Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Reptilian Brain

There are two species of alligators: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator, neither species is endowed with what one would call superior intelligent. Neither are the owners of this cat.

           I grew up in Florida. We lived on a lake, swam in that lake, saw alligators in that lake--even witnessed a fight between two large male alligators. What we were smart enough never to do was feed the alligators, or let our dogs swim in the lake without someone watching for 'gators.
           Alligator are poikilothermic (cold-blooded) which means their body temperature is at the mercy of their surroundings. On cold nights, alligators stay underwater because water loses heat to the atmosphere slowly. When the air warms up, and the sun is out, gators sunbath. People mistakenly assume these large, lumbering, groggy-looking reptiles are too slow to be dangerous. Far from it. Gators are capable of alarming bursts of speed. Their main prey of small (cat-sized) animals, which they can kill and eat in a single bite, are taken in split second lunges.

           In a behavior called the 'death roll,' large prey are grabbed, and dragged under water. The gator then spins, twisting off bite-sized chunks.  
           From Wikipedia:
"Most of the muscle in an alligator's jaw evolved to bite and grip prey. The muscles that close the jaws are exceptionally powerful, but the muscles for opening their jaws are comparatively weak. As a result, an adult human can hold an alligator's jaws shut barehanded. It is common today to use several wraps of duct tape to prevent an adult alligator from opening its jaws when handled or transported. Alligators are generally timid towards humans and tend to walk or swim away if one approaches. In the state of Florida, it is illegal to feed wild alligators at any time. If fed, the alligators will eventually lose their fear of humans and will learn to associate humans with food, thereby becoming a greater danger to people."
         The laughing, happy owners of this tourist attraction are feeding the alligators which will eventually lead to the killing of this cat. You can see in the second video how close these kids are to the gators. Like any good, suspenseful monster movie, it's likely that at some point, when these gators are larger and totally unafraid of humans, a customer will be snatched off this Louisana mudback and experience, first hand, albeit briefly, the death roll.         

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What I Really Think


I spent last week with friends at Mammoth Lakes on the eastern side of the California Sierra mountains. While they were on daily hikes, I stayed at the cabin and worked on rewriting one of my many unpublished novels. (If nothing I’m an optimist.)
        My friend, Teresa, is Max’s mom. I’m his aunt. Max is the 14 year old black lab mix she adopted as a puppy from our local Humane Society—where he was one of a litter of 11 abandoned by their owner. We call him Max the Mountain dog because next to swimming he loves hiking. Swimming in a mountain lake is the best of both worlds.
        It was while Teresa, Max, and our two other friends were off hiking a 12,000 foot peak that I heard about the Anthony Joseph Ortolani, who abandoned his four-year-old German Shepard, Missy, at 14,000 feet on a mountain in Colorado. According to the statement he made, a storm was approaching, raising concerns for his own safety and the safety of his teen-aged hiking partner. Since his dog's paws were too injured to make it back down the mountain, he left her. Once off the mountain, he did call for help, but was told they didn’t do animal rescues, and since he needed to get back to work, he wrote her off.
       Mr. Ortolani is being charged with animal cruelty. When he has his day in court, I hope someone asks the first question that occurred to me: at what altitude did this fool realize his dog’s paws were cut and bleeding? When did he first notice she was limping—9,000 ft, 10,000 ft? At what point, before reaching his goal, were there indications that she was having trouble. And how exactly did Missy manage to get to 14,000 feet but no further? And what idiot climbs a 14,000 ft. mountain without checking the weather, as my friends did every morning before setting out.
        Eight days after Anthony Joseph Ortolani was safely, snugly back home, a pair of hikers found Missy. They managed to do what Mr. Ortolani never attempted beyond his initial call for help, they organized a successful rescue attempt and brought the dehydrated, starving Missy off the mountain.
        I tried to imagine under what circumstances Teresa would have abandoned Max. Then I tried to imagine Max leaving Teresa. Never would either of them abandon the other. What breaks my heart is the picture in my head of Missy, day after day, watching the spot where she last saw Anthony Ortolani and continuing to trust--until she was nearly dead--that the person she loved would come back for her.
        Mr. Ortolani has apologized and wants Missy back. The guy who took NO for an answer and left his dog to die of thirst on a 14000 ft mountain, needs to take NO for an answer again. He may have had a legitimate reason for leaving her there, but there is no excuse on earth for deserting her.
       Dogs are full of all the attributes we credit to a higher power: love, devotion, trust, forgiveness. I'm sure Missy would forgive him. Which makes her more humane than Anthony Joseph Ortolani will ever be.
Bringing Missy down the mountain

"People always joke that ‘dog’ spells ‘god’ backwards. They should consider that this might it be the higher power coming down to see just how well they do, what kind of people they are. The animals are right here . . . in front of us. And how we treat these companions is a test." Linda Blair

It just so happens there is a bill before the California state senate. SB 1500 by Senator Ted Lieu re: Seized and Abandoned Animals. Support.
   Amends procedures in the process of dealing with seized/abandoned animals to be sure the “owner” can properly care for the animal and pay the costs of being held at the animal control shelter.
   Hearing: Governor Jerry Brown.
   Write: Tell him abused/abandoned animals should not be returned to their “owners” but, if so, they must pay for their care in the animal shelters and assure the animals’ well being.
 Governor Jerry Brown and Legislators: State Capitol Building, Sacramento, CA 95814

Max enjoying a roll in the snow

Max hiking with his mom

When he's not a mountain dog, he's a water dog.

Max and Teresa last week at Virginia Lake Pass
about 12,000 feet

 If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans. James Herriot

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Couch-potato is home from the mountains

Hi All,
I'm home from Mammoth Lakes, CA, where I was NOT hiking. I spent my mini-vacation in our cabin rewriting a novel while my friends hiked into thin air. I considered the air quite thin enough inside the cabin at 8300 feet. I'll come back to that in a few days.
Meanwhile, back in my former sea level (and below) home state of Florida, the largest python ever found was captured.  

Can you imagine, this is the old record
I need a couple of days to get back in the groove. Enjoy the autopsy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Memories of a Couch-potato

This couch-potato has been watching the Olympics every night, reliving my own meager accomplishments on my high school swimming team where my highest level of achievement was 3rd in the County in the 200 IM. 
           I was also the second of our team's two divers. Emoke Papp was our 'star' diver. Her father, a Hungarian boxer, defected during the 1956 Olympics. Emoke always took 1st place in our diving competitions and I consistently took 3rd, because none of the other teams had a second diver. My job was to get off the diving board without killing myself, or anyone else.
           For me the highlight of Olympics was watching Oscar Pistorius, the South African runner with two prosthetic legs. He was successful in his bid to compete in this year’s—what shall we call them—able-bodied Olympics versus the Paralympics for less able-bodied athletes? Or differently-abled—a category this 3rd-place diver fell into. Anyway, in 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations, banned Pistorius from competing in able-bodied competitions after tests showed the Cheetah blades allowed him to expend less energy than his two-legged counterparts. In fact, the blades make it harder to get off the starting blocks negating any advantage they give him. 
            Personally, I found myself on the very edge of my recliner when he ran in the qualifying round and again in the semi-finals. I was disappointed that he didn’t make it through to the finals, but he was out there giving it his all and I was there for him. I’d love to see the Paralympics be part of the Olympics, right there in prime time, instead of separate, a sometime later and ‘lesser’ series of events.
            Watching him reminded me of my second attempt at writing--a piece about a wheelchair-bound marathoner. This one was published as a real news story with a picture and a byline, unlike like my first, which was published as an editorial comment. I was living in Coconut Grove, Florida, at the time.
            Of course I kept a copy, and didn't resist the urge to noodle it a bit.
The applause and shouts of the spectators reached a sufficient volume to finish any thought of further sleep, so with a cup of coffee in hand, I stood on my balcony to watch the stream of Orange Bowl marathoners pass below.
            Most of the runners, especially those early ones, were young men, followed eventually by a few women and a half dozen wheelchair participants.
            A heavy-set, elderly man, his sweater stretched tightly across his ample waist, stood on the curb with the other fans and cheered loudly for every runner who passed, but his attention always returned to watching the corner of Tigertail where the runners made the turn on to Mary Street. I found myself waiting anxiously for whoever he was waiting for. Every runner got his full attention before he'd leaned to look up the street again. The ranks were thinning, and it seemed the last of the runners were passing, but he continued to clap and whistle. When he turned from cheering for the next series of stragglers, a young man in the wheelchair was nearly abreast of him.
            “All right, Billy,“ he shouted, and leapt into the air like a man half his weight and age. “All right, son,” he said, softly.
            For a short distance, he ran along the sidewalk, dodging spectators, shouting encouragement as his boy rounded the corner on to Grand Avenue. Unable to keep up, he pounded to a stop, raised his hand in the air, then made a fist, the downward momentum of which spun him around. He was panting and laughing.
            I couldn’t see where the race ended from my apartment, but I doubt a big deal was made of Billy crossing the finish line. I also can’t imagine that it mattered to him or his dad.

Oscar the Cat

Dolphin Tail

  I'll be offline for about 10 days, so
here's wishing you cool breezes.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A First Anniversary note about Friendship

On July 31st of last year I posted this picture by Mike Owyang, and launched Ginny's Friends. Frankly, I couldn't think of anything else to call a blog I let a friend talk me into starting. Over the ensuing months I've thought about changing the name to something like All They Need is Love, or WritingWrongs, or holding a contest for a title. But really, as mundane and uninformative as the title Ginny's Friends is, it is accurate. Since the first real post on August 7th 2011, over 20,000 pairs of eyes have read what I've had to say. That is true friendship.

What I had in mind when I started this was to give kids, who've written beautiful, heart-felt e-mails about the impact of my books on their lives, a place to continue to express themselves. A few have, but I forgot that kids move on. So while I was waiting for the next volunteer, I started filling in the gaps, always with the goal of somehow making a difference--no matter how small.

As a little thank you for your loyalty, I hope you enjoy some of my favorite pictures of friendships.

My friend Briza's dog, Trigger. She went to get a dachshund and came home with a Great Dane who couldn't keep any food down, and was going to be put to sleep. The puppy, who nearly died of Parvo, has a dream of her own.

Tanya & Brent's rescued greyhound Jenny with Needles,
who was a stray.

Not sure where I got this, but it's too wonderful not to pass on.

Speaking of making small changes, this is a TED video.
Giles Duley gave up life as a fashion photographer to document the stories of the forgotten. He tells us of lives lost and found -- including his own. Watch now >>