“There is a phoenix inside a midwinter’s bear, creating new self from the ashes of the old.”

Grizzly in Yellowstone
“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Grizzly in Yellowstone
Photo by Gene Hailson


Mary Ellen Hannibal, in The Spine of the Continent writes: “While other hibernating animals wake up every couple of days to eat, drink, and eliminate, grizzlies don’t. In a process tracked but incompletely understood by science, hibernating grizzlies live off the breakdown of fat, muscle, and organ tissue as a starving animal would, but then in a reversal from the trajectory that would eventually kill that animal, the bear utilizes urea to actually build new protein. As Tom McNamee puts it in The Grizzly Bear, “There is a phoenix inside a midwinter’s bear, creating new self from the ashes of the old.” Living off their own fat, hibernating bears create a unique form of bile that prevents hardening of the arteries or cholesterol gallstones . . .

“My favorite animal in the park is the grizzly, iconic, graceful, and with eyes that seem to know, and what they know is sad.” – Danielle Rohr, Denali Skies Female grizzly eating grass.
“My favorite animal in the park is the grizzly, iconic, graceful, and with eyes that seem to know, and what they know is sad.” – Danielle Rohr, Denali Skies
Female grizzly eating grass.
Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Though predominantly solitary creatures, “the famous maternal solicitude shown by the female for her cubs begins before they are even implanted; a mama grizzly can carry a fertilized egg in her womb for many months, ready at any moment to attach to the uterine wall and begin becoming a bear, which it does not do until the conditions are right. How the bear knows that she has enough body fat to support a pregnancy through hibernation, or how she knows whether there is enough forage available to support her progeny, is a mystery to us. If conditions are right for pregnancy, a bear will wake up in January long enough to deliver her cubs. She’ll go back to sleep, periodically waking to minister to the cubs. For approximately three months, these little ones will not hibernate but live in a half-waking world with their slumbering dam.  Talk about attachment theory. It’s no wonder the mother-offspring bond in bears is so ferocious; they are more or less unified in darkness until the group emerges in spring.”

“Most animals show themselves sparingly. The grizzly bear is six to eight hundred pounds of smugness. It has no need to hide. If it were to be a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey.” – Craig Childs, The Animals Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild Grizzly Bears. Photo by Servheen Chris, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If [the grizzly bear] were to be a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey.” – Craig Childs, The Animals Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild
Photo by Servheen Chris, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
These miracles of nature are at risk. There are many conservation groups trying to better understand grizzlies so to better protect them. Folks are also working to protect and maintain grizzly bear habitats, prey animals and the vegetation needed to supply bears with the extra calories they require to survive hibernation. Still, Defenders of Wildlife reports that: “Once common throughout much of western North America, the grizzly bear (also known as the brown bear) has been reduced to 2% of its historic range in the lower 48 states. A total of roughly 1,600 individuals still survive in five populations. The greatest threat to grizzlies today is conflict with people. Bears are often killed by wildlife officials once they start to frequent residential areas for easy meals of garbage, livestock, pet food and birdseed, or by hunters or hikers who encounter them in the field and shoot out of concern for personal safety rather than use bear spray. Much of the grizzly’s habitat has been lost or degraded as a result of development, road building and energy and mineral exploration. And climate change also poses new challenges to the bears; they are denning later, putting them on the landscape longer in the fall when unintended shootings by hunters are most common.”

A report in the July 22 issue of the Calgary Herald also lamented that: “There are only about 60 grizzlies in Banff National Park, where their biggest threat is getting hit on the transportation corridor. Since 2000, 13 grizzlies were killed on the tracks in the mountain park and another two just outside its boundary. Another eight have died on the Trans-Canada Highway in the same period. Survival in the protected area is considered critical because there are only about 700 grizzly bears throughout Alberta, leading the province to declare the species threatened.”

Listen to Wally Rose’s rendition of The Grizzly Bear Rag at Smithsonian Folkways: http://www.folkways.si.edu/TrackDetails.aspx?itemid=7337

Featured image: Stereoscopic view of a grizzly bear at home in the  wilderness of Yellowstone Park. Published by Underwood and Underwood. Available from the New York Public Library’s Digital Library.

What I’m Reading This Week: The Spine of the Continent

The Spine of the ContinentThe Spine of the Continent: The Most Ambitious Wildlife Conservation Project Ever Undertaken

Publishers Weekly has this to say about the book:

“Hannibal (Leaves and Pods) offers a gripping and informative look at the founding of bioconservation, the scientists and controversies behind environmental science, and the ambitious, necessary extension of theoretical knowledge into practical application with the formation of connected wildlife corridors from Canada to Mexico. Giving equal time to anecdotes and interviews, Hannibal supports her engaging and swift narrative with hard facts. This book is far more engrossing and dramatic than the title suggests; it goes beyond the politics of wildlife protection to present a real history of America’s habitat, the animals within it, the people who study them, and the disparate motivations behind responsible conservation. Deep dives into the ecology of species both native—beavers, wolves, jaguar, and pika—and not native—cows—reveal the interdependence of humans and their wilder counterparts in the woods and plains. A thoroughly satisfying gem, readers will find themselves in the company of America’s best minds (Jared Diamond, Michael Soule) and heroes (Sherri Tippie), as Hannibal travels through landscapes chronicling the efforts underway to keep North America habitable for the plants and animals that first lived here and the people who now call it home. This is what scientific writing should be: fascinating and true.”

Bobby Doerr, Mail Boats and Jerry’s Jets on the Rugged Rogue River

One of Jerry's Jets speeding down the Rogue
One of Jerry’s Jets speeding down the Rogue

Jerry’s Rogue Jets, now Oregon’s only mail boat outfit, has come a long way since the days of pike poles and sails. The Gold Beach-based company still delivers the mail up stream on the Rogue River but now carried even more often, on the shallow-draft vessels, are vacationers seeking adventure. The fully-loaded 32 to 42-foot boats can carry 38 to 65 passengers and are able to navigate in depths of as little as eight inches of water.

Swallow nests on the underside of the Isaac Peterson Bridge (aka the Rogue River Bridge) at Gold Beach
Swallow nests on the underside of the Isaac Peterson Bridge (aka the Rogue River Bridge) at Gold Beach

The company dates one part of its history back to three brothers: one who had an ability to entertain, one who was a boat designer and one who was a boat pilot. Working off of a jet propulsion system originated in 1954 by Sir William Hamilton in New Zealand and the Berkeley Pump Company in California, Alden Boice created a performance hull capable of handling the rocky shallows of the Rogue. His brother Jerry launched a company – Jerry’s Rogue Jet Boats – in 1958 and their brother Court served as their first pilot. In March of 2010, Jerry’s purchased its one competitor, the Rogue River Mail Boat Company that had been in existence since 1895.rogue-river-jet-boats-decal1

Now, with a combined fleet of 15 vessels, Jerry’s nature-based jet boat trips on Oregon’s “Wild & Scenic” Rogue River are a must do for 800 or more passengers per day in high season and more than 30,000 coastal travelers each year. On offer on the river is a blend of interpretive narration, meal stops at riverside lodges, rugged scenery, abundant wildlife, Pacific coastal estuary, and adventurous whitewater jet boating.

While in Gold Beach, Gene and I boarded one of the jet boats and partook of the 104-mile round trip “Wilderness Whitewater Adventure” that brings folks up to Blossom Bar Rapid, which is as far as is navigable by jet boat. I also had the opportunity to chat with Nic McNair, who owns the company along with his brother Scott, mother Cherie, and father Bill (the only original interest holder still attached to Jerry’s).

Cougar Lane Lodge 1
One of the stops along the Rogue

In my upcoming book, Rubber Hobos, I share highlights from my conversation with Nic and recount some of the stories of the boatmen who have grown up alongside these waters. I report on the lives that were lost by kayakers at Blossom Bar Rapid near the time we were on the Rogue. And I recall my own and Gene’s experience on the river: the 64-mile “Historic Mail Route,” segment that meanders along the Pacific Coastal Estuary, with its magnificent snowy egrets, black bears and bald eagles, playful otters and black-tailed deer, and the 80-mile “Whitewater Excursion,” where folks race over 2-Mile Rapid, Shasta Coasta Rapid, Wildcat Rapid, Old Diggins Riffle, Foster’s Rapid and Watson Creek Rapid.

Red Sox great Bobby Doerr lives along the Rogue and is featured in a Today Show “Vanishing America” segment on the Mail Boats (http://youtu.be/br2rEm6gly4 via @youtube). Like many of his other teammates, this second baseman, a Red Sox lifer, lost time during his prime because of military service. He played for Boston from 1937 to 1944 and from 1944 to 1951. Widely recognized as an offensive force, this nine-time All-Star, was also a slick fielder. Doerr’s number, one, was retired by the Red Sox in 1988. Club ranks: 5th in games (1,865), 5th in RBI (1,247), 5th in runs (1,094), 5th in doubles (381), 5th in TB (3,270), 6th in hits (2,042), 6th in BB (809), 8th in HR (223), 8th in PA (8,028).

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame website: “Ted Williams called Bobby Doerr the silent captain of the Red Sox. He hit a lifetime .288 and .409 in the ’46 World Series, driving in 100 runs six times, with a high of 120 in 1950. Doerr once held the American League record by handling 414 chances without an error and frequently led American League second basemen in double plays, putouts and assists. The affable second baseman was signed by Eddie Collins on the same scouting trip that netted Ted Williams for Boston.” Tommy Henrich said that Doerr “was one of the few who played the game hard and retired with no enemies.” (Source: http://baseballhall.org/hof/doerr-bobby.) He participated in the celebration of Fenway’s 100th anniversary in 2012.

I came across a report about a Facebook page (“R.I.P. Bobby Doerr”) said to have been launched Friday, July 18, that was falsely reporting his death. I haven’t been able to locate the page (it may have been taken down) but the article said that hundreds of fans had been posting their messages of condolence, expressing their sadness that the talented 95-year-old athlete was dead. And as usual, the Twittersphere was said to be frenzied over the death hoax.

Featured image: a view from the Mail Boat. In the gallery: scenes along the Rogue. All photos by Donna Hailson.

Womble and Luna at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

The juvenile green sea turtle to be released to the wild this week. Photo by the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
The juvenile green sea turtle released to the wild

On May 7, Park Ranger Katharine Womble found a stranded and unresponsive juvenile sea turtle on a beach near the Fort Fisher Recreation Area. After an initial assessment by the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Sea Turtle Program Assistant, the animal was delivered to the North Carolina Aquarium for rehabilitation.

Its condition upon arrival was so grave, it couldn’t be kept in water as it couldn’t lift its head; caregivers worried that it might drown. Aquarium staff decided to bring the animal to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City but discovered the facility was too jam-packed at the time to take even one more turtle.

So…the aquarium staff and a veterinary team from North Carolina State University began administering treatments for dehydration, vitamin deficiencies and infection. As the turtle started to evidence improvement, the staff turned its attention to healing the animal’s shell that had been compromised by ulcers and erosion.

After more than two months of continual care, veterinarians declared the 16 pound, 15 inch turtle healthy enough for release.

“This animal surprised us,” said Aquarium Curator Hap Fatzinger. “Its prognosis was very poor for several weeks. Our staff delivered the best care possible and we are thrilled to be returning a healthy animal back to its natural habitat.”

The sea turtle was given the name “Womble” and was assisted in its return to the ocean on July 18 by staff members who cared for the animal.

The aquarium’s Public Relations Coordinator, Robin Nalepa, said the facility has released other animals back into their natural habitats and such events are always a cause for great celebration.

Luna is one of only 50 albino alligators known to exist in the world.
Luna is one of only 50 albino alligators known to exist in the world.

One animal, in the aquarium’s care, that will not be released to her natural habitat is Luna, a seven-year-old albino alligator. Only 50 of these creatures are known to exist anywhere in the world. The Georgia Aquarium, which is home to two of these animals, reports that: “These ‘ghosts of the swamp’ have an estimated survival rate of only 24 hours in the wild due to their sensitivity to direct UV radiation and blatant inability to blend in because of their lack of camouflage coloration . . . The species American alligator [Alligator mississippiensis is estimated to be] more than 150 million years old and is the largest reptile in North America, growing up to 15 feet in length and weighing 1,000 pounds. It was first listed as an endangered species in 1967 due to loss of habitat and market hunting. A combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies in the South, and the creation of large, commercial alligator farms saved these unique animals. In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species.”


Luna, whose name was chosen by staff after a naming contest that generated nearly 1,500 responses, came from a nest in Louisiana. From there, she was sent to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida. In February of 2009, she made the trip up to the North Carolina Aquarium. Next fall, Nalepa noted, the staff expect to move her from the enclosure she now occupies in the Cape Fear Conservatory to an exhibit with other of the facility’s American alligators. Her current home will be developed into a new exhibit featuring bald eagles.

Little ones clustered around the tank containing these clown fish excitedly pointed out "Nemo" and "Marlin."
Little ones, clustered around the tank containing these clown fish, excitedly pointed and shouted: “It’s Nemo and his Dad!”

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher in Kure Beach is one of three such facilities in the state (the others are at Roanoke Island and Pine Knoll Shores). All were started in the 1980s as marine resource centers and all were renovated and reopened as aquariums in the 2000s. The Fort Fisher site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week (save for some holidays). For more information, visit http://www.ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher.

Image of the juvenile green sea turtle by the North Carolina Aquarium. All other photographs by Donna Hailson.

I’ve Finally Started Tweeting

This image by an Ethiopian artist of the biblical figure Ruth is in my collection.
This image by an Ethiopian artist of the biblical figure Ruth is in my collection.

I’ve finally opened a Twitter account. I’ve begun posting there on Christian spirituality, wildlife, wild places, art, travel, photography, companion animals, poetry, literature, soundscapes, habitats, books, writing, politics, social issues and…

You’ll find me under D.F.G. Hailson. I hope you’ll look for me and will connect with me there. Of course, I’ll still be blogging at this address.

Photos by Donna Hailson.

Count Your Troubles or Let Your Troubles Count

James 1:2-4, 12

In James, chapter 1, verses 2 to 4 and 12, we read: “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.”

Some time back I officiated at a memorial service for Norma, a member of the church staff I led. For most of her life, Norma was a single Mom who worked full-time jobs and raised four kids on her own. For the last eight years of her life, Norma fought against an ovarian cancer that eventually moved to her bowel and chest cavity, ravaging much of her body. Her testimony of courage, perseverance, positivity, joy in the face of the most serious of trials and her deep, powerful, abiding, unwavering faith under pressure left a powerful impression on me and on others who were privileged to know her. You never heard her complain; you never heard one word of self-pity. Even on her most trying days, when she was in great pain, her thoughts were for others and what she could do for them.

In her last days –  as she began her leave-taking from this earth – she had no fear and she was ready to go home to the Lord. For the service celebrating her life, the sanctuary was filled to the brim with folks who loved her, admired her and learned from her.

I contrast her testimony of faith with another person I know who has had genuine troubles in her life – some medical but many troubles of her own making – and she takes every opportunity to complain to anyone who will listen, railing on and on about every ill in her life, choosing to feel sorry for herself, choosing to be miserable, choosing not to change. If she continues on as she’s going – alienating everyone and leaving destruction in her wake – she will come to the end of her life and she will be completely alone.

When troubles come, and they will, what is left to us is the choosing. What will we do when we encounter troubles, trials, tests and temptations?

Victor Frankl, who was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote a magnificent book about his experience entitled, Man’s Search for Meaning. In that book he shares, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of all human freedoms, the freedom to choose. Every person can choose how they will face the troubles of life. We have the power to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances.” He concludes, “If anyone has a why to live – they can endure any how!”

I have officiated at a number of weddings over the years and there comes a moment in each service when the man and woman vow to love each other for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death would take one or the other home to the Lord. We seem to know that every marriage, at some point, will have troubles, trials, tests, and temptations. What folks do when they utter their marriage vows is to make a commitment not to deny the reality of troubles, but to outlast the problems that troubles can bring into a relationship.

The same is true in all of our relationships. James is saying that true faith in God not only abides in trouble but is actually strengthened by it. If we trust God in the shadows, God will bring us light.

So one point to make today is that in this life we must face the fact of trouble. Open a Bible and you’ll see that many of God’s servants – from Noah to Moses, to Amos, to Jeremiah, to Daniel, and even our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – experienced moments of trouble and trials in their journey to do and live out the will of God in their lives.

The Christian faith gives us the power and perspective not to focus on the trouble, but to focus on how best to overcome the reality of trouble.

Troubles are part of our growing up and maturing.

A View from the ZooIn the book A View from the Zoo, Gary Richmond tells about the birth of a giraffe: “The first things to emerge are the baby giraffe’s front hooves and head. A few minutes later the plucky newborn calf is hurled forth, falls ten feet, and lands on its back. Within seconds, he rolls to an upright position with his legs tucked under his body. From this position he considers the world for the first time and shakes off the last vestiges of the birthing fluid from his eyes and ears.

“The mother giraffe lowers her head long enough to take a quick look. Then she positions herself directly over her calf. She waits for about a minute, and then she does what would seem to be the most unreasonable thing. She swings her long, pendulous leg outward and kicks her baby, so that it is sent sprawling head over heels.

Giraffes, Auckland Zoo. Photo by Moriori.
Giraffes, Auckland Zoo
Photo by Moriori

“When it doesn’t get up, the process is repeated over and over again. The struggle to rise is momentous. As the baby calf grows tired, the mother kicks it again to stimulate its efforts. Finally, the calf stands for the first time on its wobbly legs. Then the mother giraffe does the most remarkable thing. She kicks it off its feet again. Why? She wants it to remember how it got up. In the wild, baby giraffes must be able to get up as quickly as possible in order to stay with the herd, where there is safety. Lions, hyenas, leopards, and wild hunting dogs all enjoy young giraffes, and they’d get them, too, if their mothers didn’t teach their calves to get up quickly and get with it…”

Now, humans are not to train their children in quite the same way – we’re not to kick our children or throw them as, I was saddened to read not that long ago, one couple did with their toddler. But we can relate to the need to not do everything for our children; parents need to let their children face their own challenges. Before our daughter acquired the ability to walk she had to crawl, and then she began the process of getting up and falling down, getting up and falling down, getting up until she learned to keep her balance. We encouraged her through all the falling downs and getting ups. She’s grown now with her own children and she and her husband are now training their own little ones in the process of getting up when you’ve fallen down.

The Christian life is not all bright sunshine. It is not hope without a struggle. On the other hand, it is not a struggle without hope. The Christian journey is hope in the midst of the struggles–and strength resulting because of the struggle. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Muscles never develop and grow unless they push against a great force that will force the muscles to grow and become stronger.”

You can spend your life counting your troubles, replaying over and over who hurt you, and how miserable you are OR you can allow troubles to do a good work in you producing a strong character, spiritual maturity and a well-developed faith. You can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and begin remaking yourself today.  It’s your choice. Choose well.

Featured image: Masai Giraffe by Trisha Spears

Butterflies are Self-Propelled Flowers

“The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.” – Ponce Denis Ecouchard Lebrun
“The butterfly is a flying flower, the flower a tethered butterfly.” – Ponce Denis Ecouchard Lebrun

“Butterflies are not insects . . . They are self-propelled flowers.” — Robert A. Heinlein

Psalm 104:10-24

For the Our Daily Bread devotional guide, Dave Branon writes: “Among God’s creatures, the butterfly is one of the most stunningly beautiful! Its gentle flight, colorful wings, and amazing migratory patterns are traits that make the butterfly a masterpiece of the natural world. This flying insect, while supplying us with visual enjoyment, also supplies us with amazing examples of the marvels of God’s creative work. For instance, the majestic monarch butterfly can travel 3,000 miles on its migration to Central America—only to end up at the same tree its parents or even grandparents landed on a generation or two earlier. It does this guided by a brain the size of a pinhead.

But these are flowers  that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire
 They lie closed over in  the wind and cling
Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.  – Robert Frost
“But these are flowers that fly and all but sing:
And now from having ridden out desire

They lie closed over in the wind and cling
’Where wheels have freshly sliced the April mire.”
– Robert Frost

“Or consider the monarch’s metamorphosis. After the caterpillar builds a chrysalis around itself, it releases a chemical that turns its insides to mush—no perceptible parts. Somehow from this emerges the brain, internal parts, head, legs, and wings of a butterfly. One butterfly expert said, ‘The creation of the body of a caterpillar into the body and wings of a butterfly is, without doubt, one of the wonders of life on earth.’ Another expert feels that this metamorphosis is ‘rightly regarded as a miracle.'”

"Butterflies are not insects . . . They are self-propelled flowers." -- Robert A. Heinlein
“Butterflies are not insects . . . They are self-propelled flowers.” — Robert A. Heinlein

“O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all.” – Psalm 104:24

The world of nature points to the Master Designer and speaks volumes about God’s great love for us.

Photos by Donna Hailson.