Campus Wildlife Resort

What do Caltech and Tony Soprano’s swimming pool have in common? Ducks.

In the middle of the Caltech campus is a shady oasis for people and some unexpected wildlife. Here, deep in suburban Pasadena, California, there is a small Japanese garden with a pond full of turtles and crayfish, a few ducks – and the occasional heron. Geese cause trouble nearby.

The flow of the pond’s water creates intricate zig-zagging reflections, so it might be hard to find the ducks at first. There are two males with green stripes, and one female, in the foreground of the photo below. Also note a few turtles on the rocks in the middle of the pond; most of the turtles prefer the other side of the pond – not enough sun here.

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I am lucky enough to work near this campus and often walk there for lunch. Any day becomes cheerier if I go past the pond and see a duck snoozing with a beak tucked under a wing.

The ducks have been around for years. Lately, in a nearby reflecting pool, some geese have sporadically appeared. The geese leave poop all over the walkways, and chase people. I’ve yet to get close enough to the geese to photograph them. Goose drama. I don’t need it.

The ducks are better neighbors than the geese and more consistently on campus. In fact they are around so much, it seems they have ceased to migrate. Obviously, they like this safe, comfy pond, but there may be another, more persuasive reason for them to stay…

In the back of the photo, do you see those stairs? One day I spied a duck waddling around, behind the stairs. WTF, is that duck going into the building? I detoured to investigate and found the duck munching from a bowl of cat food placed behind the stairs. So – the primary reason the ducks stick around may involve Friskies.

Why the cat food? Well, there are feral cats on campus, and people feed them regardless of how many cease and desist threats the campus security issues about this dastardly practice, which exposes us all to terrible dangers. (If you re-read this paragraph carefully you may be able to detect whose side I am on, regarding the feeding of the feral cats.)

Every once in a great while, a heron appears and lurks at the pond for a few days:

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Okay, maybe it’s not a heron. Egret? Anyway, it’s a large white bird that menaces the crayfish.

Campus folklore has it that the pond was first populated with crayfish and turtles (and frogs; alas, the frogs have vanished) when scientists completed experiments and released survivors into the water. Unlikely, but a fine story!

Across the pond, beyond the heron, is a sign that says don’t feed the wildlife. If you stand near the sign, turtles will flock to you in anticipation of being fed. Those Caltech-ians are a rebellious breed!

The WP Weekly Photo Challenge wanted to see Zigzag.


Book Review: “Cathedral of the Wild” by Boyd Varty

97814000698595 STARS. RECOMMENDED!!

I guess I’m an ageist. As my age advances, my interest in young writers declines. They may have dazzling pyrotechnic writing styles – but I don’t care about style, I care about content, and I want to spend my time with writers who understand things that I don’t.  Generally, that means writers with a range of experiences and insights that can only come from living. Believe me, I’m not saying I know it all. Most of the time I can’t even say what it is. But there is something about a young person’s writing that usually feels thin and unseasoned to me.

Given my prejudice against tyro writers like Boyd Varty, I opened Cathedral of the Wild with skepticism that lasted about a page and a half. I love this book and found Varty’s writing to be funny, profound, moving, witty, informative, fascinating, and inspiring, often all at once.

This is a memoir of a remarkable childhood in a singular family. Varty comes of age on a game preserve in South Africa’s wildlands, the bushveld. The family land was purchased by ancestors who liked to hunt big game, but over time the family’s love of nature evolves and they become staunch, influential conservationists whose business is to bring tourists on photographic safaris and to make death-defying wildlife videos. The family is ambitious, passionate, risk-loving; heavy on vision and low on conformity. Varty’s early years are punctuated by brushes with death and exposure to the wonder of encounters with wild animals on their home turf.

For those who feel connection to nature, this book will resonate in every chapter. Throughout, Varty provides wonderful anecdotes about the animals he encounters, and he also powerfully conveys the spirituality he experiences in the natural world. When things go long and seriously wrong for his family, his quest  for recovery takes him on a memorable pilgrimage into the wild.

Few books are perfect and this one is excessively anecdotal, and succumbs to some New Age claptrap.  Ultimately, none of that matters. This is a wonderful book.

I got this book for free in exchange for an honest review. I savored reading it overmuch and read it slowly – so I missed my Librarything review deadline, which means I won’t qualify for more free books for a while. That’s okay, this was worth it!

Pelicans Know They’re Cool

I love watching pelicans. Their wave-skimming flight, their tight formations with many birds veering as one, their precision dives – they always get their fish!  Watching pelicans reminds me of Gary Larsen’s Far Side frame with the buzzards wearing shades and the caption “birds of prey know they’re cool”.

Every once in a while, I catch some pelicanness on camera.

Pelican at sunrise, East River, NYC.

Pelican at sunrise, East River, NYC.

Pelicans at sunrise, Carlsbad Beach, San Diego County, CA

Pelicans at sunrise, Carlsbad Beach, San Diego County, CA

They're up there. Really.

They’re up there. Really.