"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Kenya Journals, Ch. 26: The Twilight Zone on the Masai Mara

Chapter Twenty-Six :
The Twilight Zone on the Masai Mara

Strange dreams are better than no dreams at all.”
Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

This is our last evening safari on the Masai Mara, though early tomorrow morning we will have a short drive before we fly back to Nairobi.

Now, as the sun begins its all too rapid plunge to the horizon, Solomon positions us to watch the lions of the Marsh pride.  At a distance away, a lioness rises from her sleep and walks purposefully towards the thicket of bushes the pride seems to consider home base.

Solomon knows where she is heading and where he should park, but holds back from heading there directly.   “She might not go directly to her cubs if we go there,” he explains.

She is a creature of the wild, this beautiful lioness, but she and the rest of the pride are as habituated to the buzzing about of the innocuous safari vehicles as they are to the flies that land and bite them.  That is not to say that we could walk on foot through the Mara and be safe from the big cats that live here.   

A few days ago while we were watching three cubs playing on a log, one of the safari vehicles failed to start.   Immediately, several guides circled their vehicles around it to protect the men who jump-started the dead vehicle.

The lioness ignores us and goes directly to the thicket.

The bushes at left are where the pride rests during the day.  The new cubs are behind the bushes.

Solomon drives around a grove of tall trees and maneuvers the vehicles through their trunks, around other vehicles, and carefully turns the Land Rover broadside to the lions.   We are parked right behind the BBC film crew that has been watching and filming the lions all the days we have been here.

We are also parked where, a few days ago, we watched Cape buffalo heading toward that particular thicket and saw the departing lions turn back towards it as if to defend a couple lions that remained there.   Little did we know then that two new cubs were hidden deep within the branches.

We are observing the new cubs while parked on the edge of the trees behind the Cape buffalo, facing this direction.   The lions thicket is out of view but immediately to the left.

It is those new cubs that we hope to see now as darkness impends.

Shoes off, we stand on the seats of the Land Rover to see over the BBC crew.  Our long lenses are firmly balanced on bean bags and aimed at a grassy spot below the dark green bushes.  There is a small opening between clumps of long grass and it is there we see one cub stumbling about its mother’s face.   She has moved them from inside the bushes to this new spot below them.

The cub has that look of an animal whose eyes are not yet fully opened, a slightly closed lookrather than the round appearance of older animals.   It is not yet adept at using all four legs at once on uneven ground and it stumbles frequently as it explores its world.

A staccato of shutter fire bursts from our and other vehicles whenever the cub is in the open.   The lioness pays no attention.

She has just nursed the cubs and the second one is still hidden.

Pick her up and bring her into the open, I silently say, over and over.

Suddenly the lioness raises her head and looks directly at me.  She looks at the vehicles parked near us, then looks back directly into my eyes.

She stands, turns back to the tall grass that obscures the second cub.   In a moment, she brings it into the open, the cub relaxed in her strong jaws.

She sets it down with the first cub and spends a little time grooming them.

I am stunned.   Am I suggesting the lion and I communicated?    Do I have the ability to transmit a silent message to non-human creatures?   Or did the silent hopes and wishes of every person observing this scene combine enough brain power to get the message across?   Dr. Michio Kaku might back me up on that.

We’ll never know, but just between you and me, this kind of eerie stuff happens frequently enough that I really have to wonder and kind of half believe.   But think about this:   she put it in the only spot where we could observe it.   She could just as easily have picked up the first cub and hidden it behind the tall grass with the second cub. 

The lioness soon leaves the cubs to rejoin the other members of the pride just above the little ones.

And for us?   On our last evening safari on the Masai Mara, we burn up memory cards in our cameras to our hearts content.

We are a happy bunch as we eventually drive back to Governor’s Camp, only a few minutes away, even though we have packing to do in preparation for our departure tomorrow.   

Right now?   Photos to download and dinner awaits.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Good News

Well, well, well.    Look who's growing up!

No longer a ball of white fuzz with a long neck, the Tern Lake cygnet is growing its gray juvenile feathers.   It eats constantly, always with a parent standing watch.

So far, so good.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Thugs of Tern Lake

Summer brings cute little ducklings to most of Alaska, but this gang of thugs looks like it is up to no good.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gullible's Travels: Reports from the Field

Report Number 1

The Grizzly bear is huge and wild;
He has devoured the infant child.
The infant child is not aware
It has been eaten by the bear.
—A.E. Housman

It’s Saturday the first of July and I’m right where I want to be.    I love this place, which happens to be:

1) one of the most earthquake active spots in Alaska;
2) on the flanks of a volcano with fumaroles often mistaken for eruptions; and
3)  populated by a large number of freaking huge brown bears.

In fact, I’m looking at two of those bears right now.  They’re right across the meadow from the cabin where I will stay for the next five nights.   And, by gosh, there are three people out there risking their lives to get close to those bears!

And what’s that?   Dang!   It’s a red fox running past the bears.


I hesitate to tell you where I am, for reasons that I will explain in a different report.   But, I’ve been here before, even posted a map showing exactly where it is, along with a bunch of photos and…. 

 Whoops, there goes a prickly porcupine lumbering across the yard.

Tomorrow is my brother’s 70th birthday.   I’m going to miss it because I don’t really have any way of contacting him from here.   I already sent him birthday greetings, and—what the heck—I’ll shoot a bear for his birthday.

 Okay, here’s the deal.   I’m at Silver Salmon Creek, staying at the lodge of the same name.  I signed up for a six-day photo workshop led by professional photographer Rick Collins.  There are six of us in the group:   two Jeannes (of which I am one), Dacia, Bob and Gayle, and another Rick.   I’m the only one who lives in Alaska.

Silver Salmon Creek Lodge

Silver Salmon Creek

A winter photo of the cabin I'm staying in.   This is a photo of a photo on the wall in the cabin.   Can't face it full on, so the photo is a bit skewed.

Our cabin is the one highlighted by the sun's rays.


Silver Salmon Creek is on the west shore of Cook Inlet, approximately across the Anchorage River on the east coast.   Years ago this place was a fisherman’s paradise for salmon.   It’s still a good place to fish, but the emphasis has turned to photography.  

Of what, you might ask.

Well, not the volcano, Mt. Iliamna, because you can’t see it from right here.   You have to take a short boat ride south to get a good view.   On a clear day, you can see the upper cone of Mt. Augustine, another of the four volcanoes that are on the western shore of Cook Inlet.   And on the flight down here from Anchorage, you pass the other two volcanoes—Spurr and Redoubt.   They are active, as is Augustine.   

2015 photo

You can’t photograph an earthquake even with a vibration reduction lens.   You can only photograph the damage afterwards.

Damage in Anchorage after the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964

So that leaves those freaking huge brown bears.   And that’s why I’m here, along with a dozen or more other guests here at the lodge.

Bears, bears, and more bears.   The more bears the better, bring ‘em on.   No guns, no bear spray, just cameras, lens, and tripods.   

And guide Rick, of course, who knows all these fuzzy critters first hand.   And right now, Rick wants us to get some minimal equipment together so we can scout the field before lunch.  Translation:   Go find bears.

How we roll...   Two trailers towed by an ATV four-wheeler.

Those two bears are still across the field and those two people are still alive.  Don’t see the red fox, though.