Month: August 2012

Monteverde (DP Challenge)

(July 2004)

Soaring above the treetops with only a cable and a harness for support     

I wasn’t worried about my 19-year-old son going on the canopy tour without me. However, since I couldn’t accompany him as a spectator, I would be bored waiting around for him for a couple of hours, and then I’d be angry at myself for not taking the risk, embracing the adventure. Although the thought of soaring above the rainforest treetops with only a cable and a harness to support me still appalled me, I suddenly felt ashamed of my fear as I saw other people my age and older lining up for the tour. My competitive nature kicked in and there I was, trying to feel excited about an adventure I never expected to undertake in my wildest dreams.

The trainer explained what we would have to do. I listened and watched, with concentration and growing alarm. I felt a pit in my stomach as he told us we would be suspended on a cable, wearing only a harness, with a wheel attached to glide along the cable. To stop, we were to reach up with one hand and pull on the cable, causing us to slow down as we gradually approached the next platform. If we pulled on the cable too early, we’d be stuck – God forbid! – out in the middle of the cable, suspended in midair, having lost the momentum to reach the next platform. I made a mental note: Whatever you do, DON’T pull on the cable too early!

“Don’t worry,” our trainer told us. “There are guides on each platform who will be watching you. They’ll signal when to pull the cable.”

With great trepidation, I followed my group on a tramp along a forest trail, our wheeled harnesses swinging heavily, to our awaiting jeeps. At each platform, we waited in a line ascending a staircase, until it was our turn to be hitched onto the cable. When it was my turn, the guide lifted me by the harness and I gave a little jump up, and held on for dear life as I was pushed off, to zip along the cable over a vast expanse of tropical rainforest. I’d seen a rainforest from above before, but within the safe confines of an airplane. Holding tight onto the rope, I began to actually feel a sense of exhilaration as I soared along, the wind whipping past my face and blowing my hair behind me, high above the trees and the animals that dwelled therein (which I could only imagine, since I couldn’t actually see them).

I allowed my eyes to travel downward, to briefly gaze at the canopy below without moving my head, before lifting them once more to look at only what was level to my own height and to gauge the proximity of my approaching destination – the next platform, and safety!

Zipping along this way, in spite of the rush of excitement I felt, I was too scared to look down for more than a second, thus losing, probably, much of the purpose of soaring above the canopy. It was, after all, called a “canopy tour.” The truth was, I was petrified the first couple of times. I finally relaxed enough to allow myself to even feel like I was actually safe in this unnatural position on the third, very long ride.

Pain

The fourth line was very short. I hopped up to be hitched onto the cable with confidence. It had gotten easy, too easy. The platform was approaching fast, faster as I gained speed, and my confidence turned to terror. I waited for a wave from the guide to pull on the cable, but he was distracted and his signal didn’t come. By the time I took action to pull on the cable, it was too late – I slowed down, but didn’t stop. Just in time, the guide grabbed me to brake my approach. I felt my body impact on the cold steel, and the arms of guide surrounding my torso. Pain seared through my lower shin and I felt the hot trickle of blood. I buckled and plopped down in a crumple on the platform.

People surrounded me and the guide bent over me, asking if I was all right. I heard my son’s voice saying, “Mom, what happened?! Are you all right?”

“No,” I croaked angrily, painfully. It was all his fault – his determination in convincing me to do this. More people were coming in and being helped off by the guide. I was told to sit off to the side until I could get up and continue. I couldn’t go back – no one could be spared to take me. However, they would have a guide accompany me on the next several lines – as long as I needed him – but I would have to wait for him to arrive meanwhile.

I sat and waited, using Kleenex from my pocket and dribbles of water from my water bottle, to clean off the wound. I didn’t even want to look at it at first, the throbbing fueling my imagination of how awful it would look, probably causing permanent scars – who knew, maybe I had even fractured my shin bone! So I cleaned off the blood without really looking at my leg, and crumpled the bloody Kleenexes into my pants pocket.

Feeling slightly better by the time Raul came along and introduced himself, I got up and limped along the trail to get to the next platform. Although Raul spoke English, I impressed him by speaking in good accented Spanish. I was already an invalid – I didn’t want to give him the impression that I was a silly, fragile and inconvenient American tourist. As we walked and talked, I almost forgot to limp.

Raul accompanied me, as promised, on the next three lines, but I had to wait for him to perform other guide duties. I remember sitting and waiting while several other people passed me, slowly ascending the stairs, speaking in German, Norwegian, French, English, or Spanish. Some of the younger people, including my son, took a detour across the road during a particularly long wait to a Tarzan rope – I couldn’t see it, but heard their whooping as they swung back and forth on it. I felt some fleeting remorse at not dragging myself over to at least get a picture of him swinging on it. He told me how cool it was and tried to get me to go over there. I glowered at him.

In the arms of Raul

Finally, I hobbled up the stairs and Raul and I were hitched together. In his arms, I felt confident and relaxed enough to safely look down and really gaze at the green foliage below. I was disappointed not to spot a single bird, having hoped to at least catch a glimpse of the elusive national bird, the quetzal, for all my trouble.

Raul regaled me with facts about the rainforest, including how high up we were – 1200 meters, he said (I really didn’t need to know this!) and the height of the tallest trees which formed most of the canopy layer of the rainforest. He mentioned some of the species that lived at this top layer, but none of them were visible from here.

After about three trips in Raul’s arms, he left to help others. I saw him zip across one expanse with a young boy in his arms. OK, that was it – I couldn’t wait anymore. Although there were several lines left (I wasn’t sure how many), I had to suck it up and continue on my own. I counted after that, and when I was finally back safely on solid ground again, I had done a total of 14.

Would I do it again? Never!!

creationism vs evolution – what should be taught in public schools?

Let me first state that I am a Christian. There are different kinds of Christians – some believe in the Bible literally while others – probably most – do not. Therefore, if you want your children to learn about what you believe, then send them to your church’s Sunday School program. It isn’t fair to more open-minded Christians or those of other faiths to be subjected to learning about creationism in public school. That’s what I did with my son. He learned science in school. He learned about religion in Sunday School and Confirmation classes. He now reads the Bible on his own.

Here is a picture of my church, First Congregational Church (UCC) of DP.

Evolution is part of the SCIENCE curriculum; creationism is religion, not science. If the child learns about creationism at church school, he/she can then compare it with evolution on his/her own or discuss it within the family. As a teacher, I think we should not add more to the curriculum to be taught.Adding creationism to that would mean not having time for other subjects. Also, if evolution is left out of the science curriculum, our students will be at a disadvantage for careers in science as well as in comparison with their peers in other countries, (and in other states where this is not an issue).

However, I do agree with teaching creationism (or “intelligent design”, a euphemism for creationism) if it is part of a study of comparative religions. It would be fascinating to study creation stories from various religious traditions around the world. One of my first posts on this blog dealt with that.

Watching water birds

July 26, 2012                           Upper Kaubashine Lake

At 5:15, I couldn’t get comfortable in bed, so I went out to the living room to sleep on the couch. After spending some time getting adjusted with pillows and a too-short blanket, I fell asleep and found when I woke up that it was 6:30!

I looked outside. The lake was calm and wisps of fog were drifting over the far side of the lake. I took a picture, to be labeled “6:30 a.m. on Lake U.K.”, as a part of my series of the lake at different times of day and weather.

A group of Canada geese was gliding over the surface of the lake, headed in the direction of our pier. Dale and Judy had said they’d seen Canada geese on the lake, but I never had, until this moment. I slipped outside and took a picture. They passed under our dock and reappeared on the other side, then sat on the lake just beyond the trees to the left of our property.

One of the geese started honking insistently: “nnng-gah!  Nnng-gah!” It wasn’t the usual honk of a geese that I remembered hearing or would have taught preschoolers as the sound a goose makes. It starts with a sort of low growl and ends with an emphatic GAH! – an accented, higher pitch sound. I tried to imitate it myself. I couldn’t get the GAH pitch quite right.

I moved to where they were not partially obscured by trees to find out why the goose was doing that. All seemed to be turned in the same direction, looking at something.

It was a lone duck, crossing their path in the water, closer to shore. The duck stopped and stayed very still. Was she feeling intimidated? One lone duck against seven much larger geese. Geese can be mean if one gets in their way. But they all just sat there looking at each other or at nothing in particular. After a stand-off of a few minutes, the duck continued on her way, silently sliding across the glassy surface of the water. It’s amazing how graceful these water birds are. Their webbed feet must be paddling under the water very fast or very efficiently, but their motion does not disturb the surface of the water.

The geese followed, now in silence. There was nothing particularly menacing about their behavior. Perhaps they’d reached an agreement with the duck, communicating through the body language of water birds. It almost looked as though they formed one group, with the duck leading the way, but I noticed the duck’s path turned slightly away. On the other side of our pier, the duck was way out front, no longer part of the group. She floated on and was soon lost to my view, while the geese congregated in a group a little distance from the pier.

I continued watching them as one after another tipped over to fish something in the water to eat. It looked funny with its body and feet sticking up out of the water, its head and long neck under the surface. Soon all the geese were fishing in turn. I got my camera ready and crept silently down closer to the water and aimed with my telephoto lens.

Sometimes most all of them were fishing at the same time, which looked very funny. I took several pictures until I captured this! The layer of fog on the far shore covered the tops of all the trees. I took more pictures.

I went back to reading my book and Dale went out on the dock to throw in a fishing line. A few minutes later, I heard flapping over the water. It was a whole group of ducks, skidding along the surface with their feet and lower bodies, while they flapped their wings. Suddenly and in tandem, they all stopped and simultaneously reversed direction. I think this skimming over the water is their way of having fun, and I admired their ability to all reverse and stop at the same time. I wondered if the lone duck I’d seen earlier had joined this group.

The ducks started fishing. When a duck fishes, it doesn’t tip its body all the way up to grab something deeper in the water like the geese. The duck simply puts its head into the water, while its body remains in the same position on the water, like a buoy. I realized that ducks and geese probably eat different things – while the duck lowers its head to capture what is close to the surface – small minnows probably, maybe some bugs or floating plants – the geese, with their long necks are able to reach down toward the bottom of the lake (which is really shallow right now anyway), maybe crayfish or somewhat larger fish. With this revelation, I read a couple of more pages.

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I am disappointed that I have not seen or heard loons. The only time I heard a loon was the night of the storm. I heard its forlorn call as the wind blew stronger and the storm approached. I heard it again during the rain. Its call was hard to hear amid the heavy rain, wind and thunder.

(I did not take the above photo – I copied it from 2passthetorch.com, because I don’t have any loon pictures).

Dale says he heard two loons the previous day, calling each other from opposite ends of the lake.  My sister told me she only saw and heard one when they were here the week before last. At the beginning of the summer, part of the lake was closed off to motorboats because there was a nesting pair of loons!  So I was encouraged by Dale claiming to have heard two loons. Perhaps all three are around, somewhere. Still, it is surprising that I haven’t seen one or heard it except for that night.

Perhaps the loons have moved away and only come to our lake to visit. I hope the baby survived!

More mushrooms (2012)

This has been a relatively dry summer in Wisconsin, but even so it had rained a few days in late July when we went to our summer cottage. I photographed a few more mushrooms I found on hikes we took:

Twins!

Lazy speech

My mother used to say that the overuse of certain slang terms (particularly the 4-letter kind) is an example of lazy speech – it’s easy to use such words instead of thinking of more appropriate or more linguistically creative ways to say what you mean and mean what you say. In other words, to THINK before you speak.

 

Lately, there have been some words and phrases that evolve from prejudice and are used by people, especially young people, without thinking. People today are very informal with the language they use. They throw out terms casually without thinking about how their words could affect others.

 

Two examples: “gay” to mean stupid. I really got angry with my son when he used the word “gay” this way. In fact, the word gay has evolved in meaning, but not in a bad way. In my mother’s generation, “gay” meant happy or festive, as in describing a party or clothing. Every Christmas, we sing the carol Deck the Halls, which contains the line “Don we all our gay apparel”. At some point, the term gay became synonymous with homosexual and it has become a part of our lexicon – but not in an insulting way. Using the word “gay” to mean stupid, however, is a relatively new phenomenon derived from prejudice against gay people, and kids use it without even thinking about its real meaning, as often happens.

 

Another example I’ve heard among young people: “Jew down”, apparently meaning to insult or severely and unfairly criticize someone. My son used this one also, saying it was common among his peers in high school, and I had to give him a talk about the casual use of such terms that are based on prejudice against a group of people. I know he didn’t do this intentionally – in fact, I’m proud of the fact that I raised a kid who is not racist or prejudiced against anyone.

 

There are other words are used casually by adults which derive from ignorance or because lots of other people use them. I’m thinking of the use of “schizophrenic” to mean someone who does or acts in contradictory ways and the use of “ADD” to refer simply to being disorganized (as in “I’m so ADD today.”)

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness which has nothing to do with split-personality disorder. People who suffer from schizophrenia have altered states of thinking which are not based in reality. They sometimes hear voices and have trouble distinguishing what is real and what is imagined. “Paranoid schizophrenics” are people who take this to an extreme of thinking others are out to get him/her or seeing conspiracy everywhere. This mental illness is far more complex than this, but my point is that the word schizophrenia shouldn’t be misused or used lightly in people’s speech.

 

ADD is a neurological disability which does have disorganization as one of its main characteristics. However, just because someone is disorganized some of the time doesn’t mean they have ADD. As a person who actually does have this diagnosis, I can tell you that those of you who do not deal with it daily have no idea what it is really like!  ADD/ADHD affects my whole life. Children with ADD (ADHD) can have a variety of symptoms which often cause difficulty in school and in social relationships because they aren’t very good at reading social cues. It is not something that kids “outgrow.” Adults with ADD/ADHD may also have problems with relationships or keeping a job, among other things.

 

So please, everyone, THINK before you speak and be aware of the true meaning of the things you say.  You might even learn something!