The Nature Conservancy sponsored a nature photography contest last year, and the winners, finalists, and honorable mentions are lovely. Spend some time marvelling at these snapshots of God’s work.
My favorite picture was the contest’s first runner up—Patrick Smith’s shot of Mirror Lake in Yosemite. It is stunning.
One of Ohio’s great places made it on the list, too, with Valerie Crist’s photograph of Old Man’s Cave in the Hocking Hills.
Let us consider Ben Johnson’s congratulatory words to Robert Wroth on the benefits of living in the countryside (from “The Forest”).
But canst at home, in thy securer rest,
Live, with unbought provision blest ;
Free from proud porches, or their gilded roofs,
‘Mongst lowing herds, and solid hoofs :
Along the curled woods, and painted meads,
Through which a serpent river leads
To some cool courteous shade, which he calls his,
And makes sleep softer than it is.
Or if thou list the night in watch to break,
A-bed canst hear the loud stag speak,
In spring, oft roused for thy master’s sport,
Who for it makes thy house his court ;
Or with thy friends, the heart of all the year
Divid’st, upon the lesser deer :
In Autumn, at the partridge mak’st a flight,
And giv’st thy gladder guests the sight ;
And in the winter, hunt’st the flying hare,
More for thy exercise, than fare ;
While all that follow, their glad ears apply
To the full greatness of the cry :
Or hawking at the river, or the bush,
Or shooting at the greedy thrush,
Thou dost with some delight the day out-wear,
Although the coldest of the year !
The whilst the several seasons thou hast seen
Of flowery fields, of cop’ces green,
The mowed meadows, with the fleeced sheep,
And feasts, that either shearers keep ;
The ripened ears, yet humble in their height,
And furrows laden with their weight ;
The apple-harvest, that doth longer last ;
The hogs return’d home fat from mast ;
The trees cut out in log, and those boughs made
A fire now, that lent a shade !
Thus Pan and Sylvan having had their rites,
Comus puts in for new delights ;
And fills thy open hall with mirth and cheer,
As if in Saturn’s reign it were ;
Apollo’s harp, and Hermes’ lyre resound,
Nor are the Muses strangers found.
We celebrate poets because they give voice to the words that our souls wish to express when we encounter our beautiful world.
The Daily Telegraph had a story last month about a cat who uncannily predicts the death of residents in a nursing home: “Cat predicts 50 deaths in RI nursing home.” You may read about Oscar, which further shows just how fascinating the critters around us really are.
Furthermore, the story reinforces my view that while dogs bring joy, friendship, and unending loyalty to man, cats simply bring the grim reaper! It is for this reason that we label a dog Canis familiaris—the family dog, while a cat is merely Felis domestica—only a house cat. It lives in the house, but it is not part of the household.
(Yeah, yeah, Linnaeus gives Felis catus, but that is an inconvenient fact to my point! Felis domestica is widely used, too.)
Seriously, I admire both dogs and cats, though my heart is more oriented toward dogs. They are social like us. They are concerned with the common good of the pack, the practical result of which is that they defer to the established order of the pack, and, unlike cats, they quickly acknowledge their betters. Still, retractable claws, amazing eyes, and the ability to discern impending doom are rather remarkable traits.
I found this video earlier in the year and I knew that I would post it today. YouTube user “chibudgielvr,” a.k.a. Maggie, made a cute home movie with her critters at Christmas. Enjoy the real life “Tom and Jerry” fun.
Look over her other videos. She has many animals in her life. I hope that they’re enjoying the festive season this year.
My dog died last night. He was a seventeen year old Shetland Sheepdog, and his name was Lucky. We did not name him, though it clearly fit; for he joined the family when he was two years old. He lived many years with us, and he was a very good dog.
Last year, I posted the following poem from Rudyard Kipling. It is appropriate to post it again.
“The Power of the Dog”
There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie—
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.
When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find—it’s your own affair—
But . . . you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.
When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone—wherever it goes—for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.
We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ‘em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long—
So why in—Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?
When my brother Aaron and I visited Russia, we made sure to visit the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg that now houses the Hermitage Museum. The palace was the principal home of the imperial family, though a section first opened to the public as the Hermitage Museum under Nicholas I. Its story before and after the Bolshevik revolution is interesting, but its most remarkable period may have been during the siege of Leningrad in World War II. The museum housed residents underground as the Nazis bombed the city. Its dedicated staff hid the museum’s enormous collection. Unfortunately, it appears that its population of cats dwindled during that dreadful time. The people of Saint Petersburg probably ate the cats and their prey themselves. It is amazing that people and cats survived the two and a half year siege at all.
If you have the chance to visit Saint Petersburg, I highly recommend it. Maybe, you’ll meet one if its imperially housed felines.
What I really appreciate about the program is that we get to observe the clever experiments that demonstrate the scientists’ argument. I especially found the last segments pretty amazing. It reminds me why I esteem children and dogs so highly.
My sister breeds and shows Holland Lops. They are cute creatures, and many of them have charming personalities (for lagomorphs, at least).
So, when I visit home, I often spend some time in her rabbitry playing with the locals.
Well, I recently learnt a new lesson about human-rabbit interaction. Never play with a doe before playing with an adult buck. For it seems that the doe’s scent remains on your person, and the buck responds to the doe’s odor in a quite unseemly way. You have been warned.
My main reason for going to Saint Louis was to visit the famous Saint Louis Zoo. College friends from Saint Louis always mentioned how great the zoo was. I have also frequently encountered people and articles that mention San Diego, Cincinnati, and Saint Louis as the best zoos in the country, if not the world. The order of honor changes depending on the person, but as I have now visited all three zoos (and dozens of others throughout the world), as well as San Diego’s Wild Animal Park extension, I feel confident in my ability to rank them.
Clearly, San Diego Zoo and its sister Wild Animal Park are the greatest zoological complex that I have seen. Without the Wild Animal Park, San Diego would still probably be the best, though the Wild Animal Park decisively tips the scale. For second place, I think that both Cincinnati and Saint Louis could justly argue. They both have gorgeous grounds, they both have an extensive collection of rare and endangered animals, and they both have always been on the pioneering edge of captive animal habitat design. Saint Louis is free, but Cincinnati is the “sexier” zoo with more success in breeding animals in danger of extinction. As a Cincinnatian and a member of the Cincinnati Zoo, I would put my zoo in the second slot, but I would not hold a Saint Louisian in contempt if he offered the same honor to his own.
It is easier to assign where each zoo excels beyond all others. San Diego has the best panda, koala, and tree kangaroo exhibits. Its setting in Balboa Park makes it the best situated. Saint Louis’ Forest Park is lovely, but it is not as cool as Balboa Park, which may be the best urban park in the country. Cincinnati’s Zoo is poorly situated; it is the nation’s second oldest zoo, and the city built up around it. I would like for Cincinnati to develop an annex in Butler or Warren County that would serve as an extension like San Diego’s Wild Animal Park. For the main privation at the Cincinnati Zoo is its small and compact size. It does a lot with the little that it has, however.
San Diego also has a pleasant sky ride. Kings Island in Cincinnati used to offer such a ride but it closed down in the 1970’s, I believe. Yet, as I said before, it’s San Diego’s Wild Animal Park that is astounding. The safari train, the desert hills, and the giraffe encounters are unrivaled. Furthermore, the Lion Camp is awesome, and I mean that literally.
Cincinnati has the best children’s zoo, the best insect zoo, and the best primate exhibits overall, though both other zoos have excellent great ape enclosures. I would also add that Cincinnati features the best wild cat exhibits overall—though San Diego’s Lion Camp is amazing and Saint Louis’ Big Cat Country is impressive, too. Still, Cincinnati’s cat canyons and the Cat House put it first in this category. Cincinnati’s manatee house is as good as an aquarium’s. Cincinnati and San Diego compete for the rhinoceros and polar bear exhibits. I think that it holds its own with the birds, as well.
Saint Louis Zoo is an all around fabulous zoo, but some of its exhibits are unmatched. Its penguin house is shockingly cool, figuratively and literally. It actually has snow in it, and there is no glass between you and the penguins. Before I visited Saint Louis, I thought that San Diego’s Sea World had the best penguin exhibit, but it falls short of the experience of actually entering into antarctic weather yourself. Saint Louis also has the best hippopotamus exhibit, and the surrounding River’s Edge habitat is excellent. The River’s Edge Asian elephant habitat is one of the best that I have seen, though Portland’s (Oregon) exhibit is probably better. The National Zoo and the Los Angeles Zoo are building top notch facilities, but the D.C. zoo’s exhibit is currently under construction and I have never visited L.A.‘s zoo. I would also state that Saint Louis has antelope exhibits on par with San Diego. Moreover, the stingray pool is a treat; I’ve only seen such exhibits at aquariums and at Sea World before.
It is definitely worth your while to travel to Saint Louis to see the zoo. It is free, though certain parts of the zoo charge a minimal fee. You may visit these places in the first hour of the zoo’s day for free (between 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM during the summer), which include the children’s zoo, the stingray petting pool, and the rides. Thus, I recommend arriving at the zoo a few minutes before it opens. This will also allow you to park on the streets of Forest Park without any trouble, as the zoo’s parking lot charges a steep price. We arrived at 8:00 AM during the week, and we were able to park closer to the (north) entrance than the cars in the zoo’s parking lot—practically across the street from the doors. If you arrive later, these free street spaces fill up. Yet, the art museum’s massive parking lot is just a short walk up the hill from the zoo. If you cannot find street parking, you may park in the art museum lot. All of the parking lots in Forest Park seem to be public, open, and free except for the small zoo lot.
If you park close to the zoo, you may wish to picnic in Forest Park instead of spending money at the zoo. We packed lunches, but we ended up purchasing some cheese fries, anyway. It was the only money that we spent at the zoo (save for the gift shop); so it was still a good deal.
We spent the whole day at the zoo and we did not get to see everything. If you have the time, I would advise going twice. It’s free!
My nephew and I sometimes go “spider hunting” on those lovely, warm Ohio summer nights. What is spider hunting? Well, it does not involve hunting spiders but rather hunting for spiders.
First, we find the various spider webs around the yard and we figure out which spiders we want to help. Eugenicist that I am, I choose the spiders that I find most beautiful. Afterward, we catch insects of the appropriate size for the spiders and then cast such damned souls into the nets of their demise. Then, like young Augustine at the Roman spectacles, we gorge our eyes on carnage. In truth, there is not much violence. The spiders pounce on their victims with shocking alacrity and wrap them up to be drained later. It is pretty cool.
Occasionally, I allow my lower instincts to get the better part of me and I just want to see some action. So, I’ll catch a wasp or a hornet to throw into a web of a spider that I do not really find attractive. The ensuing battle always proves entertaining. It is like Planet Earth right in your own backyard.
The common abhorrence of spiders, insects, and other arthropods surprises me. I find them fascinating. While not as beautiful as mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, or birds, they are much more accessible. Birders may be happy to watch their animals of choice, but I really like to touch and hold animals. There is another level of communion when a critter is on your skin rather than in a tree. Yet, such encounters are rare and difficult, and they usually are not positive events for the animal. With creepy crawlies, however, it is easy to find and hold them, and, if you are careful, such encounters do not harm the animals.
So, I may not like arthropods more than the higher beasts, but I enjoy their company more often. Harvestmen (daddy longlegs) often crawl on me unbeckoned, and they are among the most easily captured animals on earth. Whenever I am in the woods during the warmer months, my hands invariably will serve as a treadmill to one of these little fellows. I encourage you to get over your arthropod apprehensions; give them a chance, and you’ll be able to relate more often to nature’s denizens in a more intimate way.
My sister and I spent the fourth at the Cincinnati Zoo, which was my fifth time at the zoo this year. We went to see the new Malaysian tiger cubs, which were adorable and thankfully quite active. You may watch some footage of the family below.
The mother is stunningly beautiful. Tigers may be dangerous creatures, but they are gloriously so. The world will be less without them.