old typewriters in Terminal 2. (Of course, I thought of Mary Robinette Kowal, who collects them.)

It was quite charming – a whole range of old typewriters. I’d liked to have spent more time there looking at them all, but with only a few minutes before I had to head for my Gate, I just took a few pictures.

But the most interesting thing to me was the display of typewriters belonging to well-known authors. Orson Wells. Tennessee Williams. Hemingway. [Edited to add: I got an email from Steve Soboroff, who said they came from his famous collection.]

And perhaps the best of all: Ray Bradbury.

Reminded me of the tribute video by Rachel Bloom as well as all the lovely stories of his I’ve read over the years.


Silkworms near Bangalore

One of the things I love about India is how much life is lived in the open. It’s as though you can see under a skin of the world that in other places covers up the processes of living.

I was recently on a road trip outside Bangalore with friends. On the way back, I saw some woven rush mats with interesting spiral patterns standing in roadside villages. They looked elegant, in a minimalist sort of way. “Those are for silkworms,” said Pratima, noticing my interest.

Really? So we stopped at one of the villages to look. Pratima speaks Kannada, and the villagers were happy to respond to her interest.

For people unfamiliar with how silk is made: It’s unwound from the pupae of the silkworm moth, which is killed in the pupal stage (usually by immersing it in boiling water). Breeders keep a stock of moths, and collect the eggs they lay. The larvae go through five instars (stages of growth) before they form their cocoons. They eat mainly mulberry leaves, and so South India has mulberry plantations for sericulture.

pix7 094 silkworm larvae before pupating
Late stage silkworms getting ready to pupate

Sericulture in the state of Karnataka is a cottage industry, providing flexible employment without need for serious capital investment. What we saw in the village were the late-stage silkworms, and the cocoons. I’m not sure whether they sourced the silkworms as larvae from a breeder, or whether they purchased the eggs and hatched them. We did see sheaves of mulberry leaves being brought in, but since it’s the late-stage larvae that are the most voracious, that didn’t indicate very much. I think they harvest the cocoons and sell them to other processors who actually unwind the silk.

pix7 103 silkworm mats stacked horizontally
The silkworm mats are stored horizontally with spaces between.
pix7 105 silkworm mat lowered to show cocoons
They lowered one mat to show us the cocoons
pix7 090 silk worm cocoons in mats propped up
During the day, they may be taken out and propped up in the air and sunlight
pix7 093 silk worm mats
Silkworm frames with cocoons
pix7 096 cocoons
Closer view of cocoons

The village itself was a delight. The houses were painted in bright colors, and vegetables grew randomly here and there, probably volunteers escaped from kitchen gardens. A hen with half-grown chicks wandered around, with no apparent attempt to contain them. A bunch of curious kids gathered around us, listening to their elders explain how they cultivated silkworms. Pratima asked why they weren’t in school. They were still on holiday, they explained. They had another 2 days off. We smiled our goodbyes, thanked them, and left.

pix7 104 village doorwaypix7 097 bicycle and chickenspix7 102 village near Bangalore

(Edited to Add: Incidentally, the swastika symbol in the picture above? It’s the auspicious symbol, not the Nazi one that Hitler stole. Talk about cultural misappropriation.)

Troubled Bridge of Beauty

It’s been five years now since I blogged about the Bay Bridge, which was being rebuilt in the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. (I was in San Francisco when that happened. A slab of the roadway collapsed. Lives were lost.  The bridge was patched together and re-opened, but everyone wanted a new one.)

The new span is beautiful. Here’s a picture I took on a seaplane ride: the new bridge with its single sail-like mast, and the old bridge in the process of being dismantled. People wanted it left as a trail and a garden, sort of like New York’s High Line, but apparently it would be too expensive to maintain.

New Bay Bridge and Old

They kept the old Bridge open while they worked on the new one. This introduced an unaccustomed S-bend into the road, and that took a life too, before they added rumble-strips and warnings and forced a slowing of traffic.

The Bridge was completed without, thankfully, any further accidents. But not without problems.

  • Allegations of poor welds. Some welders claimed they’d been rushed and encouraged to cover over poor work. Caltrans investigated and found the welds at or above specs.
  • Foundation problems. The Sacramento Bee alleged that some of the foundation work was defective. Caltrans made a one-hour video rebuttal, and tried for a retraction of the article.  It didn’t happen. Instead, the newspaper came out with another article, again talking of defective welds.
  • Bolt failures. Some of the bolts connecting the road bed to the bridge have cracked, and many more appear vulnerable.

Now someone is talking about a criminal investigation.

Bay Bridge 2009
New Bay Bridge under construction, 2009

Madison Capitol – Visiting the Rotunda and Observation Deck

The local free paper, Isthmus, listed the observation deck of the Capitol as one of Madison’s best sights. During Wiscon 38, I took a little time out to explore.

capitol building madison

I walked up the broad shallow steps to the Capitol building. Inside, the corridor was tall-ceilinged and shady, and opened onto a splendid rotunda, with mosaic pictures and lovely light.

madison capitol rotunda 1

A few tourists wandered around. Two people lay flat on the floor, the better to appreciate the ceiling.

madison capitol rotunda 2

Though I couldn’t quite make out the picture from where I stood, I could record it.

painting on ceiling of madison capitol rotunda

I found the elevator that took me to the 4th floor, and then walked up to the observation deck.

Unfortunately, there are access issues, starting with the broad shallow steps from the street up to the plinth on which the building rests. Then, to get to the observation deck, you would need to take the elevator to the 4th floor, get out and climb two flights of stairs. At the top of this, there’s a narrow spiral staircase (where you’re supposed to check if someone is coming down before you go up). You can’t even take a stroller past the 4th floor landing area, much less a wheelchair.

From the observation deck, I got a closer look at some of the statues below the dome.

statue above observation deck - madison capitolIt provides 360-degree views of Madison.  It’s rather nice on a pretty day.

view 1

view from observation deck - madison capitol

view 3

Trees make so much difference to the city’s beauty. This street has no mature trees yet; the saplings are quite young. It looks strikingly bare and boring compared to the streets all around that have a lovely canopy.

view 4

On the way back, I saw black birds wandering around the lawn. I think they were grackles. I tried to take a photo of one, but the bird moved on. I got its shadow and a black winged smudge leaving the picture on the left.

departing grackle

departing grackle 2