Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ecuadorable - Just Shut Up!

"Just shut up". That's not a romantic thing to say - yet it was what I uttered just moments before saying the most romantic thing you can say, which is not "I brought donuts" or "fine we can watch Gilmore Girls".

To capture the scene we have to go back to Ecuador. In fact we have to go back to a post from October in which the question was asked to you dear readers "Which adventure should Jungle Pete and Ma-Le go on in Ecuador?" - Volcanoes and mineral springs or Waterfalls and Ziplines. You would have thought that you chose buses and taxis by our itinerary but in fact it was waterfalls and ziplines.

The first adventure Ma-Le and I went on during this trip was to the Tayos Caves. There were hundred foot waterfalls a short hike from our lodge. There were giant cascades along the river and there was a waterfall in the Tayos Cave. Fantastic. But I waited.

Two days later we headed further south to Zamora where we stayed at the well-crafted, well-designed, Belgian-run Copalinga Lodge. It's the Ritz of jungle lodges.Ma-Le and I checked into our cabin, chose one of the trails with a waterfall and headed out. As we left, I subtly suggested that by wearing shorts I was going to get my knee dirty. A comment that went unnoticed.

Zamora is in the foothills of the Andes - a tropical rain forest 5000 feet above sea level. The trails climb a steep path of switchbacks through Cecropia trees - tangled with vines, dripping with moss and covered with bromiliad air plants. A light rain began to fall at the start of the trail and I naively thought the canopy would keep us dry for a little while.
How cute - we took our boots off to cross the stream. The waterfall was not a hundred feet high. It had no name. It was not on any map. But it was a perfect spot. Ma-Le crawled under a rock outcrop to stay dry. I got down on my knee, reached into my pocket for the ring and she said "give me the camera".

"Hold on".

"No give me the camera - I have no pictures of you!"

"Just wait"

"You're always taking pictures"

"Just shut up for a second" and with ring in hand "Will you marry me"

After a few happy laughs between us, I stood up, stepped back and plummeted backwards into the waterfall.

At least my Ecuadorable fiancee said "si".

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cat Fancy

Ever wonder who reads the blog? Apparently the biggest demographic is house cats, but I can't say they actually read the blogs so much as scan the pictures and bat at the screen when the videos play (pictured below- Zatcat from Plymouth, MA). This is true for their human counterparts, including one reader in Rowley, Ma and another in Tuscon, AZ who say they "skim" but they get the gist of the blog. And that's what I'm going for. I simply want people to get a general idea of what I'm talking about.

Apathy runs rampant even here in the Jungle apartment where I can't even get my own cat to read the blog, until as General Tso (pictured below) says - I include more "cat related content". So without further ado, to appease my feline and because I'm too lazy to actually write something this evening - here is an email exchange between my mother (who was working at Coolidge State Park) and myself from 2005 wherein she requests information regarding Mountain Lions (and for the sake of an Everglades tie-in - Florida Panthers) and I respond with utmost seriousness.

Mom's questions in Black - My answers in ORANGE with 2007 responses in BLUE.

From: "Pete Corradino"
To: "'Janey'"
Subject: Answers
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2005

are the males bigger than the females?
Yes – Males average 150 lbs, females 90
Florida Panthers are smaller

are they related to domestic cats?
Yes, they are both in the Felidae family

do they eat dead stuff ?
Yes, they often kill their prey, cache it and return for it over the course of a few nights

do they breed in captivity?

do they eat monkeys?
They range all the way to the southern tip of South America and can be found in the same habitat as many species of monkeys, so most definitely.
Species name is Puma concolor and known as Puma in South America

where can you buy one

why do they pace in captivity

why do you pace in captivity
and sometimes if i need to pee

can they interbreed with other cats, i.e. a nice big fluffy lion?
There genetic makeup has diverged to the point where that combination would not produce viable offspring. (I have to check if that is 100% correct)
That is true but Lions and Tigers can reproduce - but their offspring can not.

do they mate for life?
No – they are solitary and only find one mate for a very short breeding cycle

how many are there in the US?
Very tough to find this answer!
There are about 80-100 in Florida and several thousand west of the Mississippi with more and more moving into the eastern United States

are they found outside the united states?
Weren’t you listening? I just said they are found all the way down to South America. Also found in Canada

where is the largest population of mountain lions found?
West of the Rockies – highest density might be a good way to ask that question….Don’t know the answer to that though.
I knew at one point. It was in my VINS slide show that I can't find. This is turining out to be more work than I wanted.

can I have the answers to these questions when you get them?

how big do they get .. how tall, how much do they weigh?
males can be up to 265 pounds, males can be 8 feet in length (including a 3 foot tail!)
oddly enough I said above that males weigh up to 150 lbs - so obviously I make stuff up?

how far can they jump?
they can jump up 15 feet and leap 30 feet

do they eat people?
10 people have been killed by mountain lions in the last 15 years. They rarely get the chance to eat them although they have inferred that we taste like chicken. They have been known to bite campers in the privates.
In 2004 - a teenage camper at Coolidge State Park came up to my mother at the Ranger Station and announced that a coyote had just bit him in the privates (he used another word that I have changed so as not to offend young readers.) Anyway - that explains the running joke in our family about animals biting people's privates.

what do they eat?
Ungulates (Moose, Deer, Elk), Turkey, Dogs, Cats and a variety of other small animals

are they found in all 50 states?
They were at one time but now they breed in 10 states and are sporadic in others.

how long do they live?
They average about 18-20 years but can live 25-30 years in captivity

do they make good pets? ... hahahaha
They have been known to bite people in the privates

how many cubs in a litter?
average of 3

where do they sleep at night?
in a cave, tree cavity, earthen den, in a tree

how long do the cubs stay with the mom?
they stay with mom for an average of 15 months but up to 2 years.

are they nice or do they bite (from abigail)?
They have been known to bite people in the privates. They all have different personalities, they can be shy, they can be aggressive, they can be lazy

do both parents raise the young
The dads are useless and would sit on the couch and watch football if they could. They would root for the Panthers.
This is true.

what is a bunch of mountain lions called .. bevy, pride or are they solitary?
They are solitary
But a group of Polar Bears is an Aurora and a group of Weasels is a Sneak.

are they nocturnal?
They tend to be nocturnal, but will be diurnal when the prey species is

do they have friends?
George Bush would consider them terrorists, but there are many organizations that support their reintroduction and conservation

can you hunt them (you can in montana)
In several states yes, but they are a Federally listed Endangered Species

can you eat them (you can in montana .. they taste like chinese food ... hahahah)
My mother actually ate bear and mountain lion when she lived in Montana.

I'll think of more.
You do that.

It should be noted that my Mother - the English major from the University of Vermont asked every question in this email without capitalizing. So it's not my error! I guess that is acceptable in emails.

Special thanks to Tiffany Berish for supplying the archived email and Amanda Harden for suplying the photo of her cat reading the blog. If your cat/other pet reads the blog, send a photo and I will post.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy 60th Anniversary

Diamond is the traditional gift for those celebrating their 60th anniversary. I would have thought fiber but I don't make the rules. The Everglades National Park turned 60 today, having been dedicated on December 6th, 1947 by Harry S Truman in Everglades City.

I celebrated by attending the anniversary events in Everglades City which consisted of a reception complete with what I will assume was fried alligator, hog testicles and refreshments, followed by politicians and park administrators thanking each other for attending, septuagenarians trying to remember if they were or were not at the dedication ceremony in 1947 and back to back to back airings of the classic 1962 tv show Everglades! The exclamation point is part of the title and not a symbol of my exuberance. Having said that I may have neglected a period at the end of the last sentence.

I was by far the youngest person in the crowd of 40+ people. In 1947 a reported 5000-10,000 honored the parks inauguration and in 1997 several hundred returned for the 50th anniversary, including Al Gore who read Truman's dedication speech.

It seemed fitting that the turn out tonight was less than that of a Krispy Kreme Grand Opening. It's one of the least visited National Parks presumably because it has no glaciers, 350 foot trees, 1000 foot waterfalls or a pressurized steam vent that blows fart-smelling water out of the ground.

I love the Everglades and I love the park. It's just hard to know what gift to pick for a 60th anniversary. $20 billion would be nice. Congress recently overrode Bush's veto of the latest Water Act that would see billions of federal dollars finally help languishing Everglades projects.

A new aquifer might be thoughtful considering the last one is nearly depleted and where salt water doesn't come out of the taps, air does. (The picture above was taken today. This should be under 2 feet of water.)

Maybe a crash in the housing market and a stop to the rampant development? What are the chances that will happen? It's happening? Fantastic. I'll go halvsies.

Park Superintendent Dan Kimball encouraged hopefulness this evening. But we need to stop developing in the Everglades. We need to get Big Sugar out. We need to remove as much of the flood control devices as possible. We need to clean up the pesticides, ag runoff and other pollutants and we need to conserve the water. If you live in or travel to Florida - it's partly your responsibility to figure out how. If you don't live in Florida and don't travel here, you need to be supportive of the federal dollars that are spent on the "world's largest wetlend restoration project". The Everglades and all of her plants and wildlife deserve it.

I might be around for the 100th anniversary and I hope the park will be too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Everglades Guide Crushed By Free Washing Machine

It could have happened. It almost did and make no mistake - I would have been embarrassed if I had been crushed by a new washing machine. But it would have been worth it. In the middle of the day last Friday I wandered out of my apartment and noticed a washer and dryer next to the recycling bins. They looked new from a distance so I ambled over and lo and behold I have no idea what "lo and behold" means. Apparently someone had vacated their apartment in a hurry and left a delightful assortment of bashed up particle board furniture, a few retro-futuristic lamps and a brand new washer and dryer set.

I darted back to my truck and drove it over to haul my treasure away and like a wolverine, snarled ferociously when prospective free washer and dryer prospectors swung by. Having successfully warded off all appliance competitors I was left with the task of moving these full-sized and ungainly machines into my truck and then up a flight of stairs into my apartment.

Of course I'm in the middle of my work day, but there is no way I am giving up an opportunity to procure my first washer and dryer set. And they are mint!

For a human to carry a washing machine up a flight of stairs by himself is a daunting task. But just a few weeks removed from my Ecuador experience, I am reminded of the powers of Ant who can lift something several times their body weight.

Specifically, the Leaf-cutter Ant was my inspiration. Ma-Le and I had watched a colony of these ants marching through the jungle to an unknown destination. I first noticed a stream of green beneath the Podocarpus National Park's office. On the left, ants with leaves 10x their size carried photosynthetic flags high over-head while on the right a stream of ants returned to cut another leaf .
So direct is their path that these tiny insects cut a swath through the grass. Look close below and you can see a couple heading to the woods.

The leaves are not food. Instead the leaves are food for a fungus that grows on them. The fungus ultimately is the food for the ants but only grows in certain conditions and the ant nest is the perfect place for it to grow. It's hard to step anywhere on the jungle path without having to avoid Leaf-cutters. The one pictured below was well off course. A lone ant climbing the steel wire trail on the suspension bridge to the other side of the river. No friends in sight.

Alone, the ant continued on. As did I with my washer and dryer. I would not be denied regardless of the folly of moving the machine by myself. I didn't have to lift it over my head, but it didn't make it any easier. Lifting it up a step. Holding it. Gripping it. Lifting it up another step and so on until I was on the 12th step. No going back. 2 steps to go. And LIFT!

There would be very little understanding from anyone if the washer had toppled back on me. I would have, without a doubt received a coveted Darwin Award for brilliantly removing myself from the gene pool. Someone might have found me crushed beneath the Whirlpool® Duet HT® Ultra Capacity Plus Front-Load Washer and thought "why didn't he ask for help?" or "At least it was an Energy Star...He would have wanted it that way."

But you never see two Leaf-cutter Ants helping each other with a single leaf. At least that was my justification for not asking for help. In truth an older man offered to help but when he bent down to lift the dryer, I heard several pops that sounded like a kid jumping on bubble wrap. He apologized and departed. A staffer from the apartment complex suggested he couldn't help for liability reasons and a few other people just drove by and stared at the crazy bald guy hoisting a washer up the stairs.

There's something to be said for community. Or lack thereof. For the lowly ants, hundreds of thousands of them perform the same task individually for the good of the colony. I could have used a helping hand. In the absence of assistance, I managed on my own but I couldn't pass up the opportunity. If I had waited for help, someone else might have snagged the goods and I would have been crushed.