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Friday, August 14, 2015

Plugged In Or Unplugged?

This morning I sent an e-mail and a few photographs to the woman in western Siberia who was the director of the orphanage from where I adopted my daughter more than 10 years ago. Although she doesn't speak English and I don't have a Cyrillic keyboard on my computer, I use an online translation program to put my words into Russian. Then I use my knowledge of Russian to correct case endings, gender errors, etc.

This started me thinking about how wonderful it is to be able to communicate with people on the far side of the world. Through e-mail and Facebook, I stay in touch with friends in Russia, Turkey, Kenya and Botswana. These are people I have met and befriended during my travels, and it is nice to stay in touch with them, all for the cost of my Internet connection.

Although I often think about abandoning Facebook after another onslaught of stories about cruelty to children and animals, or about the senseless slaughter of yet another endangered African animal, I never can bring myself to pull the plug. How else would I be able to chat with one of my terrific guides in Botswana about his upcoming year-long job in the U.S.? How else would I be able to message my guide from Kenya about my upcoming trip to his country and make plans to meet him for lunch or dinner?

There are days when I am so overwhelmed by all the negative stories and pleas for money that I am tempted to shut down my FaceBook account. But then I think about all the people I 'know' from around the country and around the world, and I just can't disconnect. It's definitely a two-edged sword, however, and I have unfriended and blocked some people and organizations. But overall, I guess the positives outweigh the negatives. And FaceBook allows me to keep up with my beloved wolves of Yellowstone's Lamar Canyon, as well as offering a forum for promoting my fledgling photography Web site..

I am old enough to know about life before the advent of 'social media.' I remember when e-mail was just beginning to come onto the scene, and when doing research meant making a trip to the library, not turning to Google for information. College term papers were done on an electric typewriter rather than on a computer. Finding one's way to a new destination meant fighting with a paper road map, not listening to the voice on a GPS.

Keeping up with social media can become addictive, but I have found that during trips to Africa in places where there is no wi-fi or Internet, after a couple of days of adjustment I get along just fine without being connected. It's a good feeling to not be bombarded with news of the latest natural disaster, scandal or controversy. Time away gives me a chance to live more 'in the moment' as do the people whose lives are always devoid of instant communication. It gives me a chance to focus on the landscapes, sounds and animals around me.

Like most things, social media and 24/7 news has its advantages and disadvantages. I have learned to step away when I need to, whether that means traveling someplace that doesn't have access or simply turning my phone and the television off early in the evening so I can sit on the patio or read a book. Sometimes the old ways -- sitting outside on a warm summer evening or reading a good book -- are still the best ways.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What Have We Become?

America, and much of the world, has lost its soul and its moral compass. We have all kinds of technological advances that previous generations couldn't even dream of. We have life-saving technologies and tools to save our bodies, but what about our souls?

So I ask, What have we become? Consider these few examples:
  • A gunman opens fire in a movie theater in Louisiana, killing two women.
  • A white supremacist walks into a Bible study group in South Carolina and murders nine people.
  • A man opens fire on two military recruiting stations in Tennessee, killing four Marines and a sailor.
  • An 8-year-old girl in California is kidnapped, raped and murdered by a 15-year-old neighbor.
  • A Memphis police officer is murdered during a traffic stop when he interrupts a drug deal involving fewer than two grams of marijuana.
  • A young man in Albuquerque visiting friends in a quiet neighborhood watched his friends playing cards in the kitchen. He was sitting on the counter. Suddenly a bullet tore through the wall, killing him. He was a good student, a member of his high school football and wrestling teams, and he would have been a senior this year. One of his friends frantically called 911. The emergency dispatcher hung up on her. 
  • A rookie cop opens fire on a suspected burglar, killing him. The suspect was an unarmed 19-year-old who was seen on security video damaging cars and driving through the front doors of an auto dealership. The officer was fired.
And look at what we humans are doing to our planet's animals:
  • According to the Buffalo Field Campaign, 7,825 Yellowstone bison have been killed since 1985. Of these, 735 wild buffalo from the Yellowstone ecosystem were killed under pressure from the livestock industry between November 2014 and June 2015
  • African lion populations have fallen almost 60 percent over the past three decades, and as few as 32,000 of them remain in the wild, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
  • The population of African elephants has plummeted from an estimated 3 million to 5 million at the beginning of the 20th century, to approximately 500,000 today, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
    Back in the early part of the 20th century, there may have been as many as 3-5 million African elephants. But there are now around 500,000. - See more at:
  •  'Big game hunter' Walter Palmer paid more than $50,000 to kill a male lion in Zimbabwe. But first, he and his guides tied an animal carcass to the vehicle to lure the animal from the national park where it lived. Then he shot the lion -- a well-known and beloved lion known as Cecil -- with a crossbow. Of course, since this occurred under cover of darkness, the mighty hunter wasn't able -- or was too scared -- to track the injured animal. Cecil suffered for 40 hours before being shot with a gun by the big brave hunter, then he was skinned and beheaded. His body was left to rot. Cecil was wearing a radio collar as part of an Oxford University study on the effects of poaching on the park's animals.
  • The government of British Columbia plans to slaughter 200 wolves to 'save' caribou. The real culprit isn't wolves. Caribou populations are declining because of destruction of habitat and human encroachment. But it's easier to blame the wolves. And the BC government says this 'culling' will go on for 5 years. Disgraceful.
  • Two vendors in China were caught on video sawing into a LIVE whale shark while others watched and snapped photographs. 
  • Some bimbo in Florida posted a photo of herself on Facebook sitting atop an endangered sea turtle.
  • Another story reported that a couple was seen laughing hysterically as they drove their car over five plainly marked sea turtle nests, pursued by people trying to get them to stop.
  • Workers with the Environmental Protection Agency mistakenly open a dam holding back highly contaminated water in a closed Colorado gold mine, sending 3 million gallons of orange water filled with arsenic, lead, cadmium and other toxins into the Animas and San Juan rivers. 
What this all boils down to is that life, both human and non-human animal, has lost its value. And in some countries, such as China, all life appears to have no value except as a source of money or prestige. It is largely the Chinese demand for ivory trinkets that is driving the African elephant to the brink of extinction. It is the Chinese demand for rhinoceros horn as an 'aphrodisiac' that has pushed that animal to the edge of extinction. The same holds true for tiger penis bones. One would think that given the education level of so many Chinese, these ancient superstitions would have died out long ago.

We as human beings, regardless of race or nationality, must come together to stop destroying each other, the planet and the animals trying to do nothing more than live their lives. We need to help each other, support and watch out for each other. It's no wonder that I look forward to daily reruns of 'The Waltons' television show, about the hard but love-filled life of a Virginia family in the post-Depression years. I love seeing how people back then helped each other, neighbors and strangers alike.

I suppose it's pollyana-ish to even think of a return to the values and morals of those times. But maybe if enough people make an effort, as through the random-acts-of-kineness movement, we can at least start to make a difference.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bird of Many Colors

I am very happy to announce that my photograph of a lilac-breasted roller bird, taken in Botswana, has been chosen by Natural Habitat Adventures as today's Wildlife Photo of the Day!

These birds, common to much of sub-Saharan Africa, are the most beautiful birds I have
ever seen. Most noticeable are their lilac and turquoise colors, although they are adorned with other colors as well. 

High-resolution prints of this bird, and many other images, are available at

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Competitive Caring

So it has come to this: caring is now a competition to see who cares the most about the 'right' issues.

I don't understand why people are so upset about a lion in Africa when they should be concerned about all the pre-born babies being killed in America.

People had never even heard of this lion until last week. They should be concerned about all the people in the U.S. being shot by police.

I care more than you do. I care about the 'right' things; you don't.

Yada yada yada.

The sentiments above, while not direct quotes, are illustrative of the many comments people have posted in response to the outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion.

Yes, I am among the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world who are outraged about the torture and killing of Cecil so some nitwit dentist can hang Cecil's head on the wall. But to all those whining about the 'pre-born' children (pre-born, really?), my outrage is just as valid as is yours about your pet cause. To those angered by the death penalty or rampant poverty, immigration or anything else, my outrage is just as valid as is yours. Do people who insist on insulting and demeaning those whose focus isn't on their favorite cause really think these tactics are going to cause others to jump on their bandwagon?  Well guess what? By treating people in a demeaning, insulting and belittling manor, these people are showing how truly lacking in compassion they are.

How dare you insinuate that people who care about 4-footed animals don't care about 2-footed animals (people). (I happen to support not only several animal-related causes, but also the local food bank and the hospice where my father died. I have raised thousands of dollars for the fight against breast cancer. I walked 60 miles in three days to raise this money. So spare me your how can you self-righteousness.) How dare you mock and belittle me or insult my intelligence because my cause isn't your cause. How dare you assume a mantle of moral superiority.

This isn't a competition to see which side is the most compassionate or who cares the most about the 'right' things!

This article sums it up nicely:

How I choose to spend my money, which causes I support and about what I get outraged is my business, nobody else's. Do I go to the Facebook pages of advocates of other causes and castigate people because they don't care about the things I care about? No, I do not, and I never will. Your activism and outrage about the things you support are no more 'right' than are my outrage and activism about things I support. So get over yourselves. Stop wasting your time and energy belittling people who are able to care about more than one injustice --  something you presumably are unable to do.

There are enough 'right' causes to go around. There are plenty of things about which we should be outraged. Stop making compassion and caring into a competition, because you know what? This competition has no winners. Stop wasting your time and energy on belittling others and do something to help support whatever your favorite cause is. Attacking people from the anonymity of your computer does NOTHING to bolster your cause or make things better or effect change. So put away your cloak and your dismissive attitude toward those of us who do care about more than a single issue.