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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Murder in Zimbabwe

I am so incredibly heartbroken and sad -- and angry --after reading what Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, did to Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe. Cecil was a beloved resident of Hwange National Park and a major tourist draw for Zimbabwe. He also was part of an on-going research study. At age 13, Cecil had outlived many of his contemporaries. Male lions usually only live to age 10 due to injuries sustained from fighting with rival males.

Luring Cecil out of the wildlife preserve where he was safe by tying some meat to the back of his truck, then shooting him with a bow and arrow and leaving him to suffer in agony for 40 hours before he finally killed him with a gun show just how depraved Palmer is. Then he skinned Cecil and cut his head off as a trophy. What a big man this dentist must be. He claims he hunts responsibly. To that I say, bullshit. It's highly likely that Cecil's six cubs will now be killed when another male takes over his pride.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, African lion populations have fallen almost 60% over the past three decades, and as few as 32,000 of them remain in the wild. So tell me again how killing them helps save the species.

I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but I believe that people like this dentist, who enjoy killing for fun so they can hang an animal's head on the wall, are seriously mentally ill. What kind of person does what this psychopath did? He now says (through his PR representative, because he's too cowardly to speak for himself) that he didn't know that he was killing a famous and important lion. So does that mean it's OK to shoot and torture a lion that isn't famous? And he said he didn't know that Cecil was wearing a radio collar as part of a research study. Really? Is he so blind he couldn't see the large radio collar around the animal's neck? And if he didn't know about the collar, why did he try to destroy it? As Sharon Osbourne tweeted, "I hope that loses his home, his practice and his money. He has already lost his soul..."  Dr. Jane Goodall, who has spent most of her life studying chimpanzees in Africa and has long been a voice for animals, stated that "I have no words to express my repugnance."

This so-called hunter has been found guilty of poaching before, in the case of a black bear, and he lied about that, too. So it's pretty obvious he has no morals, but he has total disregard for the law, too. 

Two Zimbabwean nationals are to appear in court July 29 over their role in Cecil's killing, and authorities want to talk to Palmer as well. If found guilty, the men could face up to 15 years in prison. No amount of money or time in prison will bring Cecil back to life or protect his cubs. But perhaps a harsh sentence will send a strong message that poaching will not be tolerated. And let's face it, Zimbabwe needs to do it right after the country's recent sale of 24 baby elephants to China despite international petitions and protests. As expected, reports from China already show the suffering and poor health of the young elephants. Only time will tell whether President Mugabe really cares about his country's wildlife, or whether, as many believe, he is interested only in lining his pockets. 

I love going to Africa to watch the magnificent wildlife. I, too, live to shoot these animals -- with my camera. The thrill is in seeing them in their natural habitat, doing what elephants or lions or zebras do. Hunting for fun and sport and trophies to hang on the wall needs to stop NOW. There is no excuse for this so-called 'sport.' I have seen photos recently that turned my stomach: a 400-pound man grinning stupidly as he posed with a male lion he had shot. Any bets about whether he actually tracked the animal? He was so huge I'm surprised he could get of the vehicle. Or the photo of the couple on their honeymoon proudly posing with the corpse of a zebra they had killed. Wow, what a way to celebrate a marriage. Or the American woman who grinned insipidly as she posed with the giraffe she had shot with her bow and arrow. 

We have become a nation of psychopaths, and that frightens me. We have indeed lost our souls.

Morning Visitor

I am honored that Natural Habitat Adventures has chosen this photo as its wildlife photo of the day for July 29. This is my favorite image from my recent trip to Botswana. I love the soft morning light and the detail in the elephant's skin. This elephant's appearance from the trees was a wonderful way to kick off the morning game drive. I hope you enjoy it.

http://dailywildlifephoto.nathab.com/photos/680-morning-visitor-07-29-2015

Prints are for sale at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/morning-visitor-ann-sullivan.html

Monday, July 27, 2015

Little Gifts

Time has a way of reminding us of the things that are important.

I don't know the author of this statement, but I believe it's true. It also serves as a reminder for me to pay more attention to the little joys in life.

I awoke one recent day to a cloudy, calm morning. Although I thrive on sunshine, I have to admit that a cloudy day is a welcome break from time to time. The temperature was a pleasant 65 degrees, so I took my cup of hot tea and the daily newspaper out onto the patio. As I sipped my tea and read the paper, my two dogs happily explored our large back yard. Many mornings are either too hot or too windy to sit outside. But that morning was just perfect, and it reminded me how much I used to enjoy taking my tea and newspaper outside. The older I get, the more I appreciate these little gifts.

While in Botswana last month, I opted to do one last early morning game drive while my traveling companions chose to sleep late. Although my guide and I didn't spot any exciting animals, I so enjoyed just being outside on a beautiful morning, trying to soak up every last view of the African landscape while enjoying the morning's soft, warm light.

One morning at home, as I was getting dressed, I noticed a fiery red sunrise. I hurriedly finished dressing, slipped on some shoes and grabbed my camera. I was rewarded with some gorgeous photos.

Little things such as taking my daughter out for lunch or dinner are more special now that she has moved out of my house. And knowing that she calls me first when anything good (or bad) happens in her life. It's great to know that she turns to me first. And when I was gone for 3-1/2 weeks earlier this year, she called me in Turkey just because she wanted to talk to me. That is a special gift, whether she realized it or not.

Yellowstone National Park is my favorite place to visit in the U.S. I love the openness, the thermal features, the wild bison and the wolves. Oh, the wolves. Although they tend to stay well away from humans, I have been fortunate enough to see the Lamar Canyon pack several times, both through spotting scopes and with the naked eye. And I have heard their plaintive howls. That is always a special gift.

Sometimes when I am out walking, I spot a coyote or two. I never feel threatened by them, but I am particularly vigilant if my dogs are with me. I cherish listening to a pack of coyotes yip and howl at night.

Today, as I often am when I walk outside, I was struck by the amazing blueness of the New Mexico sky.  The clean air, low humidity and high altitude make the sky in this state absolutely gorgeous.

I am taking care of my daughter's dog while she is on vacation. He is a big, goofy, somewhat ungainly two-year-old, and some of his antics make me laugh. As I was watering the plants in the front courtyard, I sprayed a stream of water at him. He went absolutely crazy, tearing around the courtyard and then attacking the water as it came out of the hose. I just stood there laughing at this goofball.

I don't especially like waking up really early, but I do enjoy the early morning quiet and the cool, fresh air. It's a great time to be outside, just as the sun is coming up and before the streets get crowded with cars. It's a special time of day that I treasure.

Although I live in the high desert, this year has been exceptionally rainy, which is wonderful. One summer evening, I let the dogs into the back yard and just sat on the covered patio listening to the rain and enjoying the coolness of the evening.

Many of the little things that I so treasure come from nature: the sound of rain on the skylight, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the howling of coyotes, the way the morning air smells after the rain, the beautiful purple flowers of the Russian sage that is so common in this area. Other gifts are laughing at the antics of my dogs as they play, growl at each other and roll around on the ground. This is a gift because, although they are sisters, they don't often play together.

It's the little things -- too often overlooked -- that make life special.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Buen Camino


In June, I had the opportunity to hike/walk about 50 miles of Spain's Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James.

It's been a month since I got home from this trip, and the experience is just now beginning to sink in. Although I walked only a small portion of the route, it was an amazing experience. And now I find myself thinking a lot about my mini-pilgrimage. Travel on foot offers some great photo opportunities, as well as a reason to challenge myself physically. Some sections of the trail were challenging (one day's walk was all uphill) but rewarding, and hiking day after day is something my body isn't used to. But what made the greatest impression on me was the people.

I walked with a group of 12 hikers from the United States, including physicians, a  professor, an artist and business people, a good bunch of people all around. Our group, strangers at first, quickly formed friendships and became a group of like-minded hikers, each with his or her own reason for walking the Camino. We took photos of each other and shared stories and first aid supplies. Sometimes I walked alone; at other times, I walked with someone.

We traveled a section of the Camino each day, passing though small villages and rural areas, and then rode in our bus to our lodging for the night. We toured magnificent cathedrals and an ostentatious bishop's palace designed by famed Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi.

Along the way, I met pilgrims from all over the world: Australia, Italy and other countries. I encountered a man doing the walk on crutches, while his wife or girlfriend carried the heavy backpack with their belongings. We had a delightful female bus driver for most of the trip. Our guides -- one Basque, the other Spanish -- were wonderful. The people we encountered during the walk -- bar owners who let us use their restrooms without charge and without complaint, everyday people out and about -- greeted us with 'Buen Camino'. We visited an ancient Romanesque church, and the elderly priest offered to bless us as he had pilgrims before us. One of our group read the blessing in English, and then the priest read it in Spanish. At the end of our journey, I stood and listened for several minutes to the beautiful sounds of a Chilean opera singer who now lives in Compostela. Known as the 'soprano of the archway', she was singing for tips. I bought a copy of her CD, which I listen to nearly every day, despite the fact I don't like opera.

I was especially struck by David, a man who has given up all worldly possessions to help pilgrims. He lives in an ancient Roman ruin, wears a T-shirt and shorts (no shoes), and collects unwanted items (clothing, food and drinks). He accepts anything pilgrims no longer want (clothes, food, bottled drinks) from pilgrims, and then he offers them free to anyone who wants or needs them. He accepts donations and uses whatever he collects to buy more food and drinks for the pilgrims. David calls his home La Casa de Los Dioses (The House of the Gods). 

One of our guides said he can see the happiness radiating from David and described him as the happiest person in the world. He has nothing of value, and he gets his joy from giving to others. I enjoyed some watermelon juice at his little stand before depositing some euros in the collection box.
To me, David is the embodiment of the spirit of the Camino.


One of the amazing things about walking the Camino is realizing that the pilgrimage routes (there are several) have been traveled by the faithful since at least the 9th century A.D. The pilgrimage to the shrine in Santiago de Compostela became the most renowned of the medieval pilgrimages. And it became customary for those who returned from Compostela to carry back with them a Galician scallop shell as proof they had in fact completed the journey. Each member of my group was given a white scallop shell painted with a red cross of St. James at the beginning of our journey. Many of us tied the shells to our backpacks. At the conclusion of our trek, each of us was given a brown scallop shell from the ocean by the coastal town of Muxia, one of the final pilgrimage destinations after the cathedral in Santiago.

 In addition to my two scallop shells and more than 1,000 digital photographs, I brought back, as I usually do when I travel, a coffee cup and a pair of turquoise and blue scallop shell earrings. So now, every time I make a cup of tea in the morning or wear my earrings, I will be reminded of my journey along this ancient pilgrimage route. I'm not sure what drew me to this hike/walk, what I expected to get out of it or even what I did get out of the experience. But I do know that walking this ancient route trod by millions of pilgrims across the century had an impact on me.


The Camino ends here, at the ocean near Muxia.




Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Advice From A Sunflower

How's this for a great statement? I ran across it on Facebook.

Advice from a sunflower: 

Be outstanding in your field, hold your head high, spread seeds of happiness, feed the birds, stay on the sunny side, and keep on growing!

I have always liked sunflowers. Maybe it's their beautiful, bright yellow color. Or maybe it's their habit of turning their faces toward the sun. Maybe it's the delicious seeds they produce.

Whatever the reason, they seem to me to be a happy flower that brightens up whatever room or outdoor space they are in.

So take some good advice from a sunflower. Be happy, turn your face toward the sun and spread some seeds of happiness!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Death of Civility

What's with all the snarkiness these days? From political posts to gay marriage posts to posts by animal rescue groups, everybody is attacking everybody else on Facebook. I have had enough of the name-calling and snarky responses!

There is so much hatred, anger and vitriol these days. It seems to be impossible to have a civilized discussion about a polarizing topic such as politics, religion or gay marriage without quickly deteriorating into name-calling. Calling someone an 'idiot,' 'moron' or 'libtard' hardly adds anything to the discussion. Veterans are even attacking other veterans in some very heated discussions. Racists are making gorilla sounds at a group of black Americans and throwing bananas at the American president. Really?

Even non-polarizing topics are not exempt from the nastiness and name-calling. I commented recently that I thought a non-profit's post of an accident scene photo showing a dead body was inappropriate. For daring to express my opinion, I, and others with the same opinion, were labeled as 'haters' and told to 'shut the f*** up.' (The photo was taken down a few hours later.) Since when are people who express an opinion to be labeled as 'haters'? What happened to our ability to express our opinions in a non-judgmental, non-attacking manner?  When did we lose the ability or willingness to listen to the positions of those with whom we may disagree? What caused this widespread lack of civility?  Why and when did society shift from an emphasis on the greater good to an emphasis on the individual?  Why are so many people so unable or unwilling to deal with our differences? Has civil discourse become extinct? It would appear so.

I am appalled by the negative comments I read, even about positive stories. Country star Tim McGraw has donated 100 homes to wounded veterans. While most of the comments about this story were positive, a few asked why he wasn't donating homes to homeless people who aren't veterans, or why wasn't he also paying the taxes and utilities for the donated homes? 

 Frankly, I'm tired of the anger, the hatred and the nastiness. There is so much evil and hurt in this world. Why are we wasting our time and our energy sniping at people over inconsequential issues? And really, why waste our energy sniping at and attacking people over anything at all? Can we not respectfully state our opinions without attacking those who may disagree with us? And does everything have to be turned into a diatribe against one political party or another? It seems to me that there is more than enough blame to go around for the pathetic state of affairs in our country. Attacking people and calling them names isn't going to make things any better.

I have been around for several decades, and never have I seen the amount of hatred and nastiness that I see now. Maybe it's because people feel emboldened by the anonymity afforded by the Internet, where they can spew their venom from their computers without having to actually face those they are attacking. Whatever the reason, it needs to stop. We need to work to find common ground. We need to come together to start tackling the problems our society and our country are facing. Most of all, we need to keep our noses out of other people's business. If you don't like gay marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex. But don't try to force your beliefs on everybody else. If you don't like the fact that Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn Jenner, ignore the stories in the news media. Accept the fact that not everybody feels the way you feel, and move on.

If we cannot have civil discourse without stooping to name-calling and personal attacks, I fear for our country.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Just Another Day

Another birthday, another year older.

I never have been one to get excited about birthdays, and the older I get, the less excited I get about them. On my most recent birthday, after reading the many birthday wishes on my Facebook wall, the Beatles song "It's Just Another Day" came to mind. Because, really, a birthday is just another day.

I don't feel any different than I did before my birthday, nor will I feel different after my birthday. And it isn't as if I had anything to do with when I was born. On my birthday, as on every other day, I get up early, feed and walk my dogs, make a cup of tea and read the morning paper. It's just another day.

Some years, I visit one of the many beautiful places within driving distance in New Mexico. One year I spent the day at the beautiful Ghost Ranch, made famous by painter Georgia O'Keeffe. It's a place of great natural beauty, perfect for photography and hiking. But this year I am staying home to oversee the completion of a major home improvement project.

I guess the best part of birthdays is the recognition that I have survived to mark another birthday. Many people aren't so fortunate. And not only have I survived, I remain in good health, with only a couple of age-related issues such as osteoarthritis to remind me of my advancing years. 

Birthdays also are a good time to reflect on the life I live. The past two years, I have been fortunate to do a lot of traveling, including to several international destinations. I walked the ancient streets of Petra, Jordan, visited the holy sites of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and watched Africa's amazing wildlife. I explored the ruins of ancient Troy and wandered the wide, paved streets of Roman cities in Turkey. I have watched my beautiful daughter develop into a kind and compassionate young woman. Her resilience and inner strength in overcoming her terrible childhood in Russia continue to amaze me. And what a joy it is to watch her finish cosmetology school and prepare to start her new career as a hair stylist. 

I can look back on the donations I have made to a variety of charities, the many hours of volunteer work I performed, and the realization that I need to find a new volunteer opportunity. It is a good time to reflect on the things I have done right in my life, as well as on those I could have done better.

So this really is just another day. It is another day to celebrate, to appreciate and to enjoy. It's another day to live life to its fullest.



 


 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Golden Ghosts

I am very excited to announce that Natural Habitat Adventures, a wonderful outdoor adventure travel group, has named my photo of elephants by the Chobe River in Botswana as its July 8, 2015, wildlife photo of the day!

The announcement reads "Congratulations, we’ve chosen your photo “Golden Ghosts" as
the Wildlife Photo of the Day!  We receive hundreds of entries each month, so you should be very proud of winning a spot among some of the world’s greatest wildlife photographers...

We’ve also shared your photo with our followers on the Wildlife Photo of the Day FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram pages.  Check them out, and make sure to follow us if you don’t already!"

The image can be found at http://dailywildlifephoto.nathab.com/photos/663-golden-ghosts-07-08-2015

The elements of this photograph were a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. The setting sun gave the air a golden glow. The elephants kicked up the dust. And I happened to be out on a late afternoon game drive on my first day in Botswana.

Another of my photographs was used in the travel catalog of the outdoor adventure group Backroads a couple of years ago. Although I am an avid amateur photographer, recognition by others of my photographs is always a real thrill for me.

This and other high-resolution photos are available for purchase in a variety of formats at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-ann-sullivan.html