Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nancy's Orcas

This is one of my favorite paintings by my friend Nancy Collins. I should have thought to include it in the blog about orcas, but it's not too late, is it? Consider it a teaser for what might be coming next. She's been working on a painting for me that I hope to share with you in the next couple of days.
Nancy Collins's Orcas        

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Eye of an Orca

  A friend sent me her cousin's short story about canoeing with Orcas. It's really lovely and reminded me of a trip I took to kayak with Orcas in Johnstone Strait, British Columbia. I've been twice, but the most memorable was early one foggy morning when the water and the sky were both steel gray. The Orcas in the Strait are residents, and eat salmon, not mammals. We had positioned the kayaks near the steep rocky shore, and were waiting in total silence. The first indication we had they were coming was the distance whoosh of air as one then another then another surfaced to exhale. Moments later we were ducking salmon as they leapt out of the water to escape the Orcas. I had a split second to consider the insanity of positioning a line of tippy kayaks, bobbing in freezing cold water like so many pieces of driftwood, directly in the path of a feeding pod of Orcas, when we were surrounded. Orcas in front of us, behind us, under us. Salmon leaping everywhere.

Since I posted this last December, I've heard about this company. There is great whale footage on the site. Makes me want to book another trip.
2009 Recipient of National Geographic Adventure Magazine's "Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth"
2009 National Geographic Traveler Magazine's "50 Best Trips of a Lifetime"
2010 National Geographic "Best Deals for Adventurous Travelers"

2011 National Geographic Traveler Magazine's "Best Whale Watching Locations"
"Photo by Gary Luhm. (c)
Sea Kayak Adventures, Inc."

There was one other moment on that trip that I will never forget. We were back on the "mother ship" and I was standing on the stern watching a female orca attempt to control a rambunctious baby by making what can only be described as watery raspberries. Every time she blew a bubbly raspberry, I imitated the sound. With the baby in tow, she dove and came up at the stern of our boat, turned on her side and looked directly at me. I'll never know, of course, but I had the feeling she was telling me to back off, which I did.

This is my friend's cousin reading his winning short story. It's seven minutes long, and worth listening to.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tossing Starfish*

My scanner is on the blink so I'm not sending what I planned to send, but the sentiment is the same

“While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. there were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, "It makes a difference for this one." I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”
Loren Eiseley

 *FYI because I can't help myself. Starfish are properly called Sea Stars because they are not now, nor have they ever been fish. :-)

May each of us remember the value of a single act of kindness every day  

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Bat in my Bathroom

Little Brown Bat (from
 My first clue that I had a bat in my bathroom was bat-poop in the sink. I'd go upstairs at night to find lots of little black, mouse-like droppings in the sink, but no bat. Then one night, sick with a cold, I went to bed early and was just drifting off when a small shadow circled the room, illuminated by the light from the TV, and flew into the bathroom. (I should add that nothing about bats scares me. I adore them.) I waited a few moments before getting up and turning on the light. There he was, hanging on the wall above the sink--preening.

Mystery solved--sort of. If this was his nightly roost, why hadn't I seen him before now? Was he a he? Was he/she the first of a colony? Where did he go to sleep?

The ceiling in my bedroom and bathroom is beamed, and to my astonishment, when he'd finished cleaning up, leaving a litter of insect legs and wings, he wedged himself between the beam and the ceiling planks. It doesn't look like you could slip a sheet of paper between them, but he had no trouble at all.

That was six years ago. And Johnny, my bathroom bat, is still my summer guest. He disappears in late fall, but occasionally shows back up in mid-winter. Three years ago, he over-wintered in my bathroom and a friend of his found refuge behind a painting in my stairwell.

Johnny is a male. Males are, thankfully, more solitary. It's the females that form colonies. I've very fond of Johnny, but not nuts about the idea of an entire colony of bats in my bathroom. (For another story, keep reading.)

 This link is to a wonderful story about a baby bat.

For more information than you might want to know.
From Wikipedia:

Habitat and roosting

The little brown bat lives in three different roosting sites: day roosts, night roost and hibernation roosts. Day and night roosts are used by active in spring, summer and fall while hibernacula are used in winter. Day roost sites are typically found in buildings, trees, under rocks, in wood piles and sometimes in caves. Nursery roosts are found in hollow trees and other natural crevices as well as around buildings. Night roosts tend to be in the same buildings as day roosts, however these roosts tend to be confined spaces with many bats packing themselves together to increase roost temperature. Bats congregate in night roosts after feeding in the evening. Thus night roosting could result in the accumulation of feces away from the day roosts which could make the latter less conspicuous to predators. Northern populations of bats enter hibernation in early September and end in mid-May while southern populations enter in November and ends in mid-March.


Little brown bats are insectivores, eating moths, wasps, beetles, gnats, mosquitoes, midges and mayflies, among others. Since many of their preferred meals are insects with an aquatic life stage, such as mosquitoes, they prefer to roost near water. Brown bats feed along the margins of lakes and streams, zig-zagging in and out of vegetation 2–5 cm above the ground. Later in the evening, they usually forage in groups over water staying within 1-2m above the surface. They echolocate to find their prey. They are very effective predators when the insect are in patches and at close range. As with other insectivorous bats, little brown bats catch prey by aerial hawking and gleaning tactics When taken in flight, the prey is taken by swooping or dipping maneuvers. When above water, prey is taken by the mouth. Brown bat do not claim feeding areas like a territory, however individuals frequently return to the same feeding sites. When hunting swarms, brown bats focus on one or two species to feed on. When insect are more scattered, they are less selective and will feed on multiple species. If they do not catch any food, they will enter a torpor similar to hibernation that day, awakening at night to hunt again. A bat will eat half of their body weight per night with lactating females eating more than their body weight per night.

If your curiosity about bats got you to read this far, I have a fun story to tell. I do a bit of wildlife rescue, mostly birds, but I did get a call one day to come fetch three bats. They'd been found in an attic, and the attic's owner wanted them gone. The only thing I had to transport them in was a birdhouse. Wearing gloves, I pressed each of the three bats to the inside wall of the birdhouse, replaced the wooden access bottom, and put one of my gloves in the entrance hole. The birdhouse was on the seat next to me as I drove home. See that gap in the front, right at the top?
The first I was aware that the bats were no longer in the birdhouse, was when one of them landed on the dash. That's when I noticed the gap. By that time, all three bats were flying around the inside of my car. The windows were up, so to an echo locating bat they were solid walls. At a four way stop near my house, I looked over at the person stopped to my right. She smiled then saw what was happening inside my car. The expression on her face made me start to laugh, looking maniacal, I'm sure since I was sealed in a Ford Explorer, laughing hysterically with three bats circling. But once I started laughing I couldn't stop. Tears were streaming down my face as I pulled away from the stop sign.

Once I got home, I simply lowered my windows and they all flew out into the woods. That's the same summer Johnny first showed up in my bathroom. Who knows, but I'm looking forward to year seven.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Another guest blog from Tanya: Petting Whales

Tanya wrote this after her first trip to San Ignacio Lagoon, one of the gray whale birthing lagoons on the Pacific Coast of Baja. These lagoons were discovered in the 1800s by whalers who nearly wiped out the species. One of the lagoons, is named after Charles Melville Scammon (1825-1911) who was a 19th-century whaleman, naturalist, and author. He was the first to hunt the gray whales of both Laguna Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio Lagoon

The lagoons were discovered in 1852 and by the early 1860s had been 'swept clean of whales.' 

Read more by clicking on this link 

The good news, is they are back and apparently have forgiven us as a not-so worthy species.

Petting Whales
Tanya Smart

This story is really about fulfilling a very long dream so be warned.  It is sappy and probably long.  Just thinking about the amazing phenomenon of the friendly whales makes me cry. 

On every trip out (into the lagoon), there was one spot where a whale spy hopped each day. We decided this was the sentinel whale who announced to the others that we were coming. The first trip out we didn’t get to touch. The whales were feeding (so much for the books that say they only eat in Alaska). We tried to tell ourselves that we weren’t disappointed (really) that we had been closer to whales than ever before (and it was magnificent) and besides we got to have lobster for dinner that night. However, we woke up the next day just hoping that maybe, maybe, maybe—. Our hopes were realized. A mom and baby came up to the boat and we all got to pet the baby. Petting a whale for the first time—how does one describe it?!  Amazing, magnificent, humbling, fascinating, joyful, mind boggling?  All of these words fall short. I tried to stay composed, but then rather lost it. The naturalist came to see if I was OK and I said “never better.”  Then the boat captain came forward and gave me a huge hug. “Thank you for loving the whales.” Needless to say, that didn’t make me stop crying.

From there it only got better. The next day we had a Mom and Baby stay with us for an hour. Mom actually got under the boat upside down, and held the boat on her stomach and her baby on her flipper so we could touch it. We touched, scratched, hugged, kissed, got snotted on, got bubbled on—you name it. Rinsing whale nose stuff off your glasses is not a bad thing. Whale spit in your ears makes you laugh. Watching Mom deliberately make sure EVERY PERSON on the boat touched and scratched her baby was amazing. We talked about it later: why was she doing this?  Here’s a big brained animal that has a huge energy demand—migration, pregnancy, birth, nursing—and she is using precious energy and time to make sure we touch her baby. It was clearly important to her and it was pretty clear we were fulfilling her agenda. The baby was just enjoying him/herself.

The next day the Mom and Baby took their time checking us out, but once we got Mom’s approval, the Baby (we called “Bumper” since he liked “bumping” the boat) came steaming in and wanted throat pleat scratches, tongue scratches, gum and baleen scratches and belly rubs. If it weren’t for my dogs waiting back home, I’d still be there.  Mom kept an eye on us for about 20 minutes, occasionally moving her offspring away from the motor. We must have proven trustworthy as after that she backed off and took a snooze while we babysat.

Our trip was with Kuyima Ecotourismo. This company is owned and operated by Mexicans and staffed primarily by the local people of Baja Sur. In this way, the ecotourism benefits the people who are saving the lagoon from development. They were happy to see us even if we were Americans whose government was building a wall (between our countries.) The Kuyima camp is comfortable, clean and respectful of the fragile desert environment. We kayaked in mangroves, beach-combed on shell beaches and hiked on salt flats, walking over local burro and mule tracks. The coyotes are not tame, but not terribly afraid either, even when you fall down while trying to take their picture. The organization for San Ignacio Lagoon is amazingly efficient and respectful. Only 16 pangas (small boats) are allowed in the whale watching area at one time so the different companies cooperate. Each boat is limited to 90 minutes in the area. No mobbing of whales, no feeling that what you are doing is hurting them at all.  It is completely up to the whales to be friendly or to ignore you. We were ignored by some, and others saw us coming and practically charged the boat. 


Brent (Tanya’s husband) took more than 300 photos (not counting the ones he deleted each night). I couldn’t throw any away—even the out of focus, out of frame photos show the amazing phenomenon of forgiveness. I’ve come away thinking that Momma Whale knows exactly what she is doing when she brings her precious baby up for a rub. Touch is important in Cetaceans. By letting us touch her baby; maybe she is bonding us to them and training humans to respect her species. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bullying: Be part of the solution

A few months ago, one of the teachers with whom I communicate sent this to me, and I forwarded it all the parents and teachers on my "friends" list. Since then I've heard back from at least a dozen teachers telling me that they tried it in their classrooms with remarkable success. Two other teachers wrote to tell me that it has been adopted as standard practice by their respective schools. We all know teachers--or are teachers. If you shared this, perhaps we can make a difference.

A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stomp on it and really mess it up, but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. But, even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That's what happens when a child bullies another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How are my daughters? Part 2

Zipi "Longstocking"
Age 13

I don't have children, except my fictional daughters, whom I have launched into the world with the hope they will amount to something, impact other people's children in a positive way. A few weeks ago I wrote about how much it means to me to hear from kids who have read one of my books, and connected to one of my girls. I told you then that I get the occasional letter home in the form of a royalty check, but I don't really know how they are faring out there in the world with millions of other fictional characters. Are they making the kind of difference I'd hoped they would make?

I got this letter a couple days ago. Zipi told me it was a school assignment to write to an author. I'm so pleased she chose me, and I'm very proud of my daughter, Joey. 

P.S. With kids like Zipi in the world, we shouldn't be too worried about our planet.

Dear Ginny Rorby,
      The first thing I would like you to know is that I despise nonfiction and am not a fan of realistic fiction either. However, because of a recommendation from a friend, I read Hurt Go Happy when I was in the fifth grade. I fell in love with it. It was the first realistic fiction book I enjoyed and loved (followed by only a couple others).
The second thing I would like you to know is that I am a proud vegetarian; I have been one all my life. I love animals and at one time, I had thirteen pets! Hurt Go Happy showed me the horrible truth behind animal research testing labs. There is a saying, “cruelty free,” which means that a cosmetic or other product is not tested on animals. My cosmetics and toiletries are all cruelty free, which is something that Hurt Go Happy made me realize I needed to do. I am trying to get my parents and even my friends to live cruelty free lifestyles also. (not the best resource, I know) says that meaningful is, “full of significance, meaning, purpose, or value”. Hurt Go Happy is full of all of those things. While the main topic of the book seems to be about how thirteen-year-old Joey deals with her deafness, I felt that for me personally, the book was more about the significance of animals on people’s lives and how much animals can understand. When Sukari signs to Joey near the end of the book, “Hurt go. Happy,” (this is translated into “the pain has ended”), it shows that Sukari is able to sense Joey’s feelings and know when she is upset. I believe this provides a wonderful insight because my pets always seem to know when I am upset too, which is one of the reasons I believe animals to be amazing. They may not have the same sized brain that we humans have but they are unique in their own way – they can tell our feelings. Another reason that Hurt Go Happy is meaningful to me is that it explores two topics that are not usually written about for young readers: deafness and animal testing.
Hurt Go Happy inspired me to possess products that do not test on animals, before I fully knew what animal testing and cruelty free even meant. The relationship between Sukari, Joey, and (Mr.) Charlie has helped me discover the meaning of true friendship. Friends can be any gender, age, or species. Hurt Go Happy also inspired me to learn how to be able to sign “Hurt go. Happy”.
Extend the index fingers of both hands, pointing them towards each other. Then, spin them in an outwards circle. (Hurt.) Next, bring your index fingers close to your body, pointing upwards. Then, in a sweeping motion, bring them up and out, pointing with both fingers at something in front of you. (Go.) Finally, place one or both of your hands in front of you. Use flat hands, palms facing your body. Circle your hands forward, down, back, up, forward, down, back, up. Move your hands at the same time and in the same direction. On the upward swing, the hands are very close to your chest or touch your chest. On the downward swing, your hands are further away from your chest.
This is how to sign “Hurt go. Happy” in American Sign Language. This means
“the pain has ended”.
Zipi "Longstocking"


Friday, December 2, 2011

Lost and Found update

Another Sammie look alike

I'm sorry to report that "Sammie" is now at the Mendocino Coast Humane Society. The couple who took him have two other Second Chance rescue dogs, and a cat from the Humane Society. Sammie got along fine with the dogs, but was a little aggressive with the cat, though nothing that wouldn't have worked out over time. The problem was, he's terrified of men, and it just broke the husband's heart to see him quaking at the very sight of him.  

I've sent out messages to the friends here on the Coast, but haven't found anyone to take him.

I'll let you know if this has a happy ending.